Wine world takeaway from The Bear

Have you finished watching the second season of The Bear? Spoiler alert: stop reading if you haven’t!

The Bear Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes

I can’t stop thinking about it. Incredibly nuanced dialogue, very fleshed out characters, compelling camerawork. Nervous-making storyline.

But of course after the first wave of “what great storytelling” I started thinking about the lessons for those of us in the wine business.

  • The drama and theater and soap opera of what goes on behind the scenes, that our customers don’t see. Getting ready to open a winery. Getting ready to open a tasting room. Going on the road for winemaker dinners, walkaround tasting events, charity auctions. Do you have the right POS ready? Oops did you forget, are you wearing perfume/cologne? Did you bring the crummy corkscrew or the good one? How do you get people to sign up for your mailing list or become a club member?
  • Then the curtain goes up, as it did in the last episode of the second season, when The Bear treated their friends and family to a run-through of the menu and the experience. You’re pouring your wine, waiting to hear what the customer says (or doesn’t say). Maybe that’s in the elegant stillness of your tasting room or maybe it’s in the raucous setting of a big tasting event. And what do you get? How honestly can you engage (“no it’s actually not sweet”)? Is the customer always right? The Bear would say resoundingly “yes.” When you’re pouring wine the answer may be a “yes…but…” The line between respecting a customer’s opinion of your wine and wanting to tell them they’re an idiot! Which of course you never do! Or of course become a patient educator, detailing varietals, barrels, soil, weather, viticulture, all the thousands of variables that go into that sip of wine. I recently was asked to pour wine into a goblet set into a leather necklace at a big public tasting; as I started to, I saw there was other liquid in there, stopped, mentioned that, only to be challenged with “yes, I know.” Big lesson for me: “the customer is always right.” If they want to drink a cuvee of multiple unknown wines, of course, that’s their prerogative.
  • Ambient noise, as it were! In The Bear, much is made of eavesdropping and being able to quickly course-correct based on what you (over)hear. There’s a great vignette where Richie overhears that the people at the table have never been to Pequod’s, a famous pizzeria in Chicago, and they’re about to move out of Chicago. So after a quick discussion back in the kitchen, Richie runs out to pick up an order of that pizza, brings it back, the chef cuts it up stylishly and decorates it with micro basil and Richie triumphantly brings it out to the table and delights the guests. And another wonderful moment is when the staff (at another restaurant) discuss having overheard people at a table talking about how long they’ve saved up to be able to eat this dinner….and there’s an unhesitating decision to comp these people their dinner. The cinematography is marvelously muted on this—just a quick shot of the overwhelmed faces and gasps of astonishment when the customers hear this.
  • The surprise of great sensitive service. It made me remember an anecdote Gary Vaynerchuk used to tell about how he and his team ‘stalked’ a customer on their social media, saw that they were fanatical for a certain football player, went to Ebay and bought a signed jersey from that player and sent it to the customer. That generated enormous good will and enormous purchasing from not only the grateful customer but a friend or two: here’s Gary explaining. With today’s sophisticated point of sale capabilities, sending customers happy birthday wishes (at the very least) is embarrassingly easy, but do we do it?
  • The Bear is all about the ensemble, the team. In the wine world, it’s all too easy to credit the winemaker for the beauty of the wine and not credit the hands that grow the grapes as well as all the other back-up singers in the band—the tasting room staff, the cellar crew, the lab person or people, not to mention the owners and ‘back office’ crew, who churn out label copy and social media posts and sign checks.
  • Storytelling: this is the element of marketing that you don’t even hear any more, you’ve had it so pounded into your brain. Yet. Why did you plant those grapes at that exposure with that row direction in that soil, with that kind of trellising? What are those design elements on the label, how do they give context to your winery’s name? What does the winemaker really like to eat with that Sauvignon Blanc? In The Bear we see what goes on in top-notch restaurants, wait staff dutifully reciting every element in a dish and how it’s prepared; why don’t we emulate that more when we talk about our wines?

It all boils down to hospitality. You’re welcoming people into your restaurant, in The Bear, or your winery. Is it serene and home-like? Is it cool and cold and corporate-hotel-ish? What’s the vibe? Friendly? Rustic? ‘Don’t touch’ beautiful or ‘how fun’ lively in terms of décor and mood? Whatever it is, be true to it.

51 Wine Decanters To Enhance Your Wine And Your Decor

In The Bear there are dishes we glimpse which are breathtaking for their beauty and wit (a cannolo called The Michael)—yet the show also reminds us every second of how important the context is. In The Bear, that’s one of the characters we’ve come to love approaching a table already knowing their special proclivities (Chef Sydney’s father doesn’t drink, so they’ve prepared a ‘pop cart’ with elaborate non-alcoholic options). When Chef Carmy gently pours a hot liquid over a dish, melting it all, the table oohs and ahs. Ditto for presenting wines, whether it’s in the shadow of Corinthian columns or a humble barn, whether you’re pouring from a Riedel decanter into a Riedel glass that’s varietally specific…or not.

Please go watch The Bear! Watching these many characters go through their paces will prompt you to rethink everything you do in presenting your wines.



An interview with wine writer “Deep Glass,” after visits to more than 50 wineries

Premium Photo | Notebook and pen in hand. isolated on white background.

And SWIG is back……the pandemic prohibitions are lifting, wine writers are out in the world meeting with winemakers and visiting wineries.

We heard about one extended press trip recently which may be one for the record books, so we thought we’d sit down with that writer and ask some questions about how wineries measure up, since we’re all rusty after more than a year of no visitors and Zoom-only meetings.

“Deep Glass” (we’re giving the journalist an alias) spent two weeks this spring visiting wineries on the North Coast, including Napa, Sonoma, Lodi and Suisun Valley.

Deep Glass and the several writers in the group experienced more than 50 winery visits (and in a one situation, two different winemakers came to the group while at dinner to present their wines). The group was also treated to at least one meal on most of those days.

Here is the result of Deep Glass and I taking a look at how wineries are welcoming the media these days.

We are intentionally not naming any names.

What was the most hospitable touch you experienced?

One of the experiences I was really touched by was when the winemakers/winery owners invited our group of journalists into their home and made us a meal.  One winery made us an amazing Catalan style breakfast and served it in their backyard. Another created a huge elaborate meal of duck confit which was exquisite. It wasn’t about what they cooked, it was the effort and thought that was put into the meal. We may have started out as strangers, but we left their homes feeling like friends. That really matters when those personal connections are made. Those impressions last when I am sitting down to write an article.

 What was the cleverest touch?

We received some truly useful and thoughtful branded swag. For example, we received wine keys with the brand logo on them. I always smile when I use them at home thinking back on my experience with that winery and I think of their wines. When pitching articles to write for outlets, those little things are awesome reminders of wineries to use as subject matter. A little psychological nudge so to speak. We also received things like pens and notebooks. No matter how organized the writer, things happen like lost pens, pens that run out of ink, or notebooks that fill up. Having those items handy is such a lovely touch. Besides, no winery wants information to get missed because someone didn’t have anything to write with. Taking good quality notes on a phone isn’t ideal and at least for me, things get missed out on, especially if our host speaks quickly or jumps topics often.

How To Make a Charcuterie Cone | Ain't Too Proud To Meg
What was the newest way food/a meal was presented?

I was fascinated by a “Charcuterie Cone.”. It basically consisted of everything you would get in a charcuterie plate but wrapped in a paper cone and served with a bamboo fork. It created less waste of paper products and was totally recyclable/compostable. I also thought it was super clever from the health and safety aspect in Covid times where sharing food isn’t the best idea.

At another meal, all of the components of our “picnic style” lunch (cheeses, chutney, salad, olives and fruit) were presented in reusable glass jars. That was awesome and looked great in our photos.
Was there anything outlandish?

I want to preface the next statements acknowledging the fact that our experience was truly exceptional. It was private and unique with lovely views.

We had lunch at a winery that was made by the property’s in house executive chef. It was an outstanding meal to say the least. The price of said meal was $250 per person. Considering this, we all agreed that for a once in a lifetime experience, we might just pay that. However!!! You cannot get that lunch from the winery without the commitment to buy 6 bottles of their wine. It brought the price up to about $1,500 per person.

We all felt that the expectation to purchase wines at this level is one of the things that stereotypes Napa wine tasting and experiences as not affordable to the public. What happens if the person doesn’t enjoy the wines? Are they stuck with that purchase? If you make good wine, people will buy it. Honestly, I felt a bit bullied by the concept of being forced to buy. It rubbed us all the wrong way. All of my colleagues agreed that this was not a good thing.

Think about it: The French Laundry, with wine pairings, is only about $450 for dinner. That’s from Thomas Keller, the world-renowned chef. The chef that served us is super talented, but completely unknown. We could have had that lunch many places around the world for a fraction of that cost with just as beautiful views and service. It was very clear to us that they were catering this experience to rich Texans.

Did you see something that you wish every winery would adapt as a part of the guest experience?

Yes, having social media channels posted and easy to find on tasting mats, signs and as part of every part of literature they give as handouts including any specific hashtags they would like used. This is free advertising for them by their customers and they are silly if they don’t utilize that.

I also feel that it is CRITICAL for wineries to offer good internet connectivity to their guests. First for guests to post their experience all across their personal social media channels. For journalists and influencers, it is essential to get that content pushed out immediately for stories, posts, and reels. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get content up for a winery experience only to have terrible/or no internet service. That means we have to post later and stuff may be not uploaded or at that later point it becomes irrelevant.

With that said, smart wineries capture email addresses of every single person who logs onto their internet. They add those email addresses to their marketing lists. Let me give you a great example of this working: I visited a winery and got added to their email list. They sent me one of their e-blast emails telling me of a fantastic sale they were having on a wine I truly loved. Because of that email, I shared that deal on my social channels and sold at least 6 cases (that I know of) of that special deal wine to my followers, friends, and colleagues. I’d say that was smart marketing. You just never know when you can turn those email addresses into sales.

We’re all so sensitive about recycling and respectful environmental practices. How did you see this handled during your visits? For example, how was water served?

We have been seeing a lot of use of recyclable plates and cutlery made of bamboo. Water is being served more and more in reusable glass bottles, carafe style. I am seeing recycle bins and bins for food compost being used for picnic areas in wineries.

There must have been some glitches or things that went wrong.

I think the biggest glitch on this trip was wineries not being prepared for the podcast. What I mean by that is that they didn’t consider that a quiet space was needed to get good sound quality. One had us outside in the wind, and although we were tented, the wind kept banging the metal poles throughout the interview. Also, there was no other place for the rest of us (who weren’t participating in the podcast) to sit and talk while the podcast was going on.  That was not a good use of our time plus there was no internet signal so we could upload content. We would have been far better served to be in a place where we could talk about the wines with other staff members or have been taken to another area where we could at least speak amongst ourselves or gone on a drive through the vineyards.

Did the wineries provide press kit folders with printed-out materials such as fact sheets?

On this trip, everyone was pretty well organized with printed materials. Only one or two didn’t have them. We do refer to them when we are writing because many of the websites don’t have the materials easily findable or simply don’t have the type of technical information on their websites which writers are most interested in.

Things I wish they would always include on the tech sheets:

How many cases of that wine are produced.

Clone selections – this is huge for certain grapes


Anything special about the vineyard or location. Tell a story about the wine right on those tech sheets to give us ideas. Is the wine named after a person?  Why did they choose to do that? Why did they choose to make this particular wine in this style? Anything that would lead journalists to give more detail rather than just statistics and tasting notes. Whilst most of us don’t use other people’s tasting notes, they are still handy to have. Sometimes you simply can’t think of a specific flavor during a tasting or your notes get unreadable or destroyed. You can refer back to those tasting notes as a back up.

Note: Please oh please put all of the information on your websites in a very clear way so we media we can find it. Thank you in advance!

Did some wineries give you flash drives or memory sticks?

No one gave us flash drives on this trip, but I have had them in the past and they were useful rather than having a bunch of paper to keep track of. However, that said, many people don’t feel comfortable with putting a foreign memory stick into their computer.  It is really not safe or smart. I might suggest that the wineries send digital copies of the tech sheets as a follow up. Saves paper.

Clever use of technology anywhere?

QR scan codes where menus can be seen on your phone rather than printing out menus was great (saves paper and is safer).  Putting the social accounts in QR scans makes it easier for people to tag your business in photos. I saw these little cards attached as part of tables so that when you sit down you have that information right in front of you. They were printed on coated thin metal sheets and screwed onto the tables. One time cost, and then it saves the environment in so many ways.

Did the wineries give you samples when you left? Any comments about how that was handled?

Pretty much every single winery gave us samples and a gift bag to take with us. But even further to that, there were some wineries who offered to ship those gift packs to us since they understood their wine sitting in a hot car or being schlepped home on a plane would not be good for the wine.  I have to say that was one of our favorite things was having that worry taken away from us. It was a big relief.

Some of the gift bags held many cute little treats, from branded wine keys to fridge magnets, soap made from grape pumice, wine salts, and recipe cards. Samples of olive oils, preserves, or cooking-related items are always so lovely and special. One winery gave us a cookbook which paired their wines with easy to make interesting dishes.

Was there anything you specifically thought was a great personal touch?

One of the things I have seen for the first time on this particular trip was personal emails from winemakers thanking us for visiting them. My jaw hit the floor. These were not just form emails. Each one was thoughtful and touched on our experience with them. It made each of us feel like we were important. We all agreed it forged a closer relationship to that brand. It’s those small things that are huge. From this trip I have had 6 of these types of emails. Fantastic! It also encourages me to send my articles directly to that person and not just to the PR person.

Could you tell if the winemakers or hosts knew something about you and our outlets? Knowing where you live or referencing something that you’d written about recently? Or…does that not matter?

I can’t recall that on this specific trip, but it has happened to me many times. The winemaker / host complimenting on something specific about our writing or other projects. It made me feel like they cared about the quality of what was being written about them.  It does matter! In one specific case, because they made a point to comment, I took extra care in what I wrote about them knowing they’d be reading it.

Is there anything you wish wineries wouldn’t do when you visit?

I have probably visited several hundred wineries around the world. Not that I feel like I know everything, but getting a tour of the production facilities and crush pad (unless they are truly unique or cutting age tech) is pretty much the same old thing. I am also not the public who needs to be educated on the basics of wine. That happened at a couple of wineries on this trip and I could see my colleagues roll their eyes during these sessions. I’d rather focus my time with the winemaker/host on the wines and getting the story behind them. Often our time is limited to gather all of our information and get our photos done and this is just not needed.

What do you wish they would do instead?  

Talk about cool new grapes you might be experimenting with, or do barrel tasting trials with us. Let us taste what you are doing for the future and get our inner wine nerds excited!

Did you feel that the wineries you visited effectively communicated their brand message?

It is a very frustrating and confusing time in the wine industry at the moment. There are many buzzwords being thrown around like organic, biodynamic, sustainable, Napa Green, Lodi Rules, etc. There is no one thing anyone can point to that makes these topics clear to us as journalists, or to consumers. Instead, I’d like to see wineries and wine brands talk in more specific terms such as: what they do to be stewards of the earth, such as introducing pollinators or having natural pest control in the form of roosting boxes for birds of prey, beneficial cover crops, use of solar energy, and water conservation/capture efforts. Consumers want this information and they are more likely to follow businesses who are open about their efforts to be socially responsible and eco-friendly.  I am encouraged by more wineries discussing becoming B-Corp certified. I think that may be a clear way forward and something that is easier to understand.

One winery had brand messaging down in every single staff member who spoke to us. They echoed their ethos and business practices over and over and we had no doubts about who they were when we left them. Impressive!

What are your pet peeves in the wine industry when it comes to marketing?

I can tell you that there isn’t one of my fellow journalists who isn’t enraged when we hear false advertising when it comes to wine. Wild claims like sulfite free or low carb/low calorie wines really get our backs up. This is especially bad when the low calorie/low carb wines get those numbers by pouring a smaller portion than what is normal! Of course it’s lower calories/carbs for less wine! Our group of wine journalists discussed these topics at length during our trip. Sulfite free… come on folks! Please stop.


TP Reserve meets the (pandemic) moment

A Wine To Meet The Memes

by Julie Ann Kodmur

Hey, it’s a pandemic. No joke, of course. I’m sure my experience as a wine publicist isn’t unique: it’s not exactly been a robust couple of months, since wineries are jettisoning this type of service just to stay afloat.

That said, some wineries tried to pivot and do something very much of the moment.

One of those was winemaker/entrepreneur Grant Long, known for Aonair and Reverie II, two small Napa Valley wineries. Because he had access to great fruit which didn’t have a home….he thought he’d be bold and speak to the time, literally. He created a line of wines called TP Reserve. There’s an artful label with an unspooling roll. There’s a whimsical video of harvesting rolls in a vineyard. There’s an easy-to-read website with all the right info easily at hand.

And then there was reaching out for a publicity campaign.

I joined the team to launch these wines.

Wine Spectator noticed, quoting Grant Long “T.P. Reserve wines really came from trying to find a way to bring a slight bit of levity to a stressful time while also trying to be proactive as a small family winery.”

There was a podcast episode and another one. Local radio and a mention in Food & Wine Magazine, acknowledging the project as a sign of the times:  Every Father’s Day, Dads across America are surprised with hit-or-miss gifts….Get ahead of the curve and surprise dad with a boozy gift he’ll actually be thrilled to receive on Father’s Day—perhaps one that will even give him a genuine chuckle, like the newly-released T.P. Reserve wines, which sport a sanitized clean and sleek label featuring an accidentally iconic image of the times: a roll of Toilet Paper.”

And then a profile, which captured the rationale exactly: “…the recent new series of wines from Napa Valley winemaker Grant Long Jr, which put the most precious commodity of 2020 right on the front label. Anybody can have wine. But only the well-prepared, TP Reserve was created by Long much like paper mills create toilet paper itself: from spare parts. The marketing photos and video are hilarious – long walks through an Atlas Peak vineyard with toilet paper rolls “growing” on vines.”

And finally a review or two…

Why did it work? A lot of variables coming together, including:

  • A good ‘origin story’
  • A ‘real’ winemaker
  • Great graphics
  • A responsive team who could refine the website in a snap

In fact, that last variable deserves some discussion. Humor is relative, right? What’s hilarious to someone might be crude to someone else. What might be mildly funny to someone could be gotta-give-‘em-credit to someone else. Yes, of course it’s a pandemic, but this Corona-time will be remembered not only for the tragedies all around us but for the memes and flashes of humor which brought us all together. Maybe you weren’t baking banana bread or sourdough…maybe you were looking for the latest Randy Rainbow or Lincoln Project Instagram. Hopefully not doomscrolling.

The lesson I learned in pitching TP Reserve was indeed that glass-half-full aspect of tough times. There has to be a glimmer of hope and warmth and, yes, humor, to get us through.

Why not?! Here’s the video:

In closing, my thanks to the TP Reserve team for including me in their adventure.

Is “great” wine not enough?


Image result for welcome to napa valley sign

Is visitation to wineries up or down in the Napa Valley? Are sales in Napa Valley tasting rooms up or down? The answers vary depending whom you talk to…..but what’s certainly very “up” and visible are the enormous efforts Napa Valley wineries are taking to entice visitors.

There are a ton of elaborate food experiences being offered. Charcuterie with your wine? Cookies paired with your wine? Bacon paired with your tasting? Caviar? Vegetarian? Lots of cheeses? Prime rib and Yorkshire pudding? It’s all out there!

Several wineries offer variations on the ‘winemaker for a day’ experience—one with a silver robe as part of the experience.

Want to ride through the vineyards in an unusual vehicle, such as a Pinzgauer? Easy. How about renting a bike at the winery to ride through their vineyards? Done.

Here’s a pop quiz: are these Napa Valley tasting room options true or false? You’ll find the answers at the end.

  1. A winery on a remote mountain offers an early morning hike & tasting so you can watch the fog roll away.
  2. A caviar bump! A ‘caviar girl’ with gear strapped to her waist offers you ‘bumps’ of caviar at this winery.
  3. Silent discoing in a redwood grove on the winery property.
  4. A yoga class in the middle of the vineyards.
  5. A biofeedback session amongst the barrels.
  6. Watch a falcon be released to hunt pesky birds, while you sip your wines and munch a picnic.
  7. Pet a horse while you stroll through a stable which adjoins the winery tasting room.
  8. Play golf on a putting green in the middle of a winery’s pond.
  9. This winery offers a flight of its wines paired with music, piped in to your headphones while you taste.
  10. Taste this winery’s wines in the dark.
  11. Before you begin your tasting, this winery will administer a ‘super-taster’ test to your tongue. That will assist you in choosing what wines to taste, perhaps explain why you prefer sweeter wines, etc.
  12. Behold the winery’s enormous gardens….behold the winery’s own livestock…one visit enables you to milk a cow (or goat if you prefer) and start the cheese-making process. Within a few weeks after you leave the cheese you started making will arrive at your front door.
  13. If you’re a club member at this winery, you had your hand biometrically scanned….now you can go into the winery’s cave and the scan of your hand will open a door to an unusual room with a raised platform surrounded by glass and illuminated by a crystal chandelier—just right for you and your ten best friends for a splendid tasting.
  14. You’ve had a wonderful—and enormous—tasting. Before you go, the winery offers you a breathalyzer test.
  15. What a great winery! If only you could come back and visit during harvest, during bottling, during pruning, so you could see the winery’s fabulous vineyards in all seasons. This winery, thanks to a partnership with a scientist, offers a time travel coupon: that will enable you to teleport back whenever you wish.

Let’s discuss.

Image result for photo of napa limos

As a marketer, trying to think creatively and (pardon the cliché) in an “out of the box” fashion is important right now. The Napa Valley wine industry is going through a super-competitive moment. Clever and memorable and even outlandish marketing programs may just land your winery a following in the demographic you’re seeking. Or not. But it’s worthwhile to look around and see what’s taking place….

Let’s talk to a banker and keen industry observer: “Are sales up or down? On average they are up, but averages aren’t always the best measure,” commented Rob McMillan, EVP & Founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division when we discussed this topic. He continued: “We aren’t selling chemicals in a bottle. We are selling a dream and an experience. And we need to find ways to refresh our sales and marketing approaches,” he suggests.

Another industry expert, Paul Mabray, the CEO of Emetry, shared his insight about the “arms race” of winery experiences. “The competition over winery experiences is going to continue to escalate to attract and retain customers. Being brand true will be one of the ways that these experiences will be sustainable. For example, you don’t have to compete with Castello di Amorosa or The Prisoner if your experience is brand true. However, adding experiences is a core tenet of increasing value and participating in the experience economy,” he said.

Mabray continues: “The absurdity is that we associate the need/want for experiences solely with Millennials. As a point of reference, don’t you like experiences? I know I do. Finally, the continued emergence of experiences is a by-product of increased competition, decreased routes to market and the flattening of wine sales. Moreover, to unlock value to people who are marginally or partially interested in wine but are visiting the winery, it’s good practice to enhance their visit and create brand loyalty. Not every visitor to our region is an oenophile.”

Now let me recap comments from several vintners—all of whom have several decades of Napa Valley winery management behind them.

Vintner A said: “This is a larger issue. Are all of these elaborate come-to-our-winery ideas a good thing? Does it synchronize with whatever “fine wine” is today? Is this the result of the Napa Valley Wine Auction’s morphing from focusing on Napa Valley wine to an international lifestyle glamour parade? Is this wave of super-creative visit enticements a threat to Napa Valley wineries who focus solely on producing great wines?

Vintner B offers: “All of these diverse non-wine-based events are feeding into the anti-winery sentiment of local activists who accuse us of being “event centers” and not wineries. All of this seems to say that wine is no longer the most important thing: that winery marketing depends on corollary entertainment, not “just” wine.  This direction is absolutely going to divide the wine industry. It’s making it harder for small wineries to compete successfully, since they don’t have the resources of the wineries with elegant architecture and large marketing departments.”

Vintner C chimes in: “Is great wine no longer enough? Is it a new world now? All I do is make great wine from a great place—will I survive?”

Circling back to the “35,000 foot view,” another perspective says that we have to come to terms with these issues as an industry. By focusing only on wines—and not including remarkable experiences—are we excluding too many possible customers? Jane Doe comes to Winery X and has a fabulous time, enjoying wonderful curated bites of food along with a great Cabernet—is it the “extraneous” activity which makes the experience memorable, more than the Cab?

“As we see the industry and consumption shrinking, we’re hitting a crossroad,” Paul Mabray says. “If we put our nose in the air about wineries offering experiences, fewer people may care about us. Remember that wine is a complex product; it’s hard to understand. We may be failing our consumers in a big way if we don’t make sure that they enjoy our product. If Napa Valley is to sustain itself as an attraction, our job is to increase our value to customers and adding experiences is an obvious part of the marketing tool kit,” he said.

If we follow this line of thought, people visiting wineries may not want to hear about the intricacies of terroir or barrel aging; they may just want to have a great glass of wine and go home talking about that delicious caviar bump, the Pinzgauer ride through the vineyards, or the ….?

Lots to chew on, what do you think?

Answers to the quiz:

  1. True
  2. True
  3. True
  4. True
  5. False
  6. True
  7. True
  8. True
  9. True
  10. True
  11. False
  12. False
  13. True
  14. False
  15. False




Does wildlife = great wine?

I have a client who recently mounted a game camera on a tree in a part of his vineyard surrounded by forest. Every night it was entertaining to download the photos and see a parade of wildlife (with the occasional human waving as they went by): a skunk, a squirrel, different members of a deer family, some tiny creatures who were big enough to activate the camera but slipped away before being recorded.

Bear September 2018.jpg

Then came the big surprise: bears. A big one, then a smaller one, hard to tell how many there were, or if it was the same ones meandering back by.

Next came a debate: to ‘bare’ the bear news to visitors at the winery or on the winery website.

No hesitation on the part of the guy who’d planted these vineyards 48 years ago and walks them every day. It’s nature, it’s natural, seeing the wildlife—bear or no bear. The bear is a crucial part of the habitat, of growing great grapes which have a Story. The angle of the sun on the vines, the way the vineyards are configured to cover the land, where the dirt changes, what thrives in the shade of some ancient redwoods—no question that the presence of a bear validates that this wine comes from a real place. We won’t even use the word terroir.

Or: is there something to be concerned about? Not that these bears would ever amble across the crush pad almost a mile away. A touch of the wild. A sense of something scary. Something very real. Danger. One variable of many in the life of a farmer, not something that the end user should have to contemplate, much less see. Better not to go there.

Everything in our existence is marketed, right? Down to fanciful wine labels which may or may not have any relevance to a certain piece of dirt. Lots and lots of artful labels and “narratives,” packaging wine to live up to the paper on the bottle. The wine industry is horribly afraid of bad news, of anything that might shadow the mystique—whether that’s the impact of smoke taint or bad weather or other farming issues which don’t easily synchronize with a list of marketing objectives. You might even say the fear of bad news is the backbone of the wine industry….

Yet. I believe there are wine aficionados out there who are searching for wines which reference a particular plot of land, wildlife or no wildlife, clever label or not. After all, what does “authentic” mean if the context isn’t complicated? And part of that complication is being truthful and honest; if you’re “the real deal,” there aren’t any secrets or mystery-man-behind-the-curtain.

Back to the bear cam: my recommendation was to share the news of the bear with customers and visitors. The bear or bears are thriving in a forested part of a vineyard estate where they are happy and not bothering anyone. Lesson? Take advantage of any news to tell your story that much better, with more nuance and richness of detail and imagery. Go bears!

Speaking of which, who knew so many people are intrigued enough by bears to name their wineries after them?