Archived entries for Uncategorized

Masthead: Would It Face Better Reviews than Fred Astaire’s First Screen Test?

What if you had all the right ingredients for success and yet you failed?  And you did in front of a well-respected group of wine bloggers, two wine makers and the winery who gave you every element that you needed to succeed?  Especially when the first launch event was on the site of the very well-regarded vineyard where the grapes came from at Mohr-Fry Ranch…

The entire time I kept thinking about Fred Astaire and the obnoxious screen test director at MGM who noted, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”  Was our first wine experience going to be our last?

And would we be required, like the movie Groundhog Day, to experience that failure over and over again as we were required to publicly talk about our experience in a series of launch events?  Thank God that didn’t happen, but it was a feasible outcome when four bloggers were given the opportunity to make their own wine label.

I wrote already about the process of making Masthead, so today I’m going to focus on the experience of truly bringing it to market under the shining public backstop of the Wine Bloggers Conference.

 Cindy Rynning, One of the Co-Creator’s, First Taste of Masthead

We started pouring at the Wine Blogger’s Conference Opening Reception where we saw for the first time the labeled bottles, the ink in newspapers and finally got to taste the wine.  I took a deep breath and prepared for my first sip.  It was really good Sangiovese – lots of black cherry, berry, dark earth and herbal notes.  With a little step in my swagger, we continued down the path of the remainder of the launch events including the first event in Scotto’s brand new tasting room.

Me and Bradley Gray, Scotto’s PR Maven 

The next day we joined some really great friends (you know who you are and I so appreciate all of your support) on the Friday winery excursion.  The Scotto folks told me that they had rented a “statement vehicle” but I didn’t quite expect the disco limo that awaited us.  We had the opportunity to try the Scotto Ciders before we arrived at Mohr-Frye Ranch where we had the chance to show folks where the magic first happened with the Frye family.

We later arrived at the Scotto Tasting Room that had been transformed into a 5-star dining room experience with well-known Chef Warren Ito.  The theme was Mexital: Mexican and Italian fusion that incorporated the Italian heritage of Anthony Scotto and the Mexican heritage of Gracie Scotto.

 

And what a dinner it was … lots of laughter, family stories and what you would expect given the Scotto hospitality.  The wines were paired with each delicious course … and then the moment of reckoning … what would the reaction be from the table?

Chef Ito

 

 

Perhaps we had stacked the deck by including our friends, but from all accounts, the reaction was the wine was pretty impressive … especially from bloggers who had never done this before.  It was not an Astaire moment … and while I can’t act … and I can’t sing … and I can dance a little…,  when I am given incredible winemakers, an award winning vineyard, a specific block of grapes, great blogger co-conspirators and all the right tools, I got it right.

 


Frank Morgan: “Get in the Car” and Other Going Rogue Experiences at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

Frank Morgan sporting the saying that started it all…

It all started with a phone call from Steve Havill, Wine Club Manager for Bella Grace Vineyards.  Steve saw a few posts I had done after other conferences and wanted to make sure that the Amador County pre-conference tour was going to be an amazing experience for the wine bloggers.  I immediately went out to my network of #goingrogue bloggers to get their opinions.  I have to say what we proposed was a success as the tour was sold out before any of us could register.

But Steve was bound and determined that he was going to do something special for the group.  So the day the conference ended, we boarded a bus and began our journey to discover what makes Bella Grace special.  The answer?  The family… the wines … the hospitality … the experience … and my very own Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” customized shirt…

Charlie and Steve Havill

But first about Amador County.  The region is self-billed as “The Heart of the Mother Lode” and became the destination for those looking to strike gold.  The region fell upon hard times after the California Gold Rush became saturated and Prohibition hurt the wineries established during that time.  Today this area is thriving and there are over 50 different wineries with very different microclimates. Steve told us that surprisingly, 60 percent of the grapes leave Amador Country.  It is known for Zinfandel, but also a number of other varieties due to the number of Italians who brought vines from Italy during that time.

Bella Grace, which was named for two great grandmothers, was founded in 2006 by Charlie and Michael Havill who followed their dream of owning a vineyard.  The winery and vineyards are located in the Sierra Foothills, which is known for a variety of grapes from Zinfandel to Primitivo to Rhone varietals.  The focus has always been on quality and sustainability.  Steve told us that the goal was “to continue the experience of being at our home to every guest in our winery.”  Bella Grace makes 8,000 cases annually as well as organic olive oils, imported balsamic and fruit flavored vinegars.

 

 

 

 

We met most of the family that day and their very talented son, Chef Robert, who recently moved back from Colorado after cooking at Taste.  He provided a gourmet dinner that paired beautifully with the wines.  In fact, this is part of the hospitality – as they do more than 250 dinners a year at no cost to their wine club members.  I loved every wine that I tried.

You can’t do one of these #goingrogue experiences without the side stories.  From Jeff Kralik’s ongoing quest to saber sparkling (with varying levels of success) to the surprise Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” T-shirts to Michelle Williams and I rapping The Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere on the bus ride back, it was absolutely a great end to a very fun trip.

This year it seems that #goingrogue was the overall trend, as the conference was so spread out from the host hotels.  Walking was not an option for most of us.  I felt like I didn’t get to spend the usual quality time with so many of the people I wanted to see, but there were some constants.

 

The Unconference hosted by Craig Camp, now with Troon Winery continued.  This has become one of my favorite events every year because it brings an intimate group together to laugh, eat, talk and in my case, try Troon Wines for the first time.  Color me impressed, Craig.  I’m excited for your new venture and I know you will do a great job putting them on the map.

Gary Krimont

Thea Dwelle scheduled a pre-trip this year that allowed me to discover Anderson Valley wines.  I discovered Foursight Wines, a winery with five generations of family involved that just celebrated its tenth vintage.  I enjoyed being part of the “pinot people” and loved the diversity of these wines.  We also experienced the hospitality of Phillips Hill and Gary Krimont at Yorkville Cellars who poured great wine and kept us in stitches.  I loved discovering the history and great boutique wines of this region.

 


No Sleep ‘Til Lodi: The Region, The Experience, The Myth and the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

Historically I jump right on my posts after leaving the Wine Bloggers Conference, but Lodi was such a nuanced experience for me I needed some time to sit back and digest everything.  Lodi is well-known for its Old Vine Zinfandels and long-time grower families.

First a little about Lodi, which is located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  With the recent designation by Wine Enthusiast as Wine Region of the Year, it has become glaring that the diverse soils and delta breezes allow an incredible diversity of wines, actually more than 100 of them – Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Southern Rhone and even German wines are made … and made well in Lodi.  At the end of the day, Lodi has two-thirds of its acreage dedicated to red wines.

The climate is Mediterranean and is known for its warm days and cool nights.  The soils are very diverse due to the two rivers in the Sierra Nevada mountain range – the Mokelumne and Cosumnes Rivers.

The Wine Bloggers Conference opened with Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson as the keynote speaker.  Other than being one of the most kind, open and humble people you will even meet, this world-renowned Master Sommelier (one of 23 females in the world) demystifies wine and writing in less than 50 minutes.  She had some great insights:

  • Writers have taken a wine experience that we love, to something that we commit to and aspire to grow.
  • Drink Lodi and be cooler than you really are.
  • She really was the first Dallas Wine Chick when she learned about wine while drinking it with Rebecca Murphy and at The Grape restaurant while at SMU.  She’d come back to her roommates and “teach” them the class she had just attended.  She hoped they’d just go with it and not ask questions she couldn’t answer.
  • Know your stuff – and when you don’t, say you don’t know and find out the answer
  • She had some great advice on taking things to the next level for bloggers:
    • Make it pay (pay can be more than money … my recent press trips make me agree completely).
    • Be better – better SEO, images and video.  That will be my commitment to you guys over the next few months.  I will be redoing Dallas Wine Chick – let me know what you want to see when I do.
    • Build value – whether that is personal wine certifications, writing for other publications, working with mentors or celebrating others … just do it.
    • Quality of content begets credibility – clearly after almost seven years, you guys have proven that to be the case.
    • Be authentic and always be who you are.

We then moved into a History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi.  Mark Chandler, the Mayor of Lodi, vineyardist and former executive director of Lodi Wine Commission joined Aaron Lange, Vineyard Manager of Langetwins Winery and Vice Chair of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG); Kevin Phillips, Vice President of Operations at Michael-David Winery and Phillips Farms and Markus Bokisch, Owner of Bokisch Vineyards talked about the growth of Lodi.

Today there are 700 growers in Lodi with an effort that started with a couple of dozen families with vision in late 80s/early 90s who chipped in a few thousand dollars to research what grows best in the region.  The region has drastically evolved with varieties once popular during Prohibition including many sweet wines (and sacramental wines) that are no longer produced.  Mark attributed Morley Safer, a veteran CBS journalist who did a report about red wine being good for the heart in 1993, as a catalyst for the region.  Over the next five years, the acreage grew from 40,000 acres to 100,000 acres.  In 1986, the Lodi AVA was formed, scientists were hired and a steering committee was created.  This lead to the creation of seven sub-AVAs.

As we sat in the same room that was once the site of East Side High School where Robert Mondavi started his education, it was clear that this was a region that was deep in heritage, authenticity, tradition, family and wine making.  Aaron described the region as the “heart of wine.”

We then moved to the Truth About Viticulture session which was an honest session about wine with Moderator Stuart Spencer, Program Manager at the Lodi Grape Commission and Owner/Winemaker of St Amant Winery.  The panelists were Tegan Passalacqua, director of winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars; Stan Grant, Viticulturist, Progressive Viticulture; and Chris Storm, Viticulturist of Vino Farms.

They spent some time covering the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, which is California’s original sustainable viticulture certification program designed to increase positive impact on the environment.  It’s a pretty rigorous certification process that is based in science, voluntary, and was the first to be audited by a third-party.  Lodi Rules certified growers balance environmental, social, and economic goals with a focus on sustainable agriculture.  More to come in another column on my personal Lodi Rules experience while we developed Masthead.

My favorite part is when they talked about the reality of the wine business and how people don’t truly tell the truth.  From sitting stuck in a truck in the mud for hours to the injuries sustained in the vineyard, it was a reality check in an often romanticized profession that is told through a marketing lens.

Chris had a very interesting perspective about how winemakers too often taste with their eyes instead of their mouths.  That does a disservice to the grape as balance is key; not the idea of what a vineyard should look like.  A good winemaker produces the maximum while maintaining what is right for vineyard.  It’s the right clone for the right area and the right rootstock with the right soil.

Tegan ended with a discussion about today’s labor shortage and how building strong relationships with producers and vintners pays off in the long run.  He also echoed a sentiment close to my heart – American palates need to drink more refreshing wines and therefore Lodi should concentrate more on white grapes.

The Winning Wine Blogger Award Winners

Me and Julien

From Passion to Pro Panel

Mary and Sean Celebrate Success!

A few other highlights of the conference:

  • Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong worked in conjunction with Consorzio Italia di Vini & Sapori to present a wine education session featuring wines from Italy’s Veneto.  I missed the first wine as I was in another session and realized I made the wrong choice, but the line-up of under $20 wines (unfortunately not available widely or at all in the United States) showed the differences in grams of sugar, terroir and style.
  • We attended a private lunch debuting Velv.  It was an interesting experience in showing ageability and what happens with giving mid-priced wines some surface area and time with this new device.
  • This year I attended the Live Red Wine Blogging session and was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps the session has grown on me, but the quality of the wines that we tried this year was unsurpassed.
  • Sujinder Juneja from Town Hall brands needs a stage.  He moderated the Panel of Wine Blogger Winners with Sophie Thorpe from Berry Bros & Rudd; Mary Cressler from Vindulge; Jill Barth from L’occasion; Susan Manfull from Province Wine Zine and Jerry Clark who received the best wine blog post of the year with panache, humor and absolute class.
  • The Passion to Pro – Getting Paid to Write About Wine session was honest, open and showed the hard work of Jameson Fink, Debra Meiburg MW and Deborah Parker Wong with the funny Randy Caparoso running the show.  The anecdotes showed one needs to approach wine writing as a full time job vs just a hobby like I do today.
  • Ethnifacts continued its second annual diversity scholarship and this year what a deserving recipient received it.  Julien Miquel who won last year’s Best New Blog for Social Vignerons was finally able to make it.
  • My favorite panel was co-presented by my good friends, Sean Martin and Mary Cressler from Vindulge.  They brought to life the marketing campaign, hard work, non-traditional themes like Star Wars and the love for photography that makes their blogs and Embers and Vine BBQ business successful.  They are also two of my most favorite people and they kept the packed room on the edge of their seats.

Next up … the launch of Masthead and how did people respond, going rogue and my Bella Grace Vineyard experience….

 

 

 


Seeing the River Through Rosé Colored Glasses

Last week, I added a life experience and lesson to my repertoire.  I drove four hours from Dallas to Tahlequah, OK, with 12 adults and 12 kids to experience a float trip down the Illinois River.  I learned a few things along the way.

First, never, ever just get in a float.  This is a strategy session like the show Survivor.  Think about your weakest link and who you must throw off should you have to eat your young…  We were almost dead-last of the group floats as you had a neurotologist, anesthesiologist and marketing consultant CEO along with a four-year-old – none of who had any business commandeering a raft unless it was a rowing machine at a gym.  And you add in the cold and the rain … and well, it was quite the experience…

Second, do not trust a group full of testosterone-fueled men commanding rafts (even if they are your friends and family members) to take care of your 11-year-old daughter and the aforementioned other children.  She may end up on a float of tattoo-laden, Metallica-playing people who were nice enough to pick her up when she decided to go swimming and was left behind.  She was returned to us … with no psychological damage apparent.  The overly tattooed folks in the other raft may have a different story after experiencing my spunky little girl.

Third, this is ‘Merica.  Land of the free, home of the face tattoos and a place where body size does not dictate the size of clothing chosen.  I have no more to say here except God love their confidence.

Finally, when I was in Water Color, Florida, earlier this year, I picked up a very classy looking wine bag that happens to hold an entire bottle of wine.  Because our group did not plan well – only bringing a few six packs of beer and my glorious bottle of Martin Ray Rosé – I clearly had the best option and it was hilarious to see the bag (completely water drenched and not the most polished looking) being passed along.  The rosé absolutely saved the day for our sad little raft and added a little oomph to a day that needed it.

I bet that the good folks at Martin Ray Winery and the dear friend who represents them in a public relations capacity may not be so excited to understand the story about the wine that made this day a success during our rafting trip.  A sample has never made such a difference.


August Wine Round Up: Martin Ray and Gloria Ferrer Wines and a Peek into Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

The themes of this month’s sample round-up include bubbles from Gloria Ferrer, Martin Ray Portfolio Wines and a look at Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which features several wines previewed for the Taste of Sonoma scheduled for Labor Day Weekend.

Martin Ray Wines

For the first time, I had the opportunity to be introduced to the Martin Ray portfolio.  Martin Ray was established in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1943.  The winery was purchased by Courtney Benham in 1991 and moved to Russian River Valley in 2002 to the former Martini & Pratt winery.

Martin Ray’s model is to handpick growers from different regions in California expressing different versions of terroir.  We tried a variety of wines and I found them all to be solid.  There is also a very funny story that I will soon tell about the rosé … and rafting … but that will be another story out of the context of a wine round-up.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Rosé of Pinot Noir – this rosé was delicious and perfect.  It was well balanced with tropical fruit, watermelon and a wonderful minerality.  It was one of the best rosés that I have had recently.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Chardonnay – an Old World expression of chardonnay with notes of nectarine, ginger, crème brulee, vanilla, Meyer lemon and floral notes.  Several non-chardonnay tasters were very complimentary.  Also included in the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend package.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Sauvignon Blanc – this was a great expression of sauvignon blanc with pear, lime and floral notes that made for easy drinking.  A very nice expression of the grape.

2014 Martin Ray Russian River Pinot Noir – notes of cherry cola, dark cherry, mushroom and earthiness.  This was a nice representation of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

2014 Martin Ray Sonoma Country Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, black currant, herbs, chocolate and tobacco make up this elegant cabernet.

2013 Synthesis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – whoa … this wine features “the best of the best” from the top vineyards and it shows.  This is a big, bad, juicy cabernet with blueberry, blackberry, fig, cassis and notes of herb.  It was definitely a group favorite.

Gloria Ferrer Wines

We also tried several of the sparkling wines from Gloria Ferrer, which was the first sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros, and also the first to plant Champagne clones as well as the first to plant in Carneros.  The winery has been around for more than 30 years

Almost thirty years later, with 335 acres under vine, the estate vineyards at Gloria Ferrer produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that will be reviewed in a later column.  I had the chance to try four of the sparkling wines:

NV Blanc de Blancs – apple, pear, orange, baked bread, lemon zest and notes of citrus.  This was an easy drinking sparkler that was well crafted.

NV Blanc de Noirs – this had notes of strawberry, raspberry, citrus and vanilla.  It was juicy, refreshing and delicious.

NV Sonoma Brut – pear, ginger and notes of citrus make this a great sparkling option.

07 Royal Cuvee – notes of citrus, apple, honey and freshly baked bread.  This was a great sparkling wine that was the crowd favorite.  Just delicious!

These wines were well priced, delicious and had a great quality making them all a great sparkling choice for your table.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Since Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is coming up over Labor Day weekend at MacMurray Ranch Estate Vineyards featuring more than 200 wineries, I wanted to highlight one of the samples that I received as a part of this tasting.  This event has, to date, raised more than $20 million for local organizations.  I’ll be tasting through them in the next few weeks, but wanted to give the winery and organization that has done so much for the area, a big shout out.

And that winery is Jordan.  I tried the 2014 Chardonnay from Russian River Valley and got a burst 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.

 

 


Five Years of Wine Blogger Conference Recaps: #WBC16 Fun Begins Next Week

Tis the season (and the week of the Wine Bloggers Conference) for wine bloggers to take the easy way out with recap posts.  Color me guilty and enjoy the story behind the stories for each conference.  I always have such an amazing time discovering the region, bonding with my friends who I don’t see enough and laughing so hard that I cry.  So, I’m about to attend my sixth wine blogger’s conference next week.

Let’s start with 2010 in Walla Walla, Washington.  As you can see from the post, this was my first wine bloggers conference and I was really playing by the rules.  To me, the moment by moment recap is amusing, but I still had glimpses of the type of coverage I write today, but without the #goingrogue experience.

In 2012, we were in Portland.  The bus outing featured a handsome police officer that pulled the bus over on the way to Carlton, Oregon.  Hence, we had Carlton without handcuffs.

I missed the 2013 event due to a family trip to Costa Rica, which was amazing but I did really want to experience the wine of Canada.

Santa Barbara was the site of the 2014 conference.  We had an amazing pre-trip that was hosted by the San Francisco Wine School and certain wineries.  It definitely established 2014 as the year to come for the private events, stay for the conference.  I walked into this conference with a great understanding of the region.

 

In 2015, we traveled to the Finger Lakes.  This year, we were on the pre-trip, but first a side journey to Philadelphia where Jeff Kralik opened his home for a birthday celebration with his family.  Special note: his birthday falls this year during the conference.

 

And now we move to 2016.  The pressure is on for me because I am actually debuting Masthead, a wine made by four bloggers (one being yours truly), and the pressure is on because we had the right grapes (Mohr-Frye vineyard), the right coaches (Mitch Costenino and Paul Scotto) and every tool for success to make this great.

We will see if this is a humbling or well received experience this week. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.


A Refresher on My Lessons Learned at WBC: Frank Morgan Will Always Get in the Car

Frank Morgan ” Gets in the Car”

I thought I’d recap one of my most fun #wbc15 Wine Blogger Conference columns where I compared the lessons that I learned at the conference to a Cards Against Humanity game.  I can single-handedly say that was one of the most fun evenings where we piled twenty or so of us in one hotel room and I laughed so hard tears came down my face.

I’ve also thrown in a few of my favorite photos of conference and people throughout the years.  So looking forward to exploring Lodi, launching Masthead and catching up with people who I’ve mostly met on social media who quickly became dear, dear friends during my times at #wbc events over the years.

Here’s a small photo gallery of some of my favorite moments at past conferences.  (I did have a laptop failure and photos of my early conferences were completely wiped).

 There Ain’t No Sabre Like A Jeff Kralik Saber…

You have not attended a Wine Bloggers Conference without experiencing a good, bad and ugly Jeff Kralik saber experience.  Any item can be used as a weapon…

                   Joe Power (dressed up!) and Amy Corron Power at the Rodney Strong Event

         This Always Reminded Me of a Vanity Fair Shot .. in a Cheesy Heart-Shaped Bathtub?

                   Me and Karen MacNeil on the Bus to the Winery

                   Joe Herrig and I “Nose Off”

                    I Love This Tasting Crew

                      My Michael Jackson Dance Partner, Mary Cressler

The thing about this conference is that so many people make the experience and each year I get to hang out with amazing bloggers and writers who teach me how to be better.  I am so excited to hang with all of you this year and make new memories.


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.


Wines That Stand Up to Scorching Texas Temperatures

It’s July in Texas.  The temperature is scorching, the lake parties are plentiful and the wine is flowing.  This wine round-up features wines from seven different regions and unique countries. It was also my first experience with Albariño from Uruguay.  I reviewed 20 wines and here are the ones that made the cut.

Rose

California

2015 Matchbook Rosé – we were at a friend’s lake house when we tried this Syrah-based rosé.  It was an awesome complement to a hot day.  Notes of ripe melon, strawberry and a nice creaminess.  It was gone in a matter of minutes…

Whites

California

2013 Balletto Cedar Ridge Chardonnay – Rich and elegant, with citrus, guava honey and floral notes make this an easy drinking, yet nuanced Chardonnay.

New Zealand

2015 Chasing Venue New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – tropical, grapefruit, lime and passion fruit made this a well-balanced representation of this region.

Uruguay

2015 Bodega Garzon Albariño – ever tried an Albariño from Uruguay?  I hadn’t either.  Really nice stone fruit, citrus and flowers with notes of minerality and a rich mouthfeel.

Reds

California

2014 Balletto BCD Vineyard Pinot Noir – black cherry, mocha, mushroom and spice make this a nuanced and elegant pinot noir.

2012 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this Bordeaux blend is delicious. Notes of blackberries and black cherries with cedar and chocolate.  This wine is elegant, silky and drinks beautifully.

2013 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, cassis, herbs, mocha and dark cherry make this a smooth and very drinkable wine.

Italy

2014 Tenuta Sassoregale Sangiovese Maremma Toscana – this is a wine with a personality. Big notes of black cherry and berries, licorice, herbs and spice.

Oregon

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – cherry, herbs, white pepper and cassis make this a fabulous representation of Oregon Pinot Noir.

Spain

2010 Marques de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserve Rioja – this wine was absolutely delicious.  Big notes of blackberry, stewed prunes, vanilla, smoke and spice made this an elegant and big Rioja that just got better and better as you sipped it.


2016: A Personal Journey and Year of Discovery

A journey is defined as the passage or progress from one stage to another.  That has certainly been part of my #seewhatsnext experience.  In December, I left my job as Chief Marketing Officer for a software company. If you followed along, you may remember my conversation with Cyril Chappellet, the CEO of Chappellet Wine, where I promised him that I would use this time to do some amazing things.   My goal was to finally exhale, spend time with the family and enjoy the ability to have some funded time to decide what I want to be when I grew up.  Little did I know where that journey would take me.

Barton Creek #goingrogue

Our Group Adventure at Chappellet Winery

Paso Robles with the Texas Writers

Fast forward seven months and I feel like I did just that.  I traveled to Austin to experience the Omni Barton Creek’s new wine and food program and rediscovered Texas wines in the process.  I went to Sonoma and Napa with a group of dear friends and had the trip of a lifetime.  I was invited on a Paso Robles media tour with a group of Texas journalists and actually zip lined over a winery.  And, I made my own wine with a small group of bloggers and a legendary winemaker (more on that next week).

Lego Table and Eurocaves: A Shared Existence

One of the Two Eurocaves

The Bad Ass Center Drawer

Personally, we had some family changes (and compromises) too.  After living in the same 1927 Tudor house for 15 years, we made the tough family decision to move to a newer house closer to my kiddo’s school.  While there are lots of bells and whistles we’ve never had before, the new casa does not include my dream cellar or any cellar at all.  From the photos, you’ll see the Eurocaves now exist as part of the family TV and Lego playroom.  And after being incredibly sporadic about my wine reviews the first half of the year, it forced me to set a process, which makes me methodical about the reviews.

And, finally, I made the decision to branch out on my own and start my own consulting business.  I’m completely flattered that two of my former bosses and good friends made this decision for me by telling me that they needed my help.  I even turned down a great full-time position with an amazing company and I still get to work with them as a consultant.  I’m still focusing on technology marketing, but having the decision of who I want to work with is life-changing.

I am sharing this all with you because you have become an important part of my community – you are my friends, you are my readers and have made this blog last much longer than I ever anticipated.  I just want to thank you.




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