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Serve or Die: The Importance of Wine Service in Today’s Economy

Vinted on March 4, 2009 under commentary

The economy is in the toilet.

Not exactly a news flash, right?

So why does it seem to be such a revelation to wine bars, restaurants, an wine tasting rooms that they are in a battle for their very survival in this economic crisis?  I say revelation because so few of the ones that I run into seem to get it, in terms of understanding that raising the bar on their service might be an important survival tactic in today’s economy.

Poor wine-related service has been the focus of a few recent posts in the blog-o-world (e.g., see Wine Diver Girl’s “Hospitality Fail”), and I myself had a recent misadventure at a local wine bar / restaurant (which shall remain nameless but not anonymous) whose wine service has been on the skids since the departure of their wine director some months ago.

Certainly these days if you are in the wine service industry, then you are in a battle of survival for the fittest.  And what’s the evolutionary genetic mutation that will give you superiority to weather this economic storm over your rivals?

In a word: Better Service.

Crap.  That’s two words.

Anyway,  that’s the message that I took away from the excellent February issue of Sommelier Journal, which should absolutely be your field guide for any journey deep into the wine geek forest.  Not about “better service” being two words (I didn’t need the magazine to tellme that one), but about raising the bar on service being the equivalent to holding the high position on the ebenemy in this war for the ever-shrinking  dollars of customers’ disposable incomes. Ah, you know what I mean…

The February issue of SJ is dedicated entirely to the topic of bettering wine-related service – and not a moment too soon.  There are a number of standout articles offered up in February’s release, but the items that resonated the most with me were penned by former Roy’s wine director (and now consultant) Randy Caparoso:

The old approach of accumulating the biggest, most all-encompassing wine list possible has grown, well, old, and, in times like these, is about as useful as burning money… The battle for survival in 2009 may well hinge on improving the experience of our guests.

Sage advice.  It’s not rocket science, but it needs to be said loud and clear because it’s never been more true than in the economic downturn of 2009.

Randy should know – he’s been in the service business for, well, for about forever:

“When I started at 18, 19 years old, I was working with 40-, 50-, sometimes 60-year-old people who had been doing it since before I was born. That doesn’t exist any more, so in this day and age, service has to be well defined.”

Bingo.  This is NOT difficult to do – it’s only difficult to do consistently.  But your establishment’s life just might depend on it.

Getting a leg up on your competition might be as simple as offering better and more friendly service than your competition, even if you change nothing else about how you do business.  And it costs essentially nothing to get that started.

Back to Randy:

In a recession, improving service is the most cost-efficient path to success. You can kill ’em day and night on the floor, but service begins long before the guests walk in; in terms of a wine program, it means a list that not only enhances the cuisine, but is also readable and friendly. If you’re too lazy to offer descriptions of your best selections, or so naive as to think the majority of your guests actually enjoy wading through page after page of phone-book-like listings, you have only yourself to blame if you succumb to this battle that’s rattling our windows.”

Having a staff that’s not only friendly, they’re also knowledgeable about the wines on the menu and how they pair with your restaurant’s cuisine?  Sweet!  If I were in the service biz, I wouldn’t be considering that a luxury.

I’m well aware that these ideas are conceptually simple but sometimes difficult to deliver consistently well in practice.

Sure, it takes time and effort to train the staff, and to keep them educated, but your guests are now expecting this level of service – and if you don’t deliver it, your competition just might.

And then, well… you’re S.O.L.

Survival of the fittest.

Anyone in the wine service industry would do well to check out that February edition of Sommelier Journal.   Just don’t say you weren’t warned.

Cheers!

(images: sommelierjournal.com, jaunted.com, sfist.com)

New Label, Same Plonk (Are Wine Bloggers Going Maintream? Already?)

Vinted on February 20, 2009 under about 1winedude blog, commentary, wine blogging

This is an article about wine blogging.

Yeah, I know… at least I saved it for Friday when most people (myself included) head offline to mingle and sip in the “real” world (translation: my traffic stats take a dive).

Topic the First: What happened to 1WineDude.com ?

First, those of you visiting 1WineDude.com will (hopefully, anyway, depending on your level of sobriety at the time) have noticed that the site is now hosted at totally new digs.

But it’s the same old Dude.  New Label, Same Plonk!

I’ve tried, in what for me is a very non-lazy, industrious way – to minimize the disruption to you, my readers.  What this means is that all of the old articles, posts, and comments have been migrated over to the new digs, and you e-mail subscribers out there should be receiving new update with no disruption.

What is doesn’t mean is that links to previous 1WineDude.com articles will translate automatically to their new digs counterparts.  Hey, I said I tried to minimze the disruption in a way that was industrious for me.  If you can figure out a way to link up the old and new posts that won’t cost me any more time, money, or frustration, then I’m all ears, bro’!

Aside from the new look, the Comments engine has been totally replaced, and I’m trying to setup automatic updates that will provide a weekly summary post of my twitter wine mini-reviews.  Should be fun!

At some point (soon), the previous 1WineDude.blogspot.com address will forward here.  When I get around to it, that is (in other words, when I figure out the redirection code).

Anyway – suggestions for the new site?  Comments?  Shout ‘em out!


Topic the Second: Are Wine Bloggers Already Going Mainstream?

My intention is not to lose friends with this post, but I do expect some feathers to be ruffled on this next topic.

A recent episode of the fine radio program Wine Biz Radio (podcast) caused my ears to perk up Underdog-style when I heard them discussing a venture by wine & technology think-tank group VinTank.

VinTank is in the process of compiling a Social Media report for the wine industry.  Not that big of a deal, really – unless you happen to be a wine blogger.  According to Open Wine Consortium mastermind, Wine Bloggers Conference co-founder, and VinTank member Joel Vincent:

“In order to create an overall picture of the wine “Social Media”
landscape, [VinTank] will establish a directory of which micro-publishers
(blogs) are interesting and worth wineries spending time with as well
as evaluating “social networking” sites related to wines in order to
enable the mapping of their particular strengths to a wineries business
objectives and strategic marketing plan.

In other words, the VinTank survey and report will concentrate on wine blogs.  My thoughts on hearing this were myriad and conflicted, but in summary can be boiled down to the following statement:

It’s about time.

According to the Wine Biz Radio broadcast, not all wine bloggers share my viewpoint on this.  Apparently, the reaction of a room full of wine bloggers upon hearing that they would be the subject of social media report was a mixture of suspicion and shock.

Which I find sad.  I mean, honestly – bloggers spend most of their time examining and then writing their opinions about the work of others (wineries, traditoinal wine media outlets, etc., etc.), and we balk (even if slightly) at the idea of someone examining us?  That would make us all too similar to the mainstream media that we like to verbally disembowel  on a semi-regular basis.

New Label, Same Plonk!

The reaction I heard described on Wine Biz Radio was old school.  MainstreamNot what bloggers should be shooting for right now.

Ironies aside, this kind of reaction is not going to positively reinforce the strong credibility and influence that wine blogging is gaining in the wine world.  Without the kind of work being performed by VinTank, how should we expect the wine industry to get a better handle on that budding new influence?

What’s good for the goose, as they say…

I expect quite a fefw people to disagree with me here.  But… if you’re a wine bloger seething at these words, just do me the courtesy of looking at it this way:

If a traditional wine mag reacted to this in the same way that some wine bloggers have, you’d be all over it.  And not in a good way.

Bottom line: Wine bloggers are now a force within the wine industry.  We will be scrutinized.  Get used to it!

Cheers!
(images: avltheatre.com, vintank.com)

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Burgundy)

Vinted on February 16, 2009 under commentary, twitter taste live

Heart breaker, pain maker
Stole the love right out of you heart
Heart breaker, heart breaker
You stole the love right out of my heart
Heart breaker, heart breaker
I wanna tear your world apart
Doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo…

- Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) by The Rolling Stones

wwwlayoutsparkscom-brokenheart-2This is an article about heartbreak.  Consider it a sobering day-after revelation after amorous and Champagne-filled Valentine’s Day celebrations.

It’s a tale that begins with a warning, hits the low of ultimate disappointment, and offers the possibility of redemption.  It’s also about the Rolling Stones, twitter.com, and Jermaine Jackson.

Oh, yeah – and wine.

Here’s the deal (and the wine part): Burgundy is a heartbreaker.

This is especially true of red Burgundy, which is made from Pinot Noir – a neurotic diva of a grape if there ever was one. White Burgundy, made from the relatively heartier Chardonnay grape, tends to fair better but is just as susceptible to Burgundy’s sometimes-unpredictable climate.  Throw in an insane set of laws (established under Napolean) that allows small plots of the same vineyard to be farmed by different owners, and you’ve got a recipe for wines with psychotic multiple personalities, despite the fact that winegrowing has probably been going on here since the time of the Celts.

But when those neurotic wine divas are feeling good – when the weather, microclimates, and stars align – these wines are so on that the best of them will blow your mind (as well as your bank account).  They can be fruity, sensously smooth, and deeply complex – as well as low-production, which means extremely high prices (some of the highest per bottle in the world).

2990087683_0205cb7e7cThere are, of course, less expensive Burgundy wines to be had, but decent ones are still upwards of $40 per bottle – just cheap enough that the brave of heart might take a chance, and just expensive enough that when those wines are on the neurotic side of inconsistent, those brave hearts are breaking hard, just like the Stones sang about on Goats Head Soup.

Actually, it’s more complex than that.  It’s more like in that video by Jermaine Jackson, “Do What You Do,” where he is wearing suspenders somewhere that looks like the FL keys, and he’s totally in love with his woman…  Only she has been hired to kill him, and she is totally torn and broken-up about it… And she comes in to the bathroom with a gun to kill him while he’s in the shower, only he knows she is trying to kill him and he’s not in the shower, he’s waiting in the wings with the police ’cause it’s a trap.  You are sooooo Guilty, beeeatch!  But you can tell by the way he furrows his brow and looks downward while he’s singing that the whole experience will haunt him for the rest of his life.

It’s that kind of heartbreak.

The problem with Burgundy is its inconsistency.  You can buy a wine that borders on sublime perfection one year, only to find that the same wine in a subsequent vintage tastes like left-over cabbage water that someone dumped into a urinal. Not that I know exactly what that tastes like, mind you.

At some point, budding wine lovers may find themselves asking the question, how best to navigate the dangerous waters of Burgundy?

splendorsofeuropecom-burgundy-29-approved-flickr-felicity-and-phillipAnd it’s a trick question, because Burgundy is land-locked.  Ha!

Anyway, the best way to avoid Burgundy heartbreak is to get to know some reliable Burgundy producers.  To do this, I often rely on people smarter than me (it’s not difficult to find these people) who can steer me towards Burgundy producers who are producing consistently emotionally stable wines.  This means you should talk to the experts at your local wine shop to help you select producers (actually negociants) that are not too expensive but are making consistently good quality Burgs and are looking to constantly improve.

Which brings us to twitter (and you thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you…).

Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in yet another Twitter Taste Live event hosted by BinEndsWine.com, with the featured wines being from Burgundy.  Fortunately, the wines were from producers who are churning out consistently tasty vino.  Case in point: the much-improved wines of Nicolas Potel, which aren’t exactly cheap but are by no means over-priced for their quality.  I found Potel’s Volnay to be particularly tasty and complex – my mini-review:

05 Nicolas Potel Volnay Vieilles Vignes (Volnay): Berry cobbler w/ bacon. A finish so smooth, you could slip on it. But it sure ain’t free.

2449165Certainly worth the cash if you’d like to see what all the Burgundy fuss is about without getting your wine-loving heart stomped on.  For maximum effect, I recommend drinking this wine from a huge, pretentious-looking red Burgundy glass (while watching a Jermaine Jackson video to remind yourself of how it could have been much, much worse if you’d not heeded the Dude’s advice…).

——————————————————————

Cheers!

(images: layoutsparks.com, splendorsofeurope.com, 1winedude.com)

Burgundy on Foodista

Reminder: Wine Knowledge Makes You a Sexy Beast!

Vinted on February 14, 2009 under commentary, wine news

Happy Valentine’s Day, all you hot-blooded lov87ers out there!

I was talking about wine lovers, of course… what were you thinking??

Given all of the Dude’s travel and wine blogging migration work recently, I will be spending a nice quiet night at home with my ladies (Mrs. Dudette and our little Dudette-let).   And of course a special bottle of wine (probably C. Donatiello‘s Rose – don’t look for it, they only give it out to friends of the winery).

I wanted to take the time to remind you all that wine knowledge makes you sexier.  Read the linked post – I’m not makin’ this stuff up!

Cheers – and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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