Wine Blogging & Content Creation: It’s all about engagement

Connections.  Networking.  Friendship.  Community.  These are some of the top reasons that people attend the Wine Bloggers Conference, year after year.  As we approach the 10th anniversary event in Sonoma next year, I have to reflect on how this event has grown and changed over the last 9 years.

Beginning in 2008, when there were a scant 100 of us gathered at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa, we all knew each other (or at least knew of each other).   It was a tight knight community of online writers, and we were all learning about the new platform for sharing our stories.  There were, indeed, a few standout stars already emerging, however the playing field was level.  Twitter was in it’s infancy, and there was very little video out there specific to wine.

Moving through the years to this year’s conference in Lodi, a lot has changed.  And yet, very little has changed.  Building a strong network of influence is still about seeking connections.  The primary difference today, is that where you find these connections has changed.

In 2008, we found these connections at the conference, on Wine 2.0 (a now defunct social network for wine lovers and writers), at wine events, and on twitter.  Today, those networks have expanded to include video channels such as YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and more.  And yet, the process of searching, connecting, and engaging is still the same.

As a professional consultant, I network every day.  That is the key to building my brand and my business.  Translating those skills to my blog, I shift my connections from technology and potential clients to wineries, regional associations, and individuals that I would like to connect with.

When you are finding people to build connections with, ask yourself:  What can I offer them with my wine blogging (content creation)?  What problem can I help solve?  How am I benefiting them with my wine blogging?  How am I working on improving my wine blogging?   In terms of the Wine Bloggers Conference, I can offer 9 years of experience watching the conference and the blogging world grow and develop.  In the wine industry, what can you offer?  Do you have a unique angle?  Is your audience something they should target?

As a wine blogger, content creator, digital wine writer, however you want to describe it, I look for these connections.  As Andrea Robinson said during her keynote this year, how do you add personal value?  What are you doing to create value in yourself?  By seeking, building connections, and acting on these connections, you are building your personal value.

But how do you get to engagement?  You’ve done the hard part, you’ve built your connections by going to WBC.  You’ve met dozens of people in person that you only knew online, or didn’t know at all.  Now, you need to act on those connections.  Today, engagement means more than it did in 2008.  At the first WBC, we had interactive blogs and monthly wine blogging writing challenges.  In 2016, we have live video streaming, twitter tastings, and other collaborative platforms to share our wine blogs and create collaborative content.

Furthermore, engagement means sharing and spreading content that you like.  It’s not enough to like a post on Facebook or on Instagram.  Today’s challenging social media culture requires you to engage with these platforms and share other people’s content.  By building engagement with others’, you are attracting other people to your content.

The most successful people in business, and the most successful bloggers, have strong networks and connections.  As a community, wine bloggers and content creators are very open and engaged.  Expanding that engagement and practicing those skills will net you rewards that are unexpected, and enriching.connect

So what are the key takeaways from this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference?

  • Network, network, network.  This is how you build your connections.  This doesn’t mean acting entitled and expecting everything to be handed to you, this is the hard work part.  Attend a local wine festival, go wine tasting, buy wine.
  • Keep in mind, it takes time to build a network.  Don’t expect this to happen overnight.  Just like business, building a network of wineries, associations and PR professionals is driven by your content, longevity, and professionalism.
  • With dozens of social networks, choose the 2-3 that you can focus on and pay focus on.  It’s better to do more with less than to do less with more.  This goes hand in hand with knowing your audience.  Where do they hang out?
  • Know your audience.  Spend a little time finding out where they are, what they are reading, and how you can tailor your content for them.  That doesn’t mean sacrificing what you want to write about, but rather finding new and interesting things for your audience to read.
  • Keywords are your friends.  By doing a little research, you can get big rewards.  What are people looking for?  What value can you add?  What wines do you have in your rack that people want to know about?
  • Search, connect, engage.  Engage in your community.
  • Don’t focus on monetizing your blog.  Monetize yourself (more on this later).  What value can you add?
  • Educate yourself.  Are there classes or certifications you can pursue that will help you?
  • Content is king, both at the conference and on your blog.  Every year, there is some of the same content and a lot of new content at the conference.  But even old dogs can learn new tricks.
  • Don’t be stagnant.  What can you learn?  What can you change?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  The platforms might have changed, but the core values have not.  Have fun, have wine, learn new things, and meet new people!

 

5 Indian Summer Cocktails that the Drapers Would Die For

Redwood Room

The back bar at the Redwood Room

Walking through the doors of the historic Clift Hotel in San Francisco, you can almost smell the years of cigar smoke and high powered financial deals that linger in the wood lined lobby.  Long the bastion of high powered deal making, the Clift opened it’s doors in 1913 by Frederick Clift on a family property, to serve the Pan Pacific Exposition.

Build to survive earthquake and fire, it still stands with the 1924 expansion of three additional floors.  At the time, it was the largest hotel in the state, and today, while it is now owned by the Morgans Hotel Group, it still remains much the same as when it initially opened.

The dark and brooding Redwood Room cocktail lounge feels like you are stepping back in history, with modern touches.  So named for the rich redwood panelled walls, and imposing etched glass and wood bar all pull us back to the original hotel’s glamour and clientele.  Enhancing to the unique flair, the Redwood Room boasts digital art work that will change when you are least expecting it – reminding me of a scene out of the cult movie Clue.

Clift’s famous and hanging array of digital artwork displayed on plasma television screens hung throughout the room. Snack on gourmet bites while sipping on delicious cocktails and enjoying curated music provided by well-known native San Francisco DJs along with world-class talent Thursday through Saturday nights.,

Master Mixologist Anthony Kim created the inventive and refreshing cocktail list just in time for Indian Summer, which is when us San Franciscians traditionally get some suIMG_1685nshine.  Using the freshest ingredients, these 5 cocktails represent traditional drinks that you might find in any bar, but with a twist of fresh, bright, and unique flavors.

A bit like a mai tai, this drink was named for two kings:  Bourbon, and basil.  This was my 2nd favorite of the night, because, naturally I love bourbon, and the addition of strawberries and basil adds a savory but sweet note that hits the spot.

A mimosa that is splashing out to play, the passion fruit and mint play off of each other in a dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, while the vodka adds a cool touch.  A smooth and refreshing aperitif.

Wine tickets to a wine safari!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a bit, you know that I love to support local charities, especially by #drinkingforcharity.  Today, I would like to tell you about Vineyards to Village, who is dedicated to supporting clean water for schools in Kenya.
Every year, they host a Wine Safari, where you can drink fabulous Sonoma County wines and support water projects for schools in Kenya!  This year, our friends at Christopher Creek Winery, Deux Amis Winery, Fritz Underground Winery, Merriam Vineyards, Pedroncelli Winery, Portalupi Wine, Thumbprint Cellars, Trione Winery, Williamson Wines, the Windsor Tasting Lounge, and Viszlay Vineyards are offering complimentary tastings at their properties for Safari guests from September 3-11.
These boutique wineries offer small, intimate experiences with some of Sonoma’s best wines!  Each Safari Passport gives you one week to visit all of these tasting rooms, and participating wineries will donate 1/3 of their sales of a given wine to Vineyard to Village safari-clip-artm-vector-clip-art-online-royalty-freefor the week.  This Wine Safari also includes a limited edition keepsake glass!
With the purchase of every ticket, you will be entered to win wine raffle prizes! If you visit every “animal” (winery) on the safari and show us your complete safari pass on our Facebook page, you’ll get an additional 10 raffle tickets! You also receive an extra raffle ticket with every purchase of V2V wine!

For more information no Global Partners and Vineyard to Village, please click HERE.

Enter the giveaway below to win two tickets to the Jambo Safari event!  If you prefer to purchase tickets directly to support this wonderful cause, please click here.

Happy first week September!

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BasilHaydensBottle-featured

Celebrate American Whiskey with Basil Hayden Bourbon

I did it!  Last month, after a year and a half, I passed my Certified Spirits Specialist exam.  PHEW!  A must do for anyone who is serious about spirits, this credential, administered by the Society of Wine Educators was more rigorous than I anticipated, but delves deep in to the history and production of spirits from around the world.

That said, I’ve always had a bit of a passion for whiskey, ever since I visited Scotland for the first time.  Today, I am learning more and more about American whiskey.  Today, I am playing around with Basil Hayden Kentucky Bourbon.

The first time I tried Basil Hayden Kentucky Bourbon, I wrinkled my nose and said to my friend “thanks for smoking me out”.  As a whiskey girl who shies away from peaty Scotch and smokey whiskey in general, I wasn’t sure about the flavor profile back then.  Today, that has changed as I have experienced a wide variety of bourbons and American whiskey in general.

This is a great beginner’s drink, as it’s affordable and an easy drinker.  With lemon, fresh cream, and yellow cake mix on nose, classic vanilla and mild campfire smoke mesh with the baking spice and anise on the palate.

Introduced by Jim Beam brands in 1992 as part of their small batch collection, the mash bill is said to be similar to the original Basil’s, and thus is his namesake.The primarily corn based recipe lends itself to a clean but richer style, and it’s perfect for a cocktail or over an ice cube or two.

Tonight, enjoy some Basil Hayden Bourbon in a Country Lawyer, or celebrate Whiskey Sour day on Friday!

Country Lawyer

original recipe adapted from the classic Park Tavern drink

  • 3 oz Basil Hayden Bourbon
  • 1 oz Rhubarb Amaro (Zucca is the most common but I used Art in the Age.)
  • 1/4 oz Benedictine
  • 1/4 oz Vya Sweet Vermouth
  • 3 dashes Fee Bros Aztec Chocolate bitters
  • shake well over ice, and pour neat and garnish with lemon.

To celebrate Friday’s Whiskey Sour Day, why not try a Basil Hayden‘s® Summer Sour brought to you by San Francisco Mixologist Matt Grippo.

  •  1 ½ parts Basil Hayden’s®  Bourbon
  • ½ part Fresh Lemon Juice
  • ¾ part Sweet Vermouth
  • ¼ part Tonic Syrup
  • 2 dashes of Angostura® Bitters
  • Orange Twist (for garnish)

I’ll be testing this one and will get back to you with my tweaks!

 

This bottle was provided for consideration, and I considered it so much I went out and bought another!

Troon Vineyards M&T Reseve: An Unusual Blend from an Unusual Winery

You might not expect a dark and delicious red wine to come from Oregon’s Applegate Valley, but Troon Vineyard’s M&T Reserve is just that.  This co-fermented blend of Tannat and Malbec is surprisingly low in alcohol at only 13.7%, but is rich in flavor!

Intensely floral, full of black licorice and dried lavender on the nose, the palate is full of bold espresso, dark chocolate and dark berries.  This is a lush wine but also has a beautifully ripe and bright strawberry finish, and is bursting with cracked pepper.

As I sip this wine on a cool and foggy summer afternoon, I can’t help but think of how cozy it would be with a roaring fire and some roasted pork, orange and is perfect for some nice homemade lasagne.

 Thank you Troon and Craig Camp for sharing these lovely wines!  Next up, we move backwards to the refreshing whites!

Troon Vineyard: Surprises from southern Oregon

When industry blogger and General Manager of Cornerstone Napa announced he was leaving California for the wilds of southern Oregon and Troon Vineyard, my first reaction was “what the heck?”.  Craig Camp had been instrumental in exposing a luxury Napa Valley brand to a new world of wine drinkers, launching a sister label (Stepping Stone, which is now Cornerstone black label) and had become an essential member of the blogging community.
It was with slight trepidation that I waited to hear about this new venture in Oregon.  But, knowing Craig, I trusted that it would be magical.  When the first updates started arriving, I knew we were in for a treat.
Troon Vineyard has over 40 years of history in the upstart region of Southern Oregon.  The original vineyards were planted in the 1970s, and was the site of experimental plantings, innovation, and a revolution in Southern Oregon wine.  In 2003, founder Dick Troon sod the property to Larry Martin, who planted new vineyards, diversified the portfolio and created the wines that we know today.  With Vermentino, Syrah, Tannat, and Malbec, as well as blends, Troon is blazing a new path in Southern Oregon.
Southern Oregon is often known for Tempranillo, with it’s bright acid and earthy notes.  But Troon goes a step farther and delves in to the big reds, traditionally known to both France and South America.

First up:

A renegade wine from Oregon’s Rouge Valley, the Troon Vineyard Malbec loves the rocky soils that are decaying from the mountaintops above the valley. This rich, bold Malbec is pleasing on a cold summer night, with ripe blackberry, a touch of smoke, and espresso notes dancing on plum pudding. Old saddle leather and cigar box aromas envelop the pop of acid at the finish, wrapping you in warmth and bold flavors without weighing your palate down, with silky smooth tannins.
Thank you Craig and Troon for introducing me to these lovely wines!  Next up, Troon Tannat

Tips from the Trenches: How to #WBC16

Two weeks from today, the 9th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference kicks off in downtown Lodi.  I can’t believe we’ve been running this show for nine years, and that some of us who were there in the beginning, what a long, strange, trip it’s been!

Like everything, the blogging and the career have changed a lot over that time period.  You may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet around here; things are working in the background, the the Wizard of Oz, changing, moving, growing.

One of those things is the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund.  This passion project takes up an inordinate amount of time, particularly the few months leading up to the conference, and tends to take over.  Add on top of the my day job (jobs really), and something suffers.  Sadly, it’s this blog.

That said, I’m very much looking forward to Lodi, and as you can see from my series on Lodi wines there is a lot to look forward to.  As I do every year, I write my advice column to both veteran attendees as well as newbies.  There is so much to do, see, and learn at the conference, as well as networking opportunities and camaraderie.

Each attendee has a unique perspective, but for me, as a 9 year attendees (one of only 5), Advisory Board Member, Scholarship co-founder and Director, and wine industry worker, this is mine.

Practical

  • Wear comfortable shoes.  you never know when we’ll be hiking up a hill in a vineyard
  • Wear comfortable business casual / wine country casual clothes with layers.  This is not a lawyers convention!  It can get chilly at night with fog coming in, so bring a sweater.  Wear layers.  It is HOT in Lodi during the day, however it can cool off significantly at night due to the Delta breezes, and hotel AC can be brutal.
  • Bring multiple devices.  There are often times when a laptop isn’t practical (in the vineyard) and your phone doesn’t have reception.  Brnig multiple devices.
  • Bring your own power source.  Power packs, instant chargers and mini power strips are all critical.  There is often a battle to get a slot in the power wall, so bringing a strip will allow you to share the love.  I love this one as it folds, has USB ports and 4 power slots.  I also love a great power squid.
  • If you have a MiFi bring it.  Wifi resources are taxed beyond belief and are not made for 350 people online all day, with multiple devices.   For extra points, give some karma and open your mifi up for others (your billing terms will dictate this, but if you have unlimited or the budget, be kind and share)
  • Bring business cards.  Yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item.  The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read other peoples information.
  • Hydrate.  Lodi is HOT!  There will be a lot of wine.  Water, water water.  If you have a metal / plastic water bottle, bring one.  They come in VERY handy!

Conference Etitquette

  • Be professional.  While we’re there to have fun and learn, no one likes a party animal that gives bloggers a bad name.  We all remember some years where people were not responsible and made the local community dislike bloggers in general.  Please don’t’ be that person.  This is a business conference.  We want Lodi to LOVE us and invite us back!  Act like your grandmother is in the room.
  • Attend the keynote.  Andrea Robinson is incredibly knowledgeable, and is very open to meeting & talking to bloggers.  She spoke in Walla Walla, and is a great resource (and person to know).  She will have an amazing keynote!
  • Attend the breakouts that are important to you.  We are all adults, and we are all well aware that not every session will speak to you.  However, this is a conference, not a frat party.  We’re hear to learn and share, so get ye to the breakouts!
  • Get to know your sponsors.  We have a few hours on Thursday at the Registration, Expo, Gift Suite, and Opening Wine Reception to to say hi and learn who made this conference possible.
  • Attend the Opening Reception and Expo – if you are arriving on Thursday, be sure to attend the opening reception.  This is your first chance to meet the Lodi locals, and meet your sponsors.  There is plenty of time to stop by and still go out and enjoy the evening.
  • Attend the Friday Expo & lunch.  Here, you and meet additional sponsors, mingle with your fellow attendees, and support the Scholarship.
  • Spit spit spit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Yes, there are moments (dinner, after hours parties) where I don’t spit and enjoy myself, but you are representing bloggers as a whole, and should have some decorum.  It’s a business conference at the core, disguised as a party.  Present yourself accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to sleep!  There are always many after hours events and parties.  While going to these is fun and a great way to meet people, don’t overdo it.  Sleep is critical during this busy weekend of events.
  • I repeat:  Hydrate.  Lodi is HOT!  There will be a lot of wine.  Water, water water.

Time Management

  • Don’t worry about blogging DURING the conference.  Time is precious and you will stress yourself out and miss content if you try to blog during the event.  Write your thoughts down and save the blogging for when you get home.
  • Attend the break outs.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While You Need to choose which bits are important to you as a blogger, please don’t be the person that doesn’t attend any of the sessions (that just makes us ALL look bad)
  • Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed.  While content is king, if there is a session that isn’t’ interesting to you, use the time to blog, hang out with your fellow attendees, or just chill.
  • Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once – at the same time, there are often two sessions running at the same time that you might want to go to.  There is no wrong choice, and you can’t do it all so don’t try to.

 

Other Things

  • Don’t be shy – reach out and touch someone.  Ok maybe not literally, but turn to the person sitting next to yourself and introduce yourself.  We don’t bite and we want to get to know you!
  • Find a WBC Scholarship committee member, and get your swag on!  Rodney Strong #wineloveragainstcancer bags are available at the scholarship table, and If you’re super cool, donate to the Scholarship or buy a souvenir stemless glass ($5 to buy one, 2 free with a $50 donation), capabungas, and other awesome swag.  All proceeds go to next year’s scholarship
  • Get some Blogger Bling (namebadge ribbons) at the WBC Scholarship table on Friday!  They are great icebreakers and support the Scholarship.
  • Say hi to the donors & scholarship winners!
  • There are many after hours parties.  These are not private hidden events, but you do need to keep your ears open.  Most are word of mouth.
  • Twitter is the tool of choice.  The #wbc16 hashtag trends every year.  Other platforms that are popular are Instagram and Twitter.
  • Have an open mind.  You never know if there are wines you wouldn’t normally try, that you will love!
  • Bring something from home that represents your region, style, and / or personality.  This could be wine, but it could also be food, a book, or a t-shirt.

Here’s what I think I’ll be doing:

  • Welcome Reception
  • Andrew Robinson Keynote.  
  • History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi – this is your best chance for an in depth look at the local area.
  • The Truth About Viticulture – a fascinating look at marketing fact and fiction in wine
  • Expo – come see me at the Scholarshp table and get some swag!
  • Wine Discovery Session:   Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET presents From Prosecco to Amarone: The varied and delicious wines of Italy’s Veneto, sponsored by Consorzio Italia di Vini & Sapori.
  • Live Blogging
  • Friday evening excursions to wine country
  • Saturday Breakout sessions:
    • Wine Samples – this is a hot topic amongst experienced media.  Come join the discussion!

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten.  As you can see, there are some sessions not on my personal agenda. It’s not that I don’t find them valuable; it’s just that I don’t think I will be personally interested in them.  In leaving them off my “must do” list, I create some free flow, where I can catch up with my blogger friends, experience some of the local restaurants, join an off the grid get together, or just chill.

I will see everyone in 2 weeks!

 

There’s gold in that furrow!

Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines.  These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather.

This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel.  Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard.  Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect.  Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines.

His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land.  Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region.

Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his ClIMG_0653ements Hills Viognier.  This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas.  It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day.

After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ.  Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines.

 

Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc.  One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully.IMG_0655

 

 

McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin.  Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years.  Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business.
The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces.  But don’t take my word for it!  Stop by and visit when you’re in town.  McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5.
The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars!  If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.

Dot…dot…dot

It’s hard to tell my looking out the window these days, but it’s high summer.  Generally speaking, high summer means warm weather, sunny days, and relaxing weekend BBQs with cold, refreshing pink wine.

Ellipsis Wine Company was founded in 2008 by Jonathan Neisingh, who, after growing up in the heart of Sonoma wine country (in Healdsburg) moved to San Luis Obispo to pursue his education in agribusiness (and wine!).  Completing his education and moving back to Sonoma County,  I met Ellipsis several years ago, at one of the large tastings here in SF.  At that time, I knew I loved their wine, and am thrilled to see them grow and develop over the last 8 years.  Growing up in Healdsburg, Jonathan saw first hand the industry grow and change over the last twenty years, which drives his passion to make world class wine (with the help of their consulting winemaker) that expresses each region’s unique terroir in every sip.

Ignoring the seemingly endless mist outside, summer can come in a glass!  Particular this glass of Ellipsis Wine Company Rosé of Pinot Meunier.  The first thing you notice about this beautiful pink wine is the depth of color:  a pure purple toned pink, it looks gorgeous in the glass, and the first whiff gives off a lovely savory dried herb character.   The first sip reveals savory watermelon salad with lavender, juicy wild strawberries, and tropical notes.  I love the mineralality that plays off of the juicy citrus, and the medium body makes it a great wine for grilled chicken, burgers and other summer fare.  I can’t wait to visit and get more of this fantastic summer sipper!  $25

Thank you to #winestudio and Ellipsis for another great Tuesday Tasting!

 

Rosé , Rosé , Rosé , Rosé

IMG_1065 (1)Will they ever be as sweet?

The answer is, no!  because rose has made a revolution, and there are new kids on the block.  Gone are the days of bygone all there was to rosé was a sweet, cloying white zinfnadel.  Today’s American pink wine is diverse, exciting, and runs from off dry to bone dry, from juicy strawberries to salted watermelon.

To focus on these diverse styles of rosé, this month’s #winestudio is focusing on the various style of rosé from Sonoma County.

The first up is Passaggio Wines, who’s winemaker Cindy Cosco loves to play with different fruit sources.  I’ve known Cindy for a while now, from her humble beginnings at Crushpad in San Francisco after a career in law enforcement, to her thriving tasting room on the Sonoma Plaza.

Starting with the Barbera, on through the Mourvedre, pushing through Rosé Colored Glasses (a Tempranillo) and on to her latest pink project from Merlot, there is always something new to taste form this eclectic winery.

2014 Mourvedré Rose (sold out) – quite possibly my favorite of the three, the Mourvedré Rose comes from Clarksburg, a warm climate in the Central Valley.  With juicy red fruit, strawberries and raspberries as expected, but with an herbal and floral finish, this is a perfect rose with grilled wild salmon or grilled chicken.

2015 Rose Colored Glasses – Sourced from Sonoma County, this starts out similarly to the Mourvedré, with bright red berries, it quickly reveals itself to be a stronger rose with deeper red fruit, watermelon, and a hint of spice.  A classic rosato style, it stands up well to burgers and other grilling meats.

2015 Merlot Rose – is the newest kid on the block, hailing from Carneros.  Low in alcohol and deep in color, it has classic Merlot flavors of cherry, plum and blackberry, but finishes with a beautiful green herbal note and savory dried herbs.  This is a fun addition to the club, and I can taste the salted watermelon salad, pork chops or turkey burgers.

Three cheers to Cindy and her rose project, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

While the Merlot rosé was a sample sent to me for the purposes of particiapting in #winestudio, all other Passaggio wines were purchased by…me!

Next up in #winestudio, Ellipses Wine Compnay Rose of Pinot Meunier!

 

Say it ain’t Cinsault

IMG_0631Cruising along on a breezy but warm spring morning in Lodi, we were off on Day 2 of our adventures of “Anything but Zin”.  Today, our first stop was Lodi’s oldest vineyard, the some
120+ year old Bechthold Vineyard.

Bechthold Vineyard was planted over a century ago by Joseph Spenker.  Back in 1886, Cinsault was more commonly referred to as Black Malvoisie.  Today, many people might know that Cinsault is one of the parents of Pinotage, the other being Pinot Noir.  It is also a workhorse grape in the south of France, and is also widely planted in northern Africa.

So why is Bechthold Vineyard so special?  First, having a piece of land that is planted, on the original rootstock, with the original varietals, and has been essentially untouched for over 100 years is and impressive feat.  For 130 years is damned year unheard of.  But perhaps more importantly, the Bechthold property is also family owned, and continuously operated by that family for those 130 years.

These twenty-five acres of genius is still highly sought after and productive, and has pulled itself out of obscurity with a renewed interested in ancient vines and historical varietals.   As part of the larger Spenker Vineyard property, the vineyard is currently managed by Phillips Farms (part of the Michael-David Winery) and is steadfastly guarded by a strong family tradition and history.  Today, this vineyard provides fruit for Bonny Doon, Turley, and Michael-David, not to mention Onesta, and has a long waiting list.

Cinsault is a special thing.  A thick skinned, ornery beast, it can form the backbone of some strong red blends.  On it’s own however, it is sneaky, and has a ridge of acid that will wake you up.  Create a rose from that wake up call, and you’ll be drinking wine at 10:30am withIMG_0292 the best of us.

As we traipsed through the soft, tall furrrows of soil on this sunny and breezy morning, we were joined by Jillian Johnson, owner and winemaker of Onesta Winery, and David Phillips of Michael-David Winery.

 

 

 

 

 

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2014 Onesta Cinsault Rosè

Released with a year of bottle age, and fermented on 20% neutral and stainless steel, the juice is 50% saignee from the red Cinsault and 50% purpose pressed.  The 80% that was aged in wood had a lot of contact with the lees resulting in a rich ruby red grapefruit flavor with hints of blood orange, coriander, lavender and dried herbs.  This wine will wake you up and make you say hello!  $22

2012 Onesta Cinsault

With extended maceration and 9 months in neutral oak, this beauty is a berry pie with a topper of pomegranate juice.  A lighter style of Cinsault, the delicate wine is luscious and fruit forward, yet full of baking spice and acid.  This is the perfect wine to please both a Pinot and a Zin lover.   $29
IMG_0635In contrast, the 2014 Michael-David Ancient Vine Cinsault is denser and more lush than the Onesta.  Baked blue and black fruit, black pepper and savory herbs dance on my tongue with the silky elegance of an Hermes scarf.  Bing cherries and ripe strawberries come out on the finish, and this would be perfect with roasted pork.  $25
Other producers to try from this vineyard:  Turley Wine Cellars, Estate Crush.

Thank you Jillian and David for the great history lesson and tour of one of the best vineyards in the country!  I am looking forward to the Wine Bloggers Conference and more delicious Lodi Wine in August!

Carpano Diem!

bianco_traspAt long last, the foggy days of “summer” have parted, and the weekend arrives, full of promise and sunshine.  Summer begs for refreshing cocktails, and lighter, brighter beverages.  But what does a girl who loves her Manhattans do with this?

Enter Carpano Bianco, the dry, white vermouth entry from the folks that make my lifeline, Carpano Antica Formula.  These vermouths have been around for centuries, and were in fact, some of the founding fathers of the vermouth craze.

Carpano Bianco is the latest kid on the block here in the U.S., granted permanent immigration status in 2013.  As I am somewhat of a stickler for craft vermouth to use in both my ockctails as well as on the rocks, I was curious to try the latest iteration.

Created from a base wine of Trebbiano, Cortese, and Chardonnay, you can taste the spice rack that it is infused with.  Cloves, ginger, hyssop, and a secret ingredient that may be wormwood, sagebrush and / or mugwort all lend to the beautiful citrus driven floral aperitif.  I really enjoy the candied tangerine and ginger notes, and simply pouring a splash over ice is a lovely after work drink.  Add in your favorite sparkling wine, and a thing of beauty is born.

I tried it in several cocktails with various results, and here are my favorites:

IMG_1046Bianco Negroni – it’s Negroni week, so drink for a cause and donate to charity!

Carpano Bianco lends itself perfectly to a Negroni.  While I do not use Campari as a matter of personal taste, I love Cynar or Cappelletti in my Negronis.  I also find a floral and strongly flavored gin also works better with Bianco

Serve over ice.  You can adjust your proportions to personal taste but this intensely floral and spicy drink is a wonderful way to end the workday and get ready for dinner.

Brooklyn 9-1-1

A simple variation on a Manhattan (my drink of choice), a Brooklyn calls for dry vermouth instead of sweet, while the Perfect Martini calls for both.

  • 1 part Carpano Bianco
  • 2 parts rye whiskey (or bourbon if you prefer).  I am a fan of Redemption Rye
  • Shake or stir over ice and serve up with a cherry or lemon twist

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This simple recipe calls for 50% sweet vermouth, and 50% dry.  My variation adds in some bitters, like orange or rhubarb, and add a slice of lemon.  Served over ice, it’s a delicious treat.

Shaken, Not Stirred

Is there anything better than a gin martini?  Perhaps a vodka martini if you’re that kind of girl (or guy) but the gin martini is a thing of beauty.  As I mentioned, Bianco works the best with a floral, citrus driven vermouth, so in this case I used Spirit Works gin.

In a martini glass or coupe, add 1/2 oz of Carpano Bianco.  Most purists suggest only kissing the glass with the vermouth, but I say give it a healthy swirl so it coats the inside.  Then, if you like toss the rest in your shaker.

  • Add 3 oz Spirit Works gin over ice. I really like the citrus and floral flavors in this clean gin, and find they work very well with Carpano Bianco.
  • 1 dash of aged citrus bitters
  • shake shake shake Sonora shake it over ice (yes, I am a shaken not stirred gal)

Serve up in your previously prepared Martini glass.

Carpano Bianca is inexpensive at ~$22 for a one liter bottle, and is best enjoyed in under a month.  Storing it in the refrigerator prolongs the life, but for god’s sake — warm it to room temp before using it!

Thank you to the Baddish Group and Carpano for supplying the hooch; all creativity is inspired by the ingredients within!

Everything’s Coming up Roses! (Wine & Roses)

After a full day of exploring some of Lodi’s diverse wines and terroir, we settled in at our host hotel, Wine & Roses.  This resort style hotel has a beautifully relaxing interior courtyard, and situated on one side is the hotel’s restaurant, the Towne House.

Chef John Hitchcock, a Lark Creek Group alumnus, masterfully prepared a 7 course menu to go with the intriguing wines that Sue Tipton, owner of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards had brought to share with us.

I had personally become acquainted with the wines of Acquiesce several years ago, and had always enjoyed the light, elegant style of Rhône style wines that owner and winemaker Sue Tipton produces.  As we were meandering through Lodi exploring “everything but Zin” I was excited to get the opportunity to taste these wines again.

IMG_0612The deck of the restaurant overlooks the interior courtyard of the hotel, and as the sun went down, the temperature had cooled off enough to be comfortable outside in the relaxing environment.  Chef John was about to amaze us with the beautiful pairings, and while I wan’t quite hungry yet due to the amazing and large lunch at Pietro’s earlier, the menu looked amazing.

IMG_0614First up, we kicked things off with these gorgeous Blue Point Oysters, served with Yuzu pearls.  Blue Points are particularly large and meaty oysters, so I wasn’t sure how they would pair with the delicate Picpoul Blanc, but they were perfect.  The salinity and minerality of the shuckers  played delightfully off the wet river rocks, crushed shells, and freshly zested citrus in the wine.  With just a hint of floral notes on the edge of this wine, it was a natural and delicious pairing.  The true test of an oyster pairing to me is if I can actually use the wine as a mignonette – pour a touch of the
wine in to the oyster and slurp it down.  In this case, it was a palate sensation, and just confirmed my earlier delight.

 

 

IMG_0618Next, Pan Seared Foie Gras (thank you California for bringing back the Foie!  Feel free to judge me now) with poached pears, pear geleè, and house made brioche – paired with the 2014 Roussanne.  With juicy pears and apricots, drenched in fresh cream dancing across my tongue, the richness of the Roussanne worked well with the creamy richness of foie.  One of my favorite things about Roussanne in particular is the acidity that sneaks up behind the juicy and rich mouthfeel.  This is no exception, and the Acquiesce was perfect with the classic foie pairing.

 

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The third course was intended to be tuna tartare, but Chef John was able to sub out salmon on the fly due to an allergy.  This was no little ask, as the pairings were tested and created well in advance, but he did a masterful job at thinking of a pairing and creating it on the fly with perfect timing.  Paired with the 2015 Grenache Blanc, and served with avocado, wakame, wasabi vinaigrette, wasabi foam and a lotus chip, one would never know that the brilliant copper of the salmon was not intended for this dish.  The Grenache Blanc is a fresh and playful white wine with bright green apple notes and the minerality of a beach that has been freshly washed with shells and stones.  The coolness of the wine cut through the wasabi and creaminess of the salmon brilliantly.

 

IMG_0622As an intermezzo, Blli Bi, a saffron infused cream soup brimming with muscles was paired with the 2015 Viognier.  While we were starting to get full, we couldn’t pass up on the savory richness of this cream soup that had more mussels than a gym on New Year’s.  The Viognier has a richness of honey soaked apricot, ripe satsumas and summer peaches with classic floral notes that played off of the saffron.

 

 

Finally, as we tried to find even a tiny spare slot IMG_0626in our very full stomachs, grilled quail with King Trumpet risotto, and porcini mushroom broth was paired with Grenache Rosé.  While you would think the richness of the game animal and mushrooms would overpower the rosé, the pairing was elegant and restrained.

All of Sue’s wines are priced at under $25, which makes them even more enjoyable, and affordable.  The next time you are looking for a refreshing white for summer, look over to Lodi’s Rhône renegade!

Thank you to Wine & Roses, Towne Hall and Chef John for creating these wonderful dishes that paired so well with the wines of Acquiesce.  Fresh seafood, fruit, and vegetables are perfect for these light and fresh wines.

 

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A trip to Iberia within reach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Markus Bokisch was raised in California, but has a long history of ties to Spain.  As a child, Markus spent his summers there, and as is the norm in European tradition, water & wine were served at meals.

With this pre-disposition to love the rich wines of Spain, Markus moved to Spain with his wife Lisa and worked his way up in the Spanish wine industry.  With endeavors in Raimat and Penedes, he became and expert at the cultivation of these special varietals.  When he moved back to California, he knew that Lodi had something special – hidden behind 100 years of old Italian field blends and Zinfandel, and that it was the perfect location to begin his endeavor with Iberian varietals.

The Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills was the first property they purchased, whereCapturethey imported Spanish budwood to firmly root Bokisch as the go to resource for these plantings.  In 1999, they planted Las Cerezas Vineyard, which is the motherblock, planted to Tempranillo, Albarino, and Graciano – classic Spanish grapes.  Two years later, the first vintage of Bokisch Vineyards wine was released.

Today, Bokisch grows over 2500 acres under vine, and works with wineries all over California in addition to producing their own wine.  With a careful consideration for the environment and sustainability, they are making a mark on how viticulture can be beneficial for the land as well as the economy.

I first tasted Bokisch wine shortly after that initial release, when I was part of the now (sadly) defunct Wine Q wine service.  I knew immediately, even though my palate was still developing in those early years of my wine career, that I would love what was to come.

Here we are, 8 years later, and I am lucky enough to taste the current releases of Bokisch frequently through a variety of tastings.  On this day, we enjoyed two different Albarinios – the first being from the Terra Alta Vineyard, where the tasting room is located, and the second from Las Cerezas, that motherblock planted in 1999.  While they were both welcome refreshers on this warm day, the Las Cerezas edged out the Terra Alta, with intensely tropical notes, and juicy fruit with lime zest and firm minerality on the finish.

Next, the Garnacha Blanca – a personal passion of mine – was a clear expression of how terroir impacts the finished product.  The medium body was full of fresh stone fruit, oranges, and pungent green herbs.  The creamy finish is perfect for cheese, hearty fish dishes, and just plain summer sipping.  Stylistically, Garnacha Blanca tends to be bolder than it’s cousin Grenache Blanc, and I appreciate the weight and texture.

The last of the whites, the age old question of Verdelho vs. Verdejo.  Often confused as the same grape, Verdelho has roots in Portugal and is used widely in Madeira.   In contrast, Verdejo is a Spanish white grape, which has been traced back to North Africa, and is now widely grown in Rueda.  Confused?  Well, taste them side by side and you can see the differences.

 Moving on to the reds, Garnacha (once again) holds a special place in my heart.  Whether it’s Grenache, Garnacha, or GSM, the varsity of styles it can be made in – let alone Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, and Grenache Noir (or Tinto), the diversity is delicious.  Tracing its origigans to the Aragon region of Spain, the Bokisch Garnacha fils your mouth with blackberries, boysenberries, and dark red fruit.  A finishing touch of blood orange and forest spices tease the palate as vanilla vapors envelop your senses.  I love to serve Garnacha with a slight chill, and of course, anything is better with fresh Manchego cheese.
IMG_0267A bolder red wine, Graciano is one of the grapes commonly used as a blending component in parts of Rioja.  It’s also thought to be the oldest variety commercially grown in Spain.  A deeply purple black wine in the glass, bittersweet chocolate, Mission figs and cherries, with a hint of fresh violets tempt you, while tobacco and old saddle leather round out the palate.  Graciano is a meaty grape, and this is a fantastic wine for steak and a classic Rioja cookout.
And now:  Mourvedre.  Mataro.  Monastrell!  Depending on where you are in the world, this blue hued grape is called different things.  In France, Mourvedre.  In Spain, it can be either Mataro, particularly in the Catalan dialect, or Monastrell.  The 2013 Belle Collne Vineyard Monastrell is classically blueberry, bergamot, and baking spices.
The passion and dedication of Markus and Liz are infectious.  His single focus of making Lodi a top wine destination of distinction, and their dedication to sustainability is second to none.  Keeping these wines affordable is also of critical importance, and with prices between $18-32, the QPR on these wines is outstanding.
If you are in Lodi, a stop at Bokisch is a must do ! The sweeping view from the picnic tables to the seven oak tress in the gently rolling hills is bliss, and it is less than two hours from the Bay Area.
Cheers!

 

bokish

 

Cy-a-nar-a!

Ah amaro, how I love thee!  With hundreds of unique amari to choose from, Cynar is unusual in that it’s make from artichokes.  While it might seem odd that a beverage would be made from what is basically the flower of a thistle, there are so many uses for this!

From sipping straight, “like an Italian mama”, my friend would say, to using it as a bittering agent in cocktails, it was originally intended to be a digestif.  The unique bitterness combined with the sweetness of the chemical cynarin, as well as thirteen different botanical, it is quite versatile.

Now, Cynar comes in two versions:  Original Cynar,and the new Cynar 70 Proof.  Cynar 70 Proof is really just a more intense version of the original, and stands up to more complex cocktails.

This week, try out a couple of fun cocktails using Cynar!

 

The Cy-Groni

In a twist on the classic Negroni, substituent original Cynar to add the bitter complainant that Campari would normally occupy.  I am not the biggest fan of Campari as I find it almost too bitter, so I often use Cappalletti Aperitivo.  Here, the best of both worlds comes in to play.

In a cocktail shaker, add over ice:

  • 1/2 oz Cynar
  • 1/2 sweet vermouth
  • 3 oz gin (I love Ransom Old Tom)
  • 3 dashes orange bitters (try the Fee Bros Gin Barrel Aged)
  • 1 dash 5 by 5 Aged Citrus Bitters

Shake, and pour over ice, with an orange twist.  For fun, I used a blood orange rind.

A variation on the Negroni with bourbon, is the classic Boulevardier.   My friend Emma actually introduced me to this cocktail (I know, I should have know about this ages ago!).  The Cynar 70 Proof is perfect in this recipe because it is a bolder flavor and holds up to the whiskey.

Boulevard of Dreams

In a cocktail shaker, add over ice:

  • 1/2 oz Cynar 70 Proof
  • 1/2 sweet vermouth
  • 3 oz bourbon (Knob Creek Single Barrel knocked my socks off here!)
  • 3 dashes bitters (Fee Bros whiskey barrel aged cocktail bitters are the bomb)
  • 1 dash cherry bitters (check out Carlton Cocktail Company’s woodland cherry)
  • 1 dash fig bitters (for a bit of depth, again try Carlton Cocktail Company)
  • Shake, and pour over ice, with an orange twist and a good marachino cherry.

 

Being a bourbon lovin’ gal, I was really interested to try the Game, Set, Match

Courtesy of Basil Hayden’s recipe page, (more on that next week!) this delicious variation of the classic Manhattan, it packs a punch with the bittersweet addition of Cynar.  Bourbon on it’s own can have the perception of being sweet, and sweet vermouth is also sweet.  The Cynar adds a delicious bitter note that tones down the classically sweet Manhattan and makes a refreshing afternoon pick me up!

In a cocktail shaker, over ice add:

  • 3 oz bourbon
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz (I used a bit less)
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • Shakes, and strain.  Add a cherry or lemon garnish.

Thank you to Gruppo Campari, who owns Cynar, and MBooth for sharing these interesting sippers!  All recipes are my own, except the Game, Set, Match, originally sourced from Basil Hayden Bourbon.

 

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