What exactly IS a wine snob?


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?

Drought Report – On the Frontlines with CWC winemakers


Wherever your vineyard is located in California this year, you’re thinking about water.  Drought conditions have affected every corner of the state, one way or the other.  Northern California growers are generally in fairly good shape, given that there were helpful spring rains and ground water is typically available.  Those in the south aren’t so lucky.  For example, the Paso Robles water table is dwindling as the drought continues.  Niels Udsen, a pioneer in Paso Robles winemaking and founder of Castoro Winery, said, “We are seeing the wells on the west side drop in production more than usual. The whole area just looks dry.”   In drought defense, his viticulture team is “keeping everything clean and not letting the weeds steal any water!”

In Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, according to Martin Ray winemaker Bill Batchelor, “Everyone is cautious about water use and eyeing the vines as they mature. It’s easier for vines to get stressed if water is withheld.  Growers have cut down the crop more aggressively so that each vine has fewer berries to ripen.  They’re also keeping an eye on heat spikes.”

Fortunately, winter was mild throughout California with little or no frost in wine country.  This gave vines a head start and partially explains why harvest this year is one of the earliest on record.  Wineries in Temecula began picking in late July.  In Napa, some started the first week of August.

John Bargetto, Director of Winemaking and third generation at Bargetto Family Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, says they are “continuing to practice deficit irrigation by using minimum water with drip irrigation, one of our sustainable practices.  The water table in Santa Cruz County continues to drop, but our well has pure water, with no salt water intrusion (7 miles from ocean).”  Bargetto starting irrigating its estate in January anticipating the drought.  The crop is proving “full and wonderful,” says John.  “God bless water and early irrigation!”

According to Bill Easton of Terre Rouge in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County, the drought has not affected the vineyards much.  “The well water tables are running low so we need good winter rain,” he told us.  We asked what effect the drier conditions might have on the fruit.  “In drier years like 2014 and like 2004, grapes cluster size and general grape cluster morphology is smaller (smaller berries). The grapes have more concentrated flavor and intensity.”  Bill has harvested a small amount of fruit, but said “we should be rolling pretty good by mid-September.”

Pietro Buttitta, who with his father operates Rosa d’Oro Winery in Lake County (north of Napa), notes that rain in March “really helped our drought conditions.”  Even without a drought, Rosa d’Oro is already pushed to the wall water-wise because of its well situation.  “We don’t have a good reliable well, so we’ve planted on drought resistant rootstocks.  There are four or five of them from Italy and Spain.  The trade off is, they are more vigorous, so we have to do more handwork in the vineyard with canopy management.  You can’t control the vine as much.”

Control at this point doesn’t’ seem to be in the cards for California winemakers. This was underscored on Sunday with a 6.0 earthquake in the epicenter of wine country, Napa Valley.

Any of you notice any drought-related efforts on your visits to California wine country?


Wine Can Tell a Story — Are you listening?


There are plenty of people who enjoy wine without fanfare.  They uncork the wine, pour it and are happy if it tastes good. They’re even happy if it’s “not too bad”!

Then, there’s the rest of us.  We like to know where the wine came from.

Who made it?  Is it a family?  How many generations?  Why do they make wine? Did they grow the grapes themselves, or buy them?  Where are those vineyards, anyway?  In an appellation we’ve heard of?  Have they made this wine before?  Did they add other varietals to the wine, or is it a stand-alone 100% varietal?

These are stories wine tells us.

There’s nothing wrong with simply uncorking a bottle and enjoying, no questions asked.  But there’s something to learn when you question why one wine taste great and another wine doesn’t measure up.

As California winemaking and viticulture have come of age, Golden State wine has become better and better.   And its stories have become more interesting.

As the competition heats up among wineries, they are doing more and more to make a better wine each year.

The explosion of very small, artisan brands in California, often begun by passionate winemakers who buy all their grapes and own no winery facilities, has been a surprising and exhilarating phenomenon.

Yes, the big conglomerates dominate the market.  But for those of us on the lookout for better and better wine, the small family wineries and these adventurous new generation winemakers are creating some wonderful stories in the bottle.

What do you get when you pay more for wine?


Well, that depends on the wine.

But in an ideal world–and at The California Wine Club — our more expensive wines are handcrafted in every sense of the word.

What you get is artistry, expertise and years of experimentation in the vineyard and the cellar.  Uncork the wine, and experience decades of effort in understanding how the climate, soils and aspects of a certain vineyard can express themselves in a wine; meticulous viticulture representing the best practices based on years of effort; the knowledge of how a certain vineyard needs to be tended depending on the weather that year; decades of barrel trials in the cellar to determine the exact combination of oak that melds perfectly with this particular wine.

What about you?  What do you seek in wines that cost a bit more?

What Makes Great Sparklers?


That’s easy.  Methode champenoise, the incredibly labor intensive, time-consuming, traditional French technique for making fine Champagne.  Among many other steps, this involves a second fermentation and at least three to five years aging in the bottle before the final steps of wine making.

All this costs money which is why great sparkling wine is more expensive than sparklers made the “industrial” way.  Is there a real difference?  Try a methode champenoise sparkler next to one that’s not.   And let us know which you like best!

A Coming Drought? A Winery Strategy…

Drought will be part of the pour in California wine country this year, and wineries are preparing.

Don Sodaro, founder of Sodaro Esate Winery in southern Napa’s Coombsville appellation, shared how his winery is approaching the water situation:

“We monitor water. We have three meters: one for the whole property, one for the vineyard and one for the winery. We keep an Excel spread sheet on how much water we use. Our strategy with less water available is this: the vines get everything, and the landscaping will sacrifice. We’ve got too much invested in those vines, so we’re protecting them at all costs. We just had a good soaking rain, and that’s a good turn of events, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.”


IT Happened Again…


We were in a restaurant recently, a nice Italian place, not real pricey, and we chose a glass of Italian Montepulciano (made from the Montepulciano grape, from Italy’s Abruzzo region – not Tuscany).  Price: $7.50 per glass. Waiting for our dinner, we took a sip or two.  We weren’t impressed.

Then the Ravioli with Butternut squash and Pine Nuts arrived.  And over the next half hour, that Montepulciano came into its own. It became soft and velvety, and merged with the ravioli flavors so beautifully.

So, IT happened again…that we started with a wine we didn’t care for, but when we tried it with food, during a leisurely meal, different story.

If you’ve never had this experience … well, you need to! Because it’s one of the most fun things about wine.  Given the right food match, some wimpy little wine with no character will stand up and be noticed.

Often, this extra wine pizzazz has to do with both the food and allowing the wine to “breathe” in the glass.  During your meal, it starts to open up and show its true self, just like a person who might be a bit shy.  If you’re considerate and give that person some time, they might start to share who they really are.

Did you know marketers estimate that a whopping 70% of wine today is consumed without food?   Too bad!

Has this ever happened to you? What was the wine? What was the food that brought it out of its shell?