Grace and Hospitality

“Never have I been so graciously hosted,” is what I could have said at the end of each night during the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa last week. But it wasn’t just in Santa Rosa. I was feted in Healdsburg. I was wined and dined in Hopland Mendocino. I was well entertained in Fulton. I cannot say each meal was better than the last. They were all magnificent.

img_1920Our dinner the first night, hosted by Fetzer and Campovida was in Hopland in Mendocino County in a barn, a beautiful, well-lit barn at the Campovida Winery on a cool rainy night. We were entertained with a live band, Easy Leaves, and fed oysters and cheeses paired with a crisp, citrusy Fetzer Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc and a crisp, light Grenache rosé from Campovida before we all sat down to a family-style feast of chicken served with mozzarella, herbs, and tomatoes, which paired quite well with the Campovida Nebbiolo. The red fruit and tomato leaf character of the wine came alive with the herbs and tomatoes of the dish. The salmon with lemon capers was quite nice with Campovida’s Arneis, a medium-bodied and tart little white wine. The potato gnocchi paired well with Fetzer’s rich and round Sundial Chardonnay. Both dessert wines, the Fetzer Shaly Loam Gewurztraminer and the Campovida Innamorari Late Harvest Viognier paired nicely with the warm apple crumble.

img_2044On our second night of the Wine Bloggers Conference, we pulled up to the Kendall Jackson estate in the dark. Seeing the winery we glowing from the inside with warm lights may have turned our charter bus into a chariot, at least in my mind. We were greeted with hors-d’oeuvres and Kendall Jackson Chardonnay before we were escorted to the dining room. The long table was set with a beautiful herbal centerpiece from the sensory garden. At the end of the room on a sideboard was a chocolate sculpture that looked like, well, a sculpture. The dinner was as elegant as the table centerpiece, three beautiful courses beginning with gnocchi, persimmon squash and sage dish paired with the Jackson Estate Camelot Chardonnay, full-bodied and ripe, this wine stood up to the richness of the gnocchi. With the duck confit, we were served the Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir, whose pretty red fruit danced around the rich duck. Our dessert, which turned out not to be the chocolate sculpture on the sideboard, was a flourless chocolate cake served with the Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mt. Cabernet Sauvignon, deep and dark, I drank it all before I got to the sweets.img_2037

img_2076“This wine is from the vineyard over your head,” is something one only hears while eating in a cave. That was the fabulous situation in which I found myself at Thomas George Estates. It was an elegant cave set with a long table. As we entered the cave we were greeted with the lively and elegant Thomas George Blanc de Blanc and some lovely salamis and bruschetta. Dinner began with a warm brussel sprout salad paired with a crisp Thomas George Chardonnay that was fermented and aged without oak. The wine also saw no malolactic fermentation. This was a true, clean expression of the fruit. The entreé was star anise duck with pork belly, a dish bursting with flavor and texture and paired perfectly with the aforementioned “above our heads” Pinot Noir, elegant with ripe rich fruit, savory herbs, and a soft silky finish. It was sublime. The woman across from me took a sip and said, ‘I think I just had an orgasm.’ Yes, it was that good. Dessert was an apple tartin with bourbon gelato. What?! And served with an aged late harvest Viognier that was both aromatic and spicy just like the dessert.

Last week at the Wine Bloggers Conference both Sonoma and Mendocino counties far exceeded our expectations in their elegance and gracious hospitality. The meals have all been stunning and hedonistic.

After these past few days I can say with all confidence, not only are Mendocino and Sonoma Counties open for business, they are alive an well, they are top drawer elegant and they are thriving. Thank you, Mendocino and Sonoma for your overwhelming hospitality.

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The Zinfandel Mission

“Brave are we who are planting the old vines of tomorrow.” -Jonathan Lachs

img_2030It was said tongue in cheek, but this is exactly what Jonathan Lachs and other Zinfandel growers are doing. Owner and winemaker of Cedarville Vineyards along with Susan Marks, Jonathan has been planting his future old vines since the winery was founded in 1997. The winery and vineyards are located in Fair Play in El Dorado County at an elevation of 2500 feet. It is that elevation that gives the Cedarville Zinfandel its structure and acidity. It is the age of the vines that gives the wine its rich, intense flavor.

The Cedarville 2015 Zinfandel has aromas of rich red and black fruit with notes of pepper and spice. It is well structured and elegant, not an ‘in-your-face’ Zin, but a graceful, interesting Zin, one that could age.

Zinfandel is considered one of ‘America’s grapes,’ even though it is from the vitus vinifera species, the European species of grapes. In other countries, however, Zinfandel is not embraced as a single varietal the way it is here in the U.S.  America has embraced Zinfandel, (known as Crljenak Kastelanski in Croatia, its country of origin, and called Primitivo in Italy where it is also grown)  as its own. However, for most of their American history, these grapes have not been treated as great or noble grapes. There are a number of winemakers who would like to change that.

According to Jake Bilbro, owner and winemaker of Limerick Lane Wines in Healdsburg in Sonoma County, there are four misconceptions about Zinfandel that are holding back the wine’s reputation. Misconception number one is that all Zinfandels have residual sugar. The more elegant Zins will be fermented dry. ‘Zinfandel only pairs with Barbeque’ is the second misconception. More and more winemakers are making elegant, structured wines that will pair well with lots of dishes. And not all Zinfandels are necessarily fruit-forward and lacking structure. These are misconceptions numbers three and four. Many Zinfandel vineyards are grown in warm climates, but more and more winemakers are growing Zin in vineyards that are at high altitude or in cooler climates. This is what will give the wine its structure and subdue its fruit-forwardness.

The 1910 Block Zinfandel from Limerick Lane is made from grapes from a vineyard planted in 1910. The vineyard is located in the northeast corner of the Russian River Valley. The wine has the intensity of old vine fruit, blackberry, and spice with a lean acidity from the cool nights of the region. Its elegance bucks all the misconceptions that Jake Bilbro has set out to overcome.

Zinfandel has been grown in the United States for over 150 years. It has truly become America’s grape. And as America’s wine tastes have become more sophisticated and elegant, so has America’s Zinfandel.

The Longest Blog I Have Ever Written; Why You Should Attend WBC18

For my fellow wine bloggers who have not, yet attended the Wine Bloggers Conference, here is an overview of all the things I experienced in a short four days. I write this in an effort to persuade you to attend next year’s conference in Walla Walla Washington. It is a fantastic experience for many reasons.

img_1931We arrived in Santa Rosa on Wednesday morning and after a quick lunch at Jack and Tony’s where I had the best burger of my life, we boarded a charter bus for a field trip to Mendocino County, a place I had heretofore not been. Mendocino, the bottom of a temperate rainforest is breathtakingly beautiful! We were taken to Fetzer Vineyards, just outside the small town of Hopland. Fetzer was founded in 1968 and has been implementing sustainability practices since its beginning. The winery also incorporates organic farming and is biodynamic certified. This is quite a commitment, especially from such a large production winery.

img_1894As we exited the bus we were led to a barn where we were greeted by Courtney, a master of organization, and enjoyed a glass of Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay. We sat on hay bails hearing the rain come down on the tin roof as we listened to a panel of experts in the fields of sustainability and biodynamics. After the talk, we were led by winemaker Bob Blue in a Zinfandel blending. We each had a chance to make our own bourbon barrel blend that was later judged by a tasting panel.

img_1920At the end of a fun and educational afternoon, we got back on the bus and were taken to Campovida Winery where we entered yet, another barn and enjoyed a wonderful family style dinner along with some lovely wines including the Campovida Arneis, a crisp, zesty little white wine. After dinner and dessert, we were taken back to our hotel in Santa Rosa.

img_1965The next morning we got on the bus at 7:30 am and were driven back up to Mendocino where it was still raining. In Ukiah, we had a tour of the Bonterra Vineyards. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the vineyards on a misty morning while sipping a Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc which was as crisp and fresh as our rainy morning. Bonterra is another large producer that practices organic, sustainable and biodynamic grape growing.img_1961

img_1976Our walk led us back to a barn where we had the opportunity to fill cow horns with cow pooh to be buried in the vineyards as part of the biodynamic practices. We washed our hands and sat down to a wine tasting in the barn where the wines were presented by the Mendocino winemakers. We got to hear from nine winemakers and tasted through close to 30 wines.

Once the tasting wound down, we returned by bus to Santa Rosa to begin the conference. Yes, all of these activities were a pre-conference excursion. The conference had not, yet begun.

img_2031That afternoon back at the hotel I attended a panel discussion and tasting on Zinfandel. My next session was on Etude wines, a discussion, and tasting. After my education sessions, I cleaned up for dinner and had time to stop by the opening reception which featured several (20 to 30) producers offering tastes of their wines. I could only stay for a short time, sampling a few wines and visiting with old friends from previous conferences. Then it was time to board the bus for my Jackson Family Wine Dinner, where we were treated like royalty at the beautiful Kendall-Jackson Estate.img_2036

On the second day of the conference, we heard talks on professional wine writing by speakers such as Andrea Robinson, MS and Debora Parker Wong, DWSET, as well as Cyril Penn of WineBusiness.com and Fred Swan of the San Francisco Wine School. After a short break, I attended a panel discussion on What Companies Want from Wine Bloggers. Lunch was catered. After lunch, I attended a tasting and discussion on the Carinena DOP.  There was another short break and then we heard a talk from the keynote speaker, Doug Frost, MS, MW one of only four people in the world to hold both a Master Sommelier and a Master of Wine. His talk was very entertaining and inspirational as well as educational. But the day was not, yet finished. We spent the next hour and a half Live Wine Blogging white and rosé wine. This portion of the conference is also known as speed tasting. The producers (there are 25 of them) came to our table and had five minutes to introduce their wines. We tasted and made notes on Twitter. Even with only half the producers making it to our table in such a short time, this was a very intense session that required more gut reactions than thoughtful evaluation of the wines. But it was an awful lot of fun. The day ended with another fantastic wine dinner at the Thomas George Estate where we had dinner in a cave.img_2076

My last day of the WBC began with the breakout session, Take Your Camera off Automatic given by Jeff Burrows who taught us a lot of great tips on how to take better pictures both with a camera and with a phone. My second breakout session was Lights, Camera, Action, a panel discussion on using video and working the various social media platforms. After lunch, I attended the Rias Baixas discussion and tasting. The afternoon offered discussions on the Wine Country Fires and How Media Can Respond to a Crisis. They were both sobering but needed talks. Then it was time for more Live Wine Blogging, this time with red wines.

The conference closed with one final wine dinner, with all attendees together. And this is what I loved most. The meals, the talks, the wines, the winery visits were all wonderful. But what I love most about the WBC is the attendees. Throughout the conference, I could and did strike up a conversation with whomever I sat next to on the bus, or at the dinner table, or in the audience or at the speed tasting, and know I would have a good conversation. Wine bloggers are a warm, creative, thinking and collegial group. I enjoyed the wine, but I really enjoyed the fellowship.  Cheers to you, wine bloggers!

Fire and Rain

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FDDBE0A6-4C97-4D31-9E9D-D2CE902B3D82Mendocino County is at the bottom of the temperate rainforest. It is also in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Because of its climate and location, Mendocino County has a lot of rain and a lot of fog. It also has a great diurnal range, climbing altitudes and rolling hills with beautiful soils making this county ideal for grape growing.

Mendocino is a rural county dotted with a few small towns like Hopland and Ukiah. It is quiet here and agriculturally-centric. One is more likely to see grape growers in high boots than vintners in slick suits. The land is beautiful and so is the wine.

The Butler13_300dpiThe rain was pouring down in Ukiah California as I sat in the barn of Bonterra for a wine tasting. Our gracious hosts kept us warm with the fire of propane heaters. It was while sitting by the fire, listening to the downpour that I tasted Bonterra’s Rhone blend called The Butler made from grapes that are sourced from Butler Ranch. The wine is dark, smoky and seductive. The 2013 is 80% Syrah with the rest of the blend being made up of Grenach, Mouvedre and Zinfandel. It is aged in French Oak and has flavors of smoky bacon, blackberry, black plum, anise and a hint of menthol. The wine is both rich and elegant.

Like Napa and Sonoma Counties, Mendocino County was effected by the fires last month. Most tragically, there were lives lost. There were homes lost. But for the wine industry, while a few wineries did sustain some damage, the 2017 wines of Mendocino will be largely unaffected by the fires. Most of the harvest was in and the vineyards were untouched by the fires.

Mendocino is the quiet sister to Napa and Sonoma. She has a quiet elegance. But she is also lush, vibrant and beautiful. This county is not only okay after the fires, she is thriving.

Enjoy the View

C472D356-6C16-4DE8-9D6F-E9CFED9F1A82From the vantage point of a bench on the Lake Tahoe beach with the backdrop of a glorious sunset, peoples’ lives rolled in and out of view like snippets of home movies. A bride with her sailor husband and his sailor groomsmen came down to the beach for pictures. She looked cold and we wished they would hurry up and take the pictures so that she could put on a coat. But they were as a group, happy, celebrating and impervious to the cold.92ED000A-915B-4C9A-B9CA-D9B45A9A2571

 

89285AEE-7B0C-42E7-8AAC-AF111040297DA mother with her two boys and a golden retriever spent some time on the beach. The boys were throwing a football and the mother threw a stick for the dog over and over again into the cold water. Each time the retriever brought the stick out then fell into the sand and rolled in the gritty grains, looking forward to her next chance to retrieve the stick.

A grandmother brought her daughter and baby granddaughter to the beach. The baby, maybe 1 ½ years old was clearly still struggling with walking. The sand made it all the more difficult, coupled with the fact that it was cold enough to have been bundled in a puffy winter jacket that held her arms out at 45-degree angles. She looked like a drunk Michelin man as she conquered the sand.

Four older men walked along the beach singing loudly. They must have been old drinking buddies out for another night of just enjoying themselves. There was a young couple who came down just to get pictures of the sunset and each other. All of these lives rolled in and out of our view, all enjoying a beautiful evening on the lake.30819952-EF1A-4560-B54F-DFAAA82A4887

Wine takes us places. A living thing from different parts of the world, wine is a liquid travel log that introduces us to different climates and cultures and lives. The winemakers’ stories are a part of the wine’s terroir. Each sip is like a snippet of a home movie.

When Writing is not Enough

 

A94D8EFC-1C49-4019-8AC2-F99F45C38A0CDear Wine Bloggers Conference Organizers, Please put us to work. We cannot in good conscience come to Sonoma to celebrate. Now is not the time for revelry. But we can come to Sonoma and we can work. We can help with clean up, we can help with organization, we can help in the shelters or with fundraising. We can and will certainly help with spreading the word that in spite of the devastation that has hit our beloved wine country, Sonoma and Napa are still alive and still vibrant. Most wineries are still open and operating. We are all more than eager to write about this beloved place. But please let us do more. Put us to work. We want to help.

Sincerely,

A Wine Blogger

What Wine Pairs with Parenting?

 

“Well, yeah, it’s a day off, but after this, I pick up the kid and take him to soccer practice, then help him with his homework, then put together something for dinner. So, it’s not really a day off,” said Gary, a 40 something father in our wine-tasting group. It wasn’t that he was complaining. He was simply trying to explain to Dani a 20 something, not yet a parent, how becoming a parent kind of redefines ‘free time’ and absorbs days off.

I couldn’t help but back up what Gary was saying. “Once you have kids, there’s no such thing as time off.  Time to yourself becomes a precious commodity. That’s true from infancy until young adulthood. Parenting is work, energy, attention and all of your time. Going to a job is easier than parenting because at work you have both hands free and are in full control of where you want to focus your thoughts.”

Dani got a pained look on her face. “You guys are making rethink the whole kid thing.”

BlogFebreguesHow does one explain the joys of parenthood to a wine person? I think like this. The time before kids is like Chateau Febregues a crisp citrusy rosé from Costieres de Nimes. It’s made from Grenache and Syrah grapes and has flavors of strawberry, cranberry and lime zest with a hint of mineral on the finish. It is light, bright, refreshing and delightful.

Parenthood is like Chateau Haut Bergey a right bank Bordeaux from BlogBergeyPessac-Leognon. It is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. Intense and earthy, this wine has great structure with aromas of chocolate, licorice, dark fruit, dried herbs, and tobacco. Rich and layered, each sip presents a new aroma. Chateau Haut Bergey is a deep, complex wine that demands time and attention.

Bordeaux are not cheap and they require some thought to truly appreciate. But I can’t imagine life without Bordeaux.