Saturday, July 31, 2010

Updating on Pruning the Haut Tubee

Back in January I wrote a detailed blog about pruning the vines in the backyard:

Pruning the Haut Tubee

I've been meaning to get an update together to show the results of the pruning and supply the 'why' to what we did.

This is the before on one of the vines that I described as a part three year old part four year old vine.

This is the same vine today with fruit hanging in what is called the fruit zone and the shoots going up into the trellis system.

This us the entire vine and some charcoal for the smoker in front of the hot tub. The green growth has created a curtain of leafs with the fruit hanging below.

This was a head trained vine that we were trying to retrain into a Cordon and Spur VSP trained vine.

This is the same vine with new cordons established. There's a little less fruit on this vine at this stage. Next year with the retraining complete, it will look like the vine above.

Changing the training on a vine is tricky and requires a lot of experience and understanding of how a vine grows. If you have that though the results can be great.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Vegas Baby!!!!!!!!!

The world has strange karma.

It wasn't more than 24 hours after I published this rant about public wine events and compared them to rock concerts that Colleen from Rock and Roll Wine invited us to their big event of the year - Wine Amplified.

We attended one RnR Wine event before and really had a great time. They've invited us back a few other times but we just could not fit it in our schedule. With harvest looking like it's running late this year though, the last weekend in September opened up for us. Part of why I really like this event is that Chris Hammond, the promoter, does treat the wineries like we're an attraction. He only asks that we bring enough wine to be able to pour through the event, no fees. He puts together great shows, great venues and does an awesome job.

The wine industry is struggling so hard to figure out how to market to people under 35. People in the industry ask me a lot on my ideas and how we've been successful at it and my answer is always the same: "You should talk to Chris Hammond, he's the freaking genius of wine marketing to people under 35."

I also really enjoy working with Colleen La Prade. She handles all the winery coordination and is about 50 times more organzied and professional than any other organizer we've ever worked with. "Colleen I need someone to ship too, Colleen can I get help pouring, Colleen we need a room?" - The answer is always either, "No problem I've already got that set up , or give me 24 hours and I'll get that set up".

The headline act this year is Third Eye Blind and the concert will be on the beach at Mandalay Bay. We will be in the main beach area pouring, and Colleen has set up some help for us so we can visit more with people at the table. There are special room rates at Mandalay Bay and the Luxor.

Please let us know if you're coming! It will be a great party!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Monkey Butt Cuvee or Meritage

Paul has been bantering online about the value of using the term Meritage on a label. He came up with Monkey Butt Cuvee as an alternative and we had a few good laughs over it.

At least Monkey Butt can be pronounced and there is no wondering what it means. It's not a great example, but what does Meritage mean?

Nevermind what it means, if you don't know, it's not a big deal and you are not alone. I don't like it for one reason and one reason only, it alienates a good portion of the wine-buying population and makes wine that much scarier to the uninitiated.

Wine is a beautiful accompaniment to food, on it's own, for every day consumption, or for special occasions. You can make it a big deal or it can be casual. You can buy all the accessories, the fancy stemware, sexy openers, and blown glass decanters, or you can unscrew the top of your favorite bottle and pour it into just about any vessel to imbibe.

Whatever you choose, the one thing that wine should not do is confound, confuse, or intimidate you. It is my opinion that the word Meritage does those things.

The most valuable lesson I learned in a public speaking course was "know your audience" and so I'm not going to overly criticize those wineries that use Meritage on their labels, because they are speaking to their audience.

At Stefania Wine, we will not label any of our red blends as Meritage, but do watch for a version of Haut Tubee Monkey Butt Cuvee, or maybe MBC since I bet TTB has a field day with "Butt" on the label...

On The Road Again -Well on the Bike Anyways

I love that song. Every road trip we ever takes starts out with me humming it.

We're just about eight weeks away from harvest starting for us. It's time to open training camp. That's how I'm going to think of it anyway. I actually wrote a blog about 49ers training camps when I was growing up. The 49ers start training camp next week so it seems like a good parallel for Harvest Training Camp.

We had done pretty good through the spring and early summer with staying up on the gym. July we took a lazy break of about three weeks. I'm not sure how lazy it actually was, we had vineyard work and winery work during that time, but we hadn't visited the gym in 3 weeks.

Starting this past Monday though I was back on the exercise bike. My plan is to ride it every day until September 8th. Just taking off Sunday each week. Not long rides, just 30 -60 minutes each day. We've started up the hike schedule as well and are trying to get in 2-3 a week.

The goal is to build up the endurance we'll need for harvest. I've been focusing on heart rate while I'm on the bike and trying to keep it at 120-125. Leg strength and stamina is really what gets you through harvest so the bike and hiking are perfect.

Usually its not a good idea to exercise every day. The body really does better with some days off to recover, but I think this training camp approach. like the NFL uses, should work well. We start traveling on September 8th, about the same time NFL teams will get out of their training routine and into regular season routines. We will do the same. We'll cut back on gyms and hikes then and use our energy for harvest days. The rest will be in between those busy days and we'll only hike or gym when we see stretches longer than 3-4 days between the busy harvest days.

My hope is that I personally come out a little less tired in November than I did last year. We made it through the harvest great, and I never felt worn out, but by late November we were worn down. I hope this approach, planning on building continual endurance, then planning on rest periods during harvest, will mean less fatigue at the very end.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

About Pauls Rants

I'm under the sneaking suspicion that Paul thinks if he mentions Salma Hayek enough times in his blog that she might actually show up! I'm his wife, I'm supposed to support those dreams and fantasies right? Well, I humor him anyway... (wink, wink)

Anyway, to continue the rant somewhat, the other day on our way to the antique show in Moss Landing, we passed a church that was advertising for an upcoming arts and craft fair. It was $25 for the artists to set up a table at the event. I thought, this is what Paul is complaining about. The artist/crafter at least has the potential to make $25 in sales to cover the cost of the table while he/she is at the event. It's not guaranteed, but at least they can sell their wares at the table.

The best we can do at a wine event is hope we sell wine to a future customer because you are most definitely not allowed to sell at the event. No no no. Sure people sign up for the mailing list, cards are exchanged, hands are shaken, but most people coming by are there for the fun of the event, not the opportunity to buy or obtain wine they'll never see on the supermarket shelf.

I'm not sure what else to add to that - it's not a fully formed thought, maybe that's all I have.

This morning while getting coffee at Espresso City, the owner asked if we would like to host a tasting on his patio one night after work. Heck yes! But...I need to call ABC and find out how to get him a temporary alcohol license, otherwise, no go.

Tomorrow night we are pouring at non-profit event and donating our time and wine to a cause we both support personally. The winery gets the write-off but that's not the point of attending. We are there to support our community - and if we're lucky, Salma Hayek will come by and say hello...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sabor Del Valle - July 29th

We've been invited to pour at Sabor Del Valle in San Jose - check out the flyer and follow the link at the bottom if you're interested in attending. Paul and I have been actively following the Latino Art Community so this is a great opportunity for us to participate locally and share our art too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Just Stuff

I took Friday off. Actually, I took the entire weekend off now that I think about it. And it felt gooood.

Friends of friends were visiting from Virginia so we piled into two cars and drove over to the coast. After goofing off trying to fly a kite at Gazos Creek beach access, we drove up to Pescadero and had lunch at Duartes. Best crab sandwich in over 20 years. Just sayin'.

Visited the Harley Goat Farm and treated myself to some homemade soaps, 4 different cheeses, brown eggs, and wildflower honey. I didn't think that anything could top the crab sandwich, but this was by far the highlight of of the weekend. I'm a Capricorn, and love goats...go figure.

On Saturday, we confirmed our participation at the Las Vegas Rock N Roll wine event for September. I'll have more info. on that soon. If you're interested, it's Saturday the 25th at Mandalay Bay. Rock On!

Sunday we got stuck in traffic on our way to Moss Landing for the Antique was on the list of things I'd like to do, but after staying out late Friday AND Saturday night (oooh), I was in no mood to wake up early just to look at old stuff. It wasn't too cold, damp, or foggy but it was cold, damp and foggy. Found some small Bauer pieces I almost bought, but nothing that stood out that I just had to have. Maybe next time.

I'm stupefied that July is wrapping up summer ever going to get here? I know the folks back east are sweltering, but someone needs to turn off the a/c out here already.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Veraison & Poppies

More poppies keep popping up! This is Paul's favorite flower, so when I see them coming up I make sure to point them out to him. It's the simple things in life, yes? Keeps him from ranting too much...

Also in the vineyard, veraison! I need to look back through the vineyard notebooks to be sure, but I think we're about two weeks behind "normal" for our estate vineyard here in San Jose.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is It Too Soon to Rant Again?

I asked Stefania that via email at lunch today. She said just "as long as you alternate the rants and don't bash the industry too much".

I had this posting in mind:

It explained why we won't do public tasting events any more. Since that posting we've been invited to about a dozen public events. I think it's time to modify our policy some. We will only do public events that do not charge the winery to attend. Of course that's like saying we'll only give away free wine to people named Salma Hayek who stop by our house. We're pretty sure Selma is not dieing to stop by, and a public wine event that doesn't charge the wineries is about as rare as having a Hollywood starlet come by for a visit.

I was thinking about that reading the Rolling Stone last night. Which by the way the Rolling Stone has the very best political and foreign affairs writing in the country today. Even if you don't like the political views, no other publication comes close to the depth and impact of the reporting going on at the Stone. Anyway, back to the main rant, there was a column on all the summer rock festivals.

It got me thinking. Do they charge the rock bands to play at those events? Do the promoters tell the bands: "We've got a huge audience of your target market lined up to come, just give us $10000 and we'll charge them $50 each and let you play for them"?

The wine is the attraction at a wine tasting isn't it? If you had a wine tasting with no wine, would anyone attend? It just seems we've been doing it backwards in the wine industry for a long time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pork Emergency!

A couple of years ago Stefania and I were shopping early one Saturday morning at our local market. They had a special on pork butt. I think it was 99 cents a pound.

I stood in the market for a long time wondering what to do. This same market will have prime rib on sale from time to time at $7-$8 a pound. Once they even hit $5 a pound. That's an easy buy. A prime rib I can cut up. I can make steaks or I can cut it into smaller roasts and freeze it for later. Pork butt though really should not be cut up. It's best cooked long, slow and whole. Our freezer is small, and mostly used for cocktail equipment, so freezing a pork butt isn't really a good idea.

What to do, I wondered? "Pork Emergency, Pork Emergency"!! That's what we did. We bought it and sent out a message to a few friends - "Pork emergency, come help us eat this thing."

Well it happened again on Saturday. The market had good looking butts and St Louis Style ribs at 2 for 1. It was time for a Pork Emergency.

Sunday morning Stefania and I broke up an old barrel to use for smoke and we put the pork on about 9AM. This was at about 1PM when I took the ribs off the smoke.

I like to let ribs stay on the smoker for about 4 hours, then remove them and finish them on the grill. I find the fat does not render down to my liking on the smoker alone. I do the same with pork butt, but don't feel like I've got in down 100% yet. I did 6 hours on the smoker, then three in the oven at higher temperature. I would have liked to get the fat rendered down a bit more. Maybe next time I'll do it Carnitas style and return the meat to the oven at 450 degrees for 20 minutes after chopping it up to get it slightly crispy.

In the mean time, watch your emails and texts for the next Pork Emergency!

Seems like we drank more wine than that...or we're starting to slow down a bit. :-)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cooking with Okra, what no wine??

All I know about cooking with fresh okra is that it can be weird and there are techniques used to avoid it getting gummy.

I didn't bother to research it further and followed my instinct last night. Maybe it was the gin martini talking (Hendricks with a slice of cucumber)

In a hot skillet I browned chicken pieces, added garlic, onion, fennel, and red bell peppers.
When it got too hot and sizzly, I poured a little white wine into the pan and gave it a toss.
Added sliced shiitake mushrooms and sliced okra then poured a lemongrass/soy mixture over everything and covered it. Walked away for 30 minutes while it burbled on medium low heat.

Shared the last half of a bottle of sake with Paul...(previously opened)

Added fresh snow peas and raw bok choy, covered and let steam/burble another 15 minutes.

When the snow peas and bok choy got added, Paul started a pot of asian noodles.

I don't know if it was because the okra was super fresh or because I sliced it lengthwise and let it mostly steam, but it was perfect.

We shared this feast in front of the t.v. while watching a past episode of Anthony Bourdain shooting guns in Texas with Ted Nugent. A classic episode and one I like to quote often.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bad Grapes Gone Wild

Last night Stefania and I were back in Morgan Hill for a dinner meeting at a local pub down there. As we parked Stefania spotted these growing on the fence that divides the property lines. Unlike the bright healthy plants from our bike ride, these were withered and browning from powdery mildew.

This is an advanced stage of the disease. The white powder of the early stages has turned brown and dirty. The leafs have started to curl and die. Growth is stunting the plant and the mildew has spread to the grapes.

The berries are underdeveloped and will not get ripe. You can see the leafs starting to curl here, the first step in their death. The plant will survive through next year and onwards after that, but it will not produce any ripe fruit. The berries you see here will turn brown in a few months and fall off.

We had started the evening though with a more hopeful sight. We visited the Sesson vineyard in Coyote Valley. Jerry had spent the day tieing down new cordons and we were checking on his progress. The vineyard needs another mowing, but it seems to be fully recovered from the training mishap of last year and should produce some fruit next year.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Plan

I know most wineries, and almost all small businesses start off without a written business plan. Truth is our initial plan consisted of a lot of excel spreadsheets, a business plan template with my hand written modifications scribbled in and my memory. I had it all pulled together in a small blue binder. To anyone but me and Stefania it probably looked like a scrapbook.

We knew enough though to break the plan out into phases. This would let us focus on smaller goals while still keeping the longer ones in focus. It would also guide us on choices we made, acting as a road map to make sure things we were doing matched our short term goals and supported our longer term ones.

Here's what our original phases, time lines and goals looked like:

Phase I – Original Projection 2005-2012

In Phase I of our business plan our key success criteria were: Establish a brand, grow our mail order customer list to 500 names, secure long term vineyard sources, make high quality wine, achieve high customer loyalty and satisfaction, start distribution sales and reach a cash flow positive state at a production level of 600-800 cases per year.

Phase II – Original Projection 2012-2019

In Phase II of our business plan our key objectives are: Move into a dedicated urban facility, handle 100% of our own production, grow our mailing list to 1500 names, establish a wine club and grow it to 200+ names, expand our restaurant and retail presence to 100+ locations and maintain a cash flow positive state and profitability at a production level of 1200-2000 cases per year.

Phase III – Original Projection 2015-

In Phase III of our business plan our key objectives are: Purchase and plant an Estate Vineyard in the Uvas Valley/Uvas Canyon area of the Santa Cruz Mountains with a total property size of not less than 30 acres and a vineyard size of 8-12 acres. Bring that vineyard to bearing by 2019 and build an Estate Winery with a tasting room and event hosting facilities by 2019. Maintain profitability at a production level of 3000-5000 cases.

I'm busy working on a revision now because we feel that we'll met all the goals we laid out for Phase I in 2010. We're laying out the ground work and plan for Phase II and seeing if it is possible to move the time line up by a year. The small blue binder has been scrapped for a 50+ page document complete with financial forecasts, budget projects, marketing plans and 100's of other details.

We've started to meet with bankers and sought out advise on attracting investors to help fund the next round of expansion. We think we have a solid plan and a good story to tell. It reminds me though of two quotes from two different CEO's I've worked for. Quote #1; "Now it's about executing flawlessly". Quote #2; "The most important quarter of your life is this one". I think both sum up exactly where we are at.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Closing Q2

Stefania has been busy working on the books for Q2. A few months ago I shared our Q1 results in this blog.

We are still looking at the numbers as preliminary but they should be 99% accurate at this point. Our sales were up 8% from Q2 of last year, and that makes it a record Q2. Wholesale sales were actually up more than direct sales at 8.5% compared to Q2/09 and up over 50% from Q1 of this year. We've already passed total wholesale sales from 2009.

We are just half way though the year but it looks like we're on track for a record breaking 2010 across all our sales channels. Being conservative in projections at this point it looks like we will be up at least 40% and that wholesale sales will be up over 100%.

Our success thus far in 2010 has put me to work updating our business plan. No small task, our revised plan will top out over 60 pages! I'll have some details tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Grapes Gone Wild

Sunday Stefania and I slept in late. We had no plans for the 4th of July and by 11:45 we were wondering what to do. The temps had reached the low 90's so a few hours out in the sun doing hard exercise seemed like a good plan!

We hooked up the bike rack, packed a picnic lunch, loaded on the bikes and headed to Coyote Creek Trail for a 21 mile bike ride. Yep, more than a little nuts and Stef got over hot on the last 5 miles. We stopped for lunch half way though and had a nice picnic by the river.

On our way back down the trail my shoe lace got tangled in my sprocket and I had to stop along side the trail. Stefania spotted this growing along the river right where we stopped.

They are grapes growing wild along the river bank. I looked around to see if there was any sign of a past vineyard and there really wasn't. Most likely some time, perhaps as long as 40-50 years ago, some grapes washed down the creek from a vineyard up the valley and took root here. It's also possible that birds 'deposited' seeds along the banks.

In the wild, and left to their own, grapes take a long time to get established. All kinds of critters feed on the leafs, and in a dense riverside canopy they have to struggle for sunlight. It takes four years to get a plant established in a vineyard, it can easily take 20 in the wild. Eventually though the plant will do what it has evolved to do and climb up a tree for sunlight. This one had finally climbed to the top of a young sycamore.

Once the vine gets its leafs up in the sun, it will finally set fruit. In the wild the fruit set will usually be poor and spotty like you see below. But then the plant only needs to get a little fruit out there to reproduce. Once it's firmly established it will set more fruit.

Our final picture is a stop we took along the trail. You can see the picnic loaded up on Stef's bike. I was trying to take a picture of a very curious young buck across the trail, not 15 feet away, but as I pulled out my camera, another bike came along and scared him off.

I'm sure we will be back on the trail again this summer, maybe just not on so hot a day.