Category Archives: Culture

Liveblogging red wine at WBC14

Live blogging the whites and rosés yesterday was so overwhelming that I almost didn’t attend the reds session this afternoon, but then I talked myself into it. I joined a little late because I spent so long talking WordPress in the lobby with the charming Allison from Please the Palate that I ran my laptop battery nearly dry and had to run up to my room for the power cord I had left there.  She liveblogged the reds too, so if we tasted the same thing, you can compare us. If we diverge greatly, trust her notes, not mine. 🙂

The Wines

Casey Flat Ranch 2011 Red Blend: (52% Cab, 24% Syrah, 6% Merlot, 1% Viognier) Oak and green pepper on the nose, mashed blackberries, and cedar. Kind of a pruney palate, with lots of pine and forest floor, pretty grippy tannins and a lasting menthol/chestnut flavor on the finish.


Gypsy Canyon 2012 The Collector’s Pinot Noir: BIG pomegranate, spicebox, mushroom, and thyme on the nose. Deep cherry juice on the palate with . Smooth mouthfeel, elegant tannins, with some coffee and blueberry on the finish. $110

Bianchi Heritage Selection Paso Robles 2011 Zinfandel: Pretty classic black pepper and blackberry jam with a nice lifted aspect on the top. Tastes like a good bbq ribs wine: sweet notes without cloying jamminess, but a nice bitey char at the end that I think would balance well with any grilled red meat. Yummy!

If you choose to engage in liveblogging, you might be writing your notes with the winemaker looking over your shoulder at your tasting notes. No pressure! :O

Trione Alexander Valley 2009 Red Wine Blend: Wow, menthol much? Mint/tobacco/green pepper overload. Really green on the nose but super-purple in the glass. I was expecting it to be spare on the tongue but it explodes with juice and goes out like an angry, eucalyptus-laden lamb. $45

Taken Napa Valley 2011 Red Wine: two millennial sons of famous Napa winemakers make this; sophisticated nose of pretty oak, currant, and pepper. Grippy tannins and nce fruit. Nothing wrong with this wine, but it didn’t blow my socks off. $30

Bandit NV Cabernet Sauvignon: You’ve seen this wine in the bright purple Tetrapack “bottle.” Great for camping or floating the river. Unremarkable cabernet with sweet oak, blackberry, and pine needles. Very soft tannins and a pretty vegetal finish, but good with burgers over a campfire I bet. Following the fancy Napa cab blend didn’t do it any favors. 🙂

Labyrinth Presqu’ile “Clone 667” 2012 Pinot Noir: Musky sweet/sour burgundy style nose, pretty violets, spice, and subtle herbs. I really enjoy smelling this wine. Smooth and delicious on the tongue, with elegant satiny texture. Extremely well-made. $50

Brecon Estate 2013 Paso Robles Cabernet Franc: Really pretty, floral and fruity nose. The oak lifts the floral spicy smells and complements without competing. Someone said caramel, I guess I can see that. Bright and sassy palate, with not-quite-ripe blackberries and a little tarragon on the finish.

Consilience 2011 Santa Barbara County Syrah: Great floral/fruit nose with brisk black pepper. Jammy and grippy on the palate but not overwhelmingly so. Violets? Lavendar? something flowery on the end there. $20

Whew! Let’s not do that again for a while, ok?

WBC14: Panel of Santa Barbara Winemakers

Santa Barbara/San Ynes/Santa Rita are among some of my favorite California regions — I’ve never had a bad wine from this place — so it was both a pleasure to know that the Wine Blogging Conference 2014 would be held here, and also that they kicked off Friday with a panel of Santa Barbara winemakers.

Poor Larry Schaffer had a TERRIBLE time with his slides but had an incredibly legit panel of first-generation, super-famous Santa Barbara winemakers: Bob Lindquist of Qupé, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, and Richard Longoria of Longoria Wines. Lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara of course, and over 50% of the grapes they grow here aren’t vinified here.

Panel question the first: Why Santa Barbara?

.

20140711-154013-56413092.jpg

Richard Sanford studied geography in college, came back from Vietnam War wanting to get into agriculture. A bottle of Volnay inspired him to find a place to grow Burgundy-style wine. He thought the places that were growing CA Pinot Noir were too warm, so he wandered around with his themometer in the coastal valleys near San Luis Obispo and bought some land and started a vineyard. The land had never been electrified, and he used gas lights for 6 years. In 1976, they had their first production, and the wines were so well received that they sold out their vintage. They were the first vineyard to grow their grapes organically. He’s super-serious and adorable.

Side note: winemakers are not accomplished conference speakers.

Ken Brown started in sales in IBM and real estate of Sacramento with a degree in finance, but his love for wine started taking over his life, so he went back to school at Fresno State and studied both viticulture and microbiology. His love was Pinot Noir, and he headed up the school vineyard. One of his assignments was to prove the market viability of Santa Barbara wines (guess that worked out). He then herd about this vienyard doing this great Pinot Noir: he headed up there, met Richard Sanford and tasted the best Pinot Noir he’d ever had. Ken was hired by Zaca Mesa winery out of college, and then started his own winery (Byron) in 1984 while he was still the winemaker at Zaca Mesa. Byron Wines was sold to Mondavi in 1990, and planted a 17 acre of experimental Pinot Noir in 1991 to assess all the different clones they had planted. Working with the Mondavis was really important to the development of Santa Barbara County, and in 1993 Ken and his wife opened Ken Brown Wines.

Rick Longoria was taken under the wine by Andre Telecheiff at Buena Vista, who also told him about a new area he was excited about: Santa Barbara County. Firestone was looking for a cellar master, and Rick was hired in 1976 and met his wife there — she was the winery tour guide — and they married in 1977. There were only about 5 wineries in the county. “Napa was becoming Napa in 1978,” but Santa Barbara/San Ynes was still laid back. Longoria, their own brand, stated in 1982 part-time, and not until the 90s did they start doing it full-time. They make a diverse portfolio of wines, because they can — the climate here lets them grow diverse grapes, like Albariño and Tempranillo. Rick describes himself as a restless winemaker, and so what he loves about this region is that he can grow lots of different grapes.

Bob Lindquist has been in the wine business his whole adult life — got the wine bug when he was 25 in the 70s, and got excited about wine at this great wine store, High Times Cellars. He wanted to be a wine retailer at the time: worked for a wholesaler in Ventura for a time, and one of his customers was a little store in Los Olivos and got hired to manage the store in 1979. It was owned by the son of the owner of Zaca Mesa, so he got to know the local winemakers, and fell in love with the area. In late August in 1979, he got fired from the store, and got hired by the owner of Zaca Mesa as a tour guide there. In his spare time, he worked as the cellar rat, working under Ken Brown and Jim Clandenon. A few years later he started Qupé (at the age of 29), making the wines at Zaca Mesa and paying to use their equipment with sweat equity. He fell in love with Syrah, and bought his grapes from Paso Robles but had to add acid to those grapes which told him that Paso Robles was too hot for Syrah. Europeans are always amazed that they can grow excellent Syrah and Pinot Noir so close together here, but that’s the climate.

Panel question the second: Why are you still here?

Richard Sanford says the best is yet to come for Santa Barbara. What excites him is that so many young winemakers have chosen to make wine in the Santa Rita hills.

Ken Brown says once he really began to understand this region that things took off, and he says since vineyards here are only 15 years old, and so he’s excited to see what wines can be made as the vineyards age further.

Richard Longoria is building a new winery so he’s not going anywhere.

Bob Lindquist likes that you don’t need an air conditioner if your house is built the right way, and all his family has set down roots here, so he’s here to stay.

It was such a pleasure to listen to these trailblazing winemakers talk about how they got started in this superb region

The Science of Alcohol: One Drink and 2 Sips

Photo credit: alsis35

Photo credit: alsis35

I really enjoyed listening to Adam Rogers being interviewed on KCRW’s Good Food (I listen to Good Food via podcast while I’m doing chores) this morning. Adam told Evan about what happens in your body when you take a drink and how there’s little to no evidence that different kinds of alcohol will affect you differently.This totally blows my theory that champagne gives you a bullet-proof “happy buzz” out of the water, alas.

I was particularly interested in the physiology of that “buzzed” state called the “relevant range” that most people hit a few sips into their second drink, and the studies about the placebo effect of cocktails.

If I were a non-fiction reader, I’d totally check out Adam’s book, Proof: The Science of Booze.

I’m speaking at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

Somehow I’ve gone this far without telling many people that I’m speaking at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference next weekend in Santa Barbara County, CA, and I couldn’t be more excited! (And nervous!) I get to talk about my two favorite things, wine and WordPress. OK, I’ll mostly be talking about WordPress, but I’m sure to mix in a number of good wine-related allegories because that’s how much of a wine geek I am.

My talk is titled Supercharging Your Blogging With WordPress.com, and I’m scheduled for Sunday morning against a photography workshop and a writing workshop. So presumably anyone who comes to my session (other than my work-mates Derek and Rebecca) will be superlative writers and photographers who need to learn more about embedding images and video, managing spam, backups, security, and all the cool stuff that Jetpack lets you do on your self-hosted WordPress site. Oh, and people who didn’t stay up too late drinking on Saturday night. This seems like a good crowd for my inaugural workshop on blogging with WordPress, which will truly be a case study in the thought expressed here:

That being said, the thought of sharing the same “stage” (as it were) with speakers like Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson is… a little intimidating. Could you tell? Just in case my presentation is less than thrilling, your consolation prize is a video of Jancis Robinson’s keynote from WBC 2011.

Live Wine Blogging to commence on Friday July 11

I’ll definitely be live-blogging my tastings at the Wine Bloggers Conference next weekend, using the WordPress iOS app. Unsubscribe if you don’t want to hear about all the cool juice I’ll be sampling in Santa Barbara County! 🙂

Guest Post: I’m a Wineaux Wannabe

Martha is a single work-at-home mom. She works as a social media strategist and consultant at Yellowfly Social Media. She also blogs over at Momsoap, where she writes about parenting and race-related issues, because her daughter, Annika, is biracial. Her blogging style is irreverent, which mostly means that she swears a lot. She likes wine, but she’s never quite sure if Shiraz is a brand or a type of wine.

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a wino when it comes to wine. But last week I realized something, since becoming a mom, I’m no longer a wino. I’m a wannabe wineaux. I wish, with just a hint of desperation, that I knew what good wine tasted like and how to tell a hit from a dud.

I like to imagine that I know what really good wine tastes like. I dated a guy once who proffered me French wine from menus without prices. I pretended to understand how delicious they were. To me, they all tasted like wine has always tasted. Some wine is delicious, and some just leaves my mouth feeling like someone mixed cardboard with grapes and bottled it with a vineyard label.

My first bout with wine was, I kid you not, Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill. I was not even legal drinking age yet. But I thought it was delicious. I drank the entire bottle while waiting for a friend to show up, who was supposed to be sharing it with me. I was shamelessly drunk and entirely happy with myself after that experience. For years, all wines paled in comparison to that enjoyable evening where I was mostly drunk on the delight of being drunk from a $3 bottle of wine.

My standards moved up when I started working at an Olive Garden, at the age of 19, and I learned that the choice of wine with your dinner depends on the color of your meat. It seems ridiculous to me now, but yes, people actually came into a place that serves endless baskets of bread and salad and expect the servers to know about wine.

I always had a good answer. My answer depended on the price of the bottle and the appearance of the customer. To my surprise, they always believed me. It’s amazing what a knowing look, slight bend at the waste and a flourishing touch as you wipe the lip of the bottle with a napkin can do to assure your customers that they have, indeed, made the best choice of wine to go with their pasta primavera.

And perhaps they did. Perhaps I was better at guessing than I gave myself credit for.

All I know for sure is that I’ve always felt like a fraud when it comes to wine. It seems like there should be some knowledge I could have picked up by now, after traveling around the world and drinking wines from varying restaurants.

Mostly, I just pick out the prettiest label for the best price. But I know there’s a better way. I just know it.

Behind the Curtain: Wine Chicks Guide

I’m always looking for new wine blogs.  There are plenty out there, and my favorites focus on easily-found, reasonably-priced wines.  I also particularly enjoy wine blogs written by women, partly because there aren’t as many out there as I’d like.  To find new blogs, I generally surf around other wine bloggers’ blogrolls…

That’s totally not how I found Wine Chicks Guide; I ended up meeting Kellie through Facebook, as one of my FB friends (who is completely not related to my wine life) also happened to be one of Kellie’s childhood friends.  This is your world, gentle readers; watch it shrink!

Kellie Dolan Stargaard’s blog is Wine Chicks Guide; she’s been blogging about wine since 2009, when she lost her job and decided to start writing about one of her passions.  I’ve been wanting to do some wine blogger interviews for a long time, and Kellie very kindly agreed to be first.  I really enjoyed her candor – I hope you do too!

What’s the first wine you ever drank?

Oh wow, I’m sure it was something really cheap and horrible back in high school. In college I progressed to Boone’s Farm, yes I have come a long way. Somewhere in my 20’s I discovered Blackstone Merlot. I think this is the first wine I can remember drinking that had any redeeming qualities. My love affair with wine grew from there.

What’s the most common reason you drink wine (stress relief/enjoyment/celebration/anesthesia/etc)?

All of the above! Seriously, I think I drink wine just for the enjoyment. When people find out I write a wine blog and receive wine samples they, think my husband and I are drunk all the time. I don’t drink wine because of the alcohol; I drink it because I enjoy the act of opening the bottle, pouring the glass and analyzing the flavors. There’s something about holding that glass and watching the wine swirl around the glass.

When did you start your wine blog, and why?

I started my blog in August of 2009. I’d lost my full-time status at the company I had worked for 10 years and was feeling a little lost. I found myself with extra time on my hands. So, I decided I liked wine and liked to share my experiences with wine, hence Wine Chicks Guide was born.

Has it taken you where you thought you’d go?

It’s taken me much further than I ever imagined it would. In October 2010 I was inducted into the Order of the Raven by Ravenswood founder, Joel Peterson. A group of 10 wine experts and journalists were flown out to Sonoma for a 3 day tour of the Ravenswood Single Vineyards. We spent everyday and evening with Joel and it truly was a remarkable event. I can truly say I never thought I would take a helicopter tour of Sonoma Valley.

How do you shop for the wines you review (every time you’re in the store/special trips to wine shops/online)?

I swing by the wine section in my local supermarket to see if they have any specials or anything new on the shelves. I also hit my local big box wine retailers once a month to stock up on new wines to include in my blog and inexpensive wines to just enjoy. Most of the wines I blog about now are between $8.99 and $20. Since I receive many of my wines from PR firms, they tend to be on the higher end but I do try to include some wines under $10.

What is the most rewarding thing about blogging, for you?

The people I meet, fellow bloggers, winemakers, public relations or just wine lovers. It’s opened new doors to connect with people who share in my passion for wine.

What is the most difficult aspect of blogging, for you?

Carving out the time in my day to actually write. I don’t want my blog to take time away from spending time with my husband or interfere with my paying job. I try to blog in the afternoons only and stay off the computer as much as I can once my husband is home. He’s very supportive of what I’m doing but I have to keep my priorities straight.

What aspect of the wine world do you wish you knew more about?

Funny you should ask, because I’ve wanted to take viticulture classes but unfortunately none are offered in my area. For now, I have to settle for reading books on wine.

What aspect of wine can people not shut you up about?

My passion for family owned wineries. So many of the big wineries have now been sold to conglomerates. I think it speaks volumes when a winery big or small is still family owned and run.

What are some blogs you read regularly?

TaylorEason.com and Vinography are the two I read most often. Taylor Eason is from Tampa and I’ve had the opportunity to meet her and I really look up to her.

What are some blogs you’ve just discovered?

That would have to be Wine Scamp. I’m so glad we were brought together through a mutual friend.

What should people know about you (that they probably don’t)?

I’m not a wine expert and I’m not a journalist. I’m just a wine lover trying to break down the wine walls that make wine intimidating to many people. Wine has a bad rap as being a bit of a snobbish and affluent drink. I can’t buy a bottle of Caymus just for everyday drinking and I don’t know many people who can. My goal is to convey to people you can find great wines at affordable prices and to give them a little background on the wine.

Thanks so much to Kellie for allowing herself to be interviewed! I really enjoyed learning more about her.