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THE QUICKSAND OF MY HEADSPACE (MONDAY BLUES ALL DAY LONG)

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I was laying in bed last night, listening to the various fireworks shows going on up and down the street from my house (and trying to keep my elderly cat, Sera, from clawing my face off from fright – she didn’t enjoy all the boom-boom’s outside), I was thinking about all of those “where do we go from here” scenarios.  I’ve been at this blogging thing for over two years now, and after 700 posts, I wonder, WTF?

With all of the Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, etc., my head is still spinning.  My training for it all has to have been trying to pay attention to the Feline herd that roams the plains of my townhome’s three floors.  My crazy 8 as my lovely wife and I call them, have provided us with infinite comedic moments, several scary episodes, some tragedies and enormous joy.  If my cats have done nothing else for me, to quote one of my all-time favorite movies, THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLAINE, they are “an island of reality in an ocean of diarrhea.”

Spinning plates, my wife calls it, when more than two demand attention, and I find myself petting one with the left hand, one with the right hand, and more-or-less, gently headbutting whichever one wanders into the middle of this silliness.  In the mornings, I placate them with the leftover milk from my cereal bowl, and always I am stopping in my tracks to tell them they’re silly/handsome/pretty/sweet/my baby.  I know, a grown man copping to all this sickly-sweet mollification must seem nauseating, but I am a huge softy when it comes to animals.  BIG TIME softy.  Besides, they expect it.  You never know when they are going to rock your world by you coming home one day, finding them sitting on the couch, remote in paw, with a bottle of wine, and 10 empty cans of tuna underfoot, looking perturbed at you, and saying, “where the fuck have you been?”

So each day, for the last couple of years, thanks to good friends and technophiles Dale and Michelle, I have been apeshit for social media.  The virus spread to the store, which now sports its own Facebook and Twitter pages.  It’s funny.  Now when you watch commercials for everything from restaurants to bathroom cleaners, they say they’re on Facebook and/or Twitter.  Social media seems highly contagious.  If only my Dad could experience all of this.

I can remember when I was a sophomore in High School (back in 1983) you were just starting to here about smaller computers, and my dad would bring one from work to do projects at home.  It was about the size of a small wine fridge, and weighed about as much.  You used floppy discs, MS-DOS programming, and the screens had that day-glo orange tint to it that reminds you of staring into a bowl full of Mr. Clean® Orange.  I used to play this computer role-playing game on it that wasn’t completely finished so it would stick in the middle of the adventure, which totally sucked.  We’ve come a long way from floppy discs in really, a very short time.

Cats, social media, Andrew Dice Clay, high school reminiscing – all this ranting really does mean Monday, I guess.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, social media… I am wondering if it is really all worth it sometimes, because the goal of all of this is to keep folks informed of all the crazy things that go on in this business, yet at least in my case, I find myself stuck during all the slow times – those times when nothing new is coming in, there are no allocations, there is nothing new in the way of wine news, and I can only talk to folks so much about this wine or that.

Times like these, I need to go home, through some bacon-wrapped meat of some kind on the grill, and crack open an ice cold beer.

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A FEW MORE NOTES FROM THE FESTIVAL

Getting back to my brief foray at the 2010 CIWF Trade tasting, I stopped by the Marc de Grazia table (one of my favorite Italian importers) where old friend Margaret Scholz of Vintner Select was pouring.  I tried the Domenico Clerico Barbera Trevigne 2006, which was an amazing Piedmont red, and the Piaggia Carmignano Riserva 2004, a massive Sangiovese/Cabernet blend from Tuscany.  My next stop was at Vintner Select’s French Import table, helmed by VS French buyer Katie Schoeny, where I tried a couple of incredible hidden gems being poured by .  I tried the Clos du Mont Olivet Cotes du Rhone Varene 2007, a 100% Syrah that was just incredible.  Also really good was the Gerard Raphet Bourgogne Rouge 2007, a delicious red Burgundy.

One thing I have to say is that the trade event is more like an industry party, with cohorts and competitors gathering amidst a decadent orgy of grape juice and cheap nosh, basically to talk shop.  Sometimes when I go to these things, I have the intent to be “all-business” and just taste new things, but as I said before, it never fails; you fall into conversation and the wine tasting goes by the wayside.

And that is fine, but then, as I was talking to Mike Rosenberg (from The Naked Vine) at the store Saturday morning, there are those individuals at these types of events that just sort of shove you out of the way and with all their swagger and bravado, claim to be “King of the Mountain” and force all comers to look elsewhere.  It is their world and you simply have the good fortune of taking up space in it.  They are rude not only to their fellow wine geeks, but to the hosts and the guest pourers, who have given up a helluva lot of their time and energy to be here in Cincinnati to share their wines with us.  The whole nobody-cares-shut-up-and-pour-the-damn-wine mentality is one of the real reasons I have grown jaded with the event.

Moving on, I stopped by the Fosters Wine table to say hello to old friend Jim Diana was pouring some great stuff.  The Etude Pinot Noir Rose Carneros 2009, which was simply stunning, and the really nice yet limited St. Clement Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2008 were both a great way to get into the swing of things.  I also tried the Taz Pinot Gris Santa Barbara 2008, Souverain Chardonnay Alexander Valley 2008, Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate 2007 (one of my favorites for the day), and the Chateau St. Jean Merlot Sonoma County 2006.  I was even there long enough to get a picture taken with Jim.

Stumbling around through the crowd, I made it over to the Ste. Michelle table where another old friend, Lisa Sweeney was hanging out and pouring Nicolas Feuillatte, Erath and Antinori wines alongside some great stuff from Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle.  I tried the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé NV, which was stunning, as well as the absolutely amazing Columbia Crest Reserve Walter Clore Red 2005 (another favorite) and the Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Reserva 2005.

My last stop was at the Riondo USA table, where good friend Jill Leslie was showing off the new Riondo Pinot Grigio 2009, Riondo Pianello Rosso 2008 and the Riondo Amarone 2005 – all phenomenal values in Venetian wines.  The Riondo Pinot Grigio is half-the-price of Santa Margherita and just kicks its ass in taste.  Dropping by the table was another good friend John Erickson, the man the myth the legend, my pimp for all things Hahn Family Estates, who had another close brush with the other side last summer.  It was good to see him up-and-around and as crazy as ever.

I managed to get all this in within two hours before creeping back to the store.  I was just looking for some nappy time, so I heeded the call of Starbucks and drowned in a tall cup of coffee before making it back to the store in time for our own in-store wine tasting.  It is funny how after so many years of all these trade events, I can seemingly skip the buzz and go straight to ready-for-bed.

The final destination was to a good friend’s gig at a little dive bar in Northern Kentucky, but upon my arrival at the homestead, my comfortable couch took me unbeknownst into dreamland – the pratfalls of the job I guess.

My overall view of the CIWF is still a bit jaded, though I heard some good things from several of my staff who also went, and some friends in the biz.  Most certainly, good friends Mike Rosenberg of The Naked Vine and Michelle Lentz and Kevin Gerl of My Wine Education, should have some great posts regarding the event as well.

I definitely wouldn’t be paying the big price tag for the Grand Tastings runs around $70, so I guess I can be thankful for being part of the trade, but I still feel there are many things the committee could do to improve the event, like incorporate our local restaurants into the show somehow, and include more of the small distributor houses.  But that is just me.  And who am I really?  Right?  That’s the feeling I am left with every year, and every year, like some twisted masochist, I go back for more.  Oh well, maybe next year it will be better.  And maybe I will get to taste a bit more.  Groan groan bitch moan.

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WINE BLOGGING WON’T MAKE ME RICH (AND I’M ALRIGHT WITH THAT)

I have been trying to stay out of the convoluted fray that is the print media wine writers vs. wine bloggers squabble for a while now.  After all, I am realistically a wine blogger with a miniscule local following, and a few fellow bloggers in various parts of the country who peek in periodically, and I am alright with that fact.  I am not really out to be the next wine writing icon, nor am I really interested in being counted amongst the pinnacle of wine writers like Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, the guys at Wine Spectator, and so on.  I am alright with that fact.  I realize that it will take a monumental act of God for me to actually make a living writing my wine blog – but it was never my intent to “get rich” with this thing I’ve come to call “Under the Grape Tree.”

I write about wine because 1) I happen to be extremely passionate about wine and love talking about it, 2) I am better communicating said passion by writing as opposed to talking (I have something of a William Shatner-exaggerated-pauses-between syllables-speech-issue), 3) I am really a frustrated writer, and most importantly 4) I enjoy writing about wine. 

While many of my blogging brethren are striving for credibility and believability, my wine blogging is merely an extension of what I do and have done in this business for nearly two decades.  I’ve talked about my career in food & beverage, but I don’t have to trot out my credentials all the time – except when folks like Wine Spectator editor Thomas Matthews comment on my little blog.  The belief that all wine bloggers are created equal by the print media is a bit ridiculous, and folks like Robert Parker and Anthony Diaz Blue have lambasted bloggers for being rather insignificant in the world of wine writing, and in some ways, they are right.  Yet everyone starts somewhere, right?  What was Parker when he started his magazine?  And what about Marvin, Thomas and the gang at Spectator?  Steve Heimoff from Wine Enthusiast has embraced blogging though often there are rumblings about how he too looks down at other bloggers.

Through social media, I have connected with a lot of great people, all of whom have a shared passion for wine and for how wine enhances their lives and lifestyles.  From my local wine blogging friends Michelle Lentz, Jonathan Seeds, Mike Rosenberg, Tim Lemke and Tom Johnson, to more recognized wine bloggers like Joe Roberts, Jeff Lefevre, Alder Yarrow and Katie Pizzuto, there is an infinite number of wine blogs worthy a read, and I try to list them in my blogroll as best as I can even though there are thousands.  The print media is but one source in an infinite number of sources people can use to find out more about wine, whether it is a particular brand, a specific region, or just a certain grape.  To me, wine is a lot like music, literature, art in that there is truly something for everyone, and not everything is going to be liked by everyone.  While there are some pretty terrible blogs out there (not just about wine), there are some great ones.

A lot of bloggers tend to get up in arms whenever the print media assault starts up again, and I too have fallen prey to the allure of the fight, but I’ve now been at this for two years (really not that long a time) but in that short span, I have learned a few things.  I know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the print media sources are going to be around for a long time.  Bloggers will have to continue their long, arduous evolution toward mainstream, and that may take some of them into an actual career in the industry, in order to facilitate their own wine writing transformation.

And while it is nice to be liked, and for people to want to know what you have to say, sometimes, it is better just to worry about yourself and what you’re doing than to worry what the masses think of you.  It’s like driving.  To get where you want to go, you need to keep your eyes on the road, adhere to all the rules of the road, and make sure to respect the folks around you. 

Perhaps it’s my playground peacemaker emerging, but I have grown tired of the entire hullabaloo.  I have come to realize that raging against wine ratings is, um, pointless, and that until a system is created we are stuck with this one.  Until we devise a way to communicate taste telepathically to prospective customers, we are fixed with using the ambiguous cornucopia of descriptors with liberal overuses (or abuses) of words like “hedonistic” and “varietal” vs. “variety.”

Just like our government, it may be broken, but it’s all we have right now.  So as a collective, we should be working toward a better way to educate and inform, attracting new wine drinkers, and creating a more universal, more united love of wine.   Besides, there are a lot of more major issues we need to be concerned about in the world right now, don’ you think.  After all, we are only talking about grape juice.

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WBW #65: SNOW DAY WINES

Michelle Lentz of My Wine Education is hosting this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday with the topic being your favorite “Snow Day Wine.”  Now the folks in Florida and in other southern states or other more tropical locales might not understand a Snow Day, but here in the Midwest, a Snow Day is a mini-vacation bestowed upon us by the local Weather guy and Mother Nature.  While we hate being stuck in the snow, if we are in the confines of our own home, it can be a beautiful thing.

So in keeping with the spirit of a Snow Day Wine, I’ll go with it and give you what would be my perfect snow day.

Waking up to Morning Express with Robin Wood and brewing a cup of Seven Hills “D.E.P.’s Blend” coffee (a mix of cinnamon hazelnut and Highlander Grogg), I discover there is a level 3 Snow Emergency, which means you are prohibited by law from going on the roads.  You go out, you get a ticket.  Period.  So, I finish my cup of coffee and get my morning news, and head back up to bed with the wife and the cats.

Sleeping till Noon, we get up, and stare out the window, watching the continuing descending of God’s dandruff on the world, turning on the TV to watch some kung-fu movie and dozing for another hour before heading downstairs to make pancakes and bacon, warming up with hot chocolate and more kung-fu movies.

I take some filet mignons out of the freezer and decant a house favorite, a bottle of Montes Folly.  And then it is back on the couch with my wife and the cats, under the covers, for a Tony Jaa/Jet Li film festival.

As the snow comes down outside, forming huge drifts of white outside our door, the comforting notes of hot chocolate as we fade in and out of sleep, this is how a snow day should be:  lazy, comfortable, and with the ones you love.  Not really worrying whether or not the power is going to go out, we just enjoy our time on the couch watching loads of ass-kickery on TV, leading up to a simple meat-n-potatoes dinner with some well-aerated Montes Folly, the wine I have often told my customers is the best Syrah in all the New World.

The Montes Folly comes from 100% mountain-grown Syrah, grown upon some of the steepest slopes in the Apalta Valley in Chile, is aged in French oak for 18 months, and bottled unfiltered, is a bold, rich, dense red wine that seems to fill every fragment of your being.  It is loaded with red and black fruits, a blast of soothing hedonism that strips the cold world outside from the fray of one’s mind and leaves us focused only on our haven from the snow.

I think I could spend every day that way, but then I would be living my dream as a Stephen King wannabe, cranking out novels like changing underwear, and we’d probably be living in New England somewhere, so that means more snow days.  There is a method to my madness, you see.

Thanks to Michelle, and as always to Lenn Thompson at Lenndevours for being the overseer of our wildest wino dreams.  Just remember, if you get a snow day, enjoy it!

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THE THANK YOU LIST IS GROWING

2009 has been an incredible roller coaster ride, to say the very list. Personally, I’ve managed to earn my first certification (Certified Specialist of Wine), visit the Windy City for some amazing Italian/French/South American wines courtesy of Palm Bay Imports, and be part of an amazing ride with the Washington State Wine Commission and the Washington Wine Road Trip. We’ve had two great events with winemaker Bruce Neyers (who moonlights as National Sales rep for Kermit Lynch), and I have met a lot of phenomenally talented winemakers throughout this year.

I want to take a few moments to thank my assistant Shannon, and the cast and crew of D.E.P.’s Fine Wine & Spirits for taking my vision to the masses, incorporating their own wine world view, and helping our stores continue their successful run (which makes the boss happy). Thanks too to all our sales reps who make sure that things are running smoothly around here by keeping the flow of product moving freely. Thanks to my buying counterparts (Jim, our GM, Rob – liquor, Mark & Brandon – beer) for helping out whenever possible – thanks for having my back, you know I’ve got yours.
A huge thank you to all the brokers, importers and winemakers who continue to amaze us all with their wares – it’s the reason I love this business so much.
Many many thanks to my cohorts in the blogosphere: The Unofficial Ohio Valley Wine Bloggers Association (thanks Tom at Louisville Juice for that one) – Mike Rosenberg, Tim Lemke, Jonathan Seeds, Tom Johnson, and the amazing duo of Michelle Lentz and her husband Kevin Gerl. Thanks to Jeff at Good Grape, Joe at 1WineDude, David at Palate Press, Megan at Wannabe Wino, and everyone else who has been an inspiration to me over the past year and a half. I hope to finally meet many of you in person this year at the WBC.
And most importantly, thanks to all our D.E.P.’s customers and Grape Tree readers. You’re the reason I keep doing this everyday, or at least one of the many. Cheers and Happy Holidays!
We’ll be back in 2010 looking newer and groovier. See you then!
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FOR A SENSE OF COMMUNITY

There has been a lot of chatter on the wine blogs of my wine brethren in recent weeks, everyone from local guy Tom Johnson from Louisville Juice, to Jeff at Good Grape and Wine Enthusiast writer Steve Heimoff. One of the discussions I found interesting was one Tom had initiated, related the frequency with which political bloggers exchange links through their comments sections (Tom is a former political blogger himself) and the extreme lack of linking amongst the wine blog counterparts.

For the everyday wine consumer who doesn’t spend much time (if any) in the blogosphere, this discussion topic is difficult to understand or empathize. Yet in the growing world of social media communications and more succinctly how ideas in the wine world get exchanged, there is some real world correlation and significance to the debate.
It is no secret that the print media is dying, though I suspect that most traditionalists will not part with the printed word completely, and many magazines will adapt themselves to the digital age quite nicely, so while they (magazines) won’t disappear, the expanding influence of blogs (and their inevitable genesis into more conventional constructs) will become increasingly more significant and relevant to the average reader/consumer.
So what am I trying to say?
For almost two years, I have been slowly finding my way with this whole blog thing. It was born out of a combination of several things: 1) My overwhelming urge to write about anything (I am a frustrated novelist and poet BTW), 2) An extension of my day job as a buyer for a small group of retail stores and the need to give exposure/knowledge/insight into the wines I bring in that DO NOT have any national or international coverage (reviews in the wine mags, etc.) and 3) My demented sense of sharing with the world around me my left-of-center opinions about this wine business I love so much.
In following along with the conversation perpetuated by Tom, Jeff and others, Tom’s points brought out a lot of great responses in relation to the wine bloggers’ lack of interconnectedness, including a list of ten truths about wine bloggers found on Jeff’s site. The credibility of wine bloggers, the geographical context within the wine bloggers write, the content of their bloggers, and so on – the top blogs from Steve Heimoff, Tom Wark (Fermentation), Joe Roberts (1 Wine Dude), Eric Asimov (The Pour), Deb Harkness (Good Wine Under $20) and Alder Yarrow (Vinography) have branded themselves well, and are always first when talking about the national blogs. Good friend Michelle Lentz (My Wine Education) has done a great job of branding herself locally, and rising to national recognition, as well as Jeff at Good Grape, Tim Lemke at Cheap Wine Ratings and Mike Rosenberg of The Naked Vine.
There are thousands of wine blogs out there, all struggling to be heard. We struggle against the perception of incestuousness that permeated the wine blogosphere several years ago, the perception of self-absorption and smarminess that many of us have intentionally or unintentionally emanated from ourselves over the last two years, and the reluctance to exchange ideas more often, comment more often and involve our peers more often, since deep down, I think that is why we all started these wine blogs in the first place – to provide a forum for such idea exchanges amongst our fellow winos. It seems though that somewhere along the way, we got a bit sidetracked, became somewhat self-indulgent, and found ourselves presenting opinions and commentaries whilst shunning any outside critique, regardless of how positive or negative it may be.
Yet a comment was made by Jeff Stai, from Twisted Oak Winery, suggested that a lot of the bloggers are active participants in the biz, and therefore, to paraphrase, need to be a bit more restrained. Being on the retail side of things, I found myself agreeing with him, because as most folks know, I can run off the rails and launch a vulgarity-laced tirade like no other, and it tends to get me into trouble (with suppliers, importers, my boss).
When I first learned of the Internet a decade ago, I learned that the whole premise was for scientists to have a means to exchange ideas, proof theorems and experimentations, and otherwise build upon a foundation of scientific insight in order to make a better, closer knit world. I think that the wine bloggers (and bloggers in general) have the same goals, and should exercise the same level of informational camaraderie. No one person is going to be entirely right (and the one most wrong will most undoubtedly be me), so the burgeoning egos we wine geeks may have (not saying that everyone does, just mostly talking about me) should be checked at the cyberdoor.
Who knows, come next year, these 1000+ wine blogs may all be interconnected. Here’s hoping so.

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