Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again

   Just about a year ago
I set out on the road
Seekin’ my fame and fortune
Lookin’ for a pot of gold
Thing got bad and things got worse
I guess you know the tune
Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again

Credence Clearwater Revival made the song, and the town, famous in 1969.  At the time, the small town of Lodi was a bit of backwater, located somewhere between Stockton and Sacramento, and was a thriving farming community.

Fast forward 50 years, and it is still a thriving farming community, but today, most of the agricultural pursuits center around wine.  In the 70s and 80s, and to some extent today, large production facilitates that focused on both bulk wine and zinfandel made the wine of the region famous.  Lodi is still the self-proclaimed capital of Zinfandel, and over 40% of premium Zin from California is produced here.

In addition to a strong heritage of Zinfandel, Lodi has also been home to many other varietals. With the 4th and 5th generation wine families, you can find Iberian, Rhone, Austrian and German grape varietals all thriving.

This year, the annual Wine Bloggers Conference is headed to Lodi in August.  Ahead of the storm, I was invited by the Lodi Wine Commission to a whirlwind tour of Lodi – focusing on “anything but zin” – my specific request to showcase the lesser known grapes that thrive in this region.

A short 90 minute (just don’t leave at rush hour!) drive from the Bay Area, Lodi is a hidden IMG_0238goldmine of delicious and living history.  One such vineyard is Mokelumne Glen Vineyard, which specializes in German and Austrian varietals.

With strong ties to Germany, the Koth family has over 40 varietals of both obscure and more common grapes planted here, in a hidden spot where the river dips and a natural “glen” is formed.

Originally planted to Zinfandel vines, as so much of Lodi was, Bob Koth (right) had a natural curiosity about viticulture and started researching what other grapes would do well there.  Today, that has culminated in the German Collection Vineyard, an experimental block next to their house, where 35 of the 41 varietals are planted.  With just a row or two of most, it is a true experimental vineyard.  If you’re lucky enough to get a bit of this fruit, it is true gold.

After touring the property, we went in to town and sat down for lunch at Pietro’s, where we tasted some lovely wines from Bob’s fruit.

IMG_0579 Sidebar Kerner – This aromatic white is a cross between Trollinger and Riesling, and is common in Germany, but unsual outside oft hat region.  This was a nice refreshing white, with a medium body and delicious saline and mineral finish, with rich apricot notes.
IMG_0582 Markus Wine Co Nativo white blend – The Markus Wine Company is a coop between winemaker Markus Niggli and Borra vineyards, where Swiss born Niggli can play a bit with styles and structure.  The Nativo is a fresh and fun light white, that is 53% Kerner and 28% Riesling, with a 15% dollop of Bacchus.  Bacchus, as it turns out, is another blended grape – developed as a cross between Silvaner and Riesling, and then that result crossed with Muller-Thurgau.  Does everyone have their family tree ready to fill out?  The intensity of the grapefruit note was brilliant, with bright acid and fresh cut herbs, floating in a field of flowers.  This was the perfect white wine for a warm lunch al fresco!
IMG_0589 Forlorn Hope’s Gemischter Satz is a true chorus of voices, which is a clear representation of Mokelumne Glen‘s Germany Block project.  With 5-7 vines of each varietal (final blend is a well kept secret), it dances with white jasmine and spring flowers, and refreshing citrus on a foggy day.
IMG_0593 One of my favorites of the afternoon was the Borra Vineyards Vermentino, a delightfully light, crisp, and citrus driven white.  I have loved Vermentino since my first trip to Italy, where the fruit forward dry white is an easy sipper, as the mineral core keeps the sweetness of the ripe citrus at bay.
IMG_0594 Who doesn’t love a rose?  On a warm day, I would drink rose…all day.  The Borra Vineyards Rosé Members Reserve is no exception, and is a classic Provencale recipe for happiness:  63% Syrah, 37% Carignane, and 100% love.  Bright wild strawberries, watermelon, and earthy hints of Tuscan melon and dried figs.  I could, and did, drink this glass, and another, and another.

 

One key point to note about all of these wines is the absolutely stunning QPR.  With an average price of $20 or under, these are luxuries you can afford every day!

 Thank you to the Koth’s for their generous hospitality and pioneering spirit!  There is so much more to come from this vineyard and these winemakers.  Head to Lodi and find out what!

There is so much more to say about Borra and Markus wines, such as the intriguingly acid driven Petite Sirah, and the blends.  But that, is for another day of discovery.

 

Rosé Colored Glasses: Sidebar Cellars

When I first tasted the Sidebar Cellars Kerner, from the Mokelumne Glen vineyard in Lodi, I thought to myself, “wow this is a fun little white”, as I sat in the heat of Lodi in April.  At that time, we were exploring the Mokelumne River AVA, and I didn’t make the connection to David Ramey of Ramey Cellars.

Fast forward to 2016, and as I get my rosés ready to rumble, a little birdie told me that Sidebar Cellars did a rosé.  Knowing how much I love pink wine around this time of year, I made sure I got my hands on one and I was glad I did!

Sidebar Cellars was born out of Ramey’s desire to play around a bit, and presents a departure from the Ramey Wine Cellars more austere lineup of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon; hence, Sidebar.

The 2016 Sidebar Cellars Russian River Valley Rosé comes from an old-vine Syrah vineyard, and represents a refreshing change of pace from the more common place saignée (bleed off) Pinot Noir rosés, which while delicious, can get a little boring.

Bursting with strawberry and peach on the nose, herbal rose hips and hibiscus came through on the palate.  Tart plum skins and tannin give this wine some oomph, while ruby red grapefruit hides at the back f the palate, offering a refreshing finish.  The zesty green apple and lime lingers on your palate with a hint of pickled watermelon rind, and keeps you going back for another sip.

This is a great summer sipper and pairs surprisingly well with sriracha potato chips!  It would also be an excellent match to your Easter Ham or a roast chicken.

Special thanks to Alexandra O’Gorman, Communications Director at Ramey Wine  Cellars for this delightful sample!

 




A star rises in Amador County

 Bella Grace Vineyards

This past summer,

after the mayhem that is the Wine Bloggers Conference, I was delighted to be invited to visit Bella Grace Vineyards in Amador County.
Just under an hour from Lodi, the Bella Grace Vineyards tasting cave  is tucked away in a hidden cave on 20 acres of vines in Plymouth, with an additional tasting room in the small town of Sutter Creek.

Bella Grace Vineyards

Bella Grace’s Stephen Havill

Our driver, guide, host, and 2nd generation owner, Steven Havill, showed off his family’s property, planted with a wide variety of grapes, with a particular focus on Rhone varietals as well as the classic Amador offering, Zinfandel.

 

Sustainable Quality

With an emphasis on sustainability, it is particular important to the Havills that the highest quality grapes come out of their vineyard, establishing Bella Grace as a force to experience for yourself.

Perfect Pairings

On our visit, Robert Havill, prepared delicious food pairings with the wines.  What happens when you put 10 wine bloggers in a cave and make Frank Morgan get in the car?  Magic!

 

Cutom made t-shirts really throw the message home: Frank Morgan! GET IN THE CAR (if it’s going to Bella Grace)

Variety

Bella Grace has many wines to chose from, including a sparkling brut that is bottled at Anderson Valley’s Roederer Estate facility.   This kicked off the afternoon, as we tasting through the meandering menu of delicious nuggets.  While Zinfandel typically dominates in this region, the rolling foothills also offer some delicious Rhone inspired wines.  Additionally, the Havills source grapes to add variety to their portfolio.

 

 

Olive Oils

Bella Grace also produces a wide variety of olive oils, both natural and with essential flavor components.  I particularly enjoyed the grapefruit and lemon oils!

My wine picks

With so many to choose from, and a long after noon of tasting, it was hard to narrow it down, but my favorites were:

Bella Grace Vineyards

Vermintino – While there is some Vermitino in the 3 Graces Blanc, this is new release and is a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.  This Italian varietal does well in Lodi and the foothills, where the hot days yield to cooler evenings, giving this white it’s characteristic acid.

This Spring, Bella Grace is featured in the Wine Bloggers Conference scholarship Wine Club, which was founded by yours truly and Worlds Best Wine Clubs features some unique wineries as well as benefit the scholarship that I work so hard on.

Today, at 6pm, we are featuring the Vermintino from Bella Grace on a live tasting.  Curious in checking out the wine club?  Join us on Facebook Live and hear more about this wine and the club!

Grenache Blanc – one of my go to varietals, this is no exception.  A rich white with creamy acid shows golden delicious apples, lime zest, a hint of oily petrol, and crumbled shale minreatlity.

Grenache – another favorite varietal, which has a wide swatch of expression.  Here, the bold garnet red color shows it’s young nature, with rose petals and ripe cherries.  With earthy leather and tobacco buried in the mid-palate, it finishes with figs and chocolate.  Delicious!

3 Graces Noir – Bella Grace’s GSM blend shows off the Mourvedre base with cracked spices and forest notes.  The fruitiness of the Grenache softens the bones of the Mourvedre, while the Syrah rounds everything out and smooths over the cracks.

Reserve Barbera – Perhaps one of my faovirte domestic Barberas that I have tasted, this luscious and acid forward wine didn’t last the tasting!  This is the oen one I kept going back to with our food pairings.  Inky dark and rich but repleate with red fruit and bitter plum skin, I can’t wait to taste it again and see how more age has mellowed her out.

Melanie, the Dallas Wine Chick, is clearly enjoying her wine!

If you are visiting Amador wine country, it is approximately 2 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area.  Plymouth, where Bella Grace is located, is another 20 minutes on country roads which are a beautiful way to experience the region in good weather.  A second tasting room is located in the historic town of Sutter Creek.

 




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!

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0633

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!

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!

 

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WBC15: Chasing history on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail

Earlier this month, as some 300 wine writers and industry folk convened in Corning, NY for the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, we were greeted by an overwhelmingly friendly, hometown, local wine culture of the Finger Lakes.IMG_9301

The people of Corning, and the surrounding towns which make their business from the wine industry of the Finger Lakes clearly showed a great pride in the uniqueness of the local wines, and how they stand out among the rest of the U.S. as well as the world.

Before the official conference began, I joined the pre-conference tour of Seneca Lake, which provided a deep dive in to the specifics of the largest and deepest of the Finger Lakes, and the wine industry on it’s shores.

As my friend Melanie and I (@dallaswinechick) first drove in to the area from Philadelphia, I was struck by the pastoral beauty, and calm of the gently sloping hillsides and glacial lakes, carved by the last ice age to reach the Hudson Valley.

While this region has been home to winemaking for much longer, in 1986 the Seneca Lake Wine Trail was formed to encourage visitors to the area to experience all the region could offer.  Today, the largest lake also provides the largest, and most diverse wine trail in New York – 30 wineries, a distillery, breweries, and cider producers all line it’s shores.

The deepest of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake is 632 feet and it’s shores provide a perfect locale for wine grapes.  On our first day, as we set out from Corning to Geneva, we bounced along the small towns and shoreline communities learning about the history and tasting several wines.

First up, we visit the Villa Bellangelo Winery in Geneva, NY.  Villa Bellangelo is on the western shore of Lake Seneca, and specializes in cool climate varietals, with a razor sharp focus on what the Finger Lakes is famous for – Riesling.  Here, we were treated to several older vintages, tasting the progression of both the winery, and the wine, as it traveled through time.  IMG_9299

Along with Bellangelo, King’s Garden Vineyards was pouring a 10 year vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Ironically located in Lodi (New York), King’s Garden Vineyards makes a bit of everything, upsetting the traditionally apple cart of the Finger Lakes a bit, by veering off in to Chardonnay and Cabernet, versus Riesling and other aromatic whites.  I particularly enjoyed the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the unique tasting of two 2010s, one that had been in bottle for a few months, and one that was just bottled – giving it extended oak aging.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Finger Lakes actually has some great Cabernet Sauvignon, and the ageability of these wines is remarkable.

After enjoying the afternoon at Bellanagela, we headed to Ventosa Vineyards, where the Finger Lakes Women in Wine greeted us with a powerhouse team of female winemakers & winery owners, and one awesome chef.

IMG_9375Before dinner, we tasting through some local ciders to refresh our palates, and heard from these leaders in the region on their contributions to the Finger Lakes wine business.  Each woman had a unique perspective on her journey to the wine business, and each one had unique barriers and stories.  From Marti Macinski of Standing Stone Vineyards, who went in IMG_9335to the business with no formal education or training, to Jenna LaVita, Ventosa’s winemaker.

From law student to sudden winemaker, she inherited the role unexpectedly when she was working harvest.  Finally, Liz Leidenfrost, winemaker of Leidenfrost Vineyards, discussed her progression in to wine, her burlesque career, and former life as a budding classical musician.  With her rockabilly style and take no prisoners attitude, she entered the family business intent on shaking it up and making a change for the better.

 

This panel of women are making waves in the Finger Lakes, and each one offered a unique perspective on the region, on winemaking, and on breaking the glass ceiling.  A sunset dinner over the lake was the perfect ending to a magical introduction to the region.

After an overnight stay in Geneva, we were off to Day 2 of our excursion on the shores of Seneca Lake!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9:55 am:   Dropoff at Anthony Road Wine Company at 1020 Anthony Rd, Penn Yan, NY 14527

Noon:       Pickup at Anthony Road Wine Company

12:15 pm: Dropoff at Fox Run Vineyards at 670 New York 14, Penn Yan, NY 14527

3:15 pm:   Pickup at Fox Run Vineyards

4:30 pm:   Dropoff at Radisson Hotel Corning at the same location where some attendees were originally picked up.

 

 

 

Be a Zinner in 2014!

Here were are, in another new year, looking forward to what is to come.  Every new year brings changes, lessons learned, and reminders of years past.  In the case of the annual Zinfandel Festival, 2014 brings a change in format, as well as venue.  Exciting things to come!

The 2014 Zinfandel Experience occurs January 23-25th at the Presidio, instead of the previous venues of The Concourse and Fort Mason, as well as the gala Evening with the Winemakers at the plush Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco.  This year, with the smaller, more intimate setting in the Presidio, guest can look forward to more conversation with the winemakers, more education and more Zin!

The all new Zinfandel Experiences highlights America’s Heritage Grape, with several events including the new Tasting Tracks on Saturday, which replaces the Grand Tasting.  This creative track format allows Zinfandel fans to choose their own adventure:  

  • The Sensory Tasting – stroll through 80 wineries and winemakers and discover what your favorite note is.
  • Reserve & Barrel Tasting  taste the future of Zin in the barrel, and a exclusive tasting of reserve wines from 44 wineries.
  • Terroir Tasting – focus on a particular region as you stroll through wine country locations like Napa, Lodi, Sonoma and Paso Robles, tasting the terroir of each location through wine.

Each of these Experiences runs in a concurrent format, in 2 hour blocks.  Do one, or do them all!

Additional events that are familiar to ZAP alumni will be Flights, a professional tasting seminar featuring limited production wines, Epicuria, where you can eat to your hearts delight delicious morsels paired with Zinfandels, and the swanky soiree Evening with the Winemakers, a benefit auction and dinner with famous Zin creators.

Tickets for Tasting Tracks start at $60 for a single track, with savings for multiple tracks, and individual events are priced differently.  For details, see the ticket page HERE.  My friends at VinVillage are giving away tickets to Epicuria and the Tasting Tracks, but enter soon!  Also, use discount code “VinVillage”!

I’m exciting to see this new format for the event, and I look forward to tasting some delicious wines January 23-25!

 

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Cocktail of the week: Rocketship to the Moon

Hey!  We survived the end of the world!  Well at least I think we did.  Maybe we’re all wandering around the afterlife partying.  Who knows!

In honor of the non-pocolypse, I present my cocktail of the week, the Rocketship to the Moon.  Based on one of my old favorites, the Tang-tini, this is a flavor explosion sure to add zip to any of your holiday parties.  The astronauts drank tang, we have Rocketships!

Once again, using my favorite Pithy Little Soda Works sodas, you can make this with any craft soda and vodka.  I adore the Pithy sodas because they are pure in flavor, and use cane sugar.  Whatever soda you choose, make sure it has a high flavor impact, and is quality.  Sorry gang, no Orange Crush on this one!

In the bottom of a cocktail glass, add a generous teaspoon of excellent orange marmalade.  I recommend the Republic of Jam Orange Cinnamon Saffron.  Pour 3 oz of orange vodka over it; I recommend Hangar One Mandarin, but use your favorite craft vodka.  I use vodka since it’s a neutral flavor base.  Then, add 2 parts Pithy Orange Cream Soda, and one part Pithy Vanilla Cream Soda over ice.  As always, if you cannot locate Pithy, I suggest any craft soda.  Change the ratio of orange to vanilla to suit your taste.  Add 2-3 drops orange bitters, and stir with a cocktail spoon.  Finally, float 1 oz of Cointreau on top.

So curl up in front of a fire, turn on a movie, and enjoy one tonight.  Happy Friday!  Festive at last!  Enjoy, and happy holidays!

Next week, we will be creating Pom Poppers for the New Year!

It takes a village, a VinVillage!

A coVinVillage-Logo_Hi-Res-TL-SMALLuple of great events are coming up in the next couple of months, and the biggest news is you can win free tickets to these events!

VinVillage is a social networking organization for wine and food lovers.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking “oh no!  not ANOTHER social network for wine!”.  While it’s certainly true that there are many social networks dedicated to wine, VinVillage is unique in how it connects wineaux with wine lovers in their home cities.

Additionally ,VinVillage has a webcast radio show covering a wide range of topics, as well as a community barrel of wine where VinVillage members can join in the winemaking experience and build a sense of community.

To build on this sense of community, VinVillage sponsors several contests, where you can win tickets to events in local cities.  Two events that are coming up are the Wine Fests of Lodi and LA.

Th
e Lodi ZinFest is on Saturday, May 16th at Lodi lake Park.  Tickets are $35 advance / $45 day of ,but you can win them on VinVillage!

At the Lodi ZinFest, more than 250 wineries from the Lodi area will be poured from 50 wineries, and there will be live music, food, and fun.  There are also cooking demonstrations and arts & crafts.  One of the highlights for wine lovers is the ZinFest Wine School, where you can learn about the latest trends in Lodi wine from the wine experts and local vintners, who will share their wine knowledge in a variety of seminars.

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The other event that is coming up is the LA Wine Fest.  For you SoCal folks, this wine festival is on Saturday June 6th and Sunday June 7th in Hollywood.

This event promises to be a great one, and is billed as a consumer wine event with broad appeal.  Tickets for the LA Wine Fest are $55 for each day, with a $10 discount if you buy them through VinVillage.  Once again, however, you can WIN them on VinVillage!

The moral of the story is, you CAN get wine for free, so head on over the to Village and check it out!

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Something to look forward to!

Friday is May Day!  How time has flown by.  Spring is in full swing, and it’s time to celebrate!  I have been so busy traveling here and there to taste wines recently, that I haven’t had time to sit back and smell the roses.  May 16th I can sit down, relax, and taste in my home town at the Ghiradelli Square Uncorked! Wine Festival!

Ghirardelli Squareis one of San Francisco’s treasures, and while it is usually overrun by tourists, it is a gem.  Did you know that there are two places where you can enjoy wine on the square?  First, you can pop in to Cellar 360, a wine store and wine bar, where you can participate in one of their many free (yes, i said FREE!) wine tasting classes.  Or maybe you can wander next door to Wattle Creek, a boutique winery tasting groom, where Visa Signature cardholders can – again – taste for FREE!

Once you’ve investigated these two treats, you can wander in to Kara’s Cupcakes for some sugar overload on thier Meyer Lemon cupcake that is to die for.

But, on May 16th, from 1pm to 6pm, you simply must come to the Uncorked! Wine Festival!  Here, you can listen to the live music, learn something new at the wine seminars, and watch the magic of cooking demonstrations.  THIS is all free!  But there is also a rather expansive list of wines being poured, for which you will need to buy a ticket.  Wineuncorked3 Tasting tickets are $50, and proceeds benefit La Cocina.

La Cocina is San Francisco’s first incubator kitchen. La Cocina was founded to serve as a platform for low-income entrepreneurs launching, formalizing or expanding their food businesses. La Cocina provides affordable commercial kitchen space and industry-specific technical assistance to low-income entrepreneurs in order to bring their businesses quickly to a point of self-sufficiency.  So really, you are drinking for charity!

Wineries that will be pouring include:

  • Alexander Valley Vineyard, Healdsburg
  • Arrowood Vineyards, Glen Ellen
  • Artisan Family of Wines, Napa
  • Barber Cellars, Pacifica
  • Barefoot Winery
  • Beringer Vineyards, St. Helena
  • Berryessa Gap Vineyards, Winters
  • Carica, San Leandro
  • Carrefour Vineyards, Napa
  • Cellar No. 8, Cloverdale
  • Chateau St Jean, Kenwood
  • Clos du Bois, Geyserville
  • D & L Carinalli Vineyard, Sebastopol
  • Dashe Cellars, Oakland
  • Deerfield Ranch Winery, Glen Ellen
  • Engelmann Cellars, Fresno
  • Esterlina Vineyards, Healdsburg
  • Etude Wines, Napa
  • Frey Vineyards, Redwood Valley
  • Hall Wines, St. Helena
  • Hanna Winery, Healdsburg
  • Harvest Moon Winery, Santa Rosa
  • Hook & Ladder Winery, Santa Rosa
  • Howell Mountain Vineyards, Rutherford
  • Ironstone, Lodi
  • Martin Ray, Santa Rosa
  • Meridian Vineyards, Paso Robles
  • O’Brien Estate, Napa
  • Peacock Family Vineyards, St. Helena
  • Pezzi King Vineyards, Healdsburg
  • PS I Love You-Petite Sirah advocacy group*
  • Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, Kelseyville
  • Sarah’s Vineyard, Gilroy
  • Sbragia Family Vineyards, Geyserville
  • Sol Rouge, Kelseyville
  • Somerston/Priest Ranch, Napa
  • Souverain, Healdsburg
  • Starlite Vineyards, Geyserville
  • Stags Leap Winery, Napa
  • St. Clement, St. Helena
  • Sterling Albert Winery, Concord
  • Suacci Carciere, Sebastopol
  • Truchard Vineyards, Napa
  • Wattle Creek Winery, Cloverdale
  • White Cottage Ranch Winery, Angwin
  • Yorkville Cellars, Yorkville
  • Zina Hyde Cunningham, Boonville

Since I have been running around so much going to tastings here and tastings there, I am really looking forward to enjoying a weekend in my home town, where I can support a great cause, and drink some great wine.

I hope to see you there!  Happy drinking.

 

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Jumping frogs, Twisted wines, and Sneaky Syrah

Who needs romantic candlelit dinners?  Who needs chocolate and sweet nothings?  Not me.  I had a much better Valentine’s Day weekend, spend slurping the good stuff in one of the hottest new wine regions of California, Calaveras County.

My first visits to this area were whizzing by Douglas Flat on the way to go skiing at Bear Valley or Dodge Ridge.  Then, as I got older, we would take summer trips to Sonora and Jackson to learn about the Gold Rush history.   Last fall, however, my eyes were opened when I took my first trip to Murphys to go wine tasting.  I had my first taste of wine from this area, and fell in love.

First, a little history, just so I can shake off all of you lurkers and get the real readers in here.  OK just kidding!  The name Calaveras is Spanish for “skulls”, which is probably from the bones found by the Spanish Captain, Gabriel Moraga.  Calaveras County also gained notieraity when Mark Twain wrote the short storyThe Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County“.  The area was settled

The town of Murphys, with some 15 tasting rooms on Main Street, was settled during the Gold Rush by – spoiler alert – brothers Daniel and John Murphy.  They ran the local supply store, where they became rich off of the prospectors who needed supplies. Now, with it’s cluster of tasting rooms on a short meander, Murphys’ tasting rooms take you on a history walk through town, while enjoying some fabulous wine.

Wine has been made in these parts since the late 1800s, to supply the growing towns and miners with their elixirs.  Much like Amador County, immigrants brought the wine making techniques with them.  While certain other areas of the state are more well known, I think that Calaveras County will continue to grow (but not too much) and develop in to a wine power, while maintaining it’s small town charm.  This area is idea for growing Spanish and Rhone varietals, as it is very hot and dry in the summer, with snow and true winter in the later months.  As such, we tasted several Viogniers, Grenaches and Syrahs.  There is also a long history of Zinfandel being grown in these parts, and the oldest known zin planting is a 110 year old vineyard producing some potent juice!  Part of the allure of Murphys is that the tasting rooms are intimate, it’s rarely crowded (except for a bad experience with a bus of retirees from Modesto), the people are genuinely happy to see you, and there are great wines at amazing prices.  Have I mentioned that most wineries do not charge a tasting fee?  If they do, it’s rarely more than a few dollars and worth every cent.

Some fothe highlights of my weekend were:

  • Twisted Oak Presidents in Lust Dinner – This dinner, which humorously combines Presidents Day with Valentines Day, offered scrumptious treats by Sugar & Spice Catering in Jackson, paired with the best of Twisted Oak’s library wines.  My favorite pairing of the night was the Chipolte Tomato Bisque served with the 2004 Grenache.  It’s true, I have left my heart at Twisted Oak!
  • Tanner Vineyards – Tanner shares the supreme talents of Scott “Fermento the Magnificent” Klann, Twisted Oak’s winemaker and resident cool dude.  Tanner makes outstanding Syrah from thier own vineyard, as well as Petite Verdot and a Rhone blend called Mélange de Mère, a blend of Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Petite Verdot.
  • Lavender Ridge – is located in a historical storefront on Main Street, and offers cheese pairings with their wine.  I really enjoyed their Viognier paired with a nice triple creme!
  • Broll Mountain – some new friends that Brix Chick Liza and I met at ZAP work part time at the Broll tasting room, and we popped in to see them. Why hadn’t I popped in before!  Another great example of Sierra Foothills syrah.
  • Chatom – is slightly outsideo f town, near the Twisted Oak winery in Vallecito.  I had to drag Liza in there, but it was well worth it for the live music and wines in they were pouring.  The She Wines Red, a nice red blend, was a great every day wine for less than $10.
  • Ironstone (reserve selections only) – this behemouth is a huge event center, but if you stick to the reserve table, I found some gems.  I really liked the Christine Andrew Chard, and with the sale price of a whopping $11.99, I should have taken home more.  The Reserve Old Vine Zin from Lodi was what our hostess Shoshona referred to as a “dirty wine”, which was deep, dark, rich and filled with chocolate covered cherries.  I would reccomend a trip to Ironstone for a taste of these wines.  Their regular line is average and affordable, but these reserve wines are speical and offer amazing QPR.
  • Renner – is the newest kid on the block.  We hit them on a whim on the way back down 4.  Renner is located in a faux old west style town, in Copperopolis.  As we pulled in, we had the tasting room to ourselves, and were happy to discover that they own the Canterbury Vineyard where the viognier we had with dinner the night before came from.  They also make 2 syrahs that were wonderful, and were offering one of the syrahs by the case for $9 a bottle.  If we’re looking at QPR here, this one is out of this world.  For a weeknight sipper, this is a steal so walk, don’t run.  The regular price is still affordable at $18, but this special sprice was stunning.

As we wrapped up our wine soaked weekend, I had amassed quite a collection of wine, but it was very easy on the wallet.  First off, you are not paying for Napa real estate so wineires are able to pass that savings on to the cosumer.  Additionally, in conjunction with the event weekend, we were able to get several “special sales” and allowed us to buy more wine!

Thank you Murphys for a fantastic sweekend, and can’t wait tos ee you next time.

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