Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chronicling the day and life in wine country

Your Local Wino is back (actually never really left...) and ready to begin posting (again) my travels and experiences around wine country for 2014. After 5 years of living in the heart of this amazing land and starting my touring business, Flex Wine Tours, I am officially your Chief Wino & Guide to take you through my days of living the life here. I will be documenting weekly the special people, places, events, wines, landscapes and private spots I discover along the way. Each weekly post will be accompanied by a picture of the week and any story that may go along with it. So, enjoy the ride and we're sure to discover some very intriguing things that make living here so amazing.

This was a unusual discovery of an old vineyard up at Hess Winery on Mt. Veeder that I was certain was old vine Zin. Turns out this is 77-year old vine Cabernet Sauvignon that had somehow survived the phylloxera plight over the decades. Hess is doing some fun wines and alternative varietals under its 'Artezin' labels. We tasted Verdehlo, Carignan, Charbono, Mourvedre, and a couple of Petite Sirahs and Zins. Impressive collection these days and a beautiful property of course. Check it out again if you have not been up there in a while.

Roads Less Traveled (RLT) Feature:
RLT Varietal of the Week - Mencia
This red grape from north-western Spain, is the primary varietal of Bierzo region. It is a light acidic wine that is often blended with Garnacha Tinta and drinks well while young giving violet aromas and flavors of fresh raspberry and black currant.

RLT Maverick Food & Wine Pairing
I love drinking Tawny Port with caramelized popcorn
Try Taylor Fladgate 10-year Tawny (~$34)

Until the next swirl, sip well my friends.
Chief Wino

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2nd Annual Local Wino Awards

Individual Awards from
Chief Wino's Discoveries in 2010

Every year we like to showcase our somewhat irreverent take on a few of the favorite visits from Napa and Sonoma throughout the previous year. This has become our most popular feature post to-date and this edition is sure not to disappoint....enjoy!

"Best Of 2010" & favorites for the Local Wino Awards:

Vineyard Picnic Spot
O'Brien Estate, Oak Knoll

The O'Brien's do a great job of creating a perfect natural environment to enjoy your lunch and their great line-up of wines while you're feasting on whatever you decide to bring along. Yummy all around!
Honorable Mention: Regusci Winery

Varietal Expression (tie)
Zinfandel - Robert Biale Vineyards, Oak Knoll

Pinot Noir - Failla Wines, St. Helena

Pick your favorites here as you like, but make sure not to miss either one of these stops. You'll be able to taste several versions of each varietal and none will disappoint. Not too many places in the valley can have focus like this. Although they do other wines, these varietals are their 'top-shelf' best offerings.
Honorable Mention: Chardonnay - Elizabeth Spencer

Organic Traditional Practices
Littorai, Russian River Valley

I discovered this on a recent referral and then realized it is a personal project of famed winemaker Ted Lemon who was just voted winemaker of the year for 2010. It has all the special elements you'd want in winery that pays attention to every little detail in the vineyard and the wines reflect it...think classic Burgundy.
Honorable Mention: Ehlers Estate, St. Helena

Tasting With a View
Barnett Family Vineyards, Spring Mt.

Probably a consistent favorite of mine when asked to pick some of my all time go-to best spots in the valley. Between the views, the setting, the wines and the people who work there, I'd be hard-pressed to dethrone this place as my "must experience" to either locals who haven't been or new visitors.
Honorable Mention: Copain, Russian River

Variety and Overall Value
Madrigal Winery, St. Helena

Definitely under the radar with its location, but a pleasant find for combining several varietals in a modest approachable tasting environment. You can find most anything to please the palate, but go for their Petite Sirah and Port...delish!
Honorable Mention: William Hill Estate, Napa

"WOW" Factor
Outpost Winery, Howell Mt.

Ok, to be honest, they had me at gold Aston Martin parked in front of the tasting room and the stunning views. But renowned winemaker Thomas Brown has an absolutely stunning line-up of wines to his credit displayed there and when you pick your jaw up off the ground all you can say is 'WOW!"
Honorable Mention: Long Vineyards, Napa

Oliver's Favorite Spot to Explore

White Oak Winery, Alexander Valley

OK, I'll need to clarify this one. Oliver is our dog and his favorite thing in the world is to be vineyard dog for a day and just run around as "free dog" but still keep an eye on us. When we take him out with us there are only certain vineyards that he can run off-leash and away from roads. White Oak has the perfect setting with all kinds of things for him to sniff, explore and run around. Oh, by the way, LOVE their Zinfandel too!
Honorable Mention: Sullivan Vineyards, St. Helena

One-on-One Personal Experience

White Cottage Ranch, Howell Mt.

There is a special serenity about this place high atop Howell Mt. that just makes you not want to leave. Winemaker Rudy Zuidema and gang do such a good job of making you feel at home taking as much time as you want enjoying and learning about their wines.
Honorable Mention: Allora Vineyards, St. Helena

Multi-wine tasting Co-op Facility
Napa - Ma(i)sonry, Yountville

Sonoma - Timbercrest Farms/Family Wineries, Dry Creek

Cooperative tasting rooms allow you to explore several small wineries/wines in one place and are a great way to discover wines you may never see or find elsewhere. Ma(i)sonry has some great individual collections and flights to choose from all under one roof. The Sonoma Timbercrest facility is more of collection of separate winery tasting rooms that cover a myriad of valley varietals.
Honorable Mention: Vintner's Collective, Napa

Newly Opened Discovery
Napa - Robert Craig Winery, Howell Mt.

Sonoma - Thomas George Wines, Russian River Valley

Robert Craig wines has had their production facility high atop Howell Mountain for a few years but only recently made it available for scheduled tastings. And, we're glad they did. Probably the most spectacular views back southwest over the valley that you'll find. Plus, the wines are all great across the board making for an extraordinary experience.

Thomas George wines in Russian River is in the old Davis Bynum facility (of classic Pinot Noir fame). They have completely redone/updated the place along with building an incredible cave tasting experience that brings it all together nicely.
Honorable Mention: Tamber Bey, St. Helena

High Friendly Factor & Fun Scale
Regusci Winery, Stag's Leap
The gang here at Regusci is never lacking for a good time. The group behind the tasting bar just enjoys life AND being the life of the party with no lack of energy inside or outside on the picnic grounds. Combine that with a great line up of wines and the formula works REALLY well. Cheers!
Honorable Mention: Sequoia Grove Winery, Oakville/Arista Winery, Russian River

Harvest Season Party
Hill Family Estate, Heirloom Tomato Fest, Yountville

Until I can find a party that matches over 40 types of tomatoes, build your own (BLT) sandwich from several types of bacon, great wines, and a fun crowd, this is easily my #1 highlight on the calendar each year. Ryan Hill knows how to throw a party and just make sure not to miss it...period.
Honorable Mention: James Cole Winery, Stags Leap

Overall Best A-Z Experience
Napa - Keever Family Vineyards, Yountville

Sonoma - Chalk Hill Estate, Chalk Hill

I feel so fortunate to have discovered Keever Family Vineyards and this small family operation could not be more of a gem if they tried. Everything down to 'Bones' their zippy vineyard dog makes this one of the most delightful experiences in the valley. It is the first (and only) time I've been able to smell varying toasted un-used ($1k) barrels in the cave just as a reference point in their wine making style. Huge kudos to how they run their operation as a close family.

Chalk Hill recently changed hands to a private group but that has not deterred from creating one of the most pleasurable experiences from garden to table...literally. The organic garden tour that ends up in one of the private off-site dining rooms with foods prepared entirely from the property with perfect wine pairings is one of the most palate friendly delicious lunches I've ever had. There is definitely something to food THAT fresh that makes all the difference.
Honorable Mention: Fontanella Winery, Mt. Veeder

Favorite AVA Expression
Napa - Howell Mountain

Sonoma - Russian River Valley

Not only is Howell Mt. one of my favorite appellations, I also discovered that it is Napa's oldest (first) sub-AVA approved back in 1983. This may account for some of the most distinguishable and richest wines in the valley. Howell Mt. fruit is like no other and surprisingly does more than just great Cabs. Some of the finest Zins in the valley are from here as well...bravo!

Not much more can be said about bevy of Pinots and Chards from RR and it has certainly defined them as the varietals of choice there. Not only are there a ton of new places, they have created some extraordinary experiences surrounding the properties that can have you spend days in that one AVA alone and never get bored.
Honorable Mention: Alexander Valley

Favorite Getaway AVA
Alexander Valley

Two years running and I can't get enough of this valley. The drive, the open spaces, several new spots, a new after wine hours dive bar, and lack of crowds make my list every time. Interestingly enough, it has been growing rapidly as one of my favorite new Cabernet spots with some really well-done efforts from former growers turned wineries that will soon have Napa turning its head.
Honorable Mention: Dry Creek Valley

My Single "I had a moment and maybe need a cigarette now" Wine Taste

Napa - Bremer Family 'Seek' '05 Cabernet

Sonoma - Papapietro-Perry, '07 Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir

I love the folks up at Bremer Family for numerous reasons, but on a recent tasting with some friends, a club member got to request a special wine to be opened - '05 'Seek' Vineyard Cab - and I quickly realized it was my lucky day. Call it timing, that one bottle or just the moment, but this wine was in a a word 'scrumptious'. It made me want to become a club member just to have access to that wine alone.

Papapietro-Perry is known for its wide-range of great, juicy Pinots, but the '07 Peters Vineyard takes the prize for me. Again, so much has to do with the environment and we tasted directly with wine maker Ben Papapietro while strolling around the facility. He's such a jovial fun-loving guy that you can't help but love his wines, but his single vineyard efforts are amazing. A must stop when in the Dry Creek area.
Honorable Mention: '06 Allora Cielo, '07 Salvestrin 3D Cab

That wraps up this edition of Chief Wino's 2010 explorations. As most know, it is really hard to separate from so many great wineries and experiences, but I attempt to summarize somehow for the current year's treks. And, there are many new places I still need to experience in 2011 to make next year's list.

Until the next sniff, swirl 'n sip,


Friday, January 28, 2011

New for 2011

We have a lot of breakthrough plans for 2011 and looking forward to sharing with our customers all that wine country has to offer. Including, but not limited to, featured wines, events, winemaker profiles, tasting notes, touring, wine dinners, interviews, videos and unique offerings that you will not be able to find anywhere else.

We'll be introducing all of our new discoveries from 2010 shortly along with disclosing in-depth how we go about choosing all of our wonderful wines. In addition to the superb line-up of wines, we'll be showcasing certain appellations throughout the year as we focus more on 'terroir' of this fine landscape we get to enjoy everyday.

Excitement is abound for this year and we're happy to have you be a part of it. Stay tuned and we'll be bringing you these insightful happenings shortly.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later...

James, Chief Wino

Friday, October 29, 2010

State of the Grapes for 2010

There seems to be one common word being used to describe the 2010 vintage by the local growers, vineyard managers, property managers, winemakers and most anyone closely associated with the wine industry - "CHALLENGING".

It has been the perfect storm of weather miscues that has led to many people scrambling to figure out what to do with the grapes still on the vine. And, we just got hit with another weather front of cold & rain that pretty much puts the proverbial "!" stamp on this year.

First we had the coolest summer in over 20 years (uhem, thanks to, uh, Global Warming...). Veraison was VERY late and led to some problems with unbalanced ripening. We had heat spikes at all the wrong times and at improper intervals. Then just not enough heat overall. With "harvest" running 3-4 weeks behind, all we could hope for was 'NO RAIN!' Then, in October...we've had three bouts of rain so far, two heavy, that really put the grapes in peril. Brix really never got to where they needed to be. This will equate in to a lower alcohol year...and that's necessarily a bad thing!

Many have been equating this to a "Bordeaux-style" year. That being said, I've talked to a lot winemakers that are actually excited at the prospect of making a leaner style of wine that will require all their skills. The talented producers have accepted the 'challenge' of the vintage and will still be making exceptional wines...just different than the typical California perfect weather season.

I was talking to an associate about this vintage and we've decided to review the wines down the road based on two key factors - those that picked BEFORE the rains and those that picked AFTER. We've made our notes on who did what/when and even have a few individual vineyards picked out that were picked at both intervals. It will very interesting to see who does what with this "challenging vintage".

All in all, good winemakers will still make good wines. Those that depend on the commercial gathering up of fully ripe grapes en-masse, will struggle. Overall yields will be low (a lot crop was dropped due to the conditions), but the quality could actually shine in certain respects with the grapes being on the vine for so long. Only time will tell. And, as most in the industry know, time is often so crucial and valuable because we will not know what this vintage will truly display until 2012 at the earliest...ahhh, the realities of the wine business.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!


Chief Wino

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back to Local Wino Roots

For a long while now I have turned the Local Wino Whines blog in to more of a business forum for the Local Wino consumer site communicating the latest "news" about the site and customers. Although this seems appropriate and understandable from a business perspective, it is not what the blog was initially intended to do. Plus, it is kind of, well, BORING!

So, I am going back to the roots of why I created the blog in the first place; telling tales about being the 'Local Wino' about town and my experiences as I explore all of wine country and its great personalities. I want to share the 'day in the life' of being in the wine business and give the anecdotal personal insights being in the heart of one of the best wine regions in the world. There are so many fun. cool and exciting things to report on a weekly basis and I want to use this forum to spend the time on the more intriguing aspects of the wine industry.

In the coming weeks, I will be talking about what's happening now in wine country and keep things more relevant, along with being just downright more interesting and fun.

Until the next sip, swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino

Monday, July 26, 2010

Local Wino's Value Proposition

It seems as though everywhere you look these days businesses are making great 'deals' on their goods and services to be "recession friendly" or resigning to the state of the economy. Even in my discussions with colleagues, friends and family, we often seem to end up talking about this subject. And, I'll be the first one to enjoy discovering a great value for a product or service at a better price. I regularly look at Restaurant.com to find discount certificates at local establishments and appreciate the value it presents. It's easy, quantifiable and makes an immediate impact on my pocketbook. You buy $25 certificates for $10 and $50 certificates for $20. No problem, I'll take two, three...!

However, when it comes to wine, it becomes an entirely subjective venture with everyone weighing in on the discussion from very wide angles. The challenge is that each person has their own deep rooted opinion about what a great value is and it is SO dependent on what you are comparing. Us groupies here in Napa/Sonoma wine industry are very skewed because we know more of the inside nuances of the business, have access to incredible local wines/winemakers events, and our palates are admittedly very spoiled. But, I still know where the good values are and understand EXACTLY what value means to me...and not opposed to the odd < $10 wine now and again. Many of my close family do not understand much of this unless they have been able to visit me in Napa to know the difference. So, is this lack of experience bliss? Are you better off not knowing the difference? I offer not. Let's explore...

1) What's the actual purpose? I'd much rather fully enjoy drinking an entire $25 bottle of wine than drink half of the $12 "special" deal that left my palate completely flat and/or the other half ended up down the sink (or left to vinegar several days later). Or, on that special occasion of having guests over, popping the $40-$45 bottle and sharing/savoring the experience completely with those that can appreciate the effort. I enjoy selective purposeful drinking these days.

2) Comparable varietals. It is completely unfair to say your $10 Malbec screaming deal from Argentina compares to the $30-$40 Cab from Napa or the delicate $12 Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) should be compared to a nice $35 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Not only the varietals worlds apart (literally), but the experience is not meant to be compared. It would be like saying your all-beef hot dog was so much better priced that the Angus Rib-eye steak...they're both beef and can taste OK, just made differently. At least keep it on the same playing ground when comparing varietals.

3) Wine scores...Ugh! Please see our view on Wine Scores online first. I hate this benchmark and I will give one example as to why. Let's take Chardonnay. If I see a 92 pt. rating on a random brand/label, what does that rating do to take in to account the style of Chardonnay I like? I do not care if it is rated 100 pts. if it is stylistically not what I prefer or does not consider what I may drink it with. For instance, I don't like any oak on my Chardonnay and a pure point scale does not take that in to account. Wine scores are a mediocre starting point at best.

4) Consider the occasion. If you're showing up to a large party where no one is going to notice the bottle you bring and/or it's more of a 'gulp-fest', no need to bring complex wines. Bring one of the 'quaffing' varietals like Grenache, Malbec, Rhone (GSM), or Zin/Primativo or inexpensive blends where you can easily keep the price under $15. However, in one-on-one or more intimate settings where everyone may be sitting around asking, "who brought what?" do your homework not to possibly embarrass yourself (too much). And, find out ahead of time what food if any is being served. Segue...

5) Will the wine be served/paired with food or a main course? This is more of personal item, but it is being paid more attention to of late. Especially if you do some reconnaissance and show up with a "prefect pairing" for the food you'll be the hero. The last thing you want to do is show up with a big complex Cab and find out that it is a lobster/seafood fest where you could have showed up with a nice Riesling or Chard for half the price. See our page on F&W pairings.

6) Do side-by-side or 'blind' tastings. Let your own palate be the judge. Nothing finally hits the message home (i.e. humbling) more than a blind tasting. And, I'm completely OK when the less expensive wines outperform the bigger labels. As long as it is compared as stated in #2 above. Also, keep the vintages within a year of each other as this can make a huge difference unless considering foreign wines. Again, it is not fair to throw a big juicy Zinfandel against a tannic 100% Cab...they serve two completely different purposes.

Lastly, just know that there are few absolutes with wine. One of my favorite winemaker's quotes when asked what kind of "good" wine do they recommend, he said, "A good wine is a wine that you enjoy regardless of price." My former wine teacher's philosophy was that EVERY wine has its occasion and you should not discount the vast selection of varietals/choices to go with each.

All of the wines at Local Wino combine the best overall quality-to-value ratio as we discover wines that normally compare to wines at sometimes twice the price. We specialize in the $20 - $50 category and offer specialty wines rarely found outside Napa. Give us a try...

So, until the next sip, swirl ya' later!