Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Drive Through Napa Valley (or how social media influenced why I visited Pine Ridge and Alpha Omega)

Last week, I was a judge at the NextGeneration Wine Competition in Santa Rosa, CA. Instead of flying directly into Santa Rosa via a 5 hour stop in Seattle for twice the price, I flew into Sacramento and rented a car for the remainder of my journey. I also flew in the day before to avoid waking up at 3 am the first day of the competition. Apparently karma is getting even and since I've been back, Ben has been getting me up at 3 almost every day. Flying into Sacramento the afternoon before the competition started allowed me to meander my way through the Napa Valley the afternoon of my arrival.

Caves at Pine Ridge Winery

A few days before my visit, I saw a tweet from Pine Ridge Vineyards (I believe my only Napa Valley winery follower at the time) announcing a vertical tasting of their top of the line Fortis label the evening after the competition. Unfortunately, my schedule precluded me from getting back to Napa on Friday afternoon, but I was able to schedule a visit on my way in. After a brief stop at my first In 'N Out Burger (well worth the two U-turns), I was greeted at the winery by the e-marketing coordinator for Crimson Wine Group (Pine Ridge's parent company). As I arrived only 30 minutes before the tasting room closed, I did not get to tour the winery, but did get to taste through most of the wines.

I started with two chardonnays, but the 2009 Petit Clos showed the crisp yet full-bodied flavors I enjoy in a chardonnay. It was very floral on the nose and provided flavors of pear, green apple, lemon and even a bit of grass along with fresh vanilla bean. Of the five 2007 cabernet sauvignons (Napa, Stags Leap, Oakville, Rutherford and Howell Mountain) I tasted, the Rutherford bottle stood out to me as providing the best balance between fruit and body. It could be great tonight or in 15 years. Those who want more assertive tannins might enjoy the big Stags Leap cabernet a bit more.

While I did not get to taste the Fortis, I did taste the 2006 Andrus Reserve, 2006 Epitome and 2008 Onyx. All were very nice wines, but the sweet cherries and plums of the Andrus were the tastiest of the bunch. The Epitome was (as it is no longer being produced) made from select blocks of estate cabernet and has gobs of raspberry, tobacco and tannins that will integrate even more with a few years of bottle aging. While the Onyx was nice, I'd rather drink (several) Argentinian malbecs for the cost of admission. Overall, I was impressed with both the wines and the use of social media at Pine Ridge. Having a good social network presence that is matched by high quality wines will lead to more success at Pine Ridge. Not shilling product, but announcing events and interacting with consumers who happen to follow on Twitter or like on Facebook is the way that wineries need to use these networks, and Pine Ridge gets it.

Alpha Omega Winery
Another aspect of social media PR is promoting others in your industry. As I was leaving, the tasting room staff recommended that I visit Alpha Omega Winery. I have read good things about this newish winery on the Wineberserkers.com online wine forum, but had not had the opportunity to try the wines. I don't know how many wineries monitor the conversations on forums such as Wineberskers, the Wine Spectator Forums or the Wine Library Forums (I used to read the bulletin board over at eRobertParker.com before the pay-wall went up), but I would highly recommend that they do so. Reputations can be made or lost with a only a few positive or negative comments on these sites. With the recommendation at Pine Ridge and the positive reviews from other digitally savvy winelovers, I made my way to the other side of the valley and up to the tasting bar at Alpha Omega.

Alpha Omega is a small (less than 5000 cases annually) winery that uses flying winemaker Michel Rolland as a consultant. The facility just off Highway 29 is exquisite and inviting. I started my tasting with a sauvignon blanc and chardonnay that did not impress me, but the 2010 Rosé was quite memorable. Pomegranate and strawberries flavors were present on the forepalate, but as I had a few more sips, a strange (but good) creamy yogurt flavor presented itself only to morph into a white chocolate covered cherries finish. Not the usual light and crisp rosé, but a tasty wine nonetheless. I did not find the 2008 cabernet sauvignon all that impressive, but the 2008 Proprietary Red Blend and 2009 Era (barrel samples because the 2008 is sold out) were both big and bold wines showing blackberries, raspberries, currants and espresso. The Era was slightly deeper, jammier and more complex than the Blend with sweeter fruit and more supple tannins, but both will undoubtedly impress those who like big Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon dominated blends. Neither are cheap, but might actually be steals considering what some other Napa wines are going for nowadays.

While Alpha Omega does not use Twitter or Facebook nearly as much as Pine Ridge, they definitely have a following on wine-centered social network Wineberserkers.com. Understanding how these marketing tools work, whether a winery chooses to participate or not, is important because consumers are participating regardless. Many consumers choose which wineries to visit and which wines to buy from recommendations via social networks. Even wineries in established wine regions like Napa can be helped or hurt through social media, but developing regions like Colorado have the most to gain from utilizing these tools to develop personal relationships with current and potential customers.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The thing is, you wouldn't know that place existed if not for social media. You just can't change the fact that it can influence your life in a lot of ways.

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  3. John I knew both wineries existed, but social media facilitated the personal interaction and great visits. I am hopeful that my post will influence others to visit as well.

  4. With the introduction of Java and HTML 5, it makes social interactions and virtual visits more feasible.
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  5. Alpha Omega and Pine ridge seem like good wineries. Social media really brings a lot of good things to our lives. With just some social media interactions, the probability of visiting places just like these two becomes possible.

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  6. John, I agree that SM is only growing more important as a way consumers and producers of any product are able to have meaningful interactions.