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Getting the Wine Bloggers Conference We Deserve

Malloreigh wearing boxing glovesI attended this year’s North American Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Santa Barbara last week. This was the fifth WBC I’ve attended. Some parts of the conference were truly excellent, many were interesting in the moment but not memorable. Others could and should have been much better in my view. The event is a for-profit venture. Attendee feedback is vital to improvement in future seminars, tastings, excursions, presenters and in the conference as a whole.

Zephyr does solicit feedback from bloggers for future sessions. Not all advice is taken. Some is conflicting, impractical or would cut into Zephyr’s profits. The organizers have made changes over the years based on our comments though.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement. And three of the six best events in Santa Barbara that weekend were actually non-sanctioned gatherings which Zephyr didn’t want anybody to attend. I’m concerned, though, that a negative feedback loop is being created. There was even an article this week, from a blogger who wasn’t present at the conference, that did nothing but regurgitate negative comments from attendees.

Some of the criticism is so virulent, and sometimes personal, that the relationship with Zephyr—who don’t react well to complaints anyway—can only become increasingly adversarial. That won’t lead to better conferences. Likewise, the tenor of gripes about individual panelists is such that only people totally desperate for exposure will agree to participate in coming years..

A few months ago, bloggers rightly called Robert Parker out for posting a scathing forum rant about a Jon Bonné/Eric Asimov tasting seminar he hadn’t attended. His comments were based on partially inaccurate missives from his colleagues. We should hold ourselves to the same standards to which we hold others.

I’m not saying some of the criticism isn’t justified. We should keep that criticism constructive and impersonal though. Before we rip into panelists on blogs and social media, we should remember panelists are people with feelings, reputations they’ve built through years of diligent work, and families and friends who may see our posts. We should remember the panelists came to the conference with goodwill toward us, the intent to be helpful and that the only payment they receive is our goodwill in exchange.

Note: Per comments from Allan of Zephyr Adventures (see below), I have edited this article to remove text indicating that Zephyr  employees are not winee industry people or wine enthusiasts.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons: Malloreigh - RetouchAll rights reserved.

Jess Jackson, Founder of Kendall-Jackson, Dead at 81

Jess Stonestreet Jackson, Jr. (February 18, 1930 - April 21, 2011)

Jess Jackson died at home, in Geyserville, CA on April 21, 2010 after a long fight with cancer. He was 81 years old. Born in Depression-era California, he took his first job at age 5. Jackson went on to work a wide variety of jobs, sometimes more than one at a time, to help his family and put himself through college. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law in 1951 and began a practice in land-use law.

His continuing hard work served him well. By 2005, Forbes Magazine estimated his wealth at 1.8 billion dollars, placing him in a tie for 366th in that publication’s list of the world’s wealthiest people. The winery to which he gave his name, Kendall-Jackson, makes this country’s most popular Chardonnay. The winery holding company he founded, Jackson Family Wines is the 9th largest in the country. In 2009, he was voted into the Vintners Hall of Fame which resides at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Biodynamic Cabernet of Grace from Wise Acre Vineyards

A hundred chocolate-brown feathers litter the ground before the barn, the only remaining traces of a bobcat’s midnight chicken dinner. Seemingly unaware of their narrow escape, the remaining heritage Buckeye hens and a homely, bare-necked turchicken peck the earth between feathers for insects and bits of grain. Horses, rabbits and sheep are nearby and a friendly old, yellow labrador lies sleepily on his side, watching the action.

In the barn is a two-wheeled, hand-guided tractor that works the soil without causing compaction. A large plastic tub with a central filter occupies one corner, looking like an industrial version of a Bodum teapot. It’s used for making biodynamic teas though, nothing you’d want to drink. Just past the barn in the shade of a tree lies a large compost pile and, buried next to that, a decomposing wooden barrel filled with older compost and thousands of happy worms. Somewhere, cow horns are buried. They’re contents will ultimately be sprayed onto the soil to benefit microorganisms and increase uptake of nutrients by the plants.

The vineyard itself is small, just about half an acre, and slopes at 11 degrees down toward the barn. It’s set into a small bowl in the hillside which is consistently three to four degrees cooler than the valley floor but a couple of degrees warmer than the hillside outside of the bowl. Swirling winds prevent frost. It’s a nearly perfect site tucked away in a spot you’d never find on your own, even with a GPS. There’s not a single winery in sight. This is Napa Valley though, and home to one of that AVAs most lithe and balanced Cabernet Sauvignon.

lynn-and-kirk-grace
Lynn and Kirk Grace of Wise Acre Vineyard. Photo provided by Lynn Grace.

Lynn and Kirk Grace bought the property in 2003. They planted it with 4 x 4 spacing to Bosche-clone Cabernet Sauvignon on 101–14 rootstock. That’s the same combination found at his family’s Grace Family Vineyards, considered the first of Napa’s “cult” Cabernet Sauvignon producers. Kirk is responsible for viticulture at Grace Family too, but his primary job is viticulturist for Stags Leap Wine Cellars. He held the same position at the certified-organic* Robert Sinskey Vineyards for nine years.

Lynn and Kirk do everything themselves by hand at their home vineyard, using bio-correct practices that Kirk has developed over 32 years of organic and biodynamic wine-growing. The wine is made solely from their Wise Acre Vineyard grapes by Gary Brookman. Brookman makes the wine for Grace Family too.

Despite their cult status, Grace Family wines have never been big or over-extracted. Raj Parr, well-known now not just for his wine expertise but also for his “pursuit of balance” and stance against high-alcohol wines has said, “Grace Family wines are among my favorite wines in the world… honest wines, true to variety and sense of place.” The Wise Acre vineyard is in a different location—in between the St. Helena and Howell Mountain AVAs—but shares the same vineyard set-up, practices and philosophy. Lynn and Kirk shoot for alcohol levels of 13.5% or less.

Their first vintage was 2008. I recently tasted a barrel sample of the 2012. It will be bottled in May and then age for another 16 months before release. I’d happily drink it now. In fact, I swallowed every drop of my tasting pour.

The wine smells of currant, red cherry, earth, spice and a hint of juniper. In the mouth there is a moderate amount of fine-grained, lightly grippy tannins balanced neatly with acidity. The wine will be lovely with food but, even now, doesn’t require any. Body is medium to medium+. Flavor intensity is excellent and the finish long. Flavors echo the nose with currant, red cherry, earth and spice but also a splash of mocha. I don’t rate barrel samples but, if this was a released wine today, it would be Very Highly Recommended.

Production volume is very low and heavily dependent on vintage. It’s been as low as 20 cases and will never be more than 100. Given that, plus the all of the hand labor, the pedigree and the quality of the wine itself, it’s a bargain in Napa Valley at $150. The wines are sold direct and there’s a 3-bottle minimum.

*Robert Sinskey has been Demeter-certified biodynamic. It recently cancelled their licensing/certification relationship with Demeter and can no longer use the term biodynamic but has not changed its farming practices.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Weathermen have delivered an unpleasant forecast for this Tuesday, rain and plenty of it. Northern California is due to get at least 2 - 3 inches of rain in one day. In some places, like the Sierras, as much as 8 inches may fall.

This is a bad time for a big rain in wine country. While many wineries have already harvested the majority of their grapes, some have not. The bulk of the white wine grapes and Pinot Noir are happily fermenting by now. Red varietals that take longer to ripen, especially those in cool climate areas, are still hanging on the vines though. Particularly at risk are Syrah, Zinfandel and, in some areas, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Kosher Cabernet Sauvignon for Passover

It’s fortunate for people who keep kosher that there was no commandment against coveting thy neighbors wine. Only a tiny fraction of all wine released is kosher. Much of the kosher wine that is sold does not provide a drinking experience which is entirely positive, let alone similar to that of the best non-kosher wines. And the availability of terroir-reflective wines, which many of us take for granted, is almost nil when it comes to kosher bottlings.

 

The good news is that some dedicated people are trying to change this. For example, Covenant Wines is focused on providing top notch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that is kosher. We recently purchased a bottle each of their two 2006 releases to try.

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