Personal Stories – Wine

Sep 012014
 
Read Part 3 of our Starting a Family Winery Series
“I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” (Prissy from Gone With the Wind)

And that’s how it felt when we arrived at 5:15 AM to bring in our first grapes. All that I had learned in preparation for that moment seemed to evaporate in the excitement. Much like how all the hours spent in birthing classes twenty-five years earlier were reduced in the heat of the moment to “Breathe, Honey…You can do this.”

The early morning of August 27th was crisp and clear. The sun had not yet risen and the fog was yet to flow from the coast when we arrived. Dry Creek Valley was very dark. Above the vineyard, the star-filled sky twinkled in anticipation. On the hillside across the road, crews were hand-picking grapes though all I could see was their tiny headlamps sparking amongst the trees like fireflies on a summer’s eve. A tractor droned in a distant part of the vineyard bringing in fruit for another winery who was picking ahead of us. Donna and I waited patiently until I received a text from Janice, the vineyard owner that read, “walk towards the tractor sounds” and so we did.

The First Grapes ArriveAmongst the vines we found Janice and Brian Schmidt of Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards along with Kay, Brian’s sister. Brian was perched on the blue tractor pulling a trailer with three ½ ton bins for the handpicked grapes. On the trailer’s running boards stood Janice and Kay, pulling out leaves and bad clusters, tossing them to the side. The crew of Mexican vineyard workers moved quietly and efficiently slicing clusters of Sauvignon Blanc grapes off the vines, placing them in smaller bins called lugs until the bin weighed about 40 lbs. Then they would scurry to the trailer; dump the lug and run back to pick more. Each worker is paid by the lug, so they move very quickly.

The First Grapes ArriveThe crew picked our 2300 pounds of grapes in just 30 minutes. The rows that I had been babysitting and checking religiously were soon bare. While my days are now busy in the winery, I miss the vineyard. We had selected two rows for our Sauvignon Blanc and will make about 50 cases of wine. I chose this vineyard for a couple of reasons. First, I know and respect the Schmidts as both growers and people. The family has owned and farmed the property since 1856. Check out their wonderful red wines at Estate 1856. Second, I could take a mix of the common Clone 1 and the less common Musque clone that will give the finished wine a more plush mouth-feel. Continue reading »

Aug 202014
 
Read Part 2 of our Starting a Family Winery Series

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.” Continue reading »

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 – circa 1983

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. Continue reading »

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 »