Tuesday, February 20, 2007

PR 101 Pt. 3

PR 101 Pt. 3

When You Want to Get the Word Out, Who Should You Call First?
By Lori Randall

Last month I addressed how to go about distributing a press release, determining who should receive the release and appropriate lead times to consider. I also encouraged you to put together a media kit that includes details about your company.

This month, we’ll review different strategies and approaches to talking to reporters and editors. When most people think “getting the word out,” they think of television or the daily newspaper. There are other options, such as weekly newspapers, community publications, web sites and radio. The more familiar you are with the various media outlets, the more effective you can be.

Daily Newspapers
Daily newspaper content is written by reporters, supervised by editors. Most stories are generated by the reporters themselves. After they write the stories, editors decide where and when the stories will run.
Advantages of Dailies:
• If they like the story, they might take an in-depth look at it.
• They have more variety than any other medium.
Strategies for Dailies:
• Find a reporter or editor who will take interest in your story.
• Find out if your story falls under an area of coverage (a “beat”) such as health, food or events.

Weekly Newspapers and Community Publications
Most weekly and community publications are tailored to specific groups: neighborhoods, suburban areas or ethnic groups.
Advantages of Weeklies:
• They have more targeted and specific audiences
• They'll often give an issue more attention if it affects their specific readership.
Strategies for Weeklies:
• Weeklies often compete with dailies and other media.
• Weekly and community newspapers generally have small, non-specialized staffs

Television news tells fewer stories in fewer words. The assignment editor decides which stories to cover, and then a reporter and photographer team reports the story. The producer decides what to include and in what order.
Advantages of TV:
• You reach a broad audience
• Your story makes a visual impact that often lingers in people's minds.
Strategies for TV:
• If your event or group is doing something that relates to today's news, call the assignment desk and pitch your "local" angle immediately.
• Think good pictures and sound. Visual interest and movement are everything. Have a good spokesperson in mind who can make a point quickly and clearly, and find a compelling setting.
• Timing can affect coverage. Events scheduled after 9 a.m. or in the early afternoon give stations the most time to edit for evening shows. You may stand a better chance of coverage on Mondays or weekends when TV crews need news.

Radio stations can be great for reaching a wide audience. Their news departments usually cover news with the least amount of staff in the shortest amount of time for each story, and with the most frequent deadlines.

Advantages of Radio:
• You reach a broad audience.
• There is an opportunity to reach more specific audiences with certain stations.
Strategies for Radio:
• Know the stations. Stations with frequent local newscasts have the time and staff to cover your story. Smaller stations with mostly music formats may not. Talk shows are a good way to reach people. Generally, you need to contact the producer of the show, not the host.
• Think of sounds that radio reporters could record in the field that might help create a mental image for listeners and help tell the story.
• Timing is crucial. "Morning drive time" is the most important time of the day for radio news. Some stations begin early; sometimes between 4 - 6 a.m. "Afternoon drive time" (4 - 7 p.m.) is the other big time. Avoid calling around the top of the hour or the half-hour when news people are most likely on the air and not available to speak with you. Take advantage of slow news times such as weekends, Friday afternoons or Monday mornings.

Speaking with reporters
A few don'ts:
• Don't tell a reporter how to cover the story.
• Don't ask to read or see the story before it appears.
• Don't insult "the media" and don't insult their colleagues.
• Don’t call during busy times. Deadline hours are frantic times for reporters.

And some do’s:
• Do your homework. Be prepared to demonstrate why your story is newsworthy.
• Do find out which reporter or editor is most likely to cover your story.

When you call:
• Identify yourself and say why you're calling.
• Always ask, "Do you have a minute?" when calling reporters. If they don't have the time, ask: "When would be a good time to call back?"
• Get to the point. (In less than 30 seconds)
• Reporters are more likely to give in-depth treatment to a story if you offer them an exclusive.
• It helps to send back-up material (media kit) after you have talked.

Visit www.randallpr.com for more information or to get on their party list for invites to restaurant openings and advance notice of wine and food events.

PR 101 Pt. 2

How do you distribute a press release, and what is a media kit?
By Lori Randall

I last wrote about the press release and how to ask yourself some questions to determine if and why your item is newsworthy and how to find the "hook" that makes a topic or event interesting. We also reviewed some guidelines on how to write and format a press release.

So, you’ve written your release, it’s short, it’s accurate, the angle is clear and several people have proofread it. How do go about distributing the release? You’ll need to determine who to send the release to and the appropriate lead time.

Send releases about events that are open to the public at least two or three weeks in advance. If you have breaking news, call the reporter directly. When in doubt, address the release to:
- The city editor for newspapers
- The news editor or publisher for community newspapers
- The assignment editor for TV stations
- The news director for radio stations

If you plan on sending out press releases frequently, consider hiring a publicist or becoming a member of PR Newswire. PR Newswire is an international public relations wire network that distributes news releases to the media, financial community and consumers for a fee.

However, there is no better way to send out a release than personally, to someone that you have developed a relationship with. Find out who writes about your business, what kind of stories they cover most often and what their deadlines are.

But, realize that even if you follow all the guidelines, your item may not get covered. That happens for any number of reasons. Timing is everything; so don’t take it personally if a reporter takes a pass on your release.
- Keep an eye on potential “news” competition. I.e., Don't pitch coverage for your event on the same day when some other major event is happening, like an election.
- Know the deadlines of your target media. Schedule the dissemination of the release so reporters have plenty of time to report
- Develop “news judgment.” For example, it may not be a good time to pitch a grand opening of a new store on the same day of a snowstorm.

If a reporter does take interest in your story, they often will need additional information. This information is typically compiled in what is called a media kit.

Media kits, or press packets, make reporters' lives easier. They include additional details about your company, saving the reporter time in gathering background information.

Your media kit should include:
- News release or, recent news releases
- Fact sheets or pamphlets on your organization or event
- Background information
- Biographies of key individuals
- Photographs - high resolution (minimum 300 dpi), identified and photographer-credited
- Copies of previous articles on the topic

If you are working on a time-sensitive topic, make sure to allow enough time to compile this information. On average it takes 10 hours to complete a press release and upwards of 40 hours to put together a press kit. It is a big project, but once is done, it’s much easier to maintain and keep updated. Now that you have your information together (the press release and the press kit) you are ready to talk to the media. In the next column we’ll review different strategies and approaches to talking to reporters and editors so that you can put the tools to work for you.

Visit www.randallpr.com for more information or to get on their party list for invites to restaurant openings and advance notice of wine and food events.

PR 101: A four-part series

PR 101: A four-part series
By Lori Randall

The Press Release

So you want your business to receive some media coverage. Ask yourself, why?
Do you want people to come to your event? Are you trying to raise money for a local charity? Do you need more business? These may be good goals, but are they newsworthy or have a news angle?

Things that are new, timely or have an unusual twist are generally newsworthy. An angle is the "hook" that makes a topic or event interesting. Information that is useful to readers or consumers and has an interesting angle is more likely to be picked up by the media.

For example, kid’s milk on a restaurant menu is not so newsworthy – kid’s milk in “flights” of strawberry, chocolate and caramel is. (As Purple Café and Wine Bar found out –the Wall Street Journal was just one of many publications that wrote about these clever flights.)

Ask yourself, "If I didn't know anything about this event or issue, would I care and if not, what would make me care?”

The fact that Great Harvest Bread Co. can make honey wheat loaves in the shape of a bear is not newsworthy. The fact that in September they give the monies from the sale of these bears to Children’s Hospital is.

Keep in mind that sometimes the best story is going on behind the scenes. You may be hosting a fund-raising event to benefit a charity. The dinner itself may not garner coverage beyond a calendar listing, but maybe one of the beneficiaries of the dinner or a volunteer at the event has an interesting story. That could be your angle.

Next, decide which news outlets to approach. Do your homework. Read, watch, and listen before you send out your release. You’ll find that some stories are of interest only to your industry, some to your neighborhood and some to the greater community. Then compile your target media list accordingly.

It would be great to see your story splashed on the front page of The Seattle Times or leading the evening news on KOMO-4 but you might have a better chance of coverage, and reach more of your demographic, through smaller community media.

To get the word out to the selected media, a simple, one-page press release is generally the best tool because you can send them to several news outlets at once, increasing your chance of getting coverage. Remember, sending out a press release doesn't necessarily mean it will result in a story. The reporters you send it to may think other stories are more important to cover.

When writing press releases there are some basic rules to follow:
- Use a standard letter-size paper (8.5" x 11").
- Use one side and use letterhead if you have it. (It is acceptable to write the release in word and e-mail it).
- At the top, include your organization's name, a contact name, and all possible contact numbers and e-mails.
- Also at the top, include the release date and state that it is either "For Immediate Release" or specify a specific date that the information can be released.
- Write a headline for your news release that clearly communicates the main message and grabs the editor or reporter’s attention.
- Leave some space between the headline and the first paragraph of the release.
- The first paragraph should begin with a dateline, such as “SEATTLE, Wash., December 1, 2006.”
- The text of the release should include the answers to the basic who, what, when, where and why questions. It should also convey your angle.
- Include a brief description on what your company does at the end or the beginning of the release
- List out photo opportunities, available photos or other visually interesting items.
- Put a "###" symbol at the end of the release to signify when readers have reached the end of the release.

- Be accurate and double-check for errors. Have several people proofread your release before you send it.
- Keep it simple. Your release should be concise and as short as possible, only relaying the necessary information.
- Avoid superlatives. Let the facts speak for themselves.
- If you are sending your release by e-mail, avoid attachments.
- Identify any mentioned people by job title and occupation.
- Be cognizant of lead times so that you don’t send a Christmas story to a monthly magazine in December when they are working on their spring issue.

Wine Stores

By Lori Randall

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when sharing a bottle of wine with friends is, Where did you get that?

I almost always reply, My wine store (if I didn’t purchase it at a winery).

Then they typically ask, Do you think you can get me a few bottles?

That question always surprises me because it’s not that I have secret access to great wines (although I would like to think that). It’s that I have a great wine store that lets me appear as if I do. Anyone can find the wine through almost any wine store.

I live in Seattle and my wine store is Esquin Wine Merchants. I email them regularly with my wine requests. (Try doing that at Costco or a grocery store and see what happens!) Sometimes I’ll even cut and paste one of Paul Gregutt’s wine reviews from the Seattle Times into an email and ask them to order me one of each and then have a tasting and compare notes.

It seems that a lot of people shop for their wine at a grocery store and I wondered why so I spoke with Esquin’s owner, Chuck LeFevre, and asked him a few questions about what a store offers compared to other wine retailers.

Why should someone shop at a wine store?
Simple. Price, selection and service.

What amenities do most wine stores offer? Tastings, newsletters, delivery, return policy (corked or unused wines), selection. Costco or a grocer may offer 100-150 wines where a wine store will have thousands and most important … staff ! It doesn’t do you any good if they have all the wine in the world and no one to help you.

Is wine more expensive in a wine store? Absolutely not. Often, it is less expensive.

What are the differences between a wine store and a wine department in a grocery store? Wine shops cherry pick the best wines. I like to say we taste the bad wine so you don’t have to.

Is it better to buy wine from the winery or from a wine store? Wineries won’t undercut the retailers price because the wineries primary source of sales. If the wine is distributed you can buy it for the same price or less at a wine store. But, wineries have items for sale that are not available in the market such as old vintages and specialty wines. For example, I received a newsletter from Betz Winery that offered a Betz Sangiovese that’s not available through a retailer so I bought some!

How to can you get the most from your wine store?
Make sure the attitude of the store suits your personality and needs, and that you “click” with the staff. If you are a serious collector you might choose a different store than if you just want to have fun learning about wines.

Introduce yourself. Let them know your price range and typical likes and dislikes. If you have special interests in a category, for example Italian wines, find out who knows the most about that area.

Sign up for the mailing list to get the best deals and attend the complimentary tastings.
The more wines you taste the more you know what you like and don’t like. Esquin has over 100 tastings a year –it’s a real important part of what a wine store offers their customer.

Eastside Wine Stores

Fine Wines & Cigars 16535 NE 76th Street Suite D105, Redmond 425-869-0869
George's Wine Shoppe 521 156th Avenue SE Bellevue 425-644-7723
The Grape Choice 7 Lakeshore Plaza Kirkland 425-827-7551
Vino100 Bellevue 700 Bellevue Way NE #110 Bellevue 425-453-7881La Cantina Wine Merchants 826 102nd NE, Ste 700 Bellevue 425-455-4363
Pete's Wines Eastside 134 105th NE Bellevue 425-454-1100
Seattle Wine Company 1950 - 130th Ave NE Suite 1 Bellevue 425-869-0609

It is worth mentioning that there are a handful of grocery stores that have full service wine departments and offer many of the amenities of a wine shop including a wine steward. To find out which locations offer that service check with your local store.

Wow of the month
The 19th annual Auction of Washington Wines shined the spotlight on philanthropy last weekend, raising $1.9 million for uncompensated care at Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center and the Washington Wine Education Foundation. Themed "Chateau Cabaret," the weekend celebration of Washington wines featured Picnic with the Winemakers, winemaker dinners and a spectacular black tie Gala Auction on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Wash.

Saving the Wine

In warmer weather I like to start the evening with a glass of white wine before I move to red with dinner. Problem is –I end up with two open bottles of wine and may not get back to them for a few days, or more. Then the next time I go to have a glass of that wine–it’s oxidized and I have to toss it out.

Oxidation occurs when wine comes into contact with air A chemical reaction happens
that results in a loss of fruit and freshness and can cause the wine to taste flat. More severe oxidation results in a high level of acidity and eventually transforms the wine into vinegar.

I don’t know about you – but my wine habit is expensive enough without having to pour my purchases down the drain, so I wanted to take a look at the wine preservation mechanisms on the market and see if they work and how they compare.

Here’s what I found:

( $0 ) Put the wine in the fridge- That’s right, but the cork back in it, white or red and put it in the refrigerator. The cool temperatures will slow down the oxidation and it should last a day or two.

($13 ) Take the air out –The Vacu Vin or Concerto Wine saver removes the air from opened bottles. You place a pump over a reusable stopper and pump out the air. This one time purchase will get you a reusable pump and two stoppers, but wont keep your wine fresh much longer than an extra day.

($12) Gas It! With a product like Private Reserve where a Harmless Nitrogen (N2), Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Argon (Ar) gas is sprayed into the open bottle. This gas blanket of inert gases slows down the spoilage of wine by about 5-7 days. 12 full uses per can.

($200 ) Individual Bottle Preservation System – New to the market in 2004, the PEK Wine Steward preserves an open bottle of wine by flooding it with inert Argon gas. The bottle easily goes in the airtight chamber and the system prevents oxidation and controls the temperature of the wine. I found that it kept the opened bottle of wine as fresh for two solid weeks!

($1600- $6000) Preservation Cabinet System–Inert nitrogen gas preserves the wine as it dispenses. This is a superb wine preservation system but it costs thousands of dollars and takes a lot of kitchen or counter top space, so isn’t an option for most consumers.

My friend, James beard-winning chef Danielle Custer, (translate - has a good palate) and I were discussing this topic with she reminded me “ Some wines do wonders with a little oxygen”

So true –I had a glass of DeLille D2 three days after it had been opened–granted there was only one glass out if it, but it was nowhere ready to toss down the sink. It tasted fabulous, rich and had the texture of silk.

If you don’t have a wine preservation system, and your wine didn’t oxidize as gracefully as DeLille’s -- you can always make vinegar!

How to make vinegar from wine:
Take a wide-mouthed glass jug whose capacity is at least a gallon and pour a quart of wine and a cup of vinegar into it. Keep the container covered most of the time, but open it for a half hour every day. In a couple of weeks the madre, a viscous starter, will have settled to the bottom of the jug, while the vinegar above it will be ready for use. Add more wine as you remove vinegar to keep the level in the jug constant.

WOW of the month:
I ‘ve been advised to always buy 6 of every wine and age it for 5-10 years. Not being the diciplined type, that has seldom happned. On memoprial day weekend I wanted to bring a special wine on our trip to Ore. On Sunday night we had the server open the 1999 Kenwood Articst Serices Cabernet that I’d purchased at auciton 5 years prior. It’s a siky, suptious, rich wine with a huge lingering finish that had us gushing. And as we sipped the last of the bottle we didn’t have that sinking “gone forever” feeling because there are 5 more in cellar! Dicipline rewarded!


Screw Caps -Part 2

Screw Caps –Part 2
By Lori Randall

Today’s Screw Cap Wines are not the Twist Top Wines of Yesterday

Last month I wrote about the wine industry’s controversial move towards screw caps, the polyethylene liner covered with a special tin foil that creates an airtight seal to eliminate cork taint and wine oxidation.

Reluctant to purchase wines with a screw top, I sat down with a few friends to a tasting of wines with alternative closures to see if we would be willing to retire our cork screws.

The tasting of over 50 wines was met with rave reveiws and surprisingly, this group of discerning palates gave only three wines the thumbs down.

So what do we have to say in conclusion of our diligent research? Check all pre-concieved opinions at the turnstyle and pick up a bottle of one of these wines on your next trip to the store.

Housewife Whites
OK, I am not a housewife, but I think you know what I mean here. It’s your everyday white…you always have some in the fridge and keep a few extra bottles on hand. Does this wine really need the ritualistic cork? No, and it’s actaully a lot more convienient that it doesn’t (plus, the wine keeps a bit longer).

2005 Cedergreen Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley—Bright, refreshing and crisp. A favorite among all of us. ($18)

2005 Matthews Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Klipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain—Lots of rich fruit in this wine. ($18)

2004 Desert Wind ‘Bare Naked’ Chardonnay, Columbia Valley—A brilliant Washington Chardonnay without the oak. We absolutely loved this wine! I’ll take a case. ($13)

Summer Quaffers
A wine meant for hot summer days, served icy cold on the patio at a party or on a picnic with friends. Since you’ll be going through the wine fast you’ll appricate the time-saving screw top and, yes, it’s perfectly OK to pour it in a plastic cup.

2005 Screwed White, McLaren Vale, Australia—This fresh, youthful blend of Semillion and Chardonnay got a thumbs-up from everyone. ($10)

2004 Ciao Bella, Pinot Grigio, Venezie, Italy—Crisp, light and bright –the quintessential quaffer. ($10)

2005 Penfolds Reserve Bin Eden Valley Riesling, Eden Valley, Australia—Fresh, vibrant and alive, a quality Riesling is one of my favorite apéritifs. ($18)

BBQ Bonanzas
It’s a casual night, you’re breaking out the Kingsford charcoal, firing up the barbecue and eating on the deck. No need for a fancy-pants cork here.

2004 Tyrrell's Lost Block Chardonnay, Australia—This wine has enough oak to stand up to barbecue, but isn’t overdone with wood. ($13)

2005 Longwood The Sheep Shearer, McLaren Vale—Full bodied, rich and juicy. “This wine rocks” ($18)

2005 Erath Pinot Noir, Oregon—A good, solid Pinot and a favoite with grilled salmon. ($16)

Events & Adventures
The sun is out and so are we—camping, hiking, biking, boating. I always bring along some snacks and a bottle of wine from home. Not having to tote a corkscrew or worry about a broken cork suits me just fine.

2004 Houge Merlot, Columbia Valley—Washington State makes great Merlot and this is a wonderul example of how fruit forward and supple it can be. ($9)

2004 La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Luberon Blanc, Rhône—This soft, balanced blend of Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Ugni Blanc and Roussanne gave us the old-world fix we were looking for. ($8)

2004 Nugan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia—This spicy, earthy, rich wine is possibly the best overall value. ($12)

Screw it up! Part 1

Screw it up! Part 1
By Lori Randall

Does the wine industry really expect us take screw cap wines seriously? Just ask Hogue Cellars, which has 70% of production in screw caps and has invested thousands in the study of screw caps. Yes, they do.

Screw caps are no longer reserved for wines of less than acceptable quality and the presence of an aluminum top does not mean you can judge the wine’s price as under $10 a bottle.

Alternative closures to wine bottles are sought out by winemakers because the cork closure is less than perfect. Here’s why.

Imagine that 15% of your buisness products that go to market are bad or faulty. To top it off, a large portion of the customers that receive the bad product may not realize it is bad. They may just think they don’t like your product and will decide not to use it again.

This is the issue winemakers face with corks. As much as 7-18% of all bottles of wine will become “corked,” a term used to describe an off flavor in a wine that occurs from the interaction with the cork. Cork, a natural product made from the bark of a tree, is prone to developing mold, which creates a chemical infection of varying levels in the wine. Kiley Evans of Abacela notes, “We only get one shot at a new consumer.” Agreed!

And as consumers, would we be accepting of this in any other industry? Cars, clothing, sports equipment–what about restaurants? If 15% of all meals served were bad, that restaurant would be out of business in a heartbeat.

I know and understand this, yet I am so attached to the ritualism of removing a cork that I, like many of you, find myself reluctant to embrace the wines in these improved packages.

Imrpoved? Yes, by quite a bit. On the inside of a screw cap is a polyethylene liner covered with a special tin foil that creates an absolute airtight seal. This seal eliminates cork taint, wine oxiadation and allows for consistant aging of wine from bottle to bottle.

The controversy in the industry, which I was reminded of when my inbox filled with winemakers’ opinions, really comes down to tradition. The recent announcement of a top Portuguese winemaker who switched from corks to screw caps caused alarm in the world's biggest cork-producing country. "Our national pride is a little damaged from this issue," said Portuguese Wine Critic Joao Paulo Martins.

On the other side of the coin are comments from winemakers such as Kevin Cedergreen of Cedergreen Cellars who writes, “I now view cork like I view a growling dog, you can pet a growling dog but you will get bit often and occasionally that dog will go for your throat. Who needs it!”

I needed to come to terms with screw caps myself. So I sat down with a few wine friends to a tasting of about 40 wines with these closures to see if our predjudices could be changed and if we would be willing to retire our cork screws. Next month I’ll share our thoughts on the wines we tasted.

WoW of the month
Here’s a good example of the benefits of belonging to a wine club. Last month Charlie Hoppes, winemaker and owner of Fidelitas, invited me to attend his private wine club event held at the posh El Gaucho in Seattle. There was an elaborate spread of hosted hors d’oeuvres and a vertical tasting of his 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 Bordeaux blends as well as a tasting of his six current releases. The wines were all stellar and the earthy, rich 2003 Walla Walla Cabernet ($40) was a knockout!



What is a Wine Club? Ask ten different people and you will get asget as many different answers, which vary from wineries and internet companies that regularly send wine to members, to social- or home-based tasting groups.

In our region wine clubs are still a fairly new concept. In Australia, for example, asking someone what wine club they belong to is like asking them what country club they are members of. Everyone belongs to at least one club (sometimes several), and which one they belong to is reflective of their preferences, style, budget and taste.

To get further clarification on what constitutes a wine club, I went to ASK.com. I didn’t find a clear definition, but I did receive 20 pages of wine club listings that included all of the above types of clubs.

The exact description of a wine club may be hard to come by but the advantages are clear - if you enjoy wine regularly, belonging to a wine club will snag some attractive benefits. Here’s a run down of a few:

Winery-Based Wine Clubs frequently offer different levels of membership, each with more substantial perks. As a member you generally receive exclusive wines tailored to meet your interests (white wine, red wine, or mixed), wines delivered to your home or business, the opportunity to purchase wines in limited distribution, pre-release notification, recipes and winemaker notes, discounts on wine, newsletters, advance notice of winery events and wine club events for wine club members only.

Internet Wine Clubs feature a region, or several regions, rather than a single winery and send wine out on a monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly basis directly to your home or business. Each club has a specific niche that identifies them. Most offer discounts on wine, tasting notes, wine- and food-pairing suggestions, newsletters, notice of upcoming wine-related events, and invitations to wine dinners, tasting and tours. The final cost will depend on which level of membership you choose.

Society Wine Clubs and Home Clubs are often comprised of a group of people with similar interests and wine knowledge who meet on a regular basis for wine tasting, dinner, touring and education.

There are literally hundreds of clubs; here are few local clubs with some cool perks.

Basel Cellars Wine Club: Vintage Club and Estate Reserve Club members have the privilege of reserving Basel Cellars Estate for their personal use. www.baselcellars.com

Beverage Bistro Vineyard Wine Club: Members receive two bottles of red wine made from twelve of the world’s best small vineyards—one for each month of the year. Every year, members receive the next vintage released from the same vineyard, providing the opportunity to develop vertical collections. www.vineyardclub.beveragebistro.com

Chateau Ste. Michelle: Perhaps one of the largest (if not the largest) wine clubs in Washington. The winery produces small lot wines specifically for the club and gives complimentary tastings in the Vintage Reserve Room. The club also offers concert ticket pre-sales to Vintage Reserve Club members. www.ste-michelle.com

DiStefano Wine Club: Invitation to member-only terroir and library wine tastings, as well as advance notice for release parties and special events. www.distefanowinery.com

Fidelitas Wine Club: Once you reach the “Optu” (Latin for “finest” or “best”) level, available to the first 25 people who purchase the most wine in a calendar year, you become eligible for a private winemaker dinner with Charlie Hoppes and 10 to 15 of your friends. www.fidelitaswines.com

Pacific Northwest Wine Club: Each month two different varietals are chosen from a variety of Pacific Northwest vineyards and vintages. www.pnwc.com

Vine Tales Wine Club: Takes you on “journeys” though the world of wine, one region at a time. Every other month, a 2-, 3-, 6-, or 12-bottle selection, hand-picked from the selected region, is shipped to your doorstep, along with stories, maps and original collectable Vine Tales pin-up art. www.vinetales.com

VinSentio Wine Club: highlights premium wines from Washington. Signature (wines from smaller, family owner wineries) and Premium memberships (highest rated wines) are available. www.vinsentio.com

Washington State Wine Club: Specializing in wines from the State of Washington every month. www.washingtonstatewineclub.com

Walla Walla Wine Club: Features new releases and hard-to-find wine from Walla Walla. Gives notification of library selections, as they become available and discounts on reordered wines. www.wallawallawineclub.com

Zino Society: Members are professionals throughout the investment community and the wine industry. They share wine-related and other investment opportunities, and engage in activities from education seminars and wine country tours to gourmet dinners and wine tastings.www.zinosociety.com

WOW of the Month
I was fortunate to attend the 15th annual Washington Wines Festival that yielded over $210,000 for the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic and the Washington Wine Education Consortium. The evening began with a wine reception featuring 31 top Washington winemakers and wineries, including 2006 Honorary Chair Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery.

Perhaps the most exciting lot of the evening was the last item; Anne-Marie Hedges of Hedges Family Estates and Hope Moore of Make the Dash Count Foundation won the chance to throw eight darts at the Washington Wines Festival dartboard. Hedges, who claimed she is a dart novice, hit the bull’s eye on her first throw, winning a 6-Liter 1989 Chateau Lynch Bages, Bordeaux. Hedges then, along with Moore, proceeded to hit each wedge, winning several more bottles, including 1970 Chateau Mouton, 2000 Chateau Lafite Rothschild (100 pts.), 1996 Leonetti Cellar – Cabernet Sauvignon, 1994 Fonseca Vintage Port (100 pts.) and 1999 Joseph Phelps – Insignia.

Taste Washington

Did you know that Washington State now boasts 380 wineries, 350 wine grape growers and more than 30,000 vineyard acres? Washington is the second-largest premium wine producer in the United States, next to California.

Not only do we make wine, we make good wine—the Wine Spectator recognized thirteen Washington wines in its annual list of ”Top Picks” last year, and a Washington State vineyard was named among the world's ten greatest vineyards in Wine & Spirits, Fall 2004.
Since March is Taste Washington wine month, a celebration that occurs every year the month leading up to Taste Washington, I thought I’d ask you, on behalf of the 14,000 employees that make up this $3 billion industry…to Drink Washington!
Try any of the 20+ varietals our state grows, like reds Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese, or popular whites Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Viognier.

Learn about our AVAs (federally recognized American Viticultural Areas) by choosing several wines from any of the nine wine growing regions: The Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Columbia Valley, Wahluke Slope Valley, Puget Sound, Red Mountain, Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills or the newly-approved Rattlesnake Hills.

Dine at local restaurants that are hosting special Washington promotions and winemaker dinners for Washington Wine month (a few suggestions are located in this month’s sidebar).

And attend Taste Washington, the state’s premier wine tasting event, on Saturday, April 8, 2006 at Bell Harbor International Conference Center. This year’s one-day event offers:

Eight wine education seminars from 9-11:30 a.m. taught by global experts
A gourmet luncheon from 12-1:30 p.m. featuring a keynote address by world-renowned wine critic Pierre Rovani of The Wine Advocate.
· Tasting with the Masters, a seated tasting from 2-3:30 p.m. Moderated by Food & Wine executive wine editor Lettie Teague, Washington’s two Masters of Wine and three Master Sommeliers will lead guests through an interactive blind taste-off of “Washington State Merlot vs. the World.”
· Grand tasting from 4-7 p.m., where you will receive a Riedel wine glass and entry to the tasting that offers a sampling from hundreds of award-winning Washington wines from more than 180 Washington wineries.

Where there is wine there is food, and this year’s Taste Washington cuisine will be prepared by 35 “Washington Wine Restaurant Award” winners who have been recognized for their ongoing commitment to the Washington wine industry by the Washington Wine Commission.

If that isn’t enough to keep you busy, they are also offering live cooking demonstrations, book signings by leading authors, carnival-like games “Wheel of Wine” and “Ring Toss” to win wine-related prizes and a Caffé Vita Jazz Café with gourmet desserts, espresso and live music.

Tickets are available on online at www.tastewashington.org.

Wow of the Month

I had the pleasure of attending Vine Tales Wine Club (www.vinetales.com) on their first wine excursion last weekend to Cave B, a destination resort winery near Gorge Amphitheatre.

Just two hours from Seattle, this fairly new resort was more impressive than I had anticipated, offering luxury accommodations in cliff houses or cavern lofts with astonishing sweeping views of sky, water, and canyon.

After settling into our room we walked through the vineyards to the winery to meet up with winemaker "Rusty" Figgins and 'thieved' tastes of his 2004 and 2005 wines still in barrel.

The tour was followed by dinner in the Frank Lloyd Wright’s main lodge prepared by Executive Chef Fernando Divina from the on-site restaurant, Trendils. The meal, which was excellent, had a focus on regional fare with an emphasis on organic gardens and was paired with the current vintage of Cave B wines. www.cavebinn.com

Woodinville Wine Country


Passport to Woodinville April 1 & 2, 2006 11 AM to 4 PM

Have you been to Woodinville lately? If you haven’t, you may not know that it has become a haven for fine winemakers and is home to over 20 wineries that collectively call themselves “Woodinville Wine Country.”

Although wine grapes are not actually grown in Woodinville (these wineries source their grapes from some of Washington’s finest vineyards in Eastern Washington), the area’s commitment to quality has become regarded as one of the best in our state.

Woodinville Wine Country’s signature fundraiser, “Passport to Woodinville,” is held annually on the first weekend in April, and is the only time each year that all of the wineries are open to the public.

For the $45 ticket, you will receive a Woodinville Wine Country glass along with a “passport” filled with labels that allows you to enjoy tastings at all of the area's wineries, as well as the chance meet the winemakers and taste some special selections. Passports are valid throughout the entire weekend

Proceeds from the event benefit the nonprofit organization Woodinville Wine Country, which works to build awareness of Woodinville wines.

Last year, thousands of people attended this annual event. This year, passport sales are limited to the first 3,500 and are sure to sell out. Online purchase is available at www.woodinvillewinecountry.com beginning in February.

Participants include: Arlington Road Cellars, Austin Robaire Vintners, Baer Winery, Betz Family Winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Winery, Covington Cellars, Cuillin Hills Winery, DeLille Cellars, Des Voigne Cellars, DiStefano Winery, Facelli Winery, Januik Winery, JM Cellars, Mark Ryan Winery, Matthews Cellars, Novelty Hill Winery, Page Cellars, Silver Lake Winery, Stevens Winery, Woodhouse Family Cellars and Woodinville Wine Cellars.

WOW Wine of the Month!
The Platinum Wine Judging, conducted by Wine Press Northwest each year, compiles a list of all northwest wines that have taken Double Gold or better in over 30 national and international wine competitions. Editor Andy Perdue, along with a panel of six judges, then pits these outstanding wines against each other in their own single blind judging.

Wines are then deemed Gold, Double Gold, Platinum, or the rare and coveted title, Double Platinum.

Some familiar names have been appearing as a winner in this judging year after year: Three Rivers Winery, L’Ecole No 41, Domaine Ste. Michelle, Erath Vineyards, Kiona Vineyards & Winery and Covey Run Winery; as well as newcomers Zerba Cellars, Freja Cellars, Melrose Vineyards and Viento Wines. One of the Double Platinum winners is Columbia Winery’s 2001 Merlot, priced at $15; with production at 22,000 cases this wine is readily available. For a complete list of the 2005 Platinum Wine judging results, visit www.winepressnw.com/images/platinum6.pdf.

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the third annual Platinum Wine Dinner at the Columbia Tower Club where we had the opportunity to sample 15 of these wines at a reception and dinner.

The 2002 Dunham Syrah really stood out, and as Andy Perdue reminded me, for the last three years this wine has been a winner. It might take some searching to find the 2002, but it is still out there in the marketplace. If you can’t find the 2002, then pick up the recently released 2003 while you still can. After tasting the new vintage last week, I would predict this wine to follow award-winning suit.

Huge black cherry, cassis, ripe raspberry, hard cherry candy and cola ride on the viscous, effusive mouth. A blend of three estate vineyards, this wine has a balance of fruit and structure to age well into the future. Here are the stats:

Vineyards: Lewis, Frenchtown and Double River
Varietal: 100% Syrah
Cases Produced: 1570
Bottled: March 12, 2004
Oak: Aged 18 months, 100% new oak (50% French, 50% American)
Release Date: May 1, 2004
Retail Price: $45/bottle, $486.00/case
Where to buy: Your favorite wine shop or www.dunhamcellars.com.