Wine Marketing

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Where has the time gone? Seems like only yesterday we found that little owl tucked beneath the vines on our hill. Since then, the wheat harvest all around us has come and gone, and so has summer, for the most part. Now the bird netting is up as we await the ripening of our very fruitful (!) crop.

We might have almost 2X the yield this year, this even after cluster thinning, and as this glorious weather continues, unless a cloud of locust descends, or Mt. Hood erupts, or a range fire sweeps across the dried out landscape, or an iceberg suddenly scrapes its way to our hill, or a major weather shift freezes the place–I’m not ruling ANYTHING out!–we might have a really great harvest. Notice my hesitation to commit to even the expectation of “should” as in “we should have a really great harvest.” Farming is fraught with the unknown. And for us, that can get real dicey because we don’t doctor our wines in the winery to make the season pretend to be what it may not have been. Nope, the year along with the cooperation of our meticulously picked out hillside HAS to deliver, and so far, so good.

Let’s see, what else. Well, we’re very excited to say…we now have a Seattle wine distributor, Cru Selections! And one in Boston, Genuine Wine Selections! And our very first guy who believed in NYC, Ice Bucket Selections, still believes! Woohoo! You know, since we happened to do everything essentially ass backwards in this industry, meaning, we put all our moolah into our vineyard and then waited for it to grow vs. the low-cost, low-risk approach of phone farming (aka purchasing grapes) and throwing something together in the short term while an acre or two gets or doesn’t get planted here and there; and then with our gently tended grapes made very focused, non coca-cola, divisive wines (read, highly singular), it’s been a long haul trying to find people who understood the wines and our endeavor. We’ve had to go through DOZENS of inquiries and a shocking amount of effort for what turns out to be deflating follow up (why people don’t tell you upfront is beyond me). Thankfully the persistence has paid  off a bit, for now we have three distributors who represent very wine-forward markets on both sides of the country. So THANK YOU Ice Bucket Selections, Cru Selections and Genuine Wine Selections  for believing. It’s a start. We hope SOON to find more. Universe, hear me now!

Finally, we’re getting ready for a trade trip to NYC. I KNOW! So close to harvest, right? What were they thinking? Well, in all honesty, this straight shot of sunshine we’ve been enjoying for some time could not have been predicted, and when duty calls, in the end, we still have to sell the stuff we grow. Looking forward to a weekend BACK to NY (we just returned from upstate visiting my parents only last week), but this time in NYC. Sam looks forward to the doughnuts and yellow taxis.

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Just a fast follow up to our How We Do It post I wrote some months ago. Sorry for the silence these last few months (and thanks, Matt, for noticing!), but there’s been such a slowing in our endeavor. Sigh. I’ve (we, really) got to dig deep into my/our reserves, as if  hiking Mt. Hood, having tramped up all night with that 40# pack plus rope, and just breathe in the latest turndowns and letdowns as nothing more than the acrid fumarole stink you pass by that burns your nostrils and makes you sickish, only until the wind blows it away, and you forget about it as you look to the summit and rope up for the final, upward slog.

Now back to that photo-shoot thing — well, the photo was never used, but WHO CARES! Because our tempranillo wine received some of the most glowing words ever (you FaceBook and Twitter users might already know of this) from the prestigious Quarterly Review of Wine. And it gave us hope. Sort of. Until we saw that it did not generate one blip of interest! Or one sale. LOL! What the what does it take? I don’t know. Look to the summit, LaMonica, LOOK TO THE SUMMIT! And don’t forget the ones out there who do appreciate their discovery of The Grande Dalles (Thank you, thank you!). And don’t forget to rope up.

 

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nov2

Oops! Didn’t realize it has been so long since I last posted. I pretty much took some time off to do Mama things (cards, cookies, and cadeaux) and actually got them all done for once, with very minimal duress–a very interesting result from stepping a moment (or in this case, a month) away from the wine biz/start-up/swimming-against-the-current fray. Hmmm.

Anyway, while 2011 is still only yesterday, I’d like to leave you all with a month-by-month visual of the sights and colors of the The Grande Dalles and our Uncultivated Life (note the yellow boat serving as wade pool in front of our Campeau) out in the wilds of the wine world.

    

January: We released our wines at the rustically swank James John Cafe in North Portland. Chef Owners Suzanne Bozarth and Aaron Solley would accompany us to New York in March, to the James Beard House.

February: It’s a quiet time out on the hill, but still much for little vineyard gnomes to discover.

March: “Columbia Valley Terroir” unveils itself at the James Beard House in NYC: featuring our wines and sumptuous regional Northwest Solley and Bozart fare.

  

April: A slow start, but the land starts to warm and the greening of the hill begins.

May: Guerilla roadside Wine Stand at the Old Garage during Memorial Day Weekend in the Hood (Hood River). Best line of the weekend asked by someone who drove in, got out, and then quickly left after asking: “Is this legal?”

  

June: Wine in hand, an evening walk out on the land. Sam! Get out of Dave’s wheat!

July: Fire season. Thankfully this was not on our property, but still causing much damage to someone else’s across the way. Reminded us of the 2009 range fire that headed straight toward us, stopping three rows in our vineyard. As the story goes, the Old Coot was the only person who went in our vineyard to fight it. Still need to thank him.

  

August: Wasco County Fair! Aptly themed, “Barn in the USA.” For the second year we sponsored a Demolition Derby car. Yeah! Hot day out there in South County in that fairground valley. Whew!

September: Still warm out on the land. In this picture, because we didn’t quite make it to our Deschutes River swim spot, the little boat had to do.

  

October: Harvest. We made it. And we made it into Google Earth’s One World Many Stories campaign. The only wine story IN THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY to do so.

November: A seasonal quiet begins its descent, along with some early snow.

December: While the last hues of Fall in the Columbia Gorge peep through the mist, our wines are beginning to shine in New York City, and at some Michelin-starred restaurants to boot! Where exactly, you ask? Annisa on Barrow Street. Blue Hill NYC on Washington Place. Dovetail on West 77th Street. Henry’s on Broadway. Penn Wine and Spirits at Penn Station. First & Vine on First Ave. Yippy skippy!

As thankful as I am for our accomplishments in 2011, there are still many miles to go before we can sleep. Many miles. So, while I look forward to 2012 and all the exciting things we have planned, I wish you all a prosperous and healthy New Year and from time-t0-time, to step off the beaten path, for it is what often makes all the difference.

~ stephanie

 

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Blame it on my Anthropology undergrad work, but I have written that, still feeling fairly new to the wine industry, I often feel like Margaret Mead, looking in on and trying to understand the behaviour of some lost tribe. As a participating observer having now lived 6 years among “the people,” things still baffle me, and I like to wonder why.

No matter how hard I tried the other day, it seemed I could not shake that Chateau following behind. Sam and I were off that day from Portland to the Willamette Valley, to pick up some of our wine at Oregon Wine Services  (very nice people) in McMinnville, and en route, I had the best chuckle: a Chateau on wheels. It was just a camper, but how funny to see a “Chateau” traveling through Oregon’s best-known wine country. It’s apropros in a way, you know, how wine and chateaus like to go hand-in-hand here in the USA? As if a chateau is some marker of what, authenticity? Prestige? The “Old Country”?

I always say, “Only two letters separate ‘arrogance’ from ‘ignorance,’ meaning, in my pointy head, there’s not much that differentiates the two words. Don’t get me wrong, I like chateaus just like the rest of us romantic souls, but only when they’re the real deal, LIKE IN FRANCE, or GERMANY or some other country where the provenance is legitimate, and not some contrived artifice used for marketing. Which, c’mon, it is.

Not that there are many chateaus in the Willamette Valley, if there are any at all—things seem pretty real down that way on the physical landscape of rolling, verdure hills, and tucked away places. On the brand landscape there might be a few; a quick Google search turned up Chateau Lorane (no picture of a chateau, though); Chateau Bianca (again, no image of a chateau), and Chateau Benoit (not clear if a chateau is really there, either, since all I found was a label, and no chateau on that).

Up Washington way there are some actual chateaus, as well as “chateau” brands. Chateau Ste. Michelle would be the acting queen of Washington castles and brands, the oldest wine biz up there. Then there’s Chateau Champoux, but I don’t get a sense that there’s an actual chateau on the premise. Nor at Chateau Rollat’s. Things look more promising for Le Chateau Winery, since that’s what the “under construction” website suggests. There is a chateau up on La Montagne Rouge (all this chateau talk is making the French come out of me, sorry), as we all know, one of the founding partners having connections direct to la France (there it is again). But all these other chateaus, I just don’t get. We’re not France!  Two years ago I was still wondering about all this chateau stuff, but more with a peek into Cali, and here’s the post I wrote, if you’re interested.

Anyway, we don’t have a chateau on our hill, and have no plans for one. But what we DO have is something we like to refer to as the “Campeau” (or “LE Campeau,” if we’re feeling very French), so we might fit in a little out there in the wilds of the wine world.

It’s not even a Chateau, like the one cruising so close behind the other day, it’s a Komfort (that’s right, with a K). “And it’s paid for,” Scott pipes in, “as of this week.” And klassy, in its own, krazy way, I might add. I wonder what Margaret would say.

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Once again, I’ve been absent. Just not in me to write a thing about our endeavor. Why? I think the wind got knocked out of me after I detached a bit and read through The Grande Dalles’ five-year vineyard anniversary post. Holy crap. We experienced all that in five years?! Then I found out the universe was under hold of Mercury Retrograde, so that put it all in perspective, my lack of interest,  AND I started reading William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, and am now consumed in my free time to swallow up the next sentence of the fictitious Logan Mountstuart.  I’ve also been putting off Summer’s newsletter; I have a few more weeks until Summer is no longer here, so I should make it. And there you have it.

Instead, I’ve been cultivating my little garden, enjoying my time with Scott and Sam, especially our weekend overnights to the vineyard and trips to the Deschutes River; I’ve been contemplating childcare other than myself for Sam again (it’s time!); what else….we went to the Wasco County Fair mid August, which was a great time, not really sure how our sponsored Demo-derby car did; had some family guests (Scott’s parents), and for the most part, I am enjoying what Summer we are having.

And oh, yes. On a lark and a feeling that someone just ought to know, (about how we used Google Earth to locate our ground) I wrote to Google about our endeavor – I told you all about this. Well, we entranced and inspired the right people, and now things are rolling; we’ve been contacted by Google’s PR firm, Cutline Communications, in San Fran and have just been interviewed by a local newspaper, and we found out we will be featured in a Google Earth marketing campaign, a story they’re highlighting to celebrate Google Earth’s history, set to launch September 28th! Not bad, with Mercury Retrograde and all that.

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If you haven’t already figured out in my posts, our wine life does not reflect the care-free days and ways people imagine a wine-life to be. We are a small, start-up, practically self-funded, and do much, if not most of the work ourselves. I am in charge of this blog and all writing, and the website. Scott takes care of the vineyard and wine side.

So I spent Friday morning before Sam woke up fretting over The Grande Dalles website. I was reading my daily dose of Wine Business  and came across The Winery Website Report’s Why Winery Websites Stink, part Deux. So I’m there shaking my head “Oh, yes” thinking of all the misinformation (people using the word “estate” wrongly and misleadingly, for example) and similar gobbledygook (where it’s hard to tell one site from the other),  I’ve encountered, and thinking how I hope ours might be refreshingly to the point (like our wine! ha!) and honest. Oh, how smug I was in my thinking, and I should’ve stopped there, but I kept clicking the links, the one that brought me to Part I of Why Winery Websites Stink, and here’s what I read, a quote attributed to Sean P. Sullivan and the Washington Wine Report:

90-95% of winery websites stink because they say little about the winery and even less about the wines. They provide largely generic information rather than specific information about who you are andwhat differentiates your winery.

Now, I don’t know which websites this guy was looking at, because the ones I visit and peek in on go on and on at times, almost rote like; I can’t read the stuff, but that’s just me. I do not classify myself as a “wine geek.” And, I should tell Sean P. Sullivan that just the landing page of a winery should speak LOADS about who the people are, what their wine is like, and so on and so on; such is the power of a well-thought out brand, not a me-too experiment. But then I went to our site, and wondered (worried, really), “Do we say enough?” I believe we’ve captured the essence of the grit and the grande, of who we are (Scott, “Eternal dreamer,” Stephanie, “Recovering pessimist,” for example), and through our minimalist approach we speak volumes. We do know who we are, and we show it. I won’t worry about that.

More fretting, though, ensued when I started reading more about SEO (search engine optimization) and that’s where I need to spend more time. For example, if you were to type “Tempranillo Oregon” would you find us? Got to page #10 on a Google Search and nada. And same with Brunello or Sangiovese. Yet we are there for “’08 Gampo,” and “’08 Home Place,” but that doesn’t help us when people don’t know what our proprietary wines are composed of. Sigh. Something more to put on my to-do list: optimize search engine tags and what not. It really does feel like a game of Tag to me, everyone out there searching for the best hit, and us, trying to get caught.

 

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Our latest installment on The Daily Meal. We (mainly me, Stephanie) write a bi-monthly piece called “Diary of a Start-Up Winemaker.” What we(well, I)’ve written to date are HERE.

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We’ve only been “in business” for just under a year, and are working on finding like-minded wine adventurers who appreciate wine like ours, as well as our endeavor. It’s a crowded, crazy market these days, as you all know, but we’re slowly reaching some of you individuals who dare to step off the well-worn route, or should I say, you’re discovering us, as true adventurers are apt to do.

Carl found us through Scott’s parents, out in Missouri. He was so interested in The Grande Dalles that he purchased six bottles of our inaugural wines: two ’09 Leroy’s Finest, our bone-dry Riesling; two ’08 Gampo, our sangiovese blend; and two ’08 Home Place, our tempranillo blend, just like that. Since his order, we’ve exchanged a few chit-chat messages, so imagine our surprise, when he told us he’d be out in the Pacific Northwest (a rare visit, he said) and wanted to meet! Our first fan from afar wanting to come and learn more! We were thrilled.

So off Sam and I went — Scott had to stay in Portland, holding down his day job that keeps this dream alive — to meet Carl.

Read the rest of this entry »

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As members of what amounts essentially to a farmer’s electric company cooperative, Wasco Electric, we receive their monthly publication, Ruralite, a magazine that covers life and individuals out in the agricultural reaches and towns they service. I enjoy reading it because it’s “real,” not air-brushed imagery or loaded with Madison Ave adverts, its glamour is in its simplicity. Anyway, after dinner I was thumbing through and came across an ad in Marketplace, that began, “Plant Grapes, Make Wine.” It went on to tell about the acreage and location of “prime, undeveloped land, water rights, blah blah blah” from a notable Washington State AVA. Didn’t I have a chuckle. How easy. Plant grapes, make wine. Just like that, people. And we wonder why the market is as the market is. Holy crap.

Chatting with Scott, he told me about a phone conversation he had with a wine broker? wine something or other, who said to him how she often checks the Oregon Liquor Control Commission website, and sees, as Scott relayed, “All the wineries springing up.” That’s right. springing up. And indeed they are. And we wonder why the market is as the market is. Yes, I’m saying it again.

For better or worse, we took a true path. Our endeavor was not one that sprung up. It’s been decades in the making, years of searching, and of waiting. We planted a vineyard on land that met our requirements, and we waited, to make wine based on Scott’s palate, one that he developed in France with one of its top wine merchants. Yeah!

And then there are ads like this, thank goodness, to leave us smiling even more, where someone 64 years young wants to meet “sexy looker that can treat me right and cook well.”  Ha! Good looking and a good cook! At least he didn’t ask for some sexy looker he can plant grapes and make wine with who’s also a good cook and on top of it all treats him right. I’d end our subscription.

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Watching an Ed Sullivan “Classic Performances” the other night on a public broadcasting station, we were struck by the authenticity of the performances. There was no big show, it was about the music, and each song and its performer/s showed true individuality. Petula Clark, The Mamas and the Papas, The Beatles, The Four Lovers….How could it not be so, when it was nothing but the performer on a bare stage—singing, not lip synching, or rarely, since Sullivan wanted the music to be live— and in black and white to boot? Such clarity of focus, of the song, of the artist. “That performance was just stunning,” said Scott of “Down Town.” No, Ed truly appreciated the unique. And through him gave a lot of people their first break.

We need an Ed Sullivan for the wine world. Someone not afraid to step out there and discover new, singular talent. Writing a piece for TheDailyMeal.com about the International Wine Style, it made me wonder, “If Ed were resurrected, and had wine producers on his show, who might he have these days?” Would he have given in to the masses and opt for a bunch of Britney Spears-like lip- synchers who simply go through the motion, mastering the art of dazzling through performance? Or would it be Petula Clark-esque, a sole singer on a stark stage where the song/wine is so much a part of the singer, that you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends and the whole performance belongs to that person alone, never able to be replicated? It’s really hard to know. We would hope Ed would appreciate us, and not for our singing!

 

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So, not having a tasting room, and Memorial Day weekend supposedly being one of the busiest for wine tasters out and about, and knowing our vineyard was TOO far off the beaten trail (not crazy far, but not on a prescribed “wine route,” so to speak), we were driving down a road in Hood River a couple of months ago, on the way to where we have our wine made, and I saw a very cool abandoned garage with great parking out front, conveniently located right off the highway on a great bluff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, and fully on a “wine trail.” We found out who owned it, he laughingly agreed to let us use the spot–at no charge–we got all required permits with city of Hood River, and Oregon’s governing alcohol commission, and voila, a farm-stand was in motion. So we schlepped our stuff each day 70 minutes down the most scenic highway, to Hood River, and set up our blue canopy wine farm stand, at the Old Garage.

We had a ton of fun, and I believe, met some of the most adventurous of the wine adventurers that weekend. Making one’s mind up to pull off the well-traveled highway and discover what’s under that blue canopy is not for the faint-hearted, but it IS for the curious and courageous, and we are thankful for everyone who had it in them to dodge the potholes and come on in. And they really liked the wine. So one of my theories of our wine being really for the most adventurous was proven that day.

There was also a great showing of our Portland friends, as well as one of our The Dalles buddy’s, and my old boss from ages ago who now lives in “The Hood,” whose support of our endeavor really made us feel all warm in that chilly wind;  Scott was referred to as “the kid” setting up; some guy pulled in and asked if what we were doing was legal and then just left without tasting a thing; the scotch broom smelled divine(!); and an eagle soared out in front. It was truly a grand weekend.

“Will we do it again?” That is the question. People did stop, and we did sell wine, but was it enough to sustain the idea? Will we need to keep going back to keep the momentum going? Or was this weekend it? We’re still working it through. But we do know that from this we have happily run across another “farm stand” opportunity with a restaurant in Mosier, a neighboring town, as well as a very interested and supportive local journalist, and maybe a couple more ops with some of the area’s mover and shakers that can help get our wine out and about even more.

The big thing for us is that we need to get people to our hill; we’re not happy separating the land from our wine, we want people to experience the whole kit and kaboodle, and we know visitors will just be blown away by our site, they will.  So we hope to soon begin hosting “camper” tastings since now we’ve disinfected it from all the mice who conveniently took it over instead of going south to Phoenix for the winter…stay tuned! And if you’re interested in being one of the first “Camper tasters,” please do let us know!

Here’s a link to some photos I posted on Face Book (click on the underlined link, Mom).

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