Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who is responsible for making wine "snobby?"

Mr. Thurston Howell, III
Is it you? How about you, Mr. and Mrs. "I Only Drink 95+ Parker Point Wines." Are you responsible for making wines snobby? Or you over there who rambles on incessantly about your "allocations." Are you responsible for making wines snobby? We just heard you over and over again that you are in town to pick up your "allo-caaaay-shunsss." And the word, "allocations" was said with an extended jaw like Mr. Thurston Howell, III of "Gilligans Island" and Dr Niles Crane, the Corkmaster of the Seattle Wine Club, on "Frasier." We heard it so often, now we are wondering if these two TV characters were responsible for making wine snobby? 

Dr. Niles Crane
Perhaps it was Randy Marsh of South Park? After all, he has wine tastings every night and it's "classy." So - - what bastard-o is responsible for making wine snobby? Was it Miles Raymond from the movie, Sideways. Oh, don't even get me started ...    

Wine has been with us for centuries, since the Egyptians and also in the Middle East dating back to 5000 BC. The history of wine in the New World, dates back to our early explorers and settlers with their first discovery of "wine-berries." The most successful and oldest traditions of winemaking activities in the US come from the Spaniards in the 17th century. The Jesuits and Franciscans planted grapes along with the missions they built across California, New Mexico and Texas. Thomas Jefferson, our third President of the United States, was a gourmet of good food and wine. He planted vineyards at his Monticello home and experimented with grape growing in his Paris garden on the Champs-Elysees. Is
Randy Marsh 
Thomas Jefferson responsible for making wine snobby?

Washington State has her share of wine history, too. It all started with humble beginnings just like in California. Early French and Italian settlers wanted a taste of home and brought their vines and made wine for their families until prohibition. These settlers did not arrive with their American Express Centurion "Black" card. All they wanted was freedom, the ability to care for their families and a taste of their old home they left behind - wine.

Once upon a time, I use to sell wine. I sold it for over 15 years. I met a lot of people who were responsible for making wine snobby. There was the customer who demanded I sell him the magnum, including its award winning ribbon - - even though it was very clear the magnum was for display only. The man mentioned he was besties with the winemaker and if I didn't comply and sell him the magnum with the award ribbon, he would have my job. I basically told him he could have my job ... Then there was the woman who leaned against the counter, with her back towards me, while tapping her glass on the counter for me to come running and pour her next glass of wine. Of course - - I came running, because it was my job. If I had owned the winery, while she had her back towards me, I would have poured into her glass from the spit bucket. I am pretty sure these folks are responsible in making wine snobby. 

There was an afternoon I put on my winery "visitor's cap." I seemed to keep running into the same Walla Walla tasting rooms where there was this huge, beastly, bulging man and his wife who kept yammering on and on about their "allo-caay-shuns" from many high-end
Miles Raymond
Walla Walla wineries. And with every winery visit, their voices kept getting louder. At one of the particular wineries, there was also a young group of Seattle millenniums. Their cool attitudes could have frosted, cracked and shattered the pottery spit buckets on the counter. This group of five visitors, who we later referred to as the "Coven of the Snooty Von-Snoots," made it very clear they did not want to make room for us at the bar, wanted to name drop, and only taste the wines with the highest scores. One of the women in the group rudely reached over and picked up my scribbled wine notes in my Day-Timer and was shuffling through it as if it was her own. We hugged the corner of the bar and stayed in our "place." We knew these customers were also responsible in making wine snobby.

A winery tasting room in Richland, WA had three male tasting room staff members behind their tasting room bar. All three of these staff members were pouring wine to three male tourists at the counter. Not once did any of the staff look up at us  and acknowledge me and my friends. Their sign said, "Open" and we arrived during their posted tasting room hours, about 2:00 pm. But we were never asked if we wanted to taste their wines while we timed about seven minutes of being ignored. This winery in Richland was certainly doing their part
Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States
in making wine snobby. 

Last, but not least the tasting room in Willamette Valley who made us feel so uncomfortable that even their other guests were staring at us as with pathetic looks. We were behaving. We didn't name drop or mention we worked with wineries and wrote about wineries, nor did we whip out a business card. We were on vacation and just wanted to taste and learn about their winery. First of all,we had to ask if we could taste their wines, even after being ignored for several minutes. Then after the first sample, we kept having to ask if we could also taste the other wines they were serving to their other customers while they kept passing us over. With each pour, they would not talk to us, let alone tell us what they were pouring. This Oregon winery, no doubt, was responsible for leading the way of making wine snobby.  

So how about you? Are you doing your part in making wine "snobby?" If you are - - knock it off. Relax and enjoy. In the words of Charles Smith of Charles Smith Wines who was named Wine Enthusiast Magazine 2014 Winemaker of the Year and Food & Wine Magazine's 2009 Winemaker of the Year, ...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Malbec: Henry Earl Estates 2012

Oh the joy of Malbec. It's that dark purple inky little grape with a French and Argentinian lineage, that often finds its way into my glass.  And like many Malbecs before, the 2012 Henry Earl Estates Malbec also found its way into my glass - - until the last drop. 

Who is Henry Earl Estates, you ask? The owners of Henry Earl Estates are Dick and Wendy Shaw. They chose to honor both of their fathers, Henry Shaw and Earl West, and
especially Dick and Wendy's focus on Shaw Vineyards, their property in the very prominent Red Mountain AVA in Washington State.

In 1981, Dick Shaw first started the vineyards with 100 acres near Mattawa, WA. He would meet Wendy and together they planted more vines, approximately 300 acres. At that time, Wendy formed a harvesting business, and now Wendy and Dick have around 2,200 acres planted in Eastern Washington. These acres include 420 acres on Red Mountain. They have also taken on partnerships with Quintessence and Obelisco Vineyards.  In 2014, Henry Earl Estates opened their tasting room, Main Street, Walla Walla.  Their winemaking team is Charlie Hoppes (Team Red) and Victor Palencia (Team White). Surely, these names must ring a bell? 

I could go on and on about the wonderful, Bohemian-like, charming and cozy environment (looks like the inside of my house) of Henry Earl Estates tasting room, but that shall be saved for another time. Let's focus on the Malbec, shall we?  

Flat out - - this Malbec is on my list of favorites.  The nose was floral and it was smooth as silk on the palate, especially the second night after opening. The first night the tannins left me a reminder they were there.  The next evening, the Malbec really showed itself off with
the violets, cola, dark blackberries, and just a hint of graham cracker and spice.  The oak was kept to a minimum so it didn't distract from the essence of the fruit. It's a rich and luscious wine that I would recommend pairing with sticky barbecued western or Asian-style ribs, "elevated" burgers, and grilled vegetables.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Welch's Commercial: Talking Grapes

Children of the Concords  
The average American watches more than five hours of live television every day. Somewhere in that television viewing, there are several commercials. Commercials have a way of either enticing us with their goods or just numb our brains. I know when and if I watch a channel dependent on an onslaught of commercials, it is my time to either start or finish working on a meal for me or the dogs, take a bathroom break, or get caught up on a home or work project. I am mostly a movie person when it comes time to turning on the TV, so I do try to keep the commercials limited. 

In the mean time, I think producers and writers of commercials really need to do their homework about what they are trying to sell. Sure - possibly about 2% of the viewing public may see flaws in what the commercials are spewing. The example of one I just caught recently was a commercial about grape juice. 

First of all, Welch's grape products are trying to sell some juice. In their new advertising campaign, "Just Hangin,'" they are promoting heart healthy juice featuring a bunch (literally) of talking grapes. No problem there. Welch's has been stomping grapes since 1869. In fact, back in the 1960-70's in the Walla Walla Valley, we grew Concord grapes that were contracted with Welch's.  This age old juice company is also trying to cash in on the heart health benefits of their grape juice by making comparisons with red wine as per the Mayo Clinic. 

Absolutely, if I was a part of their advertising team, I would do the same comparisons. But really - - when you have a bunch of grapes having a conversation, like a bunch of Concord grapes talking to a bunch of Merlot grapes, you really should use an authentic bunch of Merlot grapes and not a bunch of Thompson Seedless Red grapes. In fact, I am not even sure if the so-called "Merlot" are even real grapes.  The pedicels (stalk) looked a little plastic, to me. Shame on you Welch's. You thought you could get that past a bunch of wine geeks? 

Oh well, at least these talking grapes are an improvement from those commercials that use to feature those obnoxious and coquettish "Children of the Corn" or in Welch's case, "Children of the Concords." 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wineries: Family Friendly or Friendly Families?

Can wineries and wine blogs be "family friendly?"  Why yes, they certainly can be family friendly. However, there is no unwritten "rule" that claims wineries need to be family friendly, nor should there be expectations of wineries, and even wine blogs should be family friendly. After all, at least in the majority of the United States the drinking age of alcohol is 21 years and older.

Yes, there are certainly wineries that are family friendly, especially those with large outdoor areas making it the perfect setting for a family picnic. However, if you are not sure about the grounds and space, it is always best to call ahead as some wineries don't have the area for when a toddler gets antsy, is getting ignored, and wants to run around and act like - - well, - -  a toddler. There are also safety issues to consider such as displays of wine bottles, barrels and other potential dangerous tools of the winery trade. Unfortunately, when I was working the tasting rooms, many moons ago, I was often the "baby patrol" for very thoughtless parents who were not -- "parenting."  

Ambiance and respect for other visitors of the wineries needs to be considered, especially for the other guests who left their darlings with grandma, or paid a babysitter to watch their children so they could have an adult date or weekend. I have certainly been in this
situation when I was raising children. I paid many a babysitter for a much needed adult dinner date with the hubs only to have the people next to us have a rambunctious youngster crawling under our table, screaming and kicking the back of our booth, and other "childish" antics while the parents ignored their child. In that case, I could have brought our own kidlets knowing at least they would have behaved - - or else. 

It's important that parents should know when to surrender to the baby who doesn't know any other way to express his/her feelings of being hungry, tired, or uncomfortable with wet pants. Parents, at that point should be thoughtful to other visitors, and most of all thoughtful to their baby that it is time to take the baby home, instead of dragging the poor little one to another winery. 

In reading  reviews of wineries I often come across a parent who is upset that a winery did not provide juice for their spawn. After all, the wineries main goal is to sell wine. Would you like fries with that, too?  In today's litigious society, besides consumers with self-diagnosed allergies to certain foods, it becomes a liability to appease everyone, other than what the wineries are there for - - to taste and sell wine.  It's bad enough when adults come into the tasting room announcing their allergies to "sulfites" and how they can "only drink white wine," while not understanding there is just as much sulfites in white wines, as there are in red wines. It should be the responsibility of the parent to pack the proper drinks and snacks and not expect the wineries to do that for them.

When it comes time for children and wine, I think there is a time and place. Being wine drinkers and raising two children, Sunday dinners were a special time when our kidlets had to clean up a bit, show their best manners, and we dined using our best china, grandmother's silver, and our wedding crystal. The kidlets had milk in their wine glasses and once in awhile they even got a jigger of wine mixed with a bit of water. This was our way of prepping the kids to appreciate nice dining. I think family outings to wineries can be a great time, but the parent really needs to emphasize the importance of manners and of their environment - - period. 

Now you can write to me and call me a "baby hater," and blabber on that drunken and loud adults are worse then crying children - - yeah, yeah, yeah, and yes I agree, but nothing is worse than the parent who ignores the crying baby or the toddler who is acting like a toddler because they need their parent. It's not the children's fault, after all ... 

I am reminded a few years ago when an older male wine blogger wagged a parental pointer finger at a young woman wine blogger because her writing was a bit on the sexy and suggestive side in the way she described the wines she reviewed. The "male-parental-pointer-finger-wagger" felt the woman-authored wine blog wasn't family friendly. After all, he boasted that his granddaughter, at the age of three, was learning how to read and to become a wine connoisseur. Who knew the three year-old could also read? In that case I hope grande-pa-pa also kept the kid away from The Bible, especially Song of Solomon 7:2 "Your navel is perfectly formed like a goblet filled with mixed wine ... 

And speaking of finger pointing ... For what it's worth? This blog, in particular, doesn't really care if you think it is family friendly or not. 

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Rant, Report, and a Recommended Read: Women of the Vine

Anytime there is a book or an article that features a group of women, especially women in the wine industry, I am drawn to such. This must be due to I was raised by one of the first feminist in the 1950-60's, and that feminist was a man - - my dad. He believed that women, especially little girls, should learn how to bait a hook on their fishing pole, gut a fish, learn how to climb a tree, pump a tank of gas, and swing a hammer; and they could do all of this in a dress, if they wanted, and still look fabulous. He supported my mother to go back to college when my younger sister was three years old. In our house I grew up watching that cooking, house and lawn work was a partnership, to which my parental units often did together. Dad starched and ironed up our little pink gingham ruffled dresses better than mom. Dad also included my sisters and me when it came to learning how to ferment fruit at a young age - - thus our "science projects." 

The other reason why I am drawn to wine women articles and books, is that I appreciate women authors and writers whose focus is the wine industry. It is my opinion we don't see enough women wine writers being celebrated, and perhaps is the reason why we do see so many women take up wine blogging. We certainly don't see many articles in wine magazines, such as the Wine Spectator, written by women. But then again, I was once told the reason why there aren't many-to-zero women writing for the Wine Spectator is due to they haven't found any women writers who were qualified enough ... and I shall leave it at

that. Ahem. So, let's chat about the book, my original point before I got on my soap box - - 

The author of the book, "Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine" is Deborah Brenner with a foreword by Gina Gallo.  It is an enjoyable read about twenty women in the wine industry who share their stories, wine tips, pairings, and their expertise. Many of the names I recognized from Dr. Ann Noble, Andrea Immer Robinson, Merry Edwards, Leslie Sbrocco, to name a few.  

Deborah Brenner is the founder and CEO of Women of the Vine Cellars, a wine company who unites and celebrates women winemakers under one brand. These wines are limited in production.  Like many women, and I can relate, after a painful divorce Deborah left the corporate life to pursue her passion and the life she wanted to live - - make wine. Deborah's weakness is potato chips. I can relate there again, as potato chips and bubbly makes for a perfect pairing - - okay, now where was I?  

Deborah Brenner, Author

A student of the vines could certainly get behind this book as it takes the reader through a journey of, not only the personal stories of women in the industry, but technical terms and the winemaking process - from vine to bottle. It shares information about the "Wine Aroma Wheel," an invention by Dr. Ann Noble. It gives a brief outline on how to prepare your own wine aroma tests from red to white to sparkling wines, and even defects in wine. Also, there is a Glossary of Wine Terms for the novice, or even the professional who needs a refresher course on wine terminology. 

Reading the personal stories of these women in the wine industry are rewarding, as we read not only about their successes, but they also share candid stories of their failures and the time honored dilemma of balancing their careers, parenting, and family. Many even give their own tips of their favorite food and wine pairings. It tickled me to read the beginning of each wine woman's story, as each chapter started with a quote - - and recently I authored a wine book of my own, each one of my chapters started with a quote, as well. Quotes leading a chapter have a way of setting the stage. Photographs of each woman of the vine were included. 

There was only one thing I was disappointed in - - but then again, maybe it is just me - - considering where I live and all - - where were the women of wine from Washington State and Oregon?  Back on my soap box - - the book didn't specify in the title, "Women of the California Vine." After all, Washington State ranks second in the United States in the production of wine, behind California. It's neighboring Oregon is also distinguished in the winemaking world. While the two states may not produce mass quantities like California, when it comes to overall quality, both Washington and Oregon are known for producing world class wines. While reading through the book I expected at least one or two women of the vine from Washington and/or Oregon. So I was left asking, "Where was Kay Simon, Marie-Eve Gilla, Holly Turner, Ashley Trout, Melissa Burr, Veronique Drouhin, and Lynn Penner-Ash?    

Okay, off my soap box - - overall, if you love wine and enjoy reading women biographies like I do, or even considering getting into the wine business, I recommend and can get behind this book. 

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