Archived entries for Zinfandel

Ninety Years of Pedroncelli Wines: A Toast to Family, Wisdom and Consistency

It’s been over three week since I embarked on my experience with the Pedroncelli family and I am no closer to being able to bring to life the amazing journey that I experienced.  In an over sanitized, over marketed, over messaged world; trying to use words to capture an experience that was real … and authentic … and uncensored … and completely humble – still escapes me.

Julie and Jim Pedroncelli share a 90th celebration moment

The Pedroncelli family – while in the middle of celebrating a 90-year milestone that should have been squarely about, well, about them – chose to share the credit with Sonoma County and the businesses that make up the fabric of the city.  As I quickly learned, this is a family that would rather share the spotlight than be in the middle of it.

In 1927, John Sr. (Giovanni) and Julia Pedroncelli purchased the vineyard and a small winery with a total of 90 acres in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley in Geyserville, California for $11,000.  Pedroncelli was one of the first wineries in Sonoma Country and the property originally consisted of a home, 25-acress of vineyards of mostly zinfandel and a winery – that was quickly closed when Prohibition struck.

During this time, like most Italian families, they sold grapes door to door in town.  The also conducted early “social media of the day”, was a the word of mouth that resulted on how they sold grapes in that door to door fashion. The family tells the story of Uncle John’s memory of his Father’s Model T breaking down in town.  The axel snapped and John was left to guard the grapes in the broken-down car while his grandfather trekked back to town to fix the situation.  They continued to tend the vines and sell grapes to home winemakers who had the ability to produce 200 gallons for sacramental or medicinal purposes.

When Prohibition ended, the Pedroncelli’s were ready and the first vintage was produced in 1934.  The original focus was on bulk wines, sold in barrels to stores and individuals.  In the 1940’s, they started their own label and the second generation joined their father with their son John becoming winemaker in 1948 followed by Jim becoming sales director in 1955.  The two sons later purchased the winery in 1963.

At this point, the strategy shifting from bulk wines to estate and single vintages as well as vineyard expansion and diversification.  The acreage doubled from 90 to more than 180 acres.  Over the next 20 years the significant changes continued — the third generation came on board, the Home Ranch Vineyard was replanted, a national sales and export team was established, a new barrel and tasting room was added.  In 2015, the family suffered a devastating loss with the death of John Pedroncelli, Senior Winemaker.  He still is very much a part of the family, but in 2015 the family named Montse Reece as the third winemaker in nearly 90 years and the first woman winemaker.  She is no stranger to the family as she joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007 serving alongside John Pedroncelli for seven harvests.

 

Gabe, Amy and me

It should be noted that much about Pedroncelli is old school and based in tradition.  For example, both Jim and Julie work out of offices that were once their childhood bedrooms.  I had a great and very honest conversation with Jim where he told me he really didn’t understand the whole blogger and social media thing.  Let me be clear that he said this in the most charming and candid way possible.  And, with Gabe Sasso and Amy Anderson Gross representing the blogger’s world along with me, he has a point (grin).

Me and Ed St. John, a Self-Described Innovator and Aggravator

However, the winery is making some key strides ahead of many other wineries in California.  They were the first to bottle Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek.  Pedroncelli not only has a women winemaker, but it is now a 70 percent woman owned company.  And Ed St John, Vice President, has used his 25 years of wine experience to introduce new practices to the winery and in marketing – especially social media with the help of PR pro Robert Larsen.  It appears to be working as the buzz for Pedroncelli’s 90th (even with its own hashtag #ped90th) continued to build.  I’m sure this is a continuous debate as the fourth generation comes up the ranks and it will continue to encourage more debate.

As changes press forth, I feel confident elements will remain unchanged:  The commitment this family has to the land; to growing their own grapes; and to making affordable delicious wine they are proud to have their name on with a focus on family legacy.

Now let’s talk a little about the Pedroncelli 90th celebration.  We were picked up on Thursday night from San Francisco and brought to the Dry Creek Inn, where I ironically was checked into the Rodney Strong Suite (you may remember that my dear friend, Robert Larsen, who helped with the strategy of the 90th celebration used to run communications for said winery – he assured me it was a coincidence).

 

 

We got to know the entire family over dinner at Catelli’s in Geyserville.  Catelli’s was originally opened in Geyserville around 1936 by Italian immigrants Santi and Virginia Catelli.  The restaurant was originally known as Catelli’s “The Rex” (“The King” as translated from Latin).  Third generation Catelli’s and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, are now co-owners.  I think the Pedroncelli’s were a little nervous when Richard, the second-generation patriarch, and myself got into a spirited conversation about politics and Texas and it appeared neither of us was going to back down.  Reinforcements were sent in (unnecessary as strong Italian opinions are part of my heritage and a debate is always fun in my book).

On Friday, we began our morning with breakfast at SHED, a market, café, and community gathering space with a mission is to celebrate and nurture the connection between good farming, good cooking, and good eating.

 Julie Pedroncelli

We moved to the winery with Julie to learn all about the family, it’s history, the wines and to tour the historic winery and walked through the Home Ranch vineyard tasting the wines made from the diverse soils including Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petite Syrah.  My biggest takeaway is that wine is part of the family’s culture and has been since day one.  We learned that Julie and Ed have known each other since they were in kindergarten when they took the same bus and took a long journey to come back together as they both ended up in the wine business and found each other again.

We then visited Dry Creek Peach & Produce where proprietor Gayle Sullivan allowed us to taste two of the juiciest most wonderful peaches I have ever been lucky enough to taste.  We toured the orchard where more than 30 varieties of peaches, nectarines, vegetables and even a few fig trees are planted.  We even started our day with a lovely Bellini that was bursting with ripe peach and delicious bubbles.

We had a picnic lunch at Lake Sonoma and learned all about the steelhead conservation that happens with a docent tour of the hatchery that included props to bring the story to life.

Our last stop before the hotel was Wisdom Vineyard, one of the first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Dry Creek as well as one that grows all five Bordeaux varieties.  This is an example of innovation as one block was machine picked for the first-time last year after 89 years of hand picking.  That night we ended our festivities with another small family gathering that included cocktails, wines, ribs, reds and fun.  We may or may not have had a late not stop at Duke’s but photos will be concealed to protect …well everyone…

We awoke on July 22 excited that it was the big day, the 90th anniversary of Pedroncelli.  This is the date the family originally signed papers to buy the original property and winery.  We started at the Sonoma Farmer’s Market with a goal of grabbing breakfast and food for an alfresco lunch at John’s Grove on the shore of Dry Creek.  Little did we know what an intimate family experience we were in for later.

We quickly stopped at the winery and we were in for such a fun surprise.  The winery had just received its certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).  As Ed joked, “We’ve been sustainable for 90 years and counting and it’s in our DNA.”   This is an arduous process that was handled by Mitch Blakeley, a fourth generation Pedroncelli, who worked for a month to answer the hundreds of questions.  He met with an expert, reviewed the self-assessment and in the spirit of good things happen to really good people, got to put up the signs the day of the big anniversary party.

We toured the Bushnell Vineyard, which has been associated with the Pedroncellis for over 50 years.  John Sr. purchased the land in the 1940s and it was passed to their son-in-law Al Pedroni in the 1950s.  Al’s daughter Carol Bushnell inherited the vineyard in 1990 and she and her husband Jim continue the extension of the family estate where they farm Bordeaux variety blends.

Altogether, two-thirds of all Pedroncelli wines produced are red, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel comprising nearly 50% of estate vineyards.

 

 

Courtesy of Gabe Sasso

We left the vineyard and headed to John’s Grove, where we immediately knew we were in for something special.  John’s Grove was built as a tribute for the family to go to remember the special family member they lost in 2015.  It is located around a lovely creek and is tree lined and picturesque.  We had a beautiful picnic and Gabe, Linda, Amy, Julie and I figured you had to get in the creek to experience Dry Creek.  It was amazing and I’m blessed to have been included on a milestone day in a blessed family place.  I know John must have been looking down and smiling at the legacy he helped to build.

Gia, Gabe, Amy, Linda, Dick and Julie

The big event began later that afternoon at the winery kicked off by one of the press attendees that I have yet to mention.  Author Dick Rosano (as well as esteemed wine writer) talked about the Italian influence on winemaking in America.  I knew about the influence of agriculture on these families, but Dick really brought to life the tenacity it took to sell grapes door to door in the middle of Prohibition just to keep the families financially afloat.  I got to know Dick and his lovely wife, Linda, pretty well over the trip and I loved getting to know them.  Dick’s friendship with the Pedroncelli’s, his knowledge of wine and his passion for learning made him one of the most interesting Renaissance men I’ve gotten to know in a long time.

 

Me and Pedroncelli Friend and Bill Smart, General Manager of Lambert Bridge Winery

Syndicated columnist Dan Berger led us through a Flights through the Decades event of Cabernet and Zinfandel wines beginning in the 1970s that I cannot image how hard it was to curate.   Here was our first flight line-up (reach out if you want my notes – I know this is getting long…):

1982 Magnum Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

1994 Mother Clone Zinfandel

1995 Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel

2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel

Our second flight line-up of Cabernets were as follows:

1977 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (still dreaming about this one)

1992 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

1996 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2000 Morris Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley)

2009 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

After the tasting, we joined the Pedroncelli family to dedicate the newest vineyard, the Noventa Vineyard, where Ed had arranged for a drone to take a picture of the entire crew as he, Jim and Julie toasted to “family, wisdom and consistency.”

A brief glimpse at our dinner, which was served by Ken Rochioli of KR Catering:

Braised Chicken over Creamy Polenta with Mother Clone Zinfandel

Filet Mignon with Bacon, Bourbon, Shallot and Mustard Sauce; Grilled Asparagus and Sweet Peppers; Pepper Jack Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro with Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon

Almond Bar with Caramel Drizzle and Fleur de Sel; Cappuccino Chocolate Mousse Cups in Mini Phyllo Cups and Peanut Butter Bars with Honey with Four Grapes Vintage Port

I want to share the video that was played where the family talked about the legacy that they built together.  It’s special as they will never willingly do this.

Finally, we drank from Big Bottles – we ate, we drank, we shared memories and I can’t remember laughing so much.  The room was filled with people who began the journey with the Pedroncelli’s and clearly will be around the next 90 years.  It had all the signs of a big family gathering of people who cared a great deal about each other.  And, it’s interesting – you can’t spend any time with any of the Pedroncelli family without feeling as if you are a part.  As I left, I felt a sense of sadness, as if I was leaving behind a group of near, but very dear friends.

Most of My Family Coming Together in La Jolla

And as I left a few weeks later for my family reunion, my Pedroncelli Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Mother Clone Zinfandel occupied 25 percent of my wine suitcase.  Because it was important for me that I bring the Pedroncelli experience to my family as they made me feel a part of theirs.


The Art of Wine: When Passion and a Business Plan Intersect

 

Ariane Garcia, Owner, The Art of Wine

She’s a philantropher. A health care executive.  And the owner of The Art of Wine, a neighborhood wine bar in Preston Hollow.  Ariane Garcia found herself with a business plan to write for her graduate studies at Southern Methodist University and The Art of Wine was born.

I had a chance to visit The Art of Wine and chat with Ariane about her vision for the business.  It’s a retail boutique, by-the-glass bar, and local artist display with a goal of providing off the beaten path as well as better known labels.   I found Billecart-Salmon to Hoopes Vineyards to Guidobono to Long Meadow Ranch as well as the better-known labels.

The wine bar also offers a mix of wine and painting classes as well as wine education.  It’s a great neighborhood gathering place to grab a glass of wine and toast to the week’s victories.


Pedroncelli Celebrates 90 Years: A Legacy of Farming, Fun and Flagships

Ninety years ago, it all started with a goal of three pillars – farming, fun and flagships – with flagships being the Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon wines Pedroncelli is known for producing.  That was recently reinforced on a Twitter virtual tasting.  However, I think one additional pillar needs to be added to the mix – and that is family.

This has been a family business since 1927 when Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli Sr. purchased a vineyard and shuttered winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.  In the beginning, due to Prohibition, they had to sell grapes to home winemakers to stay afloat.  There’s some heritage here.  The Pedroncelli family was the first to put Sonoma County on a wine label when the area was designated in the late 1940s.  The name Pedroncelli is Italian for Summer.

The family has been making wine since 1934, starting with bulk wines and evolving into the legacy wines that continue to get great wine scores from the critics.  Now, the fourth generation of family members continue the family legacy.  With the expansion of the generations, came the decision to expand varietals, replant the vineyards and now the winery has 70 percent female ownership.  And, that’s a trend that I love to see.

The Pedroncelli’s farm more than 100 acres of vineyards in Dry Creek and source grapes from those who have the same farming vision.  We (okay, my husband since I don’t cook) were asked to create the family’s special recipe for Feta and Kalamata Chicken and were given a gift card to cover the cost of the ingredients.  I loved the recipe and as someone that is the last to order a big beef dish on a menu, it was a nice change of pace for a wine pairing.

We tasted three wines, which were fantastic, and I got a glimpse prior to my invitation to the big 90th celebration blowout in July in Sonoma (watch for #Ped90th).

2016 Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc – notes of Meyer lemon, lychee and a nice minerality made this a crowd favorite and a great match with the chicken.

2016 Pedroncelli Rosé of Zinfandel – notes of candied violets and just plucked off the vine berries.  So refreshing.

2015 Pedroncelli Sangiovese – notes of cherry, cranberry, pepper and spice made this incredibly drinkable and food friendly wine disappear quickly.

Ninety years — nine decades strong in a tough business.  The pillars remain true and the family remains focused on tradition, heritage and making amazing wines that reflect a sense of place.  So, looking forward to my celebration at Pedroncelli in late July and I plan to be wearing this amazing hat.


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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Winning Wine Blogger Award Winners

Me and Julien

From Passion to Pro Panel

Mary and Sean Celebrate Success!

A few other highlights of the conference:

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

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

 

 

 


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.


Day Three Paso Robles: From Zip Liner to Winer to Niner (Estates)

Feeling pretty certain this is a day that I will not be able to replicate … in any other wine region.  And how cool is that?

We arrived at Ancient Peaks Winery, which was the vision of three local winegrowing and ranching families, who dreamed of producing great wines from the Margarita Ranch region.  Fun fact – Robert Mondavi planted the Margarita Vineyard under a lease agreement until 2005 (when the Constellation acquisition happened) when the families decided to make the wines from their vineyard.  Ancient Peaks was chosen as the name due to the mountains that border Margarita Vineyard.  Santa Margarita Ranch first had grapes planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780 and today is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.  With five distinct soil types and over 50 vineyard blocks, this is a winery that happens to have a town located in the middle of the ranch property.

We started our day with VP of Operations, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, and Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor, with a safety lesson, a release form, tons of equipment ranging from a helmet to a harness to gloves and we set up the mountain to begin our adventure.  It was time to go zip lining across the pinot vineyards … and how cool is that?  Click here for my Paso Robles Zipline experience. We had a few folks on the team that opted out, but the rest of us were ready to go and seek adventure.  And what an adrenaline high!

Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor

After our zip line experience, we adjourned to the tasting room to learn more about the vineyard and the wines.  I loved the story about evolving from a corporate relationship to a small family-owned business based on wine quality and a focus on a sense of place.  Sinor said, “we want to let the vineyard speak and make wines that express the vintage for a price that over delivers.”

Our next stop was my favorite food experience (with fantastic wine) of the entire trip.  Niner Wine Estates is a LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard, a vineyard that has a natural heart-shaped growth.  We were hosted by Andy Niner, General Manager, and Molly Bohlman, Winemaker, who talked candidly about the struggles of pulling off a big estate vision – planting and harvesting three wineries, launching one restaurant with well-known chef Maegan Loring and making the decision to focus on estate wines – mostly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.

 

 

Our lunch was amazing (I am still dreaming about the carrot soup which shockingly was fantastic with the Sangiovese) and we had the chance to visit the chef garden, which was an exercise in frenetic harvesting, in motion.  The experience was an artistic vison of how each wine should go with the food.

We briefly visited Tin City, a business park of small production wineries.  We toured Field Recordings, where we saw some innovative wine canning and packaging, and Broadside Wines, which had some off the beaten path Italian varietals.  The next stop was ONX Wines, which was one of my favorite wineries of the trip.  ONX only makes 4,000 cases and is the only estate vineyard in the Tin City complex.  I loved these wines and would have shipped them home, but many of them were sold out due to the small production quantity.

Our next stop was Eberle Winery, the oldest continuously owned winery in Paso.  Gary Eberle is often referred to as the “godfather of Paso Robles” and was instrumental in establishing the AVA in 1983.  After graduating from Penn State with a football scholarship, he joined the SEC with a graduate focus on cellular genetics.  After developing an appreciation for wine due to a professor who introduced him to great French wines, he headed to U.C. Davis for his enology degree and moved to Paso Robles in the early 1970s.  This led him to a decision in the late 70’s to produce his own wine and he founded Eberle (German name for small boar).

He also asked the Steinbeck Family, who has evolved from growers to vintner ten years ago, to show their small production wines.  These wines are fantastic but a gift to those who visit Paso and Eberle.

Gary Eberle

Eberle built the first wine caves in Paso Robles, which now total 16,000 square feet of underground caves.  He decided to create a community – tastings are free and the vibe is “family reunion.”  Gary personally cooked his world-famous BBQ paired with Eberle and Steinbeck wines as we watched the sunset over the vineyards.  Such an iconic ending with a Paso pioneer.

So let me end with the only caveat of the trip – the San Luis Obispo airport.  Be afraid – you will hear how easy, how fast, how simple your check-in will be.  This is false.  You need to allow for the 90 minutes you hear about and frequently ignore.  We didn’t do that.  Four out of six (unable to give up the wine because we couldn’t check luggage) did not make our original flight.  I made my connection (18 minutes in between) from Phoenix to Dallas doing a quintessential OJ Simpson (pre-murder) and I still feel bad for my poor seatmates.

 

 


Paso Robles: History in the Glass

Our second day in Paso Robles was billed as a “vineyard to glass” experience.  We started with our chariot bus from Breakaway Tours where Owner Jill Tweedie helped start our journey in style.  We arrived at the train-themed Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, where Matt Merrill, the general manager, and Jim Shumate, the winemaker, greeted us with a tour.

 

The Merrill family has been growing grapes for eight generations and the business is still family owned.  After 30 years of growing for others, they decided to produce and farm their own wines five years ago.  The Merrill’s great grandfather was a railroad engineer and the tribute to him is an integral part of the winery experience.

 

 

Also joining us was Steve Martell, the winemaker for Sextant Wines and Ashley Leslie, portfolio manager.  Sextant is located right around the corner and Steve talked about how he uses fruit from the Pomar Junction as well as his own 100-acre vineyard.  This is when we started to hear about the Templeton Gap influence and how the diverse number of climates in the region along with the calcareous rock allow for so many different wines to be produced.  Jim Gerakaris, Winery Sommelier of Justin Wine, also talked about how Paso Robles has all of the qualities of any great global wine region.  Jim Shumate also talked about the lack of fear in trying new things that pushes the winemakers to do things that are different.

 

Our next stop was Adelaida Cellars, another family-owner vineyard located in the mountainous Adelaida District.  The winery focuses on Rhône, pinot noir, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.  The winery has 157 acres of vineyards in three different locations.  We hiked up to a spectacular view of the entire AVA and were greeted by Jeremy Weintraub, winemaker, and Paul Sowerby, national sales manager.  Also joining us was Jason Joyce, winemaker from Calcareous Vineyard, and Jordan Fiorentini, winemaker of Epoch Wines.  We took in the palate of colors from the mountain, drinking a Adelaida Rose, life was good.  Jason talked about the diversity of the region, “You throw a rock and find a new soil type.”

 

Jason Joyce, winemaker from Calcareous Vineyard

We came back to the tasting room that was remodeled about two years ago where we tried a line-up of great wines from these producers and had lunch.  The Rhone influence was really fun to see (and try) and the wines that are being produced out of the region were top notch.  It’s an influence of Old World vs New World with a special blend of Paso uniqueness thrown into the mix.

 

Our next stop was a first for me – Pasolivo Olive Oil.  We experienced the process of tasting five different oils, adding spices (habanero, lemon pepper, Italian mix, etc) and determining our perfect blend.  It was fun to go into the orchard and see the olive trees in bloom.

 

 

 

We then traveled to one of the pioneers in the region, Tablas Creek Vineyard.  Tablas Creek is a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, a long-time importer and founder of Vineyard Brands.  In 1985, the families formally partnered and purchased the 120-acre property in 1989.  The vineyard is all about the limestone and chalky soils and temperatures that allows the sun to ripen the grapes, the rain to dry farm the vineyard and for biodynamic farming.  When Tablas Creek couldn’t get the quality of vines it wanted back in the 1990’s, it imported cuttings directly from the Beaucastel vineyard and then shared them.  In fact, there are more than 400 wineries that have descendants of these cuttings today.  Our host, Manager John Morris, talked about how making better Rhone wines helps the quality and acceptance of these wines on a global scale.  We toured the vineyards, met alpacas and sheep, learned how to graft a grapevine and saw the sustainability measures in place firsthand.

We finished in the tasting room where we tasting 12 Rhone-style wines – a diverse range from red to white to rose.  After a day at Tablas, one proudly sports the badge of a “Rhone Ranger.”

We then had about 47 seconds to get back to the hotel and change for our dinner at Thomas Hill Organics, a restaurant that started as a CSA and then evolved into a well-known restaurant that focuses on local ingredients.  We had pairings for each course and four winemakers joined us – Kevin Willenborg from Vina Robles; Molly Lonborg (assistant winemaker) from Halter Ranch; Tom Lane from Bianchi Winery and JC Diefenderfer from Treana.


Tom from Bianchi has been the head winemaker for the past 11 years and bought the property 16 years ago.  He was born in Kansas and had “an illogical, romantic vision of what winemaking would be,” he said.  This was also his second career – he has three other degrees in biology, chemistry and botany.  Tom is the quintessential Renaissance man.  He actually brought the shocker wine of the meal – a Gewürztraminer that was an awesome dry white wine.

I didn’t get to spend much time with Molly from Halter Ranch Vineyard, which originally started as a grower’s vineyard.  The winery does 15 varietals – 60 percent Bordeaux and 40 percent Rhone-based.  Molly was generous enough to give us a bottle of wine to take and it was absolutely delicious.

Kevin from Vina Robles was also on the other side of the table.  He talked about the importance of having the vines do the work.  “You express the fruit, you never mask the fruit,” he said.

JC from Treana originally wanted to be a circuit board engineer until analog geometry got in the way.  But he knew he still wanted to develop, build and create.  His long-time friend, Austin Hope asked him to design and build their crush facility in Paso Robles.  This led to JC being on the winemaking team at Hope Family Wines starting in 1998 where he apprenticed under then-winemaker Chris Phelps.  When Austin asked him what he wanted to do, winemaking was the obvious choice.  “There are many of us that make Paso special by doing things differently,” he said.

My sense of community being alive and well in the region was reinforced.  The growers and winemaker look at making this one of the greatest regions in the world as a team effort.  The fact that Tablas Creek gave away cuttings from a highly-regarded vineyard to improve Rhone wines is only one proof point.  Winemaker Jordan Fiorentini from Epoch Estate Wines summed it up perfectly, “Make the best wines that you can and help those around you do the same.”


Five Texas Writers, Three Days of Paso Robles … The Adventure Starts Here

 Texas Media In Action

It felt a little like a Real World episode from the late 80’s.  Five writers, all from Texas, most who didn’t know the others, were brought together on a media trip.  At first glance, we were a diverse group – different ages, different religions and different ethnicities.  We ranged from career journalists to social media mavens to luxury publications to an occasional blogger like me.  And our interests were different – food, lifestyle and wine, but we shared a love for storytelling.

The View From My Room

Christopher Taranto, Communications Director, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance brought us all together to experience the Paso Robles region.  The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance is the collective voice of what makes Paso special.  The organization focuses on both growers and vintners and has approximately 500 members.  As we sat in the majestic lobby of the Allegretto Vineyard Resort, we knew we were in for some life moments ahead.

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

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

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

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest and most diverse wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.

 

We started our trip with dinner at Cello Ristorante and Bar, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a focus on the gardens, farms and vineyards of the region.  A group of legendary winemakers joined us and shared what makes Paso Robles special.  Don Brady, Winemaker of Robert Hall, talked about the dramatic growth of the region and how he decided to make his career there.  He was a splendid dinner companion and I had a blast talking about every subject under the sun.

Doug Beckett, Peachy Canyon Winemaker

Doug Beckett, Founder of Peachy Canyon Winery, kept us rolling with laughter and shared an inspiring story about his evolution from a home winemaker in San Diego, to one of the industry’s gurus.

Ben Mayo, the newly-named Winemaker for San Antonio Winery, which is known as the oldest winery in California, talked about his journey to taking his new position.

Steve Peck, the Winemaker for J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, talked about coming to the region because “it was the place where everything was happening and it represented the opportunity to realize the American dream.”

I found that like many regions, I could instantly decipher the Paso personality.  It’s a serious place for winemaking but with a collegial, family and a place willing to take a chance on grapes, varietals and the process of making wine.


A Trip Back to the 1800’s: A Stop Through Some of the Oldest Vineyards in Napa

Joshua Arroyo, our fantastic host at Chappellet Winery 

This leads me to day three of our wine country excursion and another one of my favorite all-time stops.  As you may recall, in November, I had the chance to sit down with the CEO of Chappellet Winery, Cyril Chappellet and had such a fun lunch that I knew this had to be a must stop during our trip.  Unfortunately Cyril and his wife, Molly, were out of town that weekend, but they set us up with Joshua Arroyo, a fabulous host that easily kept up with the group’s sarcasm and spirit of fun.

We started out with a tour of the new hospitality areas and the original winemaking facility that started producing wine in 1969.  Joshua told us how he had been with the Chappellet family for the last two years (72 hours after he unpacked his moving truck to be exact) after falling in love with wine.

We began with a 2015 Molly’s Chenin Blanc, which showcased Molly Chappellet’s sense of style with the super unique bottle.  Chappellet is one of four producers in the area that still make Chenin Blanc and it was delicious with a pretty floral nose and crisp minerality.

A little about how the Chappellet family came to Pritchard Hill.  It started more than 40 years ago when Donn and Molly Chappellet took a first look at the stunning mountain views.  Because they believed that Bacchus, the god of wine, loves the hills, combined with renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff’s advice to do so, they became the first to plant on Prichard Hill and these high-elevation hillsides.  The wines are known for being intense and elegant.

We toured the barn where it was fun to see the handprints of the six Chappellet children who are now adults and working with the winery.  Cyril and Carissa Chappellet oversee the day-to-day operations of the winery and Jon-Mark, Dominic, Lygia and Alexa Chappellet serve on the board.  Today there are nine grandchildren who play in the vineyards, just like their parents did.

We even brought Joshua in on the joke that my husband – much to his bemusement – is often mistaken for Mark Cuban.  As Joshua continued to give my husband a hard time about that, my husband retorted at the end with a funny come back.  And P.S. the little animal friends are something that we do on a trip for our ten-year-old daughter.

 

 

 

As we walked through the property, from the solar panels to the organic farming methods used, it was evident that this is a family who believes and cultivates in the land.  We laughed, we walked the grounds, we took pictures (thanks Joshua for making the photos at this site so much better than usual), we tasted wine in their amazing facility and we even visited the gorgeous picnic grounds on our way out.  And the wines – oh the wines – other than the Chenin Blanc, we tasted the 2013 Signature Chardonnay, the 2012 Napa Valley Las Piedras, the 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, the 2008 Signature Cabernet and the 2009 Signature Cabernet.  I am pretty certain that I ordered everything we tried.   Most importantly, we experienced what it felt like to be a part of Chappellet’s extended family.

 

We had two other stops that day as well.  One was a long overdue visit to Bremer Family Winery at Deer Creek on Howell Mountain. I first tasted these wines on a Napa trip when I was much younger and was eager to come back and revisit the stone winery and cellar first built in 1891.  The wines were as good as I remembered.

 

The last stop of the trip was Larkmead, another historic stop that is one of the oldest, family-owned grape growing estates in Napa.  Originally established in 1895, the 150-acre estate is known for its diverse soils and well-made, small-lot wines.




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