Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | April 13, 2012

Growers In The Frosty Seat. Wineries In The Hot Seat.

Facebook bought Instagram this week to the delight of just about every wine marketing department, blogger, and out of touch with reality wine industry star.

Meanwhile Google+ got a massive user interface makeover Wednesday, making it look more like a social network. Now The Valley’s social media junkies…I mean “experts” will have something to talk about with one another at the  next Facebook Meetup which is rumoured to replace Cheers to Taste who can no longer snake wineries into footing the bill – feeding and boozing up those in the “Industry” on an every month basis.

I take issue with the disclaimer at the bottom of “Industry” event registration pages which typically says something to the effect of “credentials required” READ: If you aren’t an IT specialist by day and write a “wine blog” from your cubicle while your boss isn’t looking you don’t count. Or another version along the lines of “Wineries, Distributors, Retailers proudly produce your heavy weight embossed card upon checking in” Never you mind that it takes growers ten months to get the fruit to winemakers who then turn it over to cellar masters to “master” and through the bottling line before the winery tasting room staff even has an inkling that a new release is scheduled for 6 months away or you social media experts have time to “Pin” it.

Last week growers, myself included, turned on frost protection units for up to five consecutive days. Which many of you “In the Industry” Tweeted or Facebooked about how loud the fans were. Or how sick you were of living like your bed was beneath the airstrip in SFO. For those Tweets and status updates alone you shouldn’t qualify anywhere as “Industry”.

East Bound 'n Down

Night one of the escapade I drove the six minutes across the Sonoma/Napa County line to start up my Cold Air Drain that is PTO driven by our Ford tractor which is limping along year to year begging for an overhaul into the Carl Moyer Program.

The frost alarm went off at 2:18 a.m. it was 36 degrees. As I watched the data from bed on my laptop be transmitted from another grower’s weather station 3 miles south of our vineyard into a cloud based system for 20 more minutes. The temperature steadily declined every few seconds. At 2:48 a.m. I threw on Under Armour and hopped in the car which registered 45 degrees. As I made it to Stornetta Dairy it was 39 degrees and the snowflake icon came on in the dash panel – which typically excites me as I head for Highway 50 and Tahoe. By Madonna Estate 36 degrees. And as I careened around the corner to see that Hyde’s fan was already whirring I accelerated into our own vineyard half way down the property to the lowest point where I jumped in the frosty tractor seat, preheated the diesel, and started the Shur Farms Cold Air Drain seconds before 3 a.m. as the thermometer in Block 5 Chardonnay read 33 degrees. This went on for four more nights and is likely to happen several times more this season.

So yes. I do believe every grower, vineyard manager, crew foreman and vineyard laborer is entitled to Industry recognition and entrance into EVERY event, no background check required except a handshake and maybe a thank you for doing what you do.

Several men recently shook my hand and responded, “What did you say you do for a living?” Or the more indiscreet ones shake their head and mumble something about “rough hands”. That should be credential enough to qualify as “Industry”.

It’s an eerie sight making the drive for the vineyard on frost nights. Yellow fog lights slowly creeping through vineyard rows towards the propane tank at 3 a.m. is something I bet the nine most popular bloggers in the universe have never witnessed. Yeah, I didn’t make the list either and will be sure to tell Mabry “You’re welcome” the next time I see him sipping “Legendary Napa Valley Cabernet” in the fireside nook at 1313 Main.

Second Year On The Team: Shur Farms Cold Air Drain.

What is it with you people and “Industry” cred anyhow? There are a hell of a lot more posers out there in the blogger, social media, hospitality, marketing and sales ranks than those doing the dirty work in the vineyards. I mean who doesn’t have an App that chooses your wine for you or makes an appointment at the next tasting room (tip not included). The “Coming Soon!” landing page is hardly legit in this day and age and don’t the cheap shirts printed at Cafepress.com with Wine<3 across the chest give it away that they’re NOT IN THE INDUSTRY!?!

Maybe you event planners should take a lesson from the corporate winery entities sending winemakers on the road and start stacking your guest lists with managers, foremen, viticulturists, and growers.

Better yet, just have your web master change the registration web form to include “Grower” so I don’t have to check the wine broker box any longer. Which on occasion I do personify a slightly legit wine broker (you’ve got to be multi-talented, faceted and diversified if you’re going to make it as a farmer) and I can tell you there is absolutely no 2011 bulk Chardonnay out there with which to “pump up” your 2011 Chardonnay. You take it as the vintage gives it to you and make a wine representative of the vineyard and the weather. That’s it.

While on the subject of Chardonnay. You must have been living in a dark vineyard pumphouse during the past few weeks if you aren’t aware of the severe grape and bulk wine shortage the Industry is experiencing. There are four ads in the Yellow Sheet for grapes. One is for a LEASE. There are a measly 52 listings on Winebusiness.com for fruit and five of them are WANTED.

The answer is plant more. The three real brokerages say wineries have to start paying growers more so they can plant more. The wineries say they’ll have to increase their bottle price if they have to pay growers more. The consumers (particularly the rowdy drunk Millennials) keep drinking more. And more. So it seems as if we’re all in a standstill.

I absolutely love Footloose the original. Mostly because I’ve got a reservoir in Carneros that resembles the backdrop to the guys playing chicken on tractors scene and the tractors circa 1984 to actually re-enact it.

I also pretty much adored working with one Up Valley Chardonnay producer last year who paid on time, accepted clean fruit at lesser than contracted brix, was the prefect picture of compromise. With their growing Chardonnay brand and a Carneros designate program, it seemed a natural fit to ask about a planting incentive this year and/or increased price per ton. Unfortunately I was met with, “Jennifer, thanks for the information, that’s too rich for my blood.”

And so it seems yet again I’m left with the golden ticket. A truckload of Napa Carneros Chardonnay available – 8 ton minimum. My phone number is 707 227 8745. Clone 17 & 76. And for the right price I’ll sign a two year agreement.

I also have 10 acres of Napa Carneros land to plant with access to water. It is the most fertile soil on the parcel. And I am accepting incentives.

Or we can just keep playing chicken.

I’m an awfully good tractor driver and I don’t mid sitting in a frosty seat. It sure beats the hot seat you wineries are going to be in if you can’t figure a way to tell your tasting rooms you can’t afford the custom closures, your events manager to reduce their spendy lobster feast wine club dinners, reign in the sales department who continues to buy booth space at Fort Mason drunkfests full of reckless Millennials or trim the fat elsewhere this year so you can BUY FRUIT (at prices which allow growers to plant) and MAKE WINE (to meet your consumer’s demanding and growing consumption rates).

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Responses

  1. Seems like those oh-dark-thirty trips to the frosty tractor seat have knotted your underwear. Most of the people who buy wine want nothing from us. Those who come to visit our turf don’t really want to know what we do – they want their fantasy: champagne wishes and caviar dreams. The job of industry marketing people (and doesn’t this include most of the folks with the “winemaker” title?) is to fulfill those fantasies. Wine shortages and higher prices are part of the fantasy. The smart money guys say we’ve got 6-8 years of grape shortages ahead of us. You WILL be charging more for your grapes, and they WILL sell, regardless of someone telling you “too rich for my blood” today.

  2. John, I think Jennifer sees something real and being frustrated with it is OK. There is a tension there. Perhaps voicing it will lead to problem solving that you will benefit from.

    I have the unusual benefit of seeing this from multiple sides. Walking through Taste Washington Steve, my Wine Steward husband, and I, an avid home vineyard hobbyist, were fortunate to talk with growers and winemakers. All are passionate about what they do and all have a unique perspective on their own lives.

    Yes, I get into places other people don’t get to go. I talk with people that other people don’t. That’s opportunity. Sometimes that’s work. Most of the time it’s a joy. I am learning viticulture by hands-on-experience and the stories of others.

    On our Key Peninsula slope, currently I enjoy raising 59 vines. If you care to take a peek, Weaver’s Hill is online @ janeygrapeseed.wordpress.com. Yes, I blog…

    Winemakers work hard to promote their wines as well as make them. Growers work hard too, raising crops and marketing produce. Owners have their own set of challenges to meet. If I were going to choose anyone in Washington state to spend mentoring time with as I try to learn how to market grapes in changing times with a variety of people, choosing a person who blends these different situations with apparent ease, it would be Patricia Gelles of Klipsun Vineyards http://www.klipsun.com/food-downey.shtml

    Take heart, Jennifer. Even the smallest advance is, after all, an advance. But wine growers have an edge — Revelation 6:6
    Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” — the opportunity to positively impact this industry’s economy.

  3. John, I think Jennifer sees something real and being frustrated with it is OK. There is a tension there. Perhaps voicing it will lead to problem solving that you will benefit from.

    I have the unusual benefit of seeing this from multiple sides. Walking through Taste Washington Steve, my Wine Steward husband, and I, an avid home vineyard hobbyist, were fortunate to talk with growers and winemakers. All are passionate about what they do and all have a unique perspective on their own lives.

    Yes, I get into places other people don’t get to go. I talk with people that other people don’t. That’s opportunity. Sometimes that’s work. Most of the time it’s a joy. I am learning viticulture by hands-on-experience and the stories of others. No posing here. I realize the situation is a bit different for us all but we can learn from each other and work toward better things.

    Winemakers work hard to promote their wines as well as make them. Growers work hard too, raising crops and marketing produce. Owners have their own set of challenges to meet. If I were going to choose anyone in Washington state to spend mentoring time with as I try to learn how to market grapes in changing times with a variety of people, choosing a person who blends these different situations with apparent ease, it would be Patricia Gelles of Klipsun Vineyards http://www.klipsun.com/food-downey.shtml

    On our own Key Peninsula slope, currently I enjoy raising 59 vines. If you care to take a peek, Weaver’s Hill is online @ janeygrapeseed.wordpress.com.

    Take heart, Jennifer. Even the smallest advance is, after all, an advance. But wine growers have an edge — Revelation 6:6
    Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” — the God-ordained opportunity to positively impact this industry’s economy.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of truth from your life, thanks for your attention to frost details. Thanks for choosing to farm and market grapes :)

  4. Jennifer, how did the cold air drain work for you? Did you create any vineyard wind tunnels to better direct air flow? Our vineyard crew employed three, to varying effects, but this spring has been our most extensive use of them yet; wondering about comparative effects and usage.

    • Hi Colin, thanks for reading from the East Coast. I can’t speak highly enough about our ShurFarms Cold Air Drain. When used in the right topography and at the correct location it is fuel efficient, quiet and in years like 2011 with multiple frost warnings and days – saved between 10-35 tons of premium chardonnay at our Napa Carneros vineyard. In 2012 I turned it on just 5 nights. A milder year than the one previous when I turned it on a dozen times. Ideally I need three more mid sized units. I plan to buy them from other growers as they come available because I can’t justify retail price. That said the system is more cost effective overall compared to Bear Valley propane fueled wind machines or the electric pumps that would support a sprinkler system. I considered purchasing a backup generator for the unit as I currently run ours off PTO, but that too gave me sticker shock. Overall though, I can’t say enough great things about this method of frost control.


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