Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Conn Creek Barrel Blending & Cupcake Pairing Challenge


On Sunday December 13th Thea Dwelle, (AKA: Obi Wine Kenobi) in partnership with Paul Asikainen, Guest Services Manager of Conn Creek, hosted a bloggers blend-o-rama in the Conn Creek AVA Room in Napa Valley.

Just last week I participated in The Wine Sensory Experience in Calistoga where I challenged my scent abilities, so the AVA Room Blending Experience seemed the logical next step in my wine experience portfolio.

The AVA room was designed to create a blending experience offered nowhere else. According to Paul the tax licenses and bottling permits needed to allow guests to blend their own wine and take it home were intricate and mind boggling to say the least. But the end result seems certainly worth the effort in my opinion.

The room has nineteen barrels in all, fifteen barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon representing the diversity of American Viticulture Areas in Napa Valley and one barrel each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec & Petit Verdot. The Cabernet barrels are grouped according to five fruit complexity profiles— Soft, Supple, Complex, Rich and Bold. Each barrel had notes about climate and soils (including a soil sample) and a map indicating where the AVA is located.

The tables were set with beakers and glasses and a blending book for note taking giving the AVA Room the air of a very high-end test lab. (If high school had been this deluxe I might have majored in Chemistry.) Paul gave us an overview of the blending process and then we were set free to begin. The first step is to taste from each barrel and note what samples appeal to you most. Then after you have an idea of what blend percentages you’d like, you fill your beaker accordingly and then test it in the large tasting glass.

This is more work than you might think, and a lovely buffet lunch was provided to help us keep our strength as we blended. Inspiration can come from almost anywhere and it was a selection of cupcakes on the buffet that led to my wine blend philosophy. It seemed there were as many different cupcake flavors (red velvet, pink champagne and black cherry) as there were Cabernet Sauvignon AVA’s and I was inspired to create the perfect Cabernet to pair with cupcakes, something bold and complex to complement the sweetness of the cupcake.

My final blend was as follows: 40% Stags Leap District from the Clo Du Val Vineyard. 40% Rutherford, Hozhoni Vineyard. 10% Rutherford, Conn Creek Estate Vineyard. And 10% Merlot. I ended up choosing all moderately warm climates across the board. And all had volcanic soil components as well.

The AVA Room Barrel Blending Experience was tremendous fun and very educational to have access to all the Cabernet samples in one place. The only thing I found difficult about the experience was the math conversion—going from a 100 % beaker to the 750 ML blending beaker. Luckily for this journalism grad there was a conversion chart in the back of the blending book and Paul graciously helped me out when I realized I was filling my large beaker with the wrong percentages. (Hint: start with the big percentage first and work up)

Once your blend is done you choose a bottle and a cork and in one swift pull on the corker you have a sealed bottle. Final step-- design and apply your label and that’s it.

Supposedly, we will drink these blends in a blend-off-challenge to be held at the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington. But I don’t know if mine will last that long. I’m ready to open it right now. For more details and information on The Conn Creek AVA Room Blending Experience visit their website here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Scents and Sense Ability: The Wine Sensory Experience in Calistoga


Early this week my friend Kerry Eddy, of Tom Eddy Wines, invited me to The Wine Sensory Experience in Calistoga to take the scent challenge offered in their wine education classes. Dare I take a test in which I go head to head with an experienced winemaker? Heck yeah! Bring it on.

The Wine Sensory Experience is not as science fair or Exploratorium-esque as it sounds. It’s actually one part wine education, one part tasting room, and one part gift shop. T’Anne Butcher, who has been involved in her families wine business (W.H. Smith Wines) for over 30 years, decided to open The Wine Sensory Experience to give groups a casual and fun way to learn the basics of scents and aromas that can be detected in wine. This is something I’ve always been curious about and I have even toyed with buying one of those scent vial test kits to hone my olfactory skills.

Here’s how it works: Five to six opaque glasses with glass lids are set up and arranged according to aroma types such as Fruit, Pinot Noir, Herbal, or Barrel scents. Then you sniff each glass and try to guess what it is. This is NOT EASY!! You are provided with a clipboard and test sheet that lists each flight of scents with blanks where you write in your response.

With our pens at the ready, we began the test. Kerry started with the Barrel scents while I tried the Fruit Aromas. We then moved around the stations recording our answers until we had completed them all. Afterwards T’Anne gave us the answers.

I correctly guessed the blackberry, liquorice and bacon fat scents, and All Spice too. I flubbed apricot, mistaking it for strawberry and also mistook vanilla for coconut. I was completely stumped by scent # 5 on the Pinot Aromas even though I absolutely knew it was a familiar scent. I guessed celery root and then wrote down cabbage as a base note. The answer? Wasabi- or more commonly known as Horseradish!

Another revelation was the scent I considered to be distinctly “barnyard” was actually white pepper. But as soon as T'Anne mentioned it was white pepper, I could suddenly smell it. It’s like those negative space puzzles where you stare at an image and only see a face and then, once it’s pointed out, you see a goblet or different object altogether.

I was amazed how such a simple exercise opened up my eyes, not to mention my nasal passages to the dynamics of scent. Also I was happy to learn that my recent Lambrusco mishap did not permanently damage my sense of smell as I had feared.

The next exercise involved Barrel Component samples that allowed you to see and smell how barrels play a part in the flavor profiles of wine and the differences in American and French oak barrels that had been toasted. The heavy toasted samples looked black and charred like charcoal briquettes, but they were the least oak smelling. I loved the scent of the no toast French oak and was surprised how delicate it was compared to the medium toasted American oak.

After the scent tests we tasted some of W.H. Smith wines and I felt like I was sniffing wine for the very first time. Once our sensory experience was done, and the tasting completed, it was time for some very serious business-- shopping! T'Anne carries a clever selection of wine and non wine merchandise and I came away with the door mat in the photo below that parodies location maps that state “You are here”.

The Wine Sensory Experience was exactly that-- an experience. It was fascinating, intriguing and challenging. I now find myself taking sniffs of everything at the market and I try to associate the smell and aroma to a mental trigger so I can identify the scent again when I taste wine.

T’Anne changes up the scents according to the season so you could go through the experience several times and not be presented with the same aromas. I plan on going again in January when my sister is in town. I think this would be a great prelude to a day of tasting or even just a fun outing on it’s own.

Private groups of 6 or more can be arranged and T’Anne mentioned that she had just booked a session for a group of executives from Goggle. So maybe sensory exercises are the next big thing for off–site team building. It sure beats the heck out of the ropes courses that were all the rage in the past. I mean really, I don’t need to jump off a tower to test the trust of my peers thank you very much. I think a team building exercise at The Wine Sensory Experience would be far more stimulating and creative than one that includes the possibility of falling to one’s death.

Classes are $25 a person and consist of eight sensory exercises involving different groups of scents such as Fruit Aromas, Herbal Aromas, Pinot Noir Aromas, Oak Barrel and more. When you consider that some wine scent aroma kits cost upwards of $300, the class is an absolute bargain. Plus you get the guidance of a professional like T'Anne, something you won’t get sniffing vials on your own at home

For more information about The Wine Sensory Experience you can check out the website here. (Oh and by the way, my friend the winemaker? You'll be glad to know she scored way better than I did!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obligatory Thanksgiving Wines Post

It appears to be all the rage to post about what wines to serve on Thanksgiving. So here's mine.


{NOTE: If you came to this post looking for Thanksgiving Wines to Pair with Annoying Relatives you’ll find it here.}

Everyone has been asking--What are you going to open for Thanksgiving? Well normally if all the family is gathering at my house the first thing I want to open is a vein, but barring that I like to cope with Prosecco from the Valdobbiadene region of Italy followed swiftly by a few pre-dinner Negronis. I select a variety of whites and reds to pair with dinner.

Whites: Viognier, preferably Bonny Doon, which I adore. I usually always have a Riesling on hand and lately I've been loving the Kim Crawford unoaked Chardonnay from New Zealand. I also like Costomolino Vermentino from Sardegna.

Reds: Mostly I go with all Italian wines since my family is Italian so I typically have Dolcetto and Nebbiolo but since most everyone is dead now, I think I will break with family tradition and I'm leaning towards the Mourvedre from Quivira and possibly the Shane Valenti Ranch Syrah.

Extra Wine in Food: It has become a tradition to make my Mother's famous "Tipsy Cranberry Mold" which is basically Jello with fruit and wine used in lieu of water. It sets up kinda weird and it's not all that good, but as kids we loved it for the way it made us feel all warm and numb, and that's important if you want to create a harmonious mood around the dinner table. Just for nostaliga sake, I've included the recipe written out in her own hand below.

Recipe calls for 6 Cups Red Wine!
Post Meal: It's Grappa shots all around. My favorite Grappa is Grappa Di Sarno from a boutique distillery in Umbria.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Related posts:  Thanksgiving Wines to Pair with Annoying Relatives

Friday, November 13, 2009

Experiments in Wine and Health Care: Lambrusco in the Netti Pot

A few weeks ago I gave my glass of wine a little bit too hearty a sniff, and darn if I didn’t inhale a tablespoon or more of wine. It was a bit shocking not to mention messy. But afterwards I seemed to be able to breathe better. Probably because I was no longer on the verge of drowning.

So today I was having some allergy problems due to an ongoing bathroom remodel in my house and figured I should use the neti pot to do some nasal irrigation and prevent any build up of nasty sheet rock dust in my sinuses. Normally one uses a salt or baking soda mixture in a netti pot to create a harmonious yet cleansing environment in the nasal and sinus cavities. I didn’t have any salt or baking soda on hand so I turned to what I thought would be the next best thing—Lambrusco. I just happened to have some left over from the night before. It was fresh and bubbly even a tad astringent so I figured why not and poured it in the netti pot.

On the palate the Lambrusco’s fruity effervescence is light and pleasing, but up the nose and thru the sinuses it’s downright roiling. The pain was so sharp I thought my eyes were going to explode and my brain stem was going to pop out my ear. The Lambrusco that did not go thru my sinuses backed up into my throat and all I can say about that is that wine is best experienced by going over the tongue en route to the throat, not the other way around. I’m hoping I did not introduce any harmful bacteria with this stunt but I figure the alcohol content will kill off any stray microbes. I don’t recommend that you actually try this if you want to have access to your olfactory senses for the remainder of your life, but it was an invigorating experience and left my sinuses feeling as clear as limpid pools of spring melt in a glacial valley.

Next time: Getting Crazy with the Cheez Whizz & Ear Candleing with Twizzlers

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Haber Family Vineyards

Sue-Marie and Ron Haber

Recently I was invited to a tasting of the 2006 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon with Ron and Sue-Marie Haber at the haber family vineyard on Howell Mountain outside Angwin.

It’s always great to meet new winemakers who are excited to share what they love, and especially nice to meet people who are as unpretentious as their wine.

Ron and his family have been in the construction business for several generations and specialize in metal and glass systems for commercial structures. Many of the glass edifices and decorative elements you see in major buildings in New York and around the country are work of the W&W Glass Company.

Thus it is fitting that the label for their first release the 2006 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon is a windowpane through which you see the moon and the stars above the mountain ridge. Reflected back by the moonlight is the Haber logo. It’s a clever label that encapsulates the elements of Haber’s past achievements and the prospects for the future.

The bottle we tasted was decanted the evening before and I noticed many changes in the wine as we sampled it. Ron is a fan of mountain fruit and his wine reflects that bold flavor. I detected deep berry fruit but also notes of chocolate and even mint. Sue-Marie laid out a lovely lunch including some roasted figs, which she at first thought too ripe and sweet to serve, but I thought they were just right with the wine.

Winemaker Tim Milos, who also creates wine for Rubissow and Howell at the Moon, gave us details on the soil, weather conditions and the challenges of growing in this particular region.

For now the wine is in its early stages, but I think a nice lamb and butternut squash stew might coax it out of its shyness. Haber’s background creating glass structures of integrity, strength and elegance may prove to be good experience for making wine with the same characteristics. And just as the label depicts, the Haber wine is a wine for reflection.

The Details:

Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon

Aging: 20 Months

Fermentation: 85% French New Oak

Bottled: August 15th 2008

380 cases produced

$80 a bottle


Monday, October 26, 2009

A Touch of Glass

I received a sample of the Eisch Breathable glass and conducted the following experiment to see if it had any noticeable effect on the wine. I was not paid to write this and I probably won’t be offered to sample anything else after this, but a girl can hope.

The premise behind the Eisch glass is that it is designed to be “ breathable” and aerate the wine faster than decanting. I tested the Eisch glass along with a glass of similar size, shape and quality.

I am a big fan of good glass. I really believe a fine crystal does make a difference in the wine. I don’t know if it has to do with the molecular viscosity aspect ratio of the permeable membrane dynamics or if its due to fairies with pixie dust…but I can tell a difference. (BTW I just made that membrane dynamics stuff up– but sounded good no?)

There are two questions that are usually posed regarding glasses and wine.
1. Can a great glass make a good wine better? {I say yes.}
2. Can a great glass make a mediocre wine great? {No}. There is only so much the fairies can do. Bad wine is bad wine end of story.

But let’s get back to the Eisch test.


I have a set of very nice Waterford glasses from the Robert Mondavi collection, which are pricey but beautiful and really show off a nice wine. I don't use them everyday, and I’m probably not going to serve you wine in them when you visit, but I do drink out of them when I have a nice wine I want to savor.

The Eisch glass instructions said that within two to four minutes the glass would work its magic and aerate the wine as if it were decanted for an hour.

I poured wine into both glasses and waited three minutes. Then to create a double blind scenario, I blind folded a friend and had her smell and taste the wine without letting on which glass was the Eisch and which glass was the Waterford.

Well right off the bat the whole blindfold thing was a disaster because on the first sip she misjudged where her mouth was and spilled wine all over herself. Oh what a mess. But after she got cleaned up we decided it would be best if I just held the glass up to her lips to sip and avoid any more accidents.

So that worked pretty well. She sat blindfolded with her arms to the side and I held the wine up to her like some high priest giving communion. Then right in the middle of the experiment my husband walked in on us and you would of thought we were conducting some sort of satanic ritual the way he looked at me. And I have to admit it did feel kinda of cult like, but not kinky in an Eyes Wide Shut sort of way, just a bit odd is all I’m saying. But I guess he was not expecting to see our neighbor in the living room blindfolded and in her bra*. (*it was a sports bra so not pervey as you might think) Anyway I thought it was hilarious. He did not and mumbled he had to go to the hardware store. But I insisted he stay and try the experiment as well.

Results:
Friend: She found the bouquet more pronounced in the Eisch and felt the wine was more open and fuller and preferred the Eisch to the Waterford glass.
Husband: His impressions were the reverse, he found the wine in the Waterford glass to be more open, fuller bodied, and flavorful.
Me: I found the Eisch glass gave the wine a rounder fuller mouth feel and bigger flavor at first but after about 15 minutes I could not tell a difference between either glass.

So all I can conclude from the experiment is that we did indeed notice differences but could not agree on what the differences were.


Then just for fun we drank the same wine out of coffee cups (Illy heavy white porcelain cups) and that was a shocker. The wine really did not taste as good as it did in the glasses. I’m guessing that it’s because of the way the thick fat lip of the cup makes you purse your lips more and possibly interferes with the palate, while the super fine thin edge of the crystal glass allows you to sip the wine right in between your lips with no awkward mouth maneuvers. I don’t know the reasons for sure, but there really was a noticeable difference in the wine sipped from coffee cups vs. the wine glasses.

Conclusion:
I think there was a difference with the Eisch. But I also think it’s because the Eisch is a nice glass and nice glasses make a difference.

Final summary:
Eisch Glass: $40-45 (SRP)
Cellarrat Pinot Noir: $42
Look on husbands face upon seeing neighbor blindfolded and in her bra: Priceless!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Plotting Pinot



Last Sunday I was invited to a tasting featuring wines made by Alan Baker of Cellarrat and also the wines of Mark McWilliams of Arista Winery in Healdsburg.

The group in attendance were mostly experienced wine bloggers and professionals (@winebratsf, @thesnarkhunter, @oenophilus, @dmhoro, @thebeerwench, @sharayray, @dirtysouthwine and @DanicaSattui) Even though I blog about wine I don’t really think of myself as a wine blogger, but more as a writer that happens to like wine. I tend to think in terms of story telling and relating an experience rather than writing about wine with just facts and figures. And honestly at this point I really don’t know my malolactic fermentation from my elbow, so I’m approaching learning all this wine lingo in much the same way I learned Italian. I studied here and there, but most of all I had lots of exposure to people who spoke the language and then one day poof--- I just suddenly understood what people were saying. I’m hoping this will happen with wine speak too.

The one thing I absolutely love about winemakers, the thing I can most relate to, is that they are deeply devoted to crafting something wonderful that will connect with an audience, you, the consumer. And that’s exactly what it is to write. You toil away and hope to produce something that your readers can connect to, relate to, find resonance in-- be it a serious piece or humorous--and in the process reveal a deeper part of yourself just by putting it out there. So winemakers are like writers too. Instead of adjectives and nouns and paragraphs, etc. they craft their story (the wine) with the elements of land, climate, and grapes.

Alan has the spirit of a writer in my opinion, and through his wine I believe I got a better understanding of who he is. His story/wine is not a quick beach read by any means, it’s a deeper more nuanced tale, much like a well crafted thriller that grips you right away and keeps you interested till the last page or drop as the case may be. Pinot Noir with a ‘film noir’ sensibility.

As we tasted the samples, I began to get a sense of the journey the wine makes on it’s way from vine to barrel to bottle to your table and I could almost see the gears working in Alan’s head as he thought about what each wine needed and where it might be going.  


Alan Baker (left) Cellarrat winemaker 
Alan poured a sample of the The 09 Perli Valley and said it was “after fermentation but before malo” whatever the heck that means—but to me it tasted shaky and a bit like a Geritol iron supplement. {Note: I’ve never had Geritol, I’m just guessing.} Alan explained how the wine would evolve from a high acid profile after it went through the actual ‘malo’ stage of the process and smooth out the edges. I noticed the bottle had what looked like MILF written on it and I know what that stands for, but could not for the life of me figure why you’d put that on wine and I sure as heck was not going to raise my hand and ask what it meant at that point. Then later I saw it was MLF not MILF and realized it stood for the aforementioned 'malolactic fermentation'.

For me, tasting barrel samples is similar to reading a first draft of a book. The basics are there but it needs tweaking, polishing, greater development to be a full manuscript. I could detect particular elements in the samples that were like characters in a novel just introduced, but not yet figured into the plot.

We also tasted the first ever Cellarrat bottle of 2006 Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard from Anderson Valley and it had all the makings of a best cellar. But be it a bestseller or best cellar, my palate believes that Alan Baker has a long career ahead of him as a top winemaker.

***
Next we met with Mark McWilliams of Arista and tasted Pinot Noirs from vineyards of varying elevations. I was surprised by how clearly I could detect the differences in the wines as reflected by their growing conditions. I favored the 2007 La Cruz Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, which I found very balanced with mellow tannin action. And I also liked The Toboni Vineyard Pinot Noir, RRV-- This was a wine I’d like to spend more time with and get to know all it’s complex ways on a rainy day with something savory like duck or a rabbit ragout over polenta. And that was the thing about the wines of Arista I enjoyed most--with each one I tasted I immediately thought of what I’d like to eat along with it.


 Mark McWilliams of Arista

I was impressed that Mark seemed as excited about the wines as we were, as if  he was tasting each wine for the first time as well. He also seemed truly grateful and humbled by the incredible land and surroundings in which he lived. It was almost like he was still in awe of the great life that he was living and thrilled to be able to share it and tell the history of it all. Maybe Mark will be all jaded and spoiled in about twenty years, but I sincerely doubt it. He appears quite genuine and his wines echo that sentiment as well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Roaming the ARTrails

A couple of times a year in the Spring and Fall a wonderful thing called the ARTrails happens in Sonoma County. It’s an event in which participating artists open up their homes and studios to the public to view their work. It’s a great way to meet artists in your immediate neighborhood and to see work that may not be scalable to a gallery viewing, especially those who work in very large formats or incorporate the land on which they live to showcase their work. I visited two artists that go beyond the confines of an indoor studio. Peter Crompton in Santa Rosa is a sculptor painter and set designer. The property around his home is filled with his work both large and small. Peter and his wife have created a magical landscape with their art nestled in the tress and plants and pathways.


You can view more of Peter Cromptons work at his Web site www.cromptondesign.com


I also visited Karen Wyse in Orinda for the East Bay ARTrails. Karen is a sculpture and collagist and a believer in using everything (and I mean everything) in her artwork, nothing is wasted. Like Peter her property is full of trails leading to works nestled around trees roots as well as hanging high from tree limbs. Photos and videos can’t really show the multiple layers upon layers of stuff that permeate Karen’s art and the entire property. It’s all best viewed in person where you can stroll around the grounds and be shocked and amused all at once.

Over the years I have given Karen boxes of items that she recycles into her sculptures and shrines. Last year after my mother passed away I was overwhelmed with stuff from the past, so instead of throwing it out I gave it all to Karen. In the video below I take a close look at one of her large outdoor “installations” that she calls the Voodoo House Shrine and I discover a multitude of things from my past.



Here are a few of the other artists I visited:

Tony Speirs in Graton www.tonyspaintings.blogspot.com
Maylette Welch www.mylettewelch.com
Jewel Kishmiran www.jewlkishmirian.com

ARTrails is one of the best free events in the county and great way to support and discover the artist in our midst’s. Visit www.ARTrails.org to learn more.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harvest Epiphany












Here’s some advice: If you ever get a late night tweet from Dr. David Horowitz, Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University, inviting you to participate in a “fun, fun, fun” grape harvest be very careful before you reply in the affirmative. I did say "Yes" and the next thing I know, Dr. Dave was at my door at 5:00am to whisk me off to an undisclosed vineyard to pick Pinot Noir grapes. As instructed, I brought water, gloves, clippers, hat, sunscreen, and my own 5-gallon bucket.


The vineyard was shrouded in fog when we arrived and I could hear the soft muffled “flump” of the grapes being tossed into buckets between the vines. The cool damp air smelled like cotton candy. We got a quick tutorial on what to look for in the grapes. Clean full clusters--good. Moldy, mostly raisins, or bird pecked clusters-- not so good. Then we were set loose to start harvesting. Oh the thrill of it all. For the first two hours I found it rather meditative and relaxing. (Probably due to the fact I was not yet awake.)

By the third hour the thrill of it all began to wear off and I was in serious need of more than water. But being around all those grapes was not calling me to have wine. Beer was the siren song in my head. Strange thing that.

By the fourth hour I was starting to wonder if Dr. Dave even knew what the word fun meant since he used it so liberally to entice me to the harvest. But he is Marketing Professor after all, so it’s all part of the con job. If something is called fun more than once, it probably means you are in for some hard labor. To maintain my focus and waning energy I tried to imagine I was in Spain or Chile or Italy paying for the experience. This is just the type of activity people with more money than sense would pay dearly for. Would I pay $5000 for the chance to pick grapes in France and stay in a Relais & Chateau property like this? I just might. Of course we gringos are not very good at sustained labor. Our pasty white skin burns quickly and our pudgy hands callous fast and we never shut-up or stop complaining. We like the idea of hard work way more than the doing of it. But we jump at the chance to participate in something authentic and briefly don the mask of one who is no stranger to manual labor. Then afterward we like to bask in the afterglow of a job well done while we get pampered at the Spa.

By the fifth hour, the fog was long gone, the sun directly overhead, and any illusions I had that harvest work was fun had been burned to a crisp. My hands were cramping from squeezing the clippers, and my fingertips were pruned from my grape juice soaked gloves. My arms ached from lifting the buckets and my feet numb from tripping over the mounds of plowed dirt. I began plotting revenge schemes in my head to get back at Dr. Dave for getting me into this chain gang.

Then right about the time I was about to lose all my will to carry on I had an epiphany of sorts or perhaps it was a minor sun stroke, but I realized that I am very much like the Pinot Grape itself— fair, thin-skinned and weather sensitive. And with the sun directly overhead, I too was close to being crushed. Yet despite my whining, I have to admit I did manage to have some fun. Plus I learned a few very important things along the way:

1. I am the perfect height for picking grapes. 5’1” is the magic metric if you want to avoid breaking your back bending over to reach the grapes.

2. The joy of harvest decreases exponentially with the declination of the sun. It’s all fun and games till the fog burns off.

3. The professional grape harvesters are amazing to watch, poetry in motion with speed and efficiency. {The four professional Mexican laborers picked more in two hours than all the rest of us did in six hours.}

4. No matter when you ask the grape boss or harvest master (or whatever you call the person in charge) how much longer to go, they will always reply—“Just one more bin to go. Keep picking!”

5. Cutting off the finger of a person on the opposite side of the vine from you is considered to be very bad form.

I think my eight hours of grape harvest experience may just last me a lifetime. And here's one more bit of advice in case you get invited to a harvest--Just say "Oh I'd love to, but I can't make it that day." And then run in the other direction.

Harvest Epiphany

Or A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (with apologies to David Foster Wallace for the title) Note: Just posting this now since my hands finally have feeling in them again.













Here’s some advice: If you ever get a late night tweet from Dr. David Horowitz, Marketing Professor at Sonoma State, inviting you to participate in a “fun, fun, fun” grape harvest be very careful before you reply in the affirmative. I did say "Yes" and the next thing I know, Dr. Dave was at my door at 5:00am to whisk me off to Ketcham winery to pick Pinot Noir grapes. I brought water, gloves, clippers, hat, sunscreen, and my own 5-gallon bucket—a brand new super sturdy high grade PVC bucket that I have a feeling I will never see again.



When we arrived the vineyard was shrouded in fog and I could hear the soft muffled “flump” of the grapes being tossed into buckets between the vines. We got a quick tutorial on what to look for in the grapes-- clean full clusters-- good. Moldy, mostly raisins, or bird pecked clusters-- not so good. Then we were set loose to start harvesting. Oh the thrill of it all. For the first hour or so it was rather meditative and relaxing. (Probably due to the fact I was not yet awake)

I said very little and focused on my cutting skills While the others chatted away. Most of the people at the harvest had gone to high school or college together so they had a very familiar sensibility and manner with each other that involved calling one another douche bags and other such terms of endearment at the crack of dawn.

I was hazy on the details on who and what this harvest was for, but the gist of it as follows: The guys in charge of the harvest were all members of something called the "20-30 Club", which I think, judging by the conversations I overheard, is a club for guys in their 30’s with at least 20 moving violations or something like that. I’m guessing the wine was going to be made and then sold as part of their “get out jail” bail bond charity. But I'm just sayin'.


The solitude of the harvest

The main problem of the day seemed to be lack of bodies to cut the grapes. An all points bulletin had been put out to get people to work that morning but not many took up the offer. One of the guys claimed two Canadian girls he met at a bar the night before would be arriving any minute. What a pick up line must have been!—“Hey! Wanna come back to my place and pick grapes? It’ll be hot! Really!”— Heck, a Canadian may just fall for that line. But the girls never showed.

By the third hour the thrill of it all began to wear off and I was in serious need of more than water. But being around all those grapes was not calling me to have wine. No. Beer was the siren song in my head. Strange thing how that works.

By the fourth hour I was starting to wonder if Dr. Dave even knows what the word fun means since he used it so liberally to entice me to the harvest. But then again he is Marketing Professor so it’s all part of the con job. If something is called fun more than once, it means you are in for some hard labor. To maintain my focus and waning energy I tried to imagine I was in Spain or Chile or France or Italy paying for this experience. This is just the type of activity people with more money than sense would pay dearly for. Would I pay $5000 for the chance to pick grapes in France and stay in a Relais & Chateau property like this? I just might. Of course we gringos are not very good at sustained labor. Our pasty white skin burns quickly and our pudgy hands callous fast and we never shut-up or stop complaining. We like the idea of hard work way more than the doing of it. So we need to pampered all along the way to get us to think we are doing something authentic, meaningful, and fun.

By the fifth hour, the fog was long gone, the sun directly overhead, and any illusions I had that the work was fun had been burned to a crisp. I began plotting revenge schemes in my head to get back at Dr. Dave for getting me into this chain gang.

Right about the time I was about to lose all my will to carry on, the ubiquitous Sparkel Farkel aka Shana Ray aka @sharayray showed up to make me laugh. She managed to pick some grapes, tweet about it, and answer her email all at the same time without so much as mussing her hair. You can read her take on the whole thing here.

It's a big logistical undertaking to harvest grapes and get everything where it needs to be in a timely manner. The grapes we picked were going Cahill winery for the sorting and crushing. And although all the "20-30" guys in charge of the harvest were very nice, I’d hate to be out to sea with them, as I’m afraid the boat might run aground or capsize while they argued about the best way to sail the ship. Just kidding, sort of.

Despite my whining, I have to admit there is something about intense shared labor that is very bonding and I did manage to have some fun. Plus I learned a few very important things along the way:

1. I am the perfect height for picking grapes. 5’1” is the magic metric if you want to avoid breaking your back bending over to reach the grapes.

2. The fun of harvest decreases exponentially with the declination of the sun. Fog = Good. Direct Overhead Sun = Not So Good. It’s all fun and games till the fog burns off.

3. The professional grape harvesters (the Mexicans) are amazing to watch, poetry in motion with speed and efficiency. {The four professional laborers picked more in 2 hours than all the rest of us did in 6 hours. Talk about skilled!}

4. No matter when you ask the grape boss or harvest master (or whatever you call the person in charge) how much longer to go, they will always reply—“Just one more bin to go. Keep picking!”

5. Cutting off the finger of a person on the opposite side of the vine from you is considered to be very bad form. Not to mention life altering for the other person.

6. I am very much like the Pinot Grape itself: fair, thin-skinned and weather sensitive. With the sun directly overhead, I was close to slipping into a grape induced coma and ready to be crushed.

I think my six hours of grape harvest experience may just last me a lifetime.
Thank you to the "20-30" boys and Dr. Dave for all the fun. Really, Thank you.



This is Domonic. He seemed to be the one everyone loved to rag on and generally disparage the most. But hey, that’s what friends are for.


The cutest little wine baby ever made an appearance.


Dr. Dave and his laundry basket bustin' a move on the vines.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Peek Behind the Scenes at Dutton-Goldfield

Last week I got the opportunity to visit Dutton-Goldfield at the winery space they share with Balletto. Sarah Kelley gave us a pour and tour of the facility and Brandon Lapides, the assistant winemaker, showed us a bit of the process while the harvest was underway. For a relative newbie like myself it was very informative and great fun to see the harvest action and a behind the scenes look into wines that are literally made in my backyard. I can see the Russian River Valley and the Dutton-Goldfield winery from my office window. (I almost sound like Sara Palin-- I can see the Russian River from my house!)

Watching the bins of grapes come in and get tossed into the machine that crushed them and spit out the stems (I think it's called the de-stemer) reminded me of a huge sausage grinder at work. Maybe not the the most appropriate analogy but that's what came to mind for me. Take a look.



The Dutton-Goldfield portfolio of wines offer a snapshot of the Russian River Valley & Green Valley AVA. Each wine is a direct expression of it's unique climate and location. Of the wines we tasted I was most impressed with the Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir RRV 2007 , the 2006 Sanchietti Vineyard Pinot Noir, and the Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah.

Now as I watch the fog roll in and out in the valley below, glass of Pinot in hand, I have a greater understanding of what the weather can taste like. You can view a map of the vineyards here and read more about the wines and the people behind them here.

NEXT POST: Hands on Harvest

Monday, September 21, 2009

What I Read This Summer


Summer flew by as usual but I was able to get in quite a bit of reading despite the time wasting distraction of Twitter. I average a book a week, sometimes more. Is there such a thing as binge reading? If so, am I book bulimic? Oh well, there are worse things I guess. Here in no particular order are some of the books I read this summer. The links in most cases go to the authors site rather than amazon. If possible I suggest you buy your books from your local indie bookstore. Indie Bound is a good resource for locating the store nearest you. It's more important than you think.

***

Blackberries in the Dream House By: Diane Frank --Lyrical long tone poem about a relationship between a geisha and a buddhist monk.

An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town By: David Farley --I loved this whacked out book about a town in Italy and it’s preoccupation with a scared relic. You can find Farley on twitter here.

August Heat By: Andrea Camilleri, Stephen Sartarelli--Another in the Camilleri series about Sicilian detective Inspector Montalbano- if you like Sicily you’ll like this.

La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language By: Dianne Hales--I enjoyed this book. But unless you have a real love for the Italian language you might find this to be more than you bargained for. Hales is on twitter @becomingitalian.

Wind Shift By: Andrea De Carlo--Have only read De Carlos previous books in Italian, and this, his first written in English, leaves much to be desired.

The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life By: Andy Raskin-- Another book I learned about on twitter. This was like the Male version of Eat, Pray, Love -- Eat, Pray, F#*k. Raskin is on twitter @araskin

The Enthusiast: A Novel By: Charlie Haas-- Captivating and thoroughly enjoyable. Hass is on twitter @Charlie_Haas

Yellow & Green: Not an Autobiography of Marcy Chen By: Marcy Chen--I learned of this book and of Marcy Chen on Twitter so did not really know what to expect. It reminded me of the movie Double Happiness which is also about a young ABC (American Born Chinese) woman navigating the world at large. Chen used to be on twitter but her account is no longer available. UPDATE: Chen is back on twitter @marcychen

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table By: Molly Wizenberg-- Was okay, but somehow I expected more from this blog to book, book. Wizenberg naturally is on twitter @mollyorangette

The Learners by Chip Kidd- Interesting but it’s no Cheese Monkey. The Cheese Monkeys is still my favorite Kidd book. Kidd is on twitter at @chipkid

Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence By: Geoff Dyer (second time read)--This is one of my all time favorites. If you are a writer you will love it and if you are not a writer you will love it.

The Ongoing Moment By Geoff Dyer—Fascinating epistle on photography and the archetype of photos by the leading photographers of the last 100 years.

Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic by Redmond O'Hanlon--Fabulous, funny, crazy, romp into the deep sea of O'Hanlon's brain riding on a perfect storm of narrative.

Narrow Dog to Indian River by Terry Darlington--Two Brits and their dog. take a long skinny boat down the Intercoastal waterway on the Atlantic coast.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky--Duh of course he's on twitter @cshirky

Out of Exile: Narratives from the Abducted and Displaced People of Sudan By Craig Walzer, Dave Eggers, and Valentino Achak Deng --Amazing and devastating personal stories from interviews conducted by Walzer with the Sudanese.

Marco Polo Didn't Go There: by Rolf Potts -- Collection of Potts' stories and his comments on the story behind the story. Rolf is on twitter but keeps a very mute low profile @rolfpotts

Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness, and the Man Who Found Them All by Perry Garfinkel -- This sojourn into the world of Buddhism and the road to enlightenment is funny and informative. Perry is sort of on twitter @PerryGarfinkel

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald-- An Australians quasi- spiritual experience setting up house in India.

So, what did you read this summer? Next up: Fall Reading List.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wines of Portugal - Spotlight on Quevedo








I'm still catching up with posts from WBC09. But this one is long over due.

On Saturday evening at the WBC09 there was a tasting of the Wines of Portugal sponsored by Vini Portugal. Prior to the event I met Oscar Quevedo and Nadia Adria on the bus, and I was eager to sample the Quevedo wines and learn more about their winery. Oscar and his accomplice Nadia perfectly reflect the young, hip, new generation that Quevedo seeks to reach as they position Port as an accessible every day wine.

Although the Quevedo winery was founded in 1991, Oscars Quevedo’s ancestors have worked in the Duoro river valley in Portugal and produced red wines and Port from port grapes of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, and Tinta Barroca for several generations.

Both sides of Oscar's family (His father and his mothers side Guilhar-Morias) have been in the port business for over 130 years. So you might expect that Oscar's career path was pre-ordained to join the family business. But Oscar followed his own interests and decided to study finance and economics. After he received his degree, he worked as an investment banker in Spain and Geneva. It is only recently that the lure of family tradition won out, and Oscar joined Quevedo as their Marketing Ambassador and Export manager.

Oscar travels the U.S. and Europe promoting their brand with seminars and tastings to show the range of the wines. Part of his mission is to introduce new audiences to the wonders of port, and change the perception of Port as something only enjoyed after meals with dessert and a cigar.

One of the challenges of Port is that you sometimes have to wait 30 years to really appreciate it. So Oscar suggests Quevedo Porto Rose, as a great wine to drink in cocktails with a spritz of soda water or twist of lemon, and a nice introduction to Port without the wait.

Surprisingly, it in the U.S. that Oscar has found some of the most knowledgeable Port enthusiasts. Michael Wangbickler is one example of such an enthusiast, and his blog The Tawny Times can be found here.

Oscar views bloggers as well as traditional media as the key to spreading his message and uses many tools of social media including twitter to increase the brands reach. Quevedo's comprehensive web site is a great place to learn more about their history and wines and it includes short videos of the current harvest and wine making process. You can also follow Quevedo on twitter at @Quevedo and Oscar at @oscarswine. But the perfect place to start might just be with a glass of Quevedo Special Reserve Tawny Port. Afterwards, let Oscar know what you think!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

PART III -Gen-Yine Road Trip

Note: While the Gen-Yine Road Trip is a parody, it is based entirely on real events of Project Yine, I mean really, who could make this stuff up?

After 18 hours on the road our girls arrive at Ashley’s Uncle Terry’s house

S: OMG! Like who lives here Hugh Hefner? What a bachelor pad.

Uncle Terry: Come in Girls, have a cigar, your gonna fly high, your never gonna die, your gonna make it if you try.

A: Uncle Terry!!

S: Um what is he saying? Sounds like he’s quoting song lyrics or something.

A: He is, but don’t worry you’ll get use to it.

UT: Sit down have something to eat… Oh did I tell you the name of the game? It’s called riding the Gravy train….

Uncle Terry sets out an amazing array of food and drink and cigars and they all feast. While they dine Uncle Terry plays a steady stream songs about the lovesick and lonely and 70’s rock ballads.

UT: So Sharayray are you in the market for any surgery?

S: Uhh No.

UT: Well some day you will be. Here take my card. You know we are just dust in the wind. Just a drop of water in an endless sea…but if you ever need gastric bypass give me a call. How do you think my little Niece here can eat so damn much!

S: OMG! ASHLEY!

A: He’s just kidding. Come on Shana, let’s go out to eat, I’m still hungry.

UT: See you later girls. Remember maybe a great magnet pulls all souls towards truth or maybe it is life itself that feeds wisdom to its youth.

Uncle Terry lights up a cigar and plays k.d.Lang ‘Constant Craving’ and stares out into the night sky.

***

The next day our heroines leave Arizona for their final destination-California. This time Shana drives while Ashley takes a little snooze.

A: —Hey I swear I just saw an enormous hot link drive by.

S: What are you talking about?

A: A great big sausage, like a huge hot dog.

S: I didn’t see anything. I think you meat eaters are all crazy.

A: So where are we? I’m hungry.

S: You just ate 30 minutes ago!

A: Well I could go for some bacon burgers and side of fried clams.

S: Eeesh.. Ash, are you sure your Uncle didn’t alter your stomach?

A: No way. I’m just hungry a lot. Hey look up ahead it’s the border!

S: I see it! The border of California! Oh I can feel it! Oh yes! So close…Yes, Yes, Yes, here it comes—AIYYYAAAA (sound of a breaking glass)

Just seconds after crossing into California a 30 foot long all beef wiener comes crashing through the back windshield and wedges into the dashboard.

S: OMG! OMG!

A: Holy Bacon Bits!

Yes friends, the worst has happened… Our heroines have been rear ended by the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile in broad daylight. Luckily no one is seriously injured but Ashley’s car and the Wienermobile are in bad shape. As Ashley deals with the police and tow truck, Shana decides to interview the Wienermobile driver.

S: So, like, what do you like to drink when—

Wienermobile Driver: Drink? Who said I was drinking? I never ever ever drink and drive the Wiener! NEVER! Nooo. That would be so wrong!

S: Chill out dude, I just meant what do you like to drink when your not driving the wiener….um that sounded weird…I mean what do you drink when you’re off wiener duty, oh nevermind...Dude you should get another job. Seriously!

A&S get a lift to the closest town and rent a car for the remainder of their journey to Healdsburg. As they drive the last few hours of their trip they talk about all that they have learned with the Gen Y-ine Project and survey.

S: Well, there was not much wine drinking going on outside of Austin and our buddies from Another Wine Blog-- Amy and Joe.

A: Yeah it seems like most everyone under 29 drinks beer.

S: And it seems that the beer they do buy is mostly local stuff.

A: Yeah home crafted and home brewed --local favorites rule! Well, right after Budweiser they rule.

S: And the few Gen Y-iners we found that did drink wine said it was because someone told them about it.

A: Yup, word-of-mouth seems to be the major influencer.

S: And Social Media, while everyone was on it, and uses it, and swears by it, does not seem to be driving a lot of actual sales for wine or beer.

A: Yeah seems to be the case.

S: So Ashley

A: Yes, Ray Ray?

S: I think I knew all this already, before we even started this whole trip! I don’t think I really uncovered anything new about Gen Yine and in the process I suffered unbearable heat, horrible food, witnessed the consumption of untold amounts of bacon and other hideous meat products by you and everyone else, had the worst nightmare of my entire life, and then to top it all off-- got road reamed by the freaking Weiner Mobile!!!

A: So?

S: So I’m thinking where should we go on our next Project Y-ine road trip!!!

Cue music- Waterloo by ABBA as the sun sets slowly over the pacific and our heroines blaze into the night.

Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war Waterloo - promise to love you forever more Waterloo - couldn’t escape if I wanted to Waterloo - knowing my fate is to be with you Waterloo - finally facing my waterloo

Monday, August 24, 2009

PART II - Gen-Yine Road Trip

Excerpt From the Secret Diary of Sharayray aka Shana (Project-Yine co-director and wine blogger)














Dear Diary:
DAY 3 Louisiana to Texas--
I am beginning to worry about the success of Project-Yine. Ashley is coping well and seems not to be bothered by the heat or the lack of wine. But it’s only been BEER BEER BEER since I got here. So far the only Gen-Yine folks that have turned out to meet us are guys in their 40’s that live with their mothers!

I am getting weak from the lack of mental stimulation and the complete lack of anything that is edible. We have seen nothing but Waffle Houses and Huddle Houses and Budweiser for days now. When I say I’m a vegan and don’t eat meat I’m told to order the Hush Puppies. Helllooo! This thing they call Hush Puppies is just Fried Bread!

Maybe I should have thought this out more before embarking on a cross county trip with someone I barely know. And I swear if I have to tell one more person how to say my name I’m going to shoot someone! It’s Shana…rhymes with banana. Not Shana rhymes with--well pronounced like that it rhymes with nothing.

DAY 4 -AUSTIN
Finally a speck of hope on an otherwise bleak landscape. AUSTIN I LOVE YOU! OMG! On the 8th day God created Austin. I can eat again. I think I might just move into the Whole Foods here. It is an oasis of hope in Texas. I never want to leave. I’m afraid of what might await us on that long desolate stretch of 1-10 called West Texas….

DAY-5 Wenchie says we should just make a mad run for it and drive all the way to Phoenix in ONE DAY!! OMG it’s going to be grueling, but the sooner we get out of this state the better. Talk to you later diary….

Later just past El Paso in West Texas we find our heroines still driving--

A: We are not far from the border now Shana, why don’t you just go ahead and take a nap. I’ll wake you when we get there.

S: Okay. I sure could use some rest.

Hours later Shana wakes up to find herself in a huge fluorescent lit room with hundreds of Gen-Yiners seated in front of computers starting straight ahead to a stage with a big screen flashing pictures and words.

S: Wenchie where are we?

A: Um well, I have something to tell you.

S: What is this place a tech support center?

A: No Sharayray it’s the Blogger Deprogramming Center. And I’m not exactly who you think I am…

Yes, our beloved Shana aka Sharayray had been tricked into thinking she was part of a study for Project-Yine, but now finds herself miles below Yucca Mountain at the Robert Parker Blogger Deprogramming Center for Wayward Wine Bloggers.

Shana sees a giant picture of Robert Parker lit by spotlights surrounded by posters of 98 point shelf talkers while on the screen the following words flash by:

THOU SHALT NOT BLOG

WINE BLOGGERS ARE INHERENTLY EVIL

I AM NOT A WINE WRITER

I AM A LOWLY BIT OF FLOTSAM IN THE WINE UNIVERSE

All the Gen-Yines repeat what they see in a monotone drone. Shana now notices they are all chained to their chairs as well. Their voices boom inside the cavernous room--

“THOU SHALT NOT BLOG”

“I AM A LOWLY BIT OF FLOTSAM IN THE WINE UNIVERSE”

Shana screams—
S: Noooo No! OMG!!

Shana tries to run, but Ashley grabs her arm and starts to shake her.

A: Shana! Shana! Sharayray! Wake up!

S: Oh hey, ummm …Where am I? Who are you?

A: It’s me Ashley. We’re in Arizona! I think you were having a bad dream.

S: OMG! You don’t know the half of it!

To be continued…

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