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NorCal Wine Blog

Cats and Dogs Blogging Together

There are two species of wine bloggers. Within each species, there are many breeds—reporter, diarist, taster, storyteller, etc.—which have analogs in the other. But the two species are very different animals.

The Dogs BedFor one species, wine blogging is part of a career in or around the wine industry. Their involvement with wine may not pay all the bills yet, but they seriously intend to make that happen. For the other, wine blogging is, and always will be, a hobby. They might hope to cover some costs and receive wine samples, but their blogging is really a pastime, a creative outlet, a way of sharing their experiences.

I’m not saying one species of blogger is better than the other, just that they are distinct. Their goals, outlooks, interests and approaches to blogging contrast clearly. The Wine Bloggers’ Conference has always tried to serve both species. Each is addressed by certain activities within the programs. But the target audiences for seminars aren't overtly identified. Content doesn't give the impression of having been fine-tuned for either segment.

In retrospect, this is at the root of my frustrations with the conference and, I suspect, those of numerous "career bloggers" who have attended. We feel uncomfortable with multiple aspects of WBC that happen to have great appeal to hobbyists. And many careerists feel WBC doesn’t offer them enough unique value to justify their time and travel expense.

My favorite non-tasting seminar at this past conference was Michael Larner’s presentation on Terroir of Santa Barbara County. He was thorough, authoritative, focused and occasionally showed his dry humor. I found the session was very informative and time well spent. Unfortunately, there weren’t more than 25 bloggers in the tent.

Why, in a conference taking place in Santa Barbara County, were there not more people eager to learn about Santa Barbara County? First, the career group, which has much greater interest in the details of soil, climate and geological history, is, at best, 20% the size of the hobbyist camp. Second, Michael’s session was concurrent with two others, each having a title starting with “The Business of.” If you’re a career blogger, all three sessions have appeal. Which do you attend? If you’re a hobbyist, none are particularly exciting. Do you grudgingly attend one or do you sleep in?

My favorite tasting seminar of the conference was “Syrah Territory: Ballard Canyon.” It was instructive, allowed winemakers to address the audience directly and the wines were tremendous. The tasting seminar called “Dig In: Sta. Rita Hills” might have been even better. I’ll never know. These two core seminars on Santa Barbara wine were presented simultaneously.

Many people enjoyed the panel discussion entitled “How the Pros Taste.” I like and respect each of the panelists: Patrick Comiskey, Steve Heimoff and Joe Roberts. Much of the crowd enjoyed these gentlemen’s interplay, stories, enthusiasm for particular wines and occasional nuggets about their tasting habits. But I and a few careerists sitting around me, writhed in frustration, wondering when Steve, Joe and Patrick would tell us how they actually approach tasting: their process, how they characterize tannins, how they weigh various criteria to reach an overall quality assessment, etc. That never happened, but the majority of attendees—the hobbyists—were entertained and left happy.

And then there’s “live blogging.” I loathe it. I understand a winery’s desire for face-to-face time with many small sets of bloggers adn the benefit of having their brand trending on Twitter. I grok the revenue model for Zephyr. I can relate to the happiness and invigoration bloggers experience when learning and tasting so many new things in rapid-fire succession, and having to write/tweet about it under the pressure of 5-minute deadlines.

But I feel badly for the winemakers who can barely make themselves heard in a hall with hundreds of people talking at once. I wonder who, reading at home, can keep up with and benefit from the tidal wave of 80 character (plus multiple hashtags) “reviews.” I mourn for my palate which is required to first taste a fortified wine, then a delicate white, then a pungent Sauvignon Blanc, then a neutral white from a box. Thank Dionysus for the occasional palate-resetting bubbly!

In Tuesday’s article, I’ll offer ideas for restructuring the conference to better serve both hobbyist and career bloggers.

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: Wikimedia Commons: Petteri Sulonen. All rights reserved.

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.

New White Wines and Rosés from Rutherford's Day in the Dust

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Rutherford Dust Society held their annual tasting for trade and media at Inglenook. Roughly 40 wineries were represented. I tasted 54+ wines (in addition to those from the morning session which I describe here). That article also includes a summary of the 2011 vintage overall.

Most of the wines offered at the tasting were red. However, there were some very compelling white and rosés too. I’ve dedicated this article to those wines, so they don’t get lost in the Cabernet shuffle.

Rutherford White and Rosé New Releases

Alpha Omega Sauvignon Blanc “1155” Napa Valley 2013, ~$38
Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Semillon, all estate-grown in Rutherford, were fermented in French oak barrels. Fresh, summery flavors of tart peach and dry grass are coupled with enjoyably grippy texture and freshness. Recommended

El Molino Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $60 - 856 cases
White peach and beautiful floral notes of honeysuckle and pikake with some oak in the background. Very pretty. Highly Recommended

Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $45 - 300 cases
Aromas and flavors of green apple skin, fresh herb and under ripe peach with a fresh palate. Recommended

Fleury Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $50
Fermentation and aging was 50% stainless steel, 50% new French oak. This is a boldly tropical wine with passionfruit, pineapple and white flower aromatics. Medium-plus body and the flavor of piña colada on the palate. Recommended

Honig Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $28
Salty lemon-lime aromas with grapefruit, peppery spice and herb on the palate. Medium-plus body and very fresh. Aged in French oak, 40% new. 10% Semillon, 2% Muscat. Highly Recommended

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $20
Salty lime pith, passionfruit, melon rind and herb aromas join with loads of grapefruit on the palate. Fresh, long and intense. Highly Recommended

Conspire Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $28 - 267 cases
Welcome to Sancerre! Intensely aromatic with passionfruit, grapefruit, salty minerality and pipi du chat. Body is a light medium-plus and the finish very long. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Sauvignon Musque. Conspire is a sub-brand of Amy Aiken's Meander wines. Highly Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, ~$23
Fresh, tasty and softened ever so slightly by 5% oak (new French). Peach blossom, guava and spice. Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford Estate 2013, ~$29
30% usage of new French oak lends added richness to the palate of this estate wine. White peach, sweet citrus and spice. Best to let this wine breathe a good while or splash it into a decanter. Highly Recommended

Staglin Chardonnay Rutherford Estate 2012, $75
A gorgeous Chardonnay with green and yellow apples and pretty floral spice on the nose and creamy palate. Very Highly Recommended

Talahalusi Vineyards Roussanne Rutherford 2012
First things first: Talahalusi is the name the local Wappo tribe had for what we know as Napa Valley. There’s 5% Picpoul Blanc blended into this full-bodied Roussanne. It’s juicy and long with flavors of kiwi and dry grass. Recommended

Tres Sabores Rosé Rutherford “Ingrid and Julia” 2013, $24
Forget that this an unlikely dry rosé, made from Zinfandel (85%) and Petite Sirah (15%). Just enjoy the pale pink color, delicious flavors of nectarine and fresh berries in sweet cream and the refreshing, long-lasting palate. Highly Recommended

 

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.

6 More California Rhone Wines to Try at Rhone Rangers

rhone rangers logo

It’s time for one more brief list of wines for you to seek out at the Rhone Rangers tasting this Sunday. Get your Grand Tasting tickets here and don’t forget to use the discount code: GT–20

2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
This wine has a little more body than some of William Allen’s past Grenache Blanc, but didn’t give up any acidity or minerality in the process. The nose is refined with a core of briny pear, pear blossom and peppery spice. The crisp, juicy palate has medium+ body, long flavors of just-ripe pear and salty mineral. Serve warmer than usual for a white, around 60 degrees. 13.4% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2011 Bonny Doon Cigare Blanc Reserve
A unfined, unfiltered blend of Grenache Blanc (62%) and Roussanne (38%) is partly cloudy with a 98% chance of raining deliciousness on you. The nose opens waxy and leesy with building aromas of marzipan, pear, under-ripe stone fruit and limestone. Despite having just 12.5% alcohol, the palate is nearly full-bodied with an engaging slippery, graphite-like texture. Flavors match the nose, adding a strong peach pit note, and go on forever. Randall Grahm recommends decanting this wine and serving it at cellar temperature. Very Highly Recommended

2012 McCay Cellars Rosé, Lodi
This pale pink rosé was made from Carignane, picked at low brix for the purpose from 105-year old vines in Lodi. It’s gently aromatic with scents of tart strawberry, herb, spice and stone fruit pit minerality. Medium-bodied and silky in the mouth it tastes of mineral, strawberry water, under-ripe stone fruit and herb. This will add a Provencal note to your summer lunches by the pool. 12.49% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2011 McCay Cellars Carignane, Lodi
A full-on Carignane from vines even older than those of the rosé, this wine is all about earthy spice, game meat and garrigue on the nose with black fruit staying in the background. Tangy black cherry is prominent on the palate though, as are earthy/leathery spice. Medium+ body with light, very fine tannins. Alcohol 13.5%. Highly Recommended

2011 McCay Cellars Grenache, Lodi
Comforting aromas and flavors of red cherry, brown spice, earth and dry herb. Medium+ body with moderate, fine-grained tannins and juiciness. A versatile food wine but yummy on its own. Highly Recommended

2011 Tablas Creek “Esprit de Tablas” Paso Robles
Tablas Creek’s flagship red is an estate blend of Mourvedre (40%), Grenache (30%), Syrah (20%) and Counoise (10%) fermented in stainless steel with native yeast and then aged in 1,200 gallon French oak tanks. The nose engrosses with complexity: spicy tea, meaty cherry, cranberry, orange pith, five-spice, dark mineral and more. The palate is creamy and medium+ in body with moderate tannins of fine grain and chalk. Its flavors are long and evolve in the glass. Drinking very well now but can age for 20+ years. 14.5% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

I listed more wines to try in 16 North Coast Rhones to Try and Rhone Rangers Tastings and Rhone-Variety Wines Tasted.

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.

Lodi Zinfandel Goes Native

lodi native

Lodi is well-known for Zinfandel. Of particular note are its many acres of old vines. Thick-trunked and twisted after all these years, they look more like short trees than grape vines.

The fruit these centenarians bear is full of character, but their unique traits are sometimes masked by new oak and other winemaking choices intended to please contemporary wine lovers. So, unlike Pinot Noir vineyard-designates often made with a minimum of intervention to expose distinct terroir, even super-premium Zinfandel wines don’t necessarily reveal all the unique characteristics of particular old vine plots. This makes it hard to know exactly how excited we should really be about those vineyards.

The Lodi Native project addresses that problem directly. It presents single-vineyards of distinction from Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA in wines that are skillfully made, but not “crafted.” I tasted the project’s first 6 wines. The differences between each were dramatic. The wines are beautiful. They compelled me to open my wallet, a much harder task these days than it used to be.

What is Lodi Native?

Lodi Native is a serious effort by six winemakers to let heritage vineyards speak clearly through “sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking”. Each man was responsible for his own wine but also worked with the others from the outset to define a winemaking credo. As wine production moved forward, they consulted with each other on challenges and critiqued all the wines to drive quality and transparency of terroir. Each agreed to forego personal and brand-styles in favor of that transparency.

Here are some of the restrictions on Lodi Native wines:

• 100% Zinfandel from single-contiguous vineyard
  (except when a particular vineyard has a long, recognized history for mixed blacks)
• Native-yeast fermentation for primary and malolactic fermentation
• No new oak or inner staves
• No oak substitutes such as chips or powder
• No addition of water or subtraction of alcohol
• No addition or reduction of acid
• No added tannins
• No added color or concentrates, including Mega-Purple
• No fining or filtration
• No must concentration, Flash Détante or similar extraction measures

This was a risky project. The winemakers couldn’t use commonly accepted measures to counteract issues with the grapes or production. Some winemakers hadn’t relied solely on native fermentation before, so they didn’t know what surprises the peculiar strains in their vineyard and winery would bring. There was no oak “spice box” to cover minor flaws.

In fact, there were originally seven winemakers in the project. One voluntarily withdrew because an issue with harvest resulted in his grapes coming in with too much sugar. He wouldn’t be able to ferment the grapes dry or have a balanced wine while adhering to the protocols.

The Lodi Native Wines

The first vintage for Lodi Native Zinfandel was 2012. A limited number of six-bottle sets packaged in attractive wood boxes are available from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center for $180. If there are extra single bottles, those will be available from the wineries for about $35.

2012 Maley Brothers Lodi Native Zinfandel Wegat Vineyard
Winemaker: Chad Joseph — Grower: Todd Maley

Wegat Vineyard is on Lodi’s west side, an area noted for Zinfandel with spicy characteristics. Its 21 acres hold head-trained Zinfandel on St. George rootstock planted in 1958. The vines here are noted for producing unusually open clusters with small berries. Some whole clusters were used in making the Lodi Native wine to enhance complexity.

The dark ruby wine is a study in cherries. The vivid nose shows red cherries and black, canned cherries, fresh cherries, macerated cherries, dried cherries and tart cherries. The cherrypalooza is decorated with fresh sage, garrigue and array of spice. The palate is intense, focused and quite long with flavors of red cherry, blueberry and a touch of sweet herb. The body is medium+ with notable freshness and just enough fine-grained tannins. 14.9% alcohol. Highly Recommended+

2012 m2 Wines Lodi Native Zinfandel Soucie Vineyard
Winemaker: Layne Montgomery — Grower: Kevin Soucie

Soucie Vineyard is the furthest west of all the Lodi Native sites, very near both I–5 and the Delta. Kevin Soucie’s meticulous care results not just in great fruit but a vineyard that looks like a massive Zen garden, hundreds of bonsai vines in a vast field of sand that’s smooth as a U.S. Open sand trap. The particular block used in this wine was planted in 1916 and features deep, sandy soil that’s so fine as to be nearly powdery. The vineyard is noted for a unique earthy character that ranges from mushroom to dairy yard notes.

The grapes for this wine were picked at two different ripeness levels, the first 50% at just 22 brix, to foster complexity, acidity and ensure that the wine would ferment dry. The nose features spicy, slightly resinous, forest floor, mushroom and a whiff of dill with plenty of sweet-tart berry fruit. The creamy, nearly full-bodied palate is intensely flavored with spicy berry fruit. The moderate tannins are fine-grained, the finish long. 14.5% alcohol. Highly Recommended+

2012 McCay Cellars Lodi Native Zinfandel TruLux Vineyard
Winemaker: Michael McCay — Grower: Keith Watts

The TruLux Vineyard is also on the west side, roughly located between the Michael David and Van Ruiten wineries. Its exceptionally tall vines were planted in the 1940s on St. George rootstock. It’s wines are said to lean toward loamy flavors.

Medium+ ruby in the glass, this wine offers aromas of earth, spicy dark plum and carob. In the mouth there’s medium+ body, moderate, fine-grained tannins and marked acidity that provides juiciness throughout the lengthy finish. Flavors include tart and ripe blackberries, dry earth and spice. 14.5% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2012 St. Amant Lodi Native Zinfandel Marian’s Vineyard
Winemaker: Stuart Spencer — Growers: Jerry & Bruce Fry

Marian’s Vineyard is an 8.3 acre plot within the expansive Mohr-Fry Ranch southwest of Lodi. All of the fruit from the 113-year old vines go to St. Amant winery.

This deep ruby wine is softly aromatic, showing dry earth, gentle brown spice and introverted dark fruit. Silky tannins add interest on the creamy, full-bodied palate. Rich flavors of cocoa, savory herb, sweet yet tangy dark fruit and blackberry jam. 14.7% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2010 Fields Family Wines Lodi Native Zinfandel Century Block Vineyard
Winemaker: Ryan Sherman

The vines in this 3-acre vineyard in the far to the AVA’s eastern side are own-rooted. They were planted in 1905 on the quick-draining sandy soil of talcum-powdery fineness. This was the first time its fruit was used in a vineyard-designate wine.

According to sommelier/writer/Lodi wine expert Randy Caparoso, Lodi’s east side is associated with Zinfandel of “red berry perfume and higher acidity.” That’s certainly evident in this feminine, Pinot-esque wine. Its attractive nose expresses three aspects of cherry: the red fruit, the blossoms and the leaves. The palate is also more delicate than the west side wines with medium+ body and prominent acidity balanced by very fine, delicate tannins. Flavors include red cherry, sweet spice and sweet herb. 13.9% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2012 Macchia Wines Lodi Native Zinfandel Noma Ranch
Winemaker: Tim Holdener — Grower: Leland Noma

The portion of Noma Ranch Zinfandel that goes to Macchia comes from own-rooted, head-trained vines that are unusually low to the ground. More than 100 years old, they are dry-farmed and yield tiny bunches and berries with yields as low as one ton to the acre, resulting in very concentrated wines.

The darkest of the six Lodi Native Zins, this Macchia effort is opaque with a ruby-purple hue. Subtle aromas of dark berries, dark spice and ripe black cherry peak from the glass. The palate is much more outgoing: full-bodied with moderate, very fine tannins framing heady flavors of ripe black cherry, plum, spice, cocoa and oak char. (No new oak is allowed in Lodi Native, but once and twice used barrels can still yield flavors.) 15.0% alcohol. Highly Recommended

Conclusions

The Lodi Native project has achieved its primary goal in the very first vintage. The wines very clearly show the differences between some of Lodi’s most-prized heritage vineyards. And, despite a commitment to sacrificing ideal balance and maximum deliciousness to achieve that aim, the resulting wines are very, very good. They show that, when taken from fine, lovingly-farmed vineyards and made with care, Zinfandel needn’t be sweet, thick in the mouth or dressed in new barrels to captivate. Bravo!

For more on the project and wines, including her signature drawings, see Elaine Brown's article at Wakawaka Wine Reviews.

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.