February 22, 1999
Since I made the posting on Friday regarding my concern about the Pinot experiment, we have had several people visit over the weekend to taste the three Pinots. Almost everyone has a favorite - which is usually the cold soak or hot fermentation, over the carbonic, or even the blend of all three. I am not surprised that the blend was not the favorite since I have had a lot of experience with blending wines. I know that when wines from three different barrels are blended, initially the blend can be disjointed until it has some time to develop (at least a month or two). After the experiences of this weekend and after receiving numerous email messages in response to my posting, I have decided to keep some of the wines in each barrel separate and I have also decided to blend a certain percentage of each of the three barrels together to see what will happen over the years. I ultimately feel that this will turn out to be the best wine. In addition, I have made a decision to offer any of the four wines (in other words: the carbonic, the cold soak, the hot fermentation, and the blend of the three) as a 4-pack for $75. Any of you who have already bought the 3-pack can add another complimentary bottle of your choice to your order. If we do not hear from you directly, we will assume you would like to add a bottle of the blend.
I have also decided at this time to cease the serving of barrel samples of the Pinot. As I have said, my concern is that if I continue to serve barrel samples, I am diluting the final wine because I don't have any more of the same wine to use for topping off. I've mentioned before that I could buy other producers' Pinots or use some of my other 1998 wines to fill the barrels back up. Even though only one-half to three-quarters of an ounce is used for each tasting, I have been serving a bottle out of each barrel for the past few weeks and wine has also been evaporating at the rate of one-third bottle per week. Each barrel contains 300 bottles, and because there will be over 20 weeks until bottling, this could dilute the wine by as much as 10 percent. Once the wine is bottled and if not completely sold, I can always serve the wine again at a later time.
February 24, 1999
Today I received my latest Wine Business Monthly, a publication written for the wine industry. If you go back a few weeks in my diary, you will notice I put my foot in my mouth and undoubtedly alienated Al Brounstein and Bill McIvor, both of whom I've probably met at least once in my lifetime. I was suspecting that since I was so outspoken regarding the costs involved in the price of a bottle of wine, that the editor would probably publish my letter, and I was right. I stand by what I said. I have no regrets, and I hope Al and Bill will understand.
That leads me to another person I will also undoubtedly alienate, but who will most likely never read this posting. That person is Strom Thurmond. Within the last year, I myself have been tagged with the nickname "curmudgeon" by my family. I have taken it as a term of endearment, but if you look it up in the dictionary you can take it as being a very negative description of someone. According to the newspaper, Strom Thurmond is 96 years old. I must say after reading what he has suggested, he must be a true curmudgeon, and he doesn't seem to have an open mind. Back in 1990, he ws involved in confusing the whole situation on sulfites. In the recent past, I have received many e-mails questioning why the United States is the only country that uses sulfites (or even, chemicals as some have mentioned) in their wines. Specifically, people have said things like "why do Canadian and French wines have no sulfites, while wines from the United States all have them." Being involved in the industry, I know that all winemakers are trained to use a few parts per million sulfites (undetectable in smell by anyone) to preserve their wine. There is at least one winery that I personally know of who chooses not to use sulfites, but I believe most of the mainstream wineries in the world use a certain amount of sulfites in their wine. It is not a bad thing. It is an important thing to be added to the wine and does dissipate with time, but our curmudgeon Strom Thurmond was very instrumental in requiring that all United States wineries post the "contains sulfites" message on our labels. And, I could be wrong, but I believe no other country - even though they use sulfites just as we do - is required to post that message on their labels. He was also instrumental in requiring the additional warning that alcohol could be damaging to your health. In 1993, after these two warnings were approved for wine labels, Strom Thurmond's 22-year-old daughter was killed by a drunken driver. For good reason, he has continued his political battle against the wine industry. He is now proposing to increase the taxes on wine from a few cents to almost $1 a bottle. Even though I may be a curmudgeon, I am always willing to listen to everything that is presented, unlike Strom Thurmond. He does not want to even consider that for some of us, wine can be enjoyable and not harmful.
February 25, 1999
As some of you know, the stock market was my life. That "was" from 1965 to 1979. In the last few weeks I have spent many hours trying to understand the stock market again. In other words, what to invest in. Since the stock market was an obsession before in my life and I can't let it become an obsession again (I don't have the time), I've decided to consider another possibility for my Sep-Ira. Within the last week, I have recommended one of my old brokerage firms to a few of my customers. That firm is Hambrecht & Quist. I logged on to their web site and was impressed with the fact that they are still participating in a lot of small cap new issues - emerging companies. I filled out their on line questionnaire and applied for a new account. You see, this could be a continuation of an old account since I was a big customer of Hambrecht & Quist from 1969 to 1979. I did hundreds of thousands of dollars through their company during that ten-year period, primarily investing in big secondaries (as was called in those days) of established companies but also participating in their emerging new issue companies. Within 24 hours I received a notice that someone from H & Q would contact me - Paul Minasian. Within 12 hours after that, Paul called me at 11:30 this morning and I was busy in the winery with a few visitors. I decided I should not call him back until after the stock market closed, which is at l p.m . my time. Therefore, I returned his call at about 1:40 and was promptly connected to him. He seemed to be preoccupied, which did not surprise me at all. You see, within my 15 year involvement in the stock market, I dealt with hundreds of stock brokers and most were obviously preoccupied because it is a hard business to be involved with. Even though I had many opportunities to become a stock broker within that period, I never wanted to consider that possibility because of the obligation to become a sales person. I never want to sell something I don't believe in and I would never want to make a phone call to someone who is not interested in investing in the stock or brokerage house that I may be supporting. But I had called Paul! After Paul regained his composure and found my information which was a request on my part to invest in small companies that were initial public offerings in the aftermarket. That is, companies that have sold their stock for the first time and have not established a stable market and then can trade at any price within the first week, up or down. I've seen stocks be up ten times within a week or down to half of the price they have come out at. It is an extremely volatile market and very treacherous. I participated in it for ten years. But most of these companies are small and if you take the time and analyze them, you have a very good chance of deciding whether they are going to go up or down, especially within that first week or two. After Paul checked out my profile and found out that I was going to invest around $20,000 in a Sep-Ira, he suggested that Hambrecht & Quist did not concentrate on small companies and mostly recommended technology stocks that were big cap. I said, "well, can't you recommend some smaller companies." He said that we do consider smaller companies and I then I said, "what capitalization does that mean?" He said, well at least 2 to 5 billion dollars. I said, I would think those were big companies. And he said, well, they are big companies but it is better to invest in a big established company that may go to 50 billion dollars than to invest in small companies that may fail. You must understand it has been 20 years of course since I have been in the stock market and I completely understand that companies have gotten a lot bigger and I am completely out of touch. He then said something that completely confused me. And as some of you know, I am not necessarily speechless, but I had not much to come back with. You see, he wanted $500,000 from me. I regained my composure and explained that I would rather have him invest in small companies because we could understand them. I told him I was not concerned about the speculation because even though this would be a Sep-Ira, I most likely would not need this money for my retirement income (hopefully the winery would remain profitable). I did not have a chance to tell him that he could invest in what ever he wanted after giving me the info. He then told me he had to "jump off' and "thank you for the interest". BOY Hambrecht and Quist has changed! I guess I must understand that they have an obligation to make money for their clients and I was suggesting an unreasonable scenario. BUT do I have this correct?: If you do not have ONE HALF MIL. you don't need to apply. I assume there are enough investors out there who have that kind of money! It makes me consider E*Trade or Schwab again.
February 26, 1999
This was a week of "intra-national" visitors, all of whom happened to be visiting the wine country this week and decided to check up on their 1998 futures. Having all these visitors and taking time to chat and pour wine for them was so much more fun than attending to the two big tasks for the week: cleaning up the "lab" tables in the winery to make room for a new refrigerator/freezer and resuming the labeling of the 1997 wines (if you're keeping score, we still have about 7 pallets of wine left to label or approximately 378 cases).
On Tuesday, we started off with a visit from Fran and Jeff from Virginia (they bought the last 2 of our logo denim shirts—now we are wondering, should we buy more?).
On Wednesday there was Frank from Chicago (who coincidentally stayed at the same B&B as Fran and Jeff ) and Mike and Judy with their group of six from Texas (who at some point the previous day ran into Frank).
Thursday brought us a visit from Bob and "Crutch" from Austin, Texas (although Bob resides in Idaho for most of the year) and Lou and Rosemarie from Tiburon (definitely the most local of this week’s visitors, but their good friends and also futures customers Joe and Embry reside in Austin, too--small world, huh?).
Then Friday a surprise visit from Les from New Hampshire!
In the middle of all these visitors, we also had a photographer and writer from our local Santa Rosa newspaper come by to do an interview with Dave regarding our participation in the Russian River Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting event on March 6 and 7. So you locals out there, keep a lookout for a story on the Barrel Tasting event in the Press Democrat this coming Thursday if they use the story as planned. Dave said he saw the photo they are hoping to use and he is not pleased. He wonders why they chose that particular shot of him perched uncomfortably atop a wine barrel (can you imagine Dave sitting on a wine barrel?) with a wine thief in hand when the photographer took at least 100 photos. I’m anxious to see this myself.
So you’re probably wondering if we accomplished our chores for the week.
Well, the refrigerator is installed and making ice (this is a good thing),
the "lab" is definitely more organized (this is an improvement), and Susie
and I labeled only 25 of the 378 cases of wine (but it was surprising considering
we only worked an hour). Where is Brendan, the record-setting wine labeler,
when we really need him? Hmm, now that I think of it, he is anticipating
coming up to help pour wine during Barrel Tasting weekend, and if I call
him and tell him we have something more challenging in mind.........