Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I have known about Ampelos Cellars for a while now. My good friends Dave and Craig at Jaffurs Wine Cellars turned me on to their vineyard with what Jaffurs claims to be his best bottling of Syrah. Then I heard about their embrace of Biodynamics. Eventually, they showed up on Vaynerchuk for a 2 parter about blending (see both videos below). This time, it stuck. I reached out for Peter and Rebecca on the same day they reached out for me (they heard about me from the guys at Jaffurs!). We hooked up and discussed opportunities. Once we all decided that it might be a good fit, they sent me some samples. This is often one of the great perks of my job! We tasted through the wines last week. The Syrache, The Gamma Syrah and the Lambda Pinot Noir. Each had tons of personality and concentration. I called a few friends out that way, and the feeling was as I suspected, Ampelos is one of the hot rising stars of Santa Barbara. I am thrilled to announce the addition of Ampelos Cellars to the ampelography portfolio.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
One of the most crucially important figures in the evolution of Santa Barbara Wines was in the background for much of the region's development. Schooled under Andre Tchelistcheff at Buena Vista, Rick Longoria was greatly influenced by this master of the craft. Beginning with Firestone, then J Carey and eventually with Gainey. Rick helped to establish a European style with the fledgling SB County vines. Longoria started his own winery in 1982, but continued to work for other wineries until 1997. He eventually saw his dreams come to fruition with opening his own tasting room in Los Olivos and most importantly, he planted his estate Fe Ciega Vineyard in Sta Rita Hills.The centerpiece of his production, Fe Ciega yields some of the most dramatic and refined Pinot Noirs in the region. Rick also has a thing for Spanish Varietals (as do I)and produces an Albarino and Tempranillo. One of Longoria's most famous wines is the Blues Cuvée, a proprietary Red Blend largely based on Cab Franc. The wine always carries a different artists interpretation of Rick's musical passion-The Blues.Additionally, Longoria is making great Syrahs and Chardonnays as well a a bevvy of non-estate Pinot Noir. ampelography is thrilled to represent this true pioneer and visionary!
Monday, May 18, 2009
Gary Vaynerchuk is quickly becoming ubiquitous in this industry. It's very important to listen to him and imagine for a second what his audience looks like. He has 350k followers on twitter. He is younger than us, and is audience is much younger. This is where the opportunity lies. If you/ we can connect to these people or using these methods, we will drive our own business.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I read the papers just like you. I watch the news, I catch the scroll at the bottom of the 24hr news networks while sitting in my accounts. Despite the popular opinion, the media isn't driving us into a recession, it's likely inevitable. I can make a pretty compelling case that the people in the wine industry most affected by the economic state, are making it worse for themselves.
Distributors and Retailers are in full on panic mode. I keep hearing the line "in order to sell more wine and remain more competitive, retailers need to sell $10 and under wines". I keep hearing from distributors that they can't sell mid-priced wines and higher anymore, and that the market doesn't have room for these wines anymore. I believe these are dangerous approaches. Wine sales are slumping a bit, but they are above this point last year. And they are about flat with 2007, which is much higher than 2005 or 2001. We have been spoiled by a seemingly endless growth cycle in wine sales. The growth will be much slower from here on, at least for a little while, but it's still growth. Consumers that I've spoken with haven't really changed their habits much either. I'm sure that there are consumers that previously bought $20 bottles on a regular basis, but are now buying $12 instead, but I haven't come across any.
So, retailers, thinking they are ahead of the curve, have bought big on cheap wines and promoted them heavily. They have in effect sold their customers down. This is a bad plan. Rather than focusing on getting customers excited about new and exciting wines and great vintages in Europe and California, they are looking for the next yellowtail (which single-handedly created a depression in sales for quality Aussie Wines).
Distributors have panicked even worse! Since every retailer overbought during the holiday season, they had plenty of remaining inventory during the already slow months of Jan-March. The sales numbers were down percentages that make managers fear for their jobs. But they were down these percentages in the smallest months of the year, so the real dollars down was not as bad as the percentage said. As a reaction, the managers started dumping quality mid-priced brands in favor of finding the next yellowtail. In essence validating the retailers stance.
I have no less than 4 shirts in my closet that have an argyle pattern on them. I didn't go out and buy 4 at once. Argyle was a pattern of choice for the last few seasons in many of the clothing stores I frequent. Subliminally, they sold me on the latest trend. And when all was said and done, I had at least 3 more pieces of Argyle patterned clothing than any self respecting man should have. I like argyle, but I didn't need it. The clothing industry embraced it, and I bought it. The wine business is doing the same thing right now, except this years "fashion" carries a lower price tag and lower profitability. The people that already sell the cheaper wines are rejoicing, for them, these are the salad days. "Of course consumers are looking for value comfort wines".
So now, sales and profits will go into the tank. Guess what else? Consumers that were shopping independent retailers because their wines were better than the grocery stores now have no reason to go to these shops. When independent retailers try to go toe to toe with grocers, they have no chance, and that is the path they are leading their customers down.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Friday, May 1, 2009
What is Pinot Noir supposed to be? This is the question that Oregon Pinot producers often ask themselves and each other. I was fortunate enough to attend the famous Oregon Pinot Camp in 2004. It was here I met Annie and Scott Shull, owners of Raptor Ridge Winery. During our several days in camp, Scott hosted a seminar about Oregon style and how the Pinots in Oregon live in a 3-dimensional spectrum of styles defined as opulent, elegant and age worthy, with each sharing a common space. After tasting through many wines that demonstrated the diversity of style, I really began to classify all Pinot in this spectrum. The fact I kept coming back to over and over, is that there are many excellent examples of opulent new world Pinots, and opulent and age worthy wines.For some reason, the intersection of elegant and age-worthy seemed inconsistent at best. Many producers that try to occupy this space fall short and are very vintage dependent. I felt at the time, that Raptor Ridge was one of the few producers that was really hitting this balance well.
I have been chasing Raptor Ridge for almost 5 years, ever since Pinot Camp. As I built an Oregon portfolio with my last distributor, I kept harassing Annie. Finally, through a series of fortunate coincidences and timing, we finally hooked up, and now I am proud to announce the inclusion of Raptor Ridge in the ampelography portfolio.
These Pinot Noirs are outstanding! The alcohols ride in the mid 13% range, and the wines have both fresh acidity and nice tannin backbone. Beautifully aromatic, I imagine these wines will really develop in the 3-5 years from vintage range. Located on the side of Chehalem Mountain, and with fruit contacts from Shea Vineyard and Meredith Mitchell, Raptor Ridge Scott knows how important vineyard work is, and spends most of his time during harvest in the vineyards. The winery is named after the birds of prey (Red-tailed Hawks, Kestrels, Sharp-Shinned Hawks and Owls) that make Raptor Ridge their home.