Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Sweet Wine Albatross

I had an interesting and somewhat disturbing experience last Saturday in our tasting room.  And it reminded me of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Illustration by Gustave Dore
The poem relates the misfortunes of a ship's crews after one member kills an albatross and the forces of nature then conspire against them.  He is then punished by being forced to wear the dead bird from his neck (which seems implausible given the size of those birds) in an effort to appease the gods and bring back the winds to carry them back to land.

(Those of you more familiar with the poem can correct me...my reading comes from when I was sixteen and listened to too much Iron Maiden....)

We had an extraordinarily busy afternoon with a lot of tours and a group that had rented our deck as well.  I'm usually around the property on the weekends in case we get so busy that our great staff might need a helping hand.  This was one of those days.

I ended up pouring wine for about 8-10 people in our barrel room.  I could tell that initially they seemed skeptical about our wines (and myself in particular--I showed up wearing a sweaty t-shirt from being out on the tractor.  They, of course, didn't know who I was.....)  After a while they came to realize that our dry wines were impressive, and they seemed genuinely surprised by what they were tasting.

Fast-forward to the end of the tasting where they urged me to get the word out about our dry wines.  They said we had a reputation for making sweet wines, and that we should let people know how good our dry wines were.

I wasn't sure how to take this.  First, up until about 2005, Allegro predominantly made dry wines (at least more dry than sweet.)  And we struggled financially.  These days, sweet wines account for about 75% of our production and it's a whole lot easier to pay the bills.  We've shifted in the marketplace in this way out of pure survival needs.  If we had stayed with the model that focused on dry wines, we would have been out of business years ago.

So I mentioned to this group what our history had been and said that if they knew how to make people aware of our dry wines, I was all ears.  And, in truth, there was no good answer.  The best we had was that they would share their experience with their friends.  This is the same solution I cam to about ten years ago.  Paid advertising doesn't seem to work for small, local wineries.  At least the "return on investment" isn't there in today's market.

But all this brings me to a depressing thought.....is Allegro synonymous with sweet wines?  Back in the '80s, it was almost 100% dry wines, but when we started to make sweet wines, the sweeties (as we like to call them) didn't hold our dry wines against us.  The strange thing is that dry wine drinkers hold our sweet wines against us.  And that's something I don't understand.

(By the way, this isn't the only time we've heard people say that they think Allegro only makes sweet wines.  It just happened to be about 15 people all saying the same thing at the same time....to me.  I know we can't change public opinion, but it saddens my hear to think that so many write us off without giving us a chance.)

Even more so, it bothers me in that we are making a huge financial investment in new vineyards in order to make even better dry wines than we have ever made in the past.  And to think that some people may never give those wines a chance is heart-breaking.
New plantings of our premium vineyard
 It's time for some soul-searching and some brain-storming.  I became a winemaker in order to make mind-blowing wines.  Along the way, I've stretched my idea of good wine to include sweet wines.  I think you'll find that there's never a bad wine on our list.  Naturally, you won't like every wine....and to be honest, I never drink any of our sweet wines casually after we bottle them.  But that doesn't mean I'm not proud of them and the quality that they represent.  But I think you all know that my heart is in the dry wines, and in about four years we will have about 1000 cases of amazing wines waiting on our shelves for you.

I just hope you come out and give them a chance.