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for November, 2011

November 30, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest Recap: Part Three of Three – Ram’s Gate Winery

Ram's Gate Winery - Sonoma/Carneros

It is befitting that my 2011 Harvest Recap ends where it began: at Ram’s Gate Winery, the new gateway to wine country.

Facts first: Ram’s Gate resides where Roche once was. The facility is entirely brand-new, from the concrete cellar up. At the helm of Ram’s Gate is Managing Partner, Jeff O’Neill (of O’Neill Vintners). Next in line is General Manager, David Oliver. The winemaker is Jeff Gafner (Saxon Brown) and assistant winemaker is Jesse Fox. I conducted an interview with Jesse just before leaving town, this past October.

The rest of the supporting cast of impresarios includes appearances by: Cary Gott (father of Joel Gott, of Gott’s Roadside fame – or Taylor’s Refresher – whichever side of the tracks you’re on) as consulting Winery-101-Guru, Ned Hill the Vineyard Manager, Shannon Rosenberg the Wine Club Director, Marc Hartenfels the Hospitality Manager (formerly of Benu), Jason Rose the Chef de Cuisine (formerly of Wayfare Tavern and Locanda SF), Tanya Melillo as Marketing Coordinator, Michelle Lehmann (of the newly formed Michelle Lehmann Communications) as Public Relations Coordinator, Brooke Hester the money lady, Barbara a project-managing all-star, Katie and Eva the best interns a winery could have, Dan the Construction-Master-of-Ceremonies and surely there are others. But these people I knew and knew well for the first few months of my stay in the Napa Valley.

The winery was slated to open it’s doors on September 18th (and it did!). I arrived to the scene on June 10th. Between June 11th and August 11th I would endure “an education” in the start-up of a multimillion dollar operation that gave new meaning to the word momentum, which is Latin for “You’re dead in the water the moment you say, ‘um.'”

At any old rate, here goes —

My task was such: I was brought out to help build the Ram’s Gate “brand” up into the Digital World. Give it life, let it breathe, give it direction, get it going – into the cloud. Because that little old traveling wine saloon thing I do has garnered the likes of a good amount of press, they asked that I also lend a helping hand to events. At first I was tasked to suggest an array of opening events Ram’s Gate ought to partake in. Soon, that responsibility grew into event management and direction. The Social Media umbrella of activity was put on temporary hold while I spent every waking minute of the weeks to come doing as much as I was humanly capable event-wise, event prep, event proposals, event event event(s).

A visit to the Facebook page will reveal some of the early content I helped to shape and create. Same goes for their Twitter account. Videos I created of Ram’s Gate’s vineyards and outings with Ned Hill dot the postings on Facebook. A video of Jeff O’Neill, in “Apple” fashion serves as an introduction to a man full of passion – the passion of wine, the passion on the vine. Jeff is an amicable character who loves fast cars. How appropriate to have the Infineon Raceway right across the street from his winery. I even suggested he consider sponsoring a “Ram’s Gate Gate” at the Raceway. We’ll see if that pans out.

The attention to detail cannot be dismissed. Every single tiny atom of the winery was thought and brooded over. What more can be said? Go visit and see for yourself. The wine too speaks for itself. Try the red or white label Pinot Noir. It was my favorite. Tell ’em Jonny Cigar sent you (and they’ll charge you double).

And with that, let’s say that momentum caught up with me and before I knew it, I had lost sight of the green light at the end of the dock. I left the operation in August because it was time to engage in the activity I came to California to partake in: HARVEST.

I’ve lived in New York City for the last 10 years. I found myself really “getting into wine” about six years ago and getting serious about it three years ago. At the end of October, just before leaving Napa, Time Out New York named me one of ten Wine Prophets of New York City. I am… enamored by it all.

And I’m ready now to put into words what I was unsure of from this earlier post, and those words look like this: Let me begin with an analogy — once you make it on Broadway, you go home to star in your local community theater production of “Into The Woods” and you charge ungodly prices that make the locals talk dirty, but shell out dough regardless because you’ve got a bio with accomplishments that give new meaning(s) to big fish in little ponds. Wine Country is a place to go when you’ve already made “it,” and by it I mean “$.” Remember the time you made millions of green in real estate? Or as a banker? Huh, bankers? Ya know? Right? Own it. Occupy it, killer. Or that inheritance you worked so hard to inherit? Or perhaps you were a politician or a lawyer or a doctor or maybe you were The Great Gatsby and you made your money you rags-to-riches SOB! Well… you did it and then they ask you what you’re going to do now and instead of talking bullshit about Disney Land you buy up some property, you plant grapes, you come up with a brand and kapow! You’re in the wine business. Just ask Dan Aykroyd or Maynard James Keenan.

Wine is a luxury. Sure, it’s an agricultural product, but it’s a damn luxurious one. It’s an Organic Pre-Certified Home-Grown No-Pesticides Hand-Picked Hand-Washed Hand-Massaged Loved Cared and Tended-For Piece of Ripe Juicy Elegant Mouthwatering God’s-Country produce. And it’ll cost you and tax is not included and neither is shipping.

I came back to New York to realize all this? Not really. But if one is thinking of making a career out of the Vin-[Extra]Ordinaire, one must stop and smell the vinifera.

Now look Old Sports: this ain’t apply to ever’body. In fact, I met many, many a goodnbrilliant wino, hospitable, caring, nurturing, endearing, humorous, cantankerous, ornery, healthy, good-eatin, good-living group dare I say throng of folks. And made some perfectly brilliant friends, some of whom I would trade for various New York friends in a New York Minute.

The business of wine has to be a business of passion – because if it’s not something you like to do, love to do, with all your heart and soul, it is a vanity project for you or a death project for your piggy bank.

You know where this leaves me, mentally, for January 2012? Nowhere to go but up. Just like a budding vine. Nowhere to dream but down the mountain. And I was at the top of Mount St. Helena, looking over it all… I was looking over it all.

I know that I love the wine industry. I know that I love the people of the industry. I’m lucky to have been apart of the start of Ram’s Gate, and to see a winery built up from the ground not just in the physical sense but in the building of a business as well. I love wine like the way Gatbsy loves Daisy. The difference is, it hasn’t eluded me yet. And tomorrow I will stretch out my arms farther…and indeed, one fine day—————-

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November 23, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest Recap: Part Two of Three – Swanson Vineyards

Welcome to part two of our three-part mini-series, “2011 Harvest Recap,” I’m your host and the chap who worked the Harvest, Jonathan Jonny Cigar Cristaldi and sometimes Why.

That’s a bit of an old joke and it’s not very funny. Shall we then?

We turn now to the score of an old Parisian Salon and boutique winery tucked away in a garden paradise just off Manley Lane in Rutherford, CA. Mind you, I had a unique situation worked out in wine country: three days a week working at Alpha Omega in the cellar and three days a week working the Salon at Swanson Vineyards.

Moroccan wood, agate in-lays, a table suitable for a king, and this is how you feel when tasting wine at Swanson. Like a king, or a queen. And me: the court Jester, ahem Salonniere, 'scuse me.

Look up:

Art adorns the Salon walls by local Calistoga artist Ira Yeagre.

Integral to the Harvest experience, I was convinced that work in a tasting room was equally essential to my understanding of the industry from the ground-level up. Now, I’ve been to many-a-tasting rooms at many a-winery and have been plenty-a-disappointed. Tastings are typically whirl-wind experiences, like In-and-Out Burger. They get you in, they say, “Here’s our Cabernet, it’s so delicious, it tastes like blackberry soup with a dollop of graham cracker crème fraîche, a richy rich mouthfeel and goes nice with Turkey.” Then they say, “On the other side of the card is information about our Wine Club. If you sign up today we’ll give you a shoulder rub and charge your card a magical price, derived from our Wheel-of-Fortune-esque wheel of fortune.” And before you know it you’ve lost $30, a bit of pride, and have an empty feeling in your stomach because you didn’t pick up the hint of “late-afternoon simmering prune.” Well, clearly you’re not cut out to taste wine. Why don’t you stick to Coors Light?

NO, good wino. You will not stick to Coors Light. You will persevere.

At Swanson, the Salon was designed to experience wine the way the Swanson’s like to experience wine: slow, over bites, around a table with friends. Conversation and storytelling, blended together to create a memorable experience and truly let the guest spend a bit of time with the wine. Lucky for the Swanson’s they have winemaker Chris Phelps who happens to make fu#%ing incredible wines. And I know because I had to taste them before every appointment, and when day-in-day out one is tasting the same wine, one has the opportunity to look for nuance and to understand the concept of “structure” in a wine.

But let’s backtrack a moment, because someone in the back row asked a great question: “How did you end up at Swanson?” Great question!

Through a series of humorous miscommunications with the former Marketing Director (I thought she was the daughter of Elizabeth Swanson and she thought I was a spammer) and after numerous follow-ups, I was granted a meeting! I thought I was heading there to talk about a potential Noble Rot collaboration while she thought I was interviewing for a job. After 20 minutes we figured it all out and became fast friends realizing we had come to the valley on similar missions.

A few weeks later I received an invitation to a small private gathering at the winery. My contract with Ram’s Gate was about up and I was in talks with Alpha Omega, so I had no expectations of this event other than to meet the family and taste more of the delectable Swanson wine.

I took it as an opportunity to “dress up.” I had been living in jeans and tucked in button-down shirts. My vests had gone to the wayside. Napa is not a valley of style, sorry Napa! But they know that: they’re farmers. It’s not a three-piece-suit-kind-of-town. Though if you ask me, anything other than a three-piece suit is out of place, alas!) So, off I went to Swanson, even wearing a bow-tie. And then it happened:

The distinctly and stately Clarke Swanson, a man who could very likely have been King of the Napa Valley had this been 15th-Century Europe, wearing a double-breasted suit jacket, complete with pocket-kerchief appeared in the Salon. Was it possible that this man was my real father?! Had I been raised in the trailer park in upstate New York accidentally? Had I been sent down the Napa river as an infant, my mother picking grapes saw me coming, saved me, and fled to the Catskills? Nay. But, my word, we hit it off right away. Then followed Clarke’s wife, the inimitable, warm, friendly, humorous and enchanting Elizabeth Swanson. A sixth-generation New Orleanian and what I call a “pleasant hurricane,” one that envelops you in welcoming winds. Groucho Marx might have met his match with Elizabeth Swanson. And finally I met their daughter, Alexis, whose name adorns bottles of Swanson Cabernet. Like her parents, boasting a winsome personality, she and I engaged in quick-witted quick-speak and in a matter of minutes it was decided that I would likely be working as a Salonniere in the Salon.

Just like that. See what a three-piece suit and bow-tie does for you in Napa Valley? In New York people just hand me their dirty dishes.

And so, from late August through the last day of October I was several days a week working in the Salon, hosting by appointment only, hour-long tastings. One such tasting was chronicled in photos here by Carolyn C. Burgess, a friend of Alexis, in her October 23rd posting.

***

Landing on the Swanson crushpad, so-to-speak, was the absolute perfect scenario pour-moi. The tastings were like short performances. I had one hour to entertain, delight, revive the senses and educate the good guests that came-a-shuffling through the gates. I learned the Swanson story in and out and selected which wines I would pour on a daily basis. And my co-winery workers made the daily routines thoroughly enjoyable. A group of smart, supportive brilliant people (they laughed at my jokes, and if they were laughing at me at least they were laughing and for that they are diamonds in my book). They shall be named: Mindi, Ella, Rosemary, Lin, Grace, Samantha, Holly, Logan, Chris and Jamison.

These good folks made coming to “work” a treat. I even whistled while breaking down boxes! And they supported my unconventional approach to the Swanson experience, which certainly included Dean Martin and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I have to single out one of the dames: Ms. Mindi Burnett. If e’er there was evidence that the world is truly small, look no further! Mindi was my Salonniere-marathon-trainer. And on the second day of my trailing her, dotting her brilliant performance with frivolous Henny Youngman and Dean Martin quotes, we were setting the table for the next group of unsuspecting tasters. I was telling Mindi about my days at Oxford and Juilliard. She didn’t believe a word of it, “You didn’t go to Oxford!” she accused! And I admitted she was right. I had been to The Tisch School of the Arts. Okay: that was a lie too. I went to SUNY Purchase. “I went to SUNY Purchase,” said Mindi. And here I thought the tables had turned and she was pulling my leg, but in fact it was true and all made sense! She had that familiar look; though I couldn’t place it. Well, turns out I had seen her in many productions because Mindi had attended the acting conservatory at Purchase. Our paths never crossed, however she has a lovely memorable visage and our hair parts in the same direction, hence we became fast friends. I even knew her husband! I mean: really? All the way out in Napa Valley, at a tiny off-the-beaten path winery, a fellow Poorchoice alum? The odds, the odds! My horse for the odds!

Amazing. Grace. How Sweet… the wine. Let me tell you, faithful reader, what I learned from my experience working in the Salon:

Namely, consumers are like George Seurat’s favorite thing: a blank page or canvass. They come in with varying degrees of wine education, but are open to hearing it all again or learning what they don’t know or informing me of what they do know. The tasting room is the front line for a winery and it is essential to put on a good show. If the show is lacking, the experience is dull and forgettable and hence the worst enemy of any brand. And when you’re working a table of eight people from all walks of life, with different goals (some are there to taste, some to buy, some to guzzle and some to simply have a wine country experience), you’ve got to play your cards right. It’s like Blackjack. As the dealer you have an obligation to the house to win and still you have to help the other players along, make suggestions to the novice, and be on par with the experienced.

The tasting room is also a place to truly develop one’s communication ethic. It’s also a great place to work on a vaudeville routine. And in my case, the only place where wine can be described by referencing various lines from The Great Gatsby. In the case of the Swanson Salon, the only place where I can comfortable say I’ve several more bottles of our $140 Face Cabernet, and I’d be happy to open one so you might taste (and I might taste with you!)

Look: Chris Phelps was hired in 2003 to make wine at Swanson. They’d been around since 1985 producing exceptional wines and Chris’s experience (Petrus, Dominus, Camyus, et al.) brings a lovely marriage of talent and quality to the wines and the take-away experience. It’s fascinating to see how different Chris runs a cellar from the way Jean Hoefliger at Alpha runs his cellar. Different winery designs will dictate different approaches. Different backgrounds will do the same. Prior to Chris joining forces, Marco Cappelli was winemaker and continues to make the dessert wines. Marco makes, in my humble opinion, the greatest Noble Rot wine on the face of the United States continent.

A Noble Rot late harvest Semillon from Lake County.

How perfect? They make the highest-rated Noble Rot wine in all of the U.S.!!! Meant to be!

***

On my final day, Chris and the team made Merlot burgers. After all, the Merlot is what Swanson is known for.

Left: Chris Phelps, eating a Merlot burger. Yum.

Playing in the courtyard: the brilliant barrel organist Michel Michelis, whose career includes performing with Cirque du Soleil, a French gypsy band and numerous other credits among them one wildly interesting gig as the voice of Tomber in Disney-Pixar’s Cars 2.

Michel Michelis

My final second to last “Salon” tasting was held in the courtyard and looked like this:

A Salon Tasting in the Courtyard at Swanson Vineyards

My last day was an interesting last day. I was at the end of my stay in Napa, having accomplished what I set out to do: work the Harvest from cellar to tasting room and beyond. I was inwardly emotional, but outwardly the performer. I’d made great friends and found a wonderful sense of community and I think that anyone who wants to collect a wine that tells a story, that is the epitome of community – also happens to be delicious and age-worthy – should collect (and of course drink) Swanson wines. Visit them, make an appointment in the Salon, be inspired and become a member of their family. Tell ’em Jonny Cigar sent you. You won’t regret it. I look forward to visiting the valley and stopping by, who knows, maybe even hosting an impromptu Salon tasting!

To hear my interview with winemaker Chris Phelps visit Noble Rot Talks.

And certainly check out SwansonVineyards.com

Closin' Time...

Pocket Squares given to me by Elizabeth Swanson as a parting gift!

 

November 14, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest Recap: Part One of Three – Alpha Omega Winery

Alpha Omega Winery

In April of this year I began making plans to work the 2011 Harvest in the Napa Valley. I had no idea what it would mean to “work” the Harvest — only that it was imperative I be present in the valley in June, when wineries began the process of hiring for the season.

To simply pack up and leave Kings County, Brooklyn for five or so months and head west to the no-humidity, dry Napa County  seemed like… a fine idea! I telephoned everyone I knew – bloggers, winemakers, family, pool attendants and supper club impresarios… on the advice of Hardy Wallace and Jeff Morgan, two dynamic winemakers of radically different styles, I booked a one-way ticket and promised my wife that I would make good on this adventure (after all, she would only be able to visit in August, so we’d be apart for quite some time). I eventually found myself working in the cellar at Alpha Omega Winery in Rutherford, CA, but first there was June, July and August…

From the beginning of June until the middle of August I had work consulting for Ram’s Gate Winery. Ram’s Gate is now the first winery in sight as avid wine-country adventurers speed north from San Francisco into wine country. It is in effect, the gateway winery to the valley. Situated on a hill across from the Infineon Raceway in Carneros, the place is a work of art with expansive seating areas, lounging areas, glorious tasting room and demo kitchen, lake, on and on.  I will revisit a recap of Ram’s Gate in part three of this little three-part harvest recap series. For now, we fast-forward into September.

The foundation of a “wine country experience” for a person decidedly delving into the industry as a profession, is in my professional opinion: cellar work. And there it was. Was it there? Surely. Several weeks of early mornings and strenuous repetitive and tiresome activities. But: thrilling work, fulfilling work, gritty, take-action, no-standing-around, honest labor – a labor of art. You thought I was going to say a labor of “love,” but that’s silly. Harvest work is perhaps for some a labor of love. I began to see the work of the winemaker, the cellar team and vineyard crews as a labor of art.

Think about the many different works of art you might see in flea markets or say in Paris’s famous Montmartre market. Some works stand out above the rest, though the experience is entirely subjective. A finished piece of art is the result of an artist’s labor of his art, and speaking wine, bottled wine is the labor of a winemaker’s labor of his art. The artist will brood over many decisions: what canvas to use, brush strokes to perform, colors to highlight, textures to impart, anon. The winemaker too will ruminate over his canvas: the vineyard. What and how to plant? And then: when to pick? How to harvest (hand harvest vs machine harvest), and how the grapes are crushed, sorted and sent to cold-soak or to ferment, whether the juice goes into barrel or stainless steel, whether it is macerated with the skins during cold-soak or fermentation, whether it is inoculated with yeast or left to ferment with the natural yeasts coming in off the vineyards — there are a myriad of possibilities and wine as a finished and bottled product will be influenced by the choices the winemaker makes.

Now look: I’ve dabbled in a variety of careers: acting, directing, writing, temp work, restaurants, public relations, bird-feeding, horseback racing, fishing, hunting, singing, pretended to be a billionaire, Frank Sinatra, and told more Henny Youngman jokes than Henny Youngman, however folks: talking the wine-speak, walking the wine-talk and performing in a manner that holds the simultaneous attentions of the amateur and professional connoisseur is in short: a challenge. I’ve appointed myself a “Master Sommelier” for two reasons: 1) it’s irreverent 2) I will never be a true Master Sommelier, but why should that stop me? Okay, you say, fair enough — can you hold your own? Can you indeed talk the wine-talk and still keep your Maryjanes from biting? Good question.

Yes (for the most part).  The impetus for my western pilgrimage was to get an education. So: can I tell you the laws that govern the lands of Burgundy and Bordeaux? Can I name the 13 cepages that make up traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape? Would I be happy to debate the origins of Portuguese grape varietals? Or tell you the difference between any Spanish wines, any of them? How about describe the sensations, the aromas and the subtleties of white wines? Red wines? Rose wines? Would I recommend a wine to go with your dinner? How about a wine to go with your anniversary? Shall we head to a restaurant with a Gold Medal Wine Spectator Grand Award-O-Palooza wine list and tell you what the acid is like in a 1987 German Spatlese or Zweigelt or recommend the ’84 over the ’95 third growth Bordeaux or tell you the difference between the Cote-du-Rhone and the Cote-d’Or??

Yes. Will any of it be true? Maybe! Will you believe me because my conviction will be absolute? Absolutely!

Can we talk California? You bet we can.  Need another list of questions? No you don’t. But a fun list of the many activities I engaged in while working at Alpha Omega Winery is absolutely in hand. All, I should say, set into motion by winemaker Jean Hoefliger and assistant winemaker Henrik Poulsen. These good gents, whom I had the privilege to work for, are masters of their art. Jean is Swiss and Henrik is Danish from Denmark though contrary to what you might be thinking they don’t mix Swiss cheese, great Danes, Danish pastries or chocolate into the wine (I’ve suggested as much but to no avail). Swiss chocolate? Swiss knives? Danish Flags? Maybe. Delicious? Complex? Drink now but just you wait until later? All the above. A brilliant duo who work around the clock to make the best wine they can.

In the cellar, I worked with a team of Spanish-speaking work-horses: and I mean that with utmost respect. Many of these guys (and they were all guys) work year-round at Alpha or head to South Africa for harvest in the Napa-off-season, or other parts of the world for harvest work. “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, all the live-long day,” is exactly how I felt through the month of September into October. “Up in the morning, out on the job, work like the devil for my pay,” is what I sang every morning in the shower. So, how about a typical day in the life of a cellar worker? Looks like this:

5:30am: Get up.
6:59am: Clock in.
7:02am: Morning Meeting.
7:12am: Get to work. Punch-downs, add sulfur, clean barrels, clean tanks, clean crush pad, clean tools, sanitize everything, clean some more, rack wine, depose of lees, stir the lees, batonnage, find something to clean while waiting for grapes to come in and once the grapes come in oh boy… make sure the million-dollar sorting machine is in place and sanitized, bins are ready, hoses are ready, barrels are ready, ozone, sulfur, all ready and man your position — you are sorting you hosing down you are driving the fork-lift you are cleaning the crates, the bins, the crushpad and you are helping him and you are supervising them because I’ve got to taste and make sure the “D-Juice” goes into this tank and the “Free-Run” goes into that tank and then after you’re going to climb in and scoop out the grape skins, but don’t worry, we won’t turn the machine on (har har har) and oh the jokes. Joking. There are lots of jokes. What else are you supposed to do when for eight hours a day you’re doing punch-downs. Repetition is the way of the winery. And guess what? It’s lunchtime.
12:00pm: Lunch.
12:30pm: Everything you did from 7:12am until 12:00pm do again. Do it a little faster too, okay?
4:00pm: Clock out, as long as there aren’t more grapes coming. If they are, stay put, but clean that punch-down stick and make more sanitizer and inoculate those barrels while we wait and take this into the lab and have them run the #$&%*#Y*@% test on this stuff and make sure they run the #(%*&%&# test and not the $(#&%&(#%( test, okay? You got it? That’s what she said.
4:05pm: Hunt for car keys and realize you are covered in grape juice, grapes hanging off your pants, sweater, hair, and blue rags are still tied around your belt. Oh well, they’re yours.
5:00pm: Just try reading and responding to emails. Just try it.
6:00pm: Dinner? You ate plenty of grapes today.
8:00pm: Too early for bed? Nope.

Alright, that’s a typical day. So let’s imagine you’re holding a bottle of Alpha Omega 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s nice, right? Looks like this:

Alpha Omega 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

You: How much does it cost?
Them: $84.

And here is where the battle is waged between consumer, the market, reality, the connoisseur, the collector, the every-day drinker, the educated and frankly the uneducated. If you ask why the wine costs $84, chances are you’re not going to buy that wine. The efforts, aforementioned, that go into producing this product are monumental. The costs, the people-power, farming, the marketing, the distribution, everything that happens before that wine hits a shelf and eventually your table are a bit incomprehensible, but understanding that can help put costs into perspective. It takes a lot of people and energy not only to make a wine, but to make great wine. Think about that when you think about price. (We can have a different conversation when we’re talking a bottle of wine that costs $200+ because I have a different opinion about that).

Now let’s back track a moment and say that you tasted the $84 Cab before you new how much it cost. Now we dabble in the realm of quality vs expectation. Remember: that taste in wine, like taste in art is subjective. There’s one important factor however that trumps subjectivity and that is experience. Experience is not drinking; experience is tasting and reflecting. And reflection can shape expectation. Part of my pilgrimage to Napa for five months – leaving my wife to the vacuuming in Brooklyn – presented as much of an opportunity to taste/reflect as it did to network, talk and hear tales of the glory days and struggles of such a history-rich community of farmers.

Listen too and let’s dispel this: to truly taste&discuss a wine, good fearing wino, is not to be a snob of wine. When you drink chocolate milk or when you drink coffee or tea you’re looking for a pleasurable wonderful experience, ain’t you? You order that Blue Bottle $55 cup of Joe because it makes you feel like an important person. Wine is full of complexity too and recognizing that complexity by talking about its mouth-feel, texture, aroma, body, viscosity, taste anon! and what it reminds you of is all part of the pleasure to be had from building toward an intoxicating moment of truth. The children of our current college circuits are imbibing wine like Prohibition is once more on the horizon and if that’s a place to start, okay. After that, it’s time to work toward the sophisticated aspects of enjoying wine with a meal and crucial to not be so self-absorbed or self-infatuated that talking about wine is beneath some culturally idiotic principle you’ve decided to uphold because you saw it on Google, or some friend on Facebook thinks you might be an up-and-coming snob or some wine writer intimidates you.

Jonny on the rampage! Well, I had to. Being in the valley and working at Alpha also meant distancing myself from technology and hence, distancing myself from the constant conversation that seems all-too-important to drop, or leave behind. There simply wasn’t time to “engage.” I’ve tweeted less, I’ve blogged less (much less than I promised!), and I’ve engaged less than ever before. I spent hours connecting to the fruit of the land – being outdoors – noticing nature. I worried less about posting content every few minutes and focused instead on what I was doing. People used to drive. Now people drivetext. At the risk of sounding preachy, I mention all this because there was a lesson to be learned and I learned it: the conversation will go on & you can pick it up at any time. It tis only one’s own self-induced manifestations (and I induced plenty, believe me) of what one might be missing that creates – and is continuing to create – more content and more saturation than any of us can or need to handle.

Stop, slow down, reflect and enjoy. That is the power of wine. Wine is by nature slow and reflective. I spent many evenings having dinner with good people, and we talked and talked about wine and the qualities of wine – a valuable activity for anyone albeit a fan of drinking wine or immersed in the industry. I saw grapes grow on the vine over many months, tasted them as they ripened until they were harvested, crushed them and drank their juices and in another year I’ll be able to taste the white wines that made this 2011 harvest and in a year or so after that, the reds. Then, I will have come full circle. And when the time comes, I hope to be surrounded by friends, tasting the wine, eating good food and talking about the hours spent working in the cellar, remembering things like the sounds of fork-lifts racing around the crushpad.

“Door is always open,” is what Jean said to me as I left Alpha for the last time, on a bright and warm late October afternoon. Well, I’ll be back – certainly to taste the red wines, the very wines I spent hours upon hours punching down during cold-soak prior to fermentation. I tasted the juice then, and I look forward to tasting the juice… when it becomes wine.

Visit Noble Rot Talks to hear an interview with Jean Hoefliger.

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November 7, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Day of the Dead: a Birthday Wine

Stafford Hill 2009 Pinot Noir

This recently departed November 2nd was several things:

1. The day I returned from a five-month stay in San Francisco/Napa

2. The Missus Cigar’s birthday

3. The Day of The Dead

All of these things combined meant it was necessary to celebrate, life, the past and the convergence of wine-egmatic principles from months of immersion. The only solution: visit my friend Matt Franco of MCF Rare Wine, Ltd and ask for a recommendation.

I charged Matt with the task of providing me with a wine that would compliment all the factors listed above in addition to the “Poularde” and root vegetable dish that I would be preparing for the missus.

Let me say very simply that he hit a home run with: Stafford Hill 2009 Pinot Noir

We loved this wine. This Pinot from Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills was full of dark dark poetry. The nose, a perfume of a mysterious and elegant woman – a woman who lives in a castle upon a mountaintop that never sees the light of day. Her scent is rich and seductive and only gets better over the course of the hours you spend with her. And at around $22, who cannot afford to have that kind of an evening? And with Thanksgiving coming up … this just might be a hell of a wine to bring to the party.

Dig Deeper: Stafford Hill is the second label of Hollaran Vineyards and winemaker Jay Somers makes a few other wines of note.

Thank you Mr. Franco. Until we meet again. Happy Birthday to my lovely wife who drank most of the wine. Until the next bottle, my dear…