I was hoping to write this blog post last week but then came down with a horrendous flu. I then tried to write it on Tuesday but we got hit with our 3rd Nor’easter in two weeks, so I was stuck at home for 12 hours with two very cute but very high-maintenance toddlers and zero peace and quiet. And as I sit here writing today, I’m wrapped in an oversized wool scarf because it’s 36 degrees out. Who’s ready for spring?? ME.
Yet despite the challenges of winter, I’m grateful and a bit awestruck by this year thus far at Lieb. We’re only 2 ½ months in but A LOT has happened in a short amount of time.
First of all, CANS. Our plan was to make 39,000 cans in January and that would be our supply for the year. Whelp, we did just that and sold almost all of them in the past 2 months. I feel like I blinked and the can section in the warehouse was empty. After recovering from shock, we completed an “emergency” second batch a few weeks ago and have scheduled a third for a few weeks from now. We were supposed to do one batch for the year. We’re now doing three in the first quarter.
Based on the palpable “buzz” about our cans leading up to the launch in January, we knew they’d be big. But we never could have predicted they’d be THIS big. The challenge now is to ride the wave and make sure our supply is keeping up with demand. Because we have a significant amount of bulk wine in tanks reserved for filling our alternative formats (including cans), a solid mobile canning partner who is willing to fill for us on very short notice and a good handle on suppliers for our can packaging, I feel confident in our ability to make as many cans as we’re going to need…at least for now. But man, if our distributors are ordering (and you guys are drinking!) this many cans in February, how many are going to be flying out of the warehouse in July? Needless to say, our warehouse assistant better brace himself. (Godspeed, Jared! J)
As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. That’s what seems to be happening with the excitement of the cans spilling over into all other areas of our business. We’re not just selling a lot of cans at the expense of our other products, we’re selling more of EVERYTHING. Our tasting room, internet, wine club and wholesale sales are all up. We’re selling significantly more bottles, boxes and kegs right now than we did at this same time last year. IT’S SO EXCITING. And it feels like all of the brand building and tweaking and promoting we’ve been doing for the past 4 years is now monumentally paying off.
It’s early in the year, though. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the wine business, it’s that anything can happen. So we’re not going to rest. We’re going to keep pushing, selling, innovating and making the best wines we can. We have 9 ½ months left to prove the year a success. We’re inarguably off to a KILLER start. But as I keep repeating to myself, it’s just that, a start.
In other “behind the scenes” news, we’re about a week away from completing cold season pruning in the (now dormant) vineyard. Pruning back the vines from one vintage to help control growth in the upcoming vintage is the last step in the annual vineyard lifecycle. It marks the official end of our 2017 growing season. Right around May 1st, we’ll see bud break on newly active vines and that means the 2018 vintage is underway. So while we’re busy selling 2017 wines, we concurrently work on growing the grapes that will go into the wines we’ll sell next year. It all starts in the vineyard, literally.
And speaking of, a bit of news about our vineyard. Since 1992, when Mark Lieb purchased our original planted plot – 14 acres of Pinot Blanc – Lieb has been farming sustainably. Now, there seems to be some confusion among consumers and even people in our industry about what that actually means and how it differs from “organic” or “natural” grape growing and winemaking. In the simplest of terms, “sustainable” wines means wines made with grapes grown using certain low impact farming methods –like not using herbicides, limiting the use of chemical sprays and fertilizers, preventing runoff, controlling pests with natural barriers (e.g. deer fence and bird netting) and hand harvesting. It’s farming in a way that protects the land and its surrounding eco-system. Like I’ve said, we’ve been doing it since Lieb’s founding, but this year, I’m proud to announce that we’ve decided to officially get certified.
A few years ago an organization called Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing was created by Cornell Cooperative Extension and some of our colleagues in the LI wine industry (hey hey, Richard Olsen-Harbich!). The goal of the organization was to establish sustainable guidelines for our area, carry out inspections and grant certifications to vineyards who met their standards. Maybe you’ve seen their “certified sustainable” signs up on other vineyards out here? Well, this year we’re strictly following their guidelines in our vineyard and expect to pass inspection, so you could see that sign up on our vineyard soon. It’s important to us. It’s important to a lot of wine buyers out there who are looking to support wineries who are environmentally responsible. And as many of you live on the North Fork or relatively close, we hope it’s important to you.
Ok, that’s all I got for now. When I post again in June, we’ll be almost halfway through the year. I’ll know if cans are still rocking our world, if wine sales have continued to strengthen across the board in all of our sales channels and how our 2018 vintage is shaping up in the vineyard. I’m VERY optimistic.
Thank you, as always, for following and for your interest in what’s going on at our little wine company on the North Fork. It’s fun to share our journey with you.
General Manager & Certified Sommelier
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