The hottest wine book of 2013 might take you by surprise: it’s a scratch and sniff wine guide that’s printed on the stiff pages of a board book. The book has caught fire and reached #13 overall in book sales on Amazon and #10 in the “Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous” portion of the NYT bestseller list. As you would expect, it is both skimmable and sniffable but it is also brilliant in its own small way; kudos to author Richard Betts for writing what might well be the shortest wine book in history.
To find out more about how “The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert” came about and the vertiginous rise on the sales charts, I caught up with Betts by phone as he was driving in the Northern Rhone.
The story has its roots in Aspen. Betts was the wine director at The Little Nell there from 2000-2008 during which time he says it was “the best wine job on the planet.” Why? First, it was seasonal with basically six months on and six months, well, at a slower pace. During the off-months, Betts set about studying wine including passing the Master Sommelier exam as well as making his own wines from places as far afield as the Rhone and the Barossa Valley. Second, Aspen offers a steady stream of well-heeled and connected visitors who were all taking a break from their regular lives and thus “predisposed to smiling,” as Betts put it.
Betts was off skiing in Northern Canada a couple of years ago with his friend Chris Sacca. Sacca, who has been described by the WSJ as “possibly the most influential businessman in America,” is an angel investor who holds stakes in Twitter, Instagram, Kickstarter and Uber. (He also is an investor in Next Wine, LLC, which owns myessentialwine.com.) Betts says that they were up late after drinking “a lot of good wine” when Sacca urged him to consider how to bring his wine knowledge to a broader audience. Betts said that there world has so many good wine books from reference books to atlases and guides that it was hard to know how he contribute something new and different. Half in jest, Sacca suggested a scratch ‘n sniff wine book. That idea resonated with Betts whose mantra is that “wine is a grocery, not a luxury.” He enlisted Crystal English Sacca, a designer who has developed campaigns for Intel and Napster, among others, and happens to be married to Chris Sacca. Betts says he wrote the text but that Crystal “lays it out and makes it make sense” in her role as art director. She also brought on the accomplished Wendy McNaughton as illustrator.
Then Betts needed to find an agent. He said the dilemma is that “you need to have sold a book to get an agent but you need an agent to sell a book.” He asked three people–Kate Krader of Food & Wine magazine, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, and Tyler Hamilton, former professional cyclist–who would make a good agent. They all replied with the same name: David Black. He was able to get Black to represent him; they successfully sold the manuscript to Houghton Mifflin where the acquiring editor is also Jacques Pepin’s editor.
As the publication date approached in October, the book was climbing — it cracked the top 100 books sold on Amazon, topping at #17 before even hitting the shelves. It helped that Amazon cut the price on the book in half (it carries a list price of $19.99) making it a no-brainer stocking stuffer. But it also helped that the creative trio behind the book have friends active on social media and tech. “It’s a matter of having your friends talking about it,” Betts said. “Our friends don’t take to anything other than the airwaves [e.g. Twitter]…It had such a big impact–Twitter actually sells.” He added that he doesn’t find Facebook as important.
Chris Sacca also took to Twitter, posting a direct link to the book’s Amazon page for his 1.4 million followers. (As of today, that tweet appeared at the top of his feed as a “promoted tweet.”) Favorable media coverage also followed.
The book has been such a print success, in part because there’s no e-version–kind of hard to scratch ye olde iPad for scents. Betts has other scratch ‘n sniff books, though he couldn’t comment on the specifics.
More than the medium, Betts feels that the laid-back, inclusive message resonates broadly, saying, “I’m not into the tuxedos and scaring people away from wine. I’m into twist it off and knock it back.”
The post How Scratch and Sniff wine soared to the NYT bestseller list appeared first on Dr Vino's wine blog.
It’s not every day you hear urging Americans to drink wine. But that’s what John Kerry did today during a brief stopover in Moldova.
The Secretary of State wasn’t modeling his actions on Thomas Jefferson. Instead, by visiting a winery and raising a glass of Moldovan red, he was trying to help the agrarian economy of the Europe’s poorest country, one glass at a time.
Wine plays a central part in foreign trade for the landlocked country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania where the GDP per capita of just over $2,000. But the lion’s share of those exports have gone to Russia, which has blacklisted Moldovan wine in a trade dispute. So Kerry’s trying to create a new market for Moldovan wine and announced a trade mission that will bring Moldovan wine makers to the US to learn about the American wine market. Look out for a merry band of Moldovans at your local wine shop–it may be as riotous as the Borat wine tasting.
Jeff Bezos had some crazy talk for Charlie Rose at the end of a 60 Minutes segment: Amazon is working to deliver some items in 30 minutes or less via unmanned, aerial drones.
It’s not April Fool’s Day; Amazon tweeted a link to a picture of the “octocopter” delivery vehicle and published this futuristic video on YouTube. Bezos did concede to Charlie Rose that the plan, possibly 4-5 years off, “requires more safety testing and FAA approvals.”
If Amazon drones were approved, this delivery method would have enormous implications. But since we’re a wine blog, we’ll focus on the wine angle here: getting wine in 30 minutes would give a lift to your Friday night. And since the Octocopter delivers to GPS coordinates, it could conceivably track your phone and deliver your whole picnic right to where you are. Hopefully, there will also be a robotic sommelier to pop and pour.
Or is it so futuristic, unworkably weather- and regulation-dependent, that the main triumph is just to give a lot of buzz (without rotors) during the busiest shopping time of the year?
A glass of pinot noir from one place often tastes different from a glass of pinot noir from another distant site. While it’s hard to control all the variables such as grape ripeness and winemaking, the resulting differences are often ascribed to the terroir, or growing microclimate. It’s such a powerful yet nebulous concept that the French institutional structure for most winemaking (the AOC system) is based on protecting terroir.
However, a study that appeared today by some American researchers suggests something less prosaic: microbes. The fungi and bacteria that appear on grapes and subsequently in pre-fermented juice (called “must”) affect the rate of the fermentation. They appear to have stable characteristics within regions but vary across regions according to data amassed from 273 samples for the study. The researchers, David Mills and Nicholas Bokulich of UC Davis as well as John Thorngate of Constellation Brands and Paul Richardson of MicroTrek, Inc., used new methods of studying genomic sequencing to arrive at their findings, published in The Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
“The reason I love this study is that it starts to walk down a path to something we could actually measure, David Mills was quoted as saying in the New York Times’ account of the study.
The findings are both interesting and possibly powerful. All things being equal, wines from different places do tend to taste different; if wine microbes can explain the science behind terroir, so much the better. Where this powerful insight could veer into a vinous horror film is if microbes can be harnessed or replicated to make wines from less expensive regions approximate wines from more expensive regions.
But, then again, maybe it wouldn’t be that disruptive since people who pay up are often drinking the label, as it were, rather than what’s inside the bottle.
We just finished up another session of my wine class at NYU this week. As part of an assignment, one student decided to present an “impossible” food to pair with wine to a wine shop. She made some homemade peanut brittle, went to Chambers Street Wines, presented the challenge to the staff there who–lo and behold–had never been hit with this precise challenge before. But they rose to it! A few ideas came up but the student had budgetary and practical considerations (had to be cold right then and there if it needed to be). So the suggestion was…a Felsina Vin Santo with 14 years of age on it! Although it wouldn’t occur to me to even pair peanut brittle with wine, the nuttiness of the mature wine and it’s richness worked well. And the brittle was darned good.
So, if some peanut brittle is in your near future, how would you pair it with wine if you had to? Or is it…impossible??