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NM: Wine, as with any consumer product, undergoes trends of interest in the marketplace. As a California producer, what do you think 'the next big thing' in California is going to be?
KB: I keep hoping it's going to be Syrah, because I think Syrah has been on the cusp of taking off and has kind of gotten close and fallen each time… because I don't think we've done a very good job of educating the consumer of what they can expect stylistically from Syrah. It runs the gamut. There are a number of different styles — none of which of which you could say are wrong or right, of course; it's just what you like. But when the consumer can buy a Australian Shiraz at $5.99 a bottle, they start getting the impression that that's what Syrah should taste like, and that's what it should cost. The folks that are buying St. Joseph, and other things from the Rhone, are a narrower spectrum of folks than those who are buying the Australian version of it. And it doesn't mean that the Australian version isn't good, it's just that I would look at it almost as more Vin de Pays… although there are also some outstanding producers that make just mammoth, massive Shiraz that are phenomenal. But the American market is the biggest export market for Australia, and we've gotten people used to the idea that this is what Syrah is going to be about. Or basic Côtes du Rhône. And we have not really taken and educated [the American consumer] beyond that, except for that small sector of wine consumers that are a little bit more 'in the know.' But I think as we do a better job of that, you'll see Syrah sales will improve.
The other thing I'd like to see really take off is Zinfandel, for multiple reasons. It's just such a wonderful grape… [with which] we can make so many different styles of wine. It's America's heritage grape, it's something uniquely American — like jazz — so it holds a spot near and dear to my heart, because of that. I would be thrilled to see it become the next Pinot Noir or the next Merlot, the time before… seeing Americans enjoying something that's distinctly American — like baseball. I don't think we've done a good enough job of educating people about that. Because, let's face it: if you go around the wine-drinking world, most everybody is going to go nuts about their local stuff. They're going to talk to you about what their country does best, they're going to talk to you about what their region does best; generally things that are very distinct and are native. We [Americans] tend to be very cosmopolitan [with varietals], and about as distinctive as we get is 'California wines.' Guys, come on! Let's take it to another place, here; we could do more than that! Zinfandel is one of those examples.
NM: Sounds like a great advice for the marketer. Now, what about the other end of that equation; what three pieces of advice would you, as a producer, have for the consumer?
"Wine should be a beverage. You should look at it as something that's healthful, something that's joyful, and something that enhances every meal."
KB: Well, we'll assume that this consumer knows what they're target price category will be. First, I'd recommend to understand that wine is artwork, and that everybody's take on it, everybody's perception, is going to be a little different from everybody else's; that you're not going to find that homogeneous kind of character. Granted, there are the McDonalds of the world out there, in that you know — with any McDonald's you drive into — the burger's going to taste exactly the same. There are some of those wineries out there that work that way. But, I would say, by and large, there's a huge number who have their own personal take, so go with the understanding that [wine] is a personal expression.
Secondly, trust your own palate! If you like something, you like it; and if you don't like something, you don't. And it doesn't matter whether or not it was given 97 points. Understand that wine is an exploration; go and try as many different things as you can. When you go to a tasting [event], don't gravitate to the same names and the same tables; go to some of the guys you've never heard of! And just try it; maybe you'll like it, maybe you don't. But trust yourself. Also, if you decide that you want to follow a wine writer or a wine magazine — because people like guides — try some of the things that they recommend and see if you agree with what they say. If you do, then you could say, "You know what, this magazine is a fairly accurate reflection of what I like, so if they recommend something, then chances are pretty good that I'm going to like it." If you don't like what they say, if you don't like what they're recommending, then that's just not the one for you, and maybe there's another [reviewer or magazine]. But ultimately you can't replace yourself.
Thirdly, make wine fun! Wine should be a beverage. It should be like having a glass of milk, or having a soda, or having a glass of water. You should look at it as something that's healthful, something that's joyful, and something that enhances every meal.
Hearing these wonderful words of advice for the consumer — given in the most disarming and easy going way — amounted to nothing short of music to my ears. And it was all the more reflective of the affable style of both the Browns and their R&B wines.
For more information, contact Kimberly Hathaway PR or visit R&B Cellars online.