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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.


Wine, Women, Food and Seattle: The Perfect Storm

When my work life and wine life intersect, I always bask in the glow.  I have been incredibly lucky to be accepted into the Executive Women’s Roundtable, an exclusive C-level women’s leadership organization that is run through the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.  The women are amazing – it’s a who’s who of women who leave me in awe every time that I am in a room with them.

The Executive Women’s Roundtable Group at JM Cellars

Annually, we have a weekend leadership retreat designed to be a time of learning, city exploration, laughter and networking.  This year we headed to Seattle.  Yes, the land of Washington Wine, which I fell in love with about five years ago at #wbc10.

Ian and Laura MacNeil

This trip allowed me to explore (briefly) a wine region that I did not have a chance to visit the last time I was there – Woodinville.  But first, we needed to explore vodka.  Ian MacNeil launched the Glass Distillery in 2012 to introduce his flagship spirit, Glass Vodka, to the public.  The shop includes a gorgeous exhibition of glass and on our visit was coupled with a tasting of four types of vodka.  Three were flavored, but the pure Glass Vodka was delicious, smooth and all about style.  This made a girl that wasn’t necessarily a vodka fan, a vodka fan.

Luly Wang Creation for the Vogel Alcove Gala

After a series of meetings and networking events, (if you want the outfit of the year, check out Luly Yang, one of the most fun designers I’ve seen in a long time), we headed to a morning tour of Pike Place Market. 

We had a private tour at the Dale Chihuly Boathouse.  It was awesome to see Chihuly’s glass vision come to life from an aquarium to his private pool to the best dining room ever.  It was a blast from the past to see what inspired the gorgeous designs that have become the standard of glass couture.

John Bigelow

Then the games begin.  I’m never a tour bus winery kind of gal, so I’m going to focus on the two “off the beaten path” wineries that I really enjoyed out of the three we toured.  Our first was JM Cellars, which is considered a private arboretum located on a hill named “Bramble Bump.”  John Bigelow, the incredibly charismatic and passionate winemaker, who had such an infectious excitement for his wines and the story of his family, made us all fall in love with his story and the property.  These guys make 500 cases a year – small and boutique in style.  The 2012 Vineyard Estate red and the 2012 Syrah were my favorite wines that I tried.

Brian Cade

Our next stop was Sparkman Cellars where we spent time with Brian Cade, the general manager.  I loved the vision, “work with the finest ingredients known to man, craft it from something truly real and share it with people that want to drink it.”  Sir, may I have another… I really liked everything that I tried.  The fact that the wine club is named after Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” resonated.  But sadly, to refrain a sad yet often stated theme, the wines are not yet available in Texas.  I hate you three-tier ridiculous legal system.  We are all missing out.

Anytime I can combine time with a group of awe inspiring women combined with the amazing city of Seattle paired with a region of wines that I just want to spend time exploring, that means one of the best weekend’s ever.


Savor Dallas: Bringing Dallas’ Art District, Wine and Food Together

Many years ago, I was a board member on an organization dedicated to reinvigorating the Dallas Arts District.  We had a vision of people walking through the district embracing what Dallas had to offer culturally with a bevy of food and wine framing the experience.  Fast forward about eight years to Savor Dallas’ Arts District Stroll, which kicked off Savor’s four day wine and food event. 

We started at the Meyerson Symphony Center then moved to the Nasher Sculpture Center with a final stop at the Crow Collection of Asian Art.  This was a packed event hosted in the nation’s largest contiguous urban arts district, and I loved the diversity of the totally packed house.  It took the “wine is for white tablecloth venues” to task and I loved it.  Granted, if you wanted to truly taste and chat with the wine makers and restaurants, you probably want to look at the other events scheduled on Friday and Saturday, but Savor Dallas made me smile with the culture, wine, food and general experience with 40 plus winemakers offering wares, a variety of spirits and some restaurants offering great food.

Wine Blogger Conference 2015 Preview: Get Your Riesling On

As a follow up to the announcement that the next Wine Blogger’s Conference will be in the Finger Lakes area, the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance asked me to participate in the 2013 Vintage Riesling Launch on Twitter #FLXRieslingHour. 

Nineteen wineries participated to virtually celebrate the release of the 2013 Finger Lakes Rieslings.  The four wines sent to me came from Sheldrake Point Winery, Knapp Winery, Heron Hill Winery and Boundary Breaks Winery.  More than 50 bloggers engaged in spirited conversation and learned all about the diversity of the Finger Lakes region in New York.

Contrary to popular belief, Rieslings are not just sweet white wines – they can be bone dry to sweet and the taste profile can be very different.  In fact, the International Riesling Foundation came up with a taste profile with the help of wineries who voluntarily rate their wines to help consumers navigate wines produced after 2008.

The wines that I tried were diverse – one was very dry with lots of minerality while others were much sweeter.  The soil of the region, the shale that these grapes are grown in, diverse elevations and distance from water, result in very different wines.

The first was the 2013 Sheldrake Point Dry Riesling, which had notes of lime, petrol, stone, peach and tropical fruits.  The family-owned winery has been making wine for 15 years and is located in a very unique microclimate next to Cayuga Lake.  This was the driest Riesling of the bunch and it was the group favorite.

The second wine was the 2013 Knapp Winery Dry Riesling, which also had notes of peach and apricot.  It begged for an Asian food pairing. I really liked this, but I think that food was necessary to bring out the true complexities in this wine.  The winery is also located near Cayuga Lake and has been around since 1984.  It is the first winery in this association to plant Cabernet Franc.

Our third wine was the Heron Hill Winery 2013 Classic Dry Riesling.  This was a nice wine with hints of orange blossom, floral notes, minerality and stone.  The winery is located near Keuka Lake and has been around for 35 years. 

Our final wine was the 2013 Boundary Breaks Vineyard’s #239 Dry Riesling, which was another great expression of the Riesling grape.  The winery property, which was a farm from 1850 until purchased in 2007, had its first vintage in 2013.  Very shortly after, The New York Times rated it in the top ten Finger Lakes Rieslings.  It was delightful – notes of peach, apricot, stone and flowers. 

If this experience was an indication of what I’ll get to experience at the #wbc15, I’m looking forward to getting my Riesling on.


Rodney Strong Celebrates 25 Years In Style

In July at the #wbc14, I was invited to hang with the cool kids at a special dinner in Solvang to celebrate the Rodney Strong Vineyard Silver Anniversary.  Several months later, I was invited to attend the Rodney Strong Silver Anniversary and James Beard Chef’s Tour Dinner celebrating 25 years of the Klein family owning the vineyard. 

Top chefs in Austin, Healdsburg, Miami and New York, hosted dinners that we were able to watch live on the #rsv25 channel.  There were also nine bloggers who are also fantastic home cooks that hosted mouthwatering dinners in different markets.  And then there were a few like me who don’t cook but were lucky enough to have received the wines so I could taste along.  All of the dinners benefitted the James Beard Foundation, echoing the family’s continuing commitment to give back to the community.

 Owner Tom Klein talked about how his goal was to create world-class wines that captured the essence of Sonoma.  In the 25 years under Klein’s ownership and direction, the winery has expanded, the number of wines offered has increased, the practices have became sustainable and the winery was named American Winery of the Year by the Wine Enthusiast in 2013.

From the Pre-Event at #wbc14

I’ve always said Rodney Strong was one of the top wineries that really understood the power of digital and social media.  They are front and center in raising the bar, making bloggers feel appreciated and understanding that if they get the right people in the room, they can and will out-trend any other wine event.

We tasted through six wines and there was a sense of fun to the entire evening.  The people at the dinners had fun.  The people on social media had fun.  The bloggers like me who were lucky enough to be included had fun.

We had six spectacular wines:

  • 2013 Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Symmetry, Alexander Valley
  • 2010 Brother’s Cabernet, Alexander Valley
  • 2008 Rodney Strong “A True Gentleman’s Port (named after Tom’s brother who passed away in 2003

According to Vintank, the undisputed leader in providing social intelligence for wineries, the results were impressive:

  • #RSV25 Trended #1 on Twitter, ahead of an HBO show.
  • When the event began, there was a social post every 12 seconds. Near the end of the evening, social posts were coming in every 6.7 seconds
  • 3,104 posts tagged with #RSV25. Nearly 700 people tuned into for the broadcast
  • Rodney Strong saw more than a 27% rise in its social media footprint.

For more information on the event, check out

Or search #rsv25 for a glimpse of the fun.  Cheers to the Klein family, the Rodney Strong Vineyards staff and everyone involved in showing how much fun silver anniversaries can be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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