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Wine Camp: Publishing online since 2003 - as always, a points-free zone
Photography by Craig Camp on Smug Mug
Nominated as “Best Wine Blog” by Saveur Magazine

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    Thursday
    Mar102011

    Fodder for Criticism

    “We have to protect what’s best about wine. It is ancient in our civilization, it is a perfect mix of the intellectual and the sensual, it enriches our lives. The beauty of great wine is that it lives inside of you after you’ve had it. It’s a stimulus for memory. What it tasted like, but more importantly, what it made you feel, why you drank it, what you talked about while drinking it, and with whom. Wine is a social event, not fodder for criticism,” Neal Rosenthal.

    It’s amazing what we Americans have done to wine and, for the matter, food. Somehow we’ve changed one of life’s quiet pleasures into a sporting competition. In the beautiful quote above, importer extraordinaire Neal Rosenthal not only defines the essence of why wine is so compelling to us, but why his selections are matched in quality by a list of importers so small you can count them on one hand. In fact, I could easily spend my life limited to the wines of only two, Rosenthal and Kermit Lynch, and never be bored.

    Wine is indeed a social event, it’s what should be for dinner not “fodder for criticism.”

    It seems to be a part of the American psyche that we take things that should engage our senses in relaxation and pleasure and turn them into a competition. The television is full of food and chef slap downs. Dining is turned into Monday Night Football and now many self-defined “foodies” spend more time watching people cook instead of cooking themselves. Picking up carry out so you can rush home to watch Iron Chef does not make you a foodie. 

    Taking time with wine, food and sharing that experience is what makes them such a rewarding part of life. Critics rank wines and taste wines against each other, which is a cruel thing to do to wine of subtlety and grace. Just like in the cooking shows theatrics always win the battle when little time is taken for reflection. It’s the quiet side of wine that needs more attention these days. Its easy to find the biggest and baddest wines, just refer to the wine critics as that’s what their system will give you. Perhaps one of the best parts of the rise of the wine blogging community is there you’re more likely to find someone writing about how a wine makes them feel rather than how they rank it.

    When looking for wine recommendations take them from someone who spent some time with them. Tasting dozens of wines a day (or hundreds) is not a reliable way to form a meaningful opinion of a wine and such recommendations must be taken for what they are, meaningless. Does it really matter if the wine you are enjoying so much with your dinner was ranked a few points lower than the wine being enjoyed at the next table? Wine appreciation is about appreciating wine, more accurately about appreciating life.

    In the scope of things in today’s world it’s a small thing for sure, but it is exactly those small things that make wine and food so wonderful. Pay attention.

    Monday
    Feb282011

    Cristal® Clear

    “Jaume Serra Cristallino is not affiliated with, sponsored by, endorsed by, or in any way connected to Louis Roederer’s CRISTAL® champagne or Louis Roederer.”

    Such is the disclaimer on the new Jaume Serra Cristallino Cava label. Jaume Serra lost a four year court battle late last year where Roederer claimed Cristallino was infringing on their trademark and damaging the reputation of their Cristal®  brand.

    It’s too bad that Jaume Serra did not file their suit first as I think they have a valid case. Clearly Cristal®  does more to damage Cristallino’s reputation than the other way around.

    First take Louis Roederer Cristal® , a hideously overpriced, famously bad value preferred by drug dealers, new money and basically anyone who has more money than sense. There are few better examples of a wine that tags you as a wine know-nothing than drinking Cristal® . OK, admittedly Dom Perignon is worse. One thing for sure, when you see someone drinking Cristal®  in a restaurant you can be assured they know nothing about Champagne. The pretentious and vacuous Cristal®  shares its pleasures mostly with people that could care less about what they’re drinking as long as the name is right.

    Then you take Jaume Serra Cristallino Cava, a delightful and refreshing wine that brings lovely bubbly pleasure at an incredible price for a truly pleasant and well made wine. Repeatedly listed in the major wine publications as an excellent value, Cristallino is front and center at many joyous events like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and divorces. Cristallino brings and shares joy with the masses, otherwise known as us.

    Cristal®  and Cristallino do have one thing in common: they are both industrial mass-produced wines.

    Is Cristal®  a better more complex wine than Cristallino? Without a doubt, but who cares. What you give up intellectually and emotionally in buying Cristal®  is not worth it. Selling your soul to the devil always has its price.

    In my opinion it should have been Cristallino suing Cristal®  for defamation of character as being associated with the preferred bubbly of drug dealers and superficial pop stars is an insult to a pretty little wine that brings daily smiles to so many at the end of a hard day and that can turn any evening into a celebration.

    In seeking the best of the best, those with more money than is good for them are drawn like bugs to a nightlight by brand names promising exclusivity. However, when it comes to Champagne, the big name brands are mass produced products like the perfume and luggage also made by the companies that own them. Think about it. Dom Perignon and Cristal®  are sold at every luxury hotel, restaurant and retail store in the entire world. Heck, if you’re in the right neighborhood you can find them at the 7-11. Fake exclusivity is easy to sell to those hungry for exclusivity for its own sake.

    Smart wine drinkers avoid such Champagnes and drink the wonderful estate (grower) Champagnes widely available throughout the United States or the excellent super-premium sparking wines now produced around the world, including the excellent Roederer made in California’s Anderson Valley. In between they toss in bottles of Cristallino for fun on Wednesday nights and for big parties. Without a doubt, there would be a lot less joy in the world without Cristallino, but no one would suffer from the loss of Cristal® .

    In our refrigerator there is always a bottle of Cava (usually Cristallino) or two and a couple of grower Champagnes. Excellent grower Champagne is easy to find and you don’t even have to know the estate. Just look for those imported by Rebecca Wasserman, Neal Rosenthal, Kermit Lynch and Terry Thiese. However, Cava still stands as the best value in the world of sparking wine. That’s a fact that’s Cristal® clear.

    Monday
    Feb212011

    Syrah In My Pinot

    The recent brouhaha over at Palate Press starting with an offhand Twitter comment by wine blogger Remy Charest and ending (maybe) with an article by winemaker Adam Lee of Siduri called up the frequent under-the-breath reference insinuating many California Pinot Noirs are so big due a dollop of syrah. It’s rather a silly idea if you think about it. Why? It’s already there, no not the syrah, but the syrah character. No additions are necessary.

    All of this just shows the misconceptions of both writers and winemakers. Writers think California Pinot is so big because they put syrah in it while winemakers think they need to put syrah in their pinot to make it big enough to make the writers happy. The wonders the 100 point scale has brought us.

    Just because you are the first does not mean that you’re the one and only. Burgundy is not the only correct example of pinot noir in the world. It is only one expression of that variety. It’s always interesting to me that the most ardent defenders of terroir are the ones most loudly damning the robust character of California Pinot Noir. Perhaps they should consider that powerful character is the terroir of pinot noir in California. There is a difference in claiming that a wine does not have terroir and not liking the style of a terroir. Successful California Pinot does not and should not taste exactly like Burgundy. That is only one standard and only one of the many expressions of pinot. California Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like California Pinot Noir.

    In his excellent article, Syrah in My Pinot? A Winemaker Responds, Adam Siduri makes many good points, but one stands out. It all his years of winemaking he has never known any serious pinot noir producer to add syrah to their wine unless they openly admit it on their label or sales materials. I’ll add my own thirty years of experience to that and I too have never known any winemaker aspiring to make great pinot noir that added syrah to their blend without being upfront about it. The example of Castle Rock adding syrah to their pinot is simply a producer making a better wine. At that price point you can’t make a decent pinot noir without some help. If you insist on buying pinot noir under $15 your palate should be grateful they blended a bit of syrah in. The strange thing about consumers is that if they just bought a $15 syrah they’d get a great wine at a bargain price instead of insisting on pinot noir that needs to be “corrected” to make it pleasurable to drink. Excellent pinot noir is not for bargain hunters.

    This does not mean that pinot noir cannot be manipulated out of showing its terroir as it so often is in California and, for that matter, throughout the world. Just because the natural character of California Pinot Noir is substantial does not mean that all extremes are acceptable. The essential character of pinot noir is its transparency, that unique ability to show the personality of the vineyard where it was grown. This transparency can show itself in wines of many different weights and concentrations. This is clearly seen within Burgundy itself.  Vineyard and winery manipulations that obliterate that transparency eliminate the reason to grow and make pinot noir in the first place. If you want to make massive, powerful wines there are a lot better varieties to work with.

    The only reason to blend syrah with pinot noir is that you actually wanted to make a syrah to begin with. If you’re a winemaker and want to blend syrah with your pinot you’ve chosen to make the wrong variety. If you’re a wine writer and you want your pinot noir to taste like syrah you’re drinking the wrong variety.

    Square pegs in round holes don’t work any better than they used to.

    Tuesday
    Feb152011

    Blue Nose, Blue Blood

    This time it was Blue Nose. It was always something, but it was always something special. There are places to buy things and there are places where it’s an adventure to buy things. One of those places is Osprey Seafood in the town of Napa. 

    We brought home some fabulous Bluenose bass from New Zealand this time, but whatever we bring home from there is always delicious. Why? Why are some merchants so much better than others? The fish at Osprey is more-or-less the same price as Whole Foods just down the road, but it is always, always better. Certainly it is more expensive than the seafood offerings of Safeway, but food that is inedible is never cheap enough.

    The “why” is simple. They care at Osprey. They care in a way you just don’t see behind the counter at a chain, even at the level of a Whole Foods. At the likes of Safeway it’s not an issue of excitement as they have little interest or knowledge in what they’re selling. 

    It’s always amazing at Osprey as, in spite of the fact they deal with fish day in and day out, they’re excited about today’s special arrivals. It’s that ability to be excited that makes them go out of their way to have something to be excited about. 

    What’s happened to that excitement in the wine industry? Cynical buyers, loaded with attitude, but with closed minds who have already decided what wines are the best by the time they’re twenty-five. Their counterpoints are ego driven, “lifestyle” wineries more interested in points than quality, which pump out over-oaked, high octane, insanely priced fruit bombs.  All of the above driven by someone else’s pointed opinion instead of their own. True enough there’s a lot to be not excited about.

    However, once a month, I get a package that reminds me that there still exists, in the increasingly corporate wine world, merchants filled with passion, excitement and energy that is all their own. That package is the monthly shipment I get from the Kermit Lynch Wine Club, one of the privileges of living in California.

    Each package is a voyage of discovery. Not that I do not know some of the wines that arrive, but each shipment is an inside look at the mind of the Kermit Lynch company. The energy and commitment in that collective mind is clear in the quality and distinctive personality of each bottle that arrives. 

    For about $40 a month you get two bottles of interesting wine. While that should not be an unusual thing, it is, and the arrival of each package makes me think about the wines we make. As always, there is no greater compliment you can give a wine than it makes you think. Any wine that costs more than $10 a bottle should at the very least make you notice you are drinking it. 

    Kermit Lynch, Osprey and merchants like them are the blue bloods, the royalty of the merchant class. While it is said you get what you pay for, it is more than that. There are many places to get above average, but there are few places where you can travel together as excited explorers sharing the energy that discovery brings to those that share in the adventure together. 

    You’ll never get this experience at Cost Plus, Trader Joe’s, Costco or any chain operation. You’ll also not save any money by shopping at these chains unless you insist on buying overpriced, industrial wines that are only pretenders to the throne. Yes, if you want to buy Silver Oak these are your places. However, the Osprey’s and Kermit Lynch’s of the world are the ones offering true value. 

    There’s a sucker born every minute. Don’t be a sucker. Buying smart means not buying hype. It also means not buying on price alone. Smart buyers buy based on price and the energy and effort the merchant puts into bringing them the very best.

    A Kermit Lynch selection with an Osprey selection makes not only for a wonderful dinner, but money well spent.

    Monday
    Feb072011

    Apple Wine

    It did not have a hard drive. When I turned it on I placed one floppy after another into the one drive until about ten minutes later the computer was booted up. It offered a basic spreadsheet, word processor and that was about it. It was an Apple IIgs and it was 1986. I was hooked.

    For most of the quarter century since then I loved technology, but wrestled with it trying to get done not only what it was supposed to do, but what I dreamed it would do. Most of those years it was like hot-wiring a car to get even basic things done. I made many an heroic effort to make things work the way the ads promised, yet it was always a struggle. I remember one night in a hotel in Florence ripping the phone wires out of the wall and directly connected them to my laptop to get my email over a brutally slow dial-up connection. Another long night was spent reloading the complete Microsoft Office Suite back on my computer at 4 a.m. - all 30 or so floppies taking several hours - so I could make a Powerpoint presentation in the morning after my hard drive unexplainably blew up. It was like only getting to taste Lafite as a barrel sample: sure it was good, but you knew damn well it was going to get a lot better.

    I went through them all: Blackberrys, Treos, Windows this an that, Mac those and these and they only teased me with their potential and never lived up to their advertising. I was frustrated and addicted: until now. For the first time it my life everything is working. My all Apple tool chest includes a MacBook Pro, iPad and an iPhone all tied together with Gmail, Dropbox, Instapaper and Evernote. What has happened is that no longer do I have three devices, but one device with three different user interfaces. 

    The fluid interaction of these three devices has totally changed the way I manage my wine information. The volumes of wine notes taken over thirty years are being scanned into Evernote, where they become searchable PDFs. The word searchable is the key as it means I can actually use them. No more do I have pockets full of loose notes from every wine I taste. Now I just take a quick photo with my iPhone, which I also put into Evernote, where I add my tasting notes. Articles of interest are clipped into Instapaper for reading when the time presents itself on my iPad. I am sure I am reading twice as much as before. This ability to collect and find all my wine information is not only changing my wine experience, but that of wine drinkers everywhere.

    This ability to create your own personal wine encyclopedia reduces an individuals dependence on one or two wine media gatekeepers. It makes it easy to grab information from anywhere and everywhere to come up with your own opinion based on many voices instead of few. This is a very good thing for small wine producers or those of distinctive styles so overlooked or actively excluded from coverage by established wine media. Information is indeed power.

    Apple wine is very user friendly. 

    Monday
    Jan312011

    Tosca, Ithzak and The Adams Family

    They were uplifting. They challenged me and inspired me, each in their own way. A diverse range of musical performances I saw over the last two weeks made me think. Can you give a higher compliment to art? I don’t think anything engages every sense that makes us the complex beings we are more than music. 

    This artistic immersion began at the top with a performance of Tosca at the incomparable Met in New York, followed by a Nathan Lane romp through The Adams Family on Broadway and  completed by the inspired clarity of Itzhak Perlman in recital in San Francisco. As with most things that inspire me these performances made me think about wine.

    Tosca gives you restrained, confident power and emotion. The slightly naughty vaudeville of The Adams Family is all fun and escape. The delicacy and transparency of the Perlman piano and violin duets challenges you to focus on pure art stripped to the bone. These experiences were enjoyable each in their own way and each has their own purpose. It would be pointless to compare them, but that’s exactly what is done with wine. The exactitude of the 100 point scale only denies the beauty of each vinous performance. 

    It was easy for me to see the wines I love in these three performances: Tosca would be something like Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with its restrained yet powerful and balanced concentration; The Adams Family would be my daily pleasures Côtes du Rhône Villages and Beaujolais Villages from someone like Kermit Lynch; the delicate transparency (terroir) of the Perlman recital is Burgundy and Barolo/Barbaresco - right now I have Marcarini Barolo La Serra in mind. What is important about all of these wines is not how they rank against each other, but how they fit the moment, the meal and that they make you think. Think about the flavors, aromas and life. They are about pleasure, both mental and physical. Academic ranking makes them all sterile and lifeless.

    I would no more think of ranking Tosca against The Adams Family than I would scoring La Tache against a Beaujolais Villages. Each has its place and time. It is simply boring and boorish to compare and contrast such wines. They are to be enjoyed in their moment and in their proper moment each is a 100 point wine. 

    There is no more important word in wine than transparency, the ability to see through each aspect of its character and personality. Opulence and power are wine’s pop music - Lady Gaga vs. Puccini. While Lady Gaga may win the popularity contest it does not make her great art. Religion too easily achieved is not very spiritual. 

    “Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you.”

    Friday
    Jan282011

    Cornerstone's Artist in Residence to be Featured on Public Television

    Corvallis painter Janet Ekholm 

    CORVALLIS — For the second time in three months, a mid-valley artist will be in focus on an Oregon Public Broadcasting TV show.

    Corvallis-based painter Janet Ekholm, who has made a name for herself with her boldly colored works, will be featured on  “Oregon Art Beat” on Thursday, Feb. 3, at 8 p.m. The OPB program will document Ekholm’s vision, creativity and style.

    Ekholm studied art history in France in the 1970s and immersed herself in impressionism and the other great periods of French art. She later lived in Turkey and said the influence of Turkish folklore can be seen in her work today. Ekholm first worked with colored pencil but gravitated to rich oil pastel works that often showcase vibrant colors and female subjects.

    “I love painting the human figure, especially the female figure,” she said. “I want to celebrate the inner strength and grace of women, surrounded by the things that matter to them: the simple pleasures of the home and the beauty of nature.”

    Ekholm’s work is on display at various West Coast exhibitions, including the Art on the Boulevard Gallery in Vancouver, Wash., and at Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville, Calif. A full perspective of her work can be viewed online at www.janetekholm.com.

     

    Thursday
    Dec162010

    Haymaking and Grape Picking

    We’ve been blessed in San Francisco to have two extensive exhibitions of works from the famed Impressionist museum in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay, at the de Young Museum of Fine Art. In the first of these two exhibitions one work haunted me a bit more than some of the others. That work was Haymaking by Jules Bastien-Lepage. In this piece the exhaustion of the agricultural worker at the end of the day is powerfully portrayed. 

    The feeling this painting gave me I could not forget as I picked up my camera during harvest 2010. I doubt I’ll ever see another harvest without seeing Haymaking in the back of my mind. Having grown up around farmers, my uncle and grandparents were dairy farmers in Illinois, and spending many a day during summer breaks and weekends helping on their farms I too remember the heat, sweat and endless work. Something I was lucky enough to leave behind.

    In California and most agricultural states the majority of the real work is done by Mexicans who risk arrest and face the brutal prejudice of Americans (none of whom seems to want the jobs they take) to earn a living for their families. If you think you have any idea what they go through you are lying to yourself. From the most expensive California wines to Two Buck Chuck, none would exist without these workers. This is a concept that few consider as they sip their expensive wine in an even more expensive restaurant while raging on about how we should be building a wall along the Mexican border. It seems that good taste in wine does not improve the conscious of those drinking it. When we take a sip of wine, it seem the least we could do to remember and honor those that sweated to bring it to us.

    What struck me in the photo above was the ballet-like symmetry which flowed through this crew as they worked. They are picking Stewart Vineyard Merlot just south of the town of Napa. The wine from these grapes is beautiful and they are a part of it.

     

    Saturday
    Oct162010

    Blogging Forward

    Blogging forward? Moving forward indeed, but perhaps it is more like leaving blogging behind. Years of blogging has left its calluses. “Been through the wars have we,” as Monty Python said. However you phrase it, as you will see from the gap between my last post and this, it was clear that for me blogging about wine had become, there’s no other word for it, boring.

    There seemed to be real wine wars in the past and they made my blood boil. Boil and rant I did about the ridiculous idea of giving points to wines, the destruction of terroir by those same critics giving the points and the sad dulling of the American palate by the wine mass marketing machine using those points. At some point in the last year I realized I no longer cared about slaying these windmills and once that happened trying to hammer out three or four blog posts a week became more a burden than a creative outlet. 

    I’ve decided the only creative outlet that matters to me anymore is to create an environment where I can craft meaningful wines. By meaningful wines I mean wines that mean something to me. Then it is up to me that find people that share my vision and take pleasure in what we have created at Cornerstone Cellars in the Napa Valley and at Cornerstone Oregon in the Willamette Valley. I’ll take points when we get them, you’d have to be an idiot not to, but achieving those ratings is not my goal. My goal is to make wines that light up people’s eyes when they drink them. I believe that there are more than enough like-minded people out there that will love what we do and buy our wines. So points be damned and we’ll follow our own vision instead of theirs.

    I’ll take one last shot at the 100 point wine rating system just for old times sake. I don’t care who the taster is, but if you take twenty-five wines from the same place, variety and price range and have someone taste and score them, then repeat the same tasting five days in a row changing the order of the wines every day you will get statistically different results. The results you get will only prove one thing: that such ratings produce statistically unrepeatable results. As the results can’t be repeated they are worthless - except for one thing. Points are very valuable for selling wine publications, which is the only reason for their existence. As with any database: garbage in, garbage out. Humans are not infallible tasting machines - no one, nowhere, no how.

    One reason to be less upset about the big print wine magazines is that they’re doomed. Not to pick on wine magazines, but they are unlikely to escape the fate that is going to change that entire industry. My guess is within five years they’ll be more-or-less exclusively online publications and will have had their power diluted by online publications that may not even exist yet. Kicking them on their way down seems like a waste of energy. It’s time to admire them for what they were and what they achieved, not rant against them for what they have become.

    There is also the natural passing of time that is changing things. A recent departure from The Wine Spectator found several beats replaced by more sensitive voices notably that of James Molesworth. Over at The Wine Advocate the contributions of Antonio Galloni, Neal Martin and David Schildknecht have transformed dramatically the range of wines receiving attention and high scores. Perhaps balance is being restored to The Force after all.

    So as I move this blog forward you’ll find no more rants here. Hopefully you’ll find thoughtful commentary on my experience in trying to create compelling terroir-driven wines on the west coast of the United States and my feelings on other wines that inspire me and compel me to put the feelings they give me to words. Instead of shorter posts and wine tasting notes you’ll find longer pieces appearing three to four times a month instead of the more blog-like staccato of that many a week.

    What you’ll also find heavily featured is my wine country photography. There is no better way to bring the feeling of making wine to you than images of the experience itself. High resolution images from my Nikon will be mixed with on the spot iPhone snapshots and videos that I feel will help bring the world of wine alive to you.

    There will also be a lot more food on Wine Camp. While wine is my profession, cooking is my avocation. Like most passionate hobbyists I can’t talk, or write, enough about the object of my affection. Cooking to me is both pleasure and therapy as nothing takes away stress like preparing and enjoying a meal. 

    What will be gone from Wine Camp is criticism, there are more than enough Grinches out there in the wine blogoshere already. The critics role will be replaced by that of a wine lover. There are a lot of new bloggers out there whose blood is boiling and they can have the job. Last night’s dinner was a garden fresh caprese followed by pan-roasted duck breast and Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk washed down with 2005 Domaine Forey Nuits-Saint-Georges - now that’s an interesting story and the only kind of story you’ll find at www.winecampblog.com.

    Saturday
    Oct162010

    Photo Camp: Mendocino Dawn

     

    Wednesday
    Aug182010

    The Burgundy Report

    Beaune Because I can – lingering over Beaune and its vines; premier cru by premier cru…

    link: Summer 2010

    If you’re buying Burgundy and not reading The Burgundy Report you’re a fool.


    Wednesday
    Aug182010

    A Gift

    So in a way, the 2006 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco is the financial crisis’s little gift to us: a wine that harks back to an era before the advent of Barbaresco’s Francophilia.

    via Do Bianchi

     


    Friday
    Jul162010

    Do Bianchi on Big Beef and Big Critics

    This is a must read. Blogger Jeremy Parzen ruminates on the career of Wine Spectator critic James Suckling, while teaching us how to cook bistecca alla fiorentina.

    There’s no two ways about it: during James Suckling’s tenure at the Wine Spectator, the scores he gave to modern-style Brunello — with Casanova di Neri as its poster child — helped to eclipse the sale of traditional-style wines,

    link: The James Suckling era ends (and what we ate and drank for my birthday) « Do Bianchi

     

     


    Monday
    Jul122010

    Porcini Pleasures


    That's $24 well spent you're looking at and my prize from this week's farmers market. Porcini mushrooms are the perennial World Cup Champs of the mushroom world for me. Their combination of firm texture with rich flavor is incomparable. As always when faced with produce of such fresh provenance, simple was the method of choice. Sliced (as you see) then sauteed in a lot of butter and a little garlic for a few minutes, I then added a few eggs for a slow scramble á la Mark Bittman. Preceded by a insalata caprese with a baguette from Bouchon to wipe clean each plate, I think it's hard to imagine a more pleasurable meal.

    After an aperitif of the truly delicious Schramsberg Blanc de blancs, I opened a bottle of our new Oregon wine, the 2008 Cornerstone Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and I can't say how thrilled I am by this first effort with our consulting winemaker there, Tony Rynders. Already heady with aromatics, but exhibiting not a bit of the fruit-bomb characteristics I can't stand, I think this is a really complex pinot with just the right earth, dare I say, touch of porcini, that marries so perfectly with the spicy, blackberry fruit of this vintage.

    We only made fifty cases in this first vintage, but in 2009 made four hundred. I'm thinking of a September release - If I can bear to part with it.

    Posted via email from The Wine Camp Blog

    Saturday
    Jul102010

    Summer Arrives

    The first real selection of heirloom tomatoes showed up at the Napa Farmer’s Market this morning. For me that means my mozzarella fresca budget is about to go through the roof. More-or-less daily now through the end of the tomato season an Insalata Caprese will be the first course at dinner in our house. To me it is a perfect dish.

     

    There is nothing simpler or more delicious to make. All it requires is:

     

    • perfect tomatoes
    • fresh, creamy mozzarella
    • fresh basil
    • fresh, vibrant extra virgin olive oil (hopefully as fresh as the tomatoes, basil and mozzarella)
    • salt and pepper

     

    …and basta

     

    Learn to leave such a dish alone. Restaurants can’t seem to keep their hands off such perfection and add, add, add: ending up only subtracting and distracting. This is a lesson we winemakers should also learn. Sometimes leaving something alone requires more courage and attention to detail than doing more and more.

     

    The problem with simplicity is there is nothing to hide behind.

     

     

    Posted via email from The Wine Camp Blog

    Friday
    Jul092010

    American Wine: The Locavore's Hypocrisy

    Link: American Wine and Locavore Movement, by Todd Kliman, author The Wild Vine – The Daily Beast

    In an excellent article author Todd Kliman blasts American restaurants for their public devotion to buying local food, while snob-ily ignoring local wines. He correctly points out the superficial commitment to buying local by restaurants in Missouri, New York and Virginia, all states with vibrant wine industries and many dedicated and serious winemakers. When questioned by Kliman, sommeliers (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) noted under their breaths that the wines were not just up to their standards. That perhaps is flipped around as maybe it is the sommeliers, not the wines, that are not up to snuff as it is the job of the sommelier at a locavore restaurant to discover and offer the finest local wines to their customers.

    While other American wine regions may be limited in the selections they offer to restaurants, the same cannot be said for West Coast restaurants. Certainly any sommelier worthy of the title could craft an outstanding wine list from the wines of California, Oregon and Washington. Anyone claiming they can’t is just not doing their homework.

    Perhaps no more hypocritical example can be found than the famed Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame. Chef Waters can be found on national television constantly singing the praises of Slow Food, but one look at her wine list in Berkeley tells another story. I agree with Chef Waters that the vast majority of California wines do not match well with her food, but there are more than enough that do to provide her with an outstanding wine list. Toss in the wines of Oregon and Washington and she has no excuse.

    Let’s give Chef Waters a break as Chez Panisse is a stones throw from Kermit Lynch’s wonderful store and Kermit’s exceptional wines can make anyone forget their locavore passions when it comes to wine. Certainly I cannot resist Kermit’s imported temptations myself. However, I am not on television saying the only way to eat and drink is by supporting local farmers. Winegrowers, it should be remembered, are farmers too.

    Hard core locavore chefs in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco rant on about their local sources for eggs, cheese and meat, while their wine by the glass selections are more likely to be produced from vineyards 4,000 miles away. Hopefully someday locavore will be a term that is more than a marketing fad.

    In Europe, chefs are locavores naturally, in America it is still a foreign concept. Oddly enough Europeans practice it, but don’t talk about it much. In America, we talk about it a lot, but don’t practice it well.


    Wednesday
    Jun162010

    Consumer Report?

    I received this PR release today:

    “In the July issue of Consumer Reports, CR testers found four Chardonnays they rated “very good,” all for less than $10. One of them was even from 7-Eleven!”

    Two things struck me. First was what must these people have done wrong to be forced to do a tasting of under $10 Chardonnay. Second was the image of the Consumer Reports team applying the same methodology they use to rate cars and stereos to wine tasting. This could explain the results.

    In other wine judging silliness, the much hyped “NextGen” wine competition made Steve Heimoff’s day by making themselves meaningless by selecting Barefoot Moscato as their best of show. This either means that no winery submitted any serious wine (a possibility) or that the judges only proved how pointless these judgings are - regardless of the age of the judges. This “competition” was particularly embarrassing as it begged for samples with daily email barrages right up until week of the judging itself. Good luck getting samples next year guys. You must be happy to know that, like the results of the Consumer Reports tasting, your name will be on shelf-talkers in 7-Elevens, Walgreens and gas stations throughout the United States.

    If you wonder what such judgings are about you only have to look at the Next Gen tasting website:

    • “FREE Gold Medal Wines iPhone App Listing!
    • Gold+, Gold, and Silver Medal winners in the NextGen Wine Competition will receive a FREE basic listing on our exclusive Gold Medal Wines iPhone app, available on iPhone and iTouch.  (We are also writing the app for Blackberry and Droid).  NO OTHER WINE COMPETITION OFFERS THIS MARKETING ADVANTAGE!”

    They are selling themselves to make a profit, judging the wines is only an brief inconvenience they have to deal with for a few days and hey, the judges are free. They get the wineries to buy in with their judging fees in the hopes of getting any kind of recognition. The wineries that enter carry as much shame as the people putting on the competition.

    According to their website they had openings for 2500 wines. Let’s say all of them took advantage of the early entry “special” as listed below on their website. That’s $162,500. 

     

    • “Online Special Through April 15th $65 early entry special (paper entries add $10)
    • 4/15/2010-5/31/2010 $75 (paper entries add $10)
    • NextGen Wine Competition is proud to accept Visa and Mastercard for mail-in or fax-in entries. For online entries, PayPal accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover.”

     

    At least someone is making a few bucks out of these judgings. Too bad it’s not the people that actually make the wine.

     

    Saturday
    May292010

    Photo Camp: California Coast Sunset, Duncan Beach

    Saturday
    May292010

    Humbled

    $25, That’s right only $25 for a beautiful pinot noir. Nothing yet exists in new world pinot noir like the 2007 Côte de Nuits-Villages from Domaine Gachot-Monot. Pure and electric this is a wine that lifts both your intellect and the meal. Certainly this would be $50 if it where from Oregon or California. We have a lot to learn and need to be a little more humble as winemakers here on the west coast. What struck me was the almost compelling urge I had to have a third glass.

    It’s a bit depressing to me that I’ve not figured out to make a wine like this in America yet, but I refuse to quit trying. In the meantime, drink this beauty over the next three to four years.

    Not surprisingly, imported by Kermit Lynch.


    Friday
    May212010

    No 2006 Produttori

    Thor, a wine writer and blogger whom I greatly admire and an all-around mensch, wrote the other day to winemaker Aldo Vacca (left) inquiring about his decision not to bottle his 2006 crus. Thor was kind enough to share Aldo’s response and Aldo was kind enough to allow me to post it here.

    Technical reason: 2006 is a very good vintage, but warm and ripe, lacking a little bit of the finesse and complexity to make a truly great S[ingle]V[ineyard wine] and yet preserve excellent quality in the regular bottling. We think 2005, lighter in body, has more fruit and balance, at least in Barbaresco and at least for Produttori.

    Marketing: with the current economy we thought it more appropriate to produce a larger quantity of solid, extremely good 2006 Barbaresco avoiding a flooding of the market with too many SV wines, since 2007, 2008, 2009 will all be produced. Had 2007 or 2008 been bad vintages, we would have released 2006 SV, but since we have so many great ones, we felt we could skip one and stay on the safe side of the fence.

    —Aldo Vacca


    via Do Bianchi

    It is perhaps difficult to understand what unusual act is being reported here by Thor Iverson (oenoLogic) and Jeremy Parzen (Do Bianchi). Here is a producer declining to make his most sought after and highest priced wines simply because being good is not enough. Also they are not doing this in some dismal vintage full of rain and rot, but from a vintage whose only fault was too much sun. This is the very type of vintage lauded as perfect by The Wine Spectator in 2000 and nearly so in 2003. Standards like this are almost unknown in wine anymore. When was the last time there was no Chateau Lafite, Screaming Eagle and so on? I think Aldo Vacca is doing much more than just staying on the “safe side of the fence” with this decision. Standards like this are why the wines of the Produttori del Barbaresco are true cult wines in a world of pretenders.