Personal Stories – Wine

Aug 202014
 

It has been a very long time since I was an expectant father…23 years to be exact. But I feel like one again as I wait for our first grapes to hit the level of ripeness we are waiting patiently to see. The weather in Sonoma this week has been almost fall-like with even a bit of rain this morning. Cool days and cooler nights may be good for slow ripening grapes; but to me it feels more like Donna’s Braxton-Hicks contractions during her last few weeks of pregnancy…is he/she coming?!…is he/she coming?!…No honey, not yet.

Awaiting Our First Harvest

Checking Pinot Noir Sugars

Winemakers often say, their most nerve racking decision is the time to pick, especially the first time they have the responsibility for that decision. An emotion I now fully grasp. Once the crews have moved through the vineyard with their lightning fast shears, the vintage is set and the wine will be what it will be. Should I have picked sooner…or later?…too late now, to second guess. Our premise of hand-made, terroir-driven wines will mean minimal manipulation allowing the vineyard and vintage to speak for themselves. Every decision, for good or bad, will make it into the bottle. We hope you will enjoy and appreciate the bottled art we will create. The last week has been a busy one as we prepare for our first harvest and much like a first-time father I am, no doubt, overly zealous. During the week, I have visited all three of our vineyards, looking at grape clusters and testing sugars with my new refractometer. Looking through the eyepiece is something akin to looking into the future. For those who may read this and are experienced in the vineyard, I know it sounds silly..aah it’s all new to me. I spoke to a few winemaker friends, getting more advice. We discussed picking sugars, seed ripeness, grape acidity, fermentation temperatures, yeast strains and more. Once again, I have to comment on how open and helpful everyone has been. The most common response I’ve gotten from winemakers when I ask my first question is a laugh, followed by “I wondered when the winemaking bug would bite you.”

Awaiting Our First Harvest

Viognier Cluster

We also took our first bucket samples, delivering the juice to the lab for official readings of Brix (sugar), PH and acidity. This is done by going up and down the rows with an orange Home Depot bucket and a clipper taking cluster samples from both sides. Clusters must come from both sides of the row because of the different sun orientation and thus ripening speeds. Once in the bucket, Donna and I used a potato masher to crush the grapes and produce juice, getting the sticky goodness all over our hands and lower arms. Juice from wine grapes in much sweeter and richer than table grapes or grape juice you find at the grocery. It tastes deliciously decadent. The juice then goes into a lab bottle, is dropped off and we get emailed results in just a few hours. Based on the lab reports, I am proud to say that thanks to our great growers, everything should come into balance at picking time. The Viognier (Mounts Vineyard) and Sauvignon Blanc grapes (Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards), both from the Dry Creek Valley are duking it out to be the first across the finish line. As of yesterday, my bet is on the Sauvignon Blanc, by a nose. If the forecast for future sunny days holds true, they both may come in middle to late next week. Our Pinot Noir looks more like the first week of September. That said, a heat spike is forecasted at the end of the month that may speed everything up. One thing I have learned in Sonoma is that everyone talks about long range weather forecasts even though they have proven fairly unreliable.

Awaiting Our First Harvest

Tailgate Grape Lab

In addition, we delivered our barrels and other odds and ends to the facility where we will be making our wines, Healdsburg Custom Crush. A custom crush facility is a winery designed for folks like us who are making fairly small lots. That way we do not have to invest in expensive winery equipment before our production level can support the associated capital investment. Special thanks to our friends at Blanchard Family Wines for making the introductions. One of the most difficult part of this process was finding a name that works for all involved, including our Colorado neighbors, friends and partners in this venture, Jeff and Kathleen Thompson. Trademark infringement is a big deal in the liquor industry and so very many names are taken. Both our last names were not even in consideration, because Beery is too close to Beer and is also a drunken beer drinking term. The liquor label czars would not allow Beery because you might confuse our wine with beer…really. Old Thompson is an American whiskey, so that’s out. We bandied around any number of names, some fell flat to our ears. Others we all liked were abandoned after our name research determined a likely challenger from another wine, beer or spirit manufacturer. We hoped to have something that was meaningful to each of us instead of a cool word. What did we land on, you ask? Drumroll please…. J. Cage Cellars. The initial and name are important to our families and ancestry…and we thought it sounded good. Last but not least, our California license was approved. We still await Federal approval. So much like I did 25 years ago, awaiting the birth of our first (now our winemaker), I’m sitting on the couch staring off just waiting for the water to break. Once Donna’s water broke in March of 1989, my life changed for the better. I expect nothing less this time around!

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Starting A Family Winery – Living the Wine Stained Dream
Aug 132014
 
Have you ever dreamed of starting a family winery? Follow us as we embark on our wine-stained adventure.

When dreaming big dreams, have you wondered if the reality of living the dream would live up to the expectations of the dreamer. I am about to find out and it is a little scary. My father loved small WWII vintage aircraft. Much as he wanted to pilot, he remained always a passenger, until the day he passed in a mid-air collision of two of his beloved planes.

After the funeral I wondered aloud why my dad had never taken flying lessons so he could experience flight from the pilot’s seat. My mother responded by saying she thought it was because he was afraid the reality of being a pilot could never live up to his dream of being a pilot. He didn’t want to face that possible disappointment after a lifetime of anticipation. I don’t think my father was alone in that fear.

I’ve had a dream for much of my life that took a passenger seat to running a business, raising a family and other less engaging hobbies. My dream started in 1983 on a rainy November afternoon when my wife, Donna, I and two friends pulled into the parking lot of the then fledgling Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley.

Roger & Charlie Wagner - circa 1983

Roger & Charlie Wagner

We were met by the senior co-founder, Charlie Wagner. It was apparent on that wet chilly day that Mr. Wagner really didn’t want to do a tasting for us. But instead of just sending us on our way, he challenged my group of aspiring wine enthusiasts to tour his post-harvest leafless vineyard in the cold mud and muck. We gladly took him up on the challenge even though I knew my loafers would never recover from the assault by vineyard mud.

What was supposed to be a quick tour and tasting turned into a four-hour lesson on the art, science and agriculture of winemaking. I was hooked. Still today in my office hangs a photo of a smiling Charlie Wagner in his paid shirt and me in my tweed jacket and soiled loafers, after enjoying Caymus Cabernet around the Wagner family dining room in their small farm-house that now serves as winery offices.

We left Napa and Sonoma a few days later. I, like many before and after, said to myself, if I had it to do all over again, I want to make wine and live the wine country experience. I want to be part of that century’s old tradition of making wine and putting smiles on friendly faces. I think back now and wonder what stopped me. I was only 26, married but no children, it would have been easy. But I had my young buck MBA blinders on, charging forth into the business world.

My passion for wine never faded although it took a back seat to soccer games, volleyball games, ski races and golf tournaments as our children moved through their school age years in Colorado. It seems however that my love of wine took root in them as well, albeit in different ways. Our daughter, Whitney, has gone the hospitality route and is a tour guide at the renowned Jordan Winery while our son, Conch, received his degree in viticulture and enology (winemaking) and as of this writing is learning the fine art of Pinot Noir at Kosta Browne Winery.

So I’ve given you the entire back story to see how we arrived at this day when I, and we as a family, take a small step to living that dream that Charlie Wagner unknowingly sparked 31 years earlier. Together our family along with friends from Colorado will make wine in 2014 in Healdsburg, CA. I’m not totally starting over, at least not yet as I still have a business to run in Colorado. Thanks to internet technology I now operate from a little desk in a bedroom we are renting from our daughter and her boyfriend instead of my corner office. The small 1906 restored bungalow may get pretty tight with four adults and two dogs. Hopefully we won’t overstay our welcome.

Starting a Family Winery

Roger checking Pinot grapes

We put this plan in motion just a couple of months ago and it has been a bit daunting. Just the federal and state liquor licensing to make, not even sell, commercial wine has been overwhelming but I think we are on the home stretch now. Our wine-stained dream hit the road to reality on the morning of our 35th anniversary in June when I received our first grape contract, Pinot Noir from Nunes Vineyard in Russian River Valley. That was soon followed by contracts for Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. No turning back…we were committed. Donna’s sister was surprised by the anniversary present of grapes but we explained that Pinot Noir grapes for the 35th anniversary is the traditional gift, at least in our world.

Beyond all the legal and license BS, there was still much to be done since I will be hands-on in the winery and away from the office for six to eight weeks during harvest, when most of the winemaking is done. First, I had to take stock of my overweight desk-jockey body and get ready for the rigors of harvest. In addition, I needed the buy-in of my staff so I could follow my dream while they toiled away. Promises of much wine helped. While I like to think I know a thing or two about wine, winemaking is another subject entirely. To supplement my lack of education I’ve enrolled in online viticulture and enology classes from Washington State University. Go Cougars…

Starting a Family Winery

Roger and Conch

Conch, Donna and I also had to develop our working relationship. He as the winemaker, keeping in mind his first responsibility is to his employer, with Donna and me as his cellar rats. To call this a juxtaposition of our relationship is an understatement. Do we have it all worked out? I don’t know, only time will tell if we get over all the bumps in the road. Family working relationships can be a perilous maze.

So we are here in Sonoma getting ready for our first harvest or virgin vintage, as I like to call it. I’m in the vineyards every few days checking ripeness and fruit quality, like I know what I am doing. I’m calling winemaker friends and bugging them with basic questions and to be honest, they all have been so helpful. The collegiality of winemakers is very rewarding.

If you have ever dreamed of the wine life or wondered if the realty of following your dreams could live up to the expectations…then follow along on our wine-stained adventure and we can find out together. Am I scared… yeah and it feels good!

Dec 022013
 

Wine Blogger Roger Beery of Bacchus and Beery – Interview

I was excited to be interviewed by the premiere European Food and Fashion website, Webflakes. So if you wanted to know a bit more about the guy behind Bacchus and Beery…Here you go.

Roger Beery

Wine Blogger Roger Beery from Bacchus and Beery

This week we introduce you to Roger Beery who, along with his wife Donna, started the wine blog Bacchus and Beery, which is dedicated to tasting, enjoying, discovering, and of course, just drinking wine. 

They started their love affair with wine back in college and it is now a shared passion in their family, with both their son and daughter working in the industry. 

With years of experience, Roger is now a self-appointed Wine Evangelist spreading the Gospel of the Grape – from sharing an interest with lifelong friends to passing down his family’s passion to their children. Continue reading »

Oct 022013
 

Lower cholesterol When we visited Valentin and Nanette Humer of Salute Santé! Grapeseed Oil in their office and processing facility on the outskirts of Napa, CA, I never thought I’d leave offering myself up as a medical guinea pig. Our intent was merely to introduce ourselves to the culinary benefits of grapeseed oil. Little did I know that this delicious all natural waste-product of the wine harvest would dramatically lower my bad (LDL) cholesterol, lower my triglycerides and improve my good (HDL) cholesterol in just a few weeks. Read on for my amazing stats.

The husband and wife team of Valentin and Nanette started Salute Santé! in 1995 creating cold-pressed extra-virgin grapeseed oil and grapeseed flour. These products have won numerous awards and have become the favorites of many celebrity chefs, including Charlie Trotter and Michael Chiarello. Chiarello even offers Salute Santé! single variety grapeseed oils along with their Gluten & GMO-free grapeseed flour in his acclaimed Napa Style Catalog. Continue reading »

Jul 272013
 

It’s peculiar the songs that pop into your head and when they choose to take up residence. In this case the tune was an 80’s British pop dance hit I never really liked. But as you will see the song may have been more prophetic than I ever would have imagined.

Strolling through Vertine

Strolling through Vertine

On the fifth day of our 2013 Italian adventure, we drove five hours from the quaint town of Alba in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy to the renaissance era Tuscan town, Gaiole in Chianti, deep in the heart of Tuscan wine country. The route was mostly along the Autostrade (Italian highways) so the driving was easy in our rented blue Peugeot, even though I had been warned by many about driving in Italy. The only real challenge came as we approached picturesque Gaiole. Both our GPS and Goggle Maps kept routing us along dirt roads across the Tuscan hillsides in a 10 mile loop, never being able to locate our B&B. Continue reading »

Mar 182013
 
Musings on the death of Chateau Montelena’s Jim Barrett
and the movie Bottle Shock
Courtesy of Chateau Montelena

Courtesy of Chateau Montelena

We were saddened this weekend to learn of the death of Jim Barrett, founder – Chateau Montelena, just outside Calistoga in the northern end of Napa Valley. Barrett was 86 years old. His son, Bo, who now runs Montelena said of his father; “He was a tough and loving man who will be greatly missed at home, at the winery and throughout the Napa Valley. My father bought Chateau Montelena in 1972 and has worked hard every day since to grow the best grapes and produce the best wines. My dad died of a life well lived.”

Though we never met Jim Barrett, he was a positive influence in the our lives. To honor this Napa Valley legend, my wife and I settled into our leather couch with a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and watched again, the movie Bottle Shock. For those few wineauxs who have not seen the film, it is based (some say loosely) on the story of Chateau Montelena, the father – son relationship between Jim and Bo Barrett and the coming of age of Napa Valley…in the Age of Aquarius. All this the result of a sparsely attended blind Paris wine tasting, where some of the most renown French wine palates, much to their surprise, voted Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar’s 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon superior to the more respected French competition. Continue reading »

Sep 232012
 

Today, Facebook is awash with photos of the grape harvest across the northern hemisphere. I look forward each day to beautiful pictures of grape clusters, men and women picking grapes as the sun rises across the vineyard and free-run juice on the winery crushpad that will soon be the wine in my glass. As a wine-writer in Colorado and Texas, I dream of being more than a chronicler, I want to be part of the action. This desire is never more pronounced than when I see harvest pictures posted by my winemaker friends in California and Texas.

This year I decided enough with the wine dreaming. It was time to get dirty and pitch in a for a few days with winemakers Chris Brundrett and Bill Blackmon of William and Chris Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country near Fredericksburg. Chris is regarded as one of the real up and coming young Texas winemakers while Bill offers the hand of experience from many Texas grape harvests. They make a hell of a winemaking team creating predominately blended wines with 100% Texas fruit using a minimal intervention approach. Together, Bill and Chris have a sort of yin and yang quality. Chris is full of energy and a “get ‘er done” approach while Bill has a very calm Zen-like quality about him.

Before you say, Texas, wine, what? Texas now is home nearly 250 wineries (up from only 45 a decade ago) making it the 4th or 5th (depending on who’s counting) largest wine producing state. The Texas Hill Country AVA sits behind only Napa and Sonoma as the most visited wine region in the U.S. Continue reading »

Sep 052012
 

Let the Wine Country birthday celebration begin!

In 1960, John Steinbeck set out to reconnect with America accompanied by one companion, an “intuitive” standard poodle named Charley. The tale was recounted in the now classic book “Travels with Charley.” Steinbeck met the idea of the expedition with both excitement and trepidation. In July of 2012, I set out with my daughter, Whitney, to reconnect with the teenager turned young woman who had so matured, since leaving home for college three years earlier. My stated objectives were to celebrate her 21st birthday and introduce Whitney to the wonders of wine country. This father/daughter excursion was one I met, much like Steinbeck, with both excitement and trepidation. Continue reading »

Aug 032012
 
wine reviews, winery reviews, wine blog, wine education

Roger and Whitney at Jordan Vineyards

Wine country vacations, especially to Napa Valley and Sonoma County can be overwhelming to the novice and the experienced wine traveler alike. With over 400 wineries in Napa Valley alone and hundreds more in Sonoma, how do you choose which wineries to visit? Some offer small quaint tastings and tours while others have almost a Las Vegas feel. So what are the best wineries to visit Napa and Sonoma?

Recently I traveled with my daughter, Whitney, to Napa and Sonoma for her 21st birthday celebration. She certainly enjoys wine and grew up around great wines but to date, Whitney has not inherited her dad’s wine geek gene. Like many novice wine drinkers, Whitney has a discerning though still developing palate.

Whitney’s fist trip to Napa/Sonoma needed to be fun yet educational with enough glitz and glamor to spark her 21 year-old soul with a splash of wine geekiness for Dad. This wine country travel itinerary certainly fit the bill. Continue reading »

Jun 012012
 

Teaching wine classes is always fun. It is a rare person in attendance that doesn’t already have a sense of the wonder of wine. Occasionally someone will bring a spouse, friend or significant other in hopes of lighting their wine fire and in those cases my job is to fan the flames. All in all teaching wine classes is a blast because most everyone has an interest in the topic….and they’re drinking wine.

wine blog

Texas Tech RHIMS Students learning about wine

This week however, I had a different audience that added a new challenge to the excitement of wine education. I spent two days with a group of junior and senior Restaurant and Hotel Management majors from Texas Tech University. These millennials were more the connoisseur of “dollar PBR” nights than wine and food pairings. To make matters more interesting, my daughter was part of the class. Not only was I there to enlighten the unenlightened but I needed to do it in a way that made my daughter proud or at least not embarrass her.

The ten students were part of a May-mester program. Instead of a traditional semester class on campus in Lubbock, Texas, the group was based at a satellite campus in the tiny Hill Country town of Junction, Texas where they completed two intensive weeks of all-day class and field trips. From Junction they made excursions to San Antonio, Austin and popular tourist destinations around the Hill Country. The campus is rustic to say the least, offering a summer camp appearance complete with bunkhouses and swimming pool, rather than a collegiate environment. Continue reading »