Category Archives: Industry News

A day in the life of a wine judge

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What is a day like for me as a wine judge? Well, as fun as it sounds, a day of wine judging is a lot of work and responsibility.

As a wine judge and as a consumer, it’s good to know why wineries enter their wines into competitions. Wineries seek re-affirmation of the wines they have made, as well as awards to help market to consumers looking for a stamp of approval on quality. Wine judges have to be skilled and honest. All wines are tasted blind and judges have to be ready for a rigorous day of tasting. In most wine competitions, the day begins around 9:00 AM and often lasts until 4-5:00 PM. It is long and tiring, even for long-standing, experienced judges.

At the sound of my alarm clock, the judging day starts! I wonder who will be on my panel at this competition.  Will they be old friends or new ones?  Will they be experienced or newbies?  Of course all of this does not matter because I have a job to do. On most judging days, a panel will take on 125-175 wines. I look over the assignment list to see what our panel has drawn (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, etc.) Some competitions offer the judges a choice, but most assign you what they think you would like or can handle. In the end it does not matter, the job is to judge wines, and there are many.

The first flights arrive. We typically taste silently. The judges give their individual awards and the scores (Gold, Silver, Bronze and no medal) are recorded. We then break down the awards and arrive at a consensus for the panel’s group award. This goes on flight after flight until the day is done. All the while, I keep myself organized as I record my notes and scores for later use long after the competition has been completed. I drink lots of water, refresh my palate with crackers when needed and even roast beef to cut the tannins in red wines. You may be thinking: Does Wilfred ever gets tired? You bet I do, but the show goes on. Between flights, I will stretch my legs, take photos of the event and just take a breath.  It’s a long day, but I find it educational and enlightening.

I have been on the circuit for a long, long time. My wine judging career began in the mid 1980’s and has now spanned 30+ years, more than 200 competitions, 30,000+ wines and five countries (the United States, France, Spain, New Zealand and Australia). As an extreme wine researcher, covering all aspects of wine from vineyard to bottle, wine judging remains the finest equalizer. In a year’s time, blind tasting under these circumstances keeps my palate well grounded. If you give me a bottle of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to evaluate, my brain is already making qualitative decisions on the wine’s quality. In a blind tasting, my palate has control and the brain cannot influence it by knowing the price or producer. Over time, a wine taster improves in the understanding of what is in the bottle by tasting in different situations. Days as a wine judge are not always the most pleasurable, but they serve a great purpose.

 

 

The Gorgeous 2012 Oregon Pinot Noirs

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I am so incredibly excited! About what, you ask? The 2012 Oregon Pinot Noirs, a vintage the Wine Spectator called, “Ideal conditions produced generous wines; not over the top.” The magazine rated the vintage 92-95 points. I am on a mission to taste 50 or more of the current releases from some of the best wineries in the state. This process will take a couple of months. I will have a full report by the first of July. The following wineries are among my hit list: A to Z Wineworks, Adelsheim, Argyle, Chaehalem, Domaine Serene, Elk Cove, King Estate, Ponzi, Rainstorm, RouteStock and Seven Hills Winery. I have a few others that I will include as well. So what about recent vintages?

Oregon is one of the wine world’s most marginal growing regions. Over the past four decades, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris have been the stars, especially in the Willamette Valley. Even adding to the fun are the growers and vintners themselves. If any of you have ever spent quality time with these folks you will have learned that they can be cagey, cantankerous and collaborative. If you are not into it, they won’t even acknowledge your presence (I am only kidding here). But one thing that is undeniable is that the Oregon wine folks are super passionate about what they do. The result is: they live in a growing region that is reserve for the strongest souls in the wine biz. Potentially, the Willamette Valley can have some really difficult vintages. Hearts are anxious and spirits are strong as each harvest comes into view.

I have tasted some 2010′s and 2011’s and there are so many very good wines. The 2011’s are by and large a bit leaner and reticent of recent years. As I begin to taste the 2012’s I am really liking them. The first few have come across a pleasingly plump, yet nicely balanced. Yes, this promises to be a vintage to remember. Seems those guys at the Wine Spectator are very much on target! My current favorite for all to try is the 2012 Argyle. The wine is so pretty and ready to enjoy. This wine is a precursor of what is to come. Stay tuned, you may even be able to forget about Burgundy for a while… Well, maybe not. For the time being, 2012 Oregon Pinots will be the envy of the marketplace. By the way,  May is Oregon Wine Month, wouldn’t this be a great way to celebrate?

A celebration of Australian Wine

AustraliaVineyardsAustralia Day! It’s a great day to do a little education on Australian wines. Not to mention stock up on some of my favorites.

Australia has been in the wine production business for centuries, but only in the last 60 years has it focused on creating dry wines, and only in the last 30 years has it really been internationally recognized in the wine world. Lucky for us, Australian Wine is not a fad –  it’s only growing in quality and popularity.

Australia is one of my favorite wine regions. I once designed an online course for Australia and through all the research and map-drawing and wine tasting, I realized that this may be one of my favorite wine regions. After a visit in 2007, I was not only thrilled with the wines but also the people – seriously, some of the most friendly people we’ve met in the wine industry have been these fantastic people!

wineaustraliaFor our Australia Day celebration at Wine.com, we’re offering 10% off any 6 or more bottles of Australian wine and trust me, it’s not too hard to stock up on a whole 6 bottles. Just depends on your style.

Shiraz? Yes, this is the most popular and most planted grape in Australia, and makes some of the most delicious and diverse wines out there. From value to collectible and from bright and light-bodied to dense and mouth-coating. If you prefer a lighter style, head to Victoria (Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Bendigo and the like). Big and bold you seek? Barossa is the way to go. And if you’re somewhere in the middle we recommend McLaren Vale Shiraz for you.

Cabernet Sauvignon – two places that do it best. Margaret River in Western Australia (think Bordeaux style) and Coonawarra in South Australia. Coonawarra Cab has such a delicious and distinct flavor profile, it’s almost hard to describe. Eucalyptus, sweet mint, floral, brambly, dark berry fruit… all around a wonderful style of wine. And if you want the structured style of Cab, pick up a bottle from Margaret River to pair with a steak. Sure to delight.

Chardonnay lovers can head to a number of regions, like Margaret River (please try the Leeuwin Estate Artist Series if you love good Chardonnay – you will never go back), Yarra Valley and Eden Valley.

Dry Riesling fans should most definitely pick up wines from the Clare Valley – mineral, wet stone and lime characteristics will jump out of the glass and the acidity will have your mouth singing with glee!

aussiecloudsGrenache, especially of the old vine sort, makes some amazing wines, but also excels in the GSM blends- also known as Rhone blends – you’ll find some excellent ones in South Australia around Adelaide, particularly in McLaren Vale.

Pinot Noir continues to rock from Yarra Valley and surrounding regions, and then you have grapes like Vermentino and Sangiovese making an appearance. In all, it’s kind of like California, where you can find a little bit of everything to fit everyone’s tastes.

Now, here are some of our favorite producers you must look for: Peter Lehmann, d’Arenberg, Yalumba, Penley Estate, Leeuwin, Robert Oatley, Clarendon Hills, Penfolds and plenty more.

Make sure to use code AussieDay at checkout to receive 10% off 6 or more bottles on Wine.com. (ends 1/26/14 at midnight).

Cheers!

Ready to rock out with wine?

grapesofrockWine.com is gearing up for an awesome event, Grapes of Rock, to be held here in San Francisco at the Fort Mason center. Forget the old pairing of rock and beer (or maybe its whiskey), and starting thinking rock & wine. Poison fans out there will rejoice when they hear Bret Michaels is headlining the event, though some of my millennial friends tell me he had a reality show. Or two. Or more. But hey, that makes him stretch the generations, right? Me? I’d look forward to hearing “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” again, just so I can wax nostalgic about cheesy middle school slow dances.

Get your tickets – all happening Sunday, November 3.  Wines of Rock will be there, as well as Parducci, Kunde, Middle Sister and more.

Hope to see you there!

A letter from the Wine.com CEO to our customers & suppliers

Hi folks,

I’ve received several calls and emails today about a blog post full of false information about Wine.com.  I’d normally ignore something like this and get on with my day, but my team has worked too hard building Wine.com to not respond.

Is Wine.com for sale?
We’re majority owned by a private equity fund that makes money by buying and selling companies.  So we’re basically always for sale and that has always been the case.  Beyond that, we never comment on specific M&A or funding activity because that’s private business.

Is Wine.com struggling?
There’s no question wine is a challenging category online, due to regulatory constraints, shipping heavy glass bottles, extreme weather concerns and adult signatures required for delivery.  So the answer to this question has three parts:

Part 1 – pre turnaround
This company was founded as eVineyard.com in 1998 by Mike Osborn, who runs our Merchandising to this day, and has developed deep, trusting relationships with our hundreds of suppliers and wholesalers.

There was a lot of failed investment activity in online wine in the late 1990’s (see timeline below), but eVineyard was on the sidelines in Portland, going slower, trying to figure out the right business model.  When the original Wine.com combined with Virtual Vineyards and WineShopper, then all went out of business in 2001, eVineyard bought the Wine.com and WineShopper names.

Yesterday’s blog post provided quotes from people running the company from 2002 to fall of 2005 (the blogger from Growth Capitalist didn’t call me, by the way).  As of fall 2005, the company was losing $15M of EBITDA on $35 million in revenue, and had a break-even point of over $200 million in revenue.

So yes, you bet Wine.com was struggling.

Part 2 – turnaround
I joined Mike and his team in 2006 because I saw a category that consumers wanted to buy online, healthy customer and supplier relations and a great team that had been mismanaged.  We got to work on our cost structure, reducing our break-even point from over $200 million in revenue to $45 million.  Then we went to work on our customer experience – adding to our wine assortment, improving our pricing & value, making delivery more convenient and reliable, and adding tools and content to give customers confidence in their wine buying decisions.  In fall of 2007 we took in our last round of external financing, $5 million, and have been self-sufficient ever since.

Despite the recession, we turned cash flow positive in 2009 and EBITDA positive in 2010 on $45 million in revenue.  We closed our fiscal year in March 2011 with $1.9 million in cash flow on revenue of $56 million.

Turnaround complete – Wine.com no longer struggling.

Part 3 – growth
Now the fun part.  We decided (with our board) to re-invest all cash generated from internal operations into laying the foundation for future growth.  Wine is underpenetrated online, and it’s a $35 billion category in the US.  What investments could we make in our customer experience that would create greater loyalty and growth?

We doubled our selection of 90 point scoring wines under $20, grew our fine wine & collectibles, added Bordeaux futures and our Collector Concierge service, revamped our gift sets & baskets, introduced same-day shipment, weather-safe shipping and date-certain delivery, launched our ipad app, mobile site and WineShopper daily deal site, and created our Steward-Ship loyalty program ($49 for a year of unlimited shipping).

Customers responded.  Over the last four years, website traffic grew 2.4 times to over 15.6 million visits.  Bottles sold and shipped nearly doubled to 2.7 million.  Lifetime customer value grew 50%.  And revenue grew 70% to $75 million.  All while inventory turns increased to 12 times and net fulfillment cost per order dropped by 75%.

Double-digit growth continues today, and we’re more bullish than ever about our innovation pipeline.

If Wine.com is doing fine, what’s up with this blog post?
You’ve got me.  The blogger didn’t contact me to check her facts, and only seems to have spoken with a couple unhappy people who I don’t even know who worked here nearly a decade ago.  All I can say is the Wine.com team has moved on from whatever drama occurred under their watch.  And we’re excited to continue to innovate, wow our customers and partner with our suppliers for many years to come.

Cheers,
Rich

Rich Bergsund
CEO, Wine.com
July 2, 2013

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Online wine industry timeline:
January 1995: Virtual Vineyards launches

June 1998: Today’s Wine.com originally founded as eVineyard

September 1999: Virtual Vineyards acquires Wine.com domain name
http://news.cnet.com/Growing-wine-rivals-pour-it-on/2100-1001_3-261224.html

April 2000: Amazon launches WineShopper
http://news.cnet.com/2100-1017-239383.html

August 2000: WineShopper & Wine.com merge
http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataId=1684

April 2001: eVineyard acquired the assets of Virtual Vineyards/Wine.com/WineShopper:
http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/Internet-Wine-Retailer-Winecom-Sold-to-eVineyardcom_20020

Wine.com leadership timeline:

Chairman of the Board
Larry Gerhard (May 1999 – May 2002)
Chris Kitze (May 2002- August 2005)
Rob Manning, Baker Capital (August 2005 to present)

CEO
Larry Gerhard (May 1999 – February 2002)
Peter Ekman (February 2002 to April 2004)
George Garrick (May 2004 to September 2005)
Rich Bergsund (June 2006 to present)