Friday, March 30, 2012

To Wit

( The krausen on the 2011 Ancient Fire Orange Wit. )

Whether it is Wit or Weiss, both are nice to while the day away to. Orange and spice make some twice as nice, singing their siren song of refreshment. Jason Phelps, March 2012.

The 2012 home-brewing season continued last weekend with our first ever Hefeweizen. As we were making it I was thinking about the wheat beers we had made in the past. In 2007 we made a honey lemon ale with mostly wheat malt in the boil. The final beer was tart and sweet like golden raisins. In 2010 and 2011 we made Wit beers with coriander and orange, fermenting them using a vigorous Belgian wheat beer yeast.

( The yeast was so vigorous that we needed to use a blow-off tube. 2011 )

Wheat beers, also known as Wit in Belgium & Holland, White beers in Canada and the US, Weiss or Weizen beers in Germany and Blanche beers in French speaking countries. They are brewed with a majority of wheat and are either low hopped or not hopped at all. Without hops, other spices (gruit, a name for it in some areas ) were used as preservatives and Wit beers typically incorporate fruit as well. These beers generally deliver complex aromas of fruits, spices like vanilla and clove, as well as yeast and fermentation components. The beers are typically very pale and are served with their yeast mixed back in for added texture and flavor.

( Brewing the Hefeweizen, March 2012. )

The 2010 Ancient Fire Belgian Wit is a focused, sharp beer, with subtle coriander and orange notes. The mid-palate of the beer is thin and wheat driven, and it has a clean, tart finish. 

( 2010 on the left, 2011 on the right. )

The 2011 Ancient Fire Orange Wit was fermented with orange slices in addition to the dried orange peel at bottling. The fruit really comes out early and lasts through the finish. The nose on the more recent version is much bigger as well, making it even more inviting.

( The hot wort heading into the fermenter. )

The Hefeweizen from the recent brewing session is almost ready to bottle. It definitely has some of the signature aromatics and when carbonated should be lively and wheat driven in the mouth. With no added spices and a low hop regimen, the beer should be crisp, tart and refreshing during the upcoming warm season.



Brew Pubs and Beer Bars

( Skagway Brewing, Skagway Alaska. My brother drank here & at Alaskan Brewing Company in 2008.  )

I’ve always loved brewpubs and beer bars. Something about the random sampling you might be able to do as the beers rotate from one batch/season to another. If the menu moves along with the beer, all the better! The people we have met on every occasion have been fun and added to the experience. It’s choose-your-own-adventure for adults.

When I travel somewhere (I should say we because is almost always applies), we plan to hit at least one brewpub or beer bar. Beer samplers, fried appetizers and other pub food is an excellent way to settle into a new location, even for a vacation.

Over the last couple of years I have captured many of the stops in my blog, most often with pictures of the beers, the bars or the smiles from the adventurers. A picture is worth a thousand words, and you can spare yourself the thousand words if you don’t care to click on any of the links in the photo journey below. There’s a lot of beer reviews in there though, and you’ll be surprised at some of the flights from the November 2011 San Francisco trip in particular. I valiantly took it for the team and tasted through more than 30 beers in the few days I was there. That’s killing it!


Montreal is the king of the brewpub adventures for us. We hope to do a crawl there once a year for a fourth year straight real soon.

Les Trois Brasseurs is a chain pub, but the beers are good and the flatbread pizzas and burgers are offered with lots of different toppings and styles.

Le Cheval Blanc had a mean cask IPA made with Warrior hops.

Benelux was a fun joint to hang at. After work crowd, vault room in the back. Great chips and pannini. Tasty beers, Moon Boot was a a very flavorful Belgian beer.

Brutopia appears to be a dive, and on Crescent Street some places struggle to keep ahead of the foot traffic that causes it. Great dark, high ABV beers.

Our most recent crawl included Dieu du Ciel who make many of my top Montreal beers.

West Coast

Margot and I have enjoyed drinking in Seattle twice, both times at The Pike right in the Public Market. So many beers, great pub food and the staff is always hopping.

In Santa Barbara, CA at Santa Barbara Brewing Company we had parmesan flavored French fries and an orange Wit style beer that inspired a homebrew of our own.

The San Francisco trip I took in November was a commando mission and a blast.  I started at 21st Amendment that serves a Brew Free or Die IPA. How New Hampshire of them…

I hit my first Gordon Biersch on the same trip. The European style beers were well made and full of character.

I set out on a one night binge to hit 3 different bars before switching to wine by visiting Sonoma. First up was Rogue.I know Rogue is from Oregon, but the joint has a killer beer list, including their own. I killed two-4 beer flights at this first stop and then walked to Fisherman's Wharf.

I hit Magnolia next and had the best random person experiences of the whole trip at the open concept bar. I was there for several hours and ended up hanging with the some beer geeks and two different groups of folks either going to or performing in live shows later than night. 

I finished up the night at Toronado drinking IPAs from the West Coast.

New England / East Coast

Milly’s Tavern in Manchester, NH is one of the closest to home. We have also visited Martha’s Exchange, Portsmouth Brewery, and Strange Brew.

Portsmouth Brewery is the best brewpub in the state of NH, but I am betting there will continue to be competition as local interest in craft beer continues to grow.The food is tasty, it is always busy and the beers are rotated often.

Seven Barrel Brewery is right on the NH/VT border and convenient from the highway on trips to say, Montreal. The food and beers are well made and varied.

Sebago Brewing in Maine had just moved to a new location when we stopped in on a one day trip in the summer of 2011.

Margot and scheduled a stop to the Bandwagon Brewpub in Ithaca during a February 2012 trip to the Finger Lakes. We will be back in the region in June of 2012 and heading back at Bandwagon is on the list!

All this writing about vacations and beer is making me I was one vacation drinking beer right now. How about you?



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Second Chances, Giving Back and How You Can Help

( May 2003, only weeks out of treatment. That's me in the top center. )

This is the first in a multi-part series about what my experience with cancer has helped me find in my own life and how it has given me an opportunity to fight back.

In 2003 I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and the experience changed my life. My cancer wasn’t urgently life threatening, but it could have been. I stand as a textbook example of early detection. I also add that my case demonstrates the value having a good relationship with a health care provider, someone who you aren’t afraid to call when something doesn’t feel right. That choice saved my life. Don’t overlook the lesson here.

The details of my cancer aside, ask me sometime and I’ll gladly share, I got a second chance. Life in the bonus round as I have become fond of saying. Letting that sink in was life changing. How had I been living my life? Well, I worked a lot. As a consultant I got paid for all the hours I worked and putting in long hours meant big returns. But, money doesn’t buy you happiness. My wife (Margot) and I had had recurring relationship issues and my long hours and bullheadedness in not attending to those issues kept them alive. Cancer changed all of that. Cancer showed me that I could change my life and focus on what was important, whatever that might be. The prospect of taking stock of everything and knowing I could rediscover and value interests differently than I had before was energizing. Family, friends, getting away for the weekend, walks with dog, music and reading all had newfound value to me. This was a damn good thing, with damn good timing! Thank you cancer. You still suck though.

Sidenote: The picture above is bittersweet for me, my wife and all of her family who are pictured there. Despite my returning health at the time the picture was taken, a storm was brewing. Margot's uncle Gerry, in front of the right-hand banister, was diagnosed with cancer a year or so later. He fought for over 6 years but ultimately lost his battle in 2011. After his diagnosis he and I walked the survivor lap in our Relay For Life together. It was a special bond with a man whose friendship will never be forgotten. When I walk the survivor lap in this year's Relay he will not be there, making the loss real for me in a way others in the family will not be able to relate to. Cancer, you suck, a lot!

My food & beverage adventures, and this blog, are a direct offshoot from my cancer experience. At Margot’s urging, we are happier than ever by the way, I took on a hobby; making my own beer at home. One thing led to another and I started making more beer, then wine, cider and mead; and then I began entering competitions and travelling to find new sips to experience. The joy I have been able to experience from all of this makes my cancer experience bittersweet. I wouldn’t trade it in for all the good it has done me. But, make no mistake, I despise cancer, am at war with it and with all the bravado I’ve got, am going to kick the living shit out of this disease if it is the very last thing I ever do.

Shortly after my treatment was completed I began searching for ways to get involved in the fight and give back so that others who follow me, and sadly too many people will follow my path, will have the resources to reduce their suffering and save their life that were available to me.

(That's me on the right clowning around with another cancer survivor. It's the coolest club you will never WANT to be a member of.)

This year is the tenth year that I along with a group of family and friends have rallied to raise money and awareness in the fight against cancer. We participate in several events annually and our flagship event is the Relay For Life of Greater Derry & Londonderry. In an upcoming post in this series I will share more about Relay as a nationwide event (it's worldwide, but I’m not as knowledgeable there as I would like to be), what it is, how it works and how you can get involved in a Relay in your own community.

In closing I will make one point crystal clear, I can’t fight cancer alone. I need your help. My Relay For Life is coming up in June and I need as many people to support the event as possible. The fight against cancer needs resources, my resources, your resources and the resources of your friends and family. Will you help me?  Your tax-deductible donation directly to the American Cancer Society can be made from the link below. Thank you so much for your support.

( Team Survivors Rule! having finished the 2010 Relay. By 2010 we had raised over $60,000 in the fight.)

Please help me fight cancer with a donation to the Relay For Life using the online donation format at

We are fighting, we will win, we MUST HAVE HOPE!



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Married Wine Blogger Cheats on Wife for Singles Night (#WBW75)

( Cute little vineyard plot at Red New Cellars in Hector, NY )

It’s Wine Blog Wednesday again and this month is installment 75! Six years is an eternity online and it is always exciting to be part of this long-running wine blogger swap meet of sorts. Hosting this month is Joe Roberts, aka 1WineDude. Thanks Joe!

This month’s them is “Singles Night”, single vineyard wines that is. What’s so special about single vineyard wines? Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that bottle of single vineyard in your hand?

In a 2010 post that gave a nod to wine being made in the vineyard Steve Heimoff makes a statement that rings true to me, “a wine grown in a single place shows a unique sense of that place.” In the case of single vineyard wines that place is very, very specific, and in extreme examples that place can be very small; resulting in very limited production. Grapes from single vineyard designations are typically given special focus, and winemakers who choose to make such products definitely know what attributes the grapes possess that they wish showcase in the final wine.

Is all wine made from single vineyards special? In my experience single vineyard bottlings are unique in comparison to their peer products from the same winery and area. As a winemaker I can imagine that unsuccessful single vineyard experiments don’t to see the light of day in a rough or unbalanced state. Into the blender they might go! We also have to consider the choices a winery and winemaker might make as to which wines are released with the singled vineyard designation. Sound wines that are not judged to be truly special may be released without the designation. Logically I then conclude that the single vineyard wines consumers actually see are special because no self respecting winemaker would intentionally want to make and promote a pedestrian wine with so much specificity in its source.

I haven’t kept track amongst all the wines I have consumed which ones were single vineyard and not, but I do recall a few single vineyard gems; and they’ve always stood out amongst other wines from the same producer or region. The McGinley and Watch Hill Syrahs from Andrew Murray Vineyards were standout examples for me in 2011. The McGinley was bigger and more concentrated than the other Syrahs from AMV and the area, and the Watch Hill had a underlying funkiness to it that made for a different unique experience. Overall, whether the wines were more concentrated, had focused specific aromas or flavors, or projected unusual attributes, those single vineyard wines I can recall all gave me something above and beyond to consider. I do agree that there are plenty of non-single vineyard designates that offer the same qualities, but for me there is a much higher likelihood of mundane wines in this group.

During a visit to the Finger Lakes in September 2011 I came across the 2008 Red Newt Glacier Ridge Vineyards Merlot. It was one of the finest wines I tasted on the trip. My words on this wine when looked at in contrast with reviews of other reds from the trip hint at the fact that this wine was special for me. After my first taste I said:

The first thing that grabbed me about this wine was the intensity of the color, it is deep and concentrated. The aromas followed on with lots of raspberry, cherry and whiffs of oak. The intensity of the color was matched by an incredible body. The mouth is rich with berries, a little meaty and finishes with velvety tannins. This wine is full bodied and bold in the friendliest of ways.

The color and concentration of this wine was more intense than any other red wine I had on that trip. It was also fuller bodied, in fairness I can’t compare this to the Pinots from the same trip, than the Meritage blends, Cab Francs and native red wines I also tasted.

I recently shared a bottle of this wine with friends who will be making a trip back to Finger Lakes with my wife and I in June. I introduced the bottle as an example what the finest red wines from the region can be. My notes from this tasting line up with my initial tasting, however this time I got to pair the wine with food.

( The view from the deck at the Red New Bistro. Glacier Ridge Vineyards is down the hill towards the lake shore which isn't visible beyond the trees. The west side of the lake is what you see at the horizon. )

The intensity of the color definitely stands out. We tasted it alongside a Lemberger that offered plenty of contrast, the Red Newt is heading towards opaque. The oak leads out in the nose in the form of and alongside baking spices (cinnamon, allspice, vanilla) that offer inviting warmth. Cherries and red fruits are first up in the mouth. The next thing I noticed was a touch of mint. The body of the wine is moderate to full and the tannins are sizable and developing. The wine finishes dry, is a little smoky and lingers pleasantly.

The wine was paired with a medium-rare T-bone steak. I’m usually a well done guy, but pairing with the wine further convinced me that beef on the rare side has a place, especially when paired with an assertive red wine. The touch of meatiness of the wine was matched well in the steak. The bottle was emptied in record time, yet more confirmation to me that it is something special.

It is clear that I think single vineyard wines are special, but of course with consistently growing experience in the world of wine I can’t really say I am in a position to declare anything settled. I don’t believe I would go on a mission to specifically sample single vineyard wines, but only because there is plenty of worthy wine out there and it all has its place. Not that I think doing so wouldn’t be fun…



Friday, March 9, 2012

2012 Wine Competitions – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

( Research leftovers. Read on for an explanation. )

Since 2008 my wife and I have entered our wines (and more recently beers, ciders and meads) in to several national, regional and local amateur competitions each year. The format of the competitions differs a bit depending on the host organization but the majority are executed using judging protocols like those from UC Davis, the American Wine Society or the Beer Judge Certification Program. We began doing this as a means to get objective feedback on our wines. We love to win medals, but the feedback we get teaches us things about our wines that we may not get anywhere else. No matter what great things our friends and family might say about our juice, it won’t ever be as objective as the feedback from an anonymous judge who tastes our wines blind. The feedback we have received, both good and bad, has been immensely valuable in directing our focus on improving our creations. The outcomes are still governed partly by luck (quality of product differs years to year, my personal attention span isn’t consistent, you get the point) but the feedback always gives us something to consider the next time we get ready to make something new.

( Summer 2011. We've taken home some hardware over the years. It's always an honor. )

I’ve gotten more objective about the resultant quality of my products over the years as well, and some fans think I might too harsh at times. This self imposed pressure is my way of trying to keep my head in the game. This isn’t all I need to make a good wine or beer, creativity and quality ingredients are also required, but some amount of ruthless self criticism is just part of the equation for me.

Prior to each competition we obviously need to determine what we are going to enter. Bottles that have won in prior editions of the same competition are excluded, this is often in the rules although cheating is common from what I understand, and products that are just too young are also disqualified because they typically get judged as such. As we have gotten more serious about the quality of our entries we have taken to pulling bottles of everything we think might make the cut, opening them and giving them a good once over. We are looking for high clarity, good color, bountiful aromas, discernable flavors and of course balance. If a wine (or beer,cider and mead) doesn’t have enough of the combination of these facets we won’t enter it. It could still contend, but since entering competitions costs money and requires at least one bottle to be surrendered, it isn’t worth entering wines that you don’t feel are truly worthy. We just drink those. And if they truly don’t merit, meaning they suck, we might parlay them into sangria, use them for marinades or dump them.

This year we ended up opening more than two dozen bottles in our search for wines and meads that we thought would show well in the WineMakerMagazine Annual Competition, the largest amateur competition in the world. We have placed in this contest every year we have entered, four years running. We ended up selecting only twelve (we have an entry limit of fifteen) bottles, feeling those were the real contenders and thus worth the money. Here is a rundown of both the wines that made the cut, and those that didn’t and little something about why.

( Gold from 2010. Here's to hoping luck strikes again in 2012! )

Made the Cut
  • Dry Gewurztraminer 2011 – Decent aromas, good clarity and overall a nice dry, clean wine.
  • Winexpert Estate Series Dry Creek Chardonnay 2011 – This wine saw some lees aging and no oak. The balance of fruit with a wildness in the nose is exceptional. It pours a nice deep, gold color and tastes great.
  • Winexpert South African Chenin Blanc 2011 – This is a subtle wine, but with a tad of breathing time opens up in a way that says to me it has potential. We've won a bronze medal for this the past which moved it up on the list.
  • Strawberry 2011 – Strawberry wine is the longest running style we make. Until 2011 we had medaled for it every year (in the WineMaker competition specifically). Last year the Berry Fruit category had no 100% strawberry winners which we found odd. This in my opinion is our finest version ever and I hope it helps us regain recognition for this style.
  • Concord Rose 2011 – This is the second year we have made this wine from grapes a friend grows in his yard. Last year the color was too pale and it was also too sweet. I fixed both of those issues this year and it paid off!
  • Purple Plum Dessert Wine 2011 – After the success of our 2008 Golden Plum Dessert Wine I wanted to try the same thing with purple plums. This is a different wine, but expresses plum very well and deserves a shot.
  • Raspberry Fortified Dessert Wine 2011 – This is on a short list of things that will be the best of 2011 once we really start sharing it. Massive raspberry in color, aroma AND flavor. Well balanced, with just a hint of the Cognac we used to kick it up.
  • Dandelion/Chamomile 2011 – This might be a second dark hose scenario for dandelion wine for us. We nailed a surprise gold for our 2010 version last year. This year I added some chamomile and the result was a wine with an herbal tea quality to it. It is more than drinkable.
  • Maple Dessert Wine 2011 – This was inspired by a friend’s win for a Maple Ice Wine style wine in 2011. He wouldn't share his recipe (while I freely do share mine), but I nailed something here that might be even better.
  • Cherry/Currant Mead 2011 – Clear, deep red color with fruity aromas. Big flavors with a dry, tart finish. The honey will come up in time, but this is very spot on for style to me.
  • Cinnamon Cyser 2011 – The aromas of apple, honey and cinnamon are what get me. All other elements are polished and balance is good.
  • Orange/Vanilla Mead 2011 – This was our surprise first place finisher last fall, and probably one of the best things we made in 2011. We didn't need to open this to be sure, but we did because we wanted something to drink!
( Entries for the 2010 WineMaker Magazine Competition. Huge recognition with 9 medals that year! )

  • Blueberry Fortified Dessert Wine 2011 – The balance is off. The neutral alcohol I used for fortification comes through too much. I am going to back sweeten this with some organic blueberry concentrate and add some oak chips for a bit. It might move in a port-like direction.
  • Dry Riesling 2011 – The acid is out of balance. Not sure what will happen with this wine.
  • Riesling/Gewurztraminer Blend 2011 – Slightly hazy, otherwise a pleasant, drinkable wine.
  • Winexpert Estate Series Yakima Pinot Gris 2011 – Oxidized. Not sure of the future of this wine.
  • Winexpert New Zealand Pinot Noir 2011 – Just didn't pop. Going to revisit this wine in six months.
  • Winexpert Special Edition Pacific Quartet 2009 – This wine has lost its nose. It tastes great, has good clarity and is balanced. Just not worth the expense.
  • Peach Dessert Wine 2010 – This batch of peach wine is drinkable, but doesn't have the total package.
  • Malbec 2010 – All three batches of Malbec from 2010 are a little funky. We are going to let them age for a while.
  • Syrah 2010 – A lighter wine with a bit of cured meat in the nose. Didn't feel like it was typical. It drinks well for me and that’s just what I am going to do with it!
  • Winexpert Rioja 2010 – Kind of a dullard. It just doesn't influence me in any tangible way. I won’t fuss to drink it as an everyday wine, but it ain't gonna bring home any hardware.
  • Viognier 2010 – Way out of balance. Something about this wine changed shortly after the fermentation was completed. It was trending well up until then. We used quite a bit of it in a blend so it is almost gone.
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2010 – Only a few bottles of this were bottled varietally. It is typical, if not a bit acidic, and I didn't feel it was a winner.
  • White Blend 2010 – Not a bad wine, except when one of the stinky bottles gets opened! Too much risk therein.
  • World Vineyard Australian Riverland Reserve 2009 – This wine doesn't have enough of everything. Very subtle, plenty drinkable but not in a pay attention to it type way.
One wine that we didn’t open is our 2010 Cabernet/Syrah, and as I drink a glass while I write this I am wondering if we might have missed one. It isn’t a big wine, more European in style, and has a moderate nose solid flavors, chewy tannins and a healthy does of acidity. This is at the top of the list for the next competition!

( Enjoying last year's WineMaker Magazine Competition awards dinner with friends. See you in June! )

Several wines from 2011 were too young to enter, but are coming along nicely and will see themselves in the ring in 2013.
  • Cellar Craft Red Mountain Cab
  • Cellar Craft Amarone
  • Winexpert Sonoma Valley Pinot
The above list doesn’t include the fresh juice Amarone and Zinfandel we made in the fall of 2011 that have not yet even gone into the bottle.

While the effort we went through might seem fun, it really was hard work and required my wife and I to be brutally honest with each other and ourselves. I am really happy with the selections we picked and can’t wait to see what turns up our first medals of 2012 in June when the results are announced. No matter what I have improved my own ability to judge my wines and am looking forward to the feedback these wines bring.



Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wineries Need to Get With the Program and Engage Their Customers!

The rants about wineries needing to get on the social media bandwagon come fast & furious these days. Adding in the related rants about the need for wineries to improve web sites, setup Facebook pages and respond to contacts through all the online channels out there, and you could get the impression that the state of the industry is poor and declining rapidly. By only this measure that may not be a stretch.

I’ve picked one particular thread in the conversation because my experience with at least one of the actors in the story proves the point being made in clear and simple terms. But I wouldn’t be writing this post if I didn’t have at least a little something to say to expand the argument a bit.

Joe Roberts, aka 1WineDude, wrote a post on January 25th entitled “Where Can Wineries Really Innovate? In Engaging The People WhoActually Drink The Stuff!” where he lays out his ideas on what wineries can and should be doing to engage their customers. (Sorry Joe I’m going to pick on you a bit, but in the end your position will be the winning proposition.)  In that post the main point is that wineries suck at innovation in customer engagement and are losing out on brand positioning that is going on everyday using social media. The points were stated well but there wasn’t example provided, and no consideration of the dollars and cents based at stake.

That post got an opposing response Steve Heimoff in “HeyJoe, lighten up on the social media thing”. Steve took the approach that winery owners and winemakers are up to their eyeballs in the work to make the product and run their businesses that the “free” time to curate their social media presence and engage the customers waiting online is easier said than done. He also states that he thinks the sharp edge of statements in Joe’s original post ignore the realities of what the producers ARE doing to engage and run their businesses. I personally ride the line between both voices. Any business, not just wineries, needs to invest more time as they grow to manage their brand and engage customers. That is nothing new. There is plenty of technology out there to do this, but that is not the problem. Changing how businesses allocate time and resources is, and that has everything to do with money and a return for investments made. Even so, the adoption of such technologies is an evolution that takes time.

Joe responded to Steve today in “This Is Me Totally NOTLightening Up On Wine And Social Media” where he refines the argument to be more about engagement than social media, and provides some engagement examples. As one commenter (Richard Auffrey, aka The Passionate Foodie) has already pointed out, the examples aren’t about social media and the article title and points made seem to revolve around that. Maybe the premise of the post was titled a bit off point, but Joe is human and is trying to be a thought leader for an industry he loves and wants help be even more successful.  I’ll let other people jump on that specific point if they wish.

In the most recent post Joe says “I’m not lightening up. If anything, I think we all should be making more of a fuss over this stuff, not less.” and  “Ignoring social media entirely makes you a Muppet” to get the reader’s attention.

Joe’s bottom line is this: “if you are producing wine, and in this day and age you are letting someone like me (or any critic) dictate the majority of your brand message to current and potential customers in online engagement channels (twitter, Facebook, etc.), then you need to audition for a Jim Henson Company project, because you’re acting like a Muppet…”

If you want to read all the opinions, comments and put your own stamp on the conversation use the links above. I encourage anyone who loves wine, works in the wine industry or is thinking about launching a winery to get involved. Joe is out there ahead of the indsutry coalescing his experiences into a set of guiding principles that in time will be the way things are done in the wine business. It’s just going to take time.

As a technologist by trade I’ve seen this situation before, it was called the Dot Com boom.  During that period every company in every industry was being told they had to get online because everything was going that way. I ran an IT consulting firm from shortly before the boom and was along for the ride during and after the crash. I saw all manner of stupefying business plans and VC money flying fast and furious at anything with an “e” or “dotcom” in the text of said plans. Most of it was crap. I turned down jobs because the business had no real plan and most of those evaporated before I would have gotten paid. That era was exciting but we all lost because of stock market roller coaster that resulted from it. More than 10 years later we have seen the shake out from that era come full circle and many of the current darlings of the IT world are those companies that either benefited from what followed the insanity or had the fine timing to come later.

We are seeing a social media boom now. The drums beating about companies needing to be on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, etc., etc. sounds the same to me. But it is different this time. Social media is about innovation in marketing, customer engagement and brand communication. Those aren’t new concepts and a little change will be good for all of us.

But how do we evaluate what is really going on in the wine industry and figure out what to expect for technology adoption, and specifically engagement technologies, from the industry at large? Because we are looking at this from a technology slant we should dance with the Technology Adoption Lifecycle for a few songs. The Technology Adoption Lifecycle (or Diffusion of Innovation) is a model of technology adoption based on research done of farmers in the 1950’s. Why should this matter today when so much has changed? Because it applies and holds up to this day, that’s why!

The graphic below will show you what the progression of technology adoption looks like in any community of actors whose primary business isn’t technology (farming, retail, wine, etc). I am making the distinction about adoption of technology in tech focused industries because that is a whole other animal in itself. Trust me, I deal with that every freaking day!

( graphic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Clearly you can see that knowing where in progression of an adoption we are will help anyone understand exactly where the business in their focus industry might be in their own adoptions.

For the wine business and social media I don’t think we have moved to the Early Majority phase yet. That means at most 16% of wineries have adopted the technologies and have been able to successfully integrate them into operations. How does this do for context for everyone? Anyone want to disagree? I don’t have research to back up my assertion, I’m using a general perception from my own experience and people like Joe who report on what they see from the field. It fits for me, but take a shot at it if you wish. I’ll have that conversation because it only helps refine the argument and make the case stronger.

I stated above that I think this model holds up. A web strategy post from 2010 entitled “Matrix: Social Technology Adoption CurveBenefits –and Downsides“ explains this curve in terms of social technologies. The benefits and downsides around adoption are discussed and that detail is an essential read for anyone who takes up the position Joe asserts.

Wineries need to listen in here, but in the end what they really need to do reflect on their day to day operations and figure out where they are spending their time and money. Once they know how they currently spend they need to be brutally honest and determine the return they are getting for that spend. I know for a fact that they will find places to move money and time from to where it can be better spent.  That’s when they can seriously entertain the suggestion that they can do a better job of engaging customers by adopting social media. Clearly some companies might need help with that, they aren’t technologists after all, and the loud voices in this conversation should consider what role they might play there.

The wine business isn’t a new industry and is littered with so many control and anti-competitive facets that in themselves add another barrier to moving along the curve. Those areas must be attacked in parallel if we want to speed the story along.

How did this whole experience prove the point Joe was making for me? Joe’s engagement with me. His blazing turnaround to my comments and handling of a technology issue I had in replying to a comment made it clear he wanted to engage me as a consumer of his brand. And it made me feel good. There is no better proof than that.