Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Power Of The Label

Why do you drink the wine you drink? Is it because you met the winemaker at some point and because of your relationship to them you are a devoted fan? Is it because you are a wine snob who knows a good wine regardless of anything else? Or, is it because you saw this cool label on the shelf and thought you’d give it a try? Chances are it is this last reason that you purchased the wine you’re drinking.
I was thinking about this the other day as I walked through the wine isle of my neighborhood grocery. Initially as I looked up and down the shelves I was searching for wines I knew. Wines that were made by friends, or ones that I recognized. However, with a few glances around I have to admit that I was soon looking for a “cool” bottle.

The likelihood that you will purchase a particular wine is greatly influenced by the look of the label. That even goes for seasoned professional winos like me. That likelihood goes up exponentially as the cost of the bottle goes down.

Frankly, I’m often amazed at the really crappy label designs found on relatively expensive bottles of wine. The deal is that you just know that the wine is good by the name on the bottle. This is extremely true in high end boutique wines that are under 100 cases in volume. After all, why waste good wine on a stupid label?

On the other hand, wines in the $5 and under range have to have a cute label. Otherwise nobody would drink that rot-gut.

Where the label war really exists is in bottles that are in the $10 to $20 range. You will find the most amazing and unique labels at this price point. Truly, the ones you’ll want to collect the bottles and make candle holders just because the label is so darned cute.

One example of wines that are just ok, but sell like crazy are the Mad Housewife wines. If that label weren’t so attractive nobody would buy it. Once they try it and realize that it isn’t that bad, they’ll keep buying it to amuse their friends.

One point where the label becomes a competitive sport is in the wines that sit in the $30 to $50 range. This is a very difficult price point to sell. I’m asked frequently if I can taste the difference between a $10 bottle and a $50 bottle. Of course I can. But, many uneducated wine drinkers can’t distinguish the flavors and differences.

This is where the label, the bottle, and even the seal on the top become super critical to the success of the wine in the market. This is where a skilled label designer becomes important. This is where foiling on the label, custom artwork, and even hand dipped wax seals become important in setting the wine apart and making you want to drink THAT bottle.

Next time you’re searching for a wine just stop and take a look at the artwork on the shelves. When you do, I’ll bet you’ll find yourself grabbing the wine with the cute label too.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Walter Dacon Winery All About Following Your Passion!

Image by Doug Walker
 Last week I spent a few fantastic days in Olympia, Washington with about 150 of my closest friends and biggest competitors. As you might know, I’m a wine writer by night, but for my day job I make a living as a professional photographer. Last week was our annual state print competition and educational conference.
For me, my life as a professional photographer is about living my passions. As a recovering social worker I’ve found that my work in photography makes me more than happy. It is something that I absolutely love doing. I wake up excited every day knowing I love what I do for a living, and I go to sleep every night with a smile on my face.
While in Olympia I got to spend time with Doug Walker, another super-talented commercial photographer who is also as passionate about life and work as I am. We shared a few stories and a few bottles. One in particular that he wanted me to try was a 2008 Walter Dacon C’est Syrah Magnifique.
I promise to tell you what I think of the wine, but first I want to tell you what I’ve learned about the winery after having tasted the wine.
Walter Dacon is the creation of Lloyd and Ann Anderson, who got into making homemade wine back in 2000. People would tell them that they loved the wine, and after falling deep and passionately in romance with winemaking decided it was time to make their romance real. They went back to UC Davis and studied everything that you can learn about winemaking.

In 2003 the Andersons were granted a license by the Federal Government and the state to start producing wine professionally under the name Walter Dacon, Lloyd’s grandfather’s name. By 2005 they received their first 90+ point Wine Spectator score and the rest has been history!

The winery’s tasting room is located in Shelton, out on the Olympic Peninsula. I haven’t visited the place, but am told that the tasting room is both fun and gorgeous.

Now for the wine. As I mentioned, Doug presented me with a bottle of Walter Dacon’s 2008 C’est Syrah Magnifique. This wine is 100% Syrah juice sourced from Boushey (31%), Ranch at the end of the road vineyard (31%), Discovery (31%), and Destiny Ridge (7%). A great blend of some of Eastern Washington’s best Syrah.

The wine was a beautiful dark purple in the glass, and had a nose of blueberry and cocoa. The fruit on the front of the palate was rich plum and blueberry, leading to caramel and cocoa on the mid palate. The finish was lingering with a nice balance of tannin and acidity. Definitely a great bottle of wine to be enjoyed both with a nice steak, as well as on its own with friends.  If you question my judgement you should read the recent Wine Spectator write up about it. 

The Andersons produced 317 cases of this wine, so I expect it will be just enough for all of you to get a bottle. However, you might want to hurry now that I've written this article, and WS has written theirs. 

You can reach their winery at to find out more about their other Rhone specialties and even make a purchase. As they say it on their web page they want you to “Experience the Rhone”. For those of you who love Rhone wines, you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Toast For Jesus!

A few years ago I wrote an article for Easter on what the wines were like in Jesus’ time. It got me a little hate mail, so I thought in the spirit of controversy I would write somewhat of a follow up for Easter this year. Afterall, you already know what kind of wine to pair with your deviled eggs, right?

A couple of years ago while traveling I purchased a book by one of my favorite authors, Ann Rice. Ann is an amazing “period” writer. This means that she does extensive research prior to writing any book, and is very accurate in her detailed descriptions of scenes. She is best known for her books on vampires. I don’t think that she saw Jesus as a vampire, but was trying out a whole new genre. I don’t think it was too successful, because she’s back to writing vampire stuff again.

Anyway, In one scene she details a relative of Jesus paying off Roman soldiers with what they consider to be really good wine that was sweet. This struck me as a little crazy, thinking that better wines would be sweet in flavor. In today’s world everyone would scoff at that.

Knowing the research that Mrs. Rice does in her writings led me to do more research myself on “What Would Jesus drink?”. After all, I know that Jesus was a pretty serious amateur sommelier and enologist. He spoke on the subject many times, and his first public miracle was making a pretty big batch of the “best” stuff.

So, what would Jesus drink? History shows that there were both red and white wild varietals growing in Macedonia and Rome back around 1 A.D.. Vines were trained around trees to keep them off of the ground, and slaves would have to climb up in the trees to prune the vines and harvest.

There are several writings by Cato during this period on winemaking, including how much you could work a slave in the vineyard, and how to best store wine after fermentation. He mistakenly suggested keeping ample headroom in the jars, which would have caused oxidation, turning the wine into vinegar quickly.

Unlike Cato, Jesus suggested that winemakers use new wineskins to make new wine, rather than old ones. The wineskin would have been swollen, with no air touching the wine. This would have produced a much higher quality product.

So, what was considered “Good” wine? Well, I can say that most of my friends would be very disappointed. Wine that people in Jesus’ time considered good was sweet. They didn’t have the ability to age wines well in many cases, so wines were often consumed within the next year after the vintage. There was a very high bounty though in Rome and Greece on older vintages. Surrentines were famous for being stored as much as 25 years.

Along with being sweet, most of the wines produced in that age were combined with spices or herbs. Lavender, resin, and other flavorings were often used producing a mulled or Vermouth flavored wine. Jesus may have enjoyed a wine that was some type of mixture between today’s version of Riesling and a decent Madiera.

Everyone knows that Jesus died on a cross. He was stripped and whipped. A crown of thorns shoved into his skull. He was pierced with a sword. But, the last insult that he had to endure was being given wine that had turned to vinegar.

With all that said, I propose that while you’re eating your lamb chops you propose a toast to Jesus with a glass of sweet wine this Easter.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Showing Up With The Good Stuff

As I write this I’m getting ready for a big annual professional conference that I attend every year with my wife and about 150 of my closest buddies, and competitors. One of the big events happens to be dinner nightly where we all bring a bottle to the table to share.
Depending on the caterer, some years we have to sneak in our bottles in our briefcases and pour a glass under the table for each other. Other years (the better years) we can just pay the caterer a corking fee to open the bottles and clear away our glassware. Either way, the wine gets consumed and everyone has a great time.
The reason I bring up this story is not to tell you of the rockstar lifestyle that I lead, but to discuss a common problem that occurs every year. The problem of somebody bringing an everyday wine to a special event. I know it doesn’t just happen to me and my friends. It happens way too often.
Let me explain the issue in more detail so we are all have an understanding. The problem is that most of us are cracking open bottles of 50, 60, or even 100 dollar bottles of wine, and some dude will inevitably show up with a bottle of Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot.
Now, please understand that I AM a huge fan of Columbia Crest. And, Yes, Grand Estates Merlot has earned the winery many many awards over the years. What I’m saying is that Grand Estates is ten to fifteen George Washingtons in most grocery stores. Believe me, most of us who are winos know the price pretty well because we drink it as a regular drink every night.
The problem isn’t the wine. The problem is that if you bring this bottle, or many others like it, we know you’re a tightwad who won’t splurge on a nice bottle for your friends. Heck, you aren’t even cunning. You are the guy who buys the bottle from the first display rack you see in the store!
I’m not going to beat up on you any more for the rest of this article. I promise. I’m here to help.
Do you want to be the hero and not the zero the next time you bring a bottle to an event? Do you want to win the praise and admiration from your peers? Do you want to go down in history as the guy who brought the “good stuff”?

You have a few choices. In my opinion the number one thing to do is never buy wine for a good impression at a drugstore or grocery store...EVER. Sometimes, if you buy only the best and they have a really nice selection, you can get a nice bottle from a convenience store. An example of this has been Dave’s Chevron in Pendleton, or a few other gas stations down in Hood River or in Yakima.

The best option is to buy a wine from a wine shop. There are several great ones in the region. They can help you find a nice wine at a price you can afford. Even if you don’t want to spend a lot of money they can suggest something you can fool everyone with.
Last, if you’re traveling, you can find a local wine shop. It’s worth the effort. Trust me, showing up with the “good stuff” makes you a hero.