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

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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 […]

Tips from the Trenches: How to #WBC16

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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 […]

Kaena & Beckmen: One winemaker, two stories

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 After #GoingRogue with Tercero, it was time to meander down the road a bit to Beckmen Vineyards, were the #QBP had a barrel tasting arranged with Keana and Beckman winemaker, Mikel Sigouin.  I first met Mikel last year at Rhone Rangers in San Francisco, and when I mentioned that some wine bloggers were going to be in his neighborhood, he eagerly invited us to taste through his wines. Mikael, a native of Hawaii, makes wines for Beckmen Vineyards by day, and Kaena Wines by night, so I knew this would be a golden opportunity to taste some world class Grenache. Little did I know that we would taste through more wines than I thought possible, each one more unique and delicious than the last! But before we started this barrel adventure, we had to make our way out of Los Olivos, and down the road to Beckmen.  As I attempted to corral the #QPB out of the door of Tercero, what would appear to our wandering eyes but Frank Morgan – the erstwhile Drink What You Like Virginian.  If you are not familiar with this breed of wine blogger, it is a unique one; this breed mysteriously appears when least expected and is amiable to almost any activity. Since we were a posse of all girls, Melanie and I shouted out the car window for Frank to get in the car.  A few hollers later, some coming from the mobile command center of Brix Chicks Liza, the unwitting Frank hopped in the car.  It was clear from the look on his face that he was wondering how the wine mafia had tracked him to tiny Los Olivos.  Was it an ex-girlfriend?  Someone who didn’t appreciate his reviews?  No, it was just the #QBP, wine-napping him for an afternoon of delights. A few miles later, we met back up at the winery and began tasting our way through the barrels.  Here in the expansive barrel room, it’s hard to tell where Beckmen ends and Keana starts, a clear marker of how there is little separation in this extended family. When the Kaena brand was launched in 2001, it was to express Mikael’s passion for Grenache.  The name itself, Kaena, shows his spirit, with it’s meaning of “potential for greatness” and brings back Mikael’s Hawaiian culture.  Honing in on his obsession with Grenache, he has made a name for himself as the Grenache King, but hasn’t limited his style and influence on the other wines of Keana. While Grenache is certainly one of my favorites, I cannot slight the other wines that he had his hand in.  As we meandered the barrel room, tasting a bit of this and a bit of that, it was difficult to tell any favorites since they were all so good.  As they age in the barrels for the next year or two, I look forward to a return visit to see how they are developing. On this trip, I was intoxicated at the vastness of the selection, and focused on the nuances of barrel […]

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

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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 […]

And away we go…

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Here we are, on the first full day of June, and the impending Wine Bloggers Conference begins next week.  This year marks the sixth annual event, and it’s hard to believe that my little old Luscious Lushes has been up and running for that long as well! As I sit here and wait with anticipation for my flight to Kelowna, BC, I am getting excited about the time I will have to explore more of the Okanagan.  Last year, I was able to travel around the northern end of the lake, experiencing Kelowna and the wineries surrounding it, and this year, before the conference I will do more exploring down near Penticton, where the conference is actually occurring. Flying in to Kelowna, the larger of the two regional airports, is a breeze from my home base in San Francisco.  One hop to Seattle, and another hop to Kelowna.  A few short hours, and I’m in the spectacular lakeside region, full of wine, summer sports, and scenery. As I’m flying in a day early, I’m excited to check out some places that I didn’t see on my trip last spring.   There are so many spectacular wineries to visit, I’ll have a hard time choosing! With some help from the local tourism folks at Tourism Penticton and Thompson ‎Okanagan Travel, as well some very welcoming local businesses, I look forward to setting out to explore the Westside Wine Trail, Bottleneck Drive, and some places in Penticton I won’t see during the conference. The excitement is infectious as Penticton has been rolling out the red carpert, declaring June 6th Wine Bloggers Day in the city.  What odes that mean?  That means every business, from coffee shops to our host hotel, has been tweeting, Facebooking and smoke-signalling their welcome to the 200 or so strangers that are invading their town. You just can’t buy that kind of hospitality.  I will be driving down the lakeshore from Kelowna to Penticton, stopping at local wineries, spending some pretty colored money, and taking in the spectacular scenery at a couple of wineries before meeting up with some locals in town for dinner. Settling in for the night at Gods Mountain Estate.  This 115 acre estate is a Mediterranean style B&B escape, with views of Skaha Lake, vineyards and mountains.  This sounds like a place I need to come back to! On Wine Bloggers Day, I will be visiting some beautiful, small production wineries that we won’t visit on our excursions on Friday, exploring what local really means.  With wineries that have been in families for generations, and a few rebels thrown in, I am looking forward to tasting Okanagan! Stay tuned for more updates from the road, but in the meantime, a few more tidbids from Istria.  

The View from the Top

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I’ve often said that relationships will get you farther than anything in this world.  Whether that is a romantic relationship, a business relationship or a platonic relationship, it is that connection and interaction that forms the road to future endeavors. Recently, at the Wine Bloggers Conference, three winery representatives formed a panel to discuss the winery view of bloggers.  Hot on the heels of How Bloggers Influence the Wine World, this session was a lively conversation between the established media, digital media, and three winery employees. Ed Thralls is a wine blogger who is now working at the Windsor family of wineries in social media marketing.  Christopher Watkins is the manager of retails sales & hospitality at the Monte Bello tasting room for Ridge Vineyards, and also the author of 4488:  A Ridge Blog.  Finally, Sasha Kadey is the Director of Marketing for King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon and is active in social media. Here, with three very different examples of winery views, as well as bloggers, we discussed how winery work with bloggers, how bloggers can make themselves more visible to wineries, and what they look for in a partnership.  These three are some of the biggest fans of social media and bloggers, and work hard to ensure that they are engaged with the blogging community and that bloggers are engaged with them. Bloggers, and digital media in general, has the unique ability to be agile and fast.  There are very few mediums as flexible as the online writer has access to.  Gone are the days of paper galleys that go for approval, and are they print in large batches.  Today, we have the ability to not only write on the fly, but also edit that on the fly.  Change your thoughts on a topic, and it is a simple process to edit and add a note to a post after the fact, and call attention to that.  Digital media, according to Watkins, affords the writer flexibility and leverage that cannot be accomplished in other environments.  Digital writers can maximize, and should maximize the tools they have access to, since they cannot be replicated elsewhere. Thralls, who began his wine career and social media campaign as a blogger himself, now runs the social media marketing efforts or a large winery family of brands.  He goes on to state that the relationship with bloggers and writers is different today than it has been with traditional PR and writers.  Because of this, it’s necessary to pitch them differently.  Gone are the the days of email blasts to the bloggers on his list; bloggers and online media require a different approach and different engagement. Conversely, bloggers who are pitching wineries also need a different tactic.  Bloggers should not be intimidated about approaching wineries.  As we discussed in the Are Bloggers Influential session, as an online writer, we need to go out and make it happen.  But that doesn’t mean that the thousands of wine bloggers should all pitch the same winery or brand […]

Are wine bloggers and writers influential? Should we be?

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There is a lot of conversation going around the blogging world about how, if at all, bloggers and online wine writers influence the wine world.  Do we?  Do we have an impact?  Do we influence consumers?  Do we just read each other’s blogs?  Those are all valuable questions that spawned a lively debate at the Wine Bloggers Conference earlier this month. One of the key questions that came up was was how do we, and online writers of content, move beyond having an audience made up solely of other online writers.  This naval gazing has been a sore point since the beginning of wine blogging, and while to a certain extent it is true, I think that that is a shortsighted view point. Yes, many wine bloggers read wine blogs.  In fact, most wine bloggers read more wine blogs than the average consumer.  That said, as wine bloggers are wine consumers, and typically a more educated wine consumer, where is the problem with this?  One thing that is missing in the conversation about influence is that we, as bloggers, are wine consumer as well.  In fact, we are primarily a picky crowd of wine consumers.  So, if you audience is primary wine bloggers, you might actually be targeting the right crowd – typical wine bloggers have more disposable income and spend more of that on wine than most readers. The counter argument to this is that the wine world is not just consumers and readers of the blogs.  The wine world is also producers, distributors, retailers, and the PR people that help them sell their products. So, how much influence does blogging have on this collective audience?  Whether blogging as an individual or as a group (like Palate Press), how does the gestalt of wine blogging (online wine writing) impact the industry?  Blogs, and other e-media are, by their very nature, unique.  Blogs are a conversation starter, and the seed to a further discussion and further discovery by the reader.  When you write a post, or read a post, it’s often just the jumping off point for a longer conversation that may or may not occur on the blog post itself. Case in point:  most of the conversations that happen as a result of my posts are on Facebook and Twitter.  Whether that is on my page on Facebook, in a group that I am a member of, or on twitter is somewhat immaterial.  The very nature of social media means that the comment as a means of feedback is not necessarily the most accurate measurement of the social impact of that writer – and by extension that bloggers’s audience.  Unfortunately, while comments appear to be on life support, they are an easy way of measuring value and interaction.  Until social media monitoring tools can read cross platform transactions and measure tools like Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, comments need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Likewise, measuring tools like Alexa are misleading as they only measure direct traffic to your blog and do not include RSS feed readers and other social media interaction. E-media and social media specifically offers agility and speed, and the ability to […]

Lessons on being a better blogger…writer…or whatever

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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 […]

WBC here I come!

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It’s less than 2 weeks before the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, and I’m finally getting a little jazzed with it.  life has been busy these days, with my day job, the WBC Scholarship, and, well, STUFF but I’m looking forward to a few days off spent with my 300 closest friends in the sweaty summer weather in Virginia. As a 4 year veteran, some things that I’ve learned on the road to blogging: Get to know your sponsors.  We have a few hours on Friday to learn who has made the event possible; stop by and say hi!  You never know what relationships might form. Attend the keynotes with Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov.  These sessions are great kick starters and will get you in to the groove. Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed. Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once have FUN! Don’t be overly structured 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! Engage in the “Anti-Conference” spontaneous events; these are the best way to network with your fellow bloggers, writers, and industry professionals. Participate in the Unconference sessions.  These informal discussion panels let you get involved. 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 otehr peoples information. Follow the #wbc11 twitter stream.  Make sure you are not protected (my main account is, but I tweet under @luscious_lushes for public consumption).  We want to hear your thoughts! Find time to post a few quick blog posts with your thoughts BEFORE, DRUING, and AFTER the conference.  First impressions are great conversation starters. Spend some time on Friday morning meeting the sponsors.  They are the reason we are all able to attend this event, and they want to know the bloggers are much as we want to know them. Participate, however briefly in the after hours events such as the Other 46 Tasting and the International Wine Night.  While there will undoubtedly be parties at the time time, it’s a great way to get to know other people. Find a party to attend!  This is a great way to get ot know people on a personal level.  Sponsors, wineries, and bloggers all host formal and informal parties during the event. Attend the break outs.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While You Need […]

Why RSS feeds are my FrienEmy

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I”m a blogger.  I blog.  That means I read blogs.  Hundreds of them.  It’s impossible for me to keep up every day, but when I find a few spare minutes, I can be found on Google Reader or on my smartphone, iPad or other device that lets me read RSS feeds catching up on the news of the day. What’s the problem with this?  RSS feeds.  I used to think that feeds were awesome, and made my life streamlined and cozy.  However, as I gather more and more blogs to read, and information that I find useful, I am beginning to hate feeds, and more so – blogs in general.  Why?  Because of the partial post feed.  A partial post feed is essential a teaser; a blip from the full article on the blog that catches you attention, and hopefully forces you to click through to the actually blog page – thereby forcing you to be counted amongst the “readers” on the blog.  THe problem I have with this is that I, like many felling media junkies, are not going click through to 500 individual blogs – let alone blog posts – on any sort of regular basis. With the advent of smart devices to aggregate reads, and thee fastest selling download apps being RSS readers and magazine syndication posts for these feeds, the snipped post is obsolete.  What is a girl to do if she wants to maintain a somewhat accurate count of the number of “readers” she has?  A combination of feed subscribers and unique visitors will give you a fairly decent high level view of this.  As someone put in a response to my Facebook post about this though – subscribers do not equal readers.  That might be true, but what defines a “READER”?  If you incorporate page views vs unique visitors, add in returning visitors, and divide by the sum total length of each page view, yo might if you are lucky get a number something like pi.  NOT particularly useful in the real world. Since numbers are primarily a game, and the BEST (well ok most popular really because who defines “best”) blogs have guesstamates of accurate readership, why all the fuss and scardy cat behavior in using partial posts?  I’m not convinced there is a logical reason for it unless you are really trying to hide (a valid reason), track someone down (another valid reason), or stick it to the man. Fortunately there ARE tools out there that give you a well rounded picture.  Most blog feeds are on Feedburner, a google underling.  Currently, you can use Google Analytics to track most blog traffic, and also log in to Feedburner to view RSS traffic.  After doing some digging, since it’s a pain for me, I found a few possible solutions.  On possible solution includes hiding some code in your RSS feed so you can track it separate in Analytics.  I’m still working on that one.  There are some additional ways to get the results, but i’m still trying to […]

Feast on THIS!

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I first found out about Cana’s Feast Winery when touring around the WIllamette Valley last fall.  I didn’t pay it much attention, as we drove by on our way to a Pinot Pit Stop, primarily because they made other wines that weren’t on my hit list.  Bu also because I was overwhelmed with other deliciousness.  I finally woke up when my friend and fellow wine blogger started working there.  Well!  Fortunately for me, Tamara was able to send me samples as part of her marketing job, and I received a bottle of the 2008 Meredith Mitchell Pinot Noir.   I wasn’t very happy with this wine at first, because it was very woody, and suffered from a bitter quinine aftertaste that just didn’t sit right with me for an Oregon Pinot.  There was some burnt sugar and earth, and it was overwhelmed with dusty baking spice.  Where was the fruit?  Where was the PINOT in this Pinot? Well, far be it for me to throw away wine.  It’s just not in my making to dump Pinot!  So I left it, for about an hour, corked but not completely closed.  When I came back to it, it was beginning to wake up but there really wasn’t any THERE there if you know what I mean.  Oh well.  Fortunately, the next night, since I already had two open bottles of Pinot, both from Willamette, I was able to re-taste it.  What a different a day makes!  Now, I tasted bright cherries, pomegranate, cranberry.  There was my red fruit!  There was my acid!   It really opened up nicely, and turned in to a wine that I very much enjoyed.  The lesson here is DECANT DECANT DECANT!  It needs some serious air to show her true colors.  I’d also cellar this for at LEAST 2 years to get the full benefit. Which brings up an interesting point.  When I was poking around in September, I really didn’t like the 08 Pinots coming out of Willamette. They were just too ripe, too big, too Russian River, bordering on Sta Rita Hills.  Gasp!  Shock!  Horror!  That wasn’t what Oregon was supposed to be!  WHere was my Burgundy?  Where was my restrained style and light body?  I was sadly disappointed.  That said, here were are 6 months later; I’ve been tasting several of the 08s, as they are the current release for the most part.  My my my what a little bottle age will do!  They are improving, slowly but surely.  I think 2008 might not be such a bad year after all… This bottle of Oregon Crack was supplied by my dealer at Cana’s Fest.  Thanks guys!  

Loosey goosey Dusi!

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It’s raining cats and dogs, and we’re driving around in the mud, trying to find Dusi Vineyards.  As it happens, J Dusi Wines is tucked away in the family home in the middle of a vineyard just outside of Paso Robles, and is hidden in the 80 year vines of the vineyard.  This is like stepping back in time, to an era when there were more cows in Paso Robles than wine; to an era of farming, of family, and of community. As we enter the house, Janell and her mom greet us with coffee, which was welcome at 9:30 on a chilly wet day.  Mom was in the kitchen cooking up a storm for the wine club party that night, and Janell sat down with us at the table to tell us the story of her wine, and the family tradition.  Janell Dusi is turning her family business on its head, becoming the first Dusi to make wine and not just grow it.  Her great grandparents, Sylvester and Caterina Dusi began farming this land in the early 1920s, and started  business after business, including vineyards, farms, restaurants, and the now defunct Dusi Winery.  She was born on this vineyard, and raised among the vines that her grandfather Dante planted with his two brothers, the sons of Sylvester.  In 1945, vineyards were few and far between in Paso, since it was a large rural farming community.  With the farm, came the Italians, and the rich tradition of Zinfandel and field blends.  Th brothers planted a classic field blend, and head trained the vines, with no irrigation.  65 years later, the traditions remain the same. This fourth generation winemaker hand picks during harvest, and enlists the entire family to help – including her nieces and nephews, who are young sprouts in the field.  This family tradition is dying in California, and it’s refreshing to see a tried and true farm family, albeit farmign wine. Growing up int he vines, Janell learned all she could about grape farming, but she always wanted her Grandfather Dante to teach her how to make wine.  When she was 16, she made her first wine, and continued making an Italian style zinfandel every year after that.  Each vintage asked and answered a different question in winemaking, and Janell learned by doing, under the careful gaze of Grandpa.. Now, she’s in her 3rd vintage of J Dusi wines. The two original vineyards are about 1/4 mile away from the family house; the first is 40 acres, that was planted in 1943 with an Italian field blend of Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and who knows what else.  in 1945 a second parcel was purchased nearby.  In the beginning, the family sold their grapes to surrounding wineries, but as the grape market fell in the 1950s, the Dusis ventured in to winemaking to make their way through the grape glut.  Their first foray in to finished wine was about 8-9 years under the label Dusi Winery, and when the grape prices came back […]

Clang clang clang went the…

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Ding, ding, ding went the bell Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell. The iconic sounds of Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis. Ah the images of a red trolly, rambling down the street.  we’re lucky here in San Francisco, we have vintage streetcars from around the world on parade.  We’re also lucky because we live so close to Red Car Winery.   Red Car Winery was founded by Carroll Kemp and Mark Estrin way back in 2000, with only 50 cases of syrah.  Now, 11 years later, there are four Red Car wines, and two other labels – Trolley and Reserve. With a flair for the dramatic, Hollywood producer Carroll and screenwriter Mark bring us great grapes and great wine.  Today I opened the 2009 Trolly Pinot Noir.  2009 was an interesting year, and I was a little aprehensive when I opened the bottle.  That said, several of my blogging friends (NorCal Wine) have been up to the winery or to a winemaker dinner (yes YOU Dallas Wine Chick Melly!) and they were all  h the wines.  i must say, I am really enjoying this pinot myself. Bright and bold without being over extracted, this Pinot Noir is great on it’s own or with food.  Tons of bright cherry and cranberry, with a hint of raspberry, and strawberry on the back end, the spice box nutmeg and tannins also fill out the back of the palate.  There is a touch fo brown sugar with tons of spice as well.  This is my kind of Pinot Noir!  The grapes are sourced from the cool coastal vineyards, and they show the high acidity of the Sonoma Coast fruit.  That balances out nicely with huge black Cherry flavors, followed by floral notes of rose petals.  An hour after opening, it is really developing nicely in the glass and the earthy mushroom characteristics come otu to play.  This is clearly a Sonoma Pinot Noir, with rich cherry and dark red fruit, as well as plum flavors; it’s rich but not overblown, and I really like it! At $48, it’s not exactly budget, but it’s a lovely wine and if you should see it on the market, you should BUY it. Happy Tasting!   These wines were brought to be on a bus by Malm Communications.  I think we need to get Mia a trolley!

We didn't go for the almonds but…

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Jordan Winery is a hidden gem in Alexander Valley.  Up a winding driveway, through the woods, and yes – even over a creek, you meander up to the upper vineyard of the winery, where the French inspired chateau winery sits.  It was founded in 1972, coincidentally the same year both I and our host john jordan, were born – based on the dream of creating world class Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Sonoma.  I’d say that they have accomplished that dream quite nicely. Tom Jordan began the winery in 1972, when he signed the deed the day John, his son, was born; the first blocks in the lower vineyard were purchased then, and in 1974 the property was expanded to incorporate the upper ranch of the vineyards.  Construction began on the winery in 1976, and the first Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1980.  Fast forward 25 years, and John, the prodigal son returned to the home ranch where he grew up, to take over.  John Jordan, the current CEO, took over operations in 2005 after a successful career in law.  In fact, he STILL works in law, which is rather amazing considering what it takes to run a place like Jordan well.  When he took over, John strived to find the best of old world techniques and new world know how, including sustainable farming techniques and a unique focus on a welcoming hospitality center which includes a private library tasting room as well as Michelin star worthy dining experience. On our arrival to the winery, we were greeted by John, Lisa Mattson (@jordanwinery) – my friend and Jordon’s Communications Director, as well as a great video blogger-, Brent Young – the viticulturist, and hors d’oeuvres by Chef Todd Knoll who was tucked away in the kitchen preparing our nosh.  The 2008 Russian River Chardonnay that was paired with the tidbids was not at all what I was expecting and absolutely delightful.  I found lively citrus, stone fruit and a creamy mineral finish, while being subtle and not at all over oaked or overly full of buttery malolactic fermentation.  The lemonade flavors gave way to baking spices, green apples, and Asian pears.  this wine is treated with only 55% new French Oak, while the rest is in 1-2 year old barres; a full 25% is stainless steel fermented, which allows the fruit to shine through.  The 75% of barrel fermented wine balances out the stainless steel and the 28% malolactic fermentation rounds out the wine while retaining the crisp refreshing chard that even this ABC curmudgeon would love.  This wine was literally just released (May 1st) and at $29 I would recommend it for summer sipping. After our chardonnay, we stepped in tot he dining room which is in the end of one wing of the tank room.  And by tank room, I don’t mean large steel drums.  I mean beautiful, hand built oak tanks, which look as if they should sing to you.  In the dining room, our tables were […]

On top of the world, looking down on…

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Silicon Valley?  Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge.  Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge.  At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are.  Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill. On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property.  Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded.  It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance.  Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager.  Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive. Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay.   Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but  this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years.  I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel.  It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd.  this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard. Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay.  this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity.  It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences. Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge.  First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.  The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food.  We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco.  This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine.  It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines.  This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering […]