Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Busman's Holiday

So we are getting amped up for a trip to Missouri this weekend, we’re going to hit as many wineries as we can in two days along the Missouri River. I was asked recently why we enjoyed visiting other wineries while on vacation from our winery.

I think this goes back to one of the key points in owning a winery. I have met people who thought owning a winery was “cool” (Sure); I have met people who think there is good money in the winery business (Wrong); I have met people who want to be their own boss (Reasonable); and I have met people who thought it would be an easy business to run (Crazy).

Finding work that speaks to a passion you hold in your heart has to be a dream for many and a goal for some. For many of us who own wineries we do this because we love it, we love the wine business, we love wine. When you can make a living off your passion, life is good.

But for us, we have not reached that goal; we cannot yet live off the winery financially. Every year is better then the year before and we have met our financial goals set five or more years ago. When we started thinking about a winery, it was a dream. As it approached reality, we were able to see our plan was reasonable and measurable. We hit our first year sales goal and five out of six years we have exceeded our expectations, following that plan. We have adjusted the plan, adapted our methods, and moved forward. The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel has gone from dim to quite bright. The business is a passion for us.

But when we think about vacation, we always ask, “What wineries can we visit?” because wine is truly a passion for us, not just the business, but enjoying wine itself. When we go to Missouri, we search out the outstanding wines, those that make us smile. We want not just the average, but the outstanding.

Last year we were surprised to find a Dry Vignoles from Montelle Winery was the best wine we tried and we came home with a case. Strangely, we would have not even tried it had not an employee at another winery pointed it out to us. She said it was a fabulous wine and well worth the drive out-of-the-way to visit the winery and try it. She was right and we all loved it.

A great side benefit from our taking several winery tours each year is we can give visitors to our winery advice on where to go for weekends and vacations to find the style of wines they might prefer. In a future post, I will give a sketch of what we have found in our travels: Where to find the best sweet, off-dry, dry white, dry red, and just about every kind of wines you might want.

LOVERS OF KOKOMO CIDER: Keep in mind we only have 200 gallons (1000 bottles) this year of our popular sweet apple wine. The locally poor 2008 apple harvest kept us from getting as much of this wine as we usually get, so if you are planning on serving this delightful wine as a hot-spice holiday treat, come in and get you supply soon!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bitter Wine

It is said by many that an aged wine is a better wine. But that is a broad statement which is not true in general terms. For example, the vast majority of sweet wines do not improve with age, it’s our recommendation you should not buy more of our sweet wines then you can drink in six to 12 months.

The issue as to whether a dry wine improves with age is a bit of a trick question. It can be said that wine CHANGES as it ages without argument, the question is whether those changes are improvements, -does the wine taste better today then it day a year ago? Only much experience and taste-testing will answer this question.

I recall the example of the man who paid over $3,000 for a bottle of an 1898 French wine at auction and gave it as a gift to a dear friend, who was a bit of a wine enthusiast. The wine was opened on a special occasion and found to be bitter, quite undrinkable. The recipient of this “fine wine” was said to say, “A bottle of wine is very much like a human being. In its youth its shallow and thin, but can be interesting to some. As it matures, it gains fullness and complexity, as well as a wider circle of admirers. But too often at the end it can be sour and distasteful. Such is too often life for us all.”

As I have aged, I have found this story to contain a fair amount of truth and relevance. This week I heard of a dear friend who had been fighting cancer successfully, until now. The cancer has spread and the outlook is bleak.

The taste in my mouth is sour over this, I believe a part of who we are, is who we know. Our friends are the landscape of our life, adding color and interest, flavor and tenor. Take them away and we become less.

A crucial part of this process is we may impress ourselves into this situation. We can feel and see the grief of the family and knowing the inevitability of life and its end, we see our future grief and hurt. We cannot avoid it, it happens to all and that is the sourness of ageing for humans.

Like the old wine, as we age the potential for a bad ending increases. Yet I think the people who surround those we lose suffer in some ways more then the patient. At some point, the suffering ends for the patient. For those who cared, the hole in our hearts remains for many years and with time the bitter taste will diminish, never gone but manageable.

Those of us who remain must move on to other "bottles of wine" knowing they will not be bitter and joy can yet be found in many. We move on knowing that is what our dear friend would want us to do and we hold close the memories of the many bottles we shared during their too short time with us. Yet still we do grieve…

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reading the Customer's Mind

One of the ongoing challenges we face as a small business is the question, what else do we want to sell besides our wine? When we were considering opening the winery, we talked to a lot of small winery owners to get advice and input.

One consistent comment I heard in the way of advice was, “Don’t spend a bunch of money on accessories!” It was suggested that too often you tied way too much money up in do-hickies and gadgets that only a few people might want to buy. Your money was better spent on items directly related to wine and wine drinking that are proven winners, sales-wise.

Let me tell you, even a small place like ours gets many calls each week from salespeople with wine-related stuff they want us to buy from them so we can sell. Recently, I had a call from a guy who sells wine and grape themed jewelry, he claimed we could make “big money” selling his stuff. Yea, right.

We have made some good choices and a few bad ones. We bought a bunch of glass cutting boards, those have not sold well, but I still like them myself. We recently brought in a new wine bottle stopper made of silicone, rather then the old plastic models we had been selling. They are supposed to last longer and give a better seal. We’ll see…

I have always been cheap when it comes to corkscrews, preferring a simple $10 model to the $25 fancy-pants gizmos some people use. We have sold a few of the fancy ones, but at least one broke the first time it was used and it took me three months to get a replacement.

We have always had a few artists and craftspeople whose goods we sell on consignment during the gift-giving season. This year we have some hand-painted glasses and wine bottles that are beautiful and have been selling very well! They have been very popular as wedding gifts I notice and I suspect they will continue to sell well as we get farther along in the year.

Keep us in mind when you are shopping for that hard-to-satisfy friend or relative, where else can you find locally-made joy-in-a-bottle that makes a great gift?!?

Friday, October 9, 2009

hot-n-spicy wine?

The cool weather has taken hold and I think we might need to whip up a new batch of our sweet apple wine, KOKOMO CIDER. Its been a best seller for many years here and we hope the 2009 version will live up to expectations.

The interesting thing is, we sell a fair amount of KC in the spring and summer, it’s a refreshing warm-weather drink. But sales go through the roof beginning in late fall through the holiday season. The key is adding a few key spices and warming the KC up a bit. It has been called wassail, hot-spiced cider, a hot toddy, and even “Super Cider”.

We do offer some cider spices, made right here in good old Indiana from a company called Marion-Kay, plus a recipe on how we make it taste for samples here in the tasting room. Many people make it in a sauce pan in advance, make a gallon or more, then heat it up in crock pots when needed. It stores surprisingly well for a week or more.

We expect to introduce our new Kokomo Cider in the next week or so, so stop by and check out how the new batch tastes cold and hot-n-spicy .

Friday, October 2, 2009

Honey, where are the TV trays?

The mess has officially begun! Every fall we dig out the boxes of stuff we need to build the gift baskets we sell by then bunch load and thus, we lose our dining room.

Oh, for those of you who do not know, we live next door to the winery. We do all the winemaking, sales, bottling, and tasting in the old 1894 carriage house we converted into our small winery. The problem is its really not big enough, so we do a few things in the house and one that always makes a big mess is the gift basket assembly area i.e. the dining room table.

For the last three months of the year I eat among bows, ribbons, grass packing material, wine glasses, and all the do-hickies that we put in the gift baskets, Boxes and boxes of stuff, piled six to seven feet high, its an obstacle course to just get through the place.

Now, I am not complaining. Its great when someone comes in during the winter and says, “A friend gave me a gift basket with your wine in it and we decided to come over and do a tasting!”

I have to laugh when I remember the harried guy who came rushing up the stairs, burst into the tasting room, and said in a loud voice, “Honey, we’re golden, they do have gift baskets!” It seems someone forgot to pick-up a house-warming gift and halfway there it dawned on them they had nothing with which to warm the new house.

My favorite though will remain the solid looking, gray-haired man with a mustache who came in and said, “I had never tasted your wine before, figured ot was all sweet. The I got a gift basket from a business friend with your dry reds and I thought they were good. So here I am to see what you’ve got in toto.” Made me think of the actor Ronald Coleman and a heavy English accent. He would have made a great butler, but acted more like he had one himself.

So, pay attention to the gift baskets next time you are in, $19.95 to $49.95, my wife went to a lot of work to make them, so take one or two home!