When one sets sight on “Building Community Through Wine”, it suggests union. This isn’t about one, nor individuals, but a group with a common thread. It’s what inspires me about Halleck Vineyard: it combines family, agriculture, manufacturing, creativity, and communication to actualize something bigger than the sum of the parts. It creates community. Owning a winery from-earth-to-glass is true synergy.
So please forgive any pretention in offering a State of the Union for Halleck Vineyard. If you’re reading this, you’re a part; I hope you find my musings relevant, informative and at best, inspiring for a new year, 2017. Thank you.
2016 was one for the record books. Halleck Vineyard, for the first time in over a decade, entered wine competitions. This was a strong recommendation from our Board that we took to heart. Between the end of 2015 to the end of 2016, Halleck Vineyard won 24 awards in 7 of the most respected national and international competitions in the world. These included The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition, the Pinot Noir Summit, the New York International Wine Competition, the Six Nation Challenge, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and California’s 50 Best.
Why we chose not to compete for many years hails from our upbringing. We were taught and groomed by one of the most talented winemakers in the world, Greg Lafollette. For those who don’t know, Greg achieved meteoric success with the catapult of “Flowers”, a winery he built for the Flowers family. Now owned by Constellation Brands, Greg oversaw the construction of the winemaking facility, managed the vineyards, and made the wine to national acclaim. It was one of the first “cult wines” of the Sonoma Coast. Our present winemaker, Rick Davis, worked under Greg for years.
Greg had a “thing” about competing for scores. He believed, like we do, that reducing a wine to a number misses the point. Wine is not a one-dimensional experience, so it’s irrelevant to grade based on its flavor at any point in time. The EXPERIENCE OF ENJOYING wine includes the setting (internal and external), with whom you’re sharing, the food accompanying, the temperature, the stemware, the vintage, the varietal, the moment, and an infinite number of other contributors. To include hundreds of wines, even thousands, in competition, more factors suggest the randomness of the results: who is tasting, what they had before, after, and in what order, temperature of each wine, how the wine was transported, distance transported, how long it had been in transit prior to tasting, how long it had been opened when tasted, ad infinitum. Attempts are made in the best competitions to manage these variables, but most are cosmetic, because the true number of variables is incalculable.
To exacerbate, the internet has eclipsed the rags/mags of last century. The numbers don’t go away! So a winery is marked by a number forever, however insubstantial. You can open a stunning 2005 Halleck Vineyard Pinot Noir today and check online to find a review written in 2007. Is that review relevant to the bottle you’re about to drink? Only by comparison to the current moment. If you use that review to purchase the wine in 2017, it’s entirely irrelevant, giving no indication of the experience you might have or the quality of the wine.
But in our culture, numbers have not only become a shortcut to knowledge, they’ve achieved true status on their own. The system is fickle and has become pay-to-play in the larger publications. Truth be told: the wineries who buy advertising get scores bumped. Since we’re a young aspiring brand, we didn't have the luxury to bark at the moon. We needed to roll up our sleeves and get dirty. On strong recommendations, we started paying the entry fees and sending wine around the world. Fortunately for us, it bore rewarding fruit. That doesn't mean I’m converted, just successful this year. And grateful.
We also grew the number of restaurant partners, thanks to the hard work of our son, Adam. At 21, he had just come off a year working at one of the best restaurants in Sebastopol. He loved the culture, but was challenged by the demanding hours and little opportunity. So he decided to work for the family business and sell to restaurants, the people to whom he felt affinity. And it was great for us. In our first months of training and working together, I could see how easily the young wine buyers related to Adam. The somms could talk to him because he came from a wine family and was closer in age than his dad. Adam almost tripled the number of restaurant accounts we serve in the Bay Area and New York City. He took his first trip alone to New York and made bank!
We also filled our Inner Circle this year. We capped at the people we can serve with the wines we produce. This gives us an audience large enough to produce several wines in small lots specifically for the Club. It’s been so validating growing our list of people interested in joining our Inner Circle. This is the Holy Grail of an artisan wine like Halleck Vineyard; We have a waitlist.
Our vintner events were memorable. Dinner at Gramercy Tavern with Michael Anthony topped the charts. This was our 8th, so the relationship has become family-like. I’ve worked with all the servers and Michael joined us for cocktails in the middle of service. Then, before dessert, he escorted the whole group through the kitchen to meet the team and witness the magic taking place.
The night following at Eleven Madison Park was also stunning. It was a wonderful group that magically congealed and carried on until 3 am, going from dive-bar to dive-bar. A great punctuation to an elegant dinner in the Big Apple.
We will focus attention this year on San Francisco, as we’ve some amazing restaurant partners and a wonderful Halleck Vineyard community in the Bay Area. But two trips to NY are already on the calendar for 2017 in the Spring and Fall
What I’m about to reveal is not generally shared. But Halleck Vineyard is more than a business and you more than a customer. We are community. In Yiddish, we’re mishpucheh (mish-pukch’-ah). In 2016, we “hit our numbers”. We achieved our sales goals, set three years ago. It was challenging and our future is dependent on it. And it is because of you. We actually met our goal on December 31. Not a moment to lose. All I can say is “Thank YOU!”
So what does this mean for our future?
There are three legs to the stool we call “Building Community”. The first leg is making the wines we all love to mark special occasions in our lives. In fact, opening a Halleck Vineyard wine makes any occasion special. This is by intention and we are grateful to be given license by you to continue. We welcome you to our home to stay connected. A part of that first leg is sharing our home and family with you.
The second leg represents shared experiences. We plan trips around the country, the world and to your town. We enjoy food, wine, and camaraderie, hosted by some of the finest chefs in the world. Some are right in your own kitchen;) Or favorite club, restaurant, or backyard. Among many, these have included Gramercy Tavern, Per se, Eleven Madison Park, the Grand Central Oyster Bar, and the Union League Club in NY. In the Southeast, we’ve enjoyed the hospitality of Restaurant Eugene, the St Regis, Aria, and Bacchanalia. In the west, we’ve been honored at the Olympic Club, the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, Michael Mina, Boulevard, Bix, Restaurant Picco, the Buckeye Roadhouse, RN 74, Nick’s Cove, and the field box at AT&T Park to see the Giants! We’ve also taken trips to Honduras, Kenya, Italy and Cuba, where we’ve enjoyed our wines with the cuisines of many local chefs and tribes.
2017 is more. We have two trips planned to NYC. One at the end of April through the first week of May. The second is the week surrounding September 13. We have many special experiences only NY and Halleck Vineyard can offer.
We’ve a cruise planned in mid-March with the band, “America”, in the Caribbean. If you enjoyed the music of the 70s, this should be fun. And a special trip is in the works to a private island in the Bahamas, also sometime in the spring. We hope to go back to Yosemite in the fall. Due to conflicting schedules, Guatemala was postponed. We will revisit this later in the year.
The final leg to our stool of Building Community lies in philanthropy. We believe it important to support not just ourselves, but those in need. So we offer to those causes closest to your heart. As part of our Inner Circle, if there’s a charity that is deserving of your time and effort, we lend a hand. We create auction lots with some of our esteemed restaurant partners or those in your community. We offer our wine, our time, our community and our ideas. In the last few years, we’ve raised almost $500K. This is how a community can stand.
To conclude, the underlying theme to 2016 has been gratitude. This wonderful area in which we live, Sonoma County and Sebastopol, have awarded us with an extraordinary environment to grow: our community, our family, ourselves, and our grapes. It has placed us smack-dab in the center of a vortex of talent and generosity, all of which contribute to our efforts. We are buoyed by the people supporting us; that means you.
So the state of our union is healthy and thriving. Thank you for being a part.