Friday, June 5, 2015

Don't Let Opportunity Pass You By

The other day as I was taking my morning stroll through Facebook, I came across a posting from a company I am familiar with. They had linked to an article in their Facebook post and I thought it interesting enough topic that I chose to read it. Unfortunately, the article contained some factual inaccuracies, enough so that I felt compelled to make a comment about them on the organization's post linking the article. It wasn't a terribly disparaging comment and it did support the overall hypothesis of the article. However, the link was quickly taken down along with my comments.

That was an opportunity missed.

The most successful companies and presences on social media are those that engage the customer. Customer interactions, no matter how brief, show that your company is interested in what the customer has to say and that you are listening. It also gives the customer a sense that they are part of the thing that they are interested enough in to make some time to read what they have to say on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

This company completely missed an opportunity to engage with their customer base. Instead of pulling down the link, they should have began a dialog in which they explored the inaccuracies in question. Not only would it have shown that they were listening to their customer base, but it was also an opportunity to engage and educate their customer base. More than one individual may have become part of the conversation, thereby increasing the reach and power of the original posting.

In order for social media to become a valuable tool for your company, social media posts need to be more than just an advertisement for your company. You can't just put something out there and forget about it. It needs to be thought of no differently than a face to face encounter with a customer. During this encounter you can impress, educate, entertain and otherwise engage your customer so that they remain encouraged enough to be part of your business.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pairing Barbecue and Wine

When I was younger I had two hobbies that I absolutely loved, wine and barbecue*. I would indulge my wine hobby by making treks to to the Finger Lakes region of New York to visit wineries and explore all the great wines up there (make no mistake, there are quite a few). Alas, growing up in Connecticut didn't allow for me to have a neighborhood barbecue shack. My first introduction was Dinosaur Barbecue in Syracuse, NY on one of these aforementioned wine trips.

Since then, I've been on a mission to find the best barbecue where ever I lived. In most cases, it is what comes off my pit at home. There are one or two good ones here in Northern Virginia but for the most part, mine is better. That's a little bit of bragging but a bit of realism too, I am a Certified Barbecue Judge in the Kansas City Barbecue Society after all.

The reason I bring this up is because I am often asked how to marry these two passions of mine specifically, how do you pair wine and barbecue?

The answer is easier than you think. Barbecue often has a sauce and that sauce has a sweet component. Sweetness in the food is going to remove some or all of the fruit flavor from the wine that is paired with it leaving behind but bitterness and astringency from the acids and tannins. The way to combat this is to begin with a wine that is already sweet or has the appearance of sweetness.

Therefore sweet red wines made from hybrid grapes like Chambourcin or Norton along with Red blends that have a good sweet level would pair wonderfully with a rack of ribs and a nice Memphis or Kansas City style sauce. Try that lightly sweet Viognier or Traminette with that 1/4 chicken and pit beans you just ordered. Of course you can never go wrong with bubbles but this would be a nice place for the Moscato you may be interested in trying. Or go ahead and experiment to find out what your palate can come up with. I'd love to hear about your pairing finds, If you come up with one, please let me know on our Facebook page.

*Note: I could write multiple articles on the differences between barbecue and grilled foods. For the purpose of this article (and any other time I use the word barbecue) I mean meat that has been slow cooked in the presence of wood smoke. Anything other than this is simply grilled food. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

An Insider's Look

Ever wonder what attending a PEAC class is like?  One of our board members, Jackie Wright, attended our Wines of New Zealand class last month and writes:

My experience as a novice wine enthusiast

On February 4th, PEAC Director of Education Jim Koennicke led a fabulous “wine enthusiast” series
course on the many wines of New Zealand.  The session was held at PEAC’s classroom space in the Mason Enterprise Center in Leesburg.  I had an idea of what to expect, knowing that there would be a lot of new information for me and an opportunity to try some wines that I had never tried before.  I have attended wine tastings and a few seminars at other wineries and events in the area, but this was my first PEAC class and I loved it!

I consider myself a wine novice- I have an idea about what I like and don’t like, but one of my goals this year is to strengthen my body of knowledge about wine in general and understand what it is about certain wines that make them appealing to me.   I was not alone in this pursuit.  I sat among a diverse group of people ranging from other couples interested in learning more about tasting wine, to
individuals currently working or breaking into the wine making and distributing industry.  We all enjoyed learning from one another, and it made for a very enjoyable experience.

You would have thought Jim had lived in New Zealand for years with the knowledge he shared about the various growing regions, soils, climate and common grape varietals!  We spent the first half of the class learning about the country and its many growing traditions, and rounded out the second half with a tasting of eight wines.  We learned how to search our palate for the right describing flavors and scents. 

We compared wines made with the same grape, Sauvignon Blanc, but had distinctly different characteristics.  We also talked about the challenge of pairing food with wines, and received a bit of
homework- Drink more wine!! 

I highly recommend taking a look at and signing up for one of the many PEAC course offerings this
season- it was certainly an enjoyable experience and I plan to become a “regular” student.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Slow down and relax

"There's never time to do something once, but there is always time to do it again."

I have no idea who first said that or even where I got it from but it was something that resonated with me when I first heard it. I was working in a factory making foam padding of a sorts and that's where I first picked it up. This had to be be 30 years ago.

It is as true today as it was back then.

We have created a society where we continue to teach ourselves and our children that we must move at warp speed at all times in order to be productive members of society. We must be multi-tasking at all times or we are just lazy. This simply is not true.

The fact of the matter is we make more mistakes when placed in these conditions. Quality in both task performance and material workmanship declines as speed is increased. It has also been proven that human beings are physically incapable of truly multi-tasking. Cognitively, we use a process called time slicing, where our brains can only focus on one task at a time but swap out to memory one task while we bring something else to the fore front to work on. This can be done reasonably quickly so as to give the illusion of multi-tasking but the brain is therefore never allowed to fully concentrate on a single task.

For example, try and read a book and watch television at the same time. You will be able to collect the gist of each of the stories but not many of the specific details or subtleties presented in each one. If you choose to concentrate on one over the other, then most of the one not concentrated on will be lost. The same thing happens when we try to perform multiple tasks concurrently. One will suffer for the other to be done exceptionally well or they both will suffer equally.

The bottom line is that we need to stop beating ourselves up by thinking that faster is always better. There are times when it is and there are times when it isn't. So slow down. Relax. Focus on doing one thing exceptionally well rather than two or three things only partially well. We'll all be better off for it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Roasted Vegetables

My wife and I eat very well. That's mostly because she was a great cook when I first met her. I could burn water back then. Don't believe me? Ask her, she'd be happy to tell you.

Anyway, since then, we have both become much better at doing stuff around the kitchen. Part of that is because we took the time to learn the proper techniques for doing things. As I've come to find out, proper technique can make the difference between a good dish and and a great dish. Part of that is because we've learned how to tell when food is done just by looking at it, not by a clock. But mostly, it's because we've taken the time to learn what food tastes like.

Sound's weird doesn't it? Learning what food tastes like? Well, if you're like most people there's a lot of processed food in your diet. Pre-made sauces, packaged meats, frozen veggies ready to pop into the microwave, the list is endless. Then there is our chain restaurant du jour, ready to provide that same level of pre-packaged, ready to heat product just with nicer table cloths and and a wait staff to joke about you behind your back.

So I'm going to tell you a little secret. Fresh food tastes magical. Don't believe me? Try this one night for dinner. All it takes is a little time. It is simple enough that you could have the kids make this for you. I guarantee that it can open you up to a world of fresh food and remind you what food tastes like.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Roasted Vegetables

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

6 Yukon Gold potatoes
1 large red onion
5 medium carrots
5 celery stalks
8 oz radishes

3 Tbs olive oil + some to coat the chicken
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel the potatoes and carrots. Cut the potatoes into 1 inch cubes. Cut the carrots and celery on a diagonal about the width of your finger (1/2 inch). Cut the onion in half top to bottom then slice into 1/4 inch strips. Cut the radishes in half if they are larger than the potato cubes. Place all the vegetables in a large baking dish, add the 3 Tbs of olive oil and 1 tsp of kosher salt and 1 tsp of fresh ground black pepper. Stir to coat the vegetables with the oil and seasonings. Place the veggies in the oven and roast for one hour or until golden brown and delicious, stirring once about half way.

Prepare your grill for direct medium grilling.

Mix the onion powder, garlic powder, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper together in a small bowl or dish. lightly spray or brush the chicken thighs with olive oil and spread the seasoning mixture on both sides of the chicken thighs. Grill the chicken thighs over direct medium heat for 9 to 10 minutes, turning once half way through.

For those of you inclined to pair wines with your meals, I found that a Cantina del Taburno Falanghina (Italian white wine from Campagnia, just north of Naples) absolutely hit the spot with this meal. Your palate may be very different from mine though, this is just a suggestion. Drink what you like.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Trick to Writing Recipes

Did you ever come across a recipe that no matter how many times you made it, it just doesn't work out? You've followed it to a T but it is too soft or too runny and adding extra cooking time just doesn't make a change for the better? If you've cooked for any length of time, I'm sure that you have. The problem is most likely not with the recipe itself, but the person who wrote it.  You see, writing recipes is hard, really hard and the person writing the recipe forgot that they are not writing the recipe for themselves, but for a total stranger.

The challenge comes with what people might call "common knowledge". Common knowledge is anything but common. You may have been cooking for 25 years now. Some things that you do in the kitchen are automatic. So much so that you just assume that everyone knows how to do them. Think about the last time you grilled a burger. If you were going to tell someone how to make your burger, would you remind them to make a little dimple in the patty so that the burger doesn't blow up in the middle and not sit on the bun correctly? Maybe or maybe not, but it is these kind of details that can mean the difference between a recipe working for someone else or the recipe being used to start a fire.

To be successful, a recipe must be written as if the person using it has never cooked before. Every last detail must be accounted for, even if it is a step that is entirely up to the cook (i.e. salt to taste, or adjust the seasonings.) Remember, you're not writing the recipe for yourself, it's for the person on the other end.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Tasting Room Experience Still Lacking

Yesterday, I visited four wineries in the Charlottesville area. All had some very nice wines made there. Only one had a tasting room experience that was memorable in a good way. This continues to be my biggest complaint with visiting wineries.

I get that tasting rooms are busy and that most are not designed for the volume of visitors that now routinely walk through the door. However, staff that just pour, pour, pour without any attempt to engage, educate or entertain the customer is an indicator that an organization that is just throwing bodies at a problem with no clear idea how to address it.

Whether these wineries like it or not, the people behind the tasting bar are the face of your organization to these customers. How they interact with the customers is a direct reflection of your organization. Spending huge amounts of money on overly architected warehouses and then having less than knowledgeable representatives behind the bar with no interest in providing anything but the barest bones of hospitality and customer service is not the way to increase sales. In fact, it signals that there is no interest in the customer except as an income stream.

Hospitality, customer service and sales training are desperately needed in the majority of tasting rooms I've encountered. It just seems to be something that wineries aren't willing to invest in, especially when they continue to see double digit growth all across this industry. That won't be the case forever and the wineries that position themselves for the day that changes are the ones that will continue to be successful far into the future.