Category Archives: Business

Amazon Handmade

At the end of this summer, we will have concluded our third year of being in business as Paso Wine Barrels. As a tiny spec in the world of retail and not yet big enough for a storefront, we’ve tried to get our products in front of the public through a website and at arts and craft shows. We found Etsy’s online arts and craft site to be a decent way to show our wares to link-minded people, but poor customer service and in turn a battle with management ended our relationship. We’ve also used eBay and of course Google ads, but we hadn’t felt we were getting enough eyeballs on our unique wine barrel merchandise.

We seriously thought of more arts and craft and shows along with fairs and other types of festivals, however a road show that included 100 plus pound barrels being loaded and unloaded, didn’t appeal to us. And quite frankly, our sales online were easier and more profitable than selling on the road.

Amazon is by far the most powerful retailing entity there is and in part, I believed might have been controlling those eyeballs we needed, which may have been hurting our chances of more sales. Enter Amazon Handmade.

Amazon without all the costs

Essentially, it’s a online storefront for artisans and craftsmen to sell their wares through Amazon without listing fees. The reason for this arm of Amazon existing is probably to grab business from Etsy, which had the corner-on-the-market in the arts and crafts online industry.

They contacted me with an invitation, probably because I used to be an Etsy account, so we decided if you can’t beat them, join them. If you think Walmart is bad for small business, you ain’t seen nothing until Amazon gets through wailing on your ass – pardon my French. I wanted the monster on my side, so I signed us up early this year and within a month, we had more sales on Amazon Handmade than our website.

Here’s a fact or two to consider why Amazon can bring that kind of boost to sales. Over 50% of consumers say they do most of their shopping on Amazon, plus a quarter of a billion people are active users. Those are formidable numbers.

So you’re wondering if there’s a catch. Sort of. The downside to signing up with Amazon is quite formidable as well. Simply stated, Amazon makes more per item of what we sell than we do. Believe it or not, Amazon can get more than 50% cut of every sale. Acknowledging that isn’t the norm, still you can see why Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, is now pushing for the top spot as the richest man in the world.

So is it worth it?

For now, it’s worth our while because we can’t get nearly as many eyeballs on our arts and craft products for our own website, than what Amazon produces.

There are stories out there saying the behemoth that is Amazon, can be slowed down. That’s not our concern right now and though business kind of comes and goes, we’ve had pretty good luck with Amazon Handmade, which is saying something in these Great Recession days.

Time will tell how long this will last … but hey, in the meantime, check out our tiny Paso Wine Barrels niche on Amazon Handmade.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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And The Newly Crowned Largest Wine Barrel Is?

With time, records will fall, so as far as the largest wine barrel is concerned, a newly crafted 300,000 liter oak barrel made in the south of France, holds the peculiar notoriety of now being the largest oak wine barrel of its kind in the world.

A very large barrel

Worlds_largest_wine_barrel

To be specific, the barrel was made – and finished this month – in the province of Languedoc in Saint-Drezery, France for the Chateau Puech-Haut estate’s owner Gerard Bru. The barrel weighs a total of 44 tons or 88,000 pounds. It’s about 40 feet long and 20 feet high. I don’t think we can get it in the back of our Durango. Sadly, Mr Bru says the colossal barrel won’t be used for wine, but instead will be an attraction and likely events could be held inside. I’m certain of that.

Over five tons of steel were used as hoop bands and I believe half a forest was cut down to make this enormous contraption. Actually, it was estimated that 40 tons of oak were used to create this massive hulk of wood and metal.

Chateau de Puech-Haut

Chateau Puech-Haut

Based in the huge grape producing region of Languedoc, the winery itself sits in an important winemaking center that dates back over a couple millenniums ago. The vines here are considered the oldest in France and probably were planted by the Greeks during their Classical Period in fifth century BC.

Beats the Tun

If you were wondering, the largest wine barrel was formerly the infamous Heidelberg Tun, which is cellared several hundred miles north at Heidelberg Castle in, you guessed it, Heidelberg, Germany. It held 58,500 gallons, when it was new in 1751, but because of shrinkage, now is about 57,800 gallons. It was originally used for actual wine storage, but now resides as another tourist attraction. There’s a stairway that leads to a dance floor on top of the Heidelberg Tun barrel. Can you just imagine those crazy Germans doing their Schuhplattler in lederhosen … on top of a wine barrel?!

The Chateau Puech-Haut has many other larger than life wine barrels and some of them have been adorned with art and exhibited globally. Seguin Moreau and surely other cooperages, make giant barrels and casks on a regular basis.

Chateau Puech-Haut - barrel-storage

Inside Chateau Puech-Haut wine barrel storage facility.

It is said that no poem was ever written by a drinker of water; so, in the land where troubadours first emitted their poetic songs, I leave you with this great poem called: ‘We Have a Huge Barrel of Wine But No Cups’ – which doesn’t sound like a problem. Here’s to you Gerard Bru.

“We have a huge barrel of wine but no cups, that’s fine with us. Every morning we glow, and in the evening we glow again. They say there is no future for us. They are right; which is fine with us.” – Rumi (13th Century Persian poet)

Additional source: The Cooper and His Trade

Salootie Patootie,

Daryle W. Hier

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California Wine Production Drops Again, But …

The Golden State generates over 90% of all wine produced in the United States. So sometimes numbers have to be put in prospective. Still, the wine grape tonnage created in California for the 2015 season dropped a second year in a row, according to the just released California Grape Crush Report.California_Grape_Crush_Report-2015

We at Paso Wine Barrels keep tabs on statistics like this because it can affect our business, whether the winery crop production is high or low. Until just recently, it was difficult to find used wine barrels, because crush reports over the past few years have been high. After two back-to-back record breaking years in 2012 and 2013, wineries were leery and caused vintners to essentially hoard their used wine barrels in case the next year was the same as the last.

Drought tough to beat

Drought has gripped California for five years and that finally slowed down grape-growers who saw a dip in 2014, but still it was a very strong output. So some wine-makers relinquished their barrels, but most held steady figuring to wait one more year. That year was this past season and the grape crush is the lowest it’s been since 2011.

However, the amount of wine produced last year was average by comparison to past seasons during the 21st Century. Therefore, even though production was down 5% year-or-year, California is still the fourth largest wine producer in the world behind France, Italy and Spain – and we’re neck-and-neck with Espana. In other words, the wine is still flowing big time in sunny California.

If California was its own country, it would rank fourth in the world - maybe third - in wine production.

If California was its own country, it would rank fourth in the world – maybe third – in wine production.

Those in the industry will say that they needed a breather because there was too much bulk wine available, which can drive prices down. Yet, the world as a whole is drinking more wine, but not producing enough of what the demand wants. Hard to know for sure how that works out considering the elongated Recession is gathering up steam for another big hit economic-wise.

Chardonnay down, but not out

Although the cost of grapes in California is down a bit overall, for some varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, prices have already increased, due to very low tonnage in 2015. So yours truly tries to pinpoint wineries who concentrate on those varietals. Locally, we had bouts of shatter on the Central Coast, which significantly reduced overall grape production. Simply stated, shatter is when the young grape cluster flowers are stressed to the point they fall off the vine. We knew it wasn’t going to be a good year and last harvest offered a glimpse into the troubles we were heading towards.

Chardonnay still leads the way as the number one varietal in California.

Chardonnay still leads the way as the number one varietal in California.

A few stats of interest from this harvest report show the leader with more than one-in-six grapes is Chardonnay. Cabernet Sauvignon is still king, at least among reds, and second place in the state. By the way, Thomson Seedless was the leading varietal regarding raisin production. Well over half a million acres in the Golden State have grapes growing on them.

A final report will be out in about a month with the complete rundown of all that is known of last years grape crush. Only five other years in state’s history of wine production had higher tonnage. So yes, the crush is lighter than the previous three years, but perspective will tell you that the wine industry is doing just fine in California.

Additional source: Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia

Salute!

Daryle W. Hier

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The Worlds First Motel

On the event’s 90th anniversary this month, it seems only right to look back at the world’s first ever motel.

Postcard of the Motel Inn

The only way to travel prior to affordable automobiles, was by bus, train or ship. Considering the advent of mass produced cars at the turn between 19th and 20th centuries, combined with the improved development and true major production with much less cost created by Henry Ford and his Model T, travelers needed places to stay as they motored along the United States’ fledgling road systems.

And where else might the eventual first ever motel pop up, than in California where highway and freeway travel would be become a standard for the world.

The motel is born

The simply named Motel Inn (originally called the Milestone Inn), was built in San Luis Obispo as a natural rest point halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Businessman and architect Arthur S. Heineman, the owner, named it after his and his brother Alfred’s company name, Milestone Interstate Corporation, which was created as a venture to build motor courts up and down the West Coast.

The early years of the Motel Inn.

There were hotels and other temporary living quarters available to travelers including encampments, but nothing that truly accommodated tourist, vacationers and their cars. Also, the attraction of a more feasible way to lodge, made the idea grow. Thus, the ‘motor hotel’ was formed to meet the need.

Also known as the Milestone Mo-Tel, the red-tile roofed facility opened on December 12th in 1925. Built on the Camino Real and Highway 1, a traveler could park his car in a garage and slip comfortably into a nice and clean white stucco two-room with kitchen bungalow that slept at least four adults. A buck and two bits ($1.25) would pay for a nights stay. Comfort and convenience on the cheap – in the beautiful setting that is offered on the California Central Coast.

Stumble

The Roaring Twenties were in full swing and Heineman’s creation would appear to hit it out of the park like a Babe Ruth home run. However, he wasn’t able to find the financing for a proposed chain. Competition, the 1929 Crash and subsequent Depression nixed any expansion plans afterwards.

What’s left of the Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo – circa 1990.

Having changed hands several times over the years, the Motel Inn closed in 1991 and very little remains of the historic motel other than souvenirs at what now is the Apple Farm Inn right off U.S. 101 and Monterey Street. Earlier this year, there was a proposal by a couple developers to resurrect a newer version of the Motel Inn. 10 years prior another proposed concept to revive the infamous motel never left the drawing table.

Airbnb notwithstanding, having just traveled by car this past Christmas reminded me of the vast array of hotels and motels still being used with no end in sight. Mr Heineman’s vision was ideal but maybe – as many pioneering businessman find – his timing wasn’t right.

Whether the Motel Inn ever is brought back in some renovated form is not as important as the endearing and iconic accounting it brings to the history of automobiles and travel.

Sources: The End of the Road: Vanishing Highway Architecture in America, VisitSLO, San Jose State

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Wine And China

The great experiment of Capitalism combined with Communism in China may be struggling. And with it, the sudden slowdown of wine consumption in China has followed.

Vineyard at Huadong-Parry winery, Shandong Province, China.

Wine and China intrigued me when I was contacted over the last couple years by some wine barrel import/exporters interested in buying up any and all wine barrels I could get my hands on. Part of the interest was coming from China. Of course, many others were also interested in used wine barrels, including furniture manufacturers, spirit makers and a sundry of beer producers – just to name a few.

Boom or bust?

The drought has brought a slow down here in wine country as grape crops have fallen off their high volumes of a couple years ago. Barrels are still in demand, but the market isn’t quite as tight as it was. And there has come a deafening silence from China.

Many folks including those in the wine industry thought that China would be a major boon to grape growers – and it was for a time – but now bottles of wine by the boatloads are languishing in warehouses or being sold off at fire-sale prices. The multi-billion dollar Chinese wine market has hit a big bump in the road.

Growth

Wineries and cooperages were popping up all over China with the idea being they could reproduce what the rest of the world was making to ease the extremely tight market their economy was creating. However, where once lay the Silk Road, now is lined with vineyards growing grapes that no one wants.

To be sure, the wine industry in China hasn’t stopped, but when heading fast and furious as the growth skyrocketed, now a more slower and moderate pace has taken hold. Award-winning wines have been produced from Chinese grapes and certainly a new influential and potentially dominant player in the vino industry is at hand. Still in its infancy, the once almost limitless development and expansion in China of wine has backtracked somewhat. Remember, wine is still a luxury in China.

In addition, the attitudes of foreign countries to China and their wine are still hard to get around. Although wine isn’t new to the Chinese people, this Asian region of the world was known for rice and not grape-based wines. This has made selling Chinese wines abroad more difficult.

A little side note. China’s first grape vines were planted in the late 19th century and came from none other than right here in California. The Chinese Civil War stunted any growth and then along with the Communist overthrow, the wine industry stagnated for decades.

Bigger or …

China is one of the Top 10 largest wine producing countries, and with its immense population and land size, will likely be in the top five before long – it may already be. The over-enthusiastic growth of wine in China will likely find a more moderate pace in the years to come – if we don’t plunge into a worldwide depression.

If the truth be known, the world has never really risen from the Great Recession and although China seems to have it’s own economy, its involvement with capitalism has brought it closer to the rest of the world. Yet, its burgeoning middle class is hungry for more – and that includes wine.

The future of wine and China is in balance just as the world economy teeters with a global depression. The fledgling Chinese wine market is here to stay as a major force; but, will it continue to grow and eventually dominate the industry as some expect?

Sources: International Business Times, Thirsty Dragon

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Wine Region Of The Year Is Lodi

From a growing Central California Coast superstar to small but international star in New York to … Lodi? “Stuck in Lodi” might have a whole new meaning.

Lodi California

Paso Robles won as the top wine region of the world two years ago and New York, including the beautiful Finger Lakes District was the reigning winner, and now Lodi of the California Central Valley has been acknowledged as the current number one wine region by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. They beat such renowned locations as the Russian River Valley California, Sicily Italy, Marlborough New Zealand and Walla Walla Washington.

History

Lodi is more known to the public for a Creedence Clearwater Revival song from the late ’60s; however, going back to before Prohibition, grapes have been a part of the history of this low lying flat land at the northern edge of the San Joaquin Valley for a couple centuries.

Although it lies roughly two hours east of the Pacific Ocean in what normally is a hot almost semi-arid valley, actually Lodi’s weather is influenced by the Bay Area’s immense northern back bay and the many tributaries that run into it from the San Joaquin Delta. This allows for more cooling in the evenings along with the winds that drive that air east – in-turn giving wine grapes a larger diurnal with a needed respite from the hot summer days.

Mondavi's Woodbridge Winery helped put Lodi on the wine map

Mondavi’s Woodbridge Winery helped put Lodi on the wine map

Mondavi & more

Lodi is home to famed grape grower, Robert Mondavi, who is one of the more prominent and influential winemakers in the United States. The town now is known in part for popular events like the Taste of Lodi and Zinfest.

With over 100,000 acres and 750 growers, Lodi supplied many of the grapes, including Zinfandel, for other wineries outside of the region, but now has made a name for itself. And Lodi received this honor and acclaim in a year of continued drought and awful weather that included a devastating hailstorm this past April.

Lodi may have been previously known for their lower end and production wines. However, without any airs – similar to Paso Robles – the Lodi area has many rogue wineries where rules are thrown out and experimentation offers up great wines. The region also grabbed the attention of the wine bloggers conference, which will be in Lodi next August. So regardless of whether or not the area is as scenic as many of their California brethren, Lodi is becoming a destination stop for wine lovers. With this worldwide recognition by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, expect that draw to continue for years to come.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Grape Slowdown In 2015

We wondered aloud last year if the wine-grape harvest would be smaller, but it was another good crop like the last few bumper crop years. However, this season was different in many ways, and turned 2015 into a good quality, but poor volume year. And really bad in some locations.

Shriveled_up_grapes

There are many differing ideas as to why this year fell off so much, but the logical assumption is drought, and without going into the scientific minutiae, that rational conjecture would be correct.

Looks bad

The fall off looks probably worse than it otherwise would, due to the record-breaking pace California grapes produced this current decade. 2014 actually had dropped a bit from 2013 when California had a record-breaking year. Still, last seasons harvest still produced solid numbers heading into 2015.

Conversely, this year started off with a warmer than normal end of winter and first part of spring, which brought on early budbreak for most vintners. In-turn, May was an about face, as cool windy weather locked in, making for strained and unusual fruit-set – that’s where the grape turns from being a flower into fruit. Some fruit bloomed quickly into big berries, while others barely looked like a grape and more like tiny balls.

California wine crush reports aren’t all in yet, but it is becoming obvious that the volume of grapes is way down and some instances, only a fraction of what farmers were generating the last few years. Associates and friends of mine in the industry say that although the yields were down quite substantially, quality was good and in some instances, excellent.

Vineyard-dry-fall

Volume vs Quality

And thus is the ongoing battle between having high volumes versus high quality wine production. Due to the early pollination, the grapes didn’t sit through an entire summer of blistering weather, which gave them time to produce excellent quality grapes, even if there weren’t nearly as many as usual. Harvest was early last season, but this year was even earlier, which essentially eliminated any worry regarding premature frost concerns – although El Nino has kept an early fall warmer than normal. More will be known once the grapes are fermenting.

In the meantime, winemakers will fret over their small production hoping they can make what they have, work into a beautiful vintage – which sounds possible at this point. I wonder if low end vino will suffer while higher end wines do well in this kind of climate.

The states effects on this is also troublesome, keeping valuable water from farmers so that fish can flourish. A giant El Nino would be appear to be just around the corner and it likely will help this situation. Nevertheless, something will have to be done to change the adversarial position the government takes towards farmers.

Positive view

First-Crush-vineyard-barrels

Still, this shortage of California wine might finally mean that used wine barrels will become more available and we’ll be able to enjoy availability without the high costs associated with a very tight market. You wondered if I was going to say something about this, but actually, I can’t give an exact answer yet, but we’re hoping less wine means more barrels.

So if wine quality is up and used barrels are easier to find, this could be a win win for everyone. Let’s hope so.

Additional source: California Department of Food and Agriculture

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

.

Renovated Used Wine Barrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get these already popular barrels now!