Sunday, February 28, 2016

BRAMBLES: Tasting the Difference

Tasting diversity-Viewing wine Sideways
In nature competition breeds diversity, the strongest survive.  It is certainly like that for the long history of the domesticated old world wine grape, vitis vinifera. So too for local winery tasting rooms, where the best offer something distinctive/memorable.  With more than 500 local wine brands, there are hundreds of brick and mortar production facilities and many dozens of boutiques that connect daily with hopefully loyal consumers by the virtues displayed thru stylized wines and their winery tasting rooms.

Quirky to inspiring, there are all types of tasting rooms. Some have deep wine caves to alter perceptions, others offer beautiful architectural achievements or formal salon settings.  Still others impart historical family legacies, like Gundlach-Bundschu(1858), or Foppiano(1896).  And, then there are wineries that identify with salmon fishermen, with duck hunters, and a few that take local ecology and sustainability so seriously they are painstakingly bio-dynamic certified. Of course there is only one in all of Sonoma county that has the distinction of being first, Buena Vista, California's oldest commercial winery,
Being first in anything certainly helps a brands marketing efforts, so too does consistently awarded quality.  Commonly, all of these wine brands would like to create a wine ambassador from every tasting room visitor, someone to sing their praises in discrete locations far away and in mixed company.  With few exceptions, isn't the job of the tasting room to emotionally connect you with their product, without distraction?  As an affordable luxury item, wine is a product that makes us feel good when we remember the label, or the recommendation of a friend, or the confident opportunity to share it with company.  Tasting rooms that do a good job connecting us to these good feelings are often the public face of successful brands.

I once asked a tasting room host what made their brand distinctive. They spoke of their vineyard sources and their foreign born wine maker, but really their wines were fairly generic. Increasingly, we are blessed locally with the evolution of viticulture; the right vine planted in the right place with a yield that annually would be 'in balance'. With more academically trained and internationally versed wine makers than ever before, wine quality produced by these wizards has never been so consistently high. If this is today's landscape, then there must be something else, something notable that makes a brand 'distinctive'.  Memorable wines, wines of place, I believe, speak to you in a way that other 'generic' wines do not and those are the wines, and the tasting room the visits I remember.
Mustard flowers carpet warming winter vineyards

  • At the recent annual United Wine & Grape Symposium, the largest industry event of its kind in the western hemisphere, continuing domestic consumer trends were identified. Above all of the segmented measures, industry leaders noted that U.S. wine shipments continue to rise, continuing a 20-year trend of domestic growth. At the entry market level, wines under-$9 continue to lose market share.  That trend is also reflected in young adults leaving 'big beer' for more premium craft beers in greater numbers.  For volume grape growers at the lower end of the scale, 2015 saw an additional 20,000 acres of vines reportedly pulled from vineyards of the Central Valley AVA, and that is following a loss of 21,000 in 2014. There then are strong indications that these trading-up trends will continue across the demographics. On the premium side, imports(makeing up about 1/3 of sales) continue to grow, as do sales of higher average priced California wines.
  •  New AVA for  super-San Franciso Bay Area, Central Coast: La-Mor-Inda AVA, composed of the sandy-clay soils and warmer environs of Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda was recently approved by our federal regulators, the TTB.

For those of us who enjoy the sight, the aromatic swirl, and sip of complex/balanced premium wines that delight, wines found in a setting that inspires, we are now being rewarded with an increasing number of high quality choices.  Our consumer challenge remains in finding something memorable in this crowded vineyard,  and to taste the difference.

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