Stolen Fruit – from the minds of Sonoma’s best winegrowers

Stolen Fruit Cocktail Mixers Luscious Lushes I love to create; specifically, I love to create cocktails from amazing ingredients.  Being a Bay Area native and a Sonoma County resident (well, mostly), when I found out about Stolen Fruit Cocktail Mixers, I was excited to get my hands on them.

Created by wine country chef Peter Brown, and Healdsburg grapegrowing royalty Doug & Susan Provisor, these fascinating blends of ver jus (freshly pressed juice) are the perfect base from everything to amped up water, to mock-tails, to elegant cocktails for every season.

Beginning with some pretty spectacular grapes, much of which are used to create some delicious wines, these fresh juice mixers come in exotic flavor combinations like:

  • Lemongrass-Ginger-Sav Blanc
  • Jasmine-Juniper-Viognier
  • Blood Orange-Muscat
  • Fig-Grains of Paradise-Zinfandel
  • Hibiscus-Grenache (not reviewed)

The freshness of these components and creative blends make them perfect for playing in your cocktail bar, or just jazzing up the every day.

img_2705Lemongrass – Ginger – Sauvignon Blanc – I love the lively spice of the lemongrass and ginger, and this would make a perfect addition to your favorite sparkling wine on Sunday morning.  Gin-Mosa anyone?  I also love this with sparkling water.  Just a splash wake up the benign and helps you get those 8 glasses in.  It is also a natural base for any vodka or gin drink, such as the amped up Moscow Mule!

7 Mules for Sister Sara

  • Mix 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit with sparkling water to make a light soda.
  • Add 3 ounces of gin (or vodka)
  • Add 2 ounces of ruby red grapefruit juice
  • Stir over ice

img_2721Jasmine – Juniper – Viognier

The surprisingly piquant flavors of lychee and kiwi, with a floral finish pair perfectly with cucumber.

Juniper Martini

  • Pour 3 ounces of your favorite gin (Hendricks would work well here) over ice in mixing glass.
  • Add 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit.
  • Squeeze 1/4 fresh lemon on top and shake well
  • Strain in to a martini glass with 3-4 slices of fresh cucumber.

img_2720Blood Orange – Muscat

Brilliant fresh orange flavors and bright citrus jump out of the glass with a hint of nutmeg and tropical vanilla.  This reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean, and screams for rum.

But, What About the Rum?

  • 2 ounces of Stolen Fruit
  • 3 ounces of dark rum
  • 3 ounces of light rum
  • A few shakes of tropical or Angostora bitters
  • Serve over ice in a coconut.

 

img_2707Fig-Grains of Paradise-Zinfandel

This dark and brooding baby is perfect for the fall.  Nutty with the fig notes, and a winter warmer, this is perfect for a fruity hot toddy.

Winter is Coming

  • 3 ounces Stolen Fruit
  • 1 ounces hot water 
  • 3 ounces bourbon (or, you can use a strong red wine)
  • cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise (to taste) or 1 tsbp mulling spices

 

And for yet another use, the Stolen Fruit mixers are fantastic for culinary sauces, dressings, and glazes!  Thank you to Verdant PR and Stolen Fruit for sharing these great bar items.  Pick some up today for $18 each, or the handy gift set!




El Dorado: More than glitters

If you are from California, the first thing that pops in your mind when you say El Dorado County is probably the gold rush.  True, this is what placed a good many of the small towns on the map, but these days, there is precious little gold left in the rivers, creeks, and hillsides of El Dorado County.  Instead, agriculture is the new gold:  from apple orchards to vineyards, El Dorado COunty is booming with green gold; just over an hour from Sacramento, it is teetering on the edge of becoming a new kind of Napa.

Last month, I got to spend a long weekend exploring the wines of El Dorado county.  From exploring the founding fathers, to wine pairing dinners, there si so much to offer in this diverse region in the foothills of the Sierras.  With Tahoe a short drive away, and Sacramento nearby, it is a great place for a quick getaway or stop over during on a longer trip.

El Dorado might be mistaken as a zinfandel king.  Rather, it’s neighbor, Amador County, is more well known fo powerful zins that leap out of the glass with spice notes.  In El Dorado, almost anything goes.  One of the key features of the wineries if El Dorado is their ability to be El dorado CAflexible and experimental.  Most wineries make 5 or more varietals, and make them well.  Some go over the top and make over 20 unique wines, and yet – still manage to do them well.  That is a hard task for the best winemakers in the world!

Within El Dorado County, vineyards are planted between 1,200 and 3,500 feet, which gives it a unique distinction amongst California AVAs.  With a variety of soils dominated by volcanic magma and grantite.  Within the larger El Dorado AVA lies the smaller nested Fair Play AVA, and here in the land that so many dreams were made, and broken, during the Gold Rush, the possibilities are endless!

Join me as I explore the county, one wine at a time.  First up:  We experience the founding fathers of El Dorado wine, and how they broke new ground.

Thank you to the El Dorado Winery Association and Solterra Strategies for this wonderful experience!

Viva Vouvray!

Vouvray.  Just the name elicits a curling of the tongue and imaginary French wine drinkings, enjoy a glass at a sidewalk cafe.  Located in the Central Loire region of Touraine, Vouvray comes in many styles:  From fully sweet to dry; from still to brightly sparkling (Crémant de Loire).  But one thing is true of all of these wine:  they are all 100% Chenin Blanc.

If you’re like me, when you hear Chenin Blanc you think of one of two things:

1.  South Africa

2.  Old School California jug wine, sister to “Chablis”, in the handy gallon contains, now served on the bottom shelf of the grocery store wine aisle.

This ain’t your Mama’s Chenin Blanc!

loire wines

 

 

With just over half of the production being sparkling, the chalmy soils of the region lend themselves to crisp and fresh white wines.  Vovray is lively, and vibrant, with floral aromas, and flavors of stone fruit, candied orange and honeycomb.

The next time you are looking for an interesting white or a sparkler to celebrate Tuesday with, check these out:
2012 Les Chancelieres Vouvray – Clean and dry, with bright citrus and spice drops.  Overripe apricots and Golden Delicious apples covered in nutmeg and white flowers.  Fantastic with Thai curry!  $12

2013 Guy Saget “Marie de Beauregard” Vouvray – Ginger ale and toasted brioche with fig jam, nutty finish with a buttery edge.  A great bubbly with rich, creamy cheeses.  $20

 

Passport to the best of Dry Creek Valley

It’s that time of year again – warm sunny days, cool rose, and wine events galore.  One of the best events in Dry Creek is Passport, which takes place April 26-27 in Dry Creek Valley, part of the Sonoma County region.
This year, the region celebrates 25 years of Passport to Dry Creek, where 50 wineries open thier doors and welcome wine lovers.

Saturday and Sunday, special vineyard tours are offered to give visitors an insider peek at the grape to glass experience.  This year, you can choose from Pasternick, specializing in Rhone style wines, Grey Palm Vineyard, who is home to the newest member winery – Cast Wines,  or on Sunday, head over to Palindrome Vineyard where you can dig in the red bench soils, or – finally  – Hawley Winery high up on Brandford Mountain.  These tours are a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a deep dive in to a particular area of Dry Creek, and worth the price of admission alone!

I love the themes, the music, and the fun atmosphere of this event.  I also love that there are many wineries that are not open to the public, and this is my best chance to taste the wines and visit the properties.

Check out some of my favorite wineries along Dry Creek Valley:

  • Frick is serving up Rhone style wines in a quiet secluded spot with gorgeous views
  • Kokomo Winery – with so many options, it’s hard to choose which is my favorite wine, but the pinot and the grenache rose are very special.  Take a taste of some fusion cuisine, and enjoy the new age bluegrass band
  • UNTI – always amazing, will be shucking oysters to pair with thier rose, as well as food from local fave Spinster Sisters, all to the tunes of the Healdsburg High School band
  • Ridge Lytton Springs will have southern confort food to go with their stunning zinfandels and rhone blends
  • Mounts Family Winery is a hidden gem on the west side, with a circus theme of magical elixirs to quench your thirst

With over 50 wineries participating, and musical, food, and winery experiences, why not spend the weekend in Dry Creek Valley!  Sunday only tickets are sold out but you can book your full weekend pass for $120 now Many of these wineries are not open to the public on a regular basis, so this is your to check them out!

I plan on visiting my favorites, but also a few new stops along the way.  I’ll be sure to report back after the event with some top stops along the wine road.

My passport is stamped and I’m ready to go!

My visit was provided by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek, but my picks and thougts are my own.  Follow along on Twitter for updates during the weekend at #DCVPassport and be sure to follow @DryCreekValley and @luscious_lushes on twitter!

Google

 

What exactly is this wine tourism thing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding wine online

I love to shop.  I like to shop for clothes, I like to shop for bags, I like to shop for wine!  So where does a wine blogger shop for such libations?  Well, a few places actually.

First and foremost, for more expensive wines, I really want to taste it before I buy it; so in this case, I’d go directly to the winery or shop where I can try before I by.  this is the best way to get a 100% guarantee that I’ll like the wine.  But what if there is a new wine that I am interested in but don’t know?  In that case, I’ll go to a trusted source or a friend.  But still, I hesitate to do that for anything over $30 for one simple reason – everyone has a different idea of what is good.  Just because you like something I don’t like, doesn’t make it bad, it makes it stylistically different enough that it’s not my thing.  Of course there are those rare bad wines but…

So how does one find new wines?  My favorite thing right now is to experiment with less expensive wines.  With a plethora of online retailers and wine shops popping up, sometimes it’s hard to navigate the best place to shop.

  My favorite e-tailer right now is Invino.  Based in the town of Sonoma, the heart of the rich region, this dynamic team finds wines from all over the world and gives us some amazing steals.  Many wines are up to 70% off of retail.  Wines are hand picked, and the small lots are a great value.  I’ve seen some of my personal favorites at steep discounts, as well as interesting new discoveries.  With new offerings every day, each wine is available for 24-72 hours.  The best part about what Invino does is that if you purchase a wine, they keep some of the stock on reserve so you can repurchase if you like it.  I tend to order 1-3 bottles of a new wine, and then go bakc for more if I really like it.  Wine have excellent QPR, and I have an secret weapon – a friend and fellow wine professional is their wine buyer and so I know if something is offered, it’s going to be great!  I recently purchased a variety of French and Spanish Grenache based wines to fill out my Rhone stock.  The Grenache Blanc I purchased is something I’ve seen at many retail locations for at least $3-5 more.

Occasionally, there are some really interesting wines at BevMo.  During the 5 cent sale, where you buy one bottle and get the 2nd for five cents, you can get some great deals.  Armed by insider knowledge (and a friend who works there occasionally), I can aim for a few specific finds that are tried and tested like Fort Ross Pinot Noir, or some great inexpensive bubbles.  With prices ranging from $10 to $40 for two bottles, I can pick up a few new finds and see what new wines I discover.

K&L Wine Merchants – This local(ish) institution is known for their selection of great wines from around the world, as well as great whiskey.  With weekly specials and a great website full of information, the staff at the K&L wine store will help you pick out anything for any occasion, in your price range.  With locations in LA, Redwood City, and San Francisco, K&L will ensure that your next trip is easy and fast.  When I’m curious about trying wines from a region new to me, or I’m doing a focal tasting, I can rely on the staff to help me pick a few bottles out.  With bottles in every range, I can be comfortably in my budget for any occasion.  They have been a great help when I need to refill my Scotch collection as well!

So stock up for the holidays, and ENJOY!

 

Attack of the clones

One of my favorite interactive sessions at the Wine Bloggers Conference was a component tasting of clonal selections of Pinot Noir, hosted by Erath Winery.  As a wine geek, I love tasting each piece of the puzzle that makes up a final blend; in the case of Oregon Pinot Noir, it is frequently the case that a specific vineyard block is planted to more than one clone.  What is also true is that blocks might be clone specific but the final wine is a blend of those clones.

First, a bit about Erath.  Erath Winery was established in 1967, with it’s first vintage in 1972.  They were one of the early pioneers in the Willamette Valley.  They were, in fact, the first winery in the Dundee Hills AVA, focused on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Piot Blanc.  Dick Erath was inspired to create wine in 1965 after some garagiste experiments   After leaving an engineering career behind, he attended UC Davis, and relocated to Oregon in 1968. In 1969, Erath planted the Dundee Hills’ first vineyards, with 23 varieties   With Pinot Noir flourishing, he had producted his first commercial vintage in 1972.  While the original plantings were from his Davis roots and California bred clones, he watned to experiment with French clones, and imported them to Oregon in 1974.  Today, Erath uses Pommard, 115, and 777 clones to create world class Pinot Noir.

Now, let’s look at each of the Pinot Noir clones that were part of our tasting.  Of course, there are many more clones used in Oregon, but Erath focuses on these three.  Grape clones are developed for specific reasons, flavor profiles, color, and body.  There are Dijon clones, the Pommard clone, and the Wadinswil clone, widely usd in Oregon.  Erath uses three clones for their wines, 115, 777 and Pommard.  All of the clones and the blended wine resulting from them are from Prince Hill Vineyard, in the Dundee Hills.

The Pommard clone has become most widely known as the distinct Oregon style.  Pommard is often used alone, while the Dijon clones are classically blended.  Pommard gives Pinot NOir powerful fruit notes, spicebox and a rich body.  In the 2009 Prince Hill Pommard Clone, the oldest vines on the property are used.  The bright classic cherry flavors were obvious, with earth hiding underneath.  I loved this wine, with the bright acid and root beer notes, and a touch of herbal notes.  I really enjoyed this single clone, however, I found it lacking in some interest with just the Pommard.

Dijon clone 115 can have vegetal flavors, with rose petals edges.  It is a deep colored grape, with rich aromas and red fruit flavors.  With the strong tannins it’s a good choice for a wine you plan to age long.  The 2009 Prince Hill 115 Clone Pinot Noir had lovely earth, and dark red fruit with a bit of a nutty finish.  This clone brings cedar and earth, and adds a nice backbone.

Clone 777 also has more earthly vegetative flavors, with the classic mushroom and forest floor notes.  True to Erath’s restrained style the 2009 Price Hill 777 Clone has strong aromas of perfume and flowers, with mushrooms, brown sugar and figs followed by rich berry fruit.  It’s a bolder style, with silky textures.  The overwhelming note was strawberry, and this is the clone that brings the fruit tot he party.

There can be up to 15 selections put together to make the final wine, the 2009 Prince Hill Pinot Noir.  The backbone is the old vine Pommard, which brings the baking spice notes.  The fruit comes slowly, building on Bing cherry, rhubarb and cranberry, with stewed fruit and meat at the end.  There was a delicious umami note, with subtle, big red fruit.  The finished product is a subtle, elegant wine full of cherry flavors with great acid, lighter in style with a touch of earth.  The 15 months in 40% new French oak is a bold choice, but it is well integrated.

Componant tastings like these are fascinating since you can see what each single clone brings to the party.  With so many other clones of Pinot Noir out there, it’s going to be a great study!  Windsor Oaks Winery in Windsor, California makes several blends, of 2, 3, 4 and five clones for their customers to study and enjoy.  I think I’ll open some tonight!

Are wine bloggers and writers influential? Should we be?

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 be unique, whether you are a winery, wine business, or writer.  Bloggers can respond quickly and create follow up posts with an agility that no other media has.  You have the power to create direct and powerful collaborative relationships with your readers.  However the conversation gets started, as an online writer, you need to join a crowd that has them come to you so you can grow your wings & fly.  It’s up to you to go out and make that happen.

The under 30 crowd is becoming hugely influential in the wine world.  There is, however, an unfortunate tendency to hyper focus on the Millennial and their obsession with technology.  This obsession with tech toys and the internet is not limited to the Millennials, as the vast majority of Generation Xers grew up with technology and are now the young-middle aged crowd with the disposable income to spend on wine.  As one of these Gen Xers, I do get somewhat offended to be boxed in with the Baby Boomers who might not have grown up around technology.  Yes, I live in a bubble here in the Bay Area, however, the majority of my generation are smart phone carrying, educated consumers that are empowered to make decisions based on information that is more easily accessible.

Another important point to review is that wine is a long tail business.  If someone walks in to a winery or wine shop and buys a bottle of wine, you have a sale.  If you build a relationship with that person, you have a customer.  I think this gets lost in a lot of the conversation about how we influence buying habits; my primary goal is not to have a reader buy a bottle of wine I recommended, however that is often a side effect.  My goal in writing about wine is to expose my readers to new producers and wines they might not already know.  Hopefully, they influences them to seek out these wines, and quite possibly try other wines from these producers.

Wine bloggers are as much publishers as they are writers.  This has been a steady message for several years, and Tom Wark continues to drive the point home.  As such, finding topics of interest that last over the long haul, that gather steam and have direction, will increase our influence.  Examples of this as the noiw somewhat defunct Wine Blogging Wednesday.  The collective posting of a general topic, say Malbec, or Pinot Noir from Oregon, or wines that go with football, not only inspire us to think in new ways, but they create a web ring of posts for readers to follow with a single wrap up post as a jumping off point.

While some find this to be “telling us what to write”, I believe the opposite.  Who doesn’t need inspiration sometimes?   Creating themes that are broad enough to allow us to maintain creative control is the key to a successful Wine Blogging Wednesday or any other themed group posting effort.  However, these efforts have to be regular and consistent or they will fail, as it the case of WBW.

So with all of that, what does the word influence mean in the blogging universe?  Blogger, or online wine writer, influence helps to drive demand for wine in general, and perhaps specific wines in particular.  Even if you cannot locate a wine that I write about locally, you can still go out and find a similar wine.  Online wine conversations get people talking about wine, and this is a primary goal of the wine industry.  Whether or not the wine is in the shop on the corner is somewhat immaterial; the important thing is that we are spreading the wine love and we are educating about wine.  No, I don’t mean that we are teaching you the WSET Advanced Course, but with 90% of wine consumers being the Average Joe, giving a flavor profile in a wine we like can educate a consumer enough to build the confidence to make their own choices at the local market.

Online wine writers need to define themselves clearly enough so that readers can know what to expect.  I am guilty of not doing this well enough, and I tend to morph in and out of themes; however, my specific goal is to write about the little guy, write about the story, and write about what’s going on in my local wine business.  If you write wine reviews, great!  However, you should have some framework for your writing.  With intention and content, influence will follow.

How to be a good conference attendee

It’s July 31st.  HOW is it the end of July already?  Eeks.  Must.  Go.  Pack.  I’ll be leaving in 10 days for some pre Wine Bloggers Conference fun, and meandering through Oregon experiencing the best of the Willamette with my friend from Fab OC Wine Chick.  Can we say I cannot wait?

But really, the point of my trip to Oregon is to attend the 5th annual Wine Bloggers Conference, where 350+ wine bloggers, food bloggers, travel bloggers, and industry people of all sorts will get together to exchange ideas, get to know each other, and learn from each other.  What a way to spend a weekend!

That said, there are a large amount of WBC Virgins attending this year.  Even those that have attended before have been guilty of not following some of these suggestion below, and have left a…lasting impression.  Here are a few things I have learned from my five conferences.  Five years and five conferences, the event has grown and changed – but most of these tips hold true no matter the size.

  • 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.  I will be there manning the WBC Scholarship table for the first time (YAY!), so if you’ve ever wondered what we’re about, please come talk to us.
  • Attend the keynotes with Rex Pickett and Randall Graham –  The keynotes are a fascinating way to get to know how the wine community thinks of bloggers, and also, how they became who they are.
  • Attend the breakouts –  There is a lot to learn.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While you need choose which bits are important to you as a blogger, not attending them is just a waste of your time.
  • 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.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Our goodie bags are sure to contain an aluminum water bottle which you can use to fill up at every opportunity.
  • Don’t forget to sleep –  There is nothing worse than a blogger snoring in a session.
  • Enjoy your wine responsibly – no one likes a drunk blogger.  It is embarrassing for others, irresponsible, and sets a bad tone.  Additionally, it is not looked upon favorably by speakers and sponsors when the audience is only half full after a night of partying.  You will miss parts of the conference while sleeping off your hang over!  By all means, enjoy yourself.  I certainly plan to partake.  But if you cannot get your butt int he chair the next morning, please go to Vegas instead.
  • Engage in the spontaneous events – these are the best way to network with your fellow bloggers, writers, and industry professionals.  Going to dinner?  Sure!  Having a beer at a local brewery?  Awesome!
  • Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed – Don’t attempt to schedule yourself within an inch of yourlife.  Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once.  There are always going to be multiple tastings and pop up parties; you can’t attend everything, so don’t even try.
  • Have an open mind –  You never know if there are wines you wouldn’t normally try, sessions that might make you think about something in a different way.  Try something new!
  • Don’t try to control things – Don’t worry about what bus you’rell be on or what winery you’ll be attending.  Even if you end up some place you’ve been 100 times before, just enjoy the experience.  This is not a traditional winery visit and trying to over analyze it will make yourself more miserable.  I know this from personal experience.
  • Bring a piece of yourself – something 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 – Lots and lots of 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.
  • Follow the #wbc12 twitter stream – Make sure your twitter account is not protected (my main account is, but I tweet under @luscious_lushes for public consumption).  We want to hear your thoughts!  This is the best way to share with the entire conference at once.
  • Don’t try to blog at the conference – Jot down your thoughts but don’t feel the need to be the blogger with the most posts during the conference.  It’s more important to be engaged than it is to be typing.  Editor’s note:  in previous years, I have said, blog before, during and after the conference; however, I have noticed that some people will be missing key events at the conference for the sake of blogging.  While inspiration can come anywhere at anytime (thank you Tom Wark for the reminder!) my advice is to participate fully.  If you find a golden nugget of thought, by all means flesh it out and post, but don’t hide yourself in the wi-fi matrix the whole time.
  • Find a party to attend – This is a great way to get to know people on a personal level.  Sponsors, wineries, and bloggers all host formal and informal parties during the event.  These will be communicated via twitter, email and facebook so this is a great reason to be active on social media.  Heck, you can be assured that if you just walk the hallways at the host hotel, you will hear where a party is after hours!
  • Turn around and say hello to your neighbor –   Don’t be shy, just say hi!  Many of us know each other online but not in person.  Some of us might know know each other at all.  The WBC is all about community so don’t isolate yourself as this will make for a lonely weekend.  This is a social conference, but you need to be proactive and be social.  Sitting around and complaining that no body asked you to play kickball is not going to make you have a good time.

Here is what I think I will be doing:
Thursday August 16th

Returning from the Salem pre-conference excursion,  the official welcome reception will be hosted by the Oregon Wine Board.  Those who are already in twon will have a chance to get to know their fellow attendees before the madness.  There are also some pop up events in the works.  Join the facebook group to learn more!

Friday, August 17th

  • 10-12 Meet the Sponors – I’ll be there with my WBC Scholarship crew, selling blogger bling ribbons, and meeting the other sponsors.
  • 10-12:20 Argentinian wine pariing walk aroudn lunch – the perefect time to grab some food before the confernece begins.
  • 12:30 – Keynote with Randall Graham
  • 1:20 – Live wine blogging; Speed dating for whites & roses!
  • 2:30 – winery visits!  Wherever you end up, it will be a great afternoon & evnign!
  • 9:30 – back at the hotel, the free form Night of Many Bottles offers you a chance to share your favorite wine, and taste some other favorite that attendees have brought.

Additionally, there are more pop up parties on Friday nigtht!

Saturday, August 18th

  • 9:25 AM Three Blogger-to-Blogger Discussions
  • How Bloggers Influence the Wine World
  • 10:45 AM Breakout Sessions
  • The Winery View of Wine Bloggers
  • 11:45 Lunch at a local brewery nearby
  • 1:15 PM Three Breakout Sessions
  • The Art of Oregon Pinot – A Clonal Tasting
  • 3:35 PM Keynote Speech – Rex Pickett
  • 4:20 PM Live Wine Blogging – Reds
  • 5:20 PM Pre-Dinner Reception with New Wines of Greece
  • 7:00 PM Dinner with King Estate Winery
  • 8:45 PM International Wines Night
  • 10:15 PM Unofficial Post Parties

Sunday, August 19

  • 9:30 AM Q&A with Wine Blog Awards winners who are present
  • 10:30 AM Ignite Wine!
  • 11:15 AM  Preview of 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference

On Sunday I am off to Carlton to taste some more delicious wine and have fun.

Finally, above all have FUN.  Don’t take yourslef too seriously, and engage.  Join a

past blogger bling - we will have some new ones, and some of these, and some others!

conversation, meet new people.  Say hello to random strangers with WBC badges on.  We don’t bite!  Buy blogger bling ribbons, they are a great ice breaker.  What’s a blogger bling ribbon?  They are ribbons that stick on to your name badge.  Some are just silly, some identify you, some show a bit of personality.

See you soon!

If you are a registred attendee of the WBC and you are on Facebook, please join this group. Unofficial WBC 2012 Facebook Group

And, LIKE the official page HERE  Official Wine BLoggers Conference Page

Bullseye!

It isn’t often when I taste several wines from a winery and like each one more than the last.  When I do, I get excited and I know that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  Archery Summit, located in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon, is one such winery that gets me revved up.  I recently tasting three of their wines, and fell madly in love.  Yes, I was already a Pinot Noir lover, and particularly Oregon Pinots, but in this case, these were some of the few 2010s that I have tasted.  I also had the opportunity to taste a particularly wonderful Rosé.  With the weather warming up, and the rare sunny summer day in San Francisco, I was in heaven.

Archery Summit is located in the Dundee sub-appelation of the Willamette Valley AVA on a mineral rich alluvial fan created when the Ice Age receded and meltwater created giant fresh water oceans.    This reesulting in a rich mineral soil, which is amazing for growing Pinot Noir.  The cool growing regions of Oregon are very similar to Northern France, and create world class Pinot.

Archery Summit focuses on a small lot, hand crafted, approach to winemaking.  From the modern gravity flow winery which helps create Pinot Noir without bruising the fragile ego of the delicate Pinot Noir grapes, to the small bins of harvested grapes that are and hand sorted, every step is purposeful and careful.  A unique aspect to winery operations, each member of the vineyard staff is actually assigned to a specific vineyard.  Giving the vineyard crew autonomy and ownership of their area allows them to become expert vignerons of a small parcel, where their familiarity becomes intimate and intense.  Some staff members have been working in plots from the birth of the parcel (planting in 1994), giving them a full lifecycle view of what works, what doesn’t, and what might be going off road.  With such dedication to knowing the land and the vines results in some pretty amazing juice.

2011 Vireton Rosé – Love at first sip!  This delicate Rosé of Pinto Noir is full of tropical fruit,

watermelon and Hood River strawberries.  I absolutely loved this wine.  The bright fresh raspberry juice was clean and crisp, and is a perfect summer sipper.

While I typically prefer a purpose made Rose, this Saignee (juice bled from the red wine tanks during fermentation), I am impressed by the delicacy and flavor profile of the Rose.  Fermented in neutral oak and stainless steel, there is no skin contact.  The delicate pale pink color is the natural color of the juice from the bleed off.  This vintage is a blend of juice from each of the estate vineyards, from Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge.

The first Pinot Noir we had was the 2010 Premier Cuvee.  Created by blending  a bit of every vineyard, it is primarily Arcus Estate, and includes a bit of every Dijon clone planted on the property.  It has a fresh cranberry and pomegranate acid edge, which I love, followed by earthy notes of root beer, baking spice, and cherry notes.  With a touch of floral violets on the finish, it’s bright and rich at the same time, with mineral notes on the finish.  Fermented in 35% new French oak, the wine has the subtle touch of the oak without being overpowered.

The last wine we tasted was the 2010 Arcus Estate Pinot Noir.  This single vineyard offering was bolder, with more depth and strength than the Cuvee.  With soft leather, cola, and nutmeg, this is a crowd pleaser.  The classic juicy cherry flavor profile is combined with a rich boysenberry and cocoa blend.  This is a rich Pinot Noir, opening up nicely after an hour or so.  With 50% new French oak, the toasty spice and marzipan really come through but it’s well balanced and integrated.

I am very impressed iwth the 2010 Oregon offerings I’ve tasted so far; typically, the Willamette is known for odd numbered years, but I am much more pelased with the 10s this year than the 09s.  These wines could easily cellar for 5 years, but they are ready to drink now if you can’t wait (like me).

Thank you Archery Summit for providing these wines for my enjoyment, and I look forward to tasting some of the other wines with you in August at the Wine Bloggers Conference!

Crushing on the Okanagan

Those of us in California, or other parts of the United States, probably know about Crushpad;  Crushpad is was a custom crush facility that was once upon a time located in urban San Francisco, and not only offered custom crush facilities for budding commerical wineries, but also for the consumer who had some extra money to spend under the guise of being a budding (pun intented) winemaker.

Alas, recent news has indicuated that Crushpad will cease operations before the end of June, citing lack of sufficient funding.  But that is for another post!  I have all sorts of thoughts, good, bad and ugly, about that – but here in Okanagan, there is a new kid on the block.

The Okanagan Crush Pad operates on a simple model:  small wineires share equipment and resources in a small facility that has invested heavily in capital equipment costs.  The importance of such an operation in an expanding wine region is critical; the largest hurdle to get over as a new winery is the major investmetn you must make in winemaking equipment.  By sharing these facilities, effectively renting the press, crusher, barrels, and in this case concrete eggs, as well as a mobile bottling line, you are paying a fraction oi the price; you are only only paying for the equipment when you use it, stead of all year round.

OCP offers a variety of services, from vineyard management, winemaking expertise, as well all full service branding & markeing efforts.  Their philospiphy is “from field to market”, allowing the client to select how much or how few services they require in thier journey from grape to glass.  With three brands currently, they strive to produce distinct, Okanagan terroir focused wine.

As we sat down to taste some of the wines that OCP produces, I was reminded of how wonderful it is to experience new wines.  OCP products Bartier Brothers, Bartier Scholefield, and Haywire, as well as the Crush Pad series of wine on tap.

I was particular impressed by the 2011 Bartier Brothers Semillon, which had wonderful lemon and mineral notes.  Oh how I love a semillon!  I also really enjoyed the 2011 Canyon View Pinot Noir, which was still in tank but was a great preview of what will come.  The pinot had fabulous fruit, black cherry, rhubarb, and bold pepper notes on top of cola flavors.  Love!  Another fave was the 2011 Switchback Pinot Gris.  I adore Pinot Gris, and this was no exception with the crisp acid and medium body.  This was aged sur lie and with a heavy battonage schedule, the grapefruit notes gave way to creamy lemon curd and green herbs.

I can’t wait to go back and visit again in 2013, if not sooner!

Ogopogo and other fish tales from the north

When I first found out that the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference would be in the Okanagan Valley region of British Columbia, I, like many fellow bloggers, was somewhat dubious.  Canada?  Passports?  No transport of wine?  What the heck?

Little would I know that many months later, I would fall in love with this isolated region east of Vancouver.  When flying in to the Okanagan Valley from Calgary, as I did, you get a bird’s eye view of the long, thin lake and the mountains that surround it.  It reminds me a lot of Lake Tahoe, except that is a glacial valley and not a caldera as Tahoe is.

It’s here that the requisite lake monster, Ogopogo calls home.  You know the type – looks like a dinosaur, swims around, might be friendly, might eat small children.  Every large inland body of water has one:  Lake Tahoe has Tahoe Tessie; Lake Champlain has Champ, and of course – Loch Ness has Nessie.   These Darwinian mysteries swim the depths of these lakes and draw tourists to the souvenir stands.  But…I wonder if Ogopogo likes wine?
The wine region is located in a narrow glacial lake valley, with Okanagan Lake to the north, and the much smaller Skaha Lake to the south.  There are actually several lakes dotting the region to the south, with the Okanagan River connecting them.  Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake were at one point a continuous body of water after the glaciers melted, but now, the town of Penticton  separates the two on a narrow strip of land.

It is there in Penticton, and the base of Okanagan Lake that the wine bloggers will gather in June of 2013.  A small beach resort town, it’s cleverly walkable, with the lakeshore next to our host hotel (and casino…which I expect will have an interesting impact on the bloggers!), and wineries within a short drive.

This steep sided valley is very reminiscent of the Rhine in Germany.  Historically fruit orchard territory, it is increasingly becoming the Napa Valley of the north.  The first known wine was produced in the Okanagan in the mid 1800s for the mission, which of course required Sacramental Wine.  However, much like the U.S., Prohibition wiped out the early vinous settlers, and the area turned the focus back to fruit production.  Once Prohibition was repealed, there was a booming fruit wine industry, but traditional wines were not produced here again in earnest until the 1970s.

At that time, the first vinifera grapes were planted, focusing on the aromatic whites of Europe, such as Riesling, Ehrenfelser and Scheurebe which were well suited to the northern climate.  In the late 70s and early 80s, more and more wineries popped up.  The region has seen a massive growth in the last 20 years and has changed from a fledgling area with experimental still wines, to one of elegance and unique terroir.

 The Okanagan started to gain more attention int he early 1990s when winemakers and consultants from around the world were courted to produce in the region.  This draw resulted in cross border penetration, with Old World winemakers from France and Germany mingling with New World rebels from Napa and Chile.  In fact, the Agricultural Research Station in the area is second only to Davis in it’s reputation.  Many post doctoral candidates are working here on fruit and grape research, and have come up through the Davis ranks to graduate to the new frontier of the Okanagan.  The region is still young, but really took off when one of the larger wineries, Mission Hill, entered wine in an International competition and several of them medaled.  Today, there are over 120 wineries producing premium wines.

From our home base in Kelowna, the largest town, sitting on the eastern edge of Okanagan Lake, we explored the history of the region as orchard lands, as well as a summer lake resort.  While it is still a summer resort destination, the growth of the wine industry has made it a year round place to explore, with ski hills, swimming beaches, great food, and interesting wines.
Our first stop, Dirty Laundry Vineyards, was like visiting Vegas, if there were vinyards, old washing machines, and a stunning view.  Intrigued?  Stay tuned!

A little history lesson

The mountaintop of Monte Belle, in the Cupertino area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has a long history with winemakers and vineyards.  As far back as the late 1800s, city dwellers wandered south to retreat and make wine.  Today, Ridge is redrawing these historical vineyard lines and producing wines from these sub plots, to see the original vineyard lines in liquid form.  These wines were made from select parcels from Ridge’s vineyards, retracing the original boundaries of the historical properties.  Harvested in small sub-parcels, Ridge is trying to recreate the original vineyard properties and make wine with fruit harvested in small micro climates.

Since these properties had unique boundaries in the original property, the resulting wines are quite different than the current releases.  The tiniest move to a row or tow over creates a micro climate different that can have subtle and amazing impact on the wine.

The first historical property was Torre.  The Torre property was the first winery on the site of Ridge Monte Bello.  Now, it’s the middle vineyard, at about 2300 feet elevation.  In 1903, hte first winery was built here, but Prohibition shut them down.  In the 1940s, more vineyards were planted by William Short, and Ridge bought the land in 1959.  That purchase was the inspiration to start Ridge Vineyards, built from a restored Torre winery.  The Torre Merlot is dark and dusty, with blue fruit, and dense cherries.  There were some meaty notes and it was a bolder muscular wine.

The next wine comes from what is now the Jimsomare vineyard.  This property was origianlly purchased in 1888 by Pierre Klein, a bay area restaurateur with a fondness for wine.  The Klein family founded Mirra Valle winery, another victim of Prohibition.  In 1936, San Francisco’s Schwabacher family purchased the property, naming it Jimsomare.    Today, it’s part of the lower Monte Bello Vineyard, at about 1400-2000 feet.  The Klein Cab Sav had great acid, with notes of blackberries and spicy white pepper.  This one is a baby but is still enjoyable.

Finally we  look at the Perrone property.  The Perrone winery was the second winery on the property, above the existing winery.  The original 180 acres were at about 2600 feet, and gave birth to the Monte Bello Winery way back in 1892.  In the 40s, with the winery abandoned, William Short bought the property and vineyards below it.  Now, this is the “middle” vineyard.  The Perrone Cab Franc was one of my favorite wines of the day.  With smoked blueberries, cinnamon, allspice and blackberry, there were black pepper and candied ginger flavors.

The best part of these historical wines is that using the old vineyard maps, Ridge is able to recreate the lots and go back in time to see what the terroir of the original property lines is.  It’s a fascinating look at the micro terroir of the Monte Bello area, and great fun.

I hope you can enjoy some Ridge wines soon!

 

Ridge Vineyards gets Jazzed!

Sitting on top of a mountain, over looking the Silicon Valley, I was standing watching the planes fly by in the warm spring weather.  I always enjoy climbing Monte Bello in Cupertino, ending up at Ridge Vineyards, over looking everything below.  You are only an hour from San Francisco, but you feel like you are a world away.  This was an unusually warm spring day, and the crowds were out picnicking on the hill top and enjoying the views.

On this trip, our illustrious leader Christopher Watkins, brought together a group of wine and food bloggers at one of his quarterly media tastings – which are always eventful.  On this visit, Christopher, a musician at his core, had something up his sleeve.  There would be no traditionally tasting, as we had come to know it.  This time, when we walked in the barn, we found bottles that were brown bagged, hiding the gold within.  On the screen in front of us, the history of jazz.  In our ears, we had Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.What was this madness?

Description: http://juliasmexicocity.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54ecdaa8a883301347ff14274970c-500wiOur task was to take each of four wines and pair them with the song that we found most provocatively paired with it.  Given that I know zilch about jazz, the only word that came to my mind was skat!  Yes, I said skat.  That’s what I think of when I think of jazz; I was feeling much like the beatnik in Peggy Sue Got Married – you know the line, “Change your destiny Peggy Sue!  Marry me and change your destiny!”.  In my head, I’m thinking, listen to the jazz Thea!  Listen to this, and change your destiny!

First up, the 2001 Monte Bello.  The smoky rich berry notes were mirrored by bright acid, black pepper and allspice.  There was delicious chewy leather, and blackberry spice but it was subdued and not jammy.  My pairing was Paul’s Pal by Sonny Rollins.

Wine number two, the 2000 Monte Bello, was dark and smoky, and a bit bold.  I found fig notes and heavy sediment.  There was more fruit coming out as it opened up in the glass, with some excellent earthy background.  It was a mysterious wine and So What by Miles Davis was on my mind.

Next, we tasted the 1999 Lytton Springs zinfandel.  This older wine hid sticks and stones in the smoky prune background, with cigar box and spice rack.  I found a hint of strawberries in balsamic vinegar and cranberry on the end, with lingering thoughts offruit roll up..  The Bemsha Swing from Thelonious Monk seemed the natural pairing.

The final wine in the first flight was the 1997 Geyserville.  This was an in your face wine for being so old, and was quite candied with brambly notes.  There was quite a bit of dirt and white pepper as well as cedar and sweet cherry.  I could see a sarsaparilla at an old west bar in this wine, and even though I was supposed to pick the 4th song, I still chose Paul’s Paul (again) as the match.

Are you lost yet?  Yeah so was I.  I am no student of jazz, and I can’t really say i like or don’t like it because I just don’t have enough exposure.  I know I hate Kenny G if that helps?  These pairings are strictly on my gut reaction to the music and the wine.

Luckily for us, we were released from the duty of matching music and words, and we were treated to a tasting of the historical vineyard selection series.

Stay tuned for the details on my next post!

 

Start those tractors up!

There’s something of a revolution going on in the East Bay’s sleepy corners; a revolution of wine.  The urban winery is alive and well in Oakland, and Cerruti Cellars is brightening up a lonely Jack London Square.

Cerruti is part of the Tudal portfolio, which includes some well known Napa names as well as this fun loving Italian style house.  The family has been making wine and growing grapes for four generations, and while the Tudal Winery in St. Helena is going strong, in 2011 another branch of the family was born when Cerruti Cellars opened in a historic building at Jack London Square.

One of the most intriguing things about the winery itself is the historic property.  Build int he 20s as a cold storage facility, it has been many things for many years until the winery took over the space.  The family kept th historic touches, and walking in the tasting room is walking back in history.

While Tudal has unique signature wines that are appropriate for Napa, Cerutti focuses on fun, Italian style wines with a twist.  Tractor Shed Red for example, is named after an antique tractor that decorates the vineyard.  This blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Zinfandel is as unique and fun as that old tractor.

 

Beyond the tractor, I also enjoyed the 2010 Honker Blanc, named for the geese that migrate over the vineyard properties.  This Napa Sav Blanc is small production, with green apple, lime, and just a hint of hay.  This crisp white is fermented in 100% stainless, and is 45% Sauvignon Musket which gives a fuller body and complexity to the wine that could so easily be simple.

These are just two of the offerings at Cerutti, and are great for your summer BBQ or picnic needs.  They are priced ~$15 and are as much fun as the winery!

If you find yourself in Oakland, drop by.  I’ve heard tales that they have had the BBQ trucks in the back parking lot, and the wine flowing – you might get lucky!  you can’t beat the hospitality; John Tudal, 5th generation wine kid, was a gracious host and an avid entertainer.  The stories of growing up on a once rural Alameda island, and playing in the vineyards craft images of a time gone by and one that you are sure to think of sipping these wines!

I look forward to seeing them again and tasting the Tudal portfolio soon.

Go give him a wave in Oakland!

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