In celebration of our "Best Winery Blog" nomination, eight favorite posts from the last year

WBA_logo_rotatorI'm proud to announce that Tablas Creek has again been named a finalist for "Best Winery Blog" at the 2012 Wine Blog Awards.  The world of winery blogs has never been stronger.  The other finalists include two winery blogs I follow regularly (4488: A Ridge Blog and The Journey of Jordan) one other on which I have read several top-notch posts recently (The Kendall-Jackson Blog) and two which were new to me (Wolf Blass Winemakers Blog and King Estate Winery). One of the things I look forward to about these awards each year is getting to spend some time with the other finalists' work.

I am particularly proud that this is the fifth year in a row that Tablas Creek has been a finalist.  No other winery has been a finalist more than twice in the six-year history of the awards.  You can browse the finalists, and if, at the end, you believe us worthy, we'd be honored to receive your vote (Vote here).  Voting ends Thursday, July 26th.

This seems a useful opportunity to reflect back on some of my favorite posts over the last year.  They're organized chronologically, with brief notes on why they've stuck with me.  And hopefully, if you're relatively new to the blog, it will give you a starting point for your explorations.

  • The serenity of foudres (sometimes) (August 2011). Written by Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Magnusson, this is the sort of glimpse into the inner workings of the cellar that I think makes winery blogs worth reading.  You come away feeling like you know the work... but more than that, that you know the people working, and Chelsea's beautiful photography makes you feel like you're there.
  • Why Paso Robles will make California's best wines in 2011 (October 2011). I go out on a limb, partway through harvest, in opposition to a growing chorus of press suggesting the 2011 harvest would be a disaster.  And the more I taste our powerful, vibrant wines from 2011, the more I'm convinced I was right.
  • A tale of two Grenaches (December 2011). This piece came out of a talk I gave at the always-wonderful Yosemite Vintners' Holidays, where I broke down the California acreage statistics for Grenache by county to tell a very different narrative than and I had been reading elsewhere.
  • A closer look at Paso Robles' microclimates (January 2012). After a presentation to a visiting group of Canadian writers, I realized that we didn't have graphical tools to show the incredible diversity of Paso Robles' soils, rainfall, and temperatures. So I made some, and they show more clearly than a thousand words could why we are where we are.
  • The power grab behind New York's proposed "at rest" legislation (March 2012).  Sometimes I think I should have been a political reporter, as I always enjoy the pieces that I get to write about the intersection of politics and wine.  Maybe it's the "good vs. evil" component.  Maybe it's the fact that this is one of the only times I get to do investigative journalism.  But for whatever reason, I am consistently energized by these discussions, and I think that energy comes through in this post's clarity and power.
  • A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek (May 2012). Probably my favorite post of the year, where Cesar Perrin and I stumble across the bottle that marks the first collaboration (in 1966!) between the Haas and Perrin families, and I discover its history. 
  • Nine lessons the Kimpton Hotel Group offers wineries (May 2012). I love looking at successful businesses and seeing how their innovations can be applied to my world.  With this piece I drew nine generally applicable lessons from a group of hotels I've always loved for their friendliness, individuality, and consistent good service.
  • In defense of expensive rosé (June 2012). This piece gave me the chance to address a topic close to my heart: the relative worth put on wines made in their original homes vs. those made in a similar style in the New World. Plus, it got me invited to sit on a panel tasting of rosés that included the 2011 Domaine Tempier... always a treat.  

OK, now go vote.  The awards are determined 50% by the panel of seventeen expert judges that condensed the hundreds of nominations to five or six finalists, and 50% by the votes of the public -- which means you!

Reflections on Tablas Creek's 2011 Best Winery Blog award

Wba-winery-WINNER-2011 On Saturday, at the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA, the winners of the 2011 Wine Blog Awards were announced.  One of them was us!  Thank you to everyone who voted; the award was 50% determined by votes from the public.  The other 50% was determined by the votes of the panel of expert judges who culled the list of nominees down to the five-ish finalists in each category.

The world of wine blogs is rich and diverse, and growing all the time.  The fact that speakers at the Wine Blog Awards included traditional media figures (and wine writer titans) Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson shows just how far blogging has penetrated into the mainstream of wine discussion, and how blurry -- some at the conference would say irrelevant -- the boundary between wine writer and wine blogger has become.  As always, I learned a lot and developed some new favorites reading through the blogs of the other finalists.  And it's only fitting that Tom Wark's Fermentation won both "Best Overall Wine Blog" and "Best Industry Blog".  After all, Tom created the Wine Blog Awards back in 2007 and this was his first year eligible after handing the awards off to a nonprofit consortium two years ago.  Congratulations to all the winners.  The complete list:

Best Overall Wine Blog – Fermentation
Best New Wine Blog – Terroirist
Best Writing on a Wine Blog – Vinography
Best Winery Blog – Tablas Creek
Best Single Subject Wine Blog – New York Cork Report
Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog – Enobytes
Best Industry/Business Wine Blog – Fermentation
Best Wine Blog Graphics, Photography, & Presentation – Vino Freakism

I am proud that this was the fourth year in a row that the Tablas Creek blog was a finalist.  I'm also proud that the last year of the Tablas Creek blog has been more of a communal effort than ever before, including several great posts by my dad and contributions from two new authors: Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Magnusson, writing Notes from the Cellar, and Tasting Room Manager John Morris, writing View from the Tasting Room.  Each brings a different perspective to our effort to share our experiences as we make, sell, plan and reflect on Tablas Creek.

Thank you to all of you who take the time, whether regularly or occasionally, to read our thoughts.

The Tablas Creek Blog is a finalist at the 2011 Wine Blog Awards!

Wba-winery-finalist-logo We are proud that, for the fourth year in a row, the very Tablas Creek blog that you're reading has been named one of five finalists for "Best Winery Blog" in the 2011 Wine Blog Awards.  We won the award in 2008 (the inaugural year of the awards) and would love to take the prize back from the 2010 winner: the always-worthy Randall Grahm, again a finalist this year.

Finalists were selected from dozens of nominations by a panel of experts.  The award itself is determined 50% by the votes of the public and 50% by the judging panel.  So, we encourage you to vote on the results... your opinions really do matter.  You can vote at

In addition to "Best Winery Blog" the categories are "Best New Blog", "Best Writing", "Best Single Subject", "Best Wine Reviews", "Best Industry Blog", "Best Presentation, Photography, Graphics", and "Best Overall Wine Blog".  And in each category are wine blogs that I read myself at least weekly.  The quality of the writing and of the journalism in the wine blogging world has never been better, and it's an honor to be able to be a part of such an accomplished, creative group of writers.

Whether or not you have been following every post on this blog, I thought that it might be an appropriate time to look back at a few of my own favorites over the past year.  In date order, with some brief notes on why I think each is worth revisiting:

  • The appeal of wine in keg... and an appeal to the restaurants who want it (July 2010).  I couldn't believe how much the infrastructure for selling wine in kegs has improved in the last year.  Evidently we weren't the only wineries looking at the options and asking for help!  Of course, we still haven't figured out how to get the kegs back to us anywhere outside of California...
  • A great idea by the Rhone Rangers: Pneumonia's Last Syrah (September 2010).  Still one of the best marketing ideas I've had the pleasure of being a part of.  This editorial ended up on the back page of Wines&Vines a couple of months later.
  • Biodynamics and dry-farming: repairing the failings of "modern" viticulture (November 2010).  An important step in my own personal journey in understanding why the choices that we make in our viticulture matters in the way that the wines taste.
  • A post-harvest round table discussion with Tablas Creek's winemakers (December 2010).  A great video filmed and edited by Tommy Oldre that captures the personalities of our winemaking team (and our winemaking dog) as succinctly as I can imagine possible.  And it's worth remembering just how unusual 2010 was.  Literally unprecedented in our experience.
  • Zombie legislation: HR 5034 lurches back to life as HR 1161 (March 2011).  I love the occasional times I get to do political or legal analysis.  My belief is that the wholesalers' lobby is going to reintroduce similarly consumer- (and winery-) unfriendly legislation each year until the opposition gets complacent and doesn't raise a hue and cry.  Consider this my contribution to raising the hue and cry for 2011.
  • Blending, blending, blending... and an eventual look at the 2010 whites! (April 2011).  The blending of the 2010 whites was the longest we've ever faced, and provided the clearest example yet of how our process protects us from our own biases.  I lay out all the messiness in this post.
  • The Remarkable Rise of Paso Robles (May 2011).  A reflection on how Paso Robles has come as far as it has, as fast as it has, made more relevant by Stacie Jacob's announcement the next week that she would be leaving the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance after seven years at the helm.
  • Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam (June 2011).  The post which received the most comments over the last year (14 and counting!) and I've heard from dozens of other wineries letting me know that they'd found this post after googling the attempted scam or attempted scammer.  Nice to know that shedding a little light on a problem can provide real help.

As always, thank you for your support.  It's an honor to have been able to do this for as long as I have.

Tablas Creek is a 2010 "Best Winery Blog" finalist!

WBA_Finalist_2010 I'm proud to announce that Tablas Creek has again been named a finalist for "Best Winery Blog" at the 2010 Wine Blog Awards.  These awards were created four years ago by the tireless Tom Wark (whose blog Fermentation is a daily must-read for anyone in the wine community) to recognize the growing importance of the blogging community on the world of wine and were this year handed over to the nonprofit OpenWine Consortium.  The awards (which in past years were called the American Wine Blog Awards) have been opened up to this year to any English-language blog in the world.

As in previous years, your votes will help determine the winners; in the final tally, 50% of the weighting comes from voting by the public, and 50% from the votes of the panel of eleven expert judges (whose names are typically revealed after the awards are announced) who culled all the nominations into the five finalists in each category.  So please vote!

The most interesting part of the process for me is always discovering the blogs I wasn't aware of.  The Best Winery Blog finalists include two other winery blogs I consider must-reads (4488: A Ridge Blog and Twisted Oak's El Bloggio Torcido and two that I didn't yet know (Bonny Doon's Been Doon So Long and Quevedo Port).  How did I not know that Randall Grahm was blogging? 

I am particularly proud that Tablas Creek is the only repeat finalist from the 2009 Best Winery Blog category.

You can browse the list of finalists, or if you know who you like, you can vote here.  Voting ends Sunday, May 30th.

An exchange with Representative Kevin McCarthy on HR 5034 and direct shipping

On April 15th, H.R. 5034 was introduced into the US House of Representatives.  This bill, written by the Beer Wholesalers of America and titled the "Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act of 2010" [Get it? The "CARE Act"] would write into law the primacy of the 21st Amendment, which repealed prohibition, over the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, which gives the federal government exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce.  The net impact would be to allow states to write laws which allow their own in-state wineries (and breweries) to ship direct to consumers but prohibit out-of-state wineries (and breweries) from doing the same.  Read the full text here.

Of course, local wineries, and the in-state jobs that they represent, have been one rallying point for the advocates of direct shipping.  And direct shipping has been largely victorious in the nearly five years since Supreme Court ruled in Granholm v. Heald that states were not allowed to discriminate in favor of in-state interests in their alcohol regulations.  At that time, we could ship to 13 states.  Later this month, we will add Maine as our 31st legal shipping state.  The end result of the deregulation has been more choices for and lower prices to consumers, and more tax revenue to states, who have nearly all written shipping laws that require out-of-state wineries to remit state and local taxes on the wines they ship into the state.

Of course, one tier has been left out of the celebration: the wholesale tier, who in the era before direct sales collected a state-mandated markup on every bottle of beer, wine and liquor sold in every state.  These wholesalers are licensed by each state, and are often the single largest contributors to state political campaigns.  And although direct shipping of beer and wine is a tiny proportion of all sales and largely covers products that are not available through distribution, wholesalers have mobilized in force against direct shipping.  It's really amazing that so many direct shipping laws have been written in the last five years given the money and political muscle that have been lined up against each one.

With state ploys for legal discrimination being eliminated one by one in the courts (the most recent, a Massachusetts capacity cap under which all in-state wineries fell, was reaffirmed as unconstitutional by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in January) wholesalers have evidently turned to the federal government for help.  Hence H.R. 5034.

Although the bill has yet to be brought to the floor of the House for a vote, I did not want to be complacent about its prospects.  So, I wrote our local congressman, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California's 22nd District, to urge him to oppose the bill.  I assumed, given that his territory includes both Paso Robles and Bakersfield (wine producing regions) that he would be opposed to the bill.  His response suggested to me that he had not yet considered the bill's impacts on his district, and that he was taking the legislation's sponsors at their word when they said that this was an issue of states' rights.

I thought it would be interesting to post our exchange.  I have a few concluding thoughts (as well as how to contact your own representative) below the emails.  First, from last Thursday:

Dear Representative McCarthy,

We met a few years ago at an event organized by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance about immigration issues.  This is much more pressing to us, and to every small wine producer in the Paso Robles region.  I hope you will oppose HR 5034, a bill sponsored by beer wholesalers that would overturn winery-to-consumer shipping around the United States.

The legislation is couched as addressing public safety and states' rights, but is better described as an effort by wholesalers to protect their monopoly and choke off a potential source of competition.  If it passes, it will eliminate consumer access to thousands of small wineries and tens of thousands of wines, nearly all of them with such small productions as to be irrelevant to distributors.

HR 5034 has been condemned by winery associations including the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  It would choke off the lifeblood of most small wineries in our area and around the country.

Please let me know how you intend to vote on this important issue.

Jason Haas

I received a response this morning:

Dear Jason:

Thank you for contacting me in opposition to H.R. 5034. 

According to the bill's sponsors, H.R. 5034 is intended to reiterate the three-tier system of alcohol regulation in the U.S., and to ensure that states retain their traditional regulatory authority over alcohol distribution, which are areas that I support. However, I appreciate your concerns that the legislation could negatively impact wineries, especially small ones, in California. Given these concerns, I will closely monitor this legislation before making a final decision on this bill should it come to the House floor for a vote.

Thanks again for contacting me on issues of importance to you. If you would like additional information on services my office can provide you, my votes and positions on issues facing our nation, and to subscribe to receive periodic "e-newsletters," please visit my website at


Kevin McCarthy
Member of Congress

I responded to him just a few minutes ago:

Dear Representative McCarthy,

Thank you for your response to my earlier note regarding HR 5034.  In your response, you write:

"According to the bill's sponsors, H.R. 5034 is intended to reiterate the three-tier system of alcohol regulation in the U.S., and to ensure that states retain their traditional regulatory authority over alcohol distribution, which are areas that I support."

Please, in your deliberations, recognize that nothing currently prevents states from regulating alcohol in any way they choose.  Some states force all wine to go through the three-tier system and prohibit wine shipments entirely.  Others only allow it only for wineries of a certain size.  Others allow shipment into some areas and not others.  Others allow wineries and retailers to ship.  The only prohibition is that states not discriminate in favor of in-state wineries.  The major beneficiaries of the free trade that has resulted from the Supreme Court prohibition of discrimination have been the small wineries of California, over 200 of which are in your district.

While the sponsors of the bill would have you believe that this issue is one of states' rights, it is instead an issue of legislated monopolies (the liquor distributors) trying to eliminate their competition (your small wineries).  If you support free trade, you should oppose this bill. 

The passage of HR 5034 would likely result in dozens of local wineries having to close, the elimination of hundreds of good local jobs, and blunt the most powerful engine of the vibrant Paso Robles economy.

I hope that you will oppose this dangerous bill.

All the best,

I find it hard to believe that a California representative, and a member of the Congressional Wine Caucus, would take a bill like this at face value.  If a representative who has a territory with such a vested interest in expanded access to direct shipping can be so willing to accept the justifications of the wholesalers' lobby, what can the prospects be in the rest of the country?

If we expect the members of Congress to see this bill for what it is -- an anticompetitive money grab by big businesses with legislated monopoly power -- we need to make our voices heard.  Please speak up!  As usual, the Web site Free the Grapes is a great resource.  Or, you can also go straight to a page where you can customize and have notes sent to your senators and representatives.  And please continue to spread the word.  There is a Facebook group dedicated to stopping HR 5034, and a quick blog search on HR 5034 turns up nearly 4000 articles, led, appropriately, by Tom Wark's full-throated repudiation of the wholesalers' claims.

Tablas Creek on "A Long Pour: Fifty-Two Weeks with California Wine"

I have noticed a backlash recently among writers passionate about wine against what might be termed the tyranny of the tasting note.  In the view of these writers, the stilted language and the inherent subjectivity of the wine review is a distraction from the real business of telling a story about the people and the places which make up the world of wine.  [One great example, quoted in a recent piece on Steve Heimoff's blog, was of writer Rod Smith, who in response to a question about what he thought about the wines in a group wine tasting, replied "I don’t review wines. I write about them".]  And I understand this clearly: there is only so much writing you can do about flavors of berries, oak and minerals.  And this is without getting into the whole debate about scoring wine.

Whether in response to the fustiness of the traditional wine review, or just a greater interest in the how and the why of wine rather than the what, I've had the pleasure to speak to several writers recently who weren't particularly interested in writing about the wines of Tablas Creek, but about the soul.  One such writer is Wayne Kelterer, who a few months back started the blog "A Long Pour: Fifty-Two Weeks with California Wine".  On this blog, he profiles one winery each week.  The profiles are done on-site, incorporate his excellent photography, and include an in-depth interview with a principal or winemaker at each winery.  I think that the care that he takes on these pieces is evident in the results.


Tablas Creek is fortunate to be the profiled winery this week, and in the profile Wayne includes a transcript of what might be the longest, most in-depth interview I've ever had published.  If you're interested in not just where we are now, but how we got here and where we think we're going, then it's a must-read.

So, go read it: Tablas Creek: The Long Road to Success

Building a successful winery tasting room experience before, during and after the visit

Next week, I'll be speaking as part of a panel at the Unified Grape and Wine Symposium in Sacramento. The panel is titled "How to Make Your Tasting Room More Profitable" and is being organized and moderated by California's most respected tasting room consultant, Craig Root.

I've spent a lot of time in the past eight years refining my thoughts on what makes a successful tasting room, and am at this point amazed to think one wasn't in our original business plan.  An indication that we're succeeding is that, according to Craig, the sales and wine club signups that we see at the Tablas Creek tasting room are roughly double the industry average.  I hope to see some readers of the blog at the seminar.  We'll go into more detail than I have here, but below are a few highlights of what I think are important things to be thinking about before, during, and after a customer's visit.

  • Work to build your traffic year-round.  It's a lot easier to sell wine to people who have opened your front door than it is to sell it to people who haven't.
    • Cultivate partnerships. You are not the only one in your area with an interest in bringing people into town and giving them a good experience. Reach out to local hotels and bed&breakfasts and create co-marketing opportunities and specials that will give them a reason to be emailing their customers about you. Work with local restaurants to put together dinners that both you and they will market. This expands your base, supports your partners in your community, and ensures you stay visible. And don’t neglect the other winery tasting rooms in your area. Open houses every six months are easy and fun.
    • Encourage your supporters to come back and bring friends. You’re probably offering free tasting for your wine club members. Are you doing so for their guests? Are you offering some reward to members who refer you business?
    • Understand that your marketing (and your presence in the wholesale market) does have an impact on your tasting room. Make sure that you’re in the places where potential customers are. Go to wine festivals in your catchment area. Work particularly hard to ensure that your wines are on the lists of restaurants in your area. Know that one benefit to your wholesale marketing is spillover into your tasting room.
    • Do your part to ensure that you get editorial coverage. Most wineries think of press as principally beneficial to their wholesale marketing.  And great press does have a multiplier effect in wholesale, as the reviews you get are echoed by distributors and retailers.  But don't neglect the impact it can have on a tasting room.  When we got our last set of reviews from Robert Parker last August, our tasting room traffic rose 20% and our sales 35% over the rest of the year.  Be sure you are at least covering the basics by sending samples of all your new releases to the 20 or 30 key writers around the country a few times each year.  Total cost: around $2500 plus a few cases of wine. Possible benefits: enormous.
  • Make sure that you focus on each customer interaction. I am amazed by how many people we get in our tasting room who tell us stories of other tasting rooms with disinterested servers, overcrowded tasting bars, or salespeople whose only interest is a club sign-up.
    • Have sufficient staff on hand for your busiest times.  An enormous piece of being able to ensure a good customer experience and the sales that result is having sufficient staff on hand to handle your busiest times. This necessarily means that in slower times you'll be overstaffed, but if you calculate the value over time to your business of a single club sign-up or a single dissatisfied customer who would otherwise have bought a case of wine and told their friends, the cost of labor seems pretty minor.
    • Focus on giving everyone a memorable experience. If you do so, the wine (and wine club) will sell itself.
      • A hugely successful tasting room may convert 5%-7% of its customers into club members. That means that the vast majority of the people coming through your tasting room are not going to sign up on the spot. Be careful... if you are incentivizing your staff for club signups you may be encouraging them to focus their best efforts too narrowly.
      • Sell through education and enthusiasm, and make sure that the customers know the options in front of them.
      • Every person who leaves your tasting room happy is a source of repeat business and referrals.
    • Get an impartial perspective.  Consider sending in friends or family members incognito to get a sense of what the typical customer is experiencing.  Make sure it's someone who will be honest with you.
  • Be generous with the little things. Remember that your primary reason for being is (probably) to sell wine. If you focus on making money on your events or your fees, you may be doing so at the expense of wine sales. Some ideas:
    • Comp your tasting fee on a purchase. When we raised our tasting fee from $5 to $10 but comped it on any wine purchase, we found that the percentage of visitors coming to our tasting room who bought rose from 65% to 80%. Even a one-bottle purchase means that sometime in the future, that guest is going to open a bottle of your wine, often with friends, and relive the memory of having visited you.
    • Give away a logo glass. You’ll spend less time doing dishes, and your glass provides a reminder of the experience.  High-quality logo glasses sell for all of $2 in bulk.
    • Make sure that your wine club members know they are appreciated. Send them a welcome packet when they sign up.  Send a holiday card, and consider including a coupon (say, $20 off on their next order). It spurs new orders and keeps you top of mind.
    • Keep the costs of your events reasonable. An inexpensive (even free) event and an incentive to purchase while your customers are there can drive impressive sales. Adding a night-of-the-event-only 5% discount to our semi-annual wine club shipment tasting parties more than doubled our average sales.
    • Choose a wine each month to offer at a discount. This gives you something different to talk about each month in the tasting room, via email, or online (including through your social media). You can use this to focus attention on a new wine, or one whose sales are slow, or just rotate through your portfolio to raise awareness and excitement about the wines you make.
  • Put yourself in a position to continue the conversation with your customer even after they leave. Don’t assume that your connection ends when your customer leaves the tasting room. There are powerful tools available to maintain and even grow a connection that begins in the tasting room.
    • Build and use your lists. Are you asking all your customers if they are interested in joining your mailing list?  Adding just a small percentage of your foot traffic to your email lists (let alone your wine club lists) can give you a powerful tool to communicate special offers, share information about events, and generally build an ongoing connection to your base.  And once you have added these people to your lists, it's important to contact them regularly. An email every few months, with perhaps a print newsletter a couple of times a year, is generally seen as welcome rather than intrusive.
    • Work with new media to stay connected. The tasting room is your primary venue for creating a personal connection with your customers. Social media sites allow you to extend that connection, and help like-minded consumers find and follow you, and hopefully become customers.
      • Facebook should be a part of any winery’s marketing plan. With over 300,000,000 users, a significant portion of everyone's network is on Facebook. If you are not, you lose the opportunity to remain top of mind to a huge portion of your lists (it’s also a great way to make and maintain connections to distributors, trade and media).
      • A blog (like this one!) is a great way to personalize your business, communicate your core ideas and principals, and drive traffic to your Web site. It’s probably your best opportunity to tell an extended story.
      • Twitter can spur real-time interaction and feedback with an important (read: taste-making) segment 25,000,000 strong.
    • Make sure you're a good partner. Whether you're using social media or more traditional email or print marketing, make sure you provide valuable content in addition to (and probably more extensively than) you push sales.  Of course, sales are an important result of any marketing campaign, but if you cross the line and become one-dimensional or self-serving, or you'll push away the customers with whom you're trying to build a connection.

If you are going to be at Unified, and want the more detailed version of this, as well as the thoughts from the other panelists and Craig, our seminar will be 2:00pm on Thursday, January 28th.  I hope to see many of you there!

Zester Daily and a new model for food and wine journalism

Earlier this fall, I was approached by Corie Brown to contribute an opinion piece to the new food and wine Web site Zester Daily.  Corie was an editor and the wine columnist at the Los Angeles Times before they eliminated her department in 2008, and in her capacity there I found that she brought a journalistic intensity to the wine stories that in other hands often become puff pieces.  I was sorry to hear that the Times had made the decision that it did, but it's just one more bit in a mountain of evidence that newspapers are in trouble.

Enter Zester Daily, which Corie co-founded and for which she serves as General Manager.  It's a cooperative site with 25 contributors from around the world of food and wine, including experts on cooking, gastronomy, health, wine, spirits, gardening and media, as well as writers focusing on the food traditions of different regions around the country.  Their home page is below:


The contributors are noted in their fields; their wine team consists of Patrick Comiskey (Wine & Spirits, L.A. Times, and many other publications), Jordan Mackay (San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, Food & Wine, and many others) and Corie herself.  The articles are more serious in their conception and execution than is typical for food and wine blogs.  In fact, they're better thought of as articles than blogs as I learned when I submitted my piece on sustainability in the world of wine.  I thought the piece was a good one, but Zester Daily editor Robin Rauzi (also an ex-editor at the Los Angeles Times) turned the piece inside-out.  Nearly every sentence was changed, the piece was reordered and tightened, and the cumulative effect made a much clearer and more powerful article.  It was my first experience being professionally edited, and it was humbling.  I regained a small measure of pride by making some small additional changes, and adding a new paragraph that I thought was needed, and having her accept them as presented.  You can read the resulting article "The Dirt on Sustainability" at the Zester Daily site.

I think that the concept of Zester is an appealing one, and a possible model for food and wine journalism in an era where few newspapers can support full-time journalists.  They're not limiting themselves to strictly writing about cooking, or food --  they expect to address everything from politics to the environment through the prism of food and wine. 

But does it work?  It's a free site, supported by ad revenue rather than subscriptions, and from what I've read, non-search online advertising revenue is hard to come by.  I asked Robin whether it could replace the food and wine journalism jobs that are being lost around the country, and her response was interesting.  She pointed out that Salon began an online food section and The Atlantic launched the Atlantic Food Channel after Gourmet shut its doors, and that interest is growing, not contracting, around the topics of food and wine.  If a company can create a destination for these educated, affluent readers, it will be appealing to advertisers. 

Zester Daily is a site where the contributors share any revenues that the site produces.  So, it will succeed or fail on the collective talents of its creative team, and its ability to publicize and create excitement around these talents.  It probably won't replace the full-time jobs that so many print journalists have lost, but Robin points out that it wasn't designed to do so.  It was designed to allow talented writers to share their thoughts, their work, and their audience, and hopefully provide an outlet, and a little income, for writers who are working on other projects at the same time.

The bottom line: Zester's success in keeping its writers will be determined by its revenues, and its revenues will be determined by its readership.  I hope it works; it has the potential to be a unique and valuable contributor to the world of food and wine.  Please check it out, and I invite your comments here to share what you thought.

Tablas Creek on Native Food and Wine

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Kevin Lynch and Amber Share of Native Food and Wine, a relatively new Web blog dedicated to food and wines of place.  Kevin and Amber describe their site as a place where they "examine how local and regional ingredients define a place and how people around the world respond, sustain and enjoy themselves in their respective environments".


The site is beautiful, with gorgeous photography and detailed articles on topics as diverse as Cultiva Coffee, the Santa Monica Farmer's Market, tamales, and about wine grapes.  They don't try to post daily, but their more-or-less weekly articles tackle topics in greater depth than a typical blog, and are researched and supported with rigor more typical of old-media newsletters (think an Art of Eating article that comes every week or so, for free).

They recently posted the article California's Rhone on their Tablas Creek visit.  In addition to a detailed foray into the history of the idea of terroir, a thoughtful comparison of California and France, and a dozen gorgeous photographs, they posted the below video that is assembled from our conversations.  But don't just watch this here... go read the article, and subscribe to their RSS feed.

How cool... Tablas sells ad space!

I was amazed (and thrilled) to have a clipping from the San Francisco Chronicle sent to me.  It's not editorial coverage, though we've been fortunate enough to get some good editorial coverage in the Chronicle in the last year.  It was a Chronicle ad soliciting advertising for the Food&Wine section.  In it Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné holds a bottle of Esprit Blanc.  I've been really impressed with what Jon has done to broaden the reach of the Chronicle's wine section beyond Napa and Sonoma in the few years since he took over, and his blog The Cellarist is one of the ones that I check out each week.  But this, for sure, was unexpected.