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Returning To Hades (Highlights From New Hampshire Wine Week 2014)

Vinted on April 10, 2014 binned in on the road, wine industry events, wine review

Remember when I said I was heading to New Hampshire Wine Week (as a media guest)? That was back in February, and, yes, I am just now getting around to talking about it.

I’d love to tell you that delay is due to me being stupid amounts of busy (which I am), but it’s not. The delay is total aww-man-I-don’t-wanna-have-to-write-this-term-paper procrastination. Why? Because writing about NH’s consumer-facing wine event requires facing my own personal hell, which is having built a life in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and then becoming a wine lover, and having to deal with the PA Liquor Control Board.

Now, NH is also a control state, with the NHLC acting as both wholesaler and retailer for distilled liquor and wine. But NH’s progressive take on being a control state – which is driven almost entirely by the fact that it has competition, with half of its business comes from cross-border states – further solidifies PA’s status as the f*cking North Korea of U.S. wine and spirits shopping experiences. As one NHLC exec told me, “We give selection and price, and now we need to focus on service to complete the circle,” which I can basically tell you is indeed happening, after having spent time there reviewing how they stack up to PA. From profitability (all of their stores turned a profit last year) to shipping (>1K direct shippers) to associate training to wine selection/availability (14K SKUs) to fees / taxes (roughly 8%), NH makes PA look like what it really is, the single worst state in the Union in which to buy wine.

So… coming back to PA from NH is like returning to hades. It’s like the end of 2112 where that dude finds the guitar in the cave and the Priests tell him to get bent on his music and he dreams of a more progressive future and then kills himself in despair (since this came out in the `70s, I’m not considering that a spoiler), only without the suicide though with the Prog Rock (because I was listening to awesome, angry King Crimson music on the ride home). In NH, I have seen a system that, while not perfect (hey, we’re still talking about the government being involved in private enterprise, which is bizarre at its core), is like a dreamy glimpse at what PA ought to be, what it could be if only the PLCB gave a stale rat’s ass about anyone actually making, buying, or drinking wine (when only the middlemen benefit, you know the system is totally broken).

So, before I get depressed enough to grab an acoustic and head off to a cave, let’s talk about a happier topic: namely, the juice being poured at NH Wine Week 2014…

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Yesterday’s Wines, Tomorrow (Stony Hill Recent Releases)

Vinted on April 3, 2014 binned in elegant wines, on the road, overachiever wines, wine review

Peabody’s Wayback Machine has got nothing on the steep, two mile drive from Napa Valley’s Bale Grist Mill State Park up to Stony Hill Vineyard. Brave that vertical, moss-covered tree-lined climb between St. Helena and Calistoga, and in many ways you’re transported at least forty years back in Napa time, and to what seems an entire world away from the Disney-fied scene of the opulent temples of vino-ness that pervade Route 29.

Feel free to insert your own clichés about technology being the only indication we’re living in a modern age when touring this winery’s weathered but functional buildings and it’s gnarled old Riesling vines. They’re pabulum, sure, but in this case also apt (I was warned to plan on no cell phone coverage when I reached the top of their road; the Wayback machine renders that inoperative, I suppose).

“This is the land that Napa Valley Time forgot,” mused Sarah McCrea, the former corporate marketing brand director who, in 2012, stopped fighting the inevitable call of becoming Stony Hill’s third generation proprietor. “And we like it that way.”

McCrea’s grandparents, Fred and Eleanor McCrea, bought this little chunk of Spring Mountain in 1943, when it was a former goat ranch that “nobody seemed to want.” The first plantings happened “in `48, `49, after the war,” according to McCrea. Some Riesling vines from that era still remain on the property. A small winery was completed in 1953, and trust me when I tell you that, while charming and unquestionably setup in a beautiful place with a beautiful valley view, it would hardly qualify as garage-sized for some of the polished-with-gobs-of-cash winery façades just a few miles farther south on Route 29. Since that time in the fifties, almost nothing (thankfully, blessedly, miraculously) seems to have changed here. Case in point: in sixty years, Stony Hill has employed fewer winemakers than the venerable Pittsburgh Steelers have head coaches.

To put Stony Hill in perspective, one has to understand that when they started in the wine business in Napa, there was no perspective. There wasn’t even much of a Napa fine wine business. There’s is a tale that, as Morrissey sang, starts “from before the beginning…”

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1WineDudeTV Episode 60: How Wine Brands Can Get Blogs To Tell Their Stories

Vinted on March 20, 2014 binned in 1WineDude TV, on the road, wine industry events

After I announced that I’d be sitting on the “Meet the Bloggers” panel at Wineries & Breweries Unlimited 2014 in Richmond with Fredric Koeppel and David White, a few (dozen) of you asked me (mostly privately) if the session would be recorded. Thanks to some help from the friendly Nomacorc folks, here is the panel, all just-about-one-hour of the thing.

Fredric, David and I took questions from moderator Tina Caputo, editor of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, during which we discussed the importance of blogs to the wine industry, waxed pseudo-philosophic about the leveling of the brand awareness playing fields provided by social media, and relayed how we think wine brands can best approach wine bloggers to get them to tell their stories. Fredric was pointedly and intelligently acerbic (and wore his shades), David was soft-spoken and articulate, and I was my normal spastic self.

There’s not much more to tell you about the event, unless you’re in the market for barrel cleaners, tasting room signs, wine business loans and legal services, tractors, or steel tanks. But I had a great time meeting new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and offering a bit of (somewhat toned down… hey, it was a friendly crowd, alright?) tough luv for the local wineries and media types who attended our little blogging panel session.

Ok, start watching, already!

1WineDudeTV Episode 60: How Wine Brands Can Get Blogs to Tell their Stories

Cheers!

Can Terroir Be Bootstrapped? (Dude’s Take On Ventura County For Palate Press)

Vinted on March 11, 2014 binned in California wine, on the road

Stay out of Malibu, deadbeat!!!”

As a stunning display just how behind I am on everything, my take on the upstart, bootstrapping wineries of Southern California’s Ventura County was recently published over at PalatePress.com.

Yeah, that’s the one I talked about back in January when we featured the recent releases of Ventura’s Four Brix Winery (and that was written about six months after my visit). Whatever, look, I’m kind of busy lately, alright?

Thus endeth the triumvirate of articles I’d planned resulting from that S. Cal. jaunt, the remaining third being an overview of the wineries in the Ventura County wine trail for Wine.Answers.com. Mini-reviews might peek out here and there, though, to further highlight a few of my faves from the trip. Otherwise, it’s on to all of the other shizz on which I’m similarly several months behind.

The PalatePress.com piece continues a theme of sorts on which I’ve focused in my features over there: talking about off-the-beaten-wine-path vino areas about which almost no else is talking, and certainly mainstream media has been touching with a ten foot punch down pole, such as Ventura, Colorado, and Pennsylvania (incidentally, I’ll likely be sticking to that theme for future PP pieces, since whenever I veer from that and talk about ultra-expensive wines, or whether or not critical acclaim matters for wines that are so popular that they’ve created enduring brands, I create a veritable sh*t storm and get into all kinds of trouble… see, and you thought that only happened here on 1WD!).

But it (the article, I mean, which technically is still the subject, despite the ludicrously long sentence above) also explores the idea of whether or not Northern California’s vineyards exhibit terroir, and if so whether or not that individuality and vinous fingerprinting can be interpreted and displayed by bootstrapping upstarts buying the region’s grapes, just as the better producers on the Ventura County trail are attempting right now. I’m not yet convinced that they’ve fully achieved it, but the experiment is still in progress, and of course gives us geeky fodder about which to conjecture (is that a verb?… if not, it should be)…

Cheers!

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