Painting the story

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The morning sun rises over the mountains, casting light on the lakes below.  The thin light of morning almost seems like moonlight, as it peeks through the thin curtains in my room.  It was 4:30am, and I groaned as I looked at my iPhone with disdain.  This was a summer morning in Penticton, British Columbia. Knowing there was no possibility of going back to sleep with the light growing with every passing minute, I climbed out of bed to get dressed.  Poking my head outside, I remembered how far north I was, and ducked back inside for a warm sweater and my camera. Capturing the early morning light is something I’ve always thought I would enjoy doing, save for my slight love hate relationship with early morning.  So up I get, and wander outside to the terraced grounds of God’s Mountain Estate Bed & Breakfast, where the dew was still glistening on the grapevines surrounding the house. Sitting on a bluff high above Skaha Lake, God’s Mountain is a 115 acre property with a rambling neo classical Mediterranean villa, that in some ways, resembles Fawlty Towers.  The maze of rooms was both delightful and maddening to explore, with each doorway opening up a new view and experience. A throwback to the B&Bs of my mind’s eye, the inviting living room and guest library offer you a peek in to the bohemian nature of the property, which is also a working vineyard.  The Wild Goose Vineyard has produced award winning wines, and the outdoor living space is inviting and relaxing. After wandering around the property while it still slept, I was greeted by a breakfast spread fit for a king.  Reminding me of the meals I’ve had at pensions all over Europe, my request for some fruit and yogurt was granted beautifully, and summarily understood to be just the beginning: Well fed and with some local coffee fueling my adventures, I headed down the east side of the lake, in to Okanagan Falls to explore more of the beautiful country and backroads of the Okanagan.  There was no doubt that I would slept well on this night, with dreams of mountain sunrises and wine to remember. With direct flights and easy transfers from the west coast, Penticton is closer than  you think.  For a unique expereince and a retreat you will not forget, visit God’s Mountain Estate and enjoy the views, the wines, and the hospitality! Accomodations were provided by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and God’s Mountain Estate Google  

Covert Operations at Covert Farms

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Tucked away in a corner of British Columbia that is a well kept secret, Covert Farms evokes an earlier time in North American history; a simpler time, a slower time. Exploring the south Okanagan Valley before the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference began this June, I took some time to savor some of these special treats. Covert Farms was founded by George Covert, who was a produce broker and business man from Tracy – a now suburban city near San Francisco. In 1959, Tracy was a rural landscape, where George was part owner of a packing company that worked with the fruit growers in the Okanagan. Tired of the grind in California, he packed it in and headed north to see what was so special about the area and the produce grown there. Discovering the land on top of the mesa where Covert Farms now sits, he purchased it on the spot and the rest is history. Little has changed in the last 50 years, where tomatoes, onion, potatoes, corn and grapes, are still grown, along with cherries, strawberries and – today – wine grapes. Still one of the leaders in organic, sustainable fruit and vegetables, Covert Farms is a major supplier of fresh produce to western Canada as well as locals. Touring around the farm in an old red truck, you can feel how this piece of land inspires.  Tucked away from the prying eyes of the highway, up a hill, you wouldn’t know that it was there.  Driving through the farm in an old truck, you can imagine that it’s 1959 and George Covert had just arrived.  As I learned about the history of the farm and how they are trying to maintain and encourage sustainable, natural, and local food culture in the Okanagan, we stopped to pick strawberries and sample some of the other fruits that were ripe for the picking in early June. As the Okanagan was once all fruit trees and farms, taking the land back to the early days with thriving, lush organic crops makes it clear why this place is so special.  But we’re here for the wine right?   Covert Farms Family Estate Winery was founded as Dunham & Froese Estate winery in 2005, and part of the 600 acre farm.  Today, the organic wines are crafted from 100% estate fruit, and focus on the artisan nature of the farm.  The organic fruit is sought after by other winemakers, and display the terroir of the area beautifully. As I learned on my first trip to the Okanagan in 2012, the aeromatic white wines of the Alsace, northern France  and Germany do exceptionally well here.  That said, this part of the Southern Okanagan is also a welcoming climate for Bordeaux reds.  The Oliver-Osoyoos region is a special area within the Okanagan and can be a bit of a chameleon.   2012 Sav Blanc Semillion – I love the natural pairing of Semillion which softens sav blanc and gives it a lush roundness.  This wine was fermented in primarily stainless steel, which a few […]

Steven Kent Winery – tradition and trailblazers

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Steven Kent Mirassou is part of the California wine industries pioneering royalty, and has grounded himself firmly in the rich soils of Livermore Valley.  As one of California’s hidden wine regions, Livermore offers more than meets the eye, and Steven Kent Winery is no exception. On a hot and bright spring day, the intrepid wine blogger crew headed out to Livermore, a scant hour from San Francisco, and located in the greater Bay Area.  One of many high quality local wine regions, Livermore is often overlooked as a world class growing region.  However, producers like Steven Kent are making their mark and changing what we define as California wine. Founded in 1996, the winery’s original mission was to make some killer Cabernet Sauvignon in the Livermore Valley that would give Napa a run for it’s money.  With the long history of Livermore Valley producing world class Bordeaux varietals.  In recent years, Livermore has become known as a bedroom community supporting the Silicon Valley, and home to government institutions, but the last 20 years have changed the face of the wine business drastically. And now, on to the wines!  Steven Kent Winery is home to two brands, Steven Kent, and La Rochelle.   With each brand represented by it’s own winemaker, the two sisters showcase the best of what the area has to offer.  While Steven Kent is focusing on the rich history of Livermore, producing some excellent Bordeaux style wines, La Rochelle maintains the family line of Central Coast wines, focuses on Pinot Noir f 2011 Steven Kent Merrillie Chardonnay – Named for Steven’s grandmother, the Merrillie Chardonnay is made from an old Wente clone.  As one of the founding wineriesin Livermore, Wente has created a unique line of clones, most noteably for chardonnay and pinot noir.  This wine showed rich custard, bold viscostity and tropical fruit salad. 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay – Dutton Ranch – Morelli Lane – one of my favorite Sonoma County chard vineyards, the bright Meyer lemon notes are framed by sandlewood and baking spice.  The richness is counterbalanced by the bright acid, capturing the vitality, movement, momentum, liveliness 2010 La Rochelle – Donum Estate Carneros – Bright cherry, brown sugar and molasses are dancing in a mouthful of Dr. Pepper.  The clonal selection on the western block in the heart of Carneros is a luxurious blend that is indicabtive of Carneros fruit, rich and yet somehow not opulant.  The forest floor and jalepeno play in the black cherry of this elegant sipper. 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir – Donum Estate Carneros – it sin’t often we are lucky enough to have a side by side of two different vintages.  Richer and bolder than the 2010, there is black fruit, fig, and a touch of salinity on top of cherry pie filling.  This is a classic Carneros Pinot, but I prefer the liveliness of the 2010. For a change of pace, the 2010 La Rochelle Pinot Noir – Soberanes Santa Lucia Highlands – is  a classic example of what Santa Lucia can offer.  Huge cherry and cola […]

Heaven in a dish – Azienda Agricola Zoff

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Cheese – aromatic, beautiful, pungent, stinky, delicious cheese; there is more to wine tourism than just wine!  While I could spend hours a day exploring the micro regions of Friuli, I was excited to experience more of the food aspects of the diverse region. Azienda Agricola Zoff is a small, local dairy that specializes in regional products from traditional sources.  The Pezzata Rossa cows deliver milk that is rich in butter fat, that helps the family do their job.  The Zoffs have been making cheese for 15 years, but have been raising cows here for generations, drawing on the cultural history that brings in the German, Swiss and Austrian cultures of northern Italy. After we had a brief tour of the dairy, where we learned that happy cows do indeed make happy cheese, we sat down to taste the cheese. One of the more unique offerings was the Caciotta, which is a fresh cheese that can be enhanced with flavorings.  IN this case, the flavored version had rose petals and thyme.  The creamy fresh cheese is rubbed with the flavorings after about 10 days, when the new rind is perfectly ready to bind to the flower petals and herbs.  The fresh creamy cheese is a wonderful palate cleanser and snack. Next, we tried the Latteria.  This time, we could taste both the fresh version, only 4 days old, and an aged version, which had been resting for 2 months.  As expected, the aged version was nutty and rich. We also were able to sample a famous offering:  the yogurt!  Those of us who are used to the tangy, tart, and thick American style yogurt might be confused by the creamy fluff that was served in a small dish.  but if you’ve traveled to France, and many other parts of Europe, the style of yogurt is younger and fresher, and much thinner.  Even commercial yogurts here are different than our palates are used to.  Here at Agricola Zoff, they make yogurt in the tradition methods; here, fermentation is stopped earlier in the process, allowing some of the natural sweetness of milk to remain.  The result, is a rich, naturally slightly sweet, slice of heaven.  As health nuts are aware of, yogurt is full of amazing health benefits, and this is no exception.  Beppino, the patriarch of the Zoff family, even touted that this is paradiso, heaven!  I’d be inclined to agree.  He also let us in on his secret for long life:  A spoonful of dulce de leche in a bowl of his yogurt, and you will live forever!  I’m ok with that. Here in the Bay Area, we are blessed with several micro dairies and creameries.  I have found that the closet product to the Zoff yogurt – which I had to replicate because it left me craving more – is the Saint Benoit natural yogurt.  Available at Whole Foods and other small markets, this French-style creamy yogurt is the closest approximation to heaven I can muster without making the […]

Abbazia de Rosazzo -the Abbey of the Roses

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Located in the town of Udine, at the top of Italy’s cuff of the boot, the Abbazia de Rosazzo has an ancient history as a powerful outpost for Rome that is centuries old. Located at a crossroads of cultures just 10 kilometers from the curret Slovenian border, the Abbey is where ancient traditions are of prayer, wine and olive oil are observed.  The first church was deciated in approximately 1070, and the cutlure of wine was brought by the Benadictines in the end of the 15th century. This is the birthplace of some of the most famous Friulian varitals, including Ribolla, which was the favorite of the Venetian Doge.  As such, this is one of the oldest wine cellars in Friuli. While living in peace for centuries, the abbey fell out of power and was abandoned.  However, due to it’s location, it became a military stronghold, while maintaining the strong culture of viticulture.  The current winemaking family arrived from Istria in the 20s, bringing with it five generations of winemaking tradition.  Specializing in the white wines of Friuli, the Abbazia’s wine Rosazzo is a blend of Friulano, the regional varietal of Friuli, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia, and Ribolla, The white wines of Friuli are full of citrus and floral notes, and are light and refreshing with a nice medium body.  Even though it was raining and chilly, the white was refreshing and welcome. The living history of the Abbazia is worth a stop, both for the history, and the wines!   Google

Pitars – a modern winery in an ancient town

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       Pitars Winery comes out of the low slung houses of the town of San Marino al Taliamento, nestled in the heart of the Friuli wine region of Italy. The Pittaro family has been making wine in Friuli since 1880, with Roman origins going back to 1510.  The passion of this family for the Fruiliano wine culture is clear, and Pitars expresses this passion beautifully. Pitars is both near the alps and the Adriatic sea, as well as the largest river in the region, giving a rich combination of stony and alluvial soil.  The closer you get to the sea, the more limestone is present in the soil, making it the perfect location to grow the white wines of Friuli. As many wine lovers know, the poorer the soil, often the better the wine.  Being in such a rocky and stone filled area, it’s a difficult task to grow crops, but a wonderful place to grow grapes. Here in San Marino, there was a wine revolution in the 1960s, and now they are known world wide as a source for clonal development and vines. Pitars has 140 hectares of vineyards, and is primarily estate bottled, but they do buy some fruit as well.  While they bottle 1/2 – 1/3 of their total production, much of the fruit is sold to large producers.   A unique point about the winery and operation is that they are one of the greenest wineries in Friuli.  With solar power providing 90% of the electricity to the tasting room, this covers the energy bill for 9 months of the year.  Additionally, they are pursuing biodynamic and organic methods, using birds and insects, as well as other sustainable practices.                     After touring the property, we sat down to taste through the wines.  First off, we had a side by side of sparkling wines.  The Ribolla Gialla Spumante Blanc was bursting with green apple and bright citrus, and was a refreshing departure.  Comparatively, the classic Prosecco was light and crisp, with a touch of sweetness on the finish.  While I enjoyed them both,  I actually kept a glass of the sparkling Ribolla as a palate cleanser on hand as we sipped away the afternoon. Next up, the Tureis IGT, is a blend of the classic Friulano, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Pitars names it’s flagship wines after stars, and Tureis is the Arabic name for a binary star system.  The symbol of the star system and a white blend is beautiful to me.  This wine was vinified separately, with the Chardonnay being barrel aged for 16 months.   The deep golden color had caramel and honeysuckle notes, with tropical fruit and a richness.  It was quite and interesting blend, and would be great with a richer fish dish. Named after another star, the Naos is a brilliant ruby red blend, made of  Refosco, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.  (Did I say Cabernet Franc?  YUM!)  The process for this wine is unique in that the grapes are actually dried slightly […]

Trapan Wine – an Istrian modern classic

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One of the highlights of any culinary adventure is finding a special place, that is unlike any other in the local region.  Trapan Wine is one such place, in the heart of Istria, one of the most culturally diverse and historic wine cultures in central Europe. Driving in to the winery, the sun was setting and the views were stunning.  The gentle rolling slopes of the hills, some under vine, most not, glistening in the late winter sunlight. Bruno Trapan, a young urban winemaker drawn to the region as he studied enology at the local university in Poreč, was inspired by the land and his education to a creative and dynamic art in his vineyard and cellar, undertaking a task that was challenging at best, arduous at least.  Bucking the trend, he was looking to unlock the secret to the red soils of Istria, and uncover new secrets in winemaking. While Trapan Wine does produce the classic wines of Istria – Malvasia and Teran – they are also looking to internationally known varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah to create new traditions in winemaking.  These varietals fit nicely in to the landscape naturally, but are new flavors in the local wine culture and are breaking new bounds of tradition. These wines are unique, filled with traditoinally flavors with modern twists and are a must top on your enotourism checklist of Croatia. 2012 Trapan Malvasia – Rich Meyer lemon, citrus, stone fruit.  Fermented in stainless steel tanks, the flavor profile is unique, with a very different terrori than northern Istria.  The northern areas are rich in limestone, lending a minerality and stone finish, while in Pula, where Trapan Wine is located, the average temperature is 3 degrees (Celsius) warmer.  This brings forward the aromatics in the Malvazia, with less fruit forward, and bright acid notes. Ever the rebel, Trapan Wine uses both wild, natural yeast, as well as commercial yeast.  Each lot is fermented separately, but the final bottling is a blend, and not all wines in a lot are bottled at once.  Some wine is kept on yeast longer which gives a more complex creamy wine.   2010 Trapan Teran – Teran (Terrano in Italy) is one of those grapes that had been used for rough and ready, work-a-day wine.  At first taste, Teran reminded me of Touriga Nacional, a rough, but loveable worker.  However, refined and elegant, this Teran changes the status quo.  This bold and dense wine is similar to a Merlot, but rough and tumble, with lots of spice, and huge tannins that allow it to be aged for years to come.  Earthy dust, muddy dirt, big brambly berries, this is the Teran I fell in love with. 2011 Trapan Nigra Virgo Revolution is a red blend, with 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Syrah, and 10% Teran.  This is like a Bordeaux on steroids!  Teran is a strong grape, and so you have to be cautious when creating blends that it doesn’t overpower the blend.  Teran, being native to Istria for […]

Wine Bloggers invade Okanagan

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I interrupt this adventure through Croatia to highlight my recent trip to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, British Columbia. As first glance, one would think travelling to the middle of the mountains, on a series of glacial lakes, would be an odd desetination for a bunch of digitial wine writers, industry reps, and interested members of the community – however, after visiting the area last year, I was enamoured. Arriving a day early, I was able to see the calm before the storm, and visit some areas that weren’t on the roster for the official trip.  Over the next few week, there will be a lot more on that but first, here are my top 10 highlights, Letterman style!; 10.  The fresh, local, and unadulterated food of British Columbia.  While I have never seen so many A&W’s in one place, we were treated to the natural wonder of the local breadbasket and were never ever hungry for anything bugt more fresh and wonderful food. 9.  A quick stop at Vino Volo in Vancouver, where Jim Conaway said, unsurprisinging, “I can’t believe you’re having wine!” 8.  The same James Conaway’s  keynote, subtly quiet humor that was bang on for the wine industry, and a great introduction to his novel Nose. 7.  The wines – from hearty reds in the classic Bordeaux style, to light, aromatic, unusual whites. 6.  The content of the conference.  Ok I’m biased here since I presented on Positioning Your Blog with my partners in crime Kathleen and Megan, but hey, there was some great stuff there! 5.  See Ya Later Ranch and the reception presented by Constellation Brands.  Surprisingly small, local and wonderful – from one of the largest wine conglomerates in the world 4.  Sandra Oldfield and her crew at Tinhorn Creek.  Marcy, you weren’t kidding!  I saw Jesus in that cab franc! 3. The scenery – every angle, every window, every view – breathtaking 2.  The people of Penticton, specifically for their welcome breakfast, farmers market, and general excitement to have us there.  Every person I encountered was genuinely excited to have us there and just plain nice. 1.  Did I mention the scenery?   More, much more to come! Google

Bloggers are irrellevant? Really?

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How did we get here AGAIN.  I feel like we’ve had this conversation every year, since the year I began blogging.  Initially, it was a question of bloggers, online writers, whatever you want to call us, being irrelevant because we were the unknown factor.  Then it was an issue of credibility.  Now, it would appear, that a few people have taken it to the opposite extreme, and make a leap to the assumption that we are irrelevant because no one is reading us due to overload. While it may be true that people don’t read wine blogs the way they “used to”, it’s also true that there are a lot more of them out there.  Many of those are noise, and not as impactful as the handful of those who have been writing for more than a year and are a known entity in the blogosphere. According to a post by The Hosemaster of Wine (take this with a grain of salt people, regardless of where it was published), no one reads wine blogs.  No one?  That’s a curious statistic given my analytics and inquiries from interested parties who clearly read my content and ask questions, inquire about engagement, or ask me for ideas or speaking proposals.  The industry is interested and reading wine blogs, because they are seeking ways on how to engage with bloggers; the proof of this is all around us:  at the International Wine Toursim Conference in 2011, I discussed engaging bloggers, and this year at the Wine Tourism Conference, I will again be discussing who wine bloggers are, and how to work with them. I think the key takeaways here are that you need to ensure that your blog and posts are relevant, engaging, and frankly – interesting.  Clearly, people are tuning out copy cat tasting notes, badly done videos, and the like. However, the accusation that wine blogs have turned in to online diaries of what I ate this week is missing the mark.  Wine, in the context of a person’s life, is relevant when paired with life activities.   Which would you rather read?  This Cabernet was tasty.  I had it alone, while sitting at my desk.  Or, this cab went deliciously well with my steak Diane as it brought out the flavors of x, y, and z. Clearly, people DO love a good story and are seeking that information on these blogs.  Which brings me to a great segway — this year at the Wine Bloggers Conference, one of the sessions will be focusing on creating compelling content.  This is a critical skill to have, and if you are finding yourself losing traffic, or not engaging your audience, then you need to be at this conference. For me, I am all about engagement.  I speak at wine related conferences regarding engagement.  I tell people about engagement.  I will also be speaking at the Wine Bloggers Conference about Positioning Your Blog.  This is a great time to rethink what you are writing about and why, and […]

Jumping frogs, Twisted wines, and Sneaky Syrah

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Who needs romantic candlelit dinners?  Who needs chocolate and sweet nothings?  Not me.  I had a much better Valentine’s Day weekend, spend slurping the good stuff in one of the hottest new wine regions of California, Calaveras County. My first visits to this area were whizzing by Douglas Flat on the way to go skiing at Bear Valley or Dodge Ridge.  Then, as I got older, we would take summer trips to Sonora and Jackson to learn about the Gold Rush history.   Last fall, however, my eyes were opened when I took my first trip to Murphys to go wine tasting.  I had my first taste of wine from this area, and fell in love. First, a little history, just so I can shake off all of you lurkers and get the real readers in here.  OK just kidding!  The name Calaveras is Spanish for “skulls”, which is probably from the bones found by the Spanish Captain, Gabriel Moraga.  Calaveras County also gained notieraity when Mark Twain wrote the short story“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County“.  The area was settled The town of Murphys, with some 15 tasting rooms on Main Street, was settled during the Gold Rush by – spoiler alert – brothers Daniel and John Murphy.  They ran the local supply store, where they became rich off of the prospectors who needed supplies. Now, with it’s cluster of tasting rooms on a short meander, Murphys’ tasting rooms take you on a history walk through town, while enjoying some fabulous wine. Wine has been made in these parts since the late 1800s, to supply the growing towns and miners with their elixirs.  Much like Amador County, immigrants brought the wine making techniques with them.  While certain other areas of the state are more well known, I think that Calaveras County will continue to grow (but not too much) and develop in to a wine power, while maintaining it’s small town charm.  This area is idea for growing Spanish and Rhone varietals, as it is very hot and dry in the summer, with snow and true winter in the later months.  As such, we tasted several Viogniers, Grenaches and Syrahs.  There is also a long history of Zinfandel being grown in these parts, and the oldest known zin planting is a 110 year old vineyard producing some potent juice!  Part of the allure of Murphys is that the tasting rooms are intimate, it’s rarely crowded (except for a bad experience with a bus of retirees from Modesto), the people are genuinely happy to see you, and there are great wines at amazing prices.  Have I mentioned that most wineries do not charge a tasting fee?  If they do, it’s rarely more than a few dollars and worth every cent. Some fothe highlights of my weekend were: Twisted Oak Presidents in Lust Dinner – This dinner, which humorously combines Presidents Day with Valentines Day, offered scrumptious treats by Sugar & Spice Catering in Jackson, paired with the best of Twisted […]