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Heading to Taste Washington? Here’s how to make the most of the experience, part 1

Posted in Events, Interviews

It’s Washington Wine Month, the annual state-wide promotion of Washington’s wine industry. The month is loaded with all kinds of wine-related events topped off by Taste Washington.

Taste Washington is the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event. More than 225 wineries and 60 restaurants fill up CenturyLink Field Event Center for two days of wine, food and education. This will be my 10th Taste Washington and I still find it a little intimidating – where to go, what to do, which wines to taste, and on and on. So I figured I’d ask the experts for advice.

Steve Warner is president of the Washington State Wine Commission, the outfit that markets the Washington wine industry and co-produces Taste Washington in conjunction with Visit Seattle. I asked him for advice on how best to enjoy the event.

Steve, what advice would you give people so they can best enjoy Taste Washington?

There are many ways to enjoy Taste Washington depending on what you hope to get out of the event. One great way to start is to attend seminars. On Saturday we are offering a great seminar for wine newcomers called “Intro into the World of Wine.” This seminar will be great for anybody who wants to become more familiar with Washington State wines before tackling the Grand Tasting. For the veteran wine fan, check out “WASHINGTON vs. The World!” on Saturday or the celebration of the Yakima Valley 30th Anniversary on Sunday.

We’ve designed the space so there are plenty of places to rest and pace yourself. Tasting wine for 3 or 4 hours straight is challenging, so I recommend that people enjoy the great restaurants and exhibitors as well.

If you’re on Twitter make sure to follow the #TasteWA hashtag for advice from fellow attendees – that’s where you’ll hear about the hidden gems around the event.

If you’re serious about your wine tasting, you can take notes on the best wines you find. But the easiest way to remember what you taste and like is to snap pictures of the wines you like with your phone

What’s new / different this year at Taste Washington?

For the first time ever, we have included some non-wine seminars. One such seminar, “Cure what Ales ya!”, combines a master beer sommelier with our 2013 Washington State Wine Restaurant of the Year, Visconti’s.

If you’re on Twitter make sure to follow the #TasteWA hashtag for advice from fellow attendees – that’s where you’ll hear about the hidden gems around the event.

Mike Kelley will share his wisdom about beer and charcuterie pairing; a skill that will always come in handy when you’re hosting parties. We also have a cider and cheese pairing seminar
on Sunday this year to celebrate all the great ciders in Washington State.

We also have more restaurants this year than ever before and we’ve added some great hotel packages to make it easy to stay for the entire weekend. You can add your Taste Washington tickets onto to your hotel room through the website as well (and also avoid Ticketmaster fees!)

Are there any specific areas or exhibits that you’d like to recommend?

One feature we’ve been doing for a few years, and it continues to grow (no pun intended), is the vineyard area – a group of wine grape growers will be there pouring wines from different wineries all made with their fruit. It’s a great chance to explore “terroir,” the sense of place you get from where a wine is grown. It all starts in the vineyard!

Also check out all the terrific AVA associations that will pouring wine from their local wineries. It’s a great place to chat with experts if you are looking to plan a trip into wine country this year. At least nine regional groups will be pouring – stop by and see them!

And of course there is the ever popular oyster bar and dessert bar. Both areas have a wine tasting feature highlighting wines that pair especially well with these foods.

It’s virtually impossible to taste all of the wines available at Taste Washington. What are some good strategies for tasting over one or two days?

Well, there are more than 225 wineries and each winery usually brings 3 wines, plus all the wines at the dessert bar and white out oyster bar so in reality there are more than 750 wines to try at the event – and we definitely don’t recommend trying them all!

Plan what you are most excited to see in advance of the event – the wines being poured are all posted on the website and the entire event program will be posted a week before the event so you can check out who will be there and what they are bringing to sample. Maybe you just want to check out the new releases of your favorite wineries, meet the winemakers from some of your recent favorites, or maybe you are on a quest to try the new guys – either way you can make a list of things to see before you go.

The two-day general admission pass is really a great value. For only $45 more than the one-day general admission ticket you get to go an extra day. Maybe do all whites on Saturday and all reds on Sunday? Or tackle the first half of the alphabet on day one, and the second on day two. I will say that Saturday is bound to be the busier day, so if you can only go for one day, consider attending on Sunday.

And remember – “it’s hip to spit!” You don’t need to finish every wine you are poured. Taste responsibility and you’ll end up finding some great wines that you even remember the next day!

Next week on WA | Wine | PR: More advice from the pros – winemakers and media offer their advice on how to enjoy Taste Washington.


Some wineries understand how to use CRM to win customer loyalty, but sadly, some don’t

Posted in Marketing, Wineries

Hang around the tech sector long enough and you’ll eventually hear someone talking about CRM – customer relationship management. It’s a big deal – as in a nearly-$10-billion-annual-industry big deal.

Tech companies are fanatical about CRM and wineries could learn a lot from that fanaticism. Case in point: My recent experience with Winery A and Winery B.

I’m on Winery A’s mailing list. They contacted me well in advance of shipping my annual order and then kept me informed with some stock emails as the shipping date drew closer, including a more personal email on the day that it shipped.

It arrived several days later and that same afternoon, I received an email from the sales manager saying that the wine had been shipped that week and my CC had been charged. I dashed off a note of thanks and quickly received a personal response thanking me again for my order and saying that they look forward to seeing me on my next visit.

Classic CRM – prompt, personal and engaging. My takeaway? ‘They care about me.’ That translates into loyalty. I’m going to be a customer for a long time.

Winery B recently had a very compelling offer on some nice everyday wine. I’m not on their mailing list, but it was a terrific opportunity to put some of their juice in my cellar. So I went in for a case. Their sales team engaged me by email when I made the order and the case arrived a few days later. But that’s when they dropped the ball.

Winery B had me right where they wanted me, yet failed to convert a layup. My takeaway? All they wanted was my check.

No contact to ensure that my order had arrived. No email asking if I was pleased with the wine or the service. And no attempt to engage me to be a repeat customer. Winery B had me right where they wanted me, yet failed to convert a layup. My takeaway? All they wanted was my check.

CRM isn’t easy. It takes commitment, energy and time. But in a tough competitive marketplace loaded with excellent product, wineries can’t afford not to be doing it.

Want to learn more about customer relationship management? Take an hour and listen to Shep Hyken’s webinar on the Cult of the Customer. He offers a list of 10 strategies to build an amazing customer experience. Winery B, are you listening?


‘Tis the season for wine tasting events. What do you, the consumer, want at a tasting experience?

Posted in Events, Marketing, Wineries

The spring season of tasting events is upon us here in Washington State. Among the events competing for your heart, palate and wallet include:

Numerous red wine & chocolate events in Yakima Valley, Rattlesnake Hills, Lake Chelan, Whidbey Island, Bainbridge Island and the Woodinville Warehouse District, just to name a few.

Seattle Wine & Food Experience

Taste Walla Walla PDX

Wenatchee Wine Week

Taste Walla Walla SEA

And then there’s the big kahuna, Taste Washington

And all of that is just in February and March. The onslaught of spring release events at multiple regions, communities and individual wineries starts in April across the state, beginning with the Cayuse weekend April 5-7 in Walla Walla.

Which ones are you planning to attend, and why? How do you decide which event(s) to attend? What makes for a great wine tasting event from a consumer perspective?



2013 Sunset wine competition only in its second year, but you can’t deny its powerful PR potential

Posted in Events, Magazines, Media Relations, Public Relations, Wineries

If you’re a Washington winemaker and you’re planning to enter the 2013 Sunset International Wine Competition, time is ticking. Entries close March 8, which means you have just less than 30 days to submit your entries.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of wine competitions to choose from and some are certainly older, established and more prestigious. But from a public relations standpoint, I doubt any wine competition can match the horsepower of this one, just based on demographics and reach of the magazine. Consider:

  • Sunset is one of West’s dominant media brands – 4.6 million readers, 1.1 million online visitors per month and more than 30,000 event attendees annually.
  • We drink a lot of wine out here in the West – more than 60 million glasses per week, and 10 million of those are consumed by Sunset readers. The magazine’s stats department determined that Sunset readers are 106 percent above average for being heavy consumers of wine.
  • We also buy a lot of wine. Westerners are 35 percent above the average affluent adult for spending $3,000 or more on wine in the past year.
  • Nearly all of Sunset’s subscribers are wine drinkers (96 percent), but perhaps most importantly those readers are more than 80 percent above average for influencing consumers’ buying decisions about wine.

In short, not only do Sunset subscribers buy and drink a lot of wine, but they are super influential in how other people think about and ultimately purchase wine. The numbers make a compelling case to enter this contest, and you can read more about them here.

This is only the contest’s second year, but Sunset’s wine editor Sara Schneider is enthusiastic about its trajectory.

The nature of wine competitions in general tends to encourage the more mass-produced wines to enter,” she told me last week. “And our lineup the first year out did include a quorum from the big wine companies in the West. But it also included a genuinely exciting cross-section of small-production, artisan wines from talented winemakers who have their own hands on the product from first to last.”

Schneider has corralled a who’s who of industry glitterati as judges, and she believes that is another element that makes this contest special.

… a badge of honor from Sunset will, by the very nature of its reputation and brand, carry much more clout with your consumers and will be much more likely to influence their opinions and buying decisions …

“The integrity of our competition is really fueled by our judges,” she said. “The caliber of wine industry pros that got excited about our program even as we were developing our plans, and committed two days to come to Menlo Park to judge for us, was truly heart-warming. And most are coming back this year. They believe in Sunset, and in the value of tasting and evaluating wines blind, for results that wineries can use.”

“Results that wineries can use” strikes me as a key phrase here. It’s one thing to hang a plaque in the tasting room from a competition in Indianapolis, for example. But a similar badge of honor from Sunset will, by the very nature of its reputation and brand, carry much more clout with your consumers and will be much more likely to influence their opinions and buying decisions, IMHO.

Finally, Schneider says the company is committed to increasing the events and promotions surrounding the competition, not the least of which is promoting the database of winners at Sunset-branded events and through the magazine and web site. Last year’s list is here, and it’s great to see the representation from Washington wine.

As winemakers ramp up their marketing efforts during this shoulder season, this seems to be one competition that definitely should be in the marketing budget.

Boost your blogging in 2013: This free seminar can help

Posted in Blogging, Events, Public Relations

Want to turbo-charge your blogging efforts in 2013? Then this seminar, “Getting Organized with your Blogging,” may be just the ticket.

The seminar will cover the following:

  • The importance of an editorial calendar and how to set one up;
  • How to schedule posts;
  • Using listening tools, such as an RSS reader, Flipboard and Zite:
  • Ideas for posts you may not have thought of:
  • How other bloggers are doing it.

The seminar is produced and sponsored by LexBlog, the leading authority of blogs and social media tools for the legal industry. (Yep, I said ‘legal industry.’) But these guys know their stuff and the advice is applicable to any blogger – legal, wine or otherwise.

If you’re a winemaker or wine industry marketing / PR person who is thinking about content marketing in 2013 (and who isn’t?), the session will be worth your time simply to learn how to use Flipboard and Zite.

The seminar is Thursday and the best news – it’s free.

(Full disclosure: LexBlog is a client of Silver Strategic Communications.)


Remember, it has two Ms … like dummy!

Posted in Editing, Events

Talk about irony. While checking out the upcoming Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, I ran across a prominent spelling error smack dab in the middle of registration page.

They say the devil is in the details and when you’re pitching a pricy conference to journalists, nothing undercuts your credibility faster than silly mistakes, particularly in the era of automatic spell check.

To be fair, ‘accommodate’ and its derivatives (accommodation, etc.) are commonly misspelled. During my first week of my journalism career, a grizzled copy chief gave me a spelling lesson I’ve never forgotten. “It’s easy to spell accommodate,” he told me as he corrected my mistake. “It has two Ms … like dummy.”

This year’s symposium, the ninth annual, is Feb. 19-22, and the speakers’ line-up and agenda look terrific. Perhaps at the 10th annual, they’ll include a session on spelling.


Observations for a new year: Washington wine regions I’m thinking about in 2013

Posted in Uncategorized

If you know me, you know this – I’m a huge fan of the wine scene in Walla Walla. The valley has been our go-to wine region in Washington State ever since Mary Sue and I took our first trip there in 2002. We now make the trip at least two times a year, as much to spend time visiting with friends and enjoying golf, cycling and other activities as we do visiting the 100+ wineries. It’s a seductive place – so much so that we’ve often fantasized about making a permanent move to Walla Walla from Bainbridge Island. (Can you say ‘aspirational goal?’)

But just as man cannot live on bread alone, the true lover of Washington wine can’t live on one region within our fair state. With that in mind, here are three Washington wine regions that I’m keen on following in 2013. Think of them as regions to watch.

Yakima & Zillah

Sure, Yakima and Zillah don’t have the sex appeal of Walla Walla, but the area seems to be gaining some new energy as a wine destination. Some new places to stay and dine are popping up in and around Yakima, and you can be there in a couple of hours from downtown Seattle, which makes for a doable day trip as long as you remember to bring along a DD.


The tasting room at Two Mountain Winery: This is how they roll.

There’s plenty of cool stuff happening at individual wineries. Big Phil Cline of Naches Heights Vineyards opened a new destination tasting room late last year and Southard, located in Selah, has generated some incredible buzz for a new winery. Dinnen, Cultura, Ramseyer and Two Mountain have become ‘must-stops’ in Zillah, but there are plenty of wineries located on that same exit of I-82.

Yakima Valley is celebrating its 30th year as a wine region, and there’s likely to be all kinds of fun stuff this year associated with the anniversary. Wine Yakima Valley, the region’s marketing organization, is a great resource for events and activities.


Ask some of your casual wine pals if they’ve ever visited Woodinville for a wine getaway and you’ll be surprised how many of them have never made the trip.

But there’s a sense of revitalization in the air in 2013 and it’s emanating from the region’s marketing organization, Woodinville Wine Country.  Jamie Peha, Washington wine’s energizer bunny, has stepped in as the group’s interim director and is driving a new marketing plan designed by Steve Burns, the godfather of Washington wine promotion. They’re busy retooling the events – St. Nick’s featured a totally new format last December and Passport, the spring event, likely will be reinvented. It’s going to be fun to watch this year.

Woodinville now has so many wineries – nearly 100 – that you truly need a couple of days to visit the distinct areas. We spend a lot of time around the Hollywood Schoolhouse round-about at JBookwalter, Ross Andrew and Pepper Bridge, and Gorman, Zerba Cellars and Otis Kenyon across the street. Or we head down the road to the warehouse district, where we’re particularly fond of Obelisco Estate, Bunnell and Robert Ramsay. And no trip to the ‘Ville is complete without a stop at Ste. Michelle, the state’s flagship winery.

Will Woodinville replace Walla Walla as Washington State’s premier wine destination? The potential is there, and 2013 might be the year.

Bainbridge Island

Okay, stop smirking and consider the fact. Bainbridge currently has eight wineries, and five of them have tasting rooms within walking distance of the ferry. Island scuttlebutt suggests that several new ones could open later this year.

Perhaps more importantly, the island has become a foodie’s paradise, with four top-notch fine dining restaurants (Four Swallows, Marche, Hitchcock and Café Nola) and some great local spots like San Carlos, Treehouse Café and Harbor House Pub. Toss in a handful of killer bakery/coffee houses, one world-class ice cream shop, and a couple of excellent small inns within walking distance of the ferries, the food and the wine, and you’ve created a very compelling destination.

But wait, there’s more. Thousands of tourists visit Seattle each year who might like to add a little wine tasting to their itinerary, but don’t have the time to head east, even to Woodinville. Washington’s ferry system, annually one of the state’s top tourist attractions, delivers thousands of these visitors to the island for day trips. With some clever marketing and positioning, Bainbridge Island could easily build a reputation as western Washington’s top wine destination.

Which wine regions are you visiting this year in Washington State? I’d love to hear.

Coming soon: Washington State wine trends I’ll be following in 2013.

Observations for a new year: Washington wineries I’m thinking about in 2013

Posted in Wineries

A new year is always ripe with possibility and anticipation, and 2013 is no exception. Over the next few days, I’ll m going to share things I’m looking forward to following this year in Washington wine. Without further ado, let’s start with some individual wineries. Ready, set, go!!

Washington wine predictions 2013Eight Bells – The Eight Bells boys are doing some really good stuff with Mike Sauer’s Red Willow fruit over in the Roosevelt/ Ravenna neighborhood. Plus, they embody the concept of ‘urban winery.’ Where else can you go wine tasting and then head down to Montlake to tailgate at Husky Stadium, all in the same neighborhood?

Watermill – Impeccable estate fruit, first-class production facility (they have their own bottling line) and a new winemaker – Noah Fox Reed, formerly assistant winemaker at Northstar. Noah takes over for Andrew Brown, who is going to focus on the company’s rapidly expanding cider operations, Blue Mountain Cider. This will be the first full season, so to speak, with Noah guiding the wines. He did a great job with Merf at Northstar – I’m looking forward to seeing what he can accomplish at this hidden gem of a winery in Milton-Freewater.

Charles Smith – I’m really interested to see what Charles and Brennon Leighton cook up with their new Chardonnay project.  Ditto for the Charles & Charles project in light of the recent investment by Trinchero Family Estates.

Rolling Bay & Amelia Wynn: I’m a big fan of the home team here on Bainbridge Island, and two of them caught my attention toward the end of 2012. Alphonso deKlerk seems to be hitting his stride at Rolling Bay Winery and Paul Bianchi is doing some beautiful wines at Amelia Wynn. Paul’s Sangiovese, sourced from Red Mountain, will stand up to any sangio in the state, IMHO.

Mannina Cellars – Totally flying below the radar in Walla Walla, Don Redman routinely knocks it out of the park at Mannina Cellars. His Cali blend is particularly compelling. Drinks like a $40 bottle, is a steal at $22 and you can find it from time to time at $18. Recent Spectator score: 93 pts. Any questions?

Alexandria Nicole – Jarrod Boyle, aka The Big Mon, usually has a whole bunch of interesting stuff up his sleeve. Example: Noble Rot, the fascinating wine-beer collaboration with Dog Fish Ales. I’m guessing that’s just the tip of the iceberg and we’ll be hearing more fun stuff from ANC in 2013.

I’m guessing … we’ll be hearing more fun stuff from ANC in 2013

Mark Ryan – No secret that Mark is putting out some excellent wines, but I’m more interested to see how his Walla Walla venture works out. I think he’s the first Woodinville winery to make the reverse commute and open a second TR in Walla Walla. Most people are going the other direction. Will others try it? Maybe we’ll find out in 2013.

Avennia – The buzz around Avennia is well deserved. Marty and Chris released their Rhones in late 2012 to great fanfare. The Bordeaux blends go public at their release weekend Feb. 9-10 in Woodinville. You’ll want to make sure this one’s on your calendar.

Stevens – Tim is crushing some late harvest Viognier, literally as we speak. Yowza!

This is one man’s impressions, and hardly an exhaustive list from the state’s 750+ wineries.

Now, tell me – which wineries have your attention going into 2013? I’m all ears, and would love to hear them.

Coming soon – thoughts and observations about WA wine regions I’m thinking about in 2013.

Notes, gossip & other fun stuff from Fall Release, Walla Walla style, in Washington wine country

Posted in Events, Wineries

Now that the fog has lifted from the whirlwind extravaganza that is Fall Release in Walla Walla, it’s time to share some news, gossip and observations picked up on the valley floor.

walla walla, fall release, wine washington

Assistant winemaker Kate Raymond check out Petit Verdot during press at Spring Valley

The real deal:  Want the authentic vineyard farming experience? Then schedule a tasting at the Spring Valley ranch. We rolled up around 10 a.m. Saturday to find Serge, Kate and their crew in the midst of crushing 13 tons, some of the last grapes to come off of SVV’s estate vineyards this season. Tony, who usually works the downtown tasting room, was on hand to pour for us and talk us through the various steps of crush. Kate or Serge would break from time to time to talk about what they were doing. One highlight: Tasting bright, freshly pressed Petit Verdot juice, and then tasting the newest wine in the SVV lineup, the 2010 Sharilee, a sublime 100 percent Petit Verdot. If you haven’t done the ranch experience at Spring Valley, stop wasting time and schedule it for your next visit.

Big eats at the MWH:  It’s always tough to get a dinner reservation during event weekends like Fall Release. Saffron is booked months in advance. Ditto for T.Macs, Whitehouse, Brasserie 4 and most everything else. Now the same rule applies to The Marc, the in-house restaurant at the Marcus Whitman Hotel. I ran into Brenda Mussman in the hotel lobby Sunday morning – she said the restaurant did more than 100 covers on Saturday night. No surprises there – the food has been evolving under the steady guidance of Chef Antonio Campolio and the reviews from patrons indicate that the efforts are paying off. And you thought it was all about the bacon at the MWH breakfast buffet, didn’t you?

It’s only rock ‘n roll:  When we stopped by Sleight of Hand late Saturday afternoon, Trey Busch couldn’t stop checking his watch. “Only 18 more minutes and I’m outta here,” he said. Turns out he was gearing up for a power run to Seattle to see the Afghan Whigs that night at the Showbox. The dude has some serious commitment to his music. However, he was gracious enough to throw some Tom Petty vinyl on his turntable by special request from someone in our party before he hit the road.

First stop in… Prosser:  We like to break up the drive from Bainbridge Island to Walla Walla by making a dinner stop at Wine O’Clock Wine Bar in Prosser. And why not? Ron Bunnell makes some of the best Rhone varietals in Washington State, his wife Susan has put together a pitch-perfect kitchen and service staff, and if you’re lucky, Dick Boushey may be lurking at his ‘reserved chair’ overlooking the spectator kitchen. The pizzas are inventive, seductive and ideal for two, and all of Ron’s wines are available on the menu by the bottle or glass without the standard restaurant mark-up. Susan led us through a great dinner + a couple glasses of wine, and we still made it to Public House 124 well before last call Friday night.

Over the top:  As you probably know (and probably regret if you procrastinated), Reynvaan has gone 100 percent allocation to the folks on their list. As a result, they did a private release event for list members only. In order to make it memorable, they poured every red wine that they’ve ever released. “Pace yourself,” Julie told me when she handed me the glass. “We’re pouring 22 wines.” (Hmmm, that’s 19 pours from the library bottlings and current releases, plus three barrel samples, if you’re keeping score at home.) “Since this is our first invitation-only release party, we wanted to do something memorable,” winemaker Matt Reynvaan told me. (Memo to Matt: Mission accomplished.) Once I had my glass, I made a beeline over to visit with Mike Reynvaan, who was pouring three vintages of Stoneessense, RFV’s mind-bending 100 percent syrah. I won’t even try to describe it other than to say if you can get your hands on a bottle of the ’09, don’t hesitate.

Looking good in latex:  One of the collector’s items from the weekend was the t-shirt commemorating harvest 2012 at Va Piano. It included the picture of Justin in his favorite candy apple vinyl jumpsuit (left). Just not sure if he dressed like that for the raging party Friday night at the winery. (Speaking of JW, we hope he’s doing well after appendix surgery on Monday.)

Top tees:  While we’re on the topic of t-shirts, two of my all-time favorite winery shirts are straight outta the valley. The super-cool logoed T from Dusted Valley is No. 1, but running a close second is the Eclipse long-sleeved t-shirt from SYZYGY. The planets are definitely aligned on this one – I only wish Zach would sell these via his Web site.

Apples, apples everywhere:  We try to make Watermill one of our regular stops, even though it’s a little off the beaten path (i.e., Milton Freewater) for wine touring in the valley. First, these guys are making some exquisite wines at terrific price points. Second, I always like to catch up with Ron Brown, the patriarch of the Brown family and the visionary behind the company’s booming cider and wine businesses. Ron exudes positive vibes and always seems to have a smile on his face. But he wasn’t at the winery when we stopped in – he was still knee-deep in harvest. Apple harvest, that is. The Brown’s primary business is apples – Earl Brown & Sons is the largest apple packer in Oregon. I caught up briefly with Ron via phone – he was in one of the orchards on Mount Fuji, supervising a crew of more than 100 apple pickers. He said this year’s apple harvest is one of the largest ever – kinda like the grape harvest.

Hot night:  One of the hot tickets Saturday night was the bonfire at aMaurice out on Mill Creek Road. The morning after, winemaker Anna Schafer said they completely exceeded expectations – nearly a couple hundred people shows up to enjoy Anna’s lovely wines around a roaring bonfire on a gorgeous late fall evening, complemented by homemade cassoulet whipped up by Anna’s mom Kathy. Anna says Kathy is planning cassoulet for 300 next year.

W-ville to WW:  The new Mark Ryan tasting room in downtown Walla Walla is doing well, says winemaker Mark McNeilly. It definitely has a killer location – immediately next to Starbucks and across Main Street from Olive Marketplace and the Otis Kenyon TR. Wineries from eastern Washington are springing up all over Woodinville, Seattle and even Kirkland. I wonder if any other Woodinville wineries are considering the reverse commute.

Top secret staff retreat:  Charles Smith doesn’t do anything halfway, even when it comes to staff outings. Last year, for example, he took the entire staff to New Orleans for a week for a staff retreat and ‘market research.’ I got the lowdown on the plans for this year’s staff event, but sorry folks, I’m sworn to secrecy. Suffice it to say that it’s going to be epic.

Favorite view:  I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite views of the Blue Mountains from the Northstar patio. You get a similar panorama from the Pepper Bridge deck or looking at the backdoor at the Girasol Inn. Well, just add Fjellene to the list. Not only is Matt Erlandson making some lovely wines, but his charming little winery offers a sweeping vista of the Blues. Definitely worth the stop.

Bacon, eggs & winemakers:  If you’re secretly a Walla Walla winemaker groupie, just hang around the town’s sublime breakfast joint, Bacon & Eggs, for a couple of hours. Sightings and conversations over Saturday and Sunday mornings included Devin Stinger (Adamant), Zach Brettler (SYZYGY), Anna Schafer (aMaurice), Mark McNeilly (Mark Ryan), Ross Mickel (Ross Andrew), Steve Kenyon (Otis Kenyon), Dave Stephenson (Stephenson) and Tom & Amy Glase (Balboa).

Pinot in the valley:  As I mentioned in my preview of Fall release, Chris Figgins of FIGGINS Family is sourcing grapes from Willamette Valley for a yet-to-be-released pinot noir. Turns out he’s not alone – Watermill also has a pinot in its lineup sourced from the Willamette Valley. It’s available only at the winery. “We’re an Oregon winery and people just figured that we’d have to have a pinot,” Ron Brown said. “So we did one.”

Ghostbusters: Rumor has it that Tom Glase of Balboa is about to unleash a new project called Eidolon, a new blend of Cab Sav, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot from their estate vineyard. It’s going to be accompanied by an enchantress called Wraith, a Malbec/Syrah blend from Pepper Bridge and Eidolon vineyards. Only 100 cases each and exclusive to wine club members. We didn’t have a chance to taste the juice, but we did peek at the labels and they’re simply stunning. Would love to see Tom or Amy turn them into posters.

DaMaNation:  I stuck my head into the new DaMa TR – it’s located just a couple of doors down from their old space on Main Street. The DaMa chicks, Dawn & Mary, definitely have something going on in the new space – it’s bright, colorful and spacious. It’s perfect for small- to medium-sized parties and events – I don’t know the event space in town all that well, but given the décor, size and location, Dawn & Mary may have a new revenue stream on their hands.

What, no hashtag?:  I was surprised that there was no ‘official’ event hashtag for Fall Release that would enable people to follow along with the festivities via Twitter. If there was, I missed it. There are some great Twitter participants in the Walla Walla wine community and it would have been fun to share the Fall Release experience with them and the larger WaWine community under one umbrella hashtag. An event hashtag should be SOP for any event organizer – in this case, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance – as they promote an event, as it creates value for consumers and winery participants alike.  As I said, I could have missed it.

Not enough time:  Fall Release in Walla Walla is one of those weekends that always hits on our wine tourism calendar and the more we do it, the more clear it becomes that we need more time to enjoy the experience. After blasting across the state and arriving Friday evening, we try to cram too much into Saturday and Sunday morning before reserving course Sunday afternoon. By the time we get to the ferry terminal Sunday evening, we’re toast. Gotta find a way to put another full day on the front end. But unfortunately reality… in the form of work… bites.


Yep, yours truly after another successful trip to Washington wine country.

Fall Release in Walla Walla: Suggestions on maximizing your WA wine weekend enjoyment

Posted in Events, Marketing, Social Media, Wineries

Yep, it’s time – Fall Release weekend in Walla Walla. If you’re like Mary Sue and me, this is one of those weekends that you look forward to each year. The town, the food, the wine, the weather (well, maybe) and all of the good friends … you can’t beat it.

I asked some of my winery buddies what’s up this weekend. In no particular order, here’s what they had to say. If you’re looking for details about times, tasting fees and the like, hit the links for all that.

Charles Smith / K Vintners – If you’re going to get it going, get it going right. Sir Charles kicks it off w/ Blues (Phil Lynch Trio) & BBQ Thursday night. He’s pouring special releases throughout the weekend at the downtown and winery locations.

And word is that Charles and a whole bunch of Valley winemakers will be in full effect at the 31st annual Walla Walla Valley Wine Tasting and Auction Friday night at the Marcus Whitman Hotel. At an event like that, some people may be interested in running their fingers through Charles’ hair, but I’m more interested in bidding on the 18-liter bottle of merlot from Canoe Ridge in the silent auction. Proceeds benefit Planned Parenthood in the valley, a worthy cause.

Watermill – One of the valley’s hidden gems is having its Fall Release party from 5-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. Some new releases + the opportunity to pick up fall club shipments. Ask for Ron Brown and give him a noogie for me.

DunhamMike and Joanne Dunham are some of the nicest people in the valley, unless of course you are opposing them in a couples match on the golf course. Word is that they’re pulling some library and Lewis Vineyard tastings on Saturday and Sunday. Five bucks tasting fee unless you’re a club member. Stop by – Eric may be showing off the new addition to the family.

Woodward Canyon – Look no further than Lowden if you want the full-meal deal. Sensational wines (‘natch) and Rick will be baking bread in the wood-fired oven outside of the tasting room. It’s worth the price of admission, believe me. Oh, wait – about the wines. A whole bunch on the menu & some killer deals, but the special library pour – 2005 Estate Red magnum – caught my eye. Get some!

FIGGINS – Yep, that’s right … FIGGINS, as in Leonetti. The FIGGY bunch is pouring the orgasmic ’09 Estate Red in the tasting studio Friday and Saturday. But if that ain’t enough, get this – they’re also previewing Chris’ secret project: an ’11 Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. That’s right, a Pinot project in the Walla Walla Valley. I am not making this up.

Dusted Valley – You want a party? Then head directly to DVV and do not pass go! This place rocks during Fall Release. Corey & Chad are pouring a ton of great wines (hey, it’s DVV, right?), but the magic is in the grill, the killer buffet, the band and the magician. If you can figure this guy out, let me know. Small entry fee for non-members, but worth it.

aMaurice – Mill Creek Road is one of my favorite spots in the valley, if for no other reason that you get to stop by aMaurice. Anna is pouring current releases through the weekend, but their happy place will be Saturday afternoon with a bonfire party, a band, some light munchies and beautifully styled wines. It’s a wine club gig, but stop by and become a club member if you need to – the ambiance will be worth it.

Canoe Ridge – I’m making a beeline to Canoe Ridge, only because I want to taste ‘Turtle wine.’ This is their secret stash – 120 bottles of 1.5L mags of ’07 Holiday Cuvee, a merlot-dominant library blend with a turtle on the label. When it’s gone, it’s gone. TR manager John Klein promises some other surprises + some drop-dead pricing on mix-&-match cases. Holiday shopping in one quick swipe of the VISA card – gotta love it!

SYZYGY – Who cares if you can’t pronounce it – Zach makes stunning wines. And he’s pouring a bunch of them, including a new release that’s supposed to be for Eclipse Club members only. I’m guessing he’ll hook you up if you ask nicely.

Skylite – Ashley, Cheryl & Co. have it going on all weekend, and it’s all about merlot. A special ’08 release on Friday followed by a special ’05-’08 vertical tasting on Saturday, along with special bottle and case pricing. Need another reason to stop by? How about Big Hiney Red, a fat WW Valley blend, at $120 / case? ‘Nuff said!

DaMa – The DaMa chicks, Dawn & Mary, are getting after it with a red-carpet, Hollywood style party on Saturday night. But try to get there early – as in Thursday night early – for a special jewelry show featuring local WW artist Sally Shafer. Want some wine instead of baubles? It’s 10 percent off all wine sales Thursday night.

Long Shadows – Tasting appointments usually are the order of the day at this stunning winery, but not this weekend. Gilles is pouring a trio of knee-buckling 95-pointers – 08 Sequel, 09 Pedestal, 09 Pirouette. Just make sure you don’t bump into any of the Chihuly glass exhibits when you’re swooning over the wines.

Basel Cellars – Ned Morris & crew are pouring some great juice paired up throughout the weekend with catering from Chef Jake Crenshaw (T.Maccarone’s/ Olive). Wine club members get to swirl library selections in the Basel Cellars’ old-school rock’n roll museum on Saturday. Ned’s doing some v-cool stuff these days, so it’s definitely worth the stop.

Chocolate Shop – Need a sweet-tooth pick-me-up after all that red wine? Stop by Chocolate Shop on Main Street to sample one of the hottest wine brands in the U.S. Grab a mocha at Starbucks and then cross the street for some choco-licious red wine. Guaranteed buzz through the weekend.

Sleight of Hand – No idea how to begin to interpret this, so I’ll just quote Trey Busch directly: “At Sleight of Hand, we will be playing music a little louder than a normal tasting room. Justin Wylie will be performing his puppet show at 2 p.m. Saturday. And a well-planned orgy will commence Saturday night at 10 p.m. Be there or be …. Well, you know.” No idea what he’s talking about, do you? And since when are orgies well-planned?

Our party rolls into the valley Friday night and at some point we’ll stumble into the Southside triangle of Sleight of Hand, Saviah and Balboa. Great wines across the board but the good news? You can walk between all three wineries. I’m particularly interested in Balboa as Tom is rolling out some new wines with new labels (right) and Amy is showing off some of her new artwork in the tasting room. Could be an expensive visit.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Fall Release activities this weekend in the Walla Walla Valley – just the ones that I gathered from a request for information last week. More info is available from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance or from other bloggers.

Missing the boat on real-time marketing during Fall Release

One final thought: There are a lot of great events planned this weekend, but the marketing for Fall Release somehow seems so, so, so … old-fashioned. I’m wondering if anyone will be trying real-time marketing during Fall Release in this era of social media savvy wine buyers? Seems like a no-brainer opportunity to me.

I’m wondering if anyone will be trying real-time marketing during Fall Release in this era of social media savvy wine buyers?

It might work like this. A winery pays attention to the Twitter and Facebook conversations during Fall Release, then pushes out a “Twitter special” several times during the weekend. Maybe a 20 percent discount on a case from noon-2 p.m. on Saturday or opening a special 3-liter at 3 p.m. or offering a one-time discount on consumers who join the wine club between 3-5 p.m. and mention a special code name.

Sure, you have to pay attention to social media when your tasting room is buzzing, but what an incredible opportunity to create new customer relationships and reinforce your brand in a crowded marketplace. This is marketing / PR that’s fast, inexpensive and measurable. Talk about high-value ROI!

Maybe it will happen this weekend – if so, I’m curious to see what happens.

One last-minute plea to the weekend’s organizers at the WWVWA – create an event hashtag ASAP. Maybe something along the lines of #FallReleaseWW. Of course, if I’ve missed it, my bad – then please publicize it via #wawine.

PS – if you’re headed over for Fall Release this weekend, hit me at @bob_silver. Would love to hear what you’re tasting and enjoying.