Each December, we offer our VINsider Wine Club members the chance to taste the upcoming release of our two top red wines, before bottling, and reserve these wines at a futures-only 30% discount off of expected release price. We began this program back in 2003 (offering futures on the 2002s that were in barrel at the time) and have continued each year since.
Offering wines en primeur is is a time-honored French tradition most often associated with first-growth Bordeaux estates. In outstanding vintages, valued customers are offered the opportunity to secure a limited quantity of sought-after wines at a special price in advance of bottling and subsequent general release. As the demand for Tablas Creek's wines grow, this is a way for our best customers to ensure that they receive the wines that they want.
We have gone through several iterations of how we've set up the futures tasting. Initially, we did it on a Saturday afternoon in our barrel room, which worked fine in 2003 the (when our tasting room just wasn't that busy). The next year, we happened to have a big crowd in our tasting room, and the challenge of getting a hundred people through the tasting room and into the barrel room (and back) proved to be too much for us. We felt that we'd lost control, with non-club members wandering into what was supposed to be our most exclusive event, and VINsiders strolling back and forth between tasting room and barrel room getting who-knows-how-many tastes.
So, in 2005, we moved the event to the evening and held it in both our barrel room and tasting room. This worked fine the first year (at around 115 guests) but started to break down the following year. By 2007, 200 guests had reserved, and the event felt more like a nice holiday cocktail party than it did like a focused exploration of young, powerful wines. Attendees would spend their first ten minutes in our barrel room tasting the futures wines, and the next forty-five in our tasting room tasting their favorites. it proved to be impossible to keep focus where it needed to be: on the futures wines. Our average futures sale of attending customers had dropped for two years in a row, and we decided to rethink our format.
We decided that the best way to focus on the wines was to get people off of their feet, and to present the wines in a more leisurely, intimate setting, with restrained food designed to showcase the wines and soften their youthful exuberance. So, we moved the event to the afternoon and created three different sessions with a maximum seated capacity of 50 people at each. A placesetting is at right.
Neil (our winemaker, for the uninitiated) and I began by talking through the specifics that created the powerful, low-yield 2007 vintage, and we then moved to tasting the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel and 2007 Panoplie. Finally, we served Chef Jeff Scott's creation to feature the wines: a braised lamb over polenta with root vegetables dish (click here for the recipe) that was the perfect foil. A panoramic photo, below, gives you a sense of the setting in our cellar:
The results were terrific. The wines showed magnificently, confirming our impressions that the 2007 reds are likely the best we've ever seen. The sales reflected this; nearly every attendee ordered futures, and the average sale per person was nearly triple what it had been last year. The feedback we received from the members who came was that it was a wonderfully relaxed, focused exploration of the wines, and Neil and I both appreciated the chance to share impressions and answer questions with these intimate groups. At $25 for the seminar, the tasting of these wines, and the lunch, it was a steal. Plus the ticket price was refunded on any futures purchase, so the event ended up being free to nearly everyone.
We had worried that we would find it difficult filling a 75-minute seminar with discussion about only two wines, but instead found that each session ran nearly 100 minutes and could have lasted longer if we hadn't had to reset for the next group.
Now, we just need to find out why more people didn't come. From 200 reservations in 2007, we dropped down to just under 100 this year, and only the first (11:00am) session sold out. We'll just have to work on communicating just how nice the event was to everyone before 2009's edition!
Any VINsiders who are reading this should note that Wednesday, December 10th is our deadline for futures orders for the 2007 reds. An PDF (faxable) order form is available; click here to view details and prices.