Trying the Wines of St. Francis Winery and Vineyard

While I recently attended the Miami SEED Food and Wine Festival I discovered one of the vendors present was St. Francis Winery and Vineyard out of Sonoma. The festival features plant based foods, and wine makers using sustainable methods as well as no animal derivatives during their wine making process.

St. Francis was founded in 1971 and began with twenty-two acres of Chardonnay and sixty acres of Merlot. They are a certified Sustainable winery, and they have an extensive list of practices they put in place to work in harmony with the natural surroundings, and “consistently produce luscious, elegant, fruit driven wines that best interpret the richness and distinct varietal characteristics of Sonoma’s unique, diverse terroir.”

I was able to sample four of their offerings, and while I enjoyed all of them and felt that they do indeed fall in line with the winery’s above stated mission statement, I really fell for their Chardonnay! It was rich and creamy, with well balanced oak, and the fruit shone through nicely. When I asked about if further, the nice ladies who were pouring samples were happy to answer my questions and I found that they ferment on the lees, which I tend to look for in white wines. I find the depth and richness it imparts to be very delicious.

If you are interested in trying some different wines and want to support wineries using green practices, I would recommend St. Francis.

 

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Live Wine Blogging at the 2017 WBC

Live Wine Blogging, the pre-eminent event at the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, was thrilling for me. I took it as a personal challenge to live Tweet as winemakers and winery representatives frantically poured wines to tables of bloggers.

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Louisa from The Grape Geeks in action during the Live Wine Blogging event.

The hour-long event was fast and furious as bloggers shouted out questions, wines were poured and quickly evaluated, keyboards clacked, and digital cameras whirred. After five minutes, the winemakers rotated to other tables. It was speed dating for wine tasters, and it was intense yet invigorating. Since it’s pretty much impossible to both take photos, Tweet, and live blog simultaneously, I focused on Tweeting.

Here I’ve compiled a list of all of my Tweets that were posted live on Twitter during the event. Next year I’ll try to do better with taking photos but solely using my tablet made more sense. Some bloggers refused to participate in the exercise because they feel that five minutes is not an appropriate amount of time to properly evaluate a wine, and I tend to agree. But these two sessions offered a helpful challenge for me and again, they were informational, exhilarating, and wholly enjoyable.

My journalism background greatly aided me during these exercises, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading my “off the cuff” descriptions and tasting notes.

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Full list of wineries participating in the White Wine Live Blogging event.

White Wine Live Blogging – Friday

Antica Winery
First up: @AnticaWine Block A26 Chardonnay, the 26 represents the 26th generation of this wine. Like buttered popcorn in the glass.

Hanna Winery
Hanna 2016 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc, made by the same winemaker for the last 16 years, something that’s almost totally unheard of. Beautiful aromas of fresh limes. #WBC17 @hannawinery

Leto Cellars
2014 Chardonnay from @Letocellars has the most delicious nose of toasted caramel, vanilla and bourbon! Crafted by winemaker Brad with St. Helena fruit and a sweet love story too. #WBC17

Acumen Wines
Time for the @AcumenWine 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, released only 4 days ago. Crisp, tart with a floral barnyard nose. Not what I expected from a Sauv Blanc, and that’s sometimes not a bad thing! #WBC17

William Hill Estate Winery
2015 North Coast Chardonnay from William Hill Estate Winery is an incredible value at $17. Peach and citrus notes marry to make a tasty, well balanced wine. #WBC17

Dancing Coyote Wines
Best logo so far goes to the whimsical @DC_Wines. Their Gruner Veltliner wine (indigenous to Austria) is the perfect crisp and dry white wine. #WBC17

Anaba Wines
White Rhone blend from @AnabaWines, the Turbine white blend. Why turbine? There’s a wind turbine on the property. The fresh floral nose instantly won me over! #WBC17

Paradise Ridge
Sad story from @ParadiseRidge, as they lost their tasting room and production facilities in the fires, but their spirits are high and the 2016 Grandview Sauv Blanc is yummy. #WBC17

Breathless Wines
The @BreathlessWines Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine is 70% pinot noir, 30% chardonnay, and 100% scrumptious. Hooray for bubbles! #WBC17 #hoorayforbubbles

Wagner Family of Wine
White Zin is the gateway wine for many, but Conundrum from @ConundrumWines is a great place for newbies to start. Slightly sweet & an easy intro to wine that’s also easy on your wallet. #WBC17

Frank Family
Who knew @FrankFamilyWine makes a sparkling wine? Production of 2000 cases of their ‘13 Blanc de Blancs is handmade in traditional method — and the attention to detail and quality shows. #WBC17

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Full list of wineries participating in the Red Wine Live Blogging event.

Red Wine Live Blogging – Saturday

The HILT
Live wine blogging at #WBC17 first up 2015 The HILT Pinot Noir, a blend from all of the winery’s vineyards. @TheHiltWines Approachable, light and an easy drinking red.

Wagner Family of Wine
“Best blend in CA for $25 bucks,” according to the @ConundrumWines rep. 2015 Conundrum is a crowd pleaser that will appeal to many different palates. It’s an on the porch, casual and relaxing type of sipper. Petite Sirah, Zin and Cab Sauv blend. #WBC17

Cliff Lede
2014 Cab Sauv from the Stags Leap District from @CliffLedeWine. All estate cab from their 60 acre vineyard, exciting addition of 9% Petit Verdot keeps things interesting. A great Bordeaux style blend aged in 75% new French oak. I LOVE THIS WINE! #WBC17

Planeta Winery
2016 vintage of Planeta La Segreta Nero D’Avola red from the Sicilia DOC. Long tart cherry finish that reminds me of freshly picked sour cherries, a result of its stainless steel tank fermentation. A value at $14.99 for those interested in new and up and coming wines. #WBC17

Jack Winery
Next up @JackWinery 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Diamond Mountain in Napa Valley. $121 price point and only 100 cases produced. Rich toasted vanilla notes from the 100% French oak barrels and 22 months of cave aging. #WBC17

Cain Vineyard and Winery
Love that @CainVineyardandWinery started out with a palate cleanser before launching into their 2006 Cain Five cab blend from the Spring Mt. District. Not my style of wine but those into aged Bordeaux styles may wish to seek it out. #WBC17

Troon Vineyard
First wine today from Oregon, estate bottled 2015 @troonwines Black Label Estate from Applegate Valley. 297 cases produced with no additives, no sugars, no enzymes, just sustainably farmed natural grapes. Interesting blend of tannat with malbec and a touch of tempranillo. #WBC17

St. Supery
A peppery, mouth puckering, soft yet tannic 2014 Napa Valley estate Cab Sauv from @StSupery, a big red from Rutherford & Dollarhide vineyards. Enticing coffee bean and mocha chocolate bar nose on this Bordeaux style wine. I fell in love with the second sip. #WBC17

Acumen Wines
The delightful Edgar pouring @AcumenWine 2013 Mountainside cab sauv, a perfect wine for meat eaters. I like wines I can feel and the mouth-coating, lush tannins feel like a day at the spa. It’s young and big and a winner. #WBC17

Rodney Strong Vineyards
Upshot 2015 non-traditional red blend from @rsvineyards has a touch of Riesling for its fruit-driven, soft edge. An odd and tasty wine that, at its reasonable $28 price point, could prove to be a real conversation starter at your next dinner party. #WBC17


Thanks for reading my collection of live Tweets and if you don’t already, please follow The Grape Geeks on Twitter at @thegrapegeeks.

Wine is Big Business in California

California has been blessed with the climate and terroir needed to produce many types of beautiful wine. No one can now argue that the state isn’t recognized the world over as a wine producing superpower. Everything from your less than $10 per bottle sipper, to collectible wines worthy of high end cellars anywhere in the world, wine in California is big business and employs many people in the process.

In light of the recent devastating fires in wine country, this article is timely and takes a look at how much economic heft the wine industry really has. The numbers are eye opening.

For all you statistic loving wine geeks out there, this article is for you! (myself included)

Wine Bloggers Conference Saturday Recap

Saturday marked day three of the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference. As promised, here’s a brief recap of the sessions and events of the day.

The early morning session was one that all bloggers, no matter how large or small their following, could find tremendous benefits. Led by Charlotte Chipperfield (founder and CEO of Chipperfield Media and a true social media expert), gave a super informative presentation that focused on boosting social media engagement and some creative way to funnel traffic to individual blogs (including a clever and savvy idea to use video as an enticement for your readers to click over and learn more). Special holiday ideas for blogging were also discussed as well as branding, photography, legal issues, and some no-nos to avoid in the world of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. According to Chipperfield, the single most important social media platform for bloggers is Facebook because of its 1.2 billion daily users.

Early afternoon brought a fantastic wine discovery session, an educational exploration of Alsace’s Pinot Gris styles. I’m new to the party when it comes to Pinot Gris (which uses the same grape as the lighter-bodied Pinto Grigio) so I soaked up the information presented here like a sponge and I took more notes during this session than any other. Cassidy Havens from Wines of Alsace led the nearly full room through the history of France’s gorgeous Pinot Gris wines. Attendees tasted three distinct styles from the region that ranged from dry and aromatic to off-dry and full bodied, to lusciously sweet. Check out my blog post on this session, The Complex Pinot Gris Wines of Alsace, for more in-depth info.

The late afternoon sessions were a bit difficult to sit through as they featured a panel of locals who lived through the devastating wildfires in Sonoma, Santa Rosa, and Napa sharing their stories of survival. The panel at the first session, titled Napa Valley Fires, included George Rose (photographer), Pierre Bierbent (winemaker at Signorello Estates, a winery that was damaged in the fires), Patsy McGaughy (Communications Director at Napa Valley Vintners), and Jolaine Collins (panel moderator). This was a tough session and many of the people in the room had tears in their eyes.

Next up was How the Media Can Respond to a Crisis, a useful seminar to hone in on how writers and reporters can use their skills to help communities when disaster strikes. This panel featured several writers who were instrumental in getting updated, breaking news out to the public via Twitter and social media, including journalist Sarah Stierch (who received a standing ovation from the room for her on-the-fly reporting during the fires). As Stierch put it, because of the fires “we all have PTSD up here, we’re all screwed up.” It was again reiterated that the best way for people to help is to visit the region and buy California wines.

The end of the day brought an hour for Live Red Wine Blogging, a follow-up to Friday’s Live White Wine Blogging. This event is one of the highlights of the Conference for many, and now that I’ve done survived two of the live blogging events I can see why! This speed dating for wine tasting is so addictive and so fun that the adrenaline rush starts as soon as the countdown begins! Roughly 30 tables of eight bloggers each sit and ask questions and type out Tweets or other social media posts as winemakers and wine reps rotate around the room in 5 minute increments. Check out my separate post that compiles all of my live Tweets that share my impressions of each wine. It was challenging, but I “got the hang of it” in this session.

The annual banquet and dinner was sponsored by NakedWines.com this year. NakedWines.com has a cool concept where people can fund small winemakers up-front. Users deposit $40 a month into their online accounts and the funds can be used to order wine or, as the money builds up, it’s being invested in indie winemakers all around the world. Such a cool concept and after the assortment of wines we were served at the dinner, I can attest that the quality is outstanding.

And about that dinner — the menu included a wild field greens with goat cheese salad, roasted chicken with proscuitto, and an apple tartin for dessert. The wine was free flowing as well. Not only did we have six different bottles of wine on our table (whites and red of varying varietals), there were nearly a dozen different wines to try. All of the wines served were super small production lot wines from NakedWines.com’s arsenal of independent winemakers.

My favorite wine of the night was a fragrant, crisp, and sweet beauty, the G. Stepp Pinot Blanc from winemaker Gerd Stepp. This wine sells for an astounding $13 per bottle but drinks like one of the high double-digit priced big boys. I helped myself to a couple of glasses of this tasty and exotic Pinot Blanc.

The evening ended with an exciting announcement that the WBC 2018 will be held in…drumroll, please…Walla Walla, Washington. Cheers and whoops filled the room after the announcement was made, and the fun continued with an unofficial after party in the lobby that raged until 3 a.m.

This was my very first WBC but I’m going to register for 2018 next week. See you there!

The Complex Pinot Gris Wines of Alsace

Day three of the Wine Bloggers Conference and I just attended a great seminar on the wines of Alsace. I chose this tasting panel because I normally drink big California reds and I wanted to branch out and try something completely different from an area that I knew nothing about. Never in a million years would I have guessed that after tasting a trio of Pinot Gris from France would I almost instantly fall in love!

Alsace is located in northeastern France and is sheltered by the Vosges Mountains. With a low risk of rot and disease, winemakers seize the opportunity to produce highly aromatic, expressive wines with minimal intervention — and the results, at least based on the trio of wines I tried today, are astounding.

On the tasting menu were three very different white wines from the region. First up was the Timbach Pinot Gris 2014, a super dry wine with a lovely mineral nose of floral stone fruit. For those wine geeks into the technical aspects, this wine has a 6.3 g/l acidity, 5.4 g/l residual sugar, and 13.5% alcohol with an astonishingly affordable bottle price of $26.

Next was a wine that changed my life. Not only was it my favorite of the three, but it was one of the very best wines I have ever had, period. It was the Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Grand Cru Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain 2012. The alluring and graceful nose featured sweet tropical honey notes and the wine itself had a full body and drank like a glass of velvet. This wine has a 3.4 g/l acidity, 38 g/l residual sugar, and 14.5% alcohol with a $90 retail price.

The final wine tasted was the Albert Mann Pinot Gris Altenbourg le Tri Selection des Grains Nobles 2007. I was first blown away by the gorgeous deep golden color of the wine and the fact that this was a decade old vintage. This late harvest wine would be perfect as an after dinner tipple, with its marvelous nose of honeycomb and a flavor that was reminiscent of tropical fruit syrup. This wine has a 102 g/l acidity, 237 g/l residual sugar, and 9.5% alcohol, with a retail price of $115.

Alsace has the most diverse terroir in France (with 13 distinct soil types) and is also the second driest region in the country, two factors that slow the ripening of the grapes. This in turn makes the wines produced have common characteristics like lovely aromatics, an astonishing complexity, and solid structure. White wine is the superstar of the region (about 90% of the wines produced here are white and nearly 16% of Alsace’s vineyards are devoted to the beloved Pinot Gris), and these are sturdy whites that can age well for 20 to 30 years.

The region labels its wines by variety and each wine must contain 100% of the specified grape. Even better is that a commendable 15% of the vineyards in the region are organic or biodynamic. Suggested food pairings for these earthy and powerful Pinot Gris wines are mushrooms, bacon, and pork.

While the Zind-Humbrecht was hands down my favorite, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed all three of these wines. This seminar has encouraged me to seek out more wines from Alsace and I hope you will too.

 

Wine Bloggers Conference Friday Recap

Today was day two of my first ever Wine Bloggers Conference. So far this has been an overwhelming experience and I’ve learned countless things and met so many of my wine loving peers. I barely had one free minute today so I thought I’d do a quick recap of today’s events (albeit I’m currently writing this at 2:15 am).

The highlights of Friday’s conference were:

Informative lectures including The Ethics of Wine Writing from Fred Swan, Fact Checking & Finding Sources from Wine Business Monthly editor Cyril Penn, and Enriching Your Wine Vocabulary from Andrea Robertson.

A deli lunch hosted by El Dorado Wines, one of California’s oldest winemaking regions. The El Dorado area brought more than two dozen winemakers, all from family-owned wineries, to pour their wines and discuss them with tables full of bloggers. The individual winery production ranged anywhere from 500 cases up to 20,000 cases. This was the highlight of the day for me. Being able to connect with the actual folks behind the bottle and sharing in the excitement and enthusiasm for these wines and the wine region was a fantastically rewarding experience.

Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC Wine Discovery Session, a special wine tasting seminar of the unusual Turbiana wines from Northern Italy. I chose this seminar because not only do I absolutely adore Italy, I’d never tried any of these white wines before. Eager to learn more about the region that lies near Lake Garda, I was most surprised by the overall saline minerality of the wines. It’s amazing what the soil can do to a wine and here the calcareous clay works to preserve the grape’s natural acidity while also yielding incredibly complex flavors (think of a salty lemon)!

A rousing and often hilarious address delivered by Doug Frost, one of only four individuals in the world to simultaneously hold the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier titles. Frost’s advice to wine bloggers? “Be yourself.” Oh, and my personal favorite: “when it’s a shitty wine, it’s a shitty wine.” That’s a man after my own heart!

The overwhelming and world famous WBC Live White & Rosé Wine Blogging, a.k.a. “wine speed dating.” I had a ton of fun with this event as it challenged me to be quick on my feet (or was it with my fingers?) as I frantically asked questions, furiously snapped photos, and quickly interviewed each winemaker for live social media postings as they visited our table in 5 minute increments to pour their wine before they rotated to the next table. At first I found this stressful but it became invigorating within minutes. Can’t wait for the Live Red Wine Blogging session tomorrow!

Ending the day with a casual dinner excursion to Martin Ray Winery and trying a large portfolio of white and red wines (including a killer Chardonnay that retails for the bargain price of $23) and a buffet style spread of woodfired pizzas with playful toppings like pear with potato, macaroni and cheese with sweet potatoes, green beans, and roasted cauliflower. It was a vegetarian’s dream come true but even meat eaters were in foodie heaven.

That’s just a brief summary of my packed day here at the WBC! Stay tuned for Saturday’s update.

Jordan Winery’s Short-Sightedness

Today I sat through a panel discussion titled “What Companies Want from Wine Bloggers” at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, CA. I was interested in hearing what a group of esteemed public relations experts had to say about wine bloggers and reviewers, eager to learn some great tips to help new wine journalists like me who are just starting out. Plus, this was supposedly the top rated topic of previous conferences.

I don’t want to be seen as a Negative Nancy, but this session has been bothering me all day. Even after a cool down period of nearly 24 hours, I’m still just as upset. I discussed my thoughts with several other writers in attendance and they all agreed with my very valid points, so I’ve decided to write this post. I feel like this session should’ve instead been titled “Why You Don’t Matter and Should Stop Blogging, You Worthless Loser.”

Everything started out fine with the panel (which included Lisa Mattson from Jordan Winery, Ariane Hiltebrand from Sonoma County Tourism, Katie Calhoun of Calhoun & Company, and Allison Levine of Please the Palate) discussing general items like maintaining a standard of professionalism, editing, and generating useful content. It’s when Mattson began spouting off how Jordan Winery only prefers to work with “qualified media” bloggers that things started going South.

I do not want this to come off as a hit piece on Mattson, but there’s a gross reality that her total lack of empathy and short-sightedness left me feeling so dejected that I almost wanted to pack up my bags and leave Santa Rosa. First up was her insistence that all serious bloggers have a massive amount of influence in terms of follower numbers across all social media platforms seems impossible for little blogs like this one. She threw out huge numbers like “10,000 or more” followers on Twitter to “400 likes” on a single Instagram post. I’m not Katy Perry!

I soon started to feel that maybe this panel didn’t belong at the WBC. Over the last two days I’ve met some truly incredible and talented writers, all with unique voices and all with relevant and meaningful things to say. Many of us here are tiny, and some are even smaller than The Grape Geeks. Some of us are fortunate to have over 1,000 followers and readers, but why should those with 300 or 50 or even 10 followers be considered less important than anyone else?

Remember that we all have to start somewhere, and many of us here are following our passion and our dreams. As one fellow (and much more seasoned) blogger put it tonight when I expressed my irritation, “she had no business being discouraging like that.

Mattson’s comments left me feeling so dejected that I now have crummy feelings towards Jordan Winery; so much so that I don’t ever want to purchase or drink a bottle of Jordan wine ever again.

Making matters worse, some of the panelists gave the strong impression that they actually look down on bloggers, assuming most of us in the room were there for no other reason than to beg for unreasonable freebies from wineries. I’m not looking for fancy complimentary trips to Italy or free cases of $150 wine sent to my door. Every single wine I’ve ever reviewed I’ve purchased with my own dime, and I do this for the love of writing and the joy of wine. It’s at this point when the session took me from being dispirited to downright angry.

We were strongly encouraged by the panel to always use a “positive voice versus a negative voice” (which is a bogus “rule” I’m breaking right now in a blaze of glory). As an Elite Yelper it’s something I see time and time again when I leave a less than positive review. Instead of a company trying to be better, they criticize and attempt to demonize the reviewer. Those businesses are the kind who leave rude responses online and if you’re even vaguely familiar with Yelp, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

The kicker of all this is that the “What Companies Want” panelists were almost at total odds with Fred Swan’s excellent earlier session on the Ethics of Wine Writing. Instead of telling the truth and giving the whole picture as we were instructed earlier, several of these women repeated that bloggers should never “go negative” when writing about wines or wineries. Well guess what? I’m going to go rogue and stay honest in my blogging. If I don’t like my experience, be it in the tasting room or sitting in an audience of 300+ wine bloggers while I’m repeatedly told that I’m so small that I don’t matter, I’m always going to go with honesty. Every time. My voice is valuable and I’ll keep writing, but I’m going to do it my way — no matter if my opinion is positive, negative, or indifferent. At least I can stand tall because I’ll still have my integrity.

I feel the panelists (Mattson in particular) are extremely shortsighted. Yes, I understand that wineries are businesses and they can’t send out full bottle samples of all their wines to the thousands who ask, or routinely invite hundreds of writers on lavish trips or to black tie dinner events, but stingy wineries are no good for profits either. If you refuse to work with the small fish blogs, then we can’t write or share or tell our friends and family about that great Chardonnay that would be perfect by the beach house or that rich Cabernet that reminds us of a cozy Fall sweater.

Perhaps we can’t greatly influence your bottom line, but many other wineries appreciate and respect the grassroots movement when building excitement and homegrown buzz towards a brand. Jordan is one of the big boys and probably doesn’t need the support of nor do they care about small time writers, but my point is that although I think they should, their representative at the Wine Bloggers Conference ought to, at the very minimum, not discourage and insult their core customer base. We may be writers but we are also consumers.

I don’t know the WBC etiquette for a post like this and hell, I might not ever be invited back as an attendee after publishing it. But I felt the need to get all of this off my chest, especially since many others expressed similar sentiments.