Sunday, February 8, 2009

THE First Major Napa Social Party of '09

Silver Oak just had their first big event since they rebuilt their facilities after the fire a couple of years ago destroyed everything. It was their 2004 vintage release party...and definitely more of a party than a true wine event. After fighting the throngs of crowds just to get near the front gates, I quickly realized this really wasn't so much about the wine as it was just the place to be, or, 'see and be seen' as the saying goes. I would argue to bet that 80% of the crowd couldn't name two of the varietals that make up the wine or any clue as to the makeup of the wine at all...or really even cared. Hey, it was Silver Oak for goodness, music, wine flowing freely (although it took forever to get measly pour of wine), pretty women, lots of guys, beautiful weather...what more do you need?

Well, for me, that was all fine...but I am much more inclined to pay more attention to a wine experience...maybe learn something, taste a vertical, listen to the wine maker, sit through a class about the vineyards/ know, an enriching experience of some sort. I am not sure the "cattle call" that this was is really my "cup to tea"...or in this case, my glass of wine. Maybe I'm just getting old or I'm just tired of fighting the masses when it comes to a wine 'party'. There were estimated 4,000 people that came through the gate that day...whew!

Here are a few items I'd rather see or experience when I go to winery release party or things I observe from a professional standpoint:

1. More information about the wine. There was really no direction or information about what we were tasting. Just wait in a long line to get your 2-3 ounce pour and then stand in line for 20-30 min. to get a bite of something to go with it. By the time you got your food, your glass was empty and you had to fight the crowd again...ugh! (Revised: To their credit, there were information tables and info sheets, but amongst the big crowds they could have easily been overlooked)

2. Comparative tasting of other vintages. OK, we're tasting the 2004. What was different about it over the past couple of years? How did stand up to other vintages? What was the blend for that year and why? I'd be willing to pay a little extra just to do a flight of say '02, '03, '04. Maybe they were just too focused on the '04, but then again, they did very little to provide info on it either.

3. Sell the wine more. They just assumed you knew how and/or where to purchase it. Again, there was very little direction about pricing or packages or what type of provision there was for the release party if any. I was never approached or suggested to buy the wine at any time. I'm sure they did OK with sales, but I can tell you, far less than they could have.

4. A welcome packet, brochure or map talking about what it was that I was experiencing. If it were my first time at one of these, I'd have been completely lost. I would not have known that there was also their TwoMey Merlot and their '99 vintage they were tasting in other areas. Nor was their a map or description depicting the 'story' of Silver Oak, family, or reference to the fire that forced them to rebuild this beautiful facility. I did finally find a map from someone after I asked, but they were not readily handed out when you first got there.

5. Very little personal interaction with the 'staff' of Silver Oak. You could tell that everyone with a Silver Oak shirt on was just trying to keep head above water to keep up with the massive crowds. Lots of activity and little direction.

6. No data capture of the party-goers. Nowhere did they allow anywhere to get some information about the patrons...4,000 of them! What a captive audience that got to experience your 'front door' first hand, and not one attempt gather my info. This amazes me, but I guess when you're Silver Oak, you do not need more people on your list...everyone knows you and loves you.

7. No materials to take back with me. They provided nothing to tempt me to visit them again or look them up online if I indeed had a great experience. Even just a small note card on the 2004 vintage with some details about it and contact info to follow up if I wish.

8. Nothing about their 'sister' property in Alexander Valley. I guess the focus was on the Napa property, and they had their own separate party up there. But, I actually really like the Alexander Valley wine and some reference to it would have been appropriate.

Anyway, I had a good time with friends, got to see some industry acquaintances, check out the new facility, do some great people watching and try the wine. I cannot say if I was the 'average' customer I'd be overwhelmed in to spending $100 a bottle on that particular vintage, but it was a decent enough event for my $30 entry. It was a pleasant day in the sun with my wife and friends and hey, I got two more Silver Oak glasses to take with me to replace the ones that were broken years back. Now THAT's the true "silver lining" to the whole experience...well worth it, eh?!

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!


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