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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tips from the Trenches: How to #WBC16

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

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

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

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

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

Practical

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

Conference Etitquette

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

Time Management

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

 

Other Things

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

Here’s what I think I’ll be doing:

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

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

I will see everyone in 2 weeks!

 

Say it ain’t Cinsault

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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2014 Onesta Cinsault Rosè

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

2012 Onesta Cinsault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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WBC15: Historic Seneca Lake Part 2

On the second day of our pre-conference excursion around Seneca Lake, the summer day greeted us in Geneva with a sparkling view, and I wandered down to check out Opus Coffee, owned by local chef Heather Tompkins (who prepared dinner the previous evening).

Thank goodness for caffeine!  After an evening at Microclimate, a unique wine bar featuring wines from around the world as well as the Finger Lakes, coffee was much needed on the warm summer morning.

Before heading back to Corning to kick off the official conference, the second day of our Seneca Lake excursion would bring us to Anthony Road Wine Company, as well as one of the first ladies of the Finger Lakes, Fox Run Vineyards.

Anthony Road Wine Company was started in 1990 by Ann & John Martini, renovating an old farm shop and cobbling together a production winery from borrowed, used, and otherwise improvised equipment.

I particularly enjoyed the rosé (of Cabernet Franc, a dry, tannic rosé (that was perfect on this hot day), as we learned about the history of Anthony Road, and the experimental vineyards they are using to determine what varietals to plant next.  The rosé was replete with tart cherries, under ripe strawberries, Tuscan melon and dried herbs.  Refreshing!

Our last stop on the pre-conference excursion was Fox Run Vineyards.  If Dr. Frank is the President, Fox Run is the First Lady of Finger Lakes wine.  Situated on what was once the lakeshore, in a region called Torrey Ridge, Fox Run overlooks the deepest part of Seneca Lake.  Here, the microclimate is slightly different, as the deep waters offer more substantial cooling effects.

For over 100 years, Fox Run was a working dairy, and the first grapes were planted in 1984 in the old dairy.  Focusing on sustainable practices, this family owned vineyard now is looking toward the future with a stunning wine & cheese program.

 

The Food & Wine Experience at Fox Run features a pairing lunch in the barrel room, with selection of local cheeses, charcuterie, greens and fresh baked bread.  A flight of specially selected wines is paired with each bite, created to bring out the best in each wine.  Our group was treated to a special Riesling tasting afterwards, with 4 unique wines:  Riesling 11 – Hanging Delta Vineyard, Riesling 12 – Hanging Delta Vineyard, and Riesling 11 and 12 from Lake Dana Vineyard.  Essentially, each of these wines comes from a different block in their vineyards, but the winemaking goes beyond that with twists and tweaks for each vintage.  This experience alone was worth the stop at this Grand Dame of the Lake.

The Seneca Lake experience was magical, and full of history.  With a wide variety of wines and experiences, I look forward to going back and experiencing more!

In fact, in part 3 of my Lake Seneca tour, our Magical Mystery Bus (Friday Excursions at WBC) took us back to Lake Seneca a third time, with all new stops and experiences.  But you’ll have to stay tuned for that!

 

 

 

 

Focus on Finger Lakes: Cabernet Franc Five Ways

IMG_9070It’s no secret that the Finger Lakes region of New York has long been known for it’s Riesling and aromatic white wines.  Often compared to wine growing regions along Germany’s Rhine river, the region has been making wine well over 100 years.  Initially famous for sparking wines the 1860s, the Finger Lakes won numerous international awards, spawing a boom in vineyards.  In fact, by the turn of the century, there were some 25,000 acres planted to vine.

Unfortunately, like much of the United States at the time, phyloxerra devastated the area in the early 20th century, leading to a gradual decline in the industry.  In 1951, Dr. Konstantin Frank emigrated to the region to work at Cornell University, which ran the Geneva Experiment Station.  Here, Frank and his team experimented wit Vinifera varieties grafted to hearty rootstock.  In 1962, the modern wine industry was born, when Dr. Frank founded Vinifera Wine Cellars

Today, the Finger Lakes have moved beyond it’s initial roots in Riesling, and is now producing high quality, low alcohol red wines.  In this batch, I tasted five Cabernet Francs from the Finger Lakes, 4 from 2012 and one from 2013.  All of these wines vary from 12.5 to 13.9% ABV, which for the US is exceedingly low. This refreshing difference brings back the earthy, herbal, aromatic qualities of one of my favorite grapes.

2012 Damiani Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc – earthy and dusty on the nose, with muted plums and bramble berry.  Rich black berry and smoke on the palate, with blueberry, cedar and campfire completing the voluptuous sip.  Velvety but with bright red fruit and acidity, it’s a lovely, balanced wine.  $22

2013 Hector Wine Company Seneca Lake Cabernet Franc – This is the first vintage of Cabernet Franc for Hector Wine Company, and is is fermented with 100% native yeast, with no fining.  Dark black and blue fruit on the nose, slight floral notes, the palate is rich and elegant, with juicy loganberry, milk chocolate and coffee notes.  Bright acid and juicy red cranberry round out the finish.  $22 (sold out)

2012 McGregor  Vineyard Finger Lakes Reserve Cabernet Franc – earthy and brooding, with forest floor and cedar on first sniff.  A lighter more restrained style of Cabernet Franc that reminds me of a young Bordeaux, dried cherries, dried herbs, cedar chips, and smooth tannins show early on.  More earthy and subtle than the Hector Wine Company or Damiani, the finish lends itself to wintergreen on a cool winter morning.  $22

2012 Chateau Layfaette Reneau Cabernet Franc herbaceous sachets meandering out of the glass,  with dusty ripe fruit on the palate, and dark tea flavors.  Dark chocolate, dried plums, blackberries, and current sprinkled with cracked pepper give way to firm tannins which linger, but the overall impression is suave.  $19

2012 Lakewood Vineyards Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc – the brightest in the bunch, with garnet / ruby coloring, and a nose full of grass and green herbs.  Stewed fruit, campfire smoke and dutch cocoa finish it off.  $16

Overall, these are clear expressions of Cabernet Franc that are ripe for the drinking.  The price point (under $25) and the lower alcohol are refreshing, and while they might be “hipster” today, they are the classic model from Europe, and old school wine-making in other parts of the New World.  Over time, they open up to reveal more personality, a deeply earthy core, and a sparkle of fruit on top.  I look forward to enjoying these over the next few days!  My personal favorites were the Hector Wine Company and the Damiani Wine Cellars, but I’d love to know what you think!

I am very much looking forward to visiting some of these wineries sand more while in the Finger Lakes in August for the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference! Special thanks to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and the wineries for providing these samples for review.

Refugio Ranch – a hideway for the stars

Refugio Ranch

After the mayhem of the Wine Bloggers Conference had subsided a bit, the #QBP (and token Joe) decided to stick around a bit longer an enjoy the relative peace of Los Olivos on a Sunday afternoon.

As luck would have it, fearless leader Melanie had arranged for a visit to Refugio Ranch Winery for some tasting and tweeting.  As we gathered in Los Olivos to relax in the Montana style hunting lodge tasting room, I could tell it was going to be a great visit.  But the tasting room was only the beginning…

In 2005, owner Kevin and Niki Gleason found the 415 estate property, which they planted to 26 acres of vines.  Intending to maintain the property, tucked behind the town and well hidden form any view or civilization, the estate ranch is a piece of history that is truly stunning to enjoy.  Our group was whisked away from the tasting room and taken through the winding roads of the Santa Ynez hills, stepping back in time as we drove farther out of time.

Approaching the retreat house, you can see the prime acreage planted to Rhone grapes, and the careful maintenance of the land is evident by the sprawling gardens, oak trees, and agriculture use.  There is no monoculture here.Refugio Ranch

The Grape Whisperer, aka vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, carefully selected blocks and varieties that he thought would best suit the property.  Winemaker Ryan Deovlet began producing these amazing wines in 2011, and together with the Gleasons, they have created a small slice of heaven.

Tucked away on the ranch, the guest house is a rustic reminder that this is still a weekend retreat for the family.  Sitting on the porch, overlooking the ranch, you might think you were an extra in Little House on the Prairie – except the wine in your hand will make you forget about everything modern, sit back, and relax.  It’s no coincidence that you feel your inner cowgirl / cowboy coming out on this property, much like a back lot at Universal Studios, as Refugio Ranch was an untouched cattle ranch that had been in operation for centuries.  The transition to vineyards was a natural one, but the owners are carefully maintaining the native habitats and ecosystems, while using the best pieces for vineyards – maintaining a clear balance between past, present, nature, and man.

Refugio Ranch

Next time we’ll sit out there!

Refugio Ranch is the only vineyard on this side of the Santa Ynez River, and gently rolls up from teh river to the ridge.  With only 26 acres planted, it’s hard to spot the vines, but easy to taste the terroir that makes this property unique.  The prime area is only 6 miles from the ocean, and is planted in salty, ancient sandy loam – the result of ancient sea beds, and long term drought.  This area of Santa Ynez gets very little fog in the morning, but a lot in the evening, lending a cooling influence perfect for those Rhones.

Keeping in tune with the cowboy theme, with a Spanish influence, the labels are a throwback to the cattle ranch days.  I couldn’t pick a favorite since our host, Director of Sales & Marketing Jeff Butler kept pouring delicious wines, but here are some thoughts for your tasting pleasure:

2012 Viognier – 100% Viognier, fermented partially in stainless, as well as French oak.  Fresh and lively, with stone fruit and lychee, folllowed by fresh wildflower honey.  This was a beautiful example of what viognier should be, with rich fruit but bright, lively personality.

2011 Ineseño – 57% Roussane / 43% Viognier.  Fermented in stainless and concrete eggs, with 29% new oak, and 10% neutral oak, another Rhone style gem.  Brilliant gold peaches, spice box, and fruit compote.  A perfect glass with Thai food, or sitting on your porch enjoying life.

2012 Escondrijo – a rich blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Petite Sirah, this “hideaway” is a winter warmer, with cigar box, rose petals, saddle leather, and tobacco, along with blackberry cobbler and cherry pie.  This is something I wanted more of in my glass, even on a hot day and would be amazing with Pumpkin Pie on your holiday table.

Refugio Ranch

Herb garden & insectary

Refugio Ranch

Refugio Ranch

The view from our tasting porch

All images by Thea Dwelle, all rights reserved.  But if you ask nice, I might share.  The experience was courtesty of the winery, but we all left with several bottles in our hot little hands – which should encourage you to visit.  While the ranch is closed to the public, and we felt like movie stars, the Los Olivos tasting room is open and waiting for you.
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Ballard Canyon – Syrah Incubator

Wrapping up my week in Buellton at the Wine Bloggers Conference, the focal tasting seminar on Ballard Canyon and its Syrah was the highlight of the conference for me.  One of the newest AVAs, Ballard Canyon was established within the Santa Ynez Valley in 2013.  Long known as an excellent source for Grenache and Syrah, the area is a long, thin canyon running north to south in a curving line.  This orientation shelters it from much of the wind and cooling breezes that the rest of Santa Ynez experiences making it an excellent location for the richer, bolder Rhone red grapes.

Ballard Canyon has come in to it’s own, now with a brand identity as “The Syrah AVA”.  The panel discussion that we attended at WBC included a tasting of 6 Syrahs from the area, as well as an in depth look at the AVA and those wines.  We were able to taste along with some rock star winemakers and growers from Beckmen, Harrison-Clarke, Jonata, Kimsey, Larner, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, and Stolpman.

Syrah is coming of age today, and has been called one of the most electrifying wines in the US.  With an AVA that hsa ideal conditions to grow it, Ballard Canyon has become the Syrah AVA.   Syrah can be vastly different depending on cool vs warmer climate growing regions, and Ballard Canyon creates some of the best cool climate Syrah in California.  With approximately half of the AVAs vines planted to Syrah, vintners are able to focus of the microclimates within the canyon, and create excellence in style.

The wines coming out of this region are cool climate wines, which are moderated by the warmer climates surrounding it;  with the wind, weather, and sandy soils dominating Ballard Canyon, Syrahs from this area are broad and distinctive, with a mix of characteristics that you can only find here.

Some quick notes of the wines we tasted:

Rusack Wines – Lighter and fresh, with wonderful acid and deep red and blue fruit.

Kimsey – Rocking in the glass with chocolate dried fig, and espresso

Harrison-Clarke Wine  – Bursting with ripe bosenberry, blueberry and espresso notes, followed by a black raspberry finish 

Jonata – co-fermented with 5% of Viognier, blackberry, dark chewy beef jerky, tobacco lead, aromatic and dense.

 

The over whelming these of these wines are that you have deep complexity, richness, as well as acid which balances the wine.  The large diurnal shift in temperatures allows for both ripe bold flavors, as well as maintaining the acidity levels, which produces wines with more structure and interest than a warmer climate Syrah.

Ballard Canyon is the place to be, and I can’t wait to taste more wines from this region!

syrah territory

 

 

 

Exploring the wines of Santa Barbara County

#QPB members BrixChicks LIza & Dallas Wine Chick Melanie, with BrixChicks Xandria hiding in the center

After our #QPB left Los Olivos and settled back in to WBC mode, we had one more adventure to see too before the official conference began.  Earlier this year, I was thrilled to be a guest of the San Francisco Wine School’s inaugural 3-day intensive California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) program, for which I know hold the credential (97 baby!).

With the NorCal Wine luminary Fred Swan leading the way, SF Wine School and several illustrious Santa Barbara County wineries converged on Dierberg Star Lane Vineyard in Happy Canyon to present a special deep dive class in to the terroir, viticulture, and wines of Santa Barbara County.  This was an amazing way to kick off the weekend in Buellton, and firmly planted Santa Barbara’s diverse growing regions as one of my favorite California wine regions in my personal wine bible.
In the county, there are many well known areas – Sideways made Los Olivos, Buellton, and Solvang famous, along with Santa Ynez.  But there are also many lesser known areas, such as the tiny Happy Canyon or newly AVA’d Ballard Canyon, that produce amazing wines as well.

The view from Star Lane in to Happy Canyon

As with many areas that are now firmly rooted in wine culture, Santa Barbara’s first plantings were by the missionaries; in this case Junipero Serra arrived in 1782, prior to establishing the mission in 1786.  Santa Barbara became the center of the mission winemaking culture, with 45 vineyards, 260 acres and 17 winemakers, but of cousre all of that died when Prohibition came in to place.  Wine stayed dead in Santa Barbara until well in to the 1960s, when the Amerine Winkler Scale identified the region as perfect for viticulture.  Growing slowly but steadily, by the 1980s, there were 13 wineries, and by the 1990s, that number tripled.  Today, there are over 100 wineries, 21,000 planted acres, and 5 AVAs (with more pending).  Today, with so many microclimates, there are diverse varieties, styles, adn philosphies in the region.  There is so much more here than just Pinot Noir Miles!

With it’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara County has a unique terroir, in part due to the transverse range that suddenly hangs a left at Albequerque and heads east, away from the ocean.  With foggy, cool breezes, and coastal influences, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrives on the west end, while Rhone varieties and Cabernet Sauvignon seek sun and warmth on the east end, away from the coastal influence.
While there are too many AVAs within the county to talk about in detail in this post, I will give you more detail on a few.  First, Pinot Powerhouses Santa Maria and Sta. Rita Hills.  Santa Maria Valley is one of the few AVAs that straddles counties.  With it’s cooling breezes and foggy days, Santa Maria is one of the rare AVAs that has dry farmed vineyards, thanks to 14 inches of rain a year (ok not this year but…).    I love the Pinot Noirs from this area because of the high acidity, bright red fruit and cool climate “zing”.  In the Santa Maria Bench, which is a pending sub AVA, the most famous vineyard would be Bien Nacido, producing world class Pinot and Chardonnay.
David Glancy

SF Wine School’s David Glancy

Next up, the Sta. Rita Hills AVA has 2300 acres planted, with over 40 wineries.  Part of the explosion here was the Sideways effect, however, the wines speak for themselves.  Only 12 miles from the ocean, Sta. Rita Hills gets cold, foggy mornings and evenings, with hot days and large diurnal swings.  With packed limestone and ancient seabed soils, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills has a characteristic minerality and brightness that would make any ABC Card Carrying member quit on the spot.

Two of my favorite regions in Santa Barbara County are Ballard Canyon, and the pending Los Olivos District AVA.  Ballard Canyon, which became an AVA in 2013, is the only AVA dedicated to Syrah, and is located between Solvang and Los Olivos.  While there is some fog in the lower areas of the canyon, it is warmer and has a bigger temperature swing than Sta. Rita, which makes it perfect for Rhone varieties and – syrah.  I’ll get more in to the wines later, since we had a comparative tasting at the conference, but let’s just say YUM!
Finally, Los Olivos.  The pending Los Olivos AVA includes the town of Los Olivos, Ballard, Santa Ynez, and Solvag.  Even warmer than Ballard Canyon, it has a distinctly alluvial soil where both Tuscan and Rhone varieties thrive.
Suffice it to say, you could spend a week in Santa Barbara County and never taste the same thing twice.  It’s well worth investigating, and a very special thanks to Fred Swan, David Glancy, SF Wine School, and all the wineries that participated in this great educational experience!
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 This class was offered gratis to attendees of the Wine Bloggers Conference by invitation only.  All opinions and edumacation are my own.

Things are a little yeasty in there

After meandering over to Alta Maria, it was finally time to meet my #QBP – Queen Bitches Posse  over at Tercero Wines, around the corner in Los Olivos.  As I had somewhat secretly clandestinely arranged this day of pre-WBC shenanigans, I was looking forward to being able to relax and enjoy my free day before the conference officially got under way.

Meeting me at the Tercero Wines tasting room were BrixChick Liza, Marcy Gordon who always Comes for the Wine, and Melanie, the Dallas Wine Chick.  Although I wasn’t able to caravan down from the Bay Area with them, once they walked in to the tasting room it was all downhill fun and games from there, with my #QBP sisters.

Tercero Wines specializes in artistic, small production Rhone style red & white wines.  Mastermind Mad Scientist Larry Schaffer creates unique, small lot wines from Viognier to Grenache, and everything in between.  Larry has also been mastering his breadmaking skills, and on this visit we were treated to all things yeast – one of his passions, and three kinds of bread to boot!

While I am a fan of pretty much all of Tercero Wines offerings, this visit my favorites were:

2013 Mourvedre Rose – From a small parcel in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County, they only touched the skins for about an hour, giving it a bright but light and fresh pink color.  Fermented in 100% stainless steel tanks, it slept in neutral oak for 5 months before finally being released.  The bright pop of red berry is followed by blood orange and aromatic stone fruit, luscious watermelon and hard spices.  At only $20 this is a great summer sipper.

2012 Grenache Blanc – it’s no secret that this might be my all time favorite white grape.  Spiked lemonade over river rocks, this beautiful bright and fresh wine is the perfect summer palate cleanser.

2010 Verbiage – a class GSM blend, this black beauty is made up of 62.5% Grenache from two vineyards, 25% Syrah from two vineyards, and 212.5% Mourvedre.  Named Verbiage, like Larry’s person wine blog, because he likes to tell stories, banter, and talk, this wine is a conversation in a bottle.  Dark purple and inky black in color, this wine is full of lavender, lilac, chewy blackberry and beef jerky.  Finished with a dusting of white pepper and gingerbread spice, it’s a great bottle for a foggy summer night, or in front of the fire at the holidays.

Tercero Wines is located in Los Olivos, CA in the heart of the Santa Ynez wine region.

Much wine was purchased by the #QBP on this day, but the tasting was provided free of charge!  Unless you count us listening to the HMFIC payment enough…

 

Alta Maria Vineyards: Stop in and stay a while in Los Olivos

And now, on to something completely different!  This year marked the 7th edition of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, which I will heretofore call the Wine Whatever Conference to avoid any confusion about who attends, what we do and what happens during it.

 

Arriving in the area several days prior to the conference to take care of some family obligations, and a general need to run away and hide, I arrived in Los Olivos before my #QPB (more on that later) and found myself with some time to wander before the pre-pre-conference got under way.  Not knowing where I should taste, I texted my friend, Tercero winemaker Larry Schaeffer, who told me (warned them?) to head over to Alta Maria, on main street in Los Olivos.  Little did I know that this would be a very popular stop on this day!

 

As I walked in, I noticed the info sign welcoming the Wine Bloggers.  I wasn’t quite sure how to break it to them, that they were in for a wild and crazy weekend, but Stephanie was excited to share the wines, and tell me a bit more about their methodology.  As luck would have it, winemaker Paul Wilkins was in the house, and I was able to spend some time learning about his philosophy on winemaking for both Alta Maria, and his own label, Autonom.  I was also able to taste through the Native9 wines, a special project of viticulturist James Ontiveros.  But more on that later!

 

Alta Maria specializes in small production, artisan wines, with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the cool climate of Santa Maria Valley.  Alta Maria also focuses on making wines in the most environmentally friendly way possible, with organic and sustainable practices, including making the place and the people who are part of the process, sustainable.

 

Winemaker Paul Wikins as a third generation farmer, who fell in love with wine when he attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  Vitculturist James Ontiveros has deep roots in California, with a long hitsory of farming in California – his ancestors were Mexican land grant recipients, and while Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard is not part of the original family holdings, it does represent the long history in the area.  Together, Paul & James focus on the unique Burgundian style of Alta Maria, along with personal (and collaborative) projeccts of Autonom and Native9.  Together, they strive to make appellation specific and terroir driven wines.  It was hard to pick out my favorites, but here are some of my highlights:

 

  • 2012 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay – 80% stainless steel, 20% neural oak.  Aged sur lie, this high acid bright white wine had lush lemons, fresh lemonade, and a hint of fresh cream.  The intense mineral finish had a touch of kumquat.  This is what California chardonnay should be!  Somewhat of a comeback kid, with the 2011 and 2010 harvests being botriyticized, this wine is primarily made from Block W in Bien Nacido Vineyard.  These 40 year old vines are still going strong.
  • 2011 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir – 40 year Pommard vineyard, 100% whole cluster fermentation lends itself to the best kind of funk possible.  Luscious, with savory meat and bacon fat but a zingy finish.
  • 2010 Native9 Pinot Noir – a classic in the making, made from a blend of 8 clones planted in the Rancho Ontiveros vineyard.  This property is high on a ridge in Santa Maria Valley, and this dark, juicy baby opens up to baking spice, dried cherry and black pepper.  The 8 clones in the field give it a very savory and herbal edge, while maintaining the core of Pinot Noir flavors.
  • 2010 Autonom Red Rhône Cuvee – Knowing that I am a Rhone Head, I was very excited to taste these wines.  While I had enjoyed all of the Burgundian varietals, the Red Cuvee, made of 80% Syrah, and 20% Grenache.  While each vintage is unique, this bottle had the inky depth of a Syrah with the juicy pop of cherry that Grenache brings.
  • 2010 Autonom Grenache – yes, I admit it.  I love Grenache.  I might even run away with it.  This is no exception to why I love this grape so much.  Planted in 1964, the Nielson vineyard in a warm corner of Santa Maria Valley, and the more recently planted Thompson Vineyard makes up the balance of the blend.  Bing cherry, green fig, hibiscus, tobacco leaf.  A sweet and savory treat in your mouth.
  • 2010 Autonom Syrah – Speaking of fun, come meet the Syrah.  As the name indicates, the Law of Proportions Syrah blends two vineyards (63% Thompson, 37% Laetitia) from very different terroirs.  The resulting blend is mostly warmer climate (Thompson) but with the depth and richness of the cool climate fruit.  Dark purple plums, cigar box, blackberry jam.

Suffice it to say, I bought more than a little wine while visiting Stephanie & Paul!  I am looking forward to revisitng them soon, and seeing how the wines develop in my glass…and my cellar.If you are heading down to Los Olivos, be sure to stop in and say hello!

 

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Rosés of Summer – Tribute to Grace Grenache Rosé

Angela Osbourne is a special woman, with a long history obsession with Grenache.  A native of New Zealand, she now makes her home in the Santa Barbara Wine Country, where she sources unique vineyards for her variations on the beauty that is, Grenache.

You can read more about her story here, and I highly recommend that you get on the mailing list; now!  no, not tomorrow, not later, NOW.  Having known the winemaker for several years, I am consistently entranced by her wines, and have not had one I didn’t fall instantly in love with.

As I was hopping on a random bus for the Friday evening excursions at the Wine Bloggers Conference recently, I was delighted to learn it was the Renegade Rhone bus, and at the second stop, I walked in to Andrew Murray Winery and there was Angela, an A Tribute To Grace.  After holding my summer allocation of Grenache and Rose for several months in order to preserve the precious few bottles I own, I, at first, thought I must be having a Rhône hallucination.  But as luck would have it, Angela was there – live and in person – amongst some of my favorite Rhône varietal producers.

So this week, it is only fitting that I bring you my Rosés of Summer:  A Tribute to Grace 2013 Rose of Grenache.  Make with 100% Grenache, this wine reminds me of a summer’s day in Provence, where the light, pale pinks dominate the landscape.  The Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, which is also where Angela sources some Grenache for red wine, is in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains, at 3200′ elevation.

The vineyard is sustainable managed, and while there are 12 varietals planted here, Grenache is only 4% of the total yield; this is somehow unsurprising given that there are less than 10,000 acres of the fruit in California, compared to over 98,000 of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Here, at Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, they take Grenache seriously:  4 distinct clones are planted, and only give winemakers have access to fruit from the block this wine is made from.

The whole clusters rested for 24 hours in their skins, given it a just kissed baby’s cheek color; Clone 2 also contributes to the pale rose gold tone, and picking early in the seasons gives this wine an intensity of acid and spice that is perfect ot me.  With watermelon, blood orange, Tuscan melon and raspberry notes, with underlying rosehips and hibiscus.  This wine represents everything I look for in a rose, and makes my little heart go pitter patter.  At $23, get some before it’s going-going-gone!

I purchased this wine myself, although any sips I may have taken in Los Olivos at WBC were entirely provided by the wineries pouring.

Advice from a Veteran Blogger: WBC do’s and don’t

Wine Bloggers Conference

It’s hard to believe that in 35 days, the 8th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference will be here.  Eight years?  Eight locations?  Eight conferences?  Almost eight years of blogging?  It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.  My blog, much like life in general, has gone through many changes in those 8 years, and so has the WBC.  As one of a very small handful of bloggers that have been in attendance at every conference since 2008, I’ve learned a lot, been a speaker, and helped to influence the shape and content of the conference as an advisory board member.

What does this mean to you?  As newbies and experienced conference attenders alike, there are always some rules of engagement that you should remember, and some advice that us veterans have learned about how to approach the conference.

Some of my key observations and advice on how to best enjoy the conference are outlined below.  Obviously, to each their own but if you want to earn the respect of your fellow bloggers and industry attendees, these tips are essential – and common sense.

  • Wear comfortable shoes.  you never know when we’ll be hiking up a hill in a vineyard
  • Wear comfortable business casual / wine country casual clothes with layers.  This is not a lawyers convention!  It can get chilly at night with fog coming in, so bring a sweater.  Wear layers.
  • Be professional.  While we’re there to have fun and learn, no one likes a party animal that gives bloggers a bad name.  We all remember some years where people were not responsible and made the local community dislike bloggers in general.  Please don’t’ be that person.
  • Get to know your sponsors.  We have a few hours on Thursday at the Registration, Expo, Gift Suite, and Opening Wine Reception to to say hi and learn who made this conference possible.
  • Mix and mingle – the first mingling event is the after hours tasting sponsored by the Santa Ynez Winery Association, right after the Expo hours.  This is your chance to walk up and say hi to someone you don’t know, meet new wineries, and meet other attendees.
  • Don’t be shy – reach out and touch someone.  Ok maybe not literally, but turn to the person sitting next to yourself and introduce yourself.  We don’t bite and we want to get to know you!
  • Attend the keynotes.  These sessions are great kick starters and will get you in to the groove.
  • Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed.  While content is king, if there is a session that isn’t’ interesting to you, use the time to blog, hang out with your fellow attendees, or just chill.
  • Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once – at the same time, there are often two sessions running at the same time that you might want to go to.  There is no wrong choice, and you can’t do it all so don’t try to.
  • Spit spit spit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Yes, there are moments (dinner, after hours parties) where I don’t spit and enjoy myself, but you are representing bloggers as a whole, and should have some decorum.  It’s a business conference at the core, disguised as a party.  Present yourself accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to sleep!  There are always many after hours events and parties.  While going to these is fun and a great way to meet people, don’t overdo it.  Sleep is critical during this busy weekend of events.
  • Don’t have any party invites?  Don’t worry!  Stay tuned to the #WBC14 twitter stream, talk to people, and mingle.  You’ll get plenty!
  • Have an open mind.  You never know if there are wines you wouldn’t normally try, that you will love!
  • Bring something from home that represents your region, style, and / or personality.  This could be wine, but it could also be food, a book, or a t-shirt.
  • Bring business cards.  Yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item.  The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read other peoples information.
  • Don’t worry about blogging DURING the conference.  Time is precious and you will stress yourself out and miss content if you try to blog during the event.  Write your thoughts down and save the blogging for when you get home.
  • Attend the break outs.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While You Need to choose which bits are important to you as a blogger, just to pull the meat out.
  • Find a WBC Scholarship committee member, and get your free Hello Vino GoVino souvenir glass!  If you’re super cool, donate to the Scholarship or buy a Rodney Strong souvenir stemless glass ($5 to buy one, 2 free with a $50 donation)!   It will serve you well for the event and beyond!
  • Get some Blogger Bling (namebadge ribbons) at the WBC Scholarship table on Thursday evening!  They are great icebreakers and support the Scholarship.
  • Say hi to the donors & Scholarship winners!

Here’s what I think I’ll be doing:

  • Keynotes, of course!  I cannot underestimate the importance of these opening sessions, as they set the tone for the day and really give you a peek in to how other professionals, wine writers, and tech luminaries view blogging.
  • Panel of Santa Barbara County Winemakers
  • Live Wine Blogging: Red and White – Also known as Speed Tasting, Speed Dating, or Insanity, I get a kick of out fast first impression tastes and the twitter storm that occurs.  You can tweet or blog, or take notes to blog later.  I suggest tweeting, as it’s the fastest way to keep up with the tasting.
  • Friday evening excursions to wine country – this is one of the best experiences at WBC.  Small groups are sent on mystery buses to various area wineries, where you get a deep dive in to the wine, winemaking philosophy, styles, and terroir of several area wineries.  The fun is that you don’t know where you’re going tile you get there!  No cheating now 😉
  • Saturday Breakout sessions:
    • Wine Discovery Breakout Sessions or maybe the Veteran Wine Bloggers Panel since I am one
  • Santa Barbara Vintners Association Lunch
  • Wine Discovery Breakout sessions – these are great, since they are opportunities for you to do a focal tasting for a specific region.
  • And more!  Details are still being sorted out, so I will update my plans as we find out more information about the schedule.

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

I will see you in 35 days and can’t wait to report this year’s news!

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Naramata Bench adventures

IMG_2004 On the first full day of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, while I was doing some last minute rehearsal and logistical planning for my discussion on Saturday about positioning your blog(more on that later however), the rest of the attendees were enjoying some interesting insights on podcasting, the use of photography, and other digital media in their blogging efforts.

After a morning and afternoon filled with Google Plus, Compelling Content, Wines of Ontario, and a rather wonderful speech from author James Conway, we were off on our chosen buses to our evening excursions to local wineries.
Unlike past WBCs, we were able to chose our buses based on an activity, or theme.  I chose the paddleboarding adventure, since I hadn’t been to the

Naramata Bench

area of the Okanagan and was curious.

Off we went in our two mini buses, darting in and out of wineries for a quick dry by tour before stopping to hear more about the unique terroir of the area.  The Naramata Bench Wineries Association is a group of 24 wineries that stretch along 24 kilomenters of lakeshore, both high and low, on the east side of Lake Okanagan.

With sandy cliffs and gently sloping lakeside land, these vineyards have a unique climate that is perfect for some of the areas Bordeaux styel reds.  The views aren’t bad either!IMG_1942

Our adventure took us through a vineyard, and culminated at Sandy Beach Lodge, where the Naramata Bench wineries were hosting a walk around tasting and dinner, showcasing the best of the area.

In addition to the tasting, here at the sandy beach, we had the option of partaking in the paddleboarding.  Now, I wasn’t dressed for the occasion (hey it was my birthday!) but several of my blogging brethren certainly did!

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If you go, be sure to stop by these wineries:

  • Black Widow Winery – specializing in single vineyard wines, I especially liked the Merlot.
  • Elephant Island Orchard Wines – I was not expecting to enjoy these fruit wines, but boy was I wrong.  Some were more like a hybrid between wine and cider, others were refreshing and unexpected.
  • Howling Bluff – I love Pinot Gris, and the Okanagan makes some stunning examples.  This is one of my favorites.
  • Popular Grove – the view from the terrace is simply stunning and second to none.  The home of Vanilla Pod restaurant, this was my favorite stop on my first visit to the region.  The red wines are world class and I wish I could take home a case!

With four seasons and a festival for each one, now is the time to visit the area!

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Tinhorn Creek

TinhornOn another gorgeous early Summer day in the Okanagan, in the general direction of Covert Farms, I made a beeline for Tinhorn Creek Vineyards.  Founded in 1993, Tinhorn Creek has been growing grapes and making wine for 20 years in the south Okanagan.  A driving force behind the beauty of the Okanagan, Sandra Oldfield, has been an active member of the social media community of wine writers for several years and wasn’t exaggerating when she said it was one of the greatest places on earth.  Built on a strong friendship, the winery has become a destination.

Tinhorn Creek tasting room

A refugee defector from the Sonoma County wine industry, Sandra headed north in 1995 and landed in Oliver after studying winemaking and Canadian history at UC Davis (ok well that’s an interesting combination!).  Slogging away at producer Rodney Strong in Sonoma County, she is now part owner at Tinhorn Creek.  While we miss her talent and energy here in California, Sandra is part of an exciting future for the Okanagan wine industry and I can’t wait to go back and visit more.

Tinhorn Creek sits on a unique hillside, rising steeply above the river valley, where you have rock, gravel, sandy loam an alluvial fan soil beds all mixing together to create a fantastic terroir for wine.  Tinhorn Creek owns two distinct tracts of land, in an area of the south Okanagan called the Golden Mile; with 50 acres of estate vineyards and 100 acres of additional land on the Black Sage Bench, Tinhorn Creek has the perfect growing climate for some amazing Bordeaux style wines as well as aromatic whites.

In addition to expressing the best of the region, Tinhorn Creek focuses on sustainability and being ecologically responsible.  With programs that includes recycling, composting, and making smarter

View from Tinhorn Creek terrace

choices, they maintain stewardship of the land and local people to maintain their livlihood and safety while reducing carbon production and water use, keeping the area clean and pristine for generations to come.

But what abou tthe wine?  Not that I’m biased or anything, but Tinhorn Creek would be one of my favorite wineieres in the Okanagan.  I was told about the Cab Franc from my friend Marcy, who had previously travelled tot he region on a scounting mission while I was on the northern end in 2012.  Her depiction of the wine and the winery made me crave my own visit.  As kismet would have it, I walked in the door of the winery, and randomly walked straight in to Marcy – who was also in Penticton a day early for WBC13.  Well!  An expert guide to the wine was just what I needed.

Cab Franc vineyard at Tinhorn Creek

And now, the wine!  The Oldfield Series 2 Bench White blend is a unique wine, with a blend of a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion that were co-fermented  in addition to a co-fermented Semillion and Viognier that was blended in.  The result is a rich, barely off dry white with beautiful aromatics that are perfect for porch sipping.  I love the use of Semillion in Sauvignion Blanc, because it rounds out any rough edges that Sav Blanc can have, and while the acidity is maintained, the Semillion brings some firmness and body.  

A crowd favorite, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Rose is a rose of Cabernet Franc, something that is hard to find as there is so little Cab Franc in general.  Typically Cab Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon blased roses are bolder, darker, deepr and sometimes cloying, but this rose is light as a feather, refreshing, full of red fruit and simply divine.  A purpose made rose, the grapes kiss the skins for just 4 hours, resulting in a deep salmon color, but just a beautiful touch of that Cab Franc flavor.  i drank my one and only bottle that customs let me come home with, so I hope to get back up to Oliver soon!  Or maybe Sandra can bring some to Santa Barbara (hint hint) for the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference.  I opened this recently with some friends in California, who were card carrying “I hate rose” people, and they were impressed at the delicate, refreshing wine without a hint of residual sugar.

Now in to the reds, the Oldfield Series 2 Bench Red Blend follows it’s white counterpart, and is a Bordeaux style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot.  It’s a big wine, but not over the top and it has some delicious black fruit and spice notes that make it perfect for a steak or a hamburger.

The Oldfield Series Syrah is a rich and dark syrah, full of dark blackberries and tobacco.  Beef jerkey covered with white pepper round out this cool climate example with juicy notes.

And now, the Cabernet Franc!  While the Oldfield Series Cab Franc was sold out, much to my chagrin, I was able to taste the Cabernet Franc and it was delicious.  Black raspberries, leather, tobacco, cigar box, and herbal notes blend together to create a pop of flavor in your mouth.  This is a party in a glass and should be enjoyed on it’s own or with a rich beef stew.  I loved this wine!

Tinhorn Creek is a must on any Okanagan itinerary, and it’s worth an afternoon over a leisurely lunch at their adjoining restaurant, Miradoro.  I look forward to a return visit, or many!

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