Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ding-dong! The Traveling Vineyard Calling!

Lately, I have noticed on some of the public wine message boards that I haunt from time to time, there has been "drive by shootings" from new and eager consultants of the "Traveling Vineyard"
Who is this Traveling Vineyard? I did some research and discovered it is a home party much like Tupperware and Mary Kay cosmetics. You invite people to your house and the Traveling Vineyard "wine consultant" comes into your home. Okay, this is good. I am all about promoting wine sales and wine education. However - -
The "wine consultant" may not have a formal education in wine. Has this "wine consultant" ever been behind the scenes of a winery? Can the "wine consultant" distinguish the difference between TCA, brettanomyces, mercaptains and tell me the process of MLF? Chances are great that the majority of their wine education will be only what the Traveling Vineyard teaches their consultants. The go side is at least some knowledge is being given (mostly about the wines they sell, not about the industry as a whole), but limited. Hopefully, that bit of information from the Traveling Vineyard will inspire their "wine consultant" to thirst (ha! pun) for more wine knowledge.

Because it is going to be a home party, you will pay a little more for the wine than you would if it was sold at the supermarket or even a winery. The Traveling Vineyard company will have to make a profit when they purchase the wine (as they have people who travel all over the world...), then the "wine consultant" gets their cut. It is basically a three tiered program. Winery - Company - Consultant. It could be more if there is a Head Consultant who gathers eager and potential "wine consultants" so she or he can win that Merlot colored Cadillac. I am kidding about the Cadillac - - I think.

Hey, there is nothing wrong with people making a profit. I like profit, but it is doubtful that the consumer is going to get a good deal like they would from the close-out bin at the wine shop down the street. I mean - the Traveling Vineyard is a subsid of Geerlings and Wade. G & W is a multi-million dollar company and Huib E. Geerlings and Phillip D. Wade practically made it overnight!

The guests attending these parties will not have an opportunity to purchase most of these wines at a store front at a lower price because the "Traveling Vineyard" has contracted small wineries to put the Traveling Vineyard label on the wines.

As per the Traveling Vineyard website:

The company sources its wine from the world’s most renowned wineries in France, Italy, Australia, Chile and California, specializing in boutique vineyards that produce fewer than 4,000 cases of wine annually. 95% of Traveling Vineyard wines are unavailable at wine stores and are exclusively sold to Traveling Vineyard customers.

Exlusively doesn't always mean that it is better. It can also mean "controlled." This can be a disadvantage as the customer will be locked into the TV price and their inventory. Speaking for myself, part of the fun of collecting is reading about a wine you found on a bargain shelf or one you have been storing in your cellar and it now appears in magazines such as the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast or the chance of winning awards. It will be highly doubtful that a magazine like the WS will give points to a wine that you can only buy through a party let alone will it ever be judged in a wine tasting.

One advantage I see is that the wine is guaranteed, so if you happen to get a bottle of "flawed" wine, and assuming that the "wine consultant" understands the flaw, you are guaranteed of getting 100% money back. Another advantage is the "wine consultant" will help the party attendee take the guess out of what wine to serve at certain dinners, etc. But that can be a disadvantage if the customer decides that they never want to buy another wine from any other place, only the Traveling Vineyard. Then sadly that Traveling Vineyard wine consumer will never have the experience of trying other wines outside of what the Traveling Vineyard decides to sell them. Also the Traveling Wine consumer may take on the facade of being a wine expert and if they are ever in a group of "real" collectors and wine afficianados, they will feel very out of place as their only knowledge will be what the Traveling Vineyards sells and tells them.

So speaking for myself, as a professional retailer, I think this is a great idea - congrats to the Traveling Vineyard. I would much rather go to a wine party where I can sample the goods, then to a party that wants to sell me plastic boxes to keep the freshness in - - but as a savvy wine consumer, I am cautious.
Update: January 1, 2010 - It has been almost five years since I first reviewed this concept/company. As you read below you can see I received some criticism, mostly from one of their consultants, Deb Nilan aka Anonymous. I would like to hear from Ms Nilan now to see how she is doing, because as of May 2010, Traveling Vineyard filed for bankruptcy. I understand that at this time they are trying to revive the company.
For your consideration:

I've always wondered: Who was taking care of the liquor resale licenses? Most states do not allow stores or individuals to sell alcohol in homes, as well as each individual "consultant" would have to fill out tedious paperwork including credit, financials, criminal and many states ask individuals to be bonded, as well as not crossing state lines. Several states also ask "resalers" to collect their taxes.
I think it is safe to say that the Traveling Vineyard's potential customers are the actual "consultants" and not the people buying the wine in the homes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

~June Cooking With Washington Wines~

Anne, the tasting room manager at Forgeron Cellars in Walla Walla, is often experimenting with new recipes. Either working with recipes for food and wine pairings or cooking with wine to enhance the flavors in a recipe. Anne's recipe, Seared Scallops with Mango Salsa, when paired with Forgeron Cellars Columbia Valley Chardonnay, you will find the freshness of this dish shows off the fruit forward character of this bright and tangy wine. Now is the time to prepare this recipe while the Walla Walla Sweet Onions are available.

Seared Scallops with Mango Salsa
1 cup diced mango
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup Walla Walla Sweet Onion
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro
4 tsp fresh lime juice
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
16 sea scallops, about 1 lb. total

In a bowl, combine first seven ingredients. Toss well to make salsa. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Coat the pan with non-stick cooking spray. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Add half to the pan and sear, turning once until golden brown on both sides and opaque throughout, about two minutes on each side. Transfer the scallops to a warmed plate. Continue to cook the remaining scallops. Divide scallops among individual warmed plates. Spoon the mango salsa over the scallop tops, dividing equally.

Enjoy with Forgeron Cellars Chardonnay.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hollywood & Vines

Actor Jason Priestley, known for his role on "Beverly Hills 90210", was in Walla Walla last week, along with broadcast journalist Terry David Mulligan. They were here to capture the highlights of Walla Walla's wining and dining experience for a new TV program they will be co-hosting - "Hollywood & Vines." At this time the TV program will only appear in Canada, but negotiations are under way for possibly US and European viewing. Sonoma and Napa Valley will also be showcased.

Priestley, although has vintages of Walla Walla wines in his private collection, this was his first visit to the "new darling of the wine industry." He commented that Walla Walla has "...great juice."

If Priestley took part in Walla Walla's dining experience, he visited either 26 Brix, Creek Town Cafe, or Whitehouse Crawford. Interesting enough for Friday's lunch, his hosts, Christophe Baron from Cayuse Winery and Charles Smith of K-Vitners, took our Hollywood guest to the Walla Walla Worm Ranch. A bait shop that also sells mighty tasty burritos and tacos. Dining at it's best!

90210 Visits 99362

"People can get wine wherever they live. They come to Walla Walla for an experience." - Jason Priestley.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Walla Walla Sweet Onions

Yesterday, while driving home from work, I couldn't help notice a trailer bed parked in an empty lot. The trailer was filled with bags of Walla Walla Sweet Onions and teen agers. The teens, on summer vacation, were holding card board signs and hawking those delectable sweet globes. It reminded me of my own youth, growing up with onion fields all around our home. My father's favorite way to eat a Walla Walla Sweet Onion was in sandwich form. Pure and simple. The bread was only the vehicle for holding the crispy sweet slices.

The Walla Walla Sweet Onion Sandwich

2 slices bread/ your choice
3-4 slices Walla Walla Sweet Onions, very thin slices (or more)
butter or margarine, to spread on bread
fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

The true Walla Walla Sweet Onion is only available mid-June through September. This is the time to eat as many as possible. Delicious raw on a burger, fried onion rings, salads and savoury tarts. Another one of my father's favorite ways to prepare the sweet onion (besides fried potatoes and onions in an old black iron skillet with catfish on the side. Especially tasty while camping on the Snake or Columbia rivers) is slice several onions onto a long piece of aluminum foil, sprinkle on top of onions some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, top with several slices of butter. Wrap the foil up and secure tightly. Toss on top of the bar-be-que grill until onions are done. They will be soft and often carmelized. Top over burgers, sausages or eat as a side.

Now, what kind of wine do we serve with Walla Walla Sweet Onions? A Washington state Riesling would pair perfectly, of course.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Walk In The Clouds

Last year I was helping a friend top his carboys of Cabernet Sauvignon. I asked Shane, general manager of Grapeland Supply Company, what made him decide to start making wine and possibly take on a career in the wine industry. Shane said it was because of the movie, "A Walk in the Clouds." He loved the scenery of the vineyards and immediately got this vision that winemaking was what he needed to do.

"A Walk in the Clouds" is a romantic story made in 1995. The movie takes place after WWII, when a young soldier (Keanu Reeves playing Keanu Reeves as a soldier) returning home meets a young woman on a bus. She is headed home from college to help with crush at her family's vineyard, "Las Nubes" (The Clouds) and to face her Old World domineering dad. The woman is not married but is pregnant and she thinks her father is going to kill her. The former soldier, now chocolate salesman, proposes to pose as her husband to help her face her father. Veteran actor, Giancarlo Giannini plays her father and the legendary Anthony Quinn plays the grandfather. Watching these two great actors perform is always a treat.

Sunday I had an opportunity to watch this movie again, thanks to HBO ("Like Water for Chocolate" was playing on IFC. I admit, I was torn between the two movies). The first time I viewed "A Walk in the Clouds" I took it in as the romantic movie that it was. Now I looked at the movie from a viticulturist/enologist eye. Yes, the vineyards were beautiful, thanks to computer technology. Almost a little too perfect, as it reminded me of a Thomas Kinkade (blech! gag!) painting. The opening of the movie was a filmy background of grapes. Red Flame seedless table grapes. During crush, the married women ceremoniously stomped and danced in a huge vat of grapes. Somehow they looked different than the last time I worked a crush. I didn't look or feel sexy like they had been portrayed. I didn't dance on the grapes, but was still left with the "purple badge of honor" from the soles of my rubber clogs to my cuticles. There was not a purple stain to be seen on any of these women.

Overall, the movie was corny. The music, backdrop and script resembled that of the old romantic moves from the 30's and 40's. Smaltzy, cheesey and sappy. Pure Hollywood fairy tale. Would I watch it again? You bet, and the next time I will be better prepared with a box of tissues, a big box of chocolates, and most of all - a glass of vino.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Arbor Crest or Arbor Mist?

The other day I was watching one of my favorite channels, "Food Network", and an advertisement came on about Arbor Mist wines. What? In delicious flavors of "Cranberry Mist White Merlot", "Island Fruit Pinot Grigio", "Melon White Zinfandel" and other names too precious to mention. Deja vu! Is this the return of Annie Green Springs Peach Creek and Strawberry Hill? The last time I had a sip of Peach Creek was in my youth at a Maria Muldaur concert grooving (yes, "grooving.") to the words of "...send your camel to bed...let's slip off to a sand dune...I know your Daddy's a sultan."

All of a sudden panic set in me! Oh no! I was on a wine message board earlier that day writing about some excellent Washington state wines I had enjoyed over the Memorial Day weekend. Two of the wines were from one of my favorite (I have many) wineries! The name of the winery is Arbor Crest in Spokane. Will my wine board peers think that I am drinking the Kool-Aid swill from Arbor Mist? Will I lose all of the respect that I have gained about wines? Are they messaging each other now with endless "LOL"s about me drinking Arbor Mist wines?

"We always knew she was the kind who enjoyed a Mogan-David Wine Spritzer." "I would love to be a cellar rat in the corner when she goes into a Washington state winery and asks for a White Merlot."

I immediately rushed back to the message board and cleared up the fact that I enjoyed the Arbor Crest wines from Spokane and wanted to make sure that Arbor Mist and Arbor Crest were not the same. Whew! It was okay. It turned out it was only my wine snob paranoia setting in. My peers said they understood.

Arbor Crest Winery is in Spokane and started in 1985. Their historic winery was built in 1925 by Royal Newton Riblet, an eccentric inventor. The three-story Florentine house is surrounded by an arched gatekeeper's house, sunken rose garden, open-air pagoda, terraced flower and herb gardens, and a life-sized checkerboard. At one time a passenger tram ran from his estate to the river valley 450 feet below. The Arbor Crest Sauvignon Blanc has always been one of my favorite wines. Always good, always showing true Sauvignon Blanc characteristics and always affordable. We also opened a bottle of 2002 Arbor Crest Cabernet Franc. A good wine with typical Cab Franc characteristics showing through, however I noticed a bit of brettanomyces in the finish. With a little time and air the brett seemed less noticeable. Pairing the wine with warm chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven and made with a pound of butter, didn't hurt either. While some wine afficianados view brett as a fault, I happen to enjoy a bit of brett in some wines, but that is another wine blog.

Who is this Arbor Mist and where does it come from? I assumed California. Poor California, they get the blame for most untraditional wines. I mean, come on - "White Zin?" Boy was I surprised and then again I really wasn't when I discovered the headquarters for this wine came from Canandaiqua, New York. Canandaiqua! Of course, home of many labels - such as Woodbridge, Inglenook, Almaden, Manischewitz, Wild Irish Rose, Paul Masson and other nostalgic labels. What I was really curious about was the alcohol percentage and the actual percentage of real vitis vinifera that went into these exotic wine blends. That info must be a secret.

Now I can't explain this, but one morning I woke up with a different attitude about this new adult Kool-aid. I must have been dreaming of camels, sand dunes and sultans to have such a change of heart. I suppose every generation needs their Strawberry Hill, Annie Green Springs, and once in awhile a young man would try to impress his date with a bottle of Lancers. Years later came the Bartles & Jaymes, 2 liter bottles of Sun Country wine coolers and boxed Almaden for those special nights when a guy wanted to impress his date.

So now is the time for Arbor Mist and those exotic flavors of "Goofy Grape Cabernet Sauvignon", "Peanut Butter Pinot Noir" and "Minty Fresh Merlot." It even comes in unbreakable bottles and personal size (375 ml). Perfect for those Gwen Stefani concerts while listening to "...arty flirty red wine drinking...Chicks dat blew ya mind, ding...I rock the Fetish people."

With a heavy sigh, I concede. The youngsters get a break about their wine like I did, many moons ago. However, as they move on in life, let us pray to Bacchus that there will be bottles of Arbor Crest instead of Arbor Mist served at their future dinner parties. After all, not all "Arbor's" are created equal.

What The World Needs Is Another Wine Blog

There is a wine blog watch. Let's see how long it will take for this wine blog to get noticed.
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