Monday, November 23, 2009

Its getting real now folks....

Wow, what a weekend! I do not know if it was the great weather; the Nouveau wine tasting notice I emailed everybody; the approaching holiday season; or a combination of all these. We were very busy this weekend for whatever reason and it kept us hopping.

The Nouveau wine tasting went very well, everyone seemed to enjoy the novelty of trying young red wines, chilled. I was surprised at the number of calls and emails we got asking if we would have the wines available after Saturday or even the weekend for trial. We only bottled a very small amount of these wines, but there is still a case or two of each left, so we will have them as long as they last.

I think I was most surprised at how well they sold, being young as they are. Some folks bought some to use in their own nouveau wine tasting with friends, as a bit of a novelty. Others genuinely enjoyed the wines and bought some for drinking. We warned all to keep in mind the flavor of the wine is not stable; these wines should be bought and drunk with 60 days, at last, in my view.

My wife has been constructing gift baskets at a pretty good clip the past week or so. She is focusing in on the popular $25 price point and will spend this week working on the more expensive baskets. It is quite nice to hear all the favorable comments about our baskets, the funniest one being, “These baskets are too cheap!”. I remind people we sell gift baskets as a way to sell wine, we are not a gift basket company, we’re a winery.

I am working on a sales promotion we’ve used before, the three-bottle gift box. We will offer it with either three bottles of regular production wine, or with two bottles, an Oak Hill Winery wine glass, and wine opener for $27.95. In years past, these handy packages have been popular with the “we forgot to get a house-warming gift and don’t have time to get anything else” crowd.

In the Prove-Me-Wrong category, I had gotten a call last summer from a gift supplier who told me she had a hot item, "cork cages", and I needed a bunch of them. Now I thought that was a stupid idea and said no. Then we went on vacation and saw these things all over the place. My wife enquired at several wineries as to their success in selling these unique items and all agreed they were good sellers. I expressed my skepticism and did not order any. I had several customers ask for these things in October, so I ordered a few and they look nice, seem to do the job they are assigned, but I still think they are silly and will not sell. Prove me wrong…

A new wine? I am working on a wine I had not expected to be ready for distribution until late winter, but it seems to be coming along pretty well. My wife says, “Bottle it!” I am not yet sure, but will play with it over the next few days and see what I think. The big issue with wines that taste good ahead of schedule is whether that flavor is stable and will remain, or will the wine move on to a different flavor structure? Watch here for the POSSIBLE release of our new “WATER TOWER” Gew├╝rztraminer, semi-sweet wine.

We have a few dates left in December for parties, check out the website at www.oakhillwines for more details…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple's Smell!

So I stopped by Hainlen’s Orchard the other day and ordered our apple juice for next year’s batch of KOKOMO CIDER. We went and picked it up Wednesday evening, pumped it into fermentation barrels so it can start the long journey to becoming apple wine.

As I walked into the store at the orchard, the apple smell hit me right between the eyes. I had vivid recollections of youthful visits to similar places with my parents. I glanced at the baskets filled with the many varieties: Rome, Winesap, Yellow Delicious, Macintosh, and many more. An older couple was picking through a bushel of red apples, choosing the biggest and best for a gift basket. I walked through the store into the back room, the coolness and aroma becoming almost a tactile sensation.

I sampled the new apple juice, unfiltered and un-preserved. There has been a lot of complaints about the fact that orchards can no longer sell raw, un-pasteurized cider. It seems there are real apple cider connoisseurs, who feel the raw cider has a much better flavor then the pasteurized stuff. As a winemaker I have to buy it raw, since the pasteurization process makes it impossible to ferment. It has been suggested that is one reason cider lovers miss the raw cider, it does not turn into a nice hard cider in the fridge anymore. Humm?

Last night we finished up labeling the Nouveau wines for our special tasting this Saturday (1-6 pm). This is a first for our winery, but we felt since we were going to offer European “vinifera” grape wines next year, we might try following the European tradition of the Nouveau wine release. If you’re planning on coming, remember we have very short supply of these wines, but will have tasting all day Saturday the 21st.

I think you will be pleased with these very young wines, we tried some of the Shiraz chilled the other evening and I was very happy with its flavor. We hope you’ll come by and try it yourself!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anger Management

I think on of the great joys of owning a small winery, as compared to a big one, is you can make small batches of wine and see what people think of them without making your life too complicated.

One of the problems of making small batches of wine is people who like them often come back wanting more after you’ve run out. You suggest they might try something else, they insist they want more of the now long-gone wine. You mention you might make some next year and they seem appalled they might have to wait a year to get more of this small batch of wine. In toto, we appreciate the support but find the whining aggravating; All out of proportion with what we should. I need to have a glass of wine and mellow out.

A case in point is a wine we have been making for a number of year, BORDERMEN, a cranberry-grape blend we have each fall. We typically make a 100 cases and it sells quite well in November and December and is gone by January. I have been asked about 100 times, “When are you going to have Bordermen again?”.

I am happy to say we have bottled the first of the 2008 vintage of this fine wine and it is in the winery ready to be tasted and bought. I popped in the winery one afternoon and asked our staffer, “See we got Bordermen, now they will quit complaining!” She replied, “Well yes, but this batch does not taste like last year’s.”

Now, this wonderful employee is great at her job and I often over-react, but to avoid a stroke or possibly a murder rap, I left the building. Of course the new wine does not taste exactly like last year’s, it’s a new batch, a new vintage, its all new and bound to be a bit different and she knows that. Most wines taste a bit different year to year, its one the the things I like best about wine, the variety and the hunt for a great wine every year. Its was just a harmless comment and I got over-wrought by it. Mellow, mellow, mellow, and have a glass of wine.

So help me stay out of trouble and anger management classes: when we run out of Bordermen this year (or next), don’t ask me when we’ll have more. Ask my wife…

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nouveau Release, Yea or Nay?

Ok, we gave them a try, a barrel tasting with some friends and I think, YES! We will have a release of our new 2009 vintage red wines on Saturday, November 21. So what is that all about?

In a previous post I talked about the tradition of Nouveau wine releases in Europe and how they are celebrated on the third Thursday of November. These wines are typically served chilled, unusual for dry wines, and are described as light in character and simple in flavor. What that means for sweet wine drinkers is they should give these refreshing selections a try, they might just be surprised. Plus, its a great excuse for a litle party!

These wines are great to chill and serve with cheese and crackers, they compliment Italian foods with red sauces very nicely. I found them to have enough body to play well with hamburgers or pot roast.

We will have a very small supply of these wines bottled for sale on the 21st, but it is a small supply. Why? Because these wines I expect will be very nice in 12 months, or rather now nine months as serious dry red wines for next season.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More on Missouri wine

The tour of selected Missouri wineries continues: We headed out on a Saturday to hit several wineries in the St. James area, enjoying decent weather and expecting crowds. We were surprised at how few people we found out on this delightful autumn day.

We wanted to hit a few old favorites and a new spot or two. We headed for FERRINGO’s winery, located in an old barn just outside town. In our last visit in 2007, we met the owner who had suffered a recent stroke. As we turned into the drive, we found the old name was gone and new sign, TWO SQUIRREL’s winery, was in its place. A gentleman working outside said the winery was not yet licensed, but should open in the next month or so. I hesitated, thanked the man and pulled out of the lot. I wanted to ask, but decided not to ask after the previous owner.

We headed on to the next stop, HEINRICHHAUS vineyard and winery, well out in the country. The owner was born in the Rhine Valley in Germany, speaks with a thick accent, and has some strong feelings about wine and winemaking. Heinrich only makes dry wines, typically has five to six for sampling off an old oak wine barrel in his small tasting room. Its best to taste all the wines or you may get “The Look” when you say you don’t care for reds or whites. His wine is excellent, unique, and the experience is well worth the drive up his long, narrow lane.

We had never stopped at ROSATI winery and vineyard, in the very small town of Rosati, so we drove the short distance to see what they had. We drove along rows of grapevines, for mile after mile ad when we got to the winery, it was closed! The sign said “Winery Museum open 2010”, so we headed back into St. James proper.

We always enjoyed visiting the ST JAMES winery, it is one of the largest in the state and has a different approach to wine sales. Their wine tasting is self-serving, you grab a small plastic cup and pour a sample of whatever of the many wines they offer. The prices grab your attention, from $3.99 to $12.99 a bottle with generous discounts for case purchases. We talked with some of the staff who agreed they get a lot of questions about prices, but their whole concept is to sell a lot of wine and build a strong and loyal customer base. They distribute their wine nationally, so you can find it even locally.

All-in-all, we found a lot of great wines and bought a good bit ourselves. We enjoy this annual visit to the wine country of Missouri, but there are many more wineries we have not visited, including a wine region south of St Louis that is gaining national recognition. We’ve got to work that in next year, maybe?

NOUVEAU WINE TASTING: We are planning a tasting of the 2009 vintage wine on Saturday, November 21 during regular business hours of our three dry red wines. Watch here for more information!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Break Time is Over

It was a long rainy week in the hills of Missouri but we had a good time anyway. In the nine days we were away we visited 15 wineries, several wine shops, and met some interesting people. It was a different trip for us because we hit the wineries on the weekends, we usually hit them on a weekday, and you get a different experience between those two choices.

First, many wineries offer abbreviated tasting lists on the weekends due to the volume of customers, limiting tasting to six popular choices. We sweet-talked our way around that though; they appreciate the dry wine drinkers who buy more then a bottle or two. Second, there is often live entertainment in open air venues or even karaoke as we found in one case. Third, parking is a real pain at the larger wineries and you have to do some walking from your car to the tasting room. Here are a few places we visited:

We wanted to visit MONTELLE winery located just outside Augusta to try their new vintage Dry Vignoles, but we were too late! The 2007 vintage had won best Missouri wine in 2008 and the new batch got hammered as it was bottled and put on the market. We did enjoy their wines very much, this new winery is partnered with an old favorite of ours, AUGUSTA winery, and we know the winemaker pretty well. Montelle is designed for the big crowds, the people looking to spend an hour or two, they offer a nice place to taste, drink, and even eat while sitting on a hilltop overlooking the wine country scenery.

Next was AUGUSTA winery and there was a line to get in at opening. This winery above all others we visit anywhere has consistently offered exceptional wines at very low prices. They have a strong offering of dry reds and whites with case prices well under $10 a bottle.

We skipped the other local winery, MOUNT PLEASANT, since we have never been real fond of their wines. It’s a beautiful setting and a huge place, but we also heard they were the first winery in the area to introduce paid tasting! So we drove by and headed towards BIAS winery and micro-brewery. This place is way off the beaten path and up a narrow lane, it’s small and quaint, but had a large crowd of folks who looked like they were settled in for a while.

BLUMENHOF winery, near Dutzow is a nice newer winery with good wine. We had a mission to stop there because my wife had made friends with an employee the previous year and promised her a bottle of our wine she thought sounded good. They were cranking up the music as we left and the parking lot was filling, everyone had a picnic basket and was headed for a table.

We headed for Hermann with its numerous wineries and another must-visit place, STONE HILL winery. We always enjoy stopping here and tasting their many wines, Stone Hill is one of the big players in MO wine and has tasting rooms around the state. They also have a great eatery called the Vintage restaurant, but it was packed and had a long waiting list.

Passing by many other wineries, we headed towards St James where another cluster of wineries awaited us. Watch here later for an update on those wineries and how it rained almost all week. But now the vacation is over and we are back and headed into the busy season, ready to get it done! Lots of new stuff coming, so stay tuned…