All posts by NovaCadamatre

A Winemaker’s Request: Please Don’t Sell Solely on Scores

Before we left California, I did one final sales trip for my previous winery.  It was a week long and we were really doing well in the market.  People loved the wines.  They commented on the flavors and the value.  They were impressed with the work, care, and dedication that went into making each blend once I was able to describe each step of our winemaking and blending process.  I even heard sales people that were working beside me starting to adopt the story of the wines, not just pouring them.  From my view, it was going very well.

Then it happened…

A score came out…

92 from the area’s top critic.

The salespeople were, of course, ecstatic.

I was excited as well.  It’s always exciting when someone likes your wines enough to give them a high score and write about them.  I don’t care who you are or where you fall on the 100 point debate. Maybe you love or hate certain critics?  Maybe you think the day of major wine critics are over or if you think they will have influence forever? Regardless of all of this, if you are a winemaker, you want people to like your wines.  A high score is validation that you have done a good enough job to have someone notice and single it out.  As a winemaker who hovers around in the low 90s for a score average, I know how exciting a higher than average score can be.

There is a downside however.

As soon as the score came out, the story shifted from the actual story behind the wine to quoting the critic’s score.  Granted, this could be because I had different people with me every day and maybe these new folks weren’t as well acquainted with the story as those who had stood by my side listening to me repeat my winemaking for several hours.  I am certain they didn’t even realize the shift.  The customers were impressed but at that point I worried that they forget the story behind the wine and only remember the score.  Other consumers though, didn’t know what the score meant.  Others just walked away after that.  We missed a critical opportunity to connect and inspire customers with our story.

So I have a request to all wine sales people and wine merchants.  I don’t mind you telling people the score.  I would probably tell the score myself to the right customer.  Just don’t let it be your lead punch.  Tell the story of the land, the people behind the wines and the care they put into each bottle, the significance of the label design, the time taken to make sure everything is perfect for them, and after all that and ONLY after all that, then bring out the score.

Please.

There is too much that goes into each bottle to distill that hard work and passion down to a score and have the average consumer understand what that means.

Small Bites: My Quick News Roundup!

There is so much to talk about from the past few weeks while my family and I have been relocating across the country!  I decided to break them down into small bites…

Bite 1: Arsenic Anyone?

I really don’t want to give this story any more time than it takes for me to acknowledge it however Alder Yarrow from Vinography.com did an amazing post telling you why exactly you shouldn’t be worried about this and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, please read his post here.

Bite 2: WE’RE HERE!!!!!

We arrived into the beautiful and chilly state of New York last weekend and are now settling into our new house.  Currently one entire room is devoted to unpacked, empty boxes but once those get hauled away tomorrow we should be in fairly good shape as far as moving in is concerned.
 

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I started my new job last week and while it is a dramatic change from Robert Mondavi, it should present a good challenge.  Back in January, we closed on 12 acres on the shores of Seneca lake and I went out that day to put “Posted” signs up.  Upon our return last weekend all but 1 of the 6 signs were torn down.  I’m hoping it is just a combination of wind and extreme cold but I can’t help but be worried that the former owner of a nice deer stand on our land may have had something to do with it.  Our goal is to clear much of the land this summer once the soil dries out some from all the snow this winter.  That way we can start to see where our future house and vineyards will go! We are very excited about this new phase of our lives.

Bite 3: Vintage 2015 Update

New York: It’s cold.  It has been VERY, VERY cold this winter.  I’m a little concerned that we may not have many grapes to make wine with from the western side of the state.  Even though we got another 3 inches of snow this morning, signs of spring are everywhere.  Those 3 inches were mostly melted away by mid afternoon.  Robins are showing up and Canadian Geese can be heard flying overhead, heading North.  Maybe we’ll be close to budbreak around the middle of May.

Napa:  Budbreak is everywhere and frost season is in full swing according to a friend of mine.  There has still been very little rain so the area is poised for a 3rd consecutive drought season.  Again, I wouldn’t want the be the grower that has to choose between protecting what crop they may have this year and saving water so that they can ripen that crop.

Those are the bites for the week!  Happy growing season everyone!

 

My Top Five Winemaking Nightmares

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I recently read this post from wine searcher entitled “Every Winemaker’s Nightmare comes true.”  The “Nightmare” mentioned was that someone slipped into the winery at night and opened the taps on 4 tanks which emptied them down the drain.  Honestly, this is pretty far down on my “nightmare” list.  So that got me thinking, what IS on a winemaker’s nightmare list?

Someone getting hurt

This is my top one.  As a winemaker you rely on your vineyard and cellar team everyday.  While we try to keep everyone as safe as possible there are significant risks in our industry.  My biggest fear is CO2.  We generate a ton of it during fermentations.  It is invisible, heavy, and you don’t see it coming until it hits you.  Anyone who has had the breath knocked out of them from CO2 has a healthy respect for it.  Every time I see a picture somewhere of some person standing over an open top fermentor on a board punching down I cringe.  I cringe just thinking about it.  It’s so stupid and dangerous! Likewise for vineyard and winery equipment.  Tractors and forklifts, occasionally mixed with dimly lit vineyards and parking lots during harvest when everyone is working all the time do not make for ideal conditions.  High Vis colors and vests are a must!  Seriously, this is top of mind for me at all times.  You have to keep your crew safe!

Microbes and Fruit Flies

Brett, Acetobacter, and film yeasts.  Malolactic bacteria in a crisp white.  That weird ropy stuff which is totally disgusting.  The Fruit flies which carry all the nasty things I listed above around the winery.  Now I am not a germ-phobe.  These things exist and that is ok.  My fear lies in not knowing where they are.  If you have contamination (and unless you have a completely new winery that has never seen a grape, you do), knowing where it is located is the first line of defense.  My fear is that there are places of contamination that I don’t know about so each new find is a small victory.  If you know where it is, you can take action to control it.

People Who Don’t Know How to Open Sparkling Wine Bottles Safely

This loosely ties into the safety section above but when you add more than 6 atmospheres of pressure held together by glass and a potential projectile plus a cavalier attitude, things can go south quickly.  Maybe it is because in my days of sparkling winemaking, I had so many bottles blow out their corks rapidly once you loosened the cage.  Maybe it is because when you are bottling sparkling wine from a Charmat tank you occasional find a weak bottle and it explodes sending everyone into a “hit the deck” type reaction.  Magnums were particularly loud and tended to take out the bottles next to them as well leading to explosions in rapid succession.  Safety glasses are a must in that situation. Anyway, back to random people opening sparkling wine bottles.  Most of the time people assume you need to remove the cage from the bottle to open it.  Not so.  As soon as you loosen the cage, you just took the safety off and it should be treated with respect and care.  Always properly chill the wine before opening.  Gently unscrew the wire and loosen the cage with your other hand and preferably a napkin holding the top of the cage.  At that point, you begin to slowly twist the bottom of the bottle while holding the cork AND the cage together at the top.  The cork should slowly push out from the pressure behind it with a quiet “Piffffff” not a loud POP!  Please do not wave around an uncaged bottle with a cork and, for goodness sakes, do not point it at other people or breakable objects!

Cellar Mistakes

Your dream starts like this.  You’ve just completed a masterpiece blend.  You and your colleagues taste it and all agree that it is the best wine that you all have ever been involved in.  The excitement is palpable.  Maybe it’s received one of those super high pre-bottling range scores from a well known critic (95-98 anyone?).  Maybe it’s going to shoot sales into the stratosphere? Maybe it will sell out in 1 week all to your wine club?

Mabye….? Oh wait, your cellar comes to say they actually just blended a key component of your amazing, earth shattering blend, into another variety from a completely different blend, maybe even from a completely different appellation rendering both components next to useless.

Maybe you’ve gotten the blend together successfully but someone in your cellar has been storing the transfer hoses next to a cooling tower that has Bromine in it for sanitation and your entire blend gets contaminated by TBA (similar smell to TCA “cork” taint) on it’s way to the bottling line.

And you wake up and breathe a sigh of relief that it was only a nightmare.

Natural Disasters

Earthquake anyone? This is a double worry with people getting hurt and your winery falling apart all at the same time.  Losing wine? Lowest priority at that point.

Polar Vortex? If you are in New York, as I am now, the winter lows are dropping dangerously close to the bud kill point for your varieties.  This can lead to reduced crops at best and dead vines at worst some of which may not show up until the following summer due to damaged vascular systems which are no longer able to pull enough water to sustain healthy growth.

Hurricanes during harvest? Nothing is guaranteed to turn healthy grapes to mush faster than driving wind and 12 inches of rain over a 48 hour period. Trust me.

Not fun…

Vandalism

Oh yeah that. Occasionally ( and I do mean occasionally) once or twice a year the thought of vandalism crosses my mind but not until after all of the above things have been mentally chewed over multiple times.  Honestly, it’s just wine.  It can be replaced. That’s why you have insurance.  Of all of them, this is probably the easiest to deal with because it is the least likely to happen particularly if you take precautions such as proper security measures.  This is really not very high on my list at all and if I was writing this without the inspiration from the post linked above, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to include it.  Just goes to show how a great headline can grab your attention.