bevmo ramps it up in washington state

Monday, April 30, 2012

By voter initiative last November, consumers in Washington state overwhelmingly knocked the state out of the liquor retail business. Despite a few last minute legal wrangles, things are on track for large new beer/wine/spirits and more operations to open on June 1st.

Along with existing wine and beer outlets such as Costco, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer, etc., at least two national chains are moving into the state with plans to offer the full booze Monty. BevMo is a California-based company with 115 stores – most in California, a few in Arizona. I chatted with CEO Alan Johnson a few days ago, to see what plans he had for the first Washington BevMo stores. A veteran C-level executive with Pepsi, Disney, the Gap and others, he is a native Australian who joined BevMo about five years ago.

I have only set foot in BevMo on a couple of occasions, so I asked my Facebook friends to weigh in with comments also. Here is what Mr. Johnson had to say, and some comments from the consumer side.

washington wines take the nation by storm!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

OK, I plead guilty. Sensationalist headline. But it’s been quite an exciting week for Washington wines. To re-cap a few highlights:

The Gov came out with a seemingly off-the-cuff anecdote about promoting Washington wines in the UK. Her inflammatory comment was something to the effect that California makes jug wines. Hoo boy, the s—t hit the fan quickly. Never mind that it’s a true statement. And why shouldn’t the Gov be allowed a partisan swipe? Is it any different from betting on your home team in sports? Governors do that all the time. I think we should push it a step further. How about putting up a case of fine Washington wine against a case of whatever California’s Gov wants to offer? Here’s the bet: at the end of the year, do a QPR analysis of wine ratings and prices from the major pubs (Spectator, Enthusiast, Parker) and see who comes out on top – Washington or California.

a bung for all seasons

Monday, April 23, 2012

I am not a winemaker, but I have a passing knowledge of winemaker gear – eggs, barrels, pumps, tanks, filters, presses and on and on. Recently, a low tech, high style product came my way that combines utility and design so elegantly that I promised its inventor that I would dedicate a blog to it as soon as he had his patents and production set up.

Don Corson is the multi-talented proprietor of Camaraderie Cellars, located on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. He makes a generous line-up of mostly red wines, but that is not the focus today. Good as the wines are, Don has just introduced a product that may well be the ticket to wine immortality.

what is more difficult – making red wine or white?

Friday, April 20, 2012

In this country, and in most of the winemaking regions of the world, wineries and winemakers will have a predilection for either white wine or reds. Sometimes it’s based on terroir. Certain sites do better with one type of grape or another. But here in Washington especially, many if not most winemakers cast their grape nets (not a breakfast cereal!) in as wide a swath as possible. They can choose to make any type of wine they wish. And most often, they choose to make both red and white.

However, they usually don’t do both equally well.

the tyranny of the weather

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Over the past few days a winemaker of long acquaintance has been writing me, asking for advice on an upcoming speaking engagement. Apparently, he’s been asked to comment on the 2011 vintage here in Washington, and make an assessment about the wines it will produce.

Weather statistics are tracked like winning Lottery numbers in the wine world, and no sooner has bud break begun than the clock is ticking on whether the vintage is late, slow, fast, cool, hot, dry, or potentially the vintage of the century.

Right on through veraison and harvest, the weather-watchers alternately smile and frown, and no sooner have grapes hit the fermenters than opinions are strewn about as to quality. In the media especially, the race is on to be the first to share the news about the vintage. Such opinions, being based solely on weather charts and conditions at harvest, are of dubious value.

the debut of rainstorm from vinmotion wines

Monday, April 16, 2012

VinMotion – “A different and dynamic kind of wine company” – is the reincarnation of Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim, you may recall, was begun as a riesling evangelizing offshoot of Bonny Doon, then split off to make wines exclusively from Washington grapes, and most recently acquired by the Mariani family (owners of Banfi Vintners).

They have rather quietly re-invented it to be VinMotion, which now includes not only Pacific Rim, but also Sweet Bliss and Rainstorm. Under the leadership of the talented Nicolas Quillé, Vinmotion is embracing the entire Pacific Northwest, and making Rainstorm the calling card brand for Oregon pinot gris and pinot noir.

The VinMotion website states the company goals succinctly. “We get people hooked on Pacific Northwest wines by consistently delivering really good wines, meaningful brands and fresh, new ideas. Our goal is to continually elevate the perception of Northwest wines while delivering the highest quality at the most affordable price points.”

This is really good news for Oregon!

is there a cure for tunnel palate?

Friday, April 13, 2012

The phrase tunnel palate seems self-explanatory. Much like tunnel vision, it describes a condition where a taster has developed a set of constricted flavor preferences, and essentially has a blind spot regarding them.

I have seen various forms of this. It is not to be confused with simple palate preferences, nor with the physiological differences that make each and every one of us unique. A professional wine taster, especially a critic, must carefully and critically map his or her palate to find exactly how that landscape lies. Where are the sensitivities, and where are the things that are less impactful? How does a particular ability – say a tendency to sniff out brett – affect the way you analyze and prioritize wine quality?

Tunnel palate is the result of not doing a thorough map for yourself. It seems to occur most frequently among those who taste a lot of very similar wines – winemakers for example – and don’t have the opportunity or interest to explore outside their region or specialty. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard about a wine that the visitors to the tasting room, the neighboring winemakers, the friends and family all loved – yet, upon tasting that wine, my own impressions are quite different.

whither blogging?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The most read, most honored (can you say Top 9!) bloggers, by and large, are guys who jumped in early and kept at it. They were first, they were guys, and they were doggedly consistent. Mazeltov! Good for them.

The other thousand or more “wine” bloggers, young and old, plod along, doing it for whatever personal reasons apply, and perhaps hope to attract an audience commensurate with their (perceived) skills.

I am one of those, with a caveat or two. First and foremost, I have earned a living wage for over 35 years by writing. I still earn a living wage by writing. The blog may be a freebie, but most of my work is paid for, and it buys me a comfortable living. Very few bloggers can say the same.

a first look at the 2010 cayuse wines

Monday, April 09, 2012

This past weekend was Cayuse weekend, as it is widely referred to here in Wallyworld. Vigneron Christophe Baron opened the doors of his “boîte” for just two days, and for those fortunate few on the Cayuse mailing list, the par-tay was on.

Baron’s wines, which are in high demand, and deservedly so, are almost all sold as futures. As clever in business as he is dedicated to his winemaking, Baron sells the futures not only before the wines are released, but before anyone has tasted them. The first chance to taste is at the spring release of wines purchased more than a year earlier. It’s a bit dizzying, but all kinds of fun.

With the exception of the God Only Knows Grenache and the Armada Syrah – both 2009s – all wines being poured were from 2010. A difficult year, considerably cooler than normal, the necessary fruit thinning cut production levels down. The resulting Cayuse wines all display superb craftsmanship, and express the best of what the vintage has to offer. Alcohol levels were not posted (the wines were not yet labeled; some not yet bottled) but based upon flavor alone they seemed lower in alcohol than in most years.

Among the 2010s, here are my notes, favorites first:

wine of the week – 1992 domaine drouhin laurène

Friday, April 06, 2012

After almost seven years of shuffling wines back and forth between my homes at either end of the state, and a run of more than a year in which a large number of wines from my cellar were in storage in a Seattle locker, I have finally been able to consolidate everything in a new wine cellar in my home in Waitsburg.

The logistics of all this are irrelevant; what is most thrilling is that all the wines are in one place, and for the moment, still all jumbled up in packing boxes while I wait for the shelves to be installed.

Anyone who gardens in a region with cold winters knows that the ground heaves under certain conditions, literally throwing up things that have been buried, often for years. In much the same way, the boxes of wine brought over helter skelter from Seattle a few weeks ago are heaving up old bottles of wine, and some have proven to be irresistible.

what’s really being sold in wine ads?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Thumbing through the pages of the latest edition of Wine Enthusiast, I decided to just pull the lead taglines out of the full page ads. These are not cheaply or carelessly thrown together. Full page magazine advertising requires a lot of creative planning, copy writing, design, and often market research as well. The brief headline is the culmination of all that. Its purpose in most instances is to sell wine – either a specific wine, a group of wines, or a wine producing region.

Here are some representative headlines – with the actual brand names removed.

“Rich is always a good thing”

“Richness Redefined”

“Free yourself from boredom”

“Live Lively!”

“Experience the intrigue”

“Passion Inspired by Place”

“Place Matters”

“Talent loves details”

So.... what exactly are we to make of this? What is being sold, and how?