Sunday, August 30, 2009

Syrah Soiree, Part One

Ok, I have to tell you--over the past ten years, I have kept Syrah at a close range, never quite letting it into my life completely. The first red wine I ever tried was at that same first tasting I mentioned in my previous Zinfandel post, only it wasn't Zin. It was the dreaded Syrah--or in this case, a Shiraz from Australia. Huge, tannic and scary! Almost like bad cough syrup! I must've turned blue in the face because the distributor who was doing the tasting started laughing at me. I guess she wanted me to start my wine education by choking to death, huh? Since then, my palate has evolved and though I've moved on to the rich Zins, the elegant Cabs and Merlots, velvety and earthy Pinot Noirs and even Petite Sirahs, Syrah has stayed an arm's length away. I've always viewed it as huge beast with a giant question mark on it! How is this one going to taste? Do I dare check it out?

I have this tendency to like big, fruity reds and I'll admit the color of Syrah scares the you know what out of me! The "Dark Monster" I call it! The wines I've liked in the past don't usually look this dark! Sometimes when I try it, I get this one-dimensional object--big, dark, BORING! Sometimes I get a mouth full of cotton balls, such as the very first Shiraz I ever tried. Ugh! And why is this wine called Syrah here in the U.S. and Shiraz in Australia? Do I really need to think that hard? All in all, my opinion of Syrah was this: It's just too much trouble for me to bother with! End of story. Until now...

Something happened over the course of the past week and a half to make me change my mind and embrace Syrah in a whole new light! As you will see from the next few posts, I was obviously very misinformed and judgmental. What was my problem? Since the Syrahs I'd had in the past were mostly tasting the same, I expected them to all be that way. They're not. They can be as diverse as night and day. Too bad it took me nearly ten years to figure this out!

While on my WBC09 venture last month, I met Dennis and Julie Grimes. They own a very nice winery, Eagles Nest Winery And Vacation Cottage, in Ramona, California--near San Diego. Mind you, I knew very little about them or their winery before I met them. In fact, I had never had any wines from any area in California south of Santa Barbara. They were kind enough to come rescue me by giving me some of their 2007 Estate Syrah to take home and try. I truly wish I'd have had room in my suitcase for more! I've never had a Syrah quite like this one and just recently, this wine received a great accolade by winning an award: a gold medal at the 2009 Temecula Wine Competition!

The first thing I noticed was the unique artwork on the wine's label. Three beautiful Sheltie dogs grace the label. Many of this winery's labels feature wildlife in their artwork. The second thing I noticed was the color. Not black, not scary! The third thing I noticed was the alcohol level of this wine. Mind you, the majority of California reds I've sampled lately have all been in the 14-16% range, and while I personally don't mind the high alcohol levels, this sort of thing has come under a lot of public scrutiny lately. There are advocates out there who want it stopped. You'll be happy to know that this Syrah is just under 13%. So how does that affect the flavor? I was pleasantly surprised at how the flavors of this wine melded together. For being so young, it definitely wasn't one dimensional at all. Dark berries, a bit of pepper and and a little bit of chocolate. I even detected this slightly nutty quality which could have been from the spice. It had a medium body with a smooth, velvety finish. I couldn't have asked for a nicer wine to start my "proper" Syrah education! It defied my belief that a wine has to have a higher alcohol level to be more flavorful! Definitely a food wine, this Syrah paired up perfectly with a spicy sausage and pasta dish I ordered at the restaurant that evening. I would also recommend pairing it with a hearty meat stew, steak or barbecued meats. Thumbs up! I'd like to try it again in about six months to a year and see how it evolves. Hopefully, there will be some left. With the accolades and the small production, it may disappear before I get a chance to do that!

Not available in shops and retail outlets, the best way to access this wine is to phone the winery and order it. Soon they will have an online store to make direct purchases. I have posted a link to the winery on my favorite links list on this blog site. They also have several blog sites--one of which is one of the top blogs in the wine or you can find them also at Please discover their wines for yourselves and if you get a chance to visit their winery, you'll be in for a real treat! I can't wait to go! They've worked really hard and put their heart and soul into it. A job well done!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chard Which Way?

I recently attended a tasting with a local wine club I belong to. The theme was California Chardonnays and how they differ. We would be comparing Chardonnays from a few regions of California and how they differ in flavor and color. Interesting! Why? One of the reasons why I enjoy Chardonnay so much is because I believe no two are alike! Most people just assume all Chardonnays are the same. This wine is far from being one dimensional. If my readers come away learning one thing from this story, it's that where the wine comes from will make a difference in how the wine will taste. This tasting was proof of that.

We started with a Chardonnay from the central coast of California, 2007 Chalone Monterey Chardonnay. FYI,there is an actual AVA (American Viticultural Area) named Chalone. What makes the terroir of Chalone so different is that it is up high in the mountains above Monterey, above the fog line. With that you get a unique minerality. Very flinty but wonderfully balanced with a nice touch of stone fruit. The color was a very pretty gold. Not dark, but not very light either. An additional note, Chalone Vineyards participated in the 1975 Paris tasting shown in the "Bottle Shock" movie. However, although it did not fare as well as its competitors, it still has had a solid ride throughout the years. I definitely would recommend it for any occasion. It is not expensive at all coming in at around $15 per bottle.

The next Chardonnay we tried was the 2008 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Chardonnay. This is the entry level Chardonnay for this winery. Made by "Superstar" winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren, this wine couldn't do anything wrong. Pears! Lots of them, paired with a slight touch of oak and some vanilla. Almost transparent in color. Easy to drink, easy on the pocketbook.

I visited Chateau St. Jean last Fall and sat on their terrace and tasted many of their wines! The place is beautiful and has the single best view in the Sonoma Valley (from what I've seen so far anyway)--in fact, my profile shot on this blog was photographed there. (I'm holding the magnum of Cinq Cepages!!) This one came in at $13. Not bad at all...

On to the third Chardonnay...Another central coast find, 2007 Edna Valley "Paragon" Chardonnay. I've enjoyed many vintages of this wine. It is consistent, tropical and fruit-laden with a nice mineral quality as well. This one hails from San Luis Obispo county, a little farther south. The tropical fruit blends well with the nutty, spicy finish. This wine does not undergo a secondary fermentation and is aged sur-lie. Still has a nice medium-bodied mouthfeel without being cloying. The color was similar to the Chalone Vineyards bottle. Easy to enjoy and great to share with friends. This one is easy to find in most markets, wine shops, grocery stores etc for around $14.

Want to know a secret? Here's the undiscovered part--you can visit their beautiful winery and tasting room in San Luis Obispo and for $10 (the going rate) you can taste a nice line-up of winery exclusives. Definitely recommended!

For Chardonnay number four, we are going back up north--to the Russian River Valley and the 2006 Picket Fence Chardonnay. I want to like this wine, I really do. The maker of this wine is Don Van Staaveren (husband of Chateau St. Jean's winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren), a veteran with many years in the winemaking business. It is a new project for him and along with the Chardonnay, he also makes Russian River Pinot Noir. A year ago, I got sucked into a beautiful magazine ad for this wine. The label on this bottle was simple and spectacular. I purchased a bottle expecting something really magnificent. The wine, unfortunately, left me flat. I tried really hard to like it but it seemed that the description of the wine didn't match what I was tasting. It was very light-bodied for a Russian River Chardonnay and the creaminess I read about in the description simply was not there. The color, a medium golden color, showed it was a bit older than the others. I've tried it twice since since the original tasting and experienced similar results. For a $20 bottle, it was just too middle of the road for me to spend that much money on it. I have to be honest, I've tried better! I'd be curious to try any newer vintages if there's going to be any. I've seen nothing about it--not even on their website. Guess I'll have to wait...

And finally, wine number five! The 2007 St. Clement Carneros Chardonnay. I recently met their winemaker, Danielle Cyrot, when I attended the Napa day for the Wine Blogger's Conference. She's young and knows what she's doing! Definitely up and coming, making some fantastic red wines as well, such as the Orropas. I had never tried any of the whites before this tasting. This wine is a fantastic example of what a cool climate Chardonnay can be! The Carneros district of Napa (It also incorporates a tiny bit of Sonoma) gets that wonderful cool breeze from the San Francisco Bay, being at the southern end of the county. With this wine, you get this medium-bodied, citrus and apple bomb. Just luscious with a hint of vanilla oak. Very nice. The color was a light golden color. Around $20 for the price point but I got a sale price on it so I was happy! St. Clement is located in St. Helena along HWY 29.The winery is a Victorian house with nice grounds. Definitely worth stopping by.

My goal was to bring one of these Chardonnays home and ta-da!! It ended up being the St. Clement. In fact, I bought two. I can't wait to enjoy it again. Like any good thing, drinking the same Chardonnay can get old. Please try some othe from different areas of the United States, or even some white Burgundies from France or the crisp Chardonnays of Australia or South Africa. The sky's the limit on this varietal. Have fun with it and please be safe and smart with your choices! Cheers everyone!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

To All The Zins I've Loved Before...And The Ones I'll Love Tomorrow...

This is an ode to my favorite grape varietal, Zinfandel. No! Really? Please forgive me for while I was "Zinning", I became a bit biased. Why did I become this way? Zinfandel is quite the challenge! Just open one and you'll find out. It's going to give you a run for your money. You may fall in love with it or you might try one and not make it back alive.

I remember going to my very first wine tasting, in 1999. I didn't know anything about wine. A friend asked me to help her look for the Zinfandel. I was looking for pink while she was searching for the "HOLY GRAIL" as she called it. Hmmm...To me, this Zinfandel was a mystery and I wanted to solve it.

But over the years, I found out that there's something very regal about Zinfandel. Rarely do people ever notice this. What comes with this regal title? Sometimes it's beauty, finesse and elegance. Sometimes it's excess and grandiosity. What makes this varietal tick? I've asked myself this question many times because I've never had two that were alike. Hopefully one day I'll find the answer.

I like my Zins elegant, racy and spicy, like the centerpiece of my photo, the 2006 Seghesio Family Vineyards Della Costa from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. I nicknamed this Zinfandel, "My Velvet Passion" because in effect that's what it was. And as I sat eating my beautiful meal of braised shortribs with tortelloni, this wine transported me to another universe. With that familiar burn, brambly, blackberry decadence mixed with all that spice, I was a goner in no time... I floated away and forgot where I was. It was quite the experience...

This is how I always want to feel when I drink my Zins or any red wine for that matter!.

The other Zins in the photo above are also Zins I've tried recently. All are great values, tasty and unique in their own way and I also enjoyed each and every one of them.

So that's it! I love Zinfandel and thankfully, it just gets better and better. I'm looking forward to my next one-- tomorrow, the next day and the day after that. Cheers everyone!

WBC09: The Road To Dry Creek

After a Tweet-Up breakfast at Hank's Creekside Cafe, I attended a couple break-out sessions. The first was all about using social media and the second was about monetizing your blog. After that, I went to Peet's Coffee with my friend Larry Chandler (Larry the Wine Guy) and had a great time discussing wine and various subjects. Everyone who knows me knows I treasure my Peet's coffee. Send Peet's I always say! I always get some when I'm in California! Larry's been a great friend! And I really enjoyed my time with him! Upon my return, I boarded a bus and headed to Dry Creek Vineyard for lunch.

What awaited us was something really special! I felt like a kid in a candy store as I sat at a picnic table eating some great food and sampling from many wines provided by Dry Creek Vineyard, Rued and Gustafson. Emmett Reed, the assistant winemaker at Gustafson (pictured below) spoke to us regarding the wines and the winery. We had some awesome Bodega Bay Ling Cod with fresh vegetables for lunch and the wines were impeccable! The stand outs were the 2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, the 2006 Gustafson Petite Sirah and the 2005 Rued Zinfandel.

After lunch, we dropped some people off at Quivira Winery then headed to Michel-Schlumberger. This place is so magical! Beautiful wines and wonderful people. A long-time friend, Jim Morris, is now their Director of Consumer Sales & Marketing and he will guarantee the best winery visit ever! Their hand-crafted wines are superb! I brought back the Pinot Blanc and the Chardonnay! We did a vineyard hike (that completely kicked my butt!) and it was quite the experience. I can't wait to do it again! I highly recommend it. During this hike, I got know some new people including Dennis and Julie Grimes of Eagles Nest Winery. Great people! We walked around the vineyard and got to see the grapes going through veraison. I sampled my first Pinot Noir grape ever and my first white California peach! So sweet and good!! The vineyard hike was sponsored by Zephyr Wine Adventures, Check it out! After the walk, general Manager Judd Wallenbrock led us through a tasting of many, many of their wines! It was a wonderful experience and I will definitely be back there soon and I will bring friends!

Alas, all good things must come to an end. And so since there are way too many people to thank and since I've already written a novel and I don't want my readers to fall asleep, I'm just going to say "Thank you to everyone who was involved with WBC09!" You know who you are! And I also have to say I am sorry that I did not get to meet some of the people I was looking forward to speaking with at this conference: Michaela Balthasar of K-J, Elsbeth Sarao of Gamble Family Vineyards, Efrain Barragan of Bourassa Vineyards, Cathy Corison of Corison Winery, Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Pete Spann of Spann Family Vineyards. We'll meet next time, I promise! Thanks again! This was one of the best experiences of my entire life!

WBC09: Day Two--Napa Valley

The next morning, I dragged my tired but happy self onto one of the many buses that would journey up the Calistoga Road to start our day in Napa Valley. It was a mountain ride with many hairpin turns--definitely not for the faint-hearted or hungover, like many of us that morning! We quickly made our way to our first stop, The Greystone-The Culinary Institute of America. The Greystone is a spectacular landmark which once upon a time was owned by the Christian Brothers. It is a place for wine and food education and houses many bits of Napa Valley history. Here we were treated to a nice breakfast buffet and some great keynote speakers such as Barry Schuler, former AOL president. He entertained us with his talk about the future of blogging and social media. Next up was Jim Gordon from "Wines And Vines" Magazine. He spoke on several subjects including the future of blogging and wine writing, how smoke taint is affecting California wines and AVA's outside of California.

After that, the agenda got a little crazy. We were not told in advance where we would be going. Each bus had a specific, secret agenda. I had a friend in Yountville who wanted to meet up with me so a "little birdie" told me to get on bus 4. Then it switched to bus 8. My bus was supposed to go to Domaine Chandon for lunch. I got on my bus only to find out they had switched the agenda and we were headed north to Calistoga to visit Cuvaison, a small winery near the northern end of the Silverado Trail.

So began my long Napa Valley journey that morning. As we drove past Clos Pegase, a spectacular winery with artwork galore, I made a mental note to myself to add them to my next trip agenda. Soon we arrived at the tiny little building known as Cuvaison Winery. As some of us got off the bus and made our way into the winery, we were told to turn around and get back on the bus. Their sister facility, a new tasting room in Carneros, was waiting to serve us our lunch. Carneros was about 40 miles or so in the other direction!!! Oh my! But all was not so bad for me, I relished the fact that now I was going to get a whole tour of the Silverado Trail, from the northern end to the southern end, all in one shot! As I looked to my right, I spotted the infamous Three Palm Vineyard, Duckhorn, ZD Winery, Quintessa (where we would go later), Mumm Napa and on the left, the spectacular Miner Family Vineyards. We took a right turn on to the Yountville Cross Rd. and I tried but failed to send my friend a text: "I'm finally in Yountville--guess what? I can't get off this bus! Going to Carneros..." We never did meet up that day...

We finally reached our destination: the new Cuvaison tasting room and facility, a beautiful, brand new, state of the art facility right in the heart of Carneros. Our group was greeted immediately with a nice glass of Cuvaison Sauvignon Blanc. We had a nice lunch, catered by the Jimtown Store in Healdsburg, upstairs in a conference room. Jay Schuppert, the President and CEO of Cuvaison treated us to a wonderful discussion of their "GREEN" program as we ate and sampled some of their wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. As we left the room to go visit the new tasting room, he told us we could each take a bottle! Very nice! The Mt. Veeder Cab went back to Iowa with me! Ah, the view of Carneros from the tasting room is spectacular! The people at this winery are so nice and friendly and love their jobs! I highly recommend a visit!

We happily piled back onto the bus and on to our next stop, which at first I thought I heard the driver say was "Stags Leap". How exciting! But then as we headed up HWY 29, I knew we couldn't be going there unless we were lost again. Someone mentioned "Staglin". "Wow! No way!" I thought to myself. I have long known about the Staglin family--having learned about them from the documentary film, "Mondovino." I knew all about their contributions to mental health research, their high end, sought after wines and their story of how they fell in love with Napa Valley after visiting several times and how they made their dreams of owning a high-end winery come true. Cool! I was thrilled to be there! As I got off the bus, Shari Staglin was waiting there to greet us and welcome us. I told her I was from Iowa and she said she also had midwestern roots, hailing from South Dakota. Her husband, Garen, who was standing by the winery entrance, shook my hand and welcomed me. We were all seated at a very long table to discuss "Size Matters". Also there were representatives from three other wineries of various sizes: Pete Przybylinski, Sr. VP of Sales and Strategy for Duckhorn Wine Company, Russell Weis, General Manager of Silverado Vineyards and Sue Parry of Parry Cellars. As we, the bloggers, sat with them discussing the size of the wineries and the special needs they have, we wondered whether we would ever get to see or taste any of their coveted wines. There was wine, wine everywhere and not a drop to drink! In talking with bloggers who had attended other panel discussions, we felt a bit cheated afterwards! I understand we were there to discuss the size of the wineries, but others elsewhere were sampling verticals and wines that their guest speakers provided and got the royal treatment. We were sitting there with bottled water. We didn't come to Napa to blog about water. And while I mean no disrespect to our hosts and the parties involved, we feel they may have missed part of the point by not sharing the goods at that particular time! Nonetheless, I was thrilled to be in their company and felt like I came away learning a little more than when I arrived.

As we boarded the bus, we were grumpy from the lack of wine as we headed to a special Napa Grand Tasting at Quintessa. Quintessa is a spectacular winery and producer of several Bordeaux-style wines including Quintessa, a red Bordeaux-blend, Illumination, a Sauvignon Blanc and the latest, Faust Cabernet Sauvignon. The place itself is like a fortress and our tasting took place down in their basement in a cool room that held all their stainless steel tanks. Just imagine table after table of top Napa Valley producers and their top wines. It was crazy!! Among the wineries represented were: Cornerstone Cellars, Peju, Silverado Vineyards, Staglin Family (their winemaker was there with one of their wines), Duckhorn (yes, finally--their Merlot is fantastic!), Nickel And Nickel, Far Niente, Cakebread, Elizabeth Spencer, Kapcsandy, Lail, Clark-Claudon, Ehlers Estate, St. Clement, Spottswoode, Signorello Vineyards, Ladera, Gargiulo Vineyards, Miner Family, Frank Family, Conn Creek, Robert Mondavi, the list goes on forever... Wow! I couldn't even stop to breathe! It was just amazing! Stand-outs for me were: Ladera, Gargiulo Vineyards, St. Clement, Clark-Claudon, Signorello and of course, the Quintessa wines were great! It was definitely the holy grail!

Next up: dinner at a specific winery. Someone got on our bus, which was headed to Conn Creek, and said they needed four people to get off the bus and board a different one. I volunteered, not sure why, but I'm glad I did because what awaited me was unbelievable! We ended up at Gargiulo Vineyards, a very small, private winery on the Oakville Cross Road, just down the road from Silver Oak and next door to the coveted Screaming Eagle property. The place is unbelievably beautiful and so serene! We sat at these lovely, decorated picnic tables enjoying a dinner catered by the Roli Roti truck--amazing rotisserie chicken and tri-tip with chimichurri sauce, roasted potatoes and roasted corn salad! There were four wineries represented there that evening: Gargiulo Vineyards, Broman Cellars, Fontanella and Castello di Amorosa. I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Broman Augustine, a contact I have on Facebook. She was there representing Broman. Also there was the winemaker from Fontanella, Jeff Fontanella. He came over to our table and talked about the wines and his role in the process. I also had the chance to reconnect with my friend Cheryl Alvarez from Miraflores Winery as we sat and had dinner. Just an unbelievable and unforgettable evening!

After a long, harrowing and bumpy bus ride back to Santa Rosa via the Calistoga Road, I skipped the last event of the day! The VinPortugal tasting took a backseat to my fatigue that evening! I heard I missed out on quite the spectacle!! Badly-needed sleep was beckoning me!

Stay tuned for Day Three!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WBC09: As Seen Through The Eyes of a Newbie!

As it has been several weeks since I've attended WBC09, I've had some time to reflect on my experience. It was an amazing whirlwind of wine, friends, sights, information and fun! Before I even start, I'd like to thank Joel Vincent and his amazing team for putting it all together! I am just amazed and stunned at how it all came together!

My journey to WBC09 began as an accident. Doing a search for something else, I came across an ad for the conference. After checking out my finances, I decided to apply for the "Bloggership" to help needy bloggers attend this year's conference. After about a month of nail-biting (just kidding) torture, I found out I was a recipient of the coveted scholarship!


July 24th finally arrived and I set off from Iowa to Santa Rosa, California! Nothing seemed to go as planned that morning. On the first leg of my flight, the plane's engine would not start so the flight was delayed. I arrived in Minneapolis on time thanks to a shorter, faster route. However, to get to my connecting flight, I had twenty minutes to literally run to the other side of the airport! As I arrived at the farthest gate in the airport, all soaked in sweat and ready to kill somebody, I found out the connecting flight was late! When I finally arrived at SFO, I had fifteen minutes to find my Sonoma County Express Shuttle! It was crazy! I thought I would never get there! An accident near the Golden Gate Bridge took us into the East Bay and delayed my arrival in Santa Rosa that much more! There was just no end to the snafus that morning.... Luckily, with the help of two of my friends who picked me up at the bus stop, I arrived at the conference with my sense of humor still intact and ready to conquer!

After checking in, they handed me this awesome burlap goodie bag with a ton of wine-related trinkets in it--including a half bottle of '05 Pedroncelli Dry Creek Merlot, chocolate and wine truffles, corkscrew, pens, thumbdrives, magazines etc. Way cool!I love swag! I dropped everything off in my room and went to the ballroom for a brief (very brief) lunch and a few introductions. I then visited the Sponsors Room next door. The first person I saw was my friend Clay Mauritson, owner of Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek. He was manning the Dry Creek Wine Growers booth! It was sampling time and I sampled!! As you already know, just say the word, "Zinfandel" and I fall apart! Quivira, Papapietro Perry, Mauritson Rockpile and so many more! I was a goner! I also visited the Benziger table where I got to sample organic wines from their "Signaterra" line. Very nice. Bouchaine from the Carneros region of Napa was represented and it was a treat to try their wines for the first time. Last but not least, I sampled Faust Cabernet, a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon from the winemaker at Quintessa. I obtained a "Spicy Zin" temporary tattoo from the Sonoma County Tourism Board, although the word "temporary" was stretching it a bit as the tattoo would not disappear from my arm for weeks! I also visited with my friends Marc and Brenda Lhormer, producers of the film, "Bottle Shock". I am one of the movie's biggest supporters having put on an event for our showing here in Iowa!

After some logistical issues, i.e, the Wi-Fi kept crashing and some guest winemakers got stuck in traffic, we began our "Live Blogging Session". What fun! I sat with Cheryl Alvarez of Miraflores Winery--whom I've since become friends with, Gretchen Neuman, who also has a wine blog, "Vino Verve" , Ed Thralls of WineTonite and Jim McNamee of HelloVino. We had some great winemakers and winery representatives show up and discuss their wines at our table: Charlie Tsegeletos of Cline Cellars (pictured above), Greg La Follette of Tandem Winery (formerly of Flowers), Linzi Gay of Clif Winery, Rick "Kaz" Kasmier of Kaz Wnery (pictured below), Jeff "El Jefe" Stai of Twisted Oak Winery (also pictured above) and John Adriance of Snows Lake Vineyard just to name a few... We blogged live on Twitter that afternoon. After a short intermission, we were told to meet by the pool for a Sonoma County Grand Tasting!

The Sonoma County Grand Tasting was a Sonoma County wine lover's dream come true! I met so many people and tasted so many great wines, I never wanted it to end!! There's was an unbelievable amount of wineries represented: I met Dick Keenan, Vintner & Grower for Carica Wines. The 2006 Carica Syrah was a standout!! I cannot wait to visit the property! My dear friend Harry Wetzel from Alexander Valley Vineyards (pictured below)was there and I was so excited to meet with him! Jennifer Higgins, the winemaker from Lancaster Estate (Alexander Valley) turned me on to their wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon! I tried wines for the very first time from Pezzi King, Paradise Ridge Winery, Thomas George Estates, Medlock Ames, Paul Hobbs and Montemaggiore. I sampled away at the Quivira table and tried some wines with Matanzas Creek winemaker, Francois Cordesse. My friend Joy Sterling (pictured above) was there representing Iron Horse Vineyards and it was great sampling her wines. Last but certainly not least, my friend Pete Seghesio of Seghesio Family Vineyards had sent me an e-mail stating that his wife Cathy would be there representing their winery. It was so great to finally meet her! She was so nice and so fun and we had a chance to chat and sample! What a great event!!! Wish it could have gone on a bit longer!

Dinner was next and we all made our way happily into the ballroom and waited for our meals. Each table had a winemaker and that winemaker's wines would be featured with the meal. A slight screw-up brought me a chicken dinner rather than steak, but I was so hungry by then it didn't matter. Seated at our table was Eric Luse, winemaker with Eric Ross Winery (pictured above). We drank Eric Ross Pinot Noir and Viognier, both of which were fantastic. It was wonderful to meet Eric and I have since found out we both have roots here in Iowa. He's a wonderful photographer as well as a winemaker and I treasure our friendship and hope to feature his story on my upcoming website!

After dinner, we had another short break to freshen up then it was off to the other side of the hotel for the Russian River Valley Wine Growers After hours Party! What a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the small family producers of this area, chat with them and sample their wines! Here is a not so complete list of some of the producers represented: D & L Carinalli Vineyards, Tim Olson of Olson Ogden Wines, Akiko Freeman of Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Chris Donatiello of C. Donatiello Winery, J. Lynne Winery, Luke Bass of Porter Bass, and Frei Brothers. Also in attendance were Nicole and Katey Bacigalupi of John Tyler Wines (pictured above). They have been long-time contacts of mine on several social networks and it was a pleasure to finally meet them and sample their Pinot Noir, which I had heard so many good things about. Everyone was right! It was fantastic and I can't wait to visit their new tasting room! There were so many stand out wines that night! I couldn't believe it. Two that come to mind right away are the Pinot Noir from C. Donatiello and the Chardonnay from Kistler. The big surprise of the night came as I was getting ready to go back to my room! I stopped at the Windsor Oaks table. I met Doug and Julie Lumgair, the owners and two of the nicest people you could ever meet! It was so fun chatting with Julie, their winemaker (pictured below), and seeing how excited she gets talking about the winery and the wines! So down to earth, she really made me want to visit them! After sampling some of their wonderful wines, she pulled out a limited edition bottle of SuperTuscan and opened it. She poured me a whole glass and told me to go back to my room, take a long hot bath and savor the wine! Now that is hospitality and that is exactly what I did! It was wonderful!

And it didn't just end there...Stay tuned for more excitement from Day Two!!!