LIOCO Does Wine Marketing Right

We have been negligent in our review of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir festival Despite being semi-retired, there are consulting contracts and many other distractions.  But one winery we did like (and will review) is LIOCO.  Today we’re writing about them because we received a promotional e-mail.  LIOCO is having a sale on magnums.  Here’s the photo:

LIOCO Magnums LIOCO shows how to do marketing

(click for larger image)

The full LIOCO promo is here (link will probably expire, be patient).  If you want to see a reasonable pdf version of the e-mail, click here.

Jack Creek Cellars Shows Why Wine Clubs Are Good

We need to join their wine club right now. In a few years that will be the only way to get their wine.

If memory serves, we first visited Jack Creek Cellars in 2006. After tasting their wine, Norma whispered this→

Norma was off by a few years. A few days ago, an e-mail arrived. Buried in a footnote at the end was the announcement that starting in 2016 the club would be closed. An inquiry to Brette Womack, Jack Creek’s general manager (for lack of a better title) brought forth the full press release. They are also closing their tasting room and will do tastings by appointment only on the first Saturday of each month.

Jack Creek Cellars shows why wine clubs are good. As a member you support your favorite wineries. And in many cases you get exclusive access to a few wines, events, and, of course, priority in the tasting room. And, if the winery is successful, you also get continued access to their wine!

Tony with Doug Kruse at Jack Creek Cellars wine clubs

Tony with Doug Kruse at Jack Creek Cellars

Doug and Sabrina Kruse continue to make excellent wine and serve as wonderful hosts to wine club events. Here’s part of the press release:

We are very grateful that our wine club has successfully grown via word of mouth, to the point that we now must put a cap on it in order to continue to provide wine to you, our members. At the end of 2015 the Wine Family will be closed to new members and a wait list will be started. New members will be added as space opens up, or we have enough wine to welcome new friends.

Along with this, we will be closing our tasting room in order to preserve enough wine for our Wine Family in the coming years. In lieu of this year’s very lean harvest and our current inventory, we are planning ahead and feel this is the best way we can serve our current members.

Starting January 2nd, 2016 we will be open for appointments the first Saturday of each month only, and look forward to making this tasting experience fun and memorable.

So there it is. Better sign up for that wine club right now!

Where You Buy Wine Makes a Difference

A few weeks ago, Norma brought home a couple of bottles of Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Village Rouge 2012.  She bought them at our local Costco (Mountain View, CA).  We opened one and, frankly, the flavor of acetic acid was unmistakableMeaning the wine had not been handled properly.

Famille Perrin Cotes Du Rhone VillageLooking at the label, we realized we had bought the same wine a few weeks earlier at Artisan Wine Depot.  We had attended one of their tastings comparing Rhône varietals with GSM’s from Tablas Creek.  In fact we reviewed it.  And we liked it enough to bring home two bottles.  We had one left which we proceeded to open.  It was just as delicious as we remembered.

Where you buy wine makes a difference.  Many years ago we spent a long weekend in Florida.  The only wine shop in the area had hours that didn’t allow us to visit it.  We bought wine at a couple of nearby supermarkets.  Wines that we know and like were vinegar.

The moral: support your local wine shop.  And, if you buy a bottle at a big-box store and you don’t like it, that may not be the winery’s fault.

Pennsylvania Declares War on Wine

[Updated September 22, 2o14 with additional information from a friend who lives in Pennsylvania.]

We interrupt our regular reviewing with a public service announcement. First, you need to know that in Pennsylvania alcoholic beverages can only be purchased in stores owned and operated by the state.  This can lead to bizarre situations such as a particular wine only being available in a few stores. This is a case of Pennsylvania declares war on wine.  According to an article at,

Earlier this year, after a months-long undercover investigation, Pennsylvania state police agents served a warrant on the home of Arthur Goldman, an attorney, and his wife, Melissa Kurtzman.

So just what was it that led police to target the homeowners? Cocaine? Marijuana? Meth? Raw milk?

None of the above. This bizarre and infuriating case involves no illicit substance whatsoever. It’s a case about wine. Legally purchased wine, at that.

Goldman and Kurtzman are now fighting the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in court. They argue the state’s seizure of more than 2,400 bottles of fine wine is unconstitutional and are seeking to force Pennsylvania to return the entire collection. The state, on the other hand, has designs on destroying the wine.

The couple are wine lovers.  They regularly have wine delivered to their New Jersey residence.  This is perfectly legal in the more enlightened state of New Jersey.  As a favor to friends Goldman and Kurtzman began ordering wine on their behalf.  They did this at their cost, not making a profit.  (As a side note, Mr. Goldman is an attorney who is obviously working hard to improve the public image of his profession.)

In 2013 the couple bought a home in Malvern, Pennsylvania.  However, they continued to use the New Jersey house as their primary residence.

At this point, the absolute lunacy of Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws becomes clear.  You can order wine to be shipped to Pennsylvania, but it must be shipped to one of the state stores.  And you can’t order any wine that the state stores already carry.

add a $4.50 handling fee, Pennsylvania’s 18% liquor tax, 6% sales tax (and 2% sales tax in Philadelphia or 1% Allegheny counties.

Exactly what a Philadelphia resident should do if the wine they want is only available in a Pittsburgh store remains in question. And when you pick up your wine →

More from the Reason article:

… fast forward to March 2013. It was then that, while Goldman’s and his wife’s wine collection slept soundly at their New Jersey home, an “anonymous complainant reported” Goldman to Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BCLE) for allegedly selling wine in Pennsylvania without a license.

It’s unclear who the informant is or what they claimed Goldman had done. But that same month, an undercover BCLE officer “infiltrated… Mr. Goldman’s mailing list.” The officer then made a buy (to use undercover cop parlance), joining in one of Goldman’s pooled orders from California.

This officer was soon joined on the list by another undercover officer, who posed as his stepdaughter, and still another officer, who posed as the second officer’s fiance. These officers also joined in the pooled orders.

Continuing with his generosity, Goldman shared glasses of his own wine with the undercover officers in his home. He gave them a tour of his wine cellar, which by July 2014 was located in his Malvern home, now the marital residence.

Testing the limits of that generosity, the officers concocted a story about looking for a special wedding gift of wine. Though Goldman wasn’t in the business of selling wine, he made an exception, selling to undercover agents a total of four or five bottles—at cost—from his personal collection.

Soon afterwards, on January, 6, 2014, Pennsylvania police raided the home and seized more than 2,400 bottles of wine. They charged Goldman was an unlicensed wine dealer who made purchases in contravention of state law, and that his alleged crimes required Pennsylvania to destroy the entirety of the couple’s wine collection—worth an estimated $160,000.

 If you’re as outraged as me, I urge you to write Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett at or call 717-787-2500. (Gov. Corbett lost his bid for re-election.  As of January 20, 2015 address those e-mails to Governor-elect Tom Wolf.) S-mail to Governor Tom Corbett, 508 E-Floor Main Capitol, Harrisburg 17120

Update: Mr. Corbett is a Republican.  And Republicans have controlled both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature for at least a few years. They tried to eliminate the state monopoly stores. But the stores’ employees are unionized.  And the lobbying was intense.  To the everlasting shame of the Republican party, Pennsylvania knuckled under.  The law failed.  And the wine Gestapo marches on.

Thanks to David Burge (@iowahawkblog) for tracking this story down. #oneman

Laird Family Estate

It’s been a while since our last article about the August 17 Family Winemakers Tasting in San Mateo. But there are more good wineries to be reviewed. Our excuse for the delay is that there are only 168 hours in a week!

Laird Phantom Ranch Laird Family Estate

Laird Phantom Ranch

Laird Family Estate was another new winery — at least, new to us. Which shows how much we still need to learn. Before we get into who they are and what they do, let’s look at their 2012 Phantom Ranch Carneros pinot noir ($55 from the winery, don’t expect much of a discount in retail stores). The wine opens with aromas of black cherries and undertones of leather and chocolate. The palate is black raspberries, more cherries, and a hint of spice. Smooth tannins create a long, marvelous finish. The wine is an excellent representative of Carneros pinots, with bigger and bolder fruit expressions than the various Sonoma and Mendocino County appellations. With just 875 cases produced, you’ll need to move fast to acquire some of this one.

Phantom Ranch is a new vineyard. In fact, this is only the second vintage. Winemakers Paul Hobbs and Julian Gonzalez have done an outstanding job with the fruit from these relatively young vines!

Laird Family

Laird Family Estate is a subsidiary of Laird Family. Rather than give a detailed history here, we’ll refer you to The Napa Wine Project’s excellent, detailed recounting (thanks, David Thompson!).

The Laird Family is mainly wine grape growers. In 1970 Ken Laird set his sights on 70 acres of ancient prune trees near Tubbs Lane in Calistoga (north end of the Napa Valley). Knowing nothing about grapegrowing, but with a long history in agriculture, Ken was smart enough to call a consultant. Plus he was about $150,000 short of cash. He picked up a phone book, found eight listed wineries, and called the only one he had heard of: Robert Mondavi.

Oh. Well, that’s not so bad! Mr. Mondavi agreed to walk the property. After discussing soils, vines, yields, irrigation, and pruning, he agreed to finance the deal with Ken as long as the vineyard was planted 50% gamay and 50% cabernet sauvignon. That was the beginning of Laird Family’s history in the Napa Valley.

In the early 1980s, Ken made another smart move. He bought the first land in Carneros. At that time, property in that region was believed to be only useful for grazing sheep. Wrong. Today, of course, Carneros produces its own distinctive style of pinot noir and a few other varietals.

Lairs Holdings Laird Family Estate

Laird Holdings

Today Laird Family owns 2,000 acres scattered throughout the Napa Valley. They are mainly growers, using about two percent of their grapes for Laird Family Estate production. Annual Laird Family production is about 12,000 cases spread out over 13 SKUs.

Laird also offers custom crush, with about 60 wineries using these services. And they offer Laird Wine Services, a storage facility that can accommodate 2.5 million gallons of bulk storage and up to 50,000 cases of in-bottle wine.

Laird History

From the Laird Family Estate website:

Our story begins nearly sixty-four years ago outside of South Boston Virginia as twelve-year-old Ken Laird drove his mule wagon through tight rows of sticky, fit-to-be-harvested tobacco leaves. As the gooey bundles were thrown up onto the wagon, little Ken led his mule team to the curing barn. It was there, with his grandmother, great uncles and cousins, they would stoke smoky curing fires for their prized tobacco. Ken would be the third generation Laird to carry on the farming tradition.

While growing up to be a big city mechanical engineer in New York City, Ken held on to family tradition by buying his first Napa Valley parcel in 1970. This neglected piece of land, adjacent to Tubbs Lane in Calistoga, held 70 acres of worn-down prune trees. With Prohibition forty years gone and Napa Valley positioned to re-emerge as viticulturally significant, Ken decided to develop the orchard into a grape vineyard.

Ken Laird Family Estate

Ken Laird

Owner Ken Laird is still the CEO. Rebecca Laird is the General Manager. They are very private. I won’t steal from David Thompson, but if you want more details you should read his article at The Napa Wine Project.

Rebecca Laird Family Estate

Rebecca Laird


A few years ago we spent several weeks in the Santa Ynez Valley. We discovered Terravant in Buellton. Laird Family’s enterprises look like a smaller scale version of Terravant. Except, of course, that Terravant doesn’t grow grapes.

On our next trip to the Napa Valley we’ll make it a point to make appointments with the Laird Family.

J Christopher 2010 Dundee Hills Cuvee Pinot Noir

Our friends at Artisan Wine Depot (Mountain View, CA, see map below) invited us over for a “French Burgundy vs. Oregon Pinot Noir tasting.”  The French burgundies were, well, French.  Lots of earthy and mineral flavors and aromas.  Oregon was represented by J. Christopher, a small (5,000 cases per year) winery toward the north end of the Willamette Valley.  Of the four pinots that were poured, we were especially fond of the J Christopher 2010 Dundee Hills Cuvee Pinot Noir ($33.99).  We brought home a bottle and it was even better than what we had tasted at Artisan.

Smoke, cassis, and wild blueberries on the nose followed by licorice, a hint of baking spices, and a long finish of medicinal herbs and nutmeg.

With production of 5,000 cases, these wines rarely make it out of Oregon.  We’re fortunate to have access to them through Artisan.  This saying on the front page of their website gives their philosophy in a few words: “”If You Make a Wine that Everyone Loves, You’ve Done Something Wrong.”  This is true for all grapes, but most especially pinot noir.

The folks at J. Christopher only made 300 cases of this wine.  I don’t know how much Artisan has left, but click this link to go directly to the page where you can order it.  Disclaimer: Artisan was kind enough to invite us to the tasting at no charge, but we pay full price for all the wines we buy from them.

View Bay Area Wine Shops in a larger map

Buellton Wineries — Terravant is it

Buellton Wineries? Want to taste wine at a state of the art sports bar and mega winery? Scores of small Santa Barbara pinot noir winemakers rely on Terravant for custom crush of their personal recipes. Ken Browne and Hitching Post are some of the respectable labels who produce at least some of their product via Terravant. But Terravant also can produce mega volumes of wine for “house labels” for big box chains – hotels, liquor stores, grocers.  Terravant produces 250,000 cases of wine a year.  They’re the biggest winery you never heard of.

Terravant Winery – just some of the barrels

Public tasting is round back, up the stairs in a large, bright sports bar, focused on wood-fired pizza, but with some surprising items, like seared sesame Ahi. You get your wine from a row of automated dispensers, housing about 50 different labels, all vinted here at Terravant. We found several pinot noirs here and tasted Thorne 2008 Santa Rita Hills, Ken Brown 2008 Santa Maria Valley, and Hitching Post 2009 Cork Dancer, Santa Barbara County.

Terravant offers occasional tours of their facilities. To find out about them, you need to go to the second floor of the main building, the Avant Tapas and Wine Bar. Ask the bartender about tours.  But stay to enjoy the restaurant’s fabulous view of the forest of fermentation tanks.  You can walk out onto a catwalk if you want a better view.  Before that, however, you’ll want to experience the Wall of Wine.  This is an automated winetasting system.  Every customer is given a card much like a credit card.  This card keeps track of your tastings.  For each of the fifty wines on the wall, you can buy a taste or a glass.  (Fifty is the number as of June, 2012.)  It’s a lot of fun and the staff is very helpful when things go wrong.  Of course we were visiting in February, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Terravant WInery – getting a wine taste from the automat in the sports restaurant

While we were in Avant we met Julie Major, the assistant manager.  She was kind enough to refer us to Darren Michaels, the lab manager.  It turns out that the lab is a big part of the reason for their success.  Darren personally selected the hardware, specifically looking for as much automation as possible in order to handle the high volume of testing. He must have done a good job because the lab staff is Darren and one assistant. We were fortunate to have Darren give us a tour of the lab.

If you want to visit …

Avant hours: Monday, Thursday, & Sunday: 11 – 8. Friday & Saturday: 11 – 10.
Tel: 805.686.4742. 35 Industrial Way, ‪Buellton, CA 93427

From the Avant website: “We like being surprised. Sorry we do not take reservations.”

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Terravant Winery – guest catwalk overlooking the main processing facility

Terravant Winery – Darren Michaels talks lab work with Tony

Terravant Winery – testing equipment and lots of software to track a wine’s development

Custom Labels Available

Custom Labels Available

New French Innovation for Using Surplus Wine

A few minutes ago I discovered a new French innovation for using surplus wine: feed it to cows.  Not kidding.  ABC News reports that French winemaker Jean-Charles Tastavy [sic] is feeding his cows two bottles of wine a day.  The claim is that the beef tastes better.  Internal marination, anyone?  Instant bœuf bourguignon?

The original story was reported by Agence France-Presse.  If your French is up to the task, here’s the link to the original story.  The rest of us will have to make do with Google Translate.

Naturally, there is a name for this exciting new product: Vinbovin.  And, not surprisingly, the Agence France-Presse story includes this wonderful quote: “…administrateur du syndicat des éleveurs héraultais], who believes ‘the better the quality of the wine the better the meat.’ ” (Apologies for the French in the square brackets, but I’m very sure Google Translate couldn’t handle that.  Anyone who can help is invited to contact me.]

There is actually some wine economics at work here.  When we attended the first meeting of the American Association of Wine Economists, a speaker from France presented a paper about the impact of European Union subsidies for wine.  When government subsidizes an activity, it encourages more of that activity.  Wine is no exception.  Some is sold to make brandy.  Last time I looked you could buy excellent French brandy at very low prices.  (I am restricted to wine, but I did allow myself one small sip of a brandy sample.)  Now we have a new use.  Consider a herd of 50 cattle.  Two 750 ml bottles per day per cow equals about 75 liters per day.  Let’s assume the cows only get wine 300 days a year.  A single small French herd can soak up 22,500 liters of wine a year.  At nine liters per case, that’s 2,500 cases per year, about 5,975 gallons.  That will soak up a whole lot of the excess supply.

Roshambo Winery: A Case Study in Failure

A few years back, we visited the newly-opened Roshambo Winery. Today Roshambo is a case study in failure. But back in 2005, it was something to see. The winery was on the east side of Westside Road in Healdsburg, a mile or two south of Madrona Manor. (Madrona Manor is highly recommended for a stay, but the last time we were there the restaurant had switched to a tasting menu format. Not to our taste, but there are plenty of good restaurants in Healdsburg, about a mile away.)

Naomi Brilliant

Naomi Brilliant

Roshambo was housed in a contemporary concrete and steel structure, not a welcoming face. But that’s never stopped us before.  We went inside and were somewhat impressed with the wines. But we were less impressed by the prices. (It’s hard to describe the place.  Luckily, the web never forgets.  The exterior is below.  Click here and here for interior images.)

Roshambo came to mind the last few days when we finally cracked open their 2007 chardonnay.  Lots of citrus and grapefruit, not much oak or vanilla.  Very pleasant on a hot summer evening.  Norma rates it “quaffable.”

Roshambo 2007 Chardonnay

Roshambo 2007 Chardonnay

Sadly, Roshambo is no more.  Started by Naomi Brilliant (described in a  New York Times profile as a “social butterfly”) around 2000 when she was 27, she plowed the vines under in 2010 and planted vegetables.  She actually sold the winery building to Twomey in 2005.  She leased a tasting room in 2007, but that was close to the end of the line. Ms. Brilliant set her goal as “trying to convince her generation that wine is a blast.” At the advanced age of 37, she “realized [she] wasn’t having any fun doing this any more.” (All quotations are from the New York Times article linked above.)

“The profits at Roshambo (a name for the children’s game rock-paper-scissors) evaporated as sales dwindled from a high of 10,000 cases in 2005. Last year, Ms. Brilliant reduced production to 1,000 cases and decided to make no wine during the 2009 harvest, selling all the grapes.

But her biggest problem was that Roshambo wines never found their market. For the sort of folks who attended her events, the wines were expensive, $15 to $30. And she never positioned them as anything other than party quaffers.”

Exactly.  Any winery can sell one bottle of wine based on almost anything: a cute label, an attention-grabbing name, shelf position in a retail store, an unusual bottle, and so on.  But that won’t keep you in business long.  Wineries live or die on repeat sales.  Like any other monopolistically competitive market, the trick is to develop a product that has the characteristics and price that a particular market segment can afford. Many of the papers in the Journal of Wine Economics use hedonic regression, a statistical technique that relates prices to product characteristics. We search far and wide for pinot noirs that suit our taste.  We’ve found a number — Jack Creek Cellars, RN Estate, Siduri, Lynmar Estate, Hartford Family, Kenneth Volk, Fess Parker, Cambria, Coghlan, Archery Summit, A to Z — hey, if I could list them all,  we wouldn’t need an entire website!  When we find a good one we stick with it.  If we really, really like the wine we join their club. (The image below is the A to Z home page.  I couldn’t resist.)

A to Z Winery home page

A to Z Winery home page

As Ms. Brilliant put it, ‘I am an artist. My art is to bring people together.’ While she enjoyed the grand gesture — flying performers in from New York City for her Drag Queen Brunch — she made Roshambo the highlight of Sonoma County wine events by cranking up the live music and encouraging her friends to forgo the sober sipping and spitting and simply drink her wine. [Editors note: we try to keep up with what’s happening in Sonoma County, but we do not remember ever hearing about any of these events.  We are skeptical of the claim that Ms. Brilliant’s events were the highlight of anything.]

‘We had a lot of success getting people to dress up,’ she said. ‘I always tried to be fabulous.’ ”

More from the Times profile:

“But when the parties ended, Ms. Brilliant faced the day-to-day operations of a winery she described as a financial drain.

Her business plan? There wasn’t one. The Roshambo events, where tickets typically sold for a modest $10 to $15, lost money. She rationalized the expense as long as the wines were selling. ‘If all of the people who say they love my wine and support me would have bought my wine,’ she said, ‘things would have been a lot easier.’

Pitching her wines to retailers was like ‘selling my soul,’ she said. ‘There is always someone else who can make wine for less and offer it to stores at a lower price. It would have been insanity to keep lowering the price.’

She said that big corporations own many of the wineries that are perceived as family businesses, and control the means to distribute wine. ‘They make it very difficult for the real start-ups,’ she said.”

Those statements, of course, fly in the face of the massive number of new wineries that have opened in California during the last decade.  Many of them are doing quite well by producing wines whose quality matches their price.  Ms. Brilliant’s problem was that she never managed to accomplish that most basic task. I guess the real world had to intervene sooner or later.

Winery Owners: Don’t bake my wine in the parking lot


We have visited a couple hundred wineries over the years. Although there are always trees around the often sumptous architecture housing the tasting room, on a sunny day the parking lots are broiling asphalt deserts.  Think of the typical wayfarer…  after visiting a few wineries, he or she probably has  some wine purchases in the car.  Parking in the hot sun in your parking lot will damage most of this precious cargo.

Putting Expensive Wine into a Sizzling Hot Trunk

Winery Asphalt Desert – Ruins Visitors Bottle Purchases

And the wayfarer may like your wine and buy a bottle or a case.  At the next stop, your lovely wine gets cooked along with the wayfarer’s previous purchases.  When the wayfarer opens your bottles in a few weeks or months and takes a taste – Ugh! Not the way the wayfarer remembered it.  No customer delight, no brand loyalty.

Thumbs up for shade trees in parking lots

Give us gas-guzzling winery visitors some shade where we need it!  Most wineries have  trees  Sadly, the parking  lot is often placed in such a way that the shade falls outside the lot — often on the grapevines.  This is not ideal. Wineries – please consult with your arborist to select trees appropriate to your climate, able to thrive near pavement and without droppings harmful to car finishes.

How to Protect your Wine Purchase

Even if wineries took this advice and started modifying their parking lots tomorrow, it would probably take at least 10 years for those trees to produce shade.  So when you plan a winery tasting roadtrip, get prepared. Take an empty cooler and some well-frozen reusable blue ice packs.  Real H2O ice will damage your labels as it melts. You could slip each bottle into a plastic vegetable bag for added protection.

Use blue ice packs and a cooler to protect your winery purchases

Plastic Igloos work fine for a day.  We are thinking of upgrading to a metal Coleman or even a Yeti for future multi-day trips.  Cabelas, the purveyors of gear to hunters, fishesr, campers, sells them at its store in Springfield, OR and also online.