Every once in awhile I experience a sense of frustration that makes me want to vent! Most of the time I keep it inside out of risk of offending anyone. Rarely do I publicly vent my thoughts to the world. Today I am taking the opportunity to vent publicly because I feel some things need to be shared. I also think some of this information is pertinent to those who attend large tasting events (producers, trade attendees, and consumers alike).
ZAP Portland and the Trade Folk Who Give Some of Us a Bad Name
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Grand Tasting in Portland. This is an event I have attended in the past, as a consumer living in San Francisco, and was excited to go from a trade point of view here in Portland. With 33 producers in attendance and over 80 wines there was a lot of Zinfandel to try and a lot of people competing to try them.
Now I should start by saying the event was planned as an outdoor event, which would have been fine if not for the insane heat wave we unexpectedly had this week. 107 degrees was the predicted temperature for the event… not too fun drinking Zinfandel in 107 degrees! But last minute the organizers did their very best to move the event indoors (phew). Not the most ideal situation (small tight room with dozens of tables and people) but they did their best and I give them lots of props for making the move indoors. That being said, you’d think the attendees would have been flexible knowing we were in a smaller space than planned. But no, what I witnessed is some of the things that often make me frustrated at trade events, and to be honest embarrassed as a professional of some of my peers. People who think they are gods gift to wine buying, among others! This was nothing unique to the ZAP event, more so to wine tasting events in general.
To start off, I have been on both sides of the table. Working for wineries for the last three years I have attended my fair share of working on the other side of the table, for the producer, pouring wine for trade members and consumers. Dealing with people who are truly interested in what I had to say, and also those there just to get a quick buzz. But in all my experience I treated everyone the same! I didn’t care whether you were Robert Parker or Bob Smith who has never had a sip of wine in your life, I do not believe in treating people different based off perceived prestige. That was one of the key customer service tips I used to train new staff in the Tasting Room. Unfortunately at many trade events I witness the opposite. I mean, you only get one chance at some of these events to make an impression on both sides of the table, so should we not put our best foot forward?
What I find more often than not, is that many of the trade folks feel like they deserve special treatment. And it bugs me. Yes, you do have a sense of power in that you will be the one selling the product to restaurants and wine shops, but that doesn’t make you any more important than the person standing next to you. Now I am certainly not trying to stereotype ALL trade folks, but if you’ve ever attended one of these events then I am sure you know what I am talking about.
Case in point: Blue Tooth Lady (who works for a wine retailer that shall remain unnamed)
Oh no you didn’t!
(What I was thinking) First of all Blue Tooth Lady, it’s tight in here and we all need to be a bit flexible… and besides I was actually having a conversation with the winemaker not hovering. I can somewhat see her frustration due to the crowd and tight space, but what makes her so much more important than me? I am actually learning about the product not just trying to speed taste!
Second of all, why are you wearing a Blue Tooth in your ear anyway? Those things are for driving, not wine tasting events. Take it out because you look ridiculous. When she actually got her turn to taste the wines she kept yelling at the winemaker to “speak louder” and kept announcing “it’s too loud in here I can’t hear a damn thing”.
Hey lady, maybe take that blue tooth out of your ear and you’ll be able to hear better? If not, lose the attitude and try to be a bit flexible! Those kinds of people bug me at trade events.
(Can you tell it was a 107 degree day in Portland ☺ )
The last thing I want to bring up is the lack of enthusiasm on the part of some of the actual winery representatives. This is your chance to tell me about your wine and sell me on them! Please engage me. That’s why I am here. It is frustrating when you just pour me my sample then look away quietly without saying anything. What makes your wines stand out from the other 80 wines here? Why should I buy your wine over your neighbors? Please tell me because I really want to know. Am I looking to stock eight cases or eighty? If I told you eighty would you do anything different?
Again, I HAVE been there. I know it is very hard work to be “on your game” at these events, especially considering the circumstances with the weather. I get it. But you have to engage me if you want me to truly be interested in your product! There is a lot of good wine being produced these days, please help me understand why I should chose yours over your many competitors.
I think there’s lessons to be learned from all three perspectives:
- The producers (and their employees) who need to actively engage their perspective buyers/customers.
- The trade folks who need to be a little less pretentious.
- The consumers to try to keep their public displays of drunkenness to a minimum (which is a whole different post).
That being said, here are the actual highlights of the ZAP Grand Tasting for me:
Seghesio Family Vineyards
I have been a huge fan of Seghesio ever since I visited their winery a year ago and tasted through their entire lineup. Today confirmed it as I got to compare side by side with many of their fellow Zin producers. Their wines are solid and beautiful. My favorite of the tasting was their 2007 Rockpile, Sonoma County (retail $36). The wine is rich and lush with lots of black fruit balanced with spice. Key word here is “balance”. Good balance of fruit, weight, and spice in a Zin is a beautiful thing.
Ridge is another producer I have liked for many years and again comparing them with the others they really stood out! In particular I loved their 2007 Geyserville, Sonoma County (retail $37.49). Another one with great balance of rich fruit, lush mouthfeel, spice and tannin.
Mauritson Family Vineyards
*Extra props to Mauritson for being smart enough to slightly chill their wines. It was hot in that room and they served their wine at the perfect temperature. I actually complimented them on chilling the wines and the winemaker responded “Hey I made these wines, I want to show them at their best”, and that he did! Good for you!
I couldn’t decide which was my favorite of the lineup so my top 3 were:
2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (retail $27)
2007 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel (Rockpile AVA) (retail $35)
2007 Westfall Ridge (Rockpile AVA) (retail $37)
All beautiful and balanced wines.
Four Vines Winery: 2007 Sophisticate, Sonoma County & 2005 Zinfandel Port, Paso Robles
I hope I have not overly offended anyone with this post, but some things need to be shared. As industry folks, I believe we can all hold ourselves to a higher standard. Producers can work harder to engage their audience in order to sell their wines, and trade representatives can be a little more understanding and flexible. I think if we all did our part to make these events great (whether you are a producer, trade buyer, or consumer) there would be less stereotypes and everyone would get a lot out of these events! At the end of the day, we are all customers trying to learn something and should be treated with an equal amount of respect.
Overall I do think the organizers of ZAP Portland did a great job managing would could have been a mess with the extreme heat. I wasn’t there for the public event that was scheduled for outside, but I hope everyone still had a great time and tasted some beautiful Zinfandels.