FYI…QTP

To continue a theme found running through these first few blog posts, namely that I am essentially an unread blogger, I’ve also taken upon myself the task of writing a novel in my spare time.  You know, instead of writing 600 words virtually no one will ever see, I’m now over 20,000 words into my first long form writing piece, titled, “The Way Things Are.”

This too may end up on the slush pile of my life but I’m having a lot of fun with it, so as long as that’s the case, I’m forging ahead.  Part of this process has involved working with a wonderful teacher, Edan Lepucki, creative guru behind, Writing Workshops Los Angeles.

As part of our upcoming class, we’ve been instructed to read, “The Great Gatsby”, a book I somehow avoided during high school.  I finished it this morning and while it’s not the drop dead masterpiece I had expected, Fitzgerald’s writing packs a lot more punch into far less words than I tend to use (no joke) to get a thought across.  But you’re asking yourself how this relates to wine.  Here’s how…

Jay Gatsby was a complex character who on the surface had everything going for him; money, lots of friends, a great house on the water.  Underneath though, just below the skinline, was an unhappy person, who counted few of those who came to his parties as friends, an unrequited love he’d never fulfill and perhaps not even the money and success he showed to the outside world.

So too it seems the wine world is a little like that.  Yes, it’s all about great vineyards, great winemakers, great fruit and of course a great story.  But there is also the danger in all of the above, that the expectation of the wine will not match the product itself.  Just yesterday I was at a friend’s house and he excitedly told me that after three years he was finally offered a six bottle allocation of Harlan Estates, one of the grand-daddies of high end cult Cabernet.  I joked, “at how much, $300.00/bottle?”  To which my friend replied, “Five.”

Yikes.

This led to a brief discussion of how there is no way the wine will ever be perceived as “worth” it, when there are literally hundreds of wines even topping out at $100.00 that will equal the pleasure of drinking something priced five times more.  It was further juxtaposed when I came home from the party to polish off the end of a bottle of Oak Grove 2005 Petite Sirah Reserve, bought for about $7.00 at Ralphs.  The wine was fruit forward, low alcohol (13.6%, which by today’s CA standards is practically non-alcoholic) and a wonderful way to end the day.  What struck me as important though was I loved it *and* it cost less than $10.00.

Part of me thinks the only way one can truly judge a wine is by its “QTP” factor (quality to price).  In the Oak Grove example the QTP (for my palate) was high.  Put another way, a wine that scores 95 by one of the recognized critics but costs $250.00 should on some levels be judged against something that scores an 89 but costs $6.00.

Too often though, wines that score high (in most cases rightfully so) can’t live up to the price it costs to drink, while many, many wines give as much pleasure for a fraction of the cost.

The Great Gatsby lived well but died young.  As for me, I think I’ll opt for a more level equation in everything I do, one that inspires me to enjoy more at far higher QTP.

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Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 3:15 pm  Comments (1)  

The Power of the (Wine) Press

I’ve long held the belief (maybe it’s not even that groundbreaking a concept), that anyone with an opinion can comment on a subject and be just as much an authority as the next guy/gal.  That’s not the meaningful part.  That person must then find a way to connect with others who hold the same beliefs and thus an “expert” is born.  And yet, real world experience has confounded me as I try to decipher what it means to have influence over others, or is personal experience really the only thing that matters?

We were recently lucky to find ourselves mentioned in the blog of Steve Heimoff, the West Coast Editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine, under the heading, “Six Winemakers to Watch.”  Steve had really nice things to say about Ryan Waugh, our winemaker and one of our brands, Six Degrees.

To be mentioned anywhere in that context is huge for a small winery like us, even in a blog, which by its nature probably does not reach as many people as the magazine itself does.  Still, Steve is an expert in his field, reviews literally hundreds of wines a month (my guesstimate)  and unlike this blog, actually has people not only reading it, but commenting on his entries.

Well, the write up was posted on August 17th and based on my rudimentary grasp of Goggle Analytics, we received thirty-nine web visits since then and zero signups to our mailing list.  I was not able to decipher if any of these were a direct result of Steve’s piece (most of our sign-ups come after someone has tried the wine at one of the restaurants the wine is sold at) but even so, not one person, after reading that Ryan, among thousands of winemakers, is one of six to watch, signed up on the Six Degrees mailing list.

This is obviously no reflection on Steve.  He’s been doing this a long time and is very fair in his critiques and thus well respected.  My question is what statement it makes, if any, about us as consumers?  Put another way, any review will only get you and I so far.

The Washington Post – hardly Star Magazine –  had this to say about What Happens in Vega$ (dollar sign courtesy of the brilliant marketing geniuses at 20th Century Fox):

“Hits the Jackpot”

And yet, one look at the movie poster, with Ashton Kutcher looking all smiley and Cameron Diaz looking all I just had sex, could not get me into the theatre.  Could I be missing the funniest Vega$ movie since Honeymoon in (which really was great)?  Maybe.  But I’ll never know because, well, I just won’t.

Did some of the 39 visitors in the last ten days come from Steve’s blog, look around and see a bad Ashton Kutcher film?  Again, maybe.  More likely, until some of these folks actually try the wine for themselves, do they really want to voluntarily ask for another piece of mail to show up in their mail/in box?

I’ve said this to many people before.  We’ve had some wonderfully high scores on our wines and some that I wish were higher.  Neither has affected sales.  The great scores did not cause the phone to ring off the hook, nor the reverse cause them to stop ringing.

I suppose this just proves that nothing and no one can replace ones own experience.  Do I wish more people were wowed by Steve’s generous inclusion in his piece.  Yes!  But I can’t dwell on such things.  I’m headed to Blockbuster to rent, What Happens in Vega$ – just in case.

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 1:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Dateline DWB: To Catch a (Nationally Recognized Wine Publication) Predator

So I’m sitting in a Peets Coffee in Marin County, CA waiting to meet a friend I made on Facebook thumbing through the wine section of the San Francisco Chronicle (to all you Rush Limbaugh listening, Ford Econoline driving, Toby Keith worshipping conservatives, yes, I was a Volvo away from being your worst liberal nightmare) when I came across a great story describing a scam perpetrated against the Wine Spectator.

I’m not a “gotcha” kind of guy.  Even though I’m often guilty of schadenfreude, I take no joy in seeing those misled into something being vilified for it in the public square.  Whether it’s the politician forced to explain a statement they made ten years before on “Meet the Press” to even the creepy low life caught with a four- pack of wine coolers speaking to a girl they think is fifteen years old, only to have an equally creepy Chris Hansen slither from the shadows like Dick Dastardly, with us, the audience, his snickering sidekick, Muttley.

But of course these people need to be exposed, caught for doing things if not outright illegal, than surely worthy of scrutiny, as in the case of Wine Spectator.

Each year the magazine gives out awards for noteworthy restaurant wine lists, and for those that meet their editor’s criteria, special certificates of excellence are given that these restaurants can use to print on menus, post up on their websites, etc.

Making matters worse for WS is that they charge for the privilege to be considered for their prestigious awards, $250.00 per submission (of which they received over 4000).  For those scoring at home, that’s over a million dollars in revenue (not gross mind you, I’m sure there are many expenses associated with this issue).

Where the story gets interesting though is not that the scammer, a writer who blogged about his treachery on his very own Word Press (yeah!) page, filled his bogus wine list with the world’s great wines, thereby ensuring his place in the Wine Spectator Wine list Hall of Fame.  No, the genius of this scam was that the list included some of the highest priced, worst scored Italian wines the magazine has ever reviewed.

Example:

AMARONE CLASSICO “LA FABRISERIA” 1998 (Veneto) Tedeschi 185,00 €:  Wine Spectator rating: 60 points. “…Unacceptable. Sweet and cloying. Smells like bug spray…

With Raid staining the crisp white shirts from New York to Milan, the magazine’s editors were quick to cry foul, citing their victimhood in this “elaborate hoax” but really, could the White House press secretary for W sound any sillier, claiming they’ve been reminded that “no one is completely immune to fraud.”

The more I’ve thought about this story the less I feel sorry for the magazine.   Could they have been expected to review 4000 entries accurately, maybe not, I’ll give them that.  But perhaps, instead of cashing 4000 checks they should have only done so for those restaurants that were truly verifiable, with wine lists that were exactly what they should have been to receive recognition that is then used to take our money as a result.

In this case, Wine Spectator isn’t being duped.  We are.

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 8:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Blogging the Bloggers

Back in the day (circa 1980-something) I might have been called an average student.  If you looked at my report cards or saw my overall class standing, I could be labeled an underachiever.

Or if I’m not censoring my own writing, lets just brand me as a cheater.  Sadder still, it’s made all the more pathetic by the fact that I cheated *and* was still mediocre.  L-O-S-E-R.

My academic espionage was not even carefully thought out.  There was no coded test answers written in the palm of my hand that could only be deciphered by holding it against a small mirror I hid in my red Puma Clyde’s.  I did not break into the school the night before a big test and tape my cheat sheet to the bottom the desk.  No, I just sat close enough to another student (who coincidentally I may be seeing for the first time in 25 years come November) and simply watched as he held up the appropriate number of fingers to correspond to the multiple choice test answer.

Looking back on it now I realize my accomplice must have sometimes given me the wrong answer because he was one of the best students in our class and clearly I was not.  Shouldn’t we both have went Ivy League? I’ll have to ask him about that…

My point is, my initial concept of blogging was someone who takes another’s hard work, adds a few comments and suddenly they too, by proxy, are working hard and coming up with interesting content.  By this token I’ve failed yet again, preferring to start ideas from scratch to blog about, when someone else’s great talent was waiting for me to use it as my own.

So until Frank Rich starts writing about wine I figured I’d go to the next best source, Alder Yarrow, who writes the award winning wine blog Vinography and added a great piece last week regarding wine competitions.

The story was of particular interest to me on two levels.  One, in a former life I started and ran a screenplay competition at my old company, Final Draft and two as a small winery owner now, the chore of getting people to notice you, like Hollywood, is harder than ever.

Are there people out there looking to cheat the artist, be it winemaker or writer, like I cheated the Seaford School District from roughly 1979-1983?  You know there are.  And yet, there is something special in taking someone previously unknown and well, making them known.

There’s an old adage that during the gold rush days, the only people who actually made money were the one’s selling picks and shovels, and we used this phrase a lot at Final Draft.  But not in a condescending way.  Yes, we were selling the picks and shovels to Hollywood for those hoping for gold.  But you’re not going to take away the dreams of those who want it anyway.

This too I think holds true for wine.  There have been many adages about getting into the wine biz as well, most of them snarkily (if humorously) worded.  And I suspect that some who’ve written them held just a little bit of envy that they were not participating in such a passionate way to express themselves.  For no one can possibly get into wine with the thought of making money.

And thus, let the dreamers dream, for if a competition medal keeps someone who might otherwise quit making wine, stay in it with the hope that they can make it their life’s work, then who wants to quibble with that?

Published in: on August 14, 2008 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  

To Live and Di(n)e in LA

I’m such an LA foodie hipster,  I had a reservation at Osteria Mozza this past Saturday night and cancelled on them.

Now, I’ve no doubt they were able to fill our coveted 5:30pm slot.  You know, the one normally reserved for those over 65 and usually found at a deli in Boca.  Still, it felt good.

I’m surely not the first person to write about this phenomenon, the two choice reservation.  Go ahead, try this.  Pick up the phone and call (insert hot restaurant here) to reserve a table.  In the case of either Mozza option, this of course must be done a month in advance, and only after 10am.  For those fond of radio station contests this will feel familiar.

Lets say you get through and even manage to make one of the people answering the phone (those with personality need not apply) check the book for your choice night in question.  And lets also say, for the sake of fantasy that you are able to make a reservation for said month hence (because really, who doesn’t like planning that far ahead?).  If the planets have aligned, I guarantee you will be given two options, 5:30pm or 9:30pm.

Cue: Muffled, snickering laughter from the corner of Highland & Melrose.

What Robot #1 doesn’t know is that my preferred reservation time is 5:30 (I have kids and often times want to go to a movie afterwards – a la Vicky Cristina Barcelona).  So what if my wife and I, along with a few friends, have to dine before the valets come on duty (there’s plenty of street parking on Melrose), or while our table is still being set around us? As long as the lights are on and the ovens are lit, we’re happy.

But this does prompt the question, who does get to eat at these places at 8pm?  Do us little people come in for the early bird mugging (see: your bill), only to be swept out back while the limos and Bentley’s pull up curbside, where (insert celebrity couple here) are whisked to their tables to eat at a normal hour.  And once they finish their meals and exit, I’m thinking three guys with metal detectors comb the room for loose diamonds and gold dubloons, while the staff gets ready for the starving class to crawl in at 9:30, who’s only sustenance prior to dining was four red vines.

Who’s with me on this conspiracy?

The real moral of this story though is that Saturday night, with no fanfare whatsoever, I logged onto Open Table at 4:30 *that* day  and secured a 7:00pm reservation at one of the best, most romantic places in town, Locanda Veneta.  I’d link them but they’re so hip, I don’t think they have a website anymore.  They don’t need one.

Those in the know (maybe I really am an LA Foodie hipster) already eat there regularly, and now you can too…

P.S.  In case the staff at Mozza is reading this (Cue: Snickering laughter from the entire world), the food at both places is truly special and I will continue dining there at 5:30 any chance I get.

Published in: on August 12, 2008 at 4:34 pm  Comments (2)  

Book Review: The Billionaire’s Vinegar

A dear friend recently commented that my book list is suspiciously long for someone with two kids.  I think what she really meant to say was, how come her book list isn’t, though the stork has not yet descended upon my friends (unnamed) New England town.

Yes, I read.  And yes, as the one of you who read my first blog post knows, I have two kids.  But according to a commercial from my youth, “Reading is fundamental.”

So picture if you will a summer San Fernando Valley evening, kids asleep, The Daily Show/Colbert Report watched and erased from the Tivo, wife reading some self help book – or was it a diet book – or was it a self help/diet book?  Me, I tend to be a fiction/non-fiction kind of reader.  “Dear American Airlines” had just been finished, thoroughly enjoyed, and put away.  Next on the pile, “The Billionaire’s Vinegar” a book that follows two of my passions, wine and the Revolutionary War.

The book opens during an unprecedented auction in London, where several bottles of 1787 Bordeaux from the European cellar of Thomas Jefferson were about to be sold.  The wine itself would have been newsworthy but belonging to one of the Founding Fathers and the first metrosexual of the new republic was a rare find indeed.

The actual bidding on the wine has been written about before and is, on its own, a great anecdote.  Marvin Shanken, publisher of then fledgling, “The Wine Spectator” (no web link – they don’t need the hits) showed up prepared to walk away with his liquid loot until he ran into the son of Malcolm Forbes, freshly flown in by private jet to bid on the very same item.  Shanken’s reaction was about what one might feel as the the only guy in a bar about to ask out the only woman in the place – a supermodel –  when in walks George Clooney, tanned, relaxed and looking for someone to take back to his pad on Lake Como.  Game over.

But Shanken refused to be that guy who goes home empty handed.  Bidding got into six figures (for one bottle of wine) before he bowed out, making it perhaps the best loss in auction history (though he’d get his hands on another Jefferson bottle years later).  The rest of the book uncovers what has been perhaps a dirty little secret, certainly in the high end wine world; fake wine being passed off as rare and authentic.

I’m not sure if the book is ultimately an indictment on the need to covet, a sin many, many collectors of all things are guilty of, or rather a recipe for how easy it would be to perpetrate such a crime over and over again.  What was shocking to me was how many people believed that bottle after bottle of wine belonging to Thomas Jefferson could all be real.  But we believe what we want to believe, right?

And the bigger question remains (at least for me), is this happening right now?  That bottle of Screaming Eagle you bought for $2K after your Google stock split that sits in your cellar.  After reading this book, you might look at it a little sideways (no pun intended) now, wondering just what wine is actually in there.  Would you know? Would an expert know?  Do you really want to know?

Or is it really all about opening that bottle upon the birth of your child, your ten year anniversary, celebrating when the Flyers win the Stanley Cup (please God, please) and just enjoying what you believe to be in there?  Wine is all about the experience.

No one wants to be duped for sure, but the thought of owning something that was held by the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence, well, if you could, don’t you think you would?

Published in: on August 8, 2008 at 1:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Me & My Shadow


While Americans are told at an early age that alcohol is a big no-no for our beloved children, in Europe, they’ve been doing it for centuries and those kids all turned out fine (WWII Axis power dictators notwithstanding).

So when our then three-year old cherub, Joss (pictured above) asked for a sip of my wine, then proceeded to say, “Mo”, while reaching for the glass like Ponce de Leon, I knew he must be my child.

He has since tried many a sip of wine over the next three years and although his vocabulary now includes the properly pronounced “more”, his kindergarten-esque passion for wine is as strong as ever.  Thus Daddy Winebucks, blog# 456,768,311,000,000 was born this day on the World Wide Interweb.

My plan is to write about all manner of subjects wine and kids related, regaling you not only with tales from the winery trenches in my daily life, as partner in Waugh Cellars and Six Degrees, but also those of being the best husband in the world (my words) to raising two young boys, one of whom, due to his excessive drinking has already earned a waiting list spot at Promises in Malibu.

I’ll pepper in book and restaurant reviews, as well as my own wine ratings (system TBD) from both me and the kid, who nearing six has already tasted 25 vintages of d’Yquem (okay, that’s a lie – just wanted to link them).

C’mon, wine reviews from a child?  A must read, no?

Take that Gary V! 🙂

Welcome…

Published in: on August 7, 2008 at 1:31 am  Comments (2)