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Masthead: Would It Face Better Reviews than Fred Astaire’s First Screen Test?

What if you had all the right ingredients for success and yet you failed?  And you did in front of a well-respected group of wine bloggers, two wine makers and the winery who gave you every element that you needed to succeed?  Especially when the first launch event was on the site of the very well-regarded vineyard where the grapes came from at Mohr-Fry Ranch…

The entire time I kept thinking about Fred Astaire and the obnoxious screen test director at MGM who noted, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”  Was our first wine experience going to be our last?

And would we be required, like the movie Groundhog Day, to experience that failure over and over again as we were required to publicly talk about our experience in a series of launch events?  Thank God that didn’t happen, but it was a feasible outcome when four bloggers were given the opportunity to make their own wine label.

I wrote already about the process of making Masthead, so today I’m going to focus on the experience of truly bringing it to market under the shining public backstop of the Wine Bloggers Conference.

 Cindy Rynning, One of the Co-Creator’s, First Taste of Masthead

We started pouring at the Wine Blogger’s Conference Opening Reception where we saw for the first time the labeled bottles, the ink in newspapers and finally got to taste the wine.  I took a deep breath and prepared for my first sip.  It was really good Sangiovese – lots of black cherry, berry, dark earth and herbal notes.  With a little step in my swagger, we continued down the path of the remainder of the launch events including the first event in Scotto’s brand new tasting room.

Me and Bradley Gray, Scotto’s PR Maven 

The next day we joined some really great friends (you know who you are and I so appreciate all of your support) on the Friday winery excursion.  The Scotto folks told me that they had rented a “statement vehicle” but I didn’t quite expect the disco limo that awaited us.  We had the opportunity to try the Scotto Ciders before we arrived at Mohr-Frye Ranch where we had the chance to show folks where the magic first happened with the Frye family.

We later arrived at the Scotto Tasting Room that had been transformed into a 5-star dining room experience with well-known Chef Warren Ito.  The theme was Mexital: Mexican and Italian fusion that incorporated the Italian heritage of Anthony Scotto and the Mexican heritage of Gracie Scotto.


And what a dinner it was … lots of laughter, family stories and what you would expect given the Scotto hospitality.  The wines were paired with each delicious course … and then the moment of reckoning … what would the reaction be from the table?

Chef Ito



Perhaps we had stacked the deck by including our friends, but from all accounts, the reaction was the wine was pretty impressive … especially from bloggers who had never done this before.  It was not an Astaire moment … and while I can’t act … and I can’t sing … and I can dance a little…,  when I am given incredible winemakers, an award winning vineyard, a specific block of grapes, great blogger co-conspirators and all the right tools, I got it right.


Frank Morgan: “Get in the Car” and Other Going Rogue Experiences at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

Frank Morgan sporting the saying that started it all…

It all started with a phone call from Steve Havill, Wine Club Manager for Bella Grace Vineyards.  Steve saw a few posts I had done after other conferences and wanted to make sure that the Amador County pre-conference tour was going to be an amazing experience for the wine bloggers.  I immediately went out to my network of #goingrogue bloggers to get their opinions.  I have to say what we proposed was a success as the tour was sold out before any of us could register.

But Steve was bound and determined that he was going to do something special for the group.  So the day the conference ended, we boarded a bus and began our journey to discover what makes Bella Grace special.  The answer?  The family… the wines … the hospitality … the experience … and my very own Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” customized shirt…

Charlie and Steve Havill

But first about Amador County.  The region is self-billed as “The Heart of the Mother Lode” and became the destination for those looking to strike gold.  The region fell upon hard times after the California Gold Rush became saturated and Prohibition hurt the wineries established during that time.  Today this area is thriving and there are over 50 different wineries with very different microclimates. Steve told us that surprisingly, 60 percent of the grapes leave Amador Country.  It is known for Zinfandel, but also a number of other varieties due to the number of Italians who brought vines from Italy during that time.

Bella Grace, which was named for two great grandmothers, was founded in 2006 by Charlie and Michael Havill who followed their dream of owning a vineyard.  The winery and vineyards are located in the Sierra Foothills, which is known for a variety of grapes from Zinfandel to Primitivo to Rhone varietals.  The focus has always been on quality and sustainability.  Steve told us that the goal was “to continue the experience of being at our home to every guest in our winery.”  Bella Grace makes 8,000 cases annually as well as organic olive oils, imported balsamic and fruit flavored vinegars.





We met most of the family that day and their very talented son, Chef Robert, who recently moved back from Colorado after cooking at Taste.  He provided a gourmet dinner that paired beautifully with the wines.  In fact, this is part of the hospitality – as they do more than 250 dinners a year at no cost to their wine club members.  I loved every wine that I tried.

You can’t do one of these #goingrogue experiences without the side stories.  From Jeff Kralik’s ongoing quest to saber sparkling (with varying levels of success) to the surprise Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” T-shirts to Michelle Williams and I rapping The Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere on the bus ride back, it was absolutely a great end to a very fun trip.

This year it seems that #goingrogue was the overall trend, as the conference was so spread out from the host hotels.  Walking was not an option for most of us.  I felt like I didn’t get to spend the usual quality time with so many of the people I wanted to see, but there were some constants.


The Unconference hosted by Craig Camp, now with Troon Winery continued.  This has become one of my favorite events every year because it brings an intimate group together to laugh, eat, talk and in my case, try Troon Wines for the first time.  Color me impressed, Craig.  I’m excited for your new venture and I know you will do a great job putting them on the map.

Gary Krimont

Thea Dwelle scheduled a pre-trip this year that allowed me to discover Anderson Valley wines.  I discovered Foursight Wines, a winery with five generations of family involved that just celebrated its tenth vintage.  I enjoyed being part of the “pinot people” and loved the diversity of these wines.  We also experienced the hospitality of Phillips Hill and Gary Krimont at Yorkville Cellars who poured great wine and kept us in stitches.  I loved discovering the history and great boutique wines of this region.


No Sleep ‘Til Lodi: The Region, The Experience, The Myth and the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

Historically I jump right on my posts after leaving the Wine Bloggers Conference, but Lodi was such a nuanced experience for me I needed some time to sit back and digest everything.  Lodi is well-known for its Old Vine Zinfandels and long-time grower families.

First a little about Lodi, which is located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  With the recent designation by Wine Enthusiast as Wine Region of the Year, it has become glaring that the diverse soils and delta breezes allow an incredible diversity of wines, actually more than 100 of them – Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Southern Rhone and even German wines are made … and made well in Lodi.  At the end of the day, Lodi has two-thirds of its acreage dedicated to red wines.

The climate is Mediterranean and is known for its warm days and cool nights.  The soils are very diverse due to the two rivers in the Sierra Nevada mountain range – the Mokelumne and Cosumnes Rivers.

The Wine Bloggers Conference opened with Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson as the keynote speaker.  Other than being one of the most kind, open and humble people you will even meet, this world-renowned Master Sommelier (one of 23 females in the world) demystifies wine and writing in less than 50 minutes.  She had some great insights:

  • Writers have taken a wine experience that we love, to something that we commit to and aspire to grow.
  • Drink Lodi and be cooler than you really are.
  • She really was the first Dallas Wine Chick when she learned about wine while drinking it with Rebecca Murphy and at The Grape restaurant while at SMU.  She’d come back to her roommates and “teach” them the class she had just attended.  She hoped they’d just go with it and not ask questions she couldn’t answer.
  • Know your stuff – and when you don’t, say you don’t know and find out the answer
  • She had some great advice on taking things to the next level for bloggers:
    • Make it pay (pay can be more than money … my recent press trips make me agree completely).
    • Be better – better SEO, images and video.  That will be my commitment to you guys over the next few months.  I will be redoing Dallas Wine Chick – let me know what you want to see when I do.
    • Build value – whether that is personal wine certifications, writing for other publications, working with mentors or celebrating others … just do it.
    • Quality of content begets credibility – clearly after almost seven years, you guys have proven that to be the case.
    • Be authentic and always be who you are.

We then moved into a History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi.  Mark Chandler, the Mayor of Lodi, vineyardist and former executive director of Lodi Wine Commission joined Aaron Lange, Vineyard Manager of Langetwins Winery and Vice Chair of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG); Kevin Phillips, Vice President of Operations at Michael-David Winery and Phillips Farms and Markus Bokisch, Owner of Bokisch Vineyards talked about the growth of Lodi.

Today there are 700 growers in Lodi with an effort that started with a couple of dozen families with vision in late 80s/early 90s who chipped in a few thousand dollars to research what grows best in the region.  The region has drastically evolved with varieties once popular during Prohibition including many sweet wines (and sacramental wines) that are no longer produced.  Mark attributed Morley Safer, a veteran CBS journalist who did a report about red wine being good for the heart in 1993, as a catalyst for the region.  Over the next five years, the acreage grew from 40,000 acres to 100,000 acres.  In 1986, the Lodi AVA was formed, scientists were hired and a steering committee was created.  This lead to the creation of seven sub-AVAs.

As we sat in the same room that was once the site of East Side High School where Robert Mondavi started his education, it was clear that this was a region that was deep in heritage, authenticity, tradition, family and wine making.  Aaron described the region as the “heart of wine.”

We then moved to the Truth About Viticulture session which was an honest session about wine with Moderator Stuart Spencer, Program Manager at the Lodi Grape Commission and Owner/Winemaker of St Amant Winery.  The panelists were Tegan Passalacqua, director of winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars; Stan Grant, Viticulturist, Progressive Viticulture; and Chris Storm, Viticulturist of Vino Farms.

They spent some time covering the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, which is California’s original sustainable viticulture certification program designed to increase positive impact on the environment.  It’s a pretty rigorous certification process that is based in science, voluntary, and was the first to be audited by a third-party.  Lodi Rules certified growers balance environmental, social, and economic goals with a focus on sustainable agriculture.  More to come in another column on my personal Lodi Rules experience while we developed Masthead.

My favorite part is when they talked about the reality of the wine business and how people don’t truly tell the truth.  From sitting stuck in a truck in the mud for hours to the injuries sustained in the vineyard, it was a reality check in an often romanticized profession that is told through a marketing lens.

Chris had a very interesting perspective about how winemakers too often taste with their eyes instead of their mouths.  That does a disservice to the grape as balance is key; not the idea of what a vineyard should look like.  A good winemaker produces the maximum while maintaining what is right for vineyard.  It’s the right clone for the right area and the right rootstock with the right soil.

Tegan ended with a discussion about today’s labor shortage and how building strong relationships with producers and vintners pays off in the long run.  He also echoed a sentiment close to my heart – American palates need to drink more refreshing wines and therefore Lodi should concentrate more on white grapes.

The Winning Wine Blogger Award Winners

Me and Julien

From Passion to Pro Panel

Mary and Sean Celebrate Success!

A few other highlights of the conference:

  • Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong worked in conjunction with Consorzio Italia di Vini & Sapori to present a wine education session featuring wines from Italy’s Veneto.  I missed the first wine as I was in another session and realized I made the wrong choice, but the line-up of under $20 wines (unfortunately not available widely or at all in the United States) showed the differences in grams of sugar, terroir and style.
  • We attended a private lunch debuting Velv.  It was an interesting experience in showing ageability and what happens with giving mid-priced wines some surface area and time with this new device.
  • This year I attended the Live Red Wine Blogging session and was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps the session has grown on me, but the quality of the wines that we tried this year was unsurpassed.
  • Sujinder Juneja from Town Hall brands needs a stage.  He moderated the Panel of Wine Blogger Winners with Sophie Thorpe from Berry Bros & Rudd; Mary Cressler from Vindulge; Jill Barth from L’occasion; Susan Manfull from Province Wine Zine and Jerry Clark who received the best wine blog post of the year with panache, humor and absolute class.
  • The Passion to Pro – Getting Paid to Write About Wine session was honest, open and showed the hard work of Jameson Fink, Debra Meiburg MW and Deborah Parker Wong with the funny Randy Caparoso running the show.  The anecdotes showed one needs to approach wine writing as a full time job vs just a hobby like I do today.
  • Ethnifacts continued its second annual diversity scholarship and this year what a deserving recipient received it.  Julien Miquel who won last year’s Best New Blog for Social Vignerons was finally able to make it.
  • My favorite panel was co-presented by my good friends, Sean Martin and Mary Cressler from Vindulge.  They brought to life the marketing campaign, hard work, non-traditional themes like Star Wars and the love for photography that makes their blogs and Embers and Vine BBQ business successful.  They are also two of my most favorite people and they kept the packed room on the edge of their seats.

Next up … the launch of Masthead and how did people respond, going rogue and my Bella Grace Vineyard experience….




Five Years of Wine Blogger Conference Recaps: #WBC16 Fun Begins Next Week

Tis the season (and the week of the Wine Bloggers Conference) for wine bloggers to take the easy way out with recap posts.  Color me guilty and enjoy the story behind the stories for each conference.  I always have such an amazing time discovering the region, bonding with my friends who I don’t see enough and laughing so hard that I cry.  So, I’m about to attend my sixth wine blogger’s conference next week.

Let’s start with 2010 in Walla Walla, Washington.  As you can see from the post, this was my first wine bloggers conference and I was really playing by the rules.  To me, the moment by moment recap is amusing, but I still had glimpses of the type of coverage I write today, but without the #goingrogue experience.

In 2012, we were in Portland.  The bus outing featured a handsome police officer that pulled the bus over on the way to Carlton, Oregon.  Hence, we had Carlton without handcuffs.

I missed the 2013 event due to a family trip to Costa Rica, which was amazing but I did really want to experience the wine of Canada.

Santa Barbara was the site of the 2014 conference.  We had an amazing pre-trip that was hosted by the San Francisco Wine School and certain wineries.  It definitely established 2014 as the year to come for the private events, stay for the conference.  I walked into this conference with a great understanding of the region.


In 2015, we traveled to the Finger Lakes.  This year, we were on the pre-trip, but first a side journey to Philadelphia where Jeff Kralik opened his home for a birthday celebration with his family.  Special note: his birthday falls this year during the conference.


And now we move to 2016.  The pressure is on for me because I am actually debuting Masthead, a wine made by four bloggers (one being yours truly), and the pressure is on because we had the right grapes (Mohr-Frye vineyard), the right coaches (Mitch Costenino and Paul Scotto) and every tool for success to make this great.

We will see if this is a humbling or well received experience this week. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

A Wine Country Journey: From Valley to Valley, Day Two

I heard a quote that came to life during my recent visit to the Maurtison Family Winery — “without history there is no future” – author, unknown.  The Mauritson family has been growing grapes and making wine for six generations and been in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 150 years.  During a Taste of Sonoma event in Dallas last year, I had the opportunity to meet Winemaker Clay Maurtison.  When I realized we would be staying about five miles from his family’s vineyard, I reached out.  I immediately received a response from Carrie Maurtison, who leads marketing and sales.  The next thing we knew we were four-wheeling it to the Rockpile Vineyard where we got up close and personal with the terroir that makes Maurtison Wines so special.

Carrie Mauritson

First a little background on the winery and the family.  S.P. Hallengren, the great-great-great grandfather of the family and pioneer of the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884 and was also a sheep rancher.  This land has quite the history.  The Rockpile land and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960 when the Army Corps of Engineers decided the land was needed to build Lake Sonoma.  The government paid 48 cents on the dollar and the family found most of its original ranch was now under water.  The family moved to Alexander Valley where it purchased 110 acres and then to Dry Creek Valley.  Maurtison has 310 vineyards across Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and and the Rockpile AVAs.

To continue the four wheeling story, we arrived at the vineyard and learned that the fruit has to be grown over 800 feet above sea level to be called “Rockpile”.  Carrie summed it up perfectly, ”If it wasn’t for love, there would be no Rockpile AVA”.  What I loved (other than the amazing Zins) were the stories.  The vineyards had interesting stories behind their names from Buck’s Pasture where deer liked to congregate to Jack’s Cabin (a tree girdler with a colorful history and a love of the drink lived there many decades ago) to Independence (the grandfather killed four pigs there on July 4th), the sense of history and fun of this family shone through.


Our line-up included the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, three different 2013 Zinfandels – Jack’s Cabin, Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin as well as the Madrone Spring Vineyard Syrah and the 2012 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Cabernet along with an amazing picnic lunch.

Gee and Barber

Our next stop was the chance to experience the caves of Freeman Vineyard and Winery.  You may recall my visit with Ken and Akiko Freeman during a Freeman dinner at Lakewood Country Club.  This was my chance to experience the caves and winery while introducing my friends to these incredible wines.  I wanted to see the Keystone of September 28, 1985 firsthand above the wine cave.  This stone captures a special moment of time where happenstance brought Ken to a party in New York where they met that involves a hurricane, a Chanel dress and the beginning of a great love story. And this proved that you never know who you are going to run into as we collided paths with former Dallas Sommelier Scott Barber and Heather Gee from La Tache De Vin.

At this point, I have to give a huge shout out to Chris and Janette, from My Napa Valley Driver.  I would not consider coming to Napa and not using these incredible folks.  They are funny, knowledgeable, hospitable, wine country natives and some of the greatest folks in the Valley.  They come to where you stay, drive your rental car (bringing along snacks/water) and have tons of knowledge on great places to go.  They kept us on schedule, even picked up Bouchon goodies when we didn’t have time to stop, ordered lunch for us one day and then picked out the perfect lunch stop for us when we had time between stops.  Oh, and they figured out how to get us from our Napa to Sonoma accommodations and only charge $45 an hour.


 Mary Ann Turrentine, Paradigm

The next day we started at Paradigm, a 50-acre winery, which is owned and managed by Ren and Marilyn Harris, two winegrowers (who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary).  The Harris have Napa roots with grandparents who came in 1769 and 1890.  They moved to Napa in the 1960’s and decided to purchase land in Oakville in the 1970s and sell the grapes.  Paradigm’s first wine was in 1991 and Icon Heidi Barrett, was the first winemaker and continues to consult on the wines there today.  Mary Ann Turrentine, the director of sales and hospitality, tasted us through a line-up starting with the rose’ and we had the chance to try the 2012 merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon as well as the 2011 cabernet sauvignon. The 2011 to the 2012 cabernet side-by-side tasting was an expression of Old World vs the more fruit-forward New World styles.


Our next stop was Cliff Lede Vineyards, which was established in 2002 when Cliff Lede, a Canadian, successful construction company owner and music enthusiastic purchased the 60-estate vineyard.  He promptly hired David Abreu, a well-known viticulturist and winemaker, to replant the vineyards.  Lede was whimsical in naming the vineyard blocks after his favorite rock songs and albums.  We experienced that firsthand in the VIP tasting room where we saw signed guitars and the art from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.  We tried several of the wines from Cliff Lede and FEL – ranging from $25 to $130.  This was a cool melding of great wine, music and whimsy.

My Napa Valley Drivers set up an awesome picnic for us in Healdsburg with food from Café R&D where we had a chance to drink a little water (and maybe some Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc) and ate some great food.


We then swung by Cornerstone Cellars – I’m a long-time fan.  The winery was founded in 1991 by Mike Dragutsky who wanted to make great wine.  Craig Camp, who recently left his Cornerstone position for his dream to make wine in Oregon, was the person who introduced me to these wines.  The mantra has always been about vineyard and variety.  Cornerstone also has a collaboration in Oregon to make pinot noir and chardonnay.  We tasted through the Corallina rose,’ which is also known as the artist series, as well as a number of the other full-bodied reds.  My favorites included the 2012 Cabernet France, Merlot and Michael’s Cuvee.

Me and Elizabeth Smith 

Our final stop was at Ehlers Estate where my friend and tasting room manager, Elizabeth Smith, was an incredible host.  I love the story – Bernard Ehlers bought a vineyard in the late 1800s that wasn’t in great shape.  He started a quest to replant the vineyard and completed construction of the stone barn that now hosts the tasting room.  He built quite the legacy – his original Bale Mill Winery operated under his wife until the 1920’s (and during Prohibition).

There were other owners until French Entrepreneurs (owners of a large laundry and linen business who also founded a cardiac foundation bearing the same last name — hence the heart logo) Jean and Syviane Leducq acquired the winery and understood how well the Bordeaux wines they loved would do at this vineyard.  They brought in Jacques Boissenot, a renowned enologist, and acquired local vineyards that fit the Bordeaux vision.  About 16 years ago, they brought the Ehlers history back with the original stone barn and the Ehlers name on labels.  They hired Kevin Morrisey as the winemaker and Francisco Vega, the vineyard manager, who share the passion for creating Old World, estate-only wines that express the uniqueness of the terroir and are farmed organically.  The wines are sold mostly direct to consumers at the winery.

Kevin Morrisey and me

We had a great chance to visit with Kevin who talked about going to college to study art.  He did a graduate program in enology with an interest in science.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, he had friends that started making films and he fell into a junior camera man role.  That role brought him to Paris and he fell in love with French wines and cooking.  After two years he returned to Los Angeles where it was a tough market.  At age 35, he returned to school at UC Davis knowing that he wanted to make wine.  He wanted an internship in Paris and stalked Chateau Petrus until they gave up and took him as a harvest intern.  He was at Stag’s Leap twice (first working his way up to associate winemaker and then as head winemaker and general manager) as well as Etude before coming to Ehlers.

“I loved data and science,” he said.  “Chemistry is meaningful – I love data and science because there is a natural reaction.”  He talked about how making wine and blending is much more fun than baking because of the ability to improvise.

“I want the wines to be distinctive and to be true to the grapes,” he continued.  Ehlers is laser focused on building upon Bernard Ehler’s legacy and staying true to the land, what is in the glass and the people who work the vineyards and enjoy the wines.  It’s truly a special place.


I’m On A Boat – Wine, Stormtroopers and A Drone Bring the Night to Life

Welcome to Miami … Bienvenidos a Miami… nine months of long work hours and lots of planning was finally coming to a head with the arrival of several hundred customers for the paying gig’s annual Summit event. 

What does this have to do with a wine blog?  Well, I always try to bring you guys into my experiences and this was quite the experience. There was amazing food, lots of great wine, a ton of dancing and very early mornings combined with lots of late nights.

And then there was the boatI’m on a boat with a Storm Trooper (if you like the above pic, clink on the link)!  The customer appreciation party featured quite the cast of characters, tons of free flowing wine, an awesome DJ and a fireworks show that was captured by a drone flying above the yacht.  My team rocked it – what a talented group of folks that brought a life moment experience to light.

Just another experience – probably not replicable – But definitely a bucket list moment.


I’m on a Boat: My Post Conference Trip to the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail

Just like that the conference was over and we were on our final post trip journey for #wbc15.  This excursion took us to the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, an area that claims to not only be the oldest in the region, but the oldest in the entire U.S.  The wine trail consists of 16 wineries, a cidery, a meadery and four distilleries. 

Our journey from the Radisson took about an hour and a half by bus.  The conference organizers had enough foresight to arrange for Aaron Roisen of Hosmer Winery and Jeff Houck of Lucas Vineyards to talk to us about the region during the ride. 

The group of around 50 folks was split in two with one group tasting first at Thirsty Owl Wine Company and the second group beginning at Goose Watch Winery, which is where I began.  While at Goose Watch, we tasted wines from Treleaven by King Ferry Winery, Long Point Winery, Montezuma Winery & Hidden Marsh Distillery, Swedish Hill Vineyard, Knapp Winery, Buttonwood Grove Winery and Varick Winery & Vineyards. We had some nice wines, but my favorites were the Rieslings and sparkling from Knapp Vineyards as well as the tasting experience provided by Varick Winery with some off the beaten path foods.

After traveling to the dock and then by boat to Thirsty Owl, we tried wines from Toro Run Winery, Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery, Hosmer Winery, Lucas Vineyards, Bellwether Hard Cider and Wine Vineyards, Americana Vineyards and Six Mile Creek Vineyard.  About five years ago, Lucas Vineyards was my first experience with Finger Lakes Riesling and I was excited to see that I enjoyed rediscovering it just as much as I did the first time I tried it.  The Bellwether Cherry Street Cider, which was bursting with cherries, also impressed.  Cider is not usually my drink of choice but give this to me any hot Texas day and I’d be happy.

Liza Swift, Steve DiFrancesco (Glenora Winemaker) and me

We then journeyed to Knapp where Executive Chef John McNabb prepared dinner for us.  Knapp was founded in 1984 and was the first Finger Lakes winery to plant and vinify Cabernet Franc.  It was sold to its current owners, Gene Pierce and Scott Welliver, in 2000.  Knapp opened the Vineyard Restaurant in 1992, becoming the first winery restaurant on Cayuga Lake.  We sampled a ton of food and more wines from the region while walking the grounds of the vineyard.

The wineries went above and beyond to make us feel at home in discovering the food and the wine of the region.  Once we reached the lobby of the Radisson, we all stayed true to this week’s behavior – we grabbed left over wine, distilled spirits and cider, socializing in the lobby until the wee hours.

Another Wine Bloggers Conference … Another Compilation Article… My Time in the Finger Lakes at #wbc15

Liza Swift, My Trusted Roomie for Five Years Running

It’s been about three weeks since I got back from the Wine Blogger’s Conference (#wbc15) in the Finger Lakes and it’s always a struggle to encapsulate such an amazing exploration into the wine and the region along with the personal stories that make the conference.  Most of us take the easy way out and do a compilation article, well…including me.

So here it goes. 

#1 – Prepare to check what you think you know at the door.  I knew that I’d taste some great Rieslings and Cabernet Francs, but I didn’t expect the diversity that I discovered the conference.  I tasted roses, sparking wines, sauvignon blancs, chardonnays, albarinos, cabernet sauvignons and even merlots.  There are more than 100 wineries centered around the region’s four main lakes – Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua – and more than 400 wineries overall with such diversity in the terroir.  These wineries yield 90 percent of the New York wine produced each year.  Then there is Long Island, which we didn’t explore, which has approximately 25 varietals planted across 2,500 acres.  New York’s biggest issue is actually getting the wines out of the New York wine buying community on to a national stage. 

 My Bus Ride with Karen

#2 – Meet amazing people.  I was more than excited when Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible and accomplished wine expert and amazing writer, was named the keynote of the conference.  I admit I was a little in awe of her – moving to New York in her Volkswagen Bug with $6 in her pocket and taking on three jobs to make ends meet.  After 324 rejection slips, she received a $30 gig writing about butter in the Village Voice.  This launched her career.  Eventually, she was invited to attend tastings with a small group of men considered the who’s who in the New York wine community.  Karen told us “I didn’t talk for eight years – I just wanted access to the wines.” Clearly she found her own voice and worked for ten years on what became the first edition of the Wine Bible. 

Her advice – tell your story; find your style; hone your writing; know your subject well; and represent yourself well.  I loved her quote about never stripping wine of its culture. Karen said,” There is no way to understand Malbec without understanding the tango.” 

When she sat next to me on the bus to the wine excursion, I admit I was excited.  But we had such a fun conversation about wine, kids, work, the future and everything in between.  Everyone asked me what we talked about for almost two hours.  You know – it felt like an honest conversation with a new friend, so it won’t be part of my blog.  But, trust me, her next chapter will continue to change the wine world. 

Corron-Power, McNeal, Kim and Frank

The next day, my friend, Amy Powers Corron, moderated the Women in Wine panel of amazing women with Karen; Stevie Kim, founder of VinItaly; and Meaghan Frank, General Manager of Dr. Frank’s Winery in The Finger Lakes.  They talked about the generational differences that were apparent depending when they were moving up in the wine world.  Stevie’s presentation showed that the glass ceiling is still intact.  Women are lagging or almost non-existent in the top power positions. 

Rousseau and me

#3 – One person can make a difference (so can you – think about who you know).  I’m on the scholarship committee and I’ve been thinking about how we need more diversity in our blogging community.  My uncle happens to be the president of EthniFacts, a multicultural knowledge and insights consultancy.  We brainstormed how they might be a fit and they funded the “EthniFacts Diversity in Wine Writing Scholarship,” to encourage ethnic, gender and cultural diversity in the North American Wine Bloggers Conference attendees.  Then when my Facebook friend, Regine Rousseau of Shall We Wine! was named, the recipient, it became even more special.

Constance and her older Rieslings

Craig Camp’s Dinner

#4 – Color outside the lines. #goingrogue will continue.  There is a fine line between experiencing all the great things the conference has to offer and exploring the community and hanging out with friends.  This year, we stayed offsite at a really cool place just down the street from the Radisson.  It gave us the freedom to explore the restaurants – like Hand & Foot, which became the unofficial stopping point of the Wine Bloggers Conference crowd.  Going to Craig Camp’s Cornerstone offsite non-awards dinner was another classic moment of sitting down with my favorite people and drinking amazing wines.  Eating pizza with Robert Larsen from Rodney Strong Vineyards and Amy Gross of Wine4.Me along with Fox Run Vineyards and Anthony Road Wine Company.  From drinking vintage Riesling wines with Candace Chamberlain to hanging at the Jordan party to trying some amazing new release J McClelland Charbono with the gentlemen from Scotto Family Vineyards and swapping travel stories, was not something I would ever have wanted to have missed.

#5 – Just go where the tour takes you.  Every year people try to game the system and get on the “right bus tour.”  It took me five years to figure out that your chances of having an amazing time is pretty high.  Our tour, for example, took us to Glenora Wine Cellars.  Glenora Wine Cellars is the first winery to open on Seneca Lake in 1977. 

We had the chance to receive our “Master of Dosage.”  First, we chose our favorite method champenoise with either one percent residential sugar or 1.5 percent residual sugar.  Then we actually got to dose and bottle our own preference sparkling.  It was super cool and I was lucky enough to keep all my fingers intact thanks to the great training from Winemaker Steve DiFrancesco. 

We then moved into “A Finger Lakes Wine & Tapas Experience” featuring four wineries, four winemakers, four chefs and four farms. 

Our first course was the Lucky Dog Green Salad with Parmesan Potato Tuile and Ramp Vinaigrette by Chef Orlando Rodriguez of Genora Wien Cellars’ Veraisons Restaurant with the 06 Glenora Wine Cellars Brut.

We then moved to Duck Confit with Watermelon and Cucumber Relish with a Crispy Polenta from the Executive Chef at Zugibe Vineyards.  

We continued with a Cast Iron Seared American Kobe Steak with Blackberry Ketchup, Pommes Puree with First Light Feta and a Heavenly Cup Coffee Crouton from Sous Chef Sarah Hassler from Veraisons Restaurant at Glenora Wine Cellars.

Our final course was an Apricot Napoleon with a Salted Short Crust from Executive Chef John McNabb of Knapp Winery & Vineyard Restaurant with the 2014 Knapp Winery Riesling Ice Wine.

#6 – Attend the events beyond the conference.  Whether it’s the organized pre- and –post tours that really give you a glimpse into the region or another event that has been organized, like the Santa Barbara pre-conference seminar prior to last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, these are the sessions that allow you to really dig into a region. 

The 2015 Wine Bloggers Pre-Conference Trip Continues: Day Two

After a night of exploring the city of Geneva and finding Microclimate, one of the coolest wine bars ever with awe-inspiring “off the beaten path selections” of wine owned by another woman powerhouse, we continued our bus journey to the Anthony Road Wine Company.  We were hosted by Ann and John Martini, who have been involved in grape growing and wine making since John quit his job in 1973 to pursue his dream.

Anthony Road Wine Company is located on the west side of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes.  Between two vineyards, the Martini Vineyards and the Young Vineyards, the winery produces pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling, vignoles, cabernet franc, lemberger, gewurztraminer and merlot. 

John Martini, Anthony Wine Company

John gave us an overview of the region and showed us his cutting-edge “teaching vineyard” that was experimenting with growing Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc and a number of other varietals.  Peter Becraft, the winemaker, met us in the barrel room to give us a tour of the facility and let us sample wine.  

We then journeyed to Fox Run Vineyards, situated on an old dairy farm on Torrey Ridge, with breath-taking views.  We learned all about the region’s terroir and the influence of Lake Dana, which eventually became Seneca Lake 1,000 years later.  We toured the vineyard and learned that Seneca Lake, the deepest of the Finger Lakes, along with the different topography of the area, provides an ideal microclimate for grape growing.  In fact, this area is so deep that the US Navy has tested sonar equipment and submarines there. 

In 1866, the Seneca Lake Grape Wine Company opened a winery on the western shores.  Then in 1882, New York State opened an Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva for grape breeding and research programs.  But Prohibition in 1919 forced many of Seneca Lake’s vineyards to close or replant to focus on the juice or fruit market to survive.

In the early 1970s, the Europeans changed the face of the region.  Charles Fournier planted 20 acres of Vinifera on the east side of Seneca Lake and German native, Hermann Wiemer, bought and planted 140 acres of Vinifera on the west side of Seneca Lake. The success of these two vineyards and the re-launch of a wine research program at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station put Seneca Lake on the map as a grape growing and wine producing region.

In 1976, New York State passed the Farm Winery Act to encourage grape growers to expand into the wine production business.  One year later, Glenora Wine Cellars as founded.  This launch was shortly followed by Wagner Vineyards, Herman J. Wiemer Vineyards and Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards.

Scott Osborn, Fox Run Vineyards

Scott Osborn, the owner of Fox Run, has the philosophy that non-hybrid European vinifera grapes can make wines in the Finger Lakes that rival the world’s top producers.

We learned that Fox Run was the story that almost wasn’t.  While they were halfway done building the winery they learned from the building inspector that the location was in a dry county.  A lot of blood, sweat and tears ensued, but a special referendum was calling and they won by a single vote.

The first grapes were planted in 1984 and the dairy barn was converted to a modern wine-making facility in 1993.  In 1996, farther up the slope, a new facility was completed with state-of-the-art capabilities and view of Seneca Lake that is unrivaled.

Osborn, Winemaker Peter Bell and Vineyard Manager John Kaiser believe in minimal intervention winemaking.  Current releases include Riesling, Reserve Riesling, Chardonnay, Reserve Chardonnay, Lemberger, Meritage, Blanc de Blanc Sparkling and Port.

And here’s where a wine student got to get her “geek on.”  We had the opportunity to try the Fox Run Geology Series — an expression of place, method and time.  We tried four Rieslings; the 2012 Lot 11 Riesling from the Hanging Delta Vineyard and the 2012 Lot 11 Riesling from the Lake Dana Vineyard; and the 2012 Lot 12 Riesling from the Hanging Delta Vineyard and the 2012 Lot 12 Riesling from the Lake Dana Vineyard.  The only difference was the soil where the grapes were grown and whoa, did that make a difference.   You always hear the expression that “the clothes make the man.”  When it comes to terroir in the Finger Lakes, the terrior makes the grapes.

The Pre-Conference Journey to Fingers Lakes Begins: The 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference Pre-Trip, Day One

I met blogger extraordinaire Thea Dwelle at the Philadelphia International Airport and we geared up for a road trip.  The night prior to our journey to Corning, The Drunken Cyclist was nice enough to open up his home and invite us to his family birthday dinner.  The food was amazing.  The wines were ones that you only open for very good friends.  Jeff, I am honored you shared those last precious birthday moments, your family and those wines with us.

The next morning we began our journey of planes, buses and automobiles while traveling on badly marked and tollways that all seemed to be under construction.  For about five hours, it felt like we were on a journey to nowhere – the signage was cloaked, the exits were few, but the laughter was continual.

We arrived at the Radisson to begin our pre-trip tour and spent some time on the Seneca Lake Trail, which is home to 30 wineries, a distillery, cider producers and several breweries.  It is geographically located in the center of the Fingers Lakes.  Seneca Lake is the largest lake, covers 43,343 acres and spans 38 miles through the center of the Finger Lakes region.

The blogger bus took us to Villa Bellangelo.  The view was gorgeous and what a display of hospitality.   The winery was founded by Christopher Missick and his family, who left the corporate world in California, to focus on terroir and making cool climate wine.  Bellangelo is a boutique wine producer, crafting only 6,000 cases of wine each vintage.  We learned a lot about the soil – originally formed by “Ice Age” glaciers. 

We then had a chance to mingle and experience four tasting and education stages with several wineries – King’s Garden 20 Year Vertical Tasting of Finger Lakes Cabernet Sauvignon; the Bellangelo Riesling experience featuring a dozen different Rieslings; Side Acre Hills and Schtayburne cheese samplings, which produce local cow and goat cheeses; and “Others,” a portfolio of experimental and alternative wines made by Villa Bellangelo.

The theme of our evening venture, which was scheduled at Ventosa Vineyards, was all about Finger Lakes Women in Wine.  There was a bit of irony that the Wine Bloggers Conference (#wbc15) was hosted in Corning, NY, the home of the Corning Glass Museum, where one of the common themes became how women are breaking through the glass ceiling in the wine industry.

The stats are sobering – according to an article by Adrienne Vogt in the Daily Beast, half of the graduates at UC-Davis’ oenology program are female, but women lead only 10 percent of California’s wineries.  I couldn’t find any definitive research outside of California.

The discussions mirrored one that I had several years ago with Merry Edwards, the winemaker of Merry Edwards Vintners.  In 1984, she left Matanzas Creek to devote herself full time to consulting and her winery.  She told me over dinner about the difficulty in getting her first winemaker job and that she had to work harder.  I loved her ingenuity.  She would go to the Farmer’s Market weekly and gather the throwaway fruits and veggies to make wine.  Hint: rutabaga wine is not tasty.

Our panel of women winemakers, farmers, scientists and chefs were awe-inspiring.  They all shared the fact that they have made significant contributions to the sustainable food and farming movement across the Finger Lakes.  Marti Macinski, the Winemaker and Owner of Standing Stone Vineyards, candidly talked about the point when she and her husband decided she must transition from the “traditional hospitality role” to serving as the operator of the winery – without any training.  And while her first reaction was to put her head on the table and cry, it turns out she was damn good at it.  While she talked about her fear, it was clear that Marti is fearless.

Another amazing woman was Jenna LaVita, the winemaker of Ventosa Vineyards.  She was originally a law student who decided over a glass of Pinot that she wanted to be a winemaker.  She hit the road in her Saab and began her journey.  It took her from cleaning tanks to teaching over harvest break to even selling (unsuccessfully) bottle cap earrings in Etsy.  At 23, she was asked to become the full-time winemaker and inherited vineyard responsibility at age 25 when her vineyard manager was deported.  Jenna took us through the vineyard and we had an opportunity to pick grapes on different blocks in order to experience how a winemaker gauges ripeness.

And then we met our showstopper – Liz Leidenfrost, the winemaker, grape grower and activist of Leidenfrost Vineyards. What a cool and well-rounded women.  She talked about how she became interested in winemaking after she failed the image of being a classical musician.  With her tattoos, piercings and dyed hair, she thought she could make a difference in the family business and her father put her to the test.  She passed with flying colors and the fact that she’s also a burlesque dancer on the side makes her even cooler.

Kas Deys, a biochemist and grape geneticist from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, talked about the research that Cornell is doing on the grapes and the region.  She had an amazing background and clearly is making a big difference in her research in mining grape genes.

Our meal was prepared by Heather  Tompkins, the chef and owner of Opus Espresso and Wine Bar.  Here was our line-up:

Candy beet melon arugula salad with Red Jacket cheribundi-curry vinaigrette with Stony Brook pumpkin oil, First Light goat cheese and Stony Brook pumpkin seeds paired with 2014 Three Brothers Pinot Noir Rose and Leidenfrost Vineyards Blanc de Blancs.

Sweet corn muranda cheese, cheddar studded risotto cake, summer tomato-fennel coulis and jalapeno orange mascarpone with 2012 Ventosa Vineyards Pinot Noir and 2013 Standing Stone Vineyards Gewurztraminer.

Grilled Petit Finger Lakes Farms Filet Mignon and Scallop with wilted baby kale, Piggery Bacon vinaigrette with Cayuga Blue and pickled red onion with Three Brothers Wineries and Estates Degree of Riesling and 2011 Ventosa Vineyards Cabernet Franc.

Red Jacket peaches – ginger galette with Seneca salted caramel and shaved Seneca salt bark dark chocolate with Leidenfrost Vineyards Cabernet Port and 2014 Standing Stone Vineyards Gewurztraminer Ice.

On the menu was the wording – bold, fearless and original.  Absolutely a great descriptor of the women we met and the experience that we had.


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