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.

 

IMG_0620

 

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.

 

IMG_0617 IMG_0615

ZAP goes on the road!

As summer winds down, or maybe just gets skipped over, the foggy nights and cool morning remind me of why I love Zinfandel so much.  Zinfandel is a wine that has as many flavors and styles as there are ways to make BBQ sauce.  Zinfandel is also the perfect summer party, and BBQ wine.

With that in mind, ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) is hosting a showcase of Zinfandel at Ridge Lytton Springs, on Saturday, August 16th.  Here, over 40 producers will be pairing their Zinfandels with delicious foods from Pizza Politana!  Included with your ticket, you get all of your tastings and half a pizza.  My only problem is they all sound so good – Wild Mushroom, Smoked Mozzarella, Thyme & Truffle Oil; Black Mission Fig, Zoe’s Bacon, Gorgonzola & Creamy Leeks; Housemade Red Wine Sausage (not spicy), County Line Farm Mustard Greens, Tomato Sauce & Mozzarella.  How do I choose?  I suspect the bacon will have it.

Participating wineries include some personal favorite of D-Cubed, Elyse Winery, Fields Family Winery, Kokomo Winery, and Ridge – as well as many more!

Tickets are $60 per person ($45 for ZAP members) and include tasting and 1/2 a pizza w/salad.  Additional food is available for purchase as well as several other sampling opportunities.

Hope to see you there!

 

Tickets to this event were provided, however all yumtacular (thanks James!) opinions of said pizza, and sips of wine, are my own.

Google

The Wine'd ing up to the Wine Bloggers Conferene


As I unpack my bags from my adventures in Croatia & Italy at the International Wine Tourism Conference next week, I am often asked why do you do it? Why do you blog? And, more importantly, why do you go to this Wine Bloggers Conference, every year, in the odd locations and the cool, in less flush times and not?

Well, I’ll tell you. It started in 2008, at the “Flaming-O” (Flamingo) in Santa Rosa. That was the beginning of a core group of intensely dedicated and passionate wineaux that also loved to write. Back then, six years ago, (holy cripes!) it was a smaller group and the conference was just an experiment.

Who were these upstart wine bloggers? Why were we all getting together?  There were no end to the questions, but – we were overwhelmingly well received by the Sonoma County wine and tourism scene. So much so, that many connections I made that first year are now dear friends and colleagues. Several have gone on to more luminous careers in the wine industry.

The following year, I was so excited by my developing blog and writing style, and my blossoming friendships, that of course – I returned to the Flamingo or WBC09.  There, divided between Napa and Sonoma, we explored more wine, culture, and the being of a blogger.  Once again, despite Napkin-Gate (you know who you are), it was an educational, hilarious, convivial, liquid weekend of passion and education.

IMG_1759In 2010, we were invited to Walla Walla, Washington to explore the eastern Washington terroir. Of course I went, off with anticipation and gusto. What is this W2 wine? How will it taste? Mind you, I first stopped in Portalnd, for the most memorable experience at any WBC to date; The Double Decker Donut Decadence Wine Tour! A select group of blogger

beel back

brethren hopped on PDX Double Decker, a converted London City Bus, and hit the road to the Willamette, fueled on sugar and caffeine. I will never forget that trip, and we had Part Deux in Carlton this past year.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, before we meandered off to Virginia for WBC11, I had made fast friends with MaryDoug, Liza, Amy & Joe and more.  As a result, we created our own label of sparkling wine, an effort to embody the sparkling personality of ourselves, and our shared passions. I still have 4 bottles stashed away somehow. Can I smuggle one to Penticton?

In Virginia, I met East Coast  that I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet, and tasted some…interesting…wine in impossibly hot weather. Yes, there were great Cab Francs and lovely Chards. And then I got food poisoning. The most memorable tweet from that event must have been “Where’s Thea? She’s not tweeting! Is she dead?” To which I replied “No, but I wish I was” as I prayed to the porcelain god for 3 days.

Fully recovered and squealing with glee, we headed up to Portland last August for what is probably the largest gathering of wine writers, wine industry professionals, wine amateurs who wanted to party, and a smattering of Quixicotals and maybe Shriners. You’re probably wondering what happens when you mix these people together: the answer – nothing good. Though the Quixicotal wives really did like wine and were happy to take spare samples off our hands as way of apology for the loud crew taking over.

So why do I travel around the country (and the world) to blog? Why do I spend a great deal of tiem and money travelling for wine, drinking wine, learning about wine ? Simple, it’s my passion. Discovering new regions and experiencing the people and wine culture are an eye in to their lives. Learning from other writers helps me writer better. Every year, every conference, every bottle, hones my skill and helps me determine my best self in my best voice. Yes, that voice changes year to year, month to month. Passions change. Directions shift.

But it’s still me. And it’s still about the story. The story of the friendships I have made over 6 years of blogging and WBC events; the story of every bottle of wine; the story of the new winery that happens to be owned by someone I lived next door to when I was 8; the story of how wine tourism has evolved; the story of my personal adventures in wine tourism.

So, it is with great anticipation, and Veteran status ribbons, that I look forward to Penticton in June. It’s my birthday weekend, and it’s another region for me to explore and think about.

Why do you blog? Why do you drink wine? I write about wine because it’s my passion, and I attend these conferences and network with other writers for community.

Thank you to MyWineConcierge.com at TheWinedUp.Net for reminding me about the passion and the reason I do this, and providing us with an opportunity to stay at the Penticton Lakeside Resort for free!  And in case you were wondering, The Wined Up is donating $5 for every entry to the contest to the WBC Scholarship for every entry, so get on it!

Cheers!

What exactly is this wine tourism thing?

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?

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!

 

Dream Big

This week marks my 9th Dreamforce, the annual user conference for Salesforce.com.  As one of the largest (ok maybe the largest) CRM tool – at it’s core SFDC provides the basic building blocks of a CRM tool.  Of course, now, 15 years later, it’s so much more than that.  This week promises to be a bit of a crazy one, as usual, filled with great sessions, learning experiences, networking, and dare I say parties.

As I get my body ready for the anticipated lack of sleep, and over filled brain, now is a great time to refocus on the fact the wine & CRM are a natural match.  The philosophy of Customer Relationship Management is one that has been struggling with in the wine industry.  In 2012, only a handful of software companies have solutions that suit the wine industry, but even fewer industry companies are getting the concept of CRM as a tool.  That is changing, and the next few years are an exciting time.

Why does your wine business need CRM?  We all know it’s a tight market out there.  How do you plan to sell more wine this year?  How do you plan to segment your customer base?  Too many times do I get emails from wineries that don’t know my needs or wants.  Why aren’t you paying attention to me as your customer?  You know I bought 5 cases of pinot last year, so what are you doing with that data/ world of the customer?

Keeping in mind that CRM is not a four letter word, many potential customers are scared off by the very concept as a 400 pound gorilla.  Putting the technology on the backburner for a minute, the methodology is the first hurdle to overcome to a successfully customer relationship philosophy. Viewing the big picture is, and should be, the end goal of a consumer focused business.

As I head off to the conference, now is a great time to share some posts about CRM as well as my interview with Paul Mabray, founder of Vintank, about the future of CRM and technology in the wine industry.  Where will the wine industry go from here?  How can we help you get there?

Get your creative juices flowing and start thinking about CRM!  For news from the field, please follow #df12 and my twitter alias!

Cheers!

 

We interrupt this train of thought…

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!

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!

The Lone Ranger no more! **WINNER – The Wine Hiker**

Rhone baby.  That is the word of the month!  Happy March 1st, and happy Rhoning.  If you haven’t guessed by now, you should have your wine glass packed, and your taste buds ready for a Rhonetastic celebration!

On March 24-25th more than 100 producers of American Rhone wines will be on hand in San Frnacisco to pour over 500 wines to delight your taste buds.

The Rhone Rangers tasting is the largest gathering of American Rhones in the country, and you and 1999 oif your closest vinopanions will be able to taste some pretty stellar examples of the Rhoney juice.

This year, there are several swoon worthy events:

Saturday, March 24

Rare Wines – Taste the Unusual 

It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone…It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone

Oh sorry, Tom Jones just popped in to my head.  But really, when you think about the unusual Rhones, I hear Picpoul to Counoise screaming out.  This seminar will be an indepth tasting and discussion about the whackiest and rarest Rhone wines you can think of.  Bourboulenc anyone?

Wine & Swine, A pairing of American Rhones with Bacon – ba-ba-bacon?  And wine?  Say no more.  I mean really.  Wine bloggers are known for their obsession with bacon.  I don’t know why, but somewhere in the bylaws of wine bloggerdom, it states “thou shalt have bacon” and “no bacon shall go untouched”.  And since everything tastes better with bacon, especially chocolate and caramel covered bacon, and with wine, this is going to be an amazing seminar.  Trust me, I’ll be there.

Finally on Saturday night…

SATURDAY night!
SATURDAY night!
SATURDAY night!
SATURDAY night!

Gonna keep on dancin’ to the
rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night

Yes, the Bay City Rollers will be appearing live on stage at the Firehouse!

Ok fine, not really, but a girl can dream.  In reality, 17 wineries will be hosting the Winemaker Dinner at the recently renovated and oh so swanky General’s Residence at Fort Mason.  My friends at The Girl & The Fig (drool) will be catering this debauchery laden event, and you can meet & greet those winemakers brave enough pairing their wares with the scrumptious vittles.

After diner, a live auction aka Fight Club will be featuring wine, unique wine country experiences and travel packages donated by the host winemakers.  Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to help educate the next generation of American Rhone winemakers.

Sunday, March 25

If you have survived Saturday, Sunday’s seminar will be showcasing Love, American Style, aka Syrah.  Cool climate, warm climate, 10% co-fermented with viognier, no viognier, purple die, que syrah syrah.  People do strange things with syrah in there here parts, and you can figure out what you like (or don’t) for yourself.

Teeth purple yet?  Well hang on because it’s time for The Grand Tasting.  Over 500 Rhoney wines from American producers will be poured, spilled, swirled, and sniffed at the Grand Tasting.  Food trucks and vendors will be around to help you soak up all that delicious wine so bring cash.

Ready to get your Rhone on?  Tickets are now on sale and the public is invited to purchase them online at www.rhonerangers.orgor call (800) 467-0163.  Ticket prices are as follows:

  • Weekend Pass: $185 – All seminars and VIP Grand Tasting
  • Winemaker Dinner & Auction – $150
  • Grand Tasting – $45
  • VIP Grand Tasting (includes early admission) – $75
  • Seminar 1 – Strange & Unusual – $45
  • Seminar 2 – Swine & Wine – $65
  • Seminar 3 – Syrah $55

I have a pair of tickets to give away to ONE lucky reader!  Let’s face it, no one likes to drink alone.  Or rather go to a wine festival alone.  Except for me.  So, to enter, in the comments below – tell me what Rhone you would pair with bacon and why.  Yes bacon!  You guys know I cannot resist a good pork product!  For bonus entries, tell me who producers said wine in the US.  Ticket contest runs today through Friday, March 9th. Winners selected at random from comments.

Meanwhile, I will be galavanting around Priorat, researching Iberian Rhones.  Yep.  Research.  Such hard work this!

 

 

Sometimes, smaller is better

Often times, people have the assumption that larger is better; whether it’s in wine, packages of snacks at Costco, or houses with more bedrooms than people in the town where I went to boarding school, the message is bigger is better.  Even in wine, the message can be bigger is better; while not referring to size, it often shows up in large production labels, that assume that releasing 10,000 cases means they are successful.  It also shows up stylistically, when wines become Fraken-fied, with additives and strange concoctions of science much more than art.

My choice, therefore, is to spend as much money as I can on supporting smaller, local producers who not only need to cash more, but have more creativity and stylistic control than – dare I say it – that label with the Kangaroo on it down the street.

Luckily for me, I was invited to the Micro Winery Open House at Inspiration Custom Crush in Santa Rosa recently.  Here, several smaller wineries – including Inspiration, were pouring their wares.  I have a few highlights from the event and a shamless plug for a fellow blogger turned winemaker who is doing some great things with Rhone varitals.

First up, Wesley Ashley Wines‘ Intelligent Design Cuvee Blanc is a Rhône style
blend of  Vioginer, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara.  The Viognier adds a nice aromatic note, while the Roussanne gives a crisp acidity that would be perfect for a summer sipper.  We all know by now, that I love a good Grenache Blanc, and the 20% addition to this blend rounds out the white and gives it a solid body.  This is no wimpy wine!  Classic flavors of nectarine and apricot show up under the floral notes of the viognier.

Also from Wesley Ashely, the 2009 Intellivent Design Cuvee is another classic Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.  The Grenache, which is 75% of the blend, shows off its strawberry spice, with the Syrah adding some great backbone.

YOu can find Wesley Ashely Wines at the winery by appointment, The Wine Mine in Oakland, and several restaurants around the bay area.

This is a winery to watch!
Keeping on the Rhône theme, next up we meet the Two Shepherds.  William Allen, a fellow wine blogger over at Simple Hedonisms, and partner Michelle Berger launched Two Shepherds wine to focus on Rhône style wines from California with distinction.

So far so good I’d say!  It takes extreme talent and guts to start a winery, particularly if you’re day job is in sales, as William’s is.  Having known him for a few years now, I have seen first hand the sheer tenacity that it takes to launch a brand, learn about the chemistry of winemaking, the ins and outs of running a business and also trying to pay the bills.  Kudos to a successful launch!

I was one of the lucky few to taste the delicious Grenache Blanc, which is sadly sold out now – but it was a great example of a Rhône white, that balances out acidity with the creamy subtle sweetness.  Some GBs can be either too acidic (I’ve had a few from Spain) or too full bodied which implies sweetness.  The Two Shepherds balances those two, with a nice minerality, white peach, lemon lime flavors, followed by a flinty finish.  I am eagerly waiting for more of this to be bottled so I can nab some for the cellar!

Also from Two Shepherds, the MRV is a classic white Rhône blend, comprised of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.  I enjoyed a bottle of this last night with Butternut squash Lasagna, and the creamy body of the MR balanced the sweetness of the Butternet perfectly.  The Addition of the viogner adds a touch of honeysuckle.

There are two red offerings from Two Shepherds, the GSM, and the SM (Syrah/Mourvedre).  The GSM blend is a bit different than your average southern Rhone, or for that matter, Paso Robles Rhone blend, as the Grenache in this blend adds acidity and flavors to develop that are unique to the area.  The lighter style blends perfectly with the fuller bodied Syrah and Mourvedre, to create a masterpiece of bright red berry, spice box, and a lingering flavor that I personally can only describe as Grenache.

This wine isn’t technically released, but it will be soon and I suggest buying a bottle and letting it sleep for a bit.  If not, give it some air before you sip and swirl.

The Syrah/Mourvedre blend uses the same Syrah from Russian River, and is blended equally with Mourvedre.  The SM is slightly fuller bodied than the GSM, as you don’t have the higher acid in the Grenache to lighten the load.  It is also delicious and would be fantastic with roast chicken, a burger, or cassoulet.

You can find Two Shepherds wines at the winery by appointment, and via mail order, but also at K&L Wine Merchants, Wicked Wines in HBG, and several restaurants in the Bay Area including The Girl & Fig, Spoonbar, and Toast Wine Lounge.  Click here for details.

The moral of this story?  Seek out those small producers.  They work in small lots, and can be more creative than people making large amounts of wine.  Have fun discovering them.  The custom crush / coop tasting room is more and more popular, as it allows smaller brands to showcase their wines while sharing costs for capital expenditures.

Now, I don’t harbor any fantasies of being able to be a chemist and make my own wine, but it sure is fun to live vicariously!  I’ve picked up some of the pieces of the puzzle on the way, and while I don’t think I could go it on my own, I do lust after a barrel or two of Pinot Noir in my future.

Some of my other favorite coop tasting rooms:

  • Winery Collective – San Francisco
  • The Wine Yard – Santa Rosa
  • The urban wineries of Coffey Lane (that’s my own name) – The NPA, Carol Shelton, Vinify Winery Collective & Custom Crush, Inspiration Custom Crush, all located in the same complex as the micro wineries featured in this post.

Explore your town!  There are Urban wineries in San Francisco such as Dogpatch Wineworks and Bluxome Street.  Oakland and Alameda have an urban explosion.

Support your local winemaker!  You won’t be sorry!

 

Getting Vertical

Vertical:  To be upright.

Wine does a lot of things to people.  It evokes joy, it livens your tastebuds, it might even make you melancholy.  It can also make you a little Sideways.  When last we saw erstwhile Miles and sidekick Jack in the novel Sideways (and the subsequent movie which while it’s one of my favorite wine movies ever, is not exactly true to the book…ok most movies aren’t but still.  If you haven’t read the book READ THE BOOK!)  Jack was married (perhaps ill advisedly) and Miles was reconnecting with The One – Maya.

Now, several years have passed, and Vertical explores Miles’ life after Santa Barbara.  If you remember Sideways, you know that Miles has a troubled relationship with his mother.  Now aging and unwell, Miles has the unwelcome task of caring for her, and helping her move to another state so she can spend her final days with her estranged sister.

Miles has tried and failed, and tried again, quit drinking, and is attempting to ride out the success of his now published novel, without much luck.  The demands of his publishes and commitments for press engagements are pushing him in  to a hole as deep as the one he was in when the book wasn’t publishable at all.

Bring in Jack, who’s philandering ways and hard drinking habits have now landed him in hot water woith his now ex-wife.

Both a buddy road trip story and a bittersweet look at the life of two middle aged best friends, Vertical explores the relationships of two friends, for good or bad, as they muddle through the difficulties of every day life, love, alcohol abuse and aging parents.

Vertical is tragically sad in places, and hilariously funny in others, in a way sideways was not.  I find it much more real, honest, and open in looking at the realities of life.

I can’t recommend this follow up enough, particularly if you read the book Sideways, and didn’t just watch the movie.  Vertical follow it up with the realities of fame, the perils of life, and how you balance the two.

I’m thrilled to announce that Rex will be speaking in person at the 10th Annual Pinot Summit on February 25th in San Francisco.  After hosting a #winechat twitter session a few weeks ago, I find him engaging, self deprecating, humorous and absolutely delightful.  You can follow him on Twitter as well.

I hope you can join us for this one of a kind event!  Tickets are $130 for a full day of Pinot tasting, educational seminars, and the Grand Awards.  Alternatively, you can opt for the Grand Awards tasting only.

I am trying to do more book reviews now.  I read like someone from Freaks & Geeks, and occasionally I get press copies for review.  This one however, I bought for myself.

Happy reading!

 

Dark & Delicious, mysterious, Petite Sirah

 
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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A long winter's night…**ZAP WINNERS ANNONCED**

It’s that time of year again, where you curl up in front of your fake Amish fire (no wood burning here please, it’s Spare the Air!), open a big juicy zin, a good book, and your new furry slippers.  It’s cold here these days, and the damp chill of the morning fog makes it feel more like London than San Francisco.  That’s not all bad however, as it’s days  like this that make me cook up a big pot of bean soup and open some of my deliciously California Zinfandel.

One of the most unique American wines, Zinfandel has a long history in California.  From Italian field blends during the gold rush to the new gold rush of wine, zinfandel has a solid palace in history.  There are so many different flavor profiles you can find, from raisiny ripe Paso Robles to spicy & racy Sierra Foothills, to brambly blackberry punch of Dry Creek.  What better way to taste them than at the 2012 Zinfandel Festival!

January 26-28, 2012 join thousands of Zinfandel aficionados in San Francisco for the 21st Annual Zinfandel Festival.  This year marks a departure from the past festivals, with both a venue change and event revamping.  I am excited to see how these changes impact the festival.  In 2012, the festival will be help for the first time in the Concourse Exhibition Center, an urban venue south of Market Street in San Francisco.  While this can present a logistical nightmare, my hope is that it will encourage more taxis and bus travel than auto travel – which has resulted in some less than stellar behavior in years past.

But back tot he event!  Thursday ZAP kicks off with Epicuria, formerly known as Good Eats & Zin.  This has long been my favorite event, with it’s smaller crowd and delicious food pairings.  At this gourmet extravaganza, you can discover the diversity of zinfandel, as it is paried with a huge variety of sweet & savory food sfrom some of the best restaurants in California.

Friday afternoon, Flights continues it’s journey with Forums of Flavor.   At this exclusive seminar-style tasting you will discover themed flights of Zinfandels and interact with Zinfandel experts. Aimed at the true wine aficionado with an aptitude toward learning more, Flights offers in-depth insight into the Zinfandel varietal and provides the opportunity to experience the true character of the legend.

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The missing link

When I first saw that Marcy Gordon had tagged me in her 7 links project, I was a bit trepedatious.  How would I ever live up to this lofty goal?  how would i pick posts that were meaningful, amusing, and that you wanted to read?  Acccck!
As you may or may not have noticed, this year my blogging has fallen off a cliff and I struggle with both inspiration and motivation to keep on the wagon.  some days are better than others.  So actually, now that I reflect on it more, I’m really fortunate that Marcy tagged me – because it gives me a built in blog post!  Beyond that, I do believe it’s time to pull out my Creative Whack Pack for some new ideas.

Now, back to my 7 Links.  This project asks bloggers to select seven lnks (posts) from blog posts past that exemplify certain categories.  Once i pick my 7 posts, then I get to take 5 bloggers.  Though personally I think I am going to tag 7 bloggers since, well, it’s 7 Links!

And the nominees are —

Most beautiful post:  

How does one define beauty?  It is beautiful writing, or is is beautiful pictures?  That’s an interesting one to choose.  

When I think about it, this post is my most beautiful meal, with the wine and food pairings at Artisan, Paso Robles.

 

Most popular post:  

According to Google Analytics, in my blog’s nearly five year history, my most popular post was about my local wine bar, Barrique.

 

Most controversial post:  

Are you certifiable?  Why wine bloggers should (or should not) be “certified”.

 

Most helpful post:  

Google+ through a wine bloggers eyes

 

Post whose success was most surprising:

One bad experience a firestorm does create:  Hospitalit-eed Off

 

Post that maybe didn’t get the attention it deserved:

Why are RSS feeds such a pain?

 

Post most proud of:

There are actually two that are really in a tie for me, and they both cover a similar topic.  I am passionate on how blogging matters and what it means in the larger scope of things so, feast your ears on this:

It just DOES matter!

Where is the ever blurring line between bloggers and traditional media?

 

As I looked back on my blog posts, I see a clear theme; the things that matter to me, that inspire me to spout poetic, are the things that you are talking about.  What is a blogger?  Why do you blog?  What is the most controversial wine right now?  And then, there is always bacon.  I think I might need to bring back my Bacon Fridays theme – where I make one recipe with bacon and pair it with wine – on Fridays (or perhaps Sundays).
What do YOU want to hear from me?   Inquiring minds want to know!

So I now nominate 7 bloggers (and yes, they are all women, because I think we need to support each other more) who I admire and enjoy reading:

Liza Swift – Brix Chicks
Michelle Lentz – Wine-Girl
Megan Kenney – Wannabe Wino
Gwendolyn Alley – Wine Predator
Mary Cressler – Vindulge
Melanie Ofenrich – Dallas Wine Chick
Gretchen Neuman – Maman des Filles

Lessons on being a better blogger…writer…or whatever

Wine:  The final frontier

These are the voyages of the Wine Brat, Thea.
Its 5 year mission (yep, it’s true.  I’ve been blogging for five years!)
To explore strange new wines
To seek out new bottles and new producers
To boldly go where no wine blogger has gone before.

These are the voyages of a wine bloggers writer and lover, trying to discover more about herself and her passion for the grape.

Recently back from a weekend in Virginia at the Wine Bloggers Conference, where both New York Times wine critfc Eric Asimov and London Financial Times wine writer Jancis Robinson gave a key note speeches, my thoughts are jumbled and varied as I think about how to be a better blogger.

Both Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov challenge the word, and somewhat the concept – of blogger.  Is "blogger" still really a valid term?  Bloggers are wine writers who chose to publish on line.  Traditional print media authors choose to publish on paper.  Writing is what brings us all together, today.  Love, true love (of the vine).  I am still getting used to this idea.  I am a proud blogger and I like to refer to myself that way, because if I call myself a wine writer, the mass public naturally assumes that I write for a publication.  Perhaps we should be called "online wine writers".

As wine writers, Jancis challenged us to do more investigative research before we blog.  Er write.  While the core value of this makes sense, I question the validity of her challenge; I am not a journalist, nor do i wish to be one.  While the most successful wine bloggers (not in terms of making money but in readership) have similar core writing styles, none of them assume or claim to be journalists.  Nor do I.  I try to be accurate and truthful in my writing, but in the end – my blog is just my blog, and musings of what I feel like talking about.  one of the major reasons that I decided not to pursue writing with an online wine magazine was because I didn’t want to be subject to the editorial rules that come with being a professional writer.  I write this blog so I can express my  thoughts in a meaningful way, and I hope that you enjoy reading it, and share with others.

One vital point that Jancis made during her speech was that writers, print or otherwise, need to sit up and take notice that while the book is not dead, the delivery method of the written word is changing.  Online, kindle, ebook readers, print, newspapers, magazine.  Essentially, they are all the same thing – but the delivery method is different.  I have an ipad, but most of my books are just that – books.  That said, the Kindle / iPad / Nook market allows you to give readers the option of how they will choose to accept delivery of your material.  I read blogs primary via an RSS reader.  Some people read blogs via the web or on their phone.  The point here, is that you must make your material available and readable for all sorts of platforms, as well as an international audience.  Don’t localize too much or you are putting yourself in a box; I write primarily about American wines, but just one click on Google Analytics, and I know that I have international readers.  The balance is maintaining my wit and style, while limiting colloquialism that would be lost on an international readership.

A key point that both Robinson and Asimov were keen to make is that if you are an online writer, you are also your own editor and publisher, and you need to understand what this means.  My task is to digest these nuggets with a blogger’s mindset, and interpreted to suit your needs.  Jancis further implored us, as wine writers in an online world, to hone our writing skills.  I work at this every day and in every post; but there are, sadly, too many blogs that use poor grammar or just don’t make sense.  If you are a blogger online wine writer, you should ensure that you are taking the time to digest your thoughts, and work & rework your written words.  Writers of all sorts go through multiple iterations before their words are put to print.  I think we should do the same.  Posting things that are not well thought out just add ot the misconception that bloggers online wine writers are hacks that don’t know what they are talking about.  While I don’t think I need an editor to write a blog, I DO think I need to self edit – even if it’s at the most basic level of spelling.  I believe I need to understand how to structure a sentence so that it makes sense and expresses my thought coherently; I also believe that to write a piece for a n audience that won’t hear my inflection and comedic wit, that i need to think about how it looks on the page, and not how I sound when I say it out loud.

Occasionally, writers suffer from a thought block or an uninspired lull.  I am not immune to this but I have found that reading other blogs and using tools like Creative Whack Packs can help blast me out of lull.  Another key trait of a good writer is admitting that you don’t know something.  I hope that you see that in my writing; I don’t know a lot of things, and I’d rather admit that, than make something up.  There shouldn’t be any fear in admitting the unknown.  One of the keys in being to be open an honest in this is fostering a community, both of readers, and other writers, who you can uses as a resource.  Encourage new readers to be engaged.  Wine can be a scary subject for someone just starting to enjoy it, and when you get too esoterica and off on tangents, you will alienate some readers.

The following day, Eric Asimov, author of the New York Times column formerly known as The Pour (now incorporated in the Diner’s Journal), shook up the room my telling us that we shouldn’t write tasting notes.  I emphatically disagree with this statement -0 and even though I think it was really meant rather flippantly, I think many in attendance are taking it too literally.  I am spinning this with my bloggers mindset, and ensuring that my tasting notes have a place within the story of the wine at the focus of the post.  We are, after all, wine bloggers (wine writers wine writers wine writers.  I will get this down eventually!).  To not write a wine review or tasting note for a year, if I take Asimov at his word, would cut out a large amount of wine blogs who are talking about the wine.

In fact, in a simple poll that I did on Facebook, I asked my blog readers if I should write more reviews, less reviews, or something entirely different.  While the majority of respondents said they wanted me to write more about the winery, location, or the STORY, they also indicated that they wanted the tasting notes in context.  So, for my part, I will try to make sure I write about why I like or dislike a wine, what emotions it evokes in me, and why I think you should try it, and try to stay away from triple berry crunch descriptors.  After all, my schnozzberry might be your razzleberry.

The key takeaway I have from Eric’s speech (which I might add, I read on twitter, and watched online after the event – since I was suffering the creeping crud at the time) is that in order to write about wine, you need to learn about wine.  Tasting wine is not enough.  You need to experience wine.  How do you do that? You drink a lot of wine, you explore wine, you read about wine, you learn about wine, you experiment with pairing wine with food.  Why this is important is that it can give you the perspective to be able to think about situations in a new light.  I knew, before going to Virginia, that the VA wines that I had tasted were probably not the best examples of what the state has to offer.  I didn’t like VA wine.  But, I went to VA with an open mind.  I decided, before I went, that I was going to taste VA wines and yes, they might suck, but, then again – they might not.  And, I’m happy to report, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the wines I tried.  This changed my pre-concived notion about wines from the area, and I’m more apt to try a wine from someone off beat as a result.

So go forth, and learn.  I am my own worst critic and I often question if I write well, or if I know anything about wine, so I am ever striving to learn more and do better.  The secret to success in most things is to be on a continuous journey of education.  I know what I like, and I chose to write about that because that’s what I know.  The unconformable challenge, is to learn about what I don’t know, and to share that journey with you.

Wine blogging has evolved.  Even if you write your blog out of passion, as I do, writing with professionalism and knowledge is key to being heard.  That doesn’t mean your blog shouldn’t express your voice, but it does mean:

  • Learn your subject matter
  • Dive in to your material, and don’t be afraid to dig deeper
  • Be honest
  • Ask questions
  • Be inquisitive
  • Be welcoming and gracious

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

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