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A Conversation with Remi Cohen About the History of Cliff Lede While Matching Cabernet with East Coast Oysters

Remi and Me

Remi Cohen, the general manager of Cliff Lede, and I didn’t start our lunch with the intention of pairing delicate oysters at Montlake Cut with a rich Stags Leap Cabernet, but we found ourselves at the mercy of the strict rules of Texas’ Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).  That called for ordering a Cliff Lede wine from Montlake Cut’s list vs drinking the wines that Remi had brought to pair with our seafood lunch.  The sole wine was the 2013 Cliff Lede Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, the perfect match with our oysters and tuna poke, right?  And, surprisingly, while I’m not going to run out to pair oysters and cabernet, it went better than I ever would have imagined.

Once we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to roll with the punches, we clicked instantly and found ourselves laughing and storytelling.

 Shots from our Dallas friends winery visit

 More shots from our Dallas friends winery visit

And one last shot from the Dallas friends visit

Remi told me about Cliff Lede’s story, much of which was new to me even though I visited the winery with a group of friends back in 2015.  This was a friend trip vs a blog trip, so my coverage was a little more relaxed.  Cliff, a Canadian born wine lover, purchased family-owned S. Anderson Vineyards in 2002 when he decided that it was time to leave the successful family construction business that he ran with his brother, and follow his passion for wine.  Cliff was a big Bordeaux enthusiast, but he didn’t speak French, so he settled upon relocating to Napa.  He acquired a sixty-acre estate in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.  He loved wine and rock and roll.  He had a brainstorm about naming vineyard blocks after his favorite classic rock songs that made sense to him.  And that’s how Moondance, Truckin,’ Dark Side of the Moon, Symphony for the Devil and Hotel California were born, which are now known as “Rock Blocks,’ all made from Bordeaux varietals.

He brought in some big name consultants like Michel Rolland and David Abreu, as vineyard manager, as he built his team.  He also kept his eye on a hillside vineyard, the Richard Chambers Vineyard, which later became the site of the Poetry Vineyard and Inn, an architectural landmark in the valley.  Each of the Poetry Inn’s five suites/rooms is named after a writer and overlook the vineyard.  The “Backstage” is a separate building which features rotating art exhibits – tastings in here are available only via a reservation.  This is where we tasted my last visit with Jerry Garcia’s artwork as our backdrop.

One notable thing about David Abreu’s style is that he brings in budwood and clonal selections from other well-known and cultivated vineyards.  Chris Tynan, who was formerly the assistant winemaker at Colgin came on in 2012 as the winemaker.

We then talked about the wines we were originally going to try, which I ended up bringing to my neighborhood girl’s wine club later that night.

First, was the only white that bears the Cliff Lede name – the 2016 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc.  This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Musqué clone and Sémillon.  Remi described it as modern meets Old World.  Concrete eggs meet non-filtered.   It has a gorgeous minerality and was full of tropical fruit, Meyer lemon, crème brulee and honeysuckle.  I love this wine.

We then spent some time talking about the 2014 Scarlet Love, which was a mashup of two estate vineyard blocks named after Cliff’s favorite rock songs – the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” in the Twin Peaks vineyard and from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” in the Poetry vineyard.  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Verdot.  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, dark chocolate, cassis and candied fig.

We then talked about the FEL wines, named after Cliff’s mom, Florence Elsie Lede, who was a garage winemaker.  She inspired his love for wine and food.  FEL Wines produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from the Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast.  Cliff enlisted Winemaker Ryan Hodgins, to help find the Savoy vineyard.  That’s where the production began with five pinot noirs, two chardonnays and one pinot gris using Anderson Valley grapes.

I  sampled two FEL wines:

2016 FEL Pinot Gris – this is a burst of tropical fruit, citrus and minerality.  It’s refreshing and a perfect patio wine.  It would have been the perfect wine for the oysters, but was not meant to be that day.

2014 FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir – this is how a pinot noir should express itself.  Notes of black currant, black cherry, earthiness and herbs.  It’s elegant and I had to make the wine club girls share this wine or it would have disappeared instantly.

We then shifted to Remi’s personal story of how she got to Cliff Lede.  In 2010, she was working as a vineyard consultant and Cliff became one of her clients.  He was in the mode of working with some great consultants, but wanted to lay the foundation for having his own people.  In 2011, a very challenging vintage, she led her first team from farming to harvest.  This success saw her grow in several different roles from the Director of Winemaking and Vineyards to today’s General Manager and Vice President Role.

Remi loves this family and is dedicated to evangelizing these wines.  She was in Dallas for the first ‘House of Cab Dallas’ tasting where Stags Leap District vintners and owners came together to debut cabernets and current releases from 13 different SLD vintners.  Unfortunately, she landed back home and the wildfires began in Northern California on Sunday night.  My story with Remi is not about the fire and the devastation, but I can tell you that our back and forth, fast and furious correspondence over the next few days on the state of the winery, Cliff Lede employees, her residence and her boyfriend’s residence, this is a woman that cares about this winery and this city.  Thankfully all employees were safe – although sadly one did lose their home, all but three percent of the harvest was in barrel (meaning these wines are fine – go buy them when you can) and the winery as well as the Poetry Inn were unscathed due to the very hard work of firefighters.  Remi knows how lucky they were and is dedicated to help Napa and her winery brethren in efforts to rebuild.

Rising from the Ashes: Lessons I Learned 19 Years Ago to Rebound After a Housefire

Please note that I am only posting this story because I have been asked to by several friends who are living the wildfire nightmare in California.  This is not to compare my story with theirs as the details are very different, but in the hope that my story – especially the what to do after — helps someone affected in some capacity.  The photos will be mismatched as they are from photo albums and are all sizes (and some are in better shape than others).

Nineteen years ago a fire raged through our condo displacing eight families.

Pug the One Eyed Adopted Pug Dog Who Survived The Fire 

The pounding on the front door at 4:30 a.m. was loud and frantic.  I remember rolling over and saying to my husband, “this better be good.”  Suddenly the choke of the smoke hit me.  I was immediately awake — our condo was on fire.  We went into automatic mental checklist mode.  Get dressed.  Get out.  Grab animals.  Nothing pragmatic or sentimental entered that thought process.  Ironically, two nights before, we had unplugged our fire alarm.  The batteries were low so it was beeping every few minutes and getting very annoying.  We planned to purchase some batteries over the weekend figuring it was no big deal.  Our early rising neighbor, who woke us up with the pounding, was the alarm that easily saved our lives.

As we went down the stairs, you could feel the heat from our neighbor’s place coming through the walls.  If you had asked me then, even with the fire raging before me, if the condo was really going to burn to the ground, I would have never, ever said yes.  Even in the midst of the inferno, you still make irrational decisions not thinking it will really ever happen.  Our neighbor, who accidentally started the fire, had to use a chair to break a window to escape.  My husband ran back in to get him a pair of shorts as he was standing outside in nothing but his underwear.  Now, my husband did not get his new shorts, just bought the weekend prior, but instead dug down in the dresser for an older pair of shorts.  The new shorts were left to burn.

As I sat there, just a few minutes later, watching the furor of nature consume what was once my home, I went back and forth between complete breakdown and being awe inspired about the power of nature.  My most humbling moment still to this day was walking up to that Red Cross truck because all I had to my name was my purse (thank god John thought to grab it), a grubby T-shirt, a pair of underwear and nasty shorts.  No toothbrush, no contacts, no toiletries, no bra, no shoes.  There were no shoes in my size at the Red Cross truck.  For a day, I walked around in men’s size 9 cleats.  There is no vanity in a fire.  There are however, television cameras everywhere wanting to ask a myriad of stupid questions and to capture your grief.  Avoid them.  The last thing you want to become is the face of misery.

All day a string of friends (and strangers) came to offer their love, support and the opening of their homes. Communities can be amazing.  I am a very proud person and I struggled with taking their kind offers.  I quickly learned to swallow my pride.  I also have seen a lot of bashing of the Red Cross on earlier forums.  I can tell you from personal experience that they were a lifesaver for me.  They offered us hotel vouchers, but we had amazing friends that told us that their home was open to us and then followed that up with letting us stay for months while we got on our feet.  I cannot tell you how much that ability to have a home base, some normality, much wine and laughter helped during a time of so much uncertainty and sadness.

First, you must understand that you will never have the same version of normal again.  It’s been 19 years and I have yet to light a fire.  I am just now at the point where I can light candles in my house.  That is okay.  It’s just your new reality.

Let’s start with the steps you need to take to rebuild your residence once you are in a place where it is safe to do so:

Contact Your Insurance Agent ASAP

Contact your insurance company.  Ask what to do about the immediate needs of your home. Ask about money and vouchers to cover your temporary needs.  This includes pumping out water and covering doors, windows and other openings as well as food, clothing, shelter, etc.   Ask your insurance company what to do first.  Some companies may ask you to make a list of everything that was damaged by the fire.  They will ask you to describe these items in detail and say how much you paid for them.  This is important.  Think about this carefully.  Go room by room and visualize each drawer, cabinet, etc.  Your junk drawer is probably much more valuable than you think.  It’s hard, it’s painful.  You will cry.  It will take time.  The Internet will help you will value things. Do not undervalue things based on age.  You have to replace them at full market cost.   I have found this approach to be a smart one.  Someone recommended, after our fire, that we should have gone around our house and video taped every room, closet, draw, etc.  Wish we had received that advice before the fire.

If You Do Not Have Insurance

If you do not have insurance, your family and community might help you get back on your feet.  Crowdfunding is also an option.

Organizations that might help include:

American Red Cross.
Salvation Army.
Religious organizations.
Public agencies, such as the public health department.
Community groups.
State or municipal emergency services.
Nonprofit crisis-counseling centers.


Get in touch with your landlord or mortgage lender ASAP.  Contact your credit card company to report credit cards that were lost and request replacements.  Save your receipts for any money you spend.  The receipts may be needed later by the insurance company.  You will need the receipts to prove any losses claimed on your tax return.

Cleaning the Damage (if applicable)

There are companies that specialize in restoration.  Make sure insurance covers this.  Get estimates in writing and get your insurance to provide referenced companies.

Submitting Your Claims for Home and Personal Belongings

Talk with your insurance company about how to learn the value of your home and property.  This is an arduous process.  Talk to people that have been through the process.  I am happy to talk to any of you about the lessons that I learned.

The Important Documents You Need to Replace 

Driver’s license, auto registration.
Bankbooks (checking, savings, etc.).
Insurance policies.
Military discharge papers.
Birth, death and marriage certificates.
Divorce papers (if appropriate).
Social Security or Medicare cards.
Credit cards.
Titles to deeds.
Stocks and bonds.
Medical records.
Income tax records.
Citizenship papers.
Prepaid burial contract.
Animal registration papers.
Mortgage papers.

Sounds Cliché, But If You Had Money Laying Around (Now You Have to Prove This With Burnt Money)…

Try not to handle it.  If you have at least half the bill,  your Federal Reserve Bank will replace it.  Go to your nearest one or you can mail it to:

“Registered mail, return receipt requested” to:

Department of the Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing Of ce of Currency Standards
P.O. Box 37048
Washington, DC 20013

Damaged or melted coins may be taken to your regional Federal Reserve Bank or mailed by

“registered mail, return receipt requested” to:

Superintendent U.S. Mint P.O. Box 400 Philadelphia, PA 19105

To replace U.S. savings bonds that are destroyed or mutilated, get the Department of Treasury Form PD F-1048 (I) from your bank or at and mail to:

Department of the Treasury Bureau of the Public Debt Savings Bonds Operations P.O. Box 1328

Parkersburg, WV 26106-1328

And now the personal stuff….

A few lessons here because personal is, well, personal and might be totally different for you….  Stuff is stuff.  And then it’s your stuff and it’s gone.  It’s a hard burden to bear.

Start with the shoes

I remember going to Northpark Mall, a Dallas shopper’s paradise, to try to replace my wardrobe.  Four hours went by and I remember meeting my husband with his full shopping bags.  I had nothing.  The process of knowing where to even start so overwhelmed me that I sat on a bench and just cried.  The cliché that every woman wants a new wardrobe was just false for me under the circumstances.  I started with Designer Shoe Warehouse and a bag of shoes and progressed one step at a time.  Then I started to rebuild.

The smoke smell will linger

As much as you try, you will not be able to get the smell of smoke out of your lungs for a long time.  If you have a place to go back to and they are able to save any of your stuff, it will linger in everything.  It just doesn’t go away.  As much as you want to save things, sometimes it is a blessing to have it declared a loss.

Dig through the dirt

We combed through our rubble.  It was a lot and you have to wait until the smoldering stops, which takes days.  But we found a few precious possessions intact.  One being our wedding album.  Amazingly, a portion of the second story floor collapsed on the coffee table where our wedding album was sitting and it was kind of sealed from the fire.   When all of your pictures, letters and special possessions are no longer, I cannot tell you what it meant to find that wedding album that could never be replaced.

Take the help

As Nike says.  Just do it.  Take the vouchers.  Take the bag of clothes.  Take the donations.  You are rebuilding your life.  Your way to give it back is to show gratitude.  Pay it forward. I promise you will never look at the world the same way again.

You will laugh.  You will cry

Both are okay.  Both are human.  Your perspective will be forever changed.

Keep your sense of humor

Approximately one month after the fire, we went to a Halloween party.  A friend of ours was an Associate Fire Chief in the Dallas Fire Department.  She lent us full fire gear.  Was it the right thing to do?  For us, absolutely….  Friends threw us a fire shower with the movie Backdraft in the background.  Was it twisted?  Absolutely.  Was it us?  Absolutely.  Did it help?  Absolutely.  And, it was a lot easier on our liver in the long run.

Do something daring. 

I had a Leadership Dallas retreat that my husband literally pushed me out the door to attend two days after the fire.  Part of our retreat included an obstacle course where we had the choice to climb a ladder up a very tall telephone pole and jump. Not everyone did it.  I did.

People are good

People are good.  People are very, very good.  It will take you a village to come back from this and you will.  Anything that I can personally do to help you as you bounce back from your new normal, please let me know.  #sonomastrong #napastrong #pasoroblesstrong #mendocinostrong

Sources include FEMA and several insurance companies.  To donate, you can text the word CAWILDFIRES to 90999 to make a $10 donation to the Red Cross.


District 30 Craft Bar and Kitchen: Bringing Together An Entire District with A Sense of Place Creating An Impact

Today I am completely throwing myself under the bus for reporting late about the opening of District 30 Craft Bar and Kitchen, a cool (newish) gastropub that opened late last Summer.  I attended the media soft opening in late August where we tried a variety of innovative cocktails, craft beers, wines, appetizers, entrees and desserts served by a great staff.

District 30 was named after its congressional district located in the heart of Oak Lawn.  The demographics of the district are diverse, yet is it known as being united.  That is the premise of the restaurant – bringing together people to dine, sip and gather.  You’ll find a meshing of American, Italian and even Tex Mex fused together and the premise to be a neighborhood place.

Our appetizers included the unique ahi tuna mini crisps that are served with wasabi spiced avocado and pickled ginger, tempura asparagus sticks, and stuffed Portobello mushroom caps filled with garlic, spinach, and cream cheese.


We then tried the chicken and jalapeno dumplings and the braised beef short ribs in a red wine sauce over mashed Yukon gold potatoes with green beans.  We were completely stuffed at that point but they brought spring lamb lollipops pan seared with a cashew and mini pesto crust with roasted fingerling potatoes and vegetables.  This was followed by the grilled Mahi Mahi served with a pineapple Pico de Gallo and the seared scallops with sautéed spinach, Portobello mushrooms with a roasted corn and vanilla bean cream sauce.

The desserts included a chocolate nut brownie and a bread pudding.

District 30 is owned by twin brothers Mark and Dirk Kelcher, of Kelcher Entertainment Group, which also includes The Cedars Social.  Well-known Chef Mike Smith, formerly the Sous Chef of The Green Room and who worked at Arcodoro/Pomodoro and The Common Table in the past, is leading the kitchen.

This is a place that will quickly become a neighborhood stop in for lunch, brunch, dinner and late night drinks, and one that has earned the right to put the gastropub title next to its drinks and food.


Another Edition of the Round Up of Wine: Six Countries, Twenty Four Wines

It’s time for another wine round up column filled with some of my favorite samples.  This time I tried 46 wines from six countries with 24 making the cut today.


NV Ferrari Rose Sparking – I’ve had the amazing opportunity of visiting Ferrari back in April.  To read more, click here.  Ferrari Trento was awarded the title of “Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year” in this year’s edition of The Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, the second time it has won this title.  I tasted wild strawberries, cassis, floral notes and fresh baked bread.

NV Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose — I had to chance to try this back in June at a lunch with Steven Urberg, the winemaker.  My notes at the time – stone fruit, apple, honey, vanilla, crème brulee and black cherry.  Still held true.  Here’s the conversation from that day here.

NV Torresella Prosecco DOC – very drinkable with notes of pear, apple, almond and almost a honey baked bread.


Sauvignon Blanc

2016 Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc – this is a tasty sauvignon blanc with lots of minerality, lime, grapefruit and herbal notes.

2015 Amici Sauvignon Blanc – zesty is a great way to describe this wine.  There was a burst of passion fruit, pear, flowers and lemongrass.  It also had a nice minerality.

2016 Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc – Hess is always dependable choice for Sauvignon Blanc. Notes of lemons, lime, green apple, grapefruit and white pepper.


2015 Jon Nathaniel Lavender Hill Vineyard Chardonnay – this was one of the top chardonnays that I have tried all year.  I tasted a balanced wine with honey, vanilla, pear, apple, graham cracker and spice.  You got a little creaminess, you got a little oak, but most importantly, you received a great balance in this wine.

2016 Flora Springs Chardonnay – this was a very easy drinking chardonnay with notes of crème brulee, stone fruit, citrus, green apple, lemon, spice and vanilla.

2015 Feudo Zirtari Inzolia Chardonnay – this was a value-oriented chardonnay that had a nice balance of fruit and flowers with some nuttiness.

Other Varietals

2016 Tenuta Sassoregale Vermentino Maremma Toscana DOC – very easy drinking with lots of citrus, lemon, lime, yellow apple and lots of fruit.  A nice austerity.

2015 Kettmeir Pinot Bianco – green apple, pear, minerality and floral notes.

NV Locations by Dave Phinney CA-4 – this first white California blend features Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Roussanne grapes from Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino.  Lots of stone fruit with tropical, citrus and oak notes.  I could spot California instantly from my first sip.

NV Locations by Dave Phinney Corse – this 100 percent Vermentino was delicious and one of my favorite Locations wines to date.  I tasted Meyer lemon, pear, lime, a nuttiness, herbal notes and almost a honey texture.  This also had a nice minerality and I couldn’t stop sipping it.



2012 Chateau Moulin De La Roquille Bourdeaux – this was definitely a value Bordeaux and it needed a little time to open in the glass.  I tasted red currant, cherry, cassis, Asian spice, cedar plank and dried flowers.



2015 Rombauer Merlot (Carneros) – very juicy with blueberry, plum, cedar, cherry and fig newton.  It’s a big merlot, but it’s a Rombauer.

Cabernet Sauvignon

2014 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon – each year I smile when my Amici samples come in because they are consistently good.  I tasted blackberry, currant, chocolate, violets, herbs and licorice.

2013 Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Selection – Rombauer is known for its very big wines, which defines its wine making style.  This wine, however, I could only define as an elegant grab yourself a “chaise lounge, recline and take a sip” kinda of wine.  As I raised the inky black glass I tasted blackberry, cassis, licorice, cherries, blueberries, chocolate, vanilla, dried flowers and mocha.  Give this time in your cellar and it will reward you.

2015 Z Alexander Brown Uncaged Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine comes from Zac Brown, the musician. I tasted blackberry, plum, Asian spice, cherry, pepper and it had a nice balance.

Pinot Noir

2015 Diora La Petite Grace Pinot Noir – I had not had many Monterrey Pinot Noirs, but if Diora was any indication, I’ve been missing out.  This was an elegant and soft pinot that had earthy notes of dark cherry, mocha, spice and chocolate.

Other/Red Blend


2014 Troon Vineyard Estate Tannat – this is an example of why tannat can stand on its own and Troon does it well.  I tasted notes of blueberry, blackberry, graphite, pepper, herbs and a nice earthiness.

2014 Smith Hook Proprietary Red Blend – blackberry, blueberry, cassis, cherry, oak, smoke and vanilla.

2014 Trivento Amado Sur – black fruit, strawberries, cherries and a nice spice makes this an easy drinking red right in time for football season.

2014 Finca San Blas Lomalta Crianza – red fruit, balsamic and a little spice.  This is a well priced wine worth seeking out and a region in Spain worthy of attention.

2015 Messina Hof Sangiovese “Artist Series” – paired well with food.  I tasted black and red fruit, leather and spice.


Six Grapes is one of Graham’s Original Port blends.  This Reserve Porto is dessert in a glass with plum and chocolate covered cherries.

Continue to Expect the Unexpected When It Comes to Paso Robles Wines


Art by Vino Mosaics, Wines by Paso Robles

I first discovered the beauty and uniqueness of Paso Robles in 2016 while on a press tour of Texas writers.  I didn’t know much about the region when I arrived, but left with a full understanding of the imprint this wine region has left on California as well as the number of diverse wines that are produced here.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.

Zinfandel is the region’s heritage wine grape variety – first planted in the late 1880s.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Spanish and Rhone varieties are the most widely produced.  I love the ingenuity of some of the wineries – when Tablas Creek couldn’t get the quality of vines it wanted back in the 1990’s, it imported cuttings directly from the Beaucastel vineyard and then shared them.  In fact, there are more than 400 wineries that have descendants of these cuttings today.

First, a little about Paso Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks,’ is located in San Luis Obispo County on the Salinas River.  It is known for its wineries, olive oil and almonds as well as its mineral hot springs.

Paso Robles has a storied history in wine.  Grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries.  Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez had the vision this would be a great wine region and encouraged those in Mexico and California to come to the region.  In 1882, Andrew York, who came from Indiana, established a winery that still stands today under a different name as Epoch Winery.  Fast forward after Prohibition and growth continued.  Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres with Zinfandel as the heritage grape.  The real expansion occurred in 1990 when the winery count was 20 and today totals more than 200 wineries.

According to a study commissioned by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Paso Robles AVA accounts for 87% of San Luis Obispo County wine industry output and economic impact with 40,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, 95% of which are small production, family owned businesses.

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.

If you want to know more about my journey, which included zip lining over a pinot vineyard, click here, here and here.

Me and Geri

A group of bloggers was called together for an online Twitter chat with my friend @1WineDude aka Joe Roberts as moderator.  Our focus was on four rosé and white wines.  This was fun for me because I had an online blogger friend @geriteaches who happened to be in town for the tasting.  She joined us along with some neighbors for dinner and we had a blast.

 Dinner is Served Thanks to the Husbands

2016 Justin Vineyard Rosé – notes of tart red cherry, peach, apple, guava, herbs, flowers and a lovely crisp, dry and refreshing taste.

2016 Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Blanc – a Rhône blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  I tasted notes of pineapple, peach, citrus, wet stone, lime zest with a little spice.  It was a great wine.

2016 Vina Robles “White 4” Blend – notes of Bartlett pear, orange blossom, ginger, honey, peach, white pepper and tropical fruit.

2016 Adelaida Chardonnay – the crowd went wild for this one, but our bottle had cooked in the hot Texas sun and shipping heat.

All in all – these @pasorobleswines continue to reinforce my perceptions that you should expect the good things, hence the #unexpectedpaso when it comes to Paso wines.

Domaine Drouhin and Jordan Family Tasting & A Closer Look at Cameron Hughes

Art by Vino Mosaics

This week’s wine column focuses on multiple samples that came from two families that are considered to be stalwarts in wine – the Drouhin family and the Jordan family.  It also covers Cameron Hughes, a man who took a different approach by not having his own vineyards, but by finding interesting wines and negotiating even more interesting prices.

Drouhin Family

The Drouhin Family’s legacy began in Burgundy almost a century ago and is almost synonymous with the region.  Maison Joseph Drouhin became one of the region’s most notable négociants and acquired key vineyards in the Côte d’Or and Chablis.  Thirty years ago, he saw the power of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley and Domaine Drouhin Oregon began.  Their tagline states, “French soul, Oregon soil.”

I tried three wines:

2015 Cloudline Pinot Noir – made by consulting winemaker, Veronique Drouhin-Boss, this is a great expression of Oregon Pinot from the Eola-Amity Hills.  It has lots of cherry cola, black cherry, chocolate, cassis and a nice earthiness.

2014 Rose Rock Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir – another great expression of the sense of place.  Lots of red, blue and black fruit, earth, cherry cola, cedar wood and pepper.  Absolutely delicious.

2014 Pierre Dupond La Renjardiere Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2014 – earthy, well balanced with lots of red fruit and spice.

Jordan Winery

Tom and Sally Jordan made a promise to become vintners together when they were married in 1959. Avid lovers of French food, wine and cooking, they discovered the quality of California wine and realized that vision could become an immediate reality.

In the 70’s, they decided it was time to move from Colorado to California’s wine country and fulfill that dream.  They found a property (a prune orchard) in Alexander Valley and signed the deed the same day their son, John, was born.  They planted 200 acres of vineyards with a singular goal of producing wines modeled after first growth Bordeaux wines.  Construction of the winery began in 1974 and the mission was winemaking combined with hospitality, which still holds true today.  The first harvest was in 1976 and they’ve been making incredible wines ever since. My husband and I had the chance to stay at the chateau a few years ago and I cannot express what an amazing experience it was.

2013 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – this is a lush Bordeaux blend with notes of black currants, blackberries, black cherries, violets and mocha.

2013 Chardonnay from Russian River Valley – notes of tropical fruit, lemon curd, crème brulee, citrus with great stone fruit.  It is made in a Burgundian style and is a classic wine to put on the table.

Cameron Hughes

Finally, I am profiling someone who took a different approach to bringing wines to the markets.  In 2001, Cameron Hughes decided to parlay his passion into producing and delivering the best wine deals in the business.  Cameron is a wine trader who meets with growers and producers all over the world and offers small lots of wine to consumers.  You may be drinking a well-known name, but you’ll never know the brand as Cameron keeps the producer or winery’s name a secret to keep the prices low.

The Cameron Hughes line-up is typically 30 wines per year, which changes constantly.  I was able to try six wines in their line-up.  I’m profiling my three favorites.

2014 Cameron Hughes Lot 575 Red Mountain Blend (Washington State) – dark fruit, chocolate, earth and flowers.  Very drinkable and very well priced under $20.

2014 Cameron Hughes Lot 601 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) – you immediately get “Rutherford dust” when drinking this Cabernet in terms of a sense of place.  Big notes of cassis, blackberry, plum, cherry, earthy, chocolate, graphite and cedar.

2014 Cameron Hughes Lot 607 Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla) –  This is a great Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has notes of blackberry, spice, graphite, coffee, red fruit and flowers.  Very elegant and nuanced.


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.

The Two Faces of Winemaker Steven Urberg: A Little Country and A Little Bit Rock and Roll

Winemaker Steven Urberg

When you are the winemaker for an iconic sparkling brand, and you have a vision for making a luxury still wine brand, that dream often doesn’t come to fruition.  Unless: i) the sparkling wines come from Gloria Ferrer (the original sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros):  ii) you have the backing of Freixenet USA: and (iii) you have a tremendous vision based on specific vineyard blocks in Carneros.

Not only did winemaker Steven Urberg do that, but he also produced two new brand new vintages this summer for Gloria Ferrer.  He made it clear that the Gloria Ferrer wines that we were trying were very separate in terms of identity of the new boutique still wines we would be sampling at the luncheon.


We tried the latest release of the non-vintage Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose and Urberg talked about the increasing adoption of sparkling wines in the United States of sparkling due to prosecco adoption.  It was a blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay.  I tasted notes of black cherry, crème brulee, ripe berry and citrus.  Fermented for 6 months before blending, the wine was in bottle for five and a half years before disgorgement.  This was delicious with stone fruit, apple, honey, vanilla, crème brulee and black cherry.

We then moved to the new luxury wine brand WineVane, a homage to the wine that contributes to the unique character of the wines of Western Carneros named from the wine patterns and microclimate of Carneros.   Their two vineyard sites are known for the steepest, rockiest and thinnest soils with diverse microclimates, allow for slower ripening, intense flavor development and high levels of acidity in the grapes.

Urberg was very pragmatic in his approach to balance, “No chef ever wants to beat a steak into submission.  Wine is the same – it’s all about texture and balance.”

We tried two estate wines with very different characteristics.  Our first was the 2015 Chardonnay, which tasted of buttered popcorn, lemon, pineapple, white stone fruit and had a little nuttiness and a lot of creaminess.

The second, my favorite, was the 2014 WindVane Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir, a blend of Pinot Noir from vineyard blocks from the east facing 335-acres of estate vineyards located in Carneros.   Only 100 cases of the WindVane Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir have been produced and Texas unfortunately will not be receiving the shipments.  This is an elegant, nuanced, black cherry, earthy, bottle of deliciousness.

Villa Maria: A Virtual Taste of New Zealand with a Croatian Twist

New Zealand is a country known for hard work and innovation.  From Sir Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom in the twentieth century to the invention of the Hamilton jet boat to electric fences to the fastest motorbike in the world, this has been a country known for hard work and embracing new things.

That is why I was excited when last month’s #snooth virtual tasting took me across the world to New Zealand.  Villa Maria was our host and Lead Winemaker Helen Morrison was our guide.

I’ve had the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc before, but as I unpacked my six pack of sample wines, I was excited to see I would be trying a sparkling sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and a rosé as well as several red wines.

The Villa Maria name comes from Founder George Fistonich, who started making wine in 1961, when he leased land near Auckland from his father. George mashed up two names — Villa, a common name for a house in New Zealand, and Maria, a popular name from Croatia where George is from.  He wanted a European name because it sounded authentic.

Since then, he’s been singularly focused (and passionate) about crating unique, New Zealand style sustainable wines from four regions – Auckland, Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.  The winery has grown from George and his wife, Gail, to more than 250 people and exports to 50 different countries.

We tasted a variety of wines that ranged from $13 to $45.  Villa Maria offered something for everyone as I found with my neighbors gathering to help me taste through these wines.

2015 Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc – this was my first New Zealand sparkling (friazzante meaning lightly sparkling) wine.  It tasted like a slightly carbonated sauvignon blanc with notes of lime, tropical fruit, grass and tart apple.

2016 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc – I’ve had the opportunity to taste another vintage of this sauvignon blanc and I enjoyed it as well.  Very crisp and tart and is a great expression of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

2016 Private Bin Bay Rosé – this was my first New Zealand rosé and I loved it.  Lots of berry with a great minerality.

2015 Taylors Pass Chardonnay – this was a complex and nuanced Chardonnay with a great deal to offer.  There were some oaky notes to it, but the fruit shone brightly.

2014 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir – herbs, terroir, red and black fruit made this a very, very drinkable wine.  It was the first red to disappear.

2013 Cellar Selection Merlot-Cabernet – I tasted blackberries, blueberries, spice, oregano and this one also was very easy drinking.

I enjoyed the ability to branch out and try the variety of Villa Maria wines during this tasting.  These wines have always been easy to drink, well priced and a safe bet for the consumer.  If you want to watch the Snooth video, feel free to follow along here.


A #winestudio journey with Pago de Arínzano

Our latest #winestudio journey took us on a virtual destination to northeastern Spain.  I’ve been lucky enough to explore Spanish wines in various regions due to press trips and my own travel.  I always leave the country with a sense of magic and a sense of how special this country is in terms of history, wine and the passionate people who love what they do.

Our focus over four weeks in June introduced me to a new vineyard, Pago de Arínzano, which was first planted in 1055 AD.  Manuel Louzada, the fourth-generation winemaker, spoke about his creative vision for wine inspired by Michelangelo.  Michelangelo was once famously quoted,  “The angel was already in the marble, I just missed it.”  When Manuel first viewed the family’s vineyard, he saw the unique terroir and strove to make the purest expression he could envision.  Manuel has a great resume prior to coming to Arinzano where he worked at several vineyards, including the well-known, Numanthia in Toro.

The vineyard site has quite a history dating back to the 16th century, but the property was abandoned in the 19th century.  In 1988, the property was discovered and returned to its former greatness.  Pago de Arínzano is in Northeast Spain between Rioja and Bordeaux.  The goal is to create wines that express the vineyards, but using natural techniques.  The 877-acre estate is right near the Ega River where half of the acres are planted for vineyards and the rest to the environment.  They are the only winery in Spain certified by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for environmental responsibility for the tracks of land dedicated to nature.

The vineyards of Arínzano have been classified as Vino de Pago, considered the highest category on the quality scale of Spanish wines.  To date only 14 properties have been awarded this designation, one that mandates a ten-year track record of quality with estate-grown grapes that are grown, processed, aged and bottled at the property.

Manuel added, “we are artisans and we control the entire process.”

We tried a line-up of wines over the month of June.  I was missing the 100% Tempranillo wine that received “off the charts” feedback from the other bloggers.

2014 Hacienda de Arinzano White – I got tropical, citrus and floral notes.  I never in a million years would have guessed chardonnay, but it was lovely.

2011 Hacienda de Arinzano Red – red raspberry, blackberry, rosemary, vanilla, licorice and floral notes.  Very drinkable and great with food.

2008 Arinzano La Casona —cherry cola, mocha, cassis, licorice and blackberry notes.

2010 Arinzano Gran Vino White – notes of citrus, tropical fruit with pineapple leading and a nice minerality.  This was another fantastic and elegant expression of how good Chardonnay can be.

2016 Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé – berries, sweet grapefruit, floral notes and a little spice.  Refreshing and wonderful.

I took this photo of the wine with a piece from one of my favorite artists, Guilloume who captures his love for his family in oil painting as well as bronze sculptures and reliefs.  I believe these are both indicative of men who find beauty in art and terroir and strive to showcase perfection.

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