Chicago Gourmets Experience PROVINCE

My thanks to friend Catherine for taking me along to the latest meeting of ChicaGourmets (read: Chicago Gourmets, NOT Chica gourmets!). This group (CLICK HERE TO READ MORE) grew out of a series of lectures given at a Chicago university on origins of various foods, and now meets monthly to experience new restaurants around this vibrant food-oriented town. The good news is that the Windy City is wine-oriented too, and the food/wine pairing at Province was exquisite.

The promotion from ChicaGourmets was compelling: "Province is an American restaurant with cuisine inspired by Central and South America and Spain. Located in Chicago’s West Loop in a gold-level LEED-certified building, the restaurant incorporates green building materials and equipment, farm-to-table cuisine from Executive Chef Randy Zweiban, and a true blending of old world and new world culinary sensibilities. Zweiban, who first brought Nuevo Latino cooking to Chicago with Nacional 27, has crafted a dynamic menu that is grounded in American cuisine and influenced by Central and South American and Spanish dishes."

The menu prepared specially for this group was a delight, starting with appetizers at the reception of moked Salmon Toasts, Cuban Pork Bocadillos, Rabbit Confit Spoons -- paired with a Avinyo Cava, Penedes , Spain N/V

The first course of Hamachi & Serrano Chilies prepared with piquillo peppers and cucumbers was served with a 2007 Xarmant Txakolina di Arabako, from the Basque region of Spain. 11.5% alcohol made this a nice light wine for this piquant course.

The second course of very Slow Cooked Tasmanian Salmon with leeks and red wine mojo was paired with a 2007 Chardonnay, Pona Paula, "Estate", from Mendoza, Argentina. The calls for second pourings of this wine were frequent from these gourmet diners. A truly wonderful wine, with 13.5% alcohol.

The third course: Ten Hour Braised Lamb prepared with eggplant, chorizo, cornbread. Served with 2007 Tomero Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. The label of this wine provided interesting reading too, with a story of the water rights in Argentina. 14% alcohol.

The fourth course, dessert, featured a Warm White Chocolate-Brioche Bread Pudding served with a compote of MacIntosh apples, and a molasses-walnut ice cream. Nothing could have been more perfect than the pairing with the Quinta do Noval LB Porto, Finest Reserve, Portugal

Hats off to this restaurant! Located at 161 N. Jefferson, Chicago. Call 312.669.9900 for reservations and learn more about this fine dining establishment on their website (CLICK HERE)

Marketing Your Way Through a Recession

In a working paper published in March 2008, Harvard Business school professor John Quelch outlined several important steps for company success during these tough economic times. To read the whole article (it's short and succinct!), CLICK HERE. In summary, there are several important things to do:

1) Research the Consumer
Understand the impact on redefinitions of value, price elasticity
2) Focus on Family Values
Adjust your MarCom messages and new product development plans
3) Maintain Marketing Spending
Now is NOT the time to cut this item!
4) Adjust Product Portfolios
Products need to address the new consumer realities
5) Support Distributors
You need to read this paragraph in this article! CLICK HERE
6) Adjust Pricing Tactics
The role of temporary price promotions, credit policies, smaller pack sizes
7) Stress Market Share
Know your cost structure so that cuts/consolidations have minimum customer impact
8) Emphasize Core Values
Reassure good employees, maintain quality, service existing customers

In summary, Professor Quelch says, "Successful companies do not abandon their marketing strategies in a recession; they ADAPT them."

(One of the best benefits of having worked my tail off to get a Harvard MBA is the fact that the school never lets you get rusty. Their emphasis on lifelong learning means a constant stream of newsletters, working papers, seminars, etc. that is truly astounding. I'll cull the most timely of these for my blog from time to time, to share with you. )

More on Indiana Wines

The Indiana Wine Grape Council sessions at the 2009 annual Horticulture society meeting reflected a wine industry that contains serious winemakers, is growing rapidly, and hopes to make legislative changes that will allow it to operate more freely in nationwide distribution. One very pleasant aspect of this meeting is the tasting of Indiana wines that precedes the annual Banquet.

I enjoyed the Mallow Run Winery Syrah, with lovely body and aroma. Produced with grapes from Lodi (California), the wine explodes on the palate with flavor and reminds you that 15.9% alcohol is not all bad… $17.99/bottle.

I am going to have to return to Indiana again to taste some more of the fine wines from Chateau Thomas. Located in Plainfield, Indiana, the winery-tasting room- and banquet/conference center is about 6 miles south and west of the new Indy airport. At the Indiana Horticultural Society meeting, I tasted their TOSCA, a 48%/52% blend of 2007 Sangiovese and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was superb, and their wine card suggestion of pairing with Italian food sounds right. All great wines have a story, and this one is about Charles Thomas, a retired medical doctor who started making wine in 1970, when he experimented with a wine kit. The wine bug really bit hard, and Dr. Thomas personally has an extensive cellar of 2500 bottles. At one point, he had the world’s largest collection of 1928 Bordeaux wines, but Dr. Thomas notes that “it was depleted when I donated 40 different bottles to a charity event in Puerto Rico with Michael Broadbent presiding in the tasting at $1000 per place.” Not one to shy from intellectual pursuits, he took classes in winemaking in 1983, and started his winery in 1984. “For the discriminating wine enthusiast” is the subtext on the business card, right under winery name, and they feature premium vinifera wines. The wine list is extensive, with many award winners. At the tasting room, wine connoisseurs can taste up to 5 varieties at no charge, but of course the special Reserve Wines engender an additional tasting fee. I have a feeling that the fee is well worth it! I’ll be going to the winery in the future, or to their tasting room in Nashville (Brown County).

A delightful young winemaker, Tia Agnew and husband Brett Canaday, are dedicated to the art of Mead, also known as honey-wine. Their passion for this art absolutely shines through Tia’s enthusiastic demeanor. No chance to taste their wares, but I am certain it is worth a visit to their winery in Elwood, IN. Until I have more to report, you can take a virtual tour via their website:

The banquet featured some unusual pairings of foods and wines. Featured wines were the Mallow Run Traminette, Satek Winery’s Kreibaum Bay Dry Rose, Butler Winery’s Vineyard White, the 2007 Creekbend Vineyard Chamborcin, and Easley Winery’s 2005 Governors Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sometimes you don’t expect much from a new winery, but Wildcat Creek Winery (Lafayette Indiana) has some unexpectedly pleasant wines. I met Kathy Black and her husband at the Indiana Horticulture meeting in late January 2008 and had the pleasure of seeing them receive a plaque as one of the state’s newest wineries. They were so pleased…and the buyers of their wine will be pleased too. Now, these are not exactly wines in the California style, so unhinge your palate and be open minded. I took a bottle of the Wildcat Creek Lafayette Red back to California to enjoy with my son and his wife. We were greeted by the aroma of Concord grapes in the glass, and the wine was true to that taste. Not highly alcoholic, it was a great light wine in the tastes-good tradition, and will go very well with summer foods and sunny days. It went quite well, also with early-dark February days and Latin foods, and brought a picnic feeling to our dinner table. Nice. Their website is still undeveloped, but hours and location are at

During my late January jaunt around Indiana winelands, I ventured to the charming town of Madison. Even though it was pouring rain (or was that sleet?), the town and its environs are worth a visit – and certainly worth a return visit. The town boasts 3 wineries in and around it. I ventured out of town a few miles to Madison Vineyards Estate Winery, where winemaker Steve Palmer drove up the small hill from their Bed & Breakfast to the tasting room. They produce about 3100 cases of 9 different wines, and have 13 acres under vines with a total of 21 acres planned. The Seyval Blanc ($12.49) came to me with floral aroma, and a dry pleasant taste. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, and made from 100% Estate Grown grapes, it will go well with the recommended food pairs of shellfish, pasta, roast pork or turkey. The Cabernet ($12.49) is a blend of 2/3 Cabernet franc and 1/3 Cabernet sauvignon from California, aged in seasoned American Oak barrels. Nice, but I preferred their Ba-Da-Bing! “Rosso”, a gold medal winner that is styled after the rustic wines of northwest Italy, according to the winemaker. It is a blend of Foch and Rougeon grapes sourced both from their own vineyards and from New York state. A lovely wine at $12.49/bottle, serve with robust dishes like steak, pasta with red sauce, garlicky dishes. As with many wineries, the wine industry has become a family passion. Steve’s son is a wine wholesaler in Indianapolis. The Madison Vineyard is a dream come true for the Palmers; in the 1970’s, they owned a commercial vineyard in Salem, Indiana, but this lovely area of Indiana on the banks of the Ohio beckoned. They've got a nice website too,

Where's the Buzz?

Like many people (mostly men, I think), I have reading material close at hand for contemplation during my morning constitutional (oh yeah, pretend you don't!). This is our chance to ponder the fringes of the universe and the topics that populate the "c" list of our oh-so-busy lives. One such ponderable is a note I printed out on a LinkedIn app called Company Buzz.

LinkedIn introduces this feature thusly: "What are your customers saying about your company? Every second thousands of people are sending out messages about companies and industries on blogs, twitter, and across the internet. Company Buzz taps into this information for you, to find the relevant trends and comments about your company."

I will. And while I am at it, I'm going to explore the other tools that let companies follow what's being said. I'll be back with more apps and the results using them as a test case by spending a few days tracking his company for a friend at ACI Cork USA.

Yes, you can google your company's name. That's one easy way to track the Buzz. But the immediacy of follow-up should be an important marketing concern for any company where there is a deprecating remark posted or negative buzz that's starting.

Beyond the crisis management aspects of tracking the Buzz, knowing that your company is increasingly in the public eye is one sign of the success of your marketing, viral and otherwise. Oh, Hello! Social Networking is here to stay! As a marketing professional who puts a lot of time into staying on top of communications trends, my press list for my PR clients includes bloggers, e-Zines, .com's of major magazines, other www's in the wine industry. I'd be doing a disservice if I just sent business news for clients to the old standbys: magazines, newspapers, business journals, TV/Radio. It's simply not enough anymore to do that kind of traditional marketing communications.

But the next step is the metrics. It's great that Constant Contact tells me how many "opens" my e-mail blitzes get. That's a good first start. (I could brag here, but I won't...) But beyond the bare splathering of news into the ether, I want to know who is saying what about my client companies. And my own.

So stay tuned.
And if you have hearsay or experience with any tracking services, please post a comment.

Marketing & Packaging Dynamics Today -- Zinfandel Producers Give Their Perspectives

Twenty-five winery owners and winemakers took time from pouring their wonderful Zinfandels at the recent ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) event in San Francisco to answer some state-of-the-industry questions.


The first question was “What, in your opinion, are the key issues and concerns that relate to marketing of your wines today?” The summary answers are 1) the economy and its impact on wine sales, particularly on high priced wines 2) the importance of social networking in getting the message out, and its particular importance for smaller wineries that do a lot of direct-to-consumer sales; 3) the recent excise taxes proposed by many states, including California); 4) the need to unify shipping regulations for ease in doing internet sales; and 5) the concerns about media overload and penetration of message to consumers, as well as the need to educate the public about wine. Regardless of the list of concerns, however, the overall feeling is upbeat. “It’s all about keeping customer’s happy. There will be ups and downs economically, but we will all be okay.”

1) The economy and its impact on wine sales, particularly on high priced wines
• “The state of the economy is a worry. Price point has really become a factor. In the $20-30/bottle range, consumers are not afraid to buy … but they are buying one bottle or two, not a case.”
• “The economy is a major marketing issue. We are a premium wine, so it is a tougher sell for us.”
• “Today’s issue: price point. But this is a cyclical kind of thing, and we as an industry should not be reactive to it; we should just keep on marketing.”
• “Everybody is kind of bogged down right now. There is a lot of wine in the pipeline and new orders from distributors and broker are not pouring in.”
• “Consumers want good quality wines for less money. It is important to have wines that give consumers great value at a reasonable price. The under-$20 price point is ideal, but even there, you must give consumer a good quality product.”
• “Price point. I suggest that it makes sense to keep wines at a certain price point right now. Under $30 for premium wines. Under $25 for mid level. Under $15 for moderate-priced and locally produced wines. Under $10 will fly off the shelf!”
• “We must be aggressive about moving inventory by cutting prices. I see a range of price cuts ahead in the 20% category.”
• “The distribution side of the business is affected a lot by the economy. There is a big backlog of inventory right now, and restaurant/on-premise sales are ‘way down. This means it is really important to keep our Direct To Consumer efforts going strong.”

2) The importance of social networking in getting the message out, and its particular importance for smaller wineries that do a lot of direct-to-consumer sales
• “We need to learn how to use bloggers to get the word out for new wineries in particular.”
• “I worry about how to get our name out when we are such a small producer. Maybe social networking is the answer.”
• “Since we just released our first wines a few months ago, we are trying to break into the market. We are taking the time to learn how to use Facebook and Twitter for marketing.”
• “We sell primarily out of our tasting room and on-line, and using social networking should help us.”
• “Internet marketing has a big role. People want instant communication. There is no other consumer item that is as competitive as wine, and we need to use the internet to our advantage.”

3) The recent excise taxes proposed by many states, including California)
• “The tax in California amounts to a 640% excise tax. That will make it really hard to market my wines. My wine is comparable in taste to an Argentinian Malbec, and even after the taxes are applied to those wines, they’ll still be around $7 a bottle. I can’t compete.”

4) The need to unify shipping regulations for ease in doing internet sales
• “It is just too complex. We need to unify and ease shipping and licensing conditions across the whole United States.”

5) The concerns about media overload and penetration of message to consumers, as well as the need to educate the public about wine.
• “I am concerned about message retention by consumers. It is hard to reach them about the uniqueness of our wines, for consumers to keep that in mind when they are so bombarded by the media.”
• “We can’t let up on our efforts to educate the public. There is still a huge population base that doesn’t understand the value of wine in their lives and on their everyday tables.”


The second question was, “What , in your opinion, are the key issues and concerns that relate to the packaging of your wines today?” The summary answers are: 1) Cork: cleanliness, TCA, costs and availability; 2) Bottle weight; 3) Labels; 4) Other closures.

1) Cork: cleanliness, TCA, costs and availability
• Every answer in this category of concern was pretty much the same. (But your author knows for a fact that the cork industry has done a lot on the cleanliness and TCA issue; see a great review at )
• On the issue of cost and availability, four of the respondents cited these concerns.

2) Bottle weight
• “There’s been a trend in wine packaging for the past few years to use heavier bottles as evidence that a wine is a premium wine. There’s really no need to do that. In fact, what’s happening now is a REVERSE in the trend – everyone wants lighter bottles.”
• “Bottle weight and landfill issues are related.”
• “Green green green. The call for lighter weight bottles is part of that movement in our industry.”
• “We need to look hard at the economics. Maybe we should buy glass locally instead of from India or China.”

3) Labels
• “Eye appeal is vital.” “It’s important to have a label that catches the consumer’s eye on the shelf”
• “A winery should want its labels to match its personality.”
• “There is definitely a need for eye-popping labels, and this is crucial with the millennial generation of buyers”
• “Hey, we need larger fonts on wine bottles! Consumers need to be able to read the labels”
• Label information: there is a growing need to give consumers brief info about the wine in 20 words or less.”
• “Critter labels. Thank goodness they are disappearing.” “Critter labels are stupid”. (I swear I didn’t prompt these responses! But your author agrees, see my blogpost of September 20, 2008: )

4) Other closures
• “Closures are a way you can differentiate your product”
• “We need a lot more choices in closures than we now have. And those closures need to both deliver the aesthetics and yet protect the quality of the wine.”
• “Screw caps. There seems to be public acceptance of these closures in the under-$20 segment.”


The last question was “What changes do you see ahead in wine packaging in the next 1 to 2 years, both for your own wine, and for the industry as a whole?” The summary answers are 1) Better label design is necessary; 2) Green packaging issues will lead to, among other things, lighter-weight bottles; 3) Use of screw cap and/or synthetic cork will rise; and 4) Other non-glass packaging formats are being considered

1) Better label design is necessary
• “We are going to improve our label design”
• “We need to update our label, make it more appealing to younger consumers.”

2) Green packaging issues will lead to, among other things, lighter-weight bottles
• “Lighter bottles will reduce the cost of shipping”
• “We are hearing a lot about the carbon footprint of heavy glass bottles, something that takes less energy to create.”
• “Does it really matter to consumers what the bottle looks like? We need to think about bottle thickness changes, tapers that lightweight, and so on.”

3) Use of screw cap and/or synthetic cork will rise
• Screw caps – we’d use them more if they could go on a variety of bottles, but we’d never use them for red wines.”
• “We are going to go to screw cap on our white wines, and will use synthetic cork on our reds.”

4) Other non-glass packaging formats are being considered
• “We need to move to “greener” packaging, where there is less waste.”
• “Paper packaging has a chance now with the carbon footprint thing; I see some bag-in-box here at ZAP and I see it in the stores.”

Thanks to the winery folks who took time to answer these questions. Those of us who attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento in late January 2009 heard about these issues from a variety of experts. But from the horses’ mouths, so to speak – these interviews provide a reality check.

Zinfandel Producers Share Their Views on Marketing and Packaging at the 2009 ZAP Festival

275 wineries! Two Pavillions at Fort Mason, San Francisco! An enormous event, and almost mind-boggling. After a week of wine tastings in Sacramento, however, I was more interested in talking to the Zinfandel producers themselves than tasting wine, and frankly that was the right attitude for an event that I arrived at close to 10:30 in the morning. Soon I'l post the compilation of what's on the mind of the 22 winery owners or winemakers I spoke to regarding marketing issues right now in the wine business, and packaging issues and changes ahead. Bear in mind that many of these Zin producers are smaller wineries, so there is some distortion in the sample (ie, not representative of the wine business as a whole) but regardless of that, the dialogue was pretty consistent with what I'd heard from some of the Biggies (Gallo, Wine Group) in Sacramento last week.
But yes, I did sample some wines, and here are a few notes. Starry Night Winery (Novato, CA, which is in the San Francisco Bay Area) had a yummy 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel made from grapes from five vineyards on Tom Feeny Ranch-Russian River Valley. Two of the vineyards were planted in the early 1900's, one in 1928, one in 1934 and the last in the mid-1940's. All vines are dry farmed and produce a limited crop, which, according to the tasting notes "results in deep and complex fruit and spice flavors". To me, the cherry aroma was a standout, and the taste of pepper really came through on the back of the palate. You can buy one of the bottles from the 1200 cases they produced, for $28 a bottle. 15.2% alcohol. (And at 10:30 in the morning, that'll set you up for the rest of the day!)
In mid-afternoon, I enjoyed the 2006 Harney Lane Old Vine Zinfandel from the Lizzie James Vineyard in the Mokelumne River area of Lodi, CA (Central California). It's softened with 3% Petite Sirah, and has terrific balance of aroma and mouthfeel, and is consistent across the palate. Berries come through nicely, although the tasting notes cite a vanilla finish that I didn't personally find there. $28 a bottle, only 221 cases made. Alcohol 15.6% This wine won a Gold medal in the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

AND POSTED ON FEBRUARY 5 2009, A SUMMARY OF "WHAT ARE THEY THINKING" about marketing, packaging, and oh did we mention The Economy? ....