Category Archives: People

Announcing Flight of Poets: Litquake 2014!

For my 5th year I will be sommelier for the event Flight of Poets, at Litquake on Thursday, October 16th, Hotel Rex, San Francisco.  Event starts at 7 pm. Doors open at 6:30 pm

The Featured Poets

Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Hollie Hardy, Major Jackson, James Ragan, Tera Vale Ragan, Chad Sweeney, Arisa White

The Featured Wineries

St. Supery, Gundlach Bundschu, Rodney Strong, Miro Cellars, Uvaggio, Carol Shelton Wines

#EatDrinkRock 2014

Need I say more? It's the way we rolled at #FoodNetworkinConcert 2014.
Need I say more? It’s the way we rolled at #FoodNetworkinConcert 2014.

It was a magical idea that became reality. Of course, I’m talking about Food Network in Concert, the ground-breaking concept that was put in play at the legendary Ravinia Festival site near Chicago on September 20th. Put on by Food Network Magazine, this one-day event was filled with star chefs from Food Network TV and Chicagoland; talented musicians like John Maher, Philip Phillips, Zane Carney and Twin Forks; and magnificent wines from around the globe, including the special Artisan Series wines provided by Freixenet USA, Foley Family Wines and Charles Krug Winery.

Below are some of the fun pictures to drive the point home. For more information, visit www.FoodNetworkinConcert.com and follow the Twitter stream #EatDrinkRock!

Talented young artist Zane Carney lays his heart on the line while singing a hot jazz-inspired track from his fabulous new album Amalgam.
Talented young artist Zane Carney lays his heart on the line while singing a hot jazz-inspired track from his fabulous new album Amalgam.
Fantastic Chef Lounge moments with "The Sandwich King" Jeff Mauro (pictured), Anne Burrell, Geoffrey Zakarian, Anne Guarnaschelli and many others.
Fantastic Chef Lounge moments with “The Sandwich King” Jeff Mauro (pictured), Anne Burrell, Geoffrey Zakarian, Anne Guarnaschelli and many others.
Eva Bertran, VP of FreixenetUSA, comments on the delicious sparkling wines featured in the Bubbles from Around the Globe seminar held in Martin Hall at Ravinia.
Eva Bertran, VP of FreixenetUSA, comments on the delicious sparkling wines featured in the Bubbles from Around the Globe seminar held in Martin Hall at Ravinia.
Feeling "Gravity" while listening to music headliner John Maher play his hit song live in front of 10,000 happy attendees.
Feeling “Gravity” while listening to music headliner John Mayer play his hit song live in front of 10,000 happy attendees.
Crunchy sensations via Chef Allen's Urban Pickles.
Crunchy sensations via Chef Allen’s Urban Pickles.
The fantastic lineup of wines featured in the Charles Krug seminar I did with Riana Mondavi.
The fantastic lineup of wines featured in the Charles Krug seminar I did with Riana Mondavi.

 

FNIC 2014

Starting September’s California Wine Month with the glorious big bang explosion in Sonoma County

In all of our lives, there are those special turning points. Moments that you realize it’s time to move ahead and take advantage of the opportunities that are within your grasp. On a large scale, one of those momentous points happened last Sunday in Sonoma County when a mixture of 700 great personalities from the wine industry, star chefs, sommeliers and eager consumers, came together to raise $4 million dollars for charity at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood.

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Selfie of the Week: Me and Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren of Chateau St. Jean at the#SWCW 2014 pre-auction festivities.

From the start of this year’s “Sonoma to Serengeti”-themed auction, Sonoma County vintners like Joe Anderson of Benovia Winery, Barbara Banke of Jackson Family Wines, the Gallo Family, the Zanin Family of Bennett Valley Cellars, the Hamel Family and the Klein Family of Rodney Strong Vineyards, played key roles by contributing and inspiring others to bid generously. But when the day’s total was still short of $4 Million after the last lot was sold, Anderson pledged an additional $50,000 and challenged others to dig a little deeper to hit the $4 Million mark. Vintners Matt Gallo and Tony LeBlanc of Silver Oak immediately accepted the challenge. The last $20,000 pledge came from Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance Board Member Gary Buffo, and the goal was achieved. That’s vintner and community participation at its finest.

The annual event was the culmination of the action-packed Sonoma Wine Country Weekend (#SWCW), August 29-31. Under the focused leadership of SWCW Co-Executive Directors Honore Comfort (Sonoma County Vintners) and Maureen Cottingham (Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance) and their Boards of Directors, gross proceeds are expected to be in excess of $5 Million for the entire Sonoma Wine Country Weekend once final tallies are calculated, which creates another new record for the event as earnings more than doubled over last year.

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Post-Taste of Sonoma cocktails at #Zigtown with @ZiggyTheWineGal and Sara Schneider of Sunset Magazine.
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Post -Taste of Sonoma fun at #Zigtown with fellow wine entertainer Leslie Sbracco (@lesliesbrocco) and Judy Davis of Davis Family Winery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the important money earned for the charities and great opportunities to taste magnificent food and wine pairings; another highlight of this year’s events was the participation of the SWCW Honorary Chairs: The Ferrer Family, of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, and the Klein Family, of Rodney Strong Vineyards, who were honored for their achievements in the wine industry and their contributions to the Sonoma County community as a whole.

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On Friday Night, Rocking out at Coppola Winery.

In hindsight, the road to success starts from the ground up. With winegrowers understanding that sustainable farming techniques and the maturity of vines really does make a difference. Talented winemakers honing their skills to work with grapes that are picked at the optimum point to preserve the natural acidity and not over-ripen the fruit. Young sommeliers finding tasty gems made with the pristine fruit from the diverse subregions of Sonoma County. And ultimately, the growing number of consumers and charitable contributors who have fallen in love with the fine wines, delicious cuisine, lovely landscape, unique outdoor adventures, and the true sense of place that Sonoma County offers on a yearly basis.

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#ClassicSonoma: Vintage bottle of the Laurel Glen 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon poured at Coppola at #SWCW on Friday Night.

As a veteran wine writer, sommelier, public speaker, and a person who was born, raised and matured in Sonoma County, it was a joy to see this all happen. For that reason, I was also honored to do my part to help the cause: From educating fellow writers from outside the area who visited Paradise Ridge and enjoyed the Media Dinner on the lovely new Terrace Patio at Rodney Strong Winery on Thursday night; mingle and enlighten curious consumers who attended the marvelous luncheon at Lynmar Estate in Russian River and the elegant gala event at Francis Ford Coppola Winery; introduce the guests who attended the Taste of Sonoma event at MacMurray Estate Vineyards on Saturday to the virtues of using fine stemware by Stolzle, one of the main sponsors and contributors to this SWCW festivities; and fulfilling my annual role as the head sommelier at the auction by serving magnificent wines to the Irwin-Allred group from Tulsa, who purchased the Head Table at last year’s event, as well as my great friends from TricorBraun Wine Pak (the main sponsor of the 2014 auction), Duckhorn Vineyards, Jean Arnold Sessions and other special guests who attended the memorable event on Sunday afternoon.

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Small, intimate #SWCW Thursday night dinner on the stunning new Terrace at Rodney Strong Winery to celebrate the 25 year anniversary of the Klein Family ownership winery and vineyards.
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Pinot anyone? Fantastic #SWCW luncheon at Lymar Estate in Russian River Valley. @Lynmar Estate @SonomaWCW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At the exciting #SWCW Taste of Sonoma Bubble Lounge with tasty treats from Gloria Ferrer. #bubbles @GloriaFerrer @FreixenetUSA #eatdrinkrock.

Like the big bang theory, a small explosion can have a huge impact on the future of life as we know it. For that reason, last weekend was just a glimpse at the potential of the SWCW for many years to come; an explosive launch to the 10th Annual California Wine Month in September; and a powerful reminder of the open-ended invitation for more people to explore the wine, food, and sense of community that makes Sonoma County so special.

For more information visit: Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, We Are Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley Wine, Sonoma Wine.

And for upcoming events happening during California Wine Month, visit Discover California Wines.

 

Wine tripping in Lodi: The Photo Journal

Here we are a couple weeks into the month of August, a great time to start following the exciting 2014 harvest in the great winegrowing regions of California. With that being said, it’s also time to get ready for California Wine Month, a festive myriad of activities which kick off on September 1st.

So to get you primed for what’s going to be happening around the state, below is a set of photos from my recent visit to Lodi, an important appellation that is home to the highest concentration of old vine Zinfandel plantings in the world, as well as a fantastic grouping of vineyard owners and winemakers who are committed to working with California’s legendary “sweetheart” grape and a hundred other specialized varietals.

Later this month, look for more of my other writings about this fascinating region, including a focus on the exciting Native Lodi program. In the meantime, for more information about the Lodi AVA, Zinfandel, and other festive regional events happening throughout the state, visit www.lodiwine.com, www.Zinfandel.org and www.discovercaliforniawines.com .

Exploration tour of Noma Vineyard in Victor: Wine writer Randy Caparoso; premier grower Leland Noma; me; owner/winemaker Tim Holder of @MacchiaWines; wine writer/entertainer Ziggy The Wine Gal. @Lodi_Wine #LodiNative @alltheswirl
Wine writer Randy Caparoso with one of the gnarly old Zinfandel vines at the Noma Vineyard in the Lodi appellation. @Lodi_Wine #LodiNative @alltheswirl.
At the Soucie Vineyard, sandy soils and healthy old Zinfandel vines planted by Kevin Soucie's grandfather in 1916. The fruit is now sourced by Layne Montgomery,  owner/winemaker of @m2wines. @Lodi_Wine #LodiNative @alltheswirl @TheZinfandelOrg.
At the Soucie Vineyard, sandy soils and healthy old Zinfandel vines planted by Kevin Soucie’s grandfather in 1916. The fruit is now sourced by Layne Montgomery, owner/winemaker of @m2wines. @Lodi_Wine #LodiNative @alltheswirl @TheZinfandelOrg.
Michael MacCay of @MacCayCellars with a bottle of his Carignane made with old vine fruit from the Rausch Vineyard. @Lodi_Wine @alltheswirl.
Michael MacCay of @MacCayCellars with a bottle of his Carignane made with old vine fruit from the Rausch Vineyard. @Lodi_Wine @alltheswirl.
At the Soucie Vineyard, sandy soils and healthy old Zinfandel vines planted by Kevin Soucie's grandfather in 1916. The fruit is now sourced by Layne Montgomery,  owner/winemaker of @m2wines. @Lodi_Wine #LodiNative @alltheswirl @TheZinfandelOrg.
Exploration tour of the Noma Vineyard in Victor, a small town just out the city limits of Lodi: Randy Caparoso; Noma Vineyard fruit proprietor Leland Noma; me; winemaker/proprietor Tim Holder of Macchia Wines; and wine writer/entertainer Ziggy the Wine Gal. @Lodi_Wine #LodiNative @alltheswirl @TheZinfandelOrg.
Bursting with fresh and lively aromas and flavors, the #Bokisch 2013 Albarino the Cellar Door Tasting Room in downtown Lodi. @Lodi_Wine @MarkusBokisch @LizBokisch @alltheswirl.
Bursting with fresh and lively aromas and flavors, the #Bokisch 2013 Albarino the Cellar Door Tasting Room in downtown Lodi. @Lodi_Wine @MarkusBokisch @LizBokisch @alltheswirl.
The brotherhood of #LodiNative: Winemakers & proprietors discuss the exciting Lodi Native Project, heritage vineyards and the 2012 vintage with me and Ziggy the Wine Gal. From left: Winemaker Chad Joseph and proprietor Todd Maley of Maley Brothers Wines;  winemaker Layne Montgomery of @m2wines; winemaker/proprietor Tim Holdener of @macchiawines; Stuart Spencer of @stamantwine; and proprietor Lani Holdener of Macchia Winery, which hosted the tasting. @Lodi_Wine #TheBootlegSociety @alltheswirl @RCaparoso @TheZinfandelOrg.
The brotherhood of #LodiNative: Winemakers & proprietors discuss the exciting Lodi Native Project, heritage vineyards and the 2012 vintage with me and Ziggy the Wine Gal. From left: Winemaker Chad Joseph and proprietor Todd Maley of Maley Brothers Wines; winemaker Layne Montgomery of @m2wines; winemaker/proprietor Tim Holdener of @macchiawines; Stuart Spencer of @stamantwine; and proprietor Lani Holdener of Macchia Winery, which hosted the tasting. @Lodi_Wine #TheBootlegSociety @alltheswirl @RCaparoso @TheZinfandelOrg.
Refreshing white wines by Michael David served with our luncheon at the Phillips Farms Cafe in Lodi. @MDWinery @Lodi_Wine.
Refreshing white wines by Michael David served with our luncheon at the Phillips Farms Cafe in Lodi. @MDWinery @Lodi_Wine.
At Michael David Winery in Lodi: Kevin Phillips (VP of Operations, Michael David Winery & Phillips Farms) and Adam Mettler (GM/Winemaker). @MDWinery @Lodi_Wine.
At Michael David Winery in Lodi: Kevin Phillips (VP of Operations, Michael David Winery & Phillips Farms) and Adam Mettler (GM/Winemaker). @MDWinery @Lodi_Wine.
The delectable Earthquake Petite Sirah made by Michael David Winery & Phillips Farms. @Lodi_Wine @MDWinery.
The delectable Earthquake Petite Sirah made by Michael David Winery & Phillips Farms. @Lodi_Wine @MDWinery.
The marvelous lineup of the new 2012 Lodi Native wines made from classic old #Zinfandel vineyards without the use of additives (yeast, nutrients, new oak, etc) in order to capture the purity of the fruit from these historic sites. @Lodi_Wine #LodiNative @alltheswirl @TheZinfandelOrg.
The marvelous lineup of the new 2012 Lodi Native wines made from classic old #Zinfandel vineyards without the use of additives (yeast, nutrients, new oak, etc) in order to capture the purity of the fruit from these historic sites. @Lodi_Wine #LodiNative @alltheswirl @TheZinfandelOrg.

 

Tasty New Releases: Germany, Austria and beyond

The German 1-0 win over Argentina on Sunday marked the first ever championship for a European team when the FIFA World Cup has been played in the New World.

But that’s soccer.

In the world of wine, Germany and the neighboring country of Austria have been making magnificent white wines with the noble grape Riesling for centuries.

This year’s new releases are no exception as proven at the recent German and Austrian Fall 2014 Tasting presented by Terry Theise Estate Selections and WineWise/The Vienna Wine Company at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.

According to the producers I spoke with, the 2013 vintage is magnificent across the board.

“The first priority of the vintage was based on farming,” said Gunter Kunstler, winemaker/proprietor of Weingut Kunstler in the Rheingau region of Germany.

Gunter Kunstler of Weingut Kunstler celebrates a German goal in a World Cup game televised at the tasting in SF.
Gunter Kunstler of Weingut Kunstler celebrates a German goal in a World Cup game televised at the tasting in SF.

“It’s critical to be there at the right time when the fruit is ripe, the acid in balance and the skin is healthy. But when you master this process, it’s much easier to create balanced wines with layers of complexity.

Same was true for Caroline Diel, whose family owns Schlossgut Diel in Nahe. “In my opinion, 2013 was a relatively late year. But with god work in the vineyard and a little patience, the wines are fresh, beautiful and quite enjoyable when young.”

Two tasty interpretations of the 2013 vintage from Weingut Hexamer in the Nahe region.
Two tasty interpretations of the 2013 vintage from Weingut Hexamer in the Nahe region.

Wine scholar, author, philosopher and lovable bon vivant Terry Theise, who hosted the tasting, is fond of the vintage as well. “It’s a special vintage where the clusters had time on the vines to develop deep flavors of fresh fruit, acid, slate and other nuances that have resulted in classy wines that are both food friendly yet still have the ability to cellar for decades.

 

Here are some of my favorite picks from the event. Prices based on suggested retail.

Donnhoff 2013 Tronschiefer Riesling Trocken, Nahe, Germany ($30): Green apple, white plum, peach, grapefruit rind and mineral. Lively, fresh and stimulating to the senses.

Geil 2013 Geyersberg Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany ($33): Very young, very vibrant with pretty floral aromas, flavors of pear, dried apricot and fleshy texture. Great wine to serve as an aperitif or with spicy Asian cuisine.

Kunstler 2013 Hochheimer Kirchenstuck Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Rheingau, Germany ($33): Fragrant aromas of spring flowers, fresh citrus and mineral. Medium body with lively flavors of lychee, mango, grilled pineapple, and a long finish.

Schlossgut Diel 2013 Riesling Kabinett, Nahe, Germany ($31): Young and fresh wine with notes of ripe golden delicious apple, fresh citrus, green tea, sage, mint and racy acidity.

From the Kamptal region of Austria: Peter Schleimer of Schloss Gobelsburg and Vincent Brundlmayer of Brundlmayer.
From the Kamptal region of Austria: Peter Schleimer of Schloss Gobelsburg and Vincent Brundlmayer of Brundlmayer.

Fantastic wine that makes you feel younger with each sip!

Brundlmayer 2013 Riesling ‘Kamptaler Terrassen’, Kamptal, Austria ($27): Impressive example of Riesling from the Kamptal region on the Danube River in Austria. Ripe pear, lime, hazelnut, sea salt and a nice toasty note on the finish.

 

US vs. Belgium: It’s time for a frothy perspective

As much as I talk about wines, I must say that today’s World Cup game matching the United States vs. Belgium makes it impossible for me to resist my love for fine Belgium brew. Of course this includes the fine beers made by the Trappist monks at Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey in Chimay and other top producers in country like Duvel, Affligem and Leffe, as well as talented brewers who are making their stylized versions here in the United States like Ommegang Brewery in Cooperston, N.Y. and New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado.

CHIMAYWith that being said, here’s a link to the tasty article I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine section in May 2003:  “U.S. acquiring a taste for Belgian ales / Fruity, spicy, rich and brewed by monks“.

It’s also worth mentioning that I was quite honored to find out there is a reference to this article on the Wikipedia page for the Chimay Brewery. Pretty cool!

In short: No simple beers. No simple game. Long live fine Belgian beer, but today go Team USA!

Cheers, Christopher

P.S. For more information on the Chimay Brewery, their specialty beers and the fine cheese made by the Trappist monks, visit www.chimay.com.

Fifty Years Later: The historic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines at Bacigalupi Vineyards

This past weekend, Helen Bacigalupi and her family celebrated the 50-year anniversary of planting the original blocks of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes at the famed Bacigalupi Vineyards in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.

helen b blogIt’s a story that began more than six decades ago when Helen married Charles Bacigalupi, a Sonoma County native, whose grandfather had a winery on Chiquita Road and who grew up filling jugs of wine straight from the barrel for customers who shopped at his family’s Bacigalupi Market on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa.

After meeting in college, the young lovebirds were married and moved to Healdsburg, where Charles established his long-term career as a dentist and Helen worked a short stint as a pharmacist before she took on her new role as the family’s official ranch keeper and accountant when the Bacigalupis purchased the old Goddard Ranch on Westside Road in 1956.

At the time of purchase, the hillside property featured 16 acres of vineyards planted with a classic field blend of Zinfandel mixed with Alicante Bouschet, Golden Chasselas, Muscat and Mission. But back then the more lucrative crops on the property were fruit trees and small walnut orchard. So to make ends meet, Helen and Charles bought ten pure-bred Angus steers from the nearby MacMurray Ranch owned by actor Fred MacMurray and raised them and the offspring on the pasture land at the ranch over the next 15 years.

In 1964 the focus on grape growing on the property started to change, when the family planted a new 14 acres parcel of vineyards which included Chardonnay and the first Pinot Noir vines planted on Westside Road.

Once these new vineyard blocks were established, the Bacigalupis began selling grapes to Rodney Strong and the Foppiano and Seghesio families. In 1973, Helen sold 14 tons of Chardonnay to Chateau Montelena, which eventually became 40 percent of the master blend in the famous wine that won over the French in the famed Paris Tasting in 1976.

Helen’s tale of how the wine made it to Paris starts when she received a call from Mike Grgich (the Chateau Montelena winemaker in 1973) saying he would like to buy some of the Bacigalupi Chardonnay grapes he had heard so much about. After an agreement was reached, she sold the winery 15 tons. But, according to Helen, getting the fruit from Russian River Valley to Calistoga was not such an easy task.

“It took me six trips to the winery and I hauled the grapes with my little Volkswagen pickup and a custom-made trailer. It was a little scary because the Volkswagen didn’t have the guts to get over the hill from Alexander Valley to Calistoga in Napa Valley. So I would gun it at the bottom and pray to God that nobody got in my way going up the hill to slow me down. If that had happened, I never would have made it.”

Fast-forward three years. Helen was baking a cake to celebrate the Bicentennial anniversary on July 4, 1976 when the phone rang and it was Mike Grgich. He told her then that we had won the Paris Tasting against the French. He also inquired about buying more grapes, but she had to tell him I was sorry because they were already sold.

Helen went on to say that the impact of the Paris Tasting took several years. “Today it’s still impacting the wines made in Northern California but I don’t think that people here understood how important the award was at the time,” says Helen, now 89 years young. “On the other hand, the French felt the impact immediately!”

At the end of the 1970s, the family partnered with Peter Friedman of Belvedere Winery and bottled its first vineyard designate Chardonnay as part of the Grapemaker Series. A few years later, the 1982 vintage won the Sonoma Harvest Fair Sweepstakes and the wine was eventually served at the White House. But after a decade of national distribution, the Bacigalupis ended their partnership with Healdsburg Wine Growers, Inc and made its last bottles of the Belvedere Bacigalupi Chardonnay in 1987.

As the demand for premium grapes expanded, the family began developing vineyards on newly purchased properties, including a 15 acre parcel on Lytton Station Road in Alexander Valley in 1973; the Bloom Ranch adjacent to the original Bacigalupi property in 1983; and the Frost Ranch on Westside Road in 1993.

Over the past two decades, most of the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grapes grown on the properties have been sold to a wide range of boutique producers, including Wiliam Seylem, Armida, Fantesa, Graton Ridge, Rudd, Tudal, Arista, Gott, Venge, Gracianna and John Tyler Wines (a brand started by Charles and Helen’s son John and his wife Pam began in 2002). But today, a portion of the precious fruit is being used by winemaker Ashley Hertzberg, who was hired by the family in 2011 to create a new series of Bacigalupi wines that are primarily sold to high-end restaurants and at the new tasting room at the base of the Goddard property.

 

In memory of the great winemaker Bob Sessions of Hanzell Vineyards

In honor of the great Bob Sessions, the emeritus winemaker at Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, who passed away last week; here’s a link to my article “History Captured in a Bottle” on the Sessions Vineyard Pinot Noir that ran in The Tasting Panel Magazine last September. Bob was an iconic man, who myself and many others learned a lot from, and he will be greatly missed. -CS