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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: 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!

WBC16: Overwhelmed Even Before The Day One

August 19, 2016 20 comments

Zinfandel grapesYet another ambitious plan goes nowhere. While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 in Lodi, I had a great idea of posting a recap of the prior day in the morning. No need to start checking for the missing posts from me – none of it happened. Every day was so packed from dawn to dusk that what seemed to be a great idea didn’t survive the test of the reality. Yes, I probably could muscle a few lines in, but it would come at the expense of the great time talking to the fellow bloggers, which was the trade off I didn’t want to make.

So here we are, the conference is over, so now I will do my best to share my perspective of the events as they took place. Here we go.

I took a flight early morning on Thursday to arrive to San Francisco. After getting the rental car, my first stop was in Napa, at Oxbow Public Market, where I met for lunch Danielle Irwin and her husband Derek. Oxbow Public Market is a very interesting place, conceptually somewhat close to the Chelsea Markets in New York, only built in modern, contemporary style, with lots of small artisan shops and restaurants, offering food and wine, fresh produce, coffee and whatever else your heart desires. Great place to stop by if you are looking for a break during your winery visits.

It was a great pleasure to meet Danielle and Derek face to face. I had been virtually talking to Danielle for a while – she is writing her blog Danielle Dishes The Vineyard Dirt at Naggiar Vineyards in Sierra Foothills, where her husband Derek is the winemaker. Derek is a vigneron who is involved in a lot of vineyard and winery projects, and he also produces his own wines under Irwin Family Wines label. I had a pleasure of tasting his Tempranillo, which was the first California Tempranillo I ever tasted. Conversation with Derek was an excellent introduction into the Lodi wines, as he gave me some ideas for what to expect there.

A hour an a half later, after a ride along route 12 which I wouldn’t call pleasant (lots of stop and go traffic, not a fun ride) I arrived to the Hampton Inn in Lodi, which became home outside of home for the next 3 days.

The first event of the night was the conference opening reception at the Mohr Fry Ranch, sponsored by Lodi Wine. With that reception came my first real encounter with Lodi wines.

LoCA wine glasses

Until coming to Lodi, I only knew it as a source of many Zinfandel wines. And then there was a perception of hot, high alcohol wines, based on the tasting of occasional Cabernet Sauvignon with Lodi regional designation. Yep, that’s all I had on Lodi in my head.

The very first taste of the Lodi wine broke that perception. By the end of the tasting, it was shattered completely and didn’t exist anymore.


I stopped at the table of the Fields Family Wines, and the very first white wine I tasted was 2015 Fields Family Wines Clay Station Vineyard Grenache Blanc Lodi. I never tasted Grenache Blanc from California, let alone the fact that it is coming from one of the hottest regions (yep, sense my fear?) – yet the wine had clean acidity, touch of minerality, restrained fruit – a great start.

You know what – now I’m afraid to bore you away with all this “acidity and restrained fruit”, but this was the trait of literally every Lodi wine I had an opportunity to taste – there were no fruit bombs, there were no hot wines, there were delicious, well made world-class wines, made with love and care. I just have to tell you this, as it was really an overarching impression over the three days of tasting, so now I will [try to] avoid repeating myself all the time.

Have to be honest – the next red wine I approached with trepidation (huh, like the previous one I did not, right). Tempranillo from Lodi? I already told you that I had good experience with Irwin Family Tempranillo from Napa, but it was one particular wine, which doesn’t guarantee anything in a long run. And if you are reading this blog for a while, you know my passion for the Spanish Tempranillo wines – and now in my mind I was facing a clear opportunity to be disappointed. First sip of this 2010 Fields Family Wines Tempranillo Lodi put all my doubts to rest – the wine had a nose of black fruit and spices, and it was dark and brooding on the palate, with those espresso notes so characteristic in the wines of Toro in Spain. An outstanding rendition by all means, and I would love to see it in a blind tasting against the actual Toro wines.

2010 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi was an excellent example of the cold climate Syrah – touch of roasted meat, dark fruit, spicy with clean acidity – great rendition of another one of my favorite grapes. 2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi added more complexity and more roasted meat, all with perfect balance. 2010 Fields Family Wines Petitte Sirah Lodi was simply outstanding, offering silky smooth, velvety texture, supple ripe black and blue fruit with enough acidity in the core to make the wine perfectly balanced. As you can tell, Fields Family Wines provided a splendid introduction into the wines of Lodi.

Harney Lane Winery

My [now exciting] Lodi wine deep dive continued at the next table. Successful first experience should’ve really put me at ease – and still, an Albariño on the label triggered a subconscious alarm – Lodi doesn’t leave the impression of the Rias Baixas (not that I visited Spain, unfortunately, but just a mental image of coastal region), so “just in case, prepare for the worst”, the concerned brain said. This happened to be really a needless worry. 2015 Harney Lane Albariño Lodi had a a nose of white fruit and excellent acidity on the palate, which is the typical characteristic of the Spanish Albariño. 2013 Harney Lane Tempranillo Lodi was a bit lighter than the Fields Tempranillo version (it was also 3 years younger), but still preserving the core of dark fruit and good acidity. 2013 Harney Lane Lizzy James Vineyard Old Vines Sinfandel Lodi was as classic as Lodi Zinfandel can be – blueberries, blackberries, spices – very tasty.

I could continue tasting Lodi wines as there were many more winemakers present. However, there is something you need to know about Wine Bloggers Conference. In addition to all of the program events, there are always lots and lots of activities taking place somewhere around the WBC space. Call them private tastings or what, but this is something to pay attention to. Thus we left the reception, and after a short drive arrived at a house where Troon Vineyards tasting was taking place.

Troon Vineyards started in Southern Oregon in 1976 (vines were planted in 1972). I’m sure that when you hear “Oregon wine”, your first thought is Pinot Noir – nevertheless, Troon Vineyard doesn’t produce any Pinot Noir wines, and instead focuses on Mediterranean grape varietals (and Zinfandel). Another interesting fact is that many of the Troon wines (especially the whites) are co-fermented, meaning that different varietals are fermented together at the same time, as opposed to fermenting separately and blending afterwards.

I tried a number of Troon wines, with the two favorites been 2015 Troon Blue Label Longue Carabine, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon (blend of Vermentino, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne) – touch of perfume on the nose, medium to full body with expressive minerality and good acidity. 2013 Troon Black Label M*T Reserve, Applegate Valley, Souther Oregon (blend of Malbec and Tannat) had nose of black fruit with dark core and good structure, medium to full body and good balance.

The last stop of the long day (remember, I left the house at 5 am in the Eastern time zone) was at the Rodney Strong Vineyards party, which was luckily taking place right at the hotel.

Rodney Strong winery had been producing wines in Sonoma for more than 50 years and would well deserve its own post to talk about their long history (the oldest vineyard at Rodney Strong was planted in 1904) and their achievements. But for the sake of this post, let me just talk about few of their wines I had an opportunity to enjoy.

2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Charlotte’s Home, Northern Sonoma was excellent – grassy nose, fresh, crisp and restrained palate, with just a touch of grass and lemon – delicious and very refreshing. 2009 Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast was a stand out (no wonder Ramey Chardonnay was one of Decanter magazine’s 10 best Chardonnay wines in the world outside of Burgundy) – classic intense vanilla nose, vanilla apple and pear on the palate, excellent balance and excellent overall. As an extra bonus, the wine was poured from double-magnum (3L) bottle. In case you are wondering about connection here, David Ramey is a consulting winemaker at Rodney Strong.

The reds of Rodney Strong provided an amazing finish to the very long but very exciting day. 2013 Davis Bynum 2013 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Dijon Clone 115 Russian River Valley was a classic California Pinot Noir – with plums and smoke, soft and round. 2010 Rodney Strong Symmetry Meritage Alexander Valley is one of the very best Bordeaux blends from California – again, classic, classic, classic – cassis, green bell pepper, mint, perfect structure, absolutely delicious wine. The last three reds were flagship single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines – 2009 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, 2013 Rodney Strong Rockaway Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley and 2013 Rodney Strong Brothers Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Considering the end of a very long day, I’m not going to give you any details on the notes other than that all three were classic Cabernet wines, pure, varietally correct  and delicious – I would love to drink those at any day.

If you are still with me, aren’t you tired reading this post? I’m tired even writing it – but we are done here. My first WBC16 report is over – and more to follow. Cheers!

To be continued…

Wednesday’s Meritage – WBC16, Up and Coming in this Blog and more

August 10, 2016 4 comments

Meritage Time!WBC16 logo

First and foremost – Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 (WBC16) is starting this Thursday, August 11th in Lodi, California. Most importantly – I’m flying Thursday morning to attend it! While wine is of course an important part of the event, what I’m really looking forward to is connecting with fellow bloggers. Being around of wine blogosphere for 6 years allowed me to make many friends. While I met some bloggers in person, many are still only virtual, and based on registration list I hope to add some faces to the names.

I’m also looking forward to learning more about wines of Lodi, which I have rather a limited exposure to. And the so called “Speed Tasting/Live Blogging” sessions are something I enjoyed very much at WBC14, so I’m definitely looking forward to doing it again. I will do my best to report on the WBC16 escapades, but it will not be easy, as an event gets quite overwhelming. In any case, if you are attending WBC16, I hope to meet you face to face.

Now, I need to tell you – lots of Pinot Noir is coming to this blog in the near future. I just finished working on the series of interviews with Oregon winemakers, and we all know that Oregon is a Pinot Noir capital of the United States. There is lots of passion, wit and hard work, which I can’t wait to share with you all – along with some tasting notes. Expect to see this series posted throughout September/October time.

Talking about blogging plans, we will be also talking about Italian wines. And not just Italian wines in general, but one of my most favorite Italian wines – Amarone. Cesari Vineyards, a family-owned winery in Veneto, was one of the Amarone pioneers, formed in 1936. To celebrate 80 years of producing great wines, Cesari Vineyards reached out to the group of wine bloggers, so look for the blog posts, tweets and pictures coming out under the hash tag of #IAMarone.

And we are done for today. The glass is empty – and it takes a lot more time for the refill to arrive nowadays – but the refill is still on the way. Cheers!

 

 

Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC14), Day 3

August 12, 2014 4 comments

Santa Barbara HillsA month after, but we are on the finishing stretch! Don’t know if it makes sense to provide such a detailed account of the day’s events now – but, I feel compelled to complete this self-appointed assignment. Here is what was happening during the Day3, technically the last day of the Wine Bloggers Conference (here are my notes from the Day 1 and Day 2).

We started our morning a bit earlier than the day before, and with the breakout session, not with the brunch (yeah, I was getting very comfortable starting to drink the wine at 10 am, but no…). From the group of offered breakout sessions I chose the one called Business of Blogging. Considering the amount of time, hard work and obsession going into all of the blogs, it is only reasonable to expect that bloggers would be interested in learning about the ways their passion can bear some tangible fruit (yep, I’m talking about money here).

The session was presented by the twin sisters, Alexandra and Kymberly Williams, who run popular fitness blog called Fun and Fit. Their blog is also a successful business, thus they definitely have a lot of good advice to offer. Here are few of the basic takeaways from that session:

  • Ethics – your reputation is all you got. Make sure you have the business ethics rules, and follow them.
  • Referrals! (Cooperate, don’t compete) – help the others, and they will help you.
  • Say no when necessary – don’t take upon every project which might be coming your way – sometimes, “no” is the best answer.
  • Ask what you want (people can’t read your mind) – I think this is quite clear
  • Clarify and define – work on your offerings!
  • Negotiate – find the way to get what you want!
  • Work with brand partners, help them to make money, and build relationships – I think you got this one
  • Know your readers and service to their lifestyle – know your followers and give them what they want

Second breakout session was about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and still no wine…. SEO is literally one and only tool bloggers have to be found and to build the listening audience. The session was presented by Timothy Resnik from the company called Moz, which provides set of tools for search optimization and web site analytics. Timothy’s presentation was excellent and very detailed – unfortunately, I can’t take an advantage of most of his suggestions, as it requires a self-hosted blog web site, such as WordPress.org, and I’m using here WordPress.com, where I pretty much have no control over analytics data. Just in case this information might help you, Timothy’s presentation is available on SlideShare – here is the link.

Next – yes, we got to drink wine, as this was the lunch time! It was the lunch with with the Santa Barbara County winemakers, and there were many of them present, pouring and explaining at the same time. I have to admit that the choice of food for the lunch with wine was very strange – technically, the only choice was green salad with grilled chicken, made in three slight variations of flavor – this is not the food to serve if you expect people to drink the wine. Well, anyway, the were many good wines, and here are just a very few highlights:

2013 Baehner Fournier Rosé de Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley – very impressive, clean strawberries profile on the nose and the palate, supple, plump, with substantial body and overall delicious. Drinkability: 8

2011 Consilience Grenache Santa Barbara County – restrained fruit on the nose, round, well balanced, smokey fruit in the back. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Bedford Archive Syrah Santa Barbara County – elegant dark fruit on the nose and palate, dark and dense. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Stolpman Vineyards Estate Syrah Ballard Canyon – dark roasted fruit, touch of spices, good balance. Drinkability: 8-

We started afternoon again with the breakout sessions. This time all the sessions were dedicated to wine and of course, included the tasting (Theme: Wine Discovery Breakout Sessions). Out of the 3 available, I picked Ballard Canyon Syrah session (two others were Sanford Winery Sta. Rita Hills and Wines of Greece) – I love Syrah in all forms, and I never heard of Ballard Canyon, so it was an easy choice for me.

Let me say a few words about Ballard Canyon appellation first. Ballard Canyon AVA is not even one year old – it was approved in October of 2013. Syrah is the primary grape  in this small appellation located right in the middle of the Santa Barbara County:

Map of Ballard Canyon AVABallard Canyon AVA was created to capture the essence of soil and climate through the noble grape, Syrah, which is significant enough for this AVA to be known as “Syrah Territory”. Well, yes, Syrah is not the only grape growing in Ballard Canyon AVA, but Syrah plantings exceed plantings of all other grapes, red and white, combined.

The session was presented as a panel discussion, with Patrick Comiskey, Senior Editor for the Wine & Spirits Magazine starting it off with introduction into the state of Syrah in the US. Patrick is one of the leading authorities on the Rhone varieties (and Syrah is squarely one of them), and he is also writing the book on American Rhône movement. I was surprised to hear from Patrick that Syrah is not doing well in US, that it is very difficult to  sell and it doesn’t get much recognition. Leaving Shiraz aside for a moment, best known Syrah wines in the world are coming from France. If we will compare Syrah with Cabernet, Merlot and Pinot Noir based on the French wines, and then will look at the US, the proportions of popularity/demand are about the same. And thinking about all the cult and impossible to get wines such as Sin Qua None, Alban, Saxum, Cayuse, No Girls and many others, I think Syrah is doing not that bad… Oh well, I would love to debate it with Patrick over a glass of 1999 La Landonne, but let’s get back to our Ballard Canyon session.

Ballard Canyon Syrah TastingEight Ballard Canyon winemakers presented at our session (which is a half of total of 16 wineries in the Ballard Canyon AVA), and we had an opportunity to try 7 different wines (the Saarloos + Sons was completely sold out). Here are my notes from the tasting:

2012 Kimsey Syrah
Southwest corner of the appellation. Soft fruit on the nose, dark roasted notes. Spicy, mineral, strong acidity. Young vineyard. Drinkability: 7

2012 Beckmen Purisma Mountain Syrah
BiodynamicLly farmed since 2006, certified since 2009. Tobacco on the nose, nice dark fruit, inviting. Nice, soft fruit, perfect acidity, dark chocolate. Drinkability: 8-/8

2012 Stolpman Original Syrah
Nice, open nose, fresh red fruit,blueberries, a bit sharp on the palate, cherries, espresso. Drinkability: 7+

2012 Rusack Syrah Reserve
Nice, concentrated nose, hint of fresh berries – blueberries, raspberries, touch of roasted flavors. Beautiful fruit on the palate, fresh berries, but supported by fresh tannins. Needs time as tannins are overpowering. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Harrison Clarke Cuvée Charlotte Syrah (15.2% ABV)
Hint of barnyard! dark fruit, baking spices. Cherries on the palate, tannins explicit. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Larner Estate Syrah
Bright Fresh berries, touch medicinal smell on the nose (iodine?), inviting. Beautiful palate, a touch of pepper, enveloping tannins, fresh and open berries, lavender. Drinkability: 8

2010 Jonata Sangre de Jonata Syrah
Bright nose of your fruit, touch of blueberries. More bright fruit on the palate, but then green branches and strong tannins, lacking pleasure. Drinkability: 7

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Our day continued with the Panel of Professional Print Wine Writers. Steve Heimoff, James Conaway and Mike Dunne, professional journalists, wine writers and authors of a number of wine books, talked about various aspects of the wine writing. This happened to be one of the most controversial panels of the WBC14, which generated multiple blog posts and whirlwind of opinionated exchanges among the participants. I would have to agree with the Messrs. Heimoff, Conaway and Dunne that in a big schema of things, the quality of writing in the wine blogs can be greatly improved (this very blog you are reading is definitely the subject of such criticism). For the rest of it, just google “Panel of Professional Print Wine Writers wbc14”, and you will get tons of reading material blasting this session, presenters and content – though I have to say that I disagree with a lot of popular criticism. When presented with information, often it is our personal choice whether we will see it as positive or negative, so let’s leave it at that (yes, I do think it was a useful session overall).

Moving on, our next session was the Live Wine Blogging – The Reds, the speed tasting of the red wines, which I already covered in the full detail here.  Well, it was actually the last organized session for the day. We still had more wine to drink events in the agenda, but from point of view of the organized sessions we were done.

Our next event was Wines of the World Reception, where we had an opportunity to taste wines from Greece, Italy, Portugal and other countries. At this point in time, I lost an ability to take any kind of reasonable tasting notes, so I had to go simply by “aha, this is good” or “ouch, moving on”. I have to mention that wines of Greece helped me to make a good progress with my Wine Century Club journey towards the coveted Pentavini (500 grapes tasted level) – I added 5 new grapes:

Liatico – 2011 Domaine Douloufakis “Dafnios” Liatiko Crete (red)
Krassato – 2007 Tsantali Rapsani reserve Rapsani AOP Greece (red)
Stavroto – 2007 Tsantali Rapsani reserve Rapsani AOP Greece (red)
Avgoustiatis – 2013 Mercouri Estate Lampadias Rose, Greece (red)
Savatiano – 2013 Papagiannakos Savatiano Greece (white)

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Last two events of the day – Wine Blog Awards Presentation and Dinner. To me, Wine Blog Awards feels like a coveted achievement. However, for the last three years, watching the process of nomination, then selection of the finalists and then, for the first time, presentation of the awards, gives me only a thought of diminishing returns. The duration of the time for nomination is literally reducing from a year to a year, and nomination period is open out of blue (I don’t know if this is the attempt to reduce the number of nominations?). This year, we didn’t even know who the judges were. Selection of the wine blogs for the finalists is very strange, as many of the same blogs are nominated for the different categories, and moreover, the blogs are nominated year after year after year. And finally, out of the 9 awards, only two winners were present at the WBC to pick up their awards… It is funny that if you go to the Wine Blog Awards web site now, instead of finding information about the 2014 winners, you can finally find out who the judges were… The whole wine blog awards process needs a revamp and a fresh start, it is way too disorganized as it is.

You know what – this blog post is becoming one of the longest I ever written, so I need to round it up. The food at the dinner was okay, the wines were very good – there was a good selection of the Santa Barbara County wines present at every table, and the selection was different from the table to a table. After dinner, there was more wine – not only parties continued in the number of rooms and suites, but also a number of people brought the wines with them to share, and it was really the last night to drink them. I tried for the first time Horton Norton from Virginia – I had Norton wines before, but this was the first time I tried any of the Horton wines, which is considered one of the best wineries in Virginia (the wine was excellent). Then there were Texas wines, courtesy of SAHMMelier. She brought  2012 Brennan Vineyards Viognier (perfumy and delicious) and 2011 Bending Branch Winery Tannat (powerful and sophisticated). We also tasted 2001 Cottonwood Canyon Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley (fragrant and beautiful for the 13 years old wine), and 2011 Kalyra MC2 Santa Ynez Valley (restrained and balanced). For some reason, I’m under impression that there was also a wine from Oklahoma (!), but – no picture and no notes, so yeah, it is my loss.

And we are done, done, done here! Sometimes procrastination has its rewards – only yesterday I got the email from organizers of WBC14, Zephyr Adventures, which also included the link to the blog post with all presentations from the WBC14 – here it is if you would like to look at them. And (almost) last but not least  – Wine Bloggers Conference 2015 will take place in the beautiful town of Corning in the Finger Lakes region in New York, August 13-16, 2015 – if you are into the wine blogging, you definitely have to be there, you have to experience WBC to yourself. The registration is open now, and (this is what they say) availability is limited, so you might want to think about putting the stake into the ground now…

Last thing (I promise) before we are done – I would like to thank Zephyr Adventures and Santa Barbara Vintners for the great event they put together for all the wine bloggers. I know firsthand how hard it is to organize a great conference, and especially considering the size and diversity of the wine bloggers group, I can only say wholeheartedly “Thank you very much!!” for all the hard work put into bringing together such a great event.

Yes, we are done. If you are still with me, thank you very much for reading. Cheers!

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014: Live Wine Blogging

July 26, 2014 17 comments

I’m continuing my stories from the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 (here are the links to the Day 1 and Day 2 posts). The subject of this post is tasting of the wines in the time-constrained scenario, or the Live Wine Blogging sessions (also some attendees called it “speedtasting”).

When it comes to the wine tastings of the large scale, I pride myself with being a professional. I’m attending trade wine tasting events for many years, and I don’t have any issues being faced with 300-400 wines in only 3 -4 hours of time. No problems. You use spitton, and you are very decisive about what you want and don’t want to try. I also take pictures and very minimal notes (typically the “+” signs with few descriptors) to designate the wines I like.

The Live Wine Blogging Session was yet a very new and different experience. All attendees sit at the round tables. Each table has a number in the  middle. Winemakers are ready with their wines and information in hand. As soon as the host says “go”, winemakers approach the tables they are next to, start pouring their wines and talk about them. 4 minutes 30 seconds into this, the host shouts a “30 seconds warning”, and on the 5 minutes mark the next instruction is “winemakers, go to the next table” (next table with the higher number it is). The session lasts for 50 minutes – 10 wines, 5 minutes per wine.

This is the “Live Blogging Session” – so the bloggers are expected to share their impressions live in real time as they taste the wines. What do you think about the 5 minutes time allotment for this task? I found it quite challenging. Yes, 5 minutes is more then plenty to figure out if you like the wine or not. But to come up with some reasonable impressions and taste descriptors (don’t think “nice wine” is a good qualifier) and to share them with the world with the 140 characters limit is not a simple task in my opinion. I don’t know how the winemakers felt, but for sure I was exhausted by the end of each 50 minute session.

Another feature of this live wine blogging exercise is complete unpredictability – the only known factor is the color of the wine which will be served in the session (White and Rose or Red). The wines come from all over the world, and there are lots of participating wineries, so at every table attendees only get to taste a fraction of the total selection available for the session. The wines also represented a broad range of price points – from $10 simple Washington Riesling to the $125 rare California Cabernet Sauvignon.

I did my best to adhere to the principal of the “live blogging” and posted all notes on twitter as we tasted the wines, in real time (if interested, look  for twits with #wbc14 hashtag). For what is worth, below are the notes as they appeared on Twitter, with the small processing I did to make them more concise.  To give you a “live” example, here is how the twits looked like in the real time:

Twitter SnippetHere are my notes for the white wines (each line represents a separate twit, so mostly I had 2 twits per wine, with some exceptions):

2013 Main & Geary Chardonnay Sonoma – beautiful nose, tropical fruit, apple, touch of vanilla and green apple on the palate

2012 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – a lot of white fruit on the nose, palate: touch of grass, steely acidity
Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc is made to age. long finish, very acidic. Food wine

2013 Aridus Viognier Arizona (!) – beautiful nose, classic floral Viognier – wow palate!  Very elegant (despite a touch of heat)
also nice saltiness on the palate, great complexity. Most favorite so far

2012 Alta Maria Vineyards Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley – great nose, nuttiness, vanilla, touch of butter
closed on the palate, Chablis like acidity. needs time!

2012 Fess Parker Viognier Santa Barbara County – nice nose, minerality and gunflint. Sweet fruit on the palate, very balanced, short-med finish
finish is longer than I thought, nice acidity. Very good overall

2011 Scratchpad Chardonnay Central Coast – label and the bottle – creativity through the roof!!!
Chablis-like nose, minerality, touch of vanilla, but the palate is somewhat single dimensional. Malo noticbl

2012 Pacific Rim Riesling Columbia Valley, WA – Sweet nose, nice acidity, good fruit – but overall doesn’t resemble Riesling
it is a nice wine for $10, but it wouldn’t pass for Riesling if I crave one. Okay summer wine

2013 Urban Legend Grenache Blanc Capay Valley – beautiful nose, white ripe fruit, fresh, clean
fresh palate, good acidity, white stone fruit, minerality – very pleasant. Medium finish

2012 Uproot Grenache Blanc Santa Ynez Valley – restrained nose, nice minerality, melon, earthiness
palate: acidity, spices, nutmeg, minerality, clean, refreshing. very Good overall

2013 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena – Napa: beautiful fresh cut grass on the nose, SB at its best! Clean, fresh
Cat Pee on the nose, yes!!!
palate: perfect, fresh, lemongrass, acidity, touch of gooseberries – wow, just a classic!!! fav!!

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Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc was definitely my most favorite wine of that session. Aridus Viognier from Arizona was most unique (I don’t get to taste too many wines from Arizona). The “prize” for most creative design goes to the Scratchpad Chardonnay, taking into account both the cool label and a little pencil which hangs of the bottle top – unfortunately, the taste didn’t fully support the creativity of the bottle.

And here are the reds:

2012 Garnet Vineyards Estate Farmed Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – beautiful ruby color, touch of smoke, earthy, herbaceous
beautiful sweet fruit on the palate, young gripping tannins, pomegranate, slight heat in the back
long sweet finish. Needs a bit of time (2012)

Vineyard 511 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain – dark garnet color, sweet plums and cassis on the nose, touch of eucalyptus
beautiful! Great density, soft, approachable, with firm tannins, perfect acidity. will evolve greatly

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2011 Symmetry Meritage – open herbaceous nose, touch of red fruit, raspberries
nice Bordeaux blend, cherries, firm structure, firm tannins

2011 Rios de Chile Reserve Carmenere – barnyard, smoke, complexity on the nose, bacon and roasted meat
beautiful, round,concentrated, dark fruit, herbs, spices

2006 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – beautiful nose, open fruit, touch of earthiness, cassis, the same on the palate. Perfect Cab!
2010 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – wow, open, explicit nose, eucalyptus, soft fruit, wow again. young tannins

2010 Adelaida Cellars Touriga Nacional  – mind blowing nose, beautiful fresh fruit, wild berries – strawberries and blueberries
spectacular palate of fresh berries, firm, concentrated, excellent balance. Great wine

2011 Danza Del Sol Cabernet Franc Temecula Valley  – varietally correct nose, touch of cassis and eucalyptus, green bell pepper
great palate, fresh fruit, balancing tannins and acidity. An excellent effort

2012 Ferrari Carano Siena fresh berries nose with hint of smoke and tobacco
sweet fruit on the palate, some cherries, round and delicious. Excellent balance

2011 Carr Winery Cabernet Franc Santa Ynez Valley interesting nose – mineral, with some cherries, eucalyptus, cassis
soft, delicious palate, with more eucalyptus, cassis and greens bell pepper. Perfectly balanced and soft

2010 Grassini Wines Estate Cabernet Sauvignon on the nose, young fruit with some smokiness, minerality
lots of sweet fruit on the palate (too much for me), mocha, good structure

2011 Taken Red Wine Napa Valley – blueberries and blackberries on the nose, nicely restrained
palate – delicious, perfect acidity, firm tannins, good structure, right amount of fruit and excellent balance

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The red wines line up was very impressive, it is hard to pick the favorite. The Adealida Touriga Nacional from Paso Robles was probably the most unusual (my first 100% Touriga Nacional wine from US), and very tasty. Jordan is always a stand out for me, and both 2006 and 2010 were delicious. My wine of the day was still the Vineyard 511 – a rare treat from the Diamond Mountain district (tiny area of 500 acres in size) in Napa Valley, perfectly structured and impeccably balanced wine; the conversation with Ed and Irene Ojdana who makes the Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasure in itself. I also have to mention Taken Red wine from Napa Valley, which was simply put on our table after the session concluded – this was an excellent wine, created by Carlo Trinchero and Josh Phelps, both coming from the very well respected winemakinig families in California.

Here we are – two speedtasting, live wine blogging sessions. I know that this exercise is very polarizing for many attendees – some hate it, and some love it. I’m in the latter category, and I definitely enjoyed the sessions and already looking forward to the repeat at the next year’s conference. What do you think – would you love it or hate it? Cheers!

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