Saturday, November 27, 2010

What New Coke Has to Tell Wineries About the Wine Tasting Process

Terry post:

It was 1985 when the Coca-Cola Company introduced a new formulation of Coke. The re-formulation was an instant failure with the public. In a matter of only a couple months the Coca-Cola Company back-tracked and re-introduced the old Coke formulation as Coke Classic while maintaining the New Coke formula. The two products existed side by side until 1992 when the New Coke was dropped from the American line-up leaving Coke Classic - the old formulation - as their primary product.

How did the Coca-Cola Company make such a huge miscalculation? How is it that they were willing to sacrifice so much brand equity switching from a reliable flavor to a new, and allegedly improved, flavor? The answer: the data told them to do so.

In 1945 the Coca-Cola brand owned 60% of the domestic soft drink market. By the beginning of the early 1980s that huge margin had shrunk to a much smaller 25%. Management saw that market shrinkage as a problem - a big problem.

Management began a review of internal processes, procedures and products. The result of that review was a decision to tweak the formulation of Coca-Cola to something less acidic and sweeter, favored by younger consumers, than the long standing formulation. One of the critical pieces of information used by decision makers was the results for thousands of "sip tests" - tests which broke strongly in favor of the new formula.

There was, it seemed, a systemic fault with the testing methodology. Consumers don't buy cola to drink it a sip at a time. What tastes good in a very small sample may grow tiresome or unappealing when consumed in larger quantities. In short, the test methodology did not meet a critical criterion of testing: representing the actual user's environment. People drink cola by the can - not the 1 ounce sip. Despite strong support for the "New Coke" in the sip tests it bombed when consumed by the can.

A few weeks ago I visited several wineries while visiting my brother in Iowa and in each location I was presented with a similar opportunity to taste the wines: a cheerful wine rep pouring small, 1 - 2 ounce, samples of wine one after another while standing at a counter.

So here is something to ponder: Do wineries provide a realistic taste testing opportunities for buyers, or are they creating their own "New Coke" problems?

The Coca-Cola Company failed by relying too heavily on the results of sip-tests which were not representative of how its customers used their products.

The overwhelming majority of wine sold in the U.S. is consumed with a meal.

Wine sampling should be more closely aligned with how wine is consumed so that the customer gets a more realistic representation of the product. This is more important for places like Iowa where the local wine varietals are not known or understood. How many times have you been asked what to serve with Foch?

I could easily imagine a winery providing small, 1 ounce, serving of a food (pasta, slivers of meat, cheese, vegetables, etc) which pairs well with the wine being sampled.

Yes, it would cost more. Yes, it would take more time. Yes, it would be more representative of how the wine will be consumed at home. Yes, it would lead to more satisfied customers.

Bottom line: Absent silly local laws against this common sense approach wineries should make their sampling process more representative of how it is consumed at home. Sample wine with food.
~ Terry

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Seven Springs Vineyards, 2010 Sauvignon Blanc

Brad Post:

I live in a small town in Iowa.  Simply and practically designed, my home was built in the mid-1800’s in what might be considered the old farmstead style, where utility trumped sophistication.  The kitchen area, built as an afterthought, an addition on the south side of the home sits just beyond my dining room where my wife, Jill and two friends and I sat a few evenings ago.

Nine months ago I couldn’t have imagined this night.  Nine months ago, February 15th to be exact, an innocuous note arrived in my LinkedIn in-box from Tim Pearson.  Earlier I had asked to connect with Tim on LinkedIn, a professional networking website.  His friendly tone and welcoming approach, an asset to any entrepreneur, didn’t feel forced or phony.
Tim and Vaughan Pearson

In some places in the wine world, where egos soar, here a man from England with a passion for wine and a newly developing winery and vineyard in South Africa took the time to make a connection with a wine geek in Iowa, USA.

While his winery was being built I got to know him better though Twitter chats, Facebook conversations, and during a Skype call.  Some people just have a special ability to bring people in and to lift them up.  Although promoting his new business, Tim’s genuine approach and zest for the South African wine industry always struck me as sincere.  So much so we (The Two Wine Brothers) asked him to be our first online interview back in April.

Two Part Interview – Links:

A couple months ago, before Tim’s winemaker Riana left for Oregon to learn the Pinot Noir trade, he let me know he was planning to send Two Wine Brothers a couple bottles of his first release of Sauvignon Blanc.  We were to be some of the first wine writers to have an early taste of his new wines.

Early this week I received the shipment of two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc from 7Springs Vineyards.  And on Thursday we invited our two friends to share this bottle while I critically tasted for this article.  In addition, I bought a different bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from California to taste, as contrast, after our initial session.

Wine Geek Disclaimer:  We tasted the wines in the open, not blind, but I did apply my WineSmarts™ - Wine Descriptive Sensory Analysis worksheet to assess the wines using the four step process: Step 1: Visual analysis, Step 2: Aromatic analysis, Step 3: Palate analysis, and Step 4: Conclusions.

After months of anticipation the four of us gathered around our farmhouse dining room table, covered with a white cloth, and began our tasting. Here are my notes:

Seven Springs Vineyards, 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa.

The new Sauvignon Blanc was packaged in an attractive dark emerald Burgundy bottle with punted base and screw top.  The cream colored label with gold 7Springs brand and easy to read text evokes a somewhat sophisticated impression.

After traveling half a world, resting for a few days, the wine was brilliantly clear, light straw colored and possessed an incredibly sumptuous viscosity.  Glass raised, wine swirled, and I took my first whiff.  BIG, HUGE bell pepper aromatics!  YUM!  Underneath and more subtle are notes of grass and citrus.  INVITING.  

A restrained fruity character of apple and pear and a suggestion of sweetness captured my attention.  The olfactory combination of bell pepper and tree fruit was a winner.  The flavor was very good but the overall sensory experience was amazing.  Approaching 14% alcohol, this wine was nicely balanced, a pleasure to drink, and has a NEVER ENDING FINISH.  The 2010 Seven Springs Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is BIG, ROUND, and LINGERS in a long, sexy delicious finish.

Criticism:  One major criticism leveled against the Seven Springs SB by one of the tasters, and subsequently agreed by the rest of us, was the “biggest disappointment [with this wine] is that we won’t be able to have it again” – because they are not yet shipping to the USA. 

Post Tasting Comments:  We tasted the Seven Springs Vineyards 2010 Sauvignon Blanc against a leading California SB.  The taste comparison really illustrated the differences viniculture and viticulture plays in the expression of wine.  The South African, Seven Springs Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc was the overwhelming favorite!