How To’S

Get sprouting: why the best gardens start from a little seed–and how to do it

Planting-Seeds

I used to begin every winter flipping through the pages of my favorite mail-order seed catalogues, and dreaming dreams of horticultural bounty. Then, reality would set in. Who was I kidding? Me, grow plants from seed? I knew huge numbers of rare and exotic plants were only available if you grew them yourself from seeds, but I forced myself to be contented with the same mundane species everyone else was bringing back from the garden center. A few years ago, I started working on the public television series “The Victory Garden.” Slowly, being exposed to so many wonderful new plants instilled in me a newfound courage. Maybe I could buck up and give seed sowing a try myself With Michael Weishan, our host, and Kip Anderson, our Victory Garden gardener, as my guides, I decided to enter the world of growing my own plants from seed.

Some definitions If you are venturing into the world of seeds for the first time, start, with annual flowers and vegetables. While other plant types including perennials (even trees and shrubs for that matter) can be started from seed, the process is often more complicated and requires a vastly longer time frame. Annuals are quick and easy, providing a wealth of color and bounty the first year. It’s important to understand that annuals fall into two groups: “hardy annuals”–such as peas and sunflowers–that can and should be planted directly outside; and “tender annuals” such as petunias, begonias, and peppers–which by and large are actually perennials in their native tropics, and need a much longer growing season to come to fruition than we can provide outdoors here in the North. Thus, we traditionally cheat by starting these plants early indoors. Here’s how.

Get organized

Most annuals should be started beginning six to eight weeks before the last frost. This can vary considerably, however, and it pays to organize your seeds by planting time before you start. Here at the Victory Garden, Kip has created a customized box for sorting the hundreds of scents we start each year, but a simple shoebox might suit your purposes. To ensure the best possible germination, keep your packets away from heat and moisture until you’re ready to sow.

The Victory Garden method

Fill your sterile trays right up to the rim using soilless mix; water it heavily and allow to drain. This process helps get rid of air pockets, provides a firm foundation onto which you sow your seeds, and diminishes the chance that you will wash them away.

Next, using a pencil or your finger, make small depressions into which you’ll press the seeds. Seeds are generally sown at a depth two to four times the diameter of the seeds. If you’re planting tiny, almost dustlike seeds, such as wax begonias, simply scatter them on the surface of the soil without covering them.

Heat counts

Once the sowing is complete, create a greenhouse effect by immediately covering your flats using plastic–domes, bags, or wrap–to seal in moisture and prevent surface desiccation. Keep the growing medium warm, somewhere between 65[degrees] and 75[degrees]F. We use readily available thermostatically controlled electric “heating pads.” called propagation mats, but you could also keep your flats in a warm place such as the top of the refrigerator.

Let there be light

Consult individual seed packets or a reliable guide to see whether or not your seeds require light during the germination process. Some prefer total dark until the actual plantlets emerge from the soil. At the Victory Garden, we grow most of ore seeds in a small greenhouse, though fluorescent lights on a timer in a heated garage or basement will work equally well. Just make sure the lights are quite dose (about four inches) to the surface of the soil in order to discourage spindly plants. Lights must remain on for 14 to 16 hours a day, with a period of complete darkness at night. Remember to water occasionally, especially as the seedlings emerge. Don’t allow the trays to dry out completely.

Survival of the fittest

When your seedlings haw’ grown to an inch or so tall, carefully weed out any weak-looking ones to prevent overcrowding. As you pull out the weaker shoots, press the soil surrounding the stronger seedlings back into place. If you are growing your plants in six-paks, remove all but the healthiest one or two plants: if they are in a community container, remove or snip out enough plants to provide even spacing and room for growth. Remove the clear covers at this time as well, and continue to water as needed.

Time for the great outdoors

Once the seedlings have begun to mature, prepare them for the great outdoors. You can’t just throw them out into the cold, however–they need (as we all do) time to adapt to their new surroundings. If you haven’t used six-paks, you’ll need to transplant your seedlings now into individual containers. If you have, transfer the plants directly into a south-facing cold frame for a couple of weeks where they will have time to acclimate. If you don’t have a cold flame, you can build your own (for instructions, visit our Web site at clgardener.com) or jury-rig a simple one using four bales of hay placed in a square, with an old window as the cover. Prop the lid open during sunny days, or your young plants will cook. Gradually remove the cover for a few more hours each day until your plants are hardened off, and transplant them into the garden affect all danger of frost is past.

These days, I drink nothing of starting my annuals from seed. and this year I’m even thinking about venturing into the world of starting my own perennials. Isn’t it amazing what a little good information, and a bit of gardening courage, can inspire?

 

ON YOUR MARK, GET SET …

A good workspace

It’s important to have an area to work in with easy access to water, and where you’ll not be afraid of getting a little dirt on the floor.

Ample containers

Your seeds can be sown in almost any kind of well-cleaned pot or plastic tray for later transplanting into individual cells or pots, or directly into the latter. Here at the Victory Garden, we use plastic trays with 6-pak cell inserts that come with clear plastic domes; these can be found at most garden centers. This eliminates the need for secondary transplanting.

Soilless mix

You’ll need a reliable brand of sterile soilless mix (so called because it doesn’t contain soil at all, but rather a mixture of peat moss and vermiculite). Avoid ordinary garden soil since it may contain spores of damping-off and other diseases, and also can easily become waterlogged and drown your seedlings.

Labels

You’ll also want to have a handful of labels on hand, so you’re not relying on your long-term memory. Inexpensive wooden labels, and an indelible marker, work well for this job.

Organizing a wine tasting

Row of white wine glasses in winery tasting event

A successful wine promotion can be as small as a tasting lunch for a group of local wine and food lovers or as grand as an 80-wine, 1200-person tasting such as the one Meadowood Country Club hosts each summer during the Napa Valley Wine Auction.

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A wine event can have widely different goals, from focusing press attention on your restaurant, hotel, or club to bringing in new customers and generating excitement among your existing clientele.

But no matter what its size or who it’s for, a wine event is never as easy to organize as it sounds.

WORTH THE TROUBLE

Don’t let that stop you. Because when it’s done right, a wine tasting is one of the trendiest, most successful methods for building business and establishing a sophisticated reputation at the same time. “Promotionally, wine tastings are worth every bit of work they take,’ says Barry Mills, cellarmaster at New York City’s Windows On The World, unquestionably one of the country’s leading wine-oriented restaurants with $2.5 million in wine sales per year. “Each time the press mentions that an existing tasting is taking place at Windows On The World, it enhances our reputation as a serious restaurant committed to the best in food and wine.’

Wine events are, of course, no longer new. Restaurants such as Windows On The World or hotels such as San Francisco’s Stanford Court have been mounting tastings for years. But the majority of restaurants, clubs and hotels still haven’t tried the idea.

“It’s surprising to me that more restaurants don’t do tastings because they’re a perfect promotional and educational opportunity and customers love them,’ says Richard Lavin, owner of 100-seat Lavin’s in New York City, now in its fourth year of Invite-The-Winemaker luncheons. About 40 winemakers and winery owners a year pour their wine at Lavin’s midtown Manhattan restaurant.
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“A lot of restaurants, clubs and hotels in California and New York will host tastings,’ stresses Michaela Rodeno, vice president, communications for the sparkling wine firm Domaine Chandon. “But as a winery, we’d like to see tastings done in other cities around the country.’

Rodeno says this has already begun to happen. (Domaine Chandon began a program of “wine training staff seminars’ for restaurants and hotels a year and a half ago and has done more than 125 of these seminars for the trade thus far.)

Now that some pioneering restaurateurs have broken the ice, other restaurants are adapting past successes– and avoiding past mistakes–in creating their own wine events. By knowing what’s worked for others in the past, you can tailor a wine tasting to fit your own business needs, which will give added thrust to your existing promotional activities.

NOT JUST FOR SNOBS

The first myth to erase from your mind is that wine events are somber affairs that take place in staid settings. The restaurants and hotels that do the best tastings have one thing in common: They all make the experience casual and fun.

Lavin’s Invite-The-Winemaker program is an example. At lunch (two seatings), every customer is given complimentary 2-ounce “tastes’ of two different wines from a single winery. The visiting winemaker or winery principal (Lavin does not invite wine sales reps) is on hand to introduce himself and chat briefly–and informally –with customers.

“I often walk around with the winemaker,’ explains Lavin. “Generally, we just ask customers “Which wine do you prefer?’–not “Do you like wines?’ This isn’t a wine class. We don’t want to put our customers or the winemaker on the spot. As a restaurant, we want people to enjoy themselves; and we don’t want to be pretentious.’

The visiting winemaker’s wines–besides being offered as “tastes’–are also featured by the glass and are availability by the bottle. At the same time, the regular selection of wines by the glass and bottle is available so customers don’t feel compelled to order the featured winemaker’s wine if they’d prefer to drink something they are already familiar with.

KEEP IT CASUAL

Casualness is equally important when a hotel restaurant does a wine tasting. At New York City’s year-and-a-half-old Novotel Hotel, wine tastings in the Wine Bistro are stand-up, impromptu, and complimentary. And, they are open to hotel guests and general public alike. “We don’t want to have businesslike tastings,’ says food and beverage manager Richard Chanofsky. “We’re trying to do something different and we’re not just looking at the hotel market. We want to create a new era for hotels by encouraging business from hotel guests, local business people, and city residents.

The Novotel tastings are held several times a month, always on “slow’ (Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday) evenings. A tasting table is set up near the bar and anyone in the hotel is encouraged to wander in for complimentary tastes. A winery representative is on hand to pour and talk about the wine. “Depending on when a customer walks in, he might be offered anything from three different Cabernets to new releases from a boutique California winery,’ says Chanofsky. The tastings, he adds, have acted as “a profitable venture,’ because they encourage other wine sales. Incidentally, the complimentary tastes offered at the tasting table are provided by the winery, not purchased by the hotel.

LOGISTICS

There are two basic types of wine tastings: stand-up and sit-down. Stand-up tastings are generally for larger groups of people. They’re also best when you want to stage an event that is as much social as it is serious.

Sit-down tastings are more structured and generally more academic. That doesn’t mean they’re less fun– simply that the tasting has a purpose and the tasters have a goal. “Some of the best sit-down tastings involve a dinner,’ says Richard Lavin. “We did one tasting dinner with vintages going back to 1946 as aperitifs, then we matched the winery’s new releases to a multi-course dinner–all new American cuisine. A stand-up tasting of old wines and new releases wouldn’t have been as exciting. The sit-down tasting dinner put the wines in perspective and gave the tasting meaning.’

Whether your tasting is sit-down or stand-up, the most innocuous details can be devastating when they’re overlooked, so plan carefully. “I remember a tasting in a hotel ballroom where the hotel staff had shampooed the carpet the night before,’ says Michael Rodeno. “The place reeked so strongly of chemical solvent, no one could taste the wine.’
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OVERLOOKED DETAILS

Sometimes even obvious details–like having enough corkscrews–are overlooked or neglected. At the pre-auction Napa Valley tasting that Meadowood Country Club hosts each year, 80 vintners pour their wines for 1,200 people on the club’s fairway. Because the event is large and held outdoors, it requires a significant amount of organization and has a chairman who begins planning nearly a year in advance. Most of the tasters strolling along the green on that summer evening have no idea of the behind-the-scenes details that make the event a success. For instance, parked and camouflaged on the perimeter of the fairway is a refrigerated milk truck hooked up to a generator to make sure all the white wines remain properly chilled throughout the evening.

PROPER TRAINING

Besides attention to detail, the establishments that put on successful tastings say the most basic necessity is a well-trained staff. “Eighty percent of our wine sales are due to staff training,’ says Windows’ Barry Mills. “We couldn’t do 800-person stand-up tastings such as the New York Wine Experience without a well-trained staff.’

Staff training is your responsibility, but wineries are often willing to help. Many wineries offer operators free-of-charge staff training seminars to help restaurants promote their products. “We go to the restaurant or hotel and teach the staff how to encourage wine sales and conduct wine events,’ says Rodeno. “It’s basic stuff and we make it fun.’

If you’re thinking about hosting a wine event and you’d like to have a winery involved, remember that you have something valuable to offer. Groups of vintners that tour the U.S.–such as the Napa Valley Wine Forum–are always looking for new restaurants and hotels to display their wines and hold events. By having a reputation for good food and good service, you’ll be noticed by wine distributors and others in the industry that report back to the wineries. You may even want to write several wineries directly, suggesting a tasting.

But whether a tasting has a participating winery or not, the bottom line is the same–successful wine tastings are a proven way to enhance your image and build your business.

Selling a second bottle

Sale-March-18-20131

This is the third article in our special series–Sales, Service, Taste–on how to develop a successful wine training program.

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SALES: THE SECOND BOTTLE

Since 1983, when wine first exceeded beer and liquor sales in our restaurants, it has become increasingly important to take advantage of your customers’ keen interest in wine.

Customers who begin with wine in your lounge or bar seem more likely to order more wine at the dining room table than those who do not. This certainly represents a solid sales opportunity to offer these guests new and different wine selections with their dinner. This trend also suggests that a more aggressive attempt at merchandising wine in your bar can make suggesting wine easier for your waitstaff in the dining room.

If you decide to increase your emphasis on the wine in the lounge, here are some points to remember:

1. When ordered in the bar/lounge, wine is often one of the first impressions of the quality that your operation offers; make sure the wine you serve is a quality product.

2. Make sure you let the customer know that they are getting a recognized brand when it comes to house wine. Make an effort to pour house wines from the bottle. This shows that you’re proud of what you serve (a glass of red or white on a cocktail tray has no perceived quality or brand identity).

3. When in the lounge, try to pour wines from the bottle so that the customer can see the label. If the customer knows what they’ve been served in the lounge, it’s easier for them to request the same wine in the dining room.

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One of the best ways to increase your average check is, of course, to sell more appetizers and desserts. Similarly with wine, the sale of that “second bottle’ can significantly increase profits. Here are some points to teach your sales staff that will enable them to sell the second bottle more easily:

Obviously, the second bottle can’t be recommended until the customer has been served the first one. Stress the importance of taking the wine order with the food order. This way, the waiter can get the first bottle on the table as soon as possible.

In order to sell the second bottle, serve the first bottle with the appetizers so that a new wine can be suggested with the main course. In order to use “The Recommended Approach,’ you must train your staff how to create the opportunity to sell the second bottle. Once the fundamental technique is understood everyone will become more successful salespersons. Examine the appropriate steps to be taken.

Assume you’re serving a party of four persons who have just ordered a bottle of wine.

Make sure that your staff brings the bottle to the table first (before serving the appetizers). This gets everyone involved in tasting the wine.

Just before the main course is served, teach your staff to approach the table and pour the remaining wine into the glasses.

Have the staff then say . . . “Your dinner is almost ready to be served, would you like to try a different wine with the main course or perhaps you’d like to stay with another bottle of your first choice.’

By using the latter approach your staff will be much more successful in raising their average checks, not to mention their tips!

Remember, it all hinges on getting the first bottle served early, the second should soon easily follow.

SERVICE: HANDLING WINE

Good service in the restaurant is something that customers expect and usually receive. Exceptional service, especially when it comes to wine is what creates particular interest in your operation such that it becomes a “wine destintation.’

Your goal should be to have everyone who handles wine in the dining room, do it with an air of professionalism. Customers are not used to seeing professional wine service because most waitstaff persons haven’t been trained properly. Here, is your opportunity to polish your staff’s wine service skills and impress your clientele.

Basically what you need to do is to educate your waiters and waitresses as to what the customer likes and dislikes regarding the service of wine. Here are some things to focus on:

All staff should carry bottles of wine in the dining room with an air of respect for their contents. Many waiters can be seen running with bottles, finally plunking them on the table as they would a bottle of catsup. Teach them to move slowly and gracefully in approaching the table. This leads the guests to believe something special is about to arrive. The bottle should be placed gently on the table with the label facing all the guests.

The capsule should be cut cleanly around the top without picking up the bottle from the table. Care must be taken not to tear the capsule as it is part of the aesthetic presentation of the wine. Never twist the bottle; twist the corkscrew until all of its five coils have completely penetrated the cork. This ensures a secure grip on the cork so that it can be removed in its entirety.

Once the cork is removed it should be placed to the right of the host. Never smell the cork! The cork’s purpose is to protect the wine from air and thus, is inspected to ensure that it’s not all dried out. The wine itself is what should be smelled; teaching your waitstaff not to smell corks, and why, is an important step in improving your wine service.

Careful attention must be paid when the wine is actually poured. Most often this is done in a hurried fashion. Time should be taken to pour slowly and elegantly, again showing respect for what’s inside the bottle. Never let the mouth of the bottle touch the wine glass. Handling the wine with respect each time it is poured has a profound effect on the image of professionalism of your operation.

Many customers do not feel comfortable with the ritual of tasting the wine to see if it is all rights. I don’t blame them. After all, we don’t ask them to taste their steak, do we?

In order to make the customer more at ease with the initial sampling procedure, ask that the person who pours the wine for the host stand out of direct contact (sight) with them. Many waiters pour a taste sample and then stare at the host. This makes the person uncomfortable, leading them to rush through the procedure just to get it over with. This is precisely what inhibits people from ordering wine with their meal.

TASTE: BODY

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The term body refers to how the wine feels in the mouth or how it “fills’ the mouth. In all wines we find sugars, alcohol, glycerine, acids, tannins, etc. Some wines, we say, are better endowed than others because they have more of these particular substances. When you describe a wine’s feeling in the mouth, you say it is either “light-bodied,’ “medium-bodied,’ or “full-bodied.’

Light-bodied wines are easy to drink. They go down as easily as water. They go down as easily as water.

Medium-bodied wines have more substance to them; they seem to weigh more on the palate. They fill the mouth with a richer, more velvety quality.

Full-bodied wines make their presence known in the mouth. They are assertive, they can coat the tongue. A simple analogy is that light-bodied wines are like water, medium-bodied wines can be compared to skim-milk, and full-bodied wines are like rich, whole milk.

Body is an important concept when it comes to matching wines with foods. Light-bodied wines go better with simple, everyday foods that don’t require seasonings or sauces. As the wines become full-bodied, they tend to go better with dishes of a more assertive nature. The more intensely flavored (strong spices, rich sauces) the food, the more full-bodied the wines must be so as not to be dominated by the food flavors.

In order to ensure that your staff is comfortable with the term “body,’ and how to use it, you should conduct tastings to demonstrate wines of differing bodies. The easiest way is to start with a simple house white wine and compare it simultaneously with a full-bodied Chardonnay from California (e.g. Edna Valley, Chalone, and Far Niete.)

Don’t forget to conduct these tastings for your staff in a blind, side-byside comparison format. Then it will be easier to perceive the taste difference that you’ll be trying to demonstrate.

After they have tasted the two wines, ask them to identify on the scale where each wine falls in relation to body as far as the other is concerned.

Once your staff is familiar with describing wines of extreme differences, than you should compare two Chardonnays blind. This is where you should start if your staff is more advanced than others.

ENERGY-EFFICIENT LIGHTING PRODUCTS

Energy-efficient lighting products are beginning to catch on with consumers, and Congress has given the trend a big boost in recent years. In 1992, it passed the National Energy Policy Act, which required lighting manufacturers to replace outdated lamps with brighter, more energy-efficient models.

Three years later, Congress created the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which requires power utilities to sell their power on an open market. These steps have encouraged businesses and consumers to think more about the energy they consume, and manufacturers are developing new products to meet the growing demand for energy efficiency.

This trend prompted the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, using money from manufacturers, to begin a national campaign to inform consumers about the benefits of energy efficiency.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined the fray in 1997 by creating its Energy Star[R] label, which manufacturers may voluntarily display on energy-efficient lighting fixtures if they meet program guidelines. Fixtures carrying this label can trim the cost of lighting high-use areas, such as bathrooms and kitchens, by 50 to 60 percent. And bulbs and lamps for these fixtures last three times longer than incandescent bulbs.

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Home Depot to test convenience format stores next year: industry leader developing plans to open 4 hardware stores in northeast

The Home Depot announced it is developing plans to test a convenience hardware store format.

This format, as yet unnamed, will be designed to serve the small-project do-it-yourself homeowner and other customers who prefer a convenient location and smaller store environment for purchasing home improvement and related products.

“The U.S. home improvement convenience market generated sales totaling approximately $50 billion in 1997, but the vast majority of those sales took place outside of larger home center stores such as Home Depot,” stated Arthur Blank, president and ceo. “This test will help us determine the best products, services and methods of gaining home improvement sales we would not be able to get inside our Home Depot stores.”

The test is being developed and will be run by Bob Wittman, senior vice president of business development and former coo of Orchard Supply Hardware Stores. It is expected that the first store will open in the Northeast during the first quarter of fiscal 1999, followed by three more stores in that region later in the year. (more…)

Consumers shopping for the right look

Paint is one of the top-selling departments at most hardware/home improvement stores

But that doesn’t mean retailers can take the sales for granted. Becoming a destination store for paint and decor products involves presenting a visual look that entices customers, backed up by employees who know how to sell the customers everything they need for the project.

A strong paint department has enabled Grassy Creek Hardware in Spruce Pine, N.C., to attract male and female customers, both professionals and do-it-yourselfers, according to co-owner Dean Pittman. Female customers are especially attracted to hands-on displays such as the standalone merchandiser they have featuring paint color samples. “Women really like to take those home and test them out before they decide what color they want,” he says.

Carrying a broad selection of quality products is important when it comes to selling paint and decor products, Pittman says, but service is still the main ingredient for success. “Quality service–that’s our strongest niche,” he says. “You have to instill people with confidence that their project will turn out right.” (more…)