A Spy In The House Of Cards: An Inside Look At Building Tasting Flights, Part I

Courtesy of Ridge’s deep portfolio of single-site offerings and vintages both back and current, we have the luxury of completely re-tooling our tasting flights every weekend. Accordingly, one of the most important preparatory endeavors I engage in is selecting which wines to pour, and in what order. It’s surprisingly easy to kill a wine’s sales simply by putting it in the wrong spot; for example, pouring a light-bodied and elegant wine that showcases particularly vibrant acidity immediately after a big, fleshy, opulent fruit-driven wine can leave it seeming underwhelming, even sour; it may be a phenomenal wine, but placed inappropriately, not only its sales, but its reputation can suffer.

Of course I’d be a liar if I said that commercial considerations play no part in the decision-making process; showcasing new releases, sale items, wines with larger inventories, etc., but truthfully, the primary influencing factor is how the wines are showing. Wines are living, breathing things that have mood swings and stages, good days and not-so-good-days, happy days and cranky days, and just as in the example above, showing a wine at an inappropriate time can not only damage its sales in the short term, but it can do long-term reputational damage as well.

For a lot of people, a visit to a tasting room is the first opportunity to try a wine that they’ve long heard about, long wondered about, and long desired. And remember, we’re not particularly easy to get to either! So here comes someone, for example, who’s visiting from, say, Australia, and they’re an arch wine lover, and they’ve been hearing about the Monte Bello all their lives, and they’ve got in-laws in Los Angeles now, and so they’re visiting, and this person figures, what the heck, it’s still California, and Monte Bello is in California, and I’m in California, so I’m going to Monte Bello! So they rent a car, and they drive 7 hours up to Cupertino, and then they drive the 5 miles up the mountain, and they’re finally here, and we’ve actually got a Monte Bello on the tasting flight! So here it is, the magic moment, and what happens?

Well, hopefully what doesn’t happen is that I neglect to check in on whatever vintage of Monte Bello I’m offering ahead of time, and so maybe I don’t realize that, as a young vintage, it’s still very tight, and not showing a lot of fruit yet, and because I don’t check ahead of time, I just automatically put it at the end of the flight, not realizing that I am putting it in right after a very large, fruit-driven, plush and ripe zinfandel. And this person tastes it, and lo and behold, they’re underwhelmed. Hopefully that’s not what happens, because then they go back south, and everyone asks, because they know how excited this person was, and so this person says, well, it wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be. And that’s what they keep saying, all the way home on the long plane ride, and all over Australia, where, who knows, maybe they’re a traveling salesperson or something, and maybe on one of their trips they catch a baby falling out of a window or something, and it’s the daughter of some really rich person, and this rich person gives them a big reward for saving their daughter, and then they’re famous overnight, and they’re on Australian talk shows for a whole week, and in every interview people ask what this person is going to do with the reward money, and this person says they don’t know because, until their trip to California, they would have used it to buy Monte Bello, but now, who knows, and pretty soon, the Monte Bello get an international bad rap, and all because I assumed rather than tasted. Except that hopefully, I didn’t! Part II soon …

Categories: Tasting Rooms, Viticultural Salmagundi

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