Sunday, June 20, 2010
It's finally here! The 2010 North American Wine Bloggers Conference will be taking place later this week in Walla Walla, Washington. I recently read an article stating that the state of Washington would love more wine lovers to visit and that they could use a boost for their wine industry. Well, I'm here to say that Walla Walla and the state of Washington had better watch out! They're not going to know what hit them! Talk about a boost! Three hundred wine lovers, writers, winemakers, media consultants etcetera will be descending upon this small town in southeastern Washington. They will be writing, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and broadcasting everything wine! After this week, everyone will know where Walla Walla, Washington is and that there are so many excellent wines coming from there and other parts of the state! It's going to be amazing and one of the biggest things to happen for the wine industry there! I am so happy and proud to be a part of this event!
On New Year's Eve, I made a conscious decision to be one of the three hundred. Attending last year's conference was an amazing and priceless experience. The people I met, the friendships I made and the things I got to see...I never could have done this on my own. Now the time is finally here, six months of waiting finally over! And I get to do this again as a newbie. I've never been to Washington and I can't wait to go.
During the interim, I entered a contest called WBCorBust. The contest, sponsored by WineChatr and the Washington Wine Commission (along with a multitude of other great sponsors), began as a way for non-Washington bloggers to showcase the industry there and create excitement. I chose to do it because I wanted to learn more about the area and its wines. I had some great help from Washington winemakers Chris Camarda of Andrew Will, Charles Smith of Charles Smith Wines and K Vintners, Don Phelps of Hard Row To Hoe and Dave Merfield of Northstar Winery. They made some amazing wines and I am grateful to them for sharing their passion with me! At the beginning of May, I found out I actually won! I was so stoked! This was icing on the cake for what was already going to be an amazing journey! Along with eleven other winners, I get to ride across the state of Washington in style! Below are some of the highlights and events we will be partaking in:
Food and wine pairing and tour at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville
Woodinville Grand Tasting at Willows Lodge
Lunch at the Barking Frog
Palate Refresher & Brewery tour at Pike Brewing Company
Seattle Winemakers Dinner at Waterfront Seafood Grill
Brunch & Wine Tasting at the Cave B Inn in Quincy
Vineyard visit & farm-sponsored vineyard lunch among the vines
at DuBrul Vineyard in Sunnyside
Yakima Valley Grand Tasting at Prosser's Vintners Village
Walla Walla Vintners Pizza Social (wood-fired pizza!!!)
Walla Walla B&B Experience
Wine Tasting and Meet The Sponsors
Taco Truck Tasting Lunch with famed Walla Walla Taco Trucks
Keynote speech by Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast Magazine
Wine Blog Awards Presentation
Breakout Sessions (great stuff--all three days)
Live Wine Blogging (this is so much fun--like speed blogging)
Pre-dinner reception and dinner with Ste. Michelle Estates
After hours Walla Walla walkabout (visiting the Walla Walla tasting rooms!)
Visits and lunch at local wineries and vineyards
More Live Wine Blogging
Pre-dinner reception and dinner with the Washington Wine Commission
Keynote speech with Writer Lettie Teague
After hours reception with Wines Of Spain
Food and Wine Pairing and lunch with Food Network Chef Jeffrey Saad
Post conference excursion to Red Mountain AVA
Visits to Col Solare, Hedges, Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard and Terra Blanca
Red Mountain AVA Grand Tasting
Outdoor dinner at Sunset at Terra Blanca
Phew! This will be some week! And let me tell you, my liver will be hating me and my eyes will be thanking me. But best of all, a piece of my heart will undoubtedly remain in Washington forever. To all my friends (old, new and friends to be), I raise my glass--a toast to what will be one of the best weeks of our lives! I'm ready! Bring it on!
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Over the past six months, I've had the rare opportunity to sample many wines from a winery I consider a great California staple. Wente Vineyards. When most people think of California wines, they think of Napa or Sonoma or the Central Coast. Wente Vineyards calls the Livermore Valley their home. I asked around and a lot of people were dumbfounded when I mentioned the area so I am here to shed some light on this mystery...
The Livermore Valley is located 30 miles east of San Francisco, inland but off the bay. This area is ideal for grape growing because it gets the morning fog and cool air from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in warm days and cool nights. This climate coupled with the gravelly soils of the area were exactly what C.H. Wente had in mind when he started the winery 125 years ago. Five generations of family winemakers have been consistently making award-winning wines ever since.
I have had the opportunity to taste from all the different tiers of wines the Wente family has to offer. From the most simple to the most complex, these wines offer something for everyone. After participating in two of their TasteLive events on Twitter in recent months in addition to receiving sample kits from the winery, I found it very difficult to narrow down my favorites as they were all exceptionally good wines. The TasteLive events helped me learn more about the current and fifth generation winemaker, Karl Wente. He is a master at blending his wines. This makes for complex and interesting wines. There is always a surprise element--perhaps a varietal you didn't expect in the blend. He kept me guessing and on my toes with his blends! I believe he truly enjoys crafting his wines this way!
The first Wente Vineyards wine I ever had was in 2004 at a little seafood restaurant in Newport Beach, California. It was a Chardonnay and I drank it out of a plastic cup! It was good even out of plastic! That said a lot. I knew it was special. Wente Vineyards makes many Chardonnays. I was fortunate enough to sample two of them and at under $20 for either one, they are exceptional.
The first of the two Chardonnays is the 2008 Morning Fog Chardonnay. Karl sources most of the grapes for this one in the Livermore area but also adds grapes sourced from the Arroyo Seco area near Monterey. (The family owns vineyards there as well.) This one is very clean with just a simple touch of oak and nice stone fruit flavors, and cinnamon spice with a kiss of vanilla. What did Karl blend with this one? Gewürztraminer? For real. I always complain when winemakers do that because when done frivolously, it takes away from the true flavor of the Chardonnay grape. Karl does it in such a subtle way, you wouldn't even know it! Now that's the true mark of a master! $12.95 a bottle! (Yes, really!)
The 2008 Riva Ranch Arroyo Seco Chardonnay. I just can't get enough! Honestly, if you love butterscotch, caramel, vanilla and tropical flavors in your Chardonnay, this one is definitely for you (and me, obviously!). This one comes from the "Heritage Block" tier of their wines with most of the grapes sourced from their Monterey-area vineyard. Barrel aged and medium bodied with huge flavors. So--what did Karl blend with this one? Well, he added a very tiny fraction of Gewürztraminer but also about 4% Pinot Blanc. What does that do? It adds brightness to this wine! It is just lovely. $19.95 (yes, very nice and very affordable!)
Who loves Cabernet Sauvignon? The Wente family proves that great Cabs do not necessarily have to come from Napa Valley. Here are a couple that really surprised me!
Because sometimes you just want to be able to open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and pour yourself a glass without having to decant, Karl has made the 2007 Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. Blended with tiny amounts of Petite Sirah, Merlot, Barbera and Petit Verdot, it is simple yet offers some great flavors such as dark berries and vanilla. Completely approachable with soft tannins. And at an affordable price of $14.95, it should be sitting in everyone's wine rack for everyday drinking!
The 2007 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon is a Cabernet-lover's dream come true. Especially if you like a bold, spicy, fruit-forward Cabernet. This one is redolent with juicy, jammy blackberry and dark cherry flavors, lots of spice and vanilla oak. Blended with Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot. A complete steal for $24.95! Stands up to the best prime steak and will rival some of those Napa Cabernets out there!
And finally we come to something very rare. They call me Syrah-challenged. This one broke me!
I was given the opportunity to sample a wine club only exclusive. I'm unsure of the price point on this one but I would venture to guess it is somewhere in the vicinity of $45.00 a bottle. The 2007 Nth Degree Syrah. This is very much done in a Rhone style. Meaty, full-bodied and funky! Lots of dark berries, chocolate and savory spice. Funky in a good way though. Not one to be sampled alone, it must be accompanied by a good meal. If you are ever able to sample this wine, you will find it very complex and enjoyable. Blended along with Petit Sirah, Mourvedre and Cabernet Franc, it is a bold, "in your face" wine that could definitely be cellared for awhile!
Does all of this sound great to you? It does to me, which is why I want to visit them some day! The property is beautiful and they make so many different and interesting wines. Please visit them sometime if you get the chance. They are located in Livermore at 5050 Arroyo Rd. They are open daily and to the public, available for private events and there is even a restaurant on the premises.
Wines can be purchased at the winery, on their website at wentevineyards.com or some of the wines are distributed nationwide.
I would like to thank the folks at Wente Vineyards for allowing me to experience their wines and I'll hopefully be seeing them sometime soon!