When oh When to Drink the dusty bottles in my wine rack? Wineries' responses and response times. Summary: somewhat disappointing response times!

What’s an ignorant wine drinker to do? I tried using some of the internet’s vintage guides to answer my questions as I dusted off my wine rack, but those guides simply weren’t satisfactory. Either that, or I fear that I’d waited too long to open those bottles. So I resorted to the winery websites for information, and it’s a good thing I wasn’t needing decision-support for a dinner party later that day… because ONLY ONE winery of the three I reached was “on top” of the customer service question.

Now, I know that this isn’t exactly a representative sampling and that the results of this survey are not statistically significant at the 98% percentile of certainty, but still ... such customer service, and rapidly, is a function to which the wine industry needs to be attuned.


Original question: sent at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning to info@tobinjames.com:
SUBJECT: When to drink your 2000 syrah silver reserve
MESSAGE: I've had this bottle for a while and wondring how much longer I should
cellar it, or if I should drink it now. Thanks for your help!

Thank you for your email. The 2000 Silver Syrah is a fabulous wine. I would
recommend drinking it. The 2000 Syrah should be drinking very nice now and
it will definitely hold for a few more years. I would love to hear how it
P.S. If you decide to hold the bottle for a bit longer be sure it is
cellared properly.

Monica Martin, Manager
Tobin James Cellars
8950 Union Road
Paso Robles CA 93446

AND THEN, IN ADDITION TO A PROMPT RESPONSE, Tobin James provided even more superior customer service…
I wrote: Thank you for your speedy reply, and the responsible way in which you mentioned the need for proper cellaring. Do you have a resource that will help me understand what "proper cellaring" means for the everyday winedrinker who has less than 4 cases on hand? Thanks again!

Monica promptly replied: Barbara, The term proper cellaring is just keeping the bottle in a cool constant temp.

~~~~ a close second ~~~~~ Grgich Hills ! ~~~~~~~~~~~~

Original question: sent on Mon, Sep 29, 2008 at 8:50 AM to info@grgich.com
SUBJECT: question about your Napa Valley Chardonnay 2001 -- drink now or hold?
MESSAGE: I've had this bottle for a while now and wondering how much longer I should cellar it, or if it should be consumed now. Thanks for your help!

Hi Barbara,
Last year we opened some Chardonnay going back to the 1980's and most all of them were still excellent. That is kind of a long way of saying that you could drink it now and it would be wonderful or you could hold it for a couple of more years and it would still be good..

Bob During
Grgich Hills Estate

~~oh my oh my~~~ya gotta do better than this, Frank Family! ~~~

Original question: sent on Monday, September 29, 2008 8:48 AM to info@frankfamilyvineyards.com
SUBJECT: question about your cab sauv Napa Valley from 1998
MESSAGE: I've had this bottle for a while now, and wondering if I should continue to cellar it, or should drink it now. Thanks for your help.

RESPONSE TIME: 4 days, 2.5 hours
You should drink it now. 98 was a year that should have been consumed a couple of Years back, hope it is okay. Do not decant, as this will age it even more…which you don’t want to do.
Sincerely, Rick


Regardless, thanks to all the wineries for helping me along the path to more understanding of wines and their lifelines ... I appreciate it.

Carbon Footprint of Wine Stoppers

That fresh-tasting SOFIA Blanc de Blancs (2006) from Francis Coppola that my friends and I shared while watching the sun set over Napa from the perspective of Russian Hill in San Francisco ... perfect for celebrating the newly negotiated salary for my internet ad-sales friend. But, alas, as often happens when we gather around the wine bottles, we enjoy the product but I confess to prompting a deeper look at the package too. In this case, the cork stopper used for this sparkling wine. "Cork," said my neighbor, "what a wasteful product." It took about two minutes to remind her that 1) cork is renewable 2) cork is lightweight 3) cork implies a premium product 4) cork was the original and authentic wine stopper, used for centuries, and 5) cork has a far more favorable environmental profile than almost any other wine stopper. If "Lessened Carbon Footprint" is the object, than the plastic and aluminium screw top closures have a long way to go in matching cork's win-win in this area. This is not a rant, this is fact.


This article was authored by the owner of this blog, and published in PACKAGING REVIEW - SOUTH AFRICA in the August 2008 issue, under the title "Wine Packaging Trends."

Wine packaging is primarily about the relationship that a wine farmer seeks to build with his customers – some call this “brand”. Regardless of brand equity built in the past, as markets and new clientele are developed, packaging must twist and turn to meet evolving consumer demands.

Today, nothing is as demanding as “green”. Wine packaging must take into account a growing locavore movement, with its vocal segment of consumers suggesting that buying local and transporting less is environmentally responsible. This goes beyond the now-customary “carbon footprint” concerns, and is a trend to watch.

Lighter weight bottles are coming to your winery soon. This is a major trend worldwide, and is reinforced by the fact that lighter packaging is also cheaper packaging – an important consideration for wine farmers who must contain costs without affecting product quality.

The UK program GlassRiteWine goes one step further than mere use of lighter weight bottles. Today, almost 200 million 75 cl glass bottles are filled in the UK with wine that has been imported bulk instead of being bottled at the source. . The second phase of this program will involve development and trial of lighter weight bottles for champagne and sparkling wines. Studies of PET alternatives are also under way.

The briefing on Environment and Ethical Issues found at http://www.wineintelligence.com/ displays a series of interesting charts, the results of studies that lead their analysts to conclude that “bag-in-box, cartons, plastic bottles and ring-pull cans all have image problems to address.” Yet, more and more wineries are bravely testing consumer reaction to these packages, and consumers are currently buying these wines for parties, picnics and informal meals at home. The history of packaging adoption shows that it is not a far reach from here to the formal meal and restaurant table.

Wine in flexible pouches is heralded as having up to 80% less of a carbon footprint than wine bottles. The Company of Wine People just launched its Arniston Bay pouched wine to the UK market, featuring Chenin Chardonnay and Pinotage Rose varietals in 1.5 liter pouches, with 250 ml pouches following on. Other lauded consumer benefits are ease of transport, and ease of storage in the fridge. Once opened, the wine is said to stay fresh for up to one month. These pouches are flexo printed and feature a low-profile press tap; the Saflite Packaging division of AstraPak Group is the manufacturer, and the packaging is designed to be export-sturdy.

Bag in Box wine is becoming more acceptable to consumers as packaging manufacturers have created films with excellent oxygen barrier protection to keep both wine quality optimal and, in conjunction with new dispensers, offer a differentiated, long life wine package.
One such example is the new Viniplus ™ bag-in-box wine tap designed and manufactured by Worldwide Dispensers. This tap provides easy one-handed dispensing, and no mess; the directional flow of wine from the box to the glass is excellent. The tap’s no-drip spout features a special valve that leaves the it clean and ready for the next pour. The total package provides over 100 days of shelf life extension.

In July 2008, Fairhills launched a range of wines in 100% recyclable bag-in-box. Their Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc moved to 1-liter bag-in-box for reasons of easy transport and convenient consumer storage. The wines stay fresh for up to nine months before use, and for up to two weeks after opening if they are then kept chilled in the ‘fridge. CEO of Fairhills wines, Bernard Fontannaz, lauded the lower carbon footprint that this package represents. “As the largest Fairtrade wine supplier in the UK we feel it is out duty to take environmental issues into account when packaging our wine,” he stated. The Fairhills project in South Africa is a joint venture between Origin Wines and the Du Toitskloof winery located in the Western Cape.

The marketing need for good presentation on the shelf and on the table brings the role of labels and closures to the fore. The story that labels tell to consumers is all-important, and wine label design must do this job. But increasingly, labels must perform yeoman duty: they must convey a sense of “place”, carry on a romance with the consumer, and yet meet all the varying requirements for home and export markets.

With increasing concern about alcohol content, label graphic designers must figure out ways to address this information need. Calorie counts may be the biggest coming attraction on the wine label. Both California and New York – trend-setting states for food and drink worldwide – have had legislation recently recommended that will require restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus. It is not a huge jump from a menu to a wine list, and from there you can expect pressure to list calories on your wine bottle labels.

Small leaflets and hang-tabs are starting to appear on bottles of wine at retail, with the intent of conveying more information for the wine-curious consumer. Look for increased use of these promotional techniques, as the real estate on both the front and back of bottle labels becomes more and more crowded, with content ranging from wine-food pairing suggestions, to philosophy of “organic” and “Biodynamic” production, to “Wineometers” depicting dryness/sweetness and full/light boded aspects of the wine.

The choice of wine bottle closures as an indicator of quality and value to a consumer, and as a protector of the lovingly produced contents, provides continuing controversy about cork type (100% cork, “technicals”, plastics, etc), and the merits of screw cap. There is no definitive answer on this packaging type and trend.

Recently, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine writers for The Wall Street Journal, asked Lee Miyamura, the winemaker for Merdian, about their experience with screw cap. The writers had noticed that Meridian’s Chardonnay had a screw cap in the 2005 vintage and a cork in 2006. When they asked Ms. Miyamura about this, according to the article, “she told us that the winery test-marketed the screw cap in 2005 and encountered consumer resistance, so it went back to cork (albeit plastic) for 2006. That’s interesting in a world where more and more wines are being closed with screw caps.”

Stelvin has done an excellent marketing job in the wine industry. Their website is packed with
success stories and the proponents of screw cap are many. Cork producers seem to fight their own internecine wars, which is too bad because they need increased and coordinated industry-wide research to deal with the bugaboo of “cork taint”, or TCA.

Manufacturing processes like the DrasRed from ACI Cork and the super-critical carbon dioxide process used for Oeneo’s DIAM closures are making excellent progress in eliminating the TCA problem for winemakers.

It’s a difficult juggle. Sustainability, green, cost, consumer behavior, image, quality of product, shelf-space allocation, price, value, local, export…. the list of packaging decision-making considerations is long. The only sure thing is that next year, the list will be longer.



http://www.acicorkusa.com/ for more information on cork wine closures and DrasRed process
http://www.rapak.com for more information on bag-in-box wine packaging
http://www.stelvin.pechiney.com/index_en.html for more information on aluminum screw cap closures for wine
http://www.tcafreecorks.com/ for more information on Oeneo's Diam closures
http://www.wineintelligence.com/ for briefings on environmental and ethical issues in the wine industry


Disclosure: As part of my portfolio of writing and marketing communications skills, I also do press release writing for a few wineries and a few suppliers to the wine industry for pay. Parts of this blogpost originated as a press releases for Rapak and for ACI Cork.


Critter wines and critter shorts! My head is swirling with the cross cultural implications of brand, design, edginess, aroma and association.

Fresh from a visit to the Dartmouth College campus in New Hampshire (oldest son just graduated with MBA from its Tuck School of Business), I heard otherwise sensible young professional men rhapsodize about a kind of pink slacks (Rhode Island Reds) that are considered the ultimate in outrĂ©, and then move through their imaginary closets (they’re all broke after 2 years at B-School and suits are on their minds) to the hanger holding the critter shorts.

Whaa…. ? Um, while at least they are khaki, and you can get them in ankle length too, but they do in fact have critters embroidered at their bottom hems. Crabs, lobsters, fish.

Juxtapose this to the comments from local San Francisco wine savant Chuck , who snorts, “Critter wines? Won’t even stock ‘em!”

Pay attention, label designers! Chuck is influential as buyer for the well known Jug Shop wine store on Polk Street in San Francisco. His chief problems (we should all have THIS one!) is that there are too many wines to taste in his everyday life, and too many wines to buys for all his loyal customers. So he has to make some cuts according to wine realities – and his observation of wine consumer behavior over the past several decades certainly constitutes an important part of wine reality.

A wine label with a cat on it – cheetah, tabby, leopard – evokes the aroma of wet cat, or worse, cat piss. This even before the wine is opened!

Running horses? Horse sweat. And ouch, did you scratch that horsefly bite again just now? Golden retriever? Musty dogs fresh from the lake, maybe even with a hint of bear scat (a favorite rolling-in-the-meadow substance). Birds? Do I really have to go back to the chicken coop days of my early farm upbringing? Snakes, alligators, reptiles, iguanas…oh my… just as bad as lions and tigers and bears! Beware!

Having said all this, I personally like all those Sebeka blends of pinotage plus plus that come out of South Africa, courtesy of a joint venture with Gallo. Great value. Lousy label. Time for a re-think, perhaps? If the ZA* wine industry wants to reinforce in global consumers’ minds that their wines are in fact from a New World* region but absolutely made in and Old World way and with classic taste and associated aroma, then let’s move away from the wildlife image stuff, and concentrate on telling the real story on the label.

*ZA = the suffix on almost all websites of companies located in South Africa. This comes from the old Dutch “Zuit-Afrika” and should remind us that vineyards were planted more than 350 years ago by the Dutch East Indies company when they established Cape Town as a re-supply station.

*New World = generally and loosely used to refer to wine growing regions south of the equator.