Archived entries for Wine Education

Grapefest: A Celebration of Grapes, the Vines and the City

For years, I have billed myself as someone “with a love of the grape and a collection to prove it.”  Ironically, I had never attended the largest wine festival in the Southwest.  Grapefest is in Grapevine, Texas, a suburb about 20 miles from Dallas.  Luckily, this is the year I could rectify that situation.

The city was founded in 1843 when General Sam Houston led representatives of the Republic of Texas to a meeting with members of 10 American Indian nations. They joined to negotiate a treaty of peace and friendship at Grape Vine Springs, also known as Tah-Wah-Karro Creek. The first settlers started arriving a year later and the city was named for the wild mustang grapes that grow abundantly in Texas.

For the past 31 years, Grapefest has entertained 150,000 patrons with wine tastings, special events, a variety of foods, a family Carnival and Midway as well as an interactive KidsWorld.  We brought our daughter, so some of the over 21 events like the People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic, the world’s largest consumer-judged wine competition, and the Texas Wine Tribute were off limits to us and we spent much more time on the Midway than normal.

 

 

But we got to enjoy the Champagne Terrace, we were a “celebrity” guest at the GrapeStomp (Team Dallas Wine Chicklet) and spent a lot of time in the wine pavilion tasting a variety of wines from the Central Coast in California and Barossa Valley in Australia.

 

We even spent a little time in the VIP room of Messina Hof’s first urban winery in Grapevine.  I discovered that a Texas winery is making two sparkling wines, which was a surprise to me.  The tasting room is located on the site of the former Wallis Hotel.  The winery had more than 40 different wines, tastings and premium flights, wines on tap and gourmet food items.

Grapefest is sponsored by Bank of the West and in 2012, Grapevine was named a World Festival and Event City by the International Festival and Events Association.  It was a great celebration of wine, winemakers and wineries.  While I’ll probably attend a few more adult-oriented tastings next year, it was a fun family event.


The Allstate Sugar Bowl: A Tale of Two Conferences, Wine and the Big Easy Experience

The Ofenloch and Stewart Families (thank you, Ed….)

This story involves wine, amazing food, dear friends, family, unrestricted access and a team that I love.  The backdrop of the story is in New Orleans – yes, the Big Easy – and the focus was Auburn University (my alma mater) playing The University of Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.  It was also a time to teach my 11-year-old daughter about winning and losing, being appreciative, enjoying the New Orleans experience and food (and yes, off of Bourbon Street, she’s 11….) and trying to instill in her that this was indeed a life experience and not how her parents experienced football in college.

We met two sets of good friends at the airport in Dallas.  One has an executive role with the Big 12 and he was the genie that granted access that would make a rock star jealous.  The others were our new neighbors who are very active and avid OU fans.  We pretty much were the only Auburn people on the plane and after the fifth round of “Boomer Sooner,” I had to let out a loud War Eagle.  Proud parent moment with my kiddo when she stood up and did it even louder.  It was one of those agree to disagree moments with our friends, but Morgan’s fearlessness made us all proud.

We arrived on New Year’s Eve and promptly went to Frankie and Johnny’s for a late lunch.  There the gluttony began as we sampled most of what the restaurant offers along with rounds of gin and tonics.  The food was great!

That took us through to the big gala party on New Year’s Eve, where we opened a bottle of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Champagne, which is billed as the most recognized rosé champagne in the world, as our pre-celebration.  This is such a great champagne, which is still made in the saignee method and whose bottle was inspired by King Henri IV.  It was vibrant, rich and wonderful with notes of berry, brioche, cherry and cassis.  It was absolutely the right start to bring in a new year.

John and Ed

Me and Amy

 Angie and Jay Jacobs, me and John

 

The party was amazing — it was a who’s who in the conference football world, the oysters and seafood were flowing and I was dancing my butt off (my favorite thing to do, but usually only happens once a year).  And, then we got the kiddo call around 11.  She wanted us to be back at the hotel with her when the ball dropped.  So, reluctantly, we made the good parent decision and decided that opening that bottle of 2013 Ehlers Estate J Leducq would ease the pain.  We complied and continued to drink wine back in the room.  This is a wine blog, what else did you expect?

Janice and Melanie, Big 12 Women That Make Things Happen, Amy and me

 Let’s Just Say There is a Reason I Outsource Crafts

 

The next morning, January 1st, I had the chance to be a part of the ladies Sugar Bowl event, where we met at Pat O’Briens, decorated our umbrellas and marched down Bourbon Street to a private lunch at Arnaud’s.  I had to clandestinely hide my Auburn paraphernalia as I decorated with the Big 12 folks, but they were incredibly gracious and made me feel right at home.  We went to an Auburn party later that afternoon where I got to see some of my dearest college friends (naturally I forgot to take pictures) and their families and later met up with John’s family for dinner.

The next day we received a surprise text from Auburn.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am on the PR Advisory Council for the School and work very closely with Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs and his very talented marketing/communications team.  “Good morning. I would like for you to sit in the suite with my family.  Would you like to do that?”  I was in the gym and tried to refrain from jumping up in down with 12 pound weights in my hands.  Of course, we immediately jumped on the opportunity.

Since we went to the gym, we opened a bottle of the Côté Mas St. Hilarie Crémant de Limoux NV Brut, for our walk to Peche because we were in a celebratory mode.  It was a great under $15 sparkling with notes of green apple, toast and citrus.  Very drinkable, very affordable.  Definitely something a divided table of Auburn and OU fans could agree upon.  That may have been my favorite meal in New Orleans.

Ashley, one of my dear college friends, and me

It was important to pay the suite generosity forward, so I sent out a text to some friends asking if anyone could use our tickets.  A great friend responded that she really could use them so I had the chance to run into her as well while we had an amazing lunch at Pesce.  The oysters and 2015 Domain Girard Sancerre pairing will run through my dreams for a long time.

Our Super Talented Bus Driver Breaks It Down While We Wait for Our Police Escort (seriously, did I just type that?)

 

Me, the aforementioned 11 year old daughter, and John

The game was a blur.  We boarded our bus to the game with the Big 12 folks where we were serenated by our very talented bus driver while we waited for our police escort, which was late.  We then went to the Auburn side of the pre-game party and ran into some old friends along the way.  The suite was amazing and it was fun to see my kiddo get into the game and have a great time.  We were up in the first quarter and things were looking good until our quarterback broke his arm.  At that point, the game momentum shifted.

We stayed until the end, got back on the escorted bus and ended up in the Big 12/OU lounge with lots of happy fans for the other team.  They were incredibly kind, the drinks were flowing and it was an awesome lesson for our daughter on how to be a good loser.  She even had her own Big 12 badge as reinforcement, but was definitely ready with a good “War Eagle” at any time.


100 Wines, 30 Days and Wine Loving Ways

Since I left the corporate gig, which gave me ample opportunity to open a multitude of sample wines on a weekly basis, I’ve come to a point where I was completely swimming in fourth quarter samples.  I rectified this by hosting the Southern Methodist University MBA wine club, with Michelle Williams, where we conducted a brown bag blind tasting of more than 40 wines.  I  was the guest speaker of an executive Women Who Wine Group where I brought a variety of wines, talked about balancing my blog and a fulltime career with family.  And, of course the usual hosting of a variety of friends over the holiday season.

Of the nearly 100 wines we sampled, these are the favorites of the tastings.  They are diverse – several regions around the globe, different varietals and different price points.  I’ll be brief with descriptions since there are so many.

Whites

2014 Ferrari Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay – this traditional Russian River Valley Chardonnay was full of citrus, apple, melon and vanilla flavors. The word I would use to describe it is creamy.

2012 Duchman Trebbiano – this has always been one of Texas’ award-winning wines (provided by Texas Fine Wines) at a fair price point.  The wine is full of tropical and citrus fruits and is best enjoyed on a patio.

2014 Martin Ray Chardonnay – another Russian River Valley beauty with a balanced acidity with green apple, white stone fruit and vanilla.


2013 Brennan Vineyards Lily – another selection from Texas Fine Wines – it’s a dry wine with apricot, fleshy nectarine, citrus and notes of honeysuckle.

2014 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay – this is tropical in a glass – it’s full of stone and citrus fruit with nice acidity.

2013 La Scola Gavi Bianco Secco – it’s fruity, yet dry and refreshing. When Spring rolls around (or December in Texas), this is a great patio wine.

Reds

2014 Martin Ray The Tower Red Wine – this Bordeaux-style wine was full of black fruit, berries and cherries, herbs and spice.  It was surprisingly easy to drink with its rich, dark color.

2013 Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvee – this was a great Tuesday pizza wine with an attitude.  It was a Bordeaux blend that had notes of blackberry, blueberry, chocolate and herbs.

2013 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Red – Artist Wes Freed designed the label depicting a zombie picnic watched by two diligent crows.  I tasted herbs, spice, cinnamon, black and red fruits along with licorice.

2013 Antigal Uno Malbec – deep berry, cassis, plum, spice and flowers.  This was a great representation of a Malbec.

2014 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Malbec – since Flora Springs is one of Napa’s original “ghost wineries,” they have fun with the designation (and are one of the few that have restored the winery back to its original form).  Notes of mocha, black cherry, cassis and spice.

2010 Agly Brothers B Cotes-du Roussillon Villages – this well-balanced Rhone blend was full of chocolate, cassis, Fig Newton, blackberry and herbs. This is a great example of why people should drink more Rhone style wines.

2014 Garzon Tannat – big ripe red fruit with notes of pepper, mocha and spice.  This was a very nice version of a wine that shows its fruit while keeping its power.

2013 Chateau Ksara Reserve Du Couvent- cassis, chocolate and herbs.  It was balanced, but had some depth to it.

2013 Odfiell Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon – this cabernet begged for beef.  It had red and black berry, chocolate, vanilla and herbs. It evolved with time in the glass.

2014 Angeline Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of red cherry pie, black fruit, savory spices and mocha.

2015 Angeline Reserve Pinot Noir – this was a perfect Thanksgiving wine with notes of cranberry, cherry, herbs and spice.

2014 Carmel Road Pinot Noir – a very nice drinking Pinot with cherry, spice and some herbs.

2014 Martin Ray Puccioni Vineyard Zinfandel – rich red fruits, spice and jammy, yet with a balance.

I also received samples for #merlotmonth #merlotme (more than 20 in total), so I’m playing catch up here with a few great ones that didn’t make the Merlot-focused round-up a few months ago.

2014 Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot – this wine was full of black fruit, red fruit, vanilla and cassis.  It was approachable and was a crowd favorite.

2013 Rutherford Hill Merlot – this was elegant and had notes of blackberry, cherry, minerality, blueberry pie and herbs.

2013 Rombauer Carneros Merlot – notes of red stone fruit, flowers, mocha and spice.

2013 Duckhorn Merlot – notes of orange, raspberry, plum, mocha and cedar.  This had a great structure.

Texas Fine Wines provided samples of reds from Bending Branch, Brennan, Duchman and Pedernales.  These were my favorites.

NV Brennan Vineyards “W” Winemakers Choice – notes of stewed plum, blackberry and cherry as well as spice, Twizzlers and chocolate.

2013 Pedernales Tempranillo Reserve – notes of cherry, terroir, herbs and spice.

2012 Bending Branch Tannat – this is the signature red for Bending Branch winery and it had lots of red fruit, plum, mocha and caramel notes.

2011 Duchman Montepulciano – another nice every day wine from Duchman with red and black fruit, spice and herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 


December to Remember: My Favorite Wines of the Season

Well, here we are at year end and I have once again let the wine pile up, so let’s consider this one hell of a holiday celebration.  This quarter (for the record, not by myself), I hosted a Halloween party, brought wine to the neighborhood holiday party, was the guest speaker at a Women Who Wine Executive Group, brought wine to numerous neighborhood parties as well as co-hosted a gathering with the Southern Methodist University MBA wine club.  All in all, we went through about 95 wines and today I’m writing about my “special shout outs,” the crème de la crème – my 12 A list choices.  The other 28 good ones will follow next week, but I thought a 40-wine line-up would give you, my readers, a blog hangover.

2009 Ferrari Perle Champagne – elegant, rich and beyond good. I tasted brioche, apple, citrus, stone fruit, almonds and French toast.  This is made with Chardonnay grapes and is the personification of what makes Champagne, well, Champagne.

NV Champagne Bruno Paillard Premier Cuvee –this was a delicious compilation of more than 35 of 320 crus of Champagne. It was a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.   I tasted lime, grapefruit, cassis, white stone fruits, raspberry with plum, almond and toasted bread.

2015 Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer – A Gewürztraminer from Sonoma?  Yes, you should.  This delightfully dry wine that Jacob Gundlach brought from his homeland in Alsace.  There are beautiful floral notes and minerality.  I also love the fact that the winery pairs this hip hop music – a perfect match to old school Run DMC.

2015 Naissance Sauvignon Blanc – The Galerie collection was named Naissance, which is French for birth or beginning, to blend Old World and New World wines.  You get an elegant blend of peach and tropical fruits, lemon zest, apple and great minerality.  Such a great expression of Sauvignon Blanc.

2014 Byron La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir – this is a big, ripe, rich pinot with notes of blackberry, black cherry, flowers and terroir.  It is complex and muscular, like my husband.

2014 Byron Pinot Noir Nielson Vineyard – I tasted blackberry, earth, herbs, spice and flowers.  This was very elegant and aromatic.

2014 Byron Monument Pinot Noir – this is the blend of the best vineyard blocks.  This was my favorite of the pinots with a pure elegance and notes of deep cherry, berry, licorice, Asian spice and floral notes.

2013 Flora Springs Holiday Kisses Red Blend – from the cool etched Mistletoe themed bottle to the great wine inside, this limited-edition Cabernet Sauvignon blended Napa wine, was a true gift.  It had notes of blackberry, blueberry, chocolate, mocha, plum, vanilla and Christmas spice.  A fantastic holiday themed gift both on the inside and out.

2012 Pleinair Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – this Galerie wine is named after the outdoor French painting method.  I tasted blackberry, spice, flowers, Heath bar and mocha.  It was silky and elegant – easy to drink today or would be even better with some bottle age.

2012 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella – this was a big, traditional raisined Amarone that needed more time to open, but was clearly the crowd favorite of the tasting (and therefore did not have the time it needed to develop).  I tasted red fruit, cherry and spice.  For being so young, it was still elegant.

NV Proprietary Red CA Locations by Dave Phinney, which represents a blend of the best wines by region across the globe.  This California blend is aromatic, flavorful and nuanced.  I tasted black cherry, raspberry, cigar, blackberry pie, tobacco and black tea.  It’s getting the least expensive wines of a well-known winemaker at a fraction of the price of his other wines.

NV Proprietary Red OR Locations by Dave Phinney – this was a blend of great grapes from Oregon.  This was Thanksgiving in a glass with cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, floral notes and spices.  This was such a lovely wine!


Green Valley: The Coolest, Foggiest Region of Sonoma County You Have Never Heard Of

Robert Larsen and me

A few weeks ago, I had an inquiry from one of my favorite PR folks, Robert Larsen of the Larsen Projekt to taste wines from Green Valley, an AVA I knew nothing about.  Robert represents the trend of many of my friends who recently left the safe corporate world where he handled PR for Rodney Strong to represent small boutique wineries in Sonoma.  If you know Robert, his passion and need to evangelize the word of Sonoma is fun to behold and aside from being an all-around good guy, he understands what a wine blogger needs to be successful.

Robert asked a few folks if we’d be interested in tasting a few wines from this AVA and provided a gift card to cover the cost to prepare a special pre-determined recipe to pair with it.  I had to ask the chef in our family, my husband, as this recipe would have suffered in my non-cooking hands.  Thankfully, Chef John stepped in to cook the Tri-Tip and we were on our way.

Green Valley is one of the smallest appellations in Sonoma County located on the Southwestern part of the Russian River Valley.  It is self-marketed as the coolest, foggiest region of the Russian River Valley.  The area is known for its distinctive soils, especially the Goldridge soil that is known for making extraordinary Pinot Noir wines.  There are over 100 growers in the areas and while there are some well-known wineries like DeLoach Vineyards, Dutton-Goldfield and Iron Horse Vineyards, there are many boutique treasures also waiting to be discovered.  Because Green Valley is not well known, many producers choose to go with the Russian River Valley designation.  This is the reason why the AVA officially changed its name to Green Valley of Russian River Valley Sonoma County.  Marketing can be everything.

We tried three wines from three different vineyards to go with our meal.

 

2013 Sedition Pinot Noir Chenoweth Vineyards Green Valley of Russian River Valley Sonoma County

This wine completely makes me understand the magic of Goldridge soil.  I tasted red fruit, herbs and earthiness.  This was one of my new favorite Pinot Noirs that is incredibly hard to find, but worth the journey.

 

2013 Callow Cellars Magna Porcum Estate Pinot Noir Green Valley of Russian River Valley Sonoma County

Deep dark berry, cherry, spice and pure power in a glass.  It’s a big Pinot with an inky red color, but is balanced in nature.  I’d like to give it a few years and try it again.

 

2012 Scherrer Winery Syrah Calypso Vineyard Green Valley Sonoma County

This is a rich wine that begs for meat.  It has notes of berry, lavender, herbs, earth and black pepper.   On the website tasting note, it is described as “hedonism and nuance in equal measure.”  Great description of what happened in my glass.  The second day it was more nuanced and complex.

As for the Tri-Tip, which isn’t usually my typical dinner choice, it was a great match with the wines.  As usual, I am lucky to have a husband who has a gift for cooking and served a meal that was a worthy match for these wines.

 


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.


Rex Pickett’s Next Journey: Vertical, The Next Chapter of Miles and Jack

Vertical Beachside Read at the Four Seasons Punta Mita Resort

For those of you who read Sideways by Rex Pickett, the book that almost single handedly changed consumers’ willingness to drink Merlot, you remember the premise.  Two good friends, Miles and Jack, go on a last hurrah trip the week before Jack is to marry in the Santa Ynez wine country.  Jack is facing the life change of marriage and Miles is facing the life change of divorce as well as the instability of his career and not knowing his place in the world.

The book started a movement – of pinot, of pilgrimage to the places featured in the movie and showcased the love of wine from two not so likeable wild and crazy kind of guys.  The book focuses on relationships – friendship, wine and relationships – and exposes the flaws in all.  Rex has now written his second book, Vertical, which tells the next journey for these two men.

Fast forward seven years and the tables have turned.  Jack is a divorced, down on his luck alcoholic who has definitely lived his glory days.  Miles is now a successful author with a movie that has become a blockbuster.  He is now the celebrity.  But his life is far from perfect.  He is spiraling into a cycle of drinking, depression and self depreciation.  But the speaking gigs keep happening, the wine keeps pouring and even after he publicly drinks the spit bucket at a tasting (with no recollection), he continues the downward spiral.

His mom, Phyllis, has suffered a stroke that has left her incapacitated and stuck in an assisted living home – and frequently tells Miles how miserable she is.  He knows she wants to go live with her sister in Wisconsin and he finally has a way to get her there.  Since she is wheelchair bound and Miles is deathly afraid of flying, he decides to engage Jack to help drive her from the assisted living home in Carlsbad to Wisconsin by dangling $10,000 and a trip to the International Pinot Noir festival in Oregon.

It’s funny – insert a pot-smoking caretaker, a dunking machine, a Viagra mishap and lots of other laugh out loud moments – and you can see this is the next successful screenplay.

It’s poignant – anyone who has had to deal with the loss of a parent, watching a friend go down a dark path, dealing with alcoholism or making bad decisions leading to the loss of someone you loved – will see this is more than two wild and crazy guys on a last rampage.

It’s a great snapshot of the Willamette Valley – the wineries, the people, the tasting rooms, the scenery and the new pilgrimages that will begin because of this book.

And, finally, it’s an introspective by Rex.  I only met him once briefly at the Wine Bloggers Conference, but you can see the self depreciation, the fear of losing the success and when you hear him talk about what he wished he had known prior to the movie, you get those flashes of the fears that Miles has.  He’s a great writer who brings the people, pinots and pathways truly to life.


Prichard Hill: Life, Legacy and a Conversation with David Long from David Arthur Vineyards

Unless you have done some extensive time in Napa Valley, you may have never personally discovered Pritchard Hill.  But, you probably have heard the names Colgin, Chappelett, Ovid and David Long and if you have tasted the Cabernet or Bordeaux varieties, you quickly find this is an unforgettable region.

It is not an easy place to just drop in … It is a long and windy drive that takes you to wineries that rise to almost 2,000 feet above sea level.  By happenstance, in the last 11 months, I have had the opportunity to meet two very special people whose families helped shape Pritchard Hill into the special place that it is today.  Last November, I sat down with Cyril Chappellet in a conversation that ranged from wine and family, then veered to the big life choices that I was on the verge of making earlier in 2016.

 

David Long and me

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for a wine dinner at Lakewood Country Club with David Long from David Arthur Vineyards.  David Arthur Vineyards and the Long Family Ranch began when Don Long, a butcher who went from carving meat to owning a small grocery store with a focus on personalization near Stanford University, decided to begin acquiring land on top of Pritchard Hill.  At that time, there was no access to roads or utilities and Don would hike to picnic with his wife, Annie.

 

David started the dinner, as we were drinking the 2013 Chardonnay, by telling us, “You are drinking my college education.”  He wasn’t the best student, but he made it to University of Denver where he pursued a degree in fine arts with a focus on ceramics and pottery.  That didn’t seem like a sustainable career for him, so he dropped out of school and was wished well by his father (which essentially meant he was off the payroll).  He worked his way from busing tables to managing dinner houses and went on to open a fondue restaurant with a selection of 25 wines in Boulder.

 

He vividly remembers drinking a Chappellet Chenin Blanc when he got a call from his father.  His future arrived on one snowy night when he had to shut down the restaurant due to bad weather.   His dad asked if he had an interest in running the 970-acre property, cultivate the land and grow the grapes.  The answer was a resounding yes and his dad disclosed that he would invest the money for him to plant the first ten acres of grapes.  The first grape planted was Chardonnay until his visionary dad saw the future and the future was a Bordeaux style wine.

The time that David had to taste wine after working the vineyard was 4 a.m. and during that process, he opened a bottle of Sangiovese that was sent by his importer, Louis Langdon, formerly of Langdon Shiverick Imports.  He describes it as being rustic with an amazing finish.  At 6 a.m., he had to go to work and poured the Sangiovese in his existing test Bordeaux blend.  Magic was made and he began looking for a name that described the French and Italian blend.  Originally named red table wine, he promised his brother 24 hours for a new name and Meritaggio Red Blend was born.

Our food and wine line up was as follows:


Course one – Steamed wild Hawaiian caught manchong with king crab, matsutake farro risotto, preserved lemon, brown butter, lemon, red ribbon sorrel with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Chardonnay.

Course two – Smoke salt seared quail with golden raisin, foie gras, sweet potato and red curry cream sauce with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Meritaggio Red Wine Blend.

Course three – Slow cooked beef tenderloin with olive oil, roasted cauliflower, porcini, bacon, sage, short rib ragout, anson mills polenta, veal reduction and 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Course four – A cheese course of Humboldt Fog Cypress goat cheese, Oregon Rouge smokey blue and Prairie Breeze with honey, marcona almonds, apple butter and grilled French bread with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards “Three Acre” Cabernet Sauvignon.

To say David is larger than life is an understatement.  From his stories about experimenting with apple juice to make alcohol at age 14 to walking the aisles of Sunshine Foods to sell his chardonnay and then, once the sale was made, had his then wife immediately come through the front door looking for the bottles of wine that he just sold saying, “I can’t believe they are carrying these wines”.  David has a menagerie of stories (half of which I can’t repeat), life experiences, history and amazing wines.

I am so excited about Prichard Hill, the rich history and the families that I have met that have pioneered an area that is making some of the best wines in the Valley.


Del Frisco’s Throws Down the Gauntlet with Top Female Somm Competition

As a sommelier, you are expected to use theory to ideally pair the right wine with the right food.  But, usually you have the opportunity to taste the food first.  Del Frisco’s – banking on the skills of its talented women sommeliers – turned that premise on its head by not allowing them to taste the food prior to Somm Wars., a three city competition between three talented female sommeliers in Dallas, New York and Chicago.

The finale was in Dallas.  I was lucky enough to be part of a panel of five local wine experts and enthusiasts, including: Paula Lambert, a world renowned American cheesemaker, cookbook author and entrepreneur; Neal Caldwell, Manager and Buyer for Pogo’s Wine and Spirits and wine judge for TEXSOM and The Dallas Morning News Food and Wine Competition; Leigh Ann Adam, weekdays on-air personality from KVIL 103.7 FM; John DeMers, author, food and wine writer, host of Delicious Mischief Food and Wine radio show and director of culinary hospitality and host instructor at Fischer and Wieser Culinary Adventure Cooking School and Brooks Anderson, co-founder of Veritas Wine Room, Rapscallion and Boulevardier.

It is clear that Del Frisco’s takes its wine program and the advancement of women seriously.  I spoke with Jessica Novar, the director of wine education who was a true innovator in bringing the program to fruition.  “We had these amazing women, many who pioneered being the first women somms in their restaurants and we wanted to bring them together to celebrate wine, food and progress.”

And these were some bad ass women who clearly brought passion for food, wine and the customer to their job every day.  I had the chance to speak to the three ladies the day of the competition and they talked about their backgrounds.

Chantel, Crystal and Amy

Dallas’ own Wine Director Chantel Daves holds a Sommelier Certification specializing in wine and food pairings.  She started her career at the Del Frisco’s in Boston in 2011 and moved to Dallas with the recent store opening.  New York’s Crystal Horton has been with Del Frisco’s for more than 15 years and has been a sommelier for 14 of them.  Her passion began early and ignited when she was first a bartender and quickly moved into the wine program, where she became a trailblazer sommelier.  Chicago’s Wine Director Amy Lutchen, has built an all-female sommelier team, which made me want to give her the world’s biggest high five as that is not the norm in the world of wine.

I asked them what surprised them the most about Somm Wars.  Because the tasting is completely blind and they don’t get to taste the food first (only the main course is the same from restaurant to restaurant), everyone starts equally.  They also wanted to spotlight at least one female winemaker in the pairings.  They loved the guest interaction and excitement.  Somm Wars also created this face-to-face bond that was elevated over lots of champagne.

I asked if they took a risk with their selections and the answers varied.  Overall they went with a classic approach.  Amy said, ”what grows together, goes together.”

And now for the experience.  Executive Chef Tony Schwappach prepared an amazing four-course dinner at the newly opened Dallas Del Frisco’s, an awesome new see-and-be-seen steak mecca.

The wines ran the gamut – from California Chards to a Mosel Riesling with the first course.   Pinots from France and Sonoma to a Syrah blend with the second course.  A variety of red blends and cabernet based wines for the third.  And finally, two ports and an ice wine with the dessert.  After this election, I am not going to “armchair” quarterback any of them, but our judging group appeared to have a clear path of preferences.

We began with Marinated Texas Sterling Lamb Lollipops with Citrus Bleu du Bocage and Red Jalapeño Glaze.

The next course featured an Olive Oil Poached Dover Sole and Sweet and Sour Eggplant, paired with Tandoori Marsala Yogurt Sauce and Crispy Prosciutto, which it appears that I ate before I took a photo….

Third Course was a Crispy Duck Confit with Golden Chantrelles and Wilted Dandelion Risotto, with Peppered Bacon, Charred Kumato Tomato and Buttered Broth.

The main course featured a Simply Seared A-7 Wagyu Beef paired with Foie Gras-Charred Leek Ravioli, Rissole Potatoes, and Mission Fig & Black Garlic Reduction.

The dessert course was a Del Frisco’s Style Banana Split, which includes Caramelized Banana, Godiva Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Candied Pecans.

There were some amazing matches and some misses, but overall the takeaway was that you were part of this amazing process for bragging rights as Sommelier of the Year.  As for the winner, Chantel came in first in Dallas and Amy from Chicago clinched the entire “world series,” which appears to be spot on based on this year’s Cubs World Series clincher.

 


A Perfect Score: A Book Review and Conversation with Kathryn and Craig Hall

When I was invited to the launch of “A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul and Business of a 21st Century Winery,” I knew I was in for a great story.  The book, written by Kathryn and Craig Hall, launched on September 13 and chronicles a very honest story of people, wine, art and politics.

It is about two people with very different backgrounds – Kathryn’s family had a wine making background and Craig originally thought Rosé was red and white wine mixed together.  As Craig said, “With wine, I continue to be a work in progress.”

Together, Kathryn and Craig formed what is today Hall and Walt Wineries.

 

The book talked about their journey.  From meeting when Kathryn was running for Mayor in 1991 to moving to Austria for her Ambassador position to buying their first vineyard (a dilapidated winery that had seen better days, which happened right before the Ambassador appointment) to navigating Napa politics and ramping up wine production right in time for the market crash.

It wasn’t an easy journey.  But it was about two people who gathered together and formed a marriage, a family, a business, a winery, and a storied political career.  I had a chance to talk to both Craig and Kathryn at the Dallas reception and Craig told me they started the book about a year ago and he didn’t remember why they originally decided to do it.  Kathryn remembered differently.  “We had a chance to tell our story to a different audience.  I believe that people want to tell the story of wine and the important people that made this winery successful.”

She talked about reliving the experiences – the good, not so good and having the perspective of time.  Kathryn was honest about the tension of working with one’s spouse and how that tension created a better winery and book.

From the story of how the Hall landmark rabbit sculpture, Bunny Foo Foo, a work of art by Lawrence Argent, came to stand tall as a symbol of Hall Winery.  How fun that it was meant to capture the heritage and memory of Kathryn leading her kids through her parent’s Mendocino County Vineyard singing “Little Bunny Foo Foo.”  The book is a juxtaposition of these types of memories and how they built the foundation of the winery’s hospitality experience.  It comes down to having fun – drinking great wine, enjoy the hospitality of a winery, hanging out with people you love, giving back to the community and eating great food.  And the title comes from the first designation of 100 points for the 2010 Hall Exzellenz Cabernet.

The Hall’s imagination and vision truly made what is today known as a well-regarded, highly-ranked, boutique winery come to life.  It’s about attention to detail – from sustainability of the vineyard to taking care of the people who have made the winery successful to a focus on the customer.  If you can’t visit Hall and Walt Wineries, reading this book makes you almost smell the grapes in the barrel room, feel the crunch of walking through the wet ground of the vineyards and taste the juice right out of the wine thief.




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