Monday, December 6, 2010

Justin Vineyards is sold!

 Fiji Water LLC will acquire Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles, California, for an undisclosed price, adding upscale wine to his investments in bottled water and pomegranate juice.

Justin, which makes about 50,000 cases of wine a year, was founded in 1981 by former investment banker Justin Baldwin and his wife, Deborah. The 160-acre property includes a hotel and a restaurant.

“It’s actually a perfect match,” said John Cochran, president of Fiji Water, in an interview. “The Justin folks have done an exceptional job of building a great business, primarily based on fantastic products. And despite all the success that they’ve had, there’s still a great opportunity, given consumer demand for the product, to carefully grow that consumer presence and distribution.”

The acquisition is one of eight this year for California wineries, twice as many as last year and the most since 2007, when eight purchases were completed before the recession, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

“There will be more deals like this, without question,” said Jack Daniels, co-founder of Wilson Daniels Ltd., a wine marketing firm in St. Helena.
Before the recession, the market was flooded with bottles priced from $25 to $100 as existing wineries ramped up production and new entrants came to the market, Daniels said. Now many are sitting on excess inventories as middle-class consumers cut back purchases of pricey wine and opt for bottles below $20.

‘Excellent Reputation’
Justin, which sells wines ranging from a $15 sauvignon blanc to a $62 cabernet sauvignon blend called Isosceles, has “an excellent reputation and are perceived as a high-quality producer,” Daniels said. “But there’s a lot of those wineries out there today.”

What makes the deal for Justin unusual is that the company doesn’t appear to be in trouble, unlike many other purchases this year, said Vic Motto, co-founder and chief executive officer of Global Wine Partners LLC, an investment bank in St. Helena, California.

“It’s an outlier,” Motto said. Since the economic slump, expanding wineries have been reluctant to sell for a discount, and those that have are in distressed situations, he said. “Those wineries that were highly leveraged were squeezed as sales went down. They just couldn’t sustain that.”

This year’s wine deals included purchases of troubled assets. In June, Sutter Home Winery paid $6.5 million for the real estate of former Havens Wine Cellars, which was liquidated last year. Last month, Foley Family Wines picked up Eos Winery in Paso Robles, which was in receivership.

During the recession, consumers drank less in restaurants, hurting producers who relied on sales of bottles that cost more than $10. California wholesale wine sales were unchanged in 2009 from the previous year, and the value of retail sales dropped 3 percent to $17.9 billion, the Wine Institute said.

The situation is different with Justin, Baldwin said. “We’re finishing up the best year we’ve ever had,” he said. Part of the reason he decided to sell is for financial planning, Baldwin said. He was also concerned that to “build off of what we’ve developed in our 30-year history,” they wouldn’t have “the financial wherewithal” to do that on their own.

 “They’ve done such a nice job of building up a business, most of the things you look at are such a train wreck,” Cochran said. “Stewart’s been buying businesses for 40 years, and it’s rare that he’s looked at one that got better as the process went on, not worse.” 


Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The Wine Century Club is for all adventurous wine lovers. If you've tasted at least 100 different grape varieties, you're qualified to become a member (click here for more information). If you haven't tried 100 different grape varieties, but are interested in the concept, you're welcome to all of our events. 


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy 3rd Thursday of November (aka Beaujolais Nouveau day)

At one past midnight on the third Thursday of each November, from little villages and towns like Romanèche-Thorins, over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey through a sleeping France to Paris for immediate shipment to all parts of the world.

By the time it is over, over 65 million bottles, nearly half of the region's total annual production will be distributed and drunk around the world. It has become a worldwide race to be the first to serve to this new wine of the harvest. In doing so, it has been carried by motorcycle, balloon, truck, helicopter, Concorde jet, elephant, runners and rickshaws to get it to its final destination.

It is amazing to realize that just weeks before this wine was a cluster of grapes in a grower’s vineyard. But by an expeditious harvest, a rapid fermentation, and a speedy bottling, all is ready at the midnight hour. By French law, Beaujolais Nouveau is to be released no earlier than the third Thursday of November.

Gamay is the only grape permitted for Beaujolais. While certain California wineries may label their wine "Gamay Beaujolais" this is not the same grape variety as what is grown in France, and is quite different in taste and growing habits. All the grapes in the Beaujolais region must be picked by hand.

Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be drunk young-in average vintages it should be consumed by the following May after its release.

Serve Beaujolais Nouveau slightly cool, at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit-the wine is more refreshing and its forward fruit more apparent than if you serve it at room temperature.

Enjoy a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau tonight, but don’t blame me for the hangover in the morning.



Friday, November 12, 2010

Estate Wines.... there will soon be an 'official' definition

Last week's election will have consequences for the wine industry, but the most important change in government might have come from a tiny notice in the Federal Register the following day.

The TTB, the federal agency that oversees alcohol, is thinking about officially defining the word "estate."

If it happens, some wineries are going to have to change either their names or their entire business practices.

Here's an example. The Wente family owns a brand called Tamas Estates.* It's not a bad wine; the Pinot Grigio is good value for $10. But it's not what Europeans would think of as "estate wine." It's mass-produced from grapes purchased from a huge area -- California's "Central Coast," which stretches all the way from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.

This has never been a problem for the Wentes, because the TTB has no official definition for "Estate" or "Estates.

The TTB does, however, define "Estate bottled." A winery can use that on a label only if it made the wine entirely on its own property (including leased land). That includes growing the grapes, fermenting the wine and even barrel- and bottle-aging it.

Recently some unnamed winery approached the TTB about using "estate grown" on a label, arguing that it shouldn't have to meet the same standards as "estate bottled."

Rather than just roll over and say OK, the TTB opened it for public comment, asking 9 questions about how "estate" could or should be defined.

Question No. 1 ought to have wineries paying their lawyers to formulate a reply. It is: "Does the use of the term 'estate' or 'estates' as part of a name or otherwise on wine labels convey specific information about the product to the consumer and, if so, what information does it convey?"

And if that's not clear enough, question No. 2 is, "Should TTB propose to define the term 'Estate' in the regulations when not used in the expression 'Estate bottled'? If so, what should that definition be?"

Aw, let's beat a dead horse. Question 8 is, "Should TTB continue to permit the use of 'Estate(s) vineyard(s),' 'Vineyard estate(s),' or 'Estate(s) wines' or other similar terms, whether or not preceded by the winery name, on product labels when the wine does not meet the 'Estate bottled' standards in section 4.26? Why or why not?"

Look out, Tamas Estates. And Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates. And ...

But it only takes one big angry winery to make a huge stink over laws like this. Korbel can still call its sparkling wine "Champagne" because it convinced the US government to go to trade war over our American right to be stubbornly uneducated.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Magnavino Cellars

I had a great night last night at Magnavino Cellars in Oxnard. Rob and Barbara held their first pick-up party for the first 100 wine club members. 


I find that totally amazing, they have been open only a few months and already have over 100 loyal customers! Awesome job you two! If you have not yet been to Magnavino, I urge you to check them out.


I also had a very nice thing happen to me last night, a very nice couple came up to me and told me that I first introduced them to wine at the Magical Kitchen in Simi Valley, they at that time were not big wine drinkers, but I poured them a Spanish Cab/Syrah blend and they said their wine life changed forever.  They thanked me for taking the time with them and introducing the two of them to wine.  As a Sommelier, I believe that is the greatest compliment one could ever have. Made my night.





Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Opus One

Opus One

When you say Opus One to anyone, whether they are Vinophiles or not, they get an idea of an expensive California Napa Valley Wine. And they are right, at $200 a bottle for the current release, it is one of the most expensive bottles of wine in the Napa Valley.

Opus One Facts.
  • This was the brain child of Baron Rothschild and Robert Mondavi
  • The first vintage was in 1979
  • They make only wine per year.
  • It takes 3 years from harvest to bottle release.
  • The wine will be kept in New French barrels for 17 to 20 months.
  • The French oak barrels are only used once.
  • The grapes are all hand sorted
  • The fermentation tanks only hold a single varietal lot each season.
  • During aging each barrel is tested by the winemaker on a regular basis.
  • The winery design is a combination of old and new world design
  • Opus One produces about 25,000 cases of wine per year.
  • In 2004 Constellation Brands purchased Robert Mondavi Corporation and took 50% ownership of Opus One.

This past month, I was given the opportunity to take a tour of the Opus One winery.  This was my first visit to Opus One. What took me so long? I think the price, the attitude and the price…. Did I say price? The cost of the tour and tasting of one wine is $40 per person. Was it worth it? Will I do it again, absolutely.

Hand Sorting 20 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon
The tour was amazing, in my day job I work on satellites that go into space and I am always seeing the latest technology in my work place, at Opus One I felt at home. This season they began using an optical sorter to quickly sort out grapes, the good and the bad. This has allowed them to cut back on manpower in the hand sorting process. They still do an initial sorting, but they now use 12 employees to do this task when in the past it was done by 20 or more. 

Now if you balk at paying $200 for a bottle of Opus One wine, think about this, a 2005 Chateau Lefleur Pomerol is currently going for $2000 a bottle.

I have been focusing on small family run wineries most of my wine career, looking for those diamonds in the rough- this tour has reminded me however, not to ignore the big guys- there is a good reason they are the landmarks of the California wine industry.



Wednesday, October 27, 2010

2nd Annual Wine and Gourmet Food Experience at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley

Friday, October 29, 2010, 6:00pm – 9:30pm

$79.95 per person (tax & Gratuity Included, 21 and Over only)
Back by popular demand! This year’s event features wines from the Ventura County Wine Trail!

Enjoy an incredible evening of food and wine pairing, featuring 14 selected wines, an incredible small plate dinner menu, fine chocolate tasting, and award winning artisan cheeses. Meet the wine makers, and chocolate experts, and dance to live music under the wings of Air Force One! Step out onto our outdoor terrace lounge and enjoy the cool fall breezes of the Conejo Valley. Don’t forget to tour all of the exciting exhibits the Ronald Reagan Library has to offer including the Air Force One, the White House in Miniature, and our exciting Born to be Wild celebrity and vintage motorcycle exhibit. In addition to all of the evening’s exciting events each guest will receive a commemorative wine glass to take home!

Our chefs have been working for months designing an extensive small plate dinner menu to pair with tastings from the featured wineries. Menu items will include shrimp, crab, lamb, lobster, gourmet sausage, duck, local fruits and vegetables, and exquisite and more!

Bring your family, friends, or employees for a truly memorable and enjoyable evening! Do not miss this elegant evening and the Ventura County Food Event of the Year. This all-inclusive offer is only $79.95 per person (includes tax and gratuity, 21 and over).

Reservations are required and seating is limited.

To make reservations, CLICK HERE. For more information, please call 805-577-4057.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vegas Weekend

The wife and I spent this past weekend in Las Vegas, enjoying the fine dining and entertainment of the city. One of the highlights was a dinner we had at our hotel, the Bellagio. 

We ate at Circo, and had Master Sommelier Darius Allen at our table, it was my wife's first experience having a Master Sommelier do our wine service. Darius was wonderful and he made the evening very enjoyable. 

The food, a Tuscan upscale inspired by Egidiana Maccioni, was excellant as well.

The wine we had with our meal was a Grgrich Hills, 2005, Cabernet Sauvignon.



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Starbucks Wine? Here it comes!

A very different kind of Starbucks is on tap. It will serve regional wine and beer. It offers an expansive plate of locally made cheeses — served on china. The barista bar is rebuilt to seat customers up close to the coffee.



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sideways goes vertical in sequel!

Sideways author Rex Pickett has written a sequel to Sideways, that takes place 7 years later. You can read about it in this article in Wine Enthusiast!



Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who is the wine expert in your home?

Women wine drinkers now the majority

I was surprised to read that 53 percent of wine drinkers in the United States are women, according to the Wine Market Council. And last year, women matched men as "core drinkers," those who drink wine at least once a week.

That trend may accelerate if women heed the results of a recent survey of 20,000 women over 13 years by Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. The poll showed that women who regularly drink a moderate amount of alcohol, particularly red wine, are less likely to have long-term weight gain than non-drinkers.

Nevertheless, when a man and a woman sit down to dinner in a restaurant, it's usually the guy who grabs or is handed the wine list and chooses the bottle.

"In our more upscale dining restaurants, eight times out of ten, it is the gentlemen at the table still making the decisions," said Virginia Philip, sommelier at the Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Fla.

Philip, 42, is one of only 13 women certified as a Master Sommelier out of 130 worldwide. She oversees a cellar of 28,000 bottles and 1,600 selections at the resort's L'Escalier fine dining room and eight other restaurants, with prices ranging from $35 to $15,000.

Once, men were always automatically handed the wine list everywhere, she said.
The assumption that women tend to order a "nice dry chardonnay" by the glass has changed, in winter they tend to go for red and in warm months for whites.

My experience when teaching wine appreciation classes, 80% of the attendees were women.

Who is the wine “expert” in your family?



Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Good article in LA Times

The LA Times just did an article on the affects of having such a late harvest this year.,0,6612298.story

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Top Wine Movies

During my recent trip up to Napa, I thought about the movies Bottle Shock and Sideways and what affect those movies had on those wine regions. I also got to thinking about what are some of my favorite movies that have wine in them. I looked for movies where wine plays a significant role, the filmmakers get the wine parts right, and the movie is a pleasure to watch. These are in no apparent order.

“A Good Year” (2006)
Directed by Ridley Scott, this movie tests whether Russell Crowe can balance machismo with winemaking. Max Skinner (Crowe) is a carnivorous Wall Street lion. He returns to French wine country after the death of Uncle Harry (Albert Finney) and is tamed by the romantic routines of the vineyard–not to mention the alluring ways of Fanny Chenal (played by Marion Cotillard)–to discover his new/old self. Beautifully filmed and acted.

“Bottle Shock” (2009)
Alan Rickman plays Steven Spurrier, a London wineseller, in Bottle Shock who decides to pit American wines against their French forebears. In 1976, Steven Spurrier, comes to the Napa Valley to take the best he can find to Paris for a blind taste test against French wine. He meets Jim Barrett, whose Chateau Montelena is mortgaged to the hilt as Jim perfects his chardonnay. There's strain in Jim's relations with his hippie son Bo and his foreman Gustavo, a Mexican farmworker's son secretly making his own wine. Plus, there's Sam, a UC Davis graduate student and free spirit, mutually attracted to both Gustavo and Bo. As Spurrier organizes the "Judgment of Paris," Jim doesn't want to participate while Bo knows it's their only chance. Barrett's chardonnay has buttery notes and a Smithsonian finish. Not very accurate in it’s telling of the story, but a good movie to watch with a bottle of Chardonnay and popcorn.

"French Kiss" (1995)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline, Timothy Hutton.
Kline won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "A Fish Called Wanda," but he's even better in this romantic comedy as the prodigal son of a French family of vineyard owners. Not only does he hit all the right romantic and comedic notes; to this American, he's astonishingly convincing as a Frenchman, right down to the Gallic gestures of disinterest and disdain.

There may not be a better, more poetic description of the concept of terroir than the following exchange between Ryan and Kline.
Ryan: "A bold wine with a hint of sophistication and lacking in pretension. (Pause.) Actually I was just talking about myself.
Kline: "You are not wrong. Wine is like people. The wine takes all the influences in life all around it, it absorbs them and it gets its personality."

"The Muppet Movie" (1979)
Directed by James Frawley.
Steve Martin's hilarious cameo as a haughty waiter/sommelier puts this kids' film on the list. Out to dinner with Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog orders a bottle of bubbly, which turns out to be sparkling Muscatel from Idaho that Martin "uncorks" with a beer opener. Kermit is about to sip some when Miss Piggy reminds him that the expert is supposed to taste it first. Martin takes a sip, spits it out in a rush, grimaces, then composes his face into a smarmy smile and says, "An excellent choice."

See it with your kids; you can advise them that in the right company, on a warm night on a terrace with a nice piece of pork, even Vin de Idaho can be special.

"Sideways" (2004)
Directed by Alexander Payne. Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen.
The character of Jack (Church), is a washed-up actor with an unquenchable libido, and his arrogant oenophile buddy, Miles (Giamatti) explains the elusive appeal of Pinot Noir.
Maya (Madsen), Miles' love interest, shows us why stuffy snobs like Miles don't really get it; that wine is meant to be shared with friends. And Stephanie (Sandra Oh), Jack's fling, shows us that you don't need to be wealthy to have a few good bottles lying around. She also shows us that it's not a good idea to lie to a lover.

By the way, thanks a lot, Miles, for superheating the market for Pinot Noir. At least good Merlots are more available than ever. This is called the "Sideways effect" in the wine industry; the fact that there is such a term two years after the film's release shows how important this movie is.

"Silence of the Lambs" (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme. Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn.
There's no actual wine in this movie, so if there's a ringer on the list, this is it. But this film is responsible for the most famous wine and food pairing in the history of cinema.
In one of the most famous roles of his great career, Hopkins plays the brilliant psychiatrist, serial killer and cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

What everyone remembers about Lecter. Trying to scare FBI trainee Foster, Hopkins says: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."  Frankly if you ask me, the proper paring with liver is a hearty Merlot. J

"Mondovino" (2004)
This plodding, anti-American wine documentary excited French audiences and angered some interview subjects who felt misled. If you're not a total wine geek, it's long and boring and the photography will make you sick with its handheld cameras.

"Star Trek: Nemesis" (2002)
Capt. Picard toasts a departed friend with his family's Chateau Picard wine in the last voyage for the Next Generation crew. And we learn Romulan ale gives even Klingons a hangover.

Okay your turn…. What are your favorite wine movies?



Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What makes up a good wine list?

I just paid a visit to a newly reopened wine bar in Ojai. Clearly, a lot of thought had gone into putting the menu together and creating ambiance in the dining room. Anticipation ran high for a great experience. And then I asked for the wine list. Looking it over, I could only sigh in disappointment.

Sadly, this restaurant’s list was not balanced, and lacked imagination. An example was it had 3 Zinfandels, all from the same winery, but different vineyards. The list had 11 Pinot Noirs, and 10 Cabernet Sauvignons, but only ONE blend, Justin Isosceles and one Syrah. No Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Grenache blends, or old world wines.

I talked this over with the waitress and the owner, two different points of view. The owner felt that these were all good wines, yes most were, and that he liked them and this is what he wanted to offer. My point to him was, people come into a wine bar to experience new things, not the same old things. He had nothing new.

So what makes a list good?
In a word: Balance. Balance of flavors, styles, and price points.
  • Flavor refers to different grape varieties or blends. Pinot noir is a single varietal; Bordeaux wine is produced from a blend of grapes. Each offers a different flavor profile and a solid wine list will feature a variety of flavors.
  • Style includes a multitude of factors such as growing region, winemaking technique, the presence of bubbles, or residual sugar. But on a very practical level, style can generally be equated with weight: full, medium, or light.
  • Price points are just that, and a range is desirable.

These are the pieces of the puzzle. Putting them together, with a nod to the nearby winemakers, a modest wine-by-the-glass template might look something like this:
* Sparkling: Champagne or similar $14
* Light-Bodied White: S.B. County Sauvignon Blanc $7
* Full-Bodied White: Sonoma Chardonnay $12
* Off-Dry White: German Riesling $8
* Light-Bodied Red: Italian Chianti $8
* Medium-Bodied Red: S.B. County Pinot Noir $14
* Full-Bodied Red: S.B. County Syrah $10
* Full-Bodied Red: Napa Cabernet Sauvignon $14

It’s not rocket science, but considering all the work that goes into creating a menu, an indifferent wine list seems an affront to the food! To restaurant owners, I implore you not to treat your wine list as an afterthought—it is an extension of your menu and an important source of revenue. Be prepared to work with multiple vendors and take advantage of their knowledge. You should also consider developing parings of the wines on your list to complement your menu. To wine-loving diners, I invite you to speak up and ask for better. Your food deserves it.



Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekend in Napa Valley

Bev and I flew up to Oakland and rented a car and took off for our Bottleshock tour of Napa on Saturday; Chateau Montelena, Heitz, Praeger Port Works, Freemark Abby, and Sunday we did Grgrich Hills, Castillo de Armarosa, Stags Leap, Frogs Leap and Opus One.

Chateau Montelena was nice, we did end up buying a Riesling, Chardonnay and a Cab. Heitz, I loved- again, bought a Cab there. Freemark Abby, the only winery that had both a red and and white wine in the 1976 Paris Tasting, was very nice too, less expensive wines- bought a couple Petite Sirahs, a Sauv Blanc and a Zin . Praeger, we just drank port.... huge pours.... not a good thing on an empty stomach :). At that point we were done... went to hotel and slept till 6:30pm and then went out to dinner at a very nice Italian place. (A note on our hotel- when we checked in they informed us that the hotel had NO HOT WATER until Tuesday.... there were no other hotels vacant this weekend, so they gave us 30% off the room rate which made it less than $100)

Sunday's tasting started at 9:30 in the morning... ahhhh Grgrich Hills.... what a way to start the morning. I loved them all. Bought a Cab and a Sauv Blanc. From there we decided to drive back up to Calistoga and see the Castle winery, Castillo de Armarosa. I have learned something over the years of wine tasting, the reason wineries have castles is because the wine sucks... $16 for a tour and tasting.... a waste of money. Nice castle, $40 million to build, 15 years to finish.... should have spent the money on a winemaker. We then went to V. Sattui for lunch, which was nice. Then we took off to Frogs Leap, nice tasting wines, bought a rose and dessert wine.

We had about an hour to kill before Opus One so we were near Stags Leap and did a tasting there. Nice move. Great tasting room, great people, awesome wines. I bought a very nice Yountville Cab and Sauv Blanc.

Lastly was Opus One. Bev had bid on a tour for 6 people at a fundraiser earlier in the year, and she won it! Beautiful winery. Our tour guide greeted us in the lobby. He took us into the greeting room to discuss the history of Opus One, then we went into the winery, where they were hand sorting through the 20 tons of grapes that came in that morning- we got to see their entire process live, including a brand new optical grape sorter, that uses a computer to sort through the grapes and discards the ‘bad ones’. We toured their barrel rooms, and then into the private tasting of the 2005 and 2006 vintages, where we could have finished off bottles of both. I had a glass of each, but we were leaving for the airport or we could have finished them off. I bought a bottle of the 05 and two bottles of their second label wine, Overture.

We ended up with 18 bottles, and spending less than our budget.

Funny, I have always stayed away from the big wineries, and focused on the small boutique wineries. And in the past I always felt the Napa attitude, we didn't have any of that this weekend, it was totally positive. This time bigger was better… except for the castle.

Next time, you need to join us!


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vina Moda

On my first visit to Vina Moda a few years ago, winemaker, owner Nathan Vader (no relation to Darth) brought out a wonderful 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon. It literally made my knees buckle when I tasted it. I am serious. I still have about 9 bottles in my cellar and according to him, he only has a few cases left. It is worth every penny.

During this visit, we tasted the 2007 Viognier, which at $44 a bottle is high for a Viognier, but for me it was close to perfection. Nathan’s Clockspring Zin was also very nice, but frankly I am getting overloaded with Zins- but saying that at $32 a bottle, this Zin is worth the price. But, like last time I was there, I was again knocked over by another creation at Vina Moda, the 2007 Villa Vallecito Barbera ($36). Winemakers in Northern Italy should be afraid, very afraid. This is a classic Barbera, with intense fruit and enhanced tannic content. You want to know the really bad part? Only 108 cases were produced.

Don’t let the screw-cap closure on these bottles fool you either. (I asked Nathan why he would want such a fine wines in a screw cap bottle; his response was that he did not want to risk the chance of just one bottle being ruined by oxidation)

Their website STILL isn’t up yet with the details of their wine, but it does have their contact information. They are only open for tasting on Saturdays, 12 – 6 pm.

147 Main Street, Murphys Ca.


You can read my previous review of Vina Moda on my website:



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Wineries of the Sierra Nevada Foothills, Hatcher Winery

Located in the heart of Murphys, under ground! You have to walk down an alleyway, down some stairs and under the main street (I think it is even called Main Street) and you will find a small-darkened room where some of the best wines in the area are served.

Matt Hatcher is the owner and winemaker, and his wine making talents have put Hatcher on the don't miss list of Sierra Nevada Foothill wineries.

All of their wines are under $30 a bottle, (with the exception of their Ice wine at $32) which I feel makes them all a great value.

During my most recent visit last weekend, I enjoyed the 2009 Grenache Rose ($16), it’s light but spicy taste was refreshing and a mouthful for a rose. I really enjoyed its finish. Moving into the reds, the Sewell ($23) this Rhone blend’s is named for the wine makers Dad and it is a worthy tribute. A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Cinsault brings out the flavors of orange blossom, dry cherry, and lavender. Dry, well balanced and complex. This was a beautiful wine. Lastly for me was their Petite Sirah ($26); I have to tell you, more and more wineries are doing this varietal well; deep, dark, black fruit. Big healthy tannins balanced with bright acidity. Ripe plum and tart cherry lead to a big finish that is classic Petite.

Hatcher is open from 11:00am-5:00pm Friday thru Sunday and 12:00pm-5:00pm Monday thru Thursday. They are located underground on Main Street in downtown Murphys, (across from Grounds restaurant).



Monday, September 20, 2010

Antelope Valley AVA?

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is weighing approval of a third American Viticultural Area in the High Desert region northeast of Los Angeles. If approved, the Antelope Valley of the California High Desert AVA would join the Leona Valley and Sierra Pelona AVAs established in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

The Antelope Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA), founded in 2006, was behind all three proposals, supported by nurseryman Ralph Carter, who drew up the petitions. A fourth application for a Tehachapi/Cummings Valley AVA, which would include part of neighboring Kern County, is currently on hold because it does not contain sufficient vineyard acreage.

The AVWA membership consists of about a dozen wine grape vineyards and five vintners, distributed among all four of the areas. With an annual production of some 18,000 cases and 90 acres of vineyards, Agua Dulce, the only winery in the Sierra Pelona AVA, is by far the largest. Two wineries operate within the proposed Antelope Valley AVA: 4,000-case Cameo Ranch & Winery and 2,500-case Antelope Valley Winery, both in Lancaster. Cameo Ranch farms 25 acres of vineyards; Antelope Valley Winery has a single acre at its Lancaster estate and more in the Leona Valley AVA, according to its wine club manager and AVWA president, Chantel Kilmer.

According to the petition, the proposed Antelope Valley AVA contains 665 square miles, bounded on three sides by the Tehachapi, San Gabriel and Sierra Pelona mountains and on the fourth by the Mojave Desert.

What do you think about this possibility?



Thursday, September 16, 2010

carhartt vineyard… a small shack with some big wines

Their website calls them the worlds smallest tasting room- I have to agree. Located in Los Olivios, across the street from Saarloos and Sons in the old Conn Creek tasting room is carhartt vineyards.

But don’t let the size fool ya, what you get here is what I feel is near the ultimate in wine tasting experiences. The person pouring the wines is Mike Carhartt the wine maker himself. Ask him anything about the wine, grapes, farming, weather, the theory of relativity, and he has an answer for you. Mike along with his wife Brooke and their son operate this strictly family run vineyard and tasting room.

And the wines of carhartt are very nice indeed. I ended purchasing their Grenache Blanc ($21) that was full of honeysuckle aromas with a nice light citrus taste; Sauvignon Blanc ($21), their Sangiovese ($24), two bottles of his Merlot ($30) and my absolute favorite, the Bordeaux blend with 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cab Franc, 3% Petite Verdot appropriately called “Four Play” ($35). Upon tasting this wine I swear I could have closed my eyes and believed I was in the Saint Emilion region of France. This wine had a velvety texture that I love and is normally felt in much more expensive wines. Defiantly this is a wine to enjoy with a nice meal, and lingering finish that brought joy to my pallet. I bought a couple bottles of Four Play, and I plan on laying them down for a few years.

Next time you are in the Solvang area wine tasting, I suggest you stop by this little tasting room with the big wines and say hi to Mike and Brooke!



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chronic Cellars… something a bit different

So there I am, I just leave the fancy Justin Gala… driving down Nacimiento Lake Drive in Paso Robles and I see a sign that I have driven past many times, but this time I say hey…. With a name like this, I got to try it.

Chronic Cellars is the baby of brothers/Cellar Rats Jake and Josh Beckett. They started selling their crazy creations in 2008. The prices are a great value, the wines a pretty good too, but what got me was the wonderful names of their wines, and how they got past the legal weenies that watch over the wine label industry I do not know. Take their signature wine for example. Sofa King Bueno. Go ahead, say it out loud…. And again…. Uh huh, yeah, that’s what I thought too. Pretty sofa king funny huh?

Their wines range in price from $14 to $20. From the Sofa King Suite Riesling to the Purple Paradise which is a Zin with a dash of Petite Sirah both going for $14. Their wine club members love these guys and the wines.

Their wine labels are also a work of art.

So next time you are looking for something a bit different, leave your Tastevin in the car and check out Chronic Cellars.



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wine Spectator Video Contest

I enjoy this contest every year, go over to Wine Spectators web site and vote for your favorite wine video.



Friday, September 10, 2010

Norm did it again…

Have I ever said just how much I enjoy Dark Star Cellars in Paso Robles?

Well, Norm took his left over wine from last years bottling, stuck it in a bottle, slapped a label on it and called it Chain Reaction.

Here is what Norm says on their web site “Now any duffus can sell wine, but it takes an extremely talented guy with the pallet of Bacchus himself to create a blend like Chain Reaction. That guy would be me of course. It’s an incredible, delicate blend of Cab, Merlot, and Syrah with a splash of Grenache and Zin. Pure genius, and very “outside the box”.

Need I say more? The wine is good… real good. It reminds me of the Justin Orphan, but with more flavor, and a better finish. It sells for $18 a bottle, but wine club members get it for $12.60….. yeah that’s right Twelve Dollars and Sixty Cents.

I have been reevaluating my wine club memberships lately, some I have had for many years, the wines have been disappointing- but I have never been disappointed from Dark Star wines. Make them your next wine club membership!

And while you are there, be sure to check out their son’s wines, located right behind the tasting room for Dark Star, you will find Brian Benson Cellars. Brian has a Syrah that spent 40 months in oak barrels that is full-bodied and just the right amount of spice and smoke to make you say, can I have another glass, and pass the steak!



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Website updates!

I have updated my winery review section of my website, added Ventura County and Williamette Valley! Check it out



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Got $25 Million? Mondavi is for sale!

The 56-acre Napa estate of the late Robert Mondavi and his widow, Margrit, has gone on the market for $25 million.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wine labels…. The good the bad the ugly…

Happy labor Day!

So you bought some wine to celebrate Labor Day, did the bottles label affect your purchase? Marketing specialist will tell you that the quality of the package can make or break a product. That goes along with wine. I remember working with Rob and Barbara on their Magnavino label. One evening they brought over about 6-7 samples of what he was looking for. Was the border better with two lines or one thin line, now about dots and lines as a border…. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, damn the wine better be good (it is) or it doesn’t matter what the bottle looks like (it looks great).

Design Juices in the UK posted the 50 most exquisite wine labels on their web site, what do you think?

Does the label appearance make a different to you when buying wine? Post your comments here, and what is the best looking wine label you have ever seen?



Friday, September 3, 2010

Graveyard Vineyards wines and dry rub

Last month during my visit up to the Paso Robles area I returned to Graveyard Vineyard to sample their latest creations. Driving through their gates, I saw the smiling face of Paula, waiting to show us their latest wines.

The personality of the people pouring the wines can actually make or break the wine tasting experience. In this case, Paula knows what she is doing- she is knowledgeable about the wines and the wine making process and also has humor and an excellent personality- she is easy on the eyes too :).

We tasted everything from their wonderful house wine, the Tombstone Red ($14 a bottle); to their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, that wine is what I look for in Cabs, huge, meaty, great tannins, and finish. This is a wine that you can drink and enjoy tonight, or lay it down for 5-7 years, and watch it grow and develop into something real special. I love this wine and at $38, I think it is a bargain and holds up to some of the finest Napa Cabernets!

While we were checking out, Paula placed a little something in our shopping bags; it was a Dry Rub that is an old family recipe. Well, this past weekend I decided to give it a try. I put some of that bad boy on some pork spare ribs, oven cooked them for about an hour and a half, then put them into a plastic bag, and poured in some teriyaki sauce and left in the fridge overnight. The next night I put them on the Bar-B-Que, heated them up and poured us glasses of Graveyard Mortal Zin (OMG)… (Those of you that know me know that I am pretty picky when selecting and buying Zinfandels…. There is a bar set that is pretty high). I have to tell you the pairing of that wine and those ribs WERE TO DIE FOR! The Mortal Zin goes for about $22, and is worth it. Graveyard only makes 150 cases of this too. (Why am I telling everyone this? I need more!)

You’re next trip to the Paso Robles area, do not forget to venture up to San Miguel, you won’t be disappointed!



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tackitt Family Vineyards

During my last visit up to the Paso Robles area I had made a return visit to Tackitt Family Vineyards at the request of winemaker Leon Tackitt. My last visit was unfortunately a disappointment for me. A few weeks before my recent visit I received an email from Leon requesting that I come back and sample their wines again.

I am glad I did. Tackitt Family Vineyards is a small, family owned winery. The kind I strive to find that makes well-crafted wines. Their signature wine is Gewûrztraminer. The original vines for this varietal were planned in the 1970s, and to this day still produce one of the finest Gewûrztraminers you can find anywhere in California. At $19 a bottle you cannot go wrong.

Unfortunately during my trip, Leon was not there to walk me through their tasting list, but his father; the vineyards farmer, was there instead. I did enjoy talking to him.

Another wine I enjoyed and purchased was the Bravo Zulu, and Zinfandel/Barbera blend that brings the spiciness of the Zin to the heartiness of the Barbera, a wonderful blend. Only 83 cases were made of this wine, I would suggest getting some before he runs out! I loved the Barbera notes on this wine and think next year he should do a straight Barbera… just for fun.

The final wine I loved and purchased was the EOD Red blend. EOD Cellars wine that is specially bottled to support the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation. All of the net proceeds of your purchase price will go directly to the foundation. EOD is for the Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, of which Leon was a member of and the recent Academy Award winning movie Hurt Locker was about.

Check out Tackitt Family Vineyard, next time you are in Paso Robles, they are north a bit, in San Miguel. Tell them I sent ya!



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zaca Mesa Black Bear Release party!

I will be at Zaca Mesa this coming Saturday night at their annual Black Bear Syrah release party! I plan on doing some wine tasting on Sunday morning, any suggestions for some place new?



Monday, August 30, 2010

Magnavino Petite Sirah

I was at Magnavino Cellars yesterday enjoying their new tasting room and wines, then Rob took us into the barrel room and we sampled his 2009 vintages. I would buy a case of his 2009 Petite Sirah right now! Wow that is going to be an amazing wine. Good job Rob!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Magnavino opens this weekend!

Our friends Rob and Barbara Wagner are finally opening their doors to their beautiful tasting room in Oxnard.

I was there last week and it was amazing, and the wines are pretty darn good as well.

Check out their website and head on over this weekend.



Friday, May 28, 2010

Sommelier Say May 27, 2010

Hey there fans, I have had a number of emails and calls lately wondering what happened to my newsletter and me! We I am alive and well and very busy doing my day job and some other wine things right now. My day job (NASA) has been keeping me traveling back and forth to Boulder Colorado a few times a month and that really keeps me from getting too involved with wineries and wine bars.. as right now the government job is the one that pays the bills (unless someone out there wants to hire a full time Sommelier??).

The wine events I have been doing are a side of my business that a few of you might not know about, at-home wine parties. All you need to do is invite 10 of your wine friends over to your home and have each couple bring a bottle of wine in a paper bag. I will take care of the rest!

This will be a fun and educational evening where you and your friends will learn wine-tasting techniques used by the pros as well as some fun wine facts along the way.

During this 2-hour event, Wine-Sommelier.Com will supply the wine glasses and all of the wine tasting materials. This tasting event is limited to 12 people. It is suggested that the host of the wine tasting event supply appetizers as well.

If this sounds like fun to you, drop me a note and we can work it out and have some fun tasting wines!

I have some things in the works at local wineries and locations and soon I will be back out there in the public eye doing more exciting wine events.

Memorial Day weekend…. It is going to be 85 degrees…. Sounds like Summertime Wine Time!

Sit back… relax… take a deep breath… my first choice for the Summertime is…

After gaining great momentum elsewhere (less so in the US), the oft-dissed pink wine has made the covers of recent Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. Ah, respect. Made from every grape imaginable, today’s rosés often have surprising complexity to go with summery crispness. (Try Fiddleheads, Pink Fiddle- this Pinot Noir, also very nice is Cantara’s Cellars Syrah Rosé

Vinho verde:
A bit of effervescence helps make this light-bodied Portuguese wine (usually white; the red version rarely gets here) a natural for patio sipping. The lower alcohol content and citrusy notes are especially nice on scorching midsummer afternoons. (Check out your local wine shop or BevMo and look at their selections, the nice thing as these wines are usually under $15 a bottle!)

Chenin Blanc:
U.S. renditions of this dry white used to be largely plonk but have improved markedly. There also is no shortage of nifty versions from France’s Loire and Languedoc regions, South Africa (where it’s called Steen) and Argentina (as pinot blanco). (Herzog Cellars has a very nice Chenin Blanc for only $8, I do suggest this wine to be added to your Summer Wine list!)

Torrontes: Speaking of Argentina, this native grape of the South American nation provides quality at several price points. Its floral, peachy qualities mask a wine of surprising depth that matches up well with most grilled dishes, especially spicy ones. (I had a 2009 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes from BevMo a few weeks ago, and it a very nice balance between fruit and acidity)

Pinot Noir:
Doing a mixed grill, especially surf-and-turf? Here’s your ideal wine for pairing with everything from salmon to steak to lamb chops. The more acidic versions from Oregon and Burgundy tend to be a bit more food-friendly than the California fruit bombs. (Anything from the Santa Rita Hills, or try something from the Williamette Valley in Oregon!)

More of my favorite sipping wines for summer are California Viognier, rich and ripe fruit similar to Torrontes with fresh exotic floral notes and the heady aroma of a richly blooming garden at night. Rieslings and of course the easy pick is Sauvignon Blanc(Check out Magnavino to try their new vintages of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, I had a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc a few weeks ago, it was refreshing and delicious!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sommelier Says March 10, 2010

March 10, 2010

The Sommelier Says….

Hello and welcome to the newsletter for

Social Networking and wine

Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and YouTube. With all the various ways to communicate about wine (and myriad other pursuits), it’s a wonder we have any time left to sip and enjoy wine.

This may be why, according to a new study that 700,000 people watch wine-related videos each month. There are over 7,000 wine tweets per day, and over 1,300 bloggers focusing on wine. And the wine experience has become portable, with more than 300 iPhone apps.

Most-watched Wine Videos
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most-watched online videos are not educational, but entertainment-oriented

1.Wine in an upside down glass trick
2. Drink to your health
3. Borat’s guide to wine tasting

Top Wine Blogs (measured by frequency in audience interaction over the previous 3 months)
The action on the top blogs centers around getting and giving specific recommendations.
1. Wine Library TV
2. 1 Wine Dude
3. DRINKnectar

Top Wine Tweeters (measured by number of followers)
In the 140-character world of Twitter, what brings in the followers is equal parts relevance and entertainment. The top Tweeters also are the ones who also take time to respond to followers.
1. @Jancisrobinson
2. @winetwits
3. @garyvee

Top Facebook Fan Pages (measured by number of fans/friends)
Note that all three are wineries, not wine critics or personalities. According to Song, “engagement” is what differentiates these three from the pack. “There’s a lot of activity, both from the vineyard and the fans, talking about their experience, sharing it. There are images, videos, even events for customers and fans, giving them a reason to return and participate.”

(And if you’re wondering why Jancis Robinson doesn’t dominate Facebook the way she does Twitter: she doesn’t have a page. She noted recently on Twitter, “My kids won’t let me do Facebook.”)
1. Barefoot Wine & Bubbly
2. Due vigne di familia
3. Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Provisions

Most-searched Wine Terms
Screening out the most obvious terms (“wine,” “alcohol,” etc.), the wine terms most often searched on the Internet are:
1. Champagne
2. Red wine
3. Cabernet
4. Cellars
5. Pinot
6. Vineyard
7. White wine
8. Merlot
9. Sauvignon

What are some of your favorite online sites?

2010 Barrel Tasting weekend

Check out my video of the weekend!

Upcoming Events:

April- Two new wineries are coming to our area!

The first is Magnavino Cellars, the work of Robert and Barbara Wagner. I have tasted their wines and it looks like we have some exciting things coming soon. You can signup for the grand opening at:

The second is Four Brix Winery, Their release party is on April 24th 2010 at Lost Canyons in Simi Valley. Check their website for upcoming news and events.



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If you know someone that wants this list, please have him or her send me an email requesting to be included too!