Tuesday, October 30, 2012

There’s Something About Carlton...

Carlton, Oregon may not have the starring role in a Farrelly Brothers movie, but it could certainly have its own reality show about the spirit of collaboration, fine wine, and beautiful living. Yes, there’s something about Carlton, and almost everyone one I spoke to mentioned there was an irresistible quality that drew them to the community.

After WBC12 Portland ended, I was part of a group invited back to Carlton, site of the Cuffed in Carlton extravaganza, for a closer look at what makes the tiny town so appealing for wine tourists as well as those just seeking an escape to a spot that puts the O in hospitality. That’s O, as in "Oh yeah, this is the place.”

Walk in the Park

I’ve been to many walk around tastings over the years but Carlton’s Walk in the Park was one of the most pleasant and relaxing events ever. It was a welcome down shift from the red line of WBC activity. At Walk in the Park we were left to wander at our own pace and just unwind. I sampled many of the wines in the tasting tent and then strolled through the art exhibits. There was a great band jamming out on one end of the park and a row of classic cars on display. I felt like Goldilocks --in that I’d found the perfect size festival, not too big, not too small, just right. O--"Oh yeah."

Republic of Jam

Come for the Jam,  Stay for the COCKTAILS! 

Later on after Walk in the Park we reconvened on Main Street at Republic of Jam with our hosts Amy and Lynette. What’s the best way to revive a tired wine blogger? With cocktails! But not just any old cocktails, no, these were inspired creations prepared from fine ingredients with speciality syrups and jams made on the premises. O--"Oh Yeah, this is the place!!!”

Losing my head at Republic of Jam

When @winebratsf talks...people listen!

Amy and Lynette of Republic of Jam -- the hosts with the most.

Post cocktail hour we stepped next door to the Horse Radish for live music and dinner. I almost did not recognize the place since the last time I was there for the Cuffed in Carlton Dinner. What a transformation. Now it was back to its regular configuration-- perfect for kicking back and enjoying the show. I’m sure we had some wine with dinner but all I remember was the excellent beer from Fire Mountain Brewery.

Casa della Valle
Joe and Eve of Casa della Valle

After dinner we were all given directions to our respective lodging arrangements for the evening. Melanie (@dallaswinechick) and I were pointed in the direction of Casa delle Valle, a few blocks away on Pine Street. We were told to follow Pine for several blocks and bear right as the road curved. You can’t miss it we were assured. We came to a fork in the road but it was very dark and we were unclear which way to head. We stumbled a few more blocks onward and I saw a man across the street from us. “Excuse me.” I yelled. “Is there a B and B around here?”
--A what? What’s a B and B? he replied. 
--Um, it means Bed and Breakfast.
--Oh that – yeah, it’s right in front of you.

Hey, we are wine bloggers not Lewis and Clark. Anyway that’s my explanation and I’m sticking with it. We rang the bell at Cassa delle Valle and were greeted by Eve who owns and runs the B & B with her husband Joe. Eve showed us around and I immediately knew Melanie and I had lucked out with the accommodations. Casa della Valle is more than a B & B-- it’s a treasure trove of antiques and collectibles; a mini museum of all things beautiful and many things kitsch. We spent close to 35 minutes just gawking and gazing at all the fabulous items Joe and Eve had collected over the years. O--"Oh yeah, this is the place.”

That night, tucked into my comfy bed, I got my first deep sleep of the week. In the morning I awoke to a gentle thumping sound that turned out to be Ms. DallasWineChick doing her calisthenics in the other guest room. That girl is in shape!
Breakfast at Casa della Valle--
notice the grape pattern on the china.

Eve prepared us a lovely breakfast and I wondered if she had chosen the grape leaf china pattern just for us. I seemed to be exactly the kind of special touch she would make for her wine blogging guests. I asked Eve how she started collecting. “Well,” she said, “My mother was weird …” Mine too I thought. No wonder I felt so at home there. Cassa della Valle may not be the fanciest or most expensive lodging choice in Carlton, but it is hands down the most fun and interesting. I guarantee that.

Just a few of the many wines of the region
If you are planning a trip to Willamette Valley region of Oregon and looking for a fine wine experience wrapped around great food, small town charm and hospitality-- look no further than Carlton. O--Oh yeah, Carlton is the place.


Featured Wineries & Tasting Rooms:
Link to Melanie’s Account of UnCuffed in Carlton

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Back to the Future at Buena Vista Winery --Some Like It Boisset

Whenever I get an invitation to any event that is associated with Jean-Charles Boisset I drop everything, clear the calendar, and make sure I can attend. JCB events are never dull and always illuminating in ways one can't anticipate.

Just about six weeks ago I was invited to tour the grounds of the newly restored Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma and witness the first grapes placed into the new custom built wine tanks as part of the Grand Re-Opening Ceremony. I live tweeted the event and posted video and pictures, but for a full account afterwards it takes me some time to process it all and the writer in me needs to let it marinate, let the essence of the experience bubble up in to my conscious.  Others have written more objective accounts of the day (see links below) —but if you want the magical mystery tour of my synapses read on—

Back To The Future
Upon arrival at the property we were greeted by the Count of Buena Vista himself –well actually it was an actor portraying Count Haraszthy— who was our escort on a journey back in time to the birth of California winemaking.

We strolled the grounds with the Count who led us past historical markers telling the story of the family and winery as we made our way towards the inner courtyard. Then Jean-Charles Boisset appeared and took us deeper into the property by way of the tasting room and museum, the courtyard vortex fountain, and of course the cellars themselves.

No stone has been left unturned, un-reinforced or unpolished--literally. It’s a restoration of the highest order. Only a Hollywood plastic surgeon could work more magic on the old fa├žade and restore it to its full luster and glory. From replanting the historic crops and trees and a complete re-engineering of the landscaping, to the total rebuilding of the cellar and tasting room— Boisset is moving Buena Vista back to the future and into the forefront of California winemaking and wine tourism.

There was ribbon cutting and sabering and cellar anointing. There was “Some Like It Hot” playing on continuous loop in the cellar. There was Tokaji, birthday cake, proclamations, and more celebrating. And of course there was wine.

Behind the Scenes of a Mastermind

In front of the cellar sits a fountain with a natural vortex used to dynamise the water for biodynamic practices. As I stood by the pool watching the flowers swirl by, I realized the mighty vortex of JCB had drawn me in once again. The master of events and spectacle had pulled another fabulous rabbit of wonder from his imagination filled hat. As usual I was curious about the work behind-the-scenes. I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall during one of the Boisset marketing and event meetings –I can just imagine the conversations that may unfold--

“We shall hang an alligator from the sky to commemorate The Counts tragic but awe inspiring demise in the jaws of a gator. Then we will feast upon gator meat and look death in the eye! Yes --we must honor Count Haraszthy --he is a hero, a super star like our modern day sports figures. Let us make him a modern hero, in zee modern fashion. --We must have zee bobble head made in his image!” 

Oh yes, The Count of Buena Vista bobble head. Such a thing exists. It’s sitting on my desk right now. Mine is imbued with mystical powers much like a Magic 8 ball and is able to answer Yes and No questions. I frequently consult it about the weather and fashion.

JCB is not selling mere wine, he is selling a sensate experience – a memorable affair that guests can savor long after the bottle has been opened—a memory that lingers in theater of the mind.

Dan Berger recently wrote a piece asking—“Is Jean-Charles Boisset the next Robert Mondavi?” I think in part he could be, but JCB is so utterly in tune to his own inner vision that whatever role he assumes will not be a replacement of Mondavi, but a completely unique interpretation and a legacy of his own devise.

Some Like It Boisset

While I watched the scenes of “Some Like It Hot” flicker on the cellar walls it occurred to me that JCB is so very much like the character Tony Curtis portrays on screen. He is the embodiment of the charm, the romance, the sophistication, and most of all the seduction. Some may not always understand his methods, but for visitors seeking an entertaining and educational wine experience—some will certainly like it Boisset.

I am looking forward to what Jean-Charles Boisset has to say about the state of wine tourism when he delivers the keynote at the 2nd Annual Wine Tourism Conference that will take place in just a few weeks in Santa Rosa. Wine tourism in all aspects is a great fascination of mine and I think his talk alone will be worth the price of admission.

I am working on behalf of the Wine Tourism Conference to promote the event. But my opinions and utter fascination with JCB are entirely my own.

Buena Vista Winery is located at 18000 Old Winery Road in Sonoma.

Other accounts of the event can be found here:


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