Friday, March 28, 2008

Number 2 On The Shelf!

BlueStem Winery started marketing the second of our wines just a couple of days ago. It was a long time between Number 1 and Number 2. Our first wine (Once in a Blue Moon) was out for sale in May 2007. It took us all the way to March 2008 for our second wine (Red Crescent) to be put out for sale. However, things will be happening rapidly over the next few months as our third wine (Dark Side) will be on the shelves most likely by May 15 with four more wines scheduled to be available during the summer months.

Once in a Blue Moon is a Canadian Riesling dessert wine. Red Crescent is a Cabernet Franc dessert wine with the grapes coming from Washington state. Dark Side is a Montepulciano wine whose grapes were grown in the Andes in Chile. Our other wines (as yet unnamed) coming this summer will be a Gewurztraminer, a Riesling, a Gruner Veltliner and a Gewurztraminer dessert wine.

King George has done his best to screw up the American economy but whatever is happening seems to have helped BlueStem Winery. Our sales on the internet and our store sales were both up about 35% over last year. We have been running an inventory reduction sale on both our WinExpert and Cellar Craft wine ingredient kits and these have been moving out the door rapidly in anticipation of our restocking in late April. Out with the old and in with the new!

Home brew supplies sales have been brisk . . . probably our largest increase in traffic for the month. I think the downturn in the economy has people looking at saving a little money by making wine and purchasing beer brewing equipment to cut back on the cost of their indulgences.

Home winemaking using WinExpert wine kits or Cellar Craft ingredient kits almost always results in some very, very good wine if the wines are allowed to age just a little bit prior to enjoying them.

One of my favorite stories here at the winery involves a couple from Cedar Falls, Iowa who were in the store several years ago. They purchased a WinExpert Selection Original Gewurztraminer kit and I told them that when the kit was finished that they should put it in the basement and forget that they owned it. Two weeks after the wine was bottled Barb e-mailed me and told me that the wine was not very good. I reminded her that she should put the wine away and forget about it. I told her that she needed to wait at least six months. Well, in six months I got another e-mail from Barb saying the wine was good and getting better every bottle. They later came in and purchased a Liebfraumilch and even later a Riesling wine kit. Barb's husband was in the store one day at a point in time where the Gewurztraminer was now 15 months old. I asked him how the Gewurz was doing and he replied that they "had one big problem". It seems that they were down to only ten bottles remaining and it was the best they had ever had in their lives.

So, if you want great wine, get on the BlueStem Winery website and purchase a wine making equipment kit and maybe one of our WinExpert wine ingredient kits or one of our Cellar Craft wine kits or maybe round up some backyard fruit and some winemaking ingredients and get a batch started. A six gallon batch will yield 30 bottles of wine and with a little patience you will be rewarded with some great sipping pleasure.

No patience? Then how about some home brewing equipment and homebrew supplies (also available on the BlueStem Winery website). It only takes about five weeks from start to enjoyment when brewing your own beer.

Hops are a little expensive right now but you only use a couple of ounces per batch and the other brewing supplies you need are relatively inexpensive.

About $30 will purchase beer brewing supplies for a 5-gallon batch. Wine making ingredients are very inexpensive if using backyard fruit and the WinExpert kits and Cellar Craft kits are available in the $80 to $150 range and will net you 30 bottles of wine per kit. Both the winemaking equipment and homebrew equipment kits are approximately $100 (or more if you want all the bells and whistles).

So, if you need a way to forget that the economy is a shambles, that gas prices are rocketing toward $4 a gallon or that your grocery bill is going out of site, then we can help. Relax and have a home brew (or some home made wine!).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wine Making for the Future

My son and I disagree on a lot of things! We get along, we just disagree. We agree to disagree. The only thing we really argue about is politics and I can live with that. I don't know where he went astray. My first clue should have been when he voted for Bush. My personal opinion is that King George II will go down in history as the worst president . . . period! Whenever I mention his name in a sentence the word moron is usually also in that sentence. Just what has this administration done right? Really!

Anyway, the other day my son begins talking with me about one of the few things we really like to visit about. Wine! The other thing we talk a lot about is our Ford Mustang drag cars (a whole nuther story!). Nick (my son) has been purchasing wines as investments. He reads about these wines in Wine Spectator. He purchases these wines with the intent of keeping them for a few years and then reselling them. One of his most recent purchases was a 2005 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. So, he comes to me with the idea of BlueStem Winery making a reserve wine. Since Cabernet Sauvignon is his wine of choice he also suggested that this Reserve wine by a Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

So, we are now looking for all things wine making for our Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. We have found a source for the juice we need and we will have a little bit of winemaking equipment in addition to what we have. Then it will be just a matter of working our way through the process of fermenting, oak aging and bottle storage for about 3 years. We will probably limit production to about 20 cases per year with the first wines being ready for sale in 2011.

We are being pleasantly surprised this month. We the economy seemingly in turmoil (thank you, King George!) we have been expecting a downturn in sales for our wine making ingredients and home brew equipment store. Instead, we have had our best March ever and still have over a week to go in the month.

We had sold more of our Cellar Craft and WinExpert wine kits in the first nine days of the month than we had in any full month since we opened our store. Store traffic has been brisk and I have been extremely pleased with the volume of homebrewing ingredients being sold in the store. Our stock of both WinExpert kits and Cellar Craft wine kits is getting very low as we try to sell out our inventory prior to restocking in April (when the ice is gone and the ground has firmed up enough to get our forklift out to unload a truck). If any of our store or on-line customers are reading this tidbit, thanks for your business! We are looking forward to having another 9 months of great business serving you in 2008.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Fascinating Business of Wine Making

A fellow blogger left a comment on one of my previous blog posts today about how she had always been intrigued with the winery business. I guess I was intrigued with this business at one time, too. 80 hour weeks making wine and running a retail store selling brewing supplies and winemaking supplies can sure make it unintriguing (apparently that is not a word, my blog's spell checker just hiccuped!).

In my prior life I was a combat flier in the Viet Nam, taught high school and was a commercial banker. The flying was exciting (and slightly dangerous), the teaching was interesting (maybe even more dangerous), the banking was tedious (and the hours were long) and the wine making is a fascinating way to make a living (but the hours are very, very, very long).

Mondays are spent packaging beer brewing supplies, winemaking supplies, and WinExpert and Cellar Craft wine kits which were sold on via the internet over the weekend. Any time left over is spent checking our in process wine, and restocking our retail store shelves with winemaking equipment and home brew supplies. Restocking can be a time consuming process as many of the wine making ingredients must be weighed, labeled and packaged. If we have sold some of our BlueStems Best home brewing ingredients kits then replacement kits must be packaged and put out for display. This can take a great deal of time as the grains must be milled, weighed and packaged and the hops must be weighed and packaged, too. The shelves for our Cellar Craft and WinExpert ingredient kits need to be restocked, too.

Tuesdays are spent doing more of the same with less packaging and more of the other things. If we are going to start fermenting a new batch of wine we will start this when my wife gets off from her high school teaching job. It usually takes about four hours to get a 150 gallon batch of wine in the fermenters. Evenings are also when we will typically rack wine from one tank to another tank to get it off its sediment.

From Wednesday through Saturday we are open from 11 to 5 so I spend my time in the store. I spend time between customers vacuuming (isn't that intriguing!), restocking shelves and heaven forbid, dusting! Early mornings are spent packaging the website sales of homebrewing equipment and home winemaking supplies plus any WinExpert wine kits or Cellar Craft kits sold overnight. Evenings are sometimes spent racking wine or filtering wine or adding needed additives to wine in the secondary fermenters.

Sundays we are open from Noon until 4 and we actually have a little shorter day at the store. Unless we are going to bottle wine! If we have wine to bottle we usually have one person watch the store while we get the crew (myself, my wife, my son and his wife, my daughter-in-law's parents and anyone else we can corner) together to bottle wine. It takes the crew about six hours to bottle and cork 1,600 bottles of wine.

The fascinating business of making wine! Between the homebrewing ingredients and homebrew equipment and the Cellar Craft wine ingredient kits and the other wine making supplies we find the time to put together tanks of wine, rack the wine from tank to tank, filter the wine, and bottle it. If my calculations are right, our average week is 70 hours or so. Banking? Hell no! Teaching? Maybe. Climbing back into an EC-47 and flying over northern South Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia? Absolutely (especially if we can just go do the flying and leave out the shooting part!). Making wine? Intriguing, fascinating, and even though it is week after week of very long hours, it is the best job I have ever had. I especially like the not having a boss part of doing this job!