Beyond “Food Friendly”: Pairing Suggestions That Actually Help Sell Your Wine

Guest Post by Deirdre Bourdet, CEO of Hedonism Ink

People have been consuming wine and food together for thousands of years, because wine generally makes your food taste better — and food generally makes your wine taste better. Smart tasting rooms offer guests a bit of charcuterie, nuts, or other wine-loving snacks to sample with their wines, knowing that these few bites will make the wines — and really, the whole tasting experience — immensely more enjoyable. A thoughtful food match can transform a mousy wallflower of a wine into a celebrity rockstar … that surprise new favorite that people feel compelled to share with all their friends and followers.

If we know people like to drink wine with food, and we know wines taste better with food, then why do so many wine producers give the issue of food pairings short shrift in their marketing strategy? Few wine descriptions, tasting notes or sell sheets include any information at all about successful food pairings. Some offer up the revelation that a wine is “food friendly” (a term most consumers read as a warning not to consume on its own), or advise that it “pairs well with pasta or grilled meats.” These kinds of vague, obvious suggestions are absolutely useless — as well as a lost opportunity to educate your consumer on the many excellent ways they can enjoy your wine.

Let’s review the basic facts of food and wine pairing: a successful match depends almost entirely on how you season the main ingredient of your dish, rather than the type of protein or dish. Many seafood dishes are transcendent with red wines, and many meat dishes (particularly southeast Asian dishes) are far superior paired with white wines. Many salads are delectable with red wines, and pasta can pair with any wine on earth, depending on what comes with it.

Unless your pairing suggestions offer advice on the flavors and preparations that complement your wine, you’re not giving your customer any useful information to guide them on how and when they should consume your wine. In my opinion, this is a total marketing fail — especially for classically styled or funky wines that don’t show particularly well without food.

So, what to do? Obviously it’s impossible to describe every single dish and preparation method that would flatter your wine — there are just too many options. But even on a back label or a shelf talker, you have enough room to point out a few specific seasonings or flavors (e.g., fresh goat cheese, basil, tandoori spice, mushrooms) that would complement your wine. Rather than just matching the aromas already in the wine, try to focus here on flavors that will harmonize and build on them. Mirroring a wine’s aromatic characteristics in a pairing often cancels them out entirely — a smoky wine paired with a smoky meat typically makes both taste less smoky, for example. A better pairing utilizes the wine’s distinctive flavors as additional ingredients for the dish, layering on complexity in the total (wine + food) mouthful. Identifying some of these key complementary flavors helps consumers identify easy ways they might be able to work your wine into dinner tonight.

In marketing collateral with more space to dive into details (tasting notes, online product descriptions, etc.), you can go a step further and suggest some actual dishes to try. Remember to describe them in a way that makes their flavor profiles clear … think “sole with browned butter,” “spicy Thai coconut curries,” “steak au poivre”. Pick a variety of dishes that shows off the versatility of the wine — perhaps “fresh tomato and Brie sandwiches, grilled salmon with thyme and fennel, or roasted duck with five spice” — and consider including a simple recipe for one of these suggested pairings to take the guesswork out of it. Even if your customer never makes the dish, a well-written recipe provides useful guidance about successful pairing options and cooking techniques, as well as an evocative image of deliciousness.

Everyone loves to eat, and most people are far more familiar with food imagery than they are with wine descriptions. An alluring food idea can make your wine less intimidating, and easier to picture fitting into their holiday meals, weekend dinner parties, and Taco Tuesdays. And if you make it easier for people to enjoy your wine, they’ll not only drink more of it — they’ll also appreciate your help. In my experience, good food pairing suggestions are one of the key value-adds that keep people in wine clubs. (Wine club parties with excellent food pairings are another.)

In sum: thoughtful pairing suggestions are an easy way to provide your consumers with fun educational information, and provide your wines with the culinary context that make them taste their best. And because so few wineries focus on this marketing opportunity, even a little extra effort in this area sets your winery apart, lifting it head and shoulders above the “food friendly” competition.

Deirdre Bourdet is the Principal and Chief Eating Officer of Hedonism Ink, a wine and food writing service based in Napa Valley. As a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, recipe developer and wine industry copywriter, she’s always devising delicious new ways to enjoy wine. If you’d like help creating food pairing notes or recipes, please feel free to reach out by email: hedonism.ink@gmail.com.

© Hedonism Ink, 2015. All rights reserved.

A CALL FOR MORE AND BETTER CONTENT

Guest Column by Jim Gullo

What a pleasure it is to watch this Oregon wine industry grow and evolve before our eyes. There were just over 200 wineries in the Willamette Valley when I moved to McMinnville seven years ago and began to cover this industry as a journalist and copywriter, and then experienced it behind the counter as a Tasting Room Associate. Now there are nearly 450 wineries in the valley, and over 600 in the state.

We do so many things well that it almost seems effortless to the casual observer. The wines are consistent and top-quality, and have earned Oregon a reputation as being world-class. The visitor experience is casual and likable – tasting room guests talk all the time about how pleasant and informal we are, with unusual access to the winemakers themselves. Even behind-the-scenes things like vineyard management have gotten better and more consistent. Biodynamics, for example, were little known and rarely practiced as recently as 2008.

What hasn’t changed much, curiously, and where we remain behind on the world stage, is in marketing in general and content in particular. Content: The written and spoken words that wineries use to tell their stories to their customers, and how wineries attract more people to seek them out. Stories delivered not only by tasting room staff directly to visitors, but via newsletters, blogs, press releases, clean and exciting websites, and social media. Nobody In Oregon – be it a winemaker, winery or trade association — has grabbed the content reins and become the go-to source of Oregon wine and industry information in the way that Randal Grahm/Bonny Doon has in California, or Charles K. Smith has in Walla Walla. The field is wide open and ready to be seized.

I may be biased, because I make a living from writing and telling stories, but I think that content management will become the next big, important component to a successful winery, as vital to your operation as clean barrels, your vineyard contract and catchy labeling. It has to be: When consumers get the idea that most, or at least a vast majority of wineries produce wines of a similar quality, it is the story, the presentation and the professionalism of the content – of telling the winery’s story – that put it at the top of the list for tastings and direct sales.

Think this isn’t on the mind of the major players in the industry? Argyle Winery in Dundee, which sees extraordinary traffic, will complete a new visitor space this summer. One of their stated goals was to have more areas where customers could sit in small groups and interact with staff – talk and mingle and hear stories about the winery. That’s content. The new management of Scott Paul Wines in Carlton includes a former Nike brand manager and communications expert, and the first thing they will do is renovate the tasting room for more personal interactions and story-telling with customers.

And here’s the nasty flipside: When your content appears to be shoddy and unprofessional, riddled with errors, outdated and loaded with typos and bad writing, it reflects poorly on the brand that you have been so carefully building. Want an example? One winery insists on the front page of their website that they “pour over every detail” in making their wine. They probably mean “pore” over every detail, and that simple error makes you wonder how good their attention to detail really is.

Another tells us on their website that their property “abutts” another (the right spelling is abuts; we all know what a butt is), and from their property you can see “…a statute of Saint Francis of Assisi…” They probably mean statue, unless some legislative body created a statute just for them.

Look, I’m not trying to embarrass anyone or be the school librarian here. But we suddenly have new competition for customers, and when your website and communications are evaluated side by side with the slick, advertising agency sites of your new competitors, will they pass scrutiny?

You know you need professional winemaking, of course, to make your business work. You need professional vineyard management, compliance and accounting. You need business management. Wineries that want to stand out also need professional content management and marketing. Short of that, at the very least, every message that you put up on your website or blog should be proofread by two or more people in your company who have solid English skills. It’s amazing how even professional writers can overlook obvious errors in our work. When we instituted a proofreading policy at Angela Estate, the typos and spelling errors were almost completely eliminated. Everyone in your company should be encouraged to write or post, and a point-person should be in charge of scheduling the flow of information.

Good luck and may the information flow. I can’t wait to see how this industry matures, and how we tell our stories, as we enter the next fifty years of Oregon wine.

Jim Gullo is a freelance writer whose work appears in Oregon Wine Press, and the Alaska and Horizon Airlines magazines. He has published eight books and was the editor and publisher of Oregonwine.com, a web magazine. He has also written and edited content for many wineries. His website is http://www.jim-gullo.com; e-mail is jim@jimgullo.com.

‘PASSION’ SHOULD NOT BE A NOUN BUT A VERB

By Alan Goldfarb

So, Mr. Doclawyer, I’ll be conducting this interview so that we can tease out your winery’s story so that we’ll be able to entice some poor schnook of a wine writer out there to pay attention to your wines, even though there are a million others out there like you and yours.

May I call you by your first name? Do you go by Robert or Bob?

Here goes: What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of what it is you’re trying to achieve here; and to separate yourself from the ocean of wine that is getting higher (and not just due to climate change)?

Oh, I see… You have “passion”. Should I write that with two or three exclamation points? Passion. I’m so glad you used that word because it tells me something about yourself and your, well passion. So, does that mean that you have devotion to the business of wine? Or maybe it’s fervor? Would enthusiasm get it? Are you enraptured with wine? Or are you enchanted, infatuated, or is it that you merely adore wine?

Because I want to tell you Bob, I’d like to have a sawbuck for e-v –e-r-y winery owner who tells me he’s got p-a-s-s-i-o-n. The fact that you have passion is the oldest cliché in the annals of wine clichés. And the media – at least those that pay attention– have had it up to here. And so have I.

Do you think I want to read, yet again, from that wonderful muckraker Ron Washam – the blogger who calls himself The HoseMaster of Wine – excoriate us flacks that he’ll never again drink a passionate vintner’s wines if the producer uses the P-word again? I’ve long before The HoseMaster wrote about it, tried to break the yolk of platitudes in my clients.

The point is Mr. Vintner or Mr. Doclawyer or Ms. Technick, mean what you say and don’t spout all that overused, hackneyed pile of arble-garble such as “wines are made in the vineyard” or my wines are “balanced” and “we practice minimalist winemaking”. Chances are none of these vacuous words have much meaning, especially as they pertain to your wine. It’s like using “natural” or “sustainable”. They’ve been used so many times, for the purpose of making things sound better than they actually are, they’ve become useless.

But more important, it is my job as your publicist, your representative – to instruct you and to offer you alternatives to this tired, empty jargon, signifying nothing.

When you declare that your wines are made in the vineyard, prove it. Prove that you do nothing else to the grapes in the cellar but squeeze the juice – gently, of course. Prove that there’s minerality in your wines by explaining why and pinpointing those aromas and tastes. When you talk of your terroir, tell me how that manifests in my glass. Can I taste the wind? Is there evidence of your obsidian-laced soil?

Finally, really show me your passion; don’t tell about it. From here on, passion is not a word that lays there like a lox without substance. If you’re going to be my client, passion is no longer a noun, but a verb; as actionable evidence. I want you to cry in your vineyard, the way the late great André Tchelistcheff once did one afternoon when he stood in front of me in the Beaulieu Pinot Noir vineyard in the Carneros, holding a wind-ravaged broken shoot in his hand.

Or, when Josh Jensen had me smell the limestone in his vineyard in one of his Calera vineyards in the Gavilan Mountains of central California. I really did taste the white chalk in his Pinots. And when loveable crazyman Gary Pisoni almost killed me as he raced me around his property in his beat up, open-topped green jeep; all the while pointing out the nooks and crannies of his Pisoni vineyard, while in the other hand, he held a blunt.

Now, that was passion. That was real. That was exciting and in every case, those ethereal moments manifested in the glass. These men made wines of passion, idiosyncrasy, and difference. They all did so well in the marketplace because the media gathered around them like the flocks of seagulls that hover over the SF Giants’ ballpark every night.

So, as a publicist – while it’s easy to tell the stories of these dream clients – it’s my challenge to show the world that you too, Mr. Stockbroker, really do possess the passion to transfer your zeal and bravado into your wine. Only then and with that, will your wines be truly unique and recognized.

White Wines are Red Hot!

Special Guest Article by Lisa Shara Hall

Oregon is known for its Pinot Noir. Okay, that’s fair as seventy percent of its plantings are Pinot Noir.

But that’s not the whole story about Oregon. Not by a long shot. So why are so many of it’s white wines overlooked?

The 2014 Oregon Chardonnay Symposium sought to give some spotlight to Chardonnay. And you betcha, there are some mighty fine chardonnays in this state. Bergstrom’s Sigrid, Domaine Drouhin Oregon’s Arthur, Chehalem’s Inox, Brittan Vineyards, Kramer Vineyards, Stoller Family Estate, and Soter Vineyards just to name a few.

Riesling is another up-and-coming variety with fine examples from Brooks, Trisaetum, Argyle, Chehalem, J. Christopher, Anam Cara and Teutonic Wines, just to rattle off a few of many. They do an amazing tasting at the end of the International Pinot Noir Celebration that is remarkable for its range of wines.

Melon de Bourgogne (the grape of Muscadet) is grown by, among others, Panther Creek, Ken Wright, de Ponte, Cameron, and Grochau Cellars.

Pinot Blanc is also made in Oregon. Chehalem, Adelsheim, Willakenzie Estate, Ayers, The Eyrie, and St Innocent make noteworthy Pinot blanc.

And Pinot Gris. An Oregon work-horse. There can be wonderful wines such as Chehalem’s two cuvees, The Eyrie, WillaKenzie Estate and Bethel Heights to name a very few.

And of course there are some wonderful stand-alone wines. Troon’s delightful Vermentino. Ponzi’s Arneis. Abacela’s Albarino. Chehalem’s Gruner Veltliner. Cowhorn’s Viognier (other people do make Viognier but Cowhorn’s is outstanding).

So you see that Oregon is not necessarily all about Pinot Noir. Take a chance. Try a white wine. You might be surprised.