Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Holidays from San Martino Winery & Vineyards

It is that time of the year again! Frantic purchasing, crowds in the malls, everyone running at full speed and for a short period of time life is just plain hectic! We all get into the “holiday” spirit and then just like that it is over and the depression sets in! We tend to forget at times the reason for the holidays and to each of us they probably mean something different. To me the end of the year is a joyous time, full of celebrations, parties, presents, families, and love and, of course, wine is a natural part of the season.

Did you know that this time of year there are at least three different celebrations taking place? Yes, there are Christmas, Hannukah and Kwaanza. So which wines go with each? San Martiño wines are perfect for the first and last of these but can’t do much for Hannukah as this celebration requires kosher wine. Just as an fyi, do you know the difference between kosher wine and regular wine? Any grapes, wine styles, or techniques may be used in making a kosher wine. This means a kosher wine does not need to taste any different than a typical wine. What is different is that the equipment is specifically set aside for use on kosher wines only, the process must be done by Jewish people, and all components used in the making of the wine must themselves be kosher. This leaves us totally out!

There is another celebration at the end of the year that includes wine: Winter Solstice Day (Dec 21 at 8:04 am CST). This is the shortest day of the year, and for many cultures, the traditional beginning of a new year. This holiday originated in ancient cultures, as soon as people could measure lengths of days and the changing of the seasons, and realized what happened during the solstice and equinox. The winter solstice was a traditional year-end marker - where the old year ended and the new one began. It was first known as "Yule", from the Norse "Jul" meaning wheel. In Roman days, Emperor Aurelian chose December 25th as the "Invincible Sun" birthday for that reason. The Roman "Saturnalia" celebrations (originally Dec 17th) merged into this and lasted a week or more. The day was later Christianized, and many traditions that are now part of Christmas come from the various ancient celebrations.

Traditional winter celebrations involved enjoying the fruits of the summer ones. Dandelion wine, normally made on MayDay, was opened up at this point and drunk. Mead, the product of summer honeybees, was also enjoyed, both in warmed punches as well as chilled. Herbs of this celebration included holly, pinecones, and mistletoe. Want to hold a solstice celebration? If you don't have any dandelion wine waiting in your cellar it'll probably be hard to find some, but open a bottle of San Martiño wine, put out nuts, oranges, apples, rolls, and basic meats like turkey, chicken and venison. Throw a log on the fire, kiss under the mistletoe, and toast the start of a new year!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Can We Compete with Boxed Stores?

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a customer. He was asking if I was concerned about all the stores around our winery selling wines which in most cases may be cheaper than ours. Aware? Yes. Concerned? Not really. Why not? Well… I said, it is hard to go to Costco or Tom Thumb, buy a bottle of wine and sit there enjoying some relaxing time with a picnic basket.

I indicated to this customer that it is impossible for us to compete with Gallo, Mondavi, Antinory, and the other hundreds of very large wineries that produce millions of cases. We just simply don’t have the economy of scale to be able to produce wines cheaply. We have higher grape costs because we don’t buy large volumes of them; we have higher transportation costs because with don’t own our trucks and have to pay LTL prices; we pay higher for bottles because we don’t buy one million bottles at a time and same with corks, capsules, etc and so on. At the end of the day our costs per bottle may be 200% or 300% higher than the big guys and depending on the wine being produced our costs are even higher.

But, we try to provide a service that you can’t get from the big stores. We have a beautiful tasting room with nice furniture and a pleasant atmosphere, we have nice grounds around the winery where you can relax during decent weather, we provide special events that are not easily found anywhere else and we produce good wines. If a customer is looking for a bottle of wine for  $8 to $12 then we just can’t compete. But if the customer wants a reasonably priced bottle $18 to $30 that was made locally, with Texas grapes, where the taxes stay locally helping everyone and where you can see the location and the people that made it, then we are just the right place.

We know that everyone is price sensitive and so are we. We price our wines as low as possible while keeping enough margins to pay the bills. In an economy that has seen many wineries in Texas go bankrupt and an economy where consumer prices have fallen, our cost for producing wine have risen over 17% this year along. Transportation, bottles, capsules, electricity, gas, taxes and grape prices all went up over the last two years. Where a ton of Cabernet cost $2,000 in 2008 in 2009 we paid $2,500. Oh… and this doesn’t take into account the fees that we are being charged from the credit card companies. The fees have gone up by 30% on some types of cards this year along. Yet, we have not increased prices on our wines in 2008. Eventually the price pressure will become relentless and we may be forced to change our philosophy. As I said to our customer, I don’t think that the big stores are going to put us out of business, they can’t offer what we do but our own suppliers may kill our dream if they force us into price ranges that are unsustainable for a small operation like ours.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Customer Service???

Every place I go I hear the word “excellent customer service”. What does it mean? I will give you a personal example … A few years ago I was in the west coast and decided to have dinner at a wonderful restaurant overlooking the ocean. Once inside the restaurant I asked for a table next to the window so I could see the sunset. I sat at my table and was enjoying a glass of wine and some appetizers taking in the view when a group sat a table behind me. Within seconds the host came over to the window and proceeded to close the blinds. I stopped him and indicated that I chose the table for the view and there wasn’t going to be much of one with the blinds closed. He proceeded to tell me that the group behind me complained about the sun and wanted to block the light from coming in. I indicated that I wanted the blinds opened. He went to the table and told them my view. They got upset with the host and demanded the blinds be closed. So here is a situation where the host was going to anger one customer to please another. Was he providing good customer service? It all depends who you asked.

I have come to conclusion that there is no such thing as 100% excellent customer service. Someone’s expectations and demands from time to time will not be met and therefore this individual will complaint and sometimes even insult you because you can’t accommodate their demands. I think a good customer experience is a two-way street. Throughout my life most of the time when I felt that I wasn’t getting “good customer service” it was because of my inflexibility and arrogance. In many of these cases if I had listened to the other person I would have realized that with a minor change from my part all would have ended well with everyone happy and satisfied. But sometimes we tend to become ignorant and arrogant when we don’t get our way and these two “talents” make for a bad combination. I have been guilty of falling into the trap that they create.

I think those of us that work behind counters and in situations where we are trying to provide a service to the public are a bit more sensitive about how we talk to people when others are trying to provide us with service since we have been on the receiving end of rude behavior. So I tell you… before you get angry with the person that is trying to help you, think about what you are going to say and then think again after sipping some wine. Then make your comments known in a civilized manner. After all, when we are all gone from this Earth nobody will care how we felt about the situation.

Oh by the way, the restaurant in the west coast… I looked for another table next to a window but there were none. Therefore, I suggested that since the group behind me came in after I did that they should move to a different table where the sun wouldn’t bother them. They told me to go “jump on the sea!” So… I kept the blinds open!

Friday, December 4, 2009

What Wine Should You Drink?

One of the hottest issues today is the ratings system in the wine industry and whether you should believe them. Well… here are my two cents. Any rating that is the result of a single person tasting a given wine should be taken with some skepticism. Why? Because wine is like music. What one person enjoys may not be what someone else wants to drink or listen to. Unfortunately, the wine industry has been very good at marketing wine as an elite drink that is very complicated for the average person. NONSENSE! Wine is and has been for centuries the common person’s drink of choice next to water. Only in the last few decades, through some heavy marketing, has wine been elevated as a drink that only the few can truly appreciate. My family and thousands of others have been drinking wine way before Mr. Robert Parker was even a hint on his “parent’s night of excitement.”

Wine is a drink that should be enjoyed it every day and all the different wines that we and others make are simple providing options so everyone can find at least one style that may enjoy. People ask me all the time which wine should I drink? My answer is always the same: the one you like! I have tasted bottles that cost over $200 that I didn’t like and therefore it didn’t make a different what others thought about it. I just didn’t like it and wouldn’t want to drink it again. Yet, I have enjoyed some wines that the “critics” have not talked very high of but I enjoyed them with the right food. Are their palates better than mine? Maybe but who cares. I am the one paying for the bottle and therefore I will drink what I like. I may taste a wine because I read about it in some magazine but I will not buy it just because they said it was good. I know what I like and I know which style of wine I enjoy with my food. In addition to that I have favorite wineries whose style of wine making is perfect for me. Many of these never get accolades from Mr. Parker and others but I don’t care and neither should you. Drink what you enjoy and if this is Two Buck-Chuck then go ahead and drink it. Just make sure that you have a good family doctor!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Few Words About the 2009 Harvest

We know that the farming business is highly dependent on Mother Nature. Since we had our first harvest in 2003 we have been lucky that each season the quality of our grapes has been from very good to outstanding. However, even with a short history of only six harvests under our belts, a couple of them stand out above the rest. But the wines we produced from the 2004 season are the ones that everyone uses as a measuring “stick” for us. The 2004 vintage (which sold out in record time) won medals in competitions not only in Texas but in San Francisco, Los Angeles and others.

However, the 2009 harvest will be considered one of these standouts. The flavors and color extraction were exceptional, and the sugar/acid ratios and overall chemistry was excellent. Vintage 2009 will be remembered for the terrible spring storm and late freeze that destroyed much of the Texas grape harvest. Even our share was reduced by about 40% but the quality of what remained in the vine was exceptional. Some wineries got caught in the economic issues of 2008-2009 and were not able to fulfill their contracts with some growers. We helped out by purchasing these options from the other wineries and were able to quickly fill our tanks with an incredible quality harvest increasing our production by 20% in a down year. Now all we need to do is not to screw up the wine and make sure that we sell it in about two years. Salud!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thank You

In the US we pause on the fourth Thursday of November every year to take stock of our blessings and to give thanks for all of the good things in our lives. These are the times when we gather with close friends and family, share a meal of traditional American favorites, and reflect on the good fortune that has followed our nation since its inception.

Therefore, in the spirit of giving thanks, we would like to take this opportunity to tell you just how much your friendship and support means to our family and to our business. Many of us have lost dear friends and loved ones this past year and in times like this, we get a chance to stop and reflect and think about what is really important in this life. This is an opportunity to reflect on how precious and fragile life is and to not waste what time we are given with the special people in our lives.

For us, it is the gift of family and friends that are the riches in our lives. Those precious times that we hold dear to our heart and memories and special moments that can never be replaced, neither by time nor all the wealth in the world.

Whether you have planned a grand feast surrounded by friends and family, an intimate candlelight dinner for two, or a simple frozen dinner or takeout, it is not really the edible food, but rather who we share them with that counts most of all, and to us, this is the true value and meaning of Thanksgiving. Our family gives thanks for you all, friends and close loved ones. You have touched our lives in many ways and we are very wealthy for this.

Please remember our men and women who are serving our country and can't be with their loved ones this year. We will be observing a moment of silence in their honor this year.

In this Thanksgiving season San Martiño Winery & Vineyards wish all of you health, happiness, and many good things for which to be thankful.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pinot may not be for me

I am “Pinot Out.” Ever since the movie Sideways, Pinot Noir has been some of the highest costing wine in the market. Not long ago, I spent some time travelling through the Willamette Valley in Oregon. It certainly is a beautiful place. Actually “absolutely gorgeous” is a better description. Some of my favorite places are in the Dundee Hills just 20 miles south of Portland. With several dozen wineries to choose from the place is worth a trip BUT you better like Pinot Gris or Pinot Noir. That is all they grow there. After two days of tasting and enjoying the beautiful sites I would have given up my right arm for glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I don’t dislike Pinot Noir but I don’t really like it either. Frankly I find most of them thin and just not very exciting. If I just offended you then get a grip. It is all a matter of taste after all. I prefer heavier wines with more “muscle.” Give me a tannic Cabernet or a jammy Zinfandel or Syrah and I am in heaven; but a Pinot Noir... well... no so much… I gave it all I had by going to about 20 wineries in two days and then drinking more Pinot Noir for dinner and lunch from wineries that I couldn’t get to. After that trek, I was Pinot Out. My last day for dinner, I had a blend of Cabernet and Zinfandel for dinner… delicious.

As I mentioned, most Pinots I tasted were thin, very thin. A bit of metallic taste on most of them (they told me it was terroir). All I can say that it must be a lot of Zinc and Iron under the valley. But as with anything in life there were some exceptions. Archery Summit has two incredible Pinots but at $85 for one and $150 for the other they are out of reach for me and most of you. The great surprise was Domain Serene and their Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir. This is a Pinot I could drink every day and at $58 per bottle it is a bit pricy for my wallet but reachable. The rest of the Pinots I tasted I am told that they are good and the critics may agree but I will stick with my Merlot.