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Pioneering Wine Blogger Proclaims Blogging Dead

jamie_goodeJamie Goode considers himself a wine journalist. Few would argue. His writing, which is excellent, has appeared in newspapers and magazines. He has written books. He runs, which he calls an online magazine. And one of the longest-lived active wine blogs on the internet is Goode’s wine anorak blog. This weekend he proclaimed, via Twitter and Facebook, “Blogging is dead!”

A true blog is an online journal with brief, sequentially-ordered entries sharing pictures, ideas or news. People who became prominent primarily through their blog were called bloggers. Now though, it’s common to refer to anyone publishing online as a blogger. Unfortunately, that label is limiting and has also taken on derisive, or at least dismissive, connotations.

Blogs themselves are rarely self-sustaining these days. In order to drive traffic, the blog publisher must utilize social media. He or she needs to leave comments on other blogs. Being published in print helps too. Some blog owners do weekly turns on radio shows. So successful “bloggers,” are also “social media posters,” “commenters,” “columnists,” and sometimes “radio personalities.”

As Goode went on to say in the same Tweet, “People now realize that a blog is just one of many communication tools. I blog, but I'm not a 'blogger'.” I agree. It’s time to get past the idea of “blogging” as either stigma or singular achievement. "Bloggers" are writers or communicators.

Marshall McLuhan’s phrase, “the medium is the message,” is oft-quoted. But, as with many catchy lines abstracted from their context, people tend to take it literally. McLuhan did not mean that a television is a message, nor a book, pamphlet or voice — or a blog. McLuhan's point was essentially that the medium alters the audience’s perception of the message. But, the medium is still a conveyance for that message.

Of course, the form of messages are often altered by their creator to better fit a particular medium. Word counts and voice change depending on the outlet. Is it a newspaper or magazine? Is it a feature, column or sidebar? This doesn’t change the core message nor the identity of the writer though. And we don’t call someone who frequently contributes sidebars a “sidebarist.”

Today, communicators have dozens of channels for publishing their messages. Labeling people based on any single medium they employ is outmoded and explains nothing. Likewise, people who rely on just one or two means of reaching an audience will wind up talking to themselves. Blogging is dead. Long live communicating!

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 Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo of Jamie Goode snatched from his Facebook page with the assumption he owns it and won't mind. All rights reserved.

Everybody Loves the Bedrock Heirloom Wine

I have to thank Tom Johnson, all the way out in Kentucky, for calling my attention to an article published down in Los Angeles that covers wines practically made in my own backyard. I've been so busy lately studying for WSET Diploma tests on sparkling wines and distilled spirits that I've missed some great stuff on my primary beat.

The LA Times article by W. Blake Gray is all about Zinfandel-focused field blends. The feature wine in the article is Morgan Twain-Peterson's Bedrock Wine Co. Bedrock [Vineyard] Heirloom Blend. Based on 18 different grape varieties from a Sonoma Valley vineyard that was first planted by William "Tecumseh" Sherman and Joe Hooker, before they made names for themselves as Civil War generals. I love this wine. I gave the 2008 Bedrock Heirloom Wine the highest rating of all in my overview of this year's ZAP Grand Tasting. The article also includes a video that Morgan made in which he talks about the vineyard.

Coincidentally, I found this wine on the list at Central Market restaurant in Petaluma last Friday. I was there with friends who left me in charge of selecting the vino. We started with a nice, approachable Grenache from the south of France that went well with our wide range of appetizers. Then we dove into the 2008 Bedrock Heirloom Wine. And then we killed a second bottle of it. This is a wine that will make you a hero with your friends. If we hadn't been so stuffed from the excellent and generously-portioned food Central Market puts out, we'd have probably stayed for a third bottle. [If you're near Petaluma around dinner time, you owe it to yourself to try the Crispy Pork Confit.] In the meantime, check out that LA Times article.

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

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 out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

Tasting the Wines of Rusack Vineyards in Ballard Canyon

Last week, I tasted through the line up of Santa Barbara County wines from Rusack Vineyards. Rusack is located in the pending Ballard Canyon AVA but makes wine from other areas as well. Those include the Sta Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley and even Santa Catalina Island.

The primary Rusack estate vineyard includes 16.5 planted acres straddling Ballard Canyon Road on the valley floor. Its varieties include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc (including the Musqué clone) and Semillon. There is another small vineyard further north and uphill devoted to a new planting of Zinfandel.

Total production in a typical year, including wine made from non-estate grapes, is 8,000-10,000 cases. But typical has been hard to come by in California recently. Rusack made just 6,000 cases in chilly 2011 and 12,000 in bounteous 2012. All the wines are made on-site at the estate. The tasting room is there as well.

The tasting room at Rusack Vineyards on Ballard Canyon Road. Photo: Fred Swan

The patio at Rusack Vineyards looks inviting, even on a foggy summer morning. Photo: Fred Swan

My host for the tasting was Rusack Vineyards winemaker Steven Gerbac. He’s been at Rusack Vineyards for ten years and was very informative about the vineyards, vinification, etc. However, his ascent to head winemaker from assistant has just been in the last year or so. John Falcone, now at Gainey Vineyards, was head winemaker for the wines I tasted.

Rusack winemaker Steven Gerbac, August 12, 2013. Photo: Fred Swan

2012 Rusack Sauvignon Blanc Santa Barbara County, $17
Though simply labeled Santa Barbara County, this is more specifically a Santa Ynez Valley AVA blend. The estate vineyard provided 42% of the fruit, nearby Stolpman 35% and Valley View the balance. The grapes, clone 1 and Musqué clone, got a couple of hours skin contact before being pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks. There was no malolactic fermentation.

Ballard Canyon’s cool evenings and morning fog are evident in the cool-climate aromatics that rush from the glass: green apple, white flowers, limestone, lime pith, grapefruit and nearly-ripe stonefruit. Its fresh in the mouth and a generous medium body with citrus-focused flavors, principally lime, lime pith and grapefruit. There’s some herb and peppery spice as well. The finish is clean with a saline minerality. 13.6% alcohol. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Chardonnay Santa Catalina Vineyard California, $55
Santa Catalina Island is almost literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s only twenty-two miles south-southwest of Los Angeles, but that distance is all over water. That isolation, along with the island’s small size, low population and lack of cell towers promote what residents like to call “island time.” Grape harvests require a skilled labor and a sense of urgency though, so Rusack flies vineyard workers onto the island and flies the fruit back out.

Rusack's island vineyard is on the windward side. Even during the peak of summer it’s temperatures are moderated by miles of 70° water, cold ocean breezes and persistent fog. The result is Chardonnay with surprising body. That’s due not to high alcohol but the conversion of copious malic acid during ML. Lees stirring prevents buttery flavors from getting out of hand.

The nose is mildly buttery golden apple, yogurt and baking spice. Those flavors lead the palate as well but quickly transition to steely yogurt and, eventually, a taut, mineral finish. It’s a nearly full-bodied wine but there’s still acidity and a light talc-like texture. The Rusack Santa Catalina Island Chardonnay will be released around November of this year. Recommended+.

2011 Rusack Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley Reserve, $32
Gentle baking spice aromas mingle with baked yellow apple, green apple and a touch of pineapple in this Chardonnay made from an even split of Bien Nacido Vineyard and Sierra Madre Vineyard fruit. Full-bodied with a silky mouthfeel, the palate is fruit-focused but refined: pear, yellow apple, pineapple, peach and baking spice. Mouthwatering finish. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Pinot Noir Santa Catalina Island California,
Catalina’s uber-cool climate delivers an earth-forward Pinot here. Spice, sandalwood and dark flowers add interest. The fruit is dark red and earthy. The attack is creamy on the palate with medium-plus body and flavors of earth, brown spice, barrel char (40% new oak it turns out, with medium to medium-heavy toast), dark red fruit and caramel. Not yet released. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Pinot Sta. Rita Hills Reserve, $40
A cold year and Sta. Rita Hill’s wind-tunnel of a growing zone resulted in tiny little grapes and a deeply layered, savory and masculine wine. The tannins, moderate and fine, are more than matched by acidity. The nose offers tangy spice, tangerine peel, drying herb, dark spice, a grind of pepper and whiff of licorice. A sip brings long-lasting flavors of dark fruit, spice and licorice. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Pinot Noir, Solomon Hills Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, $45
Aromatic and bequiling, a perfume of brown and dark spice, rose petal, tea and clove precedes the blood orange core. The palate is elegant up front and boldly spicy on the finish. Light, fine-grained tannins accompany tangy spice and zesty dark fruit. Highly Recommended +.

2011 Rusack Sangiovese Estate, $32
California Sangiovese does not often resemble that of Tuscan producers. Our fruit is frequently too ripe, the body to heavy and the oak too obvious—though the latter is not uncommon in Italy either. Ballard Canyon’s mild climate is well-suited to making a more traditional Sangiovese and that’s what I found at Rusack. The nose and palate evince earthy, leathery cherry and plum accented by spice and dark flowers. The body is medium-plus and balanced by both acidity and grippy, light-grained tannins. Best from 2014 - 2018. Try it with a thin ribeye steak cooked directly on hot coals. Recommended +.

2011 Rusack Syrah Ballard Canyon Estate Santa Barbara County, $25
Syrah is the variety that put Ballard Canyon on the map. Rusack’s estate vineyard hold three clones: old-vine Estrella, 174 and 877. Petite Sirah, less than 10%, is added to the blend to bump up the fruit profile. The results are delicious. The wine is deeply-colored and highly aromatic with plum, leather, grilled meat, sweet and savory herb plus a scattering of black pepper. Nearly full-bodied in the mouth, there are fine-grained and powdery tannins. The flavor profile is predominantly savory with dark fruit, old leather, dark spice and earth. This is a great buy at $25. Drink now through 2018. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Syrah Ballard Canyon Estate Reserve Santa Barbara County, $36
Dark and purplish this wine is a best barrel selection of Syrah intended to show a somewhat riper style while keeping plenty of savory flavors. Pardon the laundry list, but the nose is complex: dry earth and grass, grilled game, toast, white and black pepper, dark fruit and spice plus a little camphor. It starts creamy in the mouth, follows with very fine, chalky tannins and then finishes clean and juicy. Flavors are aligned with the nose: dark fruit and spice, licorice, game, savory herb and leather. Now through 2018. Very Highly Recommended.

Rusack Zinfandel
This is going to be an interesting project to watch. There’s an island called Santa Cruz, the largest off the coast of Santa Barbara. It's interior valley used to be home to a big winery. Long abandoned, some vines still grow there untended. Among them was a unique clone of Zinfandel that Rusack now calls the Santa Cruz Island clone. Rusack took 87 cuttings and has planted them on Catalina and in Ballard Canyon.

The propagated vines are still quite young. I’m looking forward to trying upcoming vintages when the vines are bit older, especially those from Ballard Canyon which I suspect should be a good area for complex and balanced Zinfandel.

2010 Rusack “Anacapa” Ballard Canyon Estate, Santa Barbara County, Sold Out
This is Rusack’s red Bordeaux-variety blend. It’s 46% Cabernet Franc with even doses of Merlot and Petit Verdot making up the balance. There are cherry, red currant, cocoa, sweet spice, drying leaves and coconut on the nose and palate. Body is medium-plus and the moderate tannins very fine-grained and a little chalky. Recommended.

2010 Rusack Late Harvest Semillon “Soul of the Vine,” Santa Ynez Valley (all Rusack Estate), $45
When I visited Santa Barbara County last week, a substantial portion of the vines were covered with bird netting. Starlings love ripening grapes. But Rusack had an even finer mesh over their Semillon. It's bee netting. Botrytis is encouraged to form by using gentle overhead sprinklers on warm days. The Noble Rot sticks its little fingers into the grapes, sucking out moisture and turning the grapes into super-sweet, flavorful bee bait. Hence the nets.

Juice from those concentrated grapes is fermented in stainless steel tanks (which I would not want to clean) and then aged in French oak for 14 months. The wine is a vivid lemon-gold in color, the scrumptious nose offers brown sugar, baked pineapple, tart apricot and baking spice. Sweet sips taste of pineapple upside-down cake. Generous acidity keeps Soul of the Vine from being cloying. Highly Recommended.


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 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 Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.


Take A Harvest Tour At Niner Estates

Many wineries offer tours these days, but few offer comprehensive tours during harvest. This is a very busy time for wineries. They are under the gun to get the fruit in and processed quickly. It’s also crowded within the wineries because of extra workers brought in to help with picking, sorting and moving bins around. And look out for speeding forklifts! On the other hand, there’s no better way to really understand the this important phase of the winemaking process than to see it first hand.

Read more: Take A Harvest Tour At Niner Estates

Good News, Bad News about Alcohol in Wine

I spotted a couple of interesting articles recently about the alcohol in wine and how it does or does not affect our bodies.

First the good news. Drinking too much wine or beer does not increase your risk of acute pancreatitis. Specifically, the medical study looked at people drinking 5 or more standard drinks on a single occasion. Consuming equal amounts of distilled spirits does appear to raise the odds of developing the disorder. The study, published recently in the British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd, is now available online (pdf download).

The take-away here is that, while binge drinking is ill-advised can lead to early death for any number of reasons, if you limit yourself to wine and beer acute pancreatitis is no more likely to do you in than would otherwise have been the case. Woo hoo! Or something.

Now the bad news. Well, it’s not really bad news for everybody, just those who think that any level of alcohol in wine is fine as long as the wine tastes and feels balanced. And for those of you who monitor your consumption solely on the number of glasses you consume rather than the alcohol content therein. Drinking wine with 15% alcohol will get you drunk faster than the same amount of wine with 12%.

That’s not very surprising. But this is. The effect of alcohol percentage on blood alcohol content (BAC) is not necessarily proportional. According to gastroenterologist Michael Apstein writing in the SF Chronicle, the 25% boost in a wine’s alcohol can make a 35% difference in blood alcohol. Your situation may vary, based on your body weight, the frequency and typical quantity of your alcohol consumption, metabolism, age, etc.

But think very hard about getting behind the wheel unless you know exactly how much you’ve had to drink and what it’s effect on you has been. If you are a 130-pound woman who drank 10 ounces of wine over 90 minutes, the difference between 13% alcohol wine and 14% is the difference between being legally sober and legally drunk.

Review Apstein’s article carefully. As always, I also suggest knowing what the alcohol content of the wine you drink is, and what a 5-ounce pour looks like. If you’re in the position of needing to drive after you’ve had any alcohol, you should seriously consider buying a very good quality personal breathalyzer too. And remember that blood alcohol levels can continue to go up after you’ve stopped drinking as your body absorbs what’s in your stomach.


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 Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.