Scaling up the Biodynamic movement through education, not competition

When the Benzigers uprooted their lives in White Plains, NY to give the pioneering American winemaking movement a “go” in the 1970’s, they weren’t farmers but learned fast. They quickly picked up the latest viticulture techniques to begin their budding and promising enterprise known as Benziger Family Winery. As production grew, their yields were good, but the earth was cracked and dead. The wines were selling, but they were flat and uninteresting. In the name of pride and commitment, Mike Benziger, one of seven Benziger siblings working the vines, sought a solution

In the crowded and complex landscape of the wine marketplace, some wineries are choosing to make traditional production methods their point of differentiation. The Benziger family did just this by becoming one of today’s leading Biodynamic® wine producers. But rather than holding this differentiator close, they are helping the Biodynamic wine movement grow—to the point where they give their secrets away to their competitors in hopes they, too, will adopt Biodynamic practices.

Read more about their story on WineTable.com.

Bringing the salmon back upstream with Biodynamic wine

When Henry and Holly Wendt bought the Wine Creek Ranch in Healdsburg, CA in 1981, they had high hopes of bringing the terroir of Dry Creek Valley into their wines. What they didn’t expect to discover was that the estate’s Wine Creek―historically home to native salmon―no longer had any left in it. Already avid conversationalists, the Wendts committed then and there to restoring the land and reversing the destructive farming practices in Dry Creek Valley by adopting a Biodynamic® approach to their grape production.

Read the rest of their story and how they went on to help pioneer the Biodynamic wine movement on WineTable.com.

Biodynamic: A back-to-basics approach to wine

Just when you thought you figured out how to define organic and how to even notice when it popped up on a wine label, an even more organic wine has hit the market: biodynamic wine. Is this another passing trend? Learn more from our first article in a series of articles about biodynamic wines on WineTable.com.

Tapping China’s wine growth potential is at a slow drip for U.S. producers

Wine is a tough business to catch a break. With huge winery operations costs, weather worries, and stiff competition, profits for producers can be meager and wines can easily get lost in the crowd. Finding a niche in the market is critical, and many are going far beyond traditional wine marketing practices to find success. Wine on tap is one promising method; riding the market growth patterns in China is another.

Being the fifth largest export destination for U.S. wine last year, China offers unprecedented opportunity for new wine markets, and entrepreneurs like NBA star Yao Ming are paying attention. The Bangkok Times recently reported Ming launched his own Napa Valley winery in 2009, Yao Family Wines, and began marketing his wines in China.  Ming is one of the few capitalizing on the opportunity abroad. With sluggish recession recovery, one could argue U.S. producers would be grasping at the opportunity to jump-start their cash flows. Some critics say, however, that California isn’t doing enough to ride the wave, rather taking a lazy approach to re-building their revenue streams.

To their defense, smaller California wine producers are finding foreign legality issues to be daunting and cumbersome―and they are right. Larger producers may not feel the need to expand so quickly into the new market because their current markets are still making ends meet.

Suggestions for the wine-weary producers are to unite. Power is in the numbers, and if more networks were formed that brought smaller producers together under larger umbrellas certified to do business in China, perhaps more could tap into the potential of the Chinese marketplace. There are distributors in the U.S. licensed and enthusiastically exporting U.S. wines to China, for one. Working together to form a larger strategy could be beneficial.

Of course, we can’t forget the potential of wine on tap in China. In our opinion, it’s the most promising niche market of them all. Who is going to lead the train?

Read more about wine’s potential in the Chinese market in the recent Bangkok Times article.

Pushing the legal envelope for wine on tap “to go”

Like the 1950′s milkman who would bring your fresh milk in glass bottles and pick up your empties, wine on tap has the potential to fill the same classic role. Bring your reusable carafe to a wine on tap market, get a refill, and walk away with your dinner wine—foregoing the packaging cost and getting a little extra decanting perk as you make your way home. A sustainable, local, and idyllic model that connects us a little closer to “slow food” and a little farther from mass consumerism, right? Unfortunately, wrong. It’s generally illegal.

That is why bar owners like Joe Barbera of AIDA Bistro and Wine Bar in Columbia, Maryland are pushing legislation to break through the bureaucratic red tape of alcohol distribution laws to allow for new approaches to wine sales. Barbera is lobbying for a law to be passed in Howard County to allow for wine on tap to be taken “to go.”

Most state laws prohibit the sale of reusable carafes or containers because it resembles bottling an alcoholic beverage, which requires a special license. This law, along with a plethora of other liquor laws, is preventing the wine industry from thriving to its potential. While many of the liquor laws are in place to prevent unsafe or underage drinking, the argument stands that majority of liquor laws today are archaic and still aligned with the Prohibition era.

Selling wine online is one such example. When the power of the Internet couldn’t be stronger, most e-wine retailers fail because of highly regulated laws and taxes, requiring permits in each and every state where wine is shipped. Another is the three-tiered alcohol distribution requirement where producers must go through a distributor before the wine hits the retail market. “Bottleneck” is an understatement when describing this system and what it is doing to wine producers’ revenue streams.

Some successes have been had, though, and wine is winning most especially when it comes to direct shipping. Many states have passed legislation to overtun the three-tiered distribution stream and allow wineries to ship directly from their winery to the consumer. (Wine clubs, anyone?) Lawmakers are starting to clearly understand how vital direct sales are to wineries and the community network surrounding them. Retailers, on the other hand, are still in a tough spot.

We hope one day wine can be as freely traded as it deserves. Joe Barbera and sites like “Free the Grapes,” a site dedicated to breaking down wine sales restrictions, are guiding forces in the David and Goliath battle. You can learn more about Joe Barbera’s efforts in Howard County in the Baltimore Sun’s recent article.

Until then, fight on, Mr. Barbera. We’ll be the first to sign your petition and stand in line to take home the very first carafe of wine on tap to go.

Santé takes the leap (and lead) as it taps North Carolina

As wine on tap spreads rapidly throughout the country, it is still doing so largely by the grassroots. Entrepreneurial minds are recognizing its benefits and taking great leaps of faith to make the commitment— a commitment to the environment, to their businesses, and to their communities.

Wine bars like Santé in Asheville, North Carolina are doing just that. Santé owner Carla Baden recently invested $10,000 in her 12-tap wine on tap system, the very first of its kind in North Carolina.  Doing whatever it takes to be at the forefront of how wine is being served and where it’s going is her inspiration for the switch and why she’s now leading the charge in her state. Plus, she feels as if she is doing a little more for the greater good. (We couldn’t agree more.)

Setting precedent, breaking barriers, building bridges— whatever the colloquial, it’s what it’s all about. Read more about Baden’s debut in North Carolina in Mountain Xpress’ recent article.

the20 Spices Up a Stale SF Vintners Market

We swirled our glasses through the San Francisco Vintners Market in October- a little lazily, a little indifferently- and not too impressed with the selection of local offerings. Our taste buds perked a little when we came across the chocolate truffle booth. (Snore.) Our buds finally got a treat, however, when we stumbled upon the20- a new wine on tap pioneer providing wines in custom casks.

The20 is offering classic bag-in-box wine technology with some seriously innovative upgrades. First and most importantly, they’re tapping wines carefully selected to give the quality you’d expect from any premium wine in the bottle. We tried the Jubilation Zinfandel, the Darkhorse Pinot Noir, the Unrequited Sauvignon Blanc, and the DeNovo Bastille (a bordeaux blend). We were excited about all and absolutely loved the Jubilation Zinfandel.

the20's innovative wine cask made from recycled ammo cases

Secondly, they’re serving their wines through innovative and damn good looking casks. No cardboard boxes and plastic taps here. Wine casks come in the classic, unassuming oak with personalized sidebars or funky, refurbished army ammo cases that couple as a fridge chiller.

The20 started with a couple of wine country locals who had a vision for a healthy planet and exciting wines. Not to mention, we loved the staff! Friendly, unassuming, and unpretentious wine lovers focused on the bigger picture.

the20 wines are available through their website and are also popping up in restaurants and bars throughout the country. There is also an option to join their wine club. The best part is that this technology allows a 20-50 percent discount from the price you would pay if found by the bottle. www.the20wines.com

And with that, we swirl our glasses to the best booth of the SF Vintners Market and best cask wine we’ve tried on the market.