Thursday, April 17, 2014

BRAMBLES: Small in a BIG Way

No, it is not what you may be thinking!  This is not about Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and intoxication.  In Greek mythology he was named Dionysus, the last god admitted into Mt. Olympus, as he was the god of merriment, the grape harvest and ecstasy.  As an important figure in historically important cultures, this god represents what some may propose as one of the important traits of being human.  Years ago, 2005 to be precise, I started a long journey to reach a much coveted goal, becoming a Certified Wine Educator.  Throughout, Bacchus was there as a reminder of what patience, dedication, and the intoxication of success can bring.  I realize that this was a single humanist dream, a small thing really, that impacted me over the many purposeful years in a very big way.
PIGEAGE: punching down the cap of fruit solids
Domestic wine production, too, is about small things that have big impact.  The trade publication, Wine & Vines recently noted that three-quarters of all U.S. wineries sell less than 5,000 cases per year. Even as the volume of the industry is dominated by a handful of multi-brand behemoths, it is the small producers that continue to offer so much passion and dedication into everything that they tastefully do. Dedicated to preserving the broad diversity of such California wines, Family Winemakers of California, founded in 1991, supports over 550 members, 90% of whom produce less than 10,000 cases annually! Thousands of industry and wine loving participants gather each year to enjoy the merriment of this dedicated craft during their wonderful tasting events; the next FWC celebration will be August in San Mateo to launch yet another years' grape harvest.

On a more intimate and local level, tasting venues like the wonderful Family Wineries Cooperative of Dry Creek Valley, or hip & sip LOCALS of Geyserville( with 9 local brands ) offer concept destinations that showcase the high quality wines produced by some of the North Coast's best small producers. Wine producers who go it alone try to create destinations where they can build those important relationships with commonly ecstatic consumers. Grower-producer and negociant wines can be made on their modest production sites or at a community cellar: think custom crush. While exploring Sonoma County, some of our favorites are the consistent quality of Christopher Creek, the passion of John at Viszlay Vineyards and the enthusiastic craziness tastily found at Mercury Wine in Geyserville.
What can these small producers do to have an impact in the internationally crowded domestic wine marketplace? Industry experts typically recommend advertising in regional publications and localized direct mail strategies, combined with internet advertising for a broad based marketing plan.  But, not everyone of these small guys has the necessary financial ability to mount such a sustained effort. A tasting room and direct to consumer(DTC) retailing are generally reliable and profitable, and need to be combined with those ever present wine clubs to generate the significant cash flow on which so much depends.  Ultimately, direct relationships with your 'brand ambassadors' are vital, reflected by numbers that indicate industry DTC sales increased Feb '13 to Feb'14 by 7% to a record value of more than $1,598 million(Wines&Vines).

For consumers there is an ocean of wine across price-points in the domestic marketplace, and naturally, small producers look for creative ways to get their products into the mouths of a thirsty public. In recent years there has been terrific growth in 'flash marketing' retail web sites. The sustained shake out has left a handful of players, notably: Wine Woot, Wines Til Sold Out, Last Call Wines, InVino, Cinderalla Wines & Lot 18, to compete in getting discounted wines directly to a growing consumer base. Having improved selections, streamlined direct shipping and discounts ranging from 21-53%, these virtual retailers are giving the small producer another important vehicle to get their wines in the hands of consumers.
For me, this journal has always been about my journey, the musings of an aspiring Wine Educator.  Writing gave me an opportunity to creatively display all the world wine details I was consuming, and a chance to explore below the pedestrian surface of global viticulture and the wine industry. Recently, the Society advised that I had passed all segments of the testing requirements, and awarded me a CWE lapel pin and a long sought after certificate.  It felt like the end of a quest, the Holy Grail as it were. But, I have only now come to realize that it is the beginning of a professional commitment to continue to explore & share the fascinating world of wine.  My reflections will continue to post here, but with a renewed purpose to uncover quality, value and the truth that is wine.

In support of the next wine chapter, I have launched a professional consultancy, Your Wine Guy, and support it with a web site:  Ultimately, we have closed a foundation chapter, and moved further into the wonder that is a world of wine.  A small step really, but it is expected to effect me in a big way. Maybe it really is about Bacchus, for the gods are a happy crew!

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