Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Women in Wine — Wine Bloggers Conference 2015

L to R: Amy Power, Karen MacNeil, Stevie Kim, Meaghan Frank
One thing I’ve noticed since the end of #WBC15, Wine Blogger Conference held in the Finger Lakes, is a lack of controversy over any of the panel sessions and speakers. Maybe those posts are coming down the pike, but so far everyone has commented on how convivial the weekend was, and most seemed very pleased overall with the speakers and sessions that were presented. 

One panel in particular that I really enjoyed was Women in Wine.

Wine writer Karen MacNeil; Meaghan Frank, General Manager of Dr. Frank’s Winery in The Finger Lakes; and Stevie Kim, Managing Director of Vinitaly International spoke about their success in the world of wine and the challenges they face, in a great thought provoking session moderated by Amy Power.

It was very interesting to hear the generational differences from the discrimination that Karen faced back in the early days of her career, to the relatively smooth path of acceptance that Meaghan experiences. But as Stevie showed in her very illuminating presentation—women still lag behind in the top power and decision-making positions, way behind. It’s not a perfect world for women in wine by any means.

I was surprised by some of the audience commentary that many women, even very young women, still feel intimidated. Lucky for me, I was blessed with good training for dealing with a patriarchal society--I went to Catholic school.

Even as a child I was constantly questioning the powers that be. I  could not adjust to the rigidity of the curriculum and the lack of answers to my questions. Eventually, at the age of eight, I was invited to leave Catholic school and I finally got to go to public school. I thrived in an experimental lab school with a non-graded system where pupils worked at their own level in each subject. I was only in third grade, but I studied at the sixth grade level with kids older than me. This gave me a leg up so to speak on the feeling of being an outsider, but also a sense that I belonged. When I ended up working in tech companies, where I was typically the only sr. level woman in the room, it did not faze me.

Stevie Kim said she wears heels to make sure she can look more directly in to the eyes of whom she is speaking with (and I did notice she has some amazing shoes) – I’d love to do that too if was able to walk in heels with out twisting an ankle. But everyone has to find their own technique. Heels or not, Ms. Kim has obviously made the most of her considerable talents and creativity to make VinItaly and many other programs promoting Italian wine a success.

The advice of the moment for women in the workplace is to “lean-in” to their careers. But I never lean in—I lean back and observe intently. I pay close attention to the conversation, especially the unspoken parts of a dialog, as more often than not it’s what’s left unsaid that becomes important. 

I’ve never felt held back or intimidated because of my gender. I just approach situations head-on. I know my skills, my value, my worth and I don’t let anyone else define me. 

I don’t think you can be equal on an unequal playing field but I believe you can change rules by your determination and presence at the table. Dealing with gender discrimination or exclusion by gatekeepers in the wine world, or anyplace is not easy. But it helps if you’ve been raised to believe your role is not merely to set the table, but to sit at the table, to own it--that it’s a given you belong, not an exception.

Being strong, outspoken, honest, and female is not an easy path. Not everyone will like what you have to say. And that’s okay. Do we need legislation to make sure women are compensated equally and fairly? Hell yes. But I believe the only limits for advancing and getting key positions in any industry are in one’s own head. I’ve worked with incredibly talented and supportive men and women in my career and I’ve also run into to some very difficult people, male and female. It’s not always about gender in the workplace, it’s about the individual.

I was very inspired by what the panel had to say, but I think Amy Power summed it up best at the end of the session—“Here are three great examples of people working in wine who just happen to be women.”



Stay tuned for upcoming posts--
Straight Outta Corning and WBC15: Finger Lakes Day-by-Day Recap

{Photo above sourced from @binNotes Twitter stream} 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Come for the Wine, Stay for the Camaraderie: Wine Bloggers Conference #WBC15

WBC15 Finger Lakes Speed Tasting Table with new and old friends 

W. Blake Gray’s post that the Wine Bloggers Conference is like adult camp is not a revelation; it’s an obvious observation from a first timer. Any veteran WBC attendee will tell you, wine is the topic of interest we rally around, but connecting with old friends and meeting like-minded wine lovers is the engine that drives the conference.

Call it Camp with Wine if you like, but it's often the only time of year most of us see each other. It's a time to meet the person behind a blog or Twitter profile you've been following. Ironically it's also the place I get to see friends that live nearby! Like Michael Wangbickler ‏(@mwangbickler) and Liza Swift ‏(@BrixChick_Liza). You'd think living in close proximity to each other we'd see one another more frequently but that is not the case.

The conversations at WBC revolve around more than wine: I spoke to Ken Hoggins (@KensWineGuide) about his daughters college plans and what type of degree would be best for her career (not journalism it was determined). I listened to Mykha’el Wilson ‏(@Mykhael) tell me about his difficult year coping with the death of his father and brother, a romantic breakup, and moving across the country. And I heard Alina’s (@onegirloneglass) tragic-comic story of the crazy family dynamics that erupted when her grandmother broke a hip.

The Wine Bloggers Conference is a gathering of a diverse group of people dedicated to wine, but also devoted to each other.

Three new friends in a shop window in downtown Corning

My goal at each conference is not to try and taste 300+ wines, but to meet and hang out with at least 3 new people. This year that mission was accomplished by meeting Regine Rousseau (@ShallWeWineChi),  Joanna Snawder and Gabe Manzo of (@WineFaveSnack). Three people I know I will keep in touch with in the coming year.

I’d also include W. Blake Gray in my list of new people. I’d never met Blake in person but was well aware of the reputation that preceded him as an opinionated, bombastic, take-no-prisoners wine writer that will rip you a new one if he disagrees with your view on a topic. (But in fairness, I’ll admit, he is usually right.)

I thought his shut down of Stevie Kim of VinItaly for being off topic in the Wine Writer panel was extremely harsh, I don’t think Stevie was trying to hijack the conversation, and she had a very interesting question that I’ll discuss in another post. But Blake’s outburst to re-track the conversation was like seeing someone explode with Tourette’s.

Yet after a delay of several hours in the Elmira airport, I saw another side to Blake—just a regular guy that wanted to get home like the rest of us. And his play-by-play call of the airline employees gathered around the wheel-well of our tarmacked plane was nothing short of hilarious. I also discovered he is a lightning fast runner as he loped out of the plane in Chicago and nabbed the last seat on the next flight to SFO (albeit the next day), while I got shunted off to Portland for the night and booked on a flight to SFO the following afternoon. 

Canadian pals from TownHall Brands Leeann Froese and Sujinder Juneja

It's impossible to have a meaningful conversation with everyone you meet at WBC, but if you make an effort, you can develop a friendship over three days that may very well last a lifetime.  

At the 2009 WBC, I sat down for my first speed tasting wondering: “What fresh hell is this?” Sitting across the table was a blogger who seemed to be thinking the same thing. That blogger was Frank Morgan (@DrinkwhatUlike). We’ve been friends ever since.

If you plan to go to Lodi in 2016 here’s a bit of advice: Come for the Wine, Stay for the Camaraderie.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Wine Bloggers Conference Preview: It’s a Glass, Glass, Glass!


In just a few days the 2015 Wine Blogger Conference will roll into the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York with the town of Corning as host.

Normally I’m excited to learn all about the wines of the region and visit the wineries, but this year I’m also very interested to spend some time at the Corning Museum of Glass. I keep hearing the chorus from Jumping Jack Flash in my head re-written as:

...I’m jumpin jack flash,
It’s a glass! glass! glass!

After I heard that one of the WBC receptions would be held at the museum I looked them up. On the Corning Museum of Glass site I came across the exhibits section and the pictures of vintage pyrex caught my eye. I grew up with these very bowls and square lidded containers that were the precursor to tupperware. I have two green pyrex bowls (see above)and my sister had the small red casserole with the glass lid and a large yellow dish too.


I had not seen the vessels for 20 years or more till my sister and I came across them in our mother’s kitchen after mom died. It was an instant memory buzz, a true blast from the past to see them in the cupboard. I can remember them in use on our dining table as if it were yesterday. When I use them, I feel like my mom and the rest of the family are right there with me. Which is great since everyone is dead now. It’s just me and the pyrex that have survived.

Don’t Diss My Vintage Glass

So yes, I’m looking forward to trying the many wines of the Finger Lakes, but I’m equally excited to visit the museum and see the vintage pyrex too, no matter what Frank Morgan @DrinkwhatUlike has to say.



Photo Credit: Pyrex photos from the Museum of Glass in Corning


Monday, June 15, 2015

Buena Vista Winery Re-dedication and the Wine Tool Museum

Mark Twain top center, not Colonel Sanders!
A Day of Dedications, Proclamations, and Historic Re-incarnations

On May 30th, 2015 I had the pleasure to attend the re-dedication of the historic Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma and the debut of the Wine Tool Museum. The event had all the earmarks of a JCB production: Fabulous food and wine and along with a serious element of history and reverence for the place in history Buena Vista Winery holds. The day unfolded around a splendid garden party with actors in period costumes and can-can girls that brought the era back in focus with period music and performances.


The sense of the past was palpable, although I originally mistook Mark Twain for Colonel Sanders. But it was a hot day and I blame the heat waves for the identity snafu. I realized my mistake when I asked Mr. Clemens for his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices and got a blank look in return. “Aren’t you colonel Sanders,”  I asked?
“My dear, I am Mark Twain! Samuel Clemens if you will,” he replied.

Ack! My Bad. But it’s an easy mistake to make about a guy in a white suit and string tie.

This video below captures all the speech highlights and general atmosphere of the day.



The Wine Tool Museum 
The Wine Tool Museum hosts one of the largest collection of original implements and machines along with an interactive sound, light and motion show that traces the history of the industry highlighting the tools and original devices that made large scale production of wine possible.

If you visit on a hot day, it’a welcome timeout from the heat, a cool refuge in which to sit and reflect. Afterwards you can taste a few of the current vintages.

Preserving History
The final renovations are now complete at Buena Vista and it’s well worth a visit for both history buffs and wine-lovers. It’s remarkable to consider the effort that was taken to restore the winery to its original visage.  No expense was spared to address all the necessary structural issues and turn the property from sagging to sensational, and make the original building a living legacy to the history of wine. Cheers to JCB and his team for preserving a piece of California history and injecting it with new life and purpose.

 Long live Count Agoston Haraszthy!

+++++++++++++++++++++
Wine Tool Museum details:
Museum Tours daily by-appointment at 11 AM, 1 PM and 3 PM
Tours are $10 per person, and include a wine tasting.
See more at: http://www.buenavistawinery.com

Monday, May 11, 2015

Thanks, But No Tanks -- A Word About Media Trips & Winery Tours


I’ve been all over the world in search of wine and the best wine tourism experiences. I’ve visited hundreds of wineries and toured countless tank rooms. I feel like I’ve seem them all: short tanks, tall tanks, round tanks, square tanks, indoor and outdoor tanks, and in a few places some truly enormous tanks.

Do I need to see more tanks?

No.

What I’d like to see, and rarely get to see up close and personal, are the vineyards. I like to walk the vines, see the soil, notice the light, smell the air, and get a feel for the land on which the grapes are grown.

Sure, some places don’t necessarily have their own vineyards, and in some locations it may be dangerous {think land mines in Croatia} or inconvenient to tramp through the vines due to weather or workers -- but still, I’d rather see the vineyards instead of tanks or any crushpad equipment that is not in use at the time.

Same goes for the concrete eggs. I’ve seen quite a few in the last few years, and expect to see more as the trend continues towards concrete as the new stainless.


But why do people feel so compelled to show you the tanks? Mostly I’m talking about media trips here, where in one day you may see more tank rooms than most civilian wine tourists will see in a lifetime. I guess in some instances it gives a view to the size of an operation, but unless there is some truly awe inspiring or special quality about the tanks like the mosaic embellished tank room at Juvé Camps in the Penedès region of Spain; or the tanks at Raymond Vineyards with half naked manikins hanging from them...well frankly, I don’t care.

It’s kind of like someone showing you all the features of their fabulously designed house and then taking you to a closet and saying grandly--“And here’s our water heater!” 

All I really want to do is when I visit a winery is learn about the vineyards, hear about the winemaking methodology, history of the winery, taste the wine, and make my own conclusions. I want to get a sense about the winemaker as a person and get the general ambience of a place. I don’t need to see the tanks.

Thanks, but no tanks.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Winemakers of Change: Four Advocates of the 7% Grapes

Clockwise: Mahle, Allen, Rorick. Photo credits below

Note: This piece was originally set to run as the cover story in Sip California but due to a publishing delay and the timing of 7% Solution tasting event, I’m posting it here now.

As you drive across the wine-growing regions of California, the majority of vineyards you pass will be planted with the big eight-- Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc. According to the USDA’s report on California’s wine grape acreage, these eight varietals are the most widely planted grapes; roughly 93%.

The remaining 7%* of the acres planted are rare and obscure grapes that many consumers have never tried or even heard of before. For growers, decisions on what to plant are based primarily on economic viability, not necessarily on terroir or for what grows best where. Yet for a small cadre of maverick winemakers it’s that seven percent, the uncommon and rare varieties, such as Aglianico, Grenache Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, St. Laurent, Tinto Cao, Friulano, Verdehlo, and Trousseau Gris, that are most appealing. *{It’s important to note that the 7% calculation applies primarily to the acreage of California’s North Coast.}

By focusing on the unusual, lesser-planted grapes, these forward-thinking producers are establishing an important knowledge base on Californian wine with regard to soils, climate, and farming techniques. Their efforts may predict the future of what’s in your glass, and herald a significant turning point in California wine.

Four of the most passionate advocates for the 7% grapes are Duncan Arnot Meyer of Arnot-Roberts, Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope, William Allen of Two Shepherds, and Pax Mahle of Wind Gap Wines.

If, as the saying goes, wine is fashion, then these winemakers are the avant-garde designers of the moment, sending Arneis, Counoise, Vermentino, and others down the cat walk with a strut of attitude.

MORE THAN FASHION

“I think we are just beginning to explore the inherent valor of light-bodied red wines in California,” says Duncan Arnot Meyer. His standout wine, the Arnot-Roberts Ribolla Gialla, is fermented in clay amphorae. He also makes a Rosé of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao that’s dry and light as parchment with a fresh scent of strawberry and spice.

“Much focus has been spent on making hearty, extracted wines over the past twenty years and the other end of the spectrum deserves more attention,” he says. “We are in the midst of a very exciting time to be growing grapes and making wine in California and the potential is being further revealed to us every year.”

Chasing the tough-to-grow, hard-to-pronounce, and at-times-persnickety varietals rather than follow the tried and true is not necessarily the path to riches and glory. The common denominator among the winemakers is the compulsion to follow their own tastes while pushing the prevailing expectations of what makes wine great. If it pays off, so be it.

“We make the wines we want to drink and love first, then find a following,” says William Allen of Two Shepherds. “I can’t tell you how often I heard in my early days, if I didn’t make Pinot Noir, how much I would struggle.”

Instead of making wine to fit a business/marketing plan, Allen makes wine to suit his palate. His love for Rhône varietals grew from a hobby into to a full-blown label, and his Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc, from Saarloos Vineyard in Santa Ynez, has gone on to achieve near-cult reverence.

“Our wines are appealing not just because of the variety, but for those seeking wines of restraint, lower alcohol, higher acidity, and finesse over brawn,” Allen says.

Pax Mahle’s focus on wines with a sense of place is reflected in his label name--Wind Gap—in reference to the Petaluma Wind Gap a viticulture sub region of the Sonoma Coast where the grapes are influenced by cool coastal winds and “…taste like where they are grown.” His old vine Trousseau Gris, an aromatic delight from Fannuchi-Wood Road Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, is fermented in concrete and available on tap at his grange-chic tasting room in Sebastopol.

Many 7% varieties have an ardent following by wine consumers looking for something new, but the masses have yet to embrace the full range of varietals. “People are more intimidated by a $26 bottle of California Vermentino that’s terrific with food than a $75 bottle of Chardonnay that’s so oaky and mass produced it tastes like it could have been grown in a lab,” says Mahle.

“The lesser-known varieties that the 7% is shining a light on are made to be enjoyed with ease and not put on a pedestal,” he says. “Not every obscure variety will become a favorite, but that’s the joy of tasting and experimenting and taking the journey of discovering what you like.”

INSPIRATION AND EXPERIMENTATION

These winemakers draw inspiration not just from the grapes. Diverse and esoteric sources including art, music, and literature informs their winemaking methodology. Matthew Rorick finds Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence an ongoing inspiration, and two of his wines, Suspiro del Moro and Sogni della Speccia, bear names from Rushdie’s writing. Meyer cites Frank Herbert's Dune as an influence, and compares a great wine to “the epic crescendo in a good version of 'Terrapin Station' by the Grateful Dead.”

A minimal approach to winemaking and willingness towards experimentation is a calling card of the avant garde, with many using "old world" techniques like native yeast, neutral vs. new barrel, concrete, no fining or filtering, and picking at lower ripeness levels. Indeed, many of the 7% wines exhibit an inherent lightness of being, alive with an energy that practically bounces in the glass.

For Rorick, a minimal approach applies to both winemaking style and case production. The Forlorn Hope wines are labeled as “rare creatures,” and made in lots of less than 2,500 bottles. His Que Saudade Verdelho, from the Sierra Foothills, is full of flavor and vibrant acidity—a veritable poem to the Portuguese provenance of the grapes.

Rorick was drawn to the less commonly grown grapes in California out of curiosity. He began to wonder, “How does Verdelho behave in the vineyard and winery? How would the approach to producing Alvarelhão differ from how I'd made Cabernet?”

It's not dabbling as much as purposeful experimentation with old vines and forgotten vineyards in a concerted effort to learn from the grapes and what in time may reveal what's truly California.

LOOKING FORWARD

“What might our vineyards look like today if Verdelho, Trousseau noir, Riesling, Chenin blanc, Tinto Cão, Arboriou, and other 'lesser-known' varieties had continued to be cultivated in diverse locations and larger plantings over the past hundred years?” Rorick asks. He would be delighted if all of the work being done with fringe varieties in California continued to deepen the understanding and relationship between site and vine, and forge a link between the state’s viticultural history and its future. “Continuing the exploration of this history is irresistibly compelling,” he says.

Are the 7% varietals destined to become just a passing fashion trend? The equivalent of wide-legged palazzo pants of the late 1960s? One day you’re in, the next day you’re out. Or will they become generally accepted and long lasting?

In the end, the change and shifts in wine culture may not come from the growers and producers, but from the new breed of wine drinkers, that once they get a taste, will drive the demand for more.

“These lesser-known varieties offer wine aficionados a much broader world of possibilities and palate experiences, and a chance to appreciate the benefit of old vines and historic vineyards,” Allen says. He sees it as an opportunity for California to distinguish itself, and believes the number of small wineries producing lesser-known varieties will continue to increase.

Mahle definitely believes the interest by growers and producers in 7% varieties represents a significant turning point in California wine. Rorick’s take, on the other hand, is more restrained: “Culturally significant? Absolutely. Turning point? Ask me again in ten years.”

THE 7% SOLUTION TASTING

The 7% Solution tasting event was the brain child of Duncan Arnot Meyers of Arnot-Roberts and Sam Bilbro of Idlewild Wines, who wanted to showcase the varietals made from the lesser-known varieties planted in only 7% of the acreage in the North Coast of California. 2015 will mark the third year of this not-to-be missed event. Details on locations and tickets below.

SAN FRANCISCO / Wednesday, MAY 6, 2015 / 5pm-8:30pm
FOLSOM ST. FOUNDRY, 1425 Folsom Street, San Francisco
folsomstreetfoundry.com / 415-795-3644

HEALDSBURG / Saturday, MAY 9, 2015 / 1pm-4pm
BERGAMOT ALLEY, 328A Healdsburg Avenue
bergamotalley.com / 707-433-8720

Tickets available here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Blissed Out on Portuguese Wine



It’s no secret that I think some of the most fascinating, knowledgeable, interesting and out-right fun people, are wine importers. (Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube Wine is perfect example of this.) In spite of the inherent risks, wine importers seem to possess some kind of plucky can-do attitude, compelled to carry on when others might give up. I find it inspiring to be around people who love what they do and there’s something very appealing about their enthusiasm for a region and their zest for bringing the story of the wine in their portfolios to life. Yes, I realize that a wine importer’s main job is to sell you on the wines. But the best importers seem to transcend mere sales talk and it becomes personal. The wines become a part of them and the level of excitement they generate for their “babies” is contagious.

I don’t remember how @BlissWineImport  got on my Twitter radar, but once I followed, I became instantly engaged with Alleah and Erin’s International Adventure in search of wine and their quest to become wine importers. Last year I followed along on their journey as they tweeted and blogged and made videos about their discoveries. It was like reality TV, but without the fake plot lines and bad commercials. It was fun, seat-of-the-pants, honest and un-pretentious.

So when I saw that Erin and Alleah had finally settled back in California I tweeted that we should get together. They agreed and graciously offered to bring samples of their latest imports from winemaker João Tavares de Pina of Quinta da Boavista in the Dão, Portugal.

What started out as a “come by for an hour” -- turned into a wine fueled odyssey of conversation, connection, and confessions. Well, I was the only one with the confession-- I admitted that I really wanted to back out of the invite an hour before they arrived because I’m actually a introvert of the highest order and I began to panic at the thought of hosting total strangers for an hour.


But 8 hours, 6 bottles, and 2 broken glasses later, I realized, I need not have worried. We had a blast, and carried on a non-stop conversation over our shared interests and belief in the connective power of great wine.

I’m already a big fan of the wines of Portugal and I was very impressed with the selections Alleah poured--three reds and a white all from Quinta da Boavista in Dão, Portugal. I did not take formal notes, but I found the wines tasted like pure Portugal to my palate. Hearty, rustic, full of spice, earth, red fruits, and dazzling minerality with a great depth of flavor that continued to open and evolve in the glass. The tannin profiles were robust and suited my preference for a taut backbone and structure, but were never overpowering.


First we tried the 2012 Rufia Red blend of -- 40% Jaen, 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Pinheira -Full minty mouthful with lots of red fruit and robust tannins.


Then we tasted the 2006 Terras De Tavares -- 50% Jaen, 50% Touriga Nacional -- Hearty, earthy flavors with a plusher mouth feel.


Followed by the 2003 Terras De Tavares - 60% Jaen, 40% Touriga Nacional. -- Deeper, more developed flavors with long lingering finish.


And finally, the 2008 Torre de Tavares 100% Encruzado that was love at first sip for me. This wine was a big OH YES! Not technically a true orange wine, but in the style I like to call the White Unicorn. Meaning it’s a rare and magical beast. Catch one if you can.

After tasting each wine, it occurred me that all together they were very much like a chord progression, a perfect harmony of flavors and structure that created a melodic sense of place. A wonderful riff, it was as if I could hear the sound of the terroir as well as taste it.

As Alleah poured the wines I could not help but notice the odd little fabric wraps around the necks of the bottles. They looked like mini ankle weights or leg warmers circa 1982 Jane Fonda ~ “Feel the burn!”~ but it turns out they were drip catchers called DripTeez. A product conceived, designed and marketed by Alleah’s mother. What an entrepreneurial-minded family! Anyway they worked great and nary a drip escaped down the bottles.

Check out the stunning Bliss Wine website designed and engineered by the talented Erin. There you can learn more about the wines, watch videos with the winemakers, and place an order for your own selections.

Bliss Wine Imports
http://www.blisswineimports.com/blog/

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