And away we go…

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WBC13.pngHere we are, on the first full day of June, and the impending Wine Bloggers Conference begins next week.  This year marks the sixth annual event, and it’s hard to believe that my little old Luscious Lushes has been up and running for that long as well!

As I sit here and wait with anticipation for my flight to Kelowna, BC, I am getting excited about the time I will have to explore more of the Okanagan.  Last year, I was able to travel around the northern end of the lake, experiencing Kelowna and the wineries surrounding it, and this year, before the conference I will do more exploring down near Penticton, where the conference is actually occurring.

Flying in to Kelowna, the larger of the two regional airports, is a breeze from my home base in San Francisco.  One hop to Seattle, and another hop to Kelowna.  A few short hours, and I’m in the spectacular lakeside region, full of wine, summer sports, and scenery.

As I’m flying in a day early, I’m excited to check out some places that I didn’t see on my trip last spring.   There are so many spectacular wineries to visit, I’ll have a hard time choosing!

With some help from the local tourism folks at Tourism Penticton and Thompson ‎Okanagan Travel, as well some very welcoming local businesses, I look forward to setting out to explore the Westside Wine Trail, Bottleneck Drive, and some places in Penticton I

won’t see during the conference.

The excitement is infectious as Penticton has been rolling out the red carpert, declaring June 6th Wine Bloggers Day in the city.  What odes that mean?  That means every business, from coffee shops to our host hotel, has been tweeting, Facebooking and smoke-signalling their welcome to the 200 or so strangers that are invading their town.

You just can’t buy that kind of hospitality.  I will be driving down the lakeshore from Kelowna to Penticton, stopping at local wineries, spending some pretty colored money, and taking in the spectacular scenery at a couple of wineries before meeting up with some locals in town for dinner.

Settling in for the night at Gods Mountain Estate.  This 115 acre estate is a Mediterranean style B&B escape, with views of Skaha Lake, vineyards and mountains.  This sounds like a place I need to come back to!

On Wine Bloggers Day, I will be visiting some beautiful, small production wineries that we won’t visit on our excursions on Friday, exploring what local really means.  With wineries that have been in families for generations, and a few rebels thrown in, I am looking forward to tasting Okanagan!

Stay tuned for more updates from the road, but in the meantime, a few more tidbids from Istria.

 

Get your passports ready!

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It’s that time of year again!  The are APril showers, which means…bud break, wildflowers, and Passport!

It’s been 23 years of Passport to Dry Creek Valley.  Way back in  1990, the Winegrowers of DCV started this event to bring people together at a time of year when we can celebrate the vineyards, the families, the roots of DCV and of course – the wines.

I am so excited to be attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley again this year!  During the weekend of April 27-28, 50 wineries will welcome visitors with special pairings, wine, food and entertainment.  One of the special parts of Passport is that many wineries offer unique tours, and grape to glass stories of their property.

Check out this list of yummy wineries that I’ll be stopping by (partial list of all pouring)

  • Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves
  • Chateau Diana
  • DaVero Farms and Winery
  • Dry Creek Vineyard
  • Dutcher Crossing
  • Frick Winery
  • Fritz Winery
  • Göpfrich Winery
  • Gustafson Family Vineyard
  • Kachina Vineyards
  • Kokomo Winery
  • Malm Cellars
  • Martorana Family Winery
  • Mounts Family Winery
  • Papapietro Perry Winery
  • Peterson Winery
  • Quivira Vineyards & Winery
  • Ridge Vineyards
  • Roadhouse Winery
  • Seghesio Family Vineyards
  • F. Teldeschi Winery
  • Unti Vineyards
  • West Wines

I’m really excited to see all of the new names on the list!

In addition to these graet wineries, you can take a tour of Preston Farm and Winery on Sunday, and check out Grandpa’s Red jug wine – one of the last great jug wines produced.  You can also wander the gardens, and taste some of the delicious organic produce.   Or, on Saturday, take a ride up the hill to Gustafson Winery, with sweeping views of the valley, and learn about the unique soils while sipping the delicious Cabernet.

I can’t wait to see you there!  Tickets are $120 for the weekend, or $70 for Sunday.  This is event ALWAYS sells out, so make sure to pick up your tickets early HERE!

What exactly is this wine tourism thing?

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As we leap in to 2013, I am gearing up for a year of possibilities; a year of trips; a year of experiences; a year of wine!  I am excited to be participating in the 2013 Internatinoal Wine Tourism Confernece, this year in Zagreb, Croatia.  As i prepare for that adventure, I am reflecting back on what I have learned about wine tourism over the past 2 years, since I was in Portuagal at the 2011 Wine Tourism Conference.

Wine tourism is an ever evolving thing.  At it’s core, it is the travel and tourism of people that are seeking destinations orbiting wine and food.  But, it is an evolving industry.  There is a boom in growth in wine culture, in the US, and internationally.

Those who define themselves as wine tourists tend to be more affluent, with a higher level of education and also tend to spread the word about their experiences when they return home.  With over 90% of wine tourism happening as an adjunct to visiting friends & family, there is an untapped market that is ripe for the picking.

Given that, in my small area, there are over 1000 wineries, with more than 2000 in the state of California, how do you stand out?  How do you identify your target audience, and attract them to your business?  As a wine tourist myself, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer number of offerings in a small wine region.  Selecting which establishments will benefit from my business is always a taxing exercise.  When I am alone, I target places I have never been.  However, how do I select destinations when I am in a group?  What makes you stand out?  Being unique and being intriguing is a key factor in this over saturated market.

As I plan my trip to Croatia, the state of wine tourism in the US and beyond is in the forefront of my mind.  After being piqued by the conversations that occurred at the 2012 Wine tourism Conference in Santa Rosa, I am excited to explore this topic more.  While I had already set my discussion topic (with my fellow blogger and co-presenter Liza Swift of BrixChicks) I am infinitely curious about what other people do to attract wine tourists to their regions.  I spontaneously broke in to lengthy (geek) discussions while in Portland recently about how their evolving urban wine scene is unique to the area, and different from the Willamette Valley (more on that later).

In California, there is so much more to wine tourism than the well known grape producing regions of Napa & Sonoma.  There is an entire culture of wine and food that is a large economic part of the state’s bottom line.  But, outside of those primary tourism destinations, and perhaps some of the regions made famous in Sideways or Bottle Shock, do you know about the smaller, alternative destinations?  Creating a brand identity for an international tourism audience is paramount to success.  You don’t want to be foreever known as the winery where Miles drank from the spit bucket, or one that produces (gasp!) Merlot, if you can’t express why your Merlot is out of this world.  This is true for any wine region that wishes to enhance their wine tourism audience.

So, as I get ready to pack my bags, and investigate wine tourism around the world, I task you to think about these two things:
1.  If you are wine tourism business, what are you doing to create a unique message to attract visitors?

2.  If you are a wine tourist, what attracts you to a new (to you) business?  What keeps bringing you back to your favorites?
Happy wining!

Where can wine take YOU?

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I’m sitting here in the lobby of the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, at the 2nd annual Wine Tourism Conference, in Santa Rosa, with fond memories of the Wine Bloggers Conferences of 2008 and 2009. The buzz is certainly different, with industry reps. tour operators, writers, and print media outlets, but the buss is here.

Spending a brief morning at the trade show, I saw many faces I knew, but I also saw many faces I didn’t.  Up and coming wine regions that you would not think of were represented, and I was looking forward to learning more about them.

All sorts of industry professionals were represented, including tour operators, wineries, tourism associations, PR firms, and of course – those pesky bloggers!  I was looking forward to both getting to know these great group of people ,but also learning what the challenges in the industry are, and how we, as new media representatives can help.

Of particular interest to me were the challenges that individual regions have attracting visitors to their wine destinations.  Both on a personal and semi professional level, the topic fascinates me.  Additionally, the age old question of how ot engage with social media and how to utilize new media.  I am a social media freak, and if you have known me since the first Wine Bloggers Conference, you know that I am also a twitterholic.  While some of this has waned in recent years due to professional and personal obligations, it is still a fiery passion.

In addition to my social meida addiction, I am passionate about finding out how I can help bring the wine business in to the 21st century uses the tgools of the trade.  These tools include CRM but also include business practices and methodologies that are universal across businesses.

So, where can wine take you?  Stay tuned this week and I give you some of my insights, ideas, eye opening moments, and observations from the Wine Tourism Conference.

Cheers!

 

We interrupt this train of thought…

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Wine Tourism ConferenceI’m still catching up and formulating my thoughts about the Wine Bloggers Conference, but as I do so, I thought I’d share with you another conference that I’m excited about.  Ok actually two conferences!

First, in November, I will be attending the Second Annual Wine Tourism Conference, here on my home turf of Santa Rosa.  Last year, 200+ wine tourism professionals, bloggers, and media attended the first conference in Napa.    Due to popular demand the conference is now an annual event, run by our friends at Zephyr Adventures (the folks that brought us the WBC).

The Wine Tourism Conference (WineTC) was created, inspired (at least in my opinion and observation) by the International Wine Tourism Conference, to provide hard information about the important and growing industry of wine tourism in your region, as well as the region that conference is held in.  Spawned by the International Wine Tourism Conference (more on that below), the WineTC attracts wineries, wine tourism professionals, wine associations, tour operators, travel agencies, hotels, PR professionals and media who writes about wine and tourism.

Please follow on twitter using the hashtag #winetourismconference for all the lastest news!

The second upcoming conference that i will be participating in is the 2013 International Wine 

Tourism Conference.  This time,

the event will take me to Zagreb, Croatia!  I can’t tell you how excited I am to learn about the area and some of the wines of the region.  I look forward to spending a few extra days exploring the region; after all, Croatia is the birthplace of zinfandel.

You may remember that in 2011 I travelled to Porto, Portugal to speak at the IWINETC on topics of engaging bloggers (view my slides).  This time, I will be teaming up with my friend and fellow blogger Liza Swift of Brix Chicks to discuss new ways of attracting wine tourists to your hidden gem of a region.

The 2013 IWINETC will bring together wine and travel lovers and professionals from around the world to discuss, reflect on and develop their ideas on wine and culinary tourism.  With two days of interactive presentations, demonstartions, and talks, it will also give attendees the opportunity to taste wines fro all over the world, and foucs on the host region of Croatia.  With so many attendees from so many areas, there will be the opportunity to taste many different wines and foods.
Much like the WBC, the IWINETC has grown over the last 4 yeras.  In 2011, there wre 175 attendees; 2013 will bring 300+ attendees from over 30 countries.   It will be a unique experience to share, network, and discuss wine tourism and I look forward to sharing more as we get closer to the date!
Please follow along on twitter using the hashtag #iwinetc during the events!
Both events promise to provide an overview of local wine tourism s well as wine tourism as a while, while providing specific information that you can use, networking opportunities, and a sampling of local wine and food.
Stay tuned on more about Croatia and wine tourism in the coming weeks (and months)!

Rhône with me!

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I can’t believe it!  It’s here!  Tomorrow afternoon, I kick off my 2012 Hospiece du Rhône experience with my good friends Amy & Joe Power of Another Wine Blog.

This year is a particularly special occassion, in that it is the 20th Anniversary of HdR, and Amy’s bday.  I won’t tell you which one, since I want to live through the weekend but it will be big.

This year, Hospice du Rhône, the world’s largest gathering of Rhône variety wines and producers, will celebrate 20 years of all things Rhône.  The events are sold out, which is hardly surprising given the amazing agenda we have lined up, and I’m so excited to be headed down to Paso Robles tomorrow to participate.

Fortunately for you latecomers, if you are in Paso Robles on Saturday, there will be 100 Golden Tickets sold at the door to the Grand Tasting.  It is a bit like Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, as yo8u enter the gates to the fairgrounds, and see the throngs of people lined up.

For our experience, we are starting with dinner at Artisan, a local restaurant known for it’s wine & food pairings with local ingredients.  Amy, Joe, myself, and our friends from Pithy LIttle Wine Co. will kick off the weekend wiht a dinner fit for Rhône-heads everywhere.

Thursday, I will be wandering around Paso with stops at Ranchero Cellars and whereever else the wind blows up.  Thursday evening, a special welcome reception to jump start the event.  A lucky few will be participating in a  Châteauneuf du Pape seminar and pairing dinner, who will have the privilege to taste Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines dating as far back as 1954.  Author of The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Book, Harry Karis along with Vigneron Philippe Cambie will lead the audience through an in-depth look at this historic region of France before delighting in dinner at Paso Robles’ premier French restaurant, Bistro Laurent. Chef Laurent Grangien has carefully prepared a five-course meal for this enchanting evening.

Friday will begin with wines from four rock star winemakers hailing from the Priorat region of Spain. Eric Solomon of Eric Solomon Selections will bring to the stage Jose Maria Vicente of Casa Castillo, Daniel Jimenez-Landi of Jimenez-Landi, Bixente Ocafrain of Bodegas Mas Alta and Daphne Glorian-Solomon of Clos I Terrasses. Next, attendees will dive into the stones Walla Walla, Washington with a focused seminar by the ever spirited and knowledgeable Christophe Baron of Cayuse.  Having just hopped a plane home from Barcelona last month, I am especially looking forward to the Priorat seminar.

After we are full of Priorat, we head over to the Rosé Lunch, celebrating pink wine.  There will be a huge variety of pinks to choose from, and with the delicious nibbles from the girl & the fig, I might need a nap after!  I seem to recall the Great Pot du Creme caper of a couple of years ago when attendees could not eat enough of the three selections and may or may not have accidentally taken a pot back to their hotel room.

After lunch, and said nap, the Rhône Rendezvous has gone BIG!  This walk-around tasting for will feature 100 producers who will share their Rhône wines from large-format bottles.  Wowza!  Friday night I have a feeling we might be seen at Villa Creek or the brewery for dinner, if we can roll out of the parking lot.

After a good night’s sleep (or lackthere of knowing how things roll at the Black Oak) day two of the 2012 Seminar Series will begin with a look at the historic Northern Rhône with the wines of Les Vins de Vienne. These wines are crafted by three long-time friends of Hospice du Rhône, Francois Villard, Yves Cullieron and Pierre Gaillard. Closing out day two of the Seminar Series will be Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg, South Australia who will guide the audience through 13 wines showcasing the terroir of multiple vineyard sites and plots.

Lunch on Saturday is always a raucous and good time.  The Lunch and Live Auction gives us a glimpse in to the world of the Rhône Collector, as those with deeper pockets vie for the best lots as we eat the delicious food from Far Western Tavern.  Proceeds from this auction

As we roll out of lunch, the Rhône quest continues at the Saturday Grand Tasting with over 135 winemakers pouring tastes from around the globe for over 1000 Rhône freaks. It has been said that to duplicate this tasting, one would need a passport, many weeks off work and thousands of airline miles to taste the variety of wines showcased at the Grand Tasting. While strolling the Tasting Pavilion guests will savor bites from specialty food purveyors who will be stationed throughout the hall.

Finally, on Saturday evening, we bid a bittersweet farewell to HdR with casino themed Farewell BBQ.  The beer will flow, the bottles will be emptied, and weekend is topped off by some pretty serious silliness.

To follow all of the phone, the Third Edition of the app was launched.  This app is available for your iPhone & iPad, as well as Android.  Forget the paper!  Go iRhône!  This all inclusive app allows you to find, track, tweet and takes notes on your favorite wines from the event.  Those with the app will never be at a loss for Rhône wine information when at the annual event or at home. This is the digital guide to all things Rhône.

A special thanks to HdR for this unique opportunity to participate again this year.  I can’t wait!  Stay tuned to @luscious_lushes for all event updates!

Dark & Delicious, mysterious, Petite Sirah

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Long the source of confusion, Petite Sirah is such a misunderstood grape.  Dark and brooking, dark and delicious.  Yum is what I say!

The love child of Peloursin, a very old, and pretty much dead French varietal, and Syrah, that charming, eclectic Rhône grape, Durif became known as Petite Sirah because of it’s boyish good looks.  Well ok not exactly, but it does sort of look like baby Syrah grapes.

Don’t know much about Petite Sirah?  Lucky for us, Petite Sirah I Love You (PS I Love You) is here to help!  If you’re located in the greater Bay Area or can be here on Friday, February 17th, Dark & Delicious, the annual food and wine pairing focusing on Petite Sirah will take place at Rockwall Winery in Alameda.

Don’t know much about Petite Sirah?  Want to learn more?  Check out the amazing wineries pouring at this event:

Pouring side by side with these wineries, there is also a list of over 35 food purveyors making tidbits to specifically match Petite Sirah’s unique flavor

What others have said about Dark & Delicious:

Wineries Debuting  Wineries Returning
Andis Wines  Artezin (Hess Collection)
Aratas Wines  Aver Family Vineyards
Christian Lazo Wines  Ballentine Vineyards
Flying Horse Wines  Berryessa Gap Winery
Guglielmo Winery  Bogle Vineyards and Winery
Handal Denier  Clayhouse Wines
J. Baldwin Wines  Concannon Vineyard
J. Rickards Winery  David Fulton Winery
Odonata Winery  Diamond Ridge Vineyards
Ridge Vineyards  Don Sebastiani & Sons
Shadowbrook Winery  Estrella Creek Wines
Trueheart Vineyard  F. Teldeschi
 Turkovich Family Winery  Field Stone
 Foppiano Vineyards
 Grizzly Republic
Gustafson Family Vineyards
Harney Lane Winery
Lava Cap
Line 39
Line Shack + Lido Bay Winery
McCay Cellars
Mettler Family Wines
Michael~David Winery
Miro Cellars (with Trentadue)
Mounts Family Winery
Nottingham Cellars
Occasio Winery
Page Mill Winery
Parducci Wine Cellars
R&B Cellars
Robert Biale Winery
Rock Wall Wine Company
Rosenblum Winery
Rutherford Grove
Silkwood Wines
Stage Left Cellars
Stags’ Leap Winery
Stanton Vineyards
Tercero Wines
Trentadue Winery
Tres Sabores
Twisted Oak
Vezér Family Vineyards
Vina Robles
Wilson Vineyards

This is a not to miss event!  Tickets are on sale NOW for $63.  But you, my fabulous readers, have a chance to win a pair!  Just tell me why you love Petite Sirah in the comments below (and for additioanlly entries, don’t forget to use the RaffleCopter Form).  What makes you crave the dark & delcious grape?

See you there!  Happy drinking.

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Red, ruby, Garnet!

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Garnet: -A semi precious mineral gemstone, often mistaken for a ruby.
-A middle English word meaning dark red.
-A wine producer that specializes in Pinot Nor from Carneros.
Recently, I was tretaed to a dinner featuring the wines of Garnet, hosted by winemaker Alison Crowe.
Once a lower brow brand of large California fighting varietal house Saintsbury, Garnet was sold to the grape supplier Silverado Winegrowers in 2011.
With over 11,000 acres of California vineyards, Silverado has been a longtime supplier of premium grapes to several brands. With the purchase of Garnet, they now focus on production of higher-end wines.
Creating wines that retail between $11 – $30, you can bet there is something in there for everyone. I was delighted by the quality of the lower price point Monterey Pinot Noir, which typically can be a bit off putting to me.  I just don’t personally care for the Monterey terroir in my pinot.
While most Garnet wines are sold at restaurants, they recently announced a partnership with Safeway to sell the Monterey pinot in stores, which means you can get a inexpensive wine for a steal.  The Garnet label has been around since 1983; in the mid nineties, the production swelled to 15,000 cases, which, while I don’t know for sure, probably lead to some degredation in quality.
Alison cut her winemaking teeth at Chalone, one one of the great family houses in Central California (ok that’s another story). From there, she move don to work with Randall Graham, and really honed her style with some of the world’s best renegade wine makers.  Now, she has the opportunity to build a brand in to one of Carneros’ finest.  It is her goal to ensure that each wine is a true expression of the terroir, and by selecting specific sights in the vineyard portfolio for each bottle, she can do this.
Before dinner, we were greeted by the 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonany.  Now, you know that I’m not the world’s biggest chard lover but this was a nice departure from the overly cloying, butter bombs that are typical of the region.  Filled with bright lemon and citrus, there was a lemon curd sprinkled with nutmeg hiding in there.  I loved the brightness with a hidden agenda.  The fruit is 75% Carneros and 25% Green Valley (Russian River).  It’s my personal opinion that the Green Valley fog brings an acidity and zip to this wine that you wouldn’t otherwise find in a Carneros chard.  The other quality that has promise in this is that it is 100% stainless steel fermented and is just kissed by oak barrels when the wine is finished, so you get very little of the oaky  butter bomb effect.  For $15, this is a great wine for your white wine sipping ladies on the porch.  A-

The 2009 Monterey Pinot was a sleeper hit.  As I mentioned, I don’t care for the flavor profiles I often find in Monterey Pinot.  There is an oddness in there, and something that doesn’t sit well with me, in the form of green sticks and odd leaves.  But this example has dusty dried cherries and strawberries, and while it was a bit tight at first, opened up to white pepper with a lot of floral influence.  Again for $15 it’s a crowd pleaser.  Solid B.

The 2010 Carneros Pinot was, as is expected, big and jammy with bright raspberry.  I personally thought it was a little hot, and bold but silky.  Even though it was big and jammy, the body was lighter, which was somewhat surprising for a Carneros wine.  There was a lot of darker fruit hiding in there.  Not my fave.  C+

My personal favorite glass was the 2010 Rodgers Creek Pinot.  This single vineyard designate is the only wine that is finished with cork and showed Earthy mellow mushroom, bark, sarsaparilla and spicy gingerbread.  In a way it reminded me of a Coca Cola cake (it’s a southern thing).  The foggy terrain of Rodgers Creek gives this a stunning baking spice palate that I just love.  I couldn’t quite believe that this was only $30, and it definitely gets n A in my book.

The moral of this story is that it pays to dig a bit under those big brands.  They often hide premium wines under their hats that you might not otherwise approach.  Since I prefer to dig under the vines for smaller, less well known wines, I am appreciative to find a larger production winery that is focusing on quality, even when quantity makes the bankers happy.

Thanks to Alison and Laura from The Barn Group for a lovely evening!

On a mountain top

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Haber Family Vineyards, which sits high atop Howell Mountain, near the village of Angwin, was founded in 2004 by Ron and Sue Marie Haber, a couple of summer refugees from the East Coast.

My blogging friend Melissa Dobson, of Melissa Dobson PR & Marketing, was kind enough to arrange a bloggers tasting day up on the mountain.  Sue Marie and Ron were gracious and welcoming, and the usual suspects (Randy, Michael, Marcy, and Ashley) made our way out of the Napa Valley for an unforgettable experience.

The estate on Howell Mountain is a lean 5.5 acres, which was painstakingly developed 1 acre at a time due to local zoning laws at the time.  My personal opinion is that slow and steady wins the race however, and this turned out to be worth the slow development.  The Howell Mountain AVA was the first sub-appellation in Napa Valley to be officially recognized, and is known for it’s Cabernets.  The rocky red volcanic soil sits above the valley fog, which creates long mellow growing days.  The estate vineyard is between 1550 and 1650 ft, which is smack dab in the middle of the Howell Mountain vertical AVA.

While the fruit grew, and the estate developed, the 2006 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon was released earlier this year . This bottle was decanted the night before our visit, and it was simply stunning.  Those of you who know me well know that I don’t like the typical overblown overdone overextracted Napa Cab, and this wine was the elegant, silky antithesis of that.  I tasted chocolate, smoke and salami in the wine.  Or was that the nibbles I was chowing down?  Sue Marie put on an amazing spread for us.  The wine continued with pepper and subtle blackberry, with juicy plum notes.  As the wine opened up further in the glass, and as we ate lunch and drank more, the rich mocha flavors came out to play and evergreen notes teased me.  At one point I had an overwhelming aroma of Earl Grey tea, which was followed by fig, black cherry and root beer.  I really enjoyed this wine, and for $80 it is worth it.  I would certainly buy another bottle to hold for a special (or not so special) wine drinking occasion.

If you have an opportunity, try to catch Sue Marie and Ron while they are in town and make it a point to taste their beautiful wine.  The Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet will be released next year, and I look forward to going back and tasting that offering as well.

Happy drinking!

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Bloggers, media, is there a line?

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Bloggers, media, journalists, TV reporters, wine critics, mom.  Can’t we all just get along?  I know that there are a lot of shills out there, and there has been a lot of controversy in the Mommy Blogger arena about posting for peanuts, or in their case products, but the recent FTC ruling regarding bloggers really chaps my hide.

It’s not that I take issue with the fact that the FTC is requiring bloggers to disclose the fact that they receive samples.  That is simply the ethical thing to do; it is that they are specifically and pointedly excluding traditional media from this ruling because they apparently have better “Independent editorial responsibility”.  So really, you’re saying that BOb Parker actually discloses to us when he takes a press junket to Paris?  London? Australia?  Funny, I don’t seem to read that in his work.

Esentially, what the FTC is doing is widening the gap between tradition and new media in all arenas.  Clearly, the straight up pay for post model is something that needs to be disclosed, but with over 2000 wine blogs alone, are you really going to police EVERY post by EVERY blogger to see if we are disclosing the fact that I got a $15 bottle of wine that probably cost the PR agency / winery / retailer $7?  REALLY?

Now i’m all about letting your public know if you got something for free, and I try to include in my posts if I am reviewing a wine. Yes, occasionally i forget, yes occasionally i get so excited about a wine I don’t bother but clearly i will need to be more cognizant of that in the future.

But why not hold “traditional media” to the same scrutiny?  Apparently, the FTC doesn’t think that bloggers are intelligent enough or ethical enough to hold our selves to the same level as the old boys club.  Basically, if i get PAID to review items i get for free, then it’s ok but if i review items that i get for free, for FREE then I must disclose.  HUH?  The FTC apparently feels that those kids in the big buildings have a better grasp on what is right and wrong that me do, and that their reviews are not  “endorsements”.  THOSE reviews are not impacted by the fact that their reviewer did or didn’t pay for the item in question. MY reviews are impacted because I’m not a journalist.  OR so I’ve been told more than once and loudly by the FTC.

To quote Tom Wark of Fermentation, who sums it up SO well:

Let me put this in plainer words. If a publisher sends me (a wine blogger) a copy of a new book about the wines of Bolivia and I review it positively I must disclose the book was given to me or face a fine of $11,000. If a reporter at the Wine Spectator (traditional media) receives a free copy of “The Wines of Bolivia” and reviews it positively, they need not disclose they received it free from the publisher. Put another way, if Alder Yarrow or Dr. Vino respond in the affirmative to my email to them offering a bottle of press sample of Mayo Family Winery’s 2006 Reserve Zinfandel with a request (though not a demand) that they review it, they must disclose they received the sample free of charge when they do review it—good or bad review. If I call Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast and make the same offer and he accepts, he (and the editors at The Wine Enthusiast) need not disclose they received the press sample free.

To also quote John Stossel, formerly of ABC News 20/20 and therefore not subject to freebie limitations, GIVE ME A BREAK!~

Does this potenitally give bloggers more credibility on paper?  Yes.

Does this make me dislike the paper boys even more?  You bet.

Will I make sure my ass writes “FREE SAMPLE” on every blog post?  Well, yeah.

Will I say if I paid for a wine tasting at Joe’s Vineyards?  No.  Because that is up to the discretion of the winery staff weather to charge me or not, blogger, journalist or flirt.

This piece was not paid for by any means, liquid or otherwise and is purely an expression of my opinion.  If the FTC comes after me, I’ll tell them to go see PinotBlogger for a free Suck It Parker! T-shirt.

Oh these hallowed Halls

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It’s the day after the WBC, and my trusty drinking buddy Megan (@sonadora) were wandering around Napa Valley, eager to make some new discoveries.  As luck would have it, we were personally invited to a Bloggers Day at Hall Napa Valley, a fairly large production facility, in St Helena.  Little did I know, I would leave that day with a much kinder view of that “other” valley, as well as a profound respect for an established winery who opened their doors and barrel room to a posse of renegade bloggers.

Hall is most well known for it’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.  They are also the first GOLD LEED Certified winery in California (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).  They take their environmental responsibility seriously, and employ a variety of methods to ensure that they are eco balanced and green in all senses of the world.  Some of the tools they use to achieve this are bio-diesel powered farm equipment, solar power, radiant cooling & heating, and sustainable farming practices.  In fact, the solar power provides approximately 35% of Hall’s total reneger needs, and they are successfully selling back power during the strong sunny moths in the summer.  The LEED certification process is a complex multi-year undertaking, and Hall will be the first winery to achieve this.

We met up with Joe, Amy, Liz, and the team from Hall at the St. Helena tasting room at production center.  Here, we were greeted with a taste of the 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which retails for a very affordable $20.  I found the Sav Blanc very fruity, and crisp without being sharp.  It is fermented in 100% stainless steel, and has delicious citrus.  The vineyard manager explained to us that thinning the canopy and dropping some of the grape clusters actually helps bring out the citrus characteristics, more so than say a grassy Sav Blanc.  That brought up a good point – is that grassy flavor profile a flaw or a style?  The intimation was the the grassiness can come from over shading the grapes, which doesn’t allow the natural sunlight through.  I personally prefer a more well rounded Sav Blanc, so whatever the technique, this was a strong buy.

After we tasted some of the juice, we headed out to the winery to learn about how Hall practices green wine making and learn more about their winery.  On the catwalk, we learned from winemaker Steve Leveque about their gravity flow winery, which they can expand in the future.  Three sections in the barrel room allow the winemakers to store wines in independent temperature controlled rooms, which allows for better aging and separation.

The St. Helena winery sits on the grounds of one of Napa’s oldest structures, where the historic distillary operated in teh 1940s, making brandy and wine.  The original structure was built in 1885, and that structure transformed in to the Coop winemaking facility in Napa, which was somewhat of a local eyesore.  Fortunately, Hall has plans to restore the original building, and make the historical structure its hospitality center.

Today, Hall has several vineyards, including the St. Helena visitors center, the Rutherford appointment only private winery and Sacrashe Vineyard, Napa River Ranch, Bergfeld which is also in St. Helena, Hardester, and Walt Ranch on Atlas Peak.  each one of these properties is chosen specifically with the intention of creating the best Bordeaux varietals possible, and represent different elevations, micro-climates and soil confabs.

After touring the winery, we headed up to the home ranch in Rutherford, on top of the eastern hills overlooking the valley.  Here, in the Sacrashe Vineyard, Don Munk the Director of Vineyard Operations explained to us about the tufa soil.  This vineyard in particular is planted with a high density 6×4 planting formation.  The smaller vines that are planted to a higher density give a more intense fruit profile, and increase the quality in the bottle.  This vineyard is organically farmed, and will be fully certified in 2010.  Here, it is more important to maintain balance of nature then it is to achieve it.  Practices such as encouraging owls as natural pest control, cover crops, and encouraging beneficial insects to use the vineyard are supported while minimal intervention occurs.  One of the important factors is controlling the vigor of the vines.  In the winter, cover crops can help penetrate the hard soil, and assist in aeration, which gives the vine roots a fighting change.

This vineyard is the basis for the flagship Cabernet blend, the Katheryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon.  Katheryn is a passport ambassador for her brand, and in fact was an actual ambassador to Austria for many years.  Raised in a Napa Valley wine family, she knows what it takes to make good wine and came back to the valley after a varied career in public service.  One thing that struck me at this beautiful winery was the inquisitive nature Katheryn has, and how she welcomed us in to her home, and really wanted to know what we, as the new wave of journalism, wanted from a winery and how we could form a symbiotic relationship and mutually advance each other.

Following our vineyard tour, we had a beautiful sit down lunch on the terrace overlooking Napa.

Starter:  Grilled bread, buratta cheese, white anchovies, nicose olives, cherry tomatoes, capers, arugula.  Paired with the 2008 HALL Sauvignon Blanc (see notes above)

Main:  Wood oven roasted long-bailey farms duroc pork tenderloin, summer squash, shelling beans, chanterelle mushrooms, thyme jus.  Paired with the 2005 HALL Napa River Ranch Merlot.

The Napa Valley Merlot is sourced from two different vineyards, the Napa River Ranch, and the Hardester.  The Hardester vineyard is planted on the rugged hillsides, with low yield vines, and is known for big chewy Merlots.  The Napa River Ranch vineyard is on the valley floor, and has rich fruit and plush mouth feel.  I truly loved this merlot.  Considering that I used to be a bit of a merlot snob, in that i didn’t touch the stuff, this is a big accomplishment.  What a treat!  Flavors of olives, cherries, plum, smoke.  Richly and blanaced with a touch of cedar.  Also tasted cranberry juice, chocolate.  This was a soft and supple Merlot   This wine was only $28, and i rate it a strong buy.

Cheese Course: Artisan cheese with fig jam, bouchon bakery herb pallidan, spanish almonds paired with the 2006 HALL “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is Hall’s flagship wine, and it is 100% Cabernet Savignon, 95% from Sacrashe and 5% Diamond Mountain fruit.  I tasted black cherry, chocolate, lots of tannins, cinnamon and nutmeg.  This was a dense, concentrated Cab, and not a fruit bomb.  It was a glass of dark fresh earth without being dirty.  The black fruit and spices really came through, and I felt like I could taste that famous Rutherford dust.  This could easily age for 15 yrs before it peaks but it is amazing NOW.  This was a special sneak peek for the bloggers, and it will be released on Release date is 9/12/09 at a retail of around $75.  Considering that it is a terrific Napa Cab, even though this is normally outside of my budget, it’s a wonderful example of a Napa Valley Cabernet and I would buy it if I tasted it again.

After lunch, we participated in a bit of blending fun, but that will have to wait for the next post!  All in all, I have found a new favorite Napa Valley winery.  The QPR on the wines is outstanding, and the graciousness of our hostess and the entire team at Hall was lovely.  A winery of this size that is interested in learning about the next generation of wine writers, wine critics, and social media gets a gold star in my book especially when they clearly don’t need to given the success that they enjoy.

Keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

A smattering of tastings – WBC Day 1

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Where does the time go?  The Second Annual Winebloggers Conference has already come and gone, and I am left wondering “what the heck was that bus that rolled over me  “.As one of the voices behind the curtain of the WBC Scholarship, and as a huge cheerleader, proponent and fan of the WBC, I am pleased, shocked, elated, bummed, and catching my breath after the weekend.

On our first day, the rag tag Twisted Crew (@sonadora, @thebeerwench, @winehiker, @eljefetwisted, @ryanopaz, @gabriellaopaz, @houstonwino, @winewonkette) and I pulled up to the Flamingo after fighting what seemed to be an eternity in Central Valley and Infinion drag racing traffic followed by the usual Friday flow in to Santa Rosa.  Arriving at 12:30 or so, I didn’t spend much time with the sponsors, something which I regret doing.  Partially because many of them were familiar to me, partially because I was just plain exhausted due to unfortunate events the day before, I found my fellow people and sat down to eat some lunch.

I was excited to see so many of my friends, both those that I know in person and those that I knew only online, as new recruits tot he WBC posse.  After catching up, albeit breifly, with some regulars, I was circulating the room trying to spy new faces while inspecting their name tags without looking like I was completely crazy.  Fortunately, I caught up with a few new regulars.

After lunch, we attempted to do the speed tasting sessions, but well for reasons so many have discussed, it failed.  Miserably.  Like died on the operating table failed.  In its stead, we heard about the Wine Blogger Awards.  Unfortunately, I had purposely planned to skip this male dominated prom king style popularity contest, and moving it up unfortunately resulting in people not being there to accept thier awards.  Eventually the wireless supposedly turned back on but as I tried to tweet my tasting notes, the wireless only stayed up for 10 seconds at a time, I gave up and just enjoyed the wines.  Sorry folks, no tasting notes from me.

After the speed tasting, we beat a hasty retreat to our short but sweet annual Anti-Conference BYOB session in the small space at the front of the hotel.  We did get to enjoy a large plethora of wines from attendees, and I really look forward to this time to meet new folks, try new wines, and just have a good time in an unstructured way.

Not wanting to miss a beat, we then made our way out to the pool for a very crowded very crazy Sonoma Grand Tasting.  Not wanting to get crushed in the milee I pretty much avoided this, and found a spot at a table with Wine Biz Radio’s Randy Hall, his wife Jen and her amazing goat cheese, as well as some fellow bloggers.  There, we shared some wine, I opened some wine,

Showing off my Zinpatico with Jen's goat cheese!

Chritophe (@cork_dork) from Titus opened some wine, and we made our own tasting.  PS for next year, PLEASE do no try to squeeze 250 people in to a space meant for 50, it just doesn’t’ work.  I am sorry I missed many great wines, but I count myself lucky that I have tasted many before so didn’t really feel like I was losing out.  It was just too much of a mosh pit to really enjoy your self and so instead, I opted to find an empty poolside table and sit with my buds catching up.  Jen, Randy Hall’s wife, had brought some of her homemade goat cheese to share and with some wine to sip on, we snacked and chatted the afternoon away.

Oh – I forgot to mention.  During all portions of the Speed Tasting and Sonoma Grand, I was readily accosted for my unusual jewelry of Wie BLogger Bling.  It looks like my ribbons and charms were a hit, yet again!  Yes, t

his was the idea, and I am pleased that so many of you enjoyed the camradierie of being a Naughty Wine Minx or saying tot he world Screw It!  More WIne!  That was the intention behind the blogger bling, as there were so many people I didn’t know and knew I wouldn’t get a chance to meet; I was pleased that it afforded me the opportunity to have random strangers become aquaintances via a common love of all thing wine and silly.

After the Grand Tasting, we made our way in to the dinner session, where I had a tizzy of a time finding not only a seat, but a seat at a table where I at least recognized one face.  I know i know, I was going to mingle,  but even this cowgirl gets the “I’m shy” blues and wanted a friendly face.  I sat down with my favorite Cellar Rat Alan Baker, and we had a great time trying our wines and catching up, while I went table hopping to poach different wines.  The table layout was that most tables were hosted by a winery, and we had a few of their wines plus others on our tables.  Since I wanted a variety, I found Brad Cooper’s table (@bradinator) and poured a nice big taste of his Black Cloud Pinot Noir.  WOW!  Who knew such beauty came out of of British Columbia in a bottle! (Hey, @winebard stop throwing things at me).

Even though I was operating at 45% sanity, both physically and mentally, after dinner I wandered in tot he after hours tasting hosted by Russian River Winegrowers.  I was please to see many wineries I knew here, and was able to taste some more treats, and chat with the locals on what was new.  In there, I met up with Julie from Windsor Oaks, whom I’ve written about before here.  Julie is a pioneer in the industry and is working hard to make sure that she is in tune with not only bloggers, but with what her customers want and need.  I was so pleased to get a gift of their Unoaked Chard, which is just a lovely treat.  Anyone in the area, MUST stop by and try their wines!  They will welcome you as one of their own, and the wine is pretty good too ;-).

I tried and tried to stay up for the after after after party but I just couldn’t do it.  My body and my brain gave out.  I’m sure I missed out on a lot and I’m bummed, but well, Saturday was another day!

(How long til WBC 10?)

I’m a mom!

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Hahn SLHOk well, no not really, but I made you look right?  Seriously though, I have my own baby!  My own little baby itty bitty delicious not yet fruit bearing vine!

At the graciousness of Hahn Family Wines, a group of bloggers got together and planted The Bloggers Block, at Hahn Family Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands.  The good folks at Hahn dedicated 1.5 acres of prime Santa Lucia Highlands land to the Bloggers Block, proving themselves as a shining light in the dark path of new media adoption in the wine business.

Soledad is about 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, so I got myself up  nice and early on a Saturday and heaviliy caffinated myself.  I stopped by to pick up a Winehiker (no no not a HITCHhiker!) and we hightailed it down 101, through the rolling hills of San Benito County, and through the lettuce fields of Salinas.  As we drove through the flatlands of the Salinas valley, I was struck with how litlte it has changed since East of Eden.

The cool foggy overcast was driving inland, and I wasn’t entirely convinced we’d have sunshine for our day in the vineyards.  Finally, as we popped in to the Santa Lucia Highlands, the sun came out.  Past veggie farms and up to the west side of the valley, we found the Hahn driveway and slowly drove up the hill.  Every few feet I had to stop and say “ohhh lookie!” because it was so stunning.  Finally, at the top of the hill, we found a little yellow house at the top of a vineyard, which is now the tasting room.  Being the first to arrive, we stopped to breathe the fresh air and look at the view before being enthusiastically greeted by Philip Woodrow, Hahn Family Wines Director of Marketing and Communications.

Philip has only been in this role for a few months, but he has taken it on with a gusto and has made blogger a welcome and integral part of the Hahn family.  Once inside the tasting room, Philip pointed out our snack of Huntington Sauvignon Blanc, one of my personal faves, and  Hahn SLH Chardonay, paired with some lovely cheese and nibbles.  We waited for our posse to arrive, Russ and I chatted with Andy Mitchell (Director Vineyard Operations) and Paul Clifton (adorable winemaker at Hahn Estates), as well as Philip.

From there, we went down to the Bloggers Block, which is at 720 feet, and we were planting some delicious Pinot Noir, clone 828.  We even got the exact location of the block, so we can keep track of it on Google Earth!  Yes, we are geeks.  You can keep track too, with the flyover file here.  In the dirt, the vineyard manager explained to us that the vines we were planting were on 3309C rootstock.  We were given specific instructions to dig our holes 12 inches deep, where we would then drop a nutrient teabag in the bottom, and stick our vines in – with about 4 fingers left above ground.  Luckily for us, the nice boys had pre-dug our holes, so we really didn’t have to work that hard ;-).

After we filled the holes back in, we had to protect our babies from critters, birds, and other elements, by covered it with what looks like a fancy milk carton, which we twist tied to the stakes to hold them down.  Once all the vines were planted, the drip irrigation turned on, and we could see the vines relax in to their new homes.

After we played gardner, we gathered for a lunch under the trees near the tasting room, and enjoyed the full lineup of Hahn wines.  I’d have to say, th

e 2006 SLH Syrah was amazing, as were the Lucienne Pinot Noirs.  Given the price point for all of these wines, they really are excellent QPR.  At lunch, we

had the chance to talk to other bloggers, and pick the brains of the Hahn folks about the wines and our block in particular. After lunch, we headed up to the winery itself to take a tour and learn about the winemaking process.  There, we got to taste some barrel samples of the finished Lucienne that were able to drink with our lunch.

All in all, a totally awesome day!  In a nutshell, Hahn gets it.  They understand the importance of bloggers and how they can make themselves stand out from the crowd.  In the words of Hahn’s President William Leigon,

I believe that the blogging community is a vital part of the future of the industry.  In the many debates of what is or isn’t ethical in regards to the winery/wine blogger relationship what seems clear to me is that the best, most ethical thing we as a winery can do is provide the blogging community with quality products, quality information and quality wine experiences regardless of race, sex, color, creed or brand of wine.  We are using our vineyards because that’s who we are.  I believe that the more the blogging community learns about wine, the better it is for all of us.

It is a vital connection; just like the winery/wine writer connection; the winery/wine buyer connection; and of course the winery/consumer connection.  It does us no good to create great wines if no one knows about it.  I just can’t drink that much.  The wine business is a relationship business.  We must create an emotional connection to our consumers.  We do that through many means and I believe Social Media is a major part of creating that connection.

The internet and Social Media allow you to do that only it accelerates the number of people you can reach to a degree that I can’t even comprehend.  It allows me to establish a relationship and an emotional connection to someone in Germany that I have never met face to face.  It allows me to create connections with multiple people in multiple countries simultaneously and in a very personal way.


 

As you can see, Liza and I were very happy campers.

Cheers!

 

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To trade or not to trade, THAT is the question.

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Spring, wopinot-days1nderous spring.  The rain has left for now, and the wine festivals are upon us.  Or are they?

Recently, I found that Pinot Days, the San Francisco varietal focused event held at the end of June, will not be offering any trade tickets to this years event.  Huh?  No trade tickets?  To ANYone? While I understand that the definition of “trade” has become blurred recently with bloggers, media, and other supposedly credentialed folks clamoring to take part in free wine, I really think that Pinot Days is missing the boat here.

First, the “Trade Requirements” link takes you to a page that says yo must be a legitimate member of one of the following categories:

  • Wine Retail Owner or Buyer
  • Restaurateur
  • Sommelier
  • Wine Distributor
  • Wine Buyer
  • Wine Broker

Ok, great.  That makes sense.  But when you click on Request Trade Tickets, you are rudely informed that San Francisco will not be offering trade tickets at all.  To restrict trade tickets to a select few individuals does make economical and logistical sense.  This is what Rhone Rangers has started to do, by reviewing each trade request carefully, and making a determination of trade eligibility.  Fair enough.  If I qualify, i get notified.  If i don’t, I make the decision to pay or not pay to attend with the rest of the public.  Understandably, the costs and time required to verify legitimate trade members may be more than the actual cost of the ticket, which presents a good reason for not taking the time to review every site individually.

Now I appreciate the fact that some of these events have gotten out of control, and every Tom, Dick or Harry, attempts to pass themselves off as trade.  However, to eliminate the attendance of restaurants, wine retailers, and traditional media Representatives entirely is to put a big DO NOT ENTER sign on your front door.  As a blogger, I am keenly aware that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool there is.  See my collective rant about Domaine Chandon’s lack of service recently.  If I am not exposed to things to talk about, then I guess I won’t be talking about them at all.  My focus will be shifted to those wineries I will be visiting at Barrel Tasting this weekend and next, because they WANT me to visit.  They practically begged me to visit.

Yes, many of the wineries pouring at these events have an elitist attitude and feel that they don’t have to “sell” their wines to the trade.  We should know who they are obviously.  Clearly, I should be printing the pour list out and running to my local wine shop requesting each and every wine to be stocked.  Obviously, I am a little befuddled at that thought process, since this is one of the few single varietal tasting events, and it allows me to explore new areas, new wineries, and new tastes in Pinot which I can then review.  Furthermore, I can network with retailers and share my business proposition with them for Vinquire.  Clearly, that is not going to happen this year, as all the 5000 attendees or so will be paying customers who will be having a pinot drunk fest.

Will I pay the $50 to attend?  Probably not.  I really enjoy this event, but I enjoy being able to discuss the wines with the reps, and taste at my leisure before the flooded masses get in.  Without that time, I don’t see the point in spending $50 to drink the pinots that I love so much, when I can drive myself up to Russian River and part-take for the same amount of money and less attitude.

To clarify my point, the issue is not really about the money.  I have no issue with charging trade a nominal fee for the privilege of attending these tastings.  To further emphasise that point I also have no issue with restriction exactly WHO is a member of the “trade” vs. who is on the periphery.

My core issue is with the total exclusion of the trade only event in San Francisco, and the lack of customer service finesse on behalf of Pinot Days.  As new media and Wine 2.0 become the mainstream, it’s important to INCLUDE people, not EXCLUDE them.

As this is an editorial blog, it’s just my opinion and what really matters is YOUR option! Happy reading.

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