It’s winter now, and many of us winemakers are happy to
enjoy a few months of relative peace, before the spring comes, and farming and
festivals and crowds again take center stage. But let’s use this time to talk.
I have mixed feelings about wine festivals in summer. On the
one hand, as a winery owner, you lay out a lot of money (the table, the trucking, the set-up,
the staff, the gas, and sometimes hotel rooms), and on the other hand you get
to deal with, inevitably, a lot of rude, drunk party-goers.
In my time, I have had a woman fall down, flat on her face, passed
out drunk, with her dress over her head and naked buttocks showing for all the
world to see, right in front of our stand. I had another woman come up eating a
pistachio ice cream cone and complain that all our wines were sour and tasted
of pistachio ice cream. I have had several gum chomping aficionados tell me
that our best wines tasted like Bubalicious or Trident Spearmint. I had one A-hole
proffer his cup, shaking it in my face, saying, ‘Just gimme your best.” “White
or red?” I asked politely, through my gritted teeth. “Don’t F&%$ around
Just gimme your best wine.” And of course, there’s the classic, “What do you
mean you don’t have any stickers?” to women pasted over with cute sayings, like
I’ve seen bridezilla led bridesmaid showers, half-naked
groups of 20-somethings, bikers, and loads of drunks who made it look like they
were walking on the deck of the Pequod just as Moby Dick arrived.
So I get the drill. I work 15 wine festivals a year. And I
probably visit another four or five during the year where I am the guest. What
can I say, I am a glutton for punishment.
Also, when I first started learning about east coast wineries, I, like thousands of others, went to festivals. It was the speed dating of the wine world. I got to see who the better producers were, among those who showed up, and learned what was going on. I met more winemakers and owners in one weekend, than I could in a whole summer. Was it deep knowledge? No. Was it a good introduction? You bet! Thousands of the uninitiated still do.
Now, not to scare off consumers, because on the other hand
we’ve made lots of money at festivals, we’ve met lots of nice folks who have
eventually come to our winery and become case club members, and I’ve actually
made some really good friends! I actually look forward to a great many of these
events, both as a seller and as a buyer. There's lots of fun to be had, and lots to taste and learn!
I have been to wine festivals in Virginia, Maryland,
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. So before you tell me I
don’t know what I am talking about, I say to you, “Shut up, and listen!”
This last year I noticed something. Something I am very keen
to share with winemakers, sales people, and wine media types. I speak on behalf
of other winemakers and the consumer.
I understand you want to bring your inexpensive wines and
your sweet wines. I understand there’s a large portion of the audience who like
these wines, and that will sell, and that make you money. I get ALL that.
But the first thing I heard about it was at one of the
bigger wine festivals in New York. Several wine people, very good, wine
appreciating customers and wine media types, who complained bitterly. They came
to me. Several very good wineries were at the event, but they had brought their
inexpensive blends, and not one of their really good wines. There was huge
Now, as a producer, I have always brought a solid mix of
wines across the board. I might charge extra for the better wines. A special
tasting fee. Or might only pour them for select customers. I may only bring
three or four cases of my best wines to a show. But I always bring them. And
the writers and better wines customers always come because they know we bring
the good stuff.
I had this happen several times this year. The same scenario,
with people complaining that the wineries who were getting 90s, and who were
there, weren’t bringing their good stuff. And on the other side, I had fellow
winemakers who only brought their sweet stuff complain that the show was not a
good one. That sales weren’t there. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true. It was
more of a dry wine crowd.
And then I went to the Garden State Harvest Festival, and several
of the best wineries brought two or three cases of each of their best wines.
And you know what? People were thrilled. Yeah, they had their less expensive
and their sweet wines, but they also brought the cream of the crop, so they
could show off their best efforts. It made a HUGE impression on me. A a consumer I can't tell you how disappointed I am countless times to find your favorite winery at an event, especially a really good winery, and they don't bring their better wines.
Yes, you may play to the lowest common denominator at large
venues. There’s LOTS of money to be made. I understand that. But there are
plenty of appreciative, educated wine drinkers who are looking to find new
wines to savor and collect and tell their friends about. And they are walking
WORSE, they are walking away convinced the east coast is not
producing world class wine. You may say they are unaware, but I ask you? Whose
job is it to educate them? To paraphrase the great theater writer Walter Kerr,
if you serve tripe, they will think you make tripe. These festivals, while a
great opportunity to make real dollars and promote the industry, for better or
worse, are the place where we are making our reputation!
I am not targeting only my home state. All the above states
have suffered from the same affliction.
These events were originally set up to promote the local
wine industry. They were set up to educate and promote. What are we promoting
these days? I say to you now, we are perpetuating our own fallacy. We are
furthering the misconception that the east coast only makes sweet wine.
Now, I am not down on sweet wine. I am not bashing those who
make it. California makes more sweet wine than the rest of the world put
together. That is not what this rant is about. There is a place for all kinds
of wines at my table. Sheath your swords.
All I am saying is, when you go out this year, whether you re in New York, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, or wherever, to the
festivals, bring a case or two of your best wine. Promise yourself you will
pour one bottle of your best stuff for the truly discriminating wine drinkers.
Impress some people. Show people what it is we do.
The east coast has become a powerhouse of great wine. This
coast has a great number of AVAs and regions that are making fantastic wines.
Wineries from Maine to Virginia have received scores of 90 or better. However,
we are keeping it a secret. We are. Let’s show people we make great wine.
This summer, bring the good stuff!