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Sting’s Message In A Bottle Rings True 37 Years Later

Those were the days of playgrounds and Catholic school uniforms.  The days of tape recorders and hitting play on our favorite songs under the backdrop of a big oak tree at recess.  Those songs were mostly sung by our absolute favorite band, The Police.

It was right before the years of teenage angst, but enough where these words of “Message in a Bottle” still resonated the awkwardness of middle school:

“I’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle”

In those years, The Police and Sting were a major part of the backdrop of my childhood and I remained a fan as I grew older.  Fast forward almost 37 years and I found myself enjoying yet another passion of a singer that I admire – the tasting of Il Palacio Wines, the winery he now owns with his wife, Trudie Styler.  Ironically, I recently found he made one which I have not tasted but is named after that particular song.

Official Geek Moment of Realizing the Source of the Customs Paperwork

My friend and fellow blogger, Michelle Williams of Rockin Red Blog joined me to try these hard to get stateside wines from Il Palagio.

Il Palagio is located in Tuscany near the medieval town of Figline Valdarno, once known as the “barn of Florence” for its production of corn, grain, wine, oil, beets, peaches, apricots and cherries.  The estate is 350 hectares and has been farmed since the late 1700s beginning with the Martelli family.

In 1819, the Countess Carlotta Barbolani of Montauto bought the property and the family ran it for 150 years.  At the beginning of the twentieth century Duke Simone Vincenzo Velluti Zati di San Clemente expanded the estate with a grain store, oil mill and wine production area. However, it had fallen disrepair when Sting and Trudie found it in 1999 and they restored it to its former glory.

They hired Alan York, a well-known biodynamic consultant, Paolo Caciorgna, a highly-regarded oenologist, and Paolo Rossi, the estate manager, to oversee production of the estate.

We tried three red wines — Sister Moon, When We Dance, and Casino delle Vie.

2015 When We Dance – A drinkable red named after Sting’s song “When We Dance” that is blended with Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes.  It is soft, fruity, a little spicy and very drinkable red blend with notes of cherry and cranberry.

2014 Sister Moon — Named after Sting’s song “Sister Moon” this was the first IGT Toscano wine produced.  This was more complex with dark cherry, floral notes and cassis.  I also got some black pepper and black licorice.  It is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

2014 Casino Delle Vie 2014 — This wine is named after a property on the estate and when translated it means “little house by the roads”.  It also can be translated philosophically to talk about the different paths taking in life.  This was elegant with many of the same notes of Sister Moon, but with a little more depth and elegance.

 

 


Ninety Years of Pedroncelli Wines: A Toast to Family, Wisdom and Consistency

It’s been over three week since I embarked on my experience with the Pedroncelli family and I am no closer to being able to bring to life the amazing journey that I experienced.  In an over sanitized, over marketed, over messaged world; trying to use words to capture an experience that was real … and authentic … and uncensored … and completely humble – still escapes me.

Julie and Jim Pedroncelli share a 90th celebration moment

The Pedroncelli family – while in the middle of celebrating a 90-year milestone that should have been squarely about, well, about them – chose to share the credit with Sonoma County and the businesses that make up the fabric of the city.  As I quickly learned, this is a family that would rather share the spotlight than be in the middle of it.

In 1927, John Sr. (Giovanni) and Julia Pedroncelli purchased the vineyard and a small winery with a total of 90 acres in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley in Geyserville, California for $11,000.  Pedroncelli was one of the first wineries in Sonoma Country and the property originally consisted of a home, 25-acress of vineyards of mostly zinfandel and a winery – that was quickly closed when Prohibition struck.

During this time, like most Italian families, they sold grapes door to door in town.  The also conducted early “social media of the day”, was a the word of mouth that resulted on how they sold grapes in that door to door fashion. The family tells the story of Uncle John’s memory of his Father’s Model T breaking down in town.  The axel snapped and John was left to guard the grapes in the broken-down car while his grandfather trekked back to town to fix the situation.  They continued to tend the vines and sell grapes to home winemakers who had the ability to produce 200 gallons for sacramental or medicinal purposes.

When Prohibition ended, the Pedroncelli’s were ready and the first vintage was produced in 1934.  The original focus was on bulk wines, sold in barrels to stores and individuals.  In the 1940’s, they started their own label and the second generation joined their father with their son John becoming winemaker in 1948 followed by Jim becoming sales director in 1955.  The two sons later purchased the winery in 1963.

At this point, the strategy shifting from bulk wines to estate and single vintages as well as vineyard expansion and diversification.  The acreage doubled from 90 to more than 180 acres.  Over the next 20 years the significant changes continued — the third generation came on board, the Home Ranch Vineyard was replanted, a national sales and export team was established, a new barrel and tasting room was added.  In 2015, the family suffered a devastating loss with the death of John Pedroncelli, Senior Winemaker.  He still is very much a part of the family, but in 2015 the family named Montse Reece as the third winemaker in nearly 90 years and the first woman winemaker.  She is no stranger to the family as she joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007 serving alongside John Pedroncelli for seven harvests.

 

Gabe, Amy and me

It should be noted that much about Pedroncelli is old school and based in tradition.  For example, both Jim and Julie work out of offices that were once their childhood bedrooms.  I had a great and very honest conversation with Jim where he told me he really didn’t understand the whole blogger and social media thing.  Let me be clear that he said this in the most charming and candid way possible.  And, with Gabe Sasso and Amy Anderson Gross representing the blogger’s world along with me, he has a point (grin).

Me and Ed St. John, a Self-Described Innovator and Aggravator

However, the winery is making some key strides ahead of many other wineries in California.  They were the first to bottle Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek.  Pedroncelli not only has a women winemaker, but it is now a 70 percent woman owned company.  And Ed St John, Vice President, has used his 25 years of wine experience to introduce new practices to the winery and in marketing – especially social media with the help of PR pro Robert Larsen.  It appears to be working as the buzz for Pedroncelli’s 90th (even with its own hashtag #ped90th) continued to build.  I’m sure this is a continuous debate as the fourth generation comes up the ranks and it will continue to encourage more debate.

As changes press forth, I feel confident elements will remain unchanged:  The commitment this family has to the land; to growing their own grapes; and to making affordable delicious wine they are proud to have their name on with a focus on family legacy.

Now let’s talk a little about the Pedroncelli 90th celebration.  We were picked up on Thursday night from San Francisco and brought to the Dry Creek Inn, where I ironically was checked into the Rodney Strong Suite (you may remember that my dear friend, Robert Larsen, who helped with the strategy of the 90th celebration used to run communications for said winery – he assured me it was a coincidence).

 

 

We got to know the entire family over dinner at Catelli’s in Geyserville.  Catelli’s was originally opened in Geyserville around 1936 by Italian immigrants Santi and Virginia Catelli.  The restaurant was originally known as Catelli’s “The Rex” (“The King” as translated from Latin).  Third generation Catelli’s and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, are now co-owners.  I think the Pedroncelli’s were a little nervous when Richard, the second-generation patriarch, and myself got into a spirited conversation about politics and Texas and it appeared neither of us was going to back down.  Reinforcements were sent in (unnecessary as strong Italian opinions are part of my heritage and a debate is always fun in my book).

On Friday, we began our morning with breakfast at SHED, a market, café, and community gathering space with a mission is to celebrate and nurture the connection between good farming, good cooking, and good eating.

 Julie Pedroncelli

We moved to the winery with Julie to learn all about the family, it’s history, the wines and to tour the historic winery and walked through the Home Ranch vineyard tasting the wines made from the diverse soils including Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petite Syrah.  My biggest takeaway is that wine is part of the family’s culture and has been since day one.  We learned that Julie and Ed have known each other since they were in kindergarten when they took the same bus and took a long journey to come back together as they both ended up in the wine business and found each other again.

We then visited Dry Creek Peach & Produce where proprietor Gayle Sullivan allowed us to taste two of the juiciest most wonderful peaches I have ever been lucky enough to taste.  We toured the orchard where more than 30 varieties of peaches, nectarines, vegetables and even a few fig trees are planted.  We even started our day with a lovely Bellini that was bursting with ripe peach and delicious bubbles.

We had a picnic lunch at Lake Sonoma and learned all about the steelhead conservation that happens with a docent tour of the hatchery that included props to bring the story to life.

Our last stop before the hotel was Wisdom Vineyard, one of the first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Dry Creek as well as one that grows all five Bordeaux varieties.  This is an example of innovation as one block was machine picked for the first-time last year after 89 years of hand picking.  That night we ended our festivities with another small family gathering that included cocktails, wines, ribs, reds and fun.  We may or may not have had a late not stop at Duke’s but photos will be concealed to protect …well everyone…

We awoke on July 22 excited that it was the big day, the 90th anniversary of Pedroncelli.  This is the date the family originally signed papers to buy the original property and winery.  We started at the Sonoma Farmer’s Market with a goal of grabbing breakfast and food for an alfresco lunch at John’s Grove on the shore of Dry Creek.  Little did we know what an intimate family experience we were in for later.

We quickly stopped at the winery and we were in for such a fun surprise.  The winery had just received its certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).  As Ed joked, “We’ve been sustainable for 90 years and counting and it’s in our DNA.”   This is an arduous process that was handled by Mitch Blakeley, a fourth generation Pedroncelli, who worked for a month to answer the hundreds of questions.  He met with an expert, reviewed the self-assessment and in the spirit of good things happen to really good people, got to put up the signs the day of the big anniversary party.

We toured the Bushnell Vineyard, which has been associated with the Pedroncellis for over 50 years.  John Sr. purchased the land in the 1940s and it was passed to their son-in-law Al Pedroni in the 1950s.  Al’s daughter Carol Bushnell inherited the vineyard in 1990 and she and her husband Jim continue the extension of the family estate where they farm Bordeaux variety blends.

Altogether, two-thirds of all Pedroncelli wines produced are red, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel comprising nearly 50% of estate vineyards.

 

 

Courtesy of Gabe Sasso

We left the vineyard and headed to John’s Grove, where we immediately knew we were in for something special.  John’s Grove was built as a tribute for the family to go to remember the special family member they lost in 2015.  It is located around a lovely creek and is tree lined and picturesque.  We had a beautiful picnic and Gabe, Linda, Amy, Julie and I figured you had to get in the creek to experience Dry Creek.  It was amazing and I’m blessed to have been included on a milestone day in a blessed family place.  I know John must have been looking down and smiling at the legacy he helped to build.

Gia, Gabe, Amy, Linda, Dick and Julie

The big event began later that afternoon at the winery kicked off by one of the press attendees that I have yet to mention.  Author Dick Rosano (as well as esteemed wine writer) talked about the Italian influence on winemaking in America.  I knew about the influence of agriculture on these families, but Dick really brought to life the tenacity it took to sell grapes door to door in the middle of Prohibition just to keep the families financially afloat.  I got to know Dick and his lovely wife, Linda, pretty well over the trip and I loved getting to know them.  Dick’s friendship with the Pedroncelli’s, his knowledge of wine and his passion for learning made him one of the most interesting Renaissance men I’ve gotten to know in a long time.

 

Me and Pedroncelli Friend and Bill Smart, General Manager of Lambert Bridge Winery

Syndicated columnist Dan Berger led us through a Flights through the Decades event of Cabernet and Zinfandel wines beginning in the 1970s that I cannot image how hard it was to curate.   Here was our first flight line-up (reach out if you want my notes – I know this is getting long…):

1982 Magnum Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

1994 Mother Clone Zinfandel

1995 Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel

2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel

Our second flight line-up of Cabernets were as follows:

1977 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (still dreaming about this one)

1992 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

1996 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2000 Morris Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley)

2009 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

After the tasting, we joined the Pedroncelli family to dedicate the newest vineyard, the Noventa Vineyard, where Ed had arranged for a drone to take a picture of the entire crew as he, Jim and Julie toasted to “family, wisdom and consistency.”

A brief glimpse at our dinner, which was served by Ken Rochioli of KR Catering:

Braised Chicken over Creamy Polenta with Mother Clone Zinfandel

Filet Mignon with Bacon, Bourbon, Shallot and Mustard Sauce; Grilled Asparagus and Sweet Peppers; Pepper Jack Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro with Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon

Almond Bar with Caramel Drizzle and Fleur de Sel; Cappuccino Chocolate Mousse Cups in Mini Phyllo Cups and Peanut Butter Bars with Honey with Four Grapes Vintage Port

I want to share the video that was played where the family talked about the legacy that they built together.  It’s special as they will never willingly do this.

Finally, we drank from Big Bottles – we ate, we drank, we shared memories and I can’t remember laughing so much.  The room was filled with people who began the journey with the Pedroncelli’s and clearly will be around the next 90 years.  It had all the signs of a big family gathering of people who cared a great deal about each other.  And, it’s interesting – you can’t spend any time with any of the Pedroncelli family without feeling as if you are a part.  As I left, I felt a sense of sadness, as if I was leaving behind a group of near, but very dear friends.

Most of My Family Coming Together in La Jolla

And as I left a few weeks later for my family reunion, my Pedroncelli Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Mother Clone Zinfandel occupied 25 percent of my wine suitcase.  Because it was important for me that I bring the Pedroncelli experience to my family as they made me feel a part of theirs.


Another Wine Round Up: Belated Edition

Once again, I am completely behind on my wine round ups.  I only have myself to blame.  I had the vision of doing a rosé roundup and found myself with about 75 roses to drink (as well as a dedicated #winestudio program), so this is going to a series of round ups or you’d be reading about 150 wines (with a total of 300 under review, so advance apologies to the PR folks who sent these my way).  Figured that would not be fun to read, let alone daunting to write, so we’ll take it by varietal and today I’ll cover 33 of them.

Rosé

 

2016 Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé – this is a fabulous expression of Provence rosé and is a critic favorite for a reason.  Grapefruit, minerality, peach and blood orange.  Absolutely delicious.

2016 Aridus Rosé – this Arizona wine was new to me and was a fun new find.  I tasted tangerine, peach, strawberry and spice.

2016 Alta Vista Rosé – made to be an everyday, easy drinking fruity rosé with notes of Bing cherry, roses and a nice minerality.

2016 Caposaldo Rosé – notes of strawberries, raspberries, cherries with floral and mineral notes.

2016 Louis Jadot Rosé – notes of flowers, raspberry and currant with spice.

2016 Maison Saleya Rosé – This was the first one to go at the tasting.  Notes of tangerine, raspberry, cherry, roses and a little spice on the end.  Definitely the crowd favorite.

2016 Masi Rosa dei Masi – juicy berry, cherry and almost a richness balanced with a nice minerality.

2016 Martin Ray Rosé of Pinot Noir – I tasted stone fruit, cherry, strawberry and citrus notes.  Small production and appears to be sold out, but definitely seek out if you can find it.

2016 Noble Vines Rosé – notes of raspberry, citrus, tangerine and roses.

2016 Ferraton Père & Fils, Samorëns Côtes du Rhône, Rosé – notes of flowers, peach, melon and citrus as well as stone fruit with a balanced minerality.

2016 Marqués de Riscal Rosado – strawberry, cherry, raspberry and rose with a nice mineralogy.

Sparkling

This was my first sparkling from Utiel-Requena, which is an appellation in Spain’s Bobal Valencia region.  I learned that while 95% of the 35,000 hectares of vines are planted to red grape varieties, the Bobal is the star of the show here.

2014 Pago de Tharsys Bobal Unico Blanc de Negre Brut – this was a sparkling wine made with the Bobal grape.  I got yeastiness, apples, almonds, pears and notes of citrus.   I loved the minerality and the freshness of this wine.

I also tasted (from another region) Vineyard SEROL Turbullent Sparkling Rosé – it was a berry explosion with notes of pear and white fruit.  A very refreshing and fun expression of sparkling wine.

Whites

2014 Troon Vermentino – let’s start out by saying that I love this wine and the fact that Craig Camp is involved, makes it even better.  I tasted cherry, citrus, hazelnut, ginger, lemon curd and floral notes along with a great acidity.

2014 Cecchi La Mora Vermentino – an easy drinking white wine with notes of papaya, pear, apple and a nice acidity.

2015 Marques Casa Concha Chardonnay – this smooth drinking Chardonnay was chock full of pear, quince, almonds, spice and candied citrus.

2015 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay – notes of tropical fruit, apples, vanilla, pears and stone fruit.  A well-balanced and elegant chardonnay.

2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc – notes of lime zest, citrus, grassiness and a nice minerality.

2016 Martin Ray Sauvignon Blanc – a refreshing wine with lemon, floral notes, tropical fruits and a nice minerality.

2015 Martin Ray The Tower – made from Rhone varietals, I tasted tropical fruit, melon, flowers, honeycomb, lemon and grapefruit and a minerality that kept it refreshing.

2015 A2O Albarino – this was a true expression of albarino with minerality and notes of peach, melon, honey and a little herbal note.

2015 Torresella Pinot Grigio – a balanced pinot grigio with pear, apple and mineral notes.

2014 Naia Verdejo — notes of citrus, apricot, tropical fruit and flowers.

Reds

2013 Tarantas Tempranillo – another wine from the Utiel-Requena region (see sparkling section above).  This wine had notes of cranberry, blackberry, spice, oregano, earth and cherry.  A very drinkable tempranillo from this new regional discovery.

 

2014 Bodegas Hispano Suizas Bassus Pinot Noir – from the Utiel-Requena region and who knew Pinot Noir would be part of this region?  Almost jammy it is so fruit forward.  Lots of currant, floral notes and a nice spiciness makes this a very easy drinking wine.

2014 Alder Fels Pinot Noir – this lush pinot has notes of red cherry, earth, herbs and licorice.  Definitely one of the favorites.

2014 Aridus Petite Sirah – this was a fun petite sirah to try and another surprise from Arizona.  Loads of berry, cassis, mocha and a touch of vanilla.

Mezzacorona Vigneti Cliffhanger Vineyards Proprietary Red (NV) – red and black fruit combined with spice, oak and vanilla make this a bigger wine that begs for food.

2007 Mezzacorona NOS Riserva – I really enjoyed this wine with notes of blackberry, black cherry, charcoal, pepper and spice.  Over the course, it kept opening nicely and was a great match with the appetizers we were snacking on.

2012 Praxis Lagrein – this was a new find for me and I was so glad for the discovery.  A mix of cherry and black fruit with coffee, chocolate and herbal notes.

2016 Farraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone Samorens – this solid red offered notes of raspberry, cherry, licorice and spice.  It was very approachable and drinkable.

Other – Wines/Spirits in a Can

Bushido Premium Sake — A sake in a can?  Yes, the convenience era has come to a head and now cans run prevalent – sometime with varying successes.  Bushido’s Way of the Warrior sake can, contains premium Ginjo Genshu sake.  I tasted red fruit, Asian pear along with floral notes and some spice.  I think this can will convert some newbies to sake as it as a refreshing and unique way to experience sake.

Backpack Rosé – boat wine in a box… these cans of rosé were very drinkable and I tasted strawberry, white stone fruit with some floral notes.


Pedroncelli Celebrates 90 Years: A Legacy of Farming, Fun and Flagships

Ninety years ago, it all started with a goal of three pillars – farming, fun and flagships – with flagships being the Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon wines Pedroncelli is known for producing.  That was recently reinforced on a Twitter virtual tasting.  However, I think one additional pillar needs to be added to the mix – and that is family.

This has been a family business since 1927 when Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli Sr. purchased a vineyard and shuttered winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.  In the beginning, due to Prohibition, they had to sell grapes to home winemakers to stay afloat.  There’s some heritage here.  The Pedroncelli family was the first to put Sonoma County on a wine label when the area was designated in the late 1940s.  The name Pedroncelli is Italian for Summer.

The family has been making wine since 1934, starting with bulk wines and evolving into the legacy wines that continue to get great wine scores from the critics.  Now, the fourth generation of family members continue the family legacy.  With the expansion of the generations, came the decision to expand varietals, replant the vineyards and now the winery has 70 percent female ownership.  And, that’s a trend that I love to see.

The Pedroncelli’s farm more than 100 acres of vineyards in Dry Creek and source grapes from those who have the same farming vision.  We (okay, my husband since I don’t cook) were asked to create the family’s special recipe for Feta and Kalamata Chicken and were given a gift card to cover the cost of the ingredients.  I loved the recipe and as someone that is the last to order a big beef dish on a menu, it was a nice change of pace for a wine pairing.

We tasted three wines, which were fantastic, and I got a glimpse prior to my invitation to the big 90th celebration blowout in July in Sonoma (watch for #Ped90th).

2016 Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc – notes of Meyer lemon, lychee and a nice minerality made this a crowd favorite and a great match with the chicken.

2016 Pedroncelli Rosé of Zinfandel – notes of candied violets and just plucked off the vine berries.  So refreshing.

2015 Pedroncelli Sangiovese – notes of cherry, cranberry, pepper and spice made this incredibly drinkable and food friendly wine disappear quickly.

Ninety years — nine decades strong in a tough business.  The pillars remain true and the family remains focused on tradition, heritage and making amazing wines that reflect a sense of place.  So, looking forward to my celebration at Pedroncelli in late July and I plan to be wearing this amazing hat.


Grapefest: A Celebration of Grapes, the Vines and the City

For years, I have billed myself as someone “with a love of the grape and a collection to prove it.”  Ironically, I had never attended the largest wine festival in the Southwest.  Grapefest is in Grapevine, Texas, a suburb about 20 miles from Dallas.  Luckily, this is the year I could rectify that situation.

The city was founded in 1843 when General Sam Houston led representatives of the Republic of Texas to a meeting with members of 10 American Indian nations. They joined to negotiate a treaty of peace and friendship at Grape Vine Springs, also known as Tah-Wah-Karro Creek. The first settlers started arriving a year later and the city was named for the wild mustang grapes that grow abundantly in Texas.

For the past 31 years, Grapefest has entertained 150,000 patrons with wine tastings, special events, a variety of foods, a family Carnival and Midway as well as an interactive KidsWorld.  We brought our daughter, so some of the over 21 events like the People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic, the world’s largest consumer-judged wine competition, and the Texas Wine Tribute were off limits to us and we spent much more time on the Midway than normal.

 

 

But we got to enjoy the Champagne Terrace, we were a “celebrity” guest at the GrapeStomp (Team Dallas Wine Chicklet) and spent a lot of time in the wine pavilion tasting a variety of wines from the Central Coast in California and Barossa Valley in Australia.

 

We even spent a little time in the VIP room of Messina Hof’s first urban winery in Grapevine.  I discovered that a Texas winery is making two sparkling wines, which was a surprise to me.  The tasting room is located on the site of the former Wallis Hotel.  The winery had more than 40 different wines, tastings and premium flights, wines on tap and gourmet food items.

Grapefest is sponsored by Bank of the West and in 2012, Grapevine was named a World Festival and Event City by the International Festival and Events Association.  It was a great celebration of wine, winemakers and wineries.  While I’ll probably attend a few more adult-oriented tastings next year, it was a fun family event.


Troon Vineyard: A Glimpse Into the Next Big AVA #winestudio

A year ago, I made the decision that 2016 would be about #seewhatsnext.  I had a successful corporate job and a seat at the executive table, but I wasn’t having fun anymore.  The opportunity presented itself to take some time, reflect and really figure out what I wanted to do.  Fast forward a year later and I have a successful business, I’m working with clients that I adore and the lights are still on.

When Craig Camp announced that he was leaving Cornerstone Cellars in Napa Valley, where he served as General Manager, to move to Troon Vineyard in Southern Oregon, I took notice.  In his blog, which was aptly titled Moving Forward, he talked about running toward something.  He talked about wanting to feel that energy and intensity about the wine industry that he felt years ago.  He talked about wanting to feel the electricity that only comes from being on the edge looking down into the unknown.  And finally, he talked about wanting to make a difference in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.

If you know Craig, he is one of the driving forces behind embracing the power of social media.  If you were lucky enough to be on his blogger sample list, you got to understand not only the brand and the nuances of the different varietals, but the people and the intricacies of the wines themselves.  Most of all, you understood the stories of the wines, what values drove the winery and what the winemaker hoped you would capture as you tasted your way through the wines.   His approach resulted in friendships, understanding of the brand and a tribe of people who he could rally at every conference because we enjoyed the wines, Craig and spending time with each other.  Craig brought #goingrogue at past conferences to life and always scheduled a dinner that was one of the highlights of every blogger’s conference.

At the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, I had the chance to spend a little time with Craig, but due to the launch of #masthead, I didn’t really get to delve into the Troon Wines the way I wanted.  When the opportunity with #winestudio occurred, where I had the chance to sample three of Craig’s wines over three Tuesdays, I jumped at the chance.  #winestudio is a Twitter chat that is hosted by Tina Morey, one of folks who meshes her wine and digital expertise into a fun weekly format.


Craig shared what makes Applegate Valley and Troon Vineyard unique.  A few facts about Troon Vineyard.  They are making diverse wines — like tannat, vermentino, roussane, marsanne, malbec, sangiovese, tempranillo and others.  The winery takes a natural approach — fermenting with indigenous yeasts, crushing the grapes by foot, co-fermenting and using sustainable practices.  The soils are similar to Sardegna, Hermitage and Cru Beaujolais.

Troon Vineyard has over 40 years of history in Southern Oregon.  The first vines were planted in 1972 by Dick Troon and he sold the grapes to local wineries.  He decided after a few years to make his own wines until 2003 when he sold the winery to his friend Larry Martin.

We tried three wines during the three-week period.  Unfortunately, I had a last minute business trip scheduled the last week, so I tried the M&T on my own time:

2014 Troon Black Label Vermentino – this was a delicious and complex white due to the granite soil.  I got notes of citrus, tropical fruit, honey and a nuttiness with lots of acid.  I loved Craig’s description that Troon lets the terroir choose the varietals and then finding the people who love to drink them.

2014 Troon Blue Label Sangiovese – this wine is from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon and is 92 percent Sangiovese and 8 percent Syrah, which mirrored the taste of many blends from Tuscany or Sicily.  I tasted cherries, cocoa, violets, red fruit, flowers, fig, chocolate, herbs and almonds.  This food friendly wine stands on its own but would also embrace a number of dishes including pasta.

2013 Troon Black Label M&T – this blend of Malbec and Tannat was complex and rich.  I tasted spices, blackberry, chocolate, mocha, earthiness and this was an elegant and lasting wine.


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.

 


Operation Masthead: Four Bloggers Quest to Secretly Make A Wine (and Wait to Tell the Tale)

Early Draft of Masthead Wine Label

Call me Bond … James Bond.  Well that might be an overshoot, but it started out as an amazing clandestine story – Operation Masthead.

“I have something amazingly cool that I am working on and you are going to be a part of it, but it is very secretive…,” said Bradley Gray in the scope of his representation of Scotto Cellars.  Granted, this was about ten months ago and while I was intrigued, life happened and no further information was shared.  Fast forward almost nine months and he called me back with the opportunity of a lifetime.  “How do you feel about making a wine from Lodi with Famed Winemakers Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto and some really cool well-known bloggers,” he said.  “You’ll do the blending, help with the marketing and then you’ll debut it at the Lodi Wine Bloggers Conference.”  Um, yeah.  You had me at hello…

It turns out that four bloggers – Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget from www.pullthatcork.com and Cindy Rynning of www.Grape-Experiences.com  received the same invitation and I’m sure had the same “I will make this happen come hell or high water” reaction that I did.   Cindy and I were picked up at the airport by Bradley and Scotto’s head of marketing, Robert Walker, and we drove out to Lodi to meet Peter and Nancy for our tour of the under construction Scotto Cellars tasting room.

After making wines for five generations, the Scotto’s are opening their first tasting room on South School Street in downtown Lodi.  The tasting room will feature wines as well as craft ciders including one made with Pinot Grigio made by Paul Scotto, Winemaker and Cider Master.  This is going to be a really cool spot complete with food, wine, a future Speak Easy and just a cool place for folks in Lodi to hang out.

And food, wine and family is part of the Scotto heritage.  Wine was an addition to the weekly Sunday gatherings and has been part of the family’s routine for many generations.

Salvatore Dominic Scotto started a winery in Ischia, Italy in 1883.  In 1903, the family emigrated from Italy and settled in Brooklyn, NY.  They opened Scotto Liquors, one of the oldest liquor stores in the state of New York, which has since been sold, but is still in business.  The Scotto’s made wine in their home from whatever fruit they could source in Brooklyn and similar to the Gallo family, sold it door to door out of crocks from a horse drawn wagon.  In 1961, they bought a facility in Pleasanton, California, that they named Villa Armando, where they began making their own wine.  They created Villa Armando Rustico, one of the oldest US wine brands.

In 1963, Anthony Sr. moved from Brooklyn to Livermore Valley in California to continue making wine.  They added wineries in Napa and Lodi to continue the Scotto expansion – making them the 30th biggest winery in California.  In the 1980s, they expanded the Scotto portfolio into Lodi and Napa.  Five generations later, they have expanded the scope of their wines to include more than 40 brands sold to 180 customers around the world.

We toured the Lodi operation including the cider operation and were amazed by the technology and supply chain (I am a former supply chain marketing geek).  From the mobile bottling unit that can do 110 bottles a minute to the efficiencies of producing 350,000 cases of wines under different brands (some named specifically for geographies), it was clear that this was a well-run machine.  And you can tell that this family does this because they love it – wine is in their blood and they want to share their family traditions with employees, distributors and wine drinkers.  We got to meet Anthony Jr and spend significant time with Paul and Natalie Scotto Woods and found them all to be unassuming, passionate and clearly happy to come to work and do what they love every day.

Winemaker and Cider Maker Paul Scotto, Scotto Cellars

It was unusual for a group of storytellers to not be able to tell a story.  We are all about the story, wines, reviews, food, travel photos, social media and becoming immersed in a region.  We couldn’t really do that because this was under wraps.  It was funny to see a bunch of fish out of water as we weren’t quite sure if we could, should or were able to talk about this amazing journey.

Mitch Cosentino and me

So let’s talk about Operation Masthead – an exercise in how four people with zero background in making wine actually made a wine.  We started with a visit to Mohr-Fry Ranch, which is run by Jerry Fry and his son, Bruce.  Ironically, a few weeks later, they were named the 2016 Growers of the Year by the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

We are talking bad ass grapes.  Mohr-Fry is an iconic, family-owned vineyard and farm in Lodi with roots that reach back to the 1850’s in California.  The farms began in Mount Eden and over time extended into Lodi and the San Joaquin Delta.  The Fry’s farm about 12 varietals on 600 acres – all for winemakers of their own choosing.  The Mohr-Fry vineyard designation appears on all of these wines.  Mitch Cosentino talked about the importance and quality of these grapes and how he remembered when he first could purchase them for his wines after waiting for four years to just pick one row back in 1998.  He talked about the differences in grape costs of Cabernet grapes from Napa Valley at $6,300 a ton to the Lodi price of $750 a ton.

When Mitch and the Scotto Family began their relationship and the Scotto’s wanted premium Sangiovese, Mitch knew that Block 433 was the ideal choice.  The vineyard is farmed and certified according to Lodi Rules™ for sustainable wine growing.  As Mitch told us, “So we know our grapes were the best they could be.”  Walking through the gnarled, twisted vineyards, we felt history under our feet.

 

 

Now for the blending.  Picture a mad scientist lab with test tubs, Riedel glasses, beakers, 11 components to blend with and four different barrels of Sangiovese aged in different types of Oak – French, Hungarian and American.  We were guided by Mitch and Paul who taught us lesson after lesson about Sangiovese and Zinfandel being a match made in hell to the right palate cleansing crackers to use doing the process.  We debated, sipped, spit, swirled, debated, debated and debated some more for more than three hours.  We selected a final cuvee that was 100 percent Sangiovese that combined two barrels of Sangiovese; one aged in French oak, the other in Hungarian oak.

The name Masthead was chosen to reflect both traditional media – a standard newspaper page from long ago and printed wine reviews.  We made 528 bottles of Masthead 2014 Mohr-Fry Ranch Block 433 Sangiovese and will debut the wine next month in Lodi at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference.  We felt validated when Mitch told us that he was hoping we’d go with a different Sangiovese as he really wanted to use this one for his wine.

 

Cindy Della Monica, Owner

This was the main story, but there were also some other plotlines that evolved over the three- day period.

First,  Cheese Central, a gourmet cheese shop absolutely needs to be a must visit on your Lodi list.  Owner Cindy Della Monica is passionate, knowledgable and is not afraid to steer her customers to try new things.  I cannot wait to go back.

Cindy and I were the first women to stay at the Scotto apartment located upstairs from the tasting room.  It’s a converted old hotel that is such a really cool space and is where we conducted our blending session.  It is located in a cool spot in downtown Lodi, which had its own vibe – from the middle of the night ringing phone to the homeless guy named Sean in the alley to the “Garry’s Lounge Bar Rules” (no hoodies allowed) for the across the street dive bar.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a ghost or two roaming the halls.  I had an early plane out of Oakland on Wednesday morning and Bob and Bradley were nice enough to drive us to the airport.  I am not anywhere near a morning person and kept waking up dreaming that I missed waking up.  We originally had a 5:15 am pick up time, but Bob and Brad decided to come at 4:45 am.  Let’s just say that the doorbell scared me to death, I fell out of bed and then tried to navigate the light on the ceiling fan in the dark.  One cut hand later and a litany of words that I would never use in front of my kiddo, we were on our way at the originally scheduled time.

I will never look at a blend the same again and learned so much about the time, patience and talent that goes into the process.  Nancy and Peter were able to try the Masthead wine this week and all accounts point to this being a great wine.  And to read the stories from Cindy, click here.  Peter and Nancy’s chronicles are linked here, here and here.

Note: A special thank you to Bradley Gray for many of the photos shown above. Because I merged ours together, I’m not sure  where to issue a photo credit.


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.

 


Central Market’s Passaporto Italia: A Whole Lot of Mangia Going On

Central Market’s Passaporto Italia is kicking off on April 30 to May 13 and I attended the media preview at the Lover’s Lane store in April.  Think of this as a two week tribute to all things Italian – pastas to cheeses to foods to beers to winemakers to chefs. 

I had a chance to talk to Timothy, the assistant wine buyer, who discussed the 350 new Italian wines being brought in for the event.  We tasted through five wines from small producers.  Poor Timothy drew the short straw as all the other wine buyers were in Tuscany experiencing the region, but someone had to hold down the fort.

Our line up included the following:

Riondo Prosecco Punto Rosso – lots of pear, apple and nuttiness.  It was a very nice representation of Prosecco.

Castellari Bergaglio Fornaci, Gavi di Tassarolo – lots of citrus fruit, apple, pear and minerality. It was a very refreshing white wine for $20.

2009 Ormanni Chianti Classico – cherry, spice, floral notes and a herbal rosemary note.  This was a good representation of chianti.

2009 I Giusti & Zanza ‘Dulcamara’ Rosso Toscana – dark fruit, coffee and chocolate with hints of tobacco, spice and leather.  This was a big wine that would benefit with decanting.

2007 Orlando Abrigo Barbaresco Rocche Meruzzano – dark black cherry, black pepper, spice, marian berry and anise.  This was great.

A quick run down of the wine events that Central Market is offering follows:

Weds, April 30

Wine tasting with Luca Speri, a fifth generator winemaker, from 4-7 pm

Friday, May 2

Francesco Daddi, Owner of Ormanni/La Leccia hosts an evening of food and wine pairing his wines with traditional Tuscan game dishes, from 6:30-9 pm, $65. 

Monday, May 5

Stefano Chiarlo, winemaker for Michele Chiarlo will host an evening in Piedmont.  Chiarlo is noted as one of the ten best wine producers by Wine Spectator.  This is event is from 6:30-9 pm and is $65.

Tuesday, May 6

Francesco Mazzei, owner of Mazzei family wines, is hosting a tasting from 4-7 pm.

Saturday, May 10

Winemaker Tancredi Biondi Santi is hosting a Tuscan food and wine pairing featuring his family’s wines from 6:30-9 pm, $60.

Reserve your seats at www.centralmarket.com for the Lover’s Lane store events.  This is a great chance to try “off the beaten path” Italian wines at a great price point in a fun atmosphere.  And, check out the best gift bag ever….




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