TJ Brightman

In a year with too many natural disasters to count, conflicts and crisis around the globe, political bickering in Washington and media chasing one another for the next “BREAKING NEWS STORY,” you don’t have to look far to find many Americans happy to see 2017 go out with a loud thud! That is precisely why you should kick back during the upcoming holiday season and enjoy friends, food and my personal favorite – MORE WINE!

As I’ve written in previous wine blogs there are no rules to follow when picking your holiday wine, only that you buy what you like regardless of price point or what the “shelf talker card” at your favorite wine merchant says.

There are no rules… buy what you like

The holidays present the perfect opportunity to sample new wines considering the variety and abundance of food we will consume at parties and family dinners over the next few weeks. Don’t get stuck on what I like to call the “pairing game,” the need to bring or pour the perfect wine with each and every dish. Keep it simple, have fun and clang your glasses with friends as much as possible!

The Recommendations
Understanding plenty of wonderful choices and varietals from around the world exist, I’ve decided to narrow our focus to the “Golden State” of California, largely because the wines are so good, but as an additional act of support following the recent wildfires that plagued and destroyed many homes, businesses and wineries in both Northern and Southern California this fall. I encourage you to support the Sonoma and Napa communities by purchasing California wines this holiday season. It feels good to give back and look like a wine expert at your next holiday gathering, all at the same time.
2015 Landmark Chardonnay Carneros Sangiacomo Vineyard
This winery located along Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley survived the recent wildfires and has consistently produced great wines. This bottle received 87 points from Wine Spectator and will leave you with flavors of white peach and fig with a toasty, smoky oak. WS 87 | $45

2015 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Valley Russian River Selection
The Russian River Valley delivers wonderful wines year after year and this one hits the mark! Enjoy spicy green apple, pear and melon with your New Year’s Eve lobster dinner. WS 88 | $35

2016 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River Valley
If you were a fan of the 60’s TV show, “My Three Sons,” then you might also find the wines of the late founder, Fred MacMurray even more interesting. Producing terrific reds and whites this bottle of Pinot Gris is an excellent choice with appetizers of all kinds and received 87 points from Wine Spectator. Lots of juicy fruit, a refreshing wine for any occasion. WS 87 |$20
2014 Darioush Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Signature

Located in the heart of Napa Valley this winery’s property is as beautiful as the wines it produces. There is nothing like a Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and this wine won’t disappoint. Packed with earthy, berry flavors it’s the perfect complement to many meat and even fish dishes. WS 89 | $65

2015 Kivelstadt Cellars Father’s Watch
A small family winery under the direction of Jordan Kivelstadt, this Sonoma red Rhone-style blend from the North Coast is not only a great choice but extremely approachable now and a real value for anyone on your holiday list. $25
2015 Cosentino Winery “Cigar” Old Vine Zinfandel
Talk about a great 90-point wine and a real value at the same time. Hailing from the Central Coast this traditional California Zinfandel is full of aromas like pepper spice, nutmeg and coffee.  If you can find it, buy as many bottles as you can. Enjoy with winter barbecue style dishes and your friends will be very happy. WE 91 | $15
Let us know if this list helped you pick the right wine as a gift or for a holiday meal.

Kristie Sheppard

Marketing your small winery can seem overwhelming and challenging, especially for those small shops with just one, or maybe a few employees. During harvest, there is never enough time to even think about marketing, and by the time you get everything else done from, bottling to distribution, it’s almost harvest again! However, you know creative and customer-focused marketing is critical to the success of your winery.

Adding a few simple tools to your marketing toolbox can assist in strategically and successfully promoting your wine brand. Even a minimal time investment pays huge dividends with the following tips.

  1. Know your audience. Defining your target audience is the first step in effective marketing. Keep in mind your audience is much larger than just wine drinkers. Analyze and organize your current customer base by categories, such as millennials, baby boomers, women or wine drinkers who are new to enjoying wine.
  2. Define your message. Determine a key message to connect your brand with each group of ideal customers. The message should be clear, direct and consistently used so it resonates with potential customers. For example, if your millennial audience group is interested in scores from Parker, make sure your messaging includes your recent ratings. Key messages help tell your story to compel your audience to take action.
  3. Get to know the media. Sending a press release about your upcoming winemaker dinner to the local food and wine critic without building a relationship with him/her will appear self-serving and may get pushed aside. Build a relationship with wine writers and influencers. Read their stories, engage with them on social media platforms and share their stories. Are you getting ready to promote a new wine and want some press? Invite the writer to a private tasting before the release to allow for personalized face time. Prepare materials in advance to make packaging the story easy for the reporter; include photos, content and potential alternate interview contacts.
  4. Engage on social media. Social media used to be about likes and followers. Now, engagement determines success- how many people, when they see your Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram post, actually like, share, or comment on that post. Engagement is a two-way conversation. The best way to get engagement is to give some as well. Scrolling through your social media feeds for 10 -15 minutes per day looking for like-minded brands, wine influencers and your customers so you can comment, like and share their posts, will show your investment in the industry. Social interaction creates an awareness of your brand with audiences, who may become followers or customers. Social engagement will keep you in the minds of your customers and strengthen your consumer-producer relationship. Wineries can be hesitant to post on social media because of the Federal Trade Commission laws on advertising to minors, but with advances in data collection on most of the major platforms, you can confidently and legally promote your brand.
  5. Kieran Robinson Wines’ Sparkling Brigade is eye catching and meaningful.

    Let the label tell the brand’s story. If your wine is in retail shops or on display at a restaurant, the packaging is your most valuable asset. You need a label that stands out from the crowd, but also represents your brand and identity. Make sure your key message is translated into the label through visuals or text.
  6. Utilize influencers. Invite top wine influencers to a tasting. Engage with them on social media. Meg Maker, Amy Lieberfarb, Jancis Robinson, Jon Thorson and Antonio Galloni are just a few, but like we mention in Tip #1, do your research to make sure chosen influencers are appropriate for your brand.
  7. Participate in tasting events. For most small producers, providing complimentary cases and cases of wine to a special event may put a big dent in your potential sales, but don’t underestimate the value of attending these events. Yes, you will definitely get quite a few people who are attending the event just to get intoxicated. You will also get serious wine drinkers and media. Many tasting events host a trade/media hour prior to the general public. This is your opportunity to meet media face-to-face and make a lasting impression. Do your research about tasting opportunities. Find out what reporters and influencers have attended in the past. Ask fellow wineries if they have participated and what their thoughts are.

These cost-effective and simple tips will be the start to successfully marketing your winery. We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about wine marketing. Comment or share on social media and tag A. Bright Idea so we can reply!

TJ Brightman

You finally wrapped your last present, put the finishing touches on your decorations, baked one more batch of grandma’s famous cookies and even selected your holiday dinner – but what about the wine?

The hectic nature of the holiday season is stressful enough without worrying about the right wine to serve or worse yet, the right wine to bring to someone’s home as a gift. Follow these simple tips in making your wine selection and then kick back, say cheers and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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  1. The sky is the limit. – When selecting a wine for the perfect holiday occasion, understand that short of box wine there is nothing off limits. Wine comes in many varietals and price ranges, but expensive doesn’t always mean good and taking a chance on a smaller brand you’ve never heard of doesn’t mean bad.
  2. Wine should be fun. When you find yourself staring at the shelf full of wine bewildered by all of those cool, edgy and colorful wine labels (designed by some hip ad agency no doubt) or shelf talkers screaming at you with giant wine scores from the so-called experts, remember to take a deep breath and relax. Wine is supposed to be fun and about sharing something with your family or friends over delicious food and warm conversations.
  3. It’s all about variety. Don’t be overly concerned about wine pairing or one particular varietal over another. If you’re like most Americans, the holidays are about variety, everything from carved red meats, creamy cheeses, savory dishes and sweet desserts. Like that wonderful baseball movie line, “If you build it, they will come,” or in this case, “if you serve it, they will drink it!”

But since this is a wine blog about the best wines to enjoy for the holidays, here are a few of my personal favorites that you might want to add to your cellar. Keep in mind all of these wines are deliberately $50 or less considering all of the choices in this price range.

Cabernet Sauvignon


2013 Simi Alexander Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County) $26
2012 Hall (Napa Valley) Cabernet $46  – pictured
2012 Jordan (Alexander Valley Sonoma) Cabernet $49
2012 Groth Vineyards (Oakville Napa Valley) Cabernet $50
Quite truthfully, what could be better? If you know me you probably know I’m a California purist at heart and for this publication will only recommend wines from the Golden State with a focus in Sonoma Valley or neighboring Napa Valley. These wines pair perfectly with a medium-rare Christmas tenderloin, carved roast or dark chocolate truffle after dinner.

ABI_TJ_Wine_Recommendations_December_2016-33Gloria Ferrer (Sonoma), Brut $18
Domaine Carneros (Carneros), Blanc De Noir Sparking $38
Veuve Clicquot (France), Yellow Label Brut $45 – pictured
In all my years enjoying wine, I’m pretty sure there is one thing that goes with everything and that’s a fine bubbly. Nothing says elegant more than a bottle of Champagne or Sparkling and your guests or special someone will thank you for it later.


St. Francis (Sonoma County) Old Vines Zinfandel $20 – pictured
2014 Selby (Sonoma County) Bobcat Zinfandel $42
2014 Gamba (Russian River Valley) Zinfandel $50
Maybe a varietal you haven’t tried or liked, but the secret is finding the right food to enjoy with this wonderful red with for the holidays. Typically lighter in color than a Cab or Merlot this moderate tannin and high acidity wine is higher in alcohol and perfect with lamb, pork, especially barbecue or a big hearty meal like your Mom can only make.

Pinot Noir
ABI_TJ_Wine_Recommendations_December_2016-9 (1)2014 Decoy (Sonoma Valley) Pinot Noir- $22
2014 Sonoma-Cutrer (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir $33
2014 Landmark Vineyards (Sonoma Coast) Grand Detour Pinot Noir $35
2014 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir $44 – pictured
2014 Ramey (Russian River Valley) Pinot Noir $49
Forget about the 2004 cult film, “Sideways,” this varietal was made famous by the French and in Sonoma County some of the very best in the world! If the label says “Russian River” or “Sonoma Coast” then it’s like tossing darts.

2015 Walt (Sonoma Coast) Chardonnay $40
2015 Adelshelm (Willamette Valley Oregon) Pinot Gris $18
2014 Hall (Napa Valley) Sauvignon Blanc $22
2014 Cakebread (Napa Valley) Chardonnay $44
2015 Darioush Signature Viognier $45
2014 Kiernan Robinson Wines (Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley) Viognier $45 – pictured
Don’t just grab the first bottle of Chardonnay you see! Many California Chardonnays are pretty typical, and you either love them or you don’t. You know the kind, big, buttery and oaky with hints of vanilla and butterscotch. Unless you are serving some lobster tails New Year’s Eve, try some of my favorite white varietals, including Chardonnay.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Shawn Nesaw

As many of you know, A. Bright Idea is expanding its creative services to Northern California and is busy setting up our West Coast office this week. The ABI team will enjoy some new digs in Sonoma, inside the village  of Glen Ellen. We are happy to announce a new relationship with Peter Mathis Wines of Sonoma.  The A. Bright Idea creatives have just completed a new label redesign of the Peter Mathis Sonoma Valley Grenache and are working on some new projects for this boutique winery.
This weekend, T.J. and I were honored to attend an exclusive wine event, “The Cult Cab Party,” benefiting the Sonoma Valley Teen Center.  A. Bright Idea supported the evening by creating several pieces of collateral materials promoting a vertical tasting of some Sonoma and Napa Valley’s legendary wines including Beringer Private Reserve, Chateau Montelena, Dunn and Spottwoode. Guests included Ed Sbragia, former rock-star winemaker at Beringer and now owner and winemaker at Sbragia Family Vineyards, Dick Arrowood from Arrowood Vineyards and Winery,  Philippe Thibault of Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma and other local VIPs.
As for A. Bright Idea’s new expansion on the Golden Coast, Bel Air, Maryland and Sonoma, California may be on opposite parts of the country  but are more similar than you might expect.  It was these similarities that drew us to the area (not to mention our love     of wine) and what made us decide to expand our business services on the West Coast and put down stakes in “real wine country”. Both areas offer rich agricultural history and take pride in small, family-owned farms and businesses passed down     through generations.
Sonoma Plaza and Downtown Bel Air are small, but thriving hubs of activities with restaurants, boutiques , government buildings, festivals and Farmer’s markets.  Sonoma County, California  and Harford County, Maryland are both rich with history and made up of small nearby towns and cities like Healdsburg, Glen Ellen, Petaluma, Sebastopol in California to Bel Air, Havre de Grace, Aberdeen in Maryland. It’s a quiet and safe place for families, where you know many of the people walking down the street and you do more than just wave and nod, you stop and catch up or reminisce and time stands still for just a moment.
These areas are in a state of metamorphous. The once quiet, rural and agricultural regions are being transformed. Sonoma is becoming a lifestyle destination and Harford a busting suburb supporting military growth as a result of Base Realignment and Closure.  However, with change, they retain their history and quaint charm that make people want to call it home.
We’re lucky that we can work and live in both locations.  We can truly call both places on either cost HOME!