Archived entries for Zinfandel

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.


A Wine Country Journey: From Valley to Valley, Day Two

I heard a quote that came to life during my recent visit to the Maurtison Family Winery — “without history there is no future” – author, unknown.  The Mauritson family has been growing grapes and making wine for six generations and been in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 150 years.  During a Taste of Sonoma event in Dallas last year, I had the opportunity to meet Winemaker Clay Maurtison.  When I realized we would be staying about five miles from his family’s vineyard, I reached out.  I immediately received a response from Carrie Maurtison, who leads marketing and sales.  The next thing we knew we were four-wheeling it to the Rockpile Vineyard where we got up close and personal with the terroir that makes Maurtison Wines so special.

Carrie Mauritson

First a little background on the winery and the family.  S.P. Hallengren, the great-great-great grandfather of the family and pioneer of the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884 and was also a sheep rancher.  This land has quite the history.  The Rockpile land and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960 when the Army Corps of Engineers decided the land was needed to build Lake Sonoma.  The government paid 48 cents on the dollar and the family found most of its original ranch was now under water.  The family moved to Alexander Valley where it purchased 110 acres and then to Dry Creek Valley.  Maurtison has 310 vineyards across Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and and the Rockpile AVAs.

To continue the four wheeling story, we arrived at the vineyard and learned that the fruit has to be grown over 800 feet above sea level to be called “Rockpile”.  Carrie summed it up perfectly, ”If it wasn’t for love, there would be no Rockpile AVA”.  What I loved (other than the amazing Zins) were the stories.  The vineyards had interesting stories behind their names from Buck’s Pasture where deer liked to congregate to Jack’s Cabin (a tree girdler with a colorful history and a love of the drink lived there many decades ago) to Independence (the grandfather killed four pigs there on July 4th), the sense of history and fun of this family shone through.

 

Our line-up included the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, three different 2013 Zinfandels – Jack’s Cabin, Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin as well as the Madrone Spring Vineyard Syrah and the 2012 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Cabernet along with an amazing picnic lunch.

Gee and Barber

Our next stop was the chance to experience the caves of Freeman Vineyard and Winery.  You may recall my visit with Ken and Akiko Freeman during a Freeman dinner at Lakewood Country Club.  This was my chance to experience the caves and winery while introducing my friends to these incredible wines.  I wanted to see the Keystone of September 28, 1985 firsthand above the wine cave.  This stone captures a special moment of time where happenstance brought Ken to a party in New York where they met that involves a hurricane, a Chanel dress and the beginning of a great love story. And this proved that you never know who you are going to run into as we collided paths with former Dallas Sommelier Scott Barber and Heather Gee from La Tache De Vin.

At this point, I have to give a huge shout out to Chris and Janette, from My Napa Valley Driver.  I would not consider coming to Napa and not using these incredible folks.  They are funny, knowledgeable, hospitable, wine country natives and some of the greatest folks in the Valley.  They come to where you stay, drive your rental car (bringing along snacks/water) and have tons of knowledge on great places to go.  They kept us on schedule, even picked up Bouchon goodies when we didn’t have time to stop, ordered lunch for us one day and then picked out the perfect lunch stop for us when we had time between stops.  Oh, and they figured out how to get us from our Napa to Sonoma accommodations and only charge $45 an hour.

 

 Mary Ann Turrentine, Paradigm

The next day we started at Paradigm, a 50-acre winery, which is owned and managed by Ren and Marilyn Harris, two winegrowers (who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary).  The Harris have Napa roots with grandparents who came in 1769 and 1890.  They moved to Napa in the 1960’s and decided to purchase land in Oakville in the 1970s and sell the grapes.  Paradigm’s first wine was in 1991 and Icon Heidi Barrett, was the first winemaker and continues to consult on the wines there today.  Mary Ann Turrentine, the director of sales and hospitality, tasted us through a line-up starting with the rose’ and we had the chance to try the 2012 merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon as well as the 2011 cabernet sauvignon. The 2011 to the 2012 cabernet side-by-side tasting was an expression of Old World vs the more fruit-forward New World styles.

 

Our next stop was Cliff Lede Vineyards, which was established in 2002 when Cliff Lede, a Canadian, successful construction company owner and music enthusiastic purchased the 60-estate vineyard.  He promptly hired David Abreu, a well-known viticulturist and winemaker, to replant the vineyards.  Lede was whimsical in naming the vineyard blocks after his favorite rock songs and albums.  We experienced that firsthand in the VIP tasting room where we saw signed guitars and the art from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.  We tried several of the wines from Cliff Lede and FEL – ranging from $25 to $130.  This was a cool melding of great wine, music and whimsy.

My Napa Valley Drivers set up an awesome picnic for us in Healdsburg with food from Café R&D where we had a chance to drink a little water (and maybe some Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc) and ate some great food.

 

We then swung by Cornerstone Cellars – I’m a long-time fan.  The winery was founded in 1991 by Mike Dragutsky who wanted to make great wine.  Craig Camp, who recently left his Cornerstone position for his dream to make wine in Oregon, was the person who introduced me to these wines.  The mantra has always been about vineyard and variety.  Cornerstone also has a collaboration in Oregon to make pinot noir and chardonnay.  We tasted through the Corallina rose,’ which is also known as the artist series, as well as a number of the other full-bodied reds.  My favorites included the 2012 Cabernet France, Merlot and Michael’s Cuvee.

Me and Elizabeth Smith 

Our final stop was at Ehlers Estate where my friend and tasting room manager, Elizabeth Smith, was an incredible host.  I love the story – Bernard Ehlers bought a vineyard in the late 1800s that wasn’t in great shape.  He started a quest to replant the vineyard and completed construction of the stone barn that now hosts the tasting room.  He built quite the legacy – his original Bale Mill Winery operated under his wife until the 1920’s (and during Prohibition).

There were other owners until French Entrepreneurs (owners of a large laundry and linen business who also founded a cardiac foundation bearing the same last name — hence the heart logo) Jean and Syviane Leducq acquired the winery and understood how well the Bordeaux wines they loved would do at this vineyard.  They brought in Jacques Boissenot, a renowned enologist, and acquired local vineyards that fit the Bordeaux vision.  About 16 years ago, they brought the Ehlers history back with the original stone barn and the Ehlers name on labels.  They hired Kevin Morrisey as the winemaker and Francisco Vega, the vineyard manager, who share the passion for creating Old World, estate-only wines that express the uniqueness of the terroir and are farmed organically.  The wines are sold mostly direct to consumers at the winery.

Kevin Morrisey and me

We had a great chance to visit with Kevin who talked about going to college to study art.  He did a graduate program in enology with an interest in science.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, he had friends that started making films and he fell into a junior camera man role.  That role brought him to Paris and he fell in love with French wines and cooking.  After two years he returned to Los Angeles where it was a tough market.  At age 35, he returned to school at UC Davis knowing that he wanted to make wine.  He wanted an internship in Paris and stalked Chateau Petrus until they gave up and took him as a harvest intern.  He was at Stag’s Leap twice (first working his way up to associate winemaker and then as head winemaker and general manager) as well as Etude before coming to Ehlers.

“I loved data and science,” he said.  “Chemistry is meaningful – I love data and science because there is a natural reaction.”  He talked about how making wine and blending is much more fun than baking because of the ability to improvise.

“I want the wines to be distinctive and to be true to the grapes,” he continued.  Ehlers is laser focused on building upon Bernard Ehler’s legacy and staying true to the land, what is in the glass and the people who work the vineyards and enjoy the wines.  It’s truly a special place.

 


Sonoma Journey: Day One, The People Who Made This Trip Epic

 

Our Motley Crew Photo Taken After All Arrived

It only took about 500 days to plan it.  Eight of us sat around a dinner table in Dallas drinking great wine and, once again, the concept of taking a trip to wine country was broached.  This time, however, the calendars came out.  And we found ourselves about a year and a half later on a plane to Sacramento with a full agenda of wineries and food in Sonoma and Napa.

To be in the middle of story – part of the action writing about my own experience – is always a different plotline.  Aside from a media trip or two (or three) and the annual Wine Blogger’s Conference, usually I am telling another’s story vs. being part of it.  I rarely also use the blog as an entry to wineries, but I have found that after more than six years, these folks have become friends and it’s nearly impossible to decide who to visit.

We started our journey in stages as work and travel dictated our friends arrive on different days and times.  Four of us had a rocky start as our American Airlines flight was delayed … and delayed … and delayed.  I knew we had a couple hour drive ahead of us before our two appointments and a dinner reservations.  Throw in some crazy Sacramento traffic and we were in panic mode calling the wineries.  You never, ever want to be late for an appointment – especially when arranged by good friends.

 

Fast forward through the planes and automobiles scenario and we finally reached Comstock Wines.  The winery was established with a vision to grow and source the best Sonoma County has to offer.  It truly is a family affair.  Bob and Sandy Comstock began growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley in 2002 and over time decided they wanted to start a winery, which opened in 2015.

Kelly Comstock Ferris, General Manager

Some Ideas Are Better Than Others

Their daughter, Kelly Comstock Ferris, who was our host and is the General Manager, told us about the 18-acre vineyard that yields Zinfandel (some of their Zinfandel vines are 115 years old), Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay.  Winemaker Chris Russi took us through the winery and into the vineyards where I may have gotten a little too zealous about checking out the soil when he mentioned dry farming.  One hose off later and we were back on the tour.  Chris talked about helping to build the winery from the ground up as “a winemaker’s dream.”

 

The winery truly is a place where the Comstock’s want wine lovers to gather.  From the pizza ovens on the patio to the annual Easter egg hunt to bocce ball on the lawn, it is a place that encourages gathering over a great glass of wine (and I tried and took home many of these wines).  They served us an amazing lunch and we got to live the motto — “We are All Comstock Wines.”

Bill Smart, General Manager (left)

Our next stop brought us to Lambert Bridge Winery, which absolutely was an undiscovered gem to me.  Lambert Bridge is located west of Dry Creek near its namesake bridge.  Ironically the C.L. Lambert family settled at this property a century ago.  And 60 years later, Jerry Lambert, who was not related, decided this was an amazing site to make wine in 1975.  Fast forward to 1993 and Ray and Patti Chambers fell in love with the property.

Smart (top right) and Higgins (bottom right)

 

We met with Lambert Bridge’s Bill Smart, general manager, and Jennifer Higgins, winemaker.  Jennifer talked about the story telling that goes into a bottle of wine.  We talked, we drank amazing wine, we told stories and we were made to feel like family.  On top of that we sat outside and had the most amazing view.  Jennifer talked about quality, the investment of the current owners, limited production (the winery went from 25,000 cases to 7,000 cases) and how involved she is in every step of the farming and winemaking.

Jennifer, a Sonoma County resident, had a master plan of taking her biochemistry degree and going to medicine school.  She moved to Italy for two years and took a tasting room job as she studied for her exam.  In just a small amount of time, Zelma Long of Simi Winery, one of the iconic women winemakers, changed Jennifer’s mind about wine and a passion was born.  She talked about the “who’s who” in female wine makers that she’s worked with and it’s an impressive list from Helen Turley to Jill Davis.  She now has become the mentor to other women and believes in the importance of paying it forward.

Damn, that is all….

Lambert Bridge sorts every berry on every individual cluster and is very straightforward in its approach – “we make wine for passionate wine drinkers,” Bill said.  The winery sells direct to consumers and doesn’t submit for wine ratings.  I tried twelve different wines and was absolutely blown away by every wine that I tasted.  Our two-hour timeframe passed in the blink of an eye.  The winery talks about family, milestones, passion and the importance of keeping a sense of place.  It is a group of people that have never met a stranger that have a mission of sharing great wine with great people.

We left Lambert Bridge wishing we didn’t have another appointment so soon and went to unpack and change clothes at my uncle’s amazing chateau for the evening.  No detail was spared and I’m so blessed we were able to stay at this amazing property.  Watch this blog in the future as I will be writing about some of the Tanzbear wines that will come out of his vineyard.

Me and Lisa

 

Our last stop of the night was at Valette to meet the amazing Lisa Mattson, the head of marketing for Jordan Wines.  Lisa has always been a soul sister of mine and is one of the most talented marketing minds that I know.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but this is a dinner spot in Sonoma that should not be missed.


A Chat With Pat: Kenwood Vineyards Winemaker’s Perspective

Kenwood Vineyards has a storied history – one that began in 1970 in the former Pagani Brothers Winery, a winery that dates back to 1906 that was once known for its production of jug wines.  Kenwood changed that heritage when John Sheela and his brothers-in-laws, Mike Lee and Marty Lee renamed the facility Kenwood and were among the first to start making premium wine in Sonoma Valley.

We were invited for an intimate blogger chat with Kenwood Vineyards’ Winemaker Pat Henderson.  His love for wine began more than 30 years ago.  In 1983, Pat was a 20-year-old attending winemaking school at the University of California Davis.  He needed a job and worked as a harvest intern in Napa and Sonoma.  When it was time for a full-time gig, he started calling and ended up with a full-time job at Kenwood after his original cellar internship.  When Senior Winemaker Mike Lee retired in 2003, Pat stepped up to that position.

“Sonoma and Kenwood just seem like home,” he said.  “Sonoma has a great diversity of terroirs in the vineyards.  We go to the best places to find the best grapes and we make those wines in small lots.”  Kenwood has a 23-acre vineyard and sources grapes from dozens of producers including Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Mountain.   We tried four wines which arrived in a beautifully packaged wooden crate.  The labels had been completely redone and had a fresh, modern look.

2014 Kenwood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc – a value-oriented, crisp Summer white with notes of lemon, lime, tropical fruit with a nice minerality.

2014 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Russian River Chardonnay – made in a small lot, reserve style wine, the Six Ridges label is a tribute to the mountains and ridges that border the diverse Sonoma appellations in the vineyards.  I tasted notes of apple, vanilla, pear, peach and a note of spice.

2013 Jack London Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – named for Jack London, the well-known author of Call of the Wild and adventurer, has quite the story.  Jack was too restless for his one semester at the University of California and decided to become a hobo with a goal of writing 1,000 words a day about his life.  He was jailed for vagrancy, built roads in New York and later became a foreign correspondent before writing his well-known books.  He bought the ranch in Sonoma County in 1977 and every dime he made is invested back in the ranch.  Since 1976, Kenwood Vineyards has been the exclusive producer of wines from his ranch.   I tasted notes of black cherry, herbs, currant, vanilla, mocha and mint.

2013 Kenwood Six Ridges Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel – I tasted fig, red fruit, pepper, Asian spice and mocha in this well balanced Zinfandel.

“The vineyards are like my kids – I can’t treat them all the same,” Henderson said.  “Kenwood is investing more to make better wine, not more wine.”  And this is a trend I personally love seeing especially with a large wine conglomerate like Pernod Ricard at the helm.


Malai Kitchen: Laser Focused on the Consumer Food & Wine Experience

In Texas, there are too many restaurants that refuse to take the same care with their wine lists as they do with their food menus.  Five years ago, after an experience with one of Dallas’ “venerable” institutions, I let loose with my vent and the idea that Dallas diners deserved so much better.

Then restaurants like Malai Kitchen come around and bring back hope that a dining experience should involve equal attention to food as well as the wines that bring out the full flavors of the menu.  Almost two years ago, I was invited by Yasmine and Braden Wages to try the 20 wines by the glass they had carefully chosen to compliment their Asian menu. Here was my experience.

I loved that they challenged convention and had suggested pairings to make the dining experience easier and to take the guesswork out for consumers.  Fast forward to December of 2015, and the Wages had added flights of red and white wines.  For $22, consumers receive four white wines or four red wines equaling about two full glasses of wines.  Because the menu is so diverse, it was a great way to experience a wide range of food and wines.  The process also allows some discoveries about non-traditional pairings.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our Texas Wineaux group, a group of wine lovers who have gathered together to taste wines, eat great food and generally have a great time.  When I received the invitation from Malai, I knew that this group would so enjoy the experience.

Our line-up looked a little like this.

The White Flight:

  • 2014 Selby Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2014 Chateau Routas Rose
  • 2012 Les Vignes d’Alexandre Chateauneuf-du-Pape
  • 2014 Kessler “R” Riesling

We paired these with Vietnamese meatballs, Ahi Tuna tartare, crab curry spicy dip and coconut soup.  The Selby and the tuna tartare as well as the coconut soup were fantastic pairings.  The Chateau Routas and the spicy crab dip was amazing.  While we all agreed the Kessler Riesling was a great match, it was the safer choice of all of the other wines.

The Red Flight:

  • 2006 Chateau Compassant Bordeaux
  • 2014 Bodegas Filon Granacha
  • 2011 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel
  • 2012 Bell Syrah

We paired this with a number of dishes including the Iron Pot Green Curry Chicken, the Snapper special and the Drunken Noodles.  The Chateau Compassant Bordeaux was the clear winner with both the curry and the snapper dishes.

Malai Kitchen continues to be an affordable, well concepted and fantastic bright spot in Dallas’ dining scene run by one of the nicest couples out there.  And for those of you who live closer to Southlake, you will soon have a Malai Kitchen to call your own as well.  Try the coconut cream pie – it is worth breaking your New Year’s Resolution.


The Passion, The Paycheck and What’s Pending?

In my last blog post where I had the chance to talk to Cyril Chappellet, we ended our conversation talking about loving what you do and doing what you love. 

Many of you know that by day I’m the Chief Marketing Officer for a software company.  For three years I’ve had a great run, but it’s time for me to see what’s next.  I leave so proud of my legacy and what my team has accomplished.  Recently my management and marketing teams pulled together to give me an incredible send off at Abacus, a place that has been one of my top special occasion restaurants for years.  When I had my daughter ten years ago, and keep in mind she came suddenly and a month early, Abacus sent the first flower arrangement to the hospital.  To this date, I have no idea how they knew.  It was a night where I felt appreciated and my company did an amazing job sending me off in style.

I’ve been asked if I plan to do something full time with wine.  While I adore the blog and you guys rock, I love having the separation of the paying gig and the passion.  That way it never, ever feels like a job and having some time off to figure out what is next is freeing.  

My Awesome Sister-In-Law, Caitie, and the Adorable Max

For Thanksgiving I flew to Rhode Island to visit my brother and his family, including my new nephew, Max.  With great food and wine, we celebrated family, we celebrated being together, we celebrated new beginnings and we celebrated Max’s Baptism.  I actually had some special samples from Elyse and Paul Mas that traveled with me to Providence.    

Paul Mas ‘Cote Mas’ Cremant de Limoux Rose Brut – peach, apricot, oranges and hints of macadamia nut.  A really nice rose sparking to top off your holiday celebrations.

Paul Mas ‘Cote Mas’ Cremant de Limoux Blanc Brut – notes of baked bread, honey, citrus, lemon curd with a balanced minerality.  Both of these sparkling wines were perfect with Thanksgiving and priced under $15.

It was fun to take my mom through the Elyse and Jacob Franklin wines and find out which wines she favored and which ones were less of her preference.  She is not a huge fan of licorice and sage and that impacted the wines that tasted best to her. I, however, love those flavors.

2011 Elyse Howell Mountain Zinfandel – smoked meat, blackberry, spice, cola and cedar.  This wine never disappoints to deliver on what makes Zinfandel great.

2009 Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – a great blend of cassis, red fruit, spices, chocolate, sage and chocolate.  This is a great option for your holiday table.

2010 Jacob Franklin Cabernet Sauvignon – a very small production wine that I adored.  I tasted chocolate, raspberry liquor, mint, spice and mocha.

2011 Jacob Franklin Haynes Vineyard Petite Syrah – this needed a little more time to open, but it showed how great it will taste with age. I tasted licorice, caramel, mocha, pepper and blueberry.

What will the future bring for me?  I’m uncertain, but blessed enough to have some paid time off to hang with family, ponder the future, spend some time on the blog and drink some amazing wines.  Cheers to a great 2016!




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