Monday, January 25, 2010

Chateau Ste. Michelle's Extraordinary Riesling Power

As Washington state's founding winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, located just outside Seattle in Woodinville, has been instrumental in pioneering and paving the way for Washington's booming wine industry. With history leading all the way back to the repeal of Prohibition, the winery had a defining moment in 1967. Assisted by one of California's premier winemakers, Andre Tchelistcheff, the winery began producing a line of premium wines beginning their ascent into stardom. Throughout the years, their dedication to innovation and quality has proven to be a winning formula. One of their largest feats to date was their instrumental involvement in a quest to bring the Columbia Valley (which provides us with many of the state's great wines) into the limelight and be recognized as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1984. With many awards and accolades under its belt, Chateau Ste. Michelle continues its commitment to giving consumers a choice--something for everyone at every price point without ever sacrificing quality.

Recently, I sampled three of their Rieslings, which I purchased at different times and in doing so, I received another valuable history lesson. Chateau Ste. Michelle is known as one of the leading North American Riesling producers and was among the first to plant the Riesling grape in the state of Washington. A 1974 contest held by the Los Angeles Times brought attention to the winery as their 1972 vintage of Johannisberg Riesling was the first place winner. Today, the winery produces eight Riesling-based wines, from simple to ultra-premium.

The 2008 Columbia Valley Riesling is perhaps the most simple of the three I sampled. It is chock full of apples and peaches with a flinty backbone and a nice, crisp finish. Easy to drink and off dry (alcohol level clocking in at 12.0%), it pairs nicely with spicy foods, asian foods and sushi. At $9.99 a bottle, the price is hard to beat. It can be found at most grocery stores and markets.

The 2008 Columbia Valley Dry Riesling is exceptional. As I was sampling it last night with my Thai Chicken (a great pairing by the way), I learned that the wine had recently received a wonderful accolade-- a "Best Of Show-White" award in the 2010 International Winemaker's Challenge Wine Competition. A more refined and elegant version of its Columbia Valley counterpart mentioned previously, this wine is all stone fruit-peaches and apricots and finishes minerally crisp. With 13.0% alcohol, it is bone-dry yet fruit-forward and flavorful. $9.99. This one can also be easily found in grocery stores and markets.

The 2008 Eroica Riesling I picked up was supposed to be a "special occasion" wine for me. I stepped out of my comfort zone for the greater good of my love for wine blogging and I am so happy that I did. Every day is a special occasion as far as wine is concerned. I chose to open this one right away and was swept off my feet! The brainchild of Chateau Ste. Michelle's winemaker, Bob Bertheau and famous German winemaker, Dr. Ernst Loosen, this exotic and beautiful example of prime winemaking had me literally drooling for more! Tangy lime and mandarin orange lead to a lush and tropical midpalate and finishes crisp. It oozes fruit and a bit of natural sweetness (alcohol content 11.5%). Made from small lots of grapes sourced in many areas of Washington, including Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills. Just heavenly! $24.99 and so worth it! (I am actually lamenting the fact that I missed out on meeting Dr. Ernst Loosen awhile back. He made an appearance at a wine store here in my town. Darn!) Find this wine at your local wine shop or order online at

Overall, the 2008 vintage of their Rieslings is proving to be one of the winery's finest to date. Cooler weather delayed harvest by nearly two weeks, resulting in these outstanding, richly-flavored wines. At any tier level, these wines are worth seeking out! I am really looking forward to coming out to Washington this Summer and educating myself further when it comes to Chateau Ste. Michelle! I am confident they will continue producing great wines for many years to come.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Krazy For Kaz

This has been a really rough winter, weather-wise. When rough weather hits, I always think about our nation’s farmers who are out toiling and working hard to bring us our fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and everything else we need to sustain life. Winemaking is farming, too and this past week, the El Niño has crept up on us. California has been slammed with torrential rains and potential mudslides. It has made me think of all those small, family wineries out there--the ones I consider the backbone of the American wine industry. I had a chance to meet many of these winemakers at the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference. My heart goes out to each and every one of them and all the hard work they’re putting in to live the American dream and run a successful winery.

One such person is Rick Kasmier, affectionately known as “Kaz” to his loyal followers and friends. He and his family own a small winery called Kaz Winery, located near Kenwood in Sonoma County, California. He was one of the many I met at the conference and his fun, infectious personality made me want to get to know him and the winery better. We spoke outside after the conference and he let me know he was interested in bringing attention to his wines in my home state of Iowa. I had never visited the winery and/or tried any of his wines before. Rick runs an organic winery and produces his wines in very small lots—one to four barrels per. Some of his wines are made from rare varietals, one of which I will discuss later in this story. The winery itself has been open since 2003 and his cult of devoted followers have been dubbed “Kazoholics”. This unique winery had me so intrigued, I contacted Rick and shortly thereafter, I received a small box of samples. And I mean small. At first, I thought it was a joke because Kaz is a really funny guy! I opened up the small parcel to find some tiny little generic sample bottes of wine, all hand-labeled. I thought they were barrel samples. In a way, they were. After a short explanation, I finally understood. You can’t give away your product when you don’t have a lot to give. But he wanted me to try it and that was the important part. This was the “Kaz” way of doing it. Call it “Kooky” or “Krazy”. I happily went along with it…

I was amazed at how delicious they all were for being organic wines---made with the use of wild yeasts and without the use of preservatives, using the wines’ acidity to preserve them. I sampled them over the span of a week’s time, making sure I didn’t wait too long. Below were some of my favorites:

2007 Bullseye Petit Sirah—This wine was rich, full-bodied and dark berry delicious! I detected a bit of mocha in it.

2005 Red Said Fred—A blend of Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. A very unusual blend but it works! Elegant without being over the top. The Zinfandel adds a bit of sweetness I adored.

2006 Machismo Counoise—“What in the world is that?” you ask? Counoise(pronounced “Koon Waz”) is a Rhône varietal mostly used as a blending grape but nice on its own as in Kaz’ rendition. Pinot Noir-like but with a kick—peppery and spicy.

Bodega Bay Portworks White Port---Oh my God! When I tasted this, I thought I died and went to heaven. I was never a big fan of dessert wines or port, but this “white port” made of Chardonnay tasted so nutty and delicious! Like a big bowl of hazelnut cream! Highly recommended!

What fun wines and what a fun place this would be to visit. They even have something they call “Barrel Sample Of The Month” where you can bottle it or jug it and take it home. (see photo below)

I personally cannot wait to visit and sample some more! In the meantime, I will keep listening to his weekly radio show (taped live every Wednesday evening on with co-host Randy Hall) and tuning in for the wine-related mayhem and madness each week. I was fortunate enough to be a guest on the show back in September and had a great time chatting with them! For a current list of wines and and more info on the winery, please go to

So if you’re in the Sonoma Valley and want somewhere fun to visit, I would recommend visiting this man and learning more about his legacy. He’s doing a fantastic job!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Tale Of Famous Firsts

On a lazy Saturday afternoon a few years ago, I found myself in Barnes And Noble, perusing books in their food and wine department. I ran across a beautiful book called "Napa Stories" written by famed Napa Valley chef Michael Chiarello (now owner of Bottega Restaurant in Yountville). The book was spectacular--a large coffee table-style book with gorgeous photographs of different wineries and vineyards in Napa Valley, tales of winemakers, magical practices, lovely recipes and stories of food and wine get-togethers. Since I was having trouble putting it down, I purchased the book and took it home with me to continue reading it. There were many stories in this book, but the one that intrigued me the most was a tale of a magical, almost fairy tale-like medieval castle-winery and its owners: Chateau Montelena and the story of Jim and Bo Barrett. I received an important history lesson that day. Up until that point, I had never heard of the winery nor of the 1976 Paris Tasting, the wine contest that put Napa Valley on the map etcetera. I would never forget this history lesson as I forged through my fledgling wine experiences because each one of the "famous firsts" I will be discussing today has to do with the moment I became of aware of their story. For me, somehow it has all come full circle in a strange way. Please read on...

The more I read about this interesting winery and the tale of its 1973 vintage of Chardonnay, the more I couldn't wait to visit them! As luck would have it, I was invited to partake in a wine country trip with friends I had recently met and I jumped at the chance to go! This would be my first trip to Napa Valley. And-- as luck would take me further, our hotel just happened to be in Calistoga--just a few miles from Chateau Montelena. So on September 20, 2006, I set off to visit the winery and see if it was all I had imagined! We had an hour before we had to be at another appointment so I took advantage of the time and checked out everything I could. We tasted their current releases at the tasting bar--all very nice wines (I remember sampling a Potter Valley Riesling, which I loved and purchased.) The gardens were spectacular with a long bridge ending at a gazebo. (The gazebo was off limits.) Everyone was very nice. Inside, we took photos of the famed bottle of Chardonnay encased in glass and were given a copy of the infamous Time Magazine article to take with us! It was a great time. As we left, I said to everyone in our group, "They are making a movie about this story. We are fortunate to visit this winery beforehand." Fortunate indeed!

When I arrived back home, I went back to Barnes And Noble to purchase another book. This book, called "Judgment of Paris" by George M. Taber, told the story leading up to the 1976 Paris tasting and taught me so much more about the large cast of characters I would encounter in my near future! Shortly after I joined Facebook in 2008, the creators of the "Wine Beagles" application approached me about promoting the movie, "Bottle Shock". Filmed in and around Sonoma Country, "Bottle Shock" is the story of Chateau Montelena and the 1976 Paris Tasting. Without having seen the film yet, I began a grass roots campaign to bring the film to my home town of Des Moines, IA and promote it with a before and after premiere party at a wine bar and wine shop. (see photos below) I along with my friend Jennifer put up flyers and posters and spread the word about the premiere parties. All in all, we put together a very nice evening for wine lovers here in town. It was a huge success!

All our hard work seemed to pay off as it caught the attention of two of the film's producers, Marc Lhormer and his wife Brenda. I was planning another trip to wine country and Marc suggested meeting my group for drinks at El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma. It was great meeting them and getting the inside scoop on the film!! Afterwards, at Brenda's suggestion, we had dinner at Della Santina's, a restaurant featured in the movie. The more I walked around, the more I recognized different spots where the movie was shot. A neat way to experience it!

The next day, Brenda arranged a private tasting for us at Kunde Estates, a winery in Kenwood. Some of the films outdoor shots were filmed on this property and it was beautiful to visit with great wines! We ended up sampling pretty much everything they had to offer and had a wonderful time doing it! The infamous boxing ring scene was filmed atop a hill on their property and though I didn't actually go up there, I could see it from where I was standing!

Each evening when we were done, we'd come back to the town of Napa and walk around downtown. One of the things I had hoped to do was visit the Gustavo Thrace tasting room. Gustavo Brambila, one of the winemakers, had worked at Montelena during the time of the contest and now co-owned this quaint little tasting room with his partner, Thrace Bromberger. We never made it on time. It was always closed by the time we got back. So this part of the story is still open for the next time I visit! (We also visited Grgich Hills which I will talk about in part two of this story. Mike Grgich, the winemaker, was the person who made the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. I felt he deserved his own segment!)

So how does this all come full circle, you ask? Out of the blue one afternoon last Spring, I found out that Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena would be visiting my home town and doing a wine tasting at a local shop. I was able to meet him and sample several of Chateau Montelena's current vintages of Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. All exceeded my expectations for being great, solid examples of Napa Valley's finest wines. Bo was charming as can be and his stories about the filming of the movie were interesting. It was a great afternoon! I feel honored to have met him. I came home with his autograph on my "Bottle Shock" movie poster, which hangs proudly framed in my hallway to this day!

A couple months after the meeting, I attended the Wine Bloggers' Conference in wine country and met a couple ladies who had been contacts with me on Facebook--Katey and Nicole Bacigalupi of John Tyler Wines in Healdsburg. Their family owns Bacigalupi Vineyards, and some of the Chardonnay grapes from their Alexander Valley vineyard were used in the infamous 1973 Chardonnay! I got to see some of the original paperwork and it was amazing!

I plan on revisiting Chateau Montelena sometime this year and start the process all over again! To this day, "Bottle Shock" remains one of my all-time favorite movies and I watch it frequently. I get goosebumps everytime I watch it! To purchase or learn more about the film, please scroll down to the very bottom of this page and click on the banner! Thank you to all involved for creating such a beautiful history lesson for us! Stay tuned for part two of this story...

Monday, January 4, 2010

The WBC Scholarship And What It Means To Wine Bloggers Like Me...

In 2009, I found myself staring at an ad for the North American Wine Bloggers’ Conference, which took place in the heart of Napa and Sonoma wine country. WBC09 was an event which would bring together members of the wine industry with the average citizen wine blogger. The event would provide an excellent opportunity for each wine blogger to interact with winery sponsors and other bloggers, sample and blog about wines, soak in the atmosphere and perhaps gain the knowledge (through presentations and break-out sessions) to start and run a successful wine blog on the internet. As a fledgling wine blogger, I wanted to attend but it was already May and the conference was taking place in July. I had absolutely no time to budget for such a trip and I panicked as I looked at my finances and realized it would not be happening for me. Then, I found a link on their website for the WBC Scholarship.

The WBC Scholarship fund was started in 2009. It gives needy citizen bloggers the financial assistance to be able to attend such a great and unique function. I applied with my short essay basically spelling out my needs and a month later, I received word that I would be receiving assistance. The 2010 conference will take place June 25-27 in Walla Walla, Washington. Bloggers will be traveling from all over the world to experience this conference. Some bloggers will need financial help to be able to achieve this goal.

Our tough economic times can be even tougher on a citizen blogger. I blog about wine as a hobby, for the sheer love of it, with the goal that someday I may be able to make a living at it or something similar. But for now, I am just like most other bloggers. Most citizen wine bloggers have regular, non-wine related jobs, or are students. Some may have lost their jobs. With the success of social media comes awareness and as we forge on through this decade, the need to help out citizen bloggers will become larger. Social media is becoming the norm and wine blogging on the internet is the wave of the future.

The WBC Scholarship has impacted my life in so many ways it would take hours for me to thank everyone. Since the conference took place, I have forged friendships and relationships with many wineries, winemakers, citizen bloggers and other industry people. I am getting more comfortable in being able to successfully blog about my favorite subject—wine. My blog has become popular with many followers and appreciative wineries. The experience has proven invaluable. Their generosity gave me the extra boost I needed to forge forward. What more can I say? I wish every wine blogger could experience this! The WBC Scholarship Fund appreciates and needs your help so they can assist all the needy bloggers who apply this year! You can make a difference that will come back to you hundreds of times over!

To make a donation to the fund (whether you are a winemaker, winery, wine industry professional, citizen blogger or just enjoy great wine and great reading!), please go to For more information on the conference, please check out their website at Only five more months to go! As a citizen wine blogger, I thank you in advance for your help and hope to see you in Walla Walla in June!