(A rant about) the standard winery spiel

{Rant begins}

I was back in a California a couple weeks ago to take a group of wealthy wine lovers up to Napa for a wine tour. It’s a pretty standard trip that I’ve done for years with this group. Super fun and full of laughs, and we generally try to hit the super high end and exclusive spots.

This time we had appointments at three well known estates in the valley: One up on Pritchard Hill, a newer “ego play” from some rich folks down in the flats, and at the end of the day one of the original cult wines. All were lovely of course, and the hosts were all generous with their time and energy. But here’s my frustration – everyone at all three visits said the exact same thing.

The production folks had the same tired spiel. They talked about how much hands-on attention they place in the vineyard, and they make sure to tell us they know the key is to bring in good fruit from the vineyard and then do as little as they can to intervene. How they try to let the wines speak of its origin and terroir. Oh god, shoot me. At every winery on this trip I asked the winemakers, what do you do different here? What makes you unique? And they kept going back to the same standard line. Or they got ridiculously technical and talked about their irrigation methods and the strength of their particular clones, that by the way aren’t unique to your vineyard.

From the non-production folks it was the same tired Napa bullshit. Excuse the language but it’s really frustrating to hear the same old spiel everywhere I go.

– “We strive to make wines of place.” – such a tired line, everyone’s eyes glaze over as soon as they hear this.

– “The placements at the right on-premise accounts are so critically important for us.” – on-premise, on-premise, on-premise. What, you can’t see past the tired old model of somms-make-brands?

– “We made a new wine at a lower price so that we could introduce new customers to our range wines.” – sorry, you just made a 2nd (or 3rd) label, possibly with purchased fruit, and are selling it at $75, and that’s a new entry level sku?! Ugh.

Here’s my advice for both the production and non-production folks when they meet with visitors. Talk plainly, talk the truth, and talk about what really truly deeply makes you so passionate about your wines. This is *especially* true when dealing with the trade.

Here’s some example language to help you understand what I mean:

“We are proud at making wines that are loved by drinkers of bold hedonistic Cabernets. We have a huge portion of our mailing list in Texas. We think we’ve done a good job at capturing that market segment, but are facing increased pressure from producers in Sonoma. We’re dealing with this by ….”

Or “We have challenges here with differential ripening from block to block, as we are on a slope with knolls, so we have to spend the extra money to do many different pick days. This has become increasingly expensive as vineyard labor gets more and more scarce. But we don’t want any green notes in our Pinot so we have to wait until each block is ripe. We hope our customers are okay with price increases as our labor costs go up.”

Come on everyone, let’s work towards getting rid of the standard spiel. Everyone can smell it for what it is.

{Rant over}

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