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My name is Barry Potyondi. I live in the beautiful Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada.

I’ve been a professional writer for decades — speech writing, corporate materials, non-fiction books, food and wine writing, the occasional travel piece.

This blog is all about sharing my thoughts — for what they’re worth — on a variety of subjects of contemporary interest. I welcome all feedback.

Celebrating with story at CedarCreek

The maturation of the Okanagan wine industry has given us more than fantastic wines; it has also given us delightful stories of achievement that, in the right hands, can become a powerful element of winery branding.

CedarCreek Estate Winery, near Kelowna, is a case in point. Now commemorating 25 years in business, they have produced an online video called “25 Defining Moments“. Narrated by owner Gordon Fitzpatrick, the video offers a light-hearted glance back at the trials, tribulations and successes of this well-respected winery.

With production now exceeding 40,000 cases per year, CedarCreek is no small operation by Okanagan standards, yet the self-effacing tone of the video humanizes the winery like nothing else. It’s great fun.

Lesson learned: use a personal milestone to tell your unique story with honesty and pride and you’ll capture the hearts (and the cash) of wine drinkers everywhere. 


What’s a wine blogger worth?

If you own a winery, you’ve probably seen your products reviewed by any number of wine bloggers. Their numbers continue to multiply, but does anyone understand the value, if any, of these online writers?

Portland, Oregon is hosting this year’s convention of wine bloggers  in two days. In anticipation of the arrival of some 350 bloggers, PalatePress decided to solicit the views of various members of the wine industry about the role that bloggers play. Here is a link to the first of three posts.

The posts are worth reading, particularly in light of the fact that Penticton will host the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference.

Tinhorn Creek: branding with honesty

We’ve talked previously about the value of effective storytelling in defining and conveying a winery brand. Today I want to point you in the direction of an informative print media kit from Oliver-based Tinhorn Creek winery. You can find it here.

Tinhorn Creek’s media kit, which is a downloadable pdf file, is 33 pages of single-spaced text with a few illustrations thrown in. It covers a great deal of territory: local history, the wines, the visitor experience, sustainable viticulture practices, staff biographies, environmental management, a development timeline, community giving, and much more.

Those who hold to conventional wisdom about media kits would be appalled. Too long. Too much detail. Too few illustrations. Extraneous facts. Questionable inclusions.

I beg to differ. If you take the time to read the material, you come away with a clear sense of where this particular winery came from, how it grew, and where it’s going. The key word here is “particular”. This abundance of information defines Tinhorn as one-of-a-kind, which is precisely what every winery needs. Let’s face it, all regional wineries use the same handful of varietals to produce a single product (wine) for a highly competitive market. It is not enough to make a good Merlot; everyone makes a Merlot. You need to make a Merlot with a story.

That’s what this kit does so well, so convincingly. It creates a cohesive narrative that allows the reader to grasp the terroir and the science behind the Merlot, feel the heat as the vineyard workers re-vegetate the West Bench with threatened native species, hear the live music in the grassy amphitheatre at mid-summer, sympathize with winemaker Sandra Oldfield as she struggles to make more time for her young daughter while juggling a million winery duties and, finally, appreciate the people, the place, the skill and the caring that goes into every bottle of Sandra’s award-winning Merlot. Once you know the story, no other Merlot tastes the same.

Is the media kit perfect? No. It is, at times, repetitive, unbalanced, and poorly structured. It often reads as though it were assembled over several months or perhaps years. It has its share of typos and grammatical goofiness.

Yet none of that matters. Why? Because the kit is sincere. It mines the past to reveal the story of how Sandra and Kenn Oldfield learned the business of winemaking and became the success they are today. You can feel the pride in this ungainly narrative, yet it never sounds self-serving. Like all good stories, it draws you in and makes you want to read to the last page. And when you do, it all makes sense.

Tolstoy from Tinhorn, if you will.

Advice from a branding expert

Langley-based branding strategist Teri Conrad recently did some tasting on the Naramata Bench and was struck by the effective manner in which local wineries differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Here’s an excerpt from her blog post, focusing on the approach taken by Laughing Stock Vineyards:

They make it FUN and they show a LOT of personality!

Laughing Stock is a GREAT example! How’s this for marketing?: When they bottle a vintage they pull the ticker tape off right off the Wall Street Stock market and alert the companies who are mentioned and ask them how many cases they want! BRILLIANT!

Founders both came from the financial industry and so clearly so their tag lines like “How liquid are Your assets?” and “How is your portfolio performing? Ours is drinking beautifully.” show off their personality in spades!

Her implicit point is that these wineries make sure every piece of written content works to build an effective narrative that is unique to that particular winery. The point is well taken, and any winery can achieve similar success by focusing on their special story.

Lesson learned: Join a good story to well-designed branding and, as experience shows, the result is almost always increased market share.

John Schreiner, our E. B. White of wine

John Schreiner, who has been celebrating Canadian vino for longer than many of us have been able to drink legally, is the E. B. White of our wine world.

A long-time writer for The New Yorker, E. B. White is perhaps remembered best for children’s books like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. But he was also a superb essayist who wrote endlessly (and, it seems, effortlessly) about the day-to-day activities on his Maine salt-water farm. Possessed of an infallible sense of story, White captured moments of universal appeal in prose that was elegantly structured, deceptively simple and forever memorable. 

John Schreiner shares many of these characteristics and is, hands-down, the best writer about Canadian wines. The latest edition of his Okanagan Wine Tour Guide is filled with examples that make the point. 

Setting the stage for a discussion of sustainable practices at Burrowing Owl, he opens with a vignette of winery founder Jim Wyse tending the many bluebird and bat boxes on the property. At the Crowsnest Winery in the Similkameen, he gives almost as much space to bratwurst and homemade bread as he does to the wine in a successful effort to capture the friendly and fastidious character of the winery’s European owners. At Meadow Vista Honey Wines in West Kelowna, Schreiner slyly documents the lifelong, 24/7 busyness of owner Judith Barta without once mentioning the word “bee”.

This is a writer of superb instincts, in control of his material and his language. There aren’t many of them. In fact, every Schreiner review fills the page with an engrossing narrative about the origins of the vineyard and its owners. His miniatures (most are only a few hundred words in length) stitch people, place and product together in verbal harmony.

When you have a craving for good writing about Canadian wine, no one will quench your thirst better (or faster) than John Schreiner. 

The makings of a great back label

When wineries take little time to craft the descriptive message on the rear labels of their bottles, they miss a great opportunity to promote their wines. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Since planting his first Zinfandel vine in 1954, Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Robert Reynolds have become the premier growers of Lodi’s renowned ancient vine Zinfandel. For four generations their families have provided elite California winemakers with superb varietal fruit. Now they proudly put their name on wines that reflect their long and uncompromising commitments to sustainable agriculture and winemaking excellence.

That’s it. That’s the entire description on the back label. And believe it or not, this is the label from a Petite Sirah. 

Now let’s look at a much better way of handling this. Quinta Ferreira, a family-run operation near Oliver, British Columbia, puts this on the rear of its unoaked Chardonnay:

Family owned and operated Quinta Ferreira Estate Winery is located in the heart of Oliver, British Columbia — a community which is recognized as the Wine Capital of Canada. Our 20 acres of vineyard and winery are located on the Black Sage Bench well known for producing excellent quality grapes due to the desert terrain and ideal climate temperatures. Sample our wines while enjoying the breathtaking view of the landscape and a fabulous vision overlooking the community.

A clean and crisp Chardonnay, this wine exhibits white peach, citrus and bright ripe apple aromas, followed by bursts of exotic fruit, melon, apple, lemon and pear on the palate. The smooth acidity frames all the flavours together in this lively refreshing wine with a sumptuous mouth feel. Pair with soft cheeses, salads and seafood or on its own. Enjoy now and over the next 2-3 years.

Now this is a burst of information on the intellect! We learn something about the producer, the terroir, the name of the grape, the character of the wine itself, its pairing partners and its projected longevity. If this attempt lacks anything, it is the sure touch of an editor who might have eliminated some of the awkward phrasing, the factual repetition and the sense that each paragraph had its own author. Still, on balance, this has all the elements of a back label that projects a strong corporate brand, describes the product, and entices the consumer to buy. Make that your goal. 


Thank the Simple Wasp for that Complex Glass Of Wine

The challenge: market differentiation

The solution: create a memorable visitor experience

Give it a moment’s thought and you’ll realize that almost all website writing that comes from wineries or their hired pens focuses on:

  • varietals
  • purchasing options
  • special events

Of course there is nothing wrong with this; in fact, coverage of these topics is expected. But at the same time you have to ask how any of this helps to differentiate your winery in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The answer is: it doesn’t.

Differentiation comes from being different. One way to be different is to provide visitors (real or virtual) with the unexpected. The following article, which discusses the importance of wasps in the fermentation process, is a great example of writing about unexpected aspects of the vineyard and the extraordinary process by which grapes get into the bottle. It surprises, it engages and it educates. In the process, it becomes memorable.

Memorable is what you want your winery to be. Ask yourself what’s special about your vineyard or your industry and you’ll be on your way to creating a memorable experience that your visitors never forget. Mark my words, give them something to talk about and they’ll spread the word for you.

Read on:

Thank the Simple Wasp for that Complex Glass Of Wine

The next time you take a sip of your favorite wine, you might want to make your first toast to hornets. Or, more precisely, European hornets and paper wasps.

That’s because those big scary flying insects whose stings can be especially painful may be the secret to the wonderful complex aroma and flavor of wine. “Wasps are indeed one of wine lovers’ best friends,” says Duccio Cavalieri, a professor of microbiology at the University of Florence in Italy.

Cavalieri and his colleagues discovered that these hornets and wasps bite the grapes and help start the fermentation while grapes are still on the vines.They do that by spreading a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae — commonly known as brewer’s yeast and responsible for wine, beer and bread fermentation — in their guts. When the wasps bite into the fruit, they leave some of that yeast behind.

Cavalieri says one of the reasons the discovery is so exciting for him is that it’s an example of just how connected the natural world is, and how humans rely on this interconnection in ways we simply cannot perceive.

“It’s important because it’s telling to me it’s crucial to look at conservation and the study of biodiversity,” says Cavalieri, one of the authors who published his findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently.

“Everything is linked,” he adds.

Of course, Cavalieri says, winemakers can add yeast later. But wines would not taste the same without wasps. Different yeasts applied at different times have a big impact flavors. The wasps also introduce other microorganisms to the grapes which add flavors to the wine.

“One of the most beautiful things of wine is the fact that basically it’s complex, it’s made of several parts and it communicates to several parts of your brain,” he says, which could be lost without the wasps and hornets.

Cavalieri comes by his interest in wine naturally. He’s from a family of winemakers in the Chianti region of Italy. He first had the inkling of hornets’ special role when he saw them piercing the skin of grapes during field research in the region 15 years ago.

Insects have long helped out with wine and other crops, we just didn’t know why. At least since the time of the ancient Romans, winemakers have planted flowers near their vines to lure certain insects.

The researchers were able to unwrap the mystery of the insects’ role by using DNA sequencing techniques to analyze the genes of the yeast, then tracing them to the guts of wasps. They even did a lab experiment to see if hornets could pass the yeast to their offspring, and they did.

Other insects and birds also carry the yeast, Cavalieri says.But hornets seem to play a special role because they both harbor the yeast over winters and can pass them along to their offspring.

You can imagine a vineyard might be interested in pest control — but perhaps they should be careful about which bugs they consider pests.

Evolutionary biologist Anne Pringle of Harvard, who was not involved in the study, says the findings have two strong messages — great wines need bugs and people still know almost nothing about ecology.

“If you’d like to have your grapes fermented by local yeasts, which I think many vineyards do, then you have to have these insects around,” Pringle says.

via Thank The Simple Wasp For That Complex Glass Of Wine : The Salt : NPR.