Sunday, May 10, 2009

Melville Vineyards

What a great weekend! My wife and I tagged along with two of our friends as they did some wedding site scouting in Santa Barbara. In between each location we managed to do a few wine tastings.

One of our stops was at Melville vineyards. What a great place! Melville offers amazing Pinots, Syrahs, and Chardonnays at a reasonable price. In this economy, an amazing bottle of wine and a reasonable price goes a long way.

We tasted several of their pinots within different areas of their vineyard. With each wine, you can definitely make a distinction of the different characteristic of the wine based on the location of the vine. For example, Melville's Terraces Pinot Noir is planted on the west facing side of the Santa Rita Hills valley. The west side of the valley offers the cool breezes coming off the Pacific Ocean. With cooler climates, yields lower production of the vine. With lower production generally indicates a smaller grape and higher skin ratio. The more skin, the more tannins a wine has to offer. The Terrances pinot offered more bite, a darker hue, and a more complex finish as oppose to their estate pinot where the vines are not as exposed to the cool oceans breezes. The estate wine, offered a more fruit forward, easy drinking pinot.

This little winery in Santa Rita Hills has established themselves with quite a reputation in the wine industry. I have seen Melville wines at several great high end restaurants that sells a lot of other brand named wines along with their high end price tags such as a Paul Hobbs, Joseph Phelps, Silver Oak, Cakebread, etc. Melville is one of the few vineyards that do not sell or buy any of their grapes from anyone else. They are a purely an estate wine establishment. The next time you visit your local wine store or restaurant and is feeling a little intimadated with your wine selection, you can not go wrong by choosing Melville wine!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pisoni Family Vineyards & Winery

Before Kosta Browne or Seasmoke, there was Pisoni Family Vineyards that had the cult wine status. Like many other winemakers, Gary Pisoni can be described as a person that is passionate and walks around with almost a rockstar type attitude. Not to say that is a bad thing but let me explain. Like any other rockstar, they believe their music is original and is the best music out there. Do you actually think Vince Neil, Jon Bon Jovi, or even MC Hammer thought their music was mediocre or just ordinary? Gary is the same way. He truly believes his wine is the best wine out there and truly believes his wine is unique in its own way.

The Pisoni vineyard started off as a family farm. They grew lettuce, asparagus, celery and other produce you can buy at your local supermarket. One day as a youngster, Gary decided to try to plant grape vines on a slope on their farm. Today, the Pisoni Vineyard is over 40 acres and is operated by Gary, his two sons’ Jeff and Mark, and Gary’s parents’ Eddie and Jane Pisoni.

As I mentioned on my last blog, my wife and I was recently invited to our favorite wine store, Friends of the Vine in Redondo Beach to meet the Pisoni family and taste their recent release. Here are my notes below.

2007 Lucia Rose ($18.99) – This is a great wine that is not too over powering. Nice wine to drink on a hot day. I could see drinking this wine in a picnic with a cucumber salad, curry chicken salad, or with any hummus spread.

2007 Lucia Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay ($40.99) – Small production Chardonnay with only 300 cases produces. This wine offers a hint of oakiness with a delicate finish of nutmeg. Great easy drinking wine that is well balanced and can compliment any type of cheese, nuts, and white meats.

2007 Lucia Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($40.99)– Great wine with a lot of characteristics. Nose of this wine is fruity and peppery. The nice hue of ruby color can make any meal photogenic. I really liked the fruit forwardness of this wine followed by a pinch of tannins at the end. This will be great with any gamey meats, cured meats, seafood, and a lighter red meat like a prime rib.

2007 Lucia Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50.99)– This is a darker, bolder, and stronger pinot than the Lucia Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot. This wine almost has a syrah type boldness but has the elegance of a pinot. The finish offers several different layers of finish on your palate. I would almost say this wine is fun to drink because of the complexity.

2007 Lucia Gary’s Vineyard Syrah ($40.99) – If you are a fan of syrah this wine is for you. The nose of this wine is full of fruit, black licorice, and offers a hint of spicy tobacco. The legs of this wine is heavy and packs a punch to all of your senses in your mouth. To really appreciate this wine, I would recommend holding it in your mouth, draw in some air, swish and try to cover as much as your mouth as possible before slowly swallowing. The lingering effects of the alcohol and fruitiness of this wine is amazing. I say job well done Pisoni family on this one!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Common Wine Terminologies

Last night, my wife and I were invited to do a tasting of Pisoni Vineyards at our favorite wine bar called Friends of the Vine in Redondo Beach, CA. Mark and Gary Pisoni were both there to talk about their wines. During the Q & A session, I realized there are terminologies in wine making that can be a little confusing. Gary did a good job in explaining everything so I thought I would highlight some of the questions that were asked last night in my blog.

What is the difference between a winery and a vineyard?
A vineyard is where grapes are grown and a winery is where the wine is made. Not every vineyard has a winery and not every winery has a vineyard. For example, Ken Brown Wines does not have their own vineyard. Instead, Ken purchases his grapes from various vineyards and designates them by the label of his wine. Ken Brown Clos Pepe pinot is from the Clos Pepe vineyard while the Ken Brown Cargasacchi pinot is from the Cargasacchi vineyard. Wines that are labeled "estate" wines would indicate that wine owning their own vineyard.
Wineries are normally temperature controlled and is where the crushing, barrelling and fermentation process takes place.

What does it mean to make something in a "Burgundian" way?
There isn't really a specific "Burgundian" method of wine making. The phrase simple means to do things gentlely and with care. Treating the grapes with care and the grapes will reward you back by being a good bottle of wine. It is a saying that winemakers use when they are creating their master pieces.

What does "Brix" mean?
Brix is a measurement sugar-to-water ratio. For example, 25 Brix means there are 25 grams of sucrose sugar and 75 grams of water in the 100 grams of solution. The sugar content is the factor of how much alcohol is create. During the fermentation process, the yeast is added to the crushed grapes, as the yeast eats into the sugars, alcohol is produced.

Next...I will be rating the Pisoni Vineyard wines we tasted!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hook and Ladder Chardonnay

Over the weekend my mom made her signature pork chop rice dish. This is the ultimate comfort food dish!!! The pork chop is slightly breaded, laid over a bed of rice on a baking pan, topped with scrambled eggs, chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, chopped mushrooms, and all covered in a sauce that consists of ketchup, worcestershire sauce, and some other stuff. All this is baked in the oven and served almost like a casserole. To complement this meal, we opened my 2007 Hook and Ladder Estate Russian River Chardonnay. I thought a chardonnay would help highlight all those ingredients in the pork chop rice dish and this wine did not disappoint.

Prior to eating, my wife, sister, and brother in law sat around the table and played a game of tasting and comparing our notes of this wine. We all agreed, the Hook and Ladder had an amazing nose. There was a definite hint of peaches, lychees, asian pears, vanilla, and a slight oakiness to this wine. I really enjoyed this wine. I would have to say it was definitely one of the better chardonnays I've had. The finish of this wine was broad with a slight acidity to it. After comparing our notes, I asked everyone what they thought I paid for this bottle. I got guesses from $20 dollars to $40 dollars. They were all wrong. This wine was only $16 dollars! My brother in law was surprised and wondered where he could buy it. I purchased this bottle from a local wine store in Redondo Beach called Friends of Vine however, I have not seen this wine anywhere else. (Please feel free to comment if you know where else we can buy the Hook and Ladder Chardonnay)

For me to rate this wine, I would give it an 8.5 cork rating. I thought the color of this wine was a little faint but given time, this wine should develop both in color and in characteristic.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Internship with Clos Pepe Vineyards

With my new found time with my recent job layoff, I decided to reach out to a few people in the wine industry to see if I can learn more about vineyard management and learn about what it takes to make a bottle of wine. Wes Hagen and his wife, Chanda, of Clos Pepe Vineyards welcomed me with open arms. They put me up for a week in their intern trailer located at their vineyard in Santa Rita Hills.
Clos Pepe is known for distributing their grapes to such great labels as Ken Brown, Brewer Clifton, Ojai Vineyards, Siduri, Loring, and a few others. Wes also produces his own Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, a recently release of Sparkling Rose, and soon a Syrah. Clos Pepe's wines has received a lot of recognition within the industry. Wes Hagen has been quoted several times in various magazines talking about the Santa Barbara's wine industry. His passion in wine making truly shows in his personality and in his craft.

Day 1 - I arrived in Clos Pepe Vineyards in down pouring rain. This 40 acre vineyard was original purchased as a horse farm. With these 40 acres there is only a crew of 4 that helps maintain all the grape vines. With the rain pouring down, Miguel, Caesar, Oscar, and Felipe have already gone home for the day. I was first greeted by Chanda, who manages all the animals on the vineyard. Clos Pepe is an environmental friendly place. They raise sheep to help graze the vineyard, they rescue racing greyhounds, Indica and Oliver to help chase off rodents, they have an Australian Kelpy, Max that herds all the sheep, a border collie, Rosa to watch out for coyotes and other predatory animals, and a few owl boxes to help control the rodents. I was pretty impressed with their operation. Chanda does a phenomenal job in training her dogs!
My first day I spent most of my time at their winery packing boxes and preparing shipments out to people who purchased futures. I shipped boxes from anywhere from California to even Germany! Wes explained to me all the machinery that was in the winery and we also did a few barrel tastings of future releases of Clos Pepe wines....

Day 2 - The sun was finally out! This was my opportunity to work out at the vineyard with the crew. I was coached by Chanda on how to prune the vines. I learned there are several ways to prune. The 2 most common are spur pruning and cane pruning. Spur pruning is where you cut the branches and allow for future shoots to grow into vines from the branches. While Cane pruning is where you allow the shoots to spur off of the main bilateral branch. Of the two, spur pruning is an easier way to maintain the vines. Pruning is the most important part of the vine management because depending on how the vine is pruned it is directly related to the grape output of the vine. There has been extensive studies of canopy management of grape vines.
I spent most of my day job shadowing Miguel, Caesar, Felipe, and Oscar aka "the crew." They all have been with Clos Pepe for over 10 years! They are a bunch of hard workers who just works and loves sing out in the open fields with their radio blasting. They are an interesting group of guys. After work for a few hours my hands and my feet started to ache. My hands were not use to using shears and my ankles were not use to standing on uneven ground for so long. I didn't want to look like a wuss, so I mustard on for the day pruning. After my day was done...I was ready for a nice cold beer! It was quite the learning experiencing. During harvest I intend to go back to those same vines and harvest those grapes I helped produced!!!

Day 3 - More pruning! The day was colder, consistently raining, and windy! I thought to myself, this is what I signed up for and this is what I am going to do, even if it means catching a cold! So I ventured out with the crew! We were all a little quieter from the day before. The radio had run out of batteries so there was no music and mother nature was not being so nice. A little past noon, the crew chief, Oscar called it quits. He did not want any of us getting sick.
So I spent the rest of the day in my intern trailer reading about canopy management and the trellising systems that certain vineyards use. For example, Australian vintners and French vintners use different methods because of the differences in climates and the different style of wine they produce. Growing grapes is such a craft! There are so many variables you can do to produce grapes. Making wine is an art form. Wine is made based on the expresssion of the wine maker. For example, the wine maker might want to make a bolder wine, so they might have it soak longer, or more delicate so the wine is barrelled in neutral oak. I think you get the idea. Wine is generally created out of passio for the craft and art.

Day 4 - I spent the day with Wes doing a little competitor analysis. Yes...we went wine tasting!!! It was such an experience watching a wine expert in a tasting room. The way Wes can describe a wine is beyond what I have ever experienced. I was amazed how he can identify alcohol content, whether the vines were grown on the north side of the valley or south side of the valley. Whenever Wes starts talking about a wine he just tasted people within the tasting room woud just stare and wonder who this rock star wine guy is. I think he gets a lot of business that way. I was introduced to a lot of winemakers that day. I met Ken Brown of Ken Brown Winery, Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards, Norm Yost of the Flying Goat, and a few other industry people. All of these gentlemen had the same attitude and demeanor in life. Their life was truly about the vines!

Day 5 - The last day of my mini internship. Wes I spent more time doing competitor analysis. As we were going from vineyard to vineyard I thought to myself what a great experience this week has been. Chanda and Wes are really nice people. I admire their passion in the job. I think a lot of people in corporate America lack that passion. They may have drive but not passion. I've come to realize if you truly like what you do, with your work and your attitude shows it, you can really make an impact with others around you. I've worked for over 10 years in corporate America and I can sadly say, I have never seen that out of any of my managers. I am determined to find my next job and find ways to see if I can influence others by having my passion displayed by my new found attitude in life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

2004 Kanonkop Pinotage

"Dow below 7000!", "HSBC to Layoff 6000", "Stocks Lowest in 12 Years".....these were some of the headlines on CNN yesterday. After shutting off the TV I was feeling a little blue. To make things less negative in the world, I thought I would cook my wife and I a nice meal , and open up a bottle of wine I have been holding for a couple of years.

I prepared an Oxtail Ragu Pasta and opened up my South African 2004 Kanonkop Pinotage. A pinotage grape is a hybrid cross between a Pinot Noir and Cinsault grape (I had to google that one). I have read in a few cases of "wine experts" giving this wine a below average rating. I could not have disagreed with them more! I thought the Kanonkop Pinotage had very distinct features. The nose of this wine smells of spicy tobacco, black peppper, black cherry, mint, and black currant. With all the smells working together, the wine offered a bitter dark chocolate type finish which complemented the oxtail pasta perfectly! Out of my scale of 10 corks, I would give this bottle an 8 cork rating.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Your Everyday Wine Drinker

Welcome to my first ever blog post. I am just your everyday drinker who enjoys wine! I am starting this blog because I want to share with everyone my opinion of various bottles of wine I have tasted. I am not a trained wine professional however I did get to experience hands on what it takes to run and manage a winery and vineyard recently.

The first bottle of wine I would like to review is Ken Brown's 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara county. This bottle of wine retails for about $30-$35 dollars a bottle. The first characteristic I noticed about this wine is the color. Its ruby but yet transparent color indicates a pretty young wine. The nose of this wine is fruitful with a hint of strawberry, kiwi, blue berry, raspberry and finished off with a little nutmeg. This wine is good to drink by itself or because of its youth, it will not over power any meal. I would recommend a white meat dish, seafood or any type of pasta. I noticed that it really helped enhance the butter, spices, and seafood taste of the pan seared scallops I had with it. Enjoy!!