Archived entries for WBC14

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Rodney Strong Celebrates 25 Years In Style

In July at the #wbc14, I was invited to hang with the cool kids at a special dinner in Solvang to celebrate the Rodney Strong Vineyard Silver Anniversary.  Several months later, I was invited to attend the Rodney Strong Silver Anniversary and James Beard Chef’s Tour Dinner celebrating 25 years of the Klein family owning the vineyard. 

Top chefs in Austin, Healdsburg, Miami and New York, hosted dinners that we were able to watch live on the #rsv25 channel.  There were also nine bloggers who are also fantastic home cooks that hosted mouthwatering dinners in different markets.  And then there were a few like me who don’t cook but were lucky enough to have received the wines so I could taste along.  All of the dinners benefitted the James Beard Foundation, echoing the family’s continuing commitment to give back to the community.

 Owner Tom Klein talked about how his goal was to create world-class wines that captured the essence of Sonoma.  In the 25 years under Klein’s ownership and direction, the winery has expanded, the number of wines offered has increased, the practices have became sustainable and the winery was named American Winery of the Year by the Wine Enthusiast in 2013.

From the Pre-Event at #wbc14

I’ve always said Rodney Strong was one of the top wineries that really understood the power of digital and social media.  They are front and center in raising the bar, making bloggers feel appreciated and understanding that if they get the right people in the room, they can and will out-trend any other wine event.

We tasted through six wines and there was a sense of fun to the entire evening.  The people at the dinners had fun.  The people on social media had fun.  The bloggers like me who were lucky enough to be included had fun.

We had six spectacular wines:

  • 2013 Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Symmetry, Alexander Valley
  • 2010 Brother’s Cabernet, Alexander Valley
  • 2008 Rodney Strong “A True Gentleman’s Port (named after Tom’s brother who passed away in 2003

According to Vintank, the undisputed leader in providing social intelligence for wineries, the results were impressive:

  • #RSV25 Trended #1 on Twitter, ahead of an HBO show.
  • When the event began, there was a social post every 12 seconds. Near the end of the evening, social posts were coming in every 6.7 seconds
  • 3,104 posts tagged with #RSV25. Nearly 700 people tuned into RSV25.com for the broadcast
  • Rodney Strong saw more than a 27% rise in its social media footprint.

For more information on the event, check out rsv25.com.

Or search #rsv25 for a glimpse of the fun.  Cheers to the Klein family, the Rodney Strong Vineyards staff and everyone involved in showing how much fun silver anniversaries can be.


Refugio Ranch: A Haven of Calm After the #WBC14 Storm

When Jeff Butler, the director of sales for Refugio Ranch Vineyards in Los Olivos, reached out with a wonderful invitation to experience his special vineyard, he didn’t flinch when the invitation for one grew to an invitation for ten.  If you’ve been following the adventures of the QBP during #wbc14, you’ve realized that we are loud and proud, love wine and long for the ‘off the beaten path’ experiences that are not replicated with larger conferences.

“The more the merrier,” he said – probably not quite realizing what was in store.  We met at the tasting room and tried the 2013 Aqua Dolce de Refugio on the patio.  The wine, which was made of Malvasia Bianca, was very refreshing with notes of honey, orange blossoms, white flowers and nectarines. 

We loaded up the cars and coolers and headed to the winery, where we promptly lost Thea Dwelle, who joined us with her carload of folks a few minutes later.  The winery, which is on private property and not open to the public, is a sanctuary. Imagine flowers everywhere you look, beautiful vineyards, an inviting front porch, a fantastic host and the wines, oh the wines.

Refugio Ranch was originally part of one of the original Spanish land grants.  The Gleason family discovered the property, which was a cattle ranch for several hundred years, in 2005.  They brought in Daniel Roberts from Napa who analyzed the soils and microclimate to discover the winery was ideal to grow Rhone and Sauvignon Blanc wines.

 We tried the following line-up:

  •  2011 Sauvignon Blanc – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon with notes of peach, apple pie, citrus, minerality and almonds.  This was a great wine.
  • 2011 Tiradora – a very different version of the same grape with lots of lime, stone, pear, citrus and herbs.  Loved this one too.
  • 2010/2011 Ineseno – a Rhone blend of Rousanne and Viognier with lots of depth.  This was made in a white Bordeaux style – I tasted brown butter caramel, tropical fruits, orange and dried fruits.  I liked them both, but ordered several bottles of the 2011.
  • 2012 Viognier – white jasmine, peach, nectarine, honeysuckle and dried fruit were the primary flavors that I tasted.  Another delicious, complex wine.
  • 2011 Escondrijo – this was a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Petite Syrah with notes of raspberry, cherry, licorice, black tea and spice. Yum.
  • 2010 Barbareno – a blend of Syrah and petite sirah with floral, cherry, mocha and spice.  Great depth and layers in this wine. 
  • 2010 Nectar de Refugio – a honeyed, complex dessert wine that was a wonderful end to a wonderful day.

 

Interesting fact – in spite of a drought over the last three years, the region and vineyard is on target for another great harvest year and no one can explain why.  The climate is unique – Jeff talked about letting the wine “hang out.”  It takes patience, perseverance and confidence, he said, to let the wines do what they do.  And as the former winemaker for Star Ranch, he has quite the resume to understand the entire sales/marketing function and how to uniquely position the value proposition of Refugio Ranch.  As a marketing person, I have to say the tasting notes just rocked as he described the wines in detail as well as the perfect dish to go with every wine.

 

He talked a lot about terroir or a sense of place, which connects wine to the land.  We had a soulful experience with good friends, great wine, tasty food, a few chickens and a very special vineyard.


Going Rogue: A Guide to the Best Parties at the Wine Bloggers Conference

Robert Larsen, the Ringmaster of Rogue 

During the conference, I was lucky enough to get invited to a few really cool private events that we later coined #goingrogue.   After the fantastic tasting at Star Vineyards, a small group was invited to Rodney Strong’s 25th anniversary “silver” dinner at Root 246.  Rachel Voorhees and Robert Larsen came dressed to impress – and several of the ladies followed suit.

The Ladies and Willie the Photobomber

 

It was an awesome dinner featuring a wide selection of Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum wines.  Rodney Strong people are my kind of people and I did chuckle when I saw our small little group was out trending the overall conference.  Never underestimate the power of a fun group of bloggers.

The next evening, the much anticipated Jordan and J Wineries after-party took place.  Over the years, I’ve seen this party bring everything from sabering (this one was successful) to random people walking the floors in robes to dancing to the great unknown.  That’s the joy.  What continued was a line-up of Jordan and J’s best wines and the chance to taste through a number of verticals.  

QBP in da house

One constant was the Cornerstone Cellars/Steppingstone Cellars suite hosted by Craig Camp, one guy who really gets bloggers.  I have always been a fan of these wines and find they change each year depending on the harvest.  They truly have a sense of place – whether it is Howell Mountain, Napa Valley or Willamette Valley.  I have never tried one that I haven’t enjoyed and the entire line-up from rose to white to red was featured.  It was at Craig’s party that I finally got to try Ed Thrall’s wine, which was also delicious and you never can underestimate the power of heart shaped tub to get iPhones snapping pics.  Craig also hosted us for a really fun dinner the night of the Wine Blogger Awards and we had a blast!  

 Tenley Fohl, Photo Credit

Keith Saarloos and Andrew Murray, Tenley Fohl: Photo Credit

Another really cool event was the Authentic Press party sponsored by Shawn Burger (@awanderingwino) that brought together a number of smaller family producers from Santa Barbara at the Sarloos and Sons tasting room as well as some of the best pizza that I’ve ever tasted from Bello Forno Pizza.  The wineries included Ampelos, Andrew Murray, Nacido/Solomon Hills, Cebada, Lindley, Native9, Palmina, Roark, Saarloos & Sons, Storm and Tercero as well as Fig Mountain Brew.

The vibe was cool and very Santa Barbara.  I found out after the fact that Nicholas Miller from Bien Nacido/Solomon Hills is one of the top 40 under 40 influencers in the wine industry; James Ontiveros, who was from Alta Maria and Native9 was recently co-awarded the farmer of the year; and Michael Benedict, is known for planting the first pinot noir with Richard Sanford in Santa Barbara County.   

I got to visit with Keith Saaroos when I tasted through their wines (and quickly bought a case).  I loved the tenants of the winery taught from him and by looking at the website:

  • “We are farmers first and foremost – the wines are 100 percent estate grown by the family.”  They name the wines after family members or roles within the family. It’s fun.
  •  There are no tasting notes – it’s your decision what you taste – and wines are only sold at the tasting room.  I love this. 
  •  Winemaking is voodoo.  Nuff said.
  •  The Saarloos family planted each and every vine about 15 years ago.
  •  Wine is for every one – not just rich people.
  •  Winemakers drink beer and scotch.
  •  No snobs are allowed. 

Wes Hagen, Close Pepe Winemaker and Host With the Most

The very last night, after the conference had ended, Wes Hagen and Wil Fernandez hosted a party to meet local winemakers and local musicians at Clos Pepe Vineyard’s.  It was everything that I came to love about Santa Barbara – the vibe, the non-corporate sponsors, the wine makers, farmers, musicians and bloggers having a great conversation.  The foods and the wines were local and plentiful and Wes showed his prowess with a pizza oven.

The wine makers were asked to bring wines for a brown bag tasting (like 90 plus of them) that included the wine that influenced them to make wine as well as a selection from the winery.  I also had a chance to talk to OCD Brewing who made an incredible mango habanero saison that made me re-evaluate the fact I don’t drink much beer.

Jeff Kralik Shows Pizza Prowess 

Jeff’s “Bless Your Heart” Sabering Moment

As usual, Wes was quotable and I was able to experience Jeff’s not so successful sabering experience.  A quick word about Jeff, who became our entertainment for the evening.  He’s true Renaissance man – from making and dropping pizzas to being the most tenacious man in the world on sabering a champagne bottle.  Jeff, perhaps we should under-promise and over-deliver in 2015.

 It was an incredible end to quite an incredible conference.


Come for the Private Events: Stay for the Conference

The Wine Bloggers Conference was awesome, but it’s hard for 300 plus people to have the kind of conversations that lead to the stories that I love to tell.  Ironically, of the 39 pages of notes that I took during my time in Santa Barbara, only 12 of them came from my time at #wbc14.  I had the same trend with my photos as well. 

There were many highlights from #wbc14 including being able to catch up with many dear friends.  For $95, this is the deal of the century.  I think that there are a lot of bloggers like me that would pay more for some of the intimate experiences we were able to have by going off the beaten path. 

Our keynote at #wbc was Corbett Barr of Fizzle, a site that helps people make their thing online (their words, not mine).  Corbett had spot on advice for many of us who work to balance the content of our blog with what our readers find valuable.  He had six tenants that he outlined. They were all basic, but a good reminder:

  • Character trumps credentials.  You guys know that all I try to do is tell my story of wine. I have never claimed to be an expert or the right credentials.
  • Differentiate – does the world really need another wine review site?  While I review the wines that I sample and enjoy, I don’t think you guys really want a Dallas Wine Chick rating of these wines.
  • What if you work hard, but don’t get results?  Then you need to re-evaluate what you are doing, get out of your comfort zone and solicit feedback.  Kind of like what you should do when you find yourself in this situation in your life.
  • What is my content is good, but no one is reading?  Hope is not a marketing strategy, he said (love this).  I remember in the early days of starting my blog, I felt like the only folks reading were related to me.  But, I kept plugging and you guys came (thank you).
  • Your blog is not a business.  The goal of Dallas Wine Chick is not to make money, but to fuel my passion for wine.  Check.
  • 1+1=3.  Meaning that you are the average of the people you spend time with – get engaged, make friends with other bloggers, brainstorm with them.  Engage in a Mastermind 101 session where you talk about ideas, consort on great subjects and share your experiences.  I have the QBP (queen bitches posse) that have done this informally for some time now.  And, I loved my column with @NormalWine about the World Cup.  More to come there.

This was followed by a panel of winemakers from Santa Barbara County moderated by one of my favorite winemakers, Larry Schaffer from Tercero Wines.  The presentation wasn’t working so I have to rely on my notes.  We had some of the stalwarts – Ken Brown from Ken Brown Wines, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa Winery, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Richard Longoria of Longoria Wines.  They underscored their passion about the region and how their love of the region is answered in their wines.  As Ken Brown said, “the best is yet to come here.  We have a commitment to make quality wines and are lucky to do it in such a beautiful and special place.”

We did the usual speed tasting, which is something you either love or hate.  I love getting to try wines that I would never be exposed to, but I truly wish we could strike box and supermarket wine (Bandit) from the line-up. But, hanging with Larry from Tercero, I did laugh through the entire question session.  For the whites, my favorites included the 2012 Consilence Viognier, 2012 Jordan Chardonnay, 2013 Buttonwood Zingy Sauvignon Blanc and the 2013 Grassini Sauvignon Blanc.  The red favs included 2012 Labyrinth Pinot Noir, the 2012 Garnet Pinot Noir and the 2011 Vineyard 511 Cabernet.  Delicious. 

We moved to a breakout session from Winebow – When the Sum is Greater than its Parts: Wine Blends from Around the World.  Sheri Sauter Morano, MW, who has taught other #wbc Winebow events, was great and underscored the importance of making sure blends only occur when the resulting wine is superior to each component.  We tried seven blends that were somewhat obscure – I wish there was one that would have been easier to guess in the line-up, but I was happy to learn.  I did okay guessing region, but some of the blending elements were unknown to me.  We tried the following wines – the 2008 Juve Y Camps Reserva de la Familia, 2013 Tasca D’Almerita Regaleali Bianco Sicilia IGT, 2013 Weingut Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz, 2012 Fattoria Le Pupille Morelino di Scansano DOCG, 2011 Wine & Soul Quinta da Manoella Red, 2011 Bodega Renacer Enamore and 2010 Cousino-Macul Finis Terrae.

Then the madness began.  The buses were leaving for the Santa Barbara blogger excursions.  This is tough because you have large groups of friends who want to hang together, but the buses only take a certain number of people.  I was lucky enough to get on a fun bus and with a great group of people.  This was when I was able to observe Jeff Kralick in his native habitat – first pole dancing on the bus and then with a sabering incident.  For the record, I did see him successfully saber a bottle at the Jordan afterparty.

We went to Zaca Mesa Vineyards as well as Andrew Murray Vineyards, where many of the winemakers we have gotten to know around the region poured wines that they couldn’t pour en masse.  We had a bus that broke down (and was quickly replaced) by the region, great food, awesome wines and lots of laughs. 

One of my favorite sessions the next day was the Ballard Canyon Grower Producer Wineries where we did a deep dive into the fabulous syrahs of the region.  We started with a bevy of jokes about the misunderstood grape – what’s the difference between a case of syrah and a case of pneumonia?  Much easier to get rid of pneumonia.  People, wake up – these are fabulous wines. 

We learned that Ballard County has “somewhereness” – meaning it has unique climate, chalk and limestone soil, great fruit and a sense of place.  Patrick Comiskey from Wine & Spirits, along with a panel of eight winemakers, talked and tasted the group through the wines from Beckmen Vineyards, Larner Vineyard, Kimsey Vineyard, Jonata Wines, Harrison Clarke, Rusack and Stolpman Vineyards.  Sarrloos and Sons also attended, but had sold out of its syrah.  I was able to rectify getting my hands on some of their wines at an afterparty I’ll write about in the next post.   

Mike Larner from Larner Vineyards talked about how there is clarity in the wines.  Keith Saarloos talked about the soulfulness of syrah.  They are both right – there is depth.  And spice.  And passion.  And herbs.  And flowers.  And big berry flavors.  And art.  And just loveliness.

That theme continued with any wine that I tried from the region.  I’m putting my theory to action in Dallas and trying any wine that I can find with a Santa Barbara delineation.  So far, I’ve impressed my friends with a Grenache and Syrah that I ordered on a leap of faith.

    


July Wine Roundup: Top 10 from my Last Tasting

This tasting included 18 wines from California and Italy.  We toggled between a selection of Proseccos from Mionetto and a selection of California wines.  Here’s the top 10 list:

Italy

Sparkling

Mionette Prosecco Luxury Cartizze – a very nice dry sparkling wine with notes of apple, pear, flowers and baked bread.  It had a bit of sweetness to it, but was a nice expression.

Mionette Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene Millesimato – this had green apple, tropical fruit and some citrus.  Another nice expression of Prosecco with a bit of nuttiness.

Mionette Prosecco Cuvee Luxury Valdobbiadene Superiore — this was elegant and creamy with apple, pear and floral notes.  This was my personal favorite of the proseccos.

California

Rose

Cornerstone Cellars Corallina Rose 2013 — for someone who is not typically in love with roses, this was my kind of rose.  It had vivid notes of strawberry and raspberry, but avoided what I call the “jolly rancher” syndrome.  It had great minerality, dryness and fruit.  Another delightful wine.

White 

J Pinot Gris 2013 – this is the wine that saved an otherwise crappy birthday due to a work crisis that started my day at 5 a.m.  Full of pear, orange blossom and citrus with a great minerality.  One glass of this (and my sweet family) made my day much better.

Zenato Lugana di San Benedetto DOC 2012 – stone fruit, citrus, tropical fruit and herbal notes.  This was a great summer refresher.

Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – this was hands down the favorite white wine of the bunch.  Full of tropical fruits, citrus, orange blossom and minerality, this was a fantastic expression of Sauvignon Blanc.  Yum!

Red

Byron Pinot Noir 2012 – cherry cola, black cherry, cinnamon and mocha with a nice earthiness made this a Pinot Noir that merited a (quick) second sip.  I enjoyed the Burgundian style.

Edmeades Mendocino County Zinfandel 2012 – blackberry, black pepper, vanilla, chocolate, cherry and I think I even got graham cracker.  I liked the richness of this wine and the different layers I uncovered as I sipped.

Stepping Stone Cabernet Franc 2011 – meaty, green pepper, tobacco, basil, spice and blackberry with a great sense of balance.  This wine can be enjoyed with food, without food, with friends… but once you take a sip, you may want to keep it all for yourself.  I want to age this bottle and see the magic that happens.


WBC Pre-Trip: A Glimpse into the Soul of Santa Barbara Wine

Larry Schaffer, Tercero Wines

Our WBC journey began with bread.  And yeast.  And really good wine.  What I found about the Santa Barbara region is that it has a soul.  It’s real, it’s eclectic, it’s quotable and it’s incredibly real.  It’s something that you can’t get with a cursory look, which is why I am so glad for the experiences that were planned outside the conference – because by the time I got there, I got it.

We started first with Larry Schaffer, the winemaker and owner of Tercero Wines, who began the week a stranger and ended as up in our circle of friends.  Larry’s got a fun background – he started out as a financial analyst in the music industry and evolved into a role doing sales and marketing for a publishing company.  In 2001, he wanted a change and became intrigued with the grape to glass concept.  Fast forward to a degree from UC Davis, a job at Fess Parker for six years and then to his own label.

Larry’s personality is larger than life and he held his own with our group … and then some.  He kept his comedic timing and composure until https://twitter.com/marcygordon asked him, “If he had always been interested in all things yeast?”  At that point all bets were off and we officially were added to his chalkboard of funny and snarky things people said. 

Tercero (“Third”) was named because Larry is a third child and he has three kids.  His wines were incredible – I took home a mixed case of the 2012 Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Grenache.  He talked about the similarities of a winemaker to an artist.  “Wine should be like art,” he said.  “Every wine reflects the unique vintage, vineyards and experience of the winemaker.”

Mikael Sigouin, Winemaker for Beckmen and Kaena

We also went to Beckmen where we met Hawaiian native Mikael Sigouin, the winemaker for both Beckmen and Kaena.    Mikael talked about Grenache being like a guitar riff – he has eight different compositions of Grenache from seven different places.  We went through the elements of each of the Grenaches – and it was amazing to see the differences.  In the wines, we experienced music – from Bruno Mars to Michael Jackson to Prince.

We ended our evening with a group dinner at the Hitching Post and a stay at the same Day’s Inn featured in the movie Sideways.   Very old school, very fun and yes, we did drink f’in merlot.

The Texas Bloggers Get ‘Photobombed’ by Photographer George Rose

The next day we were invited to a very special tasting seminar “Santa Barbara: Drinking in the Differences” at Star Lane Winery, to truly experience Santa Barbara wines.  I can’t tell you how thankful I was to be included in this special day underwritten by the San Francisco Wine School and the wineries.   Fred Swan, Master Sommelier David Glancy and more than 20 winemakers and owners took us through the different Santa Barbara Country AVAs. 

The Central Coast is an incredibly diverse region made up of 250 miles of coastline and is comprised of ten very diverse counties – from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.  It’s California’s largest AVA with four million total acres in which more than 100,000 are under vine and with more than 360 wineries.  And the sense of place is very different – there’s no standard climate, temperature or soil.  In the last three years, 200 new wineries have opened.   Two river valleys – the Santa Maria River and the Santa Ynez River Valley are the two binders.

The region has a storied and long history beginning in 1782 when Junipero Serra planted the first vines.  Four years later, the Santa Barbara Mission was established.  Sadly this came to a screeching halt in 1920 with Prohibition and the wineries didn’t begin producing again until 1962.  Today the region has five AVAs (with more in progress), has 50 varieties of wines and is incredibly diverse by regions/AVAs due to the temperature.

We tried 22 wines from the different AVAs – everything from sparkling wine, dry Riesling, Riesling, Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, white blends, chardonnay, pinot noir, grenache and syrah from Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA (which must be spelled this way due to the Chilean winery), Ballard Canyon AVA, Los Olivos District AVA and Happy Canyon AVA.  The wineries that participated included Riverbench, Fess Parker, Municipal Winemakers, Dragonette, Presqu’ile, Star Lane, Brander, Jonata, Solomon Hills, Clos Pepe, Melville, Bien Nacido, Chanin, Foxen, Tercero, Qupe, Samsara and Stolpman.

My observations, which continued to be reinforced during and post conference, were as follows:

  • This is an underappreciated region.  The wines are diverse. The wines are unique.  The wines are amazing.  The wines have a true sense of place.  You need to seek out these wines.
  • The people here were great.  Wes Hagen, the winemaker for Clos Pepe said it best, “wine is liquid humanism.  We need to inspire the imagination of the people that drink own wines.”  I have never met a more down to earth group of people that have gathered together in their sense of place – it’s collegial, it’s fun and most importantly, it’s real.  You can see it as the winemakers helped each other go through the AVA application process to the banter about terrior, climate and grapes.  These are people that you want to party with later.

As Larry said at the end of the day, “we want to tell the story of our wines not by talking, but by what is in the glass.”   Tyler Thomas, the winemaker for Star Vineyards, added, “this region features great wine made by great vineyards and great people.” 


Lessons I Learned from Cards Against Humanity at the Wine Blogger’s Conference 2014

I sit here straddling the line between (i) the euphoria of attending the Wine Bloggers Conference with so many amazing people in a region that I fell in love with (ii) trying to catch up on the reality of all the work I ignored (because after all, pros hydrate and execs don’t make career limiting decisions after a day of tasting).  I’m taking a few days to truly absorb all that I learned about the regions, the wines and the people before I begin my recaps.

But, those articles are expected.  What isn’t expected is there was more than wine that brought people together.  Reflecting back on past conferences, this is not a new phenomena

This year, it was Cards against Humanity.  It is a multi-player party game often compared to the kids game “Apples for Apples.”  It shouldn’t be.  It’s politically incorrect and dark.  It often has unexpected results where the least likely suspect comes up with the worst possible answer that leaves you laughing so hard you are crying.  

I think Jason Graham summed it up the best with his Tweet above. Jason, I have to tell you it was priceless.  As I look back, I realize if I had read the “Cards” prior, I might have been better prepared.  (Full disclosure: I chose the PG13 version as the others would result in an instant flagging by HR and IT in the workplace).   If you are easily offended, do not buy this game.  There is nothing Apples for Apples about it except the format.

Observation #1 (Never get in the car with strangers)

It all started with the pre-trip.  After leaving Tercero Winery and en route to Keana Winery, we came to screeching and sudden stop.  Standing on the side of the road next to us was fellow blogger, Frank Morgan.  “Frank Morgan, get in the car, we screamed.”  After realizing that he either had no choice or he was not about to disappear without a trace, he did. 

Observation #2 (Wayne’s World) and Observation #3 (passive aggressive behavior)

An email came out prior to the conference with a strong caution of attending unsanctioned events.  As a marketing person by day, I understand how important sponsors are to keeping the prices down for the rest of us. But after a few days, it felt a little like a Wayne’s World commercial with the big sponsors, who did throw some great events, eclipsing the regional guys.

We had some amazing opportunities presented to us and if I had not gone to these unsanctioned events, I never would have seen the diversity of those wines nor understood the complexity of the region. That was the essence of why I’m there and I’m non-apologetic for attending them.  At the end of the day, the non-sanctioned events created the own hashtag #goingrogue and a lot of unnecessary drama.  We are not 5 year olds to be spanked with a jelly shoe at the local K-mart. 

Observation #4 (Bless your heart)

The South and my Southern accent, which is exasperated when I am drinking wine, was a topic of conversation.  We also talked about the true meaning of the Southern phrase “bless your heart,” which has many meanings – none of them nice.

Observation #5 (The King of Pop rocks any party)

One of my favorite moments coming back from the Rodney Strong 25th anniversary dinner after a great evening of food, wine, friends and silver-themed clothes was when the Michael Jackson videos began on the bus.  Mary Cressler and I had a ball breaking into song and dance.  Let’s just say I should stay solely with dance.

Observation #6 (what you need to know you learned in kindergarten and don’t become a hashtag)

Come on people.  If you are going to complain about every single detail of the conference from the food to the wine to the organization, do not come. We don’t want to deal with your diatribes at every turn.  Every other conference that I’ve ever attended had a 5x cost (at least) and $95 is a hell of a deal. 

Also do not assume that just because an attendee is invited to an event, they have the ability to add you to an often small pre-configured guest list.  It’s up to the organizer who is on the list and they have to plan in advance. It’s uncomfortable for everyone.  

Observation #7 (the power of a good group of friends and just say no to #gentlemassage)

Missing Many Key People Who I Adore…

From the very beginning on Twitter, I had a great group of people that I knew would always have my back.  I have learned from them, I have laughed with them, I have toured with them and I sure have consumed a lot of wine with them.  As they proved this year when someone stepped out of line (#gentlemassage), they completely have my back.  We live all over the country.  If it weren’t for the Wine Bloggers Conference, I would be missing out of one of my favorite times to catch up with this special group. 

For the 27 people who played Cards against Humanity in our room over a two night period, there is a reason why we are good friends.  Thanks for the laughter, good wine and the memories.


 




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