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This weekend, I went to visit my buddy Gordon who recently moved to Napa. Gordon works in the wine industry, so he planned a weekend of wine tasting and great food. In three days, I tasted more than 96 wines. (I say “more than,” because, although I took copious notes, there came a point Friday evening when my note taking skills became a little fuzzy. Ninety-six wines were documented, and I paced myself better on Saturday.)

For the meals, I tried Oysters at Bouchon the first night. We also ate at Bottega, Redd, Ad Hoc, and local burger hangout, Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. Every meal was incredible. If you get to Napa, don’t miss Bottega’s Wood Roasted Octopus or Shaved Brussels Sprout & Asparagus Salad. (And, before my brother Gregg makes a comment below, I weighed myself and actually dropped a pound over the weekend. Maybe all of the walking.)

Here is a list of the wineries we visited, and some highlights:
Grgich Hills – I really liked their Fume Blanc (2007).
Salvestrin – Very nice family-owned winery with a great Cabernet Sauvignon (2005).
Alpha Omega – Nice label and beautiful tasting facility, but wines didn’t blow me away.
Judd’s Hill – They’re doing some interesting stuff with social media, including online video.
Pine Ridge – Try the 2005 Cabernet Franc. Seriously.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards – They serve a little food with their tasting. Just a couple of small bites to compliment an incredible Cab from their Vandal Vineyard.
Plumpjack—Founded by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, they sampled some great wines, including the 2008 Cade Sauvignon Blanc.
Darioush – Housed in a Persian palace in Napa, don’t miss the “Fine Wines, Artisan Cheeses” tour to learn about and taste their great wine paired with the perfect cheeses (pictured below).
Z.D. – Their 2007 Rosa Lee Petit Sirah is worth the visit.
Trefethen – After tasting a strong Cab poured by Hailey Trefethen the night before at Cheers St. Helena, we visited her family’s winery to taste some more consistently delicious wines.

But, the highlight of wine tasting came at our very last stop, Elyse Winery. I liked many wines at each of our tastings, but Elyse was the only winery where I LOVED every single wine I tasted. We visited with Ray Coursen, winemaker and owner, a down to earth, fun guy who really, really knows how to make wine. They were all amazing, but the standouts for me were a 2007 L’Ingenue (Viogner) and the 2005 Jacob Franklin Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are anywhere that is pouring Elyse (or their other label Jacob Franklin), don’t hesitate ordering any of Ray’s wines. You won’t be disappointed.

So, that’s what I did on my summer vacation (or at least one of them). If you try any of these wines or visit any of the wineries, let me know what you think.

“Fine Wines, Artisan Cheeses” at Darioush

I’ll admit to having a major bias toward Childsplay. I was an actor there for 7 years, some of my closest friends work there, and I maintain a great relationship with the company; they are like family to me. But, there are plenty more reasons for having a Childsplay bias. Arizona residents don’t really know this like they should, but Childsplay is acclaimed for being one of the best theatres for young audiences in the world.

You have two more weekends to see Childsplay in action this season; The Never Ending Story is running at the Tempe Center for the Arts through May 17.  I saw the show earlier this week. I should let you know off the bat that my actor friends don’t always like me to come to their shows; they always tell me: “You don’t like anything.” I really liked The Never Ending Story, and my eight-year-old niece, Carly, LOVED it. So, I recommend you see it with or without some little ones… and I can help make it a little more affordable for you.

Childsplay is offering $12 tickets to the readers of the BlabberBlog. Seriously, for just a little more than the price of a movie ticket, you can see an internationally acclaimed theatre company. To reserve discounted tickets, click here to send an e-mail to Rosemary. Put BlabberBlog in the subject line and let her know which performance you’d like to see and how many tickets you’d like, and she’ll hook you up with $12 tickets.

I hope you go see this show. Let us know in the comments below what you think of it.

One of the best parts of starting Blabbermouth and working for myself has been the opportunity to decide which clients to work with. There is no better example of this than the opportunity to work with Expect More Arizona, which officially launches today. This client is truly a pleasure to work with, and allows me to play a small part in tackling a very important issue.

Expect More Arizona is a non-partisan public-private partnership with the uphill mission of working toward strengthening education in Arizona. As you may know, Arizona ranks toward the bottom of most education categories, including 49th in per student investment in K-12 education. We’re letting our students down. This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; we simply must do better for all Arizonans.

So, I urge you to become involved with Expect More Arizona today. Visit their Web site to learn how you can become active in the cause. And, of course, Word of Mouth will help too. Tell your friends, and share with your social networks.

Find and follow Expect More Arizona on these social networks:

Join me in telling our state that we expect more. Let’s hold ourselves, our state, and our students to the highest standards.

In yet another example of how President Obama is pioneering the use of social media in politics, the White House has announced that the President will be answering questions in a live online town hall meeting tomorrow (Thursday, March 26, 2009). You can submit questions here and vote on the ones you would like to hear answered. Like him or not (I like him), you have to admit that he is continuing to use social media as a tool for transparency and participation.

Part of using social media to its fullest extent is not only sharing information, but using it as a tool to listen and respond. To create dialogues, not simply monologue and rants. This is what President Obama does time and again using online tools. Not to bring up an old rivalry, but Arizona Senator John McCain could learn a thing or two from his example. He’s received press and commendation for his use of Twitter, particularly after being mocked for not knowing how to use a computer during the campaign. But, he’s not using Twitter in the best possible way. He’s using it to rant and promote his agenda, but he’s not using it to listen and respond. Twitter is supposed to make users accessible. He ignores replies and doesn’t ever respond. This truly isn’t partisan criticism; I think he would actually benefit from taking my advice. His agenda and overall brand image would be much better served by allowing the type of openness and transparency social media expects and deserves.

The cover article of the current Fast Company highlights Chris Hughes, cofounder of Facebook and architect of Obama’s use of social media on the campaign trail. In so many ways, Barack Obama is President because of what Hughes did for him during the election. It’s so refreshing to see them continuing to utilize social media now that Obama is in office.

Have you wondered what generates authentic, quality, off-line Word of Mouth? Here’s an experience that happened to me that highlights what a company can do to encourage customer evangelism. 

After a recent kitchen remodel, I was in the market for a high quality coffeemaker. I became obsessed with the $4000 touch-of-a-button espresso perfection machines, but could never justify that kind of expense on a coffee maker. Nevertheless, I would go into Williams-Sonoma and stare at them longingly on a regular basis.

About 6 months ago, when I made my regular visit to stalk kitchen appliances, I ran into a former client and her friend. When I explained my desperate longing for high quality brew, the two of them turned into a professional coffeemaker sales force. “No. That is not what you want,” my former client declared. “This is what you want…”


My Nespresso Le Cube

My Nespresso Le Cube

They escorted me to a different section of the store and introduced me to the Nespresso Le Cube. Instantly, I was turned off, being a coffee snob. Nespresso uses coffee in pods, which I was convinced was going to be merely sugary, syrupy flavored nonsense. They objected. Nespresso sells only high quality, ground espresso beans vacuum-sealed in pods for freshness and convenience, they declared. They flagged an official salesman, who allowed me to brew my own cup. Moments later, I was drinking a near perfect pull of espresso with a glorious crema on top. My former client and her friend watched me make my purchase (for a few hundred, rather than a few thousand dollars), and even followed up with me the next day to make sure I was still satisfied with my selection.

These two women don’t work for Nespresso; they are loyalists and evangelists (as I have also become). But, what makes them so devoted to selling this product if they don’t receive any incentives or compensation? Is quality alone enough to generate sustained Word of Mouth like this? Quality is definitely a good start, but let’s take a closer look at how Nespresso engages their loyalists to encourage such a following.

  • Exclusivity. When you purchase a Nespresso machine and espresso pods, you don’t become a “customer,” but a member of a club. The exclusivity is not gimmicky, because they follow through with opportunity and a modicum of prestige. Placing a phone order from Nespresso feels more like making arrangements with a concierge at a 4 star hotel. They also have boutiques in various cities that offer club members VIP perks, including tastings, but they don’t have one in Phoenix so I can’t give any first-hand details.
  • Customer Collaboration. Yesterday I received an e-mail survey from Nespresso that basically asked what kind of company I wanted them to be and how I would like to be treated as a customer. The company consults their consumers on everything from product design, to which advertisements to air, to which limited edition roasts should become permanent. By giving customers a voice in the product, Nespresso also gives them a vested interest in its success.
  • Promote Quality. I have yet to see Nespresso offer me a “deal.” They never downgrade their brand image by offering sale prices. They do, however, offer promotions featuring limited edition products. I might buy coffee when I don’t need any simply because I’m given the opportunity for a unique experience (I might pay a little extra too).
  • Tools to Blab. This is actually an area where Nespresso has a lot more opportunities to take advantage. They do have a decent Facebook fan page with some resources including online video, polls, and promotions. They have user-participation contests and more, but not enough focused on helping consumers evangelize the products. For example, there’s a ton of Twitter chatter about Nespresso, but the company itself has no presence. Their Web site has no feature to “tell-a-friend” that I could find, and, in fact, the site is really clunky and difficult to use; it’s hard to find a page that I would want to share. The desire to share is there, and if Nespresso helps it along a little more, I think we may see world coffee domination.

Nespresso’s Word of Mouth success starts with a great quality product, but they have also built a business model that encourages their members to Blab. What could your company or your clients do to encourage similar experiences like the one I had to purchase my Nespresso Le Cube? What else could Nespresso do to build on the Blab?

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