What Is Marketing? Booooring. Don’t Read This

Who cares, right? I didn’t cut my teeth at Saatchi & Saatchi or anything. I just listen to people talk about what they care about. There’s the catch. Listening. Not spying, tracking, analyzing digitalia….listening to real human beings talk. You know, the way the brain makes lungs propel air and muscles manipulate it to convey information.

So today I was listening and then I was thinking. In the wine world, marketing creates a buzz just like in any other business. Uniquely, being a segment of the adult beverage arena, wine marketing creates another kind of buzz on top of what the messenger typically desires to create (ooh! They’re recommending my liquid widget on every street corner despite life’s predominant travails…). It’s the variable of inebriation. You know it when you feel it and you know it when you see it. The thing is, when your widget makes somebody’s worldview shift, when your business philosophy aligns with a delightful number of people – WHEN THEY’RE DRUNK – you have to wonder about the goggles they wear. I’ve been told the most complimentary things in public to find out later that my (opt-in) newsletter was just so much spam. It hurts. You move on. But it makes you think. To get excited about the biggest fan ever can sometimes be premature when you’re slingin’ hooch. I don’t endorse a disingenuous approach to meeting new people but you have to be cautious. It’s like being the most handsome, most eloquent, most brave and innovative dude on the planet when you bring lasagna to a party where everyone else lazily brought a bag of chips (like this hasn’t ever happened to you. puh-lease). It’s not you, it’s the lasagna, and lasagna only lasts so long, immediately giving way to the next best item on the table. Yet, if you’re known to tote delicious lasagnas with you as you move around in the world, you may receive inquiries about where the lasagna’s gonna be next.   ***Allegory time, kids. Let’s just say the lasagna contains 14.7% alcohol by volume…. To hell with the newsletter if it says anything about anything that doesn’t have to do with lasagna (free, in particular). You even begin to be blamed for not showing up whenever there’s a potato chip party. It’s Aristotelian. We like what another has to offer us rather than the person. Fair enough. You’re making “friends” based on the dish, and they love it most when they’re buzzed on it.

To the buzz. Why join a mailing list? What makes it something you want to read? Is it satisfying to belong to a tribe? (As Maslow would suggest, yes!) Does it provide an interactive opportunity to engage with its writer? (As I would suggest, yes!) Are there rules of engagement when posting comments and so forth? No. A good spam filter can nail the sexual performance drug ads to the wall. But does decorum suggest etiquette, gratitude and loveliness? Yes.

A dear friend and mentor expressed a woe today. He’d issued an engaging, co-creative, support-engaging newsletter to people who had opted in to receive. They’d all opted in. A flabbergasting, flummoxing, f*&%ed up reply came back to him, expressing disdain for his content – content that pretty well offered a win-win scenario to his constituents. It contained an ask, and it countered that ask with a generous reward. With a side dish of community. The reply was written by a person in what you could call a sister industry, the one we call tourism. The one that, without wine, would possess no raison d’etre. Dig it – wine tourism companies need wineries to shuttle customers to. Wineries (whether or not they’re even operated by one so thoughtful as this fellow in the story) love wine tourism companies. I needn’t explain. So – to hurl vitriol at a member of your sister industry is to (according to my later assessments of possibilities, psychological complexes and the unseen things that make people play at antagonism) sneer at the chef when you’re famished. The bamboozler here is that one presumably has a few moments to compose one’s thoughts before penning an email, right? Unless it’s written with – wait for it, hold on – a buzz. I think she got wasted and fired off a critical email. A bunch of us guys, all wine industry veterans, confabbed about it, and well, let’s just wait and see what other stuff gets said about it…

The most preposterous things go on in the wine industry, things I don’t typically chronicle because I prefer to operate respectfully in a world that’s generously offering me a spot in it. However, let me simply posit that marketing can just be downright confusing. Listening can, however, create a little bit of clarity. Understanding why people want what they want and say what they say – especially when they say it – can do wonders to explain why we even have to market at all. I have one theory (among many, of course) about why we market: because we need to. Why do we need to? Because everybody else is, and it’s getting louder out there every minute. If you want to reach people, IMHO, you have to stop once in a while and hear them speak their pieces so that you can figure out what’s important to them, not just now but in the long term. What can suck is when they’re drunk and bellowing at you. Ah, I love the wine business. I really do and don’t intend to ever leave it. Thanks for taking the time, peeps.

~ Christian

Advertisements

Excellent Times in Tiburon, California

Well, at yesterday’s Tiburon Wine & Food Festival, wonderful times were had. Reconnected with a few peeps from the old days and, as anticipated, met several new ones. I haven’t crawled out from under my rock much of late because there’s just so much happening on the home front. (Ever raised teenagers across the threshold into adulthood? Then you know what I mean!) In addition, my lovely wife is exploding onto the healing scene and I support her how I can – no dozing off during meetings when the chief knows where you live! I’m also pretty busy with consulting work. Lastly, since I love to write but tire easily of email, I’ve been spreading the word in terms we all understand. Here’s a press release about my book, and, gee whiz, it’s all over the place if you’re a diligent Googler! It’s even in the Sonoma County Public Library. If you’re like me, you don’t mind supporting the wonderful things that libraries do for society. You do remember libraries, yes? Har. From the guy that, at the time of this post, still carries a dumb phone and hasn’t experienced any disaster yet, other than the inability to LOLCATZ you while eating a fine dinner of Moldavian llama belly generously encrusted with Smythe Farms basil-braised maize!

So anyway, as Kathy Griffin would say… Tiburon rendered some very cool comments. First, my 2008 Locus stole the show. It ages so nicely in large format (which, when you pour at a festival, seems to look really impressive), with a Soiree stuck on top so as to leave the aromas intact. In addition, my 2009 Rosé was a super hit. People who don’t like the varietal liked it then. Not the first time I’ve heard that one!
The ’08 Chardonnay went over in the most interesting way. Most of the time, I didn’t tell people what the vintage was, rather that I wanted to just get their reactions. Everybody really liked it! So when the cat was out of the bag, I explained how, like white Burgundy (wanna be my best friend? feed me ’01 Batard-Montrachet. there.), I wanted this chard to be backward – to get better with age, rather than be nummy in ’09 and then turn to mush. And people agreed – it was super good. I even heard from 4-5 people that it was the best chardonnay at the festival. That’s a high compliment, considering the wineries on hand – one of them being an absolute rock star IMHO.

I poured some Wine Stash vinos as well. The 2010 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon was described to me as the best 100% cab in the place. I met the daughter of Kathryn Hall and warned her, “This will make your hair fall out if you don’t have some food to back it up,” – though I didn’t know who she was, otherwise I wouldn’t have said so (Hall wines being as bold, layered and sexayyyy as you please…. She said, “Actually, it did not do that at all.” I liked hearing that because sometimes mountain fruit can be an overwhelming affair when sipped solamente. In this case, gentle treatment and hand-bottling made for a luscious experience, well-managed tannins, waves of fruit, enough structure to hang wet sweaters on…just an all-around Russell Crowe of a wine! It’s a bargain for its pedigree. And the ’09 red blend warn’t no slouch, either. You take a Carneros syrah sensibility (high end, mind you), think like a chef and employ zin and a pinch of petite sirah, and the result is a very pleased crowd. Good show from the Wine Stash, some very special friends of mine. Shoot, cousins, practically. Look for more action in that regard. Joining the mailing list would be a really good idea, come to think of it, because we’re going to be moving forward in very special, intimate ways, outside of the usual hubbub of the tasting room – gift shop – art gallery theme that Napa has in so many ways become. Remember, the absence of a parking lot doth not imply insignificance; the resources go into the bottle rather than the bling.

A little bit of tentative news: I’ll be collaborating with some peeps in the Oakland/Berkeley area later this summer – July/August – to bring you a top-notch food & wine experience. It’s great to know chefs and to be a wine collector (gotta know what tastes good to know how to make wine, right?). We’ll do this right. Stay tuned, Bay Area Peeps!

Until next time, don’t hesitate to reach out. There may be a little bit of wine in the library for you. Join the mailing list here, or just find that link on the home page.
Best –
Christian
Simple Math Cellars


On Demand and Discounts and Demanding Damned Discounts

In these exciting times, small businesses everywhere need your support, from the service industry to software, agriculture to acupuncture. A few words about discounts, if I may… Discounts are a part of any free market economy. In a perfectly competitive one, one in which the mix of goods (and services – but I’ll refer to the two together as just “goods” from here on), are essentially all the same {yipes; I said it and will embellish more in a sec}, the playing field is essentially level. It really is the closest thing to a horse race.

That is, there’s no end to the number of consumers of a good, and there’s an infinite number of producers as well. It’s easy for a producer to get into the game, and just as easy to leave it. Everything looks the same on the shelf, the website, the brochure…. So how do goods sell at different paces? Well, if we could ever experience a perfectly competitive marketplace (ain’t happened yet), the producer who sells the goods for less will sell more of them. How it comes out in the wash is a matter of math which goes too far into boring territory to subject you to. Suffice it to say that this producer will never make a profit and is performing more of a charity function.

Now, in the real world (non-perfect competition), we have a more robust mix of factors that would appear to be sort of broken up into portions of almost-level marketplaces peppered with what looks like monopolies. It only appears that way – monolopies in the US are a no-no – you’re really looking at who advertises you into a dull stupor of compulsion, like, say, a vampire enslavement scenario that gives you nausea when you consider, say, buying from the Smith Family Saddlery rather than the Megaglom Unified Group of Big Box Retailers. It costs a certain amount of money to produce a certain number of goods initially, both for the Smiths and Megaglom. But the more goods are made, the less costly it is to make them. And that’s where prices fluctuate more. Megaglom can charge less for the goods and be happy selling more of them, making more profit with which to produce more goods, and sell them for less, and so on. The Smiths can’t necessarily do this unless they can find a way to, um, take a big hit below the belt until they can afford to make more saddles, and still more, to the point that their production costs per saddle go down in price. How’s that? Why? Well, the more leather they buy, the less work it is for the leather guy to whip up a batch in a day’s work… then the more the leather guy likes them, is grateful for their repeat business, doesn’t spend as much time & money beating the streets to find new clients… that he throws ’em a discount. Woo hoo. More leather for the same bucks, meaning more saddles, meaning the ability to make some more profit – and to entice loyal Mercantile shoppers to perhaps spend a little less on saddles. Thus the tiny business gets its bearing and competes (or tries to) with Megaglom. In a Tell-A-Friend marketplace, the Smiths may decide to throw a bone out to their loyal customers – you know, frequent flyers who’ve earned it – to spread the joy by offering a discount.

Remember what I said about a level playing field in the perfectly competitive marketplace (a figment of Oz), in which the saddles are identical/ Well, we all know that it’s pretty predictable to compare Megaglom’s saddles with the Smiths’ and see a marked difference in quality. It just happens with wannabe monopolies. It’s roadside peaches versus crap in a can. In the economy we actually live in, the goods ain’t the same. However, Megaglom has that magical way of offering a discount on something already cheap (inexpensive and cheaply produced) just because it can, not that it knows you’re hooked on saddles and buy theirs time after time. It doesn’t care. You are a unit of consumption. The Smiths, however, making ends meet and more, are happy to show you their appreciation when they see you in the Mercantile for the fourth time all year, and you are one of the family. You are offered a discount because it’s a nice thing to do and, in the long run, it’s profitable; you’ll tell a friend, you’ll be back for a 5th saddle, and so it goes.

Is there any reason in hell for you to kick the tires at Megaglom, write down the price of their silly-ass leatherette saddle made in a sweatshop, and roll up on the Smiths for the first time ever, asking for a discount or a price match? Well, yes, if you’re an entitled buffoon who would rather get something for nothing and encourage the trend toward Megaglom monopoly conditions in which you might see Mr. Smith greeting you at the door of Megaglom, despondent and bumming change on his days off. And if you don’t care about what you’re sitting on.

This is a case for respectful consumption. Not all goods are homogenous, certainly not saddles or other luxury goods. Apples, oranges – they’re all fruit. However, in order to keep our choices broad, I would advocate fair consumption, informed decisioneering, intelligent discernment between a saddle and a McSaddle, and adventurous participation in a free market. I would discourage freebie-seeking. And if you don’t have the money to pay fairly for a luxury good (maybe you don’t need it then?), have the finesse to refrain from asking for a discount; you’ll be offered one in due time as a familiar face, a loyal client. Then again, there’s no shame in riding on a blanket. I understand that worked out pretty well for centuries.


Ooh La La – a Reprinted Paperback to Read While Sipping ’73 Mouton

Working hard, hardly working, working smart, working the crowd….
working that 40-year old cork outta the bottle!

open73mouton1

open73mouton1

It’s been an ongoing process, this thing called life – and the other thing called writing. I got that dang ol’ paperback redone, a little bit in the morning whilst wearing my favorite bathrobe, and a little bit in the evening in my street clothes. Seeing lots of yummy downloads of the EBook allover the world. Can you believe that coolness? I really appreciate all the support, folks. I’ve told many of you that I was going to lay it out differently and create a new cover. My sweet wife had actually thrown her hat into the ring to paint me something cool and, while her concept is awesome, she got suddenly super-busy with a blossoming career. So, we’re going to defer her amazing imagery for now and save it for the cover of my next book, already underway and a little bit country, a little bit rock-n-roll – for you data-seeking geeks that get into a couple more syllables in your wine literature. I write for you, just like I make wine for you.If you’d like a copy of “Simple Math: Deconstructing How We Talk About Wine”, please find it here. Reviews are welcomed with open arms. And if it would look good in your tasting room or book store, there’s always that option for consignment.

Longer, Fresher and Easier on the Eyes. Ooh La La!

There’s been talk. Talk about the future, talk about the past…talk about tastings, talk about private labels, talk about export….and this (almost past) winter – talk about line spacing and cover design. So, folks, here’s a brand new re-do of my sarcastic-yet-informative, cheeky-but-empowering, clever, revolutionary, befuddling, oft-hilarious bookie-poo. At a spiffy and delicious price, too. Take the two bucks you’ve saved and put it toward the greeting card you neglected to send to that special someone. Or a REALLY CHEAP WINE? Your call. I ain’t here to judge – too hard. 🙂
It’s a little thicker now. Check out the E-Book today (on Amazon) and I’ll show you where to get the reprinted paperback in T minus 10 days.


Family First – What’s Up With The Home Peeps

It’s been a busy spring, dare I say summer already. It all blends together sometimes, doesn’t it? It seems like time to fill y’all in on some happenings right at home.

Tina (my spousally-oriented compass of cha cha and smarts) continues to be a fine dance partner in this gorgeous, layered world. She did a semester of pro bono teaching in the psych department at Sonoma State to rave reviews. Do it again? Well, she says she really enjoyed it, particularly at the upper-class level where her students were more self-selective of her interesting class, as opposed to – you might remember this feeling – having to fill in with a humanities course just because. I found it interesting material, being that I continue to be a second set of eyes for her thesis work and curriculum. Not that I’m a Jungian expert. Just an enthusiast and a language geek. Tina‘s going to be a hot ticket item; she and her peers have developed and implemented some well-received workshops on a national level that incorporate the arts and the inner workings of what makes humans do what they do.

Noah, our eldest, and Tobin, his little bro, are each well on their ways to great things. They both plan to do some volunteer work in South America and Asia this fall (yikes – there’s never enough planning to do!) and are quite excited to get the show on the road. Neither has left the US before, so we’re thrilled that they want to get so far away from us with such generous plans in mind. Afterwards, Noah plans to pick up where he left off as a very talented digital artist. His connections have granted him the inside track into the world of Lucasfilms, so our hopes are with him. The guy can do the Shrek thing, and nobody taught him a thing. Incredible. You should meet him some time. Tobin, well…it seems he’s got the culinary bug. His employer hails him as a quick study, a true talent and a very hard worker. Sounds like a winning formula; his salmon recipe already brings tears to my eyes. Not because he didn’t share his secret but because he’s just got that thang;and that thang is going to be thousands of miles away for many months. Should we talk him out of the trip? Heh.

We found that grass doesn’t always just grow in the front yard without tons of water. So we’re xeriscaping it. Well, almost. Layers of wineboxes, manure, soil, leaves and bark are turning it into a place where we can eventually highlight fruit trees and such. But the crab grass keeps persisting! Someone said, “Why not just spray Roundup?” Heck no, said I. I’d rather take to it with a shovel. No neurotoxins on our land, thanks very much. Doing things the natural way may involve more labor, but when you do it with your wife, it’s a labor of love. This is one of the ways we, with our insane schedules, get time to chat about something that doesn’t involve a computer screen! And Carmine the cabernet vine – some of you know about him, born from seeds that create $250 wine – he’s doing very well in his little pot. Soon, he’ll go into the ground – and probably feed the birds that know I’m up to my eyeballs and unable to shoo them away. The dogs would, but we want to remain friendly with our neighbors, so Chester’s and Bella’s more vociferous bird-repelling program is in the process of modification!

Me? I’ve begun publishing a blog that celebrates human achievement in a way that really aids all beings and the planet. Science, esoterica, just good old generosity…when I get more uploaded, it should be an interesting, uplifting read. I’ll make this known pretty darn soon. Just a few more entries….  Then there’s the book. Yes, the book. Years in the making, months in the fine tuning….Simple Math: Deconstructing How We Talk About Wine is going to be coming at you in electronic form. Some of you have already been given some chapters. I hope you like it thus far. It’s going to take just a bit more time to bring it to fruition as a book you can hold and read on a plane. Please be patient, but feel free to ask for a sneak peek if you like. That is, I need to make sure I know you before throwing it out there, so I’ll assume you’re a mailing list member. And if not, well whaddya waiting for? There’s a lot of benefit in being a peep. For instance, the party that’s coming up on July 7th. I’ve always appreciated our camaraderie, and this is a far better way to share it than in some big hall or in a hot parking lot, right?

So, that’s about all. Remember to kiss a puppy and if there’s not one handy, give me a shout. Our dogs are grownups but they’re built for laps. (They won’t be at the soiree – they’re a little, um, vociferous.)


Getting Philosophical

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo DaVinci

Going down to Tiburon tomorrow. Going to pour wine for new faces. Explain things, you know. How do you get the point home in 60 seconds when you have sometimes 25 glasses held out for tastes and questions about the name? I’ll tell you. ” Do you like high-end wines? Taste these. If you like them, you may order some.” The tech sheets don’t do anything productive, IMHO, but explain where the fruit comes from and what it is. Since the beginning, I’ve found that explaining winemaking to crowds in terms of numbers and science is NOT appealing. It’s hot air.

We don’t always need the gory details, and asking for them at a wine festival is about as logical as interrogating the pit crew that’s working on your Indy car while you’re waiting to get back into it and catch up. It’s a tasting. I hope you like the wines and the story – and the beautiful day outdoors, with music and gourmet food galore. Chiefly, I hope you support quality, small-production wine and send me home happy. It’s my wedding anniversary on the same day, so when I take my lovely bride out to dinner in the evening, I hope you’ll have found a certain joy in discovering Simple Math wines (or rediscovering them, if you already have – in which case, do come by and give me a handshake, hug or high-five) – and plan to enhance your life with what I’ve worked hard to bring to you. Don’t wait to see them in a store; it won’t happen. You can just go right to the source, and the CEO will be there to meet you in downtown Tiburon! How cool.

Another note: Facebook is no longer a platform for Simple Math Cellars. If it’s impractical to reach out to me the usual way – (phone, text or email, found on the Contact Page), you can keep up on LinkedIn or Twitter. Just be warned that I’m not walking around all day, clicking on my smartphone because I’d probably bump into things and get ZERO productive work done. I do social media from a computer when I have time, and when there’s really something I have to share that will help you enjoy life more.

Now, those of you on the winery mailing list have been given a look at this. It’s a prologue to my new book, which is nearly done. It’s a bit cheeky, a bit informative, a bit empowering. It’s a book that translates the story of Simple Math wines – the reason for the name and much more. Why is that we speak in tongues about wine rather than keep it basic? Just because we may be discussing something rare or expensive doesn’t mean we have to fatten up our vocabulary with more syllables and keep up appearances. Nobody really likes a snob, so I’m going to help you avoid becoming one as well as spoiling your afternoon listening to one.  So here’s a taste of what I hope to have published in June.

“As a wine guy on both sides of the credit card, I’ve learned a dozen – no – 1001 things. Things about wine from the ground up. Winemaking, grapegrowing, packaging…statistics, chemistry, finance…and marketing. If you’ve built the Golden Widget, good on ya. If you want a backlog of widgets to take up space in your garage, forget everything you’ve ever learned about marketing, whether you’re the persuader or the audience. You’re going to learn something new tomorrow and the next day that may totally trump the last best reason you thought the bottle du jour should be in the spotlight. I think the main reason for this is the way we talk about wine, and as this shifts and evolves at the speed of light, so do our beliefs and understandings.
This book is intended to look at how we talk about wine, and to present a different lens that’s perfectly OK to use – a lens which can be dug out of the grade school box of belongings as relevant and useful. This lens is actually language, or vernacular, or vocabulary, or jargon, or even slang. Whatever you want to call a collection of words is fine; the way you use it is up to you. The people I’ve talked with for several years tend to agree that, just as we don’t typically chat in Old English about zinfandel, there’s always an easier way to convey a point. I felt like a king when I bought my first cordless electric drill. However, a regular screwdriver is as good as the day it came to being. There’s nobody looking over my shoulder when I use it, looking down at me for doing so or asking me questions about the laws of physics I take advantage of when I turn a screw. I’m just turning a screw and don’t care about friction coefficients or the fundamental function of the ramp as the reason the screw goes into the wood.
It’s the same in the world of fine wine. I contend that the use of complicated wine talk has had its day and that many producers of luxury wines would join me in the sentiment that, after a while, it’s really a bunch of hot air. By that, I mean the practice of describing wine by using numbers to discuss how it was made or by using incomprehensible words that exclude too many people. Unfortunately, wine lovers have had this language forced down their throats for so long that they use it to be an active part of the culture, often not even knowing what the hell they’ve just said!
This is not by any stretch a textbook, or even a handbook per se – but rather a collection of suggestions as to how to get back to basics. It will be of interest to wine consumers as well as those in the wine trade because it will empower, explore and remind. It will provoke and prod. It will examine the uncomfortable perspective that we’re all probably guilty of making wine talk so friggin’ complicated when it really boils down to one simple point: YUM or YUCK.
You won’t learn to be a wine sales rep by reading this. Nor will you get tips about how to go from mere wine drinker to wine expert. Most certainly, this isn’t the book to teach you how to be the most engaging wino at the party. This is an antidote to snobbery and part of an ongoing story about how I’ve learned to pull that one eyebrow down while still knowing a little bit about a couple of things.”

Copyright 2012 Christian Lane


News from the Press

It’s been a while since I said anything HERE but, mind you, I’ve been saying it elsewhere. Mostly tete a tete, in person or by phone, via email or via social media. Largely, much time has been spent with my head down in the books. One of those books, dear reader, is going to be available to you first prior to the rest of the world.

The Simple Math philosophy is clear to you by now. You know it gets embellished as we cruise through life, too, since there’s so much going on that our daily goings-on can create a pretty complex pile of adventure (and misadventure). I’ve been working on a couple of books for a while but one is nearing its completion. ETA June 2012. Here’s a free preview!

But first, if you’re in the Bay Area this weekend, please stop by and see me at the San Francisco Vintner’s Market. If you’re a pal on Facebook, you know how to get a comp ticket.

“As a wine guy on both sides of the credit card, I’ve learned a dozen – no – 1001 things. Things about wine from the ground up. Winemaking, grapegrowing, packaging…statistics, chemistry, finance…and marketing. If you’ve built the Golden Widget, good on ya. If you want a backlog of widgets to take up space in your garage, forget everything you’ve ever learned about marketing, whether you’re the persuader or the audience. You’re going to learn something new tomorrow and the next day that may totally trump the last best reason you thought the bottle du jour should be in the spotlight. I think the main reason for this is the way we talk about wine, and as this shifts and evolves at the speed of light, so do our beliefs and understandings.

This book is intended to look at how we talk about wine, and to present a different lens that’s perfectly OK to use – a lens which can be dug out of the grade school box of belongings as relevant and useful. This lens is actually language, or vernacular, or vocabulary, or jargon, or even slang. Whatever you want to call a collection of words is fine; the way you use it is up to you. The people I’ve talked with for several years tend to agree that, just as we don’t typically chat in Old English about zinfandel, there’s always an easier way to convey a point. I felt like a king when I bought my first cordless electric drill. However, a regular screwdriver is as good as the day it came to being. There’s nobody looking over my shoulder when I use it, looking down at me for doing so or asking me questions about the laws of physics I take advantage of when I turn a screw. I’m just turning a screw and don’t care about friction coefficients or the fundamental function of the ramp as the reason the screw goes into the wood.

It’s the same in the world of fine wine. I contend that the use of complicated wine talk has had its day and that many producers of luxury wines would join me in the sentiment that, after a while, it’s really a bunch of hot air. By that, I mean the practice of describing wine by talking about how it was made or by using incomprehensible words that exclude too many people. Unfortunately, wine lovers have had this language forced down their throats for so long that they use it to be an active part of the culture, often not even knowing what the hell they’ve just said!

This is not by any stretch a textbook, or even a handbook per se – but rather a collection of suggestions as to how to get back to basics. It will be of interest to wine consumers as well as those in the wine trade because it will empower, explore and remind. It will provoke and prod. It will examine the uncomfortable perspective that we’re all probably guilty of making wine talk so friggin’ complicated when it really boils down to one simple point: YUM or YUCK.

You won’t learn to be a wine sales rep by reading this. Nor will you get tips about how to go from mere wine drinker to wine expert. Most certainly, this isn’t the book to teach you how to be the most engaging wino at the party. This is an antidote to snobbery and part of an ongoing story about how I’ve learned to pull that one eyebrow down while still knowing a little bit about a couple of things.”


Beating the Bushes – A Practicum

Wine male

Image by @Doug88888 via Flickr

A hallmark of being in the right place at the right time is the wisdom of carrying the right stick with which to scare up opportunity. If it’s a 14th Century Nordic cudgel (and you’re more softspoken than you’d like to be), your efforts will be a bit brassier than your game (target) requires, leaving a blushing wound where the smile should have been situated. Similarly, bring a pencil, thin dowel or knitting needle with which to “generate a little productive dialogue” and you’ll wind up creating nothing more than a 30-second memory in your prospect’s mind – as substantial as a carpenter ant’s sneeze. There’s an art to finding a mutual balance point when hunting for what you want – or convincing someone else that her/his needs will undoubtedly be fulfilled by caving to your pitch.

I could be talking about wine sales, or I could be talking about proposing marriage, or I could be talking about training unruly sots to tuck their elbows in at the tavern. The point is that when you have a goal to accomplish, there’s generally a resistance to overcome – an an art to doing so – be it human objection, circumstantial difficulty, chemistry, friction, culture, economy, astronomy (ie: the planets were lined up just so), whatever. There’s simple math all around us: the logic, the beauty, the austerity, the graciousness of natural law – a law upon which the tangible universe all around us relies, and according to which stuff just works. When you weed the garden, your crop thrives. However, when you allow the weeds to propagate, nature is still operating in its wonderfully balancing way. It might not sound right, but think about it; weeds are people too! That garden just may have a weedy destiny, despite the gardener’s intervention. Energy fills voids. Heat from one room seeks to balance the cold room next door. The pause after the logical pitch/proposal creates the empty space for an opposite reaction. Therefore, when he shouts: “SO, YA GONNA MARRY ME OR WHAT??” she responds in kind: “HAIL NO, FOOL!” He must rustle the shrubbery with the energy he wants to receive. Golden Rule stuff. Simple Math.

So the wine salesman says to the restaurateur, “Assuming we can help one another, I’d be honored to see my wine on your list. In addition, I’d be delighted to refer anyone and anyone to your awesome restaurant.”  And the restaurateur says to the wine salesman 30 days later, “I hope your check arrived in the mail today. If not, please let me know and I’ll get that sorted right away. By the way, is there any more of that delightful syrah available to us?”

That’s another abstraction of what Simple Math is. Just in case you were going to ask again if I love calculus, I don’t. But if you look at a rose, the math involved in its design really hits the spot for me. Natural law – beautiful.


Making the Most of a Vintage

Vintage

Image via Wikipedia

As we all know, a vintage is simply a year. The word “vintage” connotes more than just a number, depending on what you’re talking about. In the case of, say, an uncle, it’s deferential to refer to his vintage when he’s celebrating a birthday if he’s unhappy about getting older, slower, more gullible, whatever. Just say, “Wow, you’re only 65? Born in what, ’46? That was a great vintage, Uncle Fester! Hell, you look great.” In terms of cars older than 25-30 years, we always seem to allude to “vintage cars” – meaning old – but when talking to a guy like my pal who restores these, the vintage becomes the year of manufacture. He digs ’61 Chevy trucks, by the way, and would bust me in the grill (get it?) if I were to say that ’63s rock harder. Besides, what do I know? But the vintage is everything to him, and I love him like my very own dog. So for wine, yes, vintage indicates when the grapes were picked, of course – but should never, ever cause one to generalize about the yumminess of what’s in the bottle (re: Calistoga 1998, Haut-Medoc 1983, Beaune 1948) because A) The wine pundits make sweeping generalizations for us based on high-production wines that were submitted in order to judge a winegrowing year; B) your trash may be my treasure; and C) sweeping is reserved for musical passages, glances and brooms.

A vintage can indicate the mere character of a calendar year. For me, 2011 has been a kick-ass vintage that was determined well before bud break.

But back to vitis vinifera in California (because I don’t have the time or desire to get nerdy about the vines outside of my own locale)…yep. You can see it coming. I’ve seen it before, when the shit hit the fan, when rains came at the wrong time, when temperatures didn’t subsequently rise enough to prevent moisture, mold and general ickiness down to the root tips…when naysayers said, “Oh boy; we’re in the trash heap now.” It’s been a bit hairy for early-harvested varietals in Napa-Sonoma (whites, pinot, syrah, sangiovese and the like) but it ain’t over yet. There’s less fruit, sure, but the quality is awesome thus far, according to those tasting and testing. Now here we come to an interesting point: successful winemaking begins with effective, intuitive viticulture. If you’ve got a Jim-Bob-Johnson winery pushing out small quantities and utilizing clean techniques, you’re looking at a greater likelihood of quality down to the bottling line. Alternately, if you’re talking about the 5-million-case Miller-McPherson-Kerbopple Holding Company dba McFurdiger Enterprises squeezing out SKUs and product from 10 tons per acre, employing only the finest in mechanical harvesting technology and low-payroll, high-production, undocumented labor units to supply the marketplace with only the most reliable $4/bottle bullshit, then yes, the 2011 vintage may be seen as something somewhat sketchy and cause the overseas-closeout-liquidation-cutesy-animal-label marketplace to lather up their forklifts for more participation in the big lie they actually foist off as fine wine. But there’s no farmer thus far whose boutique-level efforts have ever characterized the quality of a vintage (in the press and on heavily-trafficked wine websites), at least to my knowledge. And you’ll always find joy in a bottle somewhere, somehow; maybe even believe that a winery you never heard of has just spun straw from gold and earned your loyalty. You just have to experiment. Put the shiny magazine down, hang up your smartphone for a while and let your palate be your guide. What. Do. You. Like?

I need to tip the hat here. I discovered John Anthony cabernet a few years ago and was KNOCKED OUT. It was the 2003 vintage. Enough said. Also, if you’ve ever drunk a Trefethen ’98 cab, you cannot tell me it’s not extremely well-made, only that it may not  be your bag. The point is that when you take what the Earth has offered and do something mindful with it, it will work out. She doesn’t hand you awesome wine, only the building blocks.

I am opinionated and made sure to create fictional corporate names in Paragraph 3 while using real brand names in the next one out of respect for sheer awesomeness. That, friends, is what simple math is all about. It just is, and it’s everywhere. Hopefully this post inspires insightful discourse and discourages hopelessness when you consider whether you’ll want to buy any 2011 California wines.


A “Meet the Makers” Chat on ToutSuite

Excellent times on toutsuite.com

The next show (just me doing an intensive interactive pinot tasting) will be on the same site on October 25th at 6 pm. You can chime in via telephone or Twitter. Just remember to sign up or sign in first. See you there!

Cheers,      Christian


Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

Vertical lineup of Pinot noir wines from the B...

the "Rhonal variety"

In this crazy world, there’s more than enough noise for you, if that’s your cup of tea. The ability to filter is of utmost importance for a number of reasons, perhaps mainly for sanity maintenance. If you can keep your head clear, you can accomplish just about anything. Picture Neo dodging bullets with that far-off look on his face, like either a Boddhisattva or an idiot savant. Be that, and your efficiencies will come into line, and you’ll swat your emails, your problems, your projects off course like so many horseflies. (note: Trust me – East Coast horseflies in particular don’t give up after one swat – but the analogy was invigoratingly satisfying).

It bears to reason that in your job, product knowledge has a relative component to the point above because when you’re peddling wares or ideas, you have not only boatloads of extracurricular data in your head fighting for airtime but scads of information you’ve picked up to help you perform your task as best you can. The way to handle my husband just texted me that the water heater has died in tandem with this microprocessor does not run on biodiesel despite what a blogger told me is fairly simple: read a kajillion self-help books on meditation and organization. Right? Naw, not necessarily. One answer among several, though, is to wake up in the morning with a firm grasp on what one does for a living and embrace getting better at it.

It’s not about the cache of where you work (location, location, location) but rather what you do and improving upon it (vocation, vocation, vocation). Do you have a gig as a host at a shi-shi bistro? Will you ignore me, the guy who tips 30% because I hate math and would rather just round up to the nearest ten buck increment, or will you dispense with the iPhone and greet me like it’s the last conversation you’ll have before being interred in Gitmo? I’m not a good employee because I aspire to rule the world a bottle at a time, but I got to CEO by bull__ing with the best of them, acting like there would be no other place I’d choose to while away a shift, including bed. And 9 of 10 customers surveyed afterwards preferred this saccharine antic. The 10th was a masochist and preferred rudeness (see iPhone texting, glazed-eyed apathy, etc.).

I was on the other side of the hill today (Napa) taking an exam under the watchful eyes of the Society of Wine Educators. Wish me luck, and if you can mentally manipulate ScanTron readers from a distance, feel free to bend to your will the machine about to mark any of my answers as incorrect. Cheating is OK if it employs Star Trek techniques. Anyway, I came back to the Sonoma side and idled into a very famous tasting room. What do I have now, 5 or 6 wine business cards? I ask about industry comps and upon acceptance, deal her the Jack in my poker hand. She’s been around, 20 years my elder, and by default earns a great deal of my deference. I’m just genteel like that. But it starts to go haywire from an informational standpoint, and you’ll see the impact of her ‘tude as we go along here. I remark that the driveway was the longest one I’d seen since Highway 128. She glowers. I was just sayin’. I wasn’t sayin’, you know? I say that the place is just huge, huger than I’d expected, and that I was there to taste some wine from a renowned winery after having opened one of their early-’80s zins and being impressed with its ageability. She’s nonplussed by my proferral of props. I’d expect some warmth on that one.

She says this is a multi-generational, tiny winery. I ask how much they produce. She says 250,ooo cases. M-hm. Tiny.  She takes the spit bucket away from me and offers a stainless steel martini shaker, saying that they don’t allow spitting into spit buckets. Not in those words, but hence another disconnect. She pours a pinot for me, and here it gets good. 1) “Pinot noir is a Rhonal varietal.” Come again? I asked thrice for clarification/verification and nearly got a spanking. nkay. Who the hell took my world away? Then 2) “How does this compare to your pinot?” Apples/oranges? Whaddya mean? (And she’s wont to repeating her questions without rephrasing, which is like reasoning with the Headless Horseman.) “I mean, is the finish spicy?” So you’re asking if my pinot has a spicy finish? Well, yes. Erm, I use Dijon clones, and this is clearly of Pommard, and it doesn’t make sense to compare dissimilar pinots except on their own merits, and your question about spicy finish seems to be one of quality and I’m just confused by this line of questioning…. More silliness ensues, but she’s really a rude person. I taste an ’08 cab franc, and we go on to, as she puts it, “the reserve”. What does that mean? From a technical standpoint, what – oh, this is a totally different varietal, OK – so anyway, back on the rails, are we talking about barrel selection, time in oak, bottle ageing, what connotes “reserve”? Answer: “From a technical standpoint, it means this is what the winemaker wants to call reserve; it’s his special wine.” (repeat the Q & A, seeking a rephrased answer – to no avail). She hands me a receipt, even though it totals $zero (comp – thank you), and wants to know if I’d like to take a brochure.

I hightail it out of there, never to return. But not without telling her that I’d diligently seek out the heritage of pinot noir as indigenous to the Rhone Valley!

Education is key. If you’re going to carry the overhead of a tasting room, you’d better hire people that know wine. Your visitors can absolutely slay your winery by word of mouth in the blink of an eye. I don’t care how many hundreds of visitors you get every week. Let’s understand what’s in our own backyards and promote California wines to visitors in a knowledgeable and professional manner. That will keep the numbers where they need to be, rather than be subsumed by the $5 South American plonk taking over our marketshare. Vocation, vocation, vocation.


The Chemistry of Wine (Discourse)

I look forward to speaking at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory next week! It’s an honor to have been invited. Hmm. What to say? What’s the theme? For crying out loud, Barack Obama has been spotted on campus.

I’ll go ahead and discuss the chemistry of what happens in the vineyard through to the bottle. I’ll talk about the chemical reactions that occur during the course of an evening of wine and food. I’ll break down the thermodynamics and entropy that lay in wait during those pregnant pauses between “tastes like vinyl” and “reminds me to treat the barrel room for brett”. There’s just so much science embedded in how we talk about the science of talking about the science of wine. (get that?) Book signing to follow.

Background (courtesy of http://www.lbl.gov/LBL-PID/LBL-Overview.html)

In the world of science, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is synonymous with “excellence.” Thirteen scientists associated with Berkeley Lab have won the Nobel Prize. Fifty-seven Lab scientists are members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the highest honors for a scientist in the United States. Thirteen of our scientists have won the National Medal of Science, our nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research. Eighteen of our engineers have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and three of our scientists have been elected into the Institute of Medicine. In addition, Berkeley Lab has trained thousands of university science and engineering students who are advancing technological innovations across the nation and around the world.

Berkeley Lab is a member of the national laboratory system supported by the U.S. Department of Energy through its Office of Science. It is managed by the University of California (UC) and is charged with conducting unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Located on a 200-acre site in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus that offers spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley Lab employs approximately 4,200 scientists, engineers, support staff and students. Its budget for 2011 is $735 million, with an additional $101 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for a total of $836 million. A recent study estimates the Laboratory’s overall economic impact through direct, indirect and induced spending on the nine counties that make up the San Francisco Bay Area to be nearly $700 million annually. The Lab was also responsible for creating 5,600 jobs locally and 12,000 nationally. The overall economic impact on the national economy is estimated at $1.6 billion a year. Technologies developed at Berkeley Lab have generated billions of dollars in revenues, and thousands of jobs. Savings as a result of Berkeley Lab developments in lighting and windows, and other energy-efficient technologies, have also been in the billions of dollars.

Wish me luck. Q and A might make my eyes cross permanently!