Vini Portugal Party

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

A party so wild, I have NO incriminating photos. Truth be told, I got tired of carrying around all the stuff. I was sweaty, it was 9:00pm and I was going out to party!

The party this evening was being sponsored by Vini Portugal.  Obviously, Portugese wines were being featured.  I am certainly not someone that has to be sold on Portugese wines, as I have have been drinking Vinho Verdes  (a light, crisp white wine from the Minho Region of the country in the northeast) for years and have a deep love and respect for both Port and Madeira (I recently had a taste of a 1875 Barbeito Malvasia Madeira  that was so amazing).

Wine Mutineers looking innocentThe wines at the party were amazing.  Ranging from Ports to less complex Vinho Verde that is supposed to be drunk within a year of making it.  I even drank some absinthe (which was ironically, Spanish and snuck into the party by the Wine Mutineers) which I am sad to report that I swigged right out of the bottle.  It did earn me a rousing cheer from the Mutineers though.

Midway through the evening I got invited along to the lobby to enjoy a brief but enthusiastic private tasting from Christophe Smith from Titus Vineyards (Thanks largely to Bill Daley).  Titus is 40 acre winery on the Silverado Trail in Napa that produces mostly red wines (and a Sauvignon Blanc!).

My earlier reports of party wildness were not exaggerated as we eventually got kicked out of the party room at around midnight (but who is counting) and worked to find a place to continue our gallivanting.  Eventually we all made our way to someone’s room, but were immediately kicked out by security.  Eventually we made our way back to the original party room and managed to get the ok to hang out until 1:00am. Dancing might have broken out.  I am a little fuzzy on that, though I am certain I did not partake.

We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and by the end meekly (sure, we’ll go with that) headed back to our rooms for the evening.

Dinner at Franciscan

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Fountain at FranciscanI love that mapNow, at this point you are probably thinking, ” How many more posts can Gretchen possibly get out of the activities of Saturday, July, 25th?” Yes, I have managed to wring four separate entries out of this one day. But I think you will agree that it was an action packed day. And yet, the day was not over.

We headed out on Bus #7 for Franciscan. We were greeted at the door by Jay Turnipseed, a newlywed and one of the winemakers at Franciscan offered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (I see a theme emerging, eh?). Over our glass of wine we chatted with Jay about his unusual last name (given to the family at Ellis Island though it was a literal translation of the family name in Germany), workplace romances (he met his wife when she worked in the lab at the winery) and wine. Soon we headed into dinner.

Franciscan Dinner menuAt each place setting were seven glasses and a menu.

The first course, a dungeness crab, endive and avocado salad with a creamy lemon vinaigrette was served with the 2006 Franciscan Cuvee Sauvage. This wine was made of 100% Chardonnay grapes and fermented with wild yeast and aged 18 months sur lie in new oak barrels. The texture of the wine matched the creaminess of the vinaigrette.

Wine DinnerThree Cheers for Chef Boris OlveraThe next course was grilled New York steak served with a red wine mushroom glaze (Which was so good that I wanted to lick my plate, but did not to stay Klassy.), served with “crushed” (I say mashed, but whatever) pancetta potatos. (Winos, er, wine lovers love bacon) The wines served with this were the 2005 Franciscan Magnificat which was a lovely Bordeaux-like blend, the 2006 Blackbird Illustration a Merlot-centric blend and the 2006 Blackbird Arise (all Merlot) (both of these are listed as “Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine”s which confuses me. what does that mean? The Illustration being a blend didn’t catch my attention, but the Arise is single varietal what makes it any more than any other wine?), the 2005 Bourassa Vineyard Reserve Symphony3, the 2006 Bourassa Reserve Petite Sirah and finally the 2005 Corison Cabernet. We were in heaven. Good food, great wine and superb conversation.

Cathy CorisonWine DinnerSitting next to me at dinner was none other than Cathy Corison, the winemaker of the Corison Cabernet that we were drinking. We talked about her approach to wine making (her grapes are grown organically), her background in wine (she went to Davis to get her degree in Enology, family (she is the mother of two teenagers) and social media (she, like most winemakers, hasn’t had a lot of time to absorb the impact of the new media). During the dinner, winemakers from the other wines that were poured came to the tables or spoke to the group about their wineries. Though I am indeed generalizing, I thought that their discussions of wine were pointedly very different than what I learned from Cathy. In her case, she views the wine that she produces to be an expression of their vineyards and her wines show that. They were far and away the best of the evening. Somehow, I didn’t get that same sense the other winemakers (who were all male). There seemed to be more machismo in their approaches to wine and that definitely translated into products. Is that a difference between male and female winemakers? I don’t know but I have begun to think about it more.

We ended our evening at Franciscan with coffee and cupcakes ready to attend the after party. Yes, you heard it. MORE WINE! and maybe a little absinthe.

Grand Tasting at Quintessa

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

So far it has been a full day of wine. And it isn’t over yet.

After we finished our panel discussion at we head back to Bus #7 and head out to our next destination Quintessa Winery for the Grand Tasting. I have to admit that after all that Cabernet my tastebuds were a little worn out. So I decided to concentrate less on “tasting” and more on enjoying a glass or two of wine.

Roof GardenBusesAs we were walking up to the roof of the cave, I noticed that the facility had (in part) a green roof, specifically a roof top garden. As someone who worked on encouraging roof gardens and other forms of green roofing (please don’t get me started, it ends up being a long a boring conversation about the merits of various roofing products and colors… boring for you at least). When we reached the roof we were greated with a nice cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc (I noticed a pattern here. I Sauvignon Blanc the new Chardonnay?). Naturally I was compelled to take a look at the garden. You would have noticed me. All alone over at the far edge taking pictures of meadow grass. You would have come over, perhaps to see what I was looking at and you probably wouldn’t have noticed anything. But I was happy. And then I took a look at the other side and looked at the buses lined up ready to take us later to dinner too.

Upper level of the caveQuintessa barrelsEventually I headed down into the cave which was cool and dark and lovely after sweating all afternoon. In fact, I am ashamed to say that I was remarkably damp, but quite sober which means that I was burning through any alcohol that I had ingested. Helpful really, as I had more events to attend. The cave contained the winery operations and was almost surreally dark and stainless steel at the first level. In fact, it looked a lot like something out of Blade Runner, without Harrison Ford or any violence, which for me really works out better (the violence part that is… not the Harrison Ford part).

ChurchThe Egg

I descended from the mod level to where the rest of the conference folks were. This level was still very stainless steel in some parts but very wooden in others. I walked down into the show part of the barrel storage where it was even cooler. The centerpiece of this room was almost like a church. Dark, quiet and lit by candles, it inspired awed in all of us that stopped there. I learned from the Wine Bard, Karen Gurney that all of the barrel heads are marked with a series of codes that indicate the location of the forest the oak was harvested from and the amount of toasting on the inside and on the head of the barrel. On the way back, I saw a new type of “barrel” (for lack of a better word). It was steel and concrete and shaped like an egg. If the upper part of the caves was like Blade Runner, this storage unit was definitely out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Grand TastingCave WallBut soon enough I joined the huddled masses, yearning to drink wine. I found that I couldn’t really drag myself to taste more than white wine. So I tried the Chardonnay at the Frank Family Vineyards where they were pouring their wine through a decanting system that looked like the Verso Vino system except that the shape of the receptacle was teardrop.  I haven’t been able to find anything similar on the internet (which is surprising because I usually can find what I mean to).  Next I tried a Schramsberg Brut.  It was lovely and bubbly and soothed my soul.  At this point, I needed to go sit down for a bit.  Since there were no chairs I sat on the ground against the wall that formed the cave and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.

Soon, it was time to depart again.  As I made my way back to Bus #7, I wondered what we would encounter next.

Panel Discussion at Spring Mountain Vineyards

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

GobeletMiravalle and La Perla Vineyards

After a lovely lunch at Peju Province the folks on Bus 7, i.e. Me, et al. (I am withholding names to protect the innocent… or you can identify them if you dare via my sometimes odd photography) headed off to our panel discussion at Spring Mount Vineyards. We were looking forward to this tasting as we would have representatives of four wineries presenting a current vintage and a library selection (an older vintage). We were running a bit late so when we arrived at Spring Mountain Vineyards we were met by the somewhat anxious Valli Ferrell who led us quickly but graciously from Bus #7 to a table full of of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc (The 2006 I think.. Sorry, I didn’t have my notepad out) that was made from fruit grown in the lower, Miravalle vineyard and the upper, LaPerla vineyard. In both vineyards the vines are trained in the Gobelet method which allow for a greater density of vines per acre. As we walked along with our wine, we learned that the building that we would be heading over to for our panel discussion is the centerpiece of the Miravalle property and is more commonly recognized as the mansion from the 1980s TV series, Falcon Crest.

Miravalle HouseWineAs we made our way to the tables in the mansion, we sat down in front at the table in front filled with glasses. Each place setting had eight glasses of wine layed out on a placemat. Two wines from each of the wineries participating on the panel, Spring Mountain Vineyard, Freemark Abbey, Beaulieu Vineyards and Oakville Ranch Vineyards. The wineries were represented by Jac Cole of Spring Mountain Vineyard, Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey, Jeffrey Stambor of Beaulieu and Paula Kornell of Oakville Ranch. The wines presented to us were all bordeaux blends.

Panel Discussion PlacematPlacemat Notes from Panel DiscussionIt is a treat to be able to to taste vintages back to back in order to get a sense of the effects of age and even weather on a wine. Naturally, I drank them the wrong way. Because I like to be different. The richness of the library wines was heady. They were meatier than their younger counterparts. In my opinion the Oakville Ranch tasted of peppery black fruit, The Beaulieu was even and plummy, the Freemark Abbey 1994 selection was the most alcoholic to me but the most medium bodied of the library selections and the Spring Mountain was full of olives and cherries. The younger wines naturally were nothing to sneeze either. The 2004 Elivette Cabernet from Spring Mountain was smooth though it didn’t have much nose. The 2004 Freemark Abbey was leathery with dry cherry tones, the 2008 Beaulieu was woody with bright plums a nd the 2005 Oakville Ranch was smooth and even with light fruit.

Among the most interesting part of this stop was sitting between two real wine experts and watching them taste. I learned a lot from watching them.

I have to admit that by the end of the panel discussion I was a bit Cabernet’d out and was thankful for a bottle of water as we headed back onto Bus 7 for our next stop.

The Tour of Peju

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

After lunch and our wine pairings we began our tour of the Peju Province Winery with Herta Peju.

The first stop was the tasting room which includes the 50 foot Peju Tower a collaboration between Calvin Straub and Tony Peju. The Tower was completed in 2003 and is designed to resemble a French provincial tower made of stucco and stone complete with a copper roof. The Ulurhu Room was added later and has beautiful silk covered lights and a beautiful red and green quartzite floor which I did NOT photograph well (mea culpa).

The Three GracesChandelierStaircase to the MezzanineUluru Room
Next we began our tour of the grounds. Behind the tasting room are some of the vineyards and the rear access to the winery. The wooden barrels are the emergency water supply. As you walk clear of the winery buildings there is a wall (virtually) of plantings and trees. When you walk through this area you enter the family’s private domain which is exactly what we did (though some in the group did take a moment to check out the Taxi-yellow stretch Hummer limo. Assessment? Even more hideous than it appeared from the outside). In the course of our tour we walked past the poultry coop (HA! Girls! People really do keep backyard chickens), a pomegranate tree, another of peach and a mulberry from which we snatched a few berries and then back to vines that were undergoing veraison. The final stop on our tour was the old family garage which is the site of the original tasting room. You could feel the history in that room and I certainly hope Mrs. Peju keeps it just as it is…

Emergency water tanksEntering the private PejuThe house and garagePomegranatesVeraison at PejuThe original winery

Peju Province Winery
8466 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573

Lunch at Peju Province Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Our next stop after the CIA was to head into Rutherford and to lunch at Peju Province Winery. Founded in 1982 by Tony and Herta “HB” Peju the winery has been producing red, white and rose wines at their boutique winery.

We were joined by Katie Lewis, Communications Coordinator who gave us the background of the winery and chatted with us as we ate our lunch of sandwiches and salads. (I loved the cantaloupe and prosciutto salad… it solves the issue of how to eat the wrapped cantaloupe/prosciutto by making it all bite-sized and I will make it here at the house when I can keep a cantaloupe for longer than 12 hours) As we were finishing our meal Herta Peju came out, poured Sauvignon Blanc and began speaking about her wines.  Wine, horticulture and art seem to be viewed as kindred spirits at Peju.  The vineyard was already producing wine grapes for when the Peju’s first purchased the property.  Eventually, the family began producing their own vintages beginning with the first block of Cabernet Sauvignon that is known as the H.B. Vineyard.  Soon after, the family’s garage was converted into a tasting room and the winery began to grow.

Peju PR Girl... She is as cute as a buttonLunch at Peju

Currently, the winery produces 35,000 cases annually and has expanded from the original 3o acres to include 350 acres in Pope Valley and 86 acres in Dutch Henry Canyon.  In fact, as the next generation of Pejus have joined the business, sustainability has become a bigger issue.  In the last few years the vineyards have received certifications from the California Certified Organic Farmers, Napa County Green Winery and Bay Area Green Business.  The winery has installed 720 photovoltaic panels atop the winery roof which produces enough electricity to power 40 average homes and will reduce Peju’s electrical demand by 36%.

Herta joins us for lunchFifty/Fifty and Cabernet Sauvignon

We were given two glasses with which to taste during our lunch and chat and I used the opportunity to try some of those wines side by side.

For instance, I was able to try the Provence blend alongside the Rose of Syrah. It is remarkable to taste seemingly similar wines and find how different they really are…

ProvenceRose of Syrah

More about Peju coming up….

The CIA, No, Not That One…

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

On Saturday, bright and early or 9:00am in reality, we loaded onto buses and headed off to the CIA.

No. Not the spys. The chefs. The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, California. Home of the Vintners Hall of Fame. The twenty three inductees are listed here.

We entered the Greystone Cellars building which was originally a cooperative winery beginning in the 1880s and later owned by the Christian Brothers to produce sparkling wine.  The building contains the Hall of Fame, the teaching kitchens, EcoLab Theatre, Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant, Spice Islands Marketplace, De Baun Theatre, De Baun Café, and administrative offices.  As we made our way up to the third floor conference room, I managed to get pictures of the kitchens… and a spectacular collection of corkscrews.

We were addressed by CIA operatives (sorry, couldn’t help myself) er, officials and then by Barry Schuler, former AOL CEO and Meteor Vineyard owner.  He spoke to us about blogging, social media  and wine.  During his talk he discussed the  about the potential for creating marketplaces for internet content.  I thought his views of versions 1,2 and 3 of the internet were fascinating and seemed to resonate with the rest of the group.  For me, it made me anxious as crossing that line from Web 2.0 to 3.0 is an ongoing issue with me that I am personally trying to achieve.

The next speaker was then by Jim Gordon Editor of Wines and Vines about the upcoming wine issues.  To me, the most important issues related to environmental issues.  Water resources and smoke damaged grapes, to me are offshoots of these concerns.  Questions about barrels and closures also relate to the environment.  Place, in the terroir sense, as always is important and maintaining the climate of a terroir is essential to maintaining viability as a grape producing region.

Soon though, our discussions were finished and it was time to get on the buses and head off for our adventures for the rest of the day.  It had been suggested to me that the bus to be on was #4, however as I approached that bus, the doors were being closed.  So I did what we Neuman’s typically do when trying to figure out which bus to get on or where to park… Go to the last available option..  And that is exactly what I did….


WBC’09 – Meet The Sponsors

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Registration began at 11:00 am… after receiving my credentials, I headed over to meet the conference sponsors.  And, of course, enjoy a little wine.  It was 11:00am after all, which means that wine was a legal as Sunday morning in Chicago.

I tried several of the Verdejo and Verdelho from the Rueda region of Spain… They were absolutely lovely and perfect for a chilly summer morning.. or a warm one too.

Next up was Sherry… Now, the trick with Sherry is that you want to drink the dry ones now and come back and taste the sweeter ones later… naturally I forgot.  But I did enjoy walking around the room learning about the wines of Napa, Sonoma, Xeres, Rueda and the Russian River Valley.  I also got to learn (more) about Wines and Vines and Wine Mutineer magazines… oh, and I got to vote for the best wine tattoo (which was no contest! Michael Wangbickler totally won!) For voting, I got a tattoo (albeit temporary) of my own…  Not bad for the first 90 minutes!