Archived entries for General Wine Info

Rex Pickett’s Next Journey: Vertical, The Next Chapter of Miles and Jack

Vertical Beachside Read at the Four Seasons Punta Mita Resort

For those of you who read Sideways by Rex Pickett, the book that almost single handedly changed consumers’ willingness to drink Merlot, you remember the premise.  Two good friends, Miles and Jack, go on a last hurrah trip the week before Jack is to marry in the Santa Ynez wine country.  Jack is facing the life change of marriage and Miles is facing the life change of divorce as well as the instability of his career and not knowing his place in the world.

The book started a movement – of pinot, of pilgrimage to the places featured in the movie and showcased the love of wine from two not so likeable wild and crazy kind of guys.  The book focuses on relationships – friendship, wine and relationships – and exposes the flaws in all.  Rex has now written his second book, Vertical, which tells the next journey for these two men.

Fast forward seven years and the tables have turned.  Jack is a divorced, down on his luck alcoholic who has definitely lived his glory days.  Miles is now a successful author with a movie that has become a blockbuster.  He is now the celebrity.  But his life is far from perfect.  He is spiraling into a cycle of drinking, depression and self depreciation.  But the speaking gigs keep happening, the wine keeps pouring and even after he publicly drinks the spit bucket at a tasting (with no recollection), he continues the downward spiral.

His mom, Phyllis, has suffered a stroke that has left her incapacitated and stuck in an assisted living home – and frequently tells Miles how miserable she is.  He knows she wants to go live with her sister in Wisconsin and he finally has a way to get her there.  Since she is wheelchair bound and Miles is deathly afraid of flying, he decides to engage Jack to help drive her from the assisted living home in Carlsbad to Wisconsin by dangling $10,000 and a trip to the International Pinot Noir festival in Oregon.

It’s funny – insert a pot-smoking caretaker, a dunking machine, a Viagra mishap and lots of other laugh out loud moments – and you can see this is the next successful screenplay.

It’s poignant – anyone who has had to deal with the loss of a parent, watching a friend go down a dark path, dealing with alcoholism or making bad decisions leading to the loss of someone you loved – will see this is more than two wild and crazy guys on a last rampage.

It’s a great snapshot of the Willamette Valley – the wineries, the people, the tasting rooms, the scenery and the new pilgrimages that will begin because of this book.

And, finally, it’s an introspective by Rex.  I only met him once briefly at the Wine Bloggers Conference, but you can see the self depreciation, the fear of losing the success and when you hear him talk about what he wished he had known prior to the movie, you get those flashes of the fears that Miles has.  He’s a great writer who brings the people, pinots and pathways truly to life.


Prichard Hill: Life, Legacy and a Conversation with David Long from David Arthur Vineyards

Unless you have done some extensive time in Napa Valley, you may have never personally discovered Pritchard Hill.  But, you probably have heard the names Colgin, Chappelett, Ovid and David Long and if you have tasted the Cabernet or Bordeaux varieties, you quickly find this is an unforgettable region.

It is not an easy place to just drop in … It is a long and windy drive that takes you to wineries that rise to almost 2,000 feet above sea level.  By happenstance, in the last 11 months, I have had the opportunity to meet two very special people whose families helped shape Pritchard Hill into the special place that it is today.  Last November, I sat down with Cyril Chappellet in a conversation that ranged from wine and family, then veered to the big life choices that I was on the verge of making earlier in 2016.

 

David Long and me

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for a wine dinner at Lakewood Country Club with David Long from David Arthur Vineyards.  David Arthur Vineyards and the Long Family Ranch began when Don Long, a butcher who went from carving meat to owning a small grocery store with a focus on personalization near Stanford University, decided to begin acquiring land on top of Pritchard Hill.  At that time, there was no access to roads or utilities and Don would hike to picnic with his wife, Annie.

 

David started the dinner, as we were drinking the 2013 Chardonnay, by telling us, “You are drinking my college education.”  He wasn’t the best student, but he made it to University of Denver where he pursued a degree in fine arts with a focus on ceramics and pottery.  That didn’t seem like a sustainable career for him, so he dropped out of school and was wished well by his father (which essentially meant he was off the payroll).  He worked his way from busing tables to managing dinner houses and went on to open a fondue restaurant with a selection of 25 wines in Boulder.

 

He vividly remembers drinking a Chappellet Chenin Blanc when he got a call from his father.  His future arrived on one snowy night when he had to shut down the restaurant due to bad weather.   His dad asked if he had an interest in running the 970-acre property, cultivate the land and grow the grapes.  The answer was a resounding yes and his dad disclosed that he would invest the money for him to plant the first ten acres of grapes.  The first grape planted was Chardonnay until his visionary dad saw the future and the future was a Bordeaux style wine.

The time that David had to taste wine after working the vineyard was 4 a.m. and during that process, he opened a bottle of Sangiovese that was sent by his importer, Louis Langdon, formerly of Langdon Shiverick Imports.  He describes it as being rustic with an amazing finish.  At 6 a.m., he had to go to work and poured the Sangiovese in his existing test Bordeaux blend.  Magic was made and he began looking for a name that described the French and Italian blend.  Originally named red table wine, he promised his brother 24 hours for a new name and Meritaggio Red Blend was born.

Our food and wine line up was as follows:


Course one – Steamed wild Hawaiian caught manchong with king crab, matsutake farro risotto, preserved lemon, brown butter, lemon, red ribbon sorrel with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Chardonnay.

Course two – Smoke salt seared quail with golden raisin, foie gras, sweet potato and red curry cream sauce with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Meritaggio Red Wine Blend.

Course three – Slow cooked beef tenderloin with olive oil, roasted cauliflower, porcini, bacon, sage, short rib ragout, anson mills polenta, veal reduction and 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Course four – A cheese course of Humboldt Fog Cypress goat cheese, Oregon Rouge smokey blue and Prairie Breeze with honey, marcona almonds, apple butter and grilled French bread with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards “Three Acre” Cabernet Sauvignon.

To say David is larger than life is an understatement.  From his stories about experimenting with apple juice to make alcohol at age 14 to walking the aisles of Sunshine Foods to sell his chardonnay and then, once the sale was made, had his then wife immediately come through the front door looking for the bottles of wine that he just sold saying, “I can’t believe they are carrying these wines”.  David has a menagerie of stories (half of which I can’t repeat), life experiences, history and amazing wines.

I am so excited about Prichard Hill, the rich history and the families that I have met that have pioneered an area that is making some of the best wines in the Valley.


Del Frisco’s Throws Down the Gauntlet with Top Female Somm Competition

As a sommelier, you are expected to use theory to ideally pair the right wine with the right food.  But, usually you have the opportunity to taste the food first.  Del Frisco’s – banking on the skills of its talented women sommeliers – turned that premise on its head by not allowing them to taste the food prior to Somm Wars., a three city competition between three talented female sommeliers in Dallas, New York and Chicago.

The finale was in Dallas.  I was lucky enough to be part of a panel of five local wine experts and enthusiasts, including: Paula Lambert, a world renowned American cheesemaker, cookbook author and entrepreneur; Neal Caldwell, Manager and Buyer for Pogo’s Wine and Spirits and wine judge for TEXSOM and The Dallas Morning News Food and Wine Competition; Leigh Ann Adam, weekdays on-air personality from KVIL 103.7 FM; John DeMers, author, food and wine writer, host of Delicious Mischief Food and Wine radio show and director of culinary hospitality and host instructor at Fischer and Wieser Culinary Adventure Cooking School and Brooks Anderson, co-founder of Veritas Wine Room, Rapscallion and Boulevardier.

It is clear that Del Frisco’s takes its wine program and the advancement of women seriously.  I spoke with Jessica Novar, the director of wine education who was a true innovator in bringing the program to fruition.  “We had these amazing women, many who pioneered being the first women somms in their restaurants and we wanted to bring them together to celebrate wine, food and progress.”

And these were some bad ass women who clearly brought passion for food, wine and the customer to their job every day.  I had the chance to speak to the three ladies the day of the competition and they talked about their backgrounds.

Chantel, Crystal and Amy

Dallas’ own Wine Director Chantel Daves holds a Sommelier Certification specializing in wine and food pairings.  She started her career at the Del Frisco’s in Boston in 2011 and moved to Dallas with the recent store opening.  New York’s Crystal Horton has been with Del Frisco’s for more than 15 years and has been a sommelier for 14 of them.  Her passion began early and ignited when she was first a bartender and quickly moved into the wine program, where she became a trailblazer sommelier.  Chicago’s Wine Director Amy Lutchen, has built an all-female sommelier team, which made me want to give her the world’s biggest high five as that is not the norm in the world of wine.

I asked them what surprised them the most about Somm Wars.  Because the tasting is completely blind and they don’t get to taste the food first (only the main course is the same from restaurant to restaurant), everyone starts equally.  They also wanted to spotlight at least one female winemaker in the pairings.  They loved the guest interaction and excitement.  Somm Wars also created this face-to-face bond that was elevated over lots of champagne.

I asked if they took a risk with their selections and the answers varied.  Overall they went with a classic approach.  Amy said, ”what grows together, goes together.”

And now for the experience.  Executive Chef Tony Schwappach prepared an amazing four-course dinner at the newly opened Dallas Del Frisco’s, an awesome new see-and-be-seen steak mecca.

The wines ran the gamut – from California Chards to a Mosel Riesling with the first course.   Pinots from France and Sonoma to a Syrah blend with the second course.  A variety of red blends and cabernet based wines for the third.  And finally, two ports and an ice wine with the dessert.  After this election, I am not going to “armchair” quarterback any of them, but our judging group appeared to have a clear path of preferences.

We began with Marinated Texas Sterling Lamb Lollipops with Citrus Bleu du Bocage and Red Jalapeño Glaze.

The next course featured an Olive Oil Poached Dover Sole and Sweet and Sour Eggplant, paired with Tandoori Marsala Yogurt Sauce and Crispy Prosciutto, which it appears that I ate before I took a photo….

Third Course was a Crispy Duck Confit with Golden Chantrelles and Wilted Dandelion Risotto, with Peppered Bacon, Charred Kumato Tomato and Buttered Broth.

The main course featured a Simply Seared A-7 Wagyu Beef paired with Foie Gras-Charred Leek Ravioli, Rissole Potatoes, and Mission Fig & Black Garlic Reduction.

The dessert course was a Del Frisco’s Style Banana Split, which includes Caramelized Banana, Godiva Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Candied Pecans.

There were some amazing matches and some misses, but overall the takeaway was that you were part of this amazing process for bragging rights as Sommelier of the Year.  As for the winner, Chantel came in first in Dallas and Amy from Chicago clinched the entire “world series,” which appears to be spot on based on this year’s Cubs World Series clincher.

 


A Perfect Score: A Book Review and Conversation with Kathryn and Craig Hall

When I was invited to the launch of “A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul and Business of a 21st Century Winery,” I knew I was in for a great story.  The book, written by Kathryn and Craig Hall, launched on September 13 and chronicles a very honest story of people, wine, art and politics.

It is about two people with very different backgrounds – Kathryn’s family had a wine making background and Craig originally thought Rosé was red and white wine mixed together.  As Craig said, “With wine, I continue to be a work in progress.”

Together, Kathryn and Craig formed what is today Hall and Walt Wineries.

 

The book talked about their journey.  From meeting when Kathryn was running for Mayor in 1991 to moving to Austria for her Ambassador position to buying their first vineyard (a dilapidated winery that had seen better days, which happened right before the Ambassador appointment) to navigating Napa politics and ramping up wine production right in time for the market crash.

It wasn’t an easy journey.  But it was about two people who gathered together and formed a marriage, a family, a business, a winery, and a storied political career.  I had a chance to talk to both Craig and Kathryn at the Dallas reception and Craig told me they started the book about a year ago and he didn’t remember why they originally decided to do it.  Kathryn remembered differently.  “We had a chance to tell our story to a different audience.  I believe that people want to tell the story of wine and the important people that made this winery successful.”

She talked about reliving the experiences – the good, not so good and having the perspective of time.  Kathryn was honest about the tension of working with one’s spouse and how that tension created a better winery and book.

From the story of how the Hall landmark rabbit sculpture, Bunny Foo Foo, a work of art by Lawrence Argent, came to stand tall as a symbol of Hall Winery.  How fun that it was meant to capture the heritage and memory of Kathryn leading her kids through her parent’s Mendocino County Vineyard singing “Little Bunny Foo Foo.”  The book is a juxtaposition of these types of memories and how they built the foundation of the winery’s hospitality experience.  It comes down to having fun – drinking great wine, enjoy the hospitality of a winery, hanging out with people you love, giving back to the community and eating great food.  And the title comes from the first designation of 100 points for the 2010 Hall Exzellenz Cabernet.

The Hall’s imagination and vision truly made what is today known as a well-regarded, highly-ranked, boutique winery come to life.  It’s about attention to detail – from sustainability of the vineyard to taking care of the people who have made the winery successful to a focus on the customer.  If you can’t visit Hall and Walt Wineries, reading this book makes you almost smell the grapes in the barrel room, feel the crunch of walking through the wet ground of the vineyards and taste the juice right out of the wine thief.


A Tale of Two Vineyards: Chris Carpenter’s Merlot Experience

If you read any of my earlier columns this month, October is the month that a group of global social media folks have united to laud the Merlot varietal using the hashtag #merlotme.  Merlot is an often misunderstood grape and since the movie Sideways debuted a few years ago, it suffered a lot of brand damage.  Some of it was merited as many merlots were in a state of decline, but there were many wine producers that continued to fight the good fight to showcase the beauty of this grape.  You’ll continue to hear about Merlot after October as I was sent about 30 samples of this varietal.

One was the well packaged box that I received from La Jota and Mt. Brave with the 2013 La Jota Howell Mountain Merlot and the Mt. Brave Mt. Veeder Merlot from Winemaker Chris Carpenter.  Chris’ passion for Merlot and his ability with this grape shows the depth, complexity and elegance that can be created using the same grape in two very distinct vineyards – each with very different soil types and climates.  These are special occasion wines – the La Jota averages $85 and the Mt. Brave is $75.  But whoa these are delicious wines.



I opened them over the weekend and completely flip flopped over my favorite in a three-day time period. The Howell Mountain had tons of fruit – black and blue berries, mocha, cedar, earthy and powerful with lots of depth.   The Mt Veeder wine had notes of blueberry, red fruit, licorice, herbs and minerality.  I never actually picked a winner, but realized that the crew tasting these wines over two days completely won.

 

 

 

 

 


October Wine Round Up: Favorite Samples Over the Past Months

Today I’m going to talk about some of my favorite recent samples, which include wine and for the first time, spirits.  I tried 28 wines and 12 of them made the list along with one gin and one vodka.

Reds:

2013 Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec – this was a great expression of Malbec.  Lots of berry, plum, herbs, mocha and chocolate notes.  I brought this to a girl’s wine group and it disappeared quickly.

2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir – this had a nice earthiness and notes of black cherry, strawberry and a nice touch of herbs.

2014 Flora Springs Merlot – this was a well-balanced merlot with plum, chocolate, berry and a bit of cherry.

Locations by Dave Phinney E and F – Dave Phinney has always had a personal mission to make the best wines possible.  Now he is taking his concept that he can get great grapes from vineyards (taking out the appellation rules) across the world and use his winemaking skills to make great wines.  It works.  I tried several of his wines and was impressed with the result.  The E blend from Spain had lots of cherry, plum, berry and spice.  The F blend from France was delicious with Grenache (Roussillon), Syrah (Rhone) and Bordeaux Blend Varieties.

2012 Northstar Merlot – this merlot was velvet on the tongue with notes of raspberry, cherry and chocolate and a hint of vanilla.

2013 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon — rich berry, dark cherry, mocha, a touch cedar.  Very easy drinking.

Rosé:

Jolie Folle Rosé – this embodies everything that a good rosé should be.  Notes of strawberry, watermelon and a great minerality.

Whites:

2013 Ramey Chardonnay – orange blossom, stone fruit, buttered popcorn and floral notes make this a wonderful entry level chardonnay that keeps its balance.

2015 Martin Ray Chardonnay – this old world chardonnay had notes of white stone fruit, flowers, vanilla and was delicious.

2014 Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio – this was a nice representation of a pinot grigio.  Fruity, crisp and a nice minerality makes it a great porch Summer wine.

2014 Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Sicilia DOC – this was my first experience with Grillo from Sicily and not my last.  It is a very easy drinking wine with lots of white stone fruit.

Spirits:

For the first time, I had the chance to try the Azzurre gin and vodka.  They are both made from apples, grapes and sugar cane with no added ingredients.  I served these both at a dinner party and to rave reviews.  I enjoyed both of them, but found myself going back to the gin as it truly was a sipping gin with lots of fruit-forward notes that also sung with specialty tonics.


A Conversation with Tom Gamble: A Focus on Farming and Making Great Wine

Tom Gamble at Lakewood Country Club

The moment I sat down with Tom Gamble of Gamble Family Cellars, he made it clear that it was as important to talk about how this was his family’s 100th year in farming as it was to talk about the wines he was there to pour.  Tom’s a third generation farmer, the first in his family to make wine, and this is Gamble Family Cellars 11th vintage.  As he said, “Prices for the land here make sense when paired with a successful wine label.”

“It is always said that the first generation buys the land; the second generation pays for it and the third generation starts the label,” he said.  “And, we did too.” He sees it as a legacy, but admitted that not all of the next generation of twelve nieces and nephews think that tractors are as cool as he does.  Nonetheless, he sees teaching them how to be good landowners as an important lesson.

And wearing his signature cowboy hat, you can tell that this is a man who gets his hands dirty.  The family first sold grapes to very well-known stalwarts and even some cult wineries.  When Tom decided he wanted to go to UC Davis to learn how to make wine after purchasing his vineyard in 1981, he wanted to bring the farming perspective to winemaking.

His commitment to sustainability and taking care of the land is evident. He and his wife farm 170 acres of vineyards that are made up of three distinct microclimates.  He talked about the only thing being constant is continuous change.

The wines are only available through the wine club and the wholesale market, which is where I first became associated with the Gamble Sauvignon Blanc as a by the glass selection at Lakewood Country Club (full disclosure: I am the wine committee chairman).  I enjoyed every bottle of Gamble that I tried and it was my first time trying the reds.  Our line-up was as follows:

2015 Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

2013 Gamble Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 Gamble Family Vineyards Paramount Red Wine

2012 Gamble Family Vineyards Family Home

Getting to hear Tom’s story was a pleasure and expanding my knowledge of the goodness of the Gamble Family Vineyards red wines was even more fun.


College Football, A SEC Game Changer and the Merlots that Brought it to Life

It’s Fall (well technically it is still 90 degrees in Dallas), but in most places that means cooler weather, changing leaves and college football. Cindy Rynning from Grape Experiences had the brilliant idea to ask women in wine to select a grape variety that described their college football team. Here is the post.

I likened Auburn to Merlot with the following description:

“The perfect wine to describe Auburn is Merlot.  It is subtle and gracious, yet can pack a punch.  It demonstrates an elegance with notes of berry and represents its terroir well. Auburn was Alabama’s first public land-grant university with a focus on agriculture.  Merlot is believed to be named after a French black bird (called Merlau) who liked eating the ripe grapes on the vine.  Auburn football fans also have a bird (the eagle) as the focus of our “War Eagle” rallying cry.”

Auburn University Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, me and my husband, John

 I happened to be on my way to Auburn University that weekend.  I am lucky enough to be a member of Auburn’s Athletic Advisory Council, which means that at least twice a year for the past five years I go to Auburn to meet with Athletic Director Jay Jacobs and his very talented communications team.  For the second year, it coincided with the Auburn/LSU game.

After our dinner on Friday, we went to the home of some dear friends, Randy and Nancy Campbell, who have broken out some amazing wines in the past and I finally had the foresight to check a few great bottles on our fight.  That was a good thing as Randy had billed me as a wine expert in a room of wine experts, so I was glad to have packed some special vino.

 

 

 

 

On Saturday we arrived at the game with 87,451 fans.  This was a big one for both teams with a strong undercurrent that each team needed this win to keep their current structure intact.  After all of the tailgating activities and socializing, we arrived at our seats in the stands.  And that is the point I stopped breathing for about three hours.  I’m sure by now you’ve seen the highlights.  LSU, 7, and Auburn, 3.  Then LSU, 7 and Auburn, 9.  Then LSU, 13, and Auburn, 18. You could feel the collective gasp when the crowd realized the time clock had expired on Danny Etling’s scoring pass and it wasn’t valid.  And then the celebration began.

Naturally we had to open Merlots to celebrate.  In honor of #merlotmonth #merlotme, I was sent a 2013 Pahlmeyer Merlot.  This wine is going to evolve drastically over time – it was complete velvet and so smooth on the palate. I tasted blackberry, chocolate, herbs, blueberry and floral notes.  This wine was worthy of this win.

We also had the treat to find a bottle of 2008 Paloma Merlot.  When the Wine Spectator named Paloma the wine of the year in 2003, the winery was completely out of wine.  But Barbara Richards, the proprietor, took the time to chat on her porch where we watched the hummingbirds together.  Barbara passed away a few months ago, but to be able to enjoy her wine and remember that moment of time was special.


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.

 




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