Archived entries for Meritage

A Trip Back to the 1800’s: A Stop Through Some of the Oldest Vineyards in Napa

Joshua Arroyo, our fantastic host at Chappellet Winery 

This leads me to day three of our wine country excursion and another one of my favorite all-time stops.  As you may recall, in November, I had the chance to sit down with the CEO of Chappellet Winery, Cyril Chappellet and had such a fun lunch that I knew this had to be a must stop during our trip.  Unfortunately Cyril and his wife, Molly, were out of town that weekend, but they set us up with Joshua Arroyo, a fabulous host that easily kept up with the group’s sarcasm and spirit of fun.

We started out with a tour of the new hospitality areas and the original winemaking facility that started producing wine in 1969.  Joshua told us how he had been with the Chappellet family for the last two years (72 hours after he unpacked his moving truck to be exact) after falling in love with wine.

We began with a 2015 Molly’s Chenin Blanc, which showcased Molly Chappellet’s sense of style with the super unique bottle.  Chappellet is one of four producers in the area that still make Chenin Blanc and it was delicious with a pretty floral nose and crisp minerality.

A little about how the Chappellet family came to Pritchard Hill.  It started more than 40 years ago when Donn and Molly Chappellet took a first look at the stunning mountain views.  Because they believed that Bacchus, the god of wine, loves the hills, combined with renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff’s advice to do so, they became the first to plant on Prichard Hill and these high-elevation hillsides.  The wines are known for being intense and elegant.

We toured the barn where it was fun to see the handprints of the six Chappellet children who are now adults and working with the winery.  Cyril and Carissa Chappellet oversee the day-to-day operations of the winery and Jon-Mark, Dominic, Lygia and Alexa Chappellet serve on the board.  Today there are nine grandchildren who play in the vineyards, just like their parents did.

We even brought Joshua in on the joke that my husband – much to his bemusement – is often mistaken for Mark Cuban.  As Joshua continued to give my husband a hard time about that, my husband retorted at the end with a funny come back.  And P.S. the little animal friends are something that we do on a trip for our ten-year-old daughter.

 

 

 

As we walked through the property, from the solar panels to the organic farming methods used, it was evident that this is a family who believes and cultivates in the land.  We laughed, we walked the grounds, we took pictures (thanks Joshua for making the photos at this site so much better than usual), we tasted wine in their amazing facility and we even visited the gorgeous picnic grounds on our way out.  And the wines – oh the wines – other than the Chenin Blanc, we tasted the 2013 Signature Chardonnay, the 2012 Napa Valley Las Piedras, the 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, the 2008 Signature Cabernet and the 2009 Signature Cabernet.  I am pretty certain that I ordered everything we tried.   Most importantly, we experienced what it felt like to be a part of Chappellet’s extended family.

 

We had two other stops that day as well.  One was a long overdue visit to Bremer Family Winery at Deer Creek on Howell Mountain. I first tasted these wines on a Napa trip when I was much younger and was eager to come back and revisit the stone winery and cellar first built in 1891.  The wines were as good as I remembered.

 

The last stop of the trip was Larkmead, another historic stop that is one of the oldest, family-owned grape growing estates in Napa.  Originally established in 1895, the 150-acre estate is known for its diverse soils and well-made, small-lot wines.


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.

 


Sonoma Journey: Day One, The People Who Made This Trip Epic

 

Our Motley Crew Photo Taken After All Arrived

It only took about 500 days to plan it.  Eight of us sat around a dinner table in Dallas drinking great wine and, once again, the concept of taking a trip to wine country was broached.  This time, however, the calendars came out.  And we found ourselves about a year and a half later on a plane to Sacramento with a full agenda of wineries and food in Sonoma and Napa.

To be in the middle of story – part of the action writing about my own experience – is always a different plotline.  Aside from a media trip or two (or three) and the annual Wine Blogger’s Conference, usually I am telling another’s story vs. being part of it.  I rarely also use the blog as an entry to wineries, but I have found that after more than six years, these folks have become friends and it’s nearly impossible to decide who to visit.

We started our journey in stages as work and travel dictated our friends arrive on different days and times.  Four of us had a rocky start as our American Airlines flight was delayed … and delayed … and delayed.  I knew we had a couple hour drive ahead of us before our two appointments and a dinner reservations.  Throw in some crazy Sacramento traffic and we were in panic mode calling the wineries.  You never, ever want to be late for an appointment – especially when arranged by good friends.

 

Fast forward through the planes and automobiles scenario and we finally reached Comstock Wines.  The winery was established with a vision to grow and source the best Sonoma County has to offer.  It truly is a family affair.  Bob and Sandy Comstock began growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley in 2002 and over time decided they wanted to start a winery, which opened in 2015.

Kelly Comstock Ferris, General Manager

Some Ideas Are Better Than Others

Their daughter, Kelly Comstock Ferris, who was our host and is the General Manager, told us about the 18-acre vineyard that yields Zinfandel (some of their Zinfandel vines are 115 years old), Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay.  Winemaker Chris Russi took us through the winery and into the vineyards where I may have gotten a little too zealous about checking out the soil when he mentioned dry farming.  One hose off later and we were back on the tour.  Chris talked about helping to build the winery from the ground up as “a winemaker’s dream.”

 

The winery truly is a place where the Comstock’s want wine lovers to gather.  From the pizza ovens on the patio to the annual Easter egg hunt to bocce ball on the lawn, it is a place that encourages gathering over a great glass of wine (and I tried and took home many of these wines).  They served us an amazing lunch and we got to live the motto — “We are All Comstock Wines.”

Bill Smart, General Manager (left)

Our next stop brought us to Lambert Bridge Winery, which absolutely was an undiscovered gem to me.  Lambert Bridge is located west of Dry Creek near its namesake bridge.  Ironically the C.L. Lambert family settled at this property a century ago.  And 60 years later, Jerry Lambert, who was not related, decided this was an amazing site to make wine in 1975.  Fast forward to 1993 and Ray and Patti Chambers fell in love with the property.

Smart (top right) and Higgins (bottom right)

 

We met with Lambert Bridge’s Bill Smart, general manager, and Jennifer Higgins, winemaker.  Jennifer talked about the story telling that goes into a bottle of wine.  We talked, we drank amazing wine, we told stories and we were made to feel like family.  On top of that we sat outside and had the most amazing view.  Jennifer talked about quality, the investment of the current owners, limited production (the winery went from 25,000 cases to 7,000 cases) and how involved she is in every step of the farming and winemaking.

Jennifer, a Sonoma County resident, had a master plan of taking her biochemistry degree and going to medicine school.  She moved to Italy for two years and took a tasting room job as she studied for her exam.  In just a small amount of time, Zelma Long of Simi Winery, one of the iconic women winemakers, changed Jennifer’s mind about wine and a passion was born.  She talked about the “who’s who” in female wine makers that she’s worked with and it’s an impressive list from Helen Turley to Jill Davis.  She now has become the mentor to other women and believes in the importance of paying it forward.

Damn, that is all….

Lambert Bridge sorts every berry on every individual cluster and is very straightforward in its approach – “we make wine for passionate wine drinkers,” Bill said.  The winery sells direct to consumers and doesn’t submit for wine ratings.  I tried twelve different wines and was absolutely blown away by every wine that I tasted.  Our two-hour timeframe passed in the blink of an eye.  The winery talks about family, milestones, passion and the importance of keeping a sense of place.  It is a group of people that have never met a stranger that have a mission of sharing great wine with great people.

We left Lambert Bridge wishing we didn’t have another appointment so soon and went to unpack and change clothes at my uncle’s amazing chateau for the evening.  No detail was spared and I’m so blessed we were able to stay at this amazing property.  Watch this blog in the future as I will be writing about some of the Tanzbear wines that will come out of his vineyard.

Me and Lisa

 

Our last stop of the night was at Valette to meet the amazing Lisa Mattson, the head of marketing for Jordan Wines.  Lisa has always been a soul sister of mine and is one of the most talented marketing minds that I know.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but this is a dinner spot in Sonoma that should not be missed.


A Chat With Pat: Kenwood Vineyards Winemaker’s Perspective

Kenwood Vineyards has a storied history – one that began in 1970 in the former Pagani Brothers Winery, a winery that dates back to 1906 that was once known for its production of jug wines.  Kenwood changed that heritage when John Sheela and his brothers-in-laws, Mike Lee and Marty Lee renamed the facility Kenwood and were among the first to start making premium wine in Sonoma Valley.

We were invited for an intimate blogger chat with Kenwood Vineyards’ Winemaker Pat Henderson.  His love for wine began more than 30 years ago.  In 1983, Pat was a 20-year-old attending winemaking school at the University of California Davis.  He needed a job and worked as a harvest intern in Napa and Sonoma.  When it was time for a full-time gig, he started calling and ended up with a full-time job at Kenwood after his original cellar internship.  When Senior Winemaker Mike Lee retired in 2003, Pat stepped up to that position.

“Sonoma and Kenwood just seem like home,” he said.  “Sonoma has a great diversity of terroirs in the vineyards.  We go to the best places to find the best grapes and we make those wines in small lots.”  Kenwood has a 23-acre vineyard and sources grapes from dozens of producers including Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Mountain.   We tried four wines which arrived in a beautifully packaged wooden crate.  The labels had been completely redone and had a fresh, modern look.

2014 Kenwood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc – a value-oriented, crisp Summer white with notes of lemon, lime, tropical fruit with a nice minerality.

2014 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Russian River Chardonnay – made in a small lot, reserve style wine, the Six Ridges label is a tribute to the mountains and ridges that border the diverse Sonoma appellations in the vineyards.  I tasted notes of apple, vanilla, pear, peach and a note of spice.

2013 Jack London Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – named for Jack London, the well-known author of Call of the Wild and adventurer, has quite the story.  Jack was too restless for his one semester at the University of California and decided to become a hobo with a goal of writing 1,000 words a day about his life.  He was jailed for vagrancy, built roads in New York and later became a foreign correspondent before writing his well-known books.  He bought the ranch in Sonoma County in 1977 and every dime he made is invested back in the ranch.  Since 1976, Kenwood Vineyards has been the exclusive producer of wines from his ranch.   I tasted notes of black cherry, herbs, currant, vanilla, mocha and mint.

2013 Kenwood Six Ridges Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel – I tasted fig, red fruit, pepper, Asian spice and mocha in this well balanced Zinfandel.

“The vineyards are like my kids – I can’t treat them all the same,” Henderson said.  “Kenwood is investing more to make better wine, not more wine.”  And this is a trend I personally love seeing especially with a large wine conglomerate like Pernod Ricard at the helm.


Steve Rogstad: Cuvaison Winemaking and the Makings of a David Allen Coe Song

Steve Rogstad, Winemaker of Cuvaison

When I agreed to meet Cuvaison Estate Winemaker Steve Rogstad, little did I know that the ending of our meeting could easily be included as a verse in a country/western song that included Wrestlemania, an airstream trailer, Andy Warhol and a pen of chickens.  But I digress…

We met at Steven Pyles Restaurant and Steve told me the history of Cuvaison.  The winery was established in 1969 and known for the pinot noir and chardonnay sustainably produced at its Carneros vineyard in Napa.

In 1979, the matriarch of the Schmidheiny family of Switzerland visited the region and saw the vineyard’s potential.  She brought a soil sample home to the family and a year later her son, Thomas, purchased the winery.  The profits are re-invested in the winery and vineyards which allows cutting-edge things like block-by-block farming methods and a hand-crafted approach. Cuvaison has evolved some of the wines that it once produced like merlot into varietals like syrah and sauvignon blanc.

When the Schmidheiny family first purchased Cuvaison, Thomas showed his dear friend, Artist Andy Warhol, the wine label.  Warhol remarked that the label was ugly.  It was changed shortly afterward.

Steve grew up in North Dakota and went to The University of Washington to become a literary major.  He landed in Paris after graduation and lived above a wine shop.  That’s where he fell in love with the culture of wine and started learning.  After doing a bunch of biochemistry requisites, which originally terrified him, he attended grad school as a part of UC Davis’ viticulture and enology program.  He completed an internship at Beaujolais and then worked at Saintsbury, Spring Mountain Vineyard, La Crema and Clos Pegase as well as at custom crush clients like Viader, Dominus, Duckhorn and Spottswoode.  He joined Cuvaison in 2002 where he got to build the winery from the ground up.  “We custom built it to best handle the estate fruit when it is ready”, said Steve.  He employed tactics like block-by-block farming methods, green initiatives and certified sustainable farming.

Our line-up was full of amazing wines:

2014 Cuvaison Sauvignon Blanc – this was a fresh and tropical sauvignon blanc and a perfect expression of the grape.

2013 Cuvaison Chardonnay – notes of caramel apple, pear and nectarine make this well balanced wine a crowd pleaser.  There is good reason why the winery is known for this varietal.

2013 Cuvaison Pinot Noir – lots of black cherry, black fruit, cardamom, clove, roses, truffles and earthy notes make this a fantastic representation of pinot noir.  Delicious.

Then we moved to the Brandlin wines.  In 1998, Cuvaison purchased the R Brandlin Vineyard from the Brandlin family.  R Brandlin is a Napa Valley estate that produces wine in the Mount Veeder appellation.   The wines pay homage to the Brandlin family.   The winery was established in the 1870’s when the Brandlins were pioneers in the Mount Veeder region.  It filled the need for an estate cabernet for the Cuvaison portfolio and the Brandlin’s knew Steven would take great care with their legacy.

We tried the following:

2012 Brandlin Henry’s Keep Proprietary Red – this was soft and silky and made with the best grapes on the vineyard.  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, violets, mocha and spice.  The composition is 78 percent cabernet, 9 percent malbec, 7 percent petit verdot and 6 percent cabernet franc.

2012 Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, herbs, coffee, mocha and chocolate made this a wonderful, aromatic and silky cabernet.

So it appears that I didn’t completely pay off the headline … yet.  Well, Steve was here during Dallas’ WrestleMania event and there were no hotels to be found for miles near Dallas.  He went to this  listing on Air B&B and hark there was the coolest, hippest Airstream trailer complete with chicken coop and within walking distance of Henderson Avenue.  All we need now is mama, getting drunk and prison and we’ve got ourselves a David Allen Coe anthem.


Cellars of Sonoma: A Virtual View of Sonoma’s Boutique Wines

Cellars of Sonoma asked several bloggers to partner during the month of February as part of its TV Tuesday Live sessions #tvtuesdaylive.  These tastings are scheduled every Tuesday at 6 pm PT at the Cellars of Sonoma tasting room in the Railroad District of Santa Rosa and feature family-owner, small-production boutique wineries from Sonoma counties.  The format is live and interactive with the Owner Scott Jordan interviewing a wine maker about his wines, wine philosophy and includes virtual participants (who use the Ustream feed at http://bit.ly/e4nxIF can ask questions).

From all accounts, Cellars of Sonoma truly feels like a neighborhood place.  Aside from the tastings, it sells wines by the glass, has a great selection of boutique wines you can’t find elsewhere and has great live music.

I received a four pack of wines from Cellars of Sonoma, which all are featured in their wine club shipment – four bottles in each shipment once per quarter.  It was fun for me to have to research all of the wines and the winemakers since I had never had the wines before.  And, they were all really good wines.

We’ve tasted with two of the winemakers so far and I was impressed with the passion for staying true to Sonoma that each exhibited.  These are the wines that we sampled:

2011 Super Sonoman Knights Valley Meritage — we tasted this with Winemaker Chris Taddei where we had the chance to try the wines and ask questions about the challenges of working with mountain fruit that is known as being tough because of the elevations and changing temperatures.  The Meritage as a blend of five grapes and I really enjoyed the wine.  Big notes of dark berry, herbs, tobacco and spice.  It was even better day two.

2011 Deering Cabernet Sauvignon – We tasted with Todd Maus, winemaker and owner of Deering Wine. Todd talked about the family’s belief that “their roots are in the earth.”  That is certainly evident with the long agricultural and farming background of the family.  This is another tough terroir with rocky slopes with fluctuating temperatures.  This wine had notes of tobacco, blackberry, spice, pencil lead and herbal notes.

There are two other wines that we have not had winemaker sessions with yet.  I wrongly assumed that we would open the wines the first session vs. having several sessions so I can tell you what I thought about the wines. You’ll have to stay tuned for the winemaker conversations to come.

2013 Moondance Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir – this is everything a Russian River Valley Pinot should be!  Big notes of cherry cola, raspberry and earth.  This was a gorgeous wine.

2012 Bonneau Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – this had earthy notes of plum, cassis, mocha, cedar, dark chocolate and clove.

 


Favorite Brands Portfolio Tasting: Kid in a Candy Store Reality

Being a blogger is pretty amazing.  The A-list invitations to dinners, wine debuts and portfolio tastings makes for a blessed existence. I recently posted pictures of more than 100 bottles of wine and amazing wine makers present at a Favorite Brands portfolio tasting and my direct messages exploded with very pointed questions about the process and how does one get invited.  Having just returned from a Universal Trip with my daughter to Harry Potter World, this is my idea of “kid in a candy store” with fun that is not manufactured.

So the main question is what is a portfolio tasting?  Essentially it’s when distributors debut the entire portfolio of wines available to the wine shops, restaurants, country clubs, etc., who have the ability to buy wines in the market.  Favorite Brands always has an incredible European portfolio of wines that are highly coveted and delicious and the wine makers are always front and center.  This year, Pierre Pastre from Chateau Fortia; Bertrand Stehilin of Bertrand Stehilin Vigneron; Bruno Boisson from Domaine Boisson and Domaine Cros de Romet; Jean Baptiste Lafond of Domaine Lafond; Luc Planty of Chateau Guiraud; John Junguenet of Alain Junguenet and Peter Wasserman of Becky Wasserman & Co all attended to talk about the wines.

Essentially, this showcase is a “best of the best” weighed by regional preference but focused on a specialty or region of wines that are believed to be successful in a certain region.  If you have heard of “wholesale markets,” this is the wine industry version of that.

I can’t tell you how to get an invite, but you will see pictures of what I loved. I hope it reaches your favorite wine bar, restaurant or retail store so you get a chance to try these wines, which is the entire goal of these portfolio tastings.

 


Omni Barton Creek Resort: Calling All Food and Wine Lovers

We’d talked about it for years.  Bringing the women blogger gang together for a weekend trip outside of the madness associated with the annual Wine Bloggers Conference.  January is usually a tough time of the year for me.  Traditionally it is a time of Sales Kickoffs, annual marketing planning and budgets as well as kick-starting the marketing lead generation efforts that will lead to future software sales.  This year was different.  I had just left my paying gig and I actually had the ability to exhale.

When the Omni Barton Creek Resort (which is known for great wine and food) invited us to stay at a great discount, the deal was sealed.  Liza Swift, Thea Dwelle and Amy Corron Power caravanned from Oakland, San Francisco and Houston to make the trip.  We checked in to a welcome note from the Omni marketing team and the most amazing welcome drink.  The glass contained brandy infused local apples, crack habit inducing honey and tea accented with local herbs.  There was also a bottle of Topo Sabores apple soda and a cute bottle of crown royal to make a delicious pre-dinner drink.

Alissa Leenher and her husband Derek generously agreed to host us for the first night.  It was a night of amazing wines, incredible food and great company.  Ryan Snedegar brought the supersize Cards Against Humanity and a plate of ribs.  Matt McGinnis came bearing Texas wine and spirits.  I think I had more beef that night than I had in the last six months.  It was a belly laughing, wine drinking kind of night.

Chef Andre Natera

The next day we were hosted by 8212 Wine Bar & Grill which featured creative dishes from the very talented Chef Andre Natera.  You may remember Natera from his awesome rebuild of the Pyramid Restaurant and Bar and then at Village Kitchen.  Let’s just say that Dallas has suffered a great loss with this talented man moving to Austin.  He’s now responsible for all seven restaurants at this Omni location.  He talked to us about his whimsical but clean approach to food and wow it was delicious!   We were joined by Tim Holloway from DE Fine Wine Group who encouraged us to taste the wines blind.

Here was our line up:

Clam chowder with chive potato puree and smoked bacon paired with the 2014 Zocker Gruner Veltliner.  This Napa Gruner contrasted nicely with its citrus, floral notes and mineralogy with the creamy soup.

Seared branzino, artichoke barigoule and preserved lemon vinaigrette with the 2014 Lemelson Dry Riesling.  This also worked incredibly well.

Mushroom tortellini, chives and butter paired with the 2013 Li Veli Susumaniello.  This was earthy, delicious and absolutely a perfect pairing.  It was also the one that stumped all of us.

Dry aged ribeye, pommes puree, cippolini and a thyme truffle sauce with the 2011 Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds. Yin and yang.

Chocolate tart with a caramel creameux with NV Verve Clicquot Yellow Label.  It took every ounce of willpower to cut the small corner and not inhale the entire dessert.

We were the first audience to try the new wine and food culinary series that the Omni is debuting in January.  #obcwine #wineanddine.  The Omni is still building out the list of events, but right now the line-up appears to be something like this (the dates after February may move a date or two):

January 26 – Niman Ranch Dinner.

February 29 – A celebration from Chef Alice – touching every creation of food along with Texas wines

March (tentatively 21st)— Celebrating the Wines of Germany – Riesling and Müller-Thurgau and Pinot Blanc – German themed food

April (tentatively 25)– Sparkling wines – Cava, Prosecco, Asti, Champagne and  Espumante – French, Spanish and Portuguese food theme

May (tentatively 23) – Italian Regions and the difference between the North, the Center, the South and the Islands paired with regional food.

June (tentatively 27) – Grill and Smoke with pinots and rosé

July (tentatively 25) — Tomatoes from Salsas to Sauces with Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese

August (tentatively 22) — Peaches and Nectarines with Moscato and Pinot Gris

September (tentatively 26)  — Celebrating the Wines of Napa Valley and Harvest Theme

October (tentatively 25) — Day of the Dead with South American Wines

November (tentatively 17) Vintage wines with Charcuteries

These events are reasonably priced at a $85-95 range for the food courses (averaging 5-6 course) with the wine pairings being another $35-45 and will be scheduled monthly.  The first event benefits a charity so the kick off is officially in February.

The hospitality of the Omni, the quality of the food, the fantastic wine pairings and the gorgeous rooms and views at this location, makes it the perfect getaway, staycation or a local’s food/wine experience.


Ruth’s Chris Downtown Opening: A Food and Wine Experience

It all began with instant message on Twitter. 

My neighbor who has the boutique distributor with labels like Scarlett has put together a wine dinner with the new Ruth’s Chris downtown just for our little group. He will be providing the wine and Ruth’s Chris the food. Anyone interested? @erikj

Photo Credit: Asher Swan, Swan Photography

First, what? There’s a new Ruth’s Chris in uptown … like four blocks from my office?  Second … why don’t I know more about Redoux, a distributor focusing on boutique California wines?  Then you throw in this group of amazing Dallas wine lovers and the answer was an emphatic yes!

Photo Credit: Asher Swan, Swan Photography

I haven’t been to a Ruth’s Chris in years.  Based on the wine pairing dinner I was served, along with the attentive service of Alan Schulz Jr. and his passionate staff, I have been missing out.  We started with a five-course menu that was lovingly paired with wines by Samuel Rickords, the co-owner of Redoux.   Samuel had his own special story to share about Ruth’s Chris and how he took his future wife there on their first date.  He walked in without a reservation and the dining room was packed.  Yet the hostess sensed a special night and found room for them at the bar.  That night evolved into a marriage and three children.

I didn’t know there were 150 Ruth’s Chris restaurants in 13 countries (there are two in the Dallas area).  What you need to know is about the happy hour aptly named “Sizzle, Swizzle and Swirl.”  It features $8 wines and bites from 4:30-6:30 pm from Sunday to Friday. 

Here was our wine and food line-up (note several of these are on the happy hour menu).  Unless otherwise noted, all photos are from the very talented Asher Swan of Swan Photography.

  • 2013 Sojourn Chardonnay paired with Spicy Crispy Lobster

Photo Credit: Asher Swan, Swan Photography

  • 2013 Burt Street Cellars Pinot Noir with Saffron Veal Ravioli

  • 2012 Rubica Red Blend with New Orleans BBQ Shrimp

Photo Credit: Asher Swan, Swan Photography

  • 2007 Rust Ridge Cabernet with Tenderloin Skewer Salad

  • 2008 Robledo Cabernet Lake County with Chocolate Turtle Cheesecake and Dark Chocolate Bark

Then as a surprise, Samuel opened a 2013 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon, which topped off the perfect end to the perfect evening.

 


Achaval-Ferrer: Unique Approach on How To Be in Two Places at Once

When a winemaker is required to be in the vineyard, but also needs to publicize the release of a new wine, how does one prioritize?   If you are Winemaker Santiago Ferrer, the winemaker and co-founder of Achaval- Ferrer, you figure out how to do both and even bring the experience to life.

Over two tastings, 20 lucky bloggers from six states came together to experience the components of the 2012 Quimera (SRP $34.99).  Santiago was an awesome host and talked about how he came to Mendoza with a group of friends in 1988 to follow a passion to make world-class Argentine wine.  Achaval-Ferrer was launched in 1995.

Passion is what he hopes to inspire with wine drinkers.  “Truth and transcendence are connected to wine,” he said.  “My mission is to do that with every wine I make, but with low human intervention with a focus on the terroir.” 

He talked about how balance and complexity are key drivers of the Quimera blend, which is sourced from single vineyards with older vines.  Malbec is the dominant grape in the blend, but we were given bottles of the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Cabernet Franc (which was delicious as a stand-alone wine) and the 2012 Petit Verdot.  He took us through each of the components while we did a side-by-side tasting of the final blend of Quimera.  Having the ability to experience all of the flavor profiles in each component, was such a great lesson on the parts making a fantastic end product.

It was clear that he was having a blast telling the story of his wine.  Experience a short video of Santiago for yourself talking about each component by clicking here.

 

 




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