Elegant yet Unpretentious: Wine matched to Great Food at Soule Domain

Soule Domain in Kings Beach is the place to take a date for a very special meal, to celebrate a birthday or anniversary with friends and family, and to sample wines from a wonderful list of reasonably priced wines from some of the more interesting appellations in California. Charlie Soule is the heart of the restaurant, and his chef motto of “Buy local, cook global, eat universal” extends to the wine list as well.

Soule Domain sets the mood for an intimate exploration of wine and food pairings in the lovely log cabin environment with exposed rafters, a high roof, heirloom furnishings and vintage photos from around the lake. Subdued music – cool jazz or classical – sets the tone for an elegant evening.

Charlie’s philosophy as a chef is to work from good fresh products, preferably using local organics that are naturally raised. He specializes in unpretentious foods, prepares dishes that people understand and relate to, and his choice of wines is in line with that. He searches out wineries that are smaller, “family owner operated business like ourselves”, and if the grapes are sustainably grown, “that’s better yet”. A proponent of nearby wineries, such as those in Amador and El Dorado counties, Charlie says they “all have a lot to offer”.

From his wine list, Charlie Soule selected 3 whites and 3 reds for our wine-food pairing experience.

The first, a Swanson Pinot Grigio, Napa, was paired with an Ahi crudo tartare with olive tapenade . The wine is crisp and minerally, its slightly-astringent quality nicely balancing the food. Long before it was fashionable Swanson Vineyards has been making Estate Pinot Grigio. The fruit, sourced primarily from their Oakville vineyard, yields a wine that gives an aroma of citrus and guava, and the rich mouth-feel reveals more citrus and some pear. 13.6% alcohol.

Charlie also suggested a Sobon Estate Viognier to accompany the Ahi or any fish course, for that matter. Aroma of jasmine, lily of the valley, lavendar, Bazooka bubblegum, and a full-body taste featuring peach with a hint of minerality. 14.1% alcohol. Located in Plymouth, Amador County appellation.

Gold Notes’ Chardonnay originates in the Fair Play growing area of El Dorado County. It was beautifully paired with a scallop appetizer prepared with a white wine reduction of lemon, butter and basil.. Charlie Soule not only enjoys the Gold Note wines, but he has huge respect for the Winemaker/Owner of Gold Note, Kevin Foley. Gold Note makes small quantities of rich, complex wines, and the Chardonnay is lovely. It’s nicely oakey, a nice tannin on the front palate, well-balanced and crisp. Hints of citrus, pineapple, pear. 14.3% alcohol.

The first of the red wines selected was a 2007 Laetitia Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley- Monterey Coast. This is a somewhat young but robust Pinot Noir, but it opens up beautifully after 15 minutes or so and delivers magnificent flavor of spice, dark fruit, and an earthiness that went well with the pairing of duck salad finished with a sesame soy vinaigrette. A medium finish, and 14.1% alcohol. Charlie Soule considers this an excellent value in a pinot. We agree.

Also with the duck, a good choice would be the 2006 Gold Note Petit Sirah, which is fruit forward and a soft, and aromatic wine with hints of chocolate, black pepper, and citrus zest. 14.8% alcohol.

Truckee River Winery’s Zinfandel is what some might call a fruit-bomb. Absolutely luscious, and perfect with the lamb ravioli dish. We’ve written about this wine before… grapes sourced from the Gribaudo Vineyard-Lodi, only 250-300 cases produced. 14.3% alcohol. Get it while it lasts!

Soule Domain is located at 9983 Stateline Rd in Kings Beach, CA , and is open 7 nights everyday but Thanksgiving. Reservations are suggested, as this intimate and charming restaurant seats only 44; call (530) 546-7529.

© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.

El Dorado Wines Pioneer – Sierra Vista Winery

Viewing the Sierras from the other side is a must-do for lovers of Lake Tahoe. The mountains, gorgeous from lake-side, are equally beautiful from the wineries in the regions of the Sierra Foothills. The shaded picnic area of Sierra Vista Winery near Placerville gives an almost-mystical view of the mountains, made even more pleasurable as you sip the wines produced by John and Barbara MacCready.

The MacCready’s pioneered the re-emergence of El Dorado as a premium wine region. In 1972, they bought this property on the eastern highlands of California and put their energy into mountain viticulture. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon to begin with, feeling that the climate was similar to that of the Northern Rhone Valley of France. Now they produce more than 7000 cases a year of 30 wines.

Of John MacCready’s white wines, we liked the 2008 Viognier, El Dorado Estate. It won a Double Gold ribbon in recent Amador County competitions. Its aroma of buttercup, honeysuckle flowed through to the taste, where tone of citrus and grapefruit arose too. A nice minerality, 14.1% alcohol. Only 250 cases produced. John said it pairs well with lobster thermidor, one of Barbara MacReady’s specialty dishes. $18/bottle.

Of the 2007 Roussane, 100 cases were produced. These grapes do well on the west side of the Sierra Vista Vineyards, which vineyards have no fewer than four microclimates. Producing a Roussane was a bit risky, but John MacCready had tasted it 10 years ago and really liked the wine and so took the chance. He believes it has the potential to replace a lot of barrel-fermented Chardonnays. This Roussane won a Double Gold ribbon in the San Diego competition. There’s a flowery aroma of wild rose, and a limey minerality that gives a full round mouthfeel. Flavor of strawberry was dominant to my palate, but there are definitely tones of peach, apricot too. 13.9% alcohol. Pair with chicken, Thanksgiving turkey, and also note that it stands up well to spicier foods. $17.50/bottle.

The 2008 Fume Blanc won a Double Gold ribbon and was declared the best white wine at the recent Calaveras competition. Only 490 cases produced of this sauvignon blanc-based wine. Malolactic fermentation toned down the early acidity of early results, but this wine still has a nice clarity and bite to it. It is a bit sweet, very fruit-forward, tones of peach, with a long and silky smooth finish. 13.5% alcohol. $15/bottle.

Of the red wines, I was thunderstruck with their 2006 Fleur de Montagne, an Eldorado Estate wine. MacCready produced only 400 cases of this wonderful blend, and calls it “Flower of the Mountain”. It is a look-alike Chateauneuf-du-Pape, at a much lower price. Cinsault grapes – only 5% of the blend – add a delightful touch. Other components are 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre. Smooth smooth and smoother, with black cherry, a bit of pepper, a hint of clove. 13.7% alcohol, $23/bottle. This wine has won 3 Gold Medals. Said John MacCready: “If I had to say that I had a favorite wine from my list, this would be it.” Grab it while it is available!

The 2006 Mourvedre is another blend of Rhone grapes, and will appeal to Petit Sirah drinkers! Aroma starts with cherry, there is a bit of smoke. Pairs wonderfully with grilled meats, hearty stews and soups. 13.7% alcohol. $22/bottle.

The 2006 Red Rock Ridge Syrah is very juicy, taste of blackberry and a hint of tobacco. Medium tannins made this very drinkable now, but it will also age nicely for the next 5 to 12 years. Only 400 cases produced. 13.9% alcohol. $28/bottle.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a big wine, with deep dark fruit and aroma and taste of black cherry, plum, currant, vanilla, and a hint of cedar. It is terrific with red meat dishes and other hearty foods – or standing alone on a wintery evening! Drink now, through 2020. 13.4% alcohol, $22/bottle.

Sierra Vista Winery is at 4560 Cabernet Way in Placerville, CA, only 45 miles west of Lake Tahoe Open daily 10 to 5. Telephone 530 622 7221.

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.

Wonderful Wines and Cuisine Unique: Wolfdale’s in Tahoe City Combines Both

Wolfdale’s in Tahoe City is legendary. Started in 1978, it’s gained a loyal clientele due to the talents of Chef Douglas Dale. Since 1986, it’s been located at 640 North Lake Blvd in the oldest building in Tahoe City; this charming restaurant has created a wonderful ambience in the logger’s home that was built in 1889 on Lake Tahoe's South shore, floated to the North shore in 1901, and housed a succession of constables over the years. The old jail on the bottom floor provides perfect temperature control for Wolfdale’s extensive wine cellar. Creating an expansive wine list is the responsibility of wine buyer J.B. Budny, who has selected wines that match the food and provide value at all price points.

An event worth putting on your calendar for the future is Wolfdale’s innovative Farmer’s Market Cooking Courses, which take place throughout the summer. Students shop at the Tahoe City farmer’s market and then are guided in the kitchen by Chef Dale to use the fresh ingredients creatively. J.B. pairs wines with each of the four courses as students enjoy the food they’ve prepared. The next class in September is part of the Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival.

J.B. has a great selection of wines to offer. “I try to match the taste and expectations of the guests,” J.B. said. “Once I know the palate of a frequent guest, I’ll try to find a few wines that I think the guest will enjoy, and keep them on hand.”

This attention to detail is rare, and accounts for the loyal clientele of the restaurant. Wolfdale’s pays attention to the newest trends in the wine and food business too. “People are drinking more Ros├ę and Gew├╝rztraminer now, and getting away from the big oakey chardonnays. Regardless, it is a big challenge to find a well priced wine that is also well made – but we’ve done this repeatedly,” J.B. says. “In fact, today’s trend toward value in wines can actually help people expand their palates.”

The luncheon prepared by participants started with a squash blossom appetizer, filled with a Pedrich’s cheese rubbed with olive oil, butter, paprika. The filled blossom was fried, and served on a platter of grilled summer squashes.

The wine pairing was a sparkling white from Italy, Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. Bubbles, noted J.B., love fried foods. This pale and bright wine has refreshing citrus and lemon overtones, with a clean and minerally taste, and low in alcohol (11%).

A salad of French-cut fresh green beans was served with red-orange-yellow cherry tomatoes, basil and chives, then drizzled with a nut sauce of pinenuts, garlic, olive oil, capers, and topped with thinly-sliced goat gouda .

The wine pairing was Teruzzi & Puthold’s 2007 Terre di Tufi, a white wine from Tuscany. On the nose, a bit floral but not too much; on the palate, a hint of almond. 13% alcohol. J.B. also suggested pairing this kind of summer salad with a cold dry sherry.

The corn chowder was started by Chef Dale before the class due to its many preparation steps. The class created a roux that derived its intense flavor from corncob stalks, and brandy, thyme and soy sauce were components. Crowning the thick chowder was grilled Columbia River king salmon.

The wine pairing was a 2006 Pessagno Chardonnay, Lucia Highlands Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Salinas. This chardonnay is one of J.B’s personal favorites. The minerality of this chardonnay, with flavors of apple and pear, was a perfect match. 14.2% alcohol. J.B. also suggested that a Washington State unoaked chardonnay would have done well with this course.

The Farmer’s Market luncheon finished, appropriately enough, with a fresh fruit crisp featuring triple-crown blackberries sourced from California’s Central Valley.

Wolfdale’s is open 7 days a week for dinner during the summer and Christmas week; Wednesday-Monday otherwise.. Facilities include Dining Room, Full Bar, Outdoor Deck and Garden, and a bocce ball court. Reservations strongly suggested: 530 583 5700.

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in September 2009.

South Africa Scoops World Wine Awards

South African wines have trounced all international competition in both the red and white single varietal categories at the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards, held in London under the auspices of Decanter magazine.

While the results are released to the trade earlier in the year, the rest of the world has to wait for the traditional September award issue to find out which are the wines to seek out.

Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2006 was named the world’s top red single varietal over £10 (R122), while Beaumont Wines Hope Marguerite 2008 took the trophy for the best single white varietal over £10.

South African wines scooped 11 regional trophies and 23 gold medals. Local wines also came home with 130 silver medals, 246 bronze medals, and 131 commended certificates.

A Brief History of Pinotage

South Africa’s own home-grown Pinotage grape variety has come into its own in recent years. The grape was created in 1925 by the chemist Abraham Izak Perold, also first professor of Viticulture and later Dean of Agriculture at Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape. Perold bred a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, both varieties of Vitis vinifera, the common grape vine.
Cinsault is known as Hermitage in South Africa, hence the blending of the names of the two parents to form Pinotage.

The first Pinotage wine was made in 1941 by CT de Waal, a lecturer at the Elsenburg Agricultural College in the Stellenbosch district.

However, it was only in 1959 that a Pinotage from winemaker Pieter Krige “PK” Morkel of Bellevue estate won the first of many awards for the variety. Morkel’s wine took the coveted General Smuts trophy for the best young wine at that year’s Cape Young Wine Show (now known as the South African Young Wine Show).

Bellevue estate, still run by the Morkel family, continues to produce award-winning wines, among them the famous Pinotage.

Farmers subsequently stampeded to plant Pinotage vines, but even so the variety never quite took off until 1991 when Kanonkop’s Pinotage earned winemaker Beyers Truter the Winemaker of the Year award at the International Wine and Spirit competition in the UK. Truter was the first South African to achieve this.

Making history

Fittingly, Kaapzicht’s award for the Steytler Pinotage 2006 award comes 50 years after that first Cape Wine Show coup.

Kaapzicht estate lies between Stellenbosch and Kuils River and since 1946 has been in the capable hands of the Steytler family.

Kaapzicht’s reds are no strangers to international recognition. In 2004, at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, the estate’s Steytler Vision 2001 became the first Cape Blend (a 40% Pinotage blend) to win the title of overall world’s best red blend.

Grapes from those same vines have now been used to produce the 2009 Decanter winner. Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2006 lay for two years in new French oak barrels before going to the bottle.

"Pinotage is a very versatile red wine variety,” commented cellarmaster Danie Steytler, “and the Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage from those vineyards is a shining example of the serious, well-oaked, full-bodied style to be enjoyed with food, especially venison, red meat and traditional South African dishes and cheeses."

Decanter judges agreed, commending it for its “voluptuous, heady nose with very precise black fruits, plums, mocha and tar. Full-bodied and opulent in the mouth, ripe and supple fine-grained tannins with plenty of spice to enliven the finish”.

Made from the oldest vines

The winning white single varietal Beaumont Wines Hope Marguerite 2008 is a Chenin Blanc made, as the vineyard claims, only from fruit harvested from the oldest vines.
The winery is located in Bot River in the Western Cape’s Overberg region. For the past few years Beaumont has concentrated solely on producing Chenin Blanc, having discontinued its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The results speak for themselves. Named after the matriarch of the Beaumont clan, Hope Marguerite Beaumont, the winning wine, was glowingly described by Decanter judges as having a “stylish spicy floral character, supple orchard fruits, white almond and grass. Soft and broad on the palate, lifted citrus fruits with some glycerol and honey at the end”.

“Our Chenin really illustrates the diversity of the grape as well as its strong roots in the Beaumont soils,” commented winemaker Sebastian Beaumont.

Hope Marguerite is matured in 400l French oak barrels using only natural yeasts.

“We allow the grape to express itself in very hands-off wine-making – this has been the essence of the Hope Marguerite,” Beaumont added.

About Decanter and the World Wine Awards

Decanter magazine, the UK’s leading wine magazine, is sold in 92 countries and for the past six years has presented the prestigious World Wine Awards. A record 10 285 entries from 2 240 producers poured into the Decanter offices for the 2009 event, more than for any other wine event.

Wines compete according to region and in eight price brackets, ranging from less than £4.99 (R61) to over £40 (R487). Once the initial rating has been given, the gold medal-winning wines are re-tasted for confirmation, and then go forward to the regional taste-off.
The regional winners then compete for an array of international trophies, which are judged in two sections for each wine style, under £10 and over £10.
The judging panel is chaired by veteran British wine consultant and journalist Steven Spurrier, who is assisted by a number of regional chairs. This year the South African section was chaired by the respected John May, a senior wine master in the UK.

South African regional trophy winners:

Beaumont Wines Hope Marguerite 2008 - South African White Single Varietal over £10 Trophy

Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak, Pinot Noir 2008 - South African Pinot Noir over £10 Trophy

Cederberg Private Cellar Five Generations Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - South African Red Bordeaux Varietal over £10 Trophy

Cederberg Private Cellar Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - South African Sauvignon Blanc under £10 Trophy

Kaapzicht Estate Steytler Pinotage 2006 - South African Red Single Varietal over £10 Trophy

Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling Noble Late Harvest 2008 - South African Sweet over £10 Trophy

Perdeberg Rex Equus Shiraz 2007 - South African Red Rhone Varietal over £10 Trophy

Pongracz Desiderius 2001 - South African Sparkling over £10 Trophy

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2007 - South African Chardonnay over £10 Trophy

Schalk Burger & Sons Welbedacht Hat Trick 2006 - South African Red Blend over £10 Trophy

Swartland Winery Indalo Shiraz Nature's Way 2006 - South African Red Rhone Varietal under £10 Trophy


This information is courtesy of MediaClubSouthAFrica.com and appeared as written above in a September 21 2009 article by Janine Erasmus. To see the original article, click here


Guilty as Charged: Missing the Moment

Remind your customers and friends that it really is an ideal time for a glass of wine... right now! Here's the professional perspective on the benefit of living in the moment: "Psychological research shows us that not only do people tend to overestimate the benefits of planning for the future, but that people who take decisions that make them happy in the moment tend to experience less regret over time. This reminds us that a fulfilling moment can last a lifetime." Read more from our psychologist guest-blogger...

This Magic Moment...

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift, and that's why it is called the present.

Too often in our lives we miss out on magical moments. Whether it is because of the morning rush, the midday crunch, or burning the midnight oil, we often don't take time to stop and smell the roses. Many times this is because we perceive our lives to be too busy, but other times we choose to distract ourselves with something unnecessary whenever we have a free moment. We have been so conditioned this way that we often miss out on opportunities to enjoy moments that are presented to us.

Our lifestyle in this age of immediacy does not lend itself well to enjoying the moment. Instead of enjoying a moment alone we reach for the immediacy of a text or an email that probably could wait. Furthermore, because of our cultural values around saving and planning, we are often thinking of or worrying about the future before it has arrived. By doing so, we take ourselves out of a moment that could be potentially fulfilling.

This phenomenon has been termed "Hyperopia", a tendency to look too far into the future at the cost of enjoying the moment we're in. Look out for this occurrence in your own life. Research on this phenomenon shows us that not only do people tend to overestimate the benefits of planning for the future, but that people who take decisions that make them happy in the moment tend to experience less regret over time. This reminds us that a fulfilling moment can last a lifetime.

The other reason we tend to miss out on the moment is that we mentally time travel to escape a moment. Many of us carry around pain and discomfort from our past. Sometimes moments we experience trigger those feelings or remind us of our past and we travel back there without really wanting to. Or we go into the future, thinking of how our lives will improve "if only" a certain thing were to happen. Or we travel to a place we are not, seeking an escape from the place we currently are.

Learning to enjoy a good moment is hard for many reasons.
  • First, we worry that good moments are fleeting and it hurts when they end. As a result we sometimes do not immerse ourselves fully in them, not wanting to experience the withdrawal from them.

  • Second, we judge moments, and categorize them in our minds and doing so affects our ability to enjoy the moment because it now has a label attached to it.

  • Third, we distort time, thinking that moments of discomfort last longer that moments of comfort. Moments are just moments, for better or for worse. All moments pass if you let them.

No matter what is happening in the moment, be it blissful or stressful, you can take comfort in knowing that in a moment you will have a whole new opportunity to make the most of another moment.

If you would like to fill your life with more magic moments you don't need to do anything extra. These moments are all around you, you just have to slow down and notice them.

Thanks for taking a moment to read this.

Guest Blogger:
Matt Keck
Adapt Psychotherapy
Offices in San Francisco and San Mateo, California

(650) 455-9242

Specializing in the treatment of:
Eating Disorders

(Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: #46314 California)

World's First Twitter-Enabled Tasting Booth- South African winery Noble Hill innovates!

The "World's First Twitter-Enabled Tasting Booth" was the headliner news from Noble Hill Wine Estate, a boutique vineyard and winery tucked between Kanonkop and Paarl Mountain in South Africa.

The winery proudly annouced that it was "ceding control of its brand to the public".

Alerted to this innovation by South African Wine News (http://www.wine.co.za/news/ ), we were interested in what can be done with the basic 140 characters in a Tweet, and this was it: Noble Hill Wine Estate launches the world's first Twitter-enabled tasting booth, ceding control of brand to the public.

The press release made some important points:

"If the 140 character blurb above seems like a foreign language, it's because it is written for the micro-blogging service Twitter which has gained a worldwide following including the likes of Oprah, Richard Branson, and Barack Obama to name a few. Twitter is used by celebrities and the proletariat alike to post short bursts about daily life, links and comments.

However Twitter took on a new role connecting the wine-loving public with a boutique South African producer at the WineX Festival in Cape Town, held from September 9 to 11.

The idea is simple: instead of using its booth to indoctrinate the public with pre-formed ideas about its wines, Noble Hill Wine Estate is ceding control of it's marketing message to wine-savvy festival-goers. Talkative sales reps will be replaced by a Twitter-enabled tasting booth that will let tasters post their comments, thoughts, and reactions directly to Twitter or via their smart phones. Tweets@noblehill or containing #winex keywords will be displayed real-time in large-format for all to see.

"Most luxury brands exercise draconian control over their message in order to sell their products. We're turning this idea on its head because, let's face it, wine drinkers are an educated and opinionated crowd and can already turn to forums like Spit or Swallow and other blogs to broadcast their experiences," said Director K. Austin Tillery. "Instead of ignoring this elephant in the room, we are embracing public opinion and letting it shape the direction and tone of our brand. We're not editing what people have to say; we're giving visitors a platform to share."

Prizes were awarded for the best Tweet of the Day each evening.

Useful Links:Noble Hill's Twitter stream - www.twitter.com/noblehill
The official Noble Hill web site - http://www.noblehill.com/
Rate and review South African wine farms - http://www.spitorswallow.co.za/
WineX Rand Merchant Bank Wine Festival official site - http://www.winex.co.za/

Noble Hill is a single-vineyard estate produces premium red and white wines sold in select restaurants and bottle stores in South Africa and abroad. Noble Hill has garnered international acclaim, including being recognized for producing the Best Merlot in the Paarl District by South African Terroir and winning Michelangelo International Gold and Silver Medals for its Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

All information courtesy of press release from Noble Hill.

Producing New Wine Drinkers: Hats Off to Gary V

I'm not a true Vayniac; I don't follow Gary V every day, but he's done something we all need to get better at: producing new wine drinkers.

A friend sent me this link (click here) to the short bio/interview in the New York Times: It is well worth a read.

Not long ago, I was sitting at a luncheon with 22 great minds in the wine industry, and this fervor to produce new wine drinkers was sadly, and noticeably, missing. I'd asked, "Who at this table owns a millennial?" I was greeted with quizzical looks.

I confess, I no longer own a millennial. My boys went off to college, graduated, got jobs, girlfriends and wives (in that order, and sequentially) and are now producing the next generation of wine drinkers. But I do hold loose title to one millennial, my 22-year-old niece Margaret, and we keep in touch via text messaging (she never answers her iPhone anymore and doesn't own a landline phone and rarely deigns to answer email). Margaret is the real thing.

So... Margaret is sitting at the bar in a restaurant and her date goes to the bathroom. My text alert bings, and it says, "Quick Aunt Babs, date in loo, steak + calamari coming, what wine 2 get?"

I do my bit. Value wines for this group. But soon they'll be moving to $15 a bottle consistently in the campus liquor store, and she's been known to use my brother's credit card for $25 a bottle and more.

I just KNOW that somewhere out there, a smart person is going to create an iPhone app for this generation of new wine drinkers, kind of like a Ghostbuster-Who-Ya-Gonna-Call and then the texts will no longer bing on my phone and some edgey guy like Gary V is gonna get really rich.

And more power to that person!

p.s. Gary I love you, and who wouldn't?

The Best and Brightest Inquiring Minds... Want to Know

Once in a while, we're privy to the thought processes of a well-trained brain trust in the wine industry. Slap me down if you must, but I think that a peek inside the Harvard MBA thought process is highly instructive, especially when it comes to articulating what a collective of experienced executives in the wine industry consider to be the biggest challenges today.

On September 8 at Vineyard 29 in St Helena, owned by Harvard MBA Chuck McGinn (Class of 1978), 20 graduates from 1961 onward, met to discuss the following Business Challenges. Pulled together by Scott Becker of Global Wine Partners, the preparations included polling the group for the pressing questions of today... and tomorrow.

The resulting questions are below. In the next few posts, I'll give you a glimpse into the thought processes. The questions are tough, there may be no unequivocal answers, but there will be provoking opinions. Just like being back in the classrooms of Aldrich Hall! (Interested in the thinking of the person who posed a particular question? SEND ME A COMMENT WITH YOUR RETURN E-MAIL, and I will ask them directly)

1) The wine world is experiencing significant uncertainty about future growth due to deterioration in the macroeconomic fundamentals and a deleveraging credit environment. When will the market recover, what will the future growth environment look like, and how can prudent wine companies manage their way to future success?

2) Is the statement that more bottles of wine are being sold this year over last year true and that it is just the price that has dropped? If so, is this a permanent reduction in the value consumers place on wine or only a temporary aspect of the current economy?

3) When the crisis is over, will the consumer be the same?

4) We won't be in a recession forever; consumers will move up the value chain again; millenials with continue to respond to social media promotions and this is generating a huge base of new wine consumers (thank goodness!). HOWEVER what will be with all agribusiness-related companies forever is the challenge of water -- where to get it, who controls it, how to manage it, and technologies to conserve it. I'd like to hear how YOUR WINE-RELATED ENTERPRISE is weighing in on this issue and/or what you are in fact doing about it. How should we as "leaders" get involved? Or is it too hot to handle?

5) It is a common challenge to better understand customer behavior within the various levels of the market. For those of us with personal passion for the unique subtleties and complexities of world-class wine, should we be concerned that growth in consumption of $40+ / bottle appears to be increasingly attributable to luxury goods marketing rather than appreciation of quality and quality standards? Regarding quality, are consumer preferences dividing between wines characterized by power versus those characterized by nuance? If so, is demand in one category outpacing the other? How has culture shaped these preferences and does it differ in the US versus Europe and Asia?

6) The business challenges we're facing stem from the impact of current economic conditions for small wineries (4,000 to 50,000 cases). These wineries are our clients and target clients. They are facing price compression (higher priced brands lowering their prices to combat declining sales) and assortment "freezes" (distributors and retailers either reducing or eliminating the addition of new suppliers to their assortments). What can the small winery do to survive in this environment and how can we tailor our own services to better meet their needs?

7) How long will the expensive, inefficient, selective three-tier distribution system prevail against the rapidly accelerating consumer and trade (retail and restaurant) demand to seek their own options in the wine products they carry and/or consume?

8) How do wineries gain markets and access to consumers in an industry where Federal, state and local regulations have been established for decades favoring the xclusive three- tier distribution system?

9) Our wine company, celebrating it’s 5th year anniversary, is working diligently on its plan for the next 5 years. The company has grow from zero revenues to revenues north of seven figures in its first five years by focusing exclusively on wine quality by owning and controlling the key inputs of wine: vineyard, barrel, and winemaking. However, it does not own any winemaking assets such as a production facility and related equipment. Given the large capital outlays required for real estate and the increasing cost and sophistication of equipment, is (will) the production model for wines in the $25-50 price point continue to resemble the past whereby each winery has its own stand alone production facility? Or can winemakers and consumers accept that production assets will be shared across various wineries? Is now the time to lock in low cost production assets or do we remain capacity flexible and fixed cost free?

Who was in the group? The guest list includes wine businessmen from all walks of the industry -- grapegrowing, winemaking, distribution, marketing, finance, and organizations large and small, with current and past affiliations that represent the full spectrum of involvementLook at http://harvard-in-wine.blogspot.com/2009/09/hbs-in-wine-meets-in-napa-sept-8.html