Archived entries for California Wines

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.

    


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.” 


Lessons I Learned from Cards Against Humanity at the Wine Blogger’s Conference 2014

I sit here straddling the line between (i) the euphoria of attending the Wine Bloggers Conference with so many amazing people in a region that I fell in love with (ii) trying to catch up on the reality of all the work I ignored (because after all, pros hydrate and execs don’t make career limiting decisions after a day of tasting).  I’m taking a few days to truly absorb all that I learned about the regions, the wines and the people before I begin my recaps.

But, those articles are expected.  What isn’t expected is there was more than wine that brought people together.  Reflecting back on past conferences, this is not a new phenomena

This year, it was Cards against Humanity.  It is a multi-player party game often compared to the kids game “Apples for Apples.”  It shouldn’t be.  It’s politically incorrect and dark.  It often has unexpected results where the least likely suspect comes up with the worst possible answer that leaves you laughing so hard you are crying.  

I think Jason Graham summed it up the best with his Tweet above. Jason, I have to tell you it was priceless.  As I look back, I realize if I had read the “Cards” prior, I might have been better prepared.  (Full disclosure: I chose the PG13 version as the others would result in an instant flagging by HR and IT in the workplace).   If you are easily offended, do not buy this game.  There is nothing Apples for Apples about it except the format.

Observation #1 (Never get in the car with strangers)

It all started with the pre-trip.  After leaving Tercero Winery and en route to Keana Winery, we came to screeching and sudden stop.  Standing on the side of the road next to us was fellow blogger, Frank Morgan.  “Frank Morgan, get in the car, we screamed.”  After realizing that he either had no choice or he was not about to disappear without a trace, he did. 

Observation #2 (Wayne’s World) and Observation #3 (passive aggressive behavior)

An email came out prior to the conference with a strong caution of attending unsanctioned events.  As a marketing person by day, I understand how important sponsors are to keeping the prices down for the rest of us. But after a few days, it felt a little like a Wayne’s World commercial with the big sponsors, who did throw some great events, eclipsing the regional guys.

We had some amazing opportunities presented to us and if I had not gone to these unsanctioned events, I never would have seen the diversity of those wines nor understood the complexity of the region. That was the essence of why I’m there and I’m non-apologetic for attending them.  At the end of the day, the non-sanctioned events created the own hashtag #goingrogue and a lot of unnecessary drama.  We are not 5 year olds to be spanked with a jelly shoe at the local K-mart. 

Observation #4 (Bless your heart)

The South and my Southern accent, which is exasperated when I am drinking wine, was a topic of conversation.  We also talked about the true meaning of the Southern phrase “bless your heart,” which has many meanings – none of them nice.

Observation #5 (The King of Pop rocks any party)

One of my favorite moments coming back from the Rodney Strong 25th anniversary dinner after a great evening of food, wine, friends and silver-themed clothes was when the Michael Jackson videos began on the bus.  Mary Cressler and I had a ball breaking into song and dance.  Let’s just say I should stay solely with dance.

Observation #6 (what you need to know you learned in kindergarten and don’t become a hashtag)

Come on people.  If you are going to complain about every single detail of the conference from the food to the wine to the organization, do not come. We don’t want to deal with your diatribes at every turn.  Every other conference that I’ve ever attended had a 5x cost (at least) and $95 is a hell of a deal. 

Also do not assume that just because an attendee is invited to an event, they have the ability to add you to an often small pre-configured guest list.  It’s up to the organizer who is on the list and they have to plan in advance. It’s uncomfortable for everyone.  

Observation #7 (the power of a good group of friends and just say no to #gentlemassage)

Missing Many Key People Who I Adore…

From the very beginning on Twitter, I had a great group of people that I knew would always have my back.  I have learned from them, I have laughed with them, I have toured with them and I sure have consumed a lot of wine with them.  As they proved this year when someone stepped out of line (#gentlemassage), they completely have my back.  We live all over the country.  If it weren’t for the Wine Bloggers Conference, I would be missing out of one of my favorite times to catch up with this special group. 

For the 27 people who played Cards against Humanity in our room over a two night period, there is a reason why we are good friends.  Thanks for the laughter, good wine and the memories.


 


A Conversation with Chris Hanna: President of HANNA Winery

On my way out of town (literally), I had the chance to meet Chris Hanna, president of HANNA Winery, and another Renaissance woman extraordinaire.  Like me, she juggles a C-level job and works to raise a family – in a world that is often male dominated. 

She’s smart, funny, direct and has a vision for the past, present and future of the wine business.  We talked about her perspective on the most interesting folks in the world of wine. “The most fascinating people in the wine business start with careers outside the business,” she said.  “They intersect expertise in art and science making them more creative in how they think.” 

She is a walking example of just that.  Her original vision was to become an English professor and academic.  When her dad called her in to help interview sales and marketing candidates, she had an epiphany.  “I wasn’t sure how we could claim to be a family business when we had no family members running the business.”  Her dad, Dr. Elias Hanna, a world-renowned cardiac surgeon, was trying to manage the business working primarily from an ER. Three days later she found herself on a flight to a distributor in Chicago as “green as green can be.”

Fast forward 20 plus years and she’s built HANNA into one of Sonoma’s most successful family wineries.  HANNA encompasses more than 600 acres of land in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and the Mayacamas Mountains.   Chris talked about her journey from when Merry Edwards came in as the first consultant.  “She taught me how to exist in a man’s world and important things like barrel cleaning protocol.”  She asked a million questions and collaborated with other family run wineries in the region and day by day learned the business.

She made some risky judgment calls – from changing the entire Cabernet program to putting screw tops on HANNA’s best selling Sauvignon Blanc (both have paid off).  Chris has written a cookbook, “The Winemaker Cooks,” which celebrates wine and food.

I had the chance to taste through several wines from HANNA.  We started with the 2012 HANNA Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  It had great acidity with tropical fruit, citrus and floral notes.  It was a great expression of sauvignon blanc.

Our second wine was the 2012 HANNA Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  I was really impressed with this wine.  I tasted tropical fruit, almond and vanilla.  I am a big fan of this wine – especially for under $20.

We moved to the 2010 HANNA Red Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley.  I loved the black cherry, licorice, tobacco, plum and big berry taste that I got from this wine.  Five years ago, Chris decided to totally revamp this program and replace the Merlot that was originally blended with Malbec.  It was smooth, easy drinking and a great wine.

We ended our conversation with a discussion about how the industry has changed and how HANNA works with Terlato Wines to gain additional exposure as well as having a robust direct to consumer business through its tasting rooms and wine clubs.  Considering the winery has grown from 1,000 cases to 50,000 cases, it looks like Chris’ strategy is working well.  


Savino Connoisseur – A Way to Preserve Your Wine Investment

I recently received a sample of Savino Connoisseur, a glassware product designed and advertised to keep wine fresh for up to a week.  I was leaving for a work trip to Barcelona and I knew that with all the work I needed to do and the events we already had scheduled, I wasn’t going to be able to finish a bottle of wine I had just opened.  It was a 2006 John Robert Eppler Cabernet, so I didn’t want to see a drop go to waste.  I decided I was going to open it and have a glass every day over a three day period.

The product looks like a decanter – a pretty glass container that you could put on your table – and was very simple to use.  You open your bottle, pour what you do not drink into the glass container, put the float in at an angle, seal the container with the glass top and pop it in the fridge.  It holds a full bottle of wine and is safe to put in your dishwasher.

The wine tasted the best the second day but did not lose its essence the third or even the fourth day.  I’ve tried a few wine preservation devices and found that this one is definitely the best of the bunch.  I’m usually not in a situation where wine remains unfinished at my house, but when I am, I’m reaching for my Savino Connoisseur.  At around $60 for the glass version and $30 for the plastic version, it’s an investment that helps to preserve your long-term wine experience.   

 


World Cup 2014 Recap: May the Best Wine Region Win

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that the 20th annual FIFA World Cup, a tournament for the men’s soccer (or football) world championship, is currently happening in Brazil and the United States is shockingly still in the game. A total of 64 matches were or are being played in 12 cities across Brazil and this is big stuff. The World Cup is live or die for most sports fans around the world and has been for decades. In the US, we’re far behind the curve in having only a brief, passing interest in previous years but finally, in 2014, we’re catching up! Football fever/ soccer sickness has struck Americans and it may never be the same again for us.

So it’s only fitting that when a mutual friend of ours, Guy Courtin, posted a reference on Twitter to wine and the world cup, copying both of us, we had a great idea for a blog post!

We’ll deem it “she said, she said” with our perspective on what you should be drinking from each country still in the finals.  In some cases, we’ll recommend our favorite wines or the most appropriate ones for the tournament.  In some cases, we’ll tell you to drink something else.  It may be a stretch to find some bottles for the teams you’re rooting for, we’re not seeing Costa Rican wine lighting the import market in the US on fire…

And for you REAL soccer fans, please keep in mind that this is meant as a fun analysis of a game we both admit we know almost nothing about!

 

Argentina

Argentina

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

Argentina’s signature wine is Malbec, a red wine originally from the Bordeaux region of France. Argentina has been growing Malbec grapes for 150 years, but these wines gained mass appeal in the last 20 years.  Argentina now produces more than 70% of the world’s Malbec.  The price point is great and the wines are usually consistent.  Grab a wine from Riccitelli, Es Vino, Finca Las Moras or Remolinos Vineyards, crack it open and enjoy the game.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

No offense my dear friend but…yeah, yeah – Malbec, Malbec, Malbec.  I’m not going to argue that it’s at a height of delicious here. But to really show Argentine passion, I’m going to suggest the other grape of Argentina: the white Torrontés. Why? It’s a hybrid of Muscat d’Alexandria and Argentina’s historical grape, Criolla Chica, a red that was brought to South America by the conquistadors.  This highly floral, honeyed, peachy, and acidic white is best when it’s from the province of Salta, which boasts vineyards at 10000 feet or more! Refreshing, delicious and sort of native to Argentina, you gotta do it.

 

Belgium

 

Belgium

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

Drink beer.  That’s all.

She Said  (Wine for Normal People):

I agree on that Belgian beer is awesome, but it turns out that they after poking around, I’ve discovered that the Belgians do grow grapes and that it’s a growing industry there. Who knew? While Chardonnay is their big gun, I’m not sure you’ll be able to find a bottle so may I suggest some fine Belgian chocolate with ruby Port? Portugal’s not in it now anyway, so it’s not like you’re being disloyal with this pairing, right?

Brazil

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not had a wine from Brazil.  Just a lot of coffee.  But Bento Goncalves is a wine town in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil, and is known to be the wine capital of Brazil. The country has a few things going for it — 150 years of wine heritage and the area’s strong Italian-German heritage.  Drink a sparkling and watch Neymar, he’s been deemed as the next David Beckham.  You’re welcome.

Brasil

She Said (Wine for Normal People)

They’re the host country. They’re favored to win. And they could theoretically celebrate with Brazilian wine (although, like Melanie, I’ve never had it). The far south of the country is making some good efforts at Cabernet/Merlot blends, so if you can snag one, do it. If not, you could always get a Portuguese wine from the Douro that’s massive, brawny and powerful – kind of like Neymar’s leg.

 

Colombia

Colombia

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

Another region that I thought primarily produced coffee, carnations, and James Rodríguez (thank you Colombia), has two regions that produce wines – in tropical Sutamarchán known for Riesling and Pinot Noir and Consorcio del sol de Oro, where European specifications are followed to produce Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc wines.  I haven’t had the chance to try Colombian wines yet, but the country appears to be progressing with the wines that it offers and I’m hoping they make it to Texas so I can.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

Didn’t know about the carnations — cool fact DWC! For me, aguardiente (made from sugar and anise) is the way to go. That firewater will put you on your a** but is well worth it! Wine just isn’t their forte so I’ll go for the stuff that is.

 

Costa Rica

June Wine and Costa Rica 084-2

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

I spent a week last Summer with my family in Costa Rica and asked the locals if there were any local wines that were worth trying.  They told me that I should drink the widely available Chilean wines … or coffee … or beer.  Okay, I trusted them and anyway I always bring a case of wine on vacation.

 CostaRica

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

Coming up with nothing for this. Besides coffee. And it’s almost tasty enough to forego vinous pleasures for.

 

France

France

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

Known for its incredible wines and being the largest producer in the world, France has a history of making wines since 6th century BC.  Bordeaux.  Champagne.  Alsace.  The Rhone Valley.  The Languedoc-Roussillon. The Loire Valley.  Provence roses.  Choosing my favorite would be like shooting fish in a barrel, but if I had to choose, I’d probably go with Champagne from Pierre Peters or Billecart Salmon.  If I had to.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

This isn’t really fair. The wine world is your oyster if you’re a Francophile. Any region really will do. You can’t lose. But my suggestion: go bold and get yourself a wine from Cahors. Mostly Malbec, brawny and bold, and obscure enough so you’d have to really love France to know about it, I’d get one of these dark fruited, coffee, and earth flavored gems. But I agree with Melanie, there’s no beating Billecart Salmon…great stuff!

 

Germany

Germany

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

For me, Germany personifies what a good Riesling wine should be.  It’s floral, fruity and elegant and can range from dry to sweet.  Dr.  Loosen, a family wine dynasty that has been producing wines for over 200 years, makes world class wines.  If I can find one, I reach for the Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Kabinett. Why?  Because it rocks – lots of apple, pear, minerality and a flintiness that makes up this wine works perfectly for my palate.  But, I think we were talking about soccer … Germany is good, but the U.S. did well against them.  I remain hopeful.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

Ok, I’m with Melanie on this one. Riesling is the obvious choice and it’s one of my favorite wines (check out these podcasts with Riesling expert Stuart Piggott to hear a dorkfest on it), so I’ll say an off-dry Mosel Riesling with bone-rattling, jaw clenching acid and beautiful lime, peach, and jasmine flower flavors, this will keep you awake and your mouth watering while you’re waiting for that elusive GOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!

 

Netherlands

Netherlands

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

The Netherlands – specifically Amsterdam – is known for a perfectly legal substance sold in coffee shops.  What does that have to do with football?  Well nothing.  Except maybe you’ll chill out a bit in the rest of the country (where it is illegal) knowing that you won’t be actively prosecuted as an individual user.  As for wine … well … let’s just say the focus is elsewhere.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

Yeah, they make wine in the Netherlands but I think it’s best we stick with their historical ties and one of their awesome contributions to the wine world: draining the Left Bank of Bordeaux so those gravel soils could grow kick ass Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. If you’re rooting for the Dutch, you’re going to be drinking well with this suggestion!

 

Switzerland

Switzerland

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

I didn’t know much about Switzerland other than chocolate and fine watches.  But there are over 40 varieties of grapes that grow in Switzerland.  I have tried none of them.  Valais, which produces approximately half of the country’s wine, is known for having good pinot noirs and is the most widely planted grape. As for recommendations, my experience has been buying several Swiss watches (future family heirlooms) and eating my weight in chocolate.

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

I too am a fan of Swiss chocolate and watches (although I have the cheap Swiss Army ones so they will NOT be heirlooms!) and I did have wine when I was in Zurich but it wasn’t memorable. There isn’t a ton of Swiss wine makes it outside the country’s borders, but that’s changing as import regulations have relaxed and producers need to find markets for their wines. Although most is white, bland, and neutral, there are a ton of native grapes that may make some cool stuff in the future. For now, I’d go for Dôle, a Pinot Noir/Gamay blend that’s light and fruity and can help you maintain a neutral disposition while watching the Swiss play for the win! If you can’t find that, try a northern Italian wine (Switzerland borders Germany, France, and Italy and the Italians are the only ones out) like the sparkling and delicious Franciacorta, from the Lombardia region that borders Switzerland!

United States

She Said (Dallas Wine Chick):

The fact that we are still here and so many Americans actually have tuned into the game is shocking, but pretty cool.  Through my own research and several Wine Bloggers Conferences, I’ve had the chance to try wines from all over the United States.  Choosing would be very hard, but I can tell you that my most recent favorite comes from Larkmead Vineyards, an off the beaten path winery near Napa, where the Solari red blend scored a total GOOOOAAAALLLLL. Sorry – caught up in the moment….

US

She Said (Wine for Normal People):

America is a wine powerhouse and we’re working on becoming a football/soccer powerhouse too. Although it’s American by way of Croatia, I’m still saying Zinfandel is the way to go if you’re a US fan. It’s so American – big, bold, loud, and spicy. Nearly 10% of California’s vineyards are planted to Zin, and if you’re looking for a quick buzz, these are usually pretty high in alcohol too. For nuance and style, I’d stick with one from Mendocino County, where the layers of flavor tend to make wines that are more than just showy fruit bombs.  I love Navarro Vineyards and I’m not afraid to say it!

 ________________________________________________________

You can drink your way around the world with our ideas and if your team gets eliminated, you can move to the next best option and maybe drink even better. The parallels of soccer/football to wine is striking – as the world has become more global, we’re getting exposure to the great wine and great sport traditions the world around.

What did we miss? Drop a comment and let us know what you would have included for your favorite team!

Elizabeth Schneider, who remains one of my favorite winos, is a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers, Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, internationally followed wine blogger and podcaster (both can be found on: winefornormalpeople.com and the podcast is available on iTunes), and owner of the wine education company Wine For Normal People, that specializes in teaching interactive, live online classes. She is also author of the forthcoming book, Wine For Normal People. Elizabeth has an MBA and has lived in Northern California and worked for the largest winery in the world doing marketing and training programs. She has toured wineries around the country and the world from California, to Italy, to France, to South Africa, to her native Long Island, and appears as a wine expert in publications and other media channels. Despite the credentials, Elizabeth considers her most important accomplishment to be the fact that she has managed to remain a normal person, despite her exposure to lots of wine snoots! Follow Wine for Normal People on Twitter @normalwine and on Facebook.

 


Wine Blogger Conference 2014: Let the Countdown Begin

Bloggers Gone Wild at #wbc12

Many of you have asked me about what a Wine Bloggers Conference experience is really like.  With about two weeks left leading up to Wine Bloggers Conference 14 #wbc14 in Santa Barbara, I thought I’d go “old school” and recap advice that I gave after attending my first conference several years ago. 

Here’s the link and below is the updated recap.  As my blog has grown in readership, my invitations to private events have increased exponentially.  In essence, remember that if you are with a group of 300 citizen bloggers, everything you can say and do may show up online (exhibit A is below).  Someone posted this week that what happens in Santa Barbara stays in Santa Barbara … said no blogger ever.  So true!

1. You may have the opportunity to let another blogger who cannot attend live the experience through your eyes. Otherwise known as the what you say can and will be used against you adage Vintage Texas.

2. Under any circumstances possible, schedule your birthday to coincide with #wbc11. Trust me on this. My birthday falls a few weeks prior to the event, but Thea and I make it a habit to celebrate in style.

3. Get to know your local distributors, wine representatives and others in the industry.  

4. Share a room. Having been married for over 20 years, I was planning to have my own room until a mutual friend asked if I’d mind sharing with another female blogger who needed accommodations. I ended up with the most fun roommate in Liza and she became my running buddy at all events and has continued to be a fabulous roomie over the years.

5. Attend the unconference events. In the midst of one of our sessions, a note was sent out on Twitter that an unofficial wine tasting was in process on the back patio. As I slipped out in between the sessions, I found the bottle of Turley that I brought from home paled in comparison with the vintage Bordeaux wines, high end champagne and other cellar selections from other bloggers. 

6. Bring your list of Twitter handles included in the #wbc handbook. It was so much fun to put faces and names with personalities that I’ve come to know and love over the past year and a half.

7. Spit. Thankfully this is a lesson that I didn’t need to learn. If you were to ingest all the wine that is offered to you, especially during speed tasting, you would end up curled up in a ball in a corner somewhere. You already need a bionic liver to hold your own here anyway.

8. Open your mind and try to put aside preconceived notions. Over the years I went from being not a big rose fan to learning to appreciate it….

9. Partner with the local experts.  There are a ton of events that never make the formal agenda – after parties, educational events, tastings, etc.  Do keep in mind though that these invitations take time.

10. Exercise daily. Just trust me on this. It clears your head, jump starts your metabolism (you desperately need this based on the 6,000 calories that you consume daily with food and wine) and there is not a better way to see your surroundings.  The reactions of your fellow bloggers as they pass you in the exercise room on the way to the conference are priceless.

11. My bonus tip is to buy flair. The ribbons are sassy, fun and help define your personality. Know that your money will go to the scholarship fund to send a deserving blogger to the next blogger’s conference.

In terms of what the actual conference is like, it is like speed dating a wine region with the red carpet rolled out.  Imagine wine bottles everywhere, after parties beginning at 10pm and going until the wee hours, swag bags, wine makers, workshops, food trucks, bus tours and conferences that begin at noon.  Sessions where 10 winemakers have five minutes to pour the wine, tell you his or her story, and answer your questions for a total of 50 minutes. And wine – lots of wine.  For this year’s pre-conference excursion, we actually stay one night at the Day’s Inn where Miles stayed in the movie Sideways.  Apparently it hasn’t changed a bit.  And the after parties are just over the top – Jordan and Rodney Strong always do great events.  This year, I’m excited to be a part of the committee that chose the great scholarship recipients.  I can’t wait to meet them.

And tune on Twitter and on Facebook to follow along with the adventures from July 8 to 13.  I’ll be posting on the blog after the event and hope you’ll follow my journey.


Andegavia: Smart Package, Tasty Product

The folks at Andegavia Cask Wines reached out to me in the Spring with a green proposition – help reduce the amount of discarded wine bottles and still drink good wine daily.  A chat with our recycling guys would result in an admission that I drink a lot of wine and therefore generate a lot of empty bottles.  Or, perhaps they’d advise an intervention.

Andegavia Cask Wines was named after the region, Andegavia, where the wine trade began and where wines were once shipped in casks or barrels.  It’s meant to be an intersection between Old World and New World, but with a twist.  Andegavia is working with Patrick Saboe, the head wine maker at The Wine Foundry in Sonoma.  Patrick’s been known for overseeing production for Verismo, Keller Estate, Petroni and Pezzi King and has produced wines that the critics love.

I received a .375 bottle of Ruthven Napa Valley Red Blend.  If you look on its website, you see that the packaging is sustainable and eco-friendly.  I tasted big berry, black pepper and herbal notes with a bit of mocha.  It was a very nice wine and placed well in the #thirstythursday tasting with my colleagues.  Then you get to the price – one cask, which is four bottles, for $78, $199 for three casks making this a very affordable option that has some care and tending to the wine.  There are several red blends, one pinot noir and a chardonnay.




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