Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's a New Day!

No - this blog post isn't about the song by Will I Am. It's about a new day in the life of well, me!

Today was my first day of working at Halter Ranch Vineyards in the Adelaida Hills of Paso Robles. I'm so excited as there are lots of really neat things going on at Halter (including a brand new, state of the art 70,000 square foot winery opening July 1st!) so we're all going to be quite busy. But one of my favorite things about the Halter is that it's a huge estate vineyard property so you get to have your hands in a lot of parts of the business. Though I'm in the tasting room, I got to hang out in the vineyard today and tomorrow I'll get to work in the employee vegetable garden too!

Halter is currently expanding their tasting room as an interim space until about 18 months from now when they open the "mothership" tasting room - that will be insanely gorgeous. Since there's so much construction going on, we were pouring off the back porch of the 1885 Historic House on the property. Here's fellow employee Sarah looking adorable at the bar:

Then here's a photo of my buddy Seth & I - Seth is the tasting room manager at Halter. We're doing cheers and drinking the bubbles I brought to celebrate my first day :)

What I loved most about today is that there we were, pouring outside on such a gorgeous day, with chickens roaming around us begging for food, being surrounded by fragrant lavender with honeybees flitting about - but the best part were the baby blue jays!

In the tree next to us, a mommy bird was feeding here babies. Look at the incredible shot that I got:

Can you see them? When Mommy & Daddy come with the food, the babies would start SCREAMING - so loudly that we'd all stop in the middle of the tasting and watch the parents do their thing. There was a bit of a "hole" in the tree so we could see a lot of the action. Here's the mommy on the roof - she was working so hard!

But I freaked out when one of the cats on the property figured out there were babies in the tree and tried to go after them. Oh boy, did we all kick into action! Before we left for the night, Seth set this up around the tree to try to be a type of deterrent so the cat wouldn't go after the babies tonight. We wanted to do more, but it was all we had. Fingers crossed that they'll be OK.

So wow - it's a big change for me but I am thrilled to be at Halter. I'm so sad though to leave all of my buddies at Cypher Winery - I'm just so thankful to everyone there as I loved working there & they really helped give me a start in the wine industry - and good Lord was it fun!! But hopefully I'm not losing my buddies there but rather just gaining new buddies - and in the end we'll all still meet and hangout at the 15C Wine Bar! :)

I'm sure there will be many more posts about Halter and the exciting things going on there. Stayed tuned........

Monday, May 30, 2011

For Bill...

My boyfriend Dana's Father, Bill was buried in Reno, NV this past weekend. Bill was in his eighties and his death was expected, though it is never, never easy. My heart goes out to Dana, Dana's Stepmom, Sonia, her son, Eric and all extended friends & family.

Since it is Memorial Day, I wanted to pay tribute to Bill on this blog as this blog is everything that Bill was about: good friends, good laughs, and lots of libations!

The below blogpost on "Sideways All Over Again" is dedicated to Bill as I know it would crack him up. He'd love seeing Dana & I having fun - and anything about Hollywood movies always put a smile on his face.

Old Blue Eyes, we miss you. This one is for you :)

"Sideways" All Over Again

So after Boyfriend and I had a fabulous time at Epiphany in Los Olivos, we trotted down the street to go do our favorite thing: sit at the bar at the Los Olivos Cafe, have a glass of wine along with one of their gourmet pizzas. Ah, what a life.

In case you don't know, the Los Olivos Cafe was the setting for the big "dinner" scene in the movie   The film centers around one wine connoisseur who takes his non-wine connoisseur friend out on a wine tasting trip through Santa Barbara wine country. The dinner scene is where the two guys meet up with their two female love interests and drink probably six bottles of wine between them. Wow. That's heroic.

So as boyfriend and I approached the Cafe, I took boyfriend into the alley as I needed to make one thing really clear to him. I said,

"I'm not drinking any fucking merlot!"

Dana didn't understand this as he actually likes merlot, but because I had so much anger about it all, he acquiesced.

Chris was our fabulous server for the night who made sure that I didn't even have to look at any merlot bottles. I think he was nervous that I might smash them. On top of that, we were such high-maintenance clients he had to start drinking just to get through the evening with us.

Maybe I should just rename Chris "Miles" since Miles (in the movie) chugged red wine like this while running down hill (yes, hint hint - trying to tie in the movie again.)

So after Boyfriend and I got through about three bottles of wine, I started to drunk dial my brother. All I remember is yelling at him that I wasn't drinking merlot, and laughing so hard that I couldn't hardly speak while I was trying to tell him about my "Save the Cocks" campaign. Ah, the foggy memories.

Ta-Da! Boyfriend and I will take a bow now, thanking all of your for indulging us with this little "Sideways" reenactment.  Man, between the excellent wines at Epiphany and a hilarious time at the Cafe, we sure had a fabulous day. Thanks, Boyfriend - I sure love to be with you!

One last shot of the gorgeous Santa Barbara County Vineyards as we were driving home. Wow. What's amazing is that this photo isn't retouched in any way. What colors....

A big thanks to Chris & everyone at the Los Olivos Cafe
2879 Grand Avenue Los Olivos
805.688.7265  www.losolivoscafe.com

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Had an Epiphany So I Went to Epiphany!

OK folks: I visited Epiphany in Los Olivos a couple weeks ago and am just finally getting around to blogging about it (I'm back-blogged, you know.) I am *so* thankful I went! Epiphany was recommended to me by Bret (who works at Robin's in Cambria) and his wife, Maria (who works at Eberle.) I trust their opinion as they used to live in the area so I made sure I stopped there while I was in town.

Boyfriend & I walked into Epiphany and immediately met Jonathan (the Tasting Room Manager) who was the most amazing host. We started off with the 2009 Grenache Blanc and I had to stop, pause and take it all in as it was so lovely. I thought this was my favorite Grenache Blanc ever until Jonathan told us the 2010 was just released and that we could try it. OMG - how can you choose between these wines? They are both perfection in my mind. I was raving about them when Jonathan mentioned, "We got all of our Grenache Blanc cuttings/root stock from Tablas Creek." OK - now I know (partly) why the wine is so amazing. Can't I ever get away from these Tablas Creek "amazing wine guys?" It's like they're omnipresent!

The 2010 Grenache Blanc is a "party in your mouth" as coined by Boyfriend. It's totally apricot with bright acidity, yet a round, full flavor. Jonathan said it was "dangerous" as it's one of those wines you can drink all day.

So let's talk about the backstory on Epiphany. They are owned by the Fess Parker Winery. Epiphany was started as a "personal passion project" by Eli Parker and Ashley Parker Snider. They wanted to focus on high-end, limited production wines with an emphasis on Rhone varietals. Around 1999, Epiphany planted Rhone Varietals grafted from Tablas Creek as well as other vineyards and viola! Things got rolling.

The winemaker for Epiphany is the awesome Blair Fox, who actually has his own winery, Blair Fox Cellars, also in Los Olivos. In my not-so-humble opinion, Blair is a genius when it comes to winemaking. Watch out Mr. Fox, we'll be crashing your winery soon and will be looking for an interview with you!

Now back to the wines. I've been on a hunt for the best of the best pink wines so I was thrilled to be able to try the Epiphany 2010 Grenache based rose'. Absolutely beautiful. It actually gives you a "back of the palate pop" which was quite a surprise! Flavors of light, clean watermelon, strawberry, kiwi & guava abounded. This one will definitely make it to my rose' list.

Jonathan also opened up for us a stainless steel dry Riesling. I can't even begin to say how nice it is to find a gorgeous, stone dry Riesling that's made in California. What a treat! What I don't understand is why we didn't bring a bottle (or two or three) home with us. Oh well. We'll just have to do the beautiful drive down to Los Olivos again. Poor us :)

Here's the amazing Jonathan!
Rather than going on about all of the wines (though they are all fabulous & deserve attention!) I'm going to highlight Epiphany's flagship wine: their Petite Sirah. This wine is their most popular wine and has earned many accolades. In 2005 & 2006, it won Double Gold in the San Francisco International Wine Competition with unanimous decisions! That is beyond amazing.

Right now in the tasting room, they are pouring the 2007 Petite Sirah which hasn't been judged yet as the San Francisco International Wine Competition won't be held until June 17th-19th. How exciting! Good luck to everyone at Epiphany. In the meantime, I'd recommended running down there and buying it up while you can :)

The special treat for us at Epiphany was that Jonathan had the '04 Petite Sirah open for us and we got to try it. Wow! Thanks, Jonathan - you made us feel like kings & queens.

Of course I'm always looking for the best photo opportunity, so here's another shot of Jonathan, pouring from a magnum bottle. Well, not really...but it's nice to be able to dream, isn't it? Though if we had cracked it opened, Boyfriend and I would have had to crash on the floor at Epiphany as we would have never been able to drive home - HA!

I have to say a huge THANK YOU! to Jonathan for showing us such an amazing time at Epiphany. As an industry person, I have to say how nice it is to be teated so well at another winery. Jonathan took a lot of time with us, poured us through their wines so that we could get the "full" experience of Epiphany, and shared a library of information with us about the wines & winery. You can obviously tell by Jonathan's positive attitude that he enjoys working there. In fact, he said, "This is the best job I've ever had in my life!" Now that's quite a statement. That said, when you find out that Epiphany only produces 4,500 cases, but has 2,000 wine club members in a wine club that's only four years old, you know something special is going on at that place. Two bottles, two times a year - how nice is that! Sign up - you really can't go wrong.

That's why I had to take the following photo - with Boyfriend's permission & approval of course:

I was just so thankful to find such good wines at this winery, I couldn't help myself! When wine tasting, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. But at Epiphany, I found two princes in Jonathan & Blair Fox. Thanks, guys!! (And a big thanks to Jonathan's wife for understanding why I had to do this photo - ha ha)

Epiphany Cellars is located at:
2963 Grand Avenue in Los Olivos
805.686.2424 www.epiphanycellars.com

This is the gorgeous building on Grand Avenue where you'll find Epiphany. What a great place to work!

Next post: My visit to the "Sideways" Los Olivos Cafe. This is where it really gets interesting :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Twist on a Quote....

Since I started the blog, I've found it hilarious that now I'm always watchful for opportunities to blog. I suddenly run to get my camera to capture the photo op, and immediately start crafting how this can play out as a blog post. To this regard, Richard Bach said,

"Live each day as though it were a carefully recorded piece of the past."

But I think I've come up with my own take on that. I say:

"Live each day as though it were a carefully recorded piece of my blog."

Uh oh. I think I need help. Maybe I should start the new blog: addictedtoblogging.com

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wine Fest @ Cypher!

This is a pretty wimpy blog about Wine Fest but that's only because I worked all day and am exhausted. So this is all you get (Ha!):

First off I walked in to see Mike looking hot! I've never seen him in a tie before - he's usually in plaid with his worker boots as he has his own vineyard & family winery - so this was a shock! But doesn't he look good? I knew from the moment I saw him he'd get waaaay more tips than me today :)

I was thrilled to walk into the winery to see that Christian was going to pour through some of the new wines for us and tell us about his vision. Stainless Grenache Blanc, Stainless Chardonnay, Grenache Noir, Mourvedre, & the new 12 Varietal Cypher Wine - wow! Here's photos of the day:

First up, Christian pouring the Grenache Blanc:

And here's Leanna, our wine club manager, getting her drink on :)

Here's the new Cypher Wine cork:

Here's Christian tearing the head off of an innocent bottle - the newly released Cypher wine. Twelve varietals in one bottle:

Here's what's in it:

Here's a photo of me with the man himself:

And amazingly, I ran into Sarah Silverman today! Well, she may not be the "real" Sarah Silverman, but she sure looks like her. In fact, all she did was say "fuck" when I talked to her, so maybe she is the real thing! Then again, she accused me of being the one who swore all the time. She may have called me out and was right, but that was only because I thought I was in the presence of the real Sarah Silverman - and then you're obliged to swear of course. Chicken or the egg sort of thing you know. (This is all part of an inside joke - thank you for indulging me!)

Ms. Sarah Silverman, though I only chatted with you for 5 minutes, you were my favorite part of the day - thank you!!!

"We'll be back" for Wine Fest next year - hopefully with a much better blog :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

The New Cypher Wines Have Arrived!

What an exciting day! The first round of the new Cypher wines were released today. I'm thrilled as I've been waiting to try our new stainless steel Chardonnay and our stainless Grenache Blanc for what seems like forever now.

Here's SAM (one of the Cypher owners - Susan A. Mahler - long for SAM) bringing us the first delivery with Leanna and Mike helping her unload it.

Then we broke open the box to look at the new labels - here's our fabulous Tasting Room Manager, Nicole doing the perfect modeling shot with the bottles :)

Immediately we put the bottles on ice so that we could crack them open as soon as possible. I've been waiting for so long, must I wait more?

Then we cracked them open. The Grenache Blanc was so clean, crisp and light with beautiful fruit - perfect for a hot summer's day. A "Porch Pounder" as I call it :) The stainless Chardonnay is simply the best one that I have ever had - such amazing fruit for a Chard (keep in mind that I don't love chardonnay!) That's all because it's the best of the best fruit from the Cat Canyon Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. What's neat is that I got to taste the chard a long time ago while still in barrel. I pegged it then as the best stainless steel chard I've ever had - and it's so awesome to see that that's still the case!

To end this post, here's a photo of SAM & I doing "cheers" to the whites while somehow ending up on the floor. Now one might say, "Why on Earth were you on the floor?" Well, that's because that's the way SAM rolls. She doesn't do anything small - she always does what's the most fun. Who else would make me play Pictionary until 11pm at her house for my "interview" - i.e. if you don't play Pictionary well, you're not hired! And who else would make everyone play Twister after Christmas Eve dinner? I tried to hide in the corner until SAM spotted me and said, "YOU! We're on for a match." That was the night "Twisted Sisters" was born. It was too fun - I did all the crazy moves, SAM tried to save me from falling but to no avail, I crashed and burned on the colorful Twister dots. I definitely need to say a big "Thanks, SAM!" for making everything so much fun :)

Love to everyone at Cypher! The Cypher Evolution continues........

Thursday, May 19, 2011

One of My Favorite Stories...

While working one day at Cypher, a couple who were wine club members came in to taste through the wines. We had a great time, chatting about life, the times & wine. At the end of the tasting, the guy said to his wife, "What would you like to take with us, dear? " She said, "I'd like to get a case of the Peasant, a case of the Anarchy, and a case of the Heretic." He said, "Honey! I didn't come here to buy $1,000 worth of wine. We have all  of that wine at home!" She answered,

"No, we don't."


Later she said, "Well, when he works late as a doctor, I'm home and I open a bottle, then open another - it gets to be a long night!"

I totally understand, my dear.

Part 3 of 3 of The Barrel Tour with Neil

So here we are at the third and final post for my barrel tour with Neil Collins, the winemaker at Tablas Creek. I know this sounds strange, but I'm pretty sad this is ending! This three part series has been a lot of fun for me, and actually means a lot to me as I love the Tablas wines, as well as the folks at Tablas. It was a huge treat for me to be able to spend time with Neil, being able to talk to him about his experiences in the wine industry - wow. That is such a gift for someone like me who is interested in learning as much as I can about wine. But alas, all good things have to come to an end. It is funny though: when I got the invite to come do the barrel tour, I assumed I'd just do one blog post on it - cover the basics on the varietals and then be done. But Neil was so kind and spent so much time with us, talking about so many things, I quickly realized this blog was going to turn into much more - hence the ongoing three part series! :) What will I do with my time when I'm done with this post?

For this final blog post, we're going to cover the "obscure" single varietals of red Rhone wines. What I'm focused on here is Grenache Noir, Counoise, Mourvedre, Tannat & Cinsault.

But before we start, I have to recognize another big player who helped me with this blog post, and that's the fabulous John Morris, Tasting Room Manager at Tablas Creek. So when we were doing the tour with Neil, many of the reds really weren't ready to taste - that's just the way it goes when the wines are aging. So to make sure that I got all of the info right, I met with John at the tasting room a few days after my barrel tour to go through the "perfected" wines so that I would have a better idea of the varietals.

John actually started out in Seattle, working in the coffee industry. After things turned corporate in the company he worked for, he started to look around as he was itching to leave the rain behind and find some sunshine. San Luis Obispo caught his eye as it was a small town, yet a cool college town with plenty of California sunshine.

Slowly though he worked his way up to the Paso area and caught the "wine bug" of the Central Coast Wine Industry. He landed the job at Tablas Creek, and the rest is history!

So here we go! The final tasting notes on obscure red rhone varietals:

GRENACHE NOIR. One of my favorite reds of all time. Literally, the first time I tasted the 2007 Tablas Grenache, it tasted like pure cherries to me. We left with a bottle then, and we left with a bottle of the 2008 for this trip too!  Grenache Noir is typically light, though grown in the Limestone soil at Tablas Creek, it has beautiful, almost chalky tannins. You definitely taste red fruit, cherry and even red licorice on this wine. If you want to, this wine could lay down for 10 years, but God knows I don't have the patience for that! In fact, I almost cracked it open as I was writing this blog post. Just trying to be true to form: writing about Grenache while drinking Grenache - that's the only professional way to do it :)

COUNOISE. Probably THE favorite red wine of mine of all time! Oh counoise, how shall I describe thee? I always call it a lighter version of Grenache. To me, it has the same characteristics - beautiful cherry & strawberry flavors - but is lighter by a couple notches. Fewer tannins, in fact I'd say that I didn't pick up on any tannins at all. A gorgeous varietal that in my opinion, complements Grenache by being similar yet filling in a few holes (just the way Semillon helps to complement Sauvingnon Blanc.) It's rare to find Counoise as a single varietal wine, but if you look hard enough, you can find it. For example, Derby did 90 cases of it for their wine club folks. And Tablas Creek itself did a counoise single varietal for the years of 2002 & 2005. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that for the 2010 year, they may have enough counoise to do it again. The folks at Tablas know that little old me is pushing for it! :)

I love this shot of Neil with his barrels.
MOURVEDRE. Mourvedre ("more-ved-ra" or you can say "more-ved") is the new hot sexy single varietal that everyone wants to take a stab at. There was an informative article on mourvedre recently in the L.A Times. I've tasted quite a few Mourvedres in the Paso area that I would classify as earthy, flat tasting wines, which makes me understand why it can typically be a blending grape. But when you find Mourvedre done "right," you understand what all the hype is about!

Tablas Creek's 2008 Mourvedre is brighter & lighter in style than usual, and is a totally elegant wine. It's a pretty wine with notes of blueberry, cherry and spice. Typically Mourvedre has more of a darkened fruit, provencal herbs, tobacco quality about it but the 2008 year captures more of the quality of the lighter "pop" of the wine/fruit on your palate. It still has the other qualities but more subtle than usual. That's the style of Mourvedre that I enjoy - way to go, Neil!

To mention, Cypher Winery's Mourvedre (for wine club only) is done by carbonic maceration, which is the way Beaujolais is done. But that will be a whole other blog post when the new Cypher wines are released. They are bottling today so the post will be soon!

TANNAT. Oh the elusive Tannat. I had been told that you were only a blending grape, but no, you are far from that. I am sorry that anyone ever called you a "blending only grape." How wrong they are! You are one of the most sexy single varietals I have come upon so far, all because you have a taste that I have never encountered before. Some may call you "a beast, " but I call you the love of my life.

Tablas Creek's 2008 Tannat again is lighter in style than usual. It has blueberry, blackberry & black plum notes - even a bit of cherry - along with a clove, cola carmel quality. I think though what I love most about Tannat is that fact that it is such a different taste to what we're typically exposed to with red wines. Plus, hardly anyone does it as a single varietal. So being able to drink a "totally random" wine is what makes the hunt for great wines so appealing to me. (To mention, Tannat isn't a Rhone Varietal but rather from the Basque region. That said, Tannat has basically become an honorary Rhone Varietal as well as the national grape in Uruguay.)

Funny story to tell though: The first Tannat I purchased was the 2007 Tannat that Neil Collins produced for Lone Madrone. Now this Tannat is different than the one at Tablas because it is grown in an entirely different microclimate. Lone Madrone's Tannat truly was a beast. A 16.6% alcohol beast. (Tannat: Apologies for calling you a beast, but the truth is the truth!) It was pure blueberry with cigar notes to it - again a smell I has never smelled before and a taste I had never tasted before. Boyfriend and I had to have it, and we ran home to drink it right away.

We paired it with balsamic glazed portabella mushrooms over seasoned rice. You typically need earthy, gamey food to go with Tannat, and since we're mainly vegetarian, mushrooms fit the bill.

We savored every sip. In fact, we've never gone so slowly through a bottle of wine. But be prepared: if you drink Tannat, your teeth will totally turn blueberry! Neil's Tannat was the chewy, blueberry Tannat that will truly stick with you :)

As we were drinking Tannat, I was hell bent to make sure I got the full 50% of the bottle, that Boyfriend wouldn't drink it all up on me. He kept claiming that he has more body weight than I and that he should get at least 70%. No way was that going to go down. So every pour we poured was closely monitored to hit the 50/50 mark. At one point during this drinking competition, Boyfriend had to go outside to help put our chickens to bed. Before he left, he took a black marker and marked off exactly where the Tannat was in the bottle, to ensure I didn't steal any when he was gone. Can I say I was mad about that? Heck no. I was just annoyed that I didn't think of it first!

CINSAULT. Tablas Creek didn't have any Cinsault for me to taste, but that's Ok by me as I had other hook-ups. I also work for Robert Hall Winery and realized that Don Brady, the winemaker there, had plenty of Cinsault sitting in barrels down in the caves. So yesterday, Kevin (the assistant winemaker at Robert Hall) gave me a mini-barrel tour so that I could try the Cinsault.

Though the wine was young, it was delicious. It reminded me of Counoise in the way that it is also so light, low, low tannins with a cherry/strawberry taste. But what surprised me with Robert Hall's Cinsault was that if this had been a blind tasting, I would have totally pegged it for Pinot Noir. The Cinsault, though light and fruity still has a bit of an earthy quality that is just like a typical Pinot. Wow. How neat to be able to try that.

Cinsault is quite hard to find as a single varietal, but Turley did make one this year. Small production, mainly for restaurants, and it sold out quite quickly. Thankfully it was such a success, they are planing to do it again. I will be waiting with bated breath for the new release, and will definitely highlight it on this blog when it comes out.

My goodness, that brings me to the end of this post. A big thanks to everyone who helped make this three part blog post possible. Though this hunt for obscure single varietals has come to an end, the search for the perfect Rose' is just beginning. Coming soon!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Barrel Tour with Neil - Part 2 of 3

So here I am with Part Two of my barrel tour with Neil Collins at Tablas Creek. So in part one, we covered the white rhone varietals in all of their glory. In part three, we'll talk about the red rhone single varietals. But part two is all about the winemaster, Neil Collins.

So Neil is one of the legends in the Paso Robles Wine region. He's been in the wine industry for quite a while working with some big names to hone his craft, including Wildhorse Winery (with Ken Volk) and Adelaida Cellars. From there he moved to France and trained at Chateau Beaucastel, learning the art of the "true" style of French Winemaking. Then of course, he was picked to be winemaker for the new and amazing "sister" winery to Chateau Beaucastel: Tablas Creek - and the rest is history.

Where to begin. How 'bout Neil's (& Tablas Creek's) winemaking style. 

First off, this is what I absolutely love about Tablas Creek: They want you to taste the vineyard, not the oak, per se. Almost all of their whites are done in stainless steel so that you get the crisp, refreshing taste of the grape itself. Then the reds are all done in neutral oak (except when they need to buy new barrels) so that again, you taste the vineyard. Tablas Creek farms in a fully organic, sustainable way and they are even dabbling in biodynamics. Their vines are the head pruned or head trained style (meaning not trellised, see photo left) as well as dry farmed. Dry farming means that the vines get no help for irrigation. They survive on their own by having a deep root system that can access water from the water table, as well as whatever rain the vines get throughout the year. Dry farming produces a better quality fruit because of the whole "struggle to survive" stress on the vine. I always compare it to wild harvested herbs or even weeds - they are stronger/more potent because they have to fight to survive on their own. Neil said, "Dry farmed/head pruned vines are the way of the future. It's better for the environment, and you get a better quality fruit out of the deal."

I fell in love with Tablas Creek's above style of farming & winemaking. I'm a "fruit forward" kind of girl that wants to taste the fruit, the beautiful acidity that pops on my palate. Not to mention the fact that I'm a huge fan of the organic/sustainable angle. No wonder I can't get enough of the Tablas Creek wines!

The Foudres
Neil showed us these fabulous foudres that age and store the wine. They hold about 1,500 gallons. This helps age the wine better as it ages more slowly in a larger space, and gives the wine greater complexity.

The foudres are amazingly beautiful! From the tasting room, you can see these fabulous barrels through a wall of windows looking into the winery. They are actually putting in a ladder system around the barrels so that the cellar rats will have an easier time climbing the gigantic barrels so that they can check out the wines. I can't imagine! In fact, Neil told us how crazy it was installing the huge barrels - it must have been quite something as they are so massively huge.

Since I'm a fan of biodynamic farming, I had to ask Neil what he thought about biodynamics, as Tablas Creek is dedicating a few acres to testing out biodynamics to see if it makes any difference to the final product of the grapes. Neil was hilarious when he said, "Sometimes I don't know what the heck I'm doing when I'm out there digging up cow horns buried deep within the soil, or when I'm crushing up the quartz crystal for the homeopathic remedies. That said, there's something I love about having my hand in all of it and that fact that we're doing it all here on the land, right around the plants. It's the whole connection of working with the vineyard."

So a couple highlights of biodynamics is always planting when the moon is waxing, to capture the energy of new growth. Another principle of burying cow horns full of manure and other goodies to let them age and turn into fabulous compost that then gets put back into the vineyard or garden.

Neil was talking to some old-time traditional farmers who said, "You're doing biodynamics? That's a bunch of kooky hogwash stuff!" Neil then discussed with them the ins and outs of biodynamics and soon it came to light: of course they always plant new plantings by the light of a waxing moon. Who doesn't? And of course they create compost which then is put back into the soil to enrich the soil. Duh! So in the end, though the word "biodynamics" sounds so fancy (so "San Francisco/Berkeley" like) it is actually based in the "old" way of working with the Earth, which is still passed down from generation to generation as a way to farm "with the Earth and the flow of the Universe itself."

I have to break into the middle of this blog post to highlight the quiet companion who is accompanying us on this barrel tour. That Neil's dear dog, Mille - aka Miller or The Mills. This dog is one of those totally faithful dogs that follow their master everywhere the master goes. You could just tell that Millie loves Neil so much, and vice versa, of course. So we'd go to a section to taste some wines, Millie would follow and lay down, waiting for Neil. We'd move to another section and of course Millie would get up, follow us, and again lay down, waiting for Neil. So when I say this blog post is a barrel tour with Neil, I should really say, "Barrel Tour with Neil & Millie!" :)

Neil also talked about his new you tube series for his family winery, Lone Madrone. It's called: Conversations with a Winemaker. He started the series off by talking with his good friend, and my crazy ZinBitch Winemaker boss, Christian Tieje of Cypher Winery. The two of them had a ball! How fun to see these buddies chat about their friendship and history in the wine biz. The next video featured Cris Cherry of Villa Creek Wines. But the one I've been waiting for is the newly released video with John Munch from Le Cuvier.  This blog gets pretty interesting the boys break open a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey- woo hoo! Sounds like too much fun :)

So as we were all chatting, Boyfriend asked Neil an excellent question: What is your favorite wine? I just LOVED Neil's answer. "Well, that depends. If it's a hot, 115 degree day, I'm not going to be drinking tannat by the pool. Instead, I'll be drinking something a lot lighter with bright acidity, and that will be my favorite for the day. But in the middle of winter, next to a roaring fire with a rack of lamb, there's nothing I'd want more than tannat. So as you see, it's always changing, dependent of my mood and environmental factors." Snap! Good answer, Neil!

And by the way, I've been petitioning Neil to make a tannat rose or sparkling tannat, just as they make in Uruguay where tannat is their national table wine varietal. Neil, this would be a fabulous way to start a whole new wine trend. You know you have to do it! Feel free to name it "Sarah's Tannat." (I know, I'm totally shameless.)

Thanks, Mr Neil!

Next blog will cover obscure red rhone single varietals such as counoise, mourvedre and as you can tell, my favorite, tannat.

I'm leaving you with one last photo of Neil & Millie - adorable huh?


Monday, May 9, 2011

The Barrel Tour with Neil - Part 1 of 3

A while back, boyfriend and I attended the Lone Madrone Industry Party. Well, it was actually a Wassail. The Wassail is a nod to Lone Madrone's Winemaker Neil Collins' history of growing up in Bristol, England. Good wine, fabulous hard apple cider, and incredible music made for quite a merry event on a cold night. (Boy do I wish I had pictures - it was a heck of a party!)

While closing down the party, boyfriend and I got the chance to chat with Neil Collins himself. I have no idea how we stumbled upon the subject, but Neil found out that I was on the hunt to try as many obscure single varietals as possible, especially single varietals from the Rhone region - just so I could experience each one and to understand them on their own rather than in a typical blend. Neil kindly said, "Come on up to Tablas Creek. I'll give you a barrel tour. I'm willing to help anyone who seriously wants to learn." Sweet! How on earth did we score one of the hottest tickets in town? (Please note: this was a special invite for me as I know Neil and work in the wine industry. Please don't start calling Tablas asking for your own barrel tour -  tours like this are not typically given. And to be clear, Neil is the winemaker for Tablas Creek, but Lone Madrone is his "family" winery.)

So it took a while to get up there as everyone was busy at Tablas moving into their fabulous new tasting room. But I'm excited to say, the tour finally happened and I'm here to tell you all about it!

Before I start, I want to let you know that this blog will just be part 1 of 3 as there is a bunch of info. And since you weren't there to taste the wines with me, I will do my absolute best to describe what I tasted so that you have a better idea of each varietal. Beyond that, I also met with John Morris, the Tasting Room Manager of Tablas, days after my tour so that I could experience the varietals in their finished, perfected state. So my notes on the varietals will be a blend of the barrel tour as well as the information that John helped me with in the tasting room.

So let us begin.

As boyfriend and I were about to open the door, we looked at each other and said, "Can you believe we're finally here? This is surreal."  We were so excited for this opportunity as we knew that this was a rare treat for a selected few - we wanted to make the most of every moment!

We walked in the doors of the production facility and this is what we saw:

Jealous yet?

And here's me - in all of my giddy glory with three barrels all to myself!

Neil joined us, we were chatting, needed to go get glasses to start tasting, and then the tour began - yay!

First, the whites.

We started off with Rousanne. Now keep in mind, I've been having a hard time wrapping my head around white Rhones as they are *so* different than the whites most Americans are used to. It's hard for me to describe the taste. But here are some facts: Rousanne can barrel age for up to 20 years, and can age up to 5-8 years while in a blend. Tablas Creek barrel ferments the Rousanne (like Chardoanny) which makes it more complex.

Tasting notes: Roussanne is best described as savory. Savory spices, baking spices including cardamon, clove, even a nutty quality. It also has floral aromas of apricot - even honey. It can have a fat, lush, oily and waxy quality to it. Drinking Roussanne while eating food is definitely the best way to experience it.

Bergeron. Now I have been on the hunt for Beregon for quite a while now. It is the elusive grape - Roussanne picked early to capture a lighter, brighter acidity. Think of it as a light version of Roussanne. There was no Beregron to sample during the barrel tour so while I was at Tablas, Mary (an absolutely fabulous lady!) opened up the Bergeron for me to taste. It's light, soft on the palate. Soft honey yet with a crispness. It still has the savory element yet also has a slight saline aspect which I also find in Albarino as well as Booker's Pink and L'Aventure's Rose (which I love.) I've actually never tasted anything like it before - what a treat!

Marsanne. Marsanne to me is similar to Roussanne, yet so very different. It is "flatter" than Roussanne - has more of a straw quality, yet it still has the oily quality about it. It can also exhibit a melon/honeysuckle quality. Marsanne is typically blended with Roussanne yet once in a while, you can find it as  single varietal wine.

Picpoul Blanc. This is one of my favorite varietals - all because I get to say, "Picpoul" and sound totally fancy! Picpoul Blanc is bright, crisp and has a lemony/lemon peel quality about it. It can also have the flavors of pineapple & orange. Total bright acidity on the palate, which I personally love. Excellent porch pounder on a hot summer day :)

Grenache Blanc. Grenache Blanc is nearly identical to Grenache Noir - think of it as albino Grenache. It has flavors of green apple, pear, peach - even anise and sweet apple pie - yet it is a totally dry wine. It captures a crisp, mineral quality. A fun fact - it is high in alcohol just as grenache noir is as there is lots of sugar in the grape that needs to be converted to alcohol. Is that why grenache is one of my favorite wines? :)

Viognier. So I didn't get to try Viognier in the barrel room, and because Tablas isn't doing it as a single varietal right now, I'm not going to comment. That said, I've had many Viogniers before and could comment, but I choose not to until I get to try the "Tablas" & "Neil" style of Viognier. Please forgive me, but I am a true purist. Lone Madrone makes a single varietal Viognier which I will soon purchase so that I can comment directly for the blog but to note, Viognier typically has flavors of honey, peach and apricot with moderate acidity and minerals.

Vermentino. Ok - so Vermentino isn't a rhone varietal. So why on earth is Tablas Creek making a single varietal of it? Well, way back when, when the rootstock for Tablas Creek was coming from Chateau Beaucastel, a smart gentleman in France thought, "Hey - they may like this." So Tablas Creek received the rootstock, decided to plant it, and thankfully so as their Vermentino is one of my favorites!

Oh, my Vermentino. Bright, crisp with flavors of lemon, lime, tangerine - anything and everything citrus. It also has flavors of melon & ripe cantaloupe. It still captures a mineral quality - even a bit chalky. The best way that John described it was "laser sharp crispness" - everything I love. No wonder I left with a bottle - but why oh why didn't I buy more? Beware John & Neil: I will be back.

That's enough for now as I don't want to bore you all. Next post will focus on Neil, his thoughts about wine and winemaking and lord knows what else!

See you soon!

P.S. For more information on the varietals I highlighted on this blog, click HERE.

Veris Cellars, Carly & My Essential Oil Sprays!

When I first moved to the area two years ago, one of the first wineries we ever visited was Veris Cellars. They are one of the first stops off of Bethel Road as you are going west on 46W - so we had to stop. On that day we met our dear Carly, whom must have been laughing at us as we were a bit toasty and were probably having too much fun :)

I created this blog not only to talk about my experiences in the wine industry but to also highlight others working in tasting rooms in the area. Think "Winery Dogs" (highlighting the different dogs at different wineries) but instead we're highlighting tasting room staff. So who else would I highlight for my first blog on this subject? My dear Carly, of course!

So on a sunny afternoon, boyfriend and I trotted over to Veris Cellars to chat with Carly. First up, we had to find out what was new at Veris Cellars - what's been selling the best? Any new releases? The answer is:

The Veris Cellars Ben Hogan Golf Line of wines is a HUGE hit! These are wines with the legendary Ben Hogan on the label doing his incredible golf swings (pictured right.)

It's been such a big hit amongst golfers (pun intended) that Veris Cellars is even putting in a putting green so you can hit golf balls and have wine at the same time. Genius!

You can also purchase "The Swing Series" collector series  - a frame by frame shot on bottle after bottle showing Ben Hogan's full swing. Incredible.You can see it here.

I have to say how impressed I am at the marketing of this label as it makes the most amazing gift for any golfer in your life. Not only will they love the label but will get to enjoy the wine too!

Veris has also released a rose under their Nova Vita label. Nova Vita means "new life" and is a relatively new label for Veris. They offer three wines under this label: the rose, a petit verdot, and a syrah.

I was especially interested in the rose as I'm currently on a hunt for good roses as 'tis the season! This one is unique as it is a tempranillo & granche (or garnacha) based rose. It is a beautiful grapefruit color that looks gorgeous in the glass. It does have a touch of residual sugar that adds a bit of sweetness, but that makes it easy on the palate - a crowd pleaser for sure. I call wines like these "porch pounders." :)

What's unique about this wine is that the tempranillo & granche were co-fermented, meaning that the grapes were put in the vats together for the fermentation process rather than fermenting separately and then blended together later. The reason why they do this is because there becomes a greater harmony of flavors between the fruits - just like when you add salt do a dish while you're cooking it rather than adding it on top of your meal when the meal is served. Neat, huh?

But then we started chatting with Carly about Carly, and things really got interesting! First off, she lived in Colorado for a while and there met her current boyfriend. They moved out here together - he has amazing experience in the restaurant business and is now applying his skills to the wine industry as well, so they make quite the hospitality pair!

Carly is currently going to school to get a degree in social work/occupational therapy (can you imagine, going to school on top of working so many hours at Veris?) Her goal is to help people in third world countries, specifically Africa. In fact, this amazing woman has already spent eight months in Zambia with the organization, Seeds of Hope. While in Zambia. she worked on improving water hygiene and taught English as a second language. Her ultimate goal is to work at UNICEF, working towards bringing clean water to people everywhere.

Now keep in mind, I've known Carly for over a year, and never knew this about her. That's what I love about this blog. It allows me to talk to people to try to find out the "backstory" on them. So of course Carly is the most amazing person to talk to when it comes to Veris Cellars wines, yet keep in mind that she also has a depth of knowledge on many subjects - including Africa! Dear Carly, we are so impressed by you and honored to know you :)

So here's a photo of the fabulous lady herself, lounging at Veris Cellars with the winery cat, Divinity. Aren't they cute?

By the way, Divinity the cat is quite famous herself. She has her own photo album on the Veris Cellars Facebook page filled with photos taken of her from folks passing through as well as the classic winery shots. If you're going to Veris, definitely find Miss Divinity and give her a kiss or two :)

Now onto my shameless plug: Last fall Veris was looking to add new local artisan products to their tasting room. Carly and I happened to run into each other, she mentioned it, I brought over a few of my sprays and viola! Next thing you know I'm selling my flower essence/essential oil sprays at Veris! 

Long story short: I'm an holistic flower essence practitioner (similar to homeopathy) who also works with essential oils. Veris is carrying my "Essence of FRESH" sprays which give a "refresh & reboot" to your day. These are scented with the pure scent of a single essential oil that one can spray around oneself for a great pick-me-up over the course of the day. Flavors such as tangerine, grapefruit, lime, lemongrass and lavender - yum!  It's a garden of beautiful colors and scents - plus the label is pretty darn lovely too!

Here's a photo of my sprays at Veris. Didn't Carly do a fabulous job with the set up? She even added daisies to complete the "garden" feel.

So now you all have the latest news about the goings on at Veris Cellars. Last thing worthy of mention: Veris Cellars is located on a top of a hill and has beautiful views of rolling hills & vineyards. The grounds are gorgeous - they even hold weddings there - so it is an excellent place to hang out, picnic or share a bottle of wine on a beautiful day. 

A big thanks to Carly at Veris for making this blog possible! 

Veris Cellers is located at 1266 Bethel Road Templeton, CA 805.434.0319

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Au Revoir, Kristie & CC!!

It is with a heavy heart that I have to say goodbye to two of my buddies from Cypher Winery: Kristie & CC. The countdown has been going on for a while now, but the time to say goodbye is finally here. So how to deal with the sadness and tears? Throw a heck of a party, of course! :)

My dear Kristie. The one who helped train me on my first day at Cypher. Literally, it was 10:35 on a Saturday morning with us opening at 11. Kristie started tasting me through the wines to train me for how to talk about everything. "Anarchy is the sassy sister of the Peasant" - oh the memories. But before she could even taste me through the whole lineup, the doors opened and I had to do it on my own. "Trial by fire" Cypher style. But I am so thankful to have worked with Kristie as she has a depth of knowledge about wine & soil that is mind blowing - including all the geek talk that makes me glaze over.... She'll be a success at whatever she does

Here's the glam girl - ice blue killer eyes, downing her beer at her good bye party. Off she leaves tomorrow to go to school to get her grad degree in the Sacramento area.  Look out Sacramento, here comes Kristie!!

Below she's displaying one of her famous dance moves made famous at Cypher and beyond. Check out the beer: not one drop spilled during her insane dance move. What expertise!

Then my cute CC - off to pursue a job in the San Luis Obispo area, being an assistant to some big wig. We are so excited for her in her new venture. Congrats, CC! I always felt lucky to be able to work with CC when I got a chance as she was mainly at the office. It was a treat for me when we crossed paths in the tasting room.

Here's my girl, looking all gorgeously tanned and relaxed - obviously this new job is already paying off for her :)

A ball was had by all at the party - lots of good food, wine & beer. A couple of fun shots to close out the post - Krsitie with her BFFs Katie and T from Cypher, and then the whole Cypher crew. 

Though the distance may be far apart between us, you will be forever in our hearts, Kristie & CC! I feel lucky to have been able to work with both of you. Kick ass, girls! :)