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Free: Hospice du Rhone 2010 iPhone App Available

I'm really looking forward to Hospice du Rhone this year. it's coming up soon, April 29 - May 1, in Paso Robles. To help people like me, and you, get up to speed on everything that will go on there, the wineries involved, etc., the HdR organization has put out an iPhone app. This is the first event based iPhone app i've seen.

I downloaded it as soon as it hit the Apple App Store on Monday. There's a lot of cool stuff in there that could well be of use to you regardless of whether or not you go to the event. There's winery and varietal information, Rhone wine quizzes and more. And the price is right. Free!

Sonoma William posted an in-depth HdR 2010 iPhone app review at Simple Hedonisms if you want to learn more.

Photos from Rhone n Bowl - Hospice du Rhone 2011

The 19th annual Hospice du Rhone celebration kicked-off on May 28 in Paso Robles with Rhone n Bowl. Hospice du Rhone is the world’s largest celebration of Rhone variety wines. It brings together winemakers, wine growers, journalists, resellers, distributors, importers and consumers from around the world.

The opening event for several years running has been Rhone n Bowl. Untold bottles of Rhone variety wine is consumed, friends are made, hair is let down and jet lag is recovered from — or compounded. And there is bowling too! Hospice du Rhone feels a like a huge family reunion where Rhone wines are the common ancestor. The bowling party is a great way of getting everyone in the right mood for a long weekend of learning, tasting, sharing, and bonding.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

The 2010 Cabernet Shootout

This past Saturday, I served as a judge in the California finals of the 2010 Cabernet Shootout. Organized by Affairs of the Vine, this final tasting included sixty-four wines, narrowed down from hundreds of wines by earlier trials. Judges were divided into two groups, each of which evaluated thirty-two wines in four flights of eight. The first flight I tasted was Cabernet Franc or blends predominantly based on that grape. The rest of the wines were predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon but could include other grapes within the blend. The top scoring wines from Saturday's competitions will go on to a consumer tasting this Fall in Chicago.

The tasting was, of course, blind. This was the first of these shootouts in which I've participated. Purposely, I didn't look at what wines had been evaluated in past shootouts, where they were from, etc. I wanted my judging to be as completely blind as possible. This also made my perusal today of the roster of wines I tasted more interesting. All but one of the wines tasted were what I would consider to be from current vintages, 2005 - 2009. The outlier was a 2004 which, tasting blind, I described as tired. I suppose that's a fair description for an 04 in a field of very young wines. I have a bottle of the same wine in my cellar and it will be interesting to taste it again and see if I agree with myself under different circumstances.

The wines were from a wide range of price points and regions too. I'm not going to name many of the wines, because I don't want to steal any thunder from future Affairs of the Vine announcements. But it's interesting to look over my scoring sheet, the wine list and  see what springs to mind. First, I notice that I gave low scores to the two least expensive wines. Selling for $8 and $10, I scored them both at a level which I'd associate with slightly below-average mass production wines. Sorry folks, there were no bargain basement miracles in my flights.

By the same token, price does not necessarily indicate quality. Of the wines priced at $50 or higher, five would get "recommended" status at NorCal Wine and two would be "highly recommended." The final wine in that category and the most expensive of all was the sneaky 2004. Based on the glass I tasted, I wouldn't recommend it at all. That's not a bad showing for the pricey wines, but not stellar either.

There is good news for bargain shoppers. The two wines I rated most highly — they would also get "highly recommended" status at NorCal Wine — were priced at $23 and $32. They also confirm the logic that, for excellent value, one might do well looking away from California's most prominent regions. One of the wines was labelled "Central Coast" and the other was from the Livermore Valley. As it happens, I recently tasted  a Petite Sirah from the same Livermore winery and it was quite good as well. I can see that I need to do a feature on Crooked Vine Winery soon.

There were eight wines that I scored just one or two points below the two mentioned above, they too would be "highly recommended." Among them were three Paso Robles wines, two from Dry Creek Valley, two came from high-altitude appellations within Napa Valley and the final one was from Washington State. The lowest priced wine among these was $22 and the highest, at $75 each, were the Napa wines.

Before and after the tasting, I had a good time chatting with several of my fellow judges, include Eric Hwang, Steve Heimoff, Thea Dwelle, John Drady, Jason Mancebo and Laura Ness. Eva Swan from NorCal Wine was also a judge, tasting the thirty-two wines I did not, but we've not had a chance to compare notes yet. I also enjoyed speaking with Barbara Drady who, as organizer, was not judging. She and her volunteers did a tremendous job with everything: structuring the event, pouring, keeping things on schedule and keeping the judges palates fresh with good bread, etc. She also rewarded us for our efforts with tasty pie afterward!

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Drink with Legends, Eat Like a President

President's Day is an odd holiday. Many Americans get the day off work, but there aren't any traditional celebrations or fireworks displays. It falls too soon after Thanksgiving and "The Holidays" for another big family reunion. Mid-February is too cold for barbecues or a day at the beach. There's no scrum at the Hallmark store with people trying to find the perfect card for their favorite... president. President's Day is officially Washington's Birthday, but Abe Lincoln's birthday is just over a week earlier, so George got merged. If it weren't for those desperate car dealership owners dressing up like Washington "to attract people," our founding father wouldn't get any love at all.

All of that being the case, you probably don't have big plans for February 21, 2011, President's Day. But I do. And you can join me as I hobnob with a Who's Who of wine and food. We'll drink great wine, taste foods that have been served at State Dinners and  dishes prepared by celebrity chefs. And we will honor the careers of five people who've had a huge impact not only on California wine, but the global wine business. Doesn't that sound a lot better than a night at home with a glass of whatever's still open in the fridge from Saturday night? Yes, I know that House and The Chicago Code are on. DVR.

The gala event takes place in St. Helena at the Greystone Campus of the Culinary Institute of America (aka CIA). If you've not been there before, it's worth the trip just to check out their facilities.

The occasion is the induction of five new members to the Vintners Hall of Fame. The new inductees are: Joel Peterson (Ravenswood), Dick Graff (Chalone), August Sebastiani (Sebastiani), Bob Trinchero (Sutter Home and Trinchero wineries) and Vernon Singleton (U.C. Davis). For more information about the inductees, see this article.

The featured guest of honor is former White House Chef and CIA graduate Walter Scheib.

Luminaries who have promised to attend include winemakers, vineyard owners, winery proprietors, writers, political leaders and scholars. Here's a partial list: John Aguirre, Gerald Asher, Andy Beckstoffer, Boots Brounstein, Darrell Corti, Randall Grahm, Violet Grigich, Hal Hufsmith, Agustin Huneeus, David Kent, Darioush Khaledi, Robin Lail, Dick Maher, Mike Martini, Carole Meredith, Margrit Mondavi, Gavin Newsome, Joel Peterson, Don Sebastiani, Don Sebastiani Jr., Vernon Singleton, Garen Staglin, Bob Steinhauer, Jack Stuart, Dorothy Tchelistcheff, Mike Thompson, Bob Trinchero, Andrew Waterhouse, Warren Winiarski, and Phil Woodward. There are no velvet ropes at this event. Say "hello," shake their hand, "buy" them a drink.

Festivities start at 4:00 p.m. PST. They include a celebratory reception, featuring wines served at White House dinners, the Vintners Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and a celebrity chef walk-around dinner in the CIA at Greystone’s teaching kitchens.

Proceeds provide scholarships for the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the CIA at Greystone.

Tickets for the program are $175 ($100 tax-deductible) and may be purchased by visiting www.ciavintnershalloffame.com. For more information on the 2011 Vintners Hall of Fame Induction celebration, please contact Cate Conniff-Dobrich, 707-967-2303 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For more information on the Vintners Hall of Fame and to view the list of former inductees with their photos and biographies, please visit www.ciavintnershalloffame.com.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Some text from Balzac Communications, used with permission. All rights reserved

Reality, Perception and Potential

We all want to reach our potential. And we hope others’ perception of us at least matches the reality of who we are and what our potential might be. It’s nice when perceptions go reality one better. That creates expectations we must strive to meet. Motivation.

But what happens when the perceived quality of something, say a wine growing region, is lower than the actual quality? In that situation, the sales of grapes and wines may be lower in both dollars and units than deserved. Lagging perception also has an impact on the area reaching its true potential. If people dismiss the existing products and refuse to pay a fair price, will investments in even better products be rewarded?

This problem has been faced by most wine growing regions at one time or another. There may be a few exceptions, Burgundy for example. But I think it’s fair to assume that every single viticultural area in the New World has faced it due to OId World bias. Very few — Napa Valley, Marlborough, etc. — have completely blown past this phase. One might argue that even those regions still have perception issues.

This was my train of thought as I drove past acre after acre of characterful ancient vines, their roots reaching dozens of feet deep into unique, extremely well-drained soils. I was pulling into Lodi for three days of intensive vineyard visits, tastings, and meetings with growers and winemakers. Fortunately, Lodi has spent the last 20-something years focused on simultaneously improving the real quality of its products and the consumer and critical perceptions of that quality.

[Note: You may see a Lodi ad running to the right of this article. That is being served by the Palate Press ad network and the placement is entirely coincidental. I do not get any direct revenue from the Lodi or any other region or winery and this article is not sponsored in any way whatsoever.]

old-vine-zin-in-lodi
One of the many old vine Zinfandel vineyards in the Mokelumne AVA, nested within the Lodi AVA.
Photo: Fred Swan 

The raw materials were there. Lodi had century-old Zinfandel and also Carignane, Cinsault and more. There’s a multiplicity of soil types, most conducive to excellent grape quality. There is plenty of sun and warmth but also surprisingly stiff and cooling breezes, a big Delta air-conditioner. Perhaps the most important element though was a generation of growers and vintners who believed in the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

They thought cooperation, collaboration and mutual investment would help both farmer and producer. Successful marketing could make Lodi a nationally-known and sought after AVA. Outside producers could be convinced to designate the AVA on labels. Consumers would learn to taste the difference and eventually pay more for Lodi wines. That incremental revenue, if invested in improving quality from vineyard to bottle, would continue the cycle. They were right.

Two decades after that effort began, the vines are a little older. The soil and the weather haven’t changed. But Lodi’s wines and grapes are different — better. Consumers do seek out Lodi wines based on the AVA, not just the winery brand. Grower and producer revenues are up, as is the number of wineries. There are dozens of tasting rooms and Lodi has become not just a good source but a legitimate destination.

Even with these improvements across the board, the Lodi AVA is still working to get better.  That’s what you do, especially when the potential is so high. (It really is.) There were bumps and uphill climbs on the road to betterment and there will be more. There is also a lot of positive momentum and a new generation of people who have grown up within and fully embrace the process. I’m looking forward to sharing specifics with you about some of the most intriguing wines, vineyards and people in the Lodi wine region.

The timing of this article, just days after the announcement that the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission will be dissolved, is coincidental yet appropriate. When Mendocino County set up the group six years ago, the area already had more critical acceptance than Lodi did at the founding of it’s commission. And, while Mendocino’s road forward was appropriately twisty, progress was definitely being made. The area has been getting much more press. New tasting rooms have been built and Mendocino is now thought of as much for wine tasting weekends as for whale watching and peaceful retreats.

Yesterday’s Taste of Mendo, held in San Francisco, was a great reminder of the diversity of Mendocino wines. At one point I sampled six consecutive rosés, all good and none made from the same variety as another. There were some excellent Pinot Noir of course, but also very fine Syrah. I found compelling Sauvignon Blanc in three distinct styles. And there were plenty of other highly recommendable whites, including Albariño, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.

However, the wine business is intensely competitive. (See the first part of this recent post by Randall Grahm for some excellent thoughts on that.) There are countless wine regions, wineries and drinks conglomerates all fighting over a finite amount of available mindshare and revenue. The Mendocino County wine industry has to find a way to get everyone working together again or it will not only fail to reach its potential but the perception of its quality and relevance will slide backward.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

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