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A Conversation with Santiago Mayorga from Nieto Senetiner

Santiago, me and Fernando

Santiago Mayorga, the assistant winemaker for Nieto Senetiner, recently came through Dallas with Fernando Salmain, the export director for the winery as well as Kelly Elder, representing Foley Family Wines, to talk about the past, present and future of their wines.

This is a storied winery dating back to 1888, when Italian immigrants founded the winery in Mendoza.  In 1969, the company was acquired by the families Nieto and Senetiner, who brought new world techniques and technology, but kept the old world quality.  In 1998, it was acquired by the Grupo de Negocios de Molinos Río de la Plata, but the family is still very involved.   So you find a mixture of cultures – the Spanish, the Argentinian and the Italian.

The present is Santiago’s focus is the higher end Nieto wines.  He works closely with Roberto González, who has served as the lead wine maker for 20 years.  He brings a boutique perspective from his previous employer.  He joined Nieto Senetiner because it was an amazing opportunity to chart a course for an important winery in Mendoza. 

He talked about his passion for winemaking and how there is “no recipe.”  It’s about the quality of wines and the importance of the terroir over three estate vineyards in three different valleys. 

We tried a line-up of wines, which were all great and the quality for the price was an incredible find.  We started with the 2013 Torrontes, which was a very intense white with notes of rose petals, lemon curd, grapefruit, peach and a richness that kept drawing me back. 

Our next wine was the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was the first Argentinian Pinot Noir that impressed me.  It’s not yet in the Dallas market, but will come soon.  It was full of ripe cherry, cranberry and had hints of the earth.  Niento Senetiner buys the grapes for both the Torrontes and the Pinot Noir, but grows the rest on their own vineyards.

We moved to the 2012 Nieto Senetiner Bonarda.  This was my first experience a 100 percent Bonarda wine, which is the second most planted grape in Argentina after Malbec and is used often for blending.  It was fabulous – intense with smoke, chocolate, raspberry, herbs and oak notes.  Very complex and layered – I definitely want to try more.

The next wine was the 2012 Malbec, a new vintage full of plum, cassis, spice and vanilla.  It was very drinkable – with or without food.  We then moved to the 2012 Cabernet, which was full of blackberry, spice and notes of vanilla and oak.

Our final wines were amazing.  We had the 2011 Don Nicanor, a Malbec Reserve that was named after the founder.  In Spanish, it translates into “of noble origin.”  This wine, which shockingly retails for under $20 at Whole Foods and Central Market, was complex with notes of black cherry, violet, cassis, plum, Dijon mustard (it rocked – trust me) and a nuttiness.  I loved this and will be buying it.

The last wine was the Nieto Senetiner Terroir Blend Malbec, a blend of three vineyards with very different elevations and characteristics.  At $35, it was a special occasion wine without the special occasion price.  It was a beautiful symphony of flavors that brought together the past and the present in a compelling way.  I am looking forward to trying the future. 


My Wine Country Experience: The Intersection of Passion and the Paying Gig

The stars aligned.  The angels sang.  There were rainbows.  And even unicorns.  Exactly how I felt when I flew to San Francisco for the Platt’s P3 Partner Summit for a two-day conference.  Typically, my job as Chief Marketing Officer for an energy software company and a wine blogger do not intersect.  Last Monday, they came together in perfect harmony.

After hearing about the personal stories and losses from the Napa Earthquake, I wanted to see firsthand how wine country was faring so I could report back to you.  Platt’s had arranged for stops at three winerys – which surprisingly all had little to no damage.  Our tour bus took us through American Canyon, the epicenter of the quake.  From the bus, it looked as if it were business as usual – at least from a tourist point of view.  I’m not downplaying the millions of dollars that were lost and the massive cleanup efforts required by some wineries, but I can tell you with full confidence to come support Napa and plan your wine country trip in 2014.  Harvest is in full swing and it was fun to see the full cycle of farm to bottle.

Our first stop was at Grgich Hills.  Mike Grgich is considered one of the original godfathers of California wine and credited with putting Napa on the map from a worldwide wine drinking perspective during the French/Napa challenge.  Our guide – also named Mike — took us through two whites and four reds – I loved being able to try the Croatian Red that is only available at the tasting room. 

Grgich suffered the most damage of the wineries we visited that day – 10 barrels and several bottles.  But it was business as usual and they were busy with harvest.  The wines were lovely, true to their varietal and we ended our time with a Lucille Ball Grape Stomping challenge.

We stopped next at Stag’s Leap, which was the winery that made me fall in love with wine.  Many years ago I was on a work-related trip in preparation for a conference and the company told us we were not needed to help that day.  Three girls took off for wine country in a convertible, very little knowledge and happened to come upon Stag’s Leap Vineyards.  I was aghast that a winery could charge $9 for a taste of one wine – Cast 23.  But, I had to try it.  When I did, it was my “a ha” moment that made me fall in love with wine.  I remember in my early 20’s holding my breath that the credit card would go through for my $90 bottle purchase … it did.  But, I had another uphill battle to fight with my husband later about the justification of buying the bottle when we clearly couldn’t afford it.  However, when we opened it, he understood.

We didn’t try Cast 23 that day, but we had a delightful host named Carla who met us bearing a tray of Stag’s Leap  Sauvignon Blanc.  She then took us through the caves and showed off the winery that did not lose a glass during the earthquake due the bedrock foundation. 

Next we had an amazing lunch with a picturesque view of the winery’s lake over two more wines – the Stag’s Leap Chardonnay and the Stag’s Leap Cabernet. The setting was pristine, the wine was great, the company was charming and a canoe race even broke out between several participants at the end.

Our last stop was Mumm Napa.  I had done the full tour here before so I won’t repeat the details, but ending the day on the Mumm porch with glasses of aged sparkling wines makes it hard to wipe the smile off of your face.  We even stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge for a photo opportunity.  Thank you Platt’s for making your partners feel so valued and taking such good care of us.  


September Wine Round Up: Three Affordable Wines Made the Grade

In the spirit of another Thirsty Thursday #thristythursday, I grabbed a group of co-workers and we tried a variety of sample wines — eight in total.  The following were my favorite three sampled:

White:

2013 Kendall Jackson Avant Sauvignon Blanc – lime, lemongrass, green pepper, citrus and minerality made this a great patio ready wine.

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist – candid apple, caramel popcorn, citrus, vanilla and tropical notes made up this wine, but it had a nice balance and finish at the end.

Red:

2012 Kendall Jackson Avant Red Blend – an everyday drinking wine with lots of red fruit, vanilla, mocha and nutmeg.


Rome Burned While Nero Fiddled: My 96 Lafite Rothschild Experience

That’s exactly how I felt the night I had the opportunity to try my first 1996 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.  We had plans for great sushi at Shinsei and planned to catch up with some friends that we hadn’t seen most of the Summer.  Because our friend’s husband was playing basketball, the rest of us planned to meet at the bar and wait for him to join us.  We had just settled in for a good glass of wine when my friend – the other Melanie O – got the phone call.  Louis had torn his calf muscle and she needed to hightail it home to help him.

You may remember when my husband tore his Achilles and three days later I dragged him to Napa and Sonoma for a wine tasting trip that had long been on the books.  He was a trouper, but it involved surgery, recovery and driving Miss Daisy all over town.  We knew it would be tough – he is a bad patient and I am a worse nurse.

We had taken Lyft to the restaurant because we knew lots of wine would be involved.  We also knew that Louis would need two urgent things that couldn’t be immediately acquired that evening – crutches and pain pills (previously left over from my husband’s accident).  My brother dropped both of those at the restaurant, we ordered dinner for our now infirmed friend and we cruised over to their casa.

The other Melanie O told me to go down to the cellar and pick something out.  I walked into the cellar and about had a stroke – bottles of 1996 Lafite Rothschild and 1999 Les Forts de Latour filled the shelf, among other bottles you only dream about.  I politely declined and asked to look at some more affordable bottles.  Melanie refused.  Clearly I couldn’t be a rude guest and well, I went for it…

It was gorgeous – deep purple with notes of graphite, minerality and black currant.  It was majestic, it was elegant and it was a life experience.  As I looked around experiencing one of my top wines ever, I looked at poor Louis drugged up on the couch.  Nero fiddled while Rome burned, I spose’.  But OMG, it was wonderful ….

 


August Wine Review: A Focus on Napa, Sonoma and Bordeaux Wines

Time for another wine round up focused on wines primarily from California and a few from France – all that were absolutely delicious – and several that were new to me and now on my “go forth and seek out” list. 

Whites:

  • 2013 Murphy Goode “The Fume” – I had the chance to try the 2012 last year when Winemaker David Ready Junior came through Dallas.  It remains a great sauvignon blanc with tropical fruits, orange blossom and melon notes.  And I love his Grateful Dead sojourn story followed by the summons from his dad that got him back into the business.

  • 2013 Galerie Naissance (Napa Valley) – this was full of tropical fruits, floral notes and a very bright acidity.  This was delicious.
  • 2013 Galerie Equitem Sauvignon Blanc (Knights Valley) – this was more mineral in nature, the fruit was more subtle and the layers of flavor and finesse really showed well.  What an elegant and beautiful Sauvignon Blanc. 

Both Galerie wines came with a collection of family recipes from Winemaker Laura Diaz Munoz that showcases her family’s passion for wine and food. 

Reds:

  • 2010 Chateau Jean Faux Bordeaux Superieur – full of black cherry, spice, earthiness, raspberry, anise and licorice.  A great value Bordeaux from a great vintage.
  • 2011 Murphy’s Goode Liar’s Dice Zinfandel – during my time with David, we tried the 2010 vintage.  The 2011 was just as good with big berry and spice.

  • 2011 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon – Asian spice, red cherry, spice, currant and cedar notes filled out this elegant and well-rounded wine.  I love finding second label wines that are just as good as the first label and Faust is a strong sibling to Quintessa.

  • 2012 Plumpjack Merlot – big fruit, blueberry pie, black cherry, chocolate and smoke make this a nuanced and well balanced wine.  The wine was intense and had lots of layers.

  • 2010 Animo Cabernet Sauvignon – this high-end Michael Mondavi family wine which was named after the Italian word for “spirit or soul” was full of cassis, black cherry, terrior and lots of fruit.  It was well-balanced and while delicious today, would be awe inspiring with some cellar time. 

And based on yesterday’s 6.0 earthquake that happened in Napa, I strongly urge you to buy some Napa wine, plan a wine country trip or do something to support the region.


Refugio Ranch: A Haven of Calm After the #WBC14 Storm

When Jeff Butler, the director of sales for Refugio Ranch Vineyards in Los Olivos, reached out with a wonderful invitation to experience his special vineyard, he didn’t flinch when the invitation for one grew to an invitation for ten.  If you’ve been following the adventures of the QBP during #wbc14, you’ve realized that we are loud and proud, love wine and long for the ‘off the beaten path’ experiences that are not replicated with larger conferences.

“The more the merrier,” he said – probably not quite realizing what was in store.  We met at the tasting room and tried the 2013 Aqua Dolce de Refugio on the patio.  The wine, which was made of Malvasia Bianca, was very refreshing with notes of honey, orange blossoms, white flowers and nectarines. 

We loaded up the cars and coolers and headed to the winery, where we promptly lost Thea Dwelle, who joined us with her carload of folks a few minutes later.  The winery, which is on private property and not open to the public, is a sanctuary. Imagine flowers everywhere you look, beautiful vineyards, an inviting front porch, a fantastic host and the wines, oh the wines.

Refugio Ranch was originally part of one of the original Spanish land grants.  The Gleason family discovered the property, which was a cattle ranch for several hundred years, in 2005.  They brought in Daniel Roberts from Napa who analyzed the soils and microclimate to discover the winery was ideal to grow Rhone and Sauvignon Blanc wines.

 We tried the following line-up:

  •  2011 Sauvignon Blanc – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with notes of peach, apple pie, citrus, minerality and almonds.  This was a great wine.
  • 2011 Tiradora – a very different version of the same grape with lots of lime, stone, pear, citrus and herbs.  Loved this one too.
  • 2010/2011 Ineseno – a Rhone blend of Rousanne and Viognier with lots of depth.  This was made in a white Bordeaux style – I tasted brown butter caramel, tropical fruits, orange and dried fruits.  I liked them both, but ordered several bottles of the 2011.
  • 2012 Viognier – white jasmine, peach, nectarine, honeysuckle and dried fruit were the primary flavors that I tasted.  Another delicious, complex wine.
  • 2011 Escondrijo – this was a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Petite Syrah with notes of raspberry, cherry, licorice, black tea and spice. Yum.
  • 2010 Barbareno – a blend of Syrah and petite sirah with floral, cherry, mocha and spice.  Great depth and layers in this wine. 
  • 2010 Nectar de Refugio – a honeyed, complex dessert wine that was a wonderful end to a wonderful day.

 

Interesting fact – in spite of a drought over the last three years, the region and vineyard is on target for another great harvest year and no one can explain why.  The climate is unique – Jeff talked about letting the wine “hang out.”  It takes patience, perseverance and confidence, he said, to let the wines do what they do.  And as the former winemaker for Star Ranch, he has quite the resume to understand the entire sales/marketing function and how to uniquely position the value proposition of Refugio Ranch.  As a marketing person, I have to say the tasting notes just rocked as he described the wines in detail as well as the perfect dish to go with every wine.

 

He talked a lot about terroir or a sense of place, which connects wine to the land.  We had a soulful experience with good friends, great wine, tasty food, a few chickens and a very special vineyard.


Going Rogue: A Guide to the Best Parties at the Wine Bloggers Conference

Robert Larsen, the Ringmaster of Rogue 

During the conference, I was lucky enough to get invited to a few really cool private events that we later coined #goingrogue.   After the fantastic tasting at Star Vineyards, a small group was invited to Rodney Strong’s 25th anniversary “silver” dinner at Root 246.  Rachel Voorhees and Robert Larsen came dressed to impress – and several of the ladies followed suit.

The Ladies and Willie the Photobomber

 

It was an awesome dinner featuring a wide selection of Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum wines.  Rodney Strong people are my kind of people and I did chuckle when I saw our small little group was out trending the overall conference.  Never underestimate the power of a fun group of bloggers.

The next evening, the much anticipated Jordan and J Wineries after-party took place.  Over the years, I’ve seen this party bring everything from sabering (this one was successful) to random people walking the floors in robes to dancing to the great unknown.  That’s the joy.  What continued was a line-up of Jordan and J’s best wines and the chance to taste through a number of verticals.  

QBP in da house

One constant was the Cornerstone Cellars/Steppingstone Cellars suite hosted by Craig Camp, one guy who really gets bloggers.  I have always been a fan of these wines and find they change each year depending on the harvest.  They truly have a sense of place – whether it is Howell Mountain, Napa Valley or Willamette Valley.  I have never tried one that I haven’t enjoyed and the entire line-up from rose to white to red was featured.  It was at Craig’s party that I finally got to try Ed Thrall’s wine, which was also delicious and you never can underestimate the power of heart shaped tub to get iPhones snapping pics.  Craig also hosted us for a really fun dinner the night of the Wine Blogger Awards and we had a blast!  

 Tenley Fohl, Photo Credit

Keith Saarloos and Andrew Murray, Tenley Fohl: Photo Credit

Another really cool event was the Authentic Press party sponsored by Shawn Burger (@awanderingwino) that brought together a number of smaller family producers from Santa Barbara at the Sarloos and Sons tasting room as well as some of the best pizza that I’ve ever tasted from Bello Forno Pizza.  The wineries included Ampelos, Andrew Murray, Nacido/Solomon Hills, Cebada, Lindley, Native9, Palmina, Roark, Saarloos & Sons, Storm and Tercero as well as Fig Mountain Brew.

The vibe was cool and very Santa Barbara.  I found out after the fact that Nicholas Miller from Bien Nacido/Solomon Hills is one of the top 40 under 40 influencers in the wine industry; James Ontiveros, who was from Alta Maria and Native9 was recently co-awarded the farmer of the year; and Michael Benedict, is known for planting the first pinot noir with Richard Sanford in Santa Barbara County.   

I got to visit with Keith Saaroos when I tasted through their wines (and quickly bought a case).  I loved the tenants of the winery taught from him and by looking at the website:

  • “We are farmers first and foremost – the wines are 100 percent estate grown by the family.”  They name the wines after family members or roles within the family. It’s fun.
  •  There are no tasting notes – it’s your decision what you taste – and wines are only sold at the tasting room.  I love this. 
  •  Winemaking is voodoo.  Nuff said.
  •  The Saarloos family planted each and every vine about 15 years ago.
  •  Wine is for every one – not just rich people.
  •  Winemakers drink beer and scotch.
  •  No snobs are allowed. 

Wes Hagen, Close Pepe Winemaker and Host With the Most

The very last night, after the conference had ended, Wes Hagen and Wil Fernandez hosted a party to meet local winemakers and local musicians at Clos Pepe Vineyard’s.  It was everything that I came to love about Santa Barbara – the vibe, the non-corporate sponsors, the wine makers, farmers, musicians and bloggers having a great conversation.  The foods and the wines were local and plentiful and Wes showed his prowess with a pizza oven.

The wine makers were asked to bring wines for a brown bag tasting (like 90 plus of them) that included the wine that influenced them to make wine as well as a selection from the winery.  I also had a chance to talk to OCD Brewing who made an incredible mango habanero saison that made me re-evaluate the fact I don’t drink much beer.

Jeff Kralik Shows Pizza Prowess 

Jeff’s “Bless Your Heart” Sabering Moment

As usual, Wes was quotable and I was able to experience Jeff’s not so successful sabering experience.  A quick word about Jeff, who became our entertainment for the evening.  He’s true Renaissance man – from making and dropping pizzas to being the most tenacious man in the world on sabering a champagne bottle.  Jeff, perhaps we should under-promise and over-deliver in 2015.

 It was an incredible end to quite an incredible conference.


Come for the Private Events: Stay for the Conference

The Wine Bloggers Conference was awesome, but it’s hard for 300 plus people to have the kind of conversations that lead to the stories that I love to tell.  Ironically, of the 39 pages of notes that I took during my time in Santa Barbara, only 12 of them came from my time at #wbc14.  I had the same trend with my photos as well. 

There were many highlights from #wbc14 including being able to catch up with many dear friends.  For $95, this is the deal of the century.  I think that there are a lot of bloggers like me that would pay more for some of the intimate experiences we were able to have by going off the beaten path. 

Our keynote at #wbc was Corbett Barr of Fizzle, a site that helps people make their thing online (their words, not mine).  Corbett had spot on advice for many of us who work to balance the content of our blog with what our readers find valuable.  He had six tenants that he outlined. They were all basic, but a good reminder:

  • Character trumps credentials.  You guys know that all I try to do is tell my story of wine. I have never claimed to be an expert or the right credentials.
  • Differentiate – does the world really need another wine review site?  While I review the wines that I sample and enjoy, I don’t think you guys really want a Dallas Wine Chick rating of these wines.
  • What if you work hard, but don’t get results?  Then you need to re-evaluate what you are doing, get out of your comfort zone and solicit feedback.  Kind of like what you should do when you find yourself in this situation in your life.
  • What is my content is good, but no one is reading?  Hope is not a marketing strategy, he said (love this).  I remember in the early days of starting my blog, I felt like the only folks reading were related to me.  But, I kept plugging and you guys came (thank you).
  • Your blog is not a business.  The goal of Dallas Wine Chick is not to make money, but to fuel my passion for wine.  Check.
  • 1+1=3.  Meaning that you are the average of the people you spend time with – get engaged, make friends with other bloggers, brainstorm with them.  Engage in a Mastermind 101 session where you talk about ideas, consort on great subjects and share your experiences.  I have the QBP (queen bitches posse) that have done this informally for some time now.  And, I loved my column with @NormalWine about the World Cup.  More to come there.

This was followed by a panel of winemakers from Santa Barbara County moderated by one of my favorite winemakers, Larry Schaffer from Tercero Wines.  The presentation wasn’t working so I have to rely on my notes.  We had some of the stalwarts – Ken Brown from Ken Brown Wines, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa Winery, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Richard Longoria of Longoria Wines.  They underscored their passion about the region and how their love of the region is answered in their wines.  As Ken Brown said, “the best is yet to come here.  We have a commitment to make quality wines and are lucky to do it in such a beautiful and special place.”

We did the usual speed tasting, which is something you either love or hate.  I love getting to try wines that I would never be exposed to, but I truly wish we could strike box and supermarket wine (Bandit) from the line-up. But, hanging with Larry from Tercero, I did laugh through the entire question session.  For the whites, my favorites included the 2012 Consilence Viognier, 2012 Jordan Chardonnay, 2013 Buttonwood Zingy Sauvignon Blanc and the 2013 Grassini Sauvignon Blanc.  The red favs included 2012 Labyrinth Pinot Noir, the 2012 Garnet Pinot Noir and the 2011 Vineyard 511 Cabernet.  Delicious. 

We moved to a breakout session from Winebow – When the Sum is Greater than its Parts: Wine Blends from Around the World.  Sheri Sauter Morano, MW, who has taught other #wbc Winebow events, was great and underscored the importance of making sure blends only occur when the resulting wine is superior to each component.  We tried seven blends that were somewhat obscure – I wish there was one that would have been easier to guess in the line-up, but I was happy to learn.  I did okay guessing region, but some of the blending elements were unknown to me.  We tried the following wines – the 2008 Juve Y Camps Reserva de la Familia, 2013 Tasca D’Almerita Regaleali Bianco Sicilia IGT, 2013 Weingut Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz, 2012 Fattoria Le Pupille Morelino di Scansano DOCG, 2011 Wine & Soul Quinta da Manoella Red, 2011 Bodega Renacer Enamore and 2010 Cousino-Macul Finis Terrae.

Then the madness began.  The buses were leaving for the Santa Barbara blogger excursions.  This is tough because you have large groups of friends who want to hang together, but the buses only take a certain number of people.  I was lucky enough to get on a fun bus and with a great group of people.  This was when I was able to observe Jeff Kralick in his native habitat – first pole dancing on the bus and then with a sabering incident.  For the record, I did see him successfully saber a bottle at the Jordan afterparty.

We went to Zaca Mesa Vineyards as well as Andrew Murray Vineyards, where many of the winemakers we have gotten to know around the region poured wines that they couldn’t pour en masse.  We had a bus that broke down (and was quickly replaced) by the region, great food, awesome wines and lots of laughs. 

One of my favorite sessions the next day was the Ballard Canyon Grower Producer Wineries where we did a deep dive into the fabulous syrahs of the region.  We started with a bevy of jokes about the misunderstood grape – what’s the difference between a case of syrah and a case of pneumonia?  Much easier to get rid of pneumonia.  People, wake up – these are fabulous wines. 

We learned that Ballard County has “somewhereness” – meaning it has unique climate, chalk and limestone soil, great fruit and a sense of place.  Patrick Comiskey from Wine & Spirits, along with a panel of eight winemakers, talked and tasted the group through the wines from Beckmen Vineyards, Larner Vineyard, Kimsey Vineyard, Jonata Wines, Harrison Clarke, Rusack and Stolpman Vineyards.  Sarrloos and Sons also attended, but had sold out of its syrah.  I was able to rectify getting my hands on some of their wines at an afterparty I’ll write about in the next post.   

Mike Larner from Larner Vineyards talked about how there is clarity in the wines.  Keith Saarloos talked about the soulfulness of syrah.  They are both right – there is depth.  And spice.  And passion.  And herbs.  And flowers.  And big berry flavors.  And art.  And just loveliness.

That theme continued with any wine that I tried from the region.  I’m putting my theory to action in Dallas and trying any wine that I can find with a Santa Barbara delineation.  So far, I’ve impressed my friends with a Grenache and Syrah that I ordered on a leap of faith.

    


July Wine Roundup: Top 10 from my Last Tasting

This tasting included 18 wines from California and Italy.  We toggled between a selection of Proseccos from Mionetto and a selection of California wines.  Here’s the top 10 list:

Italy

Sparkling

Mionette Prosecco Luxury Cartizze – a very nice dry sparkling wine with notes of apple, pear, flowers and baked bread.  It had a bit of sweetness to it, but was a nice expression.

Mionette Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene Millesimato – this had green apple, tropical fruit and some citrus.  Another nice expression of Prosecco with a bit of nuttiness.

Mionette Prosecco Cuvee Luxury Valdobbiadene Superiore — this was elegant and creamy with apple, pear and floral notes.  This was my personal favorite of the proseccos.

California

Rose

Cornerstone Cellars Corallina Rose 2013 — for someone who is not typically in love with roses, this was my kind of rose.  It had vivid notes of strawberry and raspberry, but avoided what I call the “jolly rancher” syndrome.  It had great minerality, dryness and fruit.  Another delightful wine.

White 

J Pinot Gris 2013 – this is the wine that saved an otherwise crappy birthday due to a work crisis that started my day at 5 a.m.  Full of pear, orange blossom and citrus with a great minerality.  One glass of this (and my sweet family) made my day much better.

Zenato Lugana di San Benedetto DOC 2012 – stone fruit, citrus, tropical fruit and herbal notes.  This was a great summer refresher.

Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – this was hands down the favorite white wine of the bunch.  Full of tropical fruits, citrus, orange blossom and minerality, this was a fantastic expression of Sauvignon Blanc.  Yum!

Red

Byron Pinot Noir 2012 – cherry cola, black cherry, cinnamon and mocha with a nice earthiness made this a Pinot Noir that merited a (quick) second sip.  I enjoyed the Burgundian style.

Edmeades Mendocino County Zinfandel 2012 – blackberry, black pepper, vanilla, chocolate, cherry and I think I even got graham cracker.  I liked the richness of this wine and the different layers I uncovered as I sipped.

Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2011 – meaty, green pepper, tobacco, basil, spice and blackberry with a great sense of balance.  This wine can be enjoyed with food, without food, with friends… but once you take a sip, you may want to keep it all for yourself.  I want to age this bottle and see the magic that happens.


WBC Pre-Trip: A Glimpse into the Soul of Santa Barbara Wine

Larry Schaffer, Tercero Wines

Our WBC journey began with bread.  And yeast.  And really good wine.  What I found about the Santa Barbara region is that it has a soul.  It’s real, it’s eclectic, it’s quotable and it’s incredibly real.  It’s something that you can’t get with a cursory look, which is why I am so glad for the experiences that were planned outside the conference – because by the time I got there, I got it.

We started first with Larry Schaffer, the winemaker and owner of Tercero Wines, who began the week a stranger and ended as up in our circle of friends.  Larry’s got a fun background – he started out as a financial analyst in the music industry and evolved into a role doing sales and marketing for a publishing company.  In 2001, he wanted a change and became intrigued with the grape to glass concept.  Fast forward to a degree from UC Davis, a job at Fess Parker for six years and then to his own label.

Larry’s personality is larger than life and he held his own with our group … and then some.  He kept his comedic timing and composure until https://twitter.com/marcygordon asked him, “If he had always been interested in all things yeast?”  At that point all bets were off and we officially were added to his chalkboard of funny and snarky things people said. 

Tercero (“Third”) was named because Larry is a third child and he has three kids.  His wines were incredible – I took home a mixed case of the 2012 Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Grenache.  He talked about the similarities of a winemaker to an artist.  “Wine should be like art,” he said.  “Every wine reflects the unique vintage, vineyards and experience of the winemaker.”

Mikael Sigouin, Winemaker for Beckmen and Kaena

We also went to Beckmen where we met Hawaiian native Mikael Sigouin, the winemaker for both Beckmen and Kaena.    Mikael talked about Grenache being like a guitar riff – he has eight different compositions of Grenache from seven different places.  We went through the elements of each of the Grenaches – and it was amazing to see the differences.  In the wines, we experienced music – from Bruno Mars to Michael Jackson to Prince.

We ended our evening with a group dinner at the Hitching Post and a stay at the same Day’s Inn featured in the movie Sideways.   Very old school, very fun and yes, we did drink f’in merlot.

The Texas Bloggers Get ‘Photobombed’ by Photographer George Rose

The next day we were invited to a very special tasting seminar “Santa Barbara: Drinking in the Differences” at Star Lane Winery, to truly experience Santa Barbara wines.  I can’t tell you how thankful I was to be included in this special day underwritten by the San Francisco Wine School and the wineries.   Fred Swan, Master Sommelier David Glancy and more than 20 winemakers and owners took us through the different Santa Barbara Country AVAs. 

The Central Coast is an incredibly diverse region made up of 250 miles of coastline and is comprised of ten very diverse counties – from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.  It’s California’s largest AVA with four million total acres in which more than 100,000 are under vine and with more than 360 wineries.  And the sense of place is very different – there’s no standard climate, temperature or soil.  In the last three years, 200 new wineries have opened.   Two river valleys – the Santa Maria River and the Santa Ynez River Valley are the two binders.

The region has a storied and long history beginning in 1782 when Junipero Serra planted the first vines.  Four years later, the Santa Barbara Mission was established.  Sadly this came to a screeching halt in 1920 with Prohibition and the wineries didn’t begin producing again until 1962.  Today the region has five AVAs (with more in progress), has 50 varieties of wines and is incredibly diverse by regions/AVAs due to the temperature.

We tried 22 wines from the different AVAs – everything from sparkling wine, dry Riesling, Riesling, Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, white blends, chardonnay, pinot noir, grenache and syrah from Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA (which must be spelled this way due to the Chilean winery), Ballard Canyon AVA, Los Olivos District AVA and Happy Canyon AVA.  The wineries that participated included Riverbench, Fess Parker, Municipal Winemakers, Dragonette, Presqu’ile, Star Lane, Brander, Jonata, Solomon Hills, Clos Pepe, Melville, Bien Nacido, Chanin, Foxen, Tercero, Qupe, Samsara and Stolpman.

My observations, which continued to be reinforced during and post conference, were as follows:

  • This is an underappreciated region.  The wines are diverse. The wines are unique.  The wines are amazing.  The wines have a true sense of place.  You need to seek out these wines.
  • The people here were great.  Wes Hagen, the winemaker for Clos Pepe said it best, “wine is liquid humanism.  We need to inspire the imagination of the people that drink own wines.”  I have never met a more down to earth group of people that have gathered together in their sense of place – it’s collegial, it’s fun and most importantly, it’s real.  You can see it as the winemakers helped each other go through the AVA application process to the banter about terrior, climate and grapes.  These are people that you want to party with later.

As Larry said at the end of the day, “we want to tell the story of our wines not by talking, but by what is in the glass.”   Tyler Thomas, the winemaker for Star Vineyards, added, “this region features great wine made by great vineyards and great people.” 




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