Taking the digital plunge, and being green: K-J goes to e-tasting
In 2008, Kendall-Jackson’s winemaster, Randy Ullom, visited 20 of their top U.S. markets — including Vancouver, Dallas, Chicago, San Diego and Phoenix — as well as selected overseas ones. He would fly to wherever he was going, meet and taste wine with influential critics, distributors and key retail accounts, spend the night in a hotel, then fly back to California. All very 2oth century: time consuming, expensive, and imposing a big carbon footprint on the planet’s environment.
Then K-J’s PR team came up with the idea of what they’re calling “e-tasting” (after considering tele-tasting and video chat). “Now, we can do tasting without leaving our homes or offices,” Ullom says. If your computer has a built-in webcam, K-J’s tech guys will walk you through the set-up for a remote visit. If it doesn’t, they’ll send you a free webcam kit and help you set it up. Randy pre-mails you the wines to taste, you agree on a mutual time to call, and voila, there the two of you are, split screen, talking with each other. “We’re mimicking what we’d do face to face in real time, across the table. We still have a table, but there’s an electronic distance between us,” Ullom says, adding, “There’s complete and full interaction.” As someone who has tasted with Ullom many times, at cost to both, this was a revelation.
My tasting with Randy
Ullom began the e-tastings 6 weeks ago, and the team has been on a fast learning curve. At first, they couldn’t make it work with Macintoshes (which is why our first appointment had to be postponed). Then the IT guys figured that one out. Now, the sky’s the limit for what K-J can do online. Some of their ideas, maybe slow to some but cutting edge for wineries: To hit up every one of K-J’s markets in 2009, not just the 20 or so Ullom can fly to. “Every state, every big metro city,” he says, “and we hope to take it international as well. Imagine the carbon footprint of flying to Dubai.”
Beyond e-tasting is the terra incognita of social networks. “Twitter, Facebook, they’re all things we’re looking at,” Ullom says. “You can talk to thousands of people.” They may start with K-J’s club members and see how it goes. Ullom’s also been experimenting with a blog, which for a lot of winemakers is something they haven’t been comfortable with, yet.
“It’s virgin territory out there,” Ullom says of the Internet, “but this is the wave of the future. You have to get onboard, go to a new frontier, where no man has gone before, take a stab at it, as opposed to doing nothing. I was resistant to email 12 years ago,” he grins, “and now, it’s a way of life. Who knows where this is going? But it’s going, that’s a fact.”
Where no man has gone before