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Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Dry Wine Desert in Ohio

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Ten years of visiting vineyards, ten years of looking for beautiful wines in any given state’s wine making, and ten years of hearing the same thing. Sweet wines pay the bills. It doesn’t matter which state on the east coast I’ve been in, I’ve heard very few exceptions to this statement from winemakers or winery owners. I’ve also witnessed first hand the customers who ask for “the sweetest wine you have”, without stopping to taste anything else the winemaker might have to offer. So the numbers don’t lie, the sweet wines do pay the bills, but are they serving the best interests of wine consumers and a state’s wine reputation? The disheartening looks from some winemakers and other customers tell me there’s another story that is yet to be told.

Cabernet Franc – courtesy of Red Wines

There are some universal truths to a successful business:

Your product must be one that potential customers want to buy. 
Your product should be of a quality that encourages repeat customers.
You must have passion for what you do, and strive to do it well. 

There are businesses that can be successful in spite of themselves, lacking one or all of these characteristics – but those exceptions are not the standard most business owners want to emulate. We go into business because we feel strongly that we can do something better than or at least equal to what other businesses in the space are doing, we feel we have a good product and people want to buy it, and we have passion for our chosen business and want to share that with our customers. 

So why do I see passionate winemakers who put incredible resources and energy into their vinifera wines giving a back seat to many of those products in marketing and placement efforts? Some winemakers say its because that’s what the customer wants, but how would the customer know if what they taste is a small percentage of your product selection? 
How do I know I’d prefer a Cabernet Franc if I all I taste is 5% residual sugar Riesling? I pick that Riesling because I do not know there’s something that I’d like better. I settle due to a lack of knowledge, or perhaps decide not to purchase at all. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with sweet wines – on the contrary there is a huge market for those wines, along with many others. But what I do see is a crowded tasting room and a by the taste menu in Ohio wineries that encourages customers to stick to what they know, and not deviate from their comfort zones.

What’s a winery owner to do?

Plan a tasting menu for your winery. Set that menu to include the best you are making in the wines you want to promote (the dry wines you are putting so much effort into). Include one or two of your sweet wines to show off those products, and add your ice wine for an additional charge if you need to recoup those costs.

If you want to promote a tasting menu of your sweet wines, reverse the process. Put a few of your dry wines into the tasting. White to Red, dry to sweet. Don’t serve sweet white wines before your dry reds. It kills the tasting, and customers will never realize how good those red vinifera wines really are.

Set a fee for your tasting, and try to avoid a “per taste” fee. $5 is an easy number to manage for up to 10 wines. If your customer is thinking about how much each taste costs, she’s not thinking about your wines. Most consumers don’t need a two ounce pour, somewhere around an ounce will give any taster enough wine to discern the aroma and  flavors. If they are at your winery to drink more than 7-10 ounces via a tasting, they will happily buy a glass of their favorite wine, and bottles to take home. If you want to stick to a two ounce pour, most customers will find that to be a generous amount over the course of 10 wines. And please, provide a dump bucket. Don’t force your customers to drink the wine because they feel it would be rude to leave it in the glass for you to pour out in order to go on to the next taste. 

Educate the customers, don’t just serve them. Pour each wine into a proper glass as you discuss it – where it came from, what it should taste like. Sell the wine as you watch the customer experience it. This doesn’t have to be overdone, but a wine with a story sells better than a wine without. Don’t risk the customer confusing your prize winning chambourcin with your award winning Cabernet Franc, or your Pinot Grigio losing its flavors and aromas because its in a plastic cup far away from your tasting associate.

Talk to your customers about your wines, make them excited about drinking the wine you made. That may mean spending more time educating your staff on your products and how to gauge a customer’s knowledge level, but it will increase the sales for those wines you hold near and dear to your heart. Today’s consumers have done research on your winery before walking in the door. They want to experience the engagement of your staff and if the staff is excited, that feeling is definitely contagious in the tasting room!

Why do I recommend these steps? Because I was a sweet wine only drinker until a tasting room associate got me to taste other wines… now I drink both!

Readers, tell me what you’d like to see in a tasting room. What turns you on, or off, when you head out to taste the grape?

If you are a winery or tasting room manager looking for information on how to best set up a tasting program or train your associates in customer service directed to the educated consumer, contact Southern Wine Trails for assistance. 

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Orchestral Wine – a Pairing Adventure

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Mr. WineOH and I like to head down to Blossom Music Festival during the summer to sit on the lawn, eat gourmet goodies, and partake in a bit of the vitis vinifera while we listen to the Cleveland Orchestra in their summer home. It soothes the savage beast, as they say… or at least it soothes us after a hectic work week. Last weekend we gathered the WineOH eldest child, visiting from Maryland and most recently returning from a trip to Greece (there’s Greek wine from that trip… can’t wait to try it – Thanks, Ash!), and we headed out for a pleasant evening of music conducted by  Bramwell Tovey, one of the most convivial conductors I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing – he actually talks to the crowd… very cool man. This set the mood for a most enjoyable evening.

Image Courtesy of Panoramio

I usually take particular care when putting my meals together for events like this. The music is particularly divine, and so the wine and food should blend seamlessly. I put together a picnic of salame, prosciutto, cheeses, chicken salad, pasta salads, mozz & tomato drizzled with balsamic, olives, a bit of basil pesto and an incredible old world baguette  – with Mr. WinoOH’s brownies, of course. We paired this up with The Climber Chardonnay and a random bottle of pinot noir. The Climber is an interesting concept I first discovered at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA a few weeks ago. As much as we like to camp and hike, and prepare little meals to be enjoyed in places inconvenient for glass bottles, we were excited to see this packaging that, once emptied, folds up quite nicely to be hauled out of whatever location we have hauled it into, so it definitely intrigued me.

Clif Family The Climber Chardonnay

This is an unoaked chardonnay in a totally collapsible package with a non-drip plastic spout. Anyone who has tried to hike or camp with a buda bag knows that 75% of the time you are going to get leakage. This spout is actually, truly, non-drip – no leakage. This package is produced with an 80% lower carbon footprint than the equivalent bottles and produces 90% less waste. For us outdoor enthusiasts, that’s always a bonus, and the empty weight is a breeze compared to humping a glass bottle off a trail for 5 miles. As a member of 1% for the Planet, CLIF family donates 1% of all Climber pouch sales to Trees for the Future. Another bonus for the environmentally conscious – and the fact that this pouch holds 2 bottles of wine makes any outing a value for $17 retail. 


So, we have nice, convenient packaging and an environmentally sensitive company… what else?

The wine itself is a pretty standard unoaked chardonnay with some sharp acidity on the palate and a crisp apple aroma. In the realm of unoaked chardonnay, in the price range, and with awesome packaging, I consider it a contender. If you are used to California oaky chard, this is NOT your wine. I paired it with some pretty indigestion inducing foods (namely some salads with peppers, spiced olives and at least one heavily seasoned and Italian dressing laced dish) These were not the best pairings for this wine. In the future, I’ll go with fruit salads, crostini topped with cheeses and dried fruit, and other slightly sweeter dishes to balance out the acidity of the wine. Clif Family says its best enjoyed with good food and good company, I’ll agree with that whole heartedly, just don’t pair it with acid heavy foods.

Overall, this was a good wine to take to the lawn at Blossom. We enjoyed sipping on it once the brownies came out,  and not hauling an empty glass bottle was convenient for repacking our little cooler to trek back to the car. I do wish that the little plastic cap that comes off the top of the push button would actually go back on. Taking the wine in and out of the cooler, I was concerned that the button would get inadvertently pushed (and I’d have this concern in a pack as well) We were fortunate that the button is not that sensitive, but having the cap would definitely ease my mind in a hike-in situation. Wine down the back of your leg as you hike into camp, anyone?

I recommend this for value and packaging. Better than any boxed unoaked chardonnays. Nice QPR for the intended use.

Next weekend, we will be heading out with the Climber Cabernet. I’m thinking steak tartar and pickled beets? Ok, maybe not.

*wines provided by Clif Family for review.

#GDandBurgers – A Pairing Adventure

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Food and Wine pairings are one of my passions. Putting the perfect morsel together with whatever wine I’m considering for the evening is a habit of mine that drives my other half crazy sometimes. But on a particular night in July when @winetwits paired up #GDandburgers – the man was oh so happy to indulge. French wine and sliders – he was in heaven.

It was all Eat. Drink. Love.



With a little wrangling, and more thana few tweets culminating in receiving our tasting kit inCharlottesville, VA at the Wine Bloggers Conference, without evermeeting the great guy who had hauled it all the way from New York –(sheesh, thanks for all your hard work with that – love Ohioshipping laws!) We brought home a box of GeorgesDubœuf wines and somekiller recipes from Chef Bob Waggoner. Ever the purist, I set out topurchase all the necessary ingredients from our local vendors to makeslider representations of all 3 recipes to pair with the threewines… we invited a few neighbors over and it was on.

All wines were chilled for 3 hoursbefore serving, and then set out to gradually warm. The Julienas wasdecanted and then chilled.

First wine paired was the 2009Beaujolais-Villages, for which I prepared angus sliders stuffed withbacon, shallots, rosemary and New York aged sharp cheddar. This wasthe easiest “drinker” of the wines – and conversation flowedaround the smoothness of the gamay and the price ($9.99 retail) –making this a crowd favorite for an everyday wine.

Winemakersnotes on this wine.

The grilled portabella slider was the burger favorite – topped with eggplant, green onion and tomato afterbasting in some beaujolais, it was hard not to love this burger. I’mnot exactly a mushroom fan, but have a feeling this one will reappearon my menus. When paired with the 2009 Brouilly, I found it to beabsolutely divine. With a retail price of $13.99, this fitted intomost “good dinner” budgets in the room. It was chewy, very berryand very much a stand out wine. Dubœufbelieves this one can lay down for about 24 months – based on thetannins, I’d agree with that assessment, but I wouldn’t go much pastthat.

Winemakersnotes.

The last burger (wow… three huge anddelicious sliders… I could already hear the elliptical downstairscalling my name) was a turkey burger with sundried tomato and basilsauté.This one also called for arugula and grilled red onion stuffed into apita. While I had some trouble finding pitas that were not too big,and not too small (cue Goldilocks here….) I did find a work aroundand got all of that goodness stuffed into an appropriate package.This one was paired with the 2009 Julienas Chateau des Capitans whichshowed a spicy richness and tight tannins, along with pepper andlicorice on the palate. Although we decanted this one for severalhours prior to serving, it was still very tight and not the favoriteof the evening. I left it decanted overnight however, and found itmuch more open and flavorful the next day. At $17.99 retail, it wascloser to a “special night in with a steak” sort of wine for thisgroup and with all the decanting needed, the consensus was that thiswas one to buy and keep for a few years to let it settle down.

Winemakers notes.

Preparing the burgers just before showtime was the key to making it all happen. I heartily encourage anyone doing a twitter tasting to dedicate someone to tweeting, recording and snapping pictures, as it is nigh on impossible to host an event and do any sort of substantive tweeting. We did manage to participate in the conversation, though our video feed of Chef Bob never did work properly – but it was a struggle even for my multitasking brain. 

Manythanks go out to our neighbor Becky, who provided positivelyscrumptious cheese filled dates wrapped in bacon as an appetizer.They paired very well with the Brouilly and the Villages wines we weresipping pre-gnosh. Compliments to the vendors from West Side Market inCleveland for providing all my ingredients from one amazing localsource – save the fresh herbs, which came out of my balcony garden.And also to Winetwits forgetting this all together – absolutely loved the pairings and theidea.

Letsdo it again!
Eat.Drink. Love. 
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