When I Grow Up…

Ok, first off, yes, I am a major slacker and haven’t been posting here in a long time.  I admit it, and am working on resolving my occassional severe case of Slackeritis.  I however am actively posting on Twitter (www.twitter.com/winesgood) in the meantime, so if my Slacker problems continue here on the WinesGood blog, just give me a little poke and I’ll jump back here with more regularity.

So.. what do I want to be when I grow up?  Don’t know exactly!  What I do know is that I love love love when we’re up in wine country, cruising around, talking to people, tasting great wine, eating local fresh food, enjoying the clean, clear, fresh air.  So either I’m saying I want to be a permanent tourist in wine country (not really a bad idea right?), or I need to make wine country my home and my business. 

But what to do?  I know I don’t really want to be a farmer.  I mean, the cute little vegetable garden that I plant with my son is fun, but acres of grapes, probably less so.  I love the cooking, eating, and drinking aspects of wine country. 

So I think the first step for me is to learn how to make wine….  This leads to a ton of other questions and multiple directions and I need your input and advice here – yes, your input.  Do I go the wine education route, taking courses in wine history, regions, and flavor profiles offered by associations such as WSET?  Or do I hook up with one of these cooperative wine making groups like Crushpad?  Or do I try to casually pursuade a small winemaker to allow me to buy a barrel or part barrel and get down and dirty making wine?

I know an awesome wine maker, who with some cash and my volunteering to help (physical labor, social media, marketing, walking his dog, etc) might be convinced to work with me.  He suggested that while official training is nice, doing something is the best way to learn.  I tend to agree, but…

So?  What do I do?  What makes the most sense?  What can I do while balancing my day job (which is running consumer marketing research for a fitness company)?  Anyone? Bueller? Thoughts?

To be continued…….

Doing Time in The Big House

I was lucky enough to have been invited to a private wine tasting presentation lunch with the lovely Georgetta Dane, winemaker and personality behind the Big House Wine Company.  I along with my wife, Romy, the name behind her own very successful blog RomyRaves were invited to a private sit down with Georgetta to have her walk us through her history, wine philosophy, and of course to sample her lineup.

Georgetta’s story is inspirational.  Coming to America direct from Romania after winning the US green card lottery that she and her friends entered on a whim, she and her family settled in the Monterey Bay area of Central California.   Unlike many winemakers I’ve met with, Georgetta didn’t dream of someday making wines and living a wine lifestyle.  She and her husband both have food scientist backgrounds, and when she landed in the States, at harvest time, she found  her calling.

Georgetta uses her food science background and her keen sense of smell to create and blend wines based on the varied aromas of each varietal.  She explained the process in terms of making perfume, beginning with the base, middle and finally the top note.  She starts with the base varietal, and depending on the aromas and “notes” she finds, she continues to blend and add notes until the final wine is a nicely balanced wine.

The Big House, located down the street from an actual “big house”, the Solidad State Correctional Facility.  Georgetta keeps things playful in her naming convention and wine styles, opting for very drinkable and affordable wines.  The grapes are the stars across all of her offerings.  All of the varieties are priced at only $9.99 (750ml bottle) or $22 (3lt container).  Georgetta makes wines to be enjoyed today, any  day, not to be stored and aged with the hope of one day being worth all that extra rack time.   She’s an unconventional winemaker in a sea of “same”, making both her and her wines stand out to me.

I’d suggest trying the Big House Red (a blend of everything red, that actually works together amazingly well), Unchained “Naked” Chardonnay (the anti-California Chard that simply showcases the grape rather than the oaks of more traditional California versions), Cardinal Zin Beastly Old Vines, and The Slammer Syrah.

As always, check this one out and let me know your thoughts..

Sunce 2003 Syrah – Rockin’

So there I was, looking through my wine storage binder trying to figure out what to drink with my wife’s latest attempt at crock pot mastery, a tri-tip cut o’beef that “stewed” all day.  Clearly, something big and bold was in order but what to pick.  Then, duh, the moment hit, we’ve got this awesome 2003 Sunce Syrah that’s just been sitting there all these years chilling in the storage fridge.

Now, for those of you that don’t know Sunce, you must find some of their wine and try them out.   We stumbled across this small family run operation several years ago while on a trip in the Russian River area of Sonoma County. We had no expectations when we arrived (often how we prefer it) and were totally blown away by the staff and amazing wines.. We signed up for the wine club on the spot (something we rarely do) and for years have been excited to get our Sunce box in shipped to us.  Sunce makes these great big Reds, that age gracefully and mature wonderfully.  

The 2003 Syrah had such a great note when we opened the bottle we knew that regardless of how the “crock pot” adventures were going to turn out we’d be in for an awesome evening.  This wine is a full bodied, rich Syrah with notes of fruit and pepper on the finish.   I’m dying for another trip up to visit Sunce and sample some of their newest creations.  Due to a lack of storage, we ended our wine club membership last year and are in major need of some new Sunce Wine to round out our collection. 

In the end, the tri-tip was good, not great.  The wine however, Rocked!

My Kid Loves Wine Country

Wine country is a magical place for me and now that we’re in the holiday season and about to have our son out of school for 3 weeks for winter recess, it seems that a visit in clearly required.  And yes, My Kid Loves Wine Country, but no, he doesn’t drink the wine (yet).  We as a family have been regularly going from our home in Los Angeles up to the Santa Barbara wine country area, at least 4-6 times a year.  This started when my son was just 3-months old. 

Picture this, Mom and Dad bleary eyed from new parental exhaustion head up to their beloved wine country with their new baby.  The fresh, crisp air instantly awakens their senses and they are excited and happy to be there.  At the first stop, Dad, Mom, and Baby (strapped to Mommy in one of those archaic Baby Bjorn’s).  We’re in the tasting room, enjoying, mingling, chatting with other fellow tasters, and tasting some interesting wines – all while our son sleeps in his holster on one of us at a time.

Wine country is beautiful, and not just because of the awesome wine tasting experience. Here in LA I feel we’re spoiled.  Only a short, 90 minute drive away from crowded, smelly, smoggy Los Angeles – you can be away in farm country.  Vineyard and groves and rolling hills in every direction that you can see.  The air is clean and perfect.

So back to the point – my kid then, and now 7 years later, loves going up there.  Due to state law (and our out preferences) he stays outside of the tasting rooms.  One of us goes in, grabs a taste and notes, and comes back outside to one of the great outdoor picnic areas and we taste together.  My son meanwhile, will see other kids to talk to up there, collect sticks, check out the cool giant leaves, and look for animals (everything from horses, cows, lizards, birds and ostriches).  He just loves being outside, seeing the new environments, and having family bonding time.  Many of the wineries now even have bocce ball courts so we get a little competition in as well.

Wine country can be a fun, family friendly event (yes, read that as moderation!).  Then, don’t forget, the awesome dinner BBQ joints up in the area as all so perfect for kiddies too.

Anyone else bring their kid(s) up to wine country now and then?   Am I crazy or on to something?

Shiraz Blind Wine Tasting

Recently (ok, a few weeks ago now) I was invited to participate and help host the Los Angeles area version of a nationwide blind wine tasting.  This event was put together by WineTwits, a huge online wine centric community that focuses in and around the Twittersphere.   The aim of this night was for us to host a blind wine tasting on behalf of Yellow Tail Reserve.  Yellow Tail is absolutely not a brand that I reach for, own, or ever call for in a restaurant or bar.  My history with the brand was that it was simply a lower end supermarket (aka mediocre) level wine and nothing special.  This all said, I knew this was a blind tasting and I’d have to put my palate to the test rather than my perceptions of a brand. 

In the Los Angeles area, we had 10 total tasters join us for what turned into an awesome, educational, and overall a lot of fun evening.  The way the event worked was pretty cool.  The day before the tasting, we received a box with tasting notes, turnkey instructions for hosting, 4 tasting bottles of Shiraz that were both wrapped in foil as well as brown bags, few other bottles of other Yellow Tail offerings to kick off the evening, and of course a cheat cheat to be used for the final reveal at the end of the tasting.  We got lucky and had the good fortune of having Pourtal in Santa Monica host our tasting.  Pourtal is an amazing wine bar down by the beach.  The owner went above and beyond setting up the patio for our tasting, complete with large notebook computer, speakers, wine glasses, and anything else we could dream up to ask for.  Being that this tasting was happening live across 20 other cities in the US, the Los Angeles crew opted instead to start a few hours later and simply watch the tasting via a video feed loop.  The event was lead by Doug Frost, a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, and Yellow Tail owner John Casella. They were both on-hand at the Boston tasting, and through the magic of video, this live tasting was transmitted in real time to all other markets that were tasting at the time.  

Overall the event was excellent with a few expected hiccups with video feeds and audio quality.  Our group, like each of the other groups, tasting on our own, referring to and viewing the video feed as we progress from bottle to bottle in turn.  Like all good tastings, we compared notes, debated flavor profiles, and in the end voted on which we preferred. 

In the end, we tasted four different Shiraz  – 

  • Wine No. 1 – 2007 Archetype Shiraz – $15
  • Wine No. 2 – 2008 Marquis Philips Shiraz – $13
  • Wine No. 3 – 2006 D’ Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz – $60
  • Wine No. 4 – 2008 Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz – $11

In the end, my two favorite wines of the evening were #2 and #4.  Yeh, I know, Yellow Tail was in the final as one of my top picks – who knew?  The Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz was overall very drinkable, had a nice full body, and was a mix of darker fruits and pepper.  Overall, at only $11 I think its totally worth grabbing a bottle for a mid-week glass of vino.  Wine #3, the Dead Arm, was a nice Shiraz, but at $60/bottle I can see no chance that I would ever pay that for it.  If I’m spending that kinda money on a bottle of wine, its going to need a lot more character that this simple Shiraz.

In the end, while I know I probably am not going to run out to the store to buy a bottle tomorrow, I was very impressed with the Yellow Tail Reserve product and can see the extensive amount of effort that they are putting into the brand (and more importantly the end product). 

If you’re into Shiraz, give it a try and let me know what you think.

Cheers, Doug !