About The Wine Adventures of Bruce and Pam

We travel the dusty back roads of California's wine country each month and recap our adventures of wineries we found, great places to eat and fun places to stay!

APPELLATIONS BY PERSONALITY

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We recently met someone who had just come back from Napa.  “How was it?” we asked.

“Awful!  There was traffic and the restaurants were noisy, and everything was expensive!”

Well, it just goes to show, you can’t please everybody.

It also shows that like people, appellations have personalities, and sometimes the person and the region just aren’t a match.

Is there a way to predict if you’ll enjoy a wine trip to Napa, the Sierra Foothills, Temecula, Santa Barbara or other appellations?

We think so.  Just by researching what each appellation offers, you can get a pretty good idea of the overall tone of the trip you might have, and then judge for yourself.

Here are quick takes on who might best enjoy the following appellations:

Napa:   People who want to experience the upper echelons love Napa.  The region is the top tier for California wine, so you’ll find famous wineries, prestigious restaurants, manicured wineries, gardens and cellars and status symbols everywhere, from cars to clothes and of course wine.  Romantics devoted to the wine country lifestyle are nuts about Napa, too.  So are wine lovers who like their touring simple:  hwy. 29 is a straight line with wineries galore, one after another.

 

Sierra Foothills:  If you enjoy a somewhat rustic, welcoming vibe in a mountainous region where wineries

are very seldom near each other, consider the Sierra Foothills.  The appellation is huge, covering eight counties.  Western history buffs will be over the moon at places like Sutters Mill and Placerville.  You can even sip wine watching the frog-jumping contest in Calaveras County made famous by Mark Twain.  Aside from the history, the mountain-grown wines are distinctive and some of the scenery is quite beautiful. Hello, backpackers.

 

Temecula:  Those who like a leisurely but luxurious pace will appreciate Temecula, about an hour north of San Diego.  The ambiance is relaxed, influenced by nearby Mexico’s “manana” culture.  The valley makes it easy to visit wineries; they line each side of the road and are just minutes away from each other.  Temecula’s fabulous climate lends itself to outdoor concerts and outdoor dining.  Life is slower here.  Temecula offers a feeling of vacation that you don’t always find in other wine country.  If you like to smell the roses (at the end of each vineyard row), this is the place.

 

Santa Barbara:  Adventurous souls find a home in Santa Barbara wine country.   Unless you’re in the village of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley or in downtown Santa Barbara’s urban wine zone, wineries are not bunched together like fish in a tank.  This wine country spans more than 50 miles over a high mountain pass and embraces an incredible range of terroir from the hot Happy Canyon in the far east to the very cool (even in summer) Sta. Rita Hills in the west.  You’ll need your GPS (and bring a map–GPS may not always work), different changes of clothes and a Marco Polo-type personality for this wine country.

Ever had a mismatch with an appellation? Or the perfect match for you?

THREE WISHES … FOR YOUR WINE JOURNEY

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Each of us has our own wine journey, right?  Our paths with wine are as unique as we are.  As Fall heads toward Winter, we want to wish you three things for your lifetime wine journey:

  1. Enjoy the pour… and the people.  Enjoy the wine of course, but also the people — the friends you drink it with, the tasting room staff who pour it, your California Wine Club wine advisor who helps you make your order, the wine columnists who get you thinking, the winemakers you meet when you visit wine country…
  2.   Make wine a staycation.  Wine can bring out the best in any meal.  It can loosen conversation among people and be common ground to savor together.  A slow meal with wine at the end of the day, or even a glass with appetizers, is a staycation anyone can afford.
  3. Let it go. Wine corked?  This bottle not as good as the last?  Winery stopped producing your favorite blend?  Let it go and know there is always another wonderful wine experience waiting to uncork.

These are our wishes for you…but what do you hope for your wine journey?

THREE THINGS TO DO WITH LEFTOVER WINE

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Any of you ever experience this:  a great bottle of wine, with half leftover.  Your guests are gone, you can’t drink it up alone … what to do?

Here are three ways you can use up that wine:

  1. Pour the remainder in ice cube trays, freeze, and pull out when you need wine for cooking.
  1. Get the kind of canister of inert gas, sold at wine shops, and use it to negate oxygenation of your wine as it’s stored in the fridge.
  1. Get out your cookbooks or go online, and whip up some dishes that require wine. We love Recipe Girl’s “100 Recipes Using Leftover Red Wine” (www.recipegirl.com).  Google, and you’ll find many more.

THINK OF WHAT THEY DO!

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That bottle of artisan wine you enjoyed last night , the one from the guy who produces less than 5,000 cases a year…we know you know, but there really is a tremendous amount of effort that goes into it.

These small producers face innumerable challenges on their road to cork their wine.  They need to know about viticulture, winemaking, wine distribution, marketing, government regulations, consumer preferences … the list goes on.

Not so long ago, most people wanting to start a winery in California looked for vineyard land first. They planted a vineyard, then, as they gained capital, built a winery.

At least small winemakers today no longer are tied to that scenario.  Most of them begin their brands on a shoestring, using co-op wine facilities and buying their fruit from independent growers.

But while the capital outlay to begin a brand today is far less, the need for knowledge and the ability to wear many, many hats has increased.  A lone winemaker has to do it all – locate the good grapes, make the wine, and go out and sell it.

Some have advantages.  If it is a family business, a winemaker can focus on what he or she does best, and let other family members take care of the rest.  If a family vineyard exists, a winemaker might have a better grip on that part of the puzzle.

Also, winemakers with varied backgrounds in the wine business can have an edge. For example, Michael Quinn, who produces just 1,500 annual cases of mostly  premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for his Michael-Scott Wines, has the advantage of years of experience in several areas of the wine industry.

He gave us the scoop in an interview last week for our Aged Cabernet Serie.

He began his career at the age of 18 years old, as a Napa native working in the tasting room of Beringer Winery.  He later went across the street to Charles Krug, then learned viticulture for five years at Robert Mondavi.

After a stint as a vineyard manager, Michael explored the sales and marketing side.  He became a wine seller dealing with buyers, wine shops and restaurants over a huge area covering all of northern California to Lake Tahoe.

So, by the time he decided to start his own label, buyers had lined up to buy it–he presold his first vintage before it was even ready for tasting.

But even with his amazing background, Michael tells us,

a winemaker needs to wear all the hats all the time.  “You have to be ready for anything and everything,” he says.  “I’ve been doing it so long, so nothing surprises me.”  Michael emphasized that “you have to be flexible.  You have to be ready for the changes. Vintages that are panned by the media – you still must be able to sell your wine.  And there is competition. The big guys have more

money and more clout.  And then you sometimes have a battle getting paid for your wine.”

So, next time you sip an artisan blend, you might give a toast to the hard work that made it possible.

THE NAME GAME

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Ever wonder about the names of California wineries?

Of the 468 wineries listed in The New Connoisseurs’ Guidebook to California Wine & Wineries (easy paperback, must-have reference by Charles Olken of Connoisseurs’ Guide).  By our rough count, 203 of these, less than half, were named for the founders.  This was a surprise — we thought 90% of the wineries listed would have been named for the founders. Given the amount of time, money, effort and ego that goes into creating a winery, using the family name would seem the most likely choice — but not so!

Below are 5 questions about California winery names.

If you’re surprised by some of the answers, hooray.

Got any winery names that are standouts in your book?

Always love to hear about them.

  1. What is the Napa winery named for a railroad?
  1. List all the wineries you can think of with “Robert” in the name.
  1. What do 4 out of these 5 wineries have in common (hint – it has 4 legs).

1) Rustridge Ranch & Winery

2) Marimar Estate

3) Trefethen

4) Nickel & Nickel

5) Signorello

  1. Match the winery to the appellation:

 

  1. Ladera
  2. Joullian
  3. Morgan
  4. Bridlewood

 

  1. Santa Barbara
  2. Howell Mountain
  3. Monterey
  4. Carmel Valley

Answers:

1. Iron Horse

2. Robert Biale Vineyards

Robert Craig Winery

Robert Foley Vineyards

Robert Hall Winery

Robert Hunter Winery

Robert Keenan Winery

Robert Mondavi Winery

Robert Pecota Winery

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Robert Stemmler Winery

Robert Young Estate Winery

 

  1. All but Signorello have horses in common. RustRidge trains and races thoroughbreds.  Marimar Torres has a boarding stable and rides dressage.  Janet Trefethen is one of the nation’s top cutting horse riders.  Nickel & Nickel, with its 3 rail white fence and 2 horses, just looks like a very horsey place.

4.

1.b. Ladera/Howell Mountaon

2.d. Joullian/Carmel Valley

3.c. Morgan/Monterey

4.a. Bridlewood/Santa Barbara

Don’t Miss “Beaverstock” at Castoro!

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You’ve heard of Woodstock…now, experience Beaverstock at Castoro Cellars.

What’s with the beaver?  Well, castoro means beaver in Italian, and in his student days, it was the nickname for Niels Udsen who began Castoro, with his wife Bimmer, more than 30 years ago.  They were among the first to see the potential in Paso Robles…when we first met them, they were a young couple with toddlers operating their winery out of an old warehouse. Now the toddlers, Luke and Max, are part of Castoro Cellars, they own 1,000 acres of vines, their hacienda-like winery near Templeton is crowded with visitors and they want to celebrate–with Beaverstock.

Beaverstock is this family’s way to give back to the community they love.  It’s billed as “Two days of wine-loving peace and music in the vineyard.”  Proceeds will go to the Templeton Education Foundation which works with the Templeton School District, alma mater for Luke and Max.

The two-day line up is fantastic, including Allen Stone, The Band of Heathens, Los Lobos, Sean Hayes, Zongo All-Stars and more.  And the line-up of wines?  They’re all “dam fine” of course!

 

Visit www.castorocellars.com to buy online or call 888-Dam-Fine.

What exactly IS a wine snob?

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We know someone who years ago, was invited to go on a balloon ride with a friend over Temecula Valley wine country.  We’ll call her Joan.

The tour people served champagne to the group of six upon landing, and Joan started sharing some fun information about Champagne — number of bubbles in a glass, the fact that there is no “Champagne” grape — and her friend pulled her aside.

“What are doing?” she asked her.

“Just sharing some fun stuff about Champagne.”

“Well, don’t!”

After this, Joan could tell she was getting a somewhat cold shoulder from others in the group, who, before her Champagne talk, had been friendly.

We think this is a great example of how complicated the issue of “the wine snob” can be.  “Snob” is generally defined as someone who thinks they are superior to others, who looks down on others.  This was not Joan.

Yet, by offering information about a wine everyone was enjoying, she was perceived as a wine snob.

What is a wine snob?  It depends on the person making the definition.

For some folks, a wine snob is anyone who talks about wine in ways they don’t understand.  It may feel to them that this person is trying to show off.  In America, fine wine was viewed for many decades as something upper class and high-brow; many people felt intimidated by it.  Some of these attitudes still hang around –and so sometimes, we think, wine lovers like Joan are unfairly dubbed as snobs.

For others, a wine snob is someone who refuses to drink wines that don’t meet his or her high standards (like Miles in Sideways).  This kind of snob can make the rest of us feel like shlubs who can’t tell a good wine from a lousy wine.

For us, a wine snob is a person who feels they are vastly superior to others because of their wine knowledge.  They use that knowledge to impress, intimidate and embarrass others.

It’s possible to know a great deal about a subject, and not be a snob about it, and this can be true of wine knowledge.  Just because you know a lot about wine doesn’t mean you’re a snob — without a “superior” attitude toward others, you could actually be a wine enthusiast.

There’s another category of wine lover that we think people mistakenly identify as a snob.  That is the wine bore.  Watch out!  The wine bore is a dangerous threat to a great evening.  Wine bores can literally put you to sleep.  A wine bore may not even be a wine snob — just someone so full of wine information they can’t help spewing it out incessantly.

We still don’t think that was Joan.

So– what’s your definition of a wine snob? Any experiences with them?