Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 6:27pm

Chicago, March 2012

Erik hosting a benefit for the Dallas Zoo

I just returned from a three-week sales tour to several markets including Houston, Chicago and Atlanta.  For anyone who travels for a living you know how demanding it is to be on the road and to be constantly on your game.  Exhausting, but, very rewarding.

The word distribution comes up a lot when I am talking with folks in the tasting room and at wine events.  We are fortunate to be in the position where we would be solvent without distributing our wines and just relying on tasting room sales and wine club (direct to consumer).  To be honest, sometimes I feel like my time could be better spent in the tasting room meeting and chatting with visitors as opposed to traveling the country and putting on the public relations hat.  On the other hand, like a lot of small premium producers, Kokomo has a growing fan base in where we have found our niche in key markets; not only among consumers, but with chefs, sommeliers and other wine professionals.

This is where the reward comes in:  I really enjoy meeting people that are passionate about wine – telling them my unique story – the guy from Kokomo, Indiana - and delving into detail about the farming, the fruit, and the winemaking.  It’s inspiring to meet the chefs, somms, restaurant owners and boutique wine shop merchants who buy, pour and praise our wines! 

My goal is not to sell boxes of wine or to be in every wine outlet in the country.  The goal is to get Kokomo on some of the coolest wine lists possible and to see our wines on the shelves of boutique wine shops where the owner is on site daily and hand sells small production wines like ours and can tell my story to his/her customers.

It is immensely satisfying to work with some of the best grapes on the planet and turn them into something that I can share across the country.  I am fortunate to have the time and support to create and foster the Kokomo Winery connection.

Categories: Winemaking Journal

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:37pm


I spent all last week in my home state of Indiana.  At the start of the trip, I presented a quest lecture for Purdue's most popular course - Wine Appreciation.
Joining me were Dr. Christian Butzke and Professor Jill Blume.  360 students filled the hall, and, yes, they were all at least 21 years old, (although, it was hard to tell just by looking!).  This class offers a well-rounded education on wines of the world followed up with a tasting.

Tuesday night I hosted a winemaker dinner at the Indigo Duck in Franklin.  Fantastic venue and an amazing chef!  Wednesday was all about meeting with restaurant beverage buyers and preaching the word of Kokomo Wines.  The following day it was on to the next wine dinner in Bloomington (aka, "Enemy Territory") at Restaurant TallentDavid and Kristen Tallent are passionate and successful restauranteurs - David is the head chef and Kristen is the pastry chef and front house manager.  I am thrilled to see that the wine and food culture in my home state is growing leaps and bounds!  Truly exciting to see it on par with what's happening around the nation.

Friday marked the third Boilermaker Ball where Kokomo Wines were served exclusively at this elegant black tie affair.  Saturday, I was able to catch my breath and put my feet up for a spell as it was family day!  Sunday evening came around and I hosted yet another winemaker dinner.  This one took place at the Kokomo Country Club and was a benefit for Project Access.  It was great to have Kokomo's mayor, Greg Goodnight, join us for this special evening.  The week concluded with a guest lecture at Purdue University's Krannert School of Management.  It was an honor to present my story to these aspiring entrepreneurs.  The focus of my presentation was about the power of relationships in business.

There is nothing quite like a journey home.  Sights, smells, familiar faces, landscapes and old friends, all of these elements conjure up happy memories and feelings of deja vu from a place where you were born and raised.  Many thanks to all the folks who attended my dinners and to Purdue for the ongoing support, collaboration and keen interest.

See you next year.

Erik Miller / Winemaker

Categories: Winemaking Journal

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 11:59am

Erik Miller and Josh Bartels in Aspen

After a week in Aspen, I am compelled to point out (with awe) that there are folks that know more about our craft as it pertains to varietals, regions and viticulture intricacies than we do as winemakers.  I spent several days doing a “ride along” with a sales rep who is going for his Master Sommelier certification.  He informed me that there are two Master Somms in Aspen and went on to explain how prestigious of a ranking it is.  Going around selling wines to the finest restaurants with a sommelier everybody knows and holds in high regard was also an eye opening experience.  I love that these wine pros eat, breathe and dream wine as I do, but their approach, view, focus, angle, etc. is quite different from mine.

As a winemaker, if I were to flex my wine muscles and show off, I guess that would be akin to applauding my 92 point Wine Spectator score for making a monster Chardonnay from a famous vineyard.  On the contrary, if these sommeliers want to flex their wine muscles it is more on the lines of “can you believe this beautiful Tokaji that is completely dry with big acid”, or, “this wine from Jura showing unique oxidized character” – from a region I have never even heard of!  Point being, like any highly specialized niche pursuit, Master Somms are driven to hunt for a hit of the undiscovered, the future frontier, the “thing” that turns the game upside down.

At the end of the day, my hope is that these wine gurus can still find beauty in commonly recognized varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and Cabernet sourced from known world-class regions.  Or, will these wines stultify them as they continue to chase the obscure, the cult, the secret?

Erik Miller / Winemaker

Categories: Winemaking Journal

Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 12:49pm

The other day I had lunch with the Mauritson Family to discuss our block of Zin at Rockpile.  Rockpile is a unique Sonoma County AVA situated at a high elevation above the fog.  A combination of micro-climate and gravely soil - this chunk of land produces much revered fruit.  Part of what I love about my job is meeting with folks like the Mauritsons - multi-generational grape growers.  This family has been cultivating grapes in Dry Creek Valley for five generations succeeding at growing ultra-premium fruit.  During lunch we talked about prices of grapes, yield per acre and future plans.  The "deals" we make in wine country are often born of trust and sealed with a simple handshake - this always amazes people when I tell them about how we "draft" our contracts!  Our partner, Randy Peters, grows the majority of the fruit for our wines.  The other farmers that we work with assist us in carefully selecting varietals from select vineyards to create some diversity with regards to our portfolio.  Over the years, Josh Bartels, our assistant winemaker, and I have enjoyed several wines from the Rockpile appellation.  We are ecstatic to have a block from such a prestigious AVA.  Many, many thanks to the Mauritsons for this special opportunity!  We look forward to working with you in years to come.

Erik Miller

Categories: Winemaking Journal

Friday, January 13, 2012 - 9:38pm

Sf Chronicle Wine Competition logo

This past weekend we received the results from the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  This contest is heralded as the "largest competition of American Wines in the world" and judges over 5500 entries.  I am happy to report that we did extremely well!  We entered 5 wines and they all medaled, including Best of Class on our 2009 Russian River Chardonnay and 2009 Dry Creek Zinfandel, Double Gold on our Peters Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Gold on our Dry Creek Valley Merlot.  Does winning these accolades mean we actually do craft the best Chardonnay and Zinfandel? Our DCV Zin that pulled in the Double Gold and Best of Class was also awarded 92 points from Wine Spectator.  So, perhaps you are thinking WOW that Zin must be outstanding!  On the other hand, Wine Enthusiast gave it 82 points.  What does all this mean?   Well, wines and palates are subjective, and, for example, some will love a wine while others may think it's too ripe or "out of focus".

Because of this press, we are sure to sell out of these wines quickly and that is great.  Looking to the future, what happens next yeat when we enter wines in this pretigious SF Chronicle competition and only receive a few Golds? Is that a letdown because we didn't make Best of Class?  Should we shy away from the contest because we are not sure we will do as well as we did this year?  I can assure you of one thing - I will continue to be the winemaker and Randy will continue to be the winegrower who cultivates this caliber of fruit that we crush in the winery year in and year out.  We will also keep you posted on the people and publications that love our wines and award them high ratings.  As for the average ratings and reviews...not so much!  Wine (and your palate) is subjective...drink what you like!



Categories: Winemaking Journal

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - 7:35pm

I get a lot of questions about oak in wine and its role in the process of aging wine.  At Kokomo we have this saying: "We oak our wine to taste, similarly to salting our food to taste".  We don't want the salt to overpower the dish, but, rather to accent the flavors of the dish.  Same goes for accenting wine with oak.  I have found that you need a percentage of new oak on wines, especially for crafting ultra-premium wines.  However, the amount of new oak to be used varies from varietal to varietal and vineyard to vineyard.  We also like a bolder Eastern European or American oak on certain wines but by far and away, French oak domintes in our cellar.  This costs us quite a bit more but the results are well worth it.  We mostly use 'medium' toast and occasionally use 'medium plus' toast when needed.  We use toasted heads on American and Eastern European but never on French.  Perfecting the oak thing is an ongoing trial.  It's about marrying the exact complimentary oak regimen with each wine/vineyard to pair beautifully.

Categories: Winemaking Journal

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 7:32pm

I put wines into two main categories – cocktail wines and food wines.  Food wines are self-explanatory in that they are to be paired with the flavors and textures of food.  Cocktail wines, on the other hand, are designated to be consumed å la carte.  You come home from work, kick your feet up and have a glass of wine, or, you have an evening out at your local wine bar, or perhaps you have a dessert wine as an apertif.


Personally, I’m in the camp that believes food wines should be lower in alcohol and should have vibrant acidity.  We certainly make wines that fall into that category, however, I don’t believe that all of our wines necessarily have to be in that same style.  For a wine to be consumed on its own, we at Kokomo make a few “cocktail” wines – a “riper” style of wine that is juicy with bold flavors without the searing acidity.  I think as wine drinkers we need to separate the two styles of wines and not be quick to hate on one style vs. another.  Realizing that these wines are consumed and enjoyed in two different settings opens up our palates and enriches our wine experiences.

Categories: Winemaking Journal

Saturday, December 3, 2011 - 7:59am

A hot topic of conversation among wine industry folks are the “Millennials”, also known as the emerging group of wine drinkers that fall between the ages of 21 and 36.  This demo is certainly into wine and the older establishment is wondering how to attract their loyalty.  Being 35, I am at the tail end of this age group, so I guess that makes me an expert!  In my opinion, the way you rally Millennials to support your brand is by NOT trying to target them, a bit of reverse psychology, if you will.  This segment of the wine consuming population is after one thing – AUTHENTICITY!

Here at Kokomo, I feel like we have captured a lot of fans in this age group and I attribute that growth to our company being real – playing the music we like, hanging pictures we like, genuinely talking to visitors as if we are hanging out with friends, and making wines that we like to drink.  Bottom line, it’s pretty simple – the Millennials have been bombarded with slick sophisticated marketing their whole lives and are adept at smelling a fraud a mile away.  Keeping it real and keeping our messaging authentic has been a totally natural process for us, and guess what?  It feels right and it works.

Categories: Winemaking Journal

Sunday, November 20, 2011 - 10:42pm

The Wine Lover's Holiday – Thanksgiving!  The time of year to be with
family and friends, sharing two of the things we love the most – food and
wine.  It’s also a winemaker’s favorite season when the harvest is
complete and we get to sample some of our latest creations.  Something I
have made a tradition of doing at Thanksgiving is bringing new release
wines to the table and discussing how they are evolving.  This year I’ll
bring the 2009 Mounts Vineyard Zinfandel and the 2009 Gopher Hill Peters
Vineyard Pinot Noir to the feast.  What a cool feeling to know that our
Kokomo Wine will be on the tables of so many people – sharing our
varietals with loved ones who have never heard of us.

Thank you!

Categories: Winemaking Journal

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - 10:57am

One of the most common questions I get is “how did you learn to make wine and only be 35?”  After I mention my post grad UC Davis studies everyone seems to be satisfied with my formal learning process.  As to my hands-on learning evolution, I started in the cellar and learned from the ground up.   I wanted to take the time on this particular blog to give a nod and a thank you to fellow winemakers who take the time to engage in conversation and answer my questions about their challenges and experiences that are similar to mine. 

One of my neighbors here at Timber Crest Farms, Ben Papapietro, is a meticulous note taker and has on more than one occasion opened up his notebooks to share his knowledge.  He is certainly a master of Pinot Noir and a great mentor!  On the other side of the parking lot is a young wine maker by the name of Jamie Peterson.  Jamie and I often sit over wine and engage in interesting conversation about fermentation techniques.  Recently I was treated to a couple of fantastic winery tours – special thanks to Biale Winery in Napa who specialize in Zinfandel and Ramey Wine Cellars of Healdsburg who are masters of Chardonnay.

My winemaking style will evolve with time and continued discussions with various winemakers.  It is satisfying to practice an art that is centuries old and our passion compels us to make better and better wines!


Categories: Winemaking Journal