One of the great perks of being involved with the wine industry, in all its many permutations, is the chance to taste and learn on a continual basis.
Most of the offerings from wineries, especially larger producers or those affiliated with the more ‘corporate’ establishments, are focused on sales. After all this is the wine ‘business’ and without sales we would all in a sad state.
But every now and again an invitation appears for a more ‘educational’ experience and these are the ones that get me excited. Such was the case last month when I attended the “Sommelier Series” event sponsored by Chalone Vineyards.
The seminar was held at the stunning Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, CA. This elegant, craftsman-style resort is home, I’m told, to a legendary golf course but my focus was on the wines!
The workshop was conducted by Robert Cook, Winemaker for Chalone and Gilles de Chambure MS with a comparison tasting of several vintages from Chalone Vineyard and wines from Bourgogne.
Chalone Vineyards were first planted in 1919 by Frenchman Charles Tamm. It seems he was searching for soil that reminded him of his native Burgundy and found them in this limestone rich terrain in the shadow of Pinnacles National Monument .
Today, these are the oldest producing vineyards in Monterey County and produce award winning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, just as Monsieur Tamm had dreamed of!
In 1966, under owner/winemaker Dick Graff, Chalone set the standard for California Chardonnay and today, although it is owned by a large corporation (Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines), the wines are still crafted with respect for both the vineyard and the distinctive terroir.
These wines certainly held their own when tasted against two delicious vintages from Burgundy and the passion of both gentlemen enhanced the experience.
I shall be writing more extensively on the terroir, history and vintages of the Chalone AVA in the near future (more on that to come - stay tuned!).
A big “Thank you” to Angela Bortugno and Lauren Watters of Chalone Vineyards for organizing a well orchestrated and classy event. Speaking to the other Sommeliers and educators, it was a terrific experience all around and Chalone should expect quite a few industry visitors in the months ahead.
For me, one of the best things I do as a Wine Educator, is to work with Tasting room staff.
Often referred to as “servers” or ”pourers”, these important members of a winery’s front line are so much more.
Yes, one of the main parts of the job is to pour wine samples for visitors and be pleasant and hospitable, but when a team member loves and excels in their position they are part Host/Ambassador/Educator/Entertainer/Phycologist and Salesperson.
Welcoming every person who comes through the door and making them feel at home is common sense. Unfortunately, some establishments go only this far and then drop the ball.
An ‘Ambassador’ can tell you what’s going on in the area; where to eat; who has the best picnic spots; talk about other things to do while you visit their part of the world. Yes, there is apparently more to do out there besides visit wineries!
Wine ‘education’ is so important, and I know I’m biased in this department, but how can you expect your team to sell your product if they don’t know anything about it? The person who takes your order at Starbuck’s is well versed in coffee and your staff should be schooled in the basics of wine so they can be confident to answer any and all questions that come their way.
And with that confidence will come the freedom to ‘entertain’ your guests with stories and humor making each visitor feel special.
The ‘phycologist’ will know just the right questions to ask as well as have the patience to listen to your customers in order to ‘feel out’ their preferences and experience with wine. By doing so, the tasting can be tailored to their needs and your staff can suggest the right products. This makes them better ‘salespeople’ without having to badger customers with endless suggestions that don’t interest or appeal to them. Finding the right service, like a Wine Club membership or free shipping, shows that you listened to the individual needs of your guest.
So next time you’re swirling your sample at the tasting room bar, don’t forget to take a moment and smile at your ‘server’.
Wine lover, educator and writer.