After some much needed rest and relaxation over the holidays, and some quality family time, December came to a close. I had rewarded myself with some much needed time off to wrap up the year, but I hit the ground running at the beginning of January.
This time of year sends me back out on the road to work in the Wholesale market. Traditionally, most of my accounts aren’t interested in sampling wines or discussing new vintages in January because they tend to be “hunkering down” for a slower winter season. Amazingly enough, I have seen some good interest in our wines given this time of year!
I had the opportunity to work with several of our distributor’s sales representatives lately. These trips have taken me from Jamestown to Binghamton. Despite some long hours on the road, they have all paid off; I have had a banner January!
On the Blue Heron Café end of things, this time of year normally gives me a chance to revamp my menu and work on improvements for next year. I have had several meetings with Kara, Tambi, and Paul on a variety of topics. Paul and I have scheduled all of the live music for next year, be sure to look up the schedule (soon to be released)! Tambi and I have discussed Keuka Lake Wine Trail events and I have met with Kara to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to make things go as smoothly as possible.
Looking forward to next season, I’m excited to say that I expect nearly all of my staff from last year to return! With this stumbling block out of the way, I will be able to concentrate on getting the doors open and the food ready to go.
I was able to prepare lunch for a small group that joined us from the New York City area. These buyers came to the winery to try samples from us and three other wineries. I prepared a very nice buffet lunch for the assembled group and the winery representatives that were pouring from them. The group really enjoyed the event!
In the near future, I will have several meetings to look at some possibilities for next season. We have some big plans for the future, but need to get some things moving to be ready for May! For a sneak peek, make sure that you join us for Happy Hour on Wednesdays this summer – some of them will have live music!
With the unpredictable October weather, some improvisation was necessary. Cool, rainy days brought smaller crowds, but the limited seating in the Blue Heron Café was challenging even for lighter crowds. Putting the tower heaters and conference room to use helped to hold the crowd. For the last weekend, we even used one of the tent sides to close off the opening of the awning. All of these tactics combined worked well to keep the crowds happy!
Tunes in the Tent proved to be another great series for the year. From Virgil Cain and the Movers to the Keuka Kats, we saw good crowds for most of the events. The Wine Club VIP members really seemed to enjoy the events too. Again, weather offered a few challenges, but the big tent heaters kept everyone cozy under the cover. Look forward to the lineup for next year’s Tunes in the Tent to come out by February!
Last weekend and this upcoming weekend will wrap up Wine Trail events for the year. For Keuka Holidays, I will be preparing a Cream of Roasted Red Pepper Soup topped with Asiago Crisps and an Raspberry Cheesecake with Chocolate Eclipse Ganache. The soup is one of the Café favorites and the cheesecake is a recipe that I developed on a whim, featuring raspberry and Eclipse Red in the filling and topped with an Eclipse Red Chocolate Ganache. The numbers for this event are amazing, we served just over 1000 people on the first weekend and expect to see nearly 800 next weekend! As we approached the end, we had to makes sure it stayed fun!
The summer to date has been great at the Blue Heron Café! We have seen crowds comparable to last year, but recent tweaks like linen napkins, proper water glasses, and some higher-class features have really impressed the customers. From Crab Napoleons to Roasted Red Pepper Involtinis, a greater variety of dishes have been well received.
We have hosted a bunch of groups this summer. I attribute this to our Marketing Guru, Kitty, who pressed me very early in the year for my menu. With the additional exposure in the pre-season months, we have easily doubled our groups from last year. To highlight these events, in August we hosted a group from Keuka College for a five course Tapas and Tastings. Thrown into this, we fed the vendors for the Wedding Show and have a couple of corporate events for later in the season. Don’t forget to check out the music lineup for Tunes in the Tent, which kicks off with the Crosseyed Cats on September 25th!
Recently, we reduced our hours to Friday through Monday, as the weekday crowd tends to be a bit lighter. The mid-week break is appreciated, as the weekend crowds have been impressive. This has allowed me to offer a bit of time to the Wholesale department. At the end of the month, Lakeside Restaurant will be showcasing us for a Wine Dinner. Beef & Brew in Geneva has also selected us as their Winery of the Month.
The Blue Heron Café is now open everyday! To celebrate this, we have begun hosting Happy Hour on Wednesday’s starting at 5:00 and going until 7:00. We set aside our regular menu and concentrate on several featured appetizers to satisfy the yen for lighter fare. Last week, we showcased the Oysters Rockefeller. For the near future, we are considering a wine paired flight of three or four different appetizers.
I have been booking group lunches and parties left and right. For the first time at Heron Hill, I will be preparing a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner for one of our brides. As we finalize the menu, I am reminded of some of the amazing dishes that I used to prepare and it is inspiring me to find ways to get these flavors on the Café menu.
Don’t forget, live music starts on the Café Terrace this Sunday! The schedule is available on the website and, of course, in the Tasting Hall. We start off with Bruce Holler featuring Peter Baker on the conga.
Lately, I have been going in several different directions! Primarily, it has been the tail end of my Wholesale season. Between working with our distributor’s sales reps and striking out on my own, I have had a pretty good sales season! The winter brought a flurry of stores adding the fine line of Heron Hill wines and lately, restaurants that are preparing to open have been revamping their wine lists and making room for us. I am currently working on scheduling several wine dinners at local restaurants; look for us to be featured at the Lakeside (on Keuka Lake) and the Village Tavern in Hammondsport in the near future.
My second concentration has been Wine Trail events because unfortunately, the food doesn’t cook itself! February brought the Truffles and Tastes and April showcases the Artisan Cheese event. The April event paired us with Lively Run Creamery and we highlighted the Roasted Garlic and Pepper Chevre. Suffice it to say, the Pesto Cream Pizza with fresh Spinach was a hit, although I think the staff might have influenced the total number of pizzas that I had to make… Next up is Keuka in Bloom this weekend. If you are joining us, I hope you enjoy the Pancetta and Sage Stuffed Pork Loin, check out the recipe here.
With the season finally changing, my third direction is preparing to open the Café. I have been fortunate to discover that some of my staff will be returning. Modifications have been made to the menu, the wine list is being generated, and the tables and chairs will be arriving soon. With a thorough cleaning and some modifications, we will be opening on May 20th. Be sure to look up the Live Music Calendar and join us for a sandwich and a glass of wine! You can also request a menu here.
I would be remiss if I didn’t start by noting the arrival of my son, Morgan Ronald! He was born New Year’s Eve morning. Both Morgan and Mom (Tanya) are happy and healthy. At this point, he has grown to nearly 10 pounds. Sleep has become a precious commodity, but that is to be expected.
Recently, I have returned to the wonderful world of Wholesale Sales. January, despite the weather, proved to be a highly productive month for me! I managed to travel from Cooperstown and Syracuse to Cuba and Salamanca. While riding with our distributors’ sales reps, I managed to sell a fair amount of wine. In particular, I look forward to the addition of the entire Ingle Vineyard series at Allen’s Wine & Spirits in Olean. With John Coco coming on board, I expect to see increased interest while I’m on the road.
A fair amount of my time is devoted to booking store tastings and scheduling events. We will be pouring at Corning’s Cabin Fever this Friday. I have scheduled tastings from Savor Syracuse to the Alfred University Alumni Gala and look forward to the next Cork & Fork.
As for the Café, I was looking forward to a relaxing winter before revamping the menu and beginning to assemble my staff. Kitty, Paul, and Kara have been contacting me about the new menu to pass along to upcoming groups and promotions. With the amazing response to the menu that we saw last year, changes will be minimal. I have had requests for particular items and am considering these.
Additionally, we will be hosting a weekly Happy Hour at the Café. Initially, we were considering Thursday, but Music in the Park may draw our perspective crowd away. At this point, I think that Wednesdays might be a better option. The plan for this event is to offer tapas, wine by the glass, and beer by the bottle. I think that with Kitty’s amazing networking and publicity savvy, we can expect an amazing turn out. I am considering a discount for employees of other wineries…
Next weekend, we have the first Wine Trail event of the year. I will be making Curried Chicken Satays and a Raspberry Cheesecake. The ladies in the office are a bit concerned that I will not be fully prepared for this event, so they recommended that I make an extra cheesecake, just to be sure. With that said, if you are at the winery on Monday, ask for leftovers!
October brought a first for me at the winery, also known as “Tunes in the Tent”! I had reviewed past sales with Christy, our CFO, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In the end, we discovered that in general, it isn’t worth it to keep the Café open while the party is going full bore in the Tent! The obvious exception to this is Columbus Day weekend. I am resigning myself to the fact that for all intents and purposes, for this weekend, “all bets are off”! Columbus Day weekend proved to be the busiest three day stretch that the Café has seen for the entire year!
As the season came to a close for the Café, the seasonality of the business came around to show itself. We had closed for most of the weekdays, but as October came to a close, even the weekend crowd started to dwindle.
The first annual Cork & Fork offered a brief foray back into the Wholesale market for me. This event, held in Seneca Falls, was the first “selling event” that I have ever attended. As a first for me and a first for them, there was a fair amount of last minute conversation about the finer points of the event. When it was said and done, we got some amazing exposure from the Friday night VIP tasting! We were paired with Dano’s (in Hector) for the evening and all were impressed with our coordination. Saturday brought the selling end of the event. The expected crowd was much larger than the actual crowd, but after all, it is the first annual event…
While the Café was closing for the season, which was accompanied by a flurry of cleaning and storing of equipment, I had a chance to witness an event that I hadn’t had a chance to experience before. The tear down of the tent was a monumental experience for me. A mere two days after our last Tunes in the Tent, the tent as a whole was disassembled for the year. This might also be read as “After putting on our last big show of the year, I only had a day to clean up!” Without realizing it, we had stored a fair amount of stuff under the tent!
With the Café closed, it was time for me to return to Wholesale ventures. Specifically, the task at hand is to touch base with my year-round accounts to ensure that they are prepared for the holidays. This, of course, allows for the chance to show off the new vintages! Some of my customers have seemed to be a bit put-off by the fact that I have had to split my attention for the year. After explaining that if they simply purchased more wine…
How could I leave this entry without mentioning the close of the final Wine Trail weekend of the season?! After preparing the Chicken Riggies for consecutive weekends of Keuka Holidays, let’s suffice it to say that I am looking forward to a chance to “find my muse” for February’s event, Truffles & Tastes! To be fair, it has been a fun year of Wine Trail food. I am, however, looking forward to a surprise for February, maybe homemade Truffles…
By Mike "Ollie" Oliver, Blue Heron Café Director & Wholesale Sales Representative
Well, it has thus far been an exciting summer at the Blue Heron Café! I am proud to announce that we have been serving some great customers some amazing food. After getting settled in for the season, the Café got to a point that it could almost run itself.
On the whole, things have run very smoothly. We have been expanding beyond the menu to incorporate daily features. Some of the most popular include the Chicken Balsamico Panini and the Tuscan Roasted Pork Loin Wrap. I have been simply amazed at the volume of soup that we have been serving! Favorites here include the Lobster and Bay Scallop Bisque and the Tomato, Bacon, and Swiss soup. It would be difficult to name which Cheesecake has been the most popular, so I will have to rely on the reader to sample several to form a solid opinion! Many of these selections will have to be considered for next year’s menu.
The winery hosted a lot of our Wholesale customers in July for a V.I.P. tasting in the tower accented with hors d’oeuvres from the Café. While Christina handled the tastings, we were sending up a nice selection of wares from the Café to showcase our many talents. I did have a chance to meet with several of my restaurant and wine shop customers while this was happening. They all were pleasantly surprised by the “red carpet” treatment that we were offering!
I have just recently had the chance to get back on the road a bit. Last week, I was able to drive around and catch up with some of my more local wholesale customers. It seems that this aspect of my duties has been going well, but I look forward to going out to pour the new vintages. I have been really amazed at the volumes that some of these places have been selling!
At the beginning of the week, Paul and I attended the last of the Food and Wine Pairing Series hosted by the Switzerland Inn. We had begun talking about this in March and it was great to be there for the end product. The Chef, Brent, presented an amazing 6-course meal that we had arduously paired with our wines. (I would like to extend a special thanks to all that offered their input!) While giving a history of the winery, its mission, and explaining how and why we paired wines with the dishes, we had the chance to chat with many of the attendants. Attended by about 20 customers, this series has been a sell-out from its first day. More than half of the group had purchased tickets for every dinner! After speaking with several of the guests, it is obvious that there is a lot of local interest in this type of event. Maybe one at the winery in the near future???
By Mike "Ollie" Oliver, Blue Heron Café Director & Wholesale Sales Representative
With the recent opening of the Blue Heron Café, I have been splitting my time between that and Wholesaling. Of course, this falls at a time when I have many scheduled ride-alongs with our distributor’s representatives.
Between interviewing perspective servers and kitchen staff, ordering food, and trying to find what is missing, life has been a bit hectic lately. Highlighting my recent activity, I executed a staff tasting for the new Café menu. Following our staff meeting at the beginning of May, I, with the help of Mr. Brian Barry, wanted to prepare all of the menu items that we will be serving at the Café. The downside to this venture was that I made way too much food, and soon discovered that the staff was full before I was able to finish making the dishes! I guess it’s a good thing that I hadn’t made desserts too…
To follow up that week, the winery hosted TasteCamp, a regional meeting that took place in the Finger Lakes including wine writer and bloggers. I prepared a vast selection of food for lunch, from the Chicken Caesar and Calabrese Wraps to Fruit and Pasta Salads. The entire staff pitched in to make the event happen, which was greatly appreciated.
May 15th marked the first official day of the Café serving lunch for the season! We were honored to host an editor from the New York Post. It took a bit of scrambling and 11th hour work, but it went off without too many hitches. Kelsey Baker returned to serve for the grand reopening, and her efforts were well received. It is definitely early to call it, but it seems like the Cuban Panini and the Caribbean Pulled Pork Sandwich will be vying for the title of most popular dishes.
In the realm of Wholesaling, I have had some very prosperous days lately. While working with Southern Wine & Spirit reps, I have been able to place wines in new stores and restaurants. On my own, I have been making some definite headway in the local market. Look for some new wines to be served at the Switzerland Inn, The Lakeside and Sarassin’s, all on Keuka Lake!
I have had the chance to pour tastings at some amazing events lately too. Savor Syracuse was a benefit for the Food Bank of Central New York which was held at the Hotel Syracuse. The Binghamton Regency hosted a Catholic Charities fundraiser. Paws and Pairings, arranged by the owner of Bottles & Corks in Corning, was a benefit for local SPCA chapters held at CMOG. Coming up in the near future, look for Heron Hill to be featured at Slow Foods of Syracuse, GCP in Horseheads, Good Spirits in Geneseo, Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua, Taste of the Nation in Ithaca and Alfred University (if you are an Alumnus!).
By Mike "Ollie" Oliver, Wholesale Sales Representative
Highlights from the world of Wholesale Sales: As the newest members of the Wholesale staff, I have had the opportunity to meet a wide variety of personalities. I thought I would take this chance to share some of the more memorable moments from the road.
First and foremost, it’s important for you to know that I have had no sales experience of this type before joining the Heron Hill Winery team. I have learned, the hard way, that there are unwritten rules and procedures to meeting with Wine and Liquor store owners. For example, if you walk into a store and the owner or manager is meeting with another Sales Rep, you have to wait for them to finish. This, apparently, applies even if you have made an appointment! I walked into a particular store and saw this unfolding. I was about to go back outside and wait, when the owner asked if she could help me I introduced myself and was about to explain my intentions, to which she responded, “Well, you can just go outside and wait until we are done!” This was not exactly the warmest greeting that I have received, but after the other rep left, I went in and the owner had a totally different attitude.
Last week, I was in Scotia working with one of our distributor’s Sales Reps. After four mind-numbing hours of driving and a miscommunication with the navigation system, I was able to find the store where I was to meet with the rep. I parked, noticed that I was right on time, and called the rep to see if he was already in the store. He responded with, “At the store? We aren’t meeting until tomorrow!” He dubbed my response as “dead silence”, but let me dwell on it for a moment. Then, he let me off the hook by saying, “Yeah, I’m inside. I just had to start the day off right!” After meeting him, I realized that this was par for the course with him; watching him interact with his customers was comical at times!
I have also had the highly productive visits that ensure that I can continue to come to work. After being introduced by our distributor’s Sales Rep to a store owner and pouring samples for him, he proceeded to order in 9 different wines! As it turned out, he hasn’t been open for very long, but he is slowly trying to build a New York State wine selection. I have learned that this job is all about timing.
Several weeks ago, Paul Wilson, retail manager at Heron Hill winery, and I met with Brianne, the manager of the Switzerland Inn on Keuka Lake. She had approached us about doing a wine and food pairing dinner. She showed us menus that they have used in the past. Suffice it to say that I was very impressed; in general, six courses that showed some real ingenuity and forward thinking! We will be meeting with the Chef soon to start looking at the menu for the event. If he is open to it, I may even offer to take a course or two! Keep an eye out for tickets; they will only be seating 40 for this event. More information will be available soon.