Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday & Wine = Match Made in Heaven

Courtesy of Corbis Images
I don't know what it is about Sundays, especially rainy and cold winter Sundays, which makes me want to curl up with a glass of rich red wine. Wine just seems to make the world more complete..and warmer. All the more reason I have fallen in love with a wine bar within walking distance of my house. Not only is it cozy, complete with couches and secret nooks to lounge in, they also have live music on Sunday evenings and 20% off bottles before 7 pm. The Acoustic Duo, on guitar and cello come together in the most inspiring way. Having only been playing together for two months, the harmony and grace of this music paired with the wine, will surely make you sink into your chair and relax for evening.

Last Sunday, we consumed a blend of Petite Verdot and Petite Syrah. Not as heavy as I was expecting it to be but full of flavor and structure with moderate tannins. Definitely a romantic wine which played into the atmosphere perfectly. This bottle, paired with the most generous size cheese plate, was the icing to top the perfect little Sunday cake.

I highly recommend the Wine Jar on Fillmore st. @ Bush st. Cozy up all winter long..it is the perfect way to end or start your week.

Cheers to winter, stay warm!
Charlotte

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

MacRostie Winery: A Sentimental Moment

MacRostie Winery holds a special place in my heart. Located in the cool Carneros region of Sonoma, I have to admit, I felt spoiled driving to work every day during crush in 2007. For three grueling months of physically demanding work, often lasting up to 10 hours a day, I have to say, crush was an experience of a lifetime! Despite being physically demanding, I am so thankful I had this experience. Not only did I gain hand-ons experience working in the cellar but I gained valuable knowledge of the wine making process as a whole. The discount on wine wasn't bad either!

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
Before leaving MacRostie, I purchased a 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Feeling the need to drink something exceptional, (and not the $10 bargain from my corner store,) I decided it was time to open the 2004 Cabernet. Being 6 years old, I was giddy with excitement when I opened the bottle. I could not wait to be introduced to this wine. When I smelt the wine I was blown away! First of all, I wasn't being introduced to someone new but rather catching up with an old friend. I could not get over the fact that I could smell the cellar where the wine was made. Some people might call this a defect but it wasn't that at all, it was purely sentimental. When I closed my eyes and smelled the wine I could literally remember the smells of the cellar and it took me right back to working at MacRostie. I was amazed and intrigued. The wine was structured, bold, rich and full of fruit and integrity. After drinking a glass the wine began to open up and I felt slightly guilty having opened the wine so young. The wine could be laid down for at least 4 more years. Maybe I should have waited to open this bottle but sometimes catching up with an old friend is priceless.

Santé!
Charlotte

Monday, August 23, 2010

Life, Wine and a New Direction

After taking a small hiatus from my blog, I am back! It is amazing how life can demand your full attention. My focus has been on finding a new apartment and job. Happily, I have been successful at both and as a result, I have become stronger and finally feel more settled into this new phase of life. On the other hand, for the first time in 3 years, my "day-job" is no longer in the wine industry. This is partly due to choice but mostly due to circumstances. I have to say it is a refreshing change of pace. I feel as if wine had come to define me. I was so consumed in the small world of the wine industry (and believe me, it is small,) that I often didn't leave that realm. Don't get me wrong, wine is still a passion of mine and I will forever be connected to the industry. But I have taken some time to take a welcomed step aside. It is amazing how consumed I was. I often compare the wine industry to the fashion industry. They are both fast paced, it is all about who you know, the latest trends, events and keeping track of new comers. Slowing down my pace has had an amazing effect on my relationship with wine.

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
For the first time in a long time, I find myself no longer searching for the best adjective to describe a wine, in fact, I don't need any at all. I feel as if I have lost touch with the joy of just enjoying a glass of wine. For the first time, I had a glass of wine without talking about it, without searching for words to describe it, I just sit back, drink and relaxed. I believe that wine truly deserves respect and silence in order to understand it, it will tell you so much more that way.

As I move forward with this blog, it will still be all about wine but I will shift my focus to be more on the experiences surrounding wine, including the people, food, environment and also photography, which is another passion of mine. I hope you continue to read and enjoy this blog!


Santé!
Charlotte

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brooks Winery: Inspiration in Every Bottle

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
I first heard of Brooks Winery a number of years ago. Their story is one that will inspire and brings new meaning to the unity of the wine industry. Brooks Winery was founded in 1998 by Portland native Jimi Brooks. The winery is dedicated to organic and biodynamic farming producing world class Pinot Noir and Riesling. Nestled in the Eola-Amity Hills of the Willamette Valley, Brooks Winery has known hardship, having to overcome sadness in order to reach the top. 


Jimi Brooks was dedicated to both his family and making exceptional wines. In 2004, Jimi was a rising star in the Oregon wine industry when tragedy struck. At the young age of 38, Jimi suffered a fatal heart attack. Jimi intended to one day leave the winery to his son Pascal. With the unexpected death, the timing came well before planned. At this time, Pascal was not more than 7 years old. Making him the youngest winery owner ever. When I was 7 years old, I could hardly handle getting up for school everyday, let alone the responsibility of running the family business. As the tragedy of Jimi's death spread through the valley, winemakers and winery supporters came together to keep Brooks Winery alive. Teams of winemakers come together every year and volunteer their time and expertise in order to create each vintage. Along with a memorial fund in Pascel's name and family members running the winery, Brooks Winery has continued to create its legacy. 

As of 2006, Chris Williams came on at the Chief Winemaker, having worked with Jimi Brooks before at Willakenzie Estates. Chris is dedicated to helping Pascal continue Jimi's philosophy of winemaking. The 2006 vintage is also significant to Brooks Winery as their Ara Riesling was served at the White House for President Obama's first State Dinner.


courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
The Brooks' Amycas white table wine is one of my favorites. It is a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. Fermented in stainless steel this wine is crisp and aromatic. Overall, there is a great balance and structure to the wine. Lots of minerality, floral, apricot, melons and lime. A great summer wine to pair with seafood, salads, dips and cheese.

Every time I drink Brooks' wines, I feel inspired by each bottle to live out my dreams and support those around me. Life is short, sometimes unexpectedly short. It is so important to do what you love. I continue to purchase Brooks' wines not only because I thoroughly enjoy them, but to help support Pascal in continuing his dad's dream and legacy which I hope becomes his own.



Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Farm to Fork: A Restaurant Review

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
The Dundee Hills are considered the heart of Oregon wine country. Located in the Willamette Valley these rolling hills offer a sanctuary to escape the everyday hustle and bustle. At the top of these scenic hills, you are surrounded by vineyards and masses of oak and fir trees. Standing on top of these hills is surreal. It is a peaceful and silent existence and on a clear day, you can see Mt. Hood seemingly watching over the precious valley fruit. The rolling hills resemble pictures I have seen of Burgundy but never experienced, I imagine it is a similar feeling. At the bottom of the hills, just off highway 99, there is a restaurant called Farm to Fork. Just over a year old, this restaurant has be getting some serious attention. Located inside The Inn at Red Hills, Farm to Fork, makes everything in house from the mayo to the pickles. The restaurant also sources everything from local producers within 200 miles of Dundee, with the fruit coming from the local De Lancellotti Vineyards and Farm. Executive Chef, Paul Bachand, creates seasonal menus to promote sustainability and freshness.

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
After a day of taking photographs in the valley, we stopped at Farm to Fork for an early dinner. With an open floor plan accommodating a cafe, wine bar and restaurant, we opted to sit closer to the wine, of course. The menus were presented and I have to say, I loved the layout. Each page represented a different course from salads, cheeses, meats and fish. With about 5 options per page, I was amazed with scrumptious choices. For the first course, we ordered the butter lettuce salad. The presentation was grand! Stacked tall with red onions and fresh parmesan cheese and just enough bleu cheese dressing, I was hooked and ready for more!

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
The next dish was a warm goat cheese tart drizzled with honey served with an arugula salad topped with beet chips. The tart was amazing! First of all, I love goat cheese, but the flaky, house-made crust stole the show! That isn't to say it dominated in flavor, but rather you could tell it was freshly made by the way it just melted off your tongue. It was a real treat and made me wonder why I ever settle for generic crust. The beet chips on top of the salad were also delicious! I wonder if I can't make those at home....

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
Next we had a Duck and Pork Rillettes which is very similar to meat pâté. Served with olive oil crostinis and a papaya salad. The Rillette was well made and creamy in texture. The crostinis were a nice crispy balance to the buttery pâté. Finally, (as if I still had room for more!) the halibut arrived with giant butter beans in a light butter sauce, topped with leeks cooked in lemon juice. The halibut was cooked to perfection, juicy and flaky. Every time I went to take a bite, the fish seem to slide right off my fork. The only bad thing to say about this dish was with the leek topping. There was so much lemon juice added that it became the only flavor you could taste. Being a lover of leeks, I was a little disappointed.

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
Now I'm sure you are wonder where is the wine? I'm not sure if it was the romantic rilling hills or the sunset but I fell in love. Throughout the meal, I was drinking and in awe of, the recently release 2008 Bergstrom Pinot Noir. Made locally by the same family who own De Lancelloti Vineyards, (which I mentioned above,) this pinot absolutely captivated me with all its subtleties and finesse. It was "my" style of pinot, full of dark cherries, raspberries, a hint of earthiness on the nose and layered with a touch of oak and lots of baking spices. This is the kind of wine I want to grow old with. Retails for $25. The winery also has single vineyard designated wines, I will be making a trip to the tasting room to try those!

Overall, the food and wine were amazing! I recommend stopping here for lunch or dinner during your next wine tasting trip in the Willamette Valley. I would also caution to go with patiences as the service has yet to be on par with the food and wine or pick up delectable picnic salads and sandwiches to go from their cafe.

Santé and Happy Dining!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Agate Ridge Wine Contest

Agate Ridge Winery located in the Rogue Valley, Oregon was established in 2001. They are currently holding a Change the World Wine Contest. Contestants can enter by writing a short essay about how they would change the world with 1 case of wine. The winner is determined by number of public votes. The winner will receive 2 cases of Agate Ridge wine, 1 to change the world with and 1 to celebrate changing the world.

Below is my entry you can also read it here on the official site. Be sure to vote for your favorite or enter the contest yourself...just be sure to share the winnings! ;) To vote for your favorite entry visit the official contest site.

Reinstall Hope to the Unemployed

With a mixed case of Agate Ridge wine and a mission to change the world, I would host an educational wine tasting event. This will not be your ordinary wine tasting. There will be multiple stations of wine and food, each featuring a fun ice-breaker game for guests to get to know each other and network. The food will be decadent and provided by local and sustainable restaurants. Who are the guests you ask? First, I would invite 20 people who have been hard hit by unemployment. Then, I would invite 20 top executives and HR directors who are currently hiring. Throughout the evening, employers and potential employees will learn about wine while getting to know each other. My goal is to not only reinstall hope to those who have been discourage looking for work but to give these individuals a fun and decadent evening to enjoy. My ultimate goal, by the end of the evening, is for each formally unemployed individual to be paired with their new employer. By providing a fun, informative food and wine experience, I hope to reinstall hope for the future and help to change the world just a little bit, for the better.

Santé!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wine Review: 2008 RoxyAnn Syrah

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
Syrah is one of my favorite grape varieties. I always find myself getting lost in its complexity. Drinking Syrah is a seductive and memorizing process, it's like waiting for a rose to blossom. It can't be rushed, the temperature has to be just right and it needs time to come into its own before you can truly respect its beauty. As I popped the cork on a 2008 RoxyAnn Syrah, I knew I was in for a relaxing and enjoyable evening.

RoxyAnn winery is located in the Rogue Valley Oregon. Founded in 2002, the winery has made a commitment to producing high-quality and complex wines. RoxyAnn is also committed to sustainable agriculture and is a part of the LIVE Organization, (Low Impact Viticulture and Enology.) The vineyards are located on the Roxy Ann Peak. The combination of limestone/clay soils with ideal sun exposure, makes this vineyard ideal for growing varietals such as Syrah.

As I began to swirl this Syrah in my glass, I was memorized by the color, a weighty, deep intense purple. The nose was layered with blueberries, raspberries, honey, baking spices and concentrated plum. On the palate I was overwhelmed with blueberries...overwhelmed in the best possible way, blueberries are my favorite berry! I had a hard time getting passed the blueberry flavors at first but I knew to give it some time and the wine would open up just like a flower. After some time, I was still getting a lot of blueberry but it was now layered with cinnamon and coffee. It honestly was like drinking a blueberry coffeecake! I have never tasted a Syrah like this and could not get enough! It had an excellent, well balanced structure with a finish that lasted for hours and solid tannins. I think this wine could be aged for 5-10 years with ease. I would recommend this Syrah with pork chops and apple chutney. The chutney will balance and compliment the wine's fruit and spice characteristics while the weight and tannins will stand up to the meatiness. Be sure to save some wine for after the meal to watch it evolve and become dessert in itself! Retails for around $25.

Santé!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Winestock

Braving the monsoon rains, I found myself belly up to the bar at Winestock. A fantastic neighborhood wine bar nestled in the historic downtown of Oregon City, Oregon. With a sleek decor and plenty of tables and couches to relax, this is an ideal location for a leisurely wine tasting experience. Surrounded by wine racks filled with wine from around the world and whimsical candle light, you feel as if you have been invited into a collector's private cellar.
courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com

Every Thursday evening, Winestock offers themed tasting flights. This particular week was a choice of 5 wines for $10. I felt like a kid in a candy shop! With an excellent glass selection to satisfy any palate, choosing just 5 seemed impossible, so we tried 10! I have highlighted the three which really stood out to me. The full list of additional wines tasted is below.

  • Tintero, Grangia, Favorita Piedmont Italy NV. The grape is Grangia, a native Italian varietal. I was very intrigued since I had never tried this grape variety before. It is also worth noting the 'NV' or non-vintage, meaning it is most likely a blend from more than one vintage or year. If Sauvignon Blanc, Arneis and Albranio had a baby...Grangia would be it's name! This white wine is crisp, light on the palate and very refreshing. It tasted of minerals, grass and bright bursts of citrus. Medium acid structure with a soft finish. A perfect accompaniment to salads or light appetizers such as scallops. This wine reminds me of summer! Priced at $12. 
  • 2008 Deux Fen Estates Pinot Noir, Yamhill Valley. This wine was a real treat and my favorite wine of the night. A local producer with its production facilities a stones throw away from Winestock,  I was completely captivated with the aromas alone. Almost too good to drink...almost! A very fruit forward wine with aromas of bright cherry, blackberry, slight earliness, nutmeg, cinnamon with a fresh floral component. On the palate, there were layers of flavors. I got lots of floral to start, then by a burst of fruit, finishing long with fairly light tannins. This wine resembles a best friend, someone you can sit with for hours, it's comforting, familiar and a great story teller! Priced at $25. 
courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
  • Quinto Do Infantado 10 year old Tawny Porto. This producer has been producing port since 1816 and man do they know what they are doing! Port is a fortified wine, generally with an alcohol percentage around 20%. It is a beverage I enjoy once and while and have recently been tasting more and more. Cheese and port is a classic pairing and a great way to finish a meal. This Tawny Port was brick red/brown in colour, had a bold noise full of raisins and nuts. On the palate, lots of dried dark fruits such as plum and raisins, lots of nutty characteristics, a touch of sweetness, big bold finish. I highly recommend pairing with blue cheese or a cheese with a nutty characteristic.  Priced at ~ $40.
Here is the list of the additional wines tasted. If you are interested in reading my tasting notes/comments on these wines please e-mail me charlotte@the-wine-key.com :
  1. Veuve Du Vernay, Blanc du Blanc, France Brut NV (Sparkling)
  2. 2008 Phelps Creek Pinot Noir Rosé, Columbia Gorge, Oregon
  3. 2009 Evesham Wood Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon $12
  4. 2009 Illahe Vineyards Viognier, Willamette Valley, Oregon $16
  5. 2006 Montoya Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California $18
  6. 2008 Owen Roe, Abbot's Table, 24% Zinfandel, 22% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 10% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Blaufrankish, 4% Malbec, Columbia Valley, Oregon 
Next week at Winestock: Tempranillo and Cava! 
Santé!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Favorite Food & Wine Pairing

Found on Google Images


"I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food."

-W.C. Fields


What is one of your favorite food and wine pairings?? I love Champagne and French Fries! ;)

Santé!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Italian Romance

courtesy charlottechipperfielfphotogrphy.com
Happy Friday Everyone!!

Two weeks ago I picked up a bottle of Italian Nebbiolo from Piedmont made by Pedere Ruggeri Corsini. From the sub-region of Langhe, vintage 2007. Priced around $20 (I was so excited to drink it, I forgot to note the price!) I have to say this was love at first taste!

The bright ruby to brick red colour slightly resembled a pinot noir. Slow tears confirmed the 14.5% alcohol.

The nose completely transported me to the rustic Italian countryside just after it had rained. Like I mentioned in my last posting, I love wine with an essence of place or terrior. There was a great musty and earthy quality. A slight barnyard or horse barn smell. So really, it was like standing in a horse barn in the Italian countryside right after it rained...really. :) There was lots of ripe dark cherries with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.

The palate was an explosion of black cherries stewed in cinnamon which were then coated in dark chocolate. It also tasted of strawberries and plums nestled in the earthiness mentioned on the nose. The finish was long with a touch of coffee grounds and strong tannins. The acid was on the higher side, making this a perfect pairing for any tomato based sauce or veggies cooked in olive oil or butter.

This was an Italian Romance at first taste! I highly recommend this bottle, I hope you get a chance to try it! If you do, I would love to hear about!

Santé!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Risking Terrior to make Compelling Wines?

Found on Google Images

I've been reading a few blogs and news articles lately discussing unique grape varieties being grown in new regions. Understandably, this is a common event but how many different varietals can you plant in one area before it becomes overrun with non-native varietals and which wines are truly authentic to the terrior? I've read some strong sentiments wishing to see more Barbera, Nebbiolo and Albranio etc. in California. If you know me at all, you know I'm obsessed with Albranio, but from California? Part of the romance of Albranio is that it is from Spain. I feel like I can taste the mineral laced soils of Rais Baixas. For that moment, I escape to Spain, I taste the terrior and feel like I'm seating by the sea in Europe. The wine transports me to an exotic and exciting place I have never been before. Mind you, I haven't been to all parts of California but I wonder if an Albranio from California would have the same effect? Do I live too close to California for it to transport me or is terrior playing a bigger role? Terrior is the 'je ne sais quoi' in wines. It's the combination of soils, climate, weather patterns that make a region, and ultimately a wine. That is why Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tastes different to those of the Bordeaux region in France. Some will argue winemaking techniques also play a role, but when it really comes down to it, winemaking plays a supporting role in the final product.

So when I read articles full of disappointment because winemakers aren't taking enough risk by planting a wider variety of grapes in California, I have to stop and wonder, should we be taking more risks planting anything and risk loosing the 'je ne sais quoi?' Is it worth losing a regional identity to make interesting and compelling wines? Cabernet Sauvginon and other traditional French varietals are becoming more prevalent in certain parts of Italy but should native Italian varietals be planted in California? I think we should be planting what is best suitable to the environment. That is the whole concept of terrior, different environments, different grapes. Can one region really be suitable for all varietals? Maybe I'm just a traditionalist and I don't want to risk terrior. I just don't want to see the same varietals from multiple countries all start tasting generic. I want to escape to Spain once in a while. ;)

As a final note, those of you in San Francisco on June 5th, there is a tasting event put on by the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigo Society (http://www.tapasociety.org/) at Fort Mason. $35 a ticket gets you in to taste from wineries making the lesser known varietals. I'm not against this organization and I know there are some winemakers taking these risks and making phenomenal wines, I just don't want to see it overdone. Would love to hear if you attend!

Santé

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spanish Wine Tasting


In the spirit of "continuing" my education of wines, this evening, I attended a wine tasting at a local wine shop in West Linn, Oregon, called Wine About It. The theme was Spain featuring 5 wines.

The first was a 2008 Naia Verdejo from Rueda Spain. Rueda is a region located on the Western side of Spain close to Portugal. This indigenous grape variety, Verdejo, makes a very crisp white wine with lots of citrus fruits such as lemon, lime and grapefruit. In addition to citrus fruits there was a great minerality, bedrock stones. The body was medium and had a great well balanced finish. This is a perfect seafood wine or to drink poolside, just in time for summer! Priced at $13.99.


Second was the 2009 Bestue Rosé. Made in Somontano just two wine making regions to the east of the well known Rioja. This rosé is a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. I have to say this wine was the most surprising because it did not smell or taste like I expected it would. Lots of spicy characteristic from the Tempranillo. There was a lot of ripe strawberry and raspberry flavors. With a long spicy finish, this is a perfect rustic BBQ wine priced at $15.99.


Third was a wine aged 10 years before release, 1999 Anciano Tempranillo from Valdepenas. This wine is 100% Tempranillo. A well rounded wine, great acid structure and medium bodied. Lots of red fruit, cherries and plum. Oak was evident but did a great job as a supporting role. Priced at $11.99 it is a Gran Reserva steal!

The fourth wine was the 2007 Volver from La Mancha, the largest region in Spain. This wine was also 100% Tempranillo which was very interesting to compare to #3 since they were very different. This is due to a couple of reasons; region, vintage and wine making techniques. For instance, this wine is younger and made with new oak barrels. The oak was much more evident on this wine. With a deep ruby colour and lots of red and purple fruits, plum, cherry, blackberry and lots of tannins. Priced at $13.99 this is a great wine for any dinner party.

The fifth and finally wine of the evening was the 2005 Altos de Luzon from the Jumilla region in Southeast Spain. This was my favourite wine of the evening because it was full bodied and bold. Made from 50% Monastell or Mourvèdre, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Tempranillo. Lots of blackberry and black cherry fruits, spice, a hint of green vegetable and oak. I think I liked this wine the most because it is best suited to people who enjoy Napa Valley Cabernets displaying the same mouthfeel, flavors and structure. In a blind tasting I'm not sure I would guess it is from Spain but overall a great wine priced at $17.99.

Hope you get to enjoy a few of these wines! I would love to hear what you are tasting as well!

Santé!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Women of Wine

I just finished reading a book called Women of Wine: The Rise of Women in the Global Wine Industry, written by Ann B. Matasar, which traces the history of women and their involvement/influence in the wine industry. I was both motivated and sadden by the book. It is very interesting to read the stories of women paving paths in the wine industry such as Janis Robinson, Heidi Peterson Barrett, Merry Edwards and Mireille Guiliano, to name a few. Each women has come across numerous hurdles and in most cases, worked twice as hard as their male counterparts to reach the top of their careers.

As much as I was truly inspired by most of these women, I was sadden by the fact that gender issues still exist. I was extremely sadden by certain old world traditions where daughters have to convince their own fathers that they are capable of running the family business after generations of male family members have been running the business. Even if they obtain the opportunity and title of CEO, it could be taken from them at any moment, whereas a male sibling would hold the title and would not be at risk of having the opportunity taken away. The most outrageous moment in the book talked about a superstition in France, which still holds true today at certain wineries, stating, "women are not allowed near fermenting wine because...if they are menstruating the wine might turn to vinegar or referment monthly." (pg.11.) Unbelievable!

Understandably, each women has dealt with gender issues differently. I was surprised by the number that said gender roles weren't an issue or rather chose to ignore it in order to stay focused while others didn't hesitate to say women have to work twice as hard and often skip out on office happy hours at the risk of looking like a "loose" women fraternizing with the guys. The wine industry is social industry, happy hours are a vital extension of the office. The double standard of women and alcohol needs to disappear. I was also sadden with a number of women who have "made it," but do not have time to network or mentor the next generation. As women having to work so hard to remain at the top that do not have a moment to look back or are they afraid of being labeled a feminist by helping other women succeed?

Even the list of blogs featured on winebusiness.com are all written by men. I think it is time for gender to stop being the driving force that dictates who becomes more successful in certain jobs and industries. The best person for the job should be advancing. As I have run into some hurdles in my own wine career I am looking to these women for inspiration. I am making a commitment both to myself and to the industry that I will not give up and help erase gender stereotypes. As I adopt a "Life is tough- so what?" attitude like Piero Antinori, I will continue to do my part through education, blogging and experience. With that being said I am just over two months away from the Sommelier exam. As I taste and studying wine I will be sharing my experiences here at The Wine Key.

Monday, April 12, 2010

San Francisco Vintner's Market 2010


I attended the first ever San Francisco Vintner's Market this past Saturday. This was different from other industry tastings in that it was set up in a conventional hall at Fort Mason. 100+ vintners from all over California set up a table for tasting. In addition, there were many local food vendors offering cheese, cupcakes and chocolate..oh my! What was different about this tasting was the opportunity to purchase wine on premise. In past tastings such as Pinot Days, ZAP etc., the idea was to just get the word out about your brand, drive up mailing lists and network. This time tickets to the event cost $30 (I won a free ticket!!) much cheaper than the other events allowing tasters to purchase the wines they liked on the spot. The wineries came prepared with extra wine to sell. I saw lots of people walking out with cases of wine. I wonder how much was sold over all. Purchases have been prevented onsite before due technology. Credit cards need to be able to communicate to satellite and banks and with over 100 wineries using them, it is a large undertaking. Customers paying cash, however, saw price breaks.

Overall, I had a great time at the event! I was really impressed with the line up of wineries. I've been working in the industry for a few years and was surprised by the amount of wineries I wasn't familiar with. It was a great opportunity for these wineries to gain more exposure, but for me, it was like finding a treasure chest! My favorite winery was Ziata. Named after her mom, proprietor Karen Cakebread makes only Sauvgnion Blanc and Pinot Noir from the Carneros region in Napa Valley. The wines were amazing! Well balanced full of fruit, structure and earthiness. If you get a chance to purchase these wines, do so! I hope to see more industry and public tastings set up similar to the Vintner's Market in the future.

Santé!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Time to Change the Business Model

I recently came across a quote which not only represents a basic marketing principle but a quote which can be applied to the wine industry: “Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don't.”- Seth Godin.

From my experience in the fine wine industry I can not express how important this quote is, especially during this challenging economic time. Consumers are having more and more difficulty justifying a purchase of a $35 (or more) bottle of wine. I have extensive tasting room experience and have seen again and again how companies become so number focused. I agree that the bottom line drives a lot of action or in-action in some cases. But what essentially sells wine is a story. Unless the company and the people working for that company can truly identify with the story and message, I have a hard time believing some brands will succeed. More importantly, during this economic time, I think it is important to drop prices and make wine more accessible to the masses. I believe you can do this without losing brand loyalty. More young people are drinking wine and making it apart of their every day lives but spending $25 plus, does not make sense. I, like many wineries, would like to see wine become main stream in American culture. However, the tactics which wineries are currently taking may not be the answer. Resorting to gorilla marketing is not the answer. I think, during this economic time, wineries and merchants, should take this opportunity to re-direct the industry for the positive. For example, become a customer's "comfort wine." Just like mac and cheese is a comfort food, where are the wines to accompany?

Personally, I'm just sick of older generations writing off my generation in traditional wine industry snobbery. I believe the more you are willing to change and accommodate in addition to being creative and authentic is the key to success. Its time to see more authenticity and have less noses' in the air. It is one thing to have a passion for wine but where are all the smart business people driving the wine industry?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wine Quote

"Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy."
-Frank Sinatra

Monday, March 29, 2010

Social Media: Changing The Way We Drink

As social media continues to grow as a valuable marketing tool bringing customers and companies closer, I decided to learn how to navigate more websites dedicated to social media. Being fluent in Facebook, it felt awkward leaving that comfort zone for the likes of Twitter, but I decided to revisit my idle Twitter account. I dove right in and participated in a Tweetup. This is an online conversation centered on a chosen topic. Last week's topic was Washington Merlot hosted by another blogger. The idea is to have everyone tweeting while drinking a Washington Merlot, talking about wine through updating one's status. The tasting was set to start at 5pm and last till 7pm. This was definitely overwhelming at first. It was stressful following up to 100 tweets in under 30 seconds, trying to respond to some individuals and remembering to add #WAMerlot to your status in order to be added on the conversation string. There were some complaints of not being able to keep comments to under 140 characters as Twitter is setup. But I say, if you need more than 140 characters to describe a wine then you aren't drink enough. Stop thinking, start tasting. Once I learned to navigate the process it was an amazing experience that lasted longer than the 2 hours.

Here is a run down of the event. People from at least 5 different countries participated including; China, New Zealand, France, Mexico and the USA. There were over 500 people posting 2000 tweets and 3000 bottles of Washington Merlot being tasted. In addition, there were over 80 wineries, hotels and wine bars hosting events involving vertical and barrel tastings.

This is phenomenal in my mind. Social media is affecting the way we drink and taste wine from our living rooms to our wine bars. Think about the opportunities these virtual tastings have. Wineries could host virtual tastings for customers across the country and around the world. This is also a powerful tool for staying connected with wine club members. For example, club members who live on the other side of the country could set up a time with a winery to taste through the wines of their last shipment together. Social media is also changing the way we run our tasting rooms. The possibilities seem endless and are really going to help change the face of the wine industry for the better.

Social Media is not only changing how we interact with customers but also the way we taste and talk about wine. I look forward to more Tweetups and seeing just how the industry will change from open conversations between customers, producers and all wine lovers.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

RueLaLa of the Wine Industry

Many shoppers are familiar with RueLaLa (www.ruelala.com) an online shopping experience offering large discounts on designer clothes, jewelry, bags etc. These sales are usually timed and only available for two days or until items are sold out. Launched this week was The Winery Insider, (www.wineryinsider.com). A similar concept to RueLaLa, which sells fine wine at discounted prices. Started by two wine industry entrepreneurs with access to hundreds of labels offering timed sales on highly sought after wines sold at a discounted prices.

At first, I thought this is just another way to buy wine but once I created my free log in, I started to look around at the sales. The discounts are significant, as much as 40%-80% off. Right away I recognized some of my favorite labels. I am not a huge online shopper, especially when it comes to wine. There is something about the experience of going into a wine shop, touching all the bottles and asking questions. However, this website is a great way to get deals on your favorite labels or even try something new without paying full price.

On the flip side, I've been thinking a lot about wineries who are having trouble moving inventory due to lower sales during the tough economic times. The Winery Insider provides a unique opportunity for wineries to connect with wine enthusiasts and devoted customers. For wineries this is another avenue to sell to customers who may be sticker sensitive and are spending less on the average bottle of wine. The great potential for wineries is the ability to discount their wines and stay connected to their customers. Take for example, a customer who is a devoted fan of a winery who sells their portfolio ranging from $40-$75 a bottle. This customer has recently started to spend less on the average bottle of wine in order to save money. They have changed their spending patterns to wineries with a portfolios priced between $25-$45 a bottle. The Winery Insider provides a platform which allows the more expensive winery to sell their wines and still be a part of this customer's life. With the discounted prices once again fitting into this customer's budget, the winery not only moves inventory but the label remains fresh in the customers mind and continues to establish brand loyalty with this customer. This customer remains loyal to their favorite winery during and after the recession because the winery took into account that they were spending less per bottle and accommodated. Once the economy turns around there may be fewer sales but this customer recognizes the winery accommodated to their lifestyle and stuck with them through tough times so they remain loyal throughout their lifetime.

As much as a "sale" may not sound attractive to wineries now, I think it is imperative to remain the featured label being poured at the dinner table. This is the time to be creating strong brand loyalty that will pay off later. The Winery Insider is a great platform for wine enthusiasts to have access to their favorite wine labels and for wineries to remain connected to their customers. The model for wine sales is changing and this is just one of the ways.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wine Quote

"Wine prepares the heart for love, unless you take too much."

-Ovid

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chile's Rattling Wine Industry


When I heard the news of the Chilean earthquake my heart sank. At 8.8 magnitude, it is one of the strongest earthquakes the world has seen. My heart goes out to all of those effected and I hope the recovery process happens quickly and efficiently.

Being the wino that I am, I also thought about Chile's wine industry. Situated in the Southern Hemisphere means fall harvest will be starting soon. With reports of hundreds of thousand gallons of wine already lost in bottles and barrels, in addition to damage of winery facilities, I wonder how the wineries will recover? With the supply of past vintages destroyed and less equipment to deal with the upcoming harvest how will the wineries recover their loses and regain profits? Will there be less wine on the market and will that increase the price of Chilean wines? Will consumers stop buying current vintages, afraid that the wine will be a product of tragedy and just write off the vintage as a wash, especially at higher prices? I know, I will be buying more Chilean wine in order to support the industry and help the producers and grape growers get back on their feet. I hope that other consumers feel the same. Just because a significant portion of last years vintage was lost by uncontrollable circumstances doesn't mean the quality is any less.

Time will tell the real damage on the wineries and quantity of the upcoming vintage. I hope prices remain reasonable, (one of the factors that makes Chilean wine so appealing,) and consumers will continue to buy at the very least in the form of support.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Foster's Future...Not in My Hands.

The article below provoked a strong reaction from me. This blog entry is a response to the article titled, "Why gen Y might not save Foster's." Here is the link if you would like to read it: http://www.smh.com.au/business/why-gen-y-might-not-save-fosters-20100216-o94d.html


The world renowned company of Foster's, have been running into some financially difficulty due to the economic times. This week, the company suggested, that gen Y or the millenniums, will be the ones to "ride to their rescue." Being 'a millennium' myself, this statement enrages me for many reasons. To start, I agree that gen Y has embraced wine at a younger age but I don't think it will be enough to save an empire. I do not agree that gen Y is prepared to pay higher prices for wine, as the article suggests. In fact, I think it is the opposite. Since we started drinking wine at a younger age, we (as millenniums,) are aware of great value wines for less, especially, in this economic climate, which brings me to point number two.

To suggest millenniums were "raised to have high self-esteem and a sense of entitlement that includes expectations of material success," has some truth to it but given the current economic climate, I think we, as a generation, have had a serious wake-up call. I can attest to this awakening feeling. The times are rough, dream jobs are nowhere to be found. Had you asked me when graduating college, would I ever have difficulty finding work? I would have looked at you with a smirk, replying with a resounding, "No." Maybe it is the self-esteem and confidence this author accuses gen Y of growing up with but if anything is going to get our generation through this financial crisis and back on track with our careers, it's confidence. If we give up now, there is no future.

The article goes on to address the problem with assuming gen Y will save the day, which allows me to relax a little, "..the highest quality segment is the one most exposed to the long-term effects of the global financial crisis..." just like I stated before, the millenniums are not always willing to pay a higher price for wine. It continues to read, "...and the least emotionally prepared to deal with them...Peck warns that the entire gen Y is at risk of being injured by the extended period of high unemployment the global crisis is producing. He cites research that suggests graduates who enter the workforce during such times suffer permanent damage to their career paths, and permanent income loss." Millenniums may suffer financially and will most likely be drinking lower priced wines during this time, the high-end wines are struggling to sell. Again, a wake-up call, that has emotionally prepared us to use our confidence and self-esteem to get gen Y and the world to a better financial time.

Foster's is a large company trying to make it through this time like so many other companies, I think they need to change their marketing strategies and business model to succeed. I do not think depending on the next generation of wine drinkers is going to save the bottom line. This is the biggest hardship a generation has seen since the great depression. I will not be surprised if my children read about this time period in their history books as the Second Great Depression. So, I got enraged when I saw this article because gen Y's self-esteem and confidence is better used at helping the times get better as a whole and not focused on saving one company who sells luxury items. Get real Fosters, if you business model is failing you, YOU need to re-evaluate it not my generation.

As a final note, I recently visited Cellar 360 in San Francisco, a wine tasting and shopping venue owned by Foster's. After my recent tasting experience there, I don't know how Cellar 360 or Foster's as a whole, will survive. The portfolio is far from stunning and their lack luster in presenting information and pure passion are all signs of struggle. If a company is waiting for the next generation to bail them out, well that is a stupid business model. If you can't sell now, you won't sell later.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Simply Grapes


Keeping with my passion of wine, I have created a business designed to take the intimidation out of learning about wine by creating an informal and comfortable environment to taste, talk and of course...learn about wine.

I work with clients to custom create fun games and activities to promote wine education either at home or a local venue. Great for dinner parties, networking events, Bachelorette parties, baby showers, cocktail parties, etc.

I feel passionate about promoting wine education and making consumers feel comfortable with their wine purchases, no matter how large or small. I also want people to feel comfortable talking about wine and tasting wine in any social setting.

Visit http://simplygrapes.com/to learn more. All feedback is also welcomed. If you or anyone you know, are interested in planning an event, please e-mail me: simplygrapes@gmail.com

Thank you and Santé,
Charlotte

Wine Quote

"Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance."

-Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Crushpad is Moving :(


Crushpad is a custom crush winery located in San Francisco...well, not for much longer. They have decided to move their operations to Napa. As a San Franciscan, I am upset. By moving to Napa, I feel Crushpad is just becoming another winery, on an already long list, of over 500 wineries located in Napa. What has always made Crushpad unique is allowing the 'average Joe,' who lives in the city, the ability to make their own wine. It was also an opportunity for fellow 'winos,' like me, to get our winery fix without driving an hour to wine country.

Crushpad also hosted some amazing wine events at their warehouse in the Dog Patch neighborhood of San Francisco. One of the most memorable was a reenactment of the 1976 Paris tasting followed by the premier of the movie Bottle Shock, (about 1976 tasting,) where the directors came to talk about the film. Due to the move, these kind of events will no longer take place due to limited space. However, smaller classes on blending and tasting will still be offered.

What is motivating this move? Crushpad wants to be closer to their vineyards. I do understand there must be a heavy cost in trucking grapes to the city, as their client enrollment continues to increase. But for a group of friends living in San Francisco, who came together to create a barrel of wine for home consumption, who want to be swing by the warehouse and taste their wine before heading out to dinner, can no longer have this luxury. I wonder if their clientele will change and if this is a worthwhile move. The majority of people who live in Napa are either making wine at existing custom crush facility or at home. In addition, the large majority of San Franciscans do not have cars, like myself. The motivation to head up north only comes after significant planning and organizing. It will be interesting to see if and how Crushpad changes. Will it be worth leaving your SF winos thirsty for more?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Favorite Value Wines

In response to the last posting I would like to suggest some of my favorite value wines. Happy Drinking!! (Responsibly of course!)

1) Dona Paula Malbec. Retails for around $14. Perfect pairing with red meats, especially burgers.

2) Brooks Winery The Amycas: $15. My favorite white blend from Oregon

3) Columbia Winery, Cellar Master Riesling. $14. The perfect pairing with Thai food.

4) Cambria Katherines Vineyard Chardonnay: $16. Good pairing with heavy cream based dishes and seafood.

5) La Crema Sonoma Pinot Noir: $17.

6) Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Gris: $17. One of the best Pinot Gris from Oregon

7) Bitch. $10. Grenache from Australia. Good pairing with heavy cheese and rich dishes.

8) Cristalino Brut Sparkling. $8. Perfect for parties and mimosas.

9) Raats Family Wines, Chenin Blanc: $13. From South Africa and the perfect wine for warm summer days!

10) Core Wine Company; C3 Tempranillo: $18...very tasty!! Great with tomato based sauces and with pizza.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Will the Wine Industry Rebound?

As I gain more and more experience in the wine industry, I can't help but wonder how the high-end wines are suffering in this economic climate. Are things really getting better? Are customers back to purchasing those $35 bottles instead of $15 bottles? My guess, they are not. What does that mean for the future of fine wines and the wine industry as a whole?

As a consumer and individual watching how I spend my money, I continue to look for great value in the wines I drink. Both excellent imported and local wines can be found for $10 or $15. As this recession continues, I do not foresee a change in my drinking habits. Will this trend continue and how do wineries with product priced higher than $35 adapt?

I wonder if "cult" wines or ultra premium wineries will start to redefine their image and product lines. I would assume the majority will try and maintain the top-tier reputation they have, while others, may try to shift their brand image. Will the wine industry mold to cater to mass produced, mediocre wines? Will quality be compromised or will wineries try to make the same quality and sell for less?

If the later was to happen, how will that effect the industry years down the road? Will consumers be accustomed to purchasing high quality wines for less? Becoming unwilling to pay more for a product they have been paying less for. Some economists might argue supply and demand, as money begins to flow back into the economy and consumer's pockets, the amount of customers willing to pay more for the same product will also increase. But I would argue back that as more and more people start to drink wine especially during this time, the average consumer has realized you can get high quality for less. So, to accommodate this current trend, how do wineries adapt, do they purchase different grapes, start growing their own, heavily discount wines, produce less or even take a heavy financial hit now in hope of a strong economic turnaround?

This post really ask more questions then it answers. Only time will tell. Until then I will continue to drink some great value wines in the $10-$15 range. How about you?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mariah Carey and Bubbly


No I'm not talking about her recent drunken acceptance speech at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The soon to be released Rose Bubbly is called Angel. Having existed for 13 years from Reims, France, it appears the Mariah's bubbly will be more of an ownership transaction than the creation of a new winery.

It seems more and more celebrities are looking to expand their brand empires by buying labels or producing their own wines. Rapper Lil' John, has his own label made from California Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. I have yet to taste these wines along with Mariah Carey's bubbly. I wonder how much is marketing and how much is quality. I like the attention and media the wine industry gets from these brands but if it detracts from showing high quality wines and the passion behind the product, then I wonder if we should continue to let this happen. Producing buckets of sweet or fruity wine to appeal to the masses and expand an empire is not the goal of most wine producers, unless you are Gallo of course.

For those of us who have created careers around high quality wines and their experiences, I can only hope that celebrities have had similar experiences and want to create that for all their fans. If not, this is not the T-shirt industry, this is not just another product to place your logo or face on.

If you get the chance to try and of these wines let me know. I would love to hear you opinion and I will do the same.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Year...New Goals

It is now two weeks into the New Year and a new me...well here is hoping. I can't help but think about one of my huge goals for the year. The Sommelier Exam. I have recently started studying again. I look forward to completing this certification in the fall. With that being said, a lot goes into preparing for this exam. This is a three part exam involving a blind tasting, written exam and a service exam.

The blind tasting is the most exciting, expensive and challenging portion. It takes, time, money and diligence to prepare one's palate for a blind tasting. I find tasting with other people is the best way to prepare. It always helps to compare notes and hear additional descriptors. As I begin to taste my way around the world I invite you to taste with me. Due to my current craving for Malbec from Argentina, I find that to be the most appropriate place to start. Tasting notes will follow in the next few weeks.

The written exam is the most obscure. It tests each student on their detailed wine geography and wine pairing knowledge. Preparing for this portion of the exam reminds me of finals in college. There never seems to be enough time to cram. Currently, I am re-reading the textbook, Sales & Service for the Wine Professional, I am trying to focus on the bigger picture before memorizing every detail and wine region.

Finally, The exam finishes with a service exam often involving Champagne. In between tasting wines from around the world and memorizing first growths in Bordeaux, I will be popping a few corks, so I invite you to join me for some bubbles!

As I progress and my knowledge base continues to expand I will share some of my favorite wine facts!

Cheers to the New Year and new wines to taste!