Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wine Professional Interview: Bob Manley of Hermit Woods Winery

I'm super excited to welcome Bob Manley to the blog today to kick off what I hope will become a series of interviews of professionals in the wine industry. Bob is one of the partners at Hermit Woods Winery, and when you go to their tasting room, you'll probably see him. He was my liaison for the signing I did there in March. You can read what I thought about my first good fruit wine experience here.

Bob was very generous with his time and answers, so I'll hand the blog over to him...

Picture taken in March. It was cold.
Please tell the readers a little about yourself and what you do, then answer as many of the following questions as you like.

CD note: I'm impressed he answered ALL of them.

1.  How did you get into food and wine as a profession? How long have you been in the industry?

I fell in love with wine while living in CA for eleven years, and learning about wine became a hobby for me.  When I met Ken [Hardcastle, the winemaker] upon moving to NH in 93, and learned that Ken shared my passion for great wine, and also had the knowledge and skills to make it, a match was made. We began exploring wine, mead, and beer together with our friend and now partner Chuck Lawrence in every possible way. We traveled New England and beyond learning about how other produced wine in this part of the word, we started importing grapes from Chili and CA, we planted a vineyard, things got out of hand very rapidly and before we knew it, we were producing more wine that I think was even allowed without having a license.  We were having so much fun together and wanted to figure out a way to keep it up and be able to afford to do it.  In 2010, we made the decision to get our license to produce wine and the rest is history.

2.  What expertise did you bring to this career? If you came from a different career path or profession, what about it do you think helps you now?

Ken and I both brought very diverse and complimentary talents and background to our venture.  Ken being a PHD Geologist with a father who was a Chemistry Professor, brought a great understanding of the sciences to the equation along with over 25 years of exploring and learning about the making of beer, wine, and mead as a hobby.  I came to the task with a background in art, photography, and advertising and marketing.  Quite simply, Ken had the skills to make great wine, and I had the skills to market it and sell it.

Tasting room and winery dog

Now the fun begins… I am a psychologist, after all.

3.  How do you decide what to recommend to a specific customer beyond their stated preferences and what they've ordered? In other words, how do you read them?

This is very important as I am sure you know.  We begin trying to understand our customers from the moment they walk in the door.  What is there level of knowledge of wine and wine tasting, where have they been wine tasting in the past, what types or styles of wines do they find themselves drinking mostly, how adventurous are they with exploring new tastes, etc.  The best way is to strike up a conversation and depending on their willingness to share, simply ask.  Of course not everyone is as willing to share or really know what the answers to these questions. The next level of understanding comes from watching and listing as they sample our wines.  You can tell a lot from their expressions, what the say about the wines to each other and to us.  We then follow up each tastes with questions about their experience with each wine and try and decide where to go from there. As I am sure you know, it’s as important to pay attention to what they don’t say as what they say.  Facial expressions give a lot away as well.

4.  How do you spot the poseurs, or people who are trying to project that they know a lot about wine but really don't? Okay, besides the ones who have a wine blog.

First, we like to treat everyone equally at Hermit Woods, those who know a lot, whose who don’t, and those to think they do.  You can determine who they are very quickly as you begin presenting the wines and they start reviewing what they know about it.  In the case of those who don’t know much and those who don’t but think they do, we try very gently to bring them up to speed or help clear up their misconceptions if that be the case.  Learning about wine is the goal and all of us could learn our whole lives and still have more to learn.  We try and meet people where they are in their journey and go from their.

5.  What about a customer gets your attention or intrigues you?

Of course when a customer brings to the bar a greater knowledge of wine than I, or just a different experience of wine than me, I am always interested in learning from them. I am also intrigued by those customers who know very little about wine, but really want to learn everything they can and ask lots of questions.

6.  What gets you excited about your job?

First and foremost is the experience of making wine with my two closest friends and partners Chuck and Ken. Beyond being a great deal of fun, it is an incredible learning experience that seems to have no bounds.  But a close second to that is sharing the fruits of our labor with our family, friends,and customers, There is nothing I would rather be doing.

7.  What do you wish your customers would know or do before they come in?

Nothing, like I said earlier, we meet every customer where they are at with respect to their experience with us.  If they come in knowing nothing, then we do the best we can to help them begin their journey into wine.  If they come in with lots of experience, we try to find out what we have to offer them with our experience and knowledge.

8.  What has been your most interesting customer interaction?

There have been so many it is hard to identify just one.  In general, I find it most interesting for me when customers come to the bar with experience in the industry and a vast knowledge of wine, these customers challenge me to dig deep and make sure I can still provide them a valuable, educational, and fun experience.  Especially when the customer has never had experience with fruit wine in the past.

9.   When you go on vacation, do you go to wine-making areas or do you take a break from it all? What do you do for fun?

I can’t remember when I last took a vacation that did not include wine tasting, or at least the attempt to seek out wineries in the places I visit. When you are doing what you love, there is no need to take a vacation from it!  However, life is full of interesting and wonderful things other than wine, and I try and make sure to keep my time diversified with some of my other interests. I enjoy, running, biking, hiking (primarily winter hiking and camping), kayaking, and traveling in general to discover new places.

And about wine itself:

10.  Is there a wine or type of wine you secretly love but don't readily admit it? Or secretly hate?

No secrets here.  First, my love of wine is largely about its diversity.  I try to keep an open mind and explore new wines, styles, regions, etc. when ever the opportunity is available. If I find something I love (or hate), there is not reason to keep it secret.

11.  What has been your most memorable wine-drinking experience?

Visiting wineries in France and discovering frist hand wines for some of my favorite regions.

12.  If you could open and drink any bottle in the shop/cellar but you had to pay for it, what would it be? In other words, what would be your splurge at your restaurant/store?

I am in the wine business, so clearly have to be frugal when purchasing wine, however, I am ok with spending between 50 and 100 dollars a bottle if I a reasonably confident that the wine I will be trying will be unique and exceptional enough to justify it. There are so many wines that might fit this category from so many regions of the world that it would be hard to pick a specific brand. I often look for wines of southern France, Provence, Languedoc, Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape,  when I am looking for a special red wine.

13.  If you could go on an all-expenses paid trip to a wine area or region, where would you go and why?

France, and I would hope to include multiple regions, starting with Bordeaux.

14.  What wine or wines are your personal "house wines," ones you always keep on hand in case company comes over or you just want to pop one open yourself?

With respect to wines from my own winery, I have several, including, our crabapple, petite blue, lake house white, and some of our big barrel aged reds from chili.  If you are talking about wines from other regions, again, I have a fairly wide collection of wines from the regions of southern France.

Thank you so much for your answers, Bob! 

If you are a wine professional and would like to be interviewed or know someone you'd like to know more from, please fill out the contact form on the right or email me at cecilia (at) ceciliadominic (dot) com

Sometimes as a psychologist, I'm a little too close to the subject, and it can be hard to disengage from a pathological perspective. I have to give special thanks to Hubby and our friends and fellow oenophiles Dan and Kirsten B. for helping me to come up with many of these great questions.

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