Saturday, April 23, 2011

Railroad Revival Tour - 1 Hot Ticket, 4 Cool Wines

Last Thursday night Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show embarked on a tour unlike any in recent memory. "Traveling exclusively in vintage rail cars, the three bands will journey across the American Southwest over the course of a week. The aptly titled Railroad Revival Tour features the three bands playing concerts at  six unique outdoor locations along the route",

I was quick to step up when told "hey we need wine to stock the train bar car for the bands and guests for the 8 day tour", asked my dear pals from Austin who were in charge of the F&B for the Railroad Revival Tour. TexaCali Ali to the rescue...a hard request I know (whatever Mumford & Son's has been rocking my house for quite some time now!). 

The Tour kicked off in Oakland, California last Thursday.  Mother Nature was enjoying the show too, one of the most beautiful nights I've ever seen in NorCal.  The location of the concert was in the train yards almost under the East Bay side of the Bay Bridge. 8,000 fans plus all the bands saw the most glorious sunset over San Francisco, blue skies with streaks of orange and pink for hours. Mind blowing GORGEOUS!

Upon arrival I received a long walk-through of the train, for the most part, each of the compartments were old & classy, the air felt like Cary Grant was going to turn a corner at anytime.   The Chefs were hard a work getting ready for a feast after the show and old-school bartenders were busy helping to situate the wines as well.  

Stan (pictured on the couch here) owns the circa 1941 railroad car that holds the old-timey western bar - which also had handfuls of instruments for the guys to pick up and play at anytime.  The stories from this 8 day Railroad Revival Tour are going to be off-the-hook!   

A big toast @ midnight was scheduled as soon as the train pulled away for their next depot  - San Pedro - outside of LA. I'm sure Superfan & Hollywood Cutie Jake Gyllenhaal was at this show singing along...I wonder if he likes Mumford & Sons more than I do?! Naaahh! 

The entire vibe of the night was so freakin' happy. So many smiles, laughter and hugs backstage.  It was quite a feat for these three bands to create such a grand tour and everyone from the drummers to their little kids dancing on stage were having a total blast.   It was so great to watch the bands from backstage, side stage, inside the train and best of all during the encore set - right on the stage with this group of magical musicians.   Fantastic Fun & one EPIC night for all! 

Stay tuned for more candid wine-photos from the's a peek at the wines the bands are sipping along the way. Cheers to rockin' the tour - and Austin fans - get ready for Tuesday night!! -  Ali

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Castle Cobwebs

 My eye caught this ancient window while standing in the cellar of Chateau de Montfaucon  - in the heart of the Rhone Valley.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Château Mouton Rothschild

Reflections from France...

K&L Wine Merchants  SKU #1055187
97-100 points Wine Spectator: "I am speechless over the nose in this wine. Mint, blackberry, currant and black licorice turn to flowers such as lilacs and roses. Wow. It fills your mouth with the same fruit, but with an intensity of superpolished tannins. It finishes with complex yet reserved coffee, toasted oak and ripe fruit and then in two or three minutes it becomes milk chocolate. Just a joy to taste. Best Mouton since 1982 or 1986; in fact, it's like a bend of the two. A perfect Mouton?" (03/31/10) 97-99 points Wine Enthusiast: "A wonderfully structured wine, it combines impressive purity of fruit with delicious, mouth-watering acidity... A great success." (04/10) 96-98+ points Parker: "An inky/purple color is accompanied by classic aromas of creme de cassis, violets, and hints of graphite and background oak. The overwhelming impression is one of layer upon layer of fruit, full-bodied opulence, and good structure. It tastes as if it were 2-3 months old rather than a post-malolactic, fully assembled barrel sample ... so incredibly promising. A 50- to 100-year wine? Probably." K&L's Notes: *** Great, perfumey aromas of cassis and currants mixed with tobacco and cedar wood. Super-concentrated wine, with a finish that lasts a minute or more. Alex: The "iron fist in a velvet glove" analogy strikes again. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

A lasting impression - direct to consumer wine sales.

Still shaking off the jet-lag and detoxing from my fabulous 2 weeks in France, I am in the midst of a few more posts about the trip, so stay tuned for those shortly.   

This week however, my new boss at Wine Country Connect, David Studdert - was profiled by Jordan Mackay (one of my  favorite wine & spirits writers) in the NY Times. Since 2006, David has been quietly leading a BEHEMOTH direct sales channel for wineries to reach a national market - with very mindful effort. 

I admit, I wasn't familiar with Amazon's Wine.Woot! until an industry consultant helping Pellegrini Family Vineyards turned me onto Woot! last fall.  Notice the word "help", you all know by now that I'm in the business of wine and my passion for "helping" family owned wineries is what gets me out of bed in the morning.  After running my first campaign with Wine.Woot! and Pellegrini - I was hooked.  Smart marketing and even smarter direct sales.

In all my years of agonizing over National FOB's, begging for more allocations, fighting over margins, creating incentives for reps that work (then seeing them fail), waiting for PO's, calling for payment on the PO's,  picking up winemakers from the airport at dawn, planning every minute of a market visit, driving 5 hours to stand in a store for a demo to then stay awake for a midnight staff training at a restaurant, receiving calls from key sales reps @3pm on Friday asking if I had any samples at my home that their best on-premise account was short and needs more - (oh and can you meet me 1.5 hours away with them too), printing a forest of marketing materials - sales sheets, shelf talkers, reviews, prices, paying for lunch, paying for breakfast tacos, paying for a steak dinner and kickoff meeting for 30, paying $4 a gallon in gas to drive 2-3,000 a month around Texas to finally & hopefully sell a few boxes of wine.  Whew.  It's takes an expensive army and an ambitious leader to move millions of dollars of wine through the traditional supply chain - exhausting and a money pit.     

Room for both.  

Yes, savvy wineries have been getting this for years now.  Utilizing sites such as Wine.Woot! and Rue La La for direct sales is a smart, fast and efficient way to brand the winery to a new customer base and ultimately move some boxes.  I've heard of a few "whiny-baby" distributors attempt to bully wineries when featured on these sites, what they don't get is that these 2 channels are actually helping build the brands in their local region too.  Often on the Wine.Woot! community forums page, members ask where the wines are being poured in restaurants and what local wine shops carry the wine.  On Rue La La - well over 3.5 million members are now eyeballing the wine collections - worth more than any BTG placement at the hottest restaurant in any American town. For a winemaker it may not sound as "cool" as having your wine placed on Gary Danko's list, but you can't deposit your ego in the bank either. Also, most likely a member of Rue La La who bought a large format of your wine will jump at the chance of ordering your brand off a sexy wine list too.  Wineries have been selling direct to consumers for years through their tasting rooms, wine clubs and mailing lists - this avenue is no different except it's in the world's view - for all to see, learn from and most likely spend their money on!

White Noise. 

Wine.Woot! began in 2006, since then similar "flash sites" have popped up but nothing to shake a stick at in regards to building a lasting and loyal impression on wine consumers.  Wine.Woot! is one-of-a kind and after a few months now of getting to know the members, it feels like family.  They love a good discount (who doesn't?), love hearing from the winemakers, offer honest opinions (love it or hate it), create wine gatherings all over the nation to share their Wine.Woot! bottles with each other and spread the love for the brands they have discovered like no other group of wine lovers I've ever encountered.  Oh, and they are buying a few pallets of wine - a day! 


Big plans are in full swing for Wine.Woot! and Rue La La.  Luxury wineries are utilizing high-end features on Rue La La to drive visitors to their winery (literally) and many are using Wine.Woot! as a new release and launching pad to kick off new wines for the season.  Yes, you'll still see a good value in price but don't expect to always see 2 vintages-past featured each day.  If you are a winery and haven't incorporated these two channels into your annual sales strategy - get on it, what are you waiting for?  If you are a wine consumer - CHEERS to you with each and every click!   - Ali

PS. I'm working on mid-summer features for Wine.Woot! & Rue La La now, reach me direct

Friday, April 08, 2011

Day 12 in France

One for the record books, an EPIC day visiting 12 Chateaus in Bordeaux with K&L Wine Merchants. More soon, a few pics to click. Cheers - Ali  

Monday, April 04, 2011

Photo of the Day atop Chateau de Montfaucon

A view of the Rhone on the rooftop of an 11th century castle.   Amazing family and fantastic wines that I've been a fan of for many years.
Detailed post tomorrow about my visit, incredible!!  Cheers - Ali

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Saturday in the Rhone - à la provençale!

Cecile & Mauricio hosted  us for lunch today at their home in Sablet.  After a foggy walk through the vineyards from our apartment (Cecile owns this – fantastic!, the sun appeared, wines flowed and a delicious French-Italian lunch went on for hours.  The house was owned by her 93 year old grandmother for years and now Cecile has converted it to this lovely modern and colorful cozy home.
Cecile makes and imports wines to the US and Mauricio, her Italian love is in real-estate in the French Riviera. They served fresh pasta with simple tomato and basil, grilled lamb, an assortment of cheese (Mauricio pulled out a special Italian gorgonzola too!) finished with the most delicious strawberry tart I've ever tasted.  We spoke for hours about our love of all things Rhone, Provence & good Italian wines! Ahh, then the walk back through the vineyards induced my first 2 hour nap in ages!  A beautiful day with new friends.  Cheers - Ali

Friday, April 01, 2011

TexaCali Ali is NOT Foolin' in France!

Day 4 in France. Soo much to share with you all, I'm having a hard time narrowing down what to write. It's been a week of visual & tasty inspiration. I'm mellow today, trying to decide what has been the biggest impression on me so far, it's all lovely and soo incredibly beautiful here. But the PEOPLE... I've been so fortunate to meet and spend time with are who and what has made this week in France so very special for me.
Tons of photos, books, websites, marketing materials all list and show off the terroir of the region and a gazillion important wine facts, but none of these things can capture of the true spirit of the Rhone Valley- the people here. I've had some of the best French winemakers on my home-turf back in Texas over the years, I so prefer to be here with them,on their dirt and see their soul.

On Wednesday, I had the great privilege of spending the afternoon with Daniel Brunier - ‘Wine is my life”, sure we had plenty to talk about regarding his wineries, projects and the juice, but Daniel’s story, past and present was most impressive. He’s now in the midst of planning and running his 5th winery – both in France and Lebanon. Daniel spoke fondly of his 2 teenage children, his wife who runs an advertising agency and how he loves to spend quality time with them up in the mountains of the Ardeche. He smiled a lot during our tasting but his biggest smiles of the day came when speaking of his family. The lineup of wines were fascinating, Les Pallieres, Domaine La Roquete, Le Vieux Telegraph and Massaya. Each producer poured separately and vertically 2008 – 2010 (most were barrel samples).

Highlight for me: 2010 Domaine La Roquete, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, ( “Echantillon – means sample bottle”). 1/3 Grenache Blanc 1/3 Clairette 1/3 Roussillon. It was everything I like to taste from a CdP Blanc!

Thursday brought the hustle!! I was warned that the day would be at least 12 hours long of tastings. Yes it was and let me tell you, I loved every second of it. At exactly 8:27am as I was brushing my teeth hear a knock at the door and it’s Laurent Terrisson the owner of arriving to take us around for the day.

I seriously met my French Match – he runs a company much like how I ran TexaCali Wine Co.  from 2005-2010, here from the South of France. He met us with the day complete -  a printed list of wines to be tasted during the day in hand, set appointments for the day and great tunes on the car radio as we climbed into his “gentlemen farmer’s truck” and began the day.
Laurent was full of life yesterday, telling us jokes, flirting a bit but buttoned up to the very smallest detail of the day. I loved it. It was such a breath of fresh air to be “on the other side” for the day and see someone else’s mindful planning play out. Laurent made a point to close each tasting with a reminder to my travel partner of what she needed, already ordered, pricing if she ordered more and etc. Always on point, always leading the dialog and questions into the sale. The thrill of the game for sure, I soaked up every minute of it.

This day was hardest for me - I am without my Blackberry during this entire trip and seeing him on it and conducting multiple business tasks all day was KILLING me. ARGH. I can't even recall the last time I've been without it!! I know - this makes many of you roll-your-eyes. 

Moving on...Laurent too spoke of his family, his life outside of work and his future travel and business ambitions.  So very much in common, I can't wait to tell a joke he shared with me to the appropriate crowd "Alison you must perfect the punchline!" and find the "Allison" song from England that he belted out all day.

Next, Laurent took us to meet the two brothers of , we tasted their Domaine Courtois – and I seriously liked them all   - - beautiful wines for the price.  Upon leaving the winery, we were shown a few vineyards located in one of the most Northern parts of the Southern Rhone (or most Southern parts of the Northern Rhone!). Freaks me out a bit how similar the soils are to Texas – our West Texas soils to be exact.

They day went onto a DELICIOUS tasting with Jean-Francois Gras & Jean Louis Colombier. It’s so fun to hear about who they love doing business with both in Texas and California, we are very like-minded this way! We all spent lunch together in Gigondas, talking about the biz, hearing about their recent travels to Germany (Redbull & vodka are evil) and hearing about life around the Rhone.

My first sighting of a goofy French bull dog in a dining room happened as well, oh Henley would have loved France. Toward the end of lunch, my heart sank a bit as I hear about the afternoon for them ahead, attending a funeral of a small child who fell into a well. We left lunch together wishing rainbows appearing in the sky…

Off to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to meet one of Decanter Magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year” - Alexandre Favier Alex is only 29 and a total hardworking STUD!

Due to his father having 2 heart-attacks when Alex was 17 – he stepped up to the plate at a very young age. He does everything, and means it. We tasted 4 reds and a white, the white was totally mind-blowing by the way. Think French Pressed Apricots!! His red CdP’s were amazing, a real treat, I’d like to track down the 2008 vintage when back in the US. The 2009 is singing too…the Vielles Vignes is made from 70-80 yr. old vines and made my head spin.

Right as we left the winery I asked Alex if he enjoyed working in the cellar more or out in the vineyards, quickly he replied “the vineyards, the wine is about the vines and the terrior” with a big sparkling smile of course. I told Laurent he needs to send him to the US to make a few sales calls, he quite reminds me of dear Luis Reginato, a famous young winemaker and vineyard expert I admire in Argentina.

So our day with our "Cheerful-Handler" closed with a big Northern Rhone tasting in a wine lab in Rasteau with Laurent. Seriously, he worked every minute of the day to the fullest, Oh Snap! You Rock Laurent.  Very sweet to know how well you treat your profession of representing winemakers. Bravo.

Laurent left us in the good hands of Valerie Aigron @ Cave de Rasteau who took us to a wonderful dinner at a “Natural” wine bar in Vaison La Romaine. Valerie travels the world for her COOP in Rasteau and when we asked her how she was doing…”my life is perfect, I love my job”. Over dinner she shared with us how she was in Japan then China a few days ago, then off to Canada next week. I’ve got nothing on her miles…

This post is getting rather long and I have a full afternoon ahead to tell you all about ------my special tasting and experience with young Thomas Jullien on Friday @ …stay tuned, I’m still pinching myself.

The people here with whom I've met this week - they’ve shared their passions, opened their hearts and are so very grateful for their following in the USA. I’m honored to have spent this time alongside so many folks in the Rhone that are just doing what they love…Cheers -  TexaCali Ali

PS - pardon my typos, writing without spellcheck, after exercise for the first time in a week and now a bottle of 2010 Tavel Rose tonight!