Monday, August 24, 2015

My First Wine Blogger's Conference

When I started blogging in 2010, I quickly became aware of an event called the Wine Blogger's Conference. Every year via social media, I watched my on-line cohorts discuss the benefits and fun of attending this yearly gathering. I toyed with registering and making the trip but other things kept taking precedence. As I met more people who had actually attended, I became a bit more determined to go and see what it was all about for myself. 

This month, I finally did just that, I arrived in the Finger Lakes region of New York on August 13 and it was game on. Upon getting off the plane, I was greeted by a representative of the region at a table loaded with wine just waiting to be tasted. This was just the beginning of my immersion into #FLXWine. 

Later that evening, we enjoyed a sip and stroll style tasting with light bites from local restaurants served alongside the  many diverse wine offerings from the area under a tent in a park in the Gaffer District. This casual evening event provided a great opportunity to officially meet some people that I had only previously spoken to on-line.

The next day, the non-stop whirlwind of wine and information would continue. Karen McNeil, author of The Wine Bible, opened the conference. She shared her personal journey and her thoughts on everything from improving one's writing skills to being a better wine taster. We then learned about the unique terroir of the Finger Lakes from Cornell professor, Alan Lasko, who started at the beginning with the prehistoric glacier movements that formed the lakes. 

The conference would continue with breakout sessions which attendees selected based on their personal interests from an array of topics. I opted for a Lambrusco class taught by Bill Whiting, Director of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, I'll be writing more on that later. 

An alfresco lunch, along with an opportunity to taste more wines, would follow. Booths set up with some sparkling wines of Alsace and cool Verdejo wines from Rueda would lure me over to them on this warm afternoon.

Back inside, we were ready for some live blogging. This is an intense speed dating type of event. Ten winery representatives would take turns presenting their wine for a tasting at each table; conference attendees blogged or tweeted their initial thoughts on each as quickly as they could before the allotted time was up.

After that, it was time to load up the buses and head out for our excursions into wine country. I enjoyed riding with Scott Osburn of Fox Run Vineyards. He not only crafts some fantastic wines, he is obviously loved by everyone in the community. Destinations were unknown as each bus left the Radisson in Corning; we soon arrived at Lakewood Vineyards on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. I was so pleased to meet the Stamp family, every member seems to be involved with creating their fabulous line of wines.

We took a hayride through the vineyards and, after another tasting of Finger Lakes wines, we dined outside with a lake view. I was pleased to sit with Judy and Len of Keuka Spring winery, I enjoyed tasting their wines and hearing their story and seeing photos of their beautiful property. This could have been the end to a very full day but it wasn't.

That evening we were dropped off at the Rockwell Museum where we viewed collections of Native American art and western artifacts. I had the pleasure of taking in the sights with Aurelio Montes del Campo, flying winemaker extraordinaire from Montes and Kaiken. Lest you think we had stopped tasting, fear not, tables were set up to allow further sipping while viewing the museum exhibits.

Back at the hotel, Jordan Winery hosted an after party for attendees who hadn't yet sampled enough. Guests could also find rogue parties happening throughout the area with further opportunities to taste and network. 

That was just the first full day of #WBC15. 

The next two days held even more educational opportunities, I attended a class with Aurelio Montes where I learned more about winemaking and the terroir in both Chile and Argentina while tasting some great wine. I also attended sessions on photography, wine writing and wine blogging. I participated in a second round of live blogging which allowed for another opportunity to get a taste of the Finger Lakes. I am now unquestionably a fan of the Cabernet Franc, the Pinot Noir along with the many different white, sweet, sparkling and rosé wines I tried.

The Saturday night dinner and award ceremony were held at the Corning Museum of Glass where we also enjoyed seeing a glass blowing demonstration. More parties were happening at the hotel and in the town of Corning after the evening's official events. In addition to all that I've mentioned here, there were optional winery excursions both before and after the conference. These side trips provided a bit more for those with extra time. I didn't take part this year but I hope to do so the next time that I attend.

Overall, my expectations about this conference were exceeded. I had a great time, I learned a lot, I met so many wonderful people and I got to personally connect with many others whom I had only known virtually. If you have ever considered going to the conference but haven't pulled the trigger on that decision, I highly recommend that you seriously make your plans for next year. It will be held in Lodi, CA, and expectations are high.


Monday, August 17, 2015

To Kalon Vineyard

As originally seen in the July 2015 edition of
Galveston Monthly magazine

The Oakville American Viticultural Area in Napa Valley is home to some of the region’s most iconic wines. Within this AVA lies a particularly special vineyard area known as To Kalon. To Kalon is 550 acres of some of Napa Valley’s most prized land supplying wineries such as Robert Mondavi, Opus One, Far Niente and numerous others through wine grape grower, Beckstoffer. The vineyard is also home to some of UC Davis’ field stations. The vineyard has also received the Fish Friendly Farming Certification from the California Land Stewardship Institute for the use of vineyard management techniques that are designed to improve water quality and protect fish and wildlife habitats.

To Kalon translates to “the beautiful or “highest beauty” in Greek. The area was originally planted by Hamilton Crabb in the 1860’s. He was known as the “wine king of the Pacific slope” at that time for his pioneering efforts in creating an American wine industry. He brought in 400 different types of grapes from Europe to determine which would be best for the climate and soils that were in the region. He would ultimately create America’s first wine brand, To Kalon, which he successfully marketed across the country. There was even a To Kalon Wine Depot store in New Orleans that sold his wines.

It was not only his marketing skills that made him so successful, it was his knowledge in choosing excellent land for his endeavors. The To Kalon vineyard sits on what is now known as the famed Oakville bench which has gravelly loam soils on the slopes and well-drained alluvial loam and clay soils on the valley floor, all important in growing top quality vines for making exceptional wines.

The climate of the Oakville AVA is a bit different than the rest of Napa Valley because of its mid-valley location. It gets both the cooling influence of the morning fog from San Pablo Bay which helps the grapes to maintain their acidity while also enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine which helps to ensure ripeness.

Robert Mondavi founded his winery on a 12 acre site in the To Kalon vineyard in the 1960’s. He, like Hamilton Crabb, realized the potential of the climate and soil combination for growing top quality grapes which is the first thing needed for making fine wine. He was a leader in the American wine industry helping to show the world the potential of California to make fine wines and educating the American public on the European wine and food culture that was far less prevalent here at that time.

Robert Mondavi Winery now owns 435 acres of the To Kalon vineyard. While his name is on various labels with grapes sourced from all around California at lower price points, the winery uses the fruit from To Kalon for its highest quality wines. Look for To Kalon on the label to get a taste of this famous American vineyard.

Galveston Monthly’s Top Picks for July


Splurge on these hard to find To Kalon bottles by ordering through the winery:
2011 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ‘To Kalon Vineyard’ - With only 4,300 cases produced, this wine is blended from best blocks within To Kalon. It is dry with a full body, it has intense aromas of cassis and blackberry with dried sage and a bit of floral violet, fresh acidity  and a graphite mineralty, the flavors mirror the aromas through the long, persistent finish. $145 a bottle.

2012 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc Reserve ‘To Kalon Vineyard’ Napa Valley - Robert Mondavi coined the name Fume Blanc to distinguish his Sauvignon Blanc wines from the sweeter versions that were available in Napa at the time. He wanted to create white wines more in line with the dry white wines from the Pouilly Fume region in the Loire Valley in France. This wine is dry with a fuller body from the 5% addition of Semillion and partial new French Oak barrel fermenting. It has a creamier texture from the sur lie aging. It has intense aromas and flavors of peach and grapefruit with a fresh herbal nuance, bright acidity and a slight savoriness in the long finish. With only 1,770 cases produced, this wine is a steal at $40 a bottle.

Found On the Island:
2011 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville District - All the grapes were sourced from Oakville with 93% of the fruit coming from the To Kalon Vineyard. This wine is dry with a full body with pronounced aromas and flavors of blackberries, bay leaves and black pepper with fresh acidity and a long, rich, savory finish. This wine has a suggested retail price of $50 and is available at Economy Liquor.

2012 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - A classic Napa Valley Cabernet with only 30% of the fruit coming from the To Kalon vineyard. Pronounced aromas and flavors of blackberries and dried herbs with a hint of minerality in the smooth, lingering finish. This wine has a suggested retail price of $28 and is available at Economy Liquor and the Kroger Signature on the the Seawall.

2013 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc Napa Valley - This wine offers a smaller taste of To Kalon with only 20% coming from the famed vineyard. This wine is dry with sweet aromas of tangerine, melon and a bit of jasmine. It has a crisp acidity with flavors of lime and grapefruit with a hint of ginger in the lengthy finish. This wine has a suggested retail price of $20 and is available at Randall’s on Central City Blvd.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The "Generous Pour" with George Miliotes

Master Sommelier George Miliotes was in Houston last night presenting his wine selections for this summer's "Generous Pour" event at The Capital Grille in City Center for local wine and food writers. From now until August 30, guests can opt to indulge in eight wines that are new to the menu for $28 per person. This year's fun twist is that all of the selected wines were produced by women in California. The list features three whites and five reds in a range of varieties and styles.


We started with the 2013 Barrymore Pinot Grigio from Monterey. This fresh and fruity easy-drinking white paired perfectly with the pan fried calamari with hot cherry peppers. This was followed by the Galerie "Naissance" Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc which was aged on its lees in neutral oak barrels giving an added richness to the wine and it was served with prosciutto wrapped mozzarella and vine ripened tomatoes. The final white wine was the very limited production Stonestreet "Bear Point" Alexander Valley Chardonnay made in California's classic style- oaky and creamy, perfect with the lobster and crab cake appetizer.


I next enjoyed tasting the red wines with my dinner entree of porcini rubbed bone-in ribeye with 15 year aged balsamic accompanied by lobster mac 'n' cheese, roasted brussels sprouts with smoked bacon, grilled asparagus and roasted fingerling potatoes. The red wines include the single estate Cambria "Julia's Vineyard" Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley, the Matanzas Creek Sonoma Merlot from cooler climate Bennett Valley, the limited production Arrowood Reserve Speciale Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, the Mt Brave Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt Veeder and the 2007 Kinton Syrah from Santa Barbara which George Miliotes called California' greatest vintage. All five were excellent wines but the Syrah was the best pairing with my steak; it was very smooth with spicy berry flavors and a slight savoriness in the long finish.

The evening ended with coffee and an array of desserts including flourless chocolate espresso cake, coconut cream pie and cheesecake with seasonal berries. The food was all delicious and the new "Generous Pour" wine list offers something for everyone, it would make a great date night or a fun evening out with friends. It is something to check out before the month ends, don't miss out!

Learn more about the women behind the wine- here.