Jeff Morgan

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October 23, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Burning Man Pre-Decompression Dinner with (San Francisco)

There is a mansion with a gracious lawn, nestled a good distance from the road at the top of Lombard Street in San Francisco’s Russian Hill district. The mansion serves a dual purpose: it is home to “Neal” while the facade presents the perfect backdrop for many a photographic memory; groups of tourists, backpackers, brides-to-be, all gather at the beginning of the brick walkway leading to the house to have their photos etched into “1112” Lombard history.


On the 8th of October in this the 2011th year, Tim West of and I, Jonny Cigar, hosted a “Burning Man Pre-Decompression Dinner” at 1112 Lombard.

A month after Burning Man, residents of the pop-up city all gather in groups to “Decompress” and so in the spirit of Decompression we hosted a pre-decompression party.

Coming off of a week of Harvest work I was exhausted, but truly excited for this event because the small gathering of 25 people brought together some of the bright stars of the culinary and technology industry, from TechCrunch to Google from Facebook to the Hub, Mashable, live-painting by artist Ian Ross and Tim’s group Most everyone had met at Burning Man, by the way. And the conversations throughout the evening were, if I may be candid, some of the best conversations I’ve had since landing on the West Coast back in June. Refreshing is the word I would use and though that’s a touch cliche, it’s simply the truth. I was refreshed by conversation and the energies of the group.

Mr. Tim West cooks with great people at, particularly my new favorite French San Franciscanite: Olivier Pecquenard. Olivier is a chef at Facebook, but beyond Facebook he’s cooked at the best restaurants in the world. He made Oxtail sliders I shall ne’er forget.

The Beginnings of a Pre-Decompression Feast. In the background: red jump suit = Tim West.

I poured wines from Swanson Vineyards (2007 Merl0t, 2006 Sangiovese) and because it was also Yom Kippur we served Covenant Wines 2010 Red C Sauvignon Blanc.  Two superstars of the group, the Grables, entered with much pomp and circumstance and brought their own wine. Mark Snyder of Angels’ Share distributes the Grables tiny, tiny lot of about 47 cases of this and 32 cases of that, etc.

Grable Vineyards, made by Amy Grable. Yes, a rose of Cabernet Sauvignon. Amazing.

Self Appointed MW's choice cocktail: Bud Lite - thanks to Neal!

Dillon's Bruning Man attire.

We drank, we ate and told stories by the fire. Yes, there was a fire pit in the expansive back yard. The wines were a hit and I was glad to introduce everyone to Swanson and Covenant, as none had heard of the two before.

Since I’ve not attended Burning Man I can only imagine that the experiences of the individuals who do go are in many ways life-changing. It’s evident in their conversations and expressions, the things they can and cannot talk about with respect to the experience. Sincere and lasting bonds are formed in the desert – the fact that people of all walks of life come together to build a city in what seems to me to be a valley of ashes, is remarkable. The emotional attachment is strong and Tim was smart to provide an evening of pre-decompression because, it seems they needed it.


September 23, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest – Days Two and Three @AOWinery

The way to Enlightenment is the way to listening.

Cigar’s log, Star-date September 21st, 2011, 9:30pm Pacific Standard Time:

My… body… is on… fire.

I have to commend my fellow cellar workers at Alpha Omega. These chaps are incredibly hardworking people who take their job seriously (though intermittent joking is rampant and necessary to break up the routines of cellar work which, truth be told can be very repetitive). I’ll introduce each of them here in Winetology as we forge ahead and the grapes keep-a-comin’. Though I should mention a young man from Napa, named Aldo, who left us today to take work in Calistoga. He was with AO for half a year, but the reality is he needs to earn much more money because he has a second child on the way. We had an interesting conversation about marriage and parenting and he put it to me like this: “In the Latino community – at least the way I was raised – when you have a kid with someone, you’re with that person. Married or not, you’re together.” He scoffed at me when I asked if he was married. He has no interest, but like he said, it doesn’t matter. He’s with the mother of his children until the end. Everyone at AO wishes Aldo the best of luck.


This work ain’t easy – not that anyone ever said it was – though I’m beginning to understand the “you’ll see” winks and smiles that I’ve been met with leading up to Harvest work. And I’ve only been at it for three days! Some work year-round. Without these tough-skinned, incredibly smart and quick-thinking cellar teams (who work tirelessly around the wine countries of the world) these wonderous-grape-elixirs we all love to open and share and experience would simply not exist – at least not at the level of quality many of us expect. Once you’ve been bitten by an amazing bottle of wine, there’s no turning back… so next time you pop open something that drinks itself before you do, toast to the cellar workers, the vineyard workers and the winemakers who have made the wine what it is.

So what’s happened in the last two days? A hell of a lot.

A lot of cleaning, and some pressing of grapes. They like to say that winemaking is 80% cleaning and 20% making. About right, I’d say. Before the wine goes into barrels some have to be cleaned and that looks like this:

Clean Clean Clean! Power washing with 180 degree water.

Once they are power rinsed with hot, hot, caliente water, they are doused with Ozone. That’s right. Ozone. How fantastic is that? This machine makes Ozone. Someone should tell the Obama Administration that there is a machine that simply makes Ozone. So we can deplete it as much as we like! But in the winery, Ozone (O3) is used to sanitize. Electricity hits water and inside this contraption makes Ozone and the smell is definitive… oddly enough it reminds me of being in a plane… hmmmf! By a process of grabbing onto certain molecules the O3 sanitizes the inside and then we rinse the barrel with cold water and et voila! Ready for fresh vino.

This machine makes Ozone.

On Day Two some Russian River Pinot Noir came into the winery and it was destemmed, sorted and put into barrels for an extended maceration with the skins and daily punchdowns. I was on the sorting line. As grapes whizzed past it was my duty to extract anything “green” i.e. stems. Also, any clusters or grapes that looked shriveled, gnarly entrenched in leaves, etc. This is the only opportunity to grab all the stuff you don’t want in your wine before it begins the fermentation/aging process.

Sort through that.

These grapes/juice went into barrel for an extended period of maceration – the time the juice is in contact with the grape skins and seeds. This allows for a free exchange of tannin, i.e. color and texture tannins.

Looks like Bluerberry gazpacho. But it's Russian River outrageousness, really.

Later, there are punch-downs. The skins begin to form a cap, and harden a bit and so they need to be punched down. Exactly the same thing that would happen to me if I went for a midnight stroll through Bed-Sty in my Astor & Black bespoke suits! This kind of punch-down is much more fun though. And at this point the “wine,” which isn’t wine just yet, looks like a massive vat of blueberry gazpacho. Yum. Smells great.



Day Three I was introduced to the Sutter Penumatic Press. An expensive machine that takes several tons of grapes and presses out the juice. At Alpha, there are three stages of pressed juice:

  • D-Juice
  • Free Run
  • Press
This is incredibly fascinating because each juice goes into its own tanks and is blended into the final wine when the winemakers feel it’s time. D-Juice is the first bit of juice that comes from the weight of the grapes (gravity) on themselves… and it’s a lot of juice, sometimes as much as a barrel or two. Free Run is the golden juice, the coveted juice that comes from the gentle pressing of the grapes. Press is the juice that comes from really applying gravity to the grapes that have already been pressed — there’s still something in all of the skins and grapes and when you’re paying thousands of dollars a ton you want as much juice as you can get.
Here’s what the grapes look like when the come in from the fields:

Sauvignon Blanc in from the fields. Tastes SO good. Juicy and sweet.

Here’s what they look like after going into the Sutter Pneumatic Press:

Stem Mountains and valleys

And here is Mr. Sutter:  I had to climb up in that thing to shovel out some of the pressed grape skins and stems. The cellar team had a good time when I was inside. Some of the remarks were, “We’ll turn it on now, okay?” and “It’s gonna start to rotate” and “Just let us know when you want us to stop it.” Again, “Ha ha, very funny you guys,” was about all I could muster in response. They did in fact hold my life in the … push of a button. Now that’s winemaking!!


 And that’s not even half of it. It’s 10:13pm PT on Thursday, September 22, and it’s taken me a day to write this because of how exhausted/busy I am (if you noticed the beginning of this post begat itself yesterday). I’ve just gotten in from a dinner at the Morgan’s (Jeff and Jodie Morgan of Covenant Wines) and I learned that on my first day of Harvest work, the stirring of the sulfur in the wine is called “Batonage.” I’ve always wondered what that was. Turns out I did it. If some of this is incorrect, or makes no sense or if you are concerned with any of the grammar in this article, please feel free to get on a plane, come out to Napa and join me as we work this year’s crush, together :)

September 8, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Grapes They Are Almost-a-Ready

Juliana Vineyards

A couple weeks ago I joined Jeff Morgan (Covenant Wines) as we journeyed into the forgotten land of Pope Valley. We drove 35 hours through the night at speeds of 100+ miles per hour. We saw no other cars for 14 hours at a clip. We took acid and read Chinese Philosophy. For a brief period of 23 minutes Jeff and I realized that we were Enlightened. Actually, we were Enlightened for 12 seconds but it took 22 minutes and 48 seconds to realize we in fact were not Enlightened and that we had not been driving for 35 hours in the dark, that in fact I was simply having a nightmare the evening before heading to Pope Valley with Jeff.

Okay: let’s get to it. Our destination post-my-late-morning-nightmare was Juliana Vineyards in the valley they call Pope. A bit-o-history on Pope Valley first: home of the Aetna Springs Resort – a golf course from the 1800’s, and Hollywood movie-star hang out, well-to-do Bay Area elite getaway and valley to cure all ailments. Sun, fog, springs and dry heat to revive the senses. The resort fell into disrepair and high society forgot about Pope Valley. I consider myself to be high society, and so let’s say it’s been rediscovered.

Jeff visits the vineyards regularly to take a look at his blocks and to taste grapes and to ensure that there is not “jungle fever” taking hold of the blocks… as in… overgrowth.

I learned that once the initial cluster of grapes forms, a secondary cluster called “second crop” forms higher up the vine. Second crop is typically eliminated, though can be left and picked later (as it ripens later) and used to make a second-tier wine. Additionally, each branch will form 1-3 clusters of grapes. So, depending on what you’re looking for (in terms of fruit concentration), part of vineyard management practices is to remove some of those clusters so that the branch focuses all the nutrients into the one or two clusters you want for your eventual vino-vino.

Jeff Morgan with the Vineyard management team at Juliana. Jeff is pulling off "second crop."

And now, I can tell the difference between Petite Verdot and Cabernet Vines. This was a big day, let me tell you. The leaves are different and the clusters are different. Cabernet clusters are surprisingly loose – the grapes apparently like their space – and the leaf, if it’s a healthy leaf looks like someone took a hole-punch and punched three holes forming a perfect triangle.

Cabernet Sauvignon leaf - three hole punches! Perfect triangle formed!

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes - airy clusters - they like their space!

Veraison, the ripening of the grapes, is seeing great progress toward ripened delight since just a couple weeks ago. And if you think that is fancy, take a look at this photo below. Only a few years ago some of these blocks of vines were shafted and new vines were spliced into the old rootstock. Hence the two vines diverging in a … well… a green wood, not a yellow wood. Sorry Mr. Frost.

Same rootstock, different clone. How viniferous is that!

A hell-of-a-bunch. This is ridiculous. This bunch of grapes is growing out of the old rootstock, which is pretty wild. We all stood perplexed and after a few seconds of nodding and "ahs" we carried on about our business.

How can one not love being amidst the vines?

Pope Valley, I have not forgotten you.

Jeff's Red C -- was great to see the fruit on the vine that maketh the wine.

Vine graveyard.

January 6, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Jonny Cigar’s Top 9 Wine Things of 2010

While the rest of the flogging community is intent on divulging their top wine picks of 2010, I would like to present to you, good readers, a list of the 9 Best Wine Things of 2010.

1. Murphy-Goode Winery’s “A Really Goode Job” contest (even though this happened in 2009, it still bothered me in 2010): However, an AMAZING turn of events occurred at 12:48pm ET today in researching any updates to this contest… the winner of the whole shebang, unbeknownst to moi, is a friend: Hardy Wallace. Please first, go watch this 60-second video: Now that you’ve seen Mr. Wallace, a little background is in store: I talked about Hardy in a recent post whereupon he joined us in San Francisco to pour his wines for an event that ranks number 9 in my list of Top 9 Wine Things of 2010. Hardy works at the NPA, or Natural Process Alliance. He’s a rowdy S.O.B. who has a mean sense of humor.

2. “A Luxurious Bubble Bath.” In March of 2010 this was an evening of covert-wine-induced operations. The Noble Rot hosted an all-champagne-get-dressed-to-the-nines event in one of New York’s finest hotels.  The gals were cool, the gents were mysterious and the bubbly was all-too-toasty. Cocktails rounded out the end of the night from a 600-square-foot marble-lined bathroom. Debauchery was eminent and the morning after, well… reminds me of my favorite Sinatra toast: “We feel sorry for people who don’t drink because when you get up in the morning that’s as good as you’re gonna feel for the rest of the day.”

Luxury Suite – Parlor (Pamela Martinez at the Harp) Photo by: Brian Quinn

3. Jon Bonne’s article on “The Wine Blog Wars” from March 18, 2010. Mr. Bonne lives a fruitful life in California writing for the SF Gate and Chronicle about all things wine, and Mr. Bonne discusses Stephen Tanzer’s blog Winophilia (which is Latin for: “a degenerative disease of the wine.”) Mr. Tanzer is quoted as blogging:

“We’re not armchair tasters who pretend to speak knowledgeably about regions we’ve never visited. We’re not amateur bloggers whose coverage of wine is limited to a handful of random samples we’ve just received, a trade tasting we’ve attended, or a press junket we’ve just been treated to. We live wine.”

He goes on to say what he is however: “We’re cellar rats, with long tails and a mean penchant for wine-coolers. You think putting ice in your wine is for your grandmother? Guess again, mac, because we know that Jesus turned water into wine and so they go hand-in-hand.” He also demonizes Disney Land and accuses a tainted cork of ruining a family vacation to the tropics.

4. Saignee’s “32 Days of Natural Wine.” That’s right, 32-fun-filled days with nothing but the au natural. Natural Wine! What is it? What does it mean? How will it stain my carpet? Where can you buy it? Will it sue you for damages down the road? Does it pair well with Organic Oats? Alice Feiring is perhaps the most prolific writer and advocate of Natural Wine. She is a force of natural nature and I highly recommend reading her: The Feiring Line.

5. Jeff Morgan, winemaker and author-extraordinaire released a new cookbook: Domaine Chandon Cookbook; Recipes from étoile Restaurant. He even blogged about it on Winophilia! Jeff and winemaker David Ramey took part in an event in San Francisco with The Noble Rot and we served the very bubbly he discusses in the blog with the very same Gougères. Highly recommended:

Carla Ramey, Jonny Cigar, Jeff Morgan, Jodie Morgan, David Ramey, Brian Quinn

6. Eric Asimov replied to an email I re-forwarded to him on December 9th, 2010. I was honored and grateful for the reply. One day, perhaps our paths will cross and if I am lucky he will say horrible things about me in The New York Times. One of my life-long goals is to accumulate more negative press than any other living soul. So far, I’ve only written negative reviews about my own shows and events, and while wildly interesting and sophisticatedly funny, they lack an objective opinion, it turns out.

7. Kammerspiel! Dubbed “Jonny Cigar’s chaotic vaudeville/collage” by Martin Denton of, who goes on to describe the show as “100% goof and 99.9% completely serious” and boy he wasn’t kiddin’. It took me 35 years to produce the show and we ran for three weeks in a space called Dixon Place off Chrystie Street in downtown Manhattan. So each of the six performances was worth 2,129 days of rehearsal and mental input. During the run back in February of 2010, I drank nothing but Glenmorangie, while wine took a back-seat to my raging fits of lunacy and intense bouts of poetry-immersion, where I’d lock myself in a room with a pack of Lucky Strikes, two wedges of Cabot Cloth-bound Cheddar and a bottle of Nectar D’Or for three weeks on end. That, my friends, is the secret recipe that results in “Stardom.” I would encourage the reading of Mr. Denton’s review, even though it seems to be positive in nature.


8. Cathy Erway published: The Art of Eating In (Penguin Press) She’s simply a wonderful, terrific, outstanding gal who cooks up a mean dish O yum. Her book is the tale of her experience over the course of two years, cooking every meal—no take out, no restaurants. See this tasty YouTube video.

9. 2010 Michelin Guide release parties in New York City and San Francisco. Wine menu procured by The Noble Rot. I’d like to direct you to Heritage Radio Networks’ Snacky Tunes episode number 51, and be sure to also check out episode number 54.

Brian Quinn, Jonny Cigar, Jean-Luc Naret (Michelin)

November 13, 2010 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

At Laird with Winemaker Jeff Morgan

Trailing a Pro: An afternoon at Laird with winemaker Jeff Morgan

Jonny Cigar descends into Laird’s lair of Wine-Making Land. Photo by Brian Quinn.

Recently, on a rainy day in Napa, Covenant Winery winemaker, Jeff Morgan, gave Brian I a two hour crash-course in winemaking — it was revelatory.

Following Jeff around Laird we encountered rooms and warehouses and all kinds of larger-than-life nooks and crannies. Photo by Brian Quinn.

Laird rents out space to winemakers, Garragistes, and there are many incredible people making all different styles of wine under one (well, really several) roofs. Jeff was checking in on two clients’ wine, and let us trail behind. I was mesmerized by the myriad wine apparati: wash buckets, hoses, 3,000-6,000 gallon tanks, barrels, grapes coming and going, punch downs happening, labs, pressure and temperature controls, on and on.

Jeff’s first order of business was to locate barrels in need of topping. We climbed a series of stairs and walkways until we came to a 6,000 gallon tank that had been filled with grapes and juice not 24 hours prior – Jeff was keeping the “must” very cold so that fermentation would start.

Jeff Morgan in the back, Jonny Cigar up front either saying the Pledge of Allegiance or making sure his Blackberry doesn’t fall and mix in with the red berries below. Photo by Brian Quinn

This photo was taken seconds before I stuck my head inside this tank and took a very slow whiff. “VERY SLOW and don’t stick your head in too far,” Jeff warned. He wanted me to experience the bi-product of fermentation. He cautioned me to be very careful. Barely extending my already extended nose into the top of the tank, taking a very slow inhale, I jumped back from a sharp and burning sensation followed be a slight light-headedness. “Pure CO2,” Jeff said. “You fall in there, you die.” Period.

Wow. Suddenly winemaking took on an entirely different appeal to me and the dangers associated with the job immediately fostered a new-found respect for this work. It’s dangerous – massive tanks with juice fermenting – from the tops of some tanks you can even see the CO2 in small poufs come wafting out. I asked Jeff if a tank has ever blown and he matter-of-factly said, “Yes.” Smiled and said, “Comes with the territory!”

Jeff clearly loves his job. His office(s) are expansive open-air facilities with beautiful backdrops (like the Mayacamas Mountains which you can see from Laird), and darkened cellars where wine is aging, in need of racking, in need of fine-tuning.

Jeff holding a flashlight so Greg Mu can properly circulate the juice. Greg is a cool cat we met who runs something called Grapethinking. Most certainly worth checking out. Moments later, Jeff’s glasses fell into the tank (comes with the territory!). Crisis averted as they were fished out with a sanitized pitch-fork… nevertheless, we all agreed that sometimes a wine becomes an amazing wine because of certain, “Je ne sais qua,” and this kind of happenstance might just have been the catalyst for this wine…

Once Jeff finished his work cold-circulating the juice in these tanks, he closed the lid and said to follow him. We wound our way to a cold cellar where some of his Chardonnay was barrel fermenting, mere weeks old. We tasted samples from the many different barrels, and Jeff explained that different barrels impart different characteristics and the idea is to eventually blend the wine together so that all those elements mold into one finite and delicious wine. “How do you know what kind of Oak barrel to use?” asked Brian Quinn. “Lots of experience. Trial and error,” answered Jeff. “Here, get in there, smell that – “

Jonny Cigar hoping not to pass out after much smelling and tasting of week-old wine, Co2, and now… what’s that? Why it’s toasty! It smells incredible!

A little toast on the barrel and that is going to impart a smokey, toasty, delightful element that can be blended to add character. Each sample of Chardonnay, only weeks old, was already on its way to become wine. There are so many decisions a winemaker must make and part of those decision begin in the vineyard, as Jeff explains, because in order to bring in the grapes you want, they have to be cultivated the way you like, to reach their desired ripeness. “This is where the decision to hand-harvest, de-stem, sort, punch down, pump over, ferment, let natural yeast do it’s work, inoculate, etc, all come into play,” said Jeff. “Experience teaches the winemaker what to do in terms of aging, but a bit of it is mystery, hope, and luck.”

Learning is the key to understanding and Jeff gave us an upfront, invaluable, personal experience–bringing us a bit closer to understanding just what goes on, in a bottle of wine. As Jeff would say, “L’Chaim!”

Jeff Morgan makes Covenant Wines, visit his site:

Brian Quinn has no idea where he is thanks to all the CO2 in the air.

Yup…glasses fell in… get the pitch fork!

Look at this bad-ass de-stemmer!

Chardonnay waiting to be de-stemmed and sorted.

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