“You’re actually the first journalist to see this.”
Loaded words spoken to me when walking down the back staircase at Chateau Montelena to the cellar room. And they’re not just fully-packed AK-47 words because I’ve received no formal training in journalism; it’s because there’s pressure when someone trusts you enough let you take a peek into the dirty underwear drawer of a movie star.
Ok, so it’s not actually a dirty undie drawer; but it’s the equivalent, anyway, when that movie star isn’t a recognizable pretty face plastered across billboards and silver screens worldwide, but is a winery. And make no mistake about it, Chateau Montelena is, indeed, a movie star.
The steady stream of tourists and visitors arriving right on my heels at 9AM, popping photos of the Calistoga winery’s iconic stone castle exterior was evidence enough of that, considering that your average Napa Valley wine country tourist turns around once they hit downtown St. Helena on Route 29. If you want to visit Montelena, you have to find Montelena, and to find Montelena you have to be going slightly out of your way; you have to be looking for it.
The recently-expanded parking lot is the best evidence of Chateau Montelena’s new-found popularity – where they previously got by with space for about eleven cars, they’ve had to expand to a new lot that can accommodate several times that number. It’s all part of the strange dichotomy that seems to have defined the image of Montelena in the minds of wine lovers over last few decades: a familiar name and yet not a familiar destination. Even though its name became etched into the consciousness of U.S. wine lovers after Chateau Montelena’s then-unknown Chardonnay bested its more celebrated French counterparts in the famed 1976 “Judgement of Paris” tasting, real fame – movie star fame – didn’t come until 2008 when the movie Bottle Shock hit the theaters, giving the `76 Paris tasting the Hollywood treatment.
Too Hollywood, as it turns out. Ask Montelena’s assistant winemaker, Matt Crafton – who as a lanky, tall, affable, laid-back-but-knowledgeable guy seems to fit like a glove into Montelena’s NorCal culture – how accurately Bottle Shock portrayed Montelena’s history, and you get a pause, followed by a smile and an answer that says everything by hardly saying anything:
“Well… There was a Paris tasting; the Barretts did exist; we did win.”
All the rest, as they say, is basically Hollywood bullsh*t…
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Speaking of Doug Cook (mentioned in yesterday’s post), I was lucky enough to be included on a panel with Doug and Alder Yarrow at the 2011 Pro Wine Writers Symposium discussing the importance of search and how to maximize the chances of having your wine writing noticed on-line. Alder founded the first wine blog on the Internet and deals extensively with SEO in his day job, Doug was former director of search at twitter (maybe you’ve heard of them?) and I … well, I was the guy lucky enough to be sitting next to them, adding commentary about how this stuff applies in the real world of wine writing on-line.
We based our discussion on a fantastic slide deck that Doug produced for a similar series of talks that he’s been giving, whch you can find below after the jump, as well as some video from the panel discussion. Anyone who is trying to get their wine writing found on-line needs to take this stuff seriously (within reason of course). The vid is long, it doesn’t include the full session, and the sound quality isn’t awesome… BUT… I think you’ll get some good info. out of it so, screw it, I’m including it anyway (just bear in mind this panel wasn’t designed to be filmed, ok?). Also, YouTube can totally go suck donkey bong for how painful it was to (unsuccessfully) upload the vid, which explains why it’s hosted on my own server instead…
Anyway… some highlights for the impatient:
- The best way to get your content noticed is to produce kick-ass content. This is uber-important and personally I break almost all of the rules in Doug’s presentation from time to time in pursuit of making content that hopefully humans (not search engines) actually want to read.
- Everybody finds everything on the Internet via search, and usually they’re searching for something very specific. Your website needs to be search-friendly and making it easy to find related content is important.
- How and to what content you link is important to how search engines view your website – probably way more important than you think.
- Thinking of trying to fool the search engines into giving your website prime search results real-estate? The Googles, Yahoos and Bings of the world have teams of MENSA-candidate eggheads whose jobs are to ensure that your tricks will fail. If that’s your strategy… good luck with that.
- If you use a blogging platform, most of the nitty-gritty stuff is handled for you, and the stuff that isn’t done automatically can be handled by (usually free) plug-ins. Don’t go too crazy with this stuff – like anything else, baby-stepping into the guts of how search engine optimization works is the best approach, and it should never supersede your real focus (producing the best content that you can so that people want to stick around when they do find you).
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Doug Cook, founder of the amazing wine search engine AbleGrape, is smart guy. A really smart guy; as in, instantly-doubles-the-IQ-of-the-room-when-he-walks-in-no-matter-how-many-people-are-there smart. His intelligence level is matched only by his largesse, especially when it comes to sharing wines from his extensive and impressive cellar.
That generosity was on full display at the recent Pro Wine Writers Symposium in Napa, when Doug busted-out some vinous gems at one of the post-post-prandial (PPP?), informal gatherings (a.k.a., after-after-parties), the most brilliant and multi-faceted of which was a wine whose existence on Earth slightly predates my own, a 1971 J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese from the Mosel.
The wine was, in a word, amazing: honey, flowers, orange rind, nuts, beeswax (yes, I actually know what that smells / tastes like, not because I’m a beekeeper – though I think beekeepers totally rock – but because I play didgeridoo, which uses beeswax as a mouthpiece); basically, a delicate and pure example of everything that Mosel Riesling stands for and to which the best examples should aspire. Alder Yarrow, who was with me at the PPP, summed up the sensory experience of that wine recently on Vinogrpahy.com so I won’t repeat it here. By the way, it was fun to watch a normally poised Alder about lose his sh*t over some of those wines.
Anyway, what I do want to talk about here is why the wine was so glorious – and what was in the bottle is only partly responsible for that…
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