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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy Hour at .... Starbucks!?

The recession has hurt Starbucks badly with 1,000 store closings. It seems like people are less interested in three dollar coffee when they don't have a job.  You have to give Starbucks credit for not sitting on their behinds.   They has a couple "test" stores in Seattle where they try out new things.   The latest is selling local micro-brews and wines.

It's genius. 

Here's your new schedule:

7 am: A $2 tall coffee to get the day started
1 pm: A $4 low-fat latte to stay awake for the afternoon
5 pm: A $8 glass of Pinot to counteract all that caffeine and sugar

It's Starbucks so remember to order something trendy.  Hopefully, they'll have Albarino or Malbec.

And if your Significant Other asks why you're late home from work your innocent reply is, "I stopped by Starbucks for a pick-me-up and a little free wi-fi."

Now if my local Starbucks inside the Safeway market got a beer and wine license would they let you carry that around while you shop?  The grocery carts already have a cupholder for my coffee so why not a wine glass holder?

On the other hand, there's been talk of opening Cannibus tasting rooms in Northern California once legalization is (probably) passed on the November ballot.   So maybe wine at Starbucks is actually a little tame.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wine Tasting in Sonoma/Napa: Something Different

Clos Pegase wine caves

Maybe you've made several visits already and want to try something a bit different from bellying up to the bar for Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. Or maybe you just like being different.
 Free guided  tours

Not many things in Napa Valley are free anymore, but Clos Pegase in Calistoga offers two free guided tours daily.  It's in three parts:  The owner's extensive art collection, the cellar, and the barrel aging caves.  If you visit during the harvest (Sept-Oct) your tour will be right in the middle of all the activity.

Korbel in the Russian River area has free tours going on several times a day.  Once you've been on a couple "here's how wine is made" tours they start to all look alike.  Korbel's is more of the hundred-plus years of history of the place and some of the differences between making still and sparkling wine.  They have a great deli if you time it right for lunch.

Sparkling wine tour and tasting

Tired of boring "flat" wines?  Bubbles always make it special.   My favorite tour and tasting is Schramsberg located between St. Helena and Calistoga in Napa Valley.   It starts with the old, dark, damp caves full of spiders and lichen and hundreds of stories followed by a sit-down tasting of some of the best bubbles in California.   Reservations required.

Vineyard Tours

Kunde offers different tours of their vineyards.  One allows you to take your dog along for a walk.  Others can be several hours long and moderately strenuous.  The Kundes have a lot of history in Sonoma Valley and can put on interesting talks.

Benziger has a tram tour of their vineyards so you don't have to walk.

There are self-guided vineyard tours at Balletto, Matanzas Creek, Mauritson, and Paradise Ridge wineries.

From Paradise Ridge
Nice Views
Hanna (the one in Alexander Valley), Paradise Ridge, Sbragia, and Stryker all have great valley views. On Wednesday evenings Paradise Ridge offers Wines and Sunset. You rent a table on their deck, drink some wines and watch the sun go down.

For beautiful winery settings Ferrari-Carano, Krobel and Michel-Sclhumberger are great.

For interesting architecture Chateau St. Jean, Jacuzzi, and Stryker.  If you like old buildings Buena Vista and Korbel.  In southern Napa Artesa is a must-see; in northern Napa Clos Pegase.


Blends of multiple varietals can be a lot more interesting than a single varietal bottling.  California should do more of this.

Audelssa in Glen Ellen makes some of the best wines in Sonoma Valley. They produce Cab and Merlot but they really shine with their Rhone-type blends.  They have a nearby mountain vineyard that's probably a bit of a pain to maintain but it puts out great juice.

Food and Wine

Wine is about the food you have with it.  Unfortunately when you go out tasting you have to guess at how a certain wine may pair with a meal.   The Mayo Winery's Reserve Room in Kenwood presents their wines along with small plates meant to complement each in a relaxed sit-down atmosphere -- the way wine should be experienced.  St. Francis also has an option for a food and wine pairing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Anyone in the wine business or any wine drinker living in PA can tell you they have a "unique" beverage control system.  Alcohol movement and sales is in complete control of a state bureaucracy known as the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.  It even has a chairman who wields enormous power.

Their latest idea is either really funny or outrageously stupid.   I'll take the latter.   After all it's the government and tax dollars at work.

PA has installed a wine vending machine.  Really!  All you do is swipe your drivers license, get your picture taken to compare it to your license's photo while a state agent oversees the whole operation, then blow into a breathalyzer.   If you're over 0.02 no sale.

PA, maybe you should do this with condoms next.   If you're under 18 or over 70 no sale!   (If you're over 70 you'd only need them because you're hitting on an under-40 female. We don't want that).  Not sure what to do it you're intoxicated while buying condoms.  And if you install a handgun vending machines then a breathalyzer might be a good idea, too.

There may be a more stupid, more degrading way to buy alcohol but I can't think of any right now.  Nice use of the taxpayers money. The good news is it's a pilot program.  If ever there was a gov't agency that needed to die it's the PA Liquor Control Board.  Hopefully, this foolishness will hasten their demise.

News article

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A few small production Pinot Noirs, Round 2

The first round of Pinots was a couple weeks ago at the Wine Spectrum wine bar in Santa Rosa (blog post dated June 9th).   The second round was Tuesday, June 22nd.  Four wineries poured two Pinots each. Unfortunately, they're not doing another Pinot tasting like this.  Too bad, I was just beginning to like it!  Though my pocketbook is better off now...

The approaches to making Pinot Noir were all over the place from the lower fruit profile Burgundian style to the fashionable rich and lush California style.  Even with this range in wines all were very good and it really just depends on your preferences.


They advertise themselves as an organic estate grown winery.  They only produce a couple hundred cases of each wine.  The Francophiles will love Adastra.  If you're ever in the neighborhood (Carneros) give them a call and set up an appointment to taste.

2007 Carneros
Medium-bodied, restrained, Burgundian in style, earthy.  This should be a great food wine.

2007 Proximus
More of everything, more complex.  Needs at least a couple years in the bottle and will probably go many more.


Their thing is being earth-friendly with organic vineyards, low-impact labeling, and solar power at the new winery they are opening soon.  Besides that Kathy Inman puts together solid Pinots at reasonable prices.

2007 Russian River Valley
Nice complexity, medium fruit.  Made nicer by the fact this is the least expensive Pinot of the night ($30 retail).

2007 RRV Estate
A bit more fruit and just a bit of heat.  Cherry cola nose and a spicy finish.  Could use a little time in the bottle to settle down. A typically delicious Russian River Valley Pinot.


A couple guys with a few acres outside of Healdsburg, a love of Pinot Noir, and a hobby that got out of hand.  Their wines are definitely in the fruit-forward California style.

2008 Russian River Valley
Very rich, thick, lush, soft.  Easy drinking.

2008 Estate
The same vineyard as the previous wine, just from specific blocks.
This wine was tight (it's an '08) but is more complex and seems to have a lot going for it.  I would love to try this in a year -- or try the '07 version now.


During the 1980s Robert Stemmler had a facility and tasting room in Dry Creek Valley and was one of the few good Pinot producers at the time.  The winery was sold off and I haven't had a Stemmler wine in a long time though I see them occasionally on store shelves.  My mistake for waiting so long.

2007 Ferguson Block, Carneros
Bright, earthy, medium complexity, spices, leather. Nice drinking wine.  I love the complexity not often seen in the more fruit-forward wines.

2007 Donum, Carneros
Unfiltered and unfined. Rich, luscious (in more of a French style than a Californian), and complex.  Definitely needs a bit of time.  It's a "wow" wine now; will be a "wow-wee" wine in a few years. A classic wine in the making.  Only downside is it's expensive, but the good things usually are.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wine is a Traditional / Trendy Business


Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot

The Big Three have been in this position for a long time and are pretty much commodities (like milk or sugar). Below the big three there are varieties like Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc shift around trying to become The Next Big Thing (a trend).

The three-tier system of distribution

Something we're left with from Prohibition is the way you're alcoholic beverages get to you. This keeps the remnants of the 1930s mobsters in business by shuffling papers and collecting a big stack of money.


When you think about it it's incredible we still use this archaic method of sealing. Corks don't work that well, they are subject to various failures, and they require a specialized opener.


We're still using funny shaped glass bottles when there are all kinds of modern containers that weigh less, store better because they don't let light in, and are environment friendly.
Now there's even reusable stainless steel bottles that get sent back and refilled.


Wine varieties

Grape varieties are certainly trendy. What is going to be the Next Big Thing? Well, it was going to be Viognier and Syrah. Now it's going to be Pinot Gris and maybe Tempranillo? I have seen a definite rise in some good Rhone-style blends.

Of course, Pinot Noir pegged the trend meter after the wine-related movie "Sideways."

Cults and "pre-cults"

Cults have to be expensive and take some work to find. Some that rate are Hundred Acre, Screaming Eagle, Sine Qua Non, and Bryant Family.

Pre-cults are for people who want to be ahead of the curve and get to the next trendy mailing list before it's full. Of course, pre-cults are also untested and unrated and may turn out to be $150 crap. I believe pre-cult hunting is something dentists do with their spare time.

Who is IN this year?

Five years ago Pride Mountain was all the rage. Now I guess they're boring. And Silver Oak, the original trendy winery? SO passe.

Best I can figure Carlisle and Copain are in this year. Or maybe that was last year. Could be Alpha Omega now.  Everyone wants to know who they should fall for next.

Helen Turley is the goddess of wine. I hope you knew this already.

Wine Styles

Chardonnay got really popular when it got a little buttery, toasty, and oaky so it got really buttery and oaky because if a little is good then a lot will be great. Now there is a tiny trend toward more "natural" Chardonnay. I call it a tiny trend because even though lots of people talk about wanting less butter and oak they still buy that style a lot more than the ones labeled unoaked.

Alcohol levels have crept up as grapes are picked later for more ripeness (riper = more sugar = more alcohol). Some, like me, complain about the overly fruity, hot wines. There is now a "natural" wine trend which seems to be going against the really ripe trend and all the manipulation the wine maker does to make the finished product taste like wine rather than alcoholic grape juice.

Summary:   Acid and tannin are out; fruit is in.

Social media

Three years ago everybody was hiring a brand manager. I'm still not sure what they do. Now everybody wants a social media expert or at least a part-time consultant. How does one qualify for a social media manager? Best I can guess is you have a marketing degree and spend your days in Facebook and Twitter.

This is about marketing directed towards the under-35 year old crowd as they are supposed to be the ones using these technologies. Unfortunately, they aren't the ones buying most of the wine so I hope no one is spending too much money on this trend until it proves itself.


It's been around for over 100 years but just recently caught on with a few vineyards. Why? Beats me. But if one guy does it some other will have to follow suit. There is an organic-like side and then there's the spiritual (for lack of a better word) side. Biodynamics = Sustainable farming + marketing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Napa vs. Sonoma

So what is the difference between Napa and Sonoma counties? 
(Yes, Napa is a "county," not just a "valley.")

Well, Napa has auto parts! OK, Napa is all about wine because there ain't anything else. Pretty much.

Sonoma has dairy, sheep, fishing, apples, and a lot of high tech stuff though some of those are dwindling as grapes take over. But we also have a whole damned ocean! Take that Napa!

Sonoma Coast


If expensive wine ever went out of favor I don't know what the hell Napa would do. Sonoma would revert back to more livestock, apples and maybe hops. I don't see Napa Valley converting $150,000/acre land into walnut orchards. But if it does you'd want to be the first on the mailing list for the $150/lb. cult walnuts!

Some bad things from Napa Valley have migrated over the mountains into Sonoma. No, I'm not talking about phylloxera. I'm not sure who's to blame for that but I'll blame Napa if I can.  I'm talking about things like tasting room fees.   Did you know that in the old days you could taste for free? It was known as sampling a product before buying, but not anymore in most places.

Being in Napa means eventually you'll have to take your life in your hands and make a left turn onto Highway 29. Good luck! Sonoma means you'll eventually get lost somewhere in Dry Creek and wind up in the Russian River Valley. Oh well, you'll have to unexpectedly sample lots of world-class Pinots.

Driving in Napa means being run off the road by some snot-nosed jerk in a Ferrari. Sonoma means a deer is going to run out in front of you at dusk while your reaction times are slowed by all the wonderful wines you've been sampling.

Sonoma County
Welcome to Napa!

In Napa good luck at finding a decent Cabernet for under sixty bucks. In Sonoma you aren't going to find many wines over sixty. But if you're looking for a large choice of $150 Cabs then Napa Valley is the place to go. You don't even have to ask who has the best Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.

OK, Napa does have Taylor's Refresher and Buster's BBQ. Sonoma has a racetrack (Infineon) -- and an ocean! And they even renamed Taylor's to Gott's or something generic.  Napa has one good brewpub; Sonoma has five.   Napa is about big egos and successful marketing; Sonoma is about generations of farming.  I could go on ...

You can picnic right along the highway at V. Sattui Winery with bus loads of other tourists or you can pick a spot on a hillside in one of the several valleys in Sonoma where there's one or two tables and miles away from any busy road.

Sonoma is more spread out.  You're not going to be able to drink at a rate of eight wineries an hour.  Of course, at an average of a $15 tasting fee times eight wineries times two people you'll be broke before you get two miles along Highway 29.

Napa has Yountville with The French Laundry if you like frou-frou. You'll want to show up in a BMW or Infinity or something similar; no Chevys please. Don't forget to make your reservations four months in advance.  And wear something nice.  In Sonoma show up in jeans and boots and they'll think you're a local. The last time anybody tried for any kind of dress code here was about twenty years ago when a new Hilton opened in Santa Rosa. They kicked out a local guy for being under-dressed.  His name was Charlie Schultz, of Peanuts fame.  Well, that made the paper and that joint has been scorned ever since.

Sonoma is just plain.  Plain relaxing that is.  

If you've never visited the California wine country I suppose you'll want to go to Napa just because. So stop in at Beringer for the 2 pm tour with 150 other people listening to some poor soul give the same spiel for the 400th time. Then get back in your car the get the hell out!  You're only a few minutes from heaven (Sonoma County).

Talk to people who have visited both Napa and Sonoma and ask which they prefer.

Napa has the wine train. Sonoma does not. If that sumbitch ever shows up over here we'll practice the famous Sonoma cow tipping on that thing.

Sonoma does not have a winery that looks quite this, um, what's the word I'm looking for?
Touristy, that's it.

Yes, this is all done slightly tongue-in-cheek.  Just slightly.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tasting a Few Small Producer Pinot Noirs

Four small wineries poured at the Wine Spectrum wine bar in Santa Rosa Tuesday evening.  Each poured two Pinots.


2008 Russian River Valley - From two vineyards in the Green Valley and Sebastopol areas.  This wine seemed a little "murky" tasting and a little hot.  My least favorite of the eight we tasted.

2007 Carneros Stanly Ranch - Cherry cola and a typical Carneros earthiness. Bit of a chemically finish.

Notes:  Coho is a "side job" for the head wine maker for Sattui.


2007 Sonoma Coast La Cruz Vineyard - Fruity and a decent balance though just a little short on backbone.  Very drinkable.

2007 Sonoma Coast El Coro Vineyard - Very similar to the previous but a bit rounder.

Notes:  Keller is located in an area called the Petaluma Gap at the southernmost end of the Sonoma Coast appellation where most of the growing season is windy and chilly.  Both Pinots were quite similar. Though fruity they showed a restraint probably from the very cool growing area.


2006 Marin County - Earthy and acidic.  Not the most pleasant sipping wine, but would be a good food wine.  More Old World than California in style.

2007 Marin County - More concentrated, richer and rounder than the 2006.  A bit of a coffee liquor nose, cigar box flavor.  Very nice.

Notes:  Marin County is just south of Sonoma.  Kendric is a very small one-man operation.  His Pinots retail in the mid-30s--a great price for the quality.


2007 Estate - Very nice acid / fruit balance.  This would be a great food wine. And it's a good deal at $36. I can almost taste the salmon fillet coming off the grill ...

2007 Tara Vineyards - Fruit, acid, balance, structure, elegant.  What can I say?  There aren't many better.

Notes:   The largest of these four producers.  They are open to the public for tasting.  I have been a fan of Russian Hill's Pinots and Syrahs for several years as they are some of the best bang-for-the-buck premium wines around.

Rating the wineries from my favorite to least:  Russian Hill, Kendric, Keller, Coho.

The Wine Spectrum will be hosting another Pinot Noir tasting in a couple weeks.  Hopefully, I'll get to that one also.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why this is a crappy blog

So many wine blogs look and read very professionally that it's just a pleasure to look through them.   For instance, check out Steve Heimoff's or dirtysouthwine.   How do these guys do it?  Beats me!

What it ain't

No, I didn't go to wine school, marketing school, web school or even journalism school.   Yes, I know it shows.   I took something worthless in college just like most people.  I can't even edit worth a carp.

I don't write only positive stuff because there are already plenty of people writing about the wonders of wine.

Some of the entries are very localized and others from outside the area won't quite get it.   It's where I live and what I do so it's easy to write about.

Some is very opinionated (vs. factual).   I hope you know the difference.   Sometimes I do.

I wish I had better pictures, but I have a cheap HP digital camera and that's what I get.

What it is

Advertising free

No one sways my voice with "bribes."  Not even my employer (when I have one).  I don't take freebies to influence my opinions.   Well, I did get a free entrance into the May Vinify wine tasting for mentioning the event (there, glad I got that off my chest).

Writing with a sense of humor -- it's always there and I know it's hard to pick out in print sometimes.

I have been around the Napa/Sonoma wine scene as a customer for several decades and in the wine business for many years.  Not that many folks have that historical reference on this area.


It's only wine!   If wine is your livelihood I can understand taking it seriously, but I sometimes wonder about some of the consumer-types.  We've got wars, oil spills, and hungry children to worry about.  Lighten up when talking about your hobby!  (You know who I'm talking about you Parker-ophiles).

Have fun exploring!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Don't like wine? Mmm, beer.

Is someone dragging you to wine country but don't like wine?  No problem!   Sonoma County just happens to have some of the best microbreweries in the country.  For the population we probably have more great beers than most anywhere this side of Germany.  If you think I'm wrong then submit all of your county's beers and I'll get back to you.  

Just have the winos in your group drop you off at one of these pubs on their way out wine tasting.   With any luck they'll forget to pick you up later.

Life is full of choices

3rd Street Ale Works

In downtown Santa Rosa where Tuesdays is the best deal with cheap pints and eats.   Start with the Annadel Pale Ale.  Food is mostly good--it's best to stick with the burgers or tacos.   The crowd is a bit of everything from the 20-somethings to families.

Bear Republic Brewery

In Healdsburg with good food, nice outdoor seating, and outstanding beer.   They are best known for the Racer 5 IPA and Red Rocket Amber.  If you want an easy-drinking beer on a hot day their take on a Mexican lager, the El Oso, is great.  In cooler weather check out the Hop Rod Rye.  You get the picture--maybe you'll want to start with a sampler platter.  The crowd is a mix of locals and tourists.  There might be a better way to spend a warm afternoon than on their outside deck with a Red Rocket and a burger, but I can't think of any right now.


In Sebastopol with a nice outdoor patio.  They have a few of their own beers plus other local microbrews on tap.  Their brews are often a take on European beers. The people are "West County types" meaning "hippy-ish."    Good food and they often have live music.


In Petaluma where I've been on a tour and tasting but haven't been there since they became an official pub.   Their flagship is the IPA.  If you like India Pales you owe it to yourself to try this one.  Their beers have in-your-face flavor--nothing subtle.  It's a funky working brewery and the crowd is the same, but what would you expect from a place that taunts The Man by putting out an Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale?

Russian River Brewery

In downtown Santa Rosa where Vinnie wins lots of awards, the place is always crowded, and besides traditional ales there are a number of Belgian-style brews.  Their brews are highly sought after by "beer-ophiles." There are usually 15-20 beers to choose from with happy hour all day Sunday.  Start with one of the lighter Belgians and go from there.   Salads and pizzas are good if you're hungry.  The hot spot for sitting is one of the tables out front where you can sip and watch for babes especially on Wednesday evenings when the farmers' market is happening.   The crowd is blue collar and tattooed but they don't bite.

Ruth McGowan's

In Cloverdale and it's fairly new, clean, and the crowd is fairly clean, too.   Start with the Cloverdale Ale.

In Napa visit the Silverado Brewing Company between St. Helena and Calistoga.   Sit outside and watch the traffic go by on Highway 29 while sipping an amber ale and munching on sweet potato fries.

In Mendocino County check out Anderson Valley or Mendocino breweries.

Yeah, I know it's supposed to be a wine blog.   WhatEVER!    :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"A Bottle a Day. That's All We Ask."

And other great wine marketing ideas.

Gundlach-Bundschu, under Jim Bundschu anyway, knew how to look at wine consumption. It's not serious business!  Look at what the mega-beer companies do.   I mean, does anybody really think Bud Lite is good or do you just drink it because of the ads?

This kind of "regular guy" advertising seems friendlier and less hoidy toidy than a lot of the ads you see mostly in wine mags with some expensive-looking skinny babe in an expensive dress who is way out of my league with a glass of a beverage that is also apparently way out of my league.

There are enough wine snobs perpetuating wine intimidation to those newer to wine.  Why the heck would marketing types do this?

It's like the Mercedes car ads.  Even if I didn't already know I couldn't afford a M-B the stuffiness of their advertising tells me so.

Rich and drunk and ready
Sex is often used in marketing, but even this ad has an upper-class style.  And it won't do much for most of the women who buy wine.   The car people finally figured out a few years ago that women actually make purchases too!   Yeah, I know, the marketing MBA types will talk targeting and positioning all scientific like about the West Coast white couples with income of $200k.   What percentage of wine drinkers (or the population in general) fall into this?

Oh, but you're going for the high-end crowd?   If you've ever been in a tasting room it's full of middle-class 30- and 40-somethings.   How do you want to appeal to them?  Is your wine fun to drink?  Does it create a fun time with friends?   Do their friends drive Chevys or Mercedes?

Meeker Winery, also known for being a little avant-garde, took out an ad in the local paper with "Free Sex Win Now" in bold letters.  Under that it said, "Now that we have your attention ..."   This ad appeared at least ten years ago and I still remember it.   And so what if your advertising might piss off a few fundamentalists that would not drink wine anyway--there's nothing like the free advertising coming from their complaints!

These are not your typical wine drinkers

These are