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NorCal Wine Blog

'Tis the Season to be Zinful

During this season, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, my thoughts often segue to Zinfandel. The soft and jammy berry fruit, welcoming spice and touch of sweetness goes wonderfully with holiday smorgasbords. Zinfandel gets the party started and is perfect for mulling.

It’s hard to satiate my tastebuds once they’ve gotten into that Zinfandel mood, so I take them to the Zinfandel Experience in late January. Over the course of four days, I can taste horizontally, vertically and regionally, paired with food, paired with friends and paired with engaging winemakers. What better way to cheer oneself from the post-holiday blahs?

The 2015 Zinfandel Experience will once again include five separate, equally enjoyable events. For tickets and/or more information, check out the Zinfandel Experience website.

ZAP-Epicuria

Media & Trade Tasting — Wednesday, January 28 from 1pm to 5pm at Rock Wall in Alameda
The annual sneak preview for wine pros begins with a one-hour invitation-only seminar. That’s followed by a three-hour sippy stroll through Rock Wall’s Zinfandel hangar with some of California’s best juice makers and a stunning view of San Francisco across the bay. This event is an excellent way to get a great overview of where Zinfandel is today.

Epicuria — Thursday, January 29 from 6pm to 8:30pm at the Golden Gate Club in SF’s Presidio
Great small bite. Great Zinfandel. Together! So get your tickets here. This is always a wonderful event. The range of foods with which Zinfandel pairs well is very long. And, with more than 30 winery/restaurant combos on hand, you’ll taste plenty. This evening will offer everything from wild boar chili to chocolate pepper cupcakes with Zinfandel-infused bacon, shrimp cocktail to duck tacos with molé sauce. There goes my diet…

Flights! Forums of Flavor — Friday, January 30 from 10:30am to 1pm at the Four Seasons Hotel in SF
Flights is a seated tasting seminar featuring 15 wines and their makers. This year’s theme is historic regions. Three flights of five wines will explore Contra Costa County, Amador County and Dry Creek Valley through single-vineyard bottlings. This event always sells out early, so get your tickets soon.

Winemakers’ Dinner, Reception and Auction — Friday, January 30 from 5:30pm to 10pm at the Four Seasons Hotel
The reception will feature 28 magnums and reserve wines with hors d’oeuvres. At dinner, you’ll be seated with a winemaker and will enjoy Colorado Lamb Rack and Baked Alaska. And more Zinfandel. This is another event that sells out quickly, so don’t hesitate.

The Tasting — Saturday, January 31 from 11am to 5pm at The Presidio
Nearly 120 wineries will pour. Somms and winemakers will lead seminars on terroir. Holders of VIP and All-Day tickets will also get to try barrel samples and reserve wines.

Get your tickets at the Zinfandel Experience website

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2015. Photos courtesy of ZAP. All rights reserved.

New Tasting Rooms & a Grand Opening in Lodi

I’ve written numerous times about the increasing quality of wine coming out of Lodi. What I haven’t said much about is how the tasting room scene has been improving. My bad.

There have been a number of really positive developments on that front. Below are three of the most exciting. Each is well worth your visit.

 

McCay Cellars

One of California’s leading providers of elegant Zinfandel, McCay Cellars, now has a dedicated tasting room in Lodi. It’s located in a small industrial park, but has plenty of personality. McCay previously offered tastings through a downtown tasting room that served multiple labels.

 

In addition to wine, the new site has a cooler with meats, cheeses and non-alcoholic beverages for sale. So, it’s a great stop if you love excellent wine and especially if you’re on your way to a picnic.

 

mccay pano

McCay Cellars tasting room

 

 

mccay bins

Linda Larson McCay and Michael McCay in front of the tasting rooms graffiti art-decorated macro bins.

 

McCay Cellars – 1370 E. Turner Road, Lodi 95240 – 209.368.WINE

Open Thursday through Monday, 11am to 5pm and by appointment.

 

 

m2 Wines

m2 Wines is another one of Lodi’s star Zinfandel producers. For years, m2 operated out of the same industrial park that McCay Cellars just moved into. Owner/winemaker Layne Montgomery needed more space for making the wine to entertain the growning number of m2 fans.

 

His vision has delivered a striking, statement winery. It’s minimalism meets Prairie Architecture meets industrial chic. And it stands alone in its field. Literally.

 

The long, low, rectangular structure is divided into three connected sections. On the right is the tasting room with ceiling height sliding door panels. The panels let in filtered light when closed but can also open up to wide vineyard views. The middle section is an open breezeway equipped with picnic tables, a cooling breeze and views that seem to extend for ever across the fields. The leftmost section is the winery itself, complete with tanks, barrels and, importantly for a tasting room, nice washrooms.

 

winery

 The new m2 winery and tasting room

 

m2 Wines – 2900 East Peltier Road, Acampo 95220 – 209.339.1971

Open Thursday through Monday, 11am to 5pm and by appointment

 

 

Oak Farm Vineyards

The newest destination winery in Lodi is Oak Farm Vineyards. Located on the historic Devries ranch, the property features original, restored buildings, a brand new winery, a beautiful entertainment building, a lake, 60 acres of vines and more.

The scale of the property and buildings makes it an excellent choice for large, private events. In addition the the 2,500 square foot tasting room, and a courtyard more than twice that size, there’s a 900 square foot conference room. However, the whole place has comfortable feel that’s welcoming to casual tasters. 

 

Oak Farm Vineyards is holding a grand opening next weekend October 25–26. It runs from 11am to 5pm both days. There is a $5 fee for a five-glass tasting. Club members and up to three guests taste for free. Light bites and music will be free for everyone at this event. I highly recommend you swing by if possible. You can confirm details and RSVP here.

 

building-cropped

 The new entertainment center and winery at Oak Farm Vineyards. It's bigger than it looks.

 

 

fireplace-web

One of four fireplaces in the entertainment center.

 

Dan-Panella-Chad-Joseph

Oak Farm Vineyards managing partner Dan Panella and winemaker Chad Joseph.

 

tank-room

The new tank room at Oak Farm.

 

Oak Farm Vineyards – 23627 Devries Road, Lodi 95242 – 209.365.6565

Regular tasting hours are Friday through Monday, 11am to 5pm.

 

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 photos by Fred Swan except those provided by McCay Cellars. All rights reserved.

How You Can Contribute to Earthquake Relief in Napa

It’s been easy for some people from outside the immediate area to make jokes about “free run juice” and “air-lifts of water crackers,” but last week’s earthquake in southern Napa devastated many homes and businesses. There are still people in great need of assistance.

Tinacci 060926 0643-540x
Give Napa Valley residents and business a hand this week.
(Photo: Jason Tinacci / Napa Valley Vintners)

Many in Napa and Sonoma will say that one of the best things you can do for them is indulge yourself and buy their wines or spend time (and money) in the area as a tourist. But there are also a number of charitable funds to which you can contribute. Some come with benefits for you beyond the warm-hearted feeling that comes from helping others. I’ve collected information on many of those here for your convenience.

How You Can Contribute to Earthquake Relief in Napa

Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund of the Napa Valley Community Fund (NVCF)

This fund will allocate money to projects it feels will best help in Napa’s recovery. You can donate directly. See their dedicated web page for details.

If you prefer, or in addition, you can donate through a purchase of Matthiasson Quake Cuvée. 100% of the after-tax profits will go to NVCF. This limited release wine, made by SF Chronicle Winemaker of the Year Steve Matthiasson, will ship in Spring, 2015. This opportunity is limited in duration since there’s only so much wine available.

You may also donate through the Bank of Napa Earthquake Relief Fund. Donations via the bank can be made in person at the bank or by mail to Bank of Napa, 2007 Redwood Road, Suite 101, Napa, Calif., 94558. Make checks payable to Bank of Napa. The monies will be forwarded to NVCF.

NapaStrong

Napa winemaker Jason Moore founded NapaStrong at gofundme. The fund stands at about $13,000 right now with a target of $30,000. The money will support people working on the dangerous winery cleanup projects by providing lunches, childcare, etc. Any remaining funds will go to other residents and businesses in need. You can contribute directly at this page.

Alternatively, you can contribute through Rocca Wines. Buy some Rocca wine here, and they will give you a 10% discount and they will contribute 10–20% (depending on how many bottles you buy) of the net proceeds to NapaStrong.

Community Action Napa Valley

CANV is a non-profit that has been providing relief to needy Napa Valley residents since 1965. Their support includes emergency shelter, housing, food, coaching and financial assistance. To donate money, a vehicle or learn how to volunteer visit this page.

If you donate $50 or more to CANV in September, provide proof to Doug Wilder of purely domestic wine report. If you’ve not a subscriber, you’ll get 12 months of free online access to the reports. (If you are a subscriber, I suspect Doug would entertain allow you to gift the 12 month access to a friend.)

Foundation SAVE Cards
Napa City firefighters and the California Fire Foundation are collaborating to provide $100 SAVE cards to people needing emergency assistance. Every dollar counts for someone who has just lost their home in an earthquake or fire. You can donate to the California Fire Foundation here. They’ll allocate to your money to SAVE, or one of their other aid programs for Californian’s effected by fires or natural disasters.

Other Options

My friend Elaine Brown of Wakawkawinereviews.com, who spent a lot of time helping in the community during the aftermath, also suggests these agencies for your donations:
Aldea Children & Family Services
Red Cross Napa Valley Chapter

If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance, please visit the Napa Valley Vintners excellent listing of community resources here.

If you know of other means of contributing, please provide details in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor NorCalWine.com are affiliated in any way with the people or entities listed above. I don’t endorse any one of these over the others, nor do I have any control over how or when your donations might be allocated by these parties. I, like you, am trusting that it will be done appropriately.

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.

A Tale of Two Conferences

Computer keyboard

In my last article, Cats and Dogs Blogging Together, I said there are two species of blogger: career bloggers and hobbyist bloggers. The North American Wine Bloggers’ Conferences could serve each type of blogger better by acknowledging the differences and playing to those differences rather than continuing the current “one size fits all” strategy. Below are my specific proposals. I welcome your comments on them.

WBC currently has two classes of attendee: Citizen Blogger ($95 fee) and Industry Blogger ($295). Like Career Bloggers, Industry Bloggers make their living through the wine industry. However, most Industry Bloggers are employed by a particular winery or reseller so their focus is on promoting that employer rather than exploring and writing about a wide range of wineries and topics. I suggest creating a new category, specifically for Career Bloggers, with a $195 fee and maximum attendance of 50.

The higher fee will do three things. It will discourage Citizen Bloggers from signing up under that category. It will make them feel a little better about the exclusivity of Career Blogger activities. It will also subsidize those activities, allowing certain aspects to be upgraded, enabling a lower fee structure that might allow small producers to participate, and/or paying an honorarium to one or two speakers. Careful vetting of Career Blogger registrants will help ensure people sign up in the appropriate category.

Limiting the number of Career Blogger tickets will allow for quieter, more focused sessions, use of smaller rooms/wineries, easier transport for off-site events, and pouring lower production and/or more expensive wines. It will make networking between like-minded bloggers easier. Grouping attendees in this way may also introduce new sponsorship opportunities.

Attendee badges would be color-coded to easily differentiate between categories. There should still be events which all bloggers attend jointly, but several each day would be designated for Career Bloggers only. Industry Bloggers could attend those events but, for planning purposes, would need to register for each such event prior to the conference.

Career Bloggers should leave WBC with deep knowledge of the host area’s terroir, history, wine styles and place in the market. This would be achieved through detailed seminars, extensive tastings and multiple excursions. Seminars should be focused, deliver on their title’s promise and emphasize education over entertainment. Q&A with winemakers and growers is essential.

No regional seminars or AVA-wide tastings should be held concurrently with each other. Some excursions might. Details on excursions should be disclosed well before the conference though, and attendees given the opportunity to choose their destinations—no mystery tours.

Seminars, workshops and tastings not focused on the host region are also important. Topics might be very similar to those already offered, such as consumer research, the business of blogging, writing workshops, tasting techniques and tutorials on media, web tools, etc. Tastings from non-host regions should deliver educationally and feature high-quality—or, at least, very representative—wines. All sessions should be led by very well-prepared moderators and panelists. Most sessions ought to be interactive. There shouldn’t be more than two such seminars running concurrently.

There should be no tasting of wines that come in bags, boxes or “paks.” Ideally, unless it’s a truly amazing value, there should be no tasting of wine that retails for less than $10. There could still be sessions where winemakers move from one small group of bloggers to the next. But each segment should be 10 minutes long, to allow for questions, and the groups of bloggers ought to be well separated so noise isn’t an issue. If sweet or fortified wines will be poured, each blogger needs two glasses so that one wine doesn’t color the next.

Removing some of the detailed and/or career-oriented components from the main WBC curriculum will allow for more events that Hobbyist Bloggers really enjoy. Add a third Live Blogging session. Add sessions where Hobbyist Bloggers interact with each other more, perhaps talking about what’s going on in their home regions.

I realize pulling all this off successfully will require more work. And I’d also recommend having a separate advisory board just for the Career Blogger segment. In the end though, I think WBC will be better for the new structure and might recapture some of those career bloggers who are abandoning it.

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. The Wine Bloggers Conference logo is the property of Zephyr Adventures. The photo of typing is in the public domain. All rights reserved.

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.