Here’s hoping that my new-found digs (as a Central Market Wine Manager) will lead to an eventual placement of these “Natural” wines here in Texas!
via Cepage Noir
Here’s hoping that my new-found digs (as a Central Market Wine Manager) will lead to an eventual placement of these “Natural” wines here in Texas!
via Cepage Noir
Back in 1994, I joined a small, dedicated French-wine import company that would later change its name from International Gourmet Corp – as we moved away from including olive oils and vinegars in our offers – to European Wine Group. Our focus was bringing to America what we discovered in the artisanal, family-owned and operated estates of France’s most dedicated of boutique wineries. Expanding our selections to include Spain and later Italy, our name would change to signal our broadening collection, but our focus would never stray from our roots as a primarily French-wine focused operation.
During the 1990s, the job of selling wine was a different animal than it is today. I would spend 5 days a week on the road; visiting distributors on Mondays, their retailers on the following days, and wrapping up my weeks in front of those same distributor’s restaurant clients. If I made it home by Saturday night, I was lucky. Monday came, and I was on another plane, off to another city, checking into another hotel and lugging another set of samples through the streets of yet another bustling city or rural town. There were no Skype meetings, no teleconferences, precious little use of e*mail and most of us still preferred pagers to cell phones.
But perhaps the biggest difference between the prehistoric 1990s and today’s techie style of sales was the reliance on one particular method of promotion in particular. In the 1990s, Robert Parker, Jr aka The Wine Advocate was THE mode of transportation to the top for your wines as an importer/wine-maker/any type of person in the wine business. A rating in the range of 90 points or higher by the man with the golden palate practically guaranteed your wine a place in this country’s wine shops, no matter the size or scope of that shop; you could also bank on a place at the table in just about any style restaurant you sauntered through. Yep, the points got the placements!
Today’s importers face a very different challenge, however. Finding placements in a terribly crowded marketplace, further complicated by an ongoing recession, has forced importers, especially the relatively new ones, to change their approach. The new methods employed by innovative importers reflect this imperative need for creative marketing. Thanks to attacks from bloggers, authors such as Alice Feiring and other professional wine publications, Parker points simply don’t pull the weight any more. Indeed, to place the wines, you need another gimmick.
Enter the phrase, “Natural Wine”. Back in the 1990s, we conservative importers never dreamed of this moniker. We used terms long-considered staples of the industry. Words such as artisanal, boutique, family-owned, un-fined, un-filtered, terroir; these were our selling points. We described our wines with full sentences and long, sometimes drawn out, presentations. Then we concluded the dog-and-pony shows with the coup de grâce, the omnipotent PARKER POINT.
Today, gifted importers turn NOT to Parker, and NOT to long-winded discussions of earth, soil, climate, hillsides, blah, blah, blah. They turn, instead to describing a method of wine-making that succinctly describes every wine offered in their portfolio. Rather than take wine after wine in their presentation and labor over the specifics of Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, Languedoc, Jura, etc, etc, these new wave, highly educated importers spend their time talking it up with young, hip retailers on the theories of “Natural Wine” practices and how those transcendental ideas make better wine. And seeing as these brave new souls of the import world have the writings of Feiring and other respected journals and magazines on their side, perhaps they’ve tapped into a whole new method of self-promotion. And if the placements are coming, that’s the whole point!
One of these new wave importers, whose wines I’ve personally consumed – and loved – on many occasions, is offered below. And while we still cannot find them here in Texas (so typical for our antiquated three tier system and the useless distributors in this State), a search of winesearcher.com, or better yet, a call to them personally will do the trick:
Jenny & Francois Selections:
Importer of Natural Wines
Natural Wine Revolution Prevails!
2009 chemins de bassac isa Rose
2006 Domaine des 2 anes corbieres fontanilles
Link to full article:
NATURAL WINE WINNERS:
Precise elegant wines from Domaine Binner
Excellent natural white – Derain’s Allez goutons
COTURRI 2007 Testa Vineyards Carignane
Domaine Des 2 Anes 2008 premiers pas Corbieres
Link to full article:
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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These past several days have most certainly inched along. These have been ones spent working through the final pages of the business plan. And these are the dreaded yet absolutely vital dozen or so pages known as the “financial” section, where the passionate prose takes a back seat to pure numbers; where the left-brain oriented folks will grasp the business plan firmly in hand and have their most satisfaction. More than 150 hours of the most mind-numbing number-crunching work has resulted in balanced books, 5 years of projections and Certified Public Accountant approved cash flow statements and so much more that span 5 years in to the future. And through it all, I’ve managed to find the time to discover the road to some pretty amazing new discoveries on the wine front, too.
Those who’ve followed along have no doubt noticed my unabashed recognition for the biodynamic wines making headlines these past many weeks and months. I’ve long preached the benefits and merits of the organic and natural stuff, but the advancements in the world of biodynamics, where wine-makers are taking the organic movement to a far greater level, and where we’re all witnessing an ever-expanding brother/sister-hood of members, is offering the interested and eager wine-consumer of this new generation some of the most intriguing wines of our life-time. Where once the term organic wine conjured up notions of barely palatable juice, the work of extremely high-profile wineries in the field of biodynamic wine now elicits excitement as the world becomes ever-increasingly awakened.
So you’ll all understand my obvious bit of interest at the arrival of an invitation in the form of an email just a couple of days ago. This invitation set in motion my perusal of a website. A website dedicated to bringing to the American wine drinker a group of wineries currently flying just a bit under the proverbial radar of the “big” wine critics. And the moment I performed my first search of the collection, I wanted to be a part of the action.
If you’ve listened to the murmur that’s rustling about down in the basement of the wine world today, you may have heard the little tale some like to call, “The Bloggers VS. Robert Parker.” We bloggers have taken to proudly reviewing more and more wine these past years, with yours truly having been in the prose authoring business for more than a decade. And while I certainly have no official magazine to call my own, I take pride in my work behind the keyboard. Having the mighty Parker attack we bloggers, therefore, is one of the reasons I am proud to become a part of the wine critiquing community – if even on a scale as tiny as the one I’m joining today.
My hope is to introduce to my readers – whomever you few and greatly appreciated may be – some of the great biodynamic, organic and natural wines that I’m coming across through my travels these days. And to introduce these wines to you through a wine website that you may order these products through so that you may have them delivered to your home with a peace of mind that these are wines that I personally enjoy and endorse. Perhaps these wines have never seen the pages of the “big” reviewer, but that, to me, is all the more reason for we wine DRINKERS to seek them out.
The first group of wines I wish to bring to all of you tonight include two wines from the great naturalist Tony Coturri. Tony works with several vineyards, both in the state I currently reside as well as his home state, some being certified organic with others certified as biodynamic. He is one of the very few wine makers I’ve ever met who consistently discusses the importance of sugar to acid balance in his grapes at the time of harvest. And while this may seem quite elementary, indeed it actually appears to have escaped many folks of the vine as they look for the almighty high sugar levels in their grapes for the end result of high scores. Tony is a natural yeast proponent, knowing that natural wine can only be made with its indigenous yeasts, making him all the more one of my favorite wine producers. Indigenous yeasts identify a wine and speak of a wine’s region / terroir / local conditions; to rob the grapes of their natural yeasts is just as detrimental as the use of land destroying chemicals or over cropping and extreme yields. Drink these wines from Tony and you’ll be ready when I discuss my next round from him…
Also in the offers are three wines from the man known as “Mr. Green.” Paul Dolan has been the leader in organic and now biodynamic wine making in California for more than 30 years – that’s not a typo folks, 30 years! Since the 1970s, Dolan has been working to turn California wine making organic and his vineyards in Mendocino are certified both organic as well as biodynamic with the Dark Horse Ranch being certified biodynamic since 2005. If ever there were a single wine maker based in California elected as THE president of the American biodynamic movement, Dolan may quite possibly be our Nicolas Joly.
I hope each person taking the time to read this short and heart felt passage will take a moment to consider these wines for your next adventure:
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Once you’ve tried them, I fully expect a full report…
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
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,
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
Blog Update #71, 2009: Big Establishment Acknowledges the Blog-O-Sphere
My first introduction to the concept of applying numerical value to a wine as a way of declaring its worth came in the Summer of 1984. I was working as a bar back at one of the most prominent Continental restaurants of its time in Dallas, training under the watchful eye and palate of Franco Bertolasi. Bertolasi was a passionate man of all things food and wine. He was also quite generous. So it was not uncommon for even the youngest of his staff, including yours truly, to enjoy the final sips from bottles served at tastings that included such luminaries as the acclaimed 1982 Bordeaux, several vintages of DRC and verticals of Ramonet white Burgundy.
It was Bertolasi who introduced me to Parker’s Wine Advocate that Summer of 1984. Bertolasi preferred Parker’s singular position; Parker was a sole voice, claimed Bertolasi, a man without blemish and Parker’s guide was the most serious of its kind. I was told by my mentor at that time that the Wine Advocate had been founded on the principles that wine was to be evaluated with no consideration for its heritage nor its price. Further, I had been instructed, wine was to be reported on honestly and with no punches pulled. Bertolasi told me that Parker followed these rules and because of Parker’s principles, the Wine Advocate was the only guide to follow.
By the Spring of 1989 I was a subscriber to the Wine Advocate, having fully immersed myself in the retail side of the wine business after a few years in the restaurant trade. My first delivered issue, still a part of my library, was number 62, the annual Bordeaux Report, where Parker covered the vintages of 1986, 1987 and 1988. That was 20 years ago, 120 issues back and a difference of 60 pages and hundreds of wines when compared to the issue that I received in yesterday’s mail.
Issue 62, from way back in 1989, as I re-read it this morning, takes me back to the good ol’ days. Parker begins his report with the heading “(Optimism reigns supreme)” and offers the reader salient advice regarding the market, buying opportunities and the general nature of the world from the viewpoint of American wine buyers. His words and reviews are uplifting, straight to the point and read as if they are coming from the world’s foremost authority on the subject. I remember reading that first issue to be delivered to my tiny suburban apartment. I recall how it inspired me to begin writing my own newsletter. I simply remember how inspired I was – period.
I continued to subscribe to the Wine Advocate, as I do to this day, and Parker’s reviews were one of the driving forces behind my decision to enter the import business. That career move eventually resulted in a face to face encounter with Parker. I found myself representing several estates that were part of a particular broker’s portfolio from the Languedoc and Roussillon. Parker and this broker were scheduled to meet and I was invited to participate. That inaugural bird’s eye view from across a table covered with nearly 5 dozen bottles was my first exposure to the “real” Parker. A personality much too large to allow for others to say too much, my broker was practically silent that day and I – a man with hundreds of ideas and histories to share – was instructed to please keep my thoughts to myself. I wondered if perhaps Parker’s schedule was simply too busy that day to allow for a leisurely meeting and discussion of the wines. Shrugging off the cool nature of the meeting, happy to have had the chance to at least present our products, I and my partner exited and hoped for the best.
I fast forward to today’s issue, this Wine Advocate #182. Before I touch on the words Parker has elected to print, for his thousands upon thousands of paying subscribers around the globe to read, I have a few other personal thoughts to convey. I once posted to the bulletin board owned by Parker. It’s a free service and anyone in the world, supposedly, is allowed to post, comment and retort. But after witnessing the dismissal from that board of folks I respect and consider colleagues, I decided to call my time over there quits. Now I realize that Parker himself doesn’t handle the dismissal of people who post, and I also realize that Parker is not the man behind the delete button nor the censorship, but his name is on the welcome page; it is up to Parker to follow the premise he set down in the first published issue of the Wine Advocate. Suffice to say, my experience at “The Board” left me with an even colder feeling on my skin than that first face to face encounter many years ago.
There is also my perception of the handling by Parker of someone I have come to hold a great amount of respect for in the wine business. My wife gave to me as a Valentine’s Day present a book entitled “The Battle for Wine and Love”. Those who know the book know it well. Those who haven’t read it: GO GET IT! In the book, Alice Feiring interviewed Parker. Until reading that interview, in the context of reading the book, and with my own personal decades of experience adding credibility to that chapter, I continued holding hope for Parker’s return to grace. After finishing the book, and after today’s reading of issue #182, things are looking ever increasingly gloomy on the horizon.
Or are they?
Robert Parker, the Robert Parker manning the wheel behind the Wine Advocate is an attorney. He calculates his words, he finishes critical sentences with question marks: remember that scathing statement within a question regarding my old acquaintance Francois Faiveley? He waited months before announcing to a Houston-based on-line social network site that they should cease and desist with the use of his photograph as an avatar. Also in the social network scene, he seemingly chuckled at a completely fabricated site claiming to actually BE Robert Parker. Notices at his bulletin board now state he has taken measures to handle that issue, but it took weeks and pages of comments before he acted.
Point? Parker knows how to market, and how to cross promote. He does nothing without great thought and consideration for the outcome. Now I return to the comments publicly printed in today’s copy of the Wine Advocate #182.
Parker has once again taken to the task of covering the latest vintage of Bordeaux, this time it’s the 2008s in barrel. The tone is decidedly more dismal than that Bordeaux issue from 20 years ago: “With the deepening global economic crisis, I wondered what was the point…”. Yet it is not the tone regarding the economy that has me questioning Parker’s direction. It is his extremely public back-handed swipes at bloggers that has my mind and heart at unrest.
Parker has been attacked, he would answer, in books, by movie producers, in the papers and, yes, by bloggers. But Parker has always maintained his ability to keep his arguments with these critics where these retorts belong: either in the books they emanated from, or in interviews or on the web, or even in the papers. In all my days as a subscriber, I have NEVER seen him initiate a fight in the pages of the Wine Advocate. Today, he did.
Or, like I insinuated, did he?
Parker actually states, not infers, actually states, that many “notorious blogs” are authored by people who can’t “string a noun and verb together”. Further, Parker goes on to attack bloggers again (before he ever once delves into his details on the vintage at hand), classifying them as “rumor-mongering” and “irresponsible”. By that point, I needed a glass of wine. The issue had arrived late yesterday, friends had invited me to join them, and Lageder was beckoning. Had Parker truly dedicated the first nearly 1,000 words of issue 182 to bashing his “competitors”?
Or had he just acknowledged us?
As I began to compose this article today, I mentally positioned myself on both sides of the table. The wealthy, powerful, seemingly soon to retire, actually somewhat humorous Parker as he composes the results of yet another Bordeaux issue. This is a part of the wine world we Americans who are considered the emerging wine buyers (the ones who drive the industry) are all but finished buying. How can Parker, “Mr. Bordeaux”, assist this part of the wine world? How can he draw attention to a vintage he now is touting as “dramatically better than I had expected”, a vintage including wines “that are close to, if not equal to the prodigious 2005 or 2000 vintages…”? Every person I know simply doesn’t care. How can Parker “save” Bordeaux?
And on the opposing side of the table, we have the current uproar from the bloggers. Forgetting the fact that they set themselves apart from the traditional critical media precisely because they felt ignored (or perhaps because they felt the wines they loved or their ideas were being ignored), bloggers are now fully engaging Parker by attacking him. But guess what? That’s working, too. Readers of the blogs, readers who came to the blogs searching for answers and searching for discussions on wines never explored by the “big names” of critical wine reviewing are now cross referencing. The bloggers are introducing their readers to a path to Parker.
As I made mention, I have never in my decades of reading the Advocate ever experienced Parker mentioning his competitors. Never once has Parker, in my memory, mentioned an opposing viewpoint – by name – prior to publishing his own thoughts on a region’s latest offers. Never has Parker, to my recollection, in a positive or negative way, talked about another method of wine reviewing in his own magazine.
Today, 20 years after my first paid issue of Parker’s Wine Advocate, the Big Establishment acknowledges “Us”.
All the best in wine and life,
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
your thoughts are always welcome: