Thursday, January 18, 2018

WSET Diploma: Unit 3 Tasting Exam……take 2!

Photo Courtesy:

Last week I took the WSET Diploma Unit 3 tasting exam for the second time. If you recall I took both the tasting and the theory exams in June (read more HERE). I felt pretty good about the tasting (after all, that’s the easier portion of the exam and has a higher pass rate) and was nervous about the theory. Fast forward to September when I got my results. I had PASSED the theory exam and FAILED the tasting exam. Exactly the opposite result I had expected. I was in shock for a couple of days, but it was a blessing in disguise, because to have to retake that theory exam is a BEAR. It’s extremely difficult (and time-consuming) as there is so much information to cover. I shudder at the thought of covering my walls in 40+ flip chart sheets: France in my living room, the rest of Europe in my dining room, Australia and New Zealand in my hallway and the US, South America, and South America in my bedroom.

This tasting exam was different than the one in June, because I did not have a cohort to study with. In preparation for the exam in June, I met weekly for tasting groups with other Diploma students. We also had 6+ months to taste our way through the world of wine. In hindsight, I think the problem was that I was too focused on the theory exam. That was the tough part of the exam and what I focused my time on. I was a bit cocky with the tasting exam and just assumed I’d pass. Well……that didn’t happen! For this exam last week, I signed up at the beginning of October, which gave me 8 weeks before the exam. And out of those 8 weeks I was on the road traveling (some personal and some business) for close to 4 weeks. It’s a bit crazy that I even attempted the January test date, but the alternative was to wait until June, and I was just ready to get it over with.

Because I didn’t have a full group to study with, I made do! A couple Diploma students so graciously agreed to taste with me and help me with test prep. Other students gave me wines to taste through and study with. I went to wine tastings around town to get some exposure to classical regions (i.e. Bordeaux and Burgundy). A couple days before the exam, I was able to meet up with a gal who was also taking the exam (we had never met), but we spent a marathon evening together tasting through 18 wines! It proved to be a good move, as some of those wines were on the exam!

This time I went into the exam much more relaxed than in June. In June we had the tasting exam in the morning and theory in the afternoon. There was a lot of pressure and worry throughout the day for the theory portion, which didn’t allow you to focus on the tasting. Also, I was not 100% comfortable with the exam layout and details. In June, I lost a good 2 minutes (which is a lot of time!) trying to figure out which flight category I had in front of me, and not being sure which wine to taste first. All this was due to my text anxiety. When I went in this time, I slept well (no late night theory cramming) and I was quite relaxed at the exam site. I was prepared and knew exactly what to expect.

While I don’t have the results yet (and I won’t get them until April), I do feel that I performed better on this exam. The exam moved like clockwork.  I had prepped on exactly how I was going to plan my tasting notes and how I was going to make my final determinations of what wines I was drinking. Here are my thoughts on each flight:

Flight #1 Same Grape Variety

This flight ended up being all Riesling. Upon smelling all 3 wines, that was my guess. I got a strong petrol note on #2, which ended up being my marker and what lead me to record Riesling as the grape. I also called all 3 countries correctly. Wine #1 was Alsace, France (which I called). Wine #2 was Clare Valley, Australia (I called Australia though I can’t recall if I called Clare or Eden Valley). Wine #3 was Mosel, Germany (I called Rheingau, Germany).

Flight #2 Same Region

This was a white wine and two reds. Upon smelling the wines, I was not as decisive as I was on the previous flight. I felt we were in a relatively warm climate, as the two reds had quite ripe fruit on them. Upon tasting, the white wine was relatively unremarkable. It was clearly not an aromatic variety and clearly not Chardonnay, which eliminates quite a few things. Once I tasted #2 things got interesting. This was a sweet wine. A sweet red. Not many options there. Wine #3 was a higher alcohol red with ripe (almost raisined) fruit. Then it hit me. Veneto. I think we are in Veneto and these are all Valpolicalla wines. The options could be Soave for the white, Recioto for the sweet red, and Ripasso or Amarone for the last red. I ran with that and luckily called the region correct! For wine #2 they even asked us for the grape(s) and luckily I knew where we were, so I was able to list: Corvina, Rodinella, and Molinara.

Flight #3 Quality Assessment

In June, our quality assessment flight was 3 Chardonnays from Napa/Sonoma. These are pretty easy wines to peg. It was obvious we were drinking New World Chardonnay. This was one of the flights I passed on that exam. In January here, we had a flight of reds. I stuck my nose in the glasses and did not have an immediate sense of what we were drinking. I didn’t panic, decided to go through the tasting notes, and then make a decision. As I tasted through, I started eliminating things it couldn’t be, such as Cabernet Sauvignon (no black fruit), Zinfandel (not ripe enough), Pinot Noir/Gamay/Nebbiolo (too deep in color for any of these). In the end, I began to think these were either all Merlots or all Malbecs, as both have predominantly red fruit. Mind you, you do not have to call the grape or region with this flight. You just have to assess the quality. However, it doesn’t hurt, and in fact, is a good idea to have an idea what’s in your glass, so that your notes on structural elements (i.e. acid, tannins, body, alcohol, etc) are in line with the grape. I decided this was a flight of Malbecs. There was just too damn much plum on these wines to be anything else, and the color of these wines had purple to it, which is also a marker for Malbec. I was less clear on the quality levels of each wine, as most Malbecs I’ve had would fit squarely in the “good” category (those $8-$12 bottles at the grocery store or big box wine retailers). We’ll see how this flight shakes out!

Flight #4 Mixed Bag

This is generally the most difficult flight as the wines have nothing in common with each other. I had a tough time with the first wine. I did not have a sense of what it was, even after my tasting notes were completed. I went through my mental grid of grapes and came up with Semillon based on what I had written. Hunter Valley, Australia was my natural guess for region and country. This ended up being a White Burgundy (Chassagne Montrachet) 1er Cru. Whoops! Couldn’t have been more off. Nothing else to say here! Wine #2 was an oaked red, presumably with some age. It felt Old World to me and had the nose of either Italy or Spain. There’s a certain earthiness/rusticity I get in wines from both of those countries. I called this a Rioja, as there were call kinds of tertiary notes common in Rioja: tobacco, cedar, cigar box, etc. The wine ended up being a Rioja Reserva. Yeah! Wine #3 was obvious from the first smell. It had that pronounced “Marlborough Lift” that Erica Crawford had recently explained to me (see post HERE). Lots of green notes (grass, gooseberry, pear, etc). And once I put this wine in my mouth, it was all confirmed. This was a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. And by golly gosh, that’s exactly what it was!

There you have it. I am quite proud of how I showed on this exam (whether I pass or not!). I called (in some way or another), 11 of the 12 wines. When I think back to my tasting skills when I started the Diploma in June of 2015, I realize I have come a LONG way. I had no idea my blind tasting skills would develop this much! With that being said, I’m going to bask in this post-exam glow, and hope like heck I passed!

If so, my hubby and I will be on our way to London in January 2019 for the Diploma Graduation ceremonies! Until then, you’ll hear from me a lot more. I plan on blogging once a week, and I already have a pretty decent lineup of wine events/trips planned for the Spring.

For those currently studying with the WSET program, hang in there! Yes, it is a doozy, but the program is an incredible way to end up with a very good handle on the classic wine regions of the world, and not to mention decent knowledge of fortified wines, sparkling wines, spirits, and consumption/production patterns and trends around the world.

Have you taken any WSET classes? Would you recommend them to others? Comment below!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Lunch with Erica Crawford of Loveblock Wines

Erica Crawford and I

Early in 2017 I had the opportunity to attend an intimate lunch with Erica Crawford of Loveblock Wine at Wolf Restaurant in Los Angeles. There were 10 attendees in total, and it was one of the most well-executed wine lunches I have attended thus far. 

Most everyone has heard of Kim Crawford wines, specifically of their ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc.  Who, then, is Erica Crawford? 

Kim and Erica Crawford started Kim Crawford Wines in 1996. They bought in grapes, rented winemaking facilities, and produced Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that can be sold in less than a year from harvest.  It proved to be a good decision. Fast forward and in 2003 they sold their label first to a Canadian company and then a negotiation with Constellation Brands in 2009.  When all was said and done, the couple netted close to $50 million. Not bad for Kim who grew up on a rural farm in New Zealand.

What Erica found funny after the Constellation deal in 2009 is how they were referred to as an  "overnight success".  Yeah, sure. the tune of 13 years.  With the sale of Kim Crawford, they had to sit on their hands for a bit, due to a non-compete clause.

Kim Crawford Wines was Kim Crawford Wines.  Exactly what you'd expect out of a mass-produced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  Zippy acidity and forward green aromas and flavors.  THIS, says Erica (speaking of Loveblock), was their "love" block. Their passion project. 

Erica shared with us that in New Zealand there is an oversupply of winemaking students and not enough viticultural students. You heard it here first....move to New Zealand and study viticulture! New Zealand is know for being a pioneer in organic and sustainable vineyard practices. What an opportunity for young agricultural students to come to New Zealand and express themselves through grapes!

Loveblock has one of the highest vineyards in Marlborough. The first vineyard was bought in 2002. The soils are withered and depleted and give wines with more minerality.  Loveblock has a shared winery with their neighbors. The vineyards are certified organic with cattle onsite to eat grass and to reduce fire risk. Their manure is also composted. Those are the details on paper, but I can attest to the non-tangibles, the warm and fuzzies.  It is evident in Erica's carriage, demeanor, and the amount that she smiles that she is happy.  That this is truly a labor of love. Truly, a Love-Block.

Pairing Menu

To Start: Warm olives (harissa, preserved lemon, orange peel, chile de arbol, Rosemary) 
Holy shit. These are #slapyomama good!

Warm Olives

Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $23.99
Paired with: Hamachi Crudo
Nuoc cham, radish, herbs, puffed rice

The classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has the "Marlborough Lift" of big aromatics, big green flavors, and big acid. This is not that. This wine is more restrained on the nose and focuses of texture rather than big aromatics. Citrus peel (orange, lemon, lime), grapefruit, wet stone/salinity, stone fruit and a slight tropical note (passion fruit). It married lovely with the hamachi. A good combination of fat, acid, and punchiness.

Hamachi Crudo

Loveblock Pinot Gris 2013 $25.99
Paired with: Mushroom Risotto
Pine nut, sorrel, peas, pancetta

A beautifully delicate wine with notes of stone fruit (white peach), delicate citrus, minerality, and a slight smokiness characteristic of the Pinot Gris grape. Medium + body, medium + flavor intensity, along with dairy malo notes (the malo happens spontaneously with this wine). This wine is creamy and velvety, just like the risotto it is paired with. Fun fact, our chef, Marcel, foraged for the mushrooms in this dish.

Mushroom Risotto

Loveblock Pinot Noir 2013 $37
Paired with: Braised Beef Cheek
Jerusalem artichoke, endive, turmeric peppercorn sauce

Classic Pinot Noir notes of: red fruit (sour cherry, raspberry, and plum), dried violets, and a pervasive earthiness. This wine has medium acid, medium + body, and medium flavor intensity. With food, this wine really warmed up and showed notes of cedar, cigar box, coffee, and chocolate. Also, spice box (cloves and cinnamon).

Braised Beef Cheek

Loveblock Pinot Noir

Dessert: Blueberry Soufflè with Quince Sorbet

Blueberry Sorbet

A bit about Wolf Restaurant, our venue.  This is a superb restaurant in Los Angeles serving "Seasonal Modern California Cuisine".  I have since been back twice and cannot wait to return. Marcel Vigneron is chef/owner, and in my opinion, doing a fantastic job.  In regards to wines, they have a "tight and right" list, as I say.  Close to 30 wines with minimal varietal duplication, making each choice thoughtful and stand alone. Another fun thing I learned was Wolf's "zero waste policy".  They really believe in nose to tail dining, sustainability, and have a composting program. There even is a neighborhood pig!! I didn't get the full details on that, but how cool? There is a lovely food synergy, and as Marcel says, more nutrient absorption when you consume the whole product. Wolf is a treat.  If you find yourself in LA, I highly recommend a visit.

Marcel Vigneron, Owner/Chef

Interior of Wolf

A special thank you to Will Rogers and the team at Donna White Communications for putting this fabulous luncheon together.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Vintastic Voyage: Willamette Valley

As you may know, I am an event producer by trade and produce several large events throughout the year. One of my traditions is “getting out of dodge” after each big event, and Halloweenie last year was no exception. Yes, you heard me correctly, Halloweenie. Halloweenie is a big, fat party with lots of boys, music, and drinks! And it’s not just a fun time; Halloweenie is one of the largest fundraisers for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles every year. A party with a purpose, if you will.

Last November, after Halloweenie, I enjoyed my FIRST trip to the Willamette in Oregon. I’ve got a handful of family that live in Central Oregon, including my sister in Redmond, and my Aunt/Uncle in Bend. Fresh from my visit with them, I decided to tack on a side-trip to the Willamette and brought the family along!

The Willamette Valley is a vast wine region located between Portland and Eugene. It’s 150 miles long from top to bottom! The region boasts over 550 wineries with 20,000 acres under vine. Approximately 75% of that acreage is planted to Pinot Noir, its most well-known grape.

The Willamette is a “newer” region in the wine world, with vineyards first planted in the mid-60s. There are 6 sub AVAs in the region: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton.

The Willamette is situated between the Coast Range to the west, with an average height of 1500 ft and the Cascades to the east, which have peaks over 14,000 ft. This sandwich of mountain ranges give the region a mild continental climate though with strong maritime influences, as the Coast Range is not quite high enough to mitigate the ocean influences. The Willamette has a finicky climate with a good amount of cloud cover and precipitation. And a finicky climate calls for a finicky grape: Pinot Noir.

Most recently, Wine Enthusiast named the Willamette Valley 2016 Wine Region of the Year. And after my trip, I can see why! Read more HERE.

We spent a good part of our first day at Youngberg Hill in McMinnville, 25 miles from the ocean (some say these are the most Western vines in the Willamette). The first vineyards on the property were planted in 1989 by Ken Wright, one of the “gurus” of Oregon wine. In 2003, Wayne Bailey came in, bought the property, and has been farming grapes for close to 15 years there. Currently there are 20 acres planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, all dry farmed organically and biodynamically.

The first thing you notice at Youngberg Hill is the presence of animals. Upon arrival, a couple dogs greet you. The dogs are used for security (I found this hard to believe, as they were sweet as sugar) and to maintain pest control. There are frogs in the ponds and honeybees onsite. Most noticeably they have a small group of Scottish Highland Cattle (and a Black Angus!) that I wanted to take home with me.

Wayne describes the Youngberg Hill philosophy, “It’s all about balance and being in concert with nature,” he explains. “Anything that man does will inhibit nature. We try to do anything we can do to stay out of the way. As an example, plant life, insect life, animal life ... if we throw any of that off, we’re going to throw the balance off. It’s common sense.” The biodynamic “debate” is still a hot one. Some fail to see how burying a horn with dung in the vineyard has anything to do with the quality of the grapes grown. However, Bailey states, “Back in Iowa (where he grew up), we planted potatoes according to the Farmer’s Almanac. And that’s biodynamic farming.”

The sprawling property also features a quaint 11-room inn. Rates start at $199/night and go up to $399/night. The estate tasting room is open seven days a week from 10am-4pm. Youngberg offers vineyard tours and barrel tastings by appointment. They also have a new events center to host weddings and other social events. Total case production for this entire operation is (approx) 2,500 cases per year.

Youngberg Hill Wines Tasted

Aspen Pinot Gris $25
All stainless steel. Named after Bailey’s daughter, Aspen, this is a very food-friendly wine with a slight residual sugar.

Bailey Pinot Blanc $25
These are sourced grapes.  Stainless steel fermentation and aged in neutral oak. Aromas and flavors include: stone fruit (peach/apricot), citrus (lime peel and meyer lemon). A great food-friendly acidity.

Natasha Pinot Noir $50
Grown on marine sedimentary soil with clay, this wine shows: white pepper and red/blk cherry. It’s showing a bit tight at the moment, but this wine should age 20+ years in the bottle.

Jordan Pinot Noir ‘13 $50
This vineyard has the highest elevation onsite. The wine is earthier than the others and shows more fruit concentration, with darker fruit than Natasha.

Jordan Pinot Noir ‘12 $50
This was a hot year, therefore we see darker fruit. I got dark black fruit (cherry, blackberry) plus bramble, and a bit more structure than the other Pinots.

Our next stop was to the tasting room of Evening Land Vineyards, in Dundee. This was a very different experience than Youngberg Hill, as the tasting room is located in an industrial park setting. To my dismay, there were no fluffy animals onsite. But I can’t say I wasn’t excited for this visit. Winemakers Sashi Moorman and Raj Parr are pseudo celebrities in my eyes. From hearing their interviews with Levi Dalton on the “I’ll Drink to That” podcast to reading about them in every wine rag, these guys are everywhere. I first heard of them when Sashi gave the “viticulture” talk to my WSET Diploma class in 2015. I was instantly captivated with his philosophies when it came to grape growing and winemaking. He’s a bit of a purist and (in my opinion) has a “no fucks given” approach. He’s certainly not afraid to voice his opinions and I found him to be honest, refreshing, and not ego driven, as many winemakers (and producers) can be.

Evening Land fruit comes from Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. It was planted in the early 1980s. I visited the tasting room only, as a vineyard visit was not available when I went. But next time I plan on taking the vineyard tour!

Evening Land Wines Tasted

2014 Pinot Noir, Seven Springs Vineyard $45
Wine Deets: 2,000 annual case production. Only middle/bottom clusters used, and 25% whole clusters included.
My notes: Pepper, earth, and muted red fruit on the nose. This wine has a pungency (a good one) with notes of game and mushroom. On the palate this wine is spicy and leather-y. It bounces on my tongue a bit. This was my favorite of the Pinot Noir selections we tasted. You’ve got to work harder for it. It doesn’t rest on its laurels. My kind of wine.

2014 Pinot Noir, Seven Springs Vineyard, La Source $75
Wine Deets: 1,000 annual case production. These vines are at a higher altitude than the others and are more stressed as the soil is less fertile and rocky. 25% whole clusters included.
My notes: A beautiful wine with red fruit (cherry), pungent spice (black pepper), baking spice (cinnamon), and an earthy forest floor note.

2015 Rosè of Pinot Noir, Salem Wine Company $24
This was a treat. Bright, juicy red fruit (strawberry, raspberry, cherry) and with good acidity. Exactly what you’d want out of a rosè.

2015 Gamay Noir, Seven Springs Vineyard $35
Wine Deets: 600 annual case production. In fact, only 7 producers in the Willamette Valley do Gamay. Fun fact: part of the Gamay vineyard was planted in 1983, which makes them the oldest Gamay vines in the US. Whole cluster carbonic in concrete.
My notes: Red fruit (cherry, cranberry), pepper, and the requisite bubblegum note from the carbonic maceration. Raj is showcasing this wine because it’s unique and fun. The industry buys it up. Exhibit A: I bought a bottle.

2014 Chardonnay, Seven Springs Vineyard $45
Wine Deets (aka nerd talk): Aging in 30% new oak, and then stainless steel tanks to rest. Organic/biodynamic farming and wild/native yeasts used. This wine goes through full malo (though spontaneous). No sulfur is used at press, just some at bottling. All their Chardonnay’s are made in a reductive style (in an environment that lacks oxygen). The first exposure of oxygen to this wine is when the bottle is opened. I’d call this a low intervention wine.
My Notes: This wine is delightful. Meyer lemon and a doughiness on the note. A pleasing, creamy palate. But not gratuitously creamy.

2014 Chardonnay, Seven Springs Vineyard, La Source $75
This wine has everything you’d want in a Chardonnay. Biscuit, dough, and yeast on the nose, with green fruit (green apple and pear) on the palate. Also a distinct flint/matchstick flavor characteristic, reminding me of a Chablis.

2014 Chardonnay, Seven Springs Vineyard, Summum $100
Wine Deets: The soils in this vineyard are the least fertile of the bunch. Major vine stress here. 100% new oak.
My Notes: Yeasty notes on the nose with a round, full, and creamy body. A great spice character as well.

Our final stop before I headed to PDX was Brooks Winery. We met up with Neal and Alyse Stone, of Winery Wanderings. This is one of their favorite spots in the Valley, and I quickly grew to love it as well. The setting was superb. It was a foggy and rainy day in the Willamette. Walking into a warm, inviting tasting room with dark wood and cushy couches was a plus. Neal and Alyse are wine club members and knew some of the staff, so we had incredible customer service. As we worked though our tastings, they told me about the history of the winery and the tragic and untimely loss of Jimi Brooks, winemaker. In reading through some of the press materials for Youngberg Hill, I learned that Ken Wright (of Youngberg Hill) took advice from Jimi some years prior. Quite the coincidence. Collaboration and camaraderie seem to be the name of the game in the Willamette.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Brooke Winery. I could have spent all day there! Below are my tasting notes, though I will admit my notes were fewer and far between as I had such great company!

Brooks Winery Wines Tasted

Janus Pinot Noir $38
An earthy wine; Burgundian in style. 58% estate grapes.

Rastaban Pinot Noir $60
Great fruit concentration

Crannell Pinot Noir $48
Ultimate Burgundian style: understated and subtle

Big Cheese Pinot Noir $48
With big alcohol! 14.5% ABV

Temperance Hill Pinot Noir $48
Old vine Pommard planted in ‘73-’74. These are the 2nd oldest vines in the Eola-Amity AVA. This wine had the lightest color, yet was the biggest wine we tasted thus far. Dried black fruit (prunes!) + red fruit + vanilla + earth/dirt. This was my favorite Brooks wine.

Amycas White Blend $20
The name comes from a play on the word amicable. It’s an Alsatian blend (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, and Riesling). Perfumed white flower and a honeyed nose. Zippy on the palate with stone fruit.

Pinot Blanc $20
Lovely and a bit less perfumed than the Amycas.

Gewurztraminer $18
Washington fruit is used and this wine is made in the dry style.

The Willamette Valley is one of those places where you instantly feel at home. There are breathtaking landscapes, incredibly nice people, and great wine. It’s just got a good feel to it. A small-town America vibe that leaves you wanting to come back. McMinnville itself is darling and was voted one of the best small towns in America by Sunset Magazine (read HERE).

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank those who helped coordinate my winery visits. Thanks to Carl Giavanti for coordinating my visit to Youngberg Hill, Nat Gunter and Sarrah Torres at Evening Land Vineyard, and Neal & Alyse of Winery Wanderings for their hospitality at Brooks Winery.


Monday, November 27, 2017

#WineStudio: Perseverance is the Name of the Game with Ordaz Family Wines

Eppie and Chuy Ordaz

Many of us can relate to being an underdog at some time in our life. In studying for the WSET Diploma, I find myself to be an underdog. I don’t work in the wine and spirits business, so I don't get to talk about wine all day, nor do I have access to the myriad of bottles that someone in the industry has access to. I've had to learn about wine mostly through reading (books, the Internet, blogs, etc). I then supplement that book learning with tasting as many wines as I can get my hands on. But those in the biz have a distinct advantage, as they live and breathe wine all day. I, on the other hand, spend my days producing events in the LGBT non-profit world. A far cry from the wine industry!

An underdog in California wine country? Yes, they exist. Not all wineries here are owned by “the big boys”, whether that’s large international firms, Hollywood execs, or retired millionaires. Some earned success in the California wine business by starting from the bottom and working their way up. Chuy Ordaz, an immigrant from Mexico, made 32 unsuccessful attempts to get into the US. Only on his 33rd try was he successful. My family is also a family of immigrants…..aren’t all American families descendants of immigrants? My father and his family came to the US from Argentina when he was a teenager, and on my mother’s side, my grandfather’s family emigrated to the US from Portugal, specifically the Azores.

After Chuy’s successful 33rd attempt to come to the US, we fast forward, and the Ordaz family’s name appears on their Sonoma wine labels. Ordaz Family Wines launched in 2009. All wines are single vineyard. Courage and perseverance have both been pervasive themes with the Ordaz family. Chuy Ordaz’s son, Eppie, is now at the helm of winemaking. He was also the first Ordaz to attend college. Eppie has a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and went from crunching numbers to crushing grapes! According to Eppie, accounting and winemaking are similar: both require an attention to detail and both require you to put in long hours. To say the least!

Eppie Ordaz was recently named one of several "winemakers to watch" according to Sonoma Magazine. He works alongside his father, Chuy, who is synonymous with some of the more famous vineyards of Sonoma, as he has been managing vineyards for years. Chuy farms 500 acres in Sonoma under Palo Alto Vineyard Management. They are a pioneer in organic farming. Why? To protect the vineyard workers who are on the front lines, as exposure to conventional farming and pesticides could be detrimental to their health. Chuy spent many years in the vineyards himself, and the health of his workers is of utmost importance.

Today Ordaz Family Wines has 50 employees and manages 400 acres. "We're committed to producing single-vineyard wines that are as prized as the vineyards from which they originate", Eppie continues “Everything we do has got to be single vineyard, because I want to showcase the vineyard and the people who work for it.”. Their goal is to make solid wines that aren’t going to break the bank.

Back in February I was able to explore Ordaz Family Wines through a program called #WineStudio.

What is #WineStudio?
#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic. Back in February we chatted with Eppie Ordaz and tasted two of their wines.

My tasting notes are below:

2014 Placida Vineyard RRV Pinot Noir $38, 13.7% ABV

This wine is elegant (a descriptor I use when a wine is understated), yet it has a presence and an amazing amount of fruit. The wine is pale ruby with red fruit (cherry, plum, cranberry), black pepper, cola, and earthy/forest floor notes. Med + acid, med + alcohol, med body, med + flavor intensity. Fun fact: the Sebastopol vineyard (Placida) is named after Eppie’s grandmother.

2012 Sandoval Vineyard Malbec $25, 13.5% ABV

This wine is medium ruby with red fruit (plum, raspberry) plus some black fruit (blackberry/bramble), pepper and baking spices (vanilla, cloves, cinnamon). Wow! On the palate, juicy berries plus unending spice and sizzle. Toast and cedar notes showcase the 18 months this wine spent in French oak.

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? They’re usually much more compelling than the story of someone who got what they wanted and got it easily. There is something so distinctly American about the Ordaz Family Wines story. We are a country of immigrants and we (should) welcome immigrants with open arms. We are a country founded on the idea that you can come here with nothing and make something. Whatever that “something” is.  In this case, it's some damn good wines.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Spotlight: Montalbera Winery

I recently had the opportunity to attend a luncheon with the LA Wine Writers featuring the wines of the Montalbera Winery, from the Morando family. Montalbera, a family-owned winery, is located in the Monferrato DOCG in the southern part of Piemonte, Italy (immediately south of Barolo/Alba). The area received DOCG status only in 2010. Montalbera produces 60% of the Ruche grape in this region. Ruche came to Piemonte, and probably arrived in the medieval times from France. Fun fact: its genetics have 70% in common with Pinot Noir. This is a very small production grape and only recently has this wine made its way out of the region and started being exported.

Montalbera has a full portfolio of wines from sparkling, white, red, and dessert wines. We tried their sparkling and a lineup of reds.

Wines Tasted:

Cuvee Blanche Extra Dry Sparkling

100% Barbera in the Charmant (tank) method.  A crisp and easy sparkling wine with an excellent value at a $19 retail.

Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG La Tradizione 2015

This is Montalbera’s their flagship wine and is a Tre Bicchieri winner (see my post about Tre Bicchieri HERE).  Serve this wine a bit chilled to retain its aromatics of red fruit (cherry, raspberry), dried violets, and a smoky, black pepper note. A perfect, easy-drinking summer red. $21 retail.

Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG Laccento 2015

The grapes are picked slightly overripe and partially air dried directly in the vineyard before harvest. This wine is smooth and silky; I’d call it my “Italian house red”; this wine does not need food and can stand on its own, $29 retail.

Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG Limpronta 2013

This wine is more sophisticated and complex than the others. You can smell Italy in this glass (a bit dusty, but in a good way) and this wine worked incredibly well with the pizza (see menu below). $32 retail.

Barbera d’Asti DOCG Lequilibrio 2014

Juicy red fruit, sweet baking spices, vanilla, and tobacco/cedar notes. Good acid (the mark for a food-friendly wine!). The grapes are harvested slightly overripe to soften the high natural acidity of this grape. $28 retail

Barbera d’Asti DOCG Nuda 2013

“Nuda” means naked and is called so because this wine is unfiltered (also unstabilized and no stainless steel time before bottling). I’d describe it as a Rhone-like red with savory notes of barnyard/animal. This wine really brightened up with the lamb chops (see menu below). $35 retail.

As always, the special menu prepared by Chef David Vilchez was impeccable. Brian tells us that Chef Vilchez creates new dishes specifically for this luncheon and sometimes tries out possible new menu items on us!

Menu Below:

1st Course
Cream Leek Pizza, Brussels Sprout Leaves, Corn, Dried Plum Vinaigrette

My favorite course!

2nd Course

Roasted Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, Salami, Burrata, Olive Oil

3rd Course
Grilled N.Z. Lamb Chop, Grilled Fennel, and Summer Squash Risotto

4th Course
Seasonal Sorbet, Fresh Fruit

Special thanks, to Laura Donadoni for leading, Cori Solomon for organizing, and Cafe del Rey for their hospitality.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

From Santa Rosa, With Love

Photo: Brianne Cohen
Last year my first blog post after returning from the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi was entitled “From Lodi, With Love”. This year I can’t think of a more fitting title for my first post since returning from this years Wine Blogger’s Conference (WBC) in Santa Rosa.

I have returned from WBC full. My cup runneth over after spending 5 days in my secret little wine world. I’ve got this whole set of wine friends who my friends and family have never heard of and know nothing about. It really is sort of like this secret double life. Secret tweets. Inside jokes. Late night sharing of wine labels we drank that evening. It’s actually quite hilarious. It was a phenomenal 5 days and there will be many more posts to come, as I have plenty of wine content to dissect!

As my WBC trip approached, the single most common thing I heard when I told my family/friends I was going to Santa Rosa/Sonoma was some form of “didn’t that all burn down?”. And having been home for a couple of days, I am STILL hearing that from everyone. The news painted a picture of devastation. Charred vineyards, charred buildings, burnt down wineries, and homes with only chimneys and swimming pools left. If you looked through the slideshows of fire pictures online, you’d think that Napa and Sonoma were completely torched.

The Wine Bloggers Conference presented 2 different panels regarding the Napa/Sonoma fires. The first panel, Wine Country Fires, was moderated by Jolaine Collins of Collins Communications. It was an emotional session as the panelists shared personal stories and firsthand accounts of what they saw, felt, and experienced. The panelists included George Rose, photographer; Patsy McGaughy of Napa Valley Vintners; and Pierre Bierbent of Signorello Estates. George and his wife lived in Santa Rosa for 25 years, and he found himself in wine country as the fires broke out. He shared images he took as the fires unfolded. Really tough shots to look at. The most difficult part of the session was when Pierre, Winemaker at Signorello Estates, spoke about his experience. He shared how he learned of the fires in the middle of the night and how he made attempts to fight the flames himself. He shared images from what he saw and told stories that brought tears to many of our eyes. Hearing his voice crack as he spoke was sobering for us all. This wasn’t a news segment, or a magazine article. These were real people who had real experiences. In the end, Signorello Estates was a total loss.

The second panel was entitled: How Media Can Respond to a Crisis, also moderated by Jolaine Collins of Collins Communications. Panelists included George Rose, photographer; Virginie Boone, Wine Enthusiast; and Sarah Stierch, Journalist. Sarah shared her raw feelings and emotions around the fires as an independent journalist who live tweeted non-stop from the fire zone. She saw firsthand what was happening and the mis-information that was spreading like wildfire (pun intended).

The fires are still very raw for many people in wine country. But they are strong and they are resilient people. There is a space to grieve, yet there is also a space to look to the future.

The biggest takeaway from these sessions is that Sonoma and Napa did not completely burn down, and that they are open for business. Yes, many people lost their homes, businesses were lost, wineries were lost, and lives were lost. It is possible to honor and remember, yet also spread the word to encourage people to help in the recovery. What does that look like for those of us who live nowhere near Northern California?

        1. Drink Napa and Sonoma wines

        2. Join a Napa/Sonoma wine club (a GREAT gift idea in time            for the holidays)

        3. Come visit!

Here are a couple websites that were shared with us in these sessions:

North Bay Fire Donations: this is a great website that has aggregates a lot of individual information as to how you can help. It includes: where to donate money, where to donate stuff, and where you can eat, drink, and stay to help support recovery in the region.

Comfort Drinks: This is a website that Sarah Stierch started with other wine country residents and beverage industry professionals. Do you know someone who has been displaced by the recent North Bay Fires who loves fine wine, beer or nonalcoholic craft beverages? ​Whether they are moving into a new home or are waiting to do so, we're here to bring a glass of liquid comfort to their lives. Follow the directions on their website and they'll work with their beverage industry donors to provide wine, beer, spirits, and beverages.

That’s all for now. A simple message to my readers: if you are able, please think about making a contribution to help those affected by the wild fires in wine country this past October.

Sonoma is Strong.  Napa is Strong. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

One Year Later

A year ago today, I woke up in complete disbelief. How did we get here? How did I get here? Our country elected a man who appeared to have a severe lack of morality, intelligence, humility, decency. The list goes on and on.

This is not a political blog. This is a wine blog. I get it.  As an American, I feel that I cannot compartmentalize the horror, shock, and disappointment that I feel for our country and ALL the people living in this country. I have not felt patriotic for many years, which frightens (and angers) our flag-waving patriotic citizens. However, the older I get the more comfortable I get in stating my opinion and being unabashed about it. For me, talking about it helps me process, as ignoring it would eat me up inside. The “macro” of this country, in my opinion, is falling apart. The news every day seems to get worse and worse. This government that we all took a part in electing is committing atrocities and curtailing basic human rights faster than we can keep up with. On the other end, it is within the “micro” that I find hope daily.

With this all being said, I am constantly working to stay positive and inspired by people and things around me. There are people (friends and family members of mine!) who are doing incredible things and being strong in the face of adversity. Part of my “staying sane” strategy is to partake in things that make me happy. One of my “happy places” is wine. Wine is a living, breathing thing in a bottle. I love to follow the story of wine, the story of the grapes, the story of those who tended the crop in the vineyard, the story of the juice, the story of the architect of the wine, etc. Wine envelops me whether I’m reading about it, learning about it, or drinking it. Wine is my escape.

The Federalist: Dueling Pistols 2014
50% Syrah, 50% Zinfandel
Appellation: Sonoma/Dry Creek Valley
Alcohol: 14.5%
SRP: $29

A year ago today I was on the couch in complete disbelief at the turn our country had taken. I sat, watching the news and crying until about 1am. Fast forward to January 20, 2017 and I was in Israel on a trip with 20 other couples from the Los Angeles area. It was an incredible trip and Friday was our last night with this group we had grown so close to. We shared a Shabbat service and meal together, and I brought this wine to share with the group. The wine had a patriotic slant to it, so I figured it was a good time to enjoy it. It was an interesting evening. We were all sad to be leaving Israel and leaving the community we had built with each other for the last 10 days. It was also a surreal time to be outside of the country. In the week leading up to Trump’s inauguration, we were traveling through a foreign land and trying to connect to our Judaism. It felt odd (dare I say nice!) to be outside of the US. It distanced us a bit from what was happening back home. My husband and I were watching the inauguration on CNN as we were getting ready for the evening. I had Dueling Pistols with me and was taking sips during commercial breaks.

This is a lovely wine. The name comes from the infamous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804. Hamilton, the original Federalist, was shot in the duel and died from his injuries. We’ve all seen Hamilton, right? This wine is a “duel” between Syrah and Zinfandel. The combination of these grapes gives you dark black fruit notes (blackberry and black cherry) and nice spice, black pepper on the palate.  This wine would stand up to any red-meat centered meal.

This post is for every activist working to ensure that basic human rights towards ALL groups are maintained. This includes women, immigrants, people of color, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, people incarcerated, etc. I see you. I support you. I fight for you.

If you stand for nothing, Burr, what'll you fall for?
-Hamilton (lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda)