Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ask for Idaho Wine

Something that has been on my mind for a while now is why it is so difficult to find Idaho Wines on the wine lists of restaurants and stores. I will preface this by saying that I don't mean all restaurants and stores. There are notable exceptions such as the Orchard House Restaurant, Brick 29, the Boise Co-Op, A New Vintage Wine Shop, Corkscrews, and Buzz Coffee, as well as many others that do a great job of supporting local wine and wineries.
But still, on a weekly basis I get asked by friends, family, and customers about the lack of Idaho Wines on the store shelves and wine lists of their favorite stores and eateries. There are a few reasons for this situation.
First of all, large restaurants and stores will quite often buy from large distributors or have a national buying office that purchases all of the wine for that chain. Local managers or franchise owners have a very limited opportunity to choose local products for restaurants such as the Olive Garden and the like. Many would like to support the local wine industry but can't due to company rules, complexity, and franchise agreements. We understand this and know that if they could, they would support more local wines. No worries.
Second, most small Idaho Wineries are self distributing their wines. This means if a store or restaurant orders their wine, be the order a few cases or a few bottles, someone from the winery hops in the car and runs it out to them wherever they are. Most small wineries cannot get distributor representation because the distributors have a world of great wines to choose from and they try and keep their portfolio of wines at a reasonable size. Idaho Wines by and large fall into the $15-30 price range and it's a tough category. There are lots of amazing wines that that price category and below. So when a distributor has to choose between adding in a new Idaho Winery's wares and a well known, high quality California producer at a slightly lower price point, it is a fairly easy choice. We don't fault them for this, it's business and they need to make a living as well. This situation leaves wineries struggling to make deliveries to multiple restaurants and stores all on their own. There have been a few attempts to get a co-op delivery group put together but there just isn't enough volume to make it cost effective for wineries. There isn't enough demand from restaurants and wineries to make it worthwhile for someone to go make regular deliveries to restaurants and stores of just Idaho Wines.
This leads to my third point. We often hear that there just isn't demand for Idaho and Snake River Valley Wines in the marketplace. I often discuss with other wineries why once their wines are on the shelves at a store they don't reorder. The meteric is pretty simple, if the wine doesn't sell, the store or restaurant will not reorder that wine. They have to make money too, and if a particular wine isn't moving they aren't going to order another case in the hopes that more shelf volume will move it faster. They are going to wait till they are out of that wine before they make another order, and if it takes too long to sell they may not reorder at all.
So, how do we address this problem? I would propose that when we are out at our favorite stores and restaurants that we as consumers and wineries Ask For Idaho Wine. It's quite simple really, if you would like to have your favorite wine available at the store or restaurant that you frequent, then ask for it. The owners of these establishments are in the customer service business and they want to meet your needs and desires. If you let them know that Idaho Wines are something you want to see on the list or shelf, they will definitely take that into consideration. If we want to have the wines available, we have to create the demand! So I ask you, when you were out eating at a restaurant or grocery shopping last week did you see any of your favorite wines available? If you didn't maybe it's time to ask why. I would love it if you asked for Fujishin Wines but that's not really my goal. My goal is to see the whole Idaho Wine Industry grow and succeed. So ask for your favorite Idaho Wine, no matter who makes it. If that opens the door to one great Idaho Wine, then maybe it will open the door to a few more. Just remember, if you don't Ask for Idaho Wine, nobody will know you want it!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Welcome to the Winery?

One of the hot topics in the wine industry right now is customer service. How do we handle paid tours, buses, limos, and our day to day customers while keeping everyone happy, ourselves sane, and our wineries profitable.
Fujishin Family Cellars has never charged a tasting fee for groups smaller than 15. Even with large groups we only charge $3/per person. We charge that fee for one simple reason. For groups that size we need to have another person on staff to ensure that they receive excellent customer service. Many wineries currently complain that large groups come in and drink all their wine and leave. They advocate tasting fees for all visitors, higher fees for medium sized groups, and possibly banning buses and limos altogether.
They are forgetting one exceptionally important thing.... We are in a customer service business. Yes we produce wines, yes we need to make a profit, but realistically our main concern should be our customers. We need to make sure that every person that walks through that front door has an exceptional experience wheather they stepped out of their own car or a 40-passenger bus. When the average member of the public talks to their friends about their experience touring the wineries in any region they very rarely mention a particular wine. They always tell their friends about the great experience they had at (insert name here) winery. It's exceptionally rare that they lead their story about their recent trip to Walla Walla or Napa with "oh, so the other day we had the best chardonnay." What the do lead with is "Last week we were in Napa Valley and we had the best time at V. Sattui." It's the experience that sticks in their minds long after the taste of the wines is gone.
Tasting fees are the new industry standard. I can understand using that model if you are getting 5000 visitors a week and only a small percentage of those tasters buy. If you have those sorts of volumes you could pour your entire inventory out in tastings. We aren't anywhere near those levels in the Idaho industry yet. If they receive something in return for the tasting fee such as a glass or a complimentary gift, maybe. Most of our visitors are regulars or travelers. Regulars don't necesarily need another glass for their shelf at home, and travellers find it difficult to get the tasting glasses home. Many wineries offer to refund the fee if you purchase a bottle of wine. That's great but then you have to keep track of each visitor, the fee paid, and the discount to be paid out. This is a logistical nightmare for our staff really, and it takes away from what they should be doing with their time: Taking care of the customer! Our school of thought is, if you come to our tasting room, you should be able to taste our wines. There is a reason it is called a "tasting room." If our wines are something you like and are priced right you will buy them. If not you won't. We won't be offended if it's not your taste, we won't expect you to leave with a case, and we will treat you well if you buy or not. It's a very simple metric and it works for us.
It should make no difference at all to us what level of affluence our customers have, how they came to us, how they are dressed, or who they know. Every person that comes through the front door of our tasting rooms should be treated like they are our best customer! If we follow that school of thought, maybe in time they will be.....

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Much is that Bottle Worth?

Generally spring is a busy time for us at the winery. This year I spent two weeks of spring at the Washington Association of Grape Growers (WAWGG) Meeting and at the Unified Grape Symposium in Sacramento. As gut wrenching as it is for me to be away from work it was great to go see what the rest of the wine world is up to. Topics ranged from "Is Syrah a Star or FUBAR" to how to more effectively use social media for wineries. Generally the mood is "grim optimism" out there, but a few glasses of Syrah tend to help the mood. California is still trying to work out supply and demand issues in the current economic downturn. Washington is doing the same. Wineries are discounting their wines to move inventory and production is down somewhat to match sales trends. So where does Idaho fit into all this?
We're still so new we don't have much name recognition and our prices are bargians in the world of premium wines. Our problem seems to be that we have lots of producers all at about the same price level. That's great in some ways because we're almost all on a level playing field and those with the best quality will win out. The problem becomes that if we're all of roughly the same level of quality and the same price we end up fighting for the same consumers and the same restaurant accounts. In a way we're beating down our own industry.
All over the industry we're seeing discounting. Wines that were priced up to the $100's of dollars a bottle are now selling for fifty cents on the dollar or less. It's a buyer's market out there right now and some of the best wines in the world are selling at a fraction of their pre-econmic downturn prices. We see wineries in Idaho by and large sticking to their current price points and hoping for sales. Do we discount the prices of our wines and run the risk of never reaching pre-recession price points again? Do we stick it out and hope the consumer will stick with us?
How do we address this problem? I think it means we have to diversify as wineries. We need to produce wines at differing case levels, price levels, and honestly levels of quality. Nobody wants to admit it but not all of our wines are up to the $40 price for quality level. Some aren't even up to the $20 price for quality level. We need to be honest with ourselves as winemakers and winery owners and price some of our wines into the lower price category. That helps us to reach out to different levels of consumers as well. If your 20 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab. Franc and Petite Verdot blend really is of that $40 quality level then price it at that point, see if consumers are willing to spend that much for that wine. If you're not getting to that quality level spend the time and money to get that wine there if you want to price your wines at that level. If your red blend should be priced at $10.95 a bottle be honest with yourself and price it there. Consumers will thank you for making wines that are priced equitably for their level of quality and your sales might increase as you reach out to a more value minded consumer base.
I know a lot of wineries worry that these price points near their cost of production as they are smaller producers that don't have great economies of scale. We need to look at the rest of the wine world when we think about profits. Many of those producers are seeing returns of $0.25/Per bottle but they are moving their inventories of wine out into the hands of the consumer. Maybe we need to face the reality that we can't net as much for our wines as we thought. We keep hearing about a "new normal" where consumers are more frugal and are looking for value in all aspects of their lives. Maybe it's time for wineries to face up to the reality that they need to be providing better value to their customers. Maybe it's time for us to price our wines at what they are worth.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Visiting the vineyards

Over the last week I've been spending a lot of time bottling for the wineries I work for part time and working on our secretive new project for new packaging. Details to follow..... Fortunately on Saturday between rainstorms I was able to get out and actually spend some time in the vineyards.

This time of year we're able to get an idea of several things, first of all we can see our first hints at the crop load that we're looking at for the fall. We're making decisions about how much foliage we want to have on the plants, looking for insects, and those dreaded diseases. By now we can see what the vineyard's overall health is for the early part of the season and begin tweaking our treatments to match.

As a winemaker it's fun because we start to get at least a little excited at the thought that harvest is only about 3 months away. Maybe excited is the wrong word, perhaps terrified is a better description. We start thinking barrels, tanks, bins, yeast, and enzymes. All of those little details start to sneak up on you more quickly than you would imagine. We start to spend time gazing longingly at equipment catalogs and lists of available yeast strains for this fall. This all ends up being shoehorned into the day to day activities of a winery. Writing price quotes for customers, taking phone and internet orders, and cleaning up in the office after your puppy forgets his house training.

Honestly though, as I stood in the vineyards and watched the summer rainstorms roll across the valley I was reminded of how lucky I am. I can't imagine that most people can stand at their job and see truly beautiful moments on a daily basis. To see the miracle of plants growing and see a product through from a sprout in the ground to someone standing there enjoying a glass of wine in the summer sun is truly thrilling.

So back to the vineyard. The grapes are in the late to middle stages of flowering. We can see lots of new growth with little leaves springing out all over. I've included a photo of what the flowering grapes look like. The little clusters are forming nicely, the crop load looks like we pruned properly, and the bugs are steering clear for the most part. Things look great and if the rains let up later in the month we'll be just where we want to be.
As I headed down the hill to the house raindrops began to bounce and roll down my windshield forming little rivulets. A mist settled across the vineyard and for a moment or two it looked like the classic pictures of Sonoma or the Willammette Valley. Not a bad place to be on a Saturday afternoon.
Oh and one more very important item! Sunday is Father's Day and we'll be pouring at Savor Idaho in Boise at the Idaho Botanical Gardens. Tickets are still available and we hope to see you there!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Welcome to Martin's Blog

Welcome to the Blog from Martin Fujishin, Head Winemaker at Fujishin Family Cellars!
Ok so we say head winemaker...he's the only winemaker but it makes him feel special....

Hello from the winery!
Well I would like to start out by welcoming you all to our blog. In May of this year after numerous trials and tribulations Fujishin Family Cellars released its first wines. We're in the process of getting our tasting room up and running in Downtown Caldwell, Idaho. We're looking forward to a mid-July start up, so we'll keep you posted.
The Winery:
Most people don't realize that the majority of winemaking is paperwork and cleaning. This week between my various other jobs I've been filing state reports and organizing things around the winery. I still hope for the glamorous long lunches and siestas in the vineyard but they haven't materialized yet.
We're getting ready to bottle our 2008 Late Harvest Chardonnay this week. It's a bright fruit blast with just enough residual sugar to make it fun and kicky. It's full of tropical fruit and just fun to drink on hot summer days. It will be ready for release at Savor Idaho if things go well.
The Vineyards:
I'm still managing the vineyards for Bitner Vineyards and Rose Cottage Vineyards. Things are going very well this spring. We're watching closely for any signs of powdery mildew and grape mealybug, both of which can cause havoc with the vines. I've also had the good fortune through my work with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to spend a couple of days a week looking for insect pests in vineyards area wide. It has been a great chance to catch up with the other vineyard managers in the area and see what is going on all across the Snake River Valley AVA. We all have different views on the best way to manage a vineyard and getting together to talk shop on a regular basis is one of the most valuable things we can do.
Right now the vines are in the middle of flowering and forming the fruit-set for the year to come. The plants are starting to shade themselves with new leaves and the little grape clusters are all amazing to look at with their green buds hinting at the fruit to come.
We'll be watching the weather after the heavy rains of the last week or so. I'm hoping for some warmth to keep the vines ticking away but not so much that I break a sweat.
I'll keep you all posted on the progress as we move forward!
Thanks for your interest!