All posts by winemadeEZ


It is ironic that right after my post on smoke taint another wildfire erupted and this time a little too close for comfort.
We had been following the news of the Valley Fire in Lake county over the long holiday weekend and I must say that it was a bit daunting to watch the fire spread with such great velocity. I kept refreshing the Cal Fire web site to get any update I could. Looking at the map, the fire was a mere 12 miles due east of us but it was just so hard to get a grip of the enormity of it all on the small scale map.
From Los Angeles, I  checked in with our neighbors up the hill who reported that while ash was falling and the skies were smoky, so far the fire was not moving in our direction. They also offered to check in on our house and the vineyard just to make sure. The next  email was from Bill Arbios to report that the scheduled Monday harvest on our hill would not be happening because access to Pine Mountain Road was being restricted for evacuation purposes. The CHP was positioned at the road below with talk of some form of evacuations that might take place. I checked again with my neighbors and so far, they had not been told to leave the mountain (although they had packed their cars with items they wanted to save just in case,) and they reported that the house and vineyard were fine. Nonetheless, with the winds so unpredictable and blowing so strong and with the brush so dry I was tempted to just get in the car and leave for Cloverdale to see if there was anything I could do. I felt so helpless. We watched the images of lives being transformed in an instant, of homes being burned to the ground, of businesses being lost, and then realized that there was nothing really that we could do except hope. So many emotions were going through my mind…a lot of ‘what if’s’…what if the wind direction changes…what if the roads are blocked for days…what will happen to the harvest?  We were  fortunate that the next day brought cooler weather and light rains which washed the ash away whatever ash might be sticking to the vines. We felt a sense of relief to say the least and also grateful for any rain that could help the firefighters! The harvest is set to happen, all be it a week later. We owe a special thanks to Bill and Susan, Tim and Kandy, and Glen and Jerry for looking out for us, we are glad you are safe!! And of course a debt of gratitude for those incredible firefighters who continue to battle this inferno.
As of this writing the fire is 40% contained but has consumed an incredible 73,000 acres and many homes and buildings. Homeowners are returning to Middletown and Cobb to find their houses destroyed and their lives changed forever.

If you would like to donate to help those who have suffered losses due to the Valley Fire, take a look at this link:

Taint Misbehavin’

There are some things you just have no control over…a tidal wave, earthquake, flood, drought, and this past weekend was a grim reminder of the power of fire.  A fast moving wildfire that started in Lake County has grown to over 60,000 acres as of this writing. Nearly 2000 firefighters have been deployed and mandatory evacuations are in effect for much of that region. We were reminded of this developing story over the weekend as a high cloud of smoke covered our hillside for a good part of last Friday. We were already expecting the temperature to be in the low 90’s but the eerie cloud of smoke seemed to ease the heat and the sun looked orange through the haze, like a sci-fi movie. This event reminded me of the wildfires in Mendocino County during the summer of 2008 which cast a pall of smoke over much of the northern wine

growing region…I remember those days, you could taste the smoke and watch the ash gently fall to the ground. It really did taint the summer and also tainted the grapes which were at a crucial point in their development  called ‘veraison’ which is when the green skins of the grapes start to turn red. What is smoke taint? Smoke taint is a condition created when grapevines have been exposed to large quantities of smoke at a key point in the maturation of the grapes.  Smoke exposure from veraison until harvest can result in noticeable traces with the flavor of ‘smoke’ and ‘ash’ in the final wine. The determining factors of how much smoke taint may appear in the wine include how far away a vineyard is from the fire, the density of the smoke and the duration of it’s contact with the grapes. These factors will determine the quantity of the compounds that may have been absorbed. It is up to each winemaker to see if the smoke taint might be an issue at bottling time. Back in 2008, many winemakers ended up selling their tainted harvest to bulk wine instead of bottling. Yet, a couple of years after the Mendocino fires we visited the Goldeneye  Winery in the Anderson Valley and they were brazenly offering bottles of the 2008 Migration Pinot Noir and lauding it’s smokey quality! It was the winemakers choice to release the wine and even go so far as to embrace the smoke. So as we looked up to a smoky sky this past weekend I must admit that we were a bit worried, but the good news was that we could not smell or taste the smoke. With Mother Nature clearly in charge, all we could do was hope that the wind current would change and sure enough the next morning came bright and clear day.

I salute the brave men and women firefighters who are on the battle line of this challenging wildfire trying to save lives and homes and I am hopeful that they are able to get a grip on this blaze sooner rather than later!!

Here are some untainted wines to enjoy as the summer draws to a close.

This Medlock Ames sauv blanc is just so refreshing for the ‘dog days’ of the summer…light and crisp

An honest Chardonnay that kind of hits a balance between oak and fruit
Our neighbor Tim and Kandy Ward craft this blend from their hillside…a very smooth blend for summer bbq!

Sky Pine Vineyards
2011 Pine Mountain Cloud


The Eyes Have It

As you walk up and down the aisle of your favorite wine merchant you might just hear a whole lot of screaming…by that I mean the labels on each bottle of wine are screaming to try to get your attention!! Each section along the aisle is filled with wines of all shapes, sizes and  price points. This proliferation of wine brands just means that the competition is fierce out there, and from my point of view, there are a lot of wineries that are not putting their best foot forward in marketing their wines. So many questions come into play as a wine marketer, do you want to play to the ‘Baby Boomers’ or the ‘Millennials’ or even better, how do you market to both!?! After all, Millennials shop differently than Boomers. I find that I am guilty of drinking with my eyes as I look for new wines to try and a carefully crafted label has the ability to attract my attention. As wineries strive for that instant shelf appeal it is apparent to me that many consumers shop with their eyes first. The label must reflect the personality of the winery as well as what is inside the bottle and trying to appeal across generations can be quite the challenge! A well designed label can give a lot of information at first glance it can even indicate that the wine might be more expensive that it actually is. Even the foil at the top is a beacon of attraction…a red foil can indicate that the wine has berry flavors while a yellow foil could suggest the wine is buttery smooth, and then there’s the wax cover. I recently heard a talk by a winemaker who thinks of her wine as being in the ‘fashion’ business…and to say that ‘wine is fashion’ actually makes sense to me. Just as this applies to car design, dress design, or even cell phone design…you get the picture. I personally go for labels that are simple but bold. I don’t like a lot of ‘noise’ or bad humor for example. I also recognize that others would be attracted to the latter aspects, so how do you hit the happy medium?  Each winery has its own unique story to tell and in this age of stories being told in 3 second bytes, it is important to reach the consumer browsing as you may only get a 3 second glance to catch their attention.

Take a look at the labels below…which ones appeal to you?chappellet









Look both ways

Let me set the scene: Your party of six friends have just been seated at a fine eatery, the waiter is handing out the menus and you are handed the wine list. There is light conversation around the table as everyone settles in and decides what to choose from the menu…the waiter then recites the daily specials as you sneak glances at the wines offered. What side of the wine list do you glance at first?? Do you look to the right where the prices are listed or do you look to the left to see the varietals offered? It can be nerve racking to be given the responsibility of choosing a wine that will appeal to everyone at the table and especially taking into consideration what they might order. You are also taking into account the fact that you will all be splitting the bill so you don’t want to go crazy with the price. I like to start with the left side just to see what is being offered, it’s amazing how some restaurants  have the flimsiest of lists while others have incredibly extensive ones! One of the first things you might think is – Hey, I just saw that wine in the store for $30 and they want to charge me $80 for it here!! Wow, you think, maybe I should have brought a bottle or two to share, but then you notice the corkage fee is $30 a bottle! Here are some things you should  know about the markup. Industry-wide markups average two and a half to three times the wholesale cost; a bottle priced at $10 wholesale might sell for $15 retail, but from $25 to $30 in a restaurant. The size of the restaurant also affects the markup; generally, the smaller the restaurant, the higher you can expect the markup to be. This is because they typically do not buy their wine in bulk, and so probably cannot receive as good a wholesale price. Also, because the smaller restaurant operational cost per customer is higher, that cost gets passed onto the customer in the markup on everything that is sold, but especially wine and spirits. Keep in mind that the position of the wine on the list usually determines the percentage of markup with the less expensive wines probably having the greatest markup. Knowing that, you should also be aware of another secret;  the second cheapest wine on the list in each category is usually the most popular and therefore has the highest markup!
Sometimes you may be faced with ordering wine before everyone has arrived so you might think ordering by the glass would be the most economical, however be wary,  the list price on a single glass is typically the wholesale price for a full bottle and just two glasses can run almost the cost of a bottle. I would splurge for the bottle, share it with your guests as they arrive and save some money in the process! One more thing…if you do decide to bring a bottle or two to share at a fine restaurant, be sure to check that it is not being offered on their list already as it is considered rude to bring something that is already there!


May I have the envelope please….

We find ourselves in the middle of Awards Season and whether or not you have seen all of the nominated movies you, like me are still inundated with the shows; Golden Globes, SAG Awards, Critics Choice, and finally the big one…the Oscars! Kirsten and I have been fortunate enough to be able to screen many of the nominated movies and I was pleased to see that the offerings were not only from big studios but  also some small independent production companies. The quality of the movies was all very good  but the ones that stood out for me were the smaller productions. We really enjoyed a small Polish movie called “Ida,” a drama about a young novitiate nun in 1960 who discovers her dark family past before taking her vows…okay, so not very commercial, (did I mention it was subtitled,) but it was shot so beautifully in black and white and each scene was like a painting. So what does this have to do with wine?? When it comes to wine production I could make a comparison to the movie industry. There are many big wine producers with large facilities, budgets, and a huge quantity of varietals offered, and then there are the smaller producers who might be off the beaten track, more ‘mom & pop’ styled with limited resources but  at the same time producing very nuanced wines which can stir your emotions.  Back in the early days of movie making there was a studio system in which a handful of large film companies (MGM, RKO, Paramount, Warner Bros, 20th) controlled the industry…in the early days of California wine, there were a handful of established wineries such as Charles Krug, Beaulieu, Christian Brothers and Mondavi, and  they were the controlling factors in the wine industry.  As each of these industries grew, with more and more folks throwing their ‘hat in the ring’ to become film makers or wine makers, the general public was afforded more choices …you get the picture! I was personally drawn to a small movie called “Whiplash” which caused a great deal of discussion in our household…it kind of reminded me of when I share a wine from a small producer with friends…it is always so much fun to see their reaction and the ensuing discussion, no two people will agree with what they are tasting!! I recently have wondered what the ‘Academy of Wine Awards’ would look like…the categories might look like this:

“Best Performance by a Red Blend”

“Best Label Design”

“Best Whole Cluster Pinot Noir” – Small Production Winery

“Best Performance by a Winemaker(‘s) Large Production Winery

“Best Wine Pairing with Seafood”

The categories are endless…who has your vote?




When it comes to your wine palate, start with what you know…with the textures and aromas in the wines that catch your attention! I have learned to know what I like in the structure of Chardonnays, Cabernets, and Pinots and what to expect in their flavors, aromas and texture. I have developed my palate over the years through experimentation, sampling wines from a variety of regions worldwide but it is an unfinished process. Developing your wine palate should not be a daunting task and that is why I say, start with what is pleasing to your taste. Once you find a wine that speaks to you, get to know it better…what are the flavors and aromas that attract you to this wine??  You’ll be amazed at what you can discern after spending time with your favorite bottles.  A recent article in The Wall Street Journal  focused on what makes a ‘great wine palate’ and it made me think of how I might expand mine. The article touches on the notion that a great palate uses the combined sensations of taste and smell. Winemakers often try to describe their wines to enthusiasts by giving extensive notes on what they think you should be tasting…burnt cherry, sage, licorice, grapefruit, cigar box (I enjoy an occasional cigar so know what that is!) wet stone…do you actually taste this? However, in a way they are right, our memory of flavors and aromas has a lot to do with defining what we taste, and finding a familiar taste memory in a glass of wine helps us to appreciate it more fully. But it takes some practice to truly identify what herbs, spices, earth, fruit, floral (you get the picture), notes you find in wine, and which, in particular, speak to you. My wife Kirsten loves to cook and I love taking in the aromas as a dish is being prepared, sometimes the smell of mushrooms sauteing, sometimes the smell of garlic being minced or peppers roasting in the oven. So much of what Kirsten does is by gut, experimentation and knowing what certain herbs and spices will add to a dish!  But her tastes are always evolving and a flavor that she might not have thought about using a few years ago all of a sudden will make an appearance and change up a meal, cumin for example, or french lavender, or habanero peppers after our pepper bush exploded with fruit! I would suggest that developing a wine palate is a similar experience, filing away familiar and well loved flavors and adding and experimenting with new ones. One way to expand your wine palate might be to pay a visit to a farmers market and pick up a jalapeno chili, or take a hike and pay attention to the smells of wild sage and anise, or you could simply visit your personal  spice rack at home and get your hands a little dirty…crush a bay leaf, or dried rosemary, or thyme in the palm of your hands and file away. Once you are more aware of what you like you can begin to expand your palate by applying what you know to any wine you choose!

I leave you with this…
‘The wine’s color is deep garnet with purple hues – classic Cabernet color. Cherry, pomegranate, plum and berry aromas are followed by scents of cassis and cigar box. Dried red cherries, wild blackberry and plum flavors are complemented by hints of dark chocolate and vanilla on the finish. ‘

2010 Arbios Cellars Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from our Wild Creek Ranch!

It’s a Wrap!

So, here we are again, the frantic race to the end of the year, so much to do with so little time in which to do it! Wherever you will be celebrating the holidays, I am sure that if you are reading this blog, wine will be involved! With a number of open house parties, and dinners either at a restaurant or a festive home cooked meal with friends, I know that I am spending more on wine this month…goes without saying. I have already been to at least three dinners, one where we all brought very special bottles of wine to be shared and the others  where I had to think about a wine gift to bring. So much pressure! To top it all off, I have been placed in charge of purchasing the wines for a very special upcoming annual celebration with 22 dear friends.  As everyone is contributing to the cost, I  wanted to take into consideration the budget…to find the best wines to pair with the meal at the best possible price.  At this time of the year our local wine merchant is incredibly busy but I love to consult with him and walk up and down the aisles seeking out some really great buys. I also enjoy introducing our friends to new wines, ones that they might not be aware of, or think of to pair with a meal.  We are, most of us, comfortable finding the right Chardonnay, Cabernet or even Pinot Noir to serve, so this holiday season I challenge you to challenge yourself…dig a little deeper! Perhaps it is time to check out a Chenin Blanc or go crazy experimenting with a Gewurztraminer or Sangiovese, explore a new region, experience a new taste! There are varietals from all over the world which are  pleasing to the palate and also your pocket book. Let’s all think outside the box as we usher in the New Year, and by all means, have a great Holiday Season!!


Here are the wines I chose for the dinner event…

60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillion

Piaugier Cotes du Rhone-Villages Sablet 2012

Made from 25 year old Grenache and syrah vines…classic southern Cotes du Rhone/Provencal offering.


Thanksgiving.  Actually, just the word thanksgiving speaks volumes…as if it were a paragraph all on its own. There are so may memories contained in this word…so many feelings of family and friends, so much food and wine! I really look forward to this holiday…no worries about purchasing the ‘perfect’ gift, nothing really to promote, and a time to set aside the everyday dance of balancing work and personal life. For me it is a time to reflect on the good things and embrace loved ones, maybe take a hike through the hillsides to just feel my feet on the ground and savor the breathtaking views. I would like to suggest that this be the Thanksgiving that you slow down even more, to be in the moment, to be in the conversation, share the laughter and of course, enjoy the feast! I just love taking in the meal preparation activities, the clanking of pans, the sound of vegetables being chopped, oh yea, and the sound of the football game on in the background. It could be raining outside, it could be crisp and clear…it just doesn’t matter because it is perfect. Preparation for Thanksgiving dinner will take many hours and the turkey sitting on the grill  needs constant care and attention. I love the sound of popping corks on bottles of sparkling wine as family and friends arrive, and the lively conversations that continue through the evening. When it is time to serve up the bird, it is a tradition in our household to all join hands and give thanks…a great feeling. And finally, we all sit down and pass around the meal, and the bottles of wine sit opened on the table awaiting their time to be enjoyed. I have been known to eat meals at a slower pace than most, and much to the dismay of my family, I will try to eat even slower this Thanksgiving…I just want to make it last.I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday!!

Here is what I will be serving…

With the hors d’oeuvres – 2012 Inman Family Sparkling Brut Rose

With the ‘bird’ – Blue Farm 2012 Pinot Noir Carneros 1861 Vineyard

With the dessert – Sky Pine Vineyards Casi Noviembre Port 2006

When everyone has gone to bed – Lagavulin 16-year-old Islay Single Malt Scotch (w/cigar)


Mother Nature

The 2014 wine grape harvest has been one of the most concentrated, and earliest in recent history.  There always seem to be unexpected challenges  as the grapes reach the final days before harvest. As if a three year drought hasn’t been enough to deal with, we also had the challenge of a 6.0 earthquake that rocked the Napa/Sonoma wine region on August 24th. Thankfully the quake caused less damage before harvest than it could have were it to have happened right afterwards  when the barrels and tanks would have been full of harvested juice. In the midst of these chaotic wine times many of us were wondering how the quality of the 2014 vintage might be affected. The lack of water, a mild winter which led to an early bud break and therefore early ripening, shortened the growing season and meant that  many a winery picked their grapes two to three weeks sooner than in years past . The abundant sunshine late in the season and reduced water availability forced the grapevines to produce tighter clusters and smaller berries which result in more concentrated flavors. I have been reading articles on winemakers’ expectations for the harvest and the general consensus has been that the 2014 vintage has the potential to be great and maybe even better than the memorable 2007 vintage, one of the best ever. If you don’t believe me, find a bottle of the 2007 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – yum! The season on our vineyard went like the blink of an eye…the grapes matured very fast and I have never seen such ripeness or tasted such deep flavors as this past harvest. Obviously we are desperate for rain and I hope it comes very soon as no vineyard can sustain a prolonged drought. Grape harvests all over California are becoming less and less predictable with the changing weather conditions, and every vintage will be impacted. Just a season ago harvest was delayed due to a last minute cold front that poured rain for a solid day…go figure! I am very curious to see how the 2013 vintage turns out! Thankfully Cabernet vines are extremely hardy and highly adaptable to these changes, hopefully they will continue to weather the weather whatever it brings!

As the days get shorter and the night air gets cooler, I turn my attention to full bodied Zinfandel’s…

Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2012 ($21)seghesio_zin

This Zin has been so consistent through the years and among the better values…a very deep and well focused wine and truly one of my favorites!

Mauritson Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2012 ($29)


One of the best vintages out of  the Dry Creek Valley! A very intense bouquet of ripe berries.

2012 A. Rafanelli Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($49)

Once again, a fantastic growing season which produced a raspberry and jammy wine with a smooth caramel finish. I do love the earth tones!



The other day a friend asked me how I got so interested in wine. It made me think back to the many times that were pivotal to my path in coming to understand and appreciate wine. I remember those days in my early 20’s just starting my career and on a tight budget, my weekly trips to the market were really about staples rather than wine. I used to purchase that odd shaped bottle of Almaden Chablis  and it would last me the entire week! It was the most drinkable cheap wine that I could find as I wasn’t about to pay the higher price for ‘Black Tower’ or ‘Lancers’.  I am ashamed to say that for ‘special’ occasions I would spring for a bottle of Liebfraumilch ‘Blue Nun’ with that creamy sweet taste that was so distinctive. I’m not sure why but my friends seemed to like it, then again, it was the late 1970’s. I think my first big wine moment happened at a dinner party a few years later when I was poured a glass of Gamay Beaujolais.  I can recall that moment when I sipped, stopped, and then asked to see the bottle. I had started to identify flavors and was beginning to really use my senses to fully embrace wine. It’s almost as though my brain snapped into a different mode and I was hooked! From that moment on I really wanted to know more about wine, the flavors, the grape varietals and where they come from. Although it was a bit intimidating at first as time went on I found I was absorbing a ton of technical information as well as learning through my senses. It takes years of experimentation to develop wine “skills” but as I always say, the most important thing is to try to understand what you like as there is really no right or wrong answer. Back in the 1970’s there was not much of a choice of wines in a super market and certainly fewer wine merchants around. However, given all the choices in this day and age, where would you send young adults for wine? Certainly there are better choices than ‘two buck chuck’ to start with even if you are on a budget, and so many choices from around the world, California, France, Argentina, Chile, Australia and more. A more recent wine epiphany moment for me was when I got a text from our daughter who was standing in her local market looking for a reasonably priced wine to share with her friends. ‘Daddy…are there any good wines for under $10.00??’ That text put a big smile on my face and then the discussion began!

What was your wine epiphany??