Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Happiness (in a a glass,) just around the bend!

A quick right just beyond the bridge
"I took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference."
                                      Frost

Driving along the lower end of South River Road just after one of Sacramento's hottest heat waves of 2017...thus far, I was reminded of the days of fishing on a once somewhat secluded, private beach just off the main channel of the Sacramento River. Steamboat Bend had been a favorite location of mine to fish and just hang out whenever the need arose. The beach was quiet except for the occasional tractor or big rig carrying tomatoes and sugar beats across the old rickety drawbridge that separated the slough from the main channel of the Sacramento River. I remember the feral cats that would amble by and beg or in some instances threaten me by show of fangs, for chunks of bait and the boats that somehow managed to navigate through what appeared to be water so shallow that walking across to the opposing bank seemed effortless. 

Bridge view from the vineyard
From the beach I would cast my line under the bridge into the deeper waters of the river, and lazily wait for something, anything to bite. The quiet was therapeutic and the scenery calming. Until this day, I had never witnessed the bridge coming to life to allow a vessel to pass underneath. Had I known then that one day, as if on cue, the old bridge, heaving, creaking and struggling against time to lift would reveal the culmination of efforts to achieve my goal to be a photojournalist, and provide the opportunity to reignite my passion for writing about wine and agri-tourism. My education in leisure studies was finally coming full circle.


Fast forward.
For those like myself who crave nature, solitude and a peaceful existence...albeit while enjoying good wine, Grand Island Vineyard, is a must visit destination.  Located just a few hundred feet beyond the bridge, the vineyard and winery offer a good selection of wine, top notch hospitality, (they passed my 30 second "notice that I'm in the room!" test) and the need for tranquility, that fishing once...and still provides.

 The Facility:
Having visited more than 300 wineries within the last five years, and completing coursework in risk management, I was instantly impressed with the design and care put into the ADA compliant access to the winery. Having worked with persons with disabilities, the welcoming and easy to maneuver ramp and walkways provide access to those with mobility challenges. The attention to detail that was placed in the design complemented the large tasting room and winery which took nearly five years to complete. Angular and modern, the building retains a "barn-like"character that does not clash with it's surroundings. Newly planted grapevines will soon provide an added touch of seclusion but definitely not exclusion from the now well traveled river road.

The experience:


Live music and wine!
Entering the spacious. well lit, arch shaped tasting room, I was greeted by Melanie, who understands the holy grail of hospitality quite well. Eye contact, warm genuine greeting and a smile...all within seconds of my entrance. Kudos! It really is the small stuff that matters most when folks visit a tasting room. Many a winery may boast the number of gold medals their wines may win, but this means nothing if the service is bad. Melanie was humble. Coming from this Vino Diva, humility goes a long way in an industry wrought with pretentiousness. There was none in this tasting room. Melanie cheerfully and enthusiastically shared her knowledge and history of the area. As a local, her authenticity and transparency were refreshing. It was obvious that she valued the dirt under her fingernails and took pride in her profession. I loved how she allowed the wine to speak without over complicating the dialogue. As she poured each complimentary offering...six currently, her detailed descriptions were clear and concise. This allowed me time to become more familiar with varietals that are relatively common, but not always grown and produced in the Sacramento Delta.

The tasting room

The Red wine:

According to Melanie, the Salman family has been growing grapes for more than 45 years. Click here for the whole family story. http://grandislandvineyards.com/people.html
From vineyards stretching nearly 20 miles south in Walnut Grove, CA to just north of Clarksburg, CA the Salman family currently produce 10 varietals with a newly released Cabernet Sauvignon. As mentioned previously, six wines are offered in the complimentary tasting of which a rich, robust Cabernet Franc is among the line-up as well as a...wait for it...

Pinot Noir in the Delta???
 Yep! Not an apparition folks, they make a Pinot Noir with fruit grown in "Hot as Hell" Clarksburg! I would mos def like to sit at the winemakers feet with a glass and learn how they or more accurately, Mother Nature manages to harness the delta breeze to allow a Burgundian  to produce a rich, fruit forward, not overly pomegranate influenced smooth wine! If you read my previous blogs, Pinot is NOT my favorite grape of choice. However, this particular vino is quite easy on the palate.
Moving forward with more surprises...the Cab Franc would also peak my interest.
Velvet and fruit!
With more than a general knowledge of the grape growing and wine making processes,  I was not surprised that the Cab Franc presented as an atomic fruit bomb. There was nothing linear about this wine. A medley of dark fruit followed by a delicate earthiness flowed easily over my palate. Because I prefer to drink wine without food, the easy approach would pair well with the Delta breeze and make this a perfect wine to sip while listening to music at one of their Friday evening events.
As if I wasn't intrigued enough, the $17.00 per bottle price tag for this gem put a whole new spin on my holiday shopping list! Moving on.

The easy drinker!
Technically, unless a wine is made with a single varietal, wine produced using a varietal name must derive at least 75 percent of their volume from the grape. The aptly named "Bridgehead Red" is according to Melanie, made from vertical vintages of Petit Syrah and one other grape. I am so loving the winemaker about now! Petit Syrah is grown quite well and abundantly throughout this AVA, and GIV does a great job with this offering. A bit of detectable RS (residual sugar) was evident making this not the wine for me. However, for those who are beginning to explore red wines, this would be a great intro wine...just my opinion.
GIV offers a "Wine Club Only" tasting of a Rose' of Cabernet which unfortunately I did not explore. Rose's are beginning to make a huge re-appearance as a "cool" wine to consume. I'm sure this one does not disappoint.
The White Wine:
Butter? Nada!

 Interestingly enough, Chardonnay produced by several wineries within the Clarksburg AVA present in a multitude of flavors and styles based on exponential winemaking style. Wow, that was a mouthful! In short, this Chardonnay was not a butter bomb, twig spitting Puligny Montrachet! Straight fruit forward, refreshing, evenly dry, and would pair well with cheese or fresh fruit. The perfect wedding wine for guests who want to socialize before or drink with dinner.
The apex of this visit was coming near and I still had two more wines to go. I rarely if ever drink varietals that are synonymous with dessert. However, the Riesling and the Gewurtztraminer were initially offered in the beginning. I declined opting to wait until the end assuming they would be sweeter.

We have a winner!!
OMG! Let me not spew too much here. In the words of my ethnic vernacular, this wine was "Da Bomb!" Sweet? Hell naw! Dis right here was the shizzle! Down to da bone dry with an "off the hook" mineral quality that rocked this sistah girls weave! Hit this with some fried fish, greens, mac and cheese, corn bread and black eyed peas...can you say, Sunday dinner??  Better yet, serve this at the next family BBQ and watch how them church folks in the family who don't "drink wine" get their drink on! Okay, I'm back. Had to go rogue ghetto for a minute! Seriously, I was amazed at how well this Riesling presented. Again, I do not regularly drink white wine...until now!
Sweet and Sassy!
The Gewurtztraminer was too sweet for me, but not as sweet as many that I have tried. Again, a perfect wine for sipping in the evening. I couldn't say what to pair it with, but a glass comes to mind. Just sayin'.

Although commercialization is slowly encroaching the agricultural landscape, the beach is still under the bridge and a soon to be open small cafe is in the works to provide travelers sustenance and refreshment which is sorely needed whenever alcoholic beverages are being consumed. Folks can now get their wine tasting on after a day of fishing or chilling on the river.

Conclusion:
My research has allowed me to visit wineries throughout California, and I am always amazed at what I find...especially in my own back yard. It is exciting to be able to watch a developing destination winery come into its' own as the Delta continues to provide new and emerging wineries a place to call home. I give Grand Island Vineyards three slaps upside the head...and this is a good thing, as they really know how to make a visitor feel at home. The history, wine, location...in close proximity to some of the best bass fishing in the Delta...don't tell anyone, and the people are truly a welcome addition to the wine industry.
Check them out at:
http://grandislandvineyards.com/index.html
Be sure to ask about their wine club and current specials. Thank you Melanie for A+ hospitality and thank you GIV for rekindling the memories of my fishing trips in the Delta!

Until next time.
Cheers!

Karen


Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Bump This," at Bump City Wine Company!

Bump City crew is a family affair!
What is Hip?
Wine and grooves, that's what's hip! It is nearly impossible to write this blog without incorporating the musical influences of the iconic 70s  east Oakland band, "Tower of Power!" Fans of the band and others, only need to visit keyboardist Roger Smith and crew at the aptly named "Bump City Wine Co." to get "Funkifized" in all things wine, grooves and great hospitality! Please read on.

Its' Still a young winery....
Okay, so I'm borrowing a piece from one of their songs to describe a recent visit to the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, CA. Many of you are familiar with this location even though it remains to be aggressively marketed. With this said, the inviting sound of "Soul and Funk" emanating from the back forty of the property is sure to entice visitors from within the confines of the main building to check out what is "Hip" in the old boiler room.

Smith personally educates guests
Definitely NOT a "Flash in the Pan!"
 Smith and longtime friend and business partner Mike Smolich have been making wine for family and friends for more than 10 years. They are both passionate and picky about the wines they produce, and enjoy being involved from vineyard to bottle in the process. What's most appealing to guests at the winery is the lack of pretentiousness that often deters people from wine tasting.

Smith and crew are on hand to personally greet visitors, pour wine and answer questions about the winery and upcoming events. On the day of my visit, guests who purchased wine were blessed with an autographed bottle by Smith himself. The experience of visiting this tasting room was akin to visiting good friends in their own living rooms.
Mike Smolich and Roger Smith

As I observed the comings and goings of several waves of visitors, it struck me how approachable and engaging Smith was. Assuming that he hailed from Oaktown, I was surprised that he was a Sacramento native with ties to many people that I knew personally. This made the experience even more enjoyable. One can relax amid a homegrown son who has not been bitten by the celebrity bug. Smith himself is careful to add that he does not want his wine to be misaligned with celebrity trappings. In short, his wine is reflective of the "Every Person" palate without compromising quality. The proof of his genuine humility and passion for all things grape were soon to come as I given the opportunity to enjoy a few tastes.

Diggin' on the Vino!

Newly released 2014 Chardonnay

The grapes for Bump City Wine Co., are sourced from Sonoma County appellations with the exception of the Zinfandel from Lodi. As a seasoned wine aficionado, I tend to forego white wine and jump straight into the reds when visiting wineries. Because my research is centered mainly in observing diverse populations of visitors, it is necessary to curtail how much wine that is consumed. Not today! Bump City wine Co, offers five varietals; Beginning with a wonderful semi - somewhat buttery, kinda oak tinged, goldenrod, fruity, smooth, luscious, lick the last drop off the edge of the glass 2014 Chardonnay, which recently took a gold medal in the East meets West International wine competition. This wine would pair well with many types of food including and not limited to dessert. Think peach cobbler? Going completely out of order and saving for last, my palate was not tainted any more for the worse after indulging in three wonderful reds.

Pinot Noir.
Not a fan of PN, but always willing to try something new. Amazingly smooth without the pomegranate overtones that can choke the uninitiated. Richer and much more buoyant than some other Pinot's that I have tried. Buoyant? Yes, this is a nice way of saying that the wine carries its' weight well and is balanced in all characteristics. Nuff said.
Bumpin' Bump City Red!


Zinfandel. 
If you are an avid reader of this blog, you know my position on Zinfandel. In fact, it may have been expressed while visiting the tasting room. Zinfandel...especially Lodi Zin, is not a favorite grape. Why you ask? Beginning my career in Amador County and Lodi, I became saturated in this wine. Nuff said. Bump City changed all of this for me. Instead of the high octane, salad bar, fruit bombs reminiscent of mountain wine and wine from the interior of hell aka Lodi, this Zinfandel was incredibly layered, yet straightforward in its presentation. In short, this is the wine enjoyed while playing dominoes, eating barbecue or just chilling with the folks!

Bump City Red. 
 No "Clean Slate" needed to enjoy this wine! A voluptuous, big legged, dark, classy vino with an essence of naughtiness. Definitely something to be cellared or consumed while young. (Buy two and see how it develops) I Couldn't help asking for two or more taste's...just to be sure that I liked it.

Signing a bottle for a guest

What's Next?
Smith talks enthusiastically about the future of the tasting room and upcoming events. A release party is scheduled for August 13, 2016 at the Old Sugar Mill. Live music, nibbles and great wine await wine club members and the public. Tickets can be purchased at bumpcitywineco.com.
Speaking of wine clubs, Bump City Wine Co. has one of the most affordable and flexible wine clubs available. Members can choose all red, all white or elect to have Roger's choice in quantities of three six or 12 bottles shipped or picked up at the winery twice a year. Discounts apply for multiple bottle and case purchases.

Final Thoughts.

For a laid back experience in wine tasting, Smith and his crew provide genuine top shelf hospitality, great wine and smooth grooves for their guests. Feel free to break into singing along or dancing to familiar tunes in the large tasting room area. The vibe is full of soul with a capital "S!"
I give this winery four slaps upside the head...and this is a good thing and highly recommend that you "Get your feet back on the ground" and visit.

Until next time,
Cheers!



Friday, June 17, 2016

Urban Wine Walk; Bringing the Vineyard to the Hood!

Sustainability in da hood?

Gentrification is defined as, "To renovate or improve (especially a house or a district) so that it conforms to middle class taste." But, before I go off on a tangent about the devastating effects of this practice, and the destruction of social and cultural capitol,  in major cities like Oakland, CA, allow me to say that the urban wineries, or more often the tasting rooms of distant wineries, found in Oakland and Berkley California have blended into the framework of some of the toughest, most neglected, crime ridden urban settings without destroying the flavor of "the hood!"

Beginning in or around the year 2000, the city of Oakland, California has seen a 25 percent drop in its' African American population due to gentrification. Areas that were once dominated by people of color, especially areas bordering the southwestern portion of the city, are now becoming hip new suburbanized urban areas along streets that once housed warehouses, factories and shipping companies. Neighborhoods located within these areas housed the many blue collar workers who supplied the labor force necessary to operate commercial and private businesses. However, as time moved forward, a once thriving industrial environment, lay waste to neglect, foreclosure and abandonment.

What is Hip...Now?
The Oakland Urban Wine Trail consists of 10 or more winery tasting rooms scattered over a 10-square mile path near Jack London Square.  Offerings range from the chic, waterside, Rosenbaum Cellars to the family friendly Cerruti Cellars. There is something for everyone's palate.  
Revitalizing the "Hood" for good!
                                                                                                                                                              
The Route
We began our stroll at CampoVida...a great place for early evening wine tasting as they often have live music on hand, with a light lunch, snacks and wine. I was particularly impressed with their Rose wine. Rose's are fast becoming the new craze in all things vino. The tasting room was large, open and could accommodate large groups. We had about 30-40 people ready to stroll, and they expertly kept our glasses full. It is noteworthy to mention that CampoVida also has a bucolic location in Hopland Ca., where the atmosphere is laced with lush vineyards and gardens. Definitely worth checking out this summer.
www.campovida.com
Refillable House wine!
Traveling east, to burn off the light lunch of foot long sub sandwiches, antipasto salad, fresh fruit, granola bars, chocolate kisses, cookies and other low calorie edibles...snicker, snicker, we stopped at Urban Legend, located in the old ironworks waterfront district. For those who are not familiar with southeast Oakland, the area was once home to the largest population of blue collar labor in the greater bay area. Now, nearly abandoned, Urban Legend has done little to change the face of this once thriving area. In short, the building is not that pretty, but the wines are fairly good...if you like high octane fruit bombs! (My opinion, please keep reading.) In keeping with the "Oak Town" theme, the label art features a large industrial crane similar to those used at the nearby Port of Oakland. Additionally, they pride themselves on a refillable jug wine that is relatively affordable and drinkable. (Consists mainly of Barbera, and it rather bulky...just sayin') 

On to the next tasting room! We ambled, or stumbled further east to what I considered to be the pinnacle of our journey, Jeff Cohn Wines. Not to be too biased, but, DANG!!!
Cohn's wines offer the finesse and style that I prefer. 
Admittedly, I am a wine snob of sorts. When entering a tasting room, I have a few expectations that are essential in creating a memorable experience. For instance, a genuine greeting will set the tone for how I perceive the value of spending money. Our greeter could not have been more sincere and genuine. She at no time thrust a tasting fee at our throats, and noticing how many were in our party, offered us a high top table to make pouring and describing the wine's more efficient. I was extremely impressed that the wine glasses were of the highest quality crystal, and was the proper shape for the type pf wine being poured.(It really does matter.)   I'm already in love with this place. Because I was leading the tour, I refrained from a full tasting but was offered two tastes at no charge. Boom! Put this place on the radar...I will be back!

Next we visited Cerrito Cellars located on the embarcadero. After imbibing heavily at Jeff Cohn, we were in need of sustenance, and Cerrito offered up complimentary cheese, crackers and meats. Gnoshing away, (We cleared the free food without abandon, as they continued to refill the platters. So ghetto, I know!) the decor is reminiscent of an old fashioned saloon...which I believe it may have been. The room was large, a bit too noisy for my taste, and offered several bench seats designed to accommodate bringing in your own food. Wines were okay to my palate, but the group seemed to find them likable as they spent more money here and at Urban Legend than anywhere else. (Two bottles at Urban Legend equalled one at Cohn.) Again, as the tour guide, it was best that the bulk of this stop involved rehydrating myself with water as the weather was hot for an Oakland afternoon. 
Must come back and try this place

Heading back to the waterfront, I was happy to see a brew house near the center of Jack London Square. Although there was no time to stop in, for those who do brew, this place looked worthy of a return visit.


Cheers!
We concluded the tour at Rosenbaum Cellars located on the waterfront. If memory serves me well, this location may have been a floating hotel called the "Boatel" that I remember as a child. Rosenbaum is very nice and inviting. The wines are a bit pricey, but worth the extra $$. Outdoor seating provides a harbor view...as well as the back side of the now nearly empty Alameda Island military installation. Large yachts cruise by,  outside speakers provide good music and the breeze was a welcome treat after the wine stroll.

I have had the pleasure of leading two wine strolls along the urban wine trail, and really like this way of wine tasting. Each winery provided a relaxed atmosphere and a good selection of wine for any palate. I give this excursion three slaps upside the head...and this is a good thing, and hope that all will consider venturing into "The Hood" to do some wine tasting.

Until next time,
Cheers!

Siatah's who sip!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Port, cigars and truffles? Resurrecting a crappy day in Napa by visiting Prager Port Works

Girl Gotta Do What a Girl Gotta Do!
I should have known better than to apply for a tasting room position at a Highway 29, unnamed, pretentious, high octane fruit bomb flabby wine winery. With Napa temperature's peaking at an incredible 102 degrees at the end of May 2016, the last thing I needed was to be interviewed by someone wearing thigh length leather boots and a multi-colored, "Did your grandmother knit this?" tacky fitted dress, who began the interview with snarky remarks and a condescending attitude. But enough about this for now. (The desire to write a blog about this experience is way too tempting.) What saved the day...and the tank full of gas used to get to said pretentious, high octane flabby wine winery, was a visit, or more accurately a need to cleanse my palate, and a desire to purge the experience from my psyche. (I later wrote them a really nice thank you but no thank you email...which was either unread or ignored. Go figure?)

Come hither, lass!
Jesus Take the Wheel!
Quickly driving away from the interview from Hell along Highway 29, without giving away the name of the flabby wine winery near the local A&W Rootbeer stand,  I became keenly aware of all that was around me. Having driven this road several million times, I never really noticed the vast number of wineries and their proximity to one another. What used to appear as space between each winery now seemed to be a continuous row of similar beckoning tourist traps. This was definitely NOT a place that I would want to further my career in the wine industry. (Did I mention that after sitting through a berating  "If you can sell, you will do well working here" lecture, I was directed to the tasting bar to become familiar with aforementioned winery's flabby wine and then told that this "Familiarity" tasting would be comped?
Additionally, as a special favor...wait for it...they would sell me a bottle of high octane flabby wine with a 30 percent discount! Let the church say, "Hard Sell?"
  Anyhoo, a short drive north and I found myself staring at a signpost that read," Prager Port Works. "

Seriously, enough about the flabby wine winery. Let's talk Port!

I had been referring folks to Prager Port Works for many years, but had never visited myself. Not being a Port fan may have had something to do with this, but in essence, I am really not into anything liquid and sweet. Port wine is definitely sweet, and the grapes used to create such wine play a huge part in how the wine presents itself. Working in Amador County and Lodi for several years, many of the Port wines that crossed my path were made from Zinfandel. In previous blogs, I do not hide my sometime disdain for anything Zin. Port wine made from this arrogant grape tend to take on a raisin characteristic reminiscent of a Saturday morning serving of Kellogg's Raisin Bran with the addition of one or two cups of added sugar. Fortunately, the Pragers' make no Port from Zinfandel grapes. (Hallelujah!) They do however make a wonderful vintage (long aging) Port from Petite Syrah, a teasing (White) Port from Chardonnay and a Tawny (Wood) Port from Cabernet Sauvignon. All capable of creating an orgasm from within the glass...which you get to keep if you pay the $20.00 tasting fee. (Orgasms are not included)

Nuff said!

There's Always Time for Port!

Entering the small parlor like tasting room, Prager is anything but pretentious, and the owners know how to make their guests feel at home. I was immediately greeted by John Prager and his brother Jeff who reminded me of the ZZ Top duo sans the beards, dark glasses and morose wardrobe. Heavy metal Rock and Roll music blared quietly from speakers throughout the cozy room. No sterile elevator operatics going on in here.The walls were adorned with ribbons won at various competitions and dollar bills...a tradition began by patriarch Jim Prager.

Company "Website" created in "Windows!"

It was difficult to miss the "Website" which was created in "Windows" by the door entering the salon. John Prager explained this phenomenon with a straight face and a twinkle in his eye. One could not help laughing at this tidbit of lore, which made the willingness to put aside any reservations I may have had about imbibing in sweet wine. Unlike the aforementioned flabby wine winery, I was asked if I could handle tasting multiple wines. When I said that I couldn't, John happily allowed me to sample a few along with some very tasty glazed nuts...free of charge!

Wait... What? This Port is Not That Sweet!
Nectar of the Gods!

Beginning with the white Port, John explained the Prager process of using wine grapes that his family felt would create a delicate styled Port wine.
As he poured the golden nectar into my glass, the gentle floral aromas of honey, sage and cream wafted upward and tantalized my olfactory nerves.
 Amazingly, the often cloying, cough syrup characteristic that was more familiar was non existent. This was a Port that could have come home with me.
Royal Escort Port
Paired with a Snickerdoodle cookie or a Snicker's candy bar, the delicacy of this Port would not overpower the flavor of the treat, only enhance it. In fact, this Port would do well enough alone...provided that a beach, blanket and sunset could be added to the mix.

Next up, John poured a darker, more silky Port from an unusual bottle. I was so enamored of the previous offering that I had to take a lap around the room and mingle with a few exuberant guests.
The Prager family does well!
As I leisurely strolled around the 100 foot square room, John shared with us the story of the dollar bills attached to the walls. Upon closer inspection, one will notice that the bills come from around the world. A testament to the diversity of Port drinkers who visit the winery. The story goes something like this.
As many business owners do, the first dollar earned is usually attached to the wall of a business as a sign for good luck. You will have to visit Prager get the rest of the story as I cannot tell it as well as John does. ( I know, unfair!)
 John then poured the next deep, ruby colored Port into my glass. I began to experience a flashback of how I used to describe Port when I worked in Amador County. The memories  of customers laughing hysterically flooded my head as the aroma of wood and spice drifted dangerously close to my eagerly awaiting palate. If I allowed the wine to enter my mouth, there would be no stopping me from eating my own sales pitch, for I had sold many a bottle of Port describing it a to unwary customers in an irresistible way. Here is the legendary sales pitch.

Me: So, now that you have tasted all of our wines, time for dessert!
Customer: Oh, no, I don't like Port!
Me: Oh, you WILL like this Port!
Customer: Why?
Me: Well, this Port requires a fireplace, a Luther Vandross CD, a pair of handcuffs and a whip!
Customer: If it's this good, I'll take two bottles!
They usually did!

Prager Port Works is by far one of the best experiences in wine tasting along Highway 29 that I have ever enjoined. Their laid back unpretentious atmosphere, and lack of formality make this a stop worthy destination. They carry a selection of cigars; John said they were low in inventory at the moment, but more would be added soon, still wines...yes they make these as well and some classy treats to accompany their Port. The location is tucked down a alleyway just off the main road and if you get there soon, there may still be some fruit on one of the loquat trees that is easy to pick and pairs well with Port.
John Prager
I give this location three slaps upside the head...and this is a REALLY good thing, for hosting me and making an otherwise crappy day in Napa that much better! Check out their YouTube Videos for more in depth information from the Pragers' themselves.
Click here;
https://youtu.be/Xv3KJBE4g8o

Until next time,
Cheers!


Monday, January 5, 2015

Forgive me Peloursin, for I have Zinned!

In the beginning, I was a self employed professional photographer with a little bit of knowledge about wine, and the uncanny ability to engage an audience. Had I known then, in 2005,  that the gift of gab, and a wrong left turn would result in a new career direction, and a new appreciation for all things grape, I may have said yes more often to wine country wedding photography opportunities.

Chapter One: "You Said Turn Left!"

The wrong left turn in 2005 happened in El Dorado County, a former gold rush era, backwoods, Nirvana, in the lower Sierra Foothills, known for growing hearty red varietals. Perched atop a bucolic backdrop of oak trees and rolling hills, I was familiar with the area during daylight hours, but due to a lack of diversity in the local population and the ever present  psychological assumption that bad things happen in the woods...especially at night, I and my ever so loyal, "I will leave you in a heartbeat if s$*t goes down," cousin, wasted no time in leaving a just photographed wedding so that we could find our way out of the woods. We drove aimlessly through what I now know were grapevine dotted roads, towards anything that resembled civilization. However, with nothing but the headlights on my car leading the way, and as luck would have it, we got lost. The ill - fated left turn on this scary night, instantly changed the direction of my life.

Leaves on my Zin vine
Chapter Two: "What is a Sistah Girl Doing Up Here?"

Driving along the dark, winding roads of what I would discover was Zinfandel country, my mind began to play tricks on me. There was nothing on the radio except a lean selection of tunes that all  reminded me of the movie, "Deliverance," and those tall, looming, scary grapevines seemed to be everywhere. Fearing the worse, we stopped at a palatial estate to ask for directions. Seeing someone exiting the property as we pulled up,  the baffled, but kind manager invited us in and poured us a glass of something red before providing directions to the main highway. As we left, she offered us a selection of half poured bottles and invited us to return.
Nuff said!


Chapter Three: Zinfandel is Red?

A few weeks later, an invite to participate in a free bridal show from our "Lost in the middle of nowhere" savior, arrived.  It was happily accepted, but I questioned why the show was free to wedding vendors. The reply was simple, "Do you want to participate?" Not one to look an opportunity sideways, we loaded up a selection of wedding albums, and headed back to this still  unknown location to participate in the bridal show. In hindsight, I cannot help but think that this was a set-up for a new career path. On the drive up to Amador County from Sacramento, one couldn't help but notice that the nighttime scary vineyards of days past, were actually beautiful, abundantly loaded grapevines that rolled endlessly across the hilly terrain. We became mesmerized by the smell of the air, and the dense forrest of all things grape. Nearing our destination, we stopped to read a tag on one of the trellises. "Zinfandel?" Wait, how could this be?  Zinfandel...at least the wine that I was familiar with, was, "pink?" The grapes that rolled endlessly up one side of a hill, down another, were all, dark red! Something was wrong.
Joel Peterson


Chapter Four: Zinfandel is "KING" in Them There Hills!

The winery owner liked my photography work, but  really admired how well I engaged with the public. Somehow, my limited knowledge of all things grape didn't keep me from talking up wine, especially familiar varietals. (At this time, Chardonnay was a favorite...besides, it doesn't stain white wedding dresses.) Like a stealth bomber, the winery owner wasted no time in asking me how I knew so much about wine and would I be interested in pouring wine a couple of days a week. NOT! I had no desire to pour wine, much less, the vile red liquid served a few days earlier, that was supposed to be pink!  As a polite gesture, the aforementioned bottles given to us, were dispatched with my cousin who, never said anything more about them. With certainty and a bit of hostility, I expressed pure disdain for red Zinfandel...okay, for the Zin that was poured previously, and never expected to hear from the owner again.

Chapter Five: Resistance is Futile!

I took the job as a pouring wench, and quickly discovered that I knew NOTHING about wine from the academic point of view. Customers, especially those who were a bit uncomfortable with a sistah girl being up in them there hills, pounded me relentlessly with questions. Fortunately,  the winemaker, Gordon Bentz, showed me the ropes around the vineyard and would be the biggest influence, not only in grapes such as Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, Viogner, but in shaping my Zinfandel education. Between the two wineries that we worked for,www.bellapiazzawinery.com, he made nine different Zins. Ranging from high octane fruit bombs that teetered on being Ports to a few that were salad bar vegetal, Zins did not appeal to my palate on any level. Perhaps it was the daily onslaught of customers who argued incessantly that Zinfandel was supposed to be pink. (By this time, I knew better, but learned to be diplomatic.) Or, maybe because after a year of selling wine futures, and un ashamedly convincing folks that their purchases were more important than food, electricity or mortgage payments, burnout was beginning to happen. Most of the wine sold, primarily consisted of Zinfandel, and honestly, they were beginning to taste the same...high alcohol, extremely jammy, green peppered, vegetal, atomic fruit bombs!  Ugh! The final blow came with a generous gifting of a case of Zin (which I begged to trade for anything else,) from the winery owner at Christmas. This pushed me over the top. In short, I silently vowed through tightly clenched teeth, that I would never like Zinfandel!

Da Bomb!


Chapter Six: There's Even More Zinfandel in Lodi?

 A year of difficult, but dedicated work, at the winery came to an end when it became obvious that  the direction my life was taking, needed improvement. I was a photographer, a writer, not a pouring wench! I wanted more from myself and for myself. Enrolling in college to fine tune my photography skill with hopes of becoming a teacher or a photojournalist,  the wine industry had become more than a new career path, to be explored it had become a passion.  Mr. Bentz had created a new monster in those vineyards of Amador county, and the best was yet to come. After falling in love with Petit Syrah, Alacante Bouchet and other rogue grapes, Zinfandel would still not hold a place near and dear to my heart until I accepted a  part-time job in Lodi...where Zinfandel reigns supreme.

The unnamed winery that I would give four years of my life to did not tout Zins as the be all, do all grape of choice. Instead, the short statured Italian founder, preferred wines from the Bordeaux region of France. As a result of this, I became an expert in all things non Zinfandel...until visiting several wineries nearby who did tout its' virtues.

Chapter Seven: High Octane Fruit Bomb, No More!

Lodi Zinfandel, www.lodiwine.com  did not possess the high sugar, high alcohol, over the top fruitiness reminiscent of wine produced in Amador County. Instead, the Zinfandel of the San Jaoquin Valley, had structure, complexity,  and depth.(Okay, they were a bit fruity.)  Maybe, just maybe, I needed to give Zins produced at a lower elevation a chance. The unnamed, short statured Italian founder winery did make a few classic Zinfandels, and heeding the demands of their customer base began to produce some memorable wines. But Zinfandel remained a name at the bottom of their tasting me. I had experienced enough of this difficult grape, and truthfully enjoyed its' cousin, Primitivo...which seemed to have what Zinfandel lacked to my palate, more. The Zinfandel that could hold my attention had yet to be discovered.

Chapter Eight: Paso Robles; You're Doing it Right!

Venturing beyond the high heat of the valley one day, and being forced to go on a research trip to study micro climates, Paso Robles beckoned. The opportunity explore Zinfandel from a different perspective was not on the radar for this visit as being a Rhone lover, the area would provide an abundance of wine that I had come to crave such as Syrah, Petit Syrah and Viogner.  Grudgingly, the opportunity to explore a different take on Zinfandel that did not proliferate in the high heat of the central valley would soon take precedence.
Entering one of several tasting rooms on this research jaunt,  Sextant, www.sextantwines.com being the most notable, I was taken aback at the friendliness and low key atmosphere. I could also appreciate the passion that the tasting room folks had for a non Rhone varietals such as Pinot Noir, but  what I enjoyed more than anything was the love they had for this Zinfandel, and the near unapologetic way they expressed their desire to create wines that defied anything short of perfection. I became hooked like a catfish on a chicken liver as each wineries that I visited in Paso Robles expounded on all things Zinfandel.

Chapter Nine: Petit Syrah Folks, I still Love You, but...

  After graduating with a combined degree in photography/journalism, I decided to further my education. (Okay, job offers have not been exactly forthcoming, but I'm hopeful) Because of a passion for all things wine and the agri-tourism related industry, I began working towards a masters degree in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration. (California State University, Sacramento has a special discipline in this field www.csus.edu/gradstudies) With a vast knowledge wine obtained through years of working in tasting rooms, it was only natural to immerse myself into this discipline. It also gave me a reason, albeit a research related one, to explore Zinfandel further. Why? As I mentioned previously, Zinfandel is often assumed...especially among certain demographics and populations of people, to be pink! We will talk about this in a later blog post...I digress.

Anyways, I will always be a Rhone lover, http://www.rhonerangers.org, and possessing nearly 600 bottles of wine, mainly reds and a few white varietals, Zinfandel, has not, yet, become a favorite.  However, after the Paso Robles excursion, they have begun to appear more often within the collection, as the willingness to give them a chance has increased. It  also didn't help that I was invited to play with some of the most passionate Zinfandel producers in the world. The good folks at...

I've been, Zapped!
would initiate me into their world of Zinfandel which has caused me to place on hold...temporarily, my first true love, Petit Syrah!

Chapter Ten: All Things, Zin!

 Having tasted Zinfandel throughout California, it is understandable that I may have been a bit harsh on this misunderstood grape. Tapping into my artistic nature, I began to see that Zinfandel is not just a high alcohol,  problem child, but a versatile, classy, grape that when tamed by those who appreciate its' unpredictable nature, can turn it into an amazingly sensual wine. Of course, further research would be needed, but things were looking up for the new relationship with this grape.

Chapter Eleven: ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers)

My graduate school advisor said that doors would soon open up for the direction of my study, and I am indebted to the good folks at ZAP for allowing me to conduct observational, (and gastronomical) research while attending one of their phenomenal events. Here, I was able to meet some of the most passionate Zinfandel producers and advocates for
Joel Peterson of Ravenswood
this wonderful grape, and now understand, that Zinfandel is deserving of its' rightful place within the upper echelon of the wine world. (Wherever this might be, Jk!)

At a recent session held in San Francisco, at the Presidio, I was introduced to a small band of Zin-fanatics who generously shared their knowledge. One gentleman in particular, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, reminded me of author Louis L'amore. His broad rimmed Stetson, resting comfortably atop his head, revealed a genuine person; true to his craft. As he spoke, I was captivated by his genial manner and could find myself sitting at his feet as a student of all things Zin. I learned among other wine tidbits, the difference between Zinfandel and it's European first cousin, Primitivo. Though I had researched this info many times before, there was just something about the way Mr. Peterson explained the difference. His passion, honesty and humor were infectious. I mean seriously, this gentleman could convert a Bordeaux snob into a Zin-fanatic! Additionally, he did not dismiss the pink version of Zinfandel stating emphatically that, "It's still  a Zin, no less!"
 I could not wait to tell my advisor about him, and look forward to speaking to him in the future. I also had the opportunity to meet the good folks from Seghesio Family Vineyards and Biale Vineyards, who not only graciously shared their knowledge, but were warm and generous in sharing their wine.
 The Heritage Zinfandel, a wine produced through a collaboration of grapes grown among the produces, ROCKS. Those in attendance were treated to several vintages that allowed for a unique Zinfandel experience. What amazed me most was that several of these wines are produced from Zins grown in areas where varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay dominate. This not only added to the desire to explore Zinfandel more, but provided a new avenue of research into my study. More to come on this topic.

Chapter Twelve: Zinfandel, Further Research Needed

As one can see, my opinion and attitude about Zinfandel has changed, and the good folks at ZAP sponsored events have raised the bar in my quest to explore all that this California prolific grape can offer. I look forward to furthering research and seriously hope that I do not find THE Zin, but continue to be amazed by this wonderful red grape, and the generous Zin-fanatical producers who artistically turn it into a libation masterpiece.

Sending warm love to Mr. Stephen, who without his support and incessant ability to keep me motivated to believe in my place within the wine industry, and the folks at ZAP I say thank you!

Until next time,

 Cheers!




Sunday, October 12, 2014

Farm to Tap?

Breweries are popping up everywhere in Sacramento County. Vacant warehouses, abandoned storage facilities, one side of the two-car garage and as my kids used to call it, the "little bathroom," have all been transformed into brewing dens of iniquity.

With the Exception of...


A creek runs beside it...sort of?

Followers of this blog know that my ultimate passion is storytelling, and to do this...at least as well as I do, requires relentless hours of qualitative research. (Wow, I'm really beginning to sound like a grad student!) Thus, I am always a sucker for a new location that will provide my readers with enough information to cause an avalanche of interest. Goat House Brewery, located in the lush, sprawling...more like crawling hills of Lincoln, CA provided a much needed escape from said relentless qualitative research.

The plan for the first weekend in October was to drive north to wine country to do an interview for an independent study project. As luck would have it, my car, Kenji...yes, that's what I call him, decided to extract a few don't have it, hundred dollar bills from my pocket by simultaneously killing a starter and blowing the rear calipers of his braking system. If this were not enough, the mechanic, or Devil worshipper, attempted to send me to an early grave by charging $429.00 for the starter alone. I don't remember much after this phone message, but fortunately, I was referred to a reliable ex-convict who did the work provided that I buy the beer. (He actually was a certified mechanic...just had a little trouble with the IRS, NRA and a slight misunderstanding with two of his three ex-wives)
Beer and wine on the same sign?


Speaking of Beer
I was able to reschedule the winery visit for later, but still had a day to do something a little closer to home. The Farm to Fork festival had taken place the weekend before, and while there, I met a few local brewers who mentioned a new place in Lincoln. Being a wine person, beer, or more accurately for my taste, ale, has become a new passion of mine and anything to do with farming is in my blood. (Okay, a few chickens and a garden = farm. Goats coming soon)

Relying on their recommendation, I called Goat House Brewery after recovering from car repair sticker shock, to make a reservation for a visit. (Info on Google said reservations were required...Not any more!)

Rustic? Maybe.

GoatHouse Brewing Company is a family affair, and owners Mike and Cathy like nothing more than welcoming families to their little piece of heaven on Earth. Located just a few miles northeast from beautiful downtown Lincoln, this dot com, moving and shaking couple searched for many years until they found exactly what they were looking for....a farm! As  Bay area transplants, they had the nerve to want to raise their children with a quality of life reminiscent of days gone by where running through orchards, catching butterflies, fishing and getting dirty was the norm. To hear Cathy, a former marketing executive, tell it, she did not want to die at her desk! So...they loaded up the truck and they moved to...Lincoln, CA?

Yes, that's exactly what they did. Damned the torpedo's,  these good people wanted their slice of American pie! Not the concrete jungle, or laptop death syndrome, they wanted a quality of life that included a farm, good schools, animals, dirt, crops, serenity...and of course, beer. Got to love these folks!.

What They Do
Nirvana!
The drive to Lincoln has changed in recent years. Subdivisions, strip malls and a large casino occupy what was once hundreds if not thousands of acres of hop fields. Hops being one of the main ingredients in beer brewing are all but extinct in the area now, but the Johnson's have not let his deter their dream. They with a bit of ingenuity have installed as Cathy describes, "The Mike and Cathy Hop Growing System!"

Ingenuity at its' best!


Hops, Humulus Lupulus, are unique creatures. A member of the Cannabibaceae family, they are cousins to those munchie inducing, herbaceous, five finger leaf plants that when added to fudge brownies, give them...character? Anyhoo, you get the idea. Grown on sturdy trellises made of rope, or other materials, the "bine" grows by intertwining itself around the rope or other support system. This occurs autonomously; it is often believed that the bine follows the sun, but after conducting more research, I could find very little to substantiate this claim. However, hops do need an abundance of sunlight to grow, and the Johnson's system is a must see when you visit.

Bines braiding themselves
In addition to sunlight and support, hops need rich loamy soil to grow. Given the best conditions, the plants grow upward rapidly...sometimes 10-12 inches per day. It is not uncommon for hops to grow 20 feet high or more.

Bine vs. Vine

Hops, unlike grapes grow on a bine. Unlike vines, that have tendrils (petiole...the stalk between the leaf blade and the stem) and suckers that after making contact with an object for an extended period of time, attach themselves for support, bines are more aggressive. These plants have sturdier stems which form a helix around it's support system. They also have downward pointing bristles to aid in climbing. This gives the stem a rough feeling texture.
Inside the Hop
Lupulin...Da Money!
Cathy was more than kind to give me a lesson in all things Hops. Picking a cone from the plant, she expertly ripped it open for me to inhale the pungent, familiar aroma.(Smells like a good amber ale with a hint of citrus, honey and spice. Yum!) The lupulin gland is the yellow, sticky glob of essential oils and resins that are the main source of aroma and bittering compounds in beers. The Bracteoles are the protective leaves of the hop cone that yield more oil and resin, in addition to tannins and polyphenols. What are polyphenols you ask? The easy answer, they are antioxidants
found in red wine and dark chocolate that offer several good health benefits. So you see, beer is good for you. drink up!

Where were we?
Reaching for the sky!

Okay, back to the beer...and other stuff that they do. In addition to hops, the Johnson's grow citrus and nut trees, have bee hives for honey and raise goats for milk to be used in a future cheese making endeavor. All of this contributes to the family friendly atmosphere of their little slice of American pie, but there is something else that brings out the kid in all of us. Fresh, old fashioned soda!

Using honey from their bee hives, cream from goats milk and water, a real old fashioned cream soda, hand made and served with the foam blowing over the rim is just plain sinful! Being lactose intolerant didn't prevent me from indulging a bit...okay, I inhaled the cool, slightly sweet beverage like it was the last supper. Admittedly, it was awesome, and I should note...this is the perfect libation not only for the kids, but for those who wish to venture back to a simpler time in history. It was amazing. Another must stalk item on their list.

Water, cream, honey, Yum!

Let's talk beer...finally!

Mike has been brewing beer since his teenage years. Cathy describes him as a "Mad scientist" when it comes to creating his brew. On this visit, they were serving several beers with names that were more indicative of Mike's sense of humor (He is hysterical!) and the beers' characteristic. (Very accurate)

Beginning with a honey Hefeweizen, which was smooth and slightly sweet with a tropical tinge and a serious honey laced mouthfeel, (wine speak ala brew) each brew offered for the day was unique. Mike definitely has a way with words and a way with brewing. As I listened to the throngs of visitors
describe what they tasted, it was great to see that everyone's opinions were valued. I had more than one total stranger educate me in some way about the differences they were tasting in comparison to other breweries, and at least one other patron willingly accepted my half tasted barley wine without worrying if I had cooties. In short, everyone was friendly and other members of the family took great care to see that I and others were enjoying ourselves.

The Badonkadonk!
More about the beer

My personal favorite of the day was the award winning "U-so Fresh" brew. Made with wet hops as opposed to dry or pelletized hops. This was an amazing, as the name says, fresh tasting, beer with a good balance of citrus and floral tones. The kind of beer that you crave when you really want something with finesse. I wanted to make this sample last, and nearly ordered another. Moving onto the Hoppa di Peppa, made with a blend of several fresh peppers from their garden, one customer said that he had tasted peppered beers many times and that this one was not nearly as peppery as some. I had never had a peppered beer, and was quite surprised that the pepper flavoring was nice. I'm not sure what I would drink it with, but recently, I have been into pepper jams, so this brew will have to be revisited with food. Unlike drinking wine with a meal...which I do not like, beer accompanied with food agrees with me. Still, I do not have enough experience to say what I like with what. The U-So Fresh...I'm thinking a seafood salad?

Moving on. Before going to the Dark side, I inquired about the barley wine, correctly named, "The Badonkadonk!" For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, it basically means having a big butt! I thought it was funny when Mike asked if I knew what a "Badonkadonk was considering that this accurately describes my rear appendage. Anyhoo, this beverage is exactly as described, huge! High alcohol, high tannin, heavy and loud...a sistah girl with attitude in a glass no less, this beverage is not for the faint of heart.
Full spectrum sampler
Cloves, coriander, citrus, and honey. Tasty beyond simple, but too much for me. I could though, imagine enjoying this beer seated in front of a fireplace, curled up next to someone special and gnashing through a chunk of beef jerky while watching an action thriller. This is definitely not chick flick libation.(Depends on the chick and the flick, just sayin'). Anyhoo, this is a big mama jamma!
The hapless stranger seated next to me ended up finishing it off as I bade hime farewell to take more photos.

Converted barn into tasting room

As I stood to go take a few more photos, Mike asked me if I was going to try the Darkside. This was a huge stout with a rich, slightly chocolatey flavor. The Badonkadonk had killed any chance of savoring this beer, so I hurriedly sipped through it. Fortunately, hapless stranger had not left and he received the lion's share of this sample as well.

Samples


Due to some glitch in politics surrounding serving and selling beer, the Johnson's at this time can only offer two ounce samples for two dollars each or a flight.(Check menu board) However, you can purchase a growler.(1/2 U.S gallon) I like the idea of samples as this will allow you to not only taste what is offered, but also allow you to become familiar with the beer without delving into a full glass.(Pint) Mike has autonomy in what he does, and seasonal offerings are sure to be unique. The sample servings also invite conversation as guests can intermingle and share their thoughts with one another in the large, open tasting room. This I believe is what makes this location so special.

Cozy, friendly, open!
For starters, the room is large with picnic tables crafted from timbers salvaged from the original Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. Following the philosophy of being good stewards of the environment, the tables are beautiful and rustic. The interior walls are crafted from the original exterior planks of the building which used to be a barn on the property. The Johnson's have retained the rustic feeling with an open air quality that allows the evening cool breeze to flow through freely. A juke box with music to suit any taste sits near the entry way, and a patron with a penchant for the Village People repeatedly  serenaded us with the Y.M.C.A. (Still have that tune in my head!)

Ooo Rah!
Final thoughts

GoatHouse Brewery and Tasting Room is an excellent place to become familiar with beer. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, and owners Mike and Cathy do their best to make you feel at home. I give this place two slaps upside the head for beer, and that's a good beginning, and three slaps upside the head for ambiance. However, Mike get's a huge smack on his Badonkadonk for brewing beer with personality like his own. Catherine though, get's the highest marks for being a real sistah girl who knows how to treat folks well. I appreciate the time they took to show me around and share their story, but mostly I thank them for being role models to those who believe in following their dreams. Good on ya, folks!

Until next time,

Salute,

 Karen

GoatHouse Brewery and Tasting Room
600 Wise Road
Lincoln, CA 95648

916-740-9100
www.GOATHOUSEBREWING.COM