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I have to say it’s time for a little honesty here. A little getting real. Not that we haven’t been thus far, but a little more {real} real. And because the Eastern Washington sun is brightly shining through my kitchen window and my belly is full from the best ever apple-walnut-chicken-blue cheese-spinach salad {I name wines, not food}, I want to do a little reflecting over the past couple years.

This past October marked two years working, more like being absorbed, into the wine industry. Into Gard. And most of all, into a family. But it’s been work. Every day it’s work. Thinking out of the box. Drinking wine. Bad wine. Good wine and really good wine. And sometimes too much wine.

Writing emails. Calling distributors. Bottling wine, labeling wine, and boxing wine. Shipping wine, tasting wine. And more than wine. Eating Ludafisk, Potato Club, and sugar-cinnamon roasted pecans. That last one wasn’t so bad. I’ve learned, I’ve taught, and most of all, I’ve listened. To you. To what you want {MORE CAB!}, to what you like {blends that have a story}, and don’t like {the ’09 vintage of Roussanne}, we’re very sorry about that. And here’s what I’ve come up with, let’s just say it’s my lessons learned from my time with wine {now I rhyme} . . .

10. Drink. This one should be fairly obvious and believe me, I’m not complaining, but it’s harder than you can imagine. Pause for laughter. With 50+ hours work-weeks and event-filled weekends even the most seasoned vet forgets to sit down and have a glass at the end of the day. Why? Because it feels like more work. But, do it anyway. Try new wines, any wines. Screw-top, cork-top, red, white, imported, domestic, rosé, viognier, it doesn’t really matter, but it’s important to develop your palette. And don’t just drink, but taste, absorb, and learn. We’ve got a great little “industry” discount so many of us don’t take advantage of but after two years I’ve realized that the best time to learn is NOW.

9. Along those lines, take notes. Write down everything you get the opportunity to try, because no matter how special it is to you at that moment, you’ll forget. I’m told that’s an effect of alcohol, but can’t remember. Before you even take that first sip, have this information documented: winery, varietal, vintage, blend (if applicable), source (appellation) and cost. From there, take it in with these five easy steps.

  1. See – the color, the depth of the color, lingering cork or sediment; all of these factors will ultimately affect your overall taste and perception of the wine.
  2. Swirl – to prepare you for sniffing, my best advice for a good swirl is to find a great dance partner. No, really, find a flat table and gently swirl by holding the stem of the glass for about 20-30 seconds. Really guys, is it any tougher than that? This motion releases the wine’s bouquet of vapors.
  3. Sniff – just consider this the movie trailer, a carefully crafted combination of what to expect in the next two hours of your life. Oh, you don’t happen to drink for 2+ hours at a time, disregard that analogy then. Seriously though, absorb the smell, inhale the particles of deliciousness, and take your time. There’s no wrong way to sniff.
  4. Sip/Swish – it’s time, your first taste, cue the drum-roll, drink up! This is the best part, take an ample sip and let it work your mouth over. Fear not the dreaded purple teeth or “Bordeaux lipstick”, allow the wine to properly sink in and flood itself over all those necessary taste buds. No talking, just slurping, swishing, and writing. My most useful descriptions are from that very first taste, my more hilarious from the last.
  5. Spit {optional}, savor – professional wine drinkers do NOT swallow wine after tasting and in their defense it IS the best way to cleanse your palette, not my way, but the best way. Use your digression, if you’re at a wine event & still need to head home and pay the babysitter, here’s my advice, SPIT! Finally, assess the finish, grab that pad & paper one last time and note the aftertaste, whether it lingers for a while, and finally, is it good enough for a second taste? If so, go for it.

8. Look ahead. A pretty obvious business skill & important in this industry, so it’s worth mentioning. Plant grapes, wait three years, pick said grapes, send to winemaker, wait another year or two or three, bottle those grapes, wait, label & cork, wait. Sell summer wines in the previous winter, plan to pick winter wines in the summer, bottle next year’s wines in the spring. It’s all a very complicated system, but just plan ahead, trust me.

7. Wine and dine. Tough right? Enjoy a good glass of wine with food. Food & wine are meticulously paired with expert opinions and is considered a skilled art, but my advice, eat and drink what you like. I like Malbec, sharp white cheese and chocolate, so that’s what I tend to gravitate towards. Experiment, cook with wines, drink & sample and don’t ever forget, all in the name of art.

6. I hesitate to mention it because it once again seems too obvious, but enjoy wine with friends. Nine times out of ten my opinion of any wine is directly related to those I drink with. For example, I’ll always be a rosé fan because of my memories spending Friday afternoons last summer with Lisa, my friend & boss, drinking rosé and snacking on chips and salsa while we unwind from the week. Simple, easy, perfect, and meaningful.

5. Snobbery is overrated. I am all for people forming strong opinions and acquiring great knowledge in an array of subjects, but the wine industry maintains a bad rap for high levels of “wine snobs”, and it’s growing in popularity. Be proud of your knowledge but humble when presenting it. Such snobbery implies negativity and judgement which closes the door to genuine learning and opportunity. Be a fan, not a snob!

4. Buy Washington wine! Believe me, I’ll always be the first advocate of choosing Gård wines versus any other label anywhere, but sometimes that’s not always an option. In that case, try to find something, anything, with a Washington label. This region is relatively young compared to the rest of the country, read California, {or the world for that matter}, but we have amazing resources & people who support each other for better or worse. The Washington Wine Commission has done a very respectable job marketing the potential of our state vineyards and the bright future we have ahead, tourism has never been more popular and sales are consistently increasing but we need your help. Buy Washington.

3. I’m not always happy in my job. And that’s okay. I’ve gone through ups and downs throughout my time Gård and I’m happy to say I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. Seriously. It’s not just because this is posted on the Soil to Sip blog or Lisa will surely be correcting my horrible spelling, but it’s what I want to do. Often times I’ve had a strong desire to start my own company, but personally and financially I’m not there yet. This job has taught me more than a thousand jobs ever could have. We’re small but mighty, so I have the opportunity to do something different every day, travel, and meet influential people who have inspired, motivated and, at times, brought me down. Life is about being humble though. Stay hungry.

2. The best is yet to come. I’m ready and willing to make changes and improvements in the name of my career because I love what I do. Change isn’t always easy and business is competitive but if something isn’t working, you have to change. I see so many wineries lose business or close because they fear changing who they are will diminish their brand. Be open to new opportunities but don’t forget your roots.

1. You, the consumer are #1. Most of all, I’ve learned a lot about customer service, who you are and what you want. Honestly, it’s easy to get caught up in marketing what we would like you to buy {read, expensive wine}, but to me, our lowest price bottle is just as good of a sale as the $35 bottle of Cabernet. In closing, I have one favor, tell us what you want and there’s a good chance we’ll honor it. Reach out to us, show us what you’re drinking and where. Be our friend, because believe me, it’s always good to know someone in the wine industry.

Cheers,

Alison

{Alison has been working for Gård since 2010 when she moved from Wyoming to join her now husband, Alan. She calls Washington home and does marketing, wine club, distribution, and sales from the Lawrence Enterprises home office in Royal City. She can be reached at alison@gardvintners.com or 509.346.2585.}

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