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Made in Massachusetts: How Marco Montez Put Travessia Urban Winery on the Map

Monday, July 19, 2010

When I first started using Twitter a few years ago, primarily as a means for connecting with people interested in wine and from there hopefully this blog, one of the first people I followed was @TRAVESSIA.  They're a small urban winery in New Bedford, Massachusetts producing wines from grapes grown in Massachusetts.  Sure- why not follow them?

Over the past few years I've gotten to know Travessia's owner and winemaker Marco Montez better, and it's been great to watch his winery grow and gain notoriety.  We had a chance to visit Travessia's unique winery this past weekend and it was great to round out my familiarity with the brand.

Like Any Other Small Business

I find small businesses fascinating.  It seems like almost everyone I know has a side-interest or hobby they'd like to derive income from at some point, but it's often hard to take the leap of faith required to get that small business off the ground especially in uncertain economic times.

Regardless of the topic you're interested in, a common set of core marketing strategies need to be tended to.  A website, a blog, establishing a social media presence- all of it takes time.  But those who do it effectively are able to establish a connection with their customers that transcends a commoditized transaction and positions the business for success.

One of the first small companies I worked for had about 100 employees.  I remember a new Marketing Communications person being hired on and their job description was "to make the company look bigger than it was".  If this was Travessia's aim when they launched their first wines a couple years ago- I'd say they were successful.  If you look at their website you'll see a professional looking, easy to navigate site with just the information you're looking for.  To my eye, the site looks better than some businesses many times larger.

Travessia has taken advantage of being small and nimble by establishing an authentic presence on free important social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.  They maintain a blog and I was particularly impressed with the FourSquare special we were greeted with upon arriving:
Summing it all up, the key thing I think Travessia has done well is to establish an honest human connection with would-be customers and partners that aligns with their brand.  Well done- definitely one to watch and learn if you're interested in promoting your small business effectively.

In Real Life

I've met Marco and tried his wines before but this was the first chance I had to see him at the winery in New Bedford.  He had the day off but was kind enough to meet us there after I pinged him on Twitter.  Just as we were trying to figure out whether we needed to feed the street meters he pulled up and gave us the Insider's Tip: No need to feed the meters on Saturday even though the meters indicate they're in operation on Saturdays.

The winery is situated on nice medium-density street with parallel parking.  It's about 1,000 square feet in all including the wine-making operation and the tasting room.  The back has the winemaking equipment: Fermentation tanks, barrels, a corker, etc.  We had our kids along so we weren't able to get into as much detail as I would have liked but there was something very cool to seeing a winery of this scale in action.  Here's why...

There's clarity in small scale.  In my day job, I look at integrated circuit designs with millions of devices.  When something goes wrong and I want to test a theory I have about what's causing the problem, I create a tiny design that has only 2 devices in it.  90% of the time I can replicate the problem concisely and then know exactly where to focus.  With wine, production numbers and the winemaking process can be a blur until you see it hands-on and can visualize the steps involved.  I'd love to follow along with a winery from grape to glass to reinforce what I've only read about and seen bits and pieces of.

It was great to see the tasting counter occupied by at least one group the whole time we were visiting.  Edson was pouring the wines the day we visited.  Bottles are available for purchase and they offer a wine club that I finally signed up for after meaning to for months.

We tasted through their Pinot Grigio, Unoaked Chardonnay, Oaked Chardonnay, and Vidal Blanc.  All are made with 100% Massachusetts-grown grapes.

The Pinot Grigio is a relatively new addition to the line-up.  It's bone dry and I'd like it more if it had a little more weight.  The Chardonnays are well-made but I'm not a fan of the variety in general and if there's a grape out there that can be polarizing in terms of taste preferences it's Chardonnay.  A lot of people say they like unoaked Chardonnay lately (and some people indeed do) but I recall a wine dinner at Legal Sea Foods a while back where the well-regarded California Chardonnay producer Sonoma-Cutrer was pouring their wines.  Half of the people loved their oaky Chardonnay and the other half preferred a lighter, crisper style.  Fortunately, Travessia offers both- take your pick.  I prefer the oaked.

Their Vidal Blanc continues to be my favorite of the bunch.  If you like Riesling with just a kiss of sweetness or Gewürztraminer you might enjoy their Vidal Blanc.  Their 2008 was a little drier (less sweet) than the 2007 we enjoyed so much.  Both vintages are great but we took the opportunity to pick up a couple more bottles of the 2007.  Vidal Blanc is a hybrid (a cross between grapes of different species) commonly used in Canadian ice wines.  I think it does well in Massachusetts and I've enjoyed other examples from wineries on the Southeastern New England Coastal Wine Trail.

As we were leaving a dozen bachelorettes arrived in a limo- what a great way to start the night and good business for the winery.

We asked Marco where we could get some clams in a waterfront setting and his suggestion of the Waterfront Grille was spot-on.  You're looking out over fishing boats (as opposed to yachts) and the ambiance is coastal enough that you appreciate being on the water but not clam-shacky as to be grubby.  Funny side note: A group of guys came in while we were there and asked the waitress if they could take off their shirts outside.  I got the distinct impression she gave them the once-over before saying "um- no".

My impression of New Bedford after the visit is that it's a lively coastal city with an eclectic mix of charming cobblestone streets, a waterfront with active fisheries, a launching point for Vineyard ferries, and a cool collection of urban businesses.

When we go back next I'd like to visit the Whaling Musueum and/or the Ocean Explorium.  We had a chance to drive by both and they looked inviting.  Click here for a list of other activities in the area.

Conclusion and Recommendations:

About an hour south of Boston, a visit to Travessia is highly recommended.  Paired with a visit to a nearby restaurant and/or museum it makes for an enjoyable day-trip.  They're producing some delicious wines in a cool urban environment and I look forward to watching them grow.

Know how I'm always complaining about Massachusetts wine shipping laws?  Fear not- you can buy Travessia online and have it shipped to your home or office in Massachusetts.  What a novel idea!

Check 'em out:
Travessia Urban Winery
760 Purchase Street
New Bedford, MA 02740
774-929-6534

As a mater of disclosure I'd like to mention Travessia has run an ad on this site in the past.  It was more than a year ago, but just so you know.  Click here to read my advertising policies.

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