By Mark Scott
Why would anyone want to be “perfect” when you have the amazing and unique capacity to be human. Cogs are perfect. They work perfectly for what they do. Yet they’re just lifeless cogs in a closed system. But to be human, fully human, with all its complexities and nuances -- now that’s something to celebrate.
Have you ever set aside time to write down what makes your business “human”? By that I mean, what makes your winery more than just another cog? What makes your business unique? And if you’re having trouble with finding your uniqueness, maybe your time would be better served creating uniqueness and writing new chapters in your story.
So why is this crucial?
Because branding is essential to the success of your winery. Branding is accentuating your uniqueness. It’s the humanization of your organization. It’s telling your story in a way that adds a psychological dimension -- an emotional connection -- to the taste of your wine. So much so that when people are sitting in your winery, they’re "tasting" your story -- the fruit of your history and hard work.
In my mind this what sets small restaurants and vineyards apart from big faceless and monolithic corporations that are rigid, unbending, unchanging, fossilized, and “perfect.” Think about it: As the owner of a winery, you have the unique capacity to be human and to put that humanity on display for posterity, legacy, and in the meantime, profit. Yes, I said profit. Because success should be a part of your amazing story -- especially if you worked hard and put everything on the line to get here.
At Maryland Wine Cellars, we work hard with wineries in a cooperative effort to make your story successful. While Drew and Lisa help wineries with the business and winemaking essentials needed for a successful business, I love to work hard with wineries in the adventure of telling and spreading their unique stories.
Marketing is much easier when you do the heavy lifting of branding first.
By Drew Baker
Have you ever enjoyed a delicious bottle of wine that was grown and produced locally? We certainly have. Sure, Maryland may not (yet) have the same venerable notoriety as other regions of the world for fine winemaking, but the secret is getting out: noteworthy wines are being produced here.
So with that in mind, track with me on this thought: Ever been to a “farm-to-table” restaurant that didn’t feature a single local wine?
There’s a disconcerting disconnect here – an elephant in the restaurant: Grapes grown, produced, and bottled on another continent are featured at destinations purported to be designed for locavores.
Friends, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are the 3 main reasons local restaurants don’t feature local wines:
1. Some folks don’t see wine as a local farm product.
Delicious wine is grown on real farms. At Old Westminster Winery, we pour our hearts and souls into producing great American wines on our little slice of this planet. It all starts in the vineyard. We only have two goals in our winery: 1) produce a balanced wine that reflects both the vineyard and the vintage; 2) don’t screw up what we’ve grown – count it as sacred.
2. Restauranteurs aren’t feeling any pressure from their customers.
Don’t you think it’s time for “farm-to-table” restaurants to put their menu where their message is? We do. No more free passes for the elephant in their dining room: a purely International wine list.
Now don’t get me wrong, we all love Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy. And I also recognize the differences between a local tomato and a local bottle of wine. But just like any other ingredient, the best local wines are worth seeking out and deserve a place on any wine list.
3. Inconsistency plagues many local wineries.
Local wineries aren’t without any fault. For every great wine being made, there are others that aren’t serviceable. Our industry needs to start taking its own reputation seriously and cater to thoughtful consumers. Growing world-class wines locally starts with a committed winegrower thoughtfully farming a good vineyard site. This formula yields grapes fit for the production of remarkable wines. It’s time we celebrate producers taking this task seriously and cut bait with the others.
At Old Westminster Winery, we’re doing our part to craft distinctive wines fit for the most prestigious wine lists. And we’re so thankful for the dozens of restaurants that proudly feature our wines.
But we’re just getting started. The tide is shifting. Let's work together to put Maryland wine on the map.
By Lisa Hinton
A great wine is the sum of many details. And skillful winemaking calls countless delicate notes and nuances into harmony. The goal of “blending” is to create distinctive wines that are balanced, reflect the vineyard and vintage, and mostly, are a pleasure to drink!
In the cellar, winemakers are careful to treat each lot of grapes – and subsequently the wine – individually to create and preserve a unique personality. Each lot is much like a puzzle piece belonging to a beautiful landscape; a single thread woven through a brilliant tapestry. Blending is the art and science of creating a wine that is stunningly delicious and an artistic sum of its many parts.
Bordeaux is the quintessence of wine blending. In the Médoc, a subregion of Bordeaux, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot are the usual suspects. These varieties are always blended -- each variety bringing a unique characteristic to the table.
Our blending consultant at Old Westminster Winery is Lucien Guillemet, the winemaker at Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, a Grand Cru Classé Chateau in Margaux. Lucien visits us in Maryland twice a year to taste, deliberate, and blend. His expertise acts as a sounding board. Multiple skilled palates are a key to the successful blending process.
Where we begin
Armed with a few wine glasses, a pipette, a graduated cylinder and a spittoon, we set out to assemble a masterpiece.
We taste each lot separately and take detailed notes on aromas, flavors, structure and overall quality. We consider our goals for each blend and start blending a few wines that we suspect will play well together.
We again take detailed notes.
We tweak the blend.
We ask: Do we like the direction this wine is going? We continue to adjust the percentages of each wine in the blend until we find the proportions that sing -- it’s often quite obvious!
The finish line
The process is finished once every individual lot has a home in a stunning wine. Rough blends are typically compiled over a few long intensive days. However, we revisit these wines over the ensuing weeks, hypothesize and tweak. We share finished, but not yet bottled, blends with our distributors, sommeliers and restaurateurs for feedback.
For us, the passion and pursuit of making great wines isn’t merely occupation. It’s life! And since knowledge is key to appreciation, we are passionate to share everything we’ve learned over these years and travels to cultivate a wine culture in Maryland. We do this by sharing our secrets and teaching our friends through hands-on learning experiences.
Interested in Maryland’s emerging wine culture? Join the Cru!
by Drew Baker
There’s a new sparkling wine on the scene. Okay, actually, it’s ancient. Pétillant naturel (commonly called "pét-nat") is an all-but-forgotten wine style enjoying revival. Pét-nat is popping again with the attention of sommeliers and wine enthusiasts around the globe.
This simple, natural style of sparkling wine made its debut in France’s Loire Valley half a millennia ago and is resurging in trending appreciation. Pétillant naturel (lit. “naturally sparkling”) also known as méthode ancestrale (ancestral method) is fresh and fizzy while displaying authentic handmade qualities. Educated and adventurous wine enthusiasts love her raw, unpolished vitality. Pét-nat is alive.
How it’s made
Pét-nats are made by bottling still-fermenting wine under cap and allowing fermentation to finish in the bottle. As yeast converts sugar to alcohol, naturally occurring carbon dioxide makes the wine fizzy. Once fermentation is complete, the bottle cap and sediment are removed, and the bottle is recapped. That’s when pét-nat is ready to be chilled for a sunny spring day. This ancestral method pre-dates Champagne and unlike the “Champagne method” which undergoes a second fermentation by adding sugar and yeast, the ancestral method allows the initial fermentation to finish in bottle without any additives.
Why it’s popular
Beyond the fact that it’s downright delicious, pét-nat doesn’t have any additives, there’s no blending, and the all-natural process is a direct reflection of the vineyard and the vintage. Once the still-fermenting juice is bottled, you don’t taste it again until it’s in your glass. This makes it a little unpredictable, and that spontaneity is one reason why it’s so popular.
Welcome her to Maryland!
Old Westminster Winery is set to release the first two pét-nat wines ever made in the Old Line State this spring.
The first is handcrafted from Albariño grapes grown in the rocky soils of their Home Vineyard. A timely harvest on September 2, 2015 captured freshness and bracing acidity from the vineyard. Fermented spontaneously with wild yeast in stainless steel. Just before fermentation was complete, 400 bottles were hand bottled and capped on September 19, 2015. This wine offers a dazzling and vivid expression of Albariño -- high acidity, apricots and limes, distinctive texture and only 11% alcohol by volume.
The second is handcrafted from Grüner Veltliner grown at Cool Ridge Vineyard on a limestone hillside in western Maryland. A timely harvest on September 8, 2015 captured beautiful, ripe flavors and balanced acidity from the vineyard. Fermented spontaneously with wild yeast in stainless steel. Just before fermentation was complete, 1,000 bottles were hand bottled and capped on September 23, 2015. Pét-nat Grüner is funky and delicious. Minerally, viscous and fresh; A treat for all wine geeks.
Old Westminster's team is especially passionate about this project because they love crafting wines that reflect the vineyard. These wines offer an authentic expression of the Old Line State – refreshing, distinct and intriguing.
Catch pét-nat before she's gone!
by Drew Baker
This morning I learned that a respected young family on Long Island making deliciously creative wines was denied a zoning variance. According to Regan Meador, co-founder of Southold Farm + Cellar with his wife, Carey, “This effectively means that Southold Farm + Cellar will cease to exist.”
We need young, talented farmers crafting delicious products now more than ever. That’s why the news out of New York this morning is so disheartening.
As a society we need to embrace locally farmed and thoughtfully made wines. Why? Because we can’t afford not to. The implications are that big. Local wines are the product of local farms.
Here are 5 important reasons to drink local wine:
1. Local wineries are economic engines.
In Maryland alone, the number of wineries has risen from 12 in 2000 to over 70 today. That equates to hundreds of skilled jobs, millions in economic impact, tax revenue, and a long coat tail effect for nearby restaurants, shops and B&B's.
2. Vineyards are de facto land preservation.
They preserve land for 30, 40, 50+ years without the need for preservation tax credits or subsidy. Vineyards are good for taxpayers and land values.
3. Vineyards are great for the ecosystem.
Unlike typical commodity crops (corn, soy, cotton, oats, etc.) the land is cover cropped year round. The most thoughtful vignerons use diverse cover crops to entice beneficial insects and promote healthier vines with stronger immune systems that demand fewer inputs. Beyond the quality of the grape, this works in tandem with nature, not against it.
4. Wine is drawing young people back into farming.
Southold Farm + Cellars and Old Westminster Winery are two great examples. The average farmer in America is 60 years old. The average age on our farm is half that. This is good for the future. We need more young, talented farmers.
5. Sheer enjoyment.
Absolutely delicious wines are being made in nearly every state in America. Good vineyard sites, meticulous farming, thoughtful cellar practices and personal commitment will yield wines that display depth, character and most importantly, are a joy to drink.
Please reconsider the importance of drinking local wine. And purchase some wine from the good folks at Southold Farm + Cellar. They deserve our support.
by Drew Baker
Vines, like people, display their needs. Sometimes in obvious and concerning ways, and other times in subtle, peculiar ways. It takes the experienced and discerning eye of the caregiver to take notice and make adjustments. For the vigneron, there’s no substitute for time in the vineyard. If we don't stop to look and listen, we could potentially miss out on producing the best wines possible. It all starts in the vineyard.
The collective goal of winegrowers should be to improve the quality of our grapes and the way we farm for the sake of our wines and the planet we all inhabit.
Organics are important. Farming with as few inputs as possible ought to be our strategy. That’s why I use organic materials and principles as often as possible. But I’ve learned that there are also times when synthetic materials are less invasive and more effective.
It’s our feeling at Old Westminster Winery & Vineyard that we ought to encourage the research and development of new materials, and resist the temptation to outright reject them.
Wine growers, including myself at times, fail to zoom out and look at the big picture – where we learn that rotation of spray material and timing are just as important as the materials used. Cover crops and nutrient management plans encourage healthier vines with stronger immune systems that demand fewer inputs.
So I’ve learned that it’s wise to listen, observe, learn and share.
I am certain of one thing: I will do things a bit differently – and hopefully better – every passing year because I’m always listening and learning. If I come across a new, interesting idea, I’ll thoroughly research it. And I may even try it.
We believe that our wines will no doubt improve as a result of continuous learning and future generations will thank us.
by Lisa Hinton
A locavore is a person interested in local food. Naturally, as a small family farm, we love the concept. Old Westminster Winery was built on our family’s efforts to preserve our land and work together. We are deeply rooted in our community and we love to be a meaningful part of the local marketplace.
We founded our brand on a commitment to growing world class wines on our Maryland farm. Our customers love our product because it’s delicious. The fact that all of our grapes are grown within the bounds of the Old Line State is a bonus to the conscientious locavore.
Because we are solely focused on crafting wines that speak for themselves, we don’t have much of a marketing budget. We rely on word-of-mouth to spread the gospel of the new Maryland wine. But this also presents some natural challenges. We’re off the beaten path. There are no neon signs. We're on a farm tucked away along a rolling landscape.
We like it that way. This makes it adventurous for Maryland wine lovers to discover Old Westminster Winery.
Of course, this kicks against everything that traditional marketing teaches: Be front and center. Be louder than the competition. Being hard to find isn’t a good thing. Get neon signs.
We’re challenging this notion. I love that the typical person visiting our tasting room is intentional. They didn’t just follow a sign.
To us, marketing isn’t a priority. Delicious wine is our neon sign.
I also love that our brand is growing organically. There’s something about knowing that our friends, family and customers are sharing our wines and our story at the dinner table. This is what the locavore movement is all about. We focus on growing and producing great wines and providing visitors with a memorable experience. That’s it.
We simply work hard to produce wines that reflect the land and are a joy to drink.
by Mark Scott
Raise your hand if you love being pitched. Right. Nobody does. If you’re like me, you’re choosy about where you want to aim your dollars. You don’t want to be hassled or hustled into a sale. You don’t want to feel like you’re being “targeted.” You’re a person not a prospect on some sales dude’s “hit list.” You can smell that sleaze a mile away.
Now think about this in your role as a business owner. You need to market your business. It’s a fact of life and as much as you may dislike it, it’s vital to your business.
But you can market in a way that gives everyone dignity. It’s a way that establishes trust, solid relationships, lasting results, and keeps clients for life.
Here are 6 ways the best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.
1. The best marketing establishes trust.
Much of marketing is reputation building. Before a single dollar changes hands, you’ll need to invest in a higher form of currency: The currency of trust. Trust is currency that transcends money because you can't put a dollar value on it. Build trust and the money will follow; it’s never the other way around. Sure, you know that everyone will adore the features of your product or service. But if the essential foundation of trust isn’t there, many people will buy your widget elsewhere. Simply put: Don't pitch marriage on your first date.
2. The best marketing establishes you as the guru.
I don't know about you, but with a thousand sellers to choose from, I’m looking for the one who knows their stuff. Because I’m not just buying a thing; I’m buying the think behind it. So if I hold that standard to things I buy, how much more should I hold it to things I sell? As much as I’m going to buy the guru, I need to be the guru. If you can create a marketing strategy that establishes your business as the go-to in your competitive marketplace, you’ll get more market share and you’ll never, ever have to resort to cheesy hard sell tactics.
3. The best marketing builds a tribe.
The great benefit that comes from building trust is building a tribe. Because you have the best product or service based on credibility and notoriety, you’ll invariably develop a tribe of loyal people who use you and only you. And guess what? They’ll do all the proselytizing your business will ever need. A happy customer will tell their friends and contagion will commence. Now that’s an unstoppable sales force. And they work for free because you invested in the currency of trust.
4. The best marketing is conversational.
Conversation -- not confrontation -- is what wins hearts toward your business. Hard sell is by its very nature confrontational. But human to human marketing in the real world forgoes monologue and loves dialogue. Engagement. It works in tandem with the personalities involved and fosters growing relationships. On a first-name basis. Yep. It’s work. And this benefits businesses in more ways than sales. Businesses actually learn what it takes to get better through the process of engagement with their market. It’s built-in late-game market research that gives you the precious insight to tweak and make any needed adjustments to your product or service.
5. The best marketing is human and conveys togetherness.
Prospects are people, not projects. They aren’t hills to conquer; they’re relationships to foster. If you’re marketing things right, you’re building partners, not just numbers. Business is sacred and it must be built on togetherness in an economy where trust is the currency. I’m creating a business that’s built to last when I value making friends more than acquiring clients.
6. The best marketing tells inspiring stories.
The cultivation of solid business relationships almost always leads to stories worth telling. The concept of “tribe” is built on the power of story. Not just the amazing story of how your business came to be (as important as that is), but the redemptive story of how your business met real life needs. This is business with a face. A beautiful, human, happy face. Story is still king. And great stories create an overarching narrative that establishes your business as in touch and human.
Wine & Business
The Cellar Blog is your authoritative guide to creating, sustaining, and growing a successful wine business. Discover the best practices and trade secrets needed to build and grow a robust enterprise.
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