Almost 30 years ago, I was playing Army; and by playing Army I mean that I was one of very few soldiers to spend an entire year north of the Imjim river within a stone’s throw of North Korea, artillery landing every single night, an M-16 constant company, ambush and reconnaissance patrols, firefights, bullet holes to patch in my jeep’s exterior.
An armistice was signed, but war did not end between the Koreas, merely the manner in which it is fought codified. Mostly a cease fire exists, but there are flashpoints, and some very unlucky men are chosen to stand up and try to limit the excesses.
I had the incredible opportunity to spend a 40 below zero winter in a warm bunker dug into a hillside acting as the intelligence analyst for the most forward deployed Infantry Battalion in the US Army instead of going out on patrols. I gladly took the job, and lacking formal training in Military Intelligence, I did the job needed in a common sense manner. Before I left Korea, I wrote the manual on how to do my job because it was a better way than the way it had been done previously.
10 years ago, I took on a nationwide sales territory while opening up 42 California counties to direct in person visits, selling books and wine accessories for the largest one stop distributor to the wine industry. I had thousands of items to sell, thousands of customers to sell to, and 12 hours of training before I was on my own. Once again, I weathered the seeming impossible and did the job as well as I could, using common sense as my guide.
Three weeks ago, I took over a well established winery tasting room and wine club. I have the skills to do the job, but new to the positions, I once again found myself taking over with very little guidance.
I am a big believer in not reinventing the wheel. If something works, don’t fix it, and all that. That said, fresh eyes allow a new perspective, and with input from a new and valued staff, changes are being made.
We are doing a better job of merchandising, and are constantly evaluating procedure embracing effective methods of operation while moving toward improvement.
I changed our wine tasting order – yes, I took seven paragraphs to get around to the real subject of this wine article – and it has caused some questioning of my rationale.
Many, in fact most, winery tasting rooms order their wines white before red. Similarly, many lists put young before old. Dry before sweet is also typical, and so is light before heavy.
Here’s my problem with ordinary: a mid tasting transition from a sweet old white to a dry light young red, and that means that the red is overpowered and can not be adequately tasted.
Believing dry before sweet is the most important rule, I pour red before white; I would rather transition from a top of the line stylized red blend to a stainless steel fermented, no malolactic Chardonnay than a trio of sweet whites, a Gewurtztraminer and two Rieslings, into an elegantly subtle Pinot Noir.
Many older wines change dramatically, changing color, flavors, even body. Most people are used to buying and drinking newer wines. Instead of expecting people to appreciate an older wine, saving it for after newer wines, I find old before new a superior order. Wine cognoscenti will appreciate an older wine when it is poured, while more casual wine tasters will appreciate a return to the familiar.
My current tasting order at work goes like this:
2006 Pinot Noir
2007 Pinot Noir
2007 Coro Mendocino
2009 Pinot Gris
2009 Sauvignon Blanc
The departure from ordinary has been remarked upon, but I have also increased sales since the new wine tasting order has been implemented. I believe changing the tasting order has led to greater appreciation of each wine’s unique characteristics.
If you wiki Riesling, you will find that Alsace Rieslings throw a petroleum or rubber note as they age. Our 2006 Riesling is an Alsace style Riesling and definitely conforms to the varietal flavor profile. I have been bringing up the note after guests taste the wine, and they are thrilled to experience it. Where many would see it as a flaw, a little education leads to appreciation and I am moving the 2006 Riesling. Of course, I go into the newer 2009 Riesling with forward fruit for those seeking the comfort of the familiar with the delightful treat of superior quality.
I am considering reworking my list starting with my three drier whites, moving into the five reds, before finishing with our three sweeter whites.
This is just one of dozens of things that I had to consider each day as I took on my new job. I will admit that once again in my professional life felt thrown in the deep end of the pool, water way over my head, on my first day of work. I felt better, but still lacking comfort on day two. I worked 110 hours at my work in my first two weeks, now have strong confidence in my abilities, am working a little every day on new marketing initiatives, and expect to move to a place where sales are consistently increased, while working just 40 hours a week.
Today, it was suggested that I could use my blog to bring increased attention to a marketing initiative our winery is contemplating. You may notice I haven’t mentioned the name of the winery I work for. I write about wine, and I have simply written about what I was doing, what I was tasting, and about topics as they came to me. I figured that I could continue to do the same thing, and that I would simply share more experiences involving the wines of my employer as I would be consuming them more often.
At just about the time I was becoming concerned that my writing was too focused on my employer, when the conflict of interest I was trying to avoid was becoming unavoidable, I was asked to shill for my employer by someone in the office. What seems a reasonable suggestion is, for me, highly unpalatable. I started writing years ago about whatever I wanted, and found a large readership when I narrowed the focus of my writing to wine. I have to be honest, I was surprised and amazed that people would find their way to my site, led often by a google search about a wine, winery, or wine topic I wrote a piece on. Many who found their way to my site come back to read regularly.
I don’t take advertising money, although I have been approached dozens of times in the past to do so. I like being an independent, and I hope trusted, wine writer. I make mistakes of fact, Coro means Chorus not Heart, and Marshmallows have built in elasticity, but such mistakes are my own, so are my best mistake free pieces; none are influenced by outside forces or considerations of gain.
I have written professional wine content for others, my writing appears on a number of winery website blogs, shorter pieces, better edited, but recognizably mine. I may soon be writing content for another site, under my own name, expecting compensation. I want to write website pieces for my employer, and different pieces here free of influence. If I mention my job, I want it to be because I wanted to, because it illustrates a point, or is central to an experience.
If I can’t write with a firewall of separation between work and personal time, I’ll likely declare a hiatus here and start a new site writing under a pseudonym.
Last year, I wrote about the Spring Hopland Passport weekend, I urged folks to attend because it is the best, most affordable, event of it’s type. On the same weekend that Dry Creek wineries will ask $125 to taste wines, the wineries of Hopland offer an experience similar at just $35 per person for both days, April 30 and May 1.
I have no problem recommending the event again, even though I will be working it this year. I can even say, not as a shill, but as prideful fact, that McFadden Vineyard Tasting Room will have, far and away, the best food of any of the participating wineries. Tickets, info, and a lot of uncredited photographs taken from my website with permission can be found at HoplandPassport.com