A Family Affair #rsv25

It was evident how much planning went into the Rodney Strong Silver Anniversary long before it even began.  We were given “teasers” at the dinner in Solvang.  As the preparations were made, the details were made public on Social Media.  A month before, I was asked to “live report” from the event.  Two weeks before, social media accounts were put in place for the guest reporters, and the week of the event there was the conference call.  I knew going into the event that it was going to be incredibly organized and meticulously planned.

The venue was one of the top restaurants in Austin.  The chefs were award-winning.  The food was first class and the wines were, as expected, delicious.  And yet when I reflected on the evening, those were not the details that left the biggest impression.  Don’t get me wrong, they left an impression.  But what impressed me even more was the sense of family.

There was the obvious connection, of course.  The evening was centered around celebrating 25 years of Klein family ownership.  In 1989, Tom Klein and his family knew that Rod Strong had built something special.  He knew California agriculture and he knew that there was potential in this part of Sonoma County.  So they invested in technology and equipment and in the first decade of ownership took the winery from 69,000 cases to nearly 500,000.

Production wasn’t the only area for growth.  The team expanded, as did their line.  They increased the number of Single Vineyard wines, launched Symmetry, and continually strive to create Artisan quality wines.  They care for the earth by focusing  on sustainable practices, they care for the community by giving to various organizations.  But what struck me was how they take care of their own.

In my interactions, online and in person, with their employees, I sense that the idea of “family” is not limited to blood relation.  The people of Rodney Strong are happy.  They are enthusiastic and dedicated.  That doesn’t happen by itself.  When I was initially asked to participate in the event, the invitation included my husband.  They did not just fly Wine-grower Ryan Decker out to tell us about the wines.  They flew Ryan and his wife.  That says something to me.  It says that they honor family.  It tells me that they want their employees to be fulfilled.  It says a lot about the Klein family and it says that there was much to celebrate.

And celebrate we did.  We arrived to appetizers and Sauvignon Blanc.  Toasted with Chalk Hill Chardonnay and Kombo Dashi Soup.  My husband had two servings of Tyson Cole’s King Crab (shellfish allergy) but that meant I got to focus on my personal favorite, the Russian River Pinot Noir.  The main course was Smoked beef neck and Symmetry and Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. We finished with Chocolate Coconut meringue Tart and A True Gentleman’s Port. (see menu photo for details)

As the evening progressed, the live-feed jumped from place to place.  The venues were all quite different.  The menus unique to the chefs and locations.  But one thing remained constant.  People were joyous.  There was a levity to the photos.  Laughter, playful revelry, and a love for food wine and life were seen throughout.

An evening such as this required untold hours of planning and preparation. For the social media piece alone, this was a monstrous task (Take a look at Paul Mabry’s piece on Vintank for an idea). But it always came across as a labor of love.  People that are well cared for work well.  They are happy to go the extra mile.  That is what family does.

Thank you to Carin Oliver at Angelsmith PR for all of your work and for including me in the event.

Thank you to Rachel Voorhees for all you do and your contagious enthusiasm.

Thank you to Ryan and Nikka Decker for a lovely evening.  You are a great public speaker in a tough environment and your grapes do wonders!

Finally, thank you, Klein family, for making this event happen and for allowing me the opportunity to meet and work with these amazing people.  Keep up the good work!

For more information on the event, search #rsv25 for all of the great photos and tweets from the evening.

{I was reporting this event on Twitter for Rodney Strong and was given entrance as compensation.  These thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

Around the World in 80 wines-Tour de Vin

The sky was not all that was pouring in Austin on Thursday night.  The 12th annual Tour de Vin sponsored by The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas at The W Hotel in Austin.  Guests enjoyed dozens of wines and food from some of Austin’s finest restaurants.

Navigating this much yum in one evening can be challenging.  It is easy to find that your palate is shot and your belly is full before you even get around the room.  It is even easier to realize at the end of the night that you missed a golden opportunity to sample a hard to find wine or hard to get into restaurant.  This time I went in with a plan.  No tasting, no sampling until I made the rounds.  Ok, almost not tasting.  When you see this sign at an entrance, you can’t walk by.  Nearly all good evenings begin with bubbles.

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I perused the offerings, snapping pictures before the crowds began.  The last booth?  A soon-to-be-opening restaurant, Vox Table.  Their offering of Cured Cobia with a curry pipette cum skewer was one of the most interesting and tasty bites of the evening.  A great way to amuse my bouche.

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The other highlights, as far as food, were the Beef Tartare from Searsucker, The Goat and Tomatillo stew from Cafe Josie, the I.O. Lamb pastrami from Bonneville, and the Pork Rillette with pickled peach from the new chef at Bess Bistro, Roman Murphy.

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The title of this piece is not a misnomer.  There were 80 wines being poured that night, but my rule is to only taste what is new to me.  There was a lot of great wine there, but some from such established, classic brands that I knew I would have another chance to taste.  Without a spit cup and with the car keys, I needed to be conservative with the wines.  I am sure there were several gems that I missed, but of those I tasted, I will look for more of the following:

Domaine de la Villaudiere Sancerre (currently obsessed with the Loire Valley)

13 Au Contraire Pinot Noir (Healdsburg)

12 Castello di Fonterutoli Super Tuscan

Schramsberg Brut and Rose

A series of Single vineyard Malbecs from Argentina (of which I somehow managed to NOT get the paperwork or a photo)

That’s the danger of events like these.  You start in the most professional of mindsets.  Work before play.  Document, document, document.  Next thing you know you are chatting with friends, making new contacts.  You get lost in a glass bubbles and the professional hat gets lost in all the fun.  It’s a tough gig.

Thank you, Wine and Food Foundation, for allowing me to be your guest Thursday.  Thank you for all you do to promote wine, food, and fun here in Austin.  And if anyone has the info on those Malbecs, please pass them along.  I look forward to the next big event, Big Reds and Bubbles.  Cheers!

**{I received a media pass for this event but was given no other compensation.  The thoughts and opinions are my own}

 

 

 

4 Cities, 5 Chefs, and 6 Wines #rsv25

On Saturday September 20th, I’ll be dusting off my cocktail attire for a one of a kind evening at Uchi.  As part of the James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour, Rodney Strong Vineyards will be hosting a four city, five course dinner to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Klein family ownership. rsv25

Chefs in Austin, Miami, New York City, and Healdsburg, CA will simultaneously be creating their unique brand of cuisine to pair with Rodney Strong wines.  Each city will have a host and a live video food to connect each experience.  We will be joined by radio show host, Ziggy the Wine Girl.   I am honored to be participating by documenting the event on social media.  So even if you can’t join us in one of the cities, you can open a bottle of Rodney Strong, or six, and enjoy the evening vicariously.

If you are able to join us here in Austin, here is a little more of what you can expect.

Celebrity chefs:

Tyson Cole, Uchi & Uchiko, Austin, TX
Jeff Mall, Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar, Healdsburg, CA
James Robert, Fixe, Austin, TX
Tatsu Aikawa, Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Austin TX
Janina O’Leary, laV, Austin TX

Rodney Strong wines:

2013 Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc
2012 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay
2012 Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
2011 Rodney Strong Symmetry (Red Meritage), Alexander Valley
2010 Rodney Strong Brother Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
2008 Rodney Strong A True Gentleman’s Port

I was able to get a sneak peek of what to expect at a Rodney Strong dinner sponsored in Solvang before the Wine Bloggers Conference and I can guarantee that this will be a night to remember.  Tickets are $225 and can be purchased online or join us using #rsv25 or @sahmmelier.

 

Grief and Gratitude (Originally posted 9/11/12)

The remembering is so hard, the loss of so many, and for me one in particular who is still so dear.
A few years before 9/11 I lost two friends in a car accident. Jason walked with me through the mourning process and beyond. When there was something either of us were facing, we talked through it together. When tears came, he would literally wipe them. If there was need for comic relief, he would provide it. If not, he would just sit with you in the hurt.
When mourning his loss, no one could fill that void. His keen, kind perception is rare. He is missed and will always be missed.
I debated whether to share this again, but I heard an interview yesterday on NPR. They were talking with a friend of James Foley and keeping him memory alive through his poetry. Jason deserves to be remembered and honored, not just today, but every day. His example is one I will always cherish.

Grief and Gratitude (Originally posted 9/11/12).

Something to Celebrate-Odd Duck

It isn’t often that a restaurant experience hits every note.  That may not be fair to say.  We don’t go out often, so there aren’t many opportunities to impress.  But to ease the pain of another calendar year, we decided to hit a restaurant I’ve long been eyeing.

The Odd Duck began as a food trailer on S. Lamar and tongues began wagging, in every sense, as it opened.  Shortly after, Bryce Gilmore opened Barley Swine and his reputation swelled along with the crowds.  Since I am not one for crowds these days, I waited.  And waited.  But the lines never seemed to wane.

The same can be said for the reincarnation of Odd Duck in a brick and mortar, not far from its original location.  Chatting with Jason James between courses, it seems there is no end in sight.  From the moment we stepped in the restaurant, it was bustling.  During our dinner, it only slowed slightly.  James shared that, since they opened at the end of 2013, they haven’t seen the typical slow-down.  It is easy to see why.

The decor reflects the personality of the food.  And yes, this food has a personality.  Comfortable, honest, eclectic.  Take what could be common ingredients and turn them into something dazzling.  A pop of color on a bed of comfort.  A little heat to make sure you are paying attention.  Details with ease.

We started with a cocktail.  I’m not always one for bourbon but the addition of Lillet was too tempting.  Add some black pepper bitters and amaro and you will also remember the “Alamo.”  For appetizers we had the ceviche and pretzels.  It is a good thing there were only three.  Homemade ham and cheese pretzel sticks with a mug of mustard bechamel.  Talk about comfort.

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Jason helped us pick a wine that would pair well with our other dishes which was not an easy task.  The Cuvee Valentin Carignan/Grenache blend fit the bill.  A great balance of tannins and acid, black fruit and spice without being too heavy.  I will be looking for this one.

We moved onto the spiced butternut squash with yogurt, chimichurri, nicoise, and wild rice.  Super yum.  When I asked Jason if there was a dish we should have ordered, he said he had it taken care of.  It was our favorite of the evening.  A soft cooked duck egg with oyster and shitake mushroooms, pickled squash and hazelnuts.  This dish hit every note.  Decadence, crunch, acid.  Delicious.

We moved on to the Goat confit with coriander gordita and the Cavatelli housemade ricotta, mushrooms, walnuts and apple.  They were both delicious but we agreed that the goat came out slightly ahead.

How do you cleanse your palate when the canvas is so colorful and diverse?  Kaffir Lime panna cotta and watermelon granita.  Creamy comfort with bright fruity fun.

Locally farmed fare, creativity in spades, a festive approach and efficient service.  The flavors and textures played off each other in each dish.  The same could be said for the staff.  What more could you ask for in a dining experience? When my husband made the reservation, they asked about food allergies.  When we were seated, our super-enthusiastic server knew about the allergy and pointed out anything to avoid. As we finished our meal, we nibbled on the largest fortune cookie I have ever seen.  Inside was the following fortune:

“Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.  Have fun and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!.”

From the moment we entered, we felt seen, welcomed, and like each course brought a new adventure.  When the front of the house is as seamless and inspiring as the food, you have a recipe for success.  Thank you, Odd Duck, for making “growing old” something to celebrate.

 

 

Touring in Style

Two weeks from tonight, I will be touring the world with about 500 other food and wine lovers in Austin at the 12th annual Tour de Vin.  The event, held at the W hotel features domestic and international wines paired with bites from of Austin’s best chefs.

The Wine and Food Foundation knows how to throw a party.  When I attended two years ago as media, I was truly impressed by the organization and attention to detail.  I am grateful for the opportunity to cover it this year.

Tickets can be purchased online through the foundation.  They are $100 for the general public, $80 for foundation members, and $20 of each ticket goes to support their 2014 beneficiaries.  If you purchase by this Sunday, September 7th, your wristband can be mailed to you.  No need to wait in a pesky line.  And if you’re heading that way from SW Austin, we can carpool.  Who wants to join me?  Anything to avoid downtown traffic/parking, right?

A Real Gem from #WBC14 for #Cabernetday

Yesterday was #Cabernetday in the wine writer’s world.  And as a way to support those impacted by last week’s earthquake, we were encouraged to open and highlight some of the world’s best Cabernets, those made in Napa County.

I’ve admitted before my frugality in all areas.  I have no problem splurging here and there but I am going to make sure I do so when there is time and space to enjoy said splurge.  A Thursday during the first week of school when there is the chaos of (re)establishing old routines and new bedtime is not the time.  So I chose to have a beer and highlight one Cab that I haven’t been able to stop dreaming of since I returned from the Wine Bloggers Conference.

I’ve mentioned that I was pouring for the Wines of Portugal event which meant a had a brief break to eat before finishing the event.  I grabbed a plate and sat down.  As luck would have it, I sat with a lovely couple.  They had just come in and told me a little bit of their story and that they were there representing their wine from Napa.

After traveling and exploring wines from all over the world, the decided to invest in a small property on the slope of Diamond Mountain.  The acre vineyard faces west and is in rocky white-ash soil.  It allows them grow the quality of grapes they wanted and be near family.  Win-win.

We met again the following day during the speed tasting.  This is not an event for the faint of heart.  I was in the weeds during the whites but a little better prepared for the reds.  I was feverishly trying to keep up with evaluating, note-taking, tweeting, photographing, but when they poured, everything came to a stop.  I sniffed. Wow.  Swirled. Oh my.  Sipped and realized that there was no way I was going to rush through this or put it in the dump bucket.  This wine deserved more time and I needed an extra glass.

The 2010 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon was, for me, one of the stand-outs for the whole conference.  Aromatic with black fruit, spice, a dash of the “smoking library” notes.  Incredible mouthfeel.  Sturdy and smooth, silky and subtle tannins, huge fruit and many layers of yum.  This is a beautiful wine and one that will stick with me.

At the end of the evening, I was chatting with some friends.  My palate was shot, my mouth a little sore from the hundreds of wines we had sampled.  I said no, left and right, to pours.  But when Ed and Irene Ojdana approached with some leftover wine, I couldn’t say no.

A wine is always more interesting when you know the story, more enjoyable when shared with friends.  Wines are more memorable when you are able to chat with those who make it happen.  All of those elements came together with this wine, but I have a feeling it would have left a lasting impression regardless.  If you want to be this girl’s best friend, no need for diamonds, but I wouldn’t say “no” to some Diamond Mountain.

 

 

 

I Blinked and She’s Gone

SAHMmelier:

I wrote this last year but thought I’d reshape for all of you that are preparing to do the same. No, you’re not crazy if you want just one more year. No, you’re not crazy if you’re ready for the space and freedom. And no, I’m not ready to send her off again.

Originally posted on SAHMmelier:

I sent my baby to Kindergarten on Monday.

I sent my little girl to Kindergarten.

I sent THIS little bundle of love to Kindergarten.

millybaby

How is that possible?  It was a blink ago, I promise.  It’s not that she is really “gone,” obviously, but it is the first of many steps in letting go.  You hear it all the time.  Cherish each day; it goes so fast.  But when you’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel fast.  The lonely nights from 1-5 am, feel like they’re never going to end.  The hour before my husband gets home seems to drag with the kind of steady defiance reserved for acts like putting their shoes on when I am in a hurry or picking up their rooms, one lego at a painful time.  And yet I took my baby to Kindergarten Monday.

She has always operated at her own pace.  Although…

View original 534 more words

A Practical Girl’s Ferrari

In my preteen years, we spent hours playing the game MASH. We fantasized about Ferraris, mansions in Malibu, and our passionate relationship traveling the world with Simon Le Bon. We let the spiral of fate determine our career path and number of children. Gratefully, my life looks very little like the best or worst of what MASH threw at me. I have no desire to tame a rock star and there’s only one kind of “Ferrari” that turns my head. I mean, honestly, where would the booster seats go?

I recently sampled Ferrari sparkling wines* which are produced in the Trento D.O.C. of Italy: Brut, Perlé, and Rose. Both the Brut and Perlé are 100% Chardonnay, the Rose has 60% Pinot Noir. Ferrari was founded in 1902 by Guilio Ferrari. It has been owned by the Lunelli family  for three generations. Ferrari sparkling wines are produced with grapes from the foothills of the Alps employing Metodo Classico.  Sustainable growing practices are a growing focus for the family.

Just because I don’t want to drive a fancy Italian car doesn’t mean I don’t have expensive taste. My favorite of the three wines was the Perlé ($38) which is hand harvested from the family’s own vineyards. Elegant and crisp, great texture, sweeping mid-palate with notes of green apple and integrated yeast. A classic sparkler and a fun alternative to Champagne. The Brut was tasty and I always love pink bubbles but the Perlé was the standout.

I am a Volvo girl. I’ve owned four which range from an ’82 240 to my current ’02 XC70 wagon. Practical, sturdy, safe: a mom car. Yes, I was driving mom cars before I earned the right. But you know what’s great about a wagon? Room for EVERYTHING. Strollers, a big black lab, and cases of wine. And although I can pretty much guarantee there will never be a shiny red sports car in my driveway, I will come home with a Ferrari or two.

*These samples were provided by Gregory White PR as media samples.  I recevied no other compensation and the thoughts and opinions are  my own.

Real Writers of SB County-WBC14

It was one part Survivor, two parts American Idol.  Throw in a little Top Chef, a splash of Amazing Race, and a dash of The Bachelor and you have the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014.  I returned nearly a week ago, and although I have yet to process fully, as I was reflecting on the weekend, it occurred to me that it had several of the pieces that make a great reality show.  Timed events, surprises, legends, even a spat among the panel.

Take the first event of the conference. Discover Portugal: Influences Around the World.  There were stations in each corner of the room with food and wine pairings from India, Portugal, Brazil, and Japan. The food that I had a chance to try was delicious but it was the wines that made a lasting impression.

The event made me think of the viral videos we have all seen.  A little girl comes on the stage, slowly, with her head down. The audience looks at each other, not knowing what to expect. Can she hold her own? But when she opens her mouth, jaws drop.

When people think about Portugal, they usually think about port. Maybe they have had a lower end Vinho Verde. But when I poured the wine, they all had the same look of surprise. They had no idea what to expect, but as they swirled, smelled, and tasted, their eyes lit up.  Mineral driven whites, bold savory reds, large range, low price points.  American Idol meets Top Chef.  Think of the ratings.

This is where we move to The Voice, or the Biggest Loser coaching portion.  Corbett Barr of Fizzle gave us the pep talk, the how-tos of blogging, work-life balance, opportunity and ways to support one another.  We left inspired, ready to take on the blogosphere.

We moved to the panel of Santa Barbara County winemakers hosted by Larry Shaffer of Tercero Wines: Richard Sanford, Ken Brown, Rick Longoria and Bob Lindquist.  Wine lovers go on “hometown dates.”  How did they choose SBC?  Why is it unique? Why do the wines from Santa Barbara County deserve to move on in the competition?  They all received roses.

Speed Tasting.  10 wines in an hour.  Kind of like the auditions of American Idol but there were no humiliating moments.  Some made us stand up and applaud and some showed enough to move on.  Regardless, trying to evaluate after one “song” was a challenge indeed.  The first day we evaluated whites, reds the next day.  In order to Survive these sessions, you need to be a pro-spitter (glad I practiced!) but even all the spitting couldn’t save my tongue from the perils of too many tannins.

We learned about how the pros taste with Steve Heimoff, Patrick Comiskey, and Joe Roberts.  This was a fun session.  I wish we’d had more time to delve in deeper, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I loved Patrick Comiskey’s idea of looking for purity in his wines, at Riesling in terms of quality of light.  I guess that part differed from most reality shows. We tasted three wines, one chosen by each panel member and a “mystery” wine.  I guessed Italian, as did the panel, so I didn’t feel too bad when it was a Grenache from Australia.  (Huh?)  I guess I failed the quick-fire challenge.

This is where we entered the Amazing Race zone.  Ten busses, ten different excursions, ten mysteries.  It was starting to get a little “Lord of the Flies” meets “Titanic” in front of the hotel.  Grown men and women shuffling and pressing to get on certain busses.  At first I tried to follow my new-found friends, but decided I’d just embrace the unknown.  Talk-a-Vino and I paired up and got on a later bus.  Again, more at a later date.

If Wines of Portugal was the timid girl belting out a new take on an old hymn, Syrah of Ballard County was the farm boy who stands up and performs an aria that makes you weep.  AMAZING wines.  The soil, the topography, and the dedication of these growers and producers combine to create unforgettable wines.  For a full review of this session, I recommend reading SoloSyrah’s take. Who better to critique?  Reruns, please.

The Professional Wine Writers session was filled with good information, inspiration, and more than a few catty comments.  Steve Heimoff, Mike Dunne, and James Conaway shared insights into good writing, journalism, and interview techniques.  There were some great insights and some comments that left more than a few in attendance scratching their heads.  At times it felt like there was a gap in the realm of teacher/student.  It was kind of like Cat Stevens coaching Eminem on storytelling in music.  Both are great at storytelling, but the motivation and the audience differ greatly.  There can still be a lot of good information gleaned, but you need to respect one another to do your best learning.  Take what applies, question your motivations, move forward.

Taylor Eason may be the next Ryan Seacrest.  When tensions got high on the panel, she knew how to diffuse.  A smile, some redirection, and order was restored.  And, boy, can the girl throw a party!  Still, there were moments that felt like watching any panel that Simon Cowell is a part of.  It may get uncomfortable but he is great at pushing performers past their comfort levels and isn’t afraid to speak his mind.  You may leave feeling intimidated, but it will likely make you a better writer/performer.

Officially the conference ended as any good reality show does: a few awards, some dirty jokes, and a big announcement.  Congratulations to all of the winners and to my home state of New York for snagging next year’s conference!  We had already planned a trip north next summer so I know that I plan on being there.

No program is possible without the hard work of all the behind the scenes producers, sponsors, and casting.  Being a Scholarship Recipient was kind of like getting one of the 10 final roses so I need to thank all of you that made it possible.

The Producers:

Zephyr Adventures

Vincent Group Consulting

The Judges:

Thea DwelleCo -Founder / Scholarship Chair / Ambassador

Megan Kenney – Co-Founder, Committee Member

Cindy Rynning - Committee Member

Becca Yeamans – The Academic Wino

Shawn Burgert – A Wandering Wino

Melanie Ofenloch – Dallas Wine Chick

The Scholarship Sponsors**:

Rodney Strong Vineyards

MalmComm

Wine4.Me

Enobytes.com

hellovino

Tercero Wines

Cornerstone Cellars

**For a Full List of Event Sponsors see the Wine Blogger Conference Website.

 

*For those of you that are true reality fans, forgive any comparisons that were not correct.  While I do waste brain cells watching RHof Everywhere while folding laundry, I have minimal knowledge of the other shows.  The allusions were for creative purposes only.*