Fourteen years ago this month, I kicked off the Tablas Creek blog with a story about a family visit to Beaucastel. It wasn't much of a story, just two paragraphs and two photos of our then-6-month-old Eli in the vines (right) and the winery there. But it was the beginning of something that has proven, 855 posts later, to be one of our most powerful communication tools, and maybe my favorite piece of what I get to do. Two years later, as I felt like my writing for the blog had hit its stride, I wrote a post with seven pieces of advice for other nascent bloggers. I still stand behind all those recommendations, but there's one topic I keep coming back to. That item:
Write about what you're worried about. In a blog environment, the core of writing something interesting is picking a topic that can arouse emotions. In general, the pieces that I've found most fulfilling to write (and which have received the most comments, a sure sign that they've engaged their readers) are the things that are keeping me up at night, like my frustrations over organic labeling requirements or my reaction to a writer calling all Tablas Creek's wines "conspicuously expensive".
The end of a decade seems like a good time to go back and identify some of the pieces that I feel like were most successful. They tend to correlate with posts that got the most comments, but not always. I chose some because I've heard from readers that they found them meaningful in some way, and others because I find myself going back to them for insight or to recapture a perspective that I had at a certain point in our history. Some were things that literally kept me up at night. That makes this (necessarily) a subjective list. But isn't that what a blog is all about? Here's a baker's dozen of the posts that have stuck with me, in chronological order:
- In Search of a Green(er) Wine Bottle (January 2010). When I wrote this blog, I thought we were looking for a lighter-weight version of the big, impressive bottle we'd moved to two years earlier. By the time I was done processing my readers' comments, I realized we were looking for something quite different. Ten years later, we've saved more than 1.3 million pounds of glass.
- Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam (June 2011). Until last year's tribute to my dad's life, this piece had received more comments (32) than any other. I shared an email that I'd received, broke down why it wasn't legitimate, and even traced what would have happened had I responded. It turns out the scammer had cast a wide net, and I heard from lots of other grateful wineries who'd received a similar solicitation. Readers have turned it into something of a chronicle of scams, posting new solicitations they receive as a warning to others, which makes it the piece with maybe the longest relevant life span.
- 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 offer a different narrative than one I had been reading. Yes, we've declined from 20,000-plus to roughly 5,000 acres, but all Grenache acres are not created equal!
- A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek (May 2012). Maybe my favorite post ever, 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.
- The costs of state alcohol franchise laws (April 2013). I always enjoy the posts that shine a light into the labyrinth of legislation a winery has to navigate to get its wares to market, and this was a favorite one. I still refer people -- many of whom have no idea that wineries are denied something as basic as the right to choose who represents you in a state -- to this piece, and every word is as true now as it was seven years ago.
- Vintage Hollywood (January 2014). I felt like I was out on a limb with this blog, where I picked a male and female Hollywood star that I felt embodied the personality of each of our recent vintages. I'm not sure if it was fun or just nuts to match actors from Denzel Washington to Daniel Craig, Angelina Jolie to Julianne Moore with vintages, but I did it, and I've heard from lots of people since who told me it struck a chord.
- Are direct-to-consumer sales really failing to lift the wine industry? (August 2014). I saw the headline "Direct to Consumer Sales Fails to Lift the Wine Industry" in a major industry journal, and took exception. Just because someone is given a platform in a major trade journal doesn't mean they actually understand the business from every perspective.
- State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition (January 2015). In honor of the real State of the Union, I broke down the 51 markets we ship to by tier, from relatively straightforward to incredibly convoluted and expensive. I always try to make sure posts are topical and timely, but only succeed to this extent a few times a year. If you think that wine is a free market product, read on.
- Customer Disservice: Nine Lessons from a Terrible Hertz Experience (June 2015). Sometimes, it's a choice between laughing at something frustrating and hitting someone. I was really happy with how I managed in this piece to tie a roughly chronological account of a customer service debacle I experienced with some useful take-home lessons for businesses, and even got a Seinfeld clip in there.
- A 60 Year Career in a Bottle of Delaporte Sancerre (January 2016). I could have picked several pieces by my dad, but my favorite was one of his last, reflecting on opening a bottle of wine he'd first encountered (many vintages earlier) on his first buying trip to France. That same day, I'd been in the audience to listen to the original proprietor's great-grandson present the estate's newest wines to Vineyard Brands, the company my dad founded.
- Should a Vermentino ever get 98 points? (June 2017). I don't talk much about press on the blog. By and large, it's not that interesting. We share it on Facebook and Twitter, post a link on the relevant wine's page on our Web site, and move on. But this score got me thinking about glass ceilings for certain types of wines, and I spent an afternoon sending queries into the Wine Spectator's review database to try to figure out the extent to which variety limits scores, and share what I found.
- Direct Shipping is not a Zero Sum Game (August 2017). We sell roughly the same amount of wine direct and through wholesalers, and I work hard to make sure that everyone feels treated fairly. But I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of my time pushing back against the knee-jerk reaction from many players in the wholesale world that direct sales are competition. To illustrate, I shared our sales data from ten states that recently opened to direct shipping. In the first two years after they opened, our wholesale sales rose 52% on average. Why? Fan cultivation.
- Robert Haas 1927-2018: A Life Well Lived (March 2018). This tribute to my dad got more comments (35) than any other post. I hope I was able to share some of what made him special.
For those of you who have been regular readers of the blog over recent years, thank you. I am honored and humbled that other people find this crazy project that we've now kept going for thirty years interesting enough to want to read my thoughts. If you have pieces that particularly stuck with you, for whatever reason, or that you found valuable, please share in the comments.