Go Ahead–Fulfill that Wine Dream

Winemaker

Dr. Jerry Seps left life as a Stanford professor — and all the boring staff meetings that went with it — to start Storybook Mountain Vineyards near Calistoga.   Tom Leonardini Sr. traded the automotive industry for Whitehall Lane Winery in Napa.  Fess Parker dropped the hustle and bustle of Hollywood for slow-paced Santa Ynez Valley to found Fess Parker Winery & Vineyards.

If you have a dream about wine, it’s worth pursuing.  All the above created wineries with wine facilities and vineyards, but many people nowadays fulfill their winemaking dream by just buying all their fruit and using co-op wine facilities.  Across the U.S., you can see this happening; there are more courses and education for would-be winemakers than ever before.

And your wine dream doesn’t have to be about making your own wine.  Maybe you love Bordeaux wines, or Burgundy wines, or wines from the Sonoma Coast or Santa Barbara.  You can explore all those wine regions by reading, tasting the wines, tracking the wineries and visiting in person.

We don’t have to be wine experts or connoisseurs to follow our wine dreams.  Unlike a wine expert, we don’t have to know everything about wine — just the parts that fascinate us.

If Chardonnay is your thing, dive in and check it out, from the low to high range Chards, the oaky to no oak, the Santa Barbara to Sonoma … there are so many facets to explore, and you are the one in charge of your own wine trail.

So, immerse yourself in your own passion for wine.

We know of no better gift.

Uncorking memories–Which wine were you drinking when….?”

james-bond-in-goldfinger-wallpapers_26938_1280x960

We know that James Bond had a memorable, wine-related moment in Goldfinger (1964) when he ordered a bottle of 1947 Mouton Rothschild.  The fact that the “sommelier” didn’t know the wine came from Bordeaux tipped Bond off to his actual identity as a spy.

We don’t have any memorable wine moments that nearly measure up to that.  How about you?

We do remember pouring a Joseph Phelps “Insignia” with a couple of friends who had made dinner for us.  And we all still talk about it.

We do remember a lunch in Venice with an old friend in a bustling, cheery bistro steps from the canal. She had an ethereal pumpkin lasagna, and we had a glass of chill, crisp, flowery white wine that was simply the best white we’d ever had.  Name unknown.

And you?  Any wine memories related to romance or family, life milestones, incredible trips?

Magic Moments in a Vineyard

california wine country

A vineyard is a magical thing.  Many winemakers we have chatted with over the years have said how much they love their time among the vines.  No computers, no ringing phones, no paperwork, no delivery trucks, no forklifts  … just the fundamental growing things that yield all that beautiful wine.

Every season offers magical vineyard moments.  In the winter, the snip of pruning sheers is sometimes the only sound in the quiet and the cold of the vineyard.  You can almost feel the vines sleeping.

Spring arrives fast or slow, depending on the year, and with it come flocks of birds chirping through the rows and new shoots on the vine.  There is something delightful and hopeful about the first green leaves showing through the dark wood of winter.  It’s a re-birth of the vine and a promise for the wine.

Mother Nature is lazy and luxurious in summertime’s vineyard. Oh, she’s still working to ripen the grapes, but life is lush in summer.  Breezes rustle the leaves and their gentle whisper mingles with the calls of songbirds that feast on insects burrowing in the cover crops.  Workers hurry to cut away excess vine growth, or canopy, so that the fruit will have the sunshine it needs to mature.

And then, there is harvest.  The grapes are heavy on the vines, ready for picking.  In every vineyard and every block, there is a perfect moment for harvest.  An expectant stillness is in the air. Then, the pickers arrive, quickly and skillfully cutting off the clusters.  Harvest is electric energy; there’s nothing quite like it.

 

Uncorking memories–Which wine were you drinking when….?”

We know that James Bond had a memorable, wine-related moment in Goldfinger (1964) when he ordered a bottle of 1947 Mouton Rothschild.  The fact that the “sommelier” didn’t know the wine came from Bordeaux tipped Bond off to his actual identity as a spy.

We don’t have any memorable wine moments that nearly measure up to that.  How about you?

We do remember pouring a Joseph Phelps “Insignia” with a couple of friends who had made dinner for us.  And we all still talk about it.

We do remember a lunch in Venice with an old friend in a bustling, cheery bistro steps from the canal. She had an ethereal pumpkin lasagna, and we had a glass of chill, crisp, flowery white wine that was simply the best white we’d ever had.  Name unknown.

And you?  Any wine memories related to romance or family, life milestones, incredible trips?

Women Winemakers Who Rock

Genevieve-Janssens-Houser-090929-8935

Women winemakers have made their mark on California wine.  Here are two of our favorites:

Genevieve Janssens:

Genevieve is Director of Winemaking at Robert Mondavi Winery.  She also makes gorgeous Cab with her artist husband Luc at their little cellar in Napa town, next to their home.  We visited it years ago and were struck by its sheer sense of perfection — from its gorgeous wooden doorway to the barrels so carefully stacked.  The Janssens serenade them with classical music and have hosted visitors from around the world in their intimate cellar.  It was like being within a work of art (Luc’s designs grace the labels), and the wine … mon dieu, as Geneviève, who is from France, might say.

Genevieve’s resume is long and varied, with much consulting work and a long, productive association with Robert Mondavi.  In 1989, she headed up production at Opus One and in 1997 became Director of Winemaking at Robert Mondavi Winery.

In 2009, Geneviève received a title as “Officier” of The Ordre National du Mérite Agricole, a French entity that honors services to agriculture.  We honor her service to wine whenever we uncork Portfolio … what an incredible career, and it’s not over yet!

Milla Handley

Milla Handley first caught our attention in the early 1990s, when she was just developing her Handley Cellars in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley.  In those days, traveling to this picturesque valley just 20 miles from California’s spectacular coastal highway was an adventure.  Aside from Roederer, Milla’s was one of the few wineries there.  She and her husband Rex finished building in 1987, and every time we visit, we love it more.  Milla has such a deep feeling for the land and its creatures — her vineyard was organically certified in 2005.  Producing wines in a sustainable way fits in exactly with Milla’s values.  She raised two daughters here, and always reserved part of the property for her horses, which have been another passion in her life.  Milla’s Pinot Noir and Alsace varietals like Gewürztraminer are expressive not just of the Anderson Valley terroir, but also, of this winemaker’s distinctive, independent spirit.  At a time when few women held degrees in Fermentation from U.C. Davis, she moved forward to create her own winery.  Thank you, Milla!

Harvest–More complex than you think?

basket-of-grapes

Harvesting grapes — should be a breeze right?  Here are a few ways it might be more complex than you expect:

  • the needs of different blocks: A vineyard with complicated topography, like rolling hills, varying elevations and proximity to rivers or lakes can pose some challenges as far as timing of harvest. As many winemakers tell us, some blocks ripen earlier than others.  You have to know when to pick.
  • the needs of different varietals: Like vineyard blocks, some grape varieties ripen earlier than others. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are often picked earlier than say, Cabernet or Merlot.
  • weather: A heat spike may push the grapes to ripeness very quickly. Are you ready?  Then again, rain may threaten grapes that aren’t quite at perfect maturity.  Will you take the chance to leave them on the vine, so they can ripen further?
  • harvesters: With new restrictions on immigration, the laborers from Mexico that California agriculture depends on have thinned. Can you get pickers when you need them?
  • crush: Let’s say you are one of many “virtual” winemakers — you have no vineyards or winery facility of your own. And now you have tons of grapes in a truck ready for crush and … is there room at the co-op winery for your load?  Or do you have a relationship in place at a winery where you can quickly process those grapes?  Because with grapes, time is of the essence — processing when they are cool, just after harvest, is best for the wine you hope to make.

 

SLO – It’s worth a trip.

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Where can you see volcanoes rising through the mist in wine country?  Where does cowboy country ride with Cabernet?   Where is there a world class beach just minutes from wine country?  Where is there a famous “castle” that figures in a vintage movie about its eccentric owner?

You’ll find it all in San Luis Obispo, a little known region on California’s Central Coast.  It starts in the south at Cayucos, a western-themed coastal village and ends up in Arroyo Grande, cowboy country.   Its range includes inland and coastal attractions for every age and interest.

In addition to a castle called San Simeon on breathtaking hwy. 1 (built by William Randolph Hearst, getaway for Hollywood’s elite in the early 20th century) , there are working ranches where you can overnight, then ride through the vineyards on horseback in the morning (www.greengateranch.com).   Or hang out at Pismo Beach with plenty of great hotels to choose from (www.seacrestpismo.com – it’s pet friendly).

And then, there’s wine country.  Those volcanoes we mentioned can be seen from Baileyana Winery in Edna Valley.  Churchill & Claiborne are found in another corner of the valley (terrific whites!).  Nearby Arroyo Grand Valley is the second appellation of SLO.  Both share the significant cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean that produces great acidity and balance in SLO wines.

Meanwhile, back at the castle…there’s a winery nearby the castle co-founded by Steve Hearst of San Simeon’s Hearst family. It’s worth a pour, just like SLO.

Been to SLO?  Any favorite wineries, restaurants, hangouts?

Why We Love Winery Dogs

Peaks-Paws-Dog-shot

The click of footsteps on a winery floor these days is most likely not a woman in high heels.  It’s usually the winery dog.   And he or she is most often a tail-waggin’, all-in ambassador for his work/play place, the winery.

We love winery dogs.  Dogs are full of the joy of life and perfectly match the tone of most people who step into a tasting room ready for a good time.  Smile!  Yip!  Let’s get happy together!

Winery dogs clearly love their jobs.  Who wouldn’t, if your job consisted of:

sleep

scratch

smile

eat

jump in truck

ride around on forklift

eat a grape

slush water around

run through a vineyard

wag tail and get workers to give you their sandwiches

bark

greet

eat

play

sleep

 

Winery Dogs Publishing offers books featuring Fidos in Napa, Sonoma, Oregon, New York and Central California, typically from a dog’s eye view.  They are a good reminder of what’s important in life — a toothy smile, a friendly paw, a roll-over-and-play invite.  All, of course, with a glass of wine at the ready.

Do you have a favorite winery dog?

Spelletich:  MOLLIE

Castoro:  RUBY

Frank Family: ED Skupien