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

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

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

John Martini, Anthony Wine Company

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Osborn, Fox Run Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Wine Bloggers Conference 2015: The Games Begin Tomorrow

It’s finally here!!!  Tomorrow I head to the Finger Lakes Region of New York for the eighth annual Wine Blogger’s Conference.  This is the conference that I can attribute truly started my love of blogging and where I’ve met some amazing friends along the way.  

This will be my fifth wine bloggers conference.  I’ve attended the conferences in Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, Santa Barbara and Charlottesville.  All have been different – I’ve had incredibly unique experiences along the way.

I’ll start the Pre-Conference with an excursion to the Northern half of Lake Seneca.  We’ll start at Villa Bellangelo and will be hosted by Winemaker Christopher Missick who will tell us all about the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.  Then we have four experiences – a ten year vertical of King’s Garden Cabernet Sauvignon; a Bellangelo Riesling Experience; a sampling of cheeses from Side-Hill Acres and Schtayburne and a sampling of “other” experimental wines from Bellangelo. 

In the evening, we move to Ventosa Vineyards for a subject close to my heart – the theme of Finger Lakes Women in Wine.  Women now run 14 percent of the nation’s farms.  It will feature scientists, farmers, entrepreneurs and wine makers who will let us sample their offerings.  We then have dinner prepared by Chef Heather Tompkins, also the owner of Opus Expresso and Wine Bar.

Our Thursday morning begins at the Anthony Road Wine Company, where we begin tasting wine at 10 a.m. with a presentation from Owners Ann and John Martini.  We’ll also taste with Winemaker Peter Becraft who will feature some of his small batch wines.  We then move to Fox Run Vineyards for an overview of terroir.  We’ll eat, drink, wine, laugh and learn.

After five years of this conference, I say a few things with certainty.  There will be late night Cards Against Humanity.  However, this year it won’t involve getting late night visits from security at the hotel.  We have a #goingrogue group staying at a local bed and breakfast.  There will be lots of wine drinking and late night parties.  And, this continues to be an event I don’t want to miss – for the wine, the knowledge and most importantly, my friends.


White Pinot Noir? A Left Coast Cellars Experience

I had the chance to visit Left Coast Cellars during my #wbc12 pre-trip prior to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Salem, OR.  It was a day of visiting many wineries including Left Coast Cellars, but I remember being struck at how unique and delicious Left Coast’s White Pinot Noir was.  Fast forward three years, and I was provided with a sample of the 2014 Left Coast White Pinot Noir and the 2013 Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir to try side-by-side. 

It was #thirstyfriday at my office and this was the perfect educational opportunity to allow my colleagues to try a white pinot noir, which was different enough for a wine geek, but really fun to watch the reactions as people tasted the unexpected.  It had lots of stone fruit – peach and pear, floral notes and a great minerality.  This is going to become one of my “go to” wines that I take to a gathering of wine folks because it was so unique, but absolutely gorgeous.

The second wine – the traditional Oregon pinot noir – had plum, black cherry, earth, floral and spice.  It was a great version of Oregon Pinot based on several clone blends This blend was named after Cali, the daughter, and like the other one, both were estate grown.

 

 


Kaiken: An Authentic Approach to Wine and Terroir

Authenticity in marketing and brand. It’s talked about often, but at the end of the day, most companies do not practice what they preach. I was asked by PROTOCOL wine studio to be part of its online twitter-based educational program designed to engage brains and palates.  This month featured Viña Montes and Aurelio Montes, who holds the title “Guardian of the Spirit” at the wine conglomerate – usurping any usual corporate role, especially at a winery that ships more than 1 million cases per year. 

In 2001, Aurelio Montes, the senior winemaker and founding partner of Viña Montes in Chile, visited Mendoza in Argentina and saw the potential of these wines.  Kaiken was founded in 2002.  In 2007, Aurelio Montes Jr. joined the winemaking team as the Enological Director in the Apalta facility.  He was there for four years and was responsible for developing new wines and studying the terroir.  In 2011, Aurelio moved his family to Mendoza, Argentina, to manage the Kaiken project.

First, a little about Kaiken.  The winery was built in 1920 in the district of Vistalba, Mendoza by Italo Calise and acquired by Kaiken in 2007.  Kaiken currently owns three vineyards of the highest quality in different terroirs, accounting for fifty percent of production.  Kaiken was named after Caiquenes, the wild geese, who fly over Patagona between Argentina and Chile.  The name is symbolic – combining the great attributes of both Chilean and Argentinian wines.

In terms of authenticity, Aurelio Jr strongly believes that it is time to start describing wines by region vs varieties.  This brings up the importance of terrior and puts a strong focus on the winery to educate the consumers, which usually translates into big dollars.  I absolutely respect that and Aurelio said,” it’s the energy of nature to express the terrior, so to me, it makes sense.” 

Last night’s tasting featured two Kaiken wines from Argentina. The Kaiken 2012 Ultra Malbec has been on my list of “the top 5 under $20 value reds” for ages.  It had notes of plum, blueberry, herbs, violets, spice, bittersweet chocolate and clove. It was delicious.

We also tried the Kaiken 2014 Terroir Series Torrontes, which had notes of peaches, white flowers mainly jasmine, tropical fruit, orange blossom and was really nice and different than the usual Torrontes that I’ve tried before.


The Intersection of #workwednesday and #winewednesday

#WineWednesday.  #ThristyThursday.  Or insert any other day of the week to get together with a group of fun colleagues and drink wine.  Over the two and a half years that I’ve been in my current position, that has become an important part of my world.  It’s become part of our corporate culture and a great way for departments to get to know each other, learn more about wine and help me taste through the growing inventory of samples that arrive in my office every week.

Over two tastings, we tried 17 wines and eight made the favorite list.

White:

2014 HandCraft Pinot Grigio – fresh green apple, white flowers, citrus and honeydew melon.  This was a nicely balanced summer white.

2014 Bodega Garzon Albarino – wet stone, mandarin orange and a great acidity . Uruguay has been getting accolades as US writers gain access to these wines.  If you find one of these wines, go forth and buy.

2013 Bonterra Viognier – big peach notes, white flowers, citrus and apricot make this a delicious and well-balanced wine.

2013 McBride Sisters Truvee Chardonnay – honeycomb apples, vanilla and oak, but in a well balanced style that allows the fruit to show.

Red

2013 Bodega Garzon Tannat – rich notes of plum, dark cherry, coffee and a nice spiciness.

2013 Amici Pinot Noir – a nice earthy Pinot with notes of black cherry, all spice, red currant and cinnamon.  This was a delicious wine.

2012 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon – hands down, this was my favorite red of all that I tried.  It was big, with notes of cassis, blackberry, black pepper, mocha and chocolate. 

2012 Bonterra Zinfandel – a nice, traditional California Zinfandel with notes of blueberry, spice and vanilla.


May the Force be with Texas: And It Can’t Come Too Quickly

Every month I receive calls monthly from wine producers from all over the world anxious to break into the Texas marketplace.  Texas is consistently ranked in the top five wine drinking states.  Because of this, wineries – especially the boutique ones – are clamoring to get distribution in our arduous three-tier system, which requires that producers can sell their products only to wholesale distributors who then sell to retailers, and only retailers may sell to consumers.

My friend Bob Silver, who has been a part of the Washington wine industry many years, reached out to introduce me to Force Majeure, a boutique winery located in Woodinville, Washington, in the Red Mountain region, which specializes in single-vineyard Bordeaux and Rhone-inspired wines. According to the winery, ’Force Majeure’ describes the relentless, powerful elements of Nature that form the terroir of the vineyard. It also identifies the ‘unstoppable force’ initiated when the highest level of viticulture is combined with the highest level of winemaking talent”.  Bob asked if I would try the wine. 

Sure I’ll try it, I replied.  About a month went by and I finally opened the bottles – the 2012 Force Majeure Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which was full of chocolate, cassis, earthy notes and elegance.  We followed up with the 2012 Force Majeure Red Mountain Syrah, with rich notes of dark red fruit, raspberry, earth, spice and minerality.  One of the joys – and curses – of being a wine blogger is that I try so many wines it’s hard to evoke the type of reaction that I experienced from both of these wines.

I personally am on a mission to get them to Texas so you can try them.


Virginia Wine Chat: A Taste of Early Mountain Vineyards

It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to experience Virginia wines, which I first got to try at the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2011 (#wbc11).  I was recently asked to join the 30th episode of Virginia Wine Chat #VaWineChat, which was facilitated by one of my favorite bloggers, Frank Morgan.  This episode featured Early Mountain Vineyard’s new Winemaker Ben Jordan and Vineyard Manager and Winemaker, Jonathan Hollerith, for a discussion about Early Mountain, which is located in Charlottesville, VA, and has a storied history.  

The winery sent three wines – a Pinot Gris, a rosé and a red blendWe started with the 2014 Early Mountain rosé, which made my stock in rosés immediately rise.  It was delicious – full of mouthwatering fruits like apple, pear and strawberry.  It was dry and evolved in the glass over the night.  I loved it.

The 2014 Early Mountain Pinot Gris was also delicious.  It had great notes of pear, crisp golden apple, spice and a great minerality that made it go down way too easy.

The 2013 Early Mountain Foothills was a solid red blend.  I think if I had paired other food besides sushi with it, it would have showed a little better.  It had deep berry flavors, herbs and was earthy.

These wines all had Old World style with a New World charm.  If you have an opportunity to try Virginia wines – especially those from Charlottesville, VA, I’d definitely seek them out.

 


Cavas Freixenet: Exploring the World of Cava

After surviving a business trip to Barcelona, I decided to take advantage of my time there and do some further exploring of cava.  The folks at Cavas Freixenet nicely agreed to add me to the general tour (in English) and a group of us embarked to experience cava.

Freixenet is located in the Penedés region and we traveled by train from Barcelona to the Sant Sadurni d’Anoia train station. We literally got off the 45 minute train ride, took a left and we arrived at our destination. The winery is easy to reach by both car and by train. In fact, the entrance to the caves is just 50 meters from the Sant Sadurní d´Anoia train station, just about 45 minutes from the center of Barcelona. The public tour we were a part of was about 2 hours and included both adults and kiddos. 

We started with a film about the history of the company featuring the iconic boy in the red cap, who has been a part of the company’s brand since 1914.  We also heard about the two families who came together by marriage to make the winery a reality after phyloxera occurred years prior.  We started in the oldest part of the winery, which was eight-levels deep.  I got a deep dive into the making of cava, the evolution of the technology as well the expansion of Freixenet into more prestigious brands including a King’s stamp of approval on one of the bottles. The grapes used are Xarello, Macabeu and Parellada that come from both Freixenet estate vines and over 1,200 grape growers in the region.

We then – much to my daughter’s delight – boarded a train to ascend into the new part of the winery where we saw the cellar evolution, blending, bottling and other examples of modern technology at work.   We ended at the tasting room, where the adults got a glass of the Freixinet Brut Barroco Reserva and my daughter was given grape juice.  It was an awesome learning experience and I’m definitely on a mission to explore more cava – I hope some of the reserve bottles of Freixenet will be part of that future learning experience.


June Wine Round-Up: A Few of My Favorite Things

It’s June, it’s hot and it’s time for the round-up of wines that made the grade this month.  It’s a mix of red and whites that consisted of wines from around the globe.  We tried many more than what made this column.

The notable wines from California, Australia, France, Spain and Greece were as follows:

White

2013 Jordan Chardonnay – tropical fruit, a touch of oak, but well balanced with a nice minerality that made it perfect for a seafood dinner accompaniment.

2011 Ktima Tselepos Blanc De Gris Moschofilero – I tried a few Greek wines, but this one topped my favorite list.  Great acidity, citrus and minerality.  It was great.

2013 Palacio de Bornos Rueda Verdejo – Very refreshing with a nice mix of citrus, flowers and fruit.

 Red

2011 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – what can say I say?  Jordan makes delicious wines.  This had notes of chocolate, cassis, blackberry, herbs and vanilla.

2012 Edge Cabernet Sauvignon – big blackberry taste, nicely balanced with notes of chocolate.

2012 Alanera Rosso Veronese – dried black fruit, spice, tobacco and mocha.  This had a great earthiness and nice balance.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet France — red fruit, strawberry, tobacco, leather and coffee.  A really interesting representation of Cabernet Franc.


2012 Yangarra Ironheart Shiraz – whoa – deep dark fruit, mocha, blueberry and earth.  This one blew me away.

2012 Yangarra GSM – black cherry, mocha, herbs and earthiness make this another must try red.

2013 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso – a nice tempranillo blend with notes of chocolate, mocha, eucalyptus, licorice and deep black fruit.

2012 Protos Tinto Fino – earthy, black berry, violet and herbs. A good everyday drinking red wine.




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