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WMC21: Day 2 Highlights

August 26, 2021 2 comments

We started the 2nd day of WMC21 with the breakout sessions, no keynotes. There were two sessions run in parallel, so you had to choose the topic which would be more of interest to you.

My first session, The Art of Storytelling for the Wine Industry, was presented by Jill Barth, a seasonal wine writer who writes for Forbes, Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, and other wine publications. Jill also won multiple awards (best wine blog 2016, Millessima wine and food pairing award, etc). Jill had a lot of good advice on how to build your story, what would make it a good story, how to pitch your story to the editors, and more.

Next, I listened to Scott Fish from 32 Digital, who was talking about taking your Instagram account to the next level. There were a lot of good information presented in the session – what are the best and worst times to post (it appears that Sunday is one of the worst days for the posts), how many tags to use, the optimal number of pictures in the gallery and so on. There were also some interesting tools recommendations, such as Answer To Public – a service that allows finding the most popular searches at the moment for a given keyword(s), all presented in an interesting format. You can see an example below of the search results for the keywords “red wine”.

You can definitely play with the tool, however, note that with the free search, you get a limited number of searches per IP address per day (I think 3 or 4), so play wisely.

Another interesting tool I learned about was Geolmgr which allows you to geotag your photos to a specific geographic location.

The next session, Digital Marketing for Wine Media, was presented by Mike Wangbickler, wine blogger, long-time WMC attendee, and owner of Balzac Communications agency. Mike started with some hard questions to the audience, such as “why do you have a wine blog” – it appears that literally no one had a wine blog to make money. Then Mike went on to talk about a plethora of tools available today to the bloggers in terms of SEO, content management, optimizing your delivery to your customer audience, and lots more.

After lunch, we had an excellent panel on Oregon sparkling wine. Before the session started we had an opportunity to taste three of the Oregon sparkling wines from the wineries participating in the panel. One of the wines was delicious sparkling Tannat from Troon Vineyards which we tasted on the first day. My other favorite was the 2017 Willamette Valley Vineyards Brut Sparkling Wine, which had all the classic Champagne traits – a touch of toasted bread on the nose, crisp, tight, and elegant on the palate.

The panel discussion was joined by Craig Camp, Troon Vineyard, Christine Clair, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Jessica Thomas, Sweet Cheeks Winery, and moderated by L.M. Archer.

It was a good discussion, starting with the history of sparkling wine in Oregon, and going through all the aspects of sparkling wine production. What was particularly interesting for me is a different approach to selecting the grapes for the sparkling wine. Willamette Valley Vineyards found out that one of the Chardonnay clones in the specific vineyard doesn’t perform well enough to be vinified into the still Chardonnay, but it happened to be well suited for the sparkling wine which requires much lesser ripeness. At the same time, the Sweet Cheek Winery harvests grapes for their sparkling wines from the same vineyard used for the still wine, but in the earlier pass, leaving the grapes for the still wines to ripen further.

Our next session was a wine discovery session where we had a choice of learning about Italian wines of Marche or Abruzzo – my choice was Marche, and we will talk about it in a separate post.

And then there were Lightning Talks. Lightning talks is an interesting concept. These are the sessions presented by fellow bloggers and wine writers. Each presenter submits a presentation with any number of slides, however, the slides change automatically and should be presented in exactly 5 minutes. This is the amount of time given to everyone – either you are done or not, but your time slot will stop exactly at 300 seconds. All the presenters did an excellent job – Gwendolyn Alley talked about being a cellar rat, Jeff Burrows spoke about starting your own blogging group, Brianne Cohen spoke about the virtual tasting business she started in 2020. My favorite talk though was the one presented by Steve Noel, who spoke about creative wine descriptors – I couldn’t stop laughing the whole 5 minutes while Steve was talking. While it will not be the same as Steve’s live presentation, he graciously allowed me to include his presentation in my post – you can find it here.

Our last session of the day, and essentially, the conference, was Wine Live Social for the red wines, which I already covered in this post.

Customary, the conference ends with the announcement of the next year’s location. Unfortunately, Zephyr folks, organizers of the conference, didn’t have a chance to work on securing the next location, as they had to operate with minimal staff, so the location will be announced later.

This was the end of the official conference, but you can probably imagine that we couldn’t let it go so easily, so after dinner, many of the attendees reconvened in the lobby to … yes, you guessed it – drink more wine and talk. There were lots of wines, but one particularly interesting for me was the 2009 Ranchita Canyon Vineyard Old Vine Cabernet Pfeffer – Cabernet Pfeffer is the grape I never tried before, and I recently saw it mentioned by someone, so it was definitely interesting to try. Not sure when this bottle was opened, so the wine was not super-enjoyable, but hey, I get to increase my grape count.

When I went to my room at around 2 am, there was still plenty of wine left, as you can see below. When I came out for breakfast the next morning, the foyer had no traces of wine bloggers partying all night.

There you are, my friends – if you missed the conference, I hope this gives you some idea as to what was going on there, and I hope next year it will be at the place and time good enough for all of us to get together.

I’m done with my report from the conference, but not with Oregon wines. I spent the next 4 days visiting wineries with Carl Giavanti, so as they say, watch this space…

WMC21: Live Wine Social

August 12, 2021 1 comment

 

One of my favorite sessions at the Wine Media Conference is what was known in prior years as speed tasting – 10 wines, 5 minutes per wine for the winemakers to present and for attendees to comprehend and share their opinion on social media.

For WMC2021, a unique event in itself, the format was changed – winemakers were not going around the room with their wines – instead, the wines were placed on every table in advance, and winemakers had 5 minutes each to present their wines. And we only tasted 5 wines per session instead of 10. Not a very different format, but having winemakers not moving around the room all the time kind of reduced the level of energy this event always possessed – which might explain the new name – Live Wine Social.

We had two sessions – White and Rosé on Day 1, and Red on Day 2. With 5 wines in each session, it doesn’t make sense to report on the event in two separate posts, hence one post covering all 10 wines.

Day 1, White and Rosé:

Wine #1: 2019 Longevity Pinot Grigio Livermore Valley – this was an interesting wine, but it didn’t appeal to me – however, I heard other bloggers liking it very much.

Wine #2: 2020 Troon Vineyards Kubli Bench Amber – a wine with restrained aromatics and tangy orange notes on the palate. One of my favorites in the tasting.

Wine #3: 2019 Benton-Lane First Class Chardonnay Willamette Valley – this was a nicely restrained rendition of the famous grape, very well done.

Wine #4: 2019 Brooks Ara Riesling Willamette Valley – my perennial favorite – this wine never ceases to amaze and delight.

Wine #5: 2020 Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir – well-balanced California Rosé rendition, simple and tasty.

During the event, a live display was showing all the tweets relevant to the WMC2021 – here is one example for you:

And now Day 2, for the reds:

Red wine #1: 2019 Troon Vineyard Siskiyou Syrah Applegate Valley – we couldn’t start with better wine than Troon Syrah. Purity of expression is nothing short of the mind bogging, beautiful cold weather Syrah rendition. One of my absolute favorite wines of the conference and the trip overall.

Red wine #2: 2018 Benton-Lane Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – interesting wine in need of time to open.

Red wine #3: 2017 Pfeiffer Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – another Pinot Noir which didn’t resonate with me.

Red wine #4: 2017 Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills – great aromatics, delicious wine on the palate.

Red wine #5: 2018 Knotty Vines Cabernet Sauvignon California – a part of the new line of wines from Rodney Strong – Knotty Vines. It doesn’t have the extensive concentration one comes to expect from California Cabernet Sauvignon, but it also doesn’t have a price tag associated with that type of wine. Without any regard to the price, this is simple, tasty, delicious, varietally correct, and perfectly drinkable from the moment you open the bottle, which is never an easy fit, especially when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon.

That concludes the Live Wine Social report from the Wine Media Conference 2021. Cheers!

 

WMC21: Day 1 Highlights

August 11, 2021 1 comment

Wine Media Conference 2021 was distinctly different from all of the previous years. The conference started in 2008 in Sonoma, so this was the 13th annual conference bringing together a bunch of people who love talking about wine – for passion and for business. 2021 was a special year, having everyone battle through the 2020 pandemic, so quite expectedly, the attendance and conference program took a toll – but I sincerely believe that those of us who attended for their love of wine definitely got at least their money worth, and lots more, as you can’t put a price tag on the camaraderie of the wine people.

View from Valley River Inn

This is the second time the conference took place in Oregon. In 2012, it was hosted in Portland with most of the attention focused on the Northern Willamette Valley. 2021 conference took place in Eugene, a town about 120 miles down south from Portland and home to the University of Oregon, hosted at the Valley River Inn. While the previous Oregon conference focused on the wines of Northern Oregon, going down south allowed everyone to explore the lesser-known wineries of the South Willamette Valley and even much further beyond.

Before we get to talk about Day 1, we have to talk about Day 0. First, there was an opening reception and walk-around tasting. There were a few interesting wines – particularly, I want to mention two of the California wines. 2018 Cuda Ridge Petit Verdot Livermore Valley was a perfect example of 100% Petit Verdot, with the concentrated power of the dark fruit, supported by well-integrated tannins. Then there were Knotty Vines – a new line of wines from Rodney Strong, made to be playful and accessible. I tasted 2018 Knotty Vines Chardonnay California which was simple and elegant, having all the Chardonnay traits (vanilla, green apple, a touch of butter), neatly packaged together. At $15, it is your perfect everyday wine. 2018 Knotty Vines Cabernet Sauvignon California was a great example of a well-made California Cabernet Sauvignon suitable for any budget – perfectly noticeable cassis on the nose and the palate, easy to drink, and delightful wine.

Now, for the most important part of the Day 0 – parties. There were at least two of such parties taking place. The first one was at the house of Neal Benson and Alyse Stone who live in Eugene and run the service called Winery Wanderings. Alyse and Neal graciously invited what seems to be a whole conference to their backyard and everyone was able to find a spot. There were lots of wines, lots of hugs, and conversations. While there were lots and lots of bottles opened and consumed, my unlikely favorite was 1971 Fontanafredda Barolo, brought by Jeff Burrows – the wine still had enough fruit left, and the palate gently evolved toward dried fruit – lightweight, but very pleasant.

The second afterparty was kindly hosted by Rodney Strong. Not only we had an opportunity to taste many of the Rodney Strong single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines (Rockaway, Alexander Crown, Brothers – all delicious), as well as Davis Bynum Pinot Noir, pure and classic, we also had a large selection of Voodoo Doughnuts, a local (Portland) crave and a cult. While Cabs and Pinot were excellent, my favorite wine of that evening was the 2018 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Reserve Russian River Valley, which was perfectly bright with vanilla and apple tones on the nose, and a hint of vanilla and butter on the palate. While doughnuts looked great, I really didn’t get the excitement and the cult status of these Voodoo doughnuts – they didn’t offer any special taste or flavor – but of course, they are fun to look at.

Day 1 started with the keynote from Cyrill Penn, the editor of Wine Business Monthly magazine, who primarily talked about the history of his publication and how it morphed over the years.

My favorite session of the Day 1 was delivered by Austin Beeman who works for the wine distribution company and runs a few of the wine blogs. Particularly, Austin was talking about the great difficulties wine shipping and logistics are facing right now and will continue having the issues for a while. I plan to interview Austin to discuss all of these in greater depth.

The next highlight was the tasting of the wines of the Troon Vineyard. Troon Vineyard is located in Southern Oregon, in Applegate Valley, and if there is one wine Troon doesn’t make it would be a Pinot Noir. But is not a major differentiator. Troon Vineyard is not only a certified biodynamic winery, but it is the second winery in the world to hold Regenerative Organic certification, which is a serious achievement in itself. I always loved Troon wines, and tasting them was always a major highlight of the WMC events, as Craig Camp, GM of Troon Vineyard, was always a big supporter of the conference, and he always brought a large assortment of Troon wines. And despite the fact that Troon wines were always pure and delicious, this year they manage to deliver even more.

Troon brought 3 sparkling wines, all made as Pet Nat (single fermentation in the bottle). While all 3 were delicious, my personal favorite was 2020 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Pet tanNat Applegate Valley, made out of 100% Tannat. Beautiful and clean cut-through acidity made this wine an ultimate refresher – and made me crave oysters right on the spot. My other two favorites were 2019 Troon Vineyard Estate Syrah Applegate Valley and 2019 Troon Vineyard Siskiyou Estate Syrah Applegate Valley, two beautiful expressions of the cold climate Syrah, clean, elegant, smell-forever Syrah wines with a perfect black pepper finish – best Syrah I’ve tasted in a long time.

In the afternoon, we had a good session on the wines of newly minted delle Venezie DOC from Italy, followed by the Wine Social Live tasting of white and Rosé, which was an adjusted version of the traditional speed tasting. Both sessions were very good and I plan to cover them in the later posts.

It is traditional to have winery excursions on the evening of Day 1. Out of the two options, I went with the tour of urban wineries in downtown Eugene. Before we went around the town, we gathered at the newly opened Gordon Hotel – it opened in late 2020, so I have to definitely tip my hat to the courage of the people behind this modern, ultra-contemporary hotel and the whole affiliated Market street complex.

A few of the highlights of the walk-around tasting were 2016 King Estate Brut Cuvée Willamette Valley, delicious sparkling wine with a toasty nose, and refreshing and crisp palate, and 2019 Iris Vineyards House Call Red Blend Rogue Valley, a round and delightful concoction made out of Cab Franc (50%), Merlot and Malbec.

Walking out of the Gordon Hotel we quickly stumbled upon the winery called Terra Pacem, which in translation from Latin means “Peaceful Earth”. Terra Pacem is not just an average urban winery – it is a winery with a great social mission. The winery employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provides community, training, and employment for them. And I’m happy to say that Terra Pacem can boast not only about the great mission but also about delicious, very well made wines. We had “3 out of 3” success with our selection.

NV Terra Pacem Brut had a beautiful toasted nose, with similar toasted notes on the palate, crisp and refreshing, how you would want your sparkling wine to be. 2018 Terra Pacem Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley was concocted to be a perfect Old World example of Cabernet Franc wine – just enough of the bell pepper on the nose to know that it is there, with bell pepper and cassis on the palate, lean and delightful.

I was tasting the wines with Jeff Burrows, and we were both concerned if we would like the 2018 Terra Pacem Tempranillo Rogue Valley, as for both of us, Tempranillo means Rioja, and I’m very particular about the Rioja’s I like. The wine didn’t disappoint – fresh berries on the nose, same round berries with a hint of the cedar box notes – in a blind tasting, I would happily take it for a Vina Real Crianza, so this was one delightful wine.

And that concludes my report. If you are still with me – thank you, as I feel quite exhausted just by writing it. Until the next time – cheers!

Oregon Wine Reflections – On The Way To The Wine Media Conference 2021

August 6, 2021 2 comments

I like flying. And it is not only the excitement of travel, arriving at the new place, meeting new people, having new experiences. The plane itself, the cabin, offers one of the rare sanctuaries, an opportunity to do some undisturbed work and reflect. Yes, the economy plane seat is not the most relaxing accommodation in the world, but if I chose to do something useful (oh so many times I ended up binge-watching movies instead of doing anything productive), comfort is not the most important thing.
Right now I’m on the small plane, connecting from Denver, Colorado to Eugene, Oregon – the location of the Wine Media Conference (previously know as Wine Bloggers Conference) 2021, WMC21 for short. It could’ve been equally called WMC20, as you can imagine that WMC 2020 never took place, but hey, at least we are getting together in 2021.

This will be my 5th WMC (I started in 2014, skipped 2015, and attended 2016, 2017, and 2018), and I’m really excited to visit Oregon for that.

As I was thinking about the location, I also tried to recall how did I discover Oregonian wines – you know, wine solicit the emotion, makes you dig into your memory.

I have no way of tracing it back to the exact year, but I believe the very first Oregonian wine which made me say “wow” was Archery Summit Pinot Noir, and I would think it happened 15–16 years ago. I probably had some wines from Oregon before and after which were just “meh”, but Archery Summit was definitely a pivotal wine. I think the next super-impressive Oregon wine was the Evening Land Pinot Noir, followed by Ken Wright (I was blown away by the massive power that wine was packing), followed by some of the high-end Adelsheim Pinot Noir wines when I wished for an expense account. And let me not forget Antica Terra, with absolutely spectacular Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Rosé wines (among many others).

This was ancient history. The modern history (ha!) of my Oregonian wine embrace is closely associated with Carl Giavanti, the winery publicist out of Portland, Oregon. We met with Carl at WBC14 and maintained contact from thereon. At some point, I started doing winemaker interviews in the blog, and Carl asked if I would be interested to create a series of interviews of the Oregonian winemakers – this is how the Stories of Passion and Pinot series was born 5 years ago. Working on those interviews afforded me to discover amazing wines – and amazing passion behind them. Vidon, Lenné, Youngberg Hill, Ghost Hill Cellars, Le Cadeau, Alloro, Iris, Utopia, Bell’s Up – each one had a unique story and unique wines. As part of the series I also interviewed Ken Wright, and I always remember that when I asked him how Oregon Pinot Noir compares to Burgundy, he said that for the long time, Oregon sees Burgundy in the rearview mirror, having found its own unique style.

While Pinot Noir is a king of Oregon, it is not the only wine produced here. Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo, Tannat, Vermentino, and many others also call Oregon home, and if you ever had wines from, for example, Troon Vineyards, you would know how good those wines can be.

Yes, color me excited – I finally get to meet the people and visit the wineries I’m already so [virtually] familiar with – and now it will be real.

Wine Media Conference 2021 – here we go!

WBC18: Speed (Live) Tasting – White and Rosé

October 23, 2018 2 comments

In the previous post, I told you about our speed tasting session of red wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018. During the second full conference day, we had a session for white and Rosé – only we didn’t get any Rosé at our table, so it was all for us (it is still 20+ different wines been presented around, but you only can taste just 10 during the allotted time.

If you read any of the previous posts or maybe attended the event, you know the drill. Snap, swirl, smell, sip, spit, share. Hmmm, next time I will call it a 6S exercise. You (1) snap a photo of a bottle. You (2) swirl the wine in your glass. You (3) smell it. Then you (4) sip it. Then you (5) spit it (well, there might be an exception to this rule, but you have to tread carefully here – if you can’t spit the wine, the wine bloggers conference is not for you). Lastly, you (6) share your notes with the world. All in 5 minutes. All repeated 10 times. There you have it.

Before I share the WBC18 wines with you now in this summary post, I will give you links to the WBC14, WBC16, and WBC17 I attended in the past, just in case you want to see what was happening there.

WBC18 speed tasting whites, here we go:

Wine 1: 2017 Desert Wind Chardonnay Heritage Series Wahluke Scope Washington (12.7% ABV, $28)

Wine 2: 2017 Bodega Bouza Albariño Montevideo Uruguay (13.5% ABV, $20)

Wine 3: 2016 Baroness Cellars Riesling Red Mountains (12.4% ABV, $25)

Wine 4: 2016 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill AVA (14.5% ABV, $22) – classic California Chardonnay, good wine at a good QPR.

Wine 5: 2016 Cadaretta SBS Columbia Valley (13.5% ABV, $23, 67% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon) – SBS stands exactly for Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. An excellent wine for a summer day? Well, I think I can drink it on a winter day too…

Wine 6: 2016 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros (14.4% ABV, $30)

Wine 7: 2016 J. Bookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay Conner-Lee Vineyard Columbia Valley (13.8% ABV, $40)

The next wine was presented with the statement to all of the Riesling haters – as shown here by Clifford Robben:

If you don't like riesling you are a

Wine 8: 2016 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling GG Alte Reben Mosel (12.5% ABV, $56) – you can’t argue with greatness – this was one delicious Riesling

Wine 9: 2015 Brokenwood Semillon Hunter Valley (10.5% ABV, $22) – Hunter Valley Semillon might be one of the biggest secrets lucky attendees of WBC19 will discover. The wine might show as overly acidic when young, but with some age on it, it becomes an impeccable thing of beauty…

Wine 10: 2016 Brooks Ara Riesling Willamette Valley (12.8% ABV, $38) – another beautiful wine from the Brooks winery. From the tasting of the reds, Borrks Rastaban was my favorite wine. Now this Ara Riesling was equally impressive – and I didn’t know that Riesling was even made in Oregon. A delicious surprise.

There you go, my friends – the summary of one of my favorite exercises at the wine bloggers conference. Sorry, Chardonnay – the Riesling totally stole the crown this time. Cheers!

WBC18: Speed (Live) Tasting – Reds

October 20, 2018 10 comments

Rapid fire. Lightning talks. Speed dating. We like to create extra-pressure situations for ourselves, I guess we think that we are functioning better when we have no option to prolong whatever it is we need to do or decide upon. Wine tasting is typically not a speed exercise – unless you are attending a live tasting session at the Wine Bloggers Conference.

50 minutes. 10 winemakers. 5 minutes to present the winery and the wine and answer questions – for winemakers. 5 minutes for bloggers to take pictures, smell and taste, ask questions, take notes, and ideally, post on social media about the wine – for 50 minutes in the row. Some people simply refuse to do it. And for me, this is one of the favorite sessions of the conference – and the one I get to consistently post about afterward, collecting all my individual tweets from the live session into one post – as it was done at WBC14, WBC16, and WBC17 – the three I attended in the past.

Unlike previous years, the first live wine blogging session at WBC18 was for the red wines (we always started with White and Rosé before). I guess it makes sense, as reds is what Washington is first and foremost known for. This time, I also tried to include some picture processing into the same 5 minutes – that makes the whole process even more challenging. Oh well. For what it worth, here are the wines and my notes, mostly in the form of the tweets:

Wine 1: 2013 g. Cuneo Cellars Ripasso Walla Walla Valley ($45) – Everything is possible in Washington – even the classic Italian wines.

Wine 2: 2017 De Lucca Tannat Reserve Canelones Uruguay ($15)

Wine 3: 2016 Fullerton Pinot Noir Bella Vide Vineyards Dundee Hills Oregon (13.5% ABV, $65) – great Oregon Pinot

Wine 4: 2016 Rodney Strong Vineyards Upshot Red Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $28, 37% Zinfandel, 30% Malbec, 27% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Riesling) – I love this unorthodox blend, an excellent wine for any special occasion, like Tuesday, for example. I also love the label. Forgot to include the picture in the tweet, so it is attached on its own here.

Rodney Strong Upshot Red

Wine 5: 2015 Browne Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley (13.7% ABV, $35, 22 months in French oak) – beautiful Cab Franc specimen.

Wine 6: 2014 Dama Wines Collage Walla Walla Valley (14.7% ABV, $55, 69% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc) – beautiful wine, beautiful label.

Wine 7: 2014 Dunham Cellars XX Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley (13.8% ABV, $45, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) – 9th winery in Walla Walla, 20th vintage (hence XX), and one of my most favorite from the tasting. Would be happy to drink every day.

Wine 8: 2015 Mansion Creek Cellars Red Dog Red Mountain AVA ($46, 70% Tinta Cão, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Grenache-Syrah) – it is not every day you can taste a beautifully done Portuguese wine – made in the USA.

Wine 9: 2015 Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Oregon (14% ABV, $60) – stunningly different expression of the Pinot Noir. It evokes the same magic as tasting Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and thinking “this can’t be New Zealand Sauv Blanc”. Same is here. It is simply unique and different and in a class of its own. Probably my favorite wine of the session.

Wine 10: 2016 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Pyrénées, Estate Tannat/Malbec, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley Oregon ($60, 62% Tannat, 38% Malbec) – organic, biodynamic, minimal intervention wine. Craig Camp lets the grapes speak, offering us a beautifully balanced wine.

There you go, my friends – the summary of one of my favorite exercises at the wine bloggers conference. This was definitely fun, and I will be delighted to do it again and again. Do you think 5 minutes is enough to learn about the wine and fall in love with it? Cheers!

WBC18: Merlot Deep Dive with Masters of Merlot

October 18, 2018 3 comments

I remember my first “deep dive” into the Washington wines at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few years ago, where I was told about the power of Washington Merlot. The explanation was given on the example of a group visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle from California, who were complaining that Washington Cabernet Sauvignon was too soft and mild as opposed to the Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The group was offered to taste the Washington Merlot wines next, and this is where they found the right amount of “power” they were looking for (or maybe even a bit more).

WBC18 Masters of Merlot tasting

While attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, I was able to start the conference experience on a very high note with the deep dive pre-conference session on the California Cabernet Sauvignon, where we learned about one of the most classic California Cabs you can find – Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, at WBC18, we started on the equal, or maybe even higher note with the pre-conference session on Merlot. Very appropriately for being in Washington, and for the October being the #MerlotMe month, we were able not only taste a line of Merlot wines but to compare side by side the wines made by two of the Merlot pioneers and, unquestionably, the Masters – Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa Valley and L’Ecole No 41 from Walla Walla Valley.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards back in 1976, becoming one of the first 40 Napa Valley wineries. Even in those early days, it was clear that Cabernet Sauvignon was The Grape everybody wanted to work with. At that time, Dan and Margaret decided to proceed in their own way, and instead of joining the Cabernet Sauvignon movement, be unique and different and embrace the Merlot. Ever since their inaugural vintage in 1978, they never looked back and became known as Napa Valley Merlot pioneers and one of the best Merlot producers in the world, starting with their first release of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today, Duckhorn Vineyards expanded dramatically and now comprise multiple wineries and brands around the USA – however, Merlot is the heart and soul of Duckhorn wines, and it is not surprising that 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Top 100 Wine of the Year.

L'Ecole No41 Merlot

L’Ecole No 41 was founded by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983 when it became 3rd winery in Walla Walla, and 20th winery in the Washington state. Today the winery is run by the 3rd generation of the family, and sustainably farms estate Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards. Merlot is the king in Washington, so it is not surprising that the L’Ecole crafts some of the best Merlot wines in Washington – however, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bordeaux-style blends are equally world-famous.

Now that you know the bit of the history, let’s talk about our tasting. In our Masters of Merlot session, we had an opportunity to taste side by side Duckhorn Vineyards and L’Ecole No 41 Merlot from 2008, 2012 and 2015 vintages, plus a cherry on top (thank you, Duckhorn Vineyards) – 2015 Three Palms Merlot. Before I will leave you with the tasting notes for these beautiful Merlot wines, I just want to share some general observations. The three vintages of Duckhorn Merlot we were comparing had a different grape composition between the vintages while maintaining the same oak treatment for all the wines. As I mentioned in my summary post about WBC18 experiences, Washington weather is very consistent, so L’Ecole No 41 maintained the same grape percentages between the vintages and the same oak regimen – the changing parameters were only harvest dates and the vineyard source composition, which gradually shifted from solely a  Seven Hills vineyard in 2008 to the 50/50 share between Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards in 2015 (L’Ecole folks are ecstatic about the potential of the Ferguson Vineyard, now introducing more and more single vineyard wines from it).

Masters of Merlot tasting WBC18

Now, it is (finally!) time to talk about the wines. Here we go, in the tasting order:

2008 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $?, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French oak)
Rutherford dust on the nose, chewy, dense, tart cherries, needs time! I want more fruit! Would love to try it in 5-8 years.

2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $70, 86% Merlot, 9.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 16 months in French oak)
Raisins on the nose, very explicit, beautifully dry on the palate, sage, anise, tart, showed a bit of Rutherford dust after swirling, great acidity. Amarone! I want to drink it NOW!

2012 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $30, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 76% Seven Hills Vineyard, 24% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Espresso, Rutherford dust (a bit less explicit than 2008). More fruit on the palate, bright, beautiful.

2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 16 months in French oak)
Delicate, fresh plums, a touch of truffle notes, plums and lavender on the palate, delicate, fresh, round.

2015 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $36, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard, 50% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Dark fruit, Rutherford dust, dark berries, a bit of bell pepper on the palate, plums, sapidity, interesting minerality. Needs time.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $56, 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in French Oak)
Closed nose, a touch of mint, however – palate is beautifully ripe, open, clean, fresh fruit.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $98, 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French Oak)
Rich, opulent, caramel, anise, sage, on the palate coffee, ripe fruit, mocha, dark chocolate. Big and delicious.

Masters of Merlot tasting

Were these wines similar, even between the different wineries? Of course. I love the presence of the Rutherford dust on many of the wines we tasted – after tasting best of the best in Rutherford in Napa Valley – the BV wines, I picked up that term and I always use it describe the perceived dusty impression of the wine’s aroma. L’Ecole Merlot was a lot more structured and minerally-driven. I would safely say that 2-3 hours in the decanter would help those wines a lot. The Duckhorn Merlot were a lot more fruit driven but offered an impeccable balance with that fruit. If I have to pick the favorite, it would be between 2008 Duckhorn (ahh, that Amarone-like beauty) and 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms, but there were really no bad wines in this tasting.

There you have it, my friends. Beautiful Merlot wines, easy to love and appreciate, and most importantly, offering lots of pleasure. How is your Merlot Me month going? What are your discoveries or the old favorites?

I have to say special thank you to Constance Savage of L’Ecole No 41 and Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards for offering this special tasting to the wine bloggers! Cheers!

WBC18: Like A Kid In The Candy Store – Again, or 4 Days in Walla Walla

October 13, 2018 11 comments

walla walla welcome signBack in 2014, I was visiting the state of Washington on business, and my obsession with local wines led me to the small town of Woodinville, about an hour northeast of Seattle. As I parked next to the industrial building and started going door to door, visiting one artisanal winery after another, I really felt like a kid in the candy store – the wines were delicious, and conversations with winemakers and not were even better than the wines – what else the wine lover needs? I was so impressed with that visit that my enthusiasm showed in the blog post, which won one of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenges (we called them MWWC) with the theme “local”.

The timing for the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018 (WBC18) was a little strange – for the most of the time, the conferences took place in August, and October is definitely not the ideal month to take time off (I know that many of the regulars couldn’t attend due to the timing). However, my high opinion of the Washington wines and the memories of visiting the Woodinville became the deciding factor, so I was able to find the time for this trip to Walla Walla in Washington.

Boy, was I not disappointed. After a beautiful ride from the Portland airport along the Columbia River (I wish I would record a little video – the amazing scenery must be shared), I arrived at the Walla Walla. Walla Walla is a home to about 30,000 residents, but it is hard to tell from the tiny downtown. However, when it comes to wine, don’t let the small size to full you – Walla Walla downtown hosts 30 something tasting rooms, plus a number of full working wineries located within the city limits (there are 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley overall) – it is definitely a destination for any wine lover out there.

As it always happened so far (this was my fourth WBC), the 4 days of the Wine Bloggers Conference became a non-stop adventure of sipping, spitting and learning, and most importantly, spending time with the fellow bloggers. I can’t tell you how many wines were tasted during these four days – whatever happens at WBC, stays at WBC. But – I will be happy to share with you main takeaways from these 4 days. Here we go:

  1. Washington State produces some magnificent wines (duh) – at least on par with Napa, and often far exceeding the Napa offerings in terms of QPR – and they are predominantly red. All six Bordeaux varieties are doing quite well in Washington, both in the form of the Bordeaux blend and on its own. Merlot might be a king of Washington, but Cabernet Sauvignon can often fight for that royal crown, and quite successfully. The Syrah is definitely a queen, well deserving your attention, following by the other Mediterranean breeds, such as Grenache and even Tempranillo.
  2. Washington whites are much rarer find – but they can be equally delightful as the reds. Rhone varieties do particularly well (Marsanne, Roussanne), but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and even Albarino can deliver a happy surprise. An important reminder – please, please drink Rhone whites at the cool room temperature – they really taste better like that. Make them too cold, and they become indistinguishable and boring.
  3. Unlike California, where you can find 100+ years old [continuously farmed] vineyards, such as Bechtold in Lodi (farmed since 1886), and 150 years old continuously producing wineries, Washington wine industry didn’t survive the prohibition. What was striving in the 1860s, was completely destroyed in 1920s, and had to be rebuilt in 1960s. This information actually doesn’t have any deep meaning outside of being an interesting (and unfortunate) fact.
  4. I don’t believe you need to pay attention to the vintages for Washington wines, unless something ultra-bad happens, like out of blue frost in May. The temperatures are consistent, and so are the general climate conditions – too hot of a summer can be compensated by harvesting earlier. Well, the summers are typically hot, so the “canopy management” is a hot subject in winemaking circles. If the vineyard is managed properly, and winemaker does the job right, there is a good chance for consistency. In other words, don’t ask “how was that vintage”, just get the wine you want to drink. But – the way a lot of wines in Washington are made, especially coming from the small wineries – with utmost respect to the product at all stages – guarantees that the wines will age well. Give them some time, and prepare to be amazed.

I can probably think of more conclusions, but instead, I really want to tell you how my four days unfolded – just in case you wonder what one does at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Look at it more like the set of highlights as opposed to the detailed report. And then my plan is to convert many of this mentions below into the separate posts, to make my report more detailed – oh well, will see how that will work.

Day 1: After the beautiful ride along the Columbia River from Portland, I checked into the hotel, and then my next immediate stop was a tasting at the Seven Hills Winery, located right next to the conference hotel. After tasting at Seven Hills, next stop was the tasting at the Gård Vintners – with lots of delicious surprises. That tasting was followed with a very short walk back to the hotel to attend the Masters of Merlot session (now part of the official WBC program), presented by two of the Merlot Greats – Duckhorn and L’Ecole No 41 (very appropriate for the October, the #MerlotMe month).

Next was the mingling with the fellow bloggers around so-called Expo, where WBC sponsors poured their wines and offered their products. My last activity for the day was a superb, mind-blowing tasting at the Eternal Wines (more later) in lieu of group dinner. I also skipped all after-hours activities – that was enough for the first day.

WBC18 Walla Walla winemakers panel

WBC18wine influencers panel

Day 2: The actual conference program started. One of the main morning highlights was the panel discussion by the 4 of the Walla Walla winemakers, talking about terroir, canopy management, and stories, their personal, real life stories. I also liked the panel of wine influencers, talking about the wine industry, wine writing, and Dos and Don’ts of wine blogging. During lunch, we had an opportunity to taste wines from the Cascade Valley Wine Country, where one particular wine, WineGirl Wines Red blend left a mark with me – a standout, flawless, round, and beautiful.

After lunch, I went with a group of friends to taste delicious Oregon non-Pinot wines from Troon Vineyards Applegate Valley, as presented by WBC veteran, Craig Camp (I believe Craig didn’t miss a single WBC event). We got back to listen to the keynote by Lewis Perdue, the founder of Wine Industry Insight publication, who was focusing on a seemingly simple concept – Trust – and the tenets of good writing.

Next session was one of my traditional favorites – Live Wine Blogging for red wines, and once that was over, we all left for the dinners at mystery wineries (nobody knew where they are going), with our mystery winery being Canoe Ridge. Do you think this was enough for a day? Wrong. It is never enough – the last part of the program was so-called “after party”, where we tasted lots more wines (attendees are invited to bring wines to share with the others for this late night session). My highlights from this late-night tasting were Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone and iOTA Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir vertical (2013, 2014, 2015). Whew, time to sleep.

Maryhill vineyards

Mary Hill winery - soil sample and peach trees

Day 3: The day started from learning about the location of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2019 – Hunter Valley in Australia, October 10-12, 2019. This sounds ultra-attractive – and equally impossible (in my own world). After a few of the breakout session, we went out for lunch at the Walla Walla tasting rooms which we had an opportunity to select the day before – my choice was Otis Kenyon Winery. Next was the session called Bubbles and Bites, a sparkling wine and food pairing lesson presented by Gloria Ferrer. Right after that, we had an in-depth lesson about European Cheeses. Up next was the “Lightning talks” session – 5 minutes presentations by the fellow bloggers with the slides rotating every 15 seconds. Wine Live Blogging session for whites and Rosé closed the main conference activities – which left us with the wine dinner with the vintners from Walla Walla. At the dinner, I fell in love with the wines from Revelry Vintners, which were simply stunning, and also enjoyed a few wines from Bergevin Lane. And then … yes, of course, another late night session (someone had to drink all that wine, right?)

fall in Mary Hill vineyards

view from Cathedral Ridge winery

Day 4: The conference was officially closed, but – there were post-conference excursions. I visited Maryhill Winery in Walla Walla, and Cathedral Ridge Winery in Oregon, both offering spectacular views and delicious wines.

The End.

Here it is – my abbreviated report of the WBC18 activities. Speaking strictly for myself, I greatly enjoyed the conference – the place, the wines, people and conversations – everything work together very well to create a memorable experience. If you never attended the conference – do you want to attend one now, after reading my report? If you are a “regular”, what are your thoughts about WBC18 and will we see each other in Australia? Cheers!

WBC17: Speed Tasting, Reds

November 15, 2017 1 comment

 

As with any typical wine dinner, you start with the white and continue with the red, right? Well, right or wrong, but this is what we did at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2017. White and Rosé speed tasting was followed by the Reds speed tasting the next day.

Instead of standard 10 wines, we managed to squeeze in 11 – of course, because Table #5 was the most awesome table in the entire room!

Here is what we tasted:

Wine #1: 2013 Acumen Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $60) – have to say that nose was better than the palate. Too young.

Wine #2: 2010 Rodney Strong Vineyards Upshot Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $28) – not only this wine has a super-creative label, it also has 5% of the Riesling in the final blend – how about that for creativity? Very tasty wine.

Wine #3: 2015 Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County (14.9% ABV, $19)

Wine #4: 2015 Pedroncelli Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County (15.2% ABV, $30) – this was our bonus wine. I liked it way more than the previous Zinfandel…

Wine #5: 2014 Papapietro Perry Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (13.8% ABV, $58) – excellent.

Wine #6: 2015 Naked Winery Oh! Orgasmic Sangiovese Columbia Valley (14.4% ABV, $70)

Wine #7: 2014 NakedWines.com Domaine O’Vineyards Trah Lah Lah Cite de Carcassonne IGP (13% ABV, $11) – nicely restrained. Least expensive in the tasting.

Wine #8: 2015 1000 Stories Zinfandel Bourbon Barrel Aged (15% ABV, $19)

Wine #9: 2015 Paradise Ridge Walter’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Russain River Valley (13.8% ABV, $54) – needs time

Wine #10: 2015 Gracianna Pinot Noir Reserve Russian River Valley (14.8% ABV, $72) – love the label, but the wine needs time.

Wine #11: 2015 Stone Hill Winery Norton Missouri (13.8% ABV, $25) – easily might be my favorite wine from the reds speed tasting. Was also very happy to try a wine from the state I never had the wines from before.

This completes the second WBC17 speed tasting report. More updates to follow. Cheers!

WBC17: Speed Tasting, White and Rosé

November 11, 2017 4 comments

Here we go again – living through the madness of the Wine Bloggers Conference – this is where wine geeks get together, taste incredible amounts of wine (thank you, liver, I hope you can forgive me again), talk about the wine all day (and good portion of the night) long, but above all, share their common passion – the wine.

This is my third conference, and speed tasting is definitely one of my favorite exercises. During an hour-long session, wineries from all over the world line up to present their wines to the bloggers. Each winery gets 5 minutes to present their wine – which includes pouring, talking and answering questions. Bloggers sit in groups of 10 at the tables and each group gets the same 5 minutes to taste the wine, ask questions, take pictures, and share the wines on the social media. Yes, it is very intense.

This is definitely a fun session (fun is not universal here – I know a number of very well respected bloggers who refuse to participate in the speed tasting) – however, it should be well understood that this is really “shoot from the hip” type of tasting – 5 minutes is absolutely not enough to truly understand the wine, and you get the wine in whatever state it is (you can’t let it open in the glass, nope). However, this is how the wines are evaluated at any large trade tasting, sans the social media sharing, so this is all about your first reaction – that’s what is going into your quick notes.

Our session at WBC17 included wines mostly from California, with the addition of some international wines. While the session was called “white and Rosé”, we didn’t get to taste any Rosé – but keep in mind that we only were able to taste 10 out of more than 25 wines. I shared all of my impressions and pictures on twitter – however while working on this post I realized that I forgot to include 2 pictures, and all of my tweets went out as replies. Yeah, live and learn.

Nevertheless, here is the blog report of the same, with the addition of missing pictures:

Wine #1: 2016 Ledson Winery Viognier Sonoma Coast (13.5% ABV, $32) – I always approach Viognier with trepidation – this is one of the grapes which are easy to screw up. To my delight, this was very well done wine – nose, palate – very enjoyable. Reasonable value at $32.

Wine #2: Naked Wines Naked Cowboy Sauvignon Blanc (13% ABV, $32) – the wine states appellation America on the front label, however, all the grapes come from the vineyards in Washington. This is a good wine – I’m not sold on QPR, though…

Wine #3: 2015 Matthiasson Winery White Blend Napa Valley (12.9% ABV, $40) – a blend of 4 grapes, mostly Italian varietals.

 

Matthiasson White Wine

Wine #4: Jardesca White Aperitiva California (17% ABV, $30) – this is fortified wine with the addition of fruit – just add ice, and you can start entertaining. Love the label.

Wine #5: 2010 Gloria Ferrer Anniversary Cuvée Carneros (12.5% ABV, $40) – love Gloria Ferrer wines. This was big and voluptuous sparkler, slightly bigger than a typical Brut.

Wine #6: 2016 Selva Capuzzo Turbiana Lugana ($18) – not bad, and the least expensive wine in the tasting.

Wine #7: 2015 Mt. Beautiful Chardonnay New Zealand (14.5% ABV, $22) – this was a very good rendition of Chardonnay and an excellent price for the New Zealand Chardonnay overall.

Wine #8: 2015 Antinori Estates Antica Chardonnay Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $55) – interesting wine. QPR didn’t work for me…

Antica Chardonnay Napa Valley

Wine #9: 2016 Hanna Winery Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley (13.2% ABV, $19) – Hanna is one of my favorite producers, and this Sauvignon Blanc was delicious. Was super-excited to find a classic cat pee on the nose…

Wine #10: 2014 Leto Cellars Chardonnay Napa Valley (14% ABV, $30) – this wine was an enigma. We tasted multiple bottles and still couldn’t figure it out. Oh well, this was the last one anyway.

This completes my first WBC17 speed tasting report. Red wines will be next! Cheers!

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