Tag Archives: Napa

A new wine adventure awaits!

Tonight I lie in bed awake waiting for tomorrow to come. Tomorrow brings with it opportunity, new experiences and more time with the family. You see, last Friday was my last day at the place I spent 5 days a week at for the last year plus. Through no fault of my own, the business closed. I was working hard to make it a success; however there were too many factors stacked against us. But that is the past and the past can not be changed. What can be changed is tomorrow (and now – but tomorrow and now are pretty close to the same thing).

I’m already interviewing for my next adventure in this ever-changing industry. And I really mean an adventure. Each place I’ve worked for in the past 5 years has had its own character, history and customers. It has been a lifetime of experiences in a short period of time full of awesome co-workers with unlimited knowledge of wine. All of whom were willing to share with me and impart a real understanding of this complicated business. I’ve also had the pleasure of taking some great classes through leading organizations in the wine industry leading to even more knowledge.

It all sounds so easy: grow some grapes, crush them, bottle the product and sell it to consumers. So simple, I forgot the part about fermentation! But this is an intricate business that has countless steps to ensure the quality of the finished wine matches up with what the winery’s customers have come to expect. As one of the funny ecards floating around Facebook said recently: “you mean I can get paid to help people drink wine? Where do I sign up” It’s true. When all is said and done, that is what we do – although each of us plays a unique role in the process.

So while I don’t know yet what the next adventure for me will be, I do know that it will be exciting. I do know that it will bring with it new challenges and experiences. I also know that I will meet new people with unique perspectives hearing about some of the same processes in new ways. I’m excited for what the future holds and I look forward to where this career path will take me next.

So while I type this and think about all the experiences I’ve had, I know only one thing for sure; this is the only thing I want to do with my life. There are no other jobs or career paths that fit with my lifestyle. In addition, the beverage I have come to not only enjoy daily has provided for my family for nearly half of my post-college years. Good stuff. You’ve heard people say it, but do what you love and the money (and happiness) will come. I’m trying. And if the money doesn’t come at least there’s wine!

More soon on my next steps….

Cheers!

1 Comment

Filed under Wine, Wine Country, Wine Tasting

Napa Valley Cabernet, too high in alcohol?

Thanks to my father-in-law for emailing me this article in the Chronicle about Napa Valley Cabernet and it’s ascend to very high alcohol levels in recent years.

It’s no secret (as this article also states) that higher alcohol wines generally bring higher score from the critics. But if you’ve been following this blog, I’m pretty blasé about wine ratings and critics. Why should anyone tell me what to drink based on their own evaluation? And why should I put effort into following what they have to say when their ‘high scores’ just lead to me and you paying a higher price for that now coveted bottle of fermented juice?

I’ve long said the only place ratings should come into play is when you have a specific wine in mind and specific price point and you are standing on the wine aisle. Ratings can help you decide between one wine and another. If the price point is the same, go with the higher rating, right? But I live in one of California’s areas for great wine and generally drink wine from these regions and can decide for myself what I like and don’t like.

Anyway, let me step down from my soap box for a moment (because I could go on for a long time about the above topic and that’s not what I specifically set out to write about, although I’m having fun!).

This article brings up so many topics, it’s almost impossible to cover with just one post. For starters, I love that Randy Dunn has stuck to his core values of making a certain style of wine. So many wineries change what they are doing based on consumer polls and data and swings in purchasing. How can we ever know what to expect in the bottle if the winery changes style and direction with every new trend? We can’t. There are many wineries I have grown to love because I know what to expect from them. Some of them have specific wines that I really like and others that I don’t. I just buy the ones I like. But when I get a wine from a trusted source and it has changed to suit what some marketing person decided was better for their customers that’s where I draw the line.

But see for the general wine drinking public (who by the way is only 14% of Americans on a regular basis) they often times don’t know that the winery changed direction or can’t tell for whatever reason. Or maybe they just don’t care. There are a lot of wine drinkers that just want a ‘glass of red’ and never really think about the wine. So this trend will continue. You can count on it.

I just love this quote from Randy Dunn:

“I’ve been in many conversations with people that have been selling their wines for $150 a bottle for 15 years, and I was at $65 or something. They go, ‘What are you doing? You’re making us look like fools,’….And I said, ‘You know, I’m quite profitable at this level.’ Here’s a concept called greed.”

Interesting, he’s making them look like fools. I’m all for capitalism though. If they can sell it at that price (and trust me $150 is starting price for many Cabernet wines in Napa Valley) good for them, but they are certainly past the price range I’m comfortable in. At that price I’ll buy a nice Irish Whiskey or Scotch and drink it over an entire year. I have heard people say, “What’s the difference between a $150 bottle of wine and a $50 bottle of wine? ….$100.”

There’s also this concept in here about how the higher alcohol levels have led to the wines all tasting the same. I think I’ll have to do some research to further discover the real answer on this, but it used to be that you could easily distinguish the different growing areas of Napa Valley – mountains vs. floor, east facing regions vs. west, Rutherford Dust comes to mind. I guess I could see how the higher alcohol could mask some of these unique characteristics by making it all about the alcohol and less about the sense of place. That terroir is so important to me. I want to taste, smell and hear (you mean you don’t listen to your wine?) and feel where the wine and grapes came from.

I’m very curious (and will keep following this story) what the research Mr. Dunn is doing will suggest about how to taste wines of lower and higher alcohol. It makes sense that if you taste a higher alcohol wine first, the lower one will taste watery, or at least lighter. If that is the case, if his wines are tasted alongside the higher alcohol versions from Napa Valley then he never will see those higher ratings. Either way, I look forward to tasting his commitment to a standard and ability to not conform with the ever-changing wants of the general public.

Cheers!

Leave a comment

Filed under Alcohol Content, Napa, Napa Valley, Wine, Wine Study, Wine Tasting, Winemaking

Sonoma County votes YES on hillside vineyard freeze

The Sonoma County board of supervisors put in place a stay on new hillside vineyards (greater than 15%) that require tree removal. Good for them. Even though it’s only for four months, it’s a step in the right direction.

At first this story seemed to be reported earlier in the week as a halt on just hillside vineyards (with little mention of the tree removal part), but there was already a moratorium on that even if it is flawed. The flawed part is that it was only on hillsides with a slope of 50% or more. Those sites are few and far between and most grape growers don’t want to incur the costs it takes to farm hillsides of that slope let alone the initial planting.

In Napa Valley the cutoff is a 30% grade making a more significant impact on farming. The main thought behind the restriction is to prevent (or at least help prevent) erosion. A good reason if you ask me, but certainly not the only reason.

Tree removal for vineyard sites is not a new topic. Any big wine company that has wanted to clear-cut to plant new vineyards has been met with opposition by environmental groups. In most cases it hasn’t led to stopping the new plantings, so why now?

Well, for starters, there is a new Ag Commissioner as of about a month ago. And there are at least a half a dozen proposed vineyards that require tree removal on the books right now. The largest of which is about 150 acres that Napa’s Artesa Winery is in process of developing.

Of course, that brings up a whole other topic – Why are Napa wineries buying land in Sonoma County? Primarily because of the Pinot Noir craze. Napa’s land suitable for growing Pinot grapes has long been tapped, so they are looking to other areas to propagate this high-profit wine. I can’t help but think that because those grapes will end up with a Napa label on them has something to do with this. It’s no secret that Sonoma County wants to promote Sonoma County wines – I’m certainly a big proponent of that.

But here’s the elephant in the room no one seems to be talking about: Why are wineries / grape growers planting grapes at a time when many vineyards have fallen out of contract and fruit has been left on the vines? The past few years have been pretty awful for some growers, so why create more vineyards with grapes that no one is buying?

It does take about 4 years after planting (and more if you are clearing before planting) to see a crop so maybe these wineries are projecting the need for more grapes. I hope so. It would be great to see an upswing. I already think we’re headed that way, but only time will tell.

I’m also very much in favor of keeping the trees we have left in this county. Not only because of the environmental benefits of having lots of trees around, but because I don’t really think we need to be clear cutting acres of land to plant more grapes. There are better ways. There are other areas to choose. Sure, maybe not with the cache of Sonoma County, but other options exists.

Let’s hope the Board of Supervisors make good decisions about the future of Sonoma County’s grape growing regions. Maybe there is a middle ground that can be reached: a certain amount of trees that can be cut down while making other environmental positives occur like the same amount of trees planted in other areas of the county. Just a thought. Why not make a net zero impact a requirement for new vineyards and possibly even other projects? This could be a great opportunity and I hope the board doesn’t take it lightly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Russian River Valley, Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country

Traveling Tuesdays – Keating Wines (at Cornerstone)

My second stop on Tuesday was Keating Wines located South of the town of Sonoma on highway 121 in the Cornerstone art and garden center. I was lucky enough to taste Eric Keating’s first vintage of Malbec (I think it was a 2005) about 4 years ago. When I put that wine in my mouth, I knew it was something special. This is the 2007 vintage and it’s still a great wine….

Back when I initally tasted this wine, it was one of the first Rockpile (extreme Northern Sonoma County) wines I’d ever had. The flavor and texture of this 07 is stunning.

$5 gets you 6 tastings of wines made from vineyards throughout Sonoma County. I enjoyed all the wines and some of my favorites included the Sonoma Valley Merlot ($25) and the Rockpile Petite Sirah ($38). I’ve heard the Beckstoffer Georges III Napa Cabernet is outstanding, but it’s not available for regular tasting. The room is large and simple with an urban upscale feel to it. The focus is definitely on the wines and I will never fault a tasting room for that. My daughter even had a space to sit that was out of the way.

I could also see hanging out on these couches with some friends.

I’d say I’m one happy taster!

The Keating Wines tasting room is open from 10-5 daily. Definitely worth a visit.

Cheers!

1 Comment

Filed under Traveling Tuesdays

Napa Valley (the most popular post ever)

My most viewed post of all time is this one: Napa Valley – A New Adventure

I find this extremely interesting, yet not too surprising. Interesting because my blog name is Sonoma Cork Dork. Not surprising because of many reasons including the most sought after wine valley to visit is still Napa Valley.

I can’t tell you how many visitors and tourists mix up Napa and Sonoma and never really know where they are. The often say things like, “This is my first time to Napa Valley” or “I love tasting wines in Napa”. I don’t take offense to it because I believe that they really don’t know where they are. I also don’t look at this as a bad thing. After all, the more visitors to the area the better, right?

It’s just clear to me that when people are looking for wine related information on the web they often type in Napa before any other wine region. And this is where I think Sonoma may be behind the times. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sonoma is often talked about as more laid back, country, and a place you are likely to meet and talk with the winemakers. By contrast, Napa is often described as an adult-Disneyland. Both regions offer great wine, beautiful vineyards and big and small wineries.

Napa really started marketing itself as a wine destination in the 60′s when Mondavi opened up his winery. He realized the potential of direct to consumer sales and used to drive his car slow on highway 29 then turn left even slower into his driveway to bring people to the winery. Maybe not the most effective marketing, but it was a start. Before long Napa was really booming and visitors started to flock to the area.

Sleepier Sonoma has been playing catch-up ever since. We hear a lot of visitors say they really enjoy Sonoma for it’s quieter tasting rooms, smaller tasting fees and friendly staff. So, why then, do we see less visitors every year? It’s a mystery.

Sonoma also makes about three times as much wine as Napa. That has everything to do with geography. Sonoma County is a much larger area (about 60 miles north / south and 25 miles east / west), compared to Napa (about 20 miles long by 1-5 miles wide) – a huge difference. You would think at some point that Sonoma would overtake Napa with visitors, just from the amount of wine that is distributed from the area, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. And I’m okay with that.

As I said before, the more visitors to the area the better. I truly believe that. Visitors will see our marketing efforts and discover this great region I call home. After all, I’m still discovering it. There are over 350 wineries in Sonoma and I’m not sure I’ll ever get to all of them, but I’m going to try and I’m going to write about it every step of the way.

Cheers!

Leave a comment

Filed under Napa, Sonoma