Archived entries for White Wine 

A Conversation with Cyril Chappellet: Life, Legacy and the Art of Making Good Wine

Sometimes time stops and you wish for just another hour to capture the many stories that you know are passing you by because you just don’t have enough time.  That happens a lot, but there are a couple of times that stick out to me in the almost six years that I’ve been writing this blog.  The first was in 2011 when I had the chance to sit down with Sparky Marquis from Mollydooker when he told me stories that he admitted he had never shared with the media about his family and his winery.  The second happened this month when I sat down with Cyril Chappellet, the Chairman of the Board of Chappellet Vineyards.  As with many great storytellers (and I hate to admit it), I think I ended up learning more about myself than I did about Cyril and his story.

We met at John Tesar’s Knife Restaurant, where I learned about the long friendship between Cyril and John that began when he decided to feature Chappellet Wines at the Sun Valley Wine Auction.  Cyril told me the pairings were unexpected and amazing. 

This brought us into a long discussion of wine and how it fosters great relationships because the wine passion is shared by so many people.  Wine brings about conversation, wine brings about sharing experiences and wine brings about stories that never would have happened without that one glass.

Cyril talked about how his parents set the tone of the winery and its mission.  His father, Donn Chappellet, who was instrumental in pioneering high-elevation vineyard planting, he describes as an introvert.  Prior to the winery, Donn co-founded Interstate United Corporation, a food service business that distributed the first vending machines to make coffee from grounds, and became a publicly-traded company.  Donn first traveled to Napa with his wife, Molly, from Los Angeles and decided to start a new life there with the winery as the center of the family business. 

He described his mother, Molly, as the extrovert – an artist, a published author, a mom of six and the aesthetic “czarina” of all things Pritchard Hill, the site of the winery.   From his description, she moves 1,000 miles a minute, knows every inch of vineyard topography and is currently masterminding a number of projects from writing the book for the winery’s 50-year anniversary, which debuts in 2017.

They chose Pritchard Hill where they fell in love with the view and had the notion that the God Bacchus would be generous to the hills.  This was further validated by Andre Tchelistcheff, one of the valley’s early wine pioneers.  The love affair with Cabernet Sauvignon was born, which had led to the second generation of family members dedicated to growing the best grapes, sustaining the land and continuing the legacy started by their parents.  I was also struck by the extended family of long-time employees, Winemaker Phillip Carallo-Titus and Vineyard Manager Dave Pirio, who have solid relationships with growers in the business and have secured legendary grapes from some of the best names in the industry based on those relationships.  In fact, Phillip was instrumental in Cyril’s decision to acquire Sonoma-Loeb.  In 1973, Ambassador John Loeb Jr began growing grapes and hired Titus to also make the wines.  After two centuries, the Ambassador approached the Chappellet family and they jumped at the opportunity to buy the property thanks to Titus’ amazing work with some of Sonoma county’s top growers including the Dutton and Sangiacomo families.

We then tasted through the wines which many are attributed to many family members by name.  Before I go into the details, I want to comment on the unique view of collaboration within Chappellet and how forward thinking it is.  Cyril told me about how a close knit group of winemakers work together to double blind taste wines that can cost three times the price of the Chappellet wines.  Cyril believes that understanding the nuances of the regions, wines, terroir and flavor profile makes their wines better. 

2013 Signature Chenin Blanc – Cyril referred to this as “mom’s wine.”  It includes her signature, label and bottle choice.  It was very crisp and delicious – with notes of peach, orange blossom, lemongrass, floral notes and minerality.

2013 Chappellet Napa Valley Chardonnay —  sourced by grapes outside of the family vineyard, this Old World style wine had notes of lemon, tropical fruits with spice, caramel and orange blossom.  This was a great Chardonnay.

2013 Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Chardonnay – this was more of a traditional California chardonnay with butterscotch, nectarine, almond and cinnamon. 

2013 Sonoma-Loeb Russian River Pinot Noir – this was an awesome iteration of a Russian River Valley Pinot at a fraction of the price – especially for the quality of the block that it originates.  It had notes of black cherry, earth, chocolate and spice.

2013 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – this is the flagship wine and the wine that put the family on the map showing the beautiful fruit and bounty for the Hillside vineyards.  This was a fantastic, elegant and a wine made for aging, yet drinkable today.  Big notes of chocolate, cassis, spice, mocha, spice, blackberry and sandalwood.  The quality and price ratio of as this wine as compared to those sold for three times the cost on the same hill is amazing. 

Recently a marketing consultant gave the winery the sage advice that they are charging too little.  Cyril didn’t jump to raise prices.  He talked about over delivering on quality and the legacy that he wants to leave to the next generation – turn over a better business; and the coolest thing, turn over the land in better shape than he found it meaning sustainability, farming and improving the quality of the vineyard operation.  And of course, the wines – they need to continue to be worthy of the Chappellet legacy.

We ended on the subject of passion – loving what you do and doing what you love. I’m at a turning point in my life and Cyril’s advice to me about taking that next jump and not settling was exactly what I needed to hear to solidify my choice.  More to come on that…

November Wine Round Up

This was probably the biggest wine review period with the fewest favorites.  We tried more than 25 wines and only four made the cut.


2014 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – full of lime and grapefruit with lemongrass and a balanced minerality.  Even though this wine went on record as the second earliest harvest in 30 years, it was a great expression of terroir and sauvignon blanc.

2014 Cornerstone Corallina Syrah Rose – the website describes this wine as “not an afterthought” and a wine with purpose. Its purpose is to convert a room full of self-described non Rose drinkers into fans.  Juicy berries, vanilla, raspberry, cherry and floral notes make this a delicious apéritif or a wine that stands on its own.


2012 Kudos Reserve Pinot Noir – red berries, earthiness and notes of black cherry make this a Tuesday night kind of wine. 

2013 Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black – this wine style dates back to Prohibition, which is when the family first planted vineyards in California, which may have been used during this time to make wine for “medicinal” purposes.  It’s a big wine – deep blackberry jam, mocha, fig and caramel and needs some food as an accompaniment. 

Cabernet Day – A Little Late

Smith and Hook Vineyards, which are Central Coast-based vineyards, sent me a vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon in honor of #cabernetsauvignonday. 

2011 Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted notes of chocolate, blackberry, spice, black currant and this was elegant and smooth.  I liked the aging process and felt that with some decanting this wine showed its true colors.

2012 Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine was much more concentrated with notes of berry, black cherry, herbs and cherry cola. 

2013 Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon – I tasted mocha, blackberry, plum, boysenberry, licorice and spice. 

And Something Fun

For the wine lover who has everything, here is a fun customer monogram wine tote from CBreeze Design.  Lots of fabrics and monograms to choose from – mine came with a DWC (Dallas Wine Chick monogram).  If you use the coupon code “15off” you get 15 percent off your order thanks to CBreeze Design.

Oak Celebrates Four Years While Kathyrn Hall Throws a Texas-Style Party to Celebrate the Next Vintage

The past seven days in Dallas have showcased that fact that our city has become competitive with other traditionally known “foodie cities.”  After attending last weekend’s Chefs for Farmers Event, I was invited to two milestone events for chefs, and a winemaker who helped put Dallas on the map.

Chef Partner John Tesar and Tiffanee and Richard Ellman hosted about a hundred people at a four-year anniversary celebration for Oak Restaurant.  The wine was flowing and there were some amazing hors d’oeuvres passed to the hip crowd — many of those coming from the surrounding showrooms in the design district.

The other big event was the Kathryn Hall release party debuting the new releases of the Hall Cabernets and the Walt Pinot Noirs.  Kathryn Walt Hall and her husband, Craig, the proprietors of Hall and Walt Wines have deep ties to Dallas.  Kathryn was very active in politics and was a top runner in the Dallas Mayoral Race and then was the United States Ambassador to Austria.  She’s been a successful business owner, attorney and is very active in the Arts community.  Craig Hall is chairman and founder of Dallas-based Hall Financial Group, a former owner of the Dallas Cowboys and is active in Dallas real estate and philanthropy.

So it wasn’t surprising that the attire called for a mix of Texas cocktail attire and was held at the newly established Hall Arts Building.  An attendee told me that they attended a dinner a few months back at the building and there was a wine cellar that was amazing.  However, I wasn’t able to confirm that as the party was in full swing.

The party was packed with several hundred people, the wines were flowing (love that red label Cabernet Sauvignon) and the food stations were prepared with foods that would go well with the wine.

The party was a true combination of the passions of the Hall Family, wine, art and real estate.  I love that their business story started in Dallas.

Chefs For Farmers: A Noah’s Ark Plan for Contigency

It was deemed the Down Home No Fuss Culinary Event of the Year.  However, Dallas weather decided anything but No Fuss was going to be in order.  Chefs for Farmers (CFF) is typically an outdoor event that brings together about 3,500 Dallasites to celebrate our farmers with great food, drink and entertainment.  Overnight, co-founder Iris Midler, who was responsible for helping bring this vision to life and clearly was Matlock in another life, and her team moved 120 vendors from an outdoor event to an indoor event at Gilleys.  You absolutely would have never known.  As someone who knows what it takes to pull off something of this magnitude without Noah’s Ark and a collapsed parking garage in play, I am in awe of this team. 

The wine was flowing, the Texas brews were poured, and the chefs were preparing a buffet beyond comprehension — from a biscuit bar to gumbo to oysters and every gourmet configuration of beef, pork, lamb and seafood that you can fathom.  Glaziers did a great Sommelier wine table, Veuve Cliquot was pouring freely and there were some great wine labels from California and Oregon who hosted their own table.  Live bands, including the one led by Dean Fearing, were playing and it was definitely a party vibe.

Omar Florez, Casa Rubio

The mission of CFF is to bring chefs, artisans, and culinary influencers together to celebrate supporting local and regional farmers at a three-day culinary blowout, a new transition this year.  By the numbers there were 35 farms and food artisans, 60 chefs, 15 beer and spirits, 42 wineries and total attendance of 3,500.  And the most important thing – this event netted $25,000.

It was clear that Dallas took the stage on a national level with this event.  My favorite quote came from Justin Brunson from the Old Major in Denver.  “Support local farmers, not those $*&$#@ factory-to-table restaurants,” he said.  Can I get an amen?

October Wine Round-Up

It’s October and there’s been so much going on that I haven’t done a wine round up since before the Wine Blogger’s Conference this Summer.  As the wine continues to stack up and makes my personal work space much more contained (I know, wine blogger problems…), I thought I’d go through a few wines that I did have the opportunity to try.

The company where I work is in the process of refreshing its brand, which is a big deal for any company but even more so for a company that has had the same look and feel for 31 years.  My team has been working hard so I wanted to open some wine for them.  The Liberated Wines had a tagline of “Free Yourself from Convention” with branded personas for each wine so those were the wines that we opened.

We tried the 2014 Liberated Sauvignon Blanc which was a nice crisp wine with notes of lime, a good balance, floral notes and tropical fruit.  The 2013 Liberated Pinot Noir was also balanced with notes of cherry cola, earthiness and a touch of earthiness.

I had also received the Vinomaster wine opener to try. Usually Thirsty Thursday has a minimum of five bottles and sometimes up to ten.  Most of the time the heavy lifting or uncorking is on my shoulders.  I have a lot of openers in my office and I’ve tried a lot of wine accessories.  The Vinomaster made it simple.  Center the bottle, pull down and then up.  Viola.  The wine is open.  It came well packaged and will now make my life so much easier.  I’ve seen it listed between $60-80 US, but it’s currently on Amazon with a Prime Membership at $36.

Auburn Football, College Friends and Legendary Wine

My family and Jay Jacobs, Auburn’s Athletic Director

The day started out with sunshine and a perfect 65 degrees.  It was time for some Auburn football. If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I am an Auburn fan.  I was brought to the prettiest campus in the SEC for a day of steering committee meetings – one for the Auburn Athletics Department and one for the School of Communications.  My family joined me after the meetings on Friday night and our host, Auburn Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs, completely rolled out the “orange and blue” carpet.

The Daniels and Ofenloch Families

We met up with some dear friends – a college roommate and her husband, who along with my husband, might have well have lived alongside us in our college days – and our families.  It’s always an interesting experience to pretend to be an adult with friends that you’ve known since the early days…

My family, including my ten-year-old daughter who has never known what it means to sit in the student section, was led down to the field and we experienced the joy and energy of watching people file into the stadium.  We watched Tiger, the eagle, fly onto the field while being mere feet away from the players.  Awe inspiring…. Then we had another experience – an Auburn suite, which was beneficial as it began raining during the game and the temperature started to plummet.

It was a good game but much closer than I had hoped.  Friends from the Athletic Council, Nancy and Randy Campbell, who happened to be the senior quarterback from the 1983 Auburn National Championship team, invited us back to their place.  The Campbell’s – other than being one of the most fun couples to hang out with, have impeccable taste in wine and the bottles started to open and the glasses were flowing.

It was a day that wine, football, family and friends intersected perfectly.

I’m on a Boat: My Post Conference Trip to the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail

Just like that the conference was over and we were on our final post trip journey for #wbc15.  This excursion took us to the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, an area that claims to not only be the oldest in the region, but the oldest in the entire U.S.  The wine trail consists of 16 wineries, a cidery, a meadery and four distilleries. 

Our journey from the Radisson took about an hour and a half by bus.  The conference organizers had enough foresight to arrange for Aaron Roisen of Hosmer Winery and Jeff Houck of Lucas Vineyards to talk to us about the region during the ride. 

The group of around 50 folks was split in two with one group tasting first at Thirsty Owl Wine Company and the second group beginning at Goose Watch Winery, which is where I began.  While at Goose Watch, we tasted wines from Treleaven by King Ferry Winery, Long Point Winery, Montezuma Winery & Hidden Marsh Distillery, Swedish Hill Vineyard, Knapp Winery, Buttonwood Grove Winery and Varick Winery & Vineyards. We had some nice wines, but my favorites were the Rieslings and sparkling from Knapp Vineyards as well as the tasting experience provided by Varick Winery with some off the beaten path foods.

After traveling to the dock and then by boat to Thirsty Owl, we tried wines from Toro Run Winery, Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery, Hosmer Winery, Lucas Vineyards, Bellwether Hard Cider and Wine Vineyards, Americana Vineyards and Six Mile Creek Vineyard.  About five years ago, Lucas Vineyards was my first experience with Finger Lakes Riesling and I was excited to see that I enjoyed rediscovering it just as much as I did the first time I tried it.  The Bellwether Cherry Street Cider, which was bursting with cherries, also impressed.  Cider is not usually my drink of choice but give this to me any hot Texas day and I’d be happy.

Liza Swift, Steve DiFrancesco (Glenora Winemaker) and me

We then journeyed to Knapp where Executive Chef John McNabb prepared dinner for us.  Knapp was founded in 1984 and was the first Finger Lakes winery to plant and vinify Cabernet Franc.  It was sold to its current owners, Gene Pierce and Scott Welliver, in 2000.  Knapp opened the Vineyard Restaurant in 1992, becoming the first winery restaurant on Cayuga Lake.  We sampled a ton of food and more wines from the region while walking the grounds of the vineyard.

The wineries went above and beyond to make us feel at home in discovering the food and the wine of the region.  Once we reached the lobby of the Radisson, we all stayed true to this week’s behavior – we grabbed left over wine, distilled spirits and cider, socializing in the lobby until the wee hours.

Another Wine Bloggers Conference … Another Compilation Article… My Time in the Finger Lakes at #wbc15

Liza Swift, My Trusted Roomie for Five Years Running

It’s been about three weeks since I got back from the Wine Blogger’s Conference (#wbc15) in the Finger Lakes and it’s always a struggle to encapsulate such an amazing exploration into the wine and the region along with the personal stories that make the conference.  Most of us take the easy way out and do a compilation article, well…including me.

So here it goes. 

#1 – Prepare to check what you think you know at the door.  I knew that I’d taste some great Rieslings and Cabernet Francs, but I didn’t expect the diversity that I discovered the conference.  I tasted roses, sparking wines, sauvignon blancs, chardonnays, albarinos, cabernet sauvignons and even merlots.  There are more than 100 wineries centered around the region’s four main lakes – Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka and Canandaigua – and more than 400 wineries overall with such diversity in the terroir.  These wineries yield 90 percent of the New York wine produced each year.  Then there is Long Island, which we didn’t explore, which has approximately 25 varietals planted across 2,500 acres.  New York’s biggest issue is actually getting the wines out of the New York wine buying community on to a national stage. 

 My Bus Ride with Karen

#2 – Meet amazing people.  I was more than excited when Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible and accomplished wine expert and amazing writer, was named the keynote of the conference.  I admit I was a little in awe of her – moving to New York in her Volkswagen Bug with $6 in her pocket and taking on three jobs to make ends meet.  After 324 rejection slips, she received a $30 gig writing about butter in the Village Voice.  This launched her career.  Eventually, she was invited to attend tastings with a small group of men considered the who’s who in the New York wine community.  Karen told us “I didn’t talk for eight years – I just wanted access to the wines.” Clearly she found her own voice and worked for ten years on what became the first edition of the Wine Bible. 

Her advice – tell your story; find your style; hone your writing; know your subject well; and represent yourself well.  I loved her quote about never stripping wine of its culture. Karen said,” There is no way to understand Malbec without understanding the tango.” 

When she sat next to me on the bus to the wine excursion, I admit I was excited.  But we had such a fun conversation about wine, kids, work, the future and everything in between.  Everyone asked me what we talked about for almost two hours.  You know – it felt like an honest conversation with a new friend, so it won’t be part of my blog.  But, trust me, her next chapter will continue to change the wine world. 

Corron-Power, McNeal, Kim and Frank

The next day, my friend, Amy Powers Corron, moderated the Women in Wine panel of amazing women with Karen; Stevie Kim, founder of VinItaly; and Meaghan Frank, General Manager of Dr. Frank’s Winery in The Finger Lakes.  They talked about the generational differences that were apparent depending when they were moving up in the wine world.  Stevie’s presentation showed that the glass ceiling is still intact.  Women are lagging or almost non-existent in the top power positions. 

Rousseau and me

#3 – One person can make a difference (so can you – think about who you know).  I’m on the scholarship committee and I’ve been thinking about how we need more diversity in our blogging community.  My uncle happens to be the president of EthniFacts, a multicultural knowledge and insights consultancy.  We brainstormed how they might be a fit and they funded the “EthniFacts Diversity in Wine Writing Scholarship,” to encourage ethnic, gender and cultural diversity in the North American Wine Bloggers Conference attendees.  Then when my Facebook friend, Regine Rousseau of Shall We Wine! was named, the recipient, it became even more special.

Constance and her older Rieslings

Craig Camp’s Dinner

#4 – Color outside the lines. #goingrogue will continue.  There is a fine line between experiencing all the great things the conference has to offer and exploring the community and hanging out with friends.  This year, we stayed offsite at a really cool place just down the street from the Radisson.  It gave us the freedom to explore the restaurants – like Hand & Foot, which became the unofficial stopping point of the Wine Bloggers Conference crowd.  Going to Craig Camp’s Cornerstone offsite non-awards dinner was another classic moment of sitting down with my favorite people and drinking amazing wines.  Eating pizza with Robert Larsen from Rodney Strong Vineyards and Amy Gross of Wine4.Me along with Fox Run Vineyards and Anthony Road Wine Company.  From drinking vintage Riesling wines with Candace Chamberlain to hanging at the Jordan party to trying some amazing new release J McClelland Charbono with the gentlemen from Scotto Family Vineyards and swapping travel stories, was not something I would ever have wanted to have missed.

#5 – Just go where the tour takes you.  Every year people try to game the system and get on the “right bus tour.”  It took me five years to figure out that your chances of having an amazing time is pretty high.  Our tour, for example, took us to Glenora Wine Cellars.  Glenora Wine Cellars is the first winery to open on Seneca Lake in 1977. 

We had the chance to receive our “Master of Dosage.”  First, we chose our favorite method champenoise with either one percent residential sugar or 1.5 percent residual sugar.  Then we actually got to dose and bottle our own preference sparkling.  It was super cool and I was lucky enough to keep all my fingers intact thanks to the great training from Winemaker Steve DiFrancesco. 

We then moved into “A Finger Lakes Wine & Tapas Experience” featuring four wineries, four winemakers, four chefs and four farms. 

Our first course was the Lucky Dog Green Salad with Parmesan Potato Tuile and Ramp Vinaigrette by Chef Orlando Rodriguez of Genora Wien Cellars’ Veraisons Restaurant with the 06 Glenora Wine Cellars Brut.

We then moved to Duck Confit with Watermelon and Cucumber Relish with a Crispy Polenta from the Executive Chef at Zugibe Vineyards.  

We continued with a Cast Iron Seared American Kobe Steak with Blackberry Ketchup, Pommes Puree with First Light Feta and a Heavenly Cup Coffee Crouton from Sous Chef Sarah Hassler from Veraisons Restaurant at Glenora Wine Cellars.

Our final course was an Apricot Napoleon with a Salted Short Crust from Executive Chef John McNabb of Knapp Winery & Vineyard Restaurant with the 2014 Knapp Winery Riesling Ice Wine.

#6 – Attend the events beyond the conference.  Whether it’s the organized pre- and –post tours that really give you a glimpse into the region or another event that has been organized, like the Santa Barbara pre-conference seminar prior to last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, these are the sessions that allow you to really dig into a region. 

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

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

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

John Martini, Anthony Wine Company

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Osborn, Fox Run Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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