A Life’s Work

It was the late 1980s… Our “unabashed Francophile” leader – as he has been described by the local wine writers in Houston – was just beginning his career in the wine business working in one of the most upscale dining establishments in the Dallas area – Riviera. Christopher Massie found himself under the wing of owner Franco Bertolasi, and by the end of one short year he had encountered tastings that included1982 First Growth Bordeaux, multiple vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and verticals of Ramonet White Burgundies. Yes, the 1980s were a great time to be in the wine business and Christopher was indeed in a great place to cut his professional teeth.

Later that decade, Christopher attended one of the most important tastings of his career. This one tasting would shape his palate and guide his path more than any other he had yet been a part of. The wines being poured were all imported by Kermit Lynch and the speaker was the national sales manager at that time for this famous French Import Company. To listen to Christopher talk about that tasting – even today – will convince you of his dedication to artisanal, hand-crafted, estate bottled, naturally produced French wines. ESPECIALLY Burgundies!

Another moment in time came when Christopher was working retail for one of the giants of the industry – also in the Dallas area – and met the national representative for Vineyard Brands. At that time, in the very early 1990s, VB represented the absolute best of Burgundy. With a little help, Christopher was off to Burgundy for a two week meeting with folks such as Thierry Matrot, Mongeard-Mugneret and the late Monsieur Gouges to name but a few. Christopher would return to Burgundy nearly a dozen times more after that trip, sealing his love for this region and further developing his expertise for its wines. Visits to the cellars at DRC, Dujac, D’Angerville and more than 3 dozen others over multiple vintages honed his skills for understanding the differences in these terroirs and the subtleties of vintages.

By the mid 1990s, Christopher had established a relationship with David Hinkle of North Berkeley Imports as well. Further visits with the finest names of Burgundy as represented by this firm simply cemented a life’s love and work. Magnien, Arlaud, Raphet – the names read like a who’s-who of Burgundy. Naturally, there’s more to life than just Burgundy. Christopher’s passion for the best also includes studies of the greatest wines of the Rhone Valley, Italy and Spain. Not to mention the time he’s spent up and down the coast in California with some of the best names in Pinot Noir, Rhone Varietals and Chardonnay. This association led naturally to his involvement with, and love for, Biodynamic® and naturally produced wines.

In 1999, Christopher Massie opened his own retail shop, Christopher’s Wine Warehouse, which operated successfully in the Houston market for more than ten years. Christopher’s evolved over time from a “stack ‘em high and let ‘em fly” philosophy to a more focused, email and web-driven sales model. These ten years as a sole proprietor, tasting each and every selection personally before purchase, further refined Christopher’s palate and allowed him to develop a deep understanding and appreciation for Biodynamic and naturally produced wine. Christopher has dedicated many hours to blogging about Biodynamic wine, which has resulted in special recognition from Demeter-USA for his contributions to the Biodynamic® wine movement.

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Biodynamic Updates – And Some New Wines to Try

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We’ve just returned from our scouting trip to Virginia and my mind this morning is swimming with ideas.  The local wine scene in Richmond is vastly different than the one evidenced by consumers in the metropolis where I currently reside, with the most obvious contrast being the abundance of boutique shops adorning the landscape.  From one corner of that beautiful city, with its trees as tall as skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, boutique wine shops, offering wines I’ve come to love over the past many years and decades, open the consumer’s eyes to a world of wine completely unknown in this big city where I reside.

As my family and I researched the market, we discovered that Virginia, in particular Richmond, is quite suited for the type of business we wish to bring to the good people of this friendly region.  And having visited with more than a dozen locals, each with their own personal insights, it would seem that while the market is ripe for what we have in mind, our product selection – not to mention location – is going to be crucial. 

Of the nearly dozen stores I spent time visiting, only one (that’s 1) offered the community the types of biodynamic wines that will be the focus of our new venture.  Opportunity?  I certainly like to think so.  Especially when one considers how over-priced the offers were.  Pricing these naturally made wines that far above national average only serves to diminish the marketability of these wines.  And let’s face it, these are not mainstream wines in the first place.  Most biodynamic wines are from places the average consumer has never heard of – or at the very least rarely considered – and we as advocates of these great vinous specimens need to price these wines as consumer-friendly as possible if we’re to ever have a shot at repeat purchases.  Selling an $18 Loire Valley Pineau d’Aunis for $24, simply because you have no competition (yet) is not likely to encourage repeat purchases.

That being said, I did notice there were other, even more obvious opportunities in the market, speaking on the biodynamic front in particular.  And understanding California’s hesitance to jump on the wagon so adored by the Europeans, resulting in fewer biodynamic wineries out West than what we find from across the pond, it’s probably reasonable to see so few wines of the genre adorning shelves not only in Virginia, but anywhere these days.  West Coast offers of the biodynamic sort were quite difficult to locate while in Virginia, just as in many states.  But now that I’ve returned home, to my cellar, I once again bring to your attention the work being performed by one of the best.

His name is Coturri, and his wines, from some of the purest and most biodynamic in California, are among my favorites.  Drinking Tony’s wines, as I hope many of you reading this will resolve yourselves to do, secures his place as a leader in the natural wine movement.  His wines not only “speak” of their origin, they quite literally scream of place and time.  His Pinots prove that yes, indeed, with attention to pure, vineyard sustaining practices while harvesting with an eye towards balanced acidities and lower sugars, this country can very well offer the Burgundian palate a wine they’ll love.  And at price points that make most “simple Bourgognes” appear over priced.

Try these out friends, and let me know what you think:

 

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Oh, for a Glass of Wine

Another excruciating day comes to a close, witnessing me once again crunching the numbers on this business plan as we make ourselves ready for the first printing.  Thus far, only a handful of our closest allies are primed for the first draft of this 60+ page business plan.  And the pages are indeed impressive.  My mind has been on over drive these past few days and the early mornings and sleepless nights have been numerous.  This particular business plan has been born from a decade of blood, sweat and tears; there are no errors here – the holes have been filled with hindsight.

And as we’ve worked so diligently on this plan, my wife and I, we’ve set certain other parts of our lives on autopilot.  Flipping that switch has been fairly easy considering that we’re both among the ranks of the unemployed.  So we’ve set about feeding our updates to the outside world through the use of modern technology.  Google alerts, LinkedIn, TwitterFeed and a whole host of other modern gadgets assist us in our endeavors to appear “plugged in” while we bury ourselves with the task at hand.

But today, ’round late afternoon, we’d had enough.  We seriously needed a glass of wine.  And with all the work and all the research and with all the tales of righteous palate satiating we’d uncovered through all these efforts, we were not going to be satisfied with anything less than: yep you guessed it.  We wanted one of those ultimate glasses of biodynamic wines.

Ah, biodynamic wines – the allure is oh-so-strong, yet the offers in my current city of residence are so frightfully and tragically limited.

There once was a beauty of a collection in this town…. But we won’t traverse that field this evening….

Adding to our desire for a glass of the sublime was our wish for something home cooked – and not of the beef variety.  So we packed in, faced the late mid-day traffic and headed to Central Market.  The local version of this Texas dream store (for some) has taken to sending out “shopper’s cards” and coupons – good only locally (don’t dare try to use ’em in Austin, the clerks will immediately identify you as “one of the Houston shoppers”).  My wife has collected both “the card” and quite a few of the coupons, so we decided to cash them in.

It appears that the generosity emanating from the folks in charge behind the fish counter, not to mention the good will intentions motivating the “shopper’s card” rebates, have yet to topple the cash cow in the wine department.  The prices on the wines (including their discounts offered on 6 bottles or more) are pure highway robbery.  Wines once selling at a shop (that this city ran out of town on a rail) for $15 are proudly displayed for $21!  And my desired Joly?  Would we be celebrating our hard work with the beauty of Coulee?  At that price?  In that condition?  I think not.

We returned home with our fresh halibut, at a tremendous savings, and a couple blocks of cheese – proper dates, nice and fresh.  I cracked a nice bottle of white burgundy, grilled the fish and some fresh veggies and we called it a day.  Little M ate her proverbial pasta and corn on the cob and now all of us are dreaming of the day when we can direct import our dream wines right to a little corner store in Short Pump Virginia.

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier

A Biodynamic Roundup

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Blog Update #73, 2009: A Biodynamic Roundup

I’ve chronicled our steps towards the building of a new and vastly improved family business through these blog updates, sharing daily discoveries over at my social network page where I’m known by the “handle” of Chambertin.   As we dig down deep this morning to hopefully complete the final chapter of what promises to be one of the most concise and well researched business plans yet penned on the wine business (by us at least), I thought I’d take just a few minutes to compose a brief roundup of my findings.   If you’re new to the world of biodynamic wines, or even if you’re a seasoned veteran, this compilation may come as a surprise.

The world of biodynamic wines is home to a great deal more inhabitants than I ever thought possible, spanning more continents than I once realized.  Having spent 25 years in the wine business, and after working the vineyards in Burgundy for 2 harvests towards the earning of my Sommelier certification, I am keenly aware of the importance of biodynamic wines to the French.  In Italy, too, there are a number of wine-makers practicing the art, offering the consumer some of the world’s most unique and individualistic vinous specimens. 

But what has come as most surprising to me, perhaps due in large part to my prior admitted bias, are the number of certified “biodynamic” producers from regions once considered far too “modern” for the incorporation of these idealistic measures.  Without getting too far into the whole philosophy, for this brief essay is certainly not intended as a text book on the intricacies of the how’s and why’s of Bio-D, let’s just say that to many in the world of “modern” wine making, the theories of applying various teas to the compost and vines, preceded by burying cow horns full of manure in ones vineyard are viewed as, well, unnecessary (to put it mildly).  But try convincing Madame Leroy that Bio-D is unnecessary.  Or, for that matter, attempt a conversation on the benefits of “modern” versus biodynamic with the likes of Chapoutier or the masterful Zind Humbrecht.  These three masters of their universes would verbally run a “modern” wine-maker, with their pesticides and chemical treatments, right out of the room.

So, as mentioned, it has come as most surprising to me to now find numerous once-modern-dominated wine regions becoming ever increasingly sprinkled with biodynamic wineries.  Places such as California’s Napa Valley now offer we lovers of the biodynamic juice a handful of experimental-minded spirits.  Folks dancing with the moon and burying the horns while still living among neighbors who preach the need for fungicides and tractors include such visionaries as Grgich Hills (who began converting more than a decade ago and now fully practices biodynamic principles) and Robert Sinskey.  Granted that’s not a lot of folks considering the thousands of vineyards in the land of plenty, but hey, until a few days ago, I thought NO ONE was Bio-D way out west.

Another region I never considered potentially biodynamic-ready or willing was Australia.  Sure, I’d heard that several estates were “experimenting”, or that they were singling out “portions of their vineyards” for converting.  Hey, I’m experimenting with Bio-D, too.  Every time we brew a batch of home-made tea, we save the leaves and sprinkle them in the garden.  But that certainly doesn’t qualify me as a “biodynamic winery”, let’s be serious, OK?  But just as I was stunned to discover the folks in California, so too was my surprise as I came across a handful of truly Bio-D purists from the land down under.  In particular, again, way out west, my research uncovered one winery specifically that I’m most eager to try: Cullen, from the Margaret River region.  Having been certified biodynamic since 2004, this sounds like precisely the type of estate whose wines I’d like the chance to review.

I suppose the point of this research roundup is as much a reminder as it is a compilation.  A reminder to continue watching the horizon for upcoming releases in the ever expanding world of biodynamic wines.  And a brief compilation of what folks can expect from our new family business as we move forward with our plans of a gourmet wine shop in Richmond Virginia:

(Below is a very, very, very short list of some of the producers you will find in our new venture.  Some we have already engaged in conversation, others we will begin discussions with soon.  This is the first of MANY lists to come…)

  • Domaine Rossignol Trapet (Burgundy)
  • Coulee de Serrant (Nicolas Joly) (Loire Valley)
  • Montirius (Rhone Valley)
  • Lopez de Heredia (Rioja)
  • Terras Gauda (Rias Baixas)
  • Cotturi Winery & La Cruz de Comal (Toni Cotturi) (CA, TX)
  • Paul Dolan (CA, Mendocino)
  • Shinn Estate Vineyards (NY, Long Island)
  • Cullen (Margaret River, AU)
  • Nikolaihof (Austria)
  • Domaine Jean Bourdy (Jura)
  • Clos Saron (CA, Sierra Foothills)
  • Antiyal (Maipo)
  • Movia (Slovenia)
  • Lark Hill Winery (Canberra, AU)
  • Seresin Estate (NZ)
  • Millton (NZ)

I trust you’ll enjoy the ride as much as we’ve enjoyed this initial building process.  Bringing the world of biodynamic producers to the eager and curious wine lovers of America will be our passion as much as it is our dream and our job.  Stay tuned, we’ve only just begun!

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier

A Tale of Biodynamics, Feiring and the Death of the Chronicle

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Blog Update #72 A Tale of Biodynamics, Feiring and the Death of the Chronicle

The power of the bio-dynamic wine movement first revealed itself as I witnessed a surge in my social network connections that can only be described as unprecedented.  On the 1st of May, I was leisurely working away on my latest business plan, content but far from satisfied at my less than 200 followers at twitter, where I go by the “handle” of Chambertin.  I made a decision that day to get serious about the business plan, motivated in part by the untimely announcement that my dear wife, too, had fallen victim to this current economy.  With both of us now out of work, it was definitely time to ramp up my efforts.

Those who know me, those who’ve read a blog post or newsletter from the past decade or so know: when I write, I have a LOT to say.  Writing, composing my thoughts, requires time.  And when I decide to share my ideas, ideals and passions through the written word, the pages begin to pile.  Lucky for me, that’s precisely the sort of handicap that works in one’s favor when composing a serious business plan.  The more expertise, devotion and research apparent between the covers, the better.  And I had just reached the section devoted to our product selection criteria.

This was when everything began to change for our new business venture.

I took to composing my views on the products we will carry with the same passion I had always tried to convey in our previous wine shop.  The full list of product selection criteria, known to us as our Mission Statement, may be viewed at the blog under the Philosophies tab (https://cepagenoir.wordpress.com/philosophies/).  Our aim with our new direct to the consumer business is to offer to the market these wonderful organic and bio-dynamic wines we’ve discovered over the years, direct from the wineries, with no middleman.  But first, I needed to describe in great detail, for the eventual readers of the business plan, precisely WHAT our wines would be.  That Philosophies section was born from the pages of the business plan.  So, too, was my next step.

I decided to begin searching the Internet for like-minded folk; authors, bloggers, wine-makers, wine-drinkers, basically anyone who shared with us this passion for the bio-dynamic world.  I began with one of my vinous heroes, Alice Feiring, naturally, for it was her book, “The Battle for Wine and Love” that convinced me in the first place that I wasn’t alone in this quest.  I began to link her updates to my twitter page, along with any others mentioning the bio-dynamic world.  The results were like nothing I could have ever anticipated in my wildest dreams.

Today is the 6th of May and I am taking a short break from the business plan to compose this brief blog post.  Not only to compose this post, but to announce that in this short span of a few days, while I have busily worked on the plan and posted bio-dynamic oriented newsletters and such to my twitter page, my followers have jumped from less than 200 to MORE THAN 1,000!  The bio-dynamic brother/sister-hood is one of the most active, real and tangible movements in the wine world today.  For anyone who remains a skeptic, you are truly missing the train!

Oh, and as for the Death of the Chronicle thing, I was referring to the local paper. 

Through the research and development phase of this business plan we’re in, one point has become increasingly clear: Bordeaux is dead.  The vast majority of the wine buyers today, the people who actually drive the industry, the people who truly fill the shopping carts and DRINK wine, are affectionately referred to as the “emerging” consumers.  Emerging consumers, according to studies we’ve read in articles by Forbes, WineBusiness and Silicon Valley Bank, simply don’t care about the $50 and up price point where the vast majority of Classified Bordeaux hangs it hat.  And the bio-dynamic world, so far as WE’VE found, hasn’t made a dent in this section of France (I’m open for corrections if anyone has any).

So it was with a chuckle that I opened my weekly Chronicle (Houston) to see yet another article written by the local wine writer on behalf of the behemoth local liquor chain.  In this article, the paper interviews the giant liquor chain, asking them their advice on Bordeaux futures.  I literally laughed out loud.  The advice quoted was worthless, so 1990s, completely out of touch with reality and the prices quoted SO over-priced (please, someone tell these guys about wine-searcher.com) that to even consider the piece anything other than “fluff” would render the reader numb. 

Dear Chronicle, R.I.P.

As I re-engage the business plan today, and begin anew the building of this bio-brother/sister-hood, I reconfirm our dedication to YOU, the intelligent, serious, curious, emerging wine buyers of America.  We will soon emerge from the cocoon of required re-birth.  And when we do, the beauty of the world’s most unique wines will once again be yours for the asking.

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier

Thoughts from Days Past as the Future Begins

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This blog is authored by a middle-aged man with more than 25 years of his professional life dedicated to the wine industry….in 1999 I opened a boutique wine shop after deciding my life’s passion had brought me to that point…now, as of 2009, I’m re-writing my entire plan, refocusing all my energy and  inviting those interested to come along on the next stage of this voyage…what are my credentials?  below you’ll find a few:

My history…(this was the original “About Us” page, first penned to offer our readers some insight to the original location’s offers)

I’m posting these old thoughts here today so they become a part of our archives…a new and revitalized Philosophy Page launches this afternoon…

The year was 1984. Our “unabashed Francophile” leader – as he has been described by the local wine writers here in Houston – was just beginning his career in the wine business working in one of the more upscale dining establishments in the Dallas area – Riviera. Christopher Massie found himself under the wing of owner Franco Bertolasi at times, and by the end of one short year, had encountered tastings that included1982 First Growth Bordeaux, multiple vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and verticals of Ramonet White Burgundies. Yes, the 1980s were a great time to be in the wine business and Christopher was indeed in a great place to cut his professional teeth.

In 1988, Christopher attended one of the most important tastings of his career. This one tasting would shape his palate and guide his path more than any other he had yet been a part of. The wines being poured were all imported by Kermit Lynch and the speaker was the national sales manager at that time for this famous French Import Company. To listen to Christopher talk about that tasting – even today – will convince you of his dedication to artisanal, hand-crafted, estate bottled, naturally produced French wines. ESPECIALLY Burgundies!

Another moment in time came when Christopher was working retail for one of the giants of the industry – also in the Dallas area – and met the national representative for Vineyard Brands. At that time, in the very early 1990s, VB represented the absolute best of Burgundy. With a little help, Christopher was off to Burgundy for a two week meeting with folks such as Thierry Matrot, Mongeard-Mugneret and the late Monsieur Gouges to name but a few. Christopher would return to Burgundy nearly a dozen times more after that trip, sealing his love for this region and further developing his expertise for its wines. Visits to the cellars at DRC, Dujac, D’Angerville and more than 3 dozen others over multiple vintages honed his skills for understanding the differences in these terroirs and the subtleties of vintages.

By the mid 1990s, Christopher had established a relationship with David Hinkle of North Berkeley as well. Further visits with the finest names of Burgundy as represented by this firm simply cemented a life’s love and work. Magnien, Arlaud, Raphet, the names read like a who’s-who of Burgundy. Naturally, we’re about so much more than just Burgundy. Christopher’s passion for the best also includes the greatest wines of the Rhone Valley, Italy and Spain. Not to mention the work we’re doing up and down the coast in California with some of the best names in Pinot Noir, Rhone Varietals and Chardonnay. Bordeaux? You’ll notice we dabble in the “futures” market, too. Have been – very quietly – since the late 1990s.

So, why would you want to buy from us?

We think it’s clear. We handle some pretty exclusive stuff. The wineries and importers that we choose to work with are ones that Christopher has built a relationship with over many years.  If reviews from the most prominent wine critics on the planet are important to you, if they guide your initial decision making process, feel very comfortable. More than 90% of our hand selected wines have been, for several vintages, very well received by names such as Robert Parker, Allen Meadows; AKA Burghound, Steve Tanzer and other prominent wine writers. And while we do not necessarily seek out critical acclaim, we feel proud to let you know that it has been bestowed on the products we offer to our discerning clients.

When you purchase your wines from CEPAGE NOIR you will be completely guaranteed that we have taken great care to taste, research and fully discover each and every one .

We also think you’ll enjoy the fact that we regularly pull corks on these amazing specimens for the pleasure of experiencing the wines with our collectors and clients. We literally open between 3 and 5 cases of wine every month as we monitor the wine’s development and ageing curves. We consider ourselves experts here and experts are continually learning. We invite you to learn with us as we go along…

After nearly 25 years in this business, Christopher Massie opened the original Christopher’s Wine Warehouse in 1999 to bring all of this and so much more to the serious wine buying community of Houston and the Texas market.

In response to ever-increasing demands from the local and expanding markets, we launched a unique and highly effective approach to purchasing these fine wines to further enhance our services.  With our new approach firmly in place, we re-named our operation, selecting the name Cepage Noir Wine Co., to indicate our passion for the great Pinots and blended wines from around the globe. Cepage Noir Wine Co. now sells some of the most famous names of the wine world direct to the consumer at prices that are below retail, below those prices that even the “big boys” of retail are offering!  We now buy direct from the source and drastically reduce the percentage once demanded by the middle men.  Cepage Noir Wine Co.  is geared to offer the consumer absolutely untouchable prices for the most sought after wines of our time.

As with every item we select, as we have been from the beginning, we remain:

Dedicated to the discovery and enjoyment of the world’s finest wines.

Acknowledging the Nudges, Remembering Life’s Little Tales

Sunrise

I’ve been witnessing from my computer seat quite a bit of fury these past few days.  Along with that, I’ve left my mind completely open to every possible opportunity that presents itself before me.  The scenarios playing out are working both sides of my brain, rendering me both exhausted and yet somehow enthused.  And I’m hearing voices, as they almost scream some of life’s most basic lessons: “It’s hard to see the forest for the trees”; “Don’t wallow in the mire”; “People love a good train wreck”….

That last sentiment in particular is spinning virtually out of control in my mind as I view the blog world today.  That basic life moral also applies quite appropriately to many of the current situations I and my family face during these days, reported on through these blogs pages.  I had originally launched this blog at the beginning of 2009, after nearly a decade of composing letters to my customers, as a way of spreading the vinous news.  As a retailer of fine wine, with a passion for writing, offering literally a dozen new offers per week or more, presenting my thoughts via the blog-o-sphere seemed like the next logical step.

Taking that leap into the unknown opened my eyes to a world as of yet never imagined.  The world of blogging, in particular the world of wine blogging, is quite similar to a Houston or Los Angeles freeway at rush-hour.  For those of you experienced with that visual, you get the picture, for the uninitiated, imagine viewing millions of cars attempting travel on a road built for a few thousand.  As I began to explore the ocean of wine blogs out there, I wanted to find a bar and have a drink until rush hour subsided.

But I drove right on in, never deterred, never fearing.  This was going to be the year of my discovering, I was convinced.  Now, with nearly 70 blog posts this year alone (I told you I was passionate about writing), I have discovered some things.  Recent occurrences have me taking to the administrative tools within my blogs, these features forcing me to begin a closer examination of not just the blog world, but the wine world in general.  These examinations, born from curiosity, delved in to seriously – I have a LOT of free time on my hands – have me in a state of re-examination.

“Don’t wallow in the mire”.  I am by no means a highly religious guy.  Spiritual?  Yes.  But private and low key in that sense to be sure.  So when I go quoting statements from my grandfather’s sermons it’s a pretty big deal for me.  Lately, however, that little life’s lesson has been forgotten by not only yours truly, but a growing number of the folks I follow in the wine world.  And then today, as if in keeping stride with the little nudges I’ve been receiving these past two days – more on that in just a moment – one of the more recent folks I follow in the blog world connected me to a story.  This story, one of wallowing in the mire, has my thought processes running overtime.

In my 25 years plus in the wine business, I have most consistently focused on the upper end of the wine world: Burgundy (first and foremost), the best of the Rhone Valley, Alsace’s finest, Loire Valley treasures and the other most prized (by me and the critics) wines of France.  Also on my list of preferred wines have been the great wines of Piedmonte and Germany and a few of California’s treasured Pinot Noirs – the Pinot camp I’m in falls squarely at odds with most of today’s “Souper Pinots”, for the record.  There are certainly many other wines not listed here, but you get the gist; I’m an Old School Fine Wine guy.

The critics that I’ve followed throughout my career include the big names, you know who they are, I don’t need to spell ’em out.  And these top guns are now in what I might consider the twilight of their professional careers.  One in particular has faced medical down-time and other pressures, and while he would have the outside world believe he is as young as the day he left law school, we, his subscribers for the past couple of decades, have read his personal words and know the tale.  He has taken on many new co-authors to his magazine and the results have been mixed, receiving criticism from retailers, consumers, the blog writers and subscribers in general.  And while the magazine now boasts more than a hundred more pages than it did in the late 1980s, the content is under constant scrutiny.  But remember another of life’s morals: “Any publicity is good publicity”. 

Or is it?  That article I read this morning may be one of my mid-life turning points.  Published in Forbes, the tale shines a light on the impact of certain stories.  The Forbes author interviewed a man in question, a blogger, who had published a series of e*mail conversations between a certain powerful wine magazine’s co-author and another wine columnist.  I read that initial exchange, even re-posted it at my social networking site.  And then today I read the Forbes article.  As I said, that Forbes piece began some personal homework, and introspection.

Publishing that initial mini-brawl between the two powerful wine-writers brought a lot of traffic to the blogger’s web-site.  Like the moral preaches, “People love a good train wreck”.  But here’s the most telling tale.  The blogger openly admits that his one-day, busiest recorded traffic day to the blog was NOT that day.  In fact, that blogger’s busiest day came with the publishing of a story on growing moss in an empty wine bottle for parents looking for a unique chemistry class experiment for their kids.  That was another nudge, the first real push into this re-examination; “Wait a minute”, I thought, “let’s look at MY numbers”….

And there it was, just waiting for me to discover: my single most-traffic-receiving day at my blog so far was a day when I offered the public a positive, glowing review on a wine that I had recently discovered.  In that review I told my readers of my research using the internet to secure the best price in the country and I went into great detail covering the wine’s background.  I offered tasting notes based on my decades of tasting literally hundreds of thousands of wines – more than a million perhaps – and I followed up that report with an email to my list of readers.  That was my site’s busiest day.  And never once did a drop of mud hit the floor.

That Forbes article went on to discuss the emergence of the new wine drinking culture.  A culture born with computers in every room of the house, a group of young folks who turn ever increasingly to the internet for information on their wines.  I’m from the old school, admittedly.  I grew up with subscriptions to magazines as my learning tool.  Today, evidenced by an informal poll I’ve taken over the past 2 days, folks under 30 years of age, those folks I’ve casually engaged in conversation at local wine-selling retail establishments, either do not read the Wine Advocate, or have never heard of it.  Overwhelming, observation points to these young wine drinkers looking to their friends and trusted wine stewards for advice.  It is we “old-timers” who are keeping the big names of wine criticism alive.

But as a former merchant who once catered to the “old-timers”, I, and my now closed business are beacons the industry should pay attention to, just as this Forbes article mentions.  The “old-timers” (and that’s my vernacular, NOT Forbes), have all but ceased buying wine, having amassed collections of wine that they are ever-increasingly becoming aware they will never consume.  Add to that realization that we’re in a depressed economy for the near to possibly semi-long term, and one can see that the “fine wine” side of things is going no where, fast!

And if today’s wine buyers, the young crowd, the actual buyers in this market and economy aren’t interested in the big boys of wine criticism, and the folks who add traffic to the blogs prefer to read our blogs when there’s something positive to read, perhaps it’s time to truly reconsider my personal path.

Earlier on in this piece, I mentioned receiving little nudges these past few days.  I’ve been contacted through my social network site by William&Mary and the town of Short Pump, to name but a couple of the encounters recently.  And now, this Forbes article, forcing me to truly examine not only my methods of blogging, but the community of wine buyers requiring serious attention.  Where is all of this pointing?

The first and most obvious direction is a visit to Richmond, VA.  This forest of trees surrounding me has me slightly blinded to the signs so innocently nudging at me these past fews days.  From that point?  Remember another of grandfather’s sermons: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
Houston Wine Idealist

for those interested in the Forbes article:

http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/23/robert-parker-squires-steinberger-vaynerchuk-opinions-contributors-wine-advocate.html