October 2010

I am as politically active, informed, and passionate as I can be. I am not going to use my wine site to tell you how I am going to vote, or suggest how you should vote; but I am going to simply ask that you do vote.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 is Election Day throughout our nation. Please vote. If you haven’t mailed in your absentee ballot in yet, you can bring it in person to your county’s Registrar of Voters, or Clerk of Elections, office and turn in in to have your vote count.

My grandfather used to take me to the polling place where he voted, and I revered my grandfather, wanting to do many of the adult things he did. Listening to my grandfather tell me about the importance of voting, i wanted to vote.

When he was very young, I took my son with me to my polling place, and I hope I passed on my passion.

Simply, vote. If you have the opportunity to bring a child or grandchild with you to vote, do so if you can. You might ignite a spark of citizenship in a young person, and may find in the face of the child you bring with you the shape your votes might take. I like to think that my votes may make my town, county, state and nation better, not just for me now, but, for my son and the children he will have one day.

Thank you.

This weekend, Saturday, October 23 and Sunday, October 24, from 11:00AM to 5:00PM each day, the wineries of Mendocino County’s town of Hopland, located on Highway 101 less than an hour north of Santa Rosa, join together for the 2010 Fall Hopland Passport Weekend.

Participating wineries include Brutocao Cellars, Fetzer Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys, Winery, Jeriko Estate, McDowell Valley Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, McNab Ridge Winery, Magnanimus Wines, Milano Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Patianna Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Terra Savia, Saracina, and Weibel Family Vineyards.

I attended the Spring Hopland Passport Weekend, and wrote of my experiences, visiting each participating winery and tasting an even 100 wines – it helped that I could use both days.

Two day tickets are available online for $35, or for $45 at any of the participating wineries on the day of the event.

Saturday shuttles are available for only $15, picking up from and delivering to a host of Ukiah hotels. The shuttles run all day between the participating wineries.

Each winery puts their best foot forward; food treats are provided that pair well with wines served, live music, arts and crafts, artisanal honeys and olive oils are among the treats offered by the wineries. For two days, you get to travel from winery to winery, tasting wines, savoring tasty foods, surrounded by the beauty of Mendocino County’s vineyards and wineries. A wristband, tasting glass, and a map make for a weekend of discovery.

Tastings like this are one of the best ways to expand your wine tasting experiences, learn which wine varietals you prefer, and perhaps develop an appreciation for a wine region you aren’t fully familiar with.

Every person tasting in the spring version of the Passport Weekend was happy, smiling, enjoying themselves, and having a great time. I loved visiting all of the Hopland wineries earlier this year. I encourage you to come to Hopland this weekend, and hope you have as wonderful a time as I did.

I pulled into a Santa Rosa business park on Saturday, looking to find the location of the NPA, the Natural Process Alliance, so that I could more easily stop in one weekday to taste some of their wines.

I was thinking that, operating in a business park, the NPA might keep typical business hours and could be closed for tastings on a Saturday.  I am pleased I was wrong.

I did have a brief moment of difficulty, as the business park map did not include the NPA. It did, however, have a listing for Salinia, and that struck a memory chord.

I knew I was at the right place when I saw Lioco bins in front of the roll up door; the NPA owner and winemaker Kevin Kelley is involved with Lioco and Salinia as well as the NPA. I found the winery crew busy at work, scrubbing, cleaning, and preparing for a grape truck’s delivery. Crawling out of a bin, where he had been hidden from me, came Hardy Wallace, who only moments before was on his hands and knees, scrubbing the bin clean with a stiff brush.

Cleaning is a never ending activity at a winery

Forklift stunts performed by pro driver on a closed course. Do not attempt at home.

Hardy Wallace did some wine tasting and wine writing on his blog DirtySouthWine.com before becoming arguably the most, some would say only, famous wine blogger when he was chosen to be Murphy Goode’s Lifestyle Correspondent in a Kendall Jackson Wines media bonanza job search.

The Murphy Goode contest generated a lot of attention, and did more for Hardy Wallace’s brand than it did for Murphy Goode or Kendall Jackson. When the job term expired, Wallace did not renegotiate a new contract, or continue his employment, as expected; instead he moved without delay to work with Kevin Kelley and the NPA, the move guaranteeing that the NPA would bask in Hardy Wallace’s reflected notoriety.

I tried to be the Murphy Goode Lifestyle Correspondent; out of 1,997 video applications, mine was the 8th most popular, I would have focused more on Sonoma County and the winery brand than my own brand, and I will admit that I was a little envious of Hardy Wallace’s opportunities…and then in January this year I met him.

Surrounded by tasters at the first night of ZAP tasting, Hardy Wallace looked up, saw me – having never met me – recognition flashed, and he came out from behind a table to greet me by name and shake my hand. I can remember wines I tasted over 30 years ago, but have trouble with names of people I met only five minutes ago, so instantly I was both impressed and charmed. Hardy was friendly, warm, genuine, welcoming, as happy to meet me as I was interested to meet him.

I had read much of the story of Hardy’s move to the NPA, and reviews of the wines, but I wanted to taste the wines myself, and it was nice seeing Hardy again.

There is a near cult like feel to the reviews his fans and friends write about the NPA wines. I wondered whether the words I had read were perhaps influenced by Hardy’s personality and fame.

I need to say that Hardy didn’t leave the KJ family of wines for the easy life. Hardy could have continued where he was, traveled the country, and lived the very good life, doing very little actual good. His fame, the Hardy of KJ’s creation, meant that a lot of his talents would be wasted. A host of other social media marketers, toiling in anonymity, could have accomplished more work for KJ’s wine brands than Hardy, as Hardy had become too valuable as a publicity asset to allow to toil away behind closed doors. Hardy chose not to be a very well paid, pampered, pet.

Hardy busts his ass at the NPA, as does everyone who works there. Hardy is just one of the crew, he just happens to be the most likely member of the crew to pour wines, do a little social media marketing, and simply by being at the NPA, he continues to attract attention to the wines of the brand he works for. It could be argued that Hardy is using his fame not just in support of a wine brand or wine maker, but in support of a more natural wine movement.

What is natural process wine? It begins in the vineyard, whether certified organic, or biodynamic, or uncertified but making the same choices, not for paper but for flavor, and extends into the winery where as little of the winemakers influence as possible is involved. It is letting grape juice become wine with little intervention. Wines made naturally the way they would have been made 1,000 years ago, before the advent of harvesting machinery and the development of enology and viticulture science, before artificial yeasts, before fining with animal products, before gums, before catalogs of chemical additives and processes of manipulation.

From The Natural Process Alliance’s website:

We believe that expressive soil is sacred, responsible farming is a requirement and natural winemaking is the only option. In the creation of wine, there are innumerable natural processes that are elegant in their simplicity and astonishing in their effectiveness. Our role is but one of these processes and is no more significant than any other. We have joined a natural alliance that has been ignored for far too long.

Wherever and whenever possible we hand farm instead of using machinery. Hand hoes, shovels, machetes and callouses get the work done.

Vines and [native] cover crops have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Attracting beneficial insect, controlling erosion, breaking up, aerating and fixing nitrogen into the soil.

We strive to allow the character of the location and vintage shine. Our annual goal is to have a label that reads, “Ingredients: grapes.”

Sulfur is hesitantly used only when absolutely necessary and in very small quantities.

We will never use: commercial yeast or bacteria, enzymes, chemical or natural additives, animal byproducts, fining agents, filtration.

Our stainless steel bottles are filled and delivered to our partners regularly while the empties are returned to the winery for reuse.

Our wines are intended for the San Francisco Bay Area and all points within 100 miles of the winery.

Much like the first time I met Hardy, directly from grape bin scrubbing, he recognized me, and reached out his hand in welcome, greeting me by name. I explained that I was hoping to taste the wines. I confessed to a skepticism regarding the unwaveringly positive wine write ups, and opined that the cult of Hardy might be at work in the overly enthusiastic reviews I had read.

Hardy just smiled, perhaps he has seen the look on enough faces upon tasting the wines to let the wines do the work.

I wish you could smell a winery in action. Just being at one is a gift to your nose. A winery at crush is an even more special place to be. There was an Italian deli, Traverso’s in downtown Santa Rosa, that had been in operation so long that the aroma of Salami, meats, and cheeses had permeated the wood of the walls, floor, and ceiling. I remember our family’s disappointment when they moved to a larger new location without the built in olfactory richness. We experienced a similar sadness when, recently, Traverso’s moved again.

Oak barrels in a winery. Earth shatteringly original photography.

The aromas of fruit, crushed grape, juice, fermentation, and wine at the NPA is heady and wonderful. Bins of grapes arriving, crush, and wines stainless steel fermented, neutral French oak held.

The first wine Hardy poured for me was the 2009 The Natural Process Alliance Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley $12. The aroma rocked my head back. Incredibly fruity, it reminded me of a Jimmy Buffett song, “Grapefruit – Juicy Fruit.” The wine was unfined and unfiltered, a little cloudy, darker in color than ordinary. Made from foot tread grapes, 1/3 direct pressed, 1/3 skin fermented, and 1/3 whole cluster fermented, neutral oak, no additives, no nothing. Just fermented Sauvignon Blanc grape juice. Just wow. Hardy smiled a knowing appreciative smile as, from my stunned, amazed, thrilled look, he knew I got it. Citrusy lemon, lime and grapefruit, apricot, pineapple, coconut. Juicy, bursting with flavor, delicious, different.

Wine in glasses, canteen, little used dump bucket, plastic wine thief

Hardy shared with me the work that goes into, and the work that will never go into, these wines. Never better than right now, the wines of the NPA, when ready, are made to be enjoyed now, nor cellared. No bottles, corks, shipping, or sitting on shelves. The wines fill 750 ml stainless steel canteens, similar to the reusable metal water bottles you see fitness folks drinking from. The canteens can be returned to the winery for reuse and refill. The Canteens have a one time cost of $20 each. The wines are not intended to travel more than 100 miles from the winery. With an emphasis on locality, freshness, and flavor, the canteens are delivered to restaurants, including Chez Panisse, which may be the best fit of wine to food ever.

I have never tasted a Sauvignon Blanc like this before, but one taste and I was instantly appreciative of Kevin Kelley’s winemaking, and I was coming to understand that all of the good reviews were not hype.

The 2009 The Natural Process Alliance Pinot Gris Chalk Hill $18 was skin fermented, has much more color and juicy flavor than other Pinot Gris, and showed nice dried fruit and floral notes; cranberry, and blackboard chalkiness.

The 2009 The Natural Process Alliance Chardonnay Sonoma Coast $30 is also 100% skin fermented, with no racking, no fining, no stirring, just sitting and becoming itself. Bright lemon and apple with an herbal artichoke note. Never in my life did I think I would write I smelled or tasted artichoke in a Chardonnay, and if you told me that I would find it, I wouldn’t have thought that it would be a good thing. I love artichokes, and my wife and I used to buy them 20 at a time fresh off the plant in Castroville weekly during season, but in a wine? Well, it was here, it was clean, it did not come off as cooked vegetal, but just a surprising and interesting note. Hardy told me this wine was especially vulnerable to oxidation, and could throw an oregano note if exposed to air for long. In my glass, it didn’t have the chance.

The final The NPA wine is called the unicorn, because as wonderful as it sounds, it didn’t exist. Seriously, it is called Sunhawk, it is co-fermented from a Mendocino County field blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Roussane, Marsanne, and Viognier. That it was sold out is like being told that Willy Wonka has closed his factory, or Disneyland is closed for cleaning. It is enough to make the baby Jesus cry. The unicorn, when available, runs $24.

The three wines I tasted were fun for being different, not boring, not old, exciting. Listening to Hardy Wallace share little tidbits, winemaker notes, I could see why Hardy Wallace won the Murphy Goode competition. His enthusiasm is infectious. Hardy is one of the most upbeat, happy, positive people I have ever met; his vibe is genuine, and would not become tiresome. Heck, I was starting to like Hardy Wallace more than I like myself.

I want Sunhawk! It’s on the board, dammit!

Hardy moved from the “drink right now” wines of the NPA to Kevin Kelley’s “held before sale and can/should be held onto longer” wines of Salinia. Kelley picks his fruit on acid, not on brix, leading to structured wines of round drinkable fruit.

2006 Salinia Chardonnay Heintz Vineyard $45 30% skin fermentation. I have described wines as being straw gold, pale gold, white gold, yellow gold, and golden, but this wine’s color is gold. Really, just plain, genuine gold. Butterscotch and caramel nose, richly aromatic, lemon, apple, clean olive oil, and brine. Round, balanced, integrated flavors. Lemon, lime, lychee, wet stone, cream, apple. Light honey and white flowers on finish. Delicious. Showy, without trying, sometimes quality can’t or shouldn’t be hidden.

Salinia Chardonnay

2006 Salinia Pinot Noir W.E. Bottoms Vineyard $45 Russian River Valley Occidental tree shaded vineyard below the fog line but protected from the afternoon sun’s intense heat. Gorgeously round, round, round. Nose: smooth, completely lacking any harsh notes, rose petal, cherry, spice. Many noted, integrated. Mouth: Oh, my God. Gorgeous flavors. Easily, one of the best Pinot Noir I’ve tasted this year. Beautiful, cherry, cranberry, herb, spice. Drinkable, accessible wine.

2007 Salinia Syrah Heintz Vineyard $45 Chocolate, cigar box, cedar nose. Round, not typically off-puttingly astringent, woody or green. 50% whole cluster. I am not generally a fan of Syrah, but this wine, bursting with juicy drinkable fruit, is the best Syrah I have tasted this year. I like it long time. Just as I was writing a note that this is Pinot Noir approachable Syrah, Hardy was telling me of a blind tasting where a wine writer asked for notes on this Pinot Noir. We also shared anecdotes about the difficulties of marketing Syrah, no matter how good. The good news for Salinia, this Syrah is great, and they don’t make much. It will all sell, and those lucky enough to buy it will have a true gem.

I have worked for a winemaker I loved, whose every wine was delicious. My job selling that wine, marketing it to those who had not yet tasted it, was one of the easiest jobs I ever had. It never felt like work, I loved marketing those wines. I see in Hardy Wallace a similar happiness, a love of what he is doing, a little boy allowed to play all day at something fun. I am grateful to Hardy for his time, and for the chance to get to know him better; it is wonderful to see someone so good at what he does getting to do it for the perfect purpose. Hardy Wallace and Kevin Kelley are a match made in Heaven.

If Hardy knows a picture is being taken, he will mug for the shot

Kevin Kelley makes amazing juice. Hardy Wallace brings more attention to that juice. The juice is worthy of the attention. It is a perfect cycle. The production is small enough that not much of Hardy’s social media marketing pull is needed, and Hardy gets to help make the juice, while Kevin gets a cheerful, dedicated cellar hand. I am heartened that such perfect matches exist.

The latest truck with grapes has arrived

I bought a bottle of the Salinia Pinot Noir, and a canteen of the NPA Sauvignon Blanc. While the Pinot has been put away, last night I marinated bright clean bay shrimp in zest and juice of lemon, lime, and grapefruit, added razor diced shallot and some cilantro, then just heated the shrimp mixture in a light cream sauce, which I poured over flat spaghetti, and paired it with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Hardy thiefing Sauvignon Blanc from the last barrel for my canteen

The recipe was inspired by the fresh fruit and citrus flavors of the wine, and the dinner was stunning, both for the simplicity and the utter deliciousness.

Sunset awarded “The Green Award” to the NPA

Bottom line, there really isn’t any hype regarding Kevin Kelley’s wines. They are delicious, and stand out in a crowded field of other wines available for their honest, unmanipulated fermented grape flavors. In a world of winemakers pretending to seek terroir expression, Kelley’s wines, devoid of artifice, may be the truest expressions of terroir available in California wines today. These wines are worthy of the praise wine writers are heaping upon them. Hardy Wallace is about as effective a brand ambassador as The NPA and Kevin could hope for; you can’t meet Hardy and not like him.

The Natural Process Alliance and Salinia wines can be tasted at the Santa Rosa business park winery location, 3350 Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa, CA 95403. For more information, call (707) 527-7063.

Last week, I joined a dozen other wine writers to taste several wines from Virginia, and posted my tasting notes here.

One of the writers I met, Michael Wangbickler, invited me to a tasting tonight in Sonoma of Don Sebastiani & Sons’ showcase of their Pepperwood Grove wines, previously priced at around $9 for a 750ml bottle, now being released in environmentally friendly 3.0L box packaging for about $20.

The cost of producing one 3.0L box is less expensive than four 750ml glass bottles, and each unit sold is four times a previous single container purchase. Cost savings, and economy of scale discounting, allow a savings of about 44% from an already affordable wine purchase by volume. The Pepperwood Grove wines are being sold at a price comparable to $5 for a typical 750ml bottle. That works out to about 83¢ for a glass of wine.

Coincidentally, I worked as a campaign worker to help elect Don Sebastiani in his successful bid for the California Assembly in 1980.

Don, and his sons Donny and August created an international wine negociant company Don Sebastiani & Sons in 2001. Within three years, by 2004, they had launched a number of wine brands, including Pepperwood Grove, and by the end of that year the company has sold over 1 million cases of wine. In 2005, Wine Enthusiast magazine named Don Sebastiani & Sons “American Winemaker of the Year,” and in 2007 case production exceeded 2 million cases.

Pepperwood Grove wines available in 750ml glass bottles include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier, made with varietal grapes sourced from California to South Eastern Australia, and Daunia, Italy to Mendoza, Argentina.

The first four wines Pepperwood Grove wines released in new “The Big Green Box”es are a California Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Old Vine Zinfandel, and a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes from the Valle Central.

The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove wines feature environmentally friendly packaging, touting 100% recyclability, energy savings, lighter weight fuel transport benefits, and sustainable forest sourced paper.

While the packaging makes clear that the box holds the equivalent volume of four 750ml bottles of wine, the compact nature of the box makes fitting two boxes of white wine side by side in the refrigerator much easier than trying to store 8 bottles of wine in twice the space.

Anyone familiar with wine in a box knows that the box contains a bag of wine and, as wine is dispensed from the bag, the bag deflates. Unlike wine bottles with oxidizing air trapped between the surface of the wine and the cork, boxed (bagged really) wines do not suffer a similar harm, and box wines can typically be served a month after opening without the typical turned wine experienced with opened and resealed bottled wine.

It really comes down to one question, “does the wine taste good?” I would love to find a tasty wine to recommend to friends to serve with food for family and friends, inexpensive enough to try and delicious enough to try again. The industry generally does a terrible job of marketing their product, and too many professional wine marketers, writers, and reviewers in complicit in that failure, making regular folks shy away from a beverage where too much has to be learned, known, understood, where only Frasier Crane and his brother feel comfortable.

I have friends, family, and readers who love hearing about traditionally bottled wines $30 and over, and I love tasting and sharing notes on these wines, many are incredible values and drink like wines costing $60-120. There are also many friends, family, and readers who will never buy a $30 bottle of wine, not even as a gift – but would take a chance on an affordable wine recommended by someone they trust.

I am thrilled beyond telling to be invited to taste some wines from a wine company, a Sonoma County wine family that “gets it.” Michael invited me, and other folks with a little wine influence, to taste wines that cost just 83¢ a glass together, live in Sonoma, or remotely via shipped wine samples and internet updated tasting notes.

A rising tide lifts all boats. More people drinking wine, whether 83¢ a glass or $10 a glass, means more grapes growing, more bottles and boxes sold, more ink and corks, bags and capsules, winemakers and social media marketing managers. I wouldn’t mind, on a personal level, a great inexpensive wine brand for cooking and food pairing. Saving money, and enjoying a new delicious wine, is always a welcome experience.

Here’s my tasting notes on tonight’s four wines:

The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove California Pinot Grigio $20 3.0L Box – Clear pale golden straw color. Clean oak vanilla citrus and mineral nose. Flavors of balanced sweet and sour apple, lime, and melon. Medium bodied. Long, lingering citrusy dominant fruit finish. Much more flavor rich than some wine flavored water Pinot Grigios from Italy, but still light enough for folks looking for a lighter styled wine. Pair with clam, shrimp, crab, lobster, spring mix salads with Tres Classique lemon splash, a host of cheeses. This was my second favorite wine tasted, but my favorite white wine tasted.

The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove California Chardonnay $20 3.0L Box – Clear pale white gold color. Nose of oak, toast, cream, vanilla. Not as much fruit as I was expecting, and much more lemon lime citrus instead of the almost absent but anticipated apple notes. Round. Smooth. Shorter, quickly dissipating finish. It would flavor some sauteed thyme onions nicely for the top of a homemade pizza, or be good as a base to a pasta cream sauce. Simple pairing: foil wrapped baked salmon.

The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove California Old Vine Zinfandel $20 3.0L Box – Okay, even before I could guage the appearance of this wine, the aroma wafted up big and bold with chocolate, cocoa, and coffee notes. Explosively big rich forward nose. This is a pretty rich, deep, dark, and dense burgundy purple colored wine, blocking light, too dark to see through. Okay, now putting my big nose into the glass, and the bigness is confirmed. Tons of dark dusty chocolate powder, rich black raspberry and blackberry fruit, spice and earthiness. Round mouth, med full body, smooth, nice lush richness of fruit. Black berry, plum, cherry, chocolate, nice herbaceousness, sweetness balanced by nice acidity. Soft tannin, oak. Nicely integrated. Medium long finish. Would love to pair with venison, lamb, pork, almost any dish flavorful enough to match this big but accessible Zinfandel. This was my favorite of the four wines tasted.

The Big Green Box Pepperwood Grove Valle Central Cabernet Sauvignon $20 3.0L Box – Nice red purple color. Muted nose of oak. Oak follows through on mouth, dry spice and wood notes, berry fruit in background. Tannins noticeable on the medium long quickly tapering finish. Pair with Gorgonzola, portobello, and mushroom barbeque burgers and enjoy the Umami.

I opened the wines, and poured a glass of each so that they could breathe a bit in my glass, open up, and show their true character. Each benefited from a kiss of air.

All of the wines were non-vintage, which is fine by me. By being able to blend grapes from different places, harvested in different years, a consistent flavor profile at an affordable price is more easily achieved than in vineyard designated vintage wines.

The wines were uniformly approachable, oaked, smooth, and drinkable. I could have stood a little more fruit expression, but I am too old for subtlety – I’m just looking for a sexy wine bomb.

None of the wines tasted like $20-$30 bottles, but I thought they were all good value wines at $5 per 750ml, and I thought both the Old Vine Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio were particularly drinkable. I can see myself purchasing both and recommending them to anyone – I guess I started on the latter.

Thanks to Don Sebastiani & Sons winemaker Greg Kitchens, and Balzac Communications & Marketing guru Michael Wangbickler.

Disclosure: I received shipped wine samples, the equivalent of 16 regular bottles, enabling me to write this article with tasting notes.

I hope some of you took the chance to attend the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and taste some of the over 1,000 wines available to taste. I would love to sit down with a judge and find out how back to back days of tastings of around 100 wines can be accomplished while giving a fair taste to all of the wines submitted.

There is a phenomenal wine writer who doesn’t have much use for wine bloggers beyond the fodder they make for some of his best writing. Ron Washam, Hosemaster of Wine, is also a Sonoma County Harvest Fair judge.

There are more mockably horrible wine blogs than useful wine blogs offering value. Washam, in his Hosemaster role, points out the absurdity of many, perhaps most famously the blog that pairs wine and kaftans. No, Kaftan is not a food that pairs nicely with wine, but a piece of women’s clothing. I believe that Washam spearheaded a movement to see Wines and Kaftans awarded a Wine Blogger Award this year.

I empathize with Washam’s pain in dipping into the pool of mediocrity that is most wine blogging. The only good is that, by contrast, my writing is tolerable. My personal moment of horror came when I was but one of only two wine writers attending a press event hosted by a winery that wanted coverage of an announcement. Over lunch, the other writer was asked by a winemaker about his writing, and I died inside when he said he pairs wine and 50’s television shows. Trapped by rules of etiquette, I couldn’t leave in disgust, or ask aloud, “are you kidding me?” Put on the spot, asked for an example, he paired the Chardonnay we were tasting with Dragnet, explaining that you would have to drag a very wide net to find a Chardonnay so memorable. I was nearly ill on the spot. I wanted to ask my hosts if they considered us equals, if his worthlessness was what they saw when they looked at me.

When I got home and looked up his website, I found that he had used the Dragnet pairing only days before and for a completely different wine. He was not only a jack ass, but his little parlor trick uniqueness was purely shamtastic.

I recognize that everyone who opens himself up by writing, also opens himself up for judgment and ridicule. I am okay with that, I don’t put on airs, or take myself too seriously. I know what I know, and I try to share it. I write about what interests me, what grabs my attention. But I know my words will never elevate me into the ranks of the world’s most read and respected wine writers and reviewers. I write because I enjoy it, and I am gratefully amazed that people find their way to my site to read my meandering prose.

Back to Ron Washam, in his role as a wine judge; I would love to ask Washam if, when tasting 100 Sonoma County Chardonnays, a number in the California over sweet, barrel fermented, malolactic style, a more subtle French styled Chardonnay, like those submitted by Sonoma-Cutrer just get overlooked, either through palate fatigue or because they are different. Is a wine of French styling punished for not being typically Sonoma County?

Seriously, I am entertained with his writing so much that I would just like to meet him for a beer and let him hold forth on just about any topic.

Besides the head scratchingly poor performance of Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnays (which I love) with the judges at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, another disappointment was the absence of some of my other favorite winery’s wines. I would love to taste the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Keller Estates against those of Sonoma-Cutrer, and against the wines of each varietal awarded Best of Class honors.

Often as I tasted the wines that won Double Gold Medals or Best of Varietal honors, I was reminded of other wines I have tasted, and I wished I could taste wines from outside the county side by side with the best of Sonoma County. Roederer Estate from the Anderson Valley against Gloria Ferrer for sparkling, Handley from the Anderson Valley against Eric K James for Pinot Noir, Swanson from Rutherford against Mazzocco for Merlot, and Parducci from Ukiah against Simi for Petite Sirah as examples.

I love tasting wine. I love pairing wine and food and friends, not with kaftans or television shows or movies.

Recently, I wrote about tasting wines from Virginia with a group of fellow wine bloggers (not one of whom compared the wines to an article of clothing or media art). The best part of the tasting was learning that Virginia wineries are capable of producing palatable wines. There was a concern that the wines would be judges good, for a Virginia wine. Which is a dismissive way of saying it doesn’t stand up to a California wine. I have to say that I would love to have tasted the Virginia Viogniers I tasted against the Sweepstakes White winner from the Sonoma County Harvesty Fair from Alexander Valley Vineyard.

It is only by stretching, tasting every chance you can, that you find yourself pleased and surprised on occasion. Just as the quality of the Virginia Viogniers was a welcome treat, earlier this year I blind tasted a Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir from Deaver that was delicious, yet if I could have seen the label first, I probably would have passed.

I don’t mention it in my reviews because I don’t think it matters, but I have noticed that many more wineries than in the past feel comfortable abandoning the natural porous cork as a closure for their wines, and I am seeing more synthetic corks, and screwcap Stelvin closures. Screwcaps are big, and getting bigger. Boxes are also being tried with greater acceptance. Sebastiani is moving from glass bottles to three liter boxes for their Pepperwood Grove wines, following on the heels of the market success of Bandit and other tastier than customary box wines.

I am going to be taking part in a tweet-up, tasting the Sebastiani made Pepperwood Grove box wines, and tweeting my tasting notes at the same time that tasters at a Sonoma live tasting are tweeting their notes.

I hope that I will find deliciously drinkable, affordable wines, in greener recyclable packaging that protects the wine inside from oxidation throughout. My goal in writing is to find solid food wines that I can recommend to my friends who aren’t big wine drinkers and are unlikely to pop for a $30+ wine on a regular basis. Living in Mendocino County, the greenest wine county in America, green practices are increasingly important to me. I would love to point at affordable wines that make meals taste better than any other beverage that might be paired at the table with family and friends.

It is ironic that I am going to be tasting box wines, in that I only just found that Ukiah, my hometown, is home to two manufacturers of capsules and foil for wine and sparkling wine bottles.

In defense of my Ukiah business neighbors, at least one features Made In America capsules, their products are recyclable, as is glass, and the tide isn’t turning so fast that either company is threatened in the near term.

In an increasingly competitive and green business environment, it will require the best people to sell natural cork, glass bottles, and capsules; there are likely to be fewer advocates for tradition like Joel Peterson of Ravenswood in a world moving in the direction of more democratic and common sense packaging led by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon.

I have cooked chicken in a liquid of alfredo tomato sauce with roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and carmelized onions. I’m going to grab a glass, fill it with wine, enjoy good food, and watch the Giants in game one of the playoffs with Atlanta.

Maybe next time we meet here, I’ll have something more focused to say.

Frank Morgan lives in Virginia with his wife Acada, and blogs about wine. Frank and I have communicated online in advance of a prior visit he made to our northern California wine country, when I made some wine tasting and event recommendations for his visit.

I received an invitation from Frank to take part in a tasting of wines from Virginia to take place in Sonoma County’s Sebastopol at the home of another fellow wine blogger, Marcy Gordon. Wine bloggers gather each year in a wine area, chat, drink, and tweet. Next year, 2011, the Wine Blogger’s Conference is being held in Virginia. Frank, acting as an unofficial Virginia wine ambassador, mentioned to some of the wineries in his area that he was going to visit northern California and would love to host a tasting for a group of wine bloggers. Several wineries packed up bottles and shipped them ahead of Frank’s arrival to Marcy’s home.

Invitations were sent out, RSVPs were logged, heads were counted, and William Allen showed up to taste with cases of tasting glasses in hand for all.

Most bloggers don’t blog about events like this so much as they tweet 140 character wine reviews via Twitter. I’m a bit more old school. I like stringing more words together, and adding pictures. That said, here is a hybrid entry featuring a bit of both, through organizing the tweets of the attendees and adding my quick notes, to give several views of each Virginia wine tasted.

I hesitate to list the folks who attended, because I can 100% guarantee I will fail, misremembering a name, or forgetting to mention someone who attended – I remember wines tasted 15-20 years ago better than names I heard one minute ago – but here goes anyway: It was great meeting, or seeing again, Frank, Acada, Marcy, Roger, Michelle, Brian, Fred, Eva, Jason, Thea, Joel, Cailyn, William, Rob, Janet, Michael, and most especially because we stood together Sherry and Sherry’s mom. Damn, see there, I forgot Sherry’s mom’s name; I think it was Beth, but I am uncertain.

EDITED TO ADD: One of my readers, and a friend from school, Rick, confirmed that Sherry’s mom’s name is indeed Beth. I guess I can put off the memory aid supplement Ginko Biloba to another day. The naturally occurring Resveratrol in the red wine I taste must be helping my memory.

norcalwingman Hangin w/ @winebratsf @norcalwine @slhousman tasting #vawine

20dollarwine Let the #vawine begin! @norcalwine @marcygordon and of course @winebratsf

SLHousman At a pre WBC11 tasting with @DrinkWhatULike @marcygordon @SonomaWilliam @winebratsf @norcalwingman #VaWines

Kluge Estate Blanc de Blanc Sparkling

JohnOnWine notes: Lively carbonation, bright acid, steely fruit, lemon lime, 7up, Clean crisp citrus nose leads to decidedly citrusy mouth with tart green apple. I would drink again.

marcygordon Starting with @KlugeEstates bubbles dry & yeasty. @drinkwhatulike our host #VAWines

norcalwingman @KlugeEstate blanc de blanc 100% Chardonnay yeasty and crisp not bad in the $20 range #vawine

SLHousman #VaWines really enjoying this Kluge Estate Blanc de Blanc Sparkling lots of citrus gr8 floral nose ( :

cailynq Tasting a sparkling fm @krugestate off the monticello wine trail for #vawine

SonomaWilliam #vawine tasting Kluge Estates blanc de blanc nice citrus, lemon. Very effervescent in mouth #wine nice

CreativeFurnace #vawine Kluge Blanc de Blanc delicious. Nice toasty yeast bright fruit

mwangbickler Enjoying #vawine with some of my favorite wine peeps.

20dollarwine @klugeestate blanc de blanc has interesting notes of citrus and minerals. not low dosage…#vawine

Rappahannock Cellars 2009 Viognier

JohnOnWine notes: Really interesting fruit and spice nose. Oddly hollow mouth. Mouth does not deliver nose’s promise. Tart underipe pear.

norcalwingman @rcellars 2009 viognier tropical fruits backed by Hubba Bubba bubblegum #vawine

marcygordon #vawines @rcelkars Rappahannock Viognier peaches and cream bit of apricot.

SonomaWilliam 2009 Rappahannock Cellars viognier lots of citrus and acidity; lemon in mouth not as floral or flabby as many others. #wine #vawine

20dollarwine Nice balance on @rcellars 2009 Viognier #vawine

Jefferson Vineyards 2009 Viognier

JohnOnWine notes: Bigger nose than previous wines, sweeter wine. Much more apricot and pear fruit, and honeysuckle floral sweetness. Caramel.

marcygordon Jefferson Vineyards @ th_jefferson 09 Viognier. Unctuous smooth richness Silky soul of Viongier. #VaWines http://twitpic.com/2ug938

CreativeFurnace #vawine bubblicious with good acidity.

norcalwingman @th_Jefferson 2009 viognier the nose doesn’t say anything about the residual sugar bomb #vawine

SonomaWilliam 2009 Jefferson Vineyards viognier more traditional nose, honey, stone fruit, nice finish;wish was dry, slight RS, nice overall #vawine #wine

20dollarwine @th_Jefferson 2009 Viognier ..a bit too sweet for me. RS 2%? #vawine

Breaux Vineyards 2009 Viognier

JohnOnWine notes: Floral and mown hay, just right, medium sweet edge. Steel citrus and crushed pineapple. Mouth watering acidity.

cailynq @breauxvineyards just tried the 09 viognier as part of #vawine west today…

marcygordon 09 Viognier from @BreauxVineyards citrus and lime tropical flavors. Bit thin on my palate. Need some thai spring rolls. #vawines

SLHousman Wow @DrinkWhatULike is putting on an awesome Pre WBC11 tasting of #VaWines Thanks Frank ( :

20dollarwine 2009 @breauxvineyards Viognier nice melon and lemon notes …also a bit too sweet #vawine

SonomaWilliam 2009 Breaux Vineyards again high acidity and citrus. I like the non flabbiness but not very viognier like #wine #vawine

DrinkWhatULike http://twitpic.com/2ugcgk – Great crowd here in Sonoma for the Intro to #Vawine tasting

Linden Vineyards 2007 Hardscrabble Chardonnay

JohnOnWine notes: Over barrel fermented, burnt crème brule caramel and green apple.

marcygordon Linden Vineyards 07 Chardonnay from the cement eggs tanks. juicy and toasty I like the balance. Would pair this with S’Mores. #vawines

SonomaWilliam 2007 Linden Hardscrabble Chardonnay nose of stone fruit, great acidity; oak and ml; very well balanced, nice finish #wine #vawine

norcalwingman Linden vineyards Chardonnay funky and oaky light and crisp acid finish #vawine

Doukenie Winery 2009 Chardonnay

JohnOnWine notes: Lighter pineapple and cream, bright acid, off nose. Lemon and vanilla cream mouth. Acidic finish.

marcygordon Doukenie 09 Chardonnay for my palate this is a bit medicinal like novacaine #vawines

norcalwingman @doukeniewinery Chardonnay citronella and deet somethings not quite right? The Wife says ” fast fermentation ” #vawine

20dollarwine chard with little oak from @doukeniewinery #vawine

SonomaWilliam 2009 Doukenie Chardonnay tropical from oak comes thru on nose, + slight off smell; cellar to let oak integrate #wine #vawine

Jenialphabet Drinking #vawine with new friends

Blenheim Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay

JohnOnWine notes: Very drinkable, most familiar, similar to Chardonnays regularly enjoyed. NOT a barrel fermented malolactic monster, nice apple fruit expression, tartness, nice acid balanced by vanilla cream.

SLHousman the owner of this winery is Dave Matthews the Dave Matthews ( :

norcalwingman Dave Mathews @Blenheim Chardonnay soft and easy, light oak to no oak and decent minerality #vawine

marcygordon 08 Chardonnay @BlenheimWines appley and pineapply fruity creamy finish. Not too oaky. #vawines

Jenialphabet Blenheim vineyards chard. Drymouth with a musty aftertaste. Not a good match for me. #vawine

SonomaWilliam 08 Blenheim Chardonnay fave wine so far; light straw, apple, stone fruit, balanced, great finish, kudos! #wine #vawine

Rappahannock Cellars 2008 Chardonnay

JohnOnWine notes: Nice nose, fleshy tropical fruit. Lemon orange citrus.

cailynq 2008 Rappahannack cellars Chardonnay mellow and buttery…#vawine @rcellars

marcygordon Rappahannock 08 Chardonnay lemmony and fresh but my heart belongs to their Viognier @Rcellars #vawines

norcalwingman @rcellars 2008 Chardonnay very tropical on the nose surprising for a chard #vawine

mwangbickler Queen and King of the #vawine tasting in Cali. http://twitpic.com/2ughqy

SonomaWilliam 08 Rappahannock Chardonnay fragrant nose nice acidity w lemon, citrus in mouth, bit odd finish, cellar a tad? #wine #vawine

Keswick Vineyards 2007 Heritage Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignion/Merlot)

JohnOnWine notes: First, if you are going to make a Meritage, pay for and use the M. Heritage will be increasingly used to identify Zinfandel blends. Got that? Thanks. Oak, fruit on nose. Slightly closed, yet nice cedar and berry burst comes through. Could be pretty good with a host of foods if allowed to open a little more.

marcygordon Keswick 07 cab/merlot nice nose of fruit and lavender. Chewy mouth and tabbaco notes, need some time with this one @KeswickVineyard #vawines

SLHousman #VaWines I’m really liking this @rcellars 07 Meritage Gr8 aromas full of dry fruit! Yum!

cailynq @keswickvineyard thanks for sending Heritage to the #vawine west fest

norcalwingman @keswickvineyard cab/merlot: tight and smoky sour cherry fruit comes out finish hints of the future #vawine

SonomaWilliam 07 @Keswickvineyards Keswick Cab, unfined/unfiltered nose of spice, red fruit, nice fruit mid palate, tad tannin on finish #wine #vawine

Rappahannock Cellars 2007 Meritage

JohnOnWine notes: Willy wonka cherry flavored Lik-m-aid sugar powder and oak. Nose is more complex than mouth.

marcygordon Rappahannock @rcellars 07 Mertiage– blast from the past grape & cherry Pixie Stix flavor. Makes me want to jump on a Sip n Slide. #vawines

20dollarwine Diggin the @rcellars 2007 . Structure, balance. Gimme a grass-fed steak frites #vawine

norcalwingman @rcellars meritage, interesting fruit notes on the nose reminiscent of Zinfandel light tannins eh… #vawine

SonomaWilliam 07 Rappahannock meritage vibrant dark red; soft in mouth, bright Red fruit but not Jammy, great finish, well done. #wine #vawine

Fabbioli Cellars 2008 Tre Sorelle Dry Red Wine

JohnOnWine notes: Blackberry and chocolate nose, lush, not overpowering mouth, nice acidity, cedar, tannin. Berry and plum fruit taste. Good food wine.

marcygordon 07 Fabbioli tre sorelli blend elusive nose with less structure than expected for this blend. @fabbiolicellars #vawines

norcalwingman @fabbiolicellars dry red wine. Reminds me of Alexander valley cab, me likey! #vawine

SonomaWilliam 08 Fabbioli meritage tad funky nose (blew off) bit thin, good acid #wine #vawine

Breaux Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve

JohnOnWine notes: Loved the nose, was surprised by the aggressive mouth. Dry tannic cedary wood. Others like it more than I do, but Can Franc is one of my least favorite varietals. 16.4% alc, we had to check the label twice, it didn’t seem like an alc bomb.

marcygordon @BreauxVineyards Cab Franc sweet as baby’s breath. Like to eat some duck with this. #vawines

norcalwingman @breauxvineyards cab franc, big tannins and big licorice with healthy backing of black fruits #vawine

cailynq @breauxvineyards jenn..congrats on the little one! Wish we had more 07 cab franc @drinkwhatulike s west #vawine event

DrinkWhatULike Moving on to reds – @BreauxVineyards 07 Cab Franc Res a big hit at ‘Intro to #VaWine ‘ tasting…

SonomaWilliam 07 Breaux Vineyards Cab Franc classic nose, lush mouth, bold Rex fruit,tad sweet mid palate, offset by slight tannin on finish #wine #vawine

Jenialphabet Tasting @BreauxVineyards cab franc reserve. Full bodied. Makes me want a big steak. Cheers to u Jen for raising the bar in VA. #vawine

Rappahannock Cellars 2008 Cabernet Franc

JohnOnWine notes: Dusty cocoa and dry berry fruit. Vegetal and ripe blackberry. Vinuous.

marcygordon 08 Rappahannock Cellars Cab Franc string Green pepper and wheat grass element to nose. Palate a vegans dream. @rcellars #vawines

norcalwingman @rcellars cab franc smoky if not burnt overbearing on the red fruit #vawine

SonomaWilliam 08 Rappahannock cab franc, tad bell pepper on nose (softens); aerate to expose fruit, clean finish #wine #vawine

Jenialphabet #vawine. @rcellars. Tasting cab franc. smells like burnt tire. Tastes similar. Overly oaked. Needs remix. Harsh. I’d rather drink Nyquil.

Gabrielle Rausse 2008 Cabernet Franc

JohnOnWine notes: Less forward nose than other Cab Francs. Candied fruit berry flavor and drier oaky notes.

marcygordon Gabirele Rausse Cab Franc rose and blueberrys on the nose, escapes the norm & the form for a Cab Franc to my palate but I like it. #vawines

SonomaWilliam 08 Gabriele Rausse cab franc 13% alc (bravo)black fruit on nose, approachable, moderate red fruit, pair well w many foods #wine #vawine

SonomaWilliam 08 Gabriele Rausse cab franc 13% alc (bravo)black fruit on nose, approachable, moderate red fruit, pair well w many foods #wine #vawine

Mountfair Vineyards 2008 Wooloomooloo (Petit Verdot)

JohnOnWine notes: Just when I note a nice round plum note, it clashes with a green woody note. So close to love, but too green.

norcalwingman #vawine@mfvvinotweets I think I’m getting to know the character of this AVA smoky and green tannins w/ red fruits

marcygordon Mountfair Vineyards Wooloomooloo 2008 Petit Verdot 60% Merlot 30% Cab Franc 10% & a dash of Wooly Mammoth w pepper @MFVvinotweets #vawines

20dollarwine Really liked @mfvvinotweets 2008 Wooloomooloo Bordeaux blend #vawine

SonomaWilliam 08 Mountfair Wooloomooloo 60% petit verdot 30% merlot; tad thin, acidic, tannic finish not personal fave but others like #wine #vawine

Linden Vineyards 2006 Petit Verdot

JohnOnWine notes: A well known wine vlogger likes it, gave it a 91/100. Not me. Not what I expected, sour cherry note. Not lovin’ it.

marcygordon Linden Petit Verdot from @drinkwhatulike personal stash. Complex nose w a deep coco puffs & earthy palate. I’m cucko for coco puffs #vawines

Jenialphabet Tasting @lindenvinyards petit verdot with #vawine. Smells like chemical perm. Kinda tastes like it too. Try again next year.

norcalwingman Linden Petite Verdot heard @garyvee gave it 91… Must be the big funk, this wine has some complexity and layers #vawine

SonomaWilliam 06 Linden petit verdot funky nose, not my Fave varietal solo anyway. Others liked it me not so much #wine #vawine

Gabrielle Rausse 2008 Pinot Noir

JohnOnWine notes: No. Just no. Having grown up in the Russian River Valley, I have a home palate for Pinot. I haven’t found an Oregon Pinot I love as much as the best RRV and Sonoma Coast Pinots I have tasted, not even close really. This, however, is a ballsy winemaking choice, good for you for trying, but no. Oh my God, no.

JohnOnWine Thx to Frank and Macy for putting on today’s #VaWine tasting for a group of NorCal wine bloggers. Great people.

DrinkWhatULike @vcuspoon Had a great tasting here… New #VaWine fans here… #WBC11 will be an epic event

marcygordon The aftermath #VaWine Thanks to @DrinkWhatULike for organizing the event and to everyone who attended. http://twitpic.com/2uhhph

For me, the best part of yesterday’s tasting was that, overall, the wines were good, that they were tasted with the same critical skill applied to any other bottle, and that no one ever said “for a Virginia wine.” All of the wines were tasted and judged on their own merits, in the middle of northern California’s wine country. Some of the wines were loved, and some weren’t. Some varietals showed better than others. The experience was the same as it would be for any wines from any area. I learned a lot about Virginia wines, I found I like the whites better than the reds generally, but that reds can be made pretty tasty as well.

Thanks again to everyone responsible for this wonderful event, Frank, Marcy, the wineries, and the other attendees.

Virginia will be a good host state for next year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference.