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


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.


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…

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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





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.*


Training for #WBC14

Tomorrow is the day!  I’m so excited to be heading out to Santa Barbara county to meet and learn from some of the top wine writers.  But, I’ve got to say, I’ve been feeling a little out of my league.  So what is a girl to do?  Well, some training, of course.  And how does a SAHM find time for training with the littles out of school?  Well, put them to work, of course.

This is how a SAHM prepares for Wine Bloggers Conference 2014. 

WARNING: self-deprecating silliness follows.  No child-labor was exploited.  No alcohol was consumed.  Just some packing procrastination.



Now, it may be a little late to join my training program, (my trainers are really exclusive) but I won’t judge your techniques if you don’t judge my video production skills.

Thank you again to the sponsors and those who generously donated so that could be a part of this.  I hope I don’t lose my scholarship/credibility.  Santa Barbara, here comes trouble! Cheers!


S.T.A.R. Wars-Sunday Samples

This was a banner weekend in our household.  We introduced our children to the wonders of Star Wars.  I wish I could’ve captured my son’s face better last night, wide-eyed wonder, a glow stick light saber.  Completely enthralled, completely happy. A parenting high-point, for sure.


Of course, we had to continue with a little teaser of Empire today.  And since I’m feeling the pinch to get some sample reviews in before I leave on Thursday we are going to go with the theme.  I’ll battle through the asteroid field of distractions and get some writing in while they find out how to keep warm in the frozen tundra. Egad.

Here are a few things I’ve been sent of late:

S is for Scotto Family Reds

The Heavyweight Cab was a little heavy for me, but the N.A.P.A.  label Michael’s Red is more enjoyable.  Dark fruit, a little baking spice on the nose.  Moderate tannins and mouthfeel.  The blend is Cab Sauv., Sangiovese, Barbera, Syrah, and Merlot.  A little of this, little of that makes it versatile.  Priced at 17, totally doable.

T is for William Tell Pinot Grigio Hard Cider

Cider is growing in popularity.  It is generally something I typically enjoy in the fall, but the addition of 15% Pinot Grigio takes this one into summer.  It cuts the cloying sweet that some ciders have and makes it more versatile, fresh.  Thumbs up.

A is for Alto Adige

Ok, I’m stretching here.  Il’ Ugo by Mionetto is inspired by a cocktail from the Alto Adige region of Italy. It is a sparkling wine with elderflower blossom.  They suggest serving it with mint and lime.  I found it to be a nice apperativ as is.  Herbaceous, pear, citrus.  Something fun and different.

 R is for Jamieson Ranch Vineyards

Last Monday, some fellow wine writers and I participated in the WITS2014 tasting.  We sampled six wines and tweeted our thoughts.  They were all good wines, but the consensus on the stand-out was the 2011 Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon.  Gorgeous nose.  Rich, black fruit, nutmeg, anise.  Great mouthfeel, long developing finish.  Really great wine.  Since two of us received the wines, we split them up after.  I almost picked up my glow-stick light saber.

Now, let’s talk bad ideas.  I know I may be setting off Star Wars fanatics on this one, but I think the addition of the computer generated imagery into the FIRST, ahem, Star Wars was a bad idea.  Call me a purist, but half the fun of the movie was the “How did they do that?” sense of wonder.  Get your CGI out of my 1977 movie please.

Another bad idea.  Deciding to leave on a camping trip three days after I get home from the WBC.  Two, really, since it will be after midnight.  The fact that I’m publishing my “Sunday” piece on Monday gives you an idea of how behind I am.  So with that said, I’m signing off, and may the force be with me.


Off the Beaten Path: Dry Creek Valley

If you’ve ever been to the wine country in Northern California, you’ve likely driven along the Silverado Trail in Napa or up Highway 12 in Sonoma.  You’ve probably recognized many of the names as ones you’ve seen on store shelves, interspersed with new names, smaller producers.  But if you head further north, beyond the Russian River Valley, things may begin to look a little different: a little more spread out, a little less crowded, equally beautiful.


As you approach Healdsburg, you enter Dry Creek Valley.   This AVA is small, sixteen miles long, two miles wide, but don’t let its size fool you.  What it lacks in quantity of production, it makes up for in quality.  And when I refer to small production, I mean small production.  Generally, under 8-10,000 cases per year is considered small production.  Some winemakers are doing  around 600, while the average for the region 4,750 cases.  The valley boasts approximately 9,000 acres of vines and 70 wineries, 150 growers.

The region began producing wine in the second half of the 19th century, but like most regions, Prohibition took its toll on production.  When Prohibition ended it was down to only 4 wineries, including Pedroncelli which is still producing lovely wines.  It wouldn’t experience a resurgence until the 80s when it received its AVA recognition.

There has been a trend among wine lovers of late to seek out the smaller producers, the boutique wineries.  The idea is that if you maintain a smaller level of production, you can keep a better handle on the quality of fruit and the wine production.  This isn’t always the case, but if what I tasted at a recent dinner is any indication, Dry Creek producers are doing this very well.

I was invited to a media dinner with the people from Winemakers of Dry Creek Valley at Justine’s Brasserie here in Austin.  Because most of the wineries do not produce enough to be widely distributed, they need to come together to support the region, one another, and garner the attention they deserve.    The group consisted winemakers, the Executive director, the President of the Board, winemakers, local representatives, owners, and the Public Relations team.  We sampled Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon, dined on deliciously paired courses, and were given opportunities to speak with each representative.  From each person, I gained a unique perspective about the region, the dedication to the industry, the camaraderie and history or the region.

We sampled Sauvignon Blanc from Dutcher Crossing and Fritz Underground Winery (as mentioned for SB day).  We had Grenache, Cab, and the region’s flagship, Zin.  We tried larger producers like Ferrari-Carano and the smaller ones, (like 55 cases small) Estate 1856.  These wines were honest, balanced with depth.  They were as diverse as they were delicious.

We each took home a bag which included a bottle of wine.  My bag included a 2010 Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel.  This was a thoughtful, delicious Zin.  California Zins sometimes have a reputation of being fruit bombs.  This was nothing of the sort.  Bright, alive in the glass, great acid and complexity without being heavy. I told my husband it was like a dark chocolate covered cherry, dusted with espresso and black pepper.  Once I tasted it, I adjusted our dinner slightly: we were already having grilled steak but I added goat cheese mashed potatoes with lots of black pepper.  It worked beautifully.

So often, the people, the stories, the connection is what makes one wine or region stand out from the others.  Dry Creek Valley stands out.  The event was meticulously planned, but always felt warm and comfortable.  The people were sharing their lives, their families’ histories in a glass.  It was a wonderful evening.

When we drove through the valley last summer on our way to the Redwoods, we only made one stop.  I had made an appointment at Ridge Lytton Springs.  It was a wonderful experience with great wines, but I had no idea what was ahead.  As we left Geyserville in the morning, we passed sign after sign.  It was too early to stop, but I found myself quickly looking up all of the unfamiliar names.  At that time, I knew we needed to go back to that region.  And now that I’ve gotten a taste of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, I only want more.

Many thanks to Michelle McCue of McCue Communications and Ann Peterson of WDCV for the invitation.

Thank you Clayton Fritz of WDCV and Fritz Underground.

Thank Nick Briggs and Dutchers Crossing.

Thank you Rachel Schmidt and Estate 1856.

Thank you Kim Pettit and Ferrari Carano.

Thank you Dashe Cellars for sharing even though you couldn’t be with us.

Thank you Justine’s for the wonderful food and pairings.  Well done.

{I was invitied to this event as media.  The only compensation was the food and wine served.  The thoughts and opinions are my own.}

Being Enough this Mother’s Day


I published this piece last year and it seemed to strike a cord with many readers. I thought I’d send it out again this year. Happy Mother’s Day to all. I see some good wine in my future this weekend.

Originally posted on SAHMmelier:

Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with other wine lovers and professionals about the great wines coming out of the Finger Lakes. We tasted Lemberger, Pinot Noir, and two Russian grapes that were new for me, Sapervi and Sereksiya. I always learn something from the producers and writers, but this year, one 140 character tidbit in particular keeps ringing around in my head. Julia Burke, NyWineWench, wrote “Nice of YOU to appreciate it (instead of comparing NY reds to Napa cab)! ” to which Mary Cressler of Vindulge responded, “No way!! NY is NY. CA is CA. OR is OR. Absolutely no need to ever compare to each other. They are who they are!” This idea is one that extends to other areas of our lives, doesn’t it?

If you have been drinking wine for any period of time, you’ve likely come across the idea of terroir, the…

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Virginia is for (Wine) Lovers

We all know what you’re supposed to do when life hands you lemons.  And when life hands you a 40 year old vineyard, you make wine.  When Scott and Martha Stinson were looking for a place to retire, they came upon the property which boasts an eighteenth century farmhouse and 12 acres of vines.

Scott’s background in architecture gave him the vision for the restoration of the Piedmont Estate buildings.  A love of French wines gave him and his daughter, Rachel, a vision for the vines.  Under the guidance of viticulturist and vineyard consultant Lucie Morton, they revived the soil and planted Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat.  They source from other Virginia growers as needed to create smaller production, French inspired boutique wines.

I had been hearing about the great wines coming out of Virginia but had not had the opportunity to try any so I was thrilled to receive the samples of Stinson Vineyards wines from Folsom and Sons.  In fact, I couldn’t wait to open them. I gave them a couple of weeks to settle and opened them for happy hour on the deck.

Without a kitchen, my options are limited for pairing fare, but thanks to a borrowed toaster oven, I pulled off something. The first one I opened was the 2012 Cabernet Franc.  When I think Cab Franc, I think green pepper, so I roasted some Shishito peppers.  It is one of my current favorite appetizers.  Toss them in olive oil and broil them until they blister.  Shave some parmesan cheese and sprinkle with salt and a squeeze (or three) or lemon.

It worked just as I hoped.  Really beautiful Bing Cherry notes and a pop of pepper.  Medium bodied, good acid, with a clean, bright finish.  Some Cab Francs have a bite at the end.  This tasted like lovely, unmanipulated fruit.

This past Friday was our first day in the 80s in a while.  After a very long week, it was time to open the 2012 Rosé.  The wine is 100% Mourvédre sourced from Horton Vineyards in Madison County, Virginia.  Pale salmon color, clean dusty nose.  I kept getting cinnamon stick at the end.  On the palate, pink grapefruit, good minerality, herbal notes.  Maybe tarragon?  Herbs de Provence? Whatever it was, it was delicious.  I could have paired it many ways.  Chicken salad with tarragon, grilled salmon with herbs and green olives, farro salad with feta, mint, parsley.  It is a versatile, food-friendly, tasty wine.

When I was growing up, the “Virginia is For Lovers” tourism campaign was in full swing.  If Stinson Vineyards is any indication, “Virginia is for Wine Lovers” is bound to gain a similar momentum.



SXSW Tragedy-#austincares

Excuse the break from wine, but this takes precedence.
Last night at SXSW, as a result of unfathomable selfish, awful choices, two people lost their lives and several more visitors were injured, some critically.
This is a tragedy magnified by the fact that those people were likely visiting our town and are without a support system.  That’s where I need your help.

One look at my site and you can tell I am not tech savvy.  And as much as I’d love to be able to be multiple places at once, that can’t happen.  But we can. together.  Together, we can show the victims and their friends and families the support they need right now.

As many of you know, last year we were in the hospital for about ten days with a loved one.  It was a very difficult time, a time that would have been much more difficult without the support of friends.  Whether it was sending food, praying with us, or even bringing some wine when it got too much, their support made all the difference.

Let’s be the support for these visitors.

Here’s what I envision.  A site where people can list needs, and someone else can fill them.  A ride to or from the airport?  Someone to sit with for an hour?  Someone to wait for news while they catch a breath?  Food?  Help managing the insurance/billing?  I would list those ideas and more and you, the great community of Austin would jump in where you can.

It may not be much, but it will be everything for those hurting and the families trying to get to them.  Who can help?  Web design?  Spread the word?  Jump in.

In the meantime, I have set up this Lotsa Helping Hands site where volunteers can join groups and people can post needs.


and the Facebook page, Austin Loves SXSWers.
*update: SXSW has set up an organization to help that will launch this evening. That may be a great place to put our energies at this time. I will leave the site active for anyone still wanting to use it to post needs/availability. #sxswcares