Thursday, January 26, 2012

Marketing and Social What?

Well here we are in a new year; Cedar River Cellars 3rd vintage is in the barrel, and our 2nd is soon to be in the bottle. It has been a month or so since my last post and truthfully, I have had few topics flow across my brainwaves that was worthy of digital print.  
But alas, a topic has started to stir around and I thought I better put it down. Cedar River Cellars is a business that manufactures and sells wine. In 2012, my thoughts are strong on how we can improve our marketing strategy. Our business plan is written with a sense of local community support and to be the neighborhood winery, for Renton (and surrounding Cedar River townships) wine shops, restaurants, and for wine consumers to enjoy.

We have had very positive support from our local shops and neighbors. However we can do better!

The 2012 Objective:

How to gain more customers and in turn sell more wine?

How do we get more of our neighbors to seek the winery out and purchase direct?

How can we engage our consumers on a social media level and get more response?

Is the answer to make a better? You bet!

To make more donations? Maybe, if that draws more folks to the winery and creates repeat business.

Participate in more tastings? Possibly, but we’ll also be smarter at choosing the tasting events we pour. No more wine events without a wine shop on site, or at least only do one or two. We are too small to be pouring wine for events without an opportunity to sell wine.

Make more online social interactions? Here is where I have a bit of bug up my arse. There have been a few posts on wine critic web sites recently (as of this writing) and in the past about how wineries need to do more social media interaction or possibly do it better. Cedar River Cellars was social before we had wine to sell. We got our potential customers engaged on Facebook, we went to wine events without wine to pour, we engaged in comments on wine blogs, etc.

Now here is the bug wiggling around in my previously stated arse...All these critics and wine bloggers out there get pissed off about wineries not engaging with consumers on a social level, but when our customers are not "liking" us or "following" us or "yelping" about us, we are just shouting into the Ethernet. Thus we are not able to respond to comments, questions etc. to get a dialog going. At every one of our tasting events we did in 2011, we asked consumers to 'like' us on Facebook, to check out our website, sign up for our email newsletter and to get involved with our brand by re-telling our story. The point is…social media is a two-way street! The consumers need to interact with our postings or else it just feels like a waste of time and bandwidth.

Example, I was having a great conversation with three ladies at a recent wine tasting. We were talking about the brand, how wine is made, even talking about my passion for motorcycling. One of the ladies husbands was a biker so we exchanged motorcycle stories. I sold them a bottle of our 2009 Bella Bella Syrah which they drank at the table. We engaged in more conversation, they took marketing materials, signed up on the mailing list, and took business cards. But in the end, none of them joined our Facebook or Twitter feeds...and this seems to be a very common theme.

In 2012 we plan on getting our email newsletter up and running with a goal of sending an update on a monthly basis.

We will continue having engaging conversations on Facebook and Twitter. We will be asking for feedback, thoughts and comments from our customers on these social media outlets and not just from our site, but other wine bloggers/critics/wineries sites.

We plan on sticking with our wine tasting events but as mentioned be more selective with the events we pour out to ensure it is worth our time.

Even though it’s not a large space for entertaining we will increase our open-house times at the winery and drive customers directly to us.

Getting our customers to "Like" and "Follow" us at the point of engagement. Maybe by offering some form of incentive for a future purchase.

I would love to hear some ideas from our customers on what we can do better. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, email, phone, winery…you get the idea.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Cedar River Cellars 2011 Crush Beatdown

Well folks, the 2011 harvest/crush/processing is officially completed for us.  This year marks our 3rd professional vintage and it was easier and harder than ever before.

First the easy parts:
We optimized some of our processing steps to save on extra manual work.  The big one was putting the destemmer/crusher on top of the bins and standing on the back of the truck to load the hopper.  Plus adding the use of a pitch-fork to scoop grapes out of the bin into the hopper sped things up.  The ultimate win, of course, would be to have a bin-dumper or forklift with a bin rotator, but hey we like getting intimate with the grapes.

This year we had a lot of help from friends and family.  This was the first time we had *ALL* our parents involved with some aspect of the processing.  Mostly during the pressing stages which is where many hands make light work.

Now the hard parts:
Due to the freeze last year, we had to shift some of grapes that we normally get from one grower, to our other grower.  This caused some stress thinking we would have not been able to get the varietals, but things came through.

With the cooler weather this year and gambling with threats of rain, it was stressful to make sure our grapes have ripe flavors.  I feel confident that we are very successful in this area.  Our flavors and aromas appear to be in check, with lighter bodies and firm acids.  And great color!

Of course my favorite game to play every year is Wine Cellar Tetris, and this year I am on the hard level.  With 2009 wine in cases, 2010 wine in barrels and 2011 must fermenting in bins, shuffling heavy-ass shit around sucks.  I guess it's a good workout...yeah..a workout on my back.

The biggest challenge this year was just recently.  We only had Cab Sauv left to press off.  It was right at the point where I like to press in terms of gravity, color, and flavor.  It really could not wait.  Three days earlier I was feeling the tickle in my throat and my girls were coughing in the house as well.  The next day it was worse and my nose was a bit congested, then the day after that...boom!  I was out all day stuffed up, aching, coughing, fever, sweating and freezing at the same time.  I HAD to press the next day...I just HAD to.  I rested, drank tea, and beat that sum-bitch.  The next day I was able to get all of the cab sauv wine separated from the must into the barrels, plus cleaning up the pommace and equipment, etc.  Guess, what...the next day I got congested and coughing again.  But for the one day that it counted, I got my winery work done.

I like this Junior year in that I finally have a good rotation of work to keep me going though out the year.  Just a quick look 2009 crush all we had to do was make wine and had plenty of space.  In 2010 crush we made wine and started on our 2009 bottling.  Now in 2011-2012, we have wine to sell, wine to make, wine to rack, wine to blend, wine to bottle, and more wine to sell.

I guess I can mention some fun parts:
I looove fermentation!  And harvest and crush is my favorite part about running this winery.  Keeping the fermentation tanks punched down is pain, but again..a good workout.  However, that is where you can use your nose to gauge how the fermentation is going and how the skins, seeds, pulp, and juice are melding together.  Tasting at this point gives a good idea of flavor and acid, but the sugar masks a lot.  During pressing is where you can really get a strong idea of the flavors extracted from the grapes.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Drink Wine Therefore I Am

After coming home from a wine tasting event, I sat down with a glass of our Cab Sauv, vegged out a bit, and got off my feet.  I was just blankly inhaling the volatiles that evaporated from the sides of the glass, staring at the dark purple color as the glass swirls, mesmerized by the act thereof.  I took a sip and noticed that there was a citrus streak that I never picked up before.  Maybe it was my mood, my relaxed state, my frame of mind, my deep concentration on enjoying a glass of wine...maybe the wine is just changing.

I pondered a bit more and started to think about the tasting event earlier that evening, as well as other tasting events that I have participated in as a winery and as a consumer.  People cycling through as much wine as possible, sometimes in lame glasses, sometimes in plastic glasses.  Lots of noise, strange aromas, lack of concentration, talking to the pouring the wine, and winemakers. CHAOS!

How can one truly get a sense of the quality and sensory labyrinth that is wine in such a chaotic environment? 

Wine tasting events are fun, entertaining, social, and gives consumers the ability to learn about wineries, wine making, and get a quick hit on what a particular varietal or winery's wine taste like.  But I would like to encourage wine drinkers, who are reading this, to take time out occasionally to really concentrate on a glass of wine and philosophize on its being.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

2010 Cedar River Cellars Vintage Sensory Eval

I just finished taking 50ml samples from each of our varietal barrels, mixing, and doing some sensory evaluation on each individual sample, as well as the conglomerate. What I have in the barrels for 2010 are Merlot, Cab Sauv, and Syrah. Most everyone knows that the 2010 Viognier was already released and is long gone, however, I will give some notes/thoughts on the Vio as well.

The wino talking heads, if you read all of the wine blogs and such, will say that 2010 is a cool year and look for stronger acids and such in the 2010 vintage Washington wines. My primary impressions are...I am finding a nice balanced drinkable wines at 10 months old. I also get my grapes in two areas...Yakima and Pasco...some other regions may differ.

Here is the breakdown:

2010 Viognier
Tropical fruit aroma, starting to show a bit of honey in the flavor, pear and apple flavors, finishes dry, crisp and acidic with a perceived sweetness. I had some customers say it is the best Vio they have ever had.

2010 Syrah
Added re-toasted French barrels to the mix. A bit lighter in color than our 2009..brick red. Mocha nose, baking spices, blackberry/cherry aroma. Medium anise flavor, barrel spice, berry flavors and a medium acid-ethanol finish. Medium body and a light trailing aftertaste, and light tannin finish..ready for next sip. Definitely a bit different from the 2009 in terms of a bit more tannin and acid and not so much blueberry. Acid is not tart or over-the-top.

2010 Cab Sauv
Added re-toasted French barrels to the mix. A bit lighter in color than our 2009..plum red. Pie cherry nose, black currant, baking spice, and slight clove/eugenol. Very light smoke/tar-like aroma. Flavors of black currant, clove, vanillan, and barrel notes. A medium-full body with medium-full tannin and balanced acid finish. Acid is not tart or over-the-top. I find the 2010 Cab Sauv a bit easier to drink at this time than our 2009, with much more complex flavors.

2010 Merlot
Added a new M+ American Oak barrel to the mix. Classic Merlot brick red color. Aromas of vanilla, brandied cherry, and light smoke. Meaty game-like flavors, ripe plum and cherry flavors, light cola, with light clove notes. Aftertaste lingers of barrel toast. Full bodied, clean tannin, and crisp acid finish, but not tart. I speculate this will be a popular wine for our 2012 release.

I think that the 2010 vintage is just my cellar..and I would guess in most every other winery's cellar. However, 2010 did bang on the vines a bit and 2011 harvest will be light in some if not most vineyards. It will be interesting to see how the concentration and flavors change in 2011 vintage.

If you liked our 2009 rookie vintage, I think the 2010 will be a bit different and fun to drink.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wine Reviews, Scores, and Competitions, Oh My!

It has been busy the last month doing wine events, peddling wine, drumming up sales, as well as working in the cellar. It has been a while since my last post, but now I have something on my mind to put down to digital paper.

It is hard selling wine when no one knows who you are. As as a rookie, you have to prove to the fans that you have something special and worth seeking out. Thus wineries participate in wine tasting events and promotions. At a recent event we participated in, we poured our wine, and the event patrons could purchase the wine at a local wine store. However, the wine store only committed to 2 bottles of each of our products. I felt this was due to being an unknown winery. Needless to say, we were a popular winery with tasters coming back for more, bringing friends, and asking where to buy the wine. At the end of the event, we went back to the wine store to see that all of our wine was sold. The store purchased 3 more bottles of each of our varietals, but that seems a bit late after the event is over.

I have noticed from our short history, and this is huuuge, that when doing a tasting event you HAVE to make the sale. Be it wine, like us on FaceBook, become a fan, etc., otherwise, customers tend to not actively seek you out after-the-fact. I mean we have had follow-ups, but not as many as you would think for the amount of people who come by the table and taste (yes, I am aware they might not like the wine). For this reason, we try to only do tasting events in wine stores or at venues where there is the ability for customers to purchase the wine from a sponsoring wine store. We can use the sales information as a barometer of success.

Now this gets me to a strong thought reviews, scores, competitions. I read a lot of wine reviews, blogs, critics, people who think they are all of the previous mentioned and share ridiculous information on every digital medium available. I see a pattern of consumers (and other winemakers for that matter) who thumb their noses up at scores, reviews, and competitions. Okay, I understand that if you are an established winery and you have 50 billion medals and every vintage all your products gets reviewed by a major publication or whatever..some consumers and critics may say that your brand is getting diluted from all of the medals and scores. It can also be interpreted as this dude knows how to make wine and wants third party reviews to validate.

As a new winery, I find that competitions, submitting wine for critic reviews, etc. is very important to building our brand and generate awareness of our winery. Criticism helps products/people get better and lets them fine tune what works and what doesn't. I am just blown away by the amount of consumers who turn a blind eye to scores, reviews, and medal thinking that they are meaningless, when the winery drops a lot of wine to get that validation.

I recently was on-the-fence about submitting wine to a major wine critic, but in the end: I learned to stop worrying and love making wine :-P.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wine World Wow-House

We did a wine tasting event at Wine World Warehouse yesterday March 26th, 2011. I thought it was quite successful for being in a new time slot for WWW (6-8pm). Our event was only the 4th event in that time slot and we were the only winery pouring. The store itself poured a selection of Argentinian wine. As similar to our other CRC tastings thus far, all of our wines were very well received. I loved hearing from patrons whom would say, "This is really good wine." And I would say, "Your are drinking our rookie vintage." The expression on their face would change and they would say, "Your kidding me?!?" Then I would relay the information that we have been making amateur wine for 7 vintages-ish and now pro for 2 vintages.

Since WWW opened in December 2010, we have wanted to visit, but making time has been difficult with our schedule. Needless to say, now that I have been there..I am sold..and will become my go-to-place. I cannot stress enough how much we preach to "Drink Local". Support the small Washington business and wineries. Support the larger ones as well, be worldly and broaden your palate with the Euros, but think Washington wines first. And WWW is the place to go for Washington wine. I also encourge to buy direct from the wineries as much as possible as well.

I would like to also say that it was very, very, reassuring to have good feedback from Lenny of WWW and Marc of Cordon Selections Distributors. These dudes taste and eval 1000's of wines and they did not just sip, spit, give a nod, and walk-off. They gave valuable feedback, and were genuinely impressed with the wine. I say cheers to both of them!

Finally, I worry about the Eastside traffic to Wine World Warehouse when the 520 Bridge Toll goes into effect. We took 520 over yesterday, but we also could have gone I-90. I have no idea how the toll will effect Seattle business, but hopefully there is not a total alienation from the Eastside.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Oregon Wine, Food and Brew Festival 2011

I followed a link from a wine blog, to an Oregon Wine publication, to their events link that happened to have information about a wine, food, and beer gig going on at the Oregon state fairgrounds on a weekend we were going to be in the area. Nice..the world wide web in action.

Heather and I showed up Saturday at 11:45 am ish for a Noon doors opening. I thought we were going to be unfashionably early.. nope...we waited in line for a bit.

Here is the quick rundown. We paid $10 each to get in, we brought our own wine glasses (thanx for the tip mom), we broke one of them, there was not much food nor good food, and we did not sample beer. So after we got a quick glance around, we started looking for wine to sample.

We started at Noble Pig (Willamette Valley AVA). After hearing Cathy's (the winemaker/owner) story, we introduced ourselves as winemakers as well (this was our common m.o.) and we learned that we were tasting Noble Pig's first vintage release, 200 case production, two varietals...hmmm.. I know that story. We bought 2 bottles of Pinot Noir.

Later we tasted another first vintage release from a 200 case production Southern Oregon AVA (Rogue Valley) winery named, Eliana. They had one offering, a 3 varietal blend. It was tasty, but we did not get good vibe, and decided to make a tough pass.

I had to stop by Willamette Valley Vineyards and give the ol' Jim Bernau show a good rogering. Of course Jim was out of town, but I gave the steward my card and told him to make sure Jim gets it (hot tip, I used to work for him in the beer brewery days). We picked up an excellent bottle of whole cluster fermented Pinot Noir. At $20, I found it to be a great deal, however, WVV was the only dudes who did NOT give us the industry discount.

We hit juuust about 90% of the wineries at the event..

One of the two whites we bought came from Zerba Cellars, a nice blend of Chard, Sem, and Vio.

Our favorite of the show was Umpqua Valley's Melrose Vineyards. The father + son one-two punch of Wayne and Cody was a delight to talk to and talk shop to. Everything we tasted was excellent or at least very good. They had quite a line up, I think like 6-7 reds and 3 whites...all estate. We walked away with 3 bottles of their fine (Dolcetto, Pinotage, and Bacco Noir) wine and look forward to supporting them in the future.

In closing, we had a good time and talked with a lot of nice winemakers and stewards, but the real hidden message is go out and support those small wineries. Even if you can not buy them all, think about them next time you are out tasting.