Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | January 19, 2012

Penny For Your Thoughts: If You’re A Grower They’re Worth More Right Now

Someone used to sit beside me on long road trips and ask when I was quiet, “what are you thinking about right now?” More often than not I’d respond nothing. Every now and again I’d collect a penny or two.

A once a week blogger in 2010, I was just a once a month blogger in 2011. I felt uninspired, crunched for time, had bigger fish to fry. I was dealing with some stuff, okay?

In 2012 I’m going to attempt to be an every week blogger once again because, sorry guys, I actually have something of value to say rather than bitching about the 100 point system; or lamenting about Gallo throwing their weight around to expand the RRV appellation; waxing on and on about the Sonoma Vintners organizing a tasting of 400+ wines for Galloni and the implications of such an initiative; or the worst – Pancho Campo and his evil Spanish ways. He’s Latin. That’s how Latin men roll. Trust me.

2012 promises to be one of the most pivotal years in my Wine World Domination Plan since I launched it in 2009. And blogging it is the only way you’re all gonna’ get a chance to follow it.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I do my best blogging while driving. Don’t phone in a citizens arrest call to the CHP just yet. What I mean is that I put a lot of miles on my VW in 2011 transcending three great counties. Napa, Sonoma and the satellite office in San Francisco. I also put a lot of miles on the Ranch Rig delivering premium Carneros Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Time spent on the road is when I “write”. Typically I rush right into the house, nearest Starbucks or Carneros Deli with free WiFi to get what I’ve written out onto “paper”. Usually, but not always, it turns out pretty darn close to what story I’ve spun while driving Highway 101 or the back roads of Napa and Sonoma.

Since it’s just about the third week of January and I’m three posts behind, I figured I may as well just lay out three posts to catch me up (and a fourth to get me ahead) in one lengthy post and ya’ll can just pay me. It’s worth a lot damn more than 100 point scores and the people who give them.

The Farmer – Not Farmers Insurance

A small producer we work with called Lightheart Cellars in San Martin asked me for the Thomson Vineyards logo the other day so they could generously outfit me and The Farmer with some sweet field jackets. At the same time one of  The Farmer’s approximately 1,300 Twitter followers @BethSandefur tweeted,

“Saw a mention of the Farmer’s blimp and  immediately thought of @ThomsonVyrds Farmer, not Farmer’s Insurance.”

Branding mission accomplished! That same day, a winemaker tweeted back to me, “You’ll need a logo for that size advertising.” You see, Thomson Vineyards doesn’t have a logo. I’ve got pruning crews to pay.  No money or time to pay or supervise a graphic designer to get it “just right”. The thing about branding is that it about so much more than an image. And sometimes in life, it can’t always be “just right”. You have to let it work itself out to get it “just right”.

I strive to do a few things well, consistently. Primarily that’s deliver quality fruit, be professional yet lighthearted with clients while doing it, and continue building a positive and strong reputation for Thomson Vineyards.

Secondarily it’s using the same typeface across our website and business cards, coaching The Farmer on signing in at industry events as The Farmer, and wearing my latest stunna’ shades of choice – The Original Ray Ban Wayfarer when I set price per ton with new winemakers in the vineyard. Not nearly as menacing as the  aviators I know…mid 2011 harvest I tweeted,

“The ONLY person my reputation hangs on is the winemaker. The ONLY thing my reputation hangs on is the fruit.”

That’s my brand. I mean it and I stand by it.

Toby Kieth, Red Solo Cups & Expensive Wine

Neither Napa or Sonoma County has a decent country music station any longer. But from about Infineon Raceway to the Sonoma Square I can catch Froggy 92.9 out of Healdsburg.

A rather exceptional example of reason numero uno people hate country music is Toby Kieth’s Red Solo Cup hit. Each time I hear it though, I’m reminded of what it’s like to actually grow up and live in Napa. No. Not be a transplant to Napa, nor a wanna’ be transient. To live here means holiday house parties not $300 dinners at Redd.

Over this most recent holiday season I was privileged enough to drink ZD Winery’s $500 per bottle Abacus Cabernet Sauvignon …out of a red solo cup. They way I look at it, it’s kinda like making wine in poly tanks. If you’re moving juice through tanks fast enough it’s not actually in tank long enough to pick up the nuances of plastic. It also means you have a killer product and/or sales team if you’re moving wine that fast. You can read more about the high priced wine phenomena in an article published this week at Wines & Vines, High-Priced Wines Hottest in December.

About the same time I was drinking expensive ass wine out of red solo cups I happened to be at my favorite watering hole 1313 Main where another Grower commented to me as we made our usual grand entrance through the set of double doors, “oh, Ghost Winery is parked outside.” To which I responded, “yeah, I know them, they don’t pay very well for fruit.” Which is when the winemaker swung around on his bar stool and said, “ya, I own Ghost Mario Kart Winery, my bottle of Cab sells for $1,000.” Well played Ghost Winemaker. But truth be told, you still don’t pay very well. Especially for having a bottle worth a G on the retail market.

That very same Grower and I, becoming famous for grand entrances and giving winemakers a run for their money, are currently engineering a 100 buck a bottle Carneros Chardonnay. So we can compete among all the rest of the ridiculously expensive Napa wines being flounced around in the marketplace. Okay. Okay. It’s a pipe dream. But, it’s nice to dream.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…Just Build Your Own

Speaking of dreams. At the onset of my Wine World Domination Plan I told one of the two Carneros “Sons” that I was going to comandeer the Carneros Wine Alliance and actually make something of it. Problem was, I could never exactly figure out who the captain was in charge of that ship. Come to find out, it has been abandoned (so says a well known vineyard management company actively farming in Carneros). Figures. Abandoning ships seems to be the story of the month. More than you know. Anyhow, I had heard towards the end of 2011 that at one of the final Carneros Wine Alliance meetings, when asked who wanted to be president, everyone in the room looked around the room at one another and it was decided that no one wanted to be president.

It’s difficult to fix something that’s already so broken. So I put together my own underground group. Except I don’t intend for it to be so underground. In December I hosted the first Women in Wine Production networking group for all the up and coming women in this industry who work in production and need a sounding board for new ideas, a resource for networking and jobs, an infrastructure and support system to keep on climbing their way to the top. A couple of emails later, some bottles of wine and platter of cheese, 25 women showed up to downtown Napa to network, all under the age of 35.

Attendees included winemakers and enologists from some of Napa’s finest Chardonnay houses Clos du Val, Groth, Sequoia Grove and Emma Pearl. Viticulturists from Diageo and several family operated vineyards well known in The Valley. Business strategists doing R&D for some of the industries most dynamic product offerings and others, many others. More than 10 women emailed me to say beforehand they couldn’t make it but to please plan another and they would be there.

If you’re a woman working on the production side of the industry email me and we’ll include you on the next meeting invitation. Our intent is to meet quarterly. Our mission is to keep climbing our way to the top.

They say when it rains it pours. Simultaneously as I constructed my own “association” (by the way, both of these groups have NO membership dues) I also offered to help in any way I could with The Napa County Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers. Having attended meetings for just over a year and collected my fair share of tips at the First Annual Wine Country Tractor Pull (those boys are smart, they put the girl at the cash register) I figured I could carve out a bit more time, from somewhere, to spare.

This Tuesday, while on my way to the second Executive Committee Meeting of the year my Ranch Rig got a flat tire. Long story short, I was late to the meeting. And when you’re late to the meeting you get volunteered for things. So, listen up. If you’re under the age of 35 in Napa, Sonoma or as far away as you care to drive and interested in agriculture, education, being a part of a group who really are the up and comers of the wine industry, as the new president of YF&R I’m happy to help grow and further develop its place in the community.

I hope that whether you work in the vineyards, on the farm, or babysit barrels you’ll join us the first Tuesday of every month in 2012. Email for more information.

Crab Season, Championship Games & Carneros Chardonnay

Early on in the 2011/2012 Dungeness crab season, fishermen were deadlocked over price leaving the fate of hundreds of thousands of pounds of crab in the hands of those sitting at the negotiation table – negotiating the standard price to be paid on the docks for one pound of crab.

It got me thinking, even then, way back in November about the concept and how a situation would play out like that if  Growers got together and held the price on Chardonnay in 2012. Or any other varietal for that matter. Could we stand together on a price in years of shortage or excess and hold firm? Crab fisherman held the line on just 50 cents a pound. Could we hold the line on $500 a ton?

Yeah, yeah. I know. Price fixing is illegal. But sharing information is not.

I don’t think any Carneros Chardonnay grapes should be sold to a still wine program for less than $2,700/ton in 2012. I’m signing 10T purchase agreements for $3,000/ton. If a winery wants to drop fruit for any reason it’s $12,000/acre contract. If you’re happy to let me be The Farmer you can have your tonnage contract and I’m going to crop it at 4T/acre, but you are more than welcome to chop away at your investment all you want. Bring your shears. I’ll let you take a whack.

I don’t think any Carneros Pinot Noir grapes should be sold to a still wine program for less than $3,000/ton in 2012. I’m signing purchase agreements starting at $3,200/ton.

By the way, for the sake of honesty, I’m still shoveling myself out of 3+ years of operating in the red. But this year my Chardonnay is going into some of Napa’s most prestigious $30+ bottle programs. My Old Vine Martini Clone Pinot Noir can’t be found anywhere else outside of the Thomson Ranch. Those are my prices. Those are my reasons.

I’ll be at the 2012 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium next week and you can pin me up against the wall and raise holy hell about my prices. Or wag your finger at me for my bruising and battering of associations over the course of the past three years. Or really, for that matter, challenge me about any of the rest of what I’ve got to say. But I assure you my prices are fair and every winemaker I have ever sold to or currently do sell to will vouch for the fact that I’ve got the chops to stand behind what I say, what I write and the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot that I grow.

If you’re a Grower and would like me to sell your fruit at fair prices or list it on the Thomson VIneyards website email me at If you’re a winery I have fruit which isn’t spoken for along with 25 acres available to plant. And God ‘aint creating any more Carneros land. You know my email address.

Until then, I’ll be pumping water from the Carneros creek to the reservoir and coordinating an all you can eat Dungeness Crab and Carneros Chardonnay Feast in honor of the 49ers being serious contenders at this Sunday’s NCF Championship game; alongside my newest recruits helping resurrect the Carneros GROWERS Alliance – neighbors and farmers The Robledos who also have 100 Tons of Chardonnay and 100 Tons of Pinot Noir available in 2012 and I guarantee will cost you more than just a penny.


  1. See you Tomorrow !

  2. Our staff immensely enjoys your posts. Looking forward to the next round.


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