(My) Washington Wine Competition Winners

I had the pleasure of judging Washington's Sunshine wine competition on June 12. My panel, headed up by Andy Perdue of Wine Press Northwest, saw Viognier, white blends, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux blends, dessert whites and fruit wines. As usual, Washington Cabernet Sauvignon shined.

Below is a list of my favorite wines with tasting notes and two medal notations -- the one I personally awarded and the wine's ultimate award given by the panel.

In wine competitions, everything is done "blind", so we only know what variety and perhaps vintage we're tasting. First, individual judges taste and note their scores (you'll see my notes below are not full reviews because we only have 30 seconds to a minute to evaluate each wine). After each flight, the panel discusses the individual wines and must come to agreement on a final medal.

2006 Le Chateau Bordeaux Blend - aromas of blueberry, graphite, cedar and cassis; smooth, pretty and integrated on the palate with a soft finish (Gold from me and overall)

2007 Foxy Roxy Vixen Bordeaux Blend - earth, moss, and blackberry aromas with a similar palate offering dusty tannins; nice finish (Gold from me; Silver overall)

2007 William Church Sur La Mer Bordeaux Blend - pencil shavings, deep blackberry fruit with a little rhubarb burst; palate has herbal, coffee and raspberry notes; nice lingering finish (Gold from me; Silver overall)

2006 Robert Karl Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon - sweet black cherry, cigar box and herbal aromas -- great blend; good depth and finish (Silver+ from me; Gold overall)

2006 Portteus "Old Vine" Cabernet Sauvignon - graphite and sweet curing tobacco aromas (reminds me of home in NC); awesome black fruit, minty, herbal and graphite flavors; good tannic structure and complexity (Gold from me*; Silver overall)

* We had so many Cabernets and Bordeaux blends that we actually judged two rounds of each. The first was a "retain/eliminate" round where we decide collectively whether or not to send the wine to the medal round. This makes it interesting because I have two sets of notes on every wine. Since I remember liking this one so much, I went back to my "retain/eliminate" notes to see if I was consistent. Indeed I had given it a "retain ++" and noted its "herbal, older world style with mint and leather and nice graphite". It retails for $38.

2007 William Church Cabernet Sauvignon - apparently I like this producer's style -- stewed black fruits, cedar, tobacco; silky and slightly spicy palate with nice mouthfeel (Silver+ from me; Gold overall)

2007 Rio Vista Cabernet Sauvignon - graphite, dusty black fruit and cedar aromas; very nice integrated fruit on palate with good tannin level; doesn't have a super long finish but I like it (Gold from be; Bronze overall)

2008 Kiona Chenin Blanc Ice Wine - very deep gold color with nose of golden delicious apple, pear flambée, and a hint of very ripe cantaloupe; honeyed on the mouth with a little fresh spritz (Gold from me and overall)

2007 Northwest Totem Cellars Viognier Ice Wine - tangerine, white peach, lavender with a hint of fresh cut grass; nice mouthfeel with hint of acidity (Gold from me and overall)

2008 Kestrel Semillon Ice Wine - nose of rose petal, tangerine,and a little fresh hay -- very pretty (Silver+ from me; Bronze overall)

For a complete listing of winners, visit the Sunshine & Wine competition website.

SoWine Report

What a fantastic conference put on by marketing guru, Marilyn Hawkins of Hawkins & Company PR of Ashland, Oregon. Marilyn and her right-hand woman, Vicki Griesinger, were organized, enthusiastic and kept the schedule running on time -- not an easy feat when you have over 100 people in attendance.

SoWine was created to focus on sales and marketing for the fast-growing regions in Southern Oregon such as the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys. My talk, Developing a Solid Marketing Plan for Wine and Wine Grapes, highlighted the essential components of such a plan, how to compose one and tips for continuous improvement.

Below I list the best tips presented by each of the other featured speakers:

Eugenia Keegan of Keegan Consulting on Sales & Distribution in a Tough Economy
* do not underestimate the pricing effect of the true laid-in cost which is FOB plus transport and taxes
*make sure that the wholesale markets you choose are places you're comfortable visiting twice per year -- if you're not working the market, your competitors are

Don Morgan of GMA Research Corporation on DIY Research Tools
* one of the best ways to improve your marketing efforts is to think like a research scientist -- ask questions and use the answers to your benefit
* if you're only going to ask your customers one question, it should be "Would you recommend us?"

Rachell Coe of 4theGrapes on Making Your Website Work Much Harder
* make sure it is very clear how to sign up for your newsletter and buy your wine on a homepage that downloads in less than 10 seconds
* use free measurement and management tools like Google Analytics to monitor traffic and conversion, browser shots to see how your site looks on various platforms, and a link checker to make sure nothing is broken

Chris Oggenfuss of Oggenfuss Wine Marketing on the Value of Social Media and Customer Contact Innovations
* Facebook is the third largest "country" in the world -- if you only embrace one form of social media this should be it
* Snooth has a wine trade platform where wineries can and should manage their profiles as its the largest online wine database
* call your customers to thank them and sell more wine -- this is a vastly under-utilized form of communication in the industry

Porscha Schiller of South Stage Cellars on Special Event Planning
* begin with a goal in mind and be sure to check with the community and neighbors to find out if there is a competing event that will diminish your return
* 15 to 20 minutes before the event begins, "arrive" as if you were a guest to tackle last minute issues

It's always a pleasure speak at industry events and even better when I return to the office with a few pages of marketing notes for my clients and my company. A special thank you to Laura and Kurt Lotspeich of Trium who hosted the speaker's dinner the evening prior on their beautiful deck. Check out the winery and their Viognier next time you're in the area -- it's delicious!