Today something incredible happened. I still cannot believe it, but I won my first writing award.
I have always loved writing. I am a much better writer than a public speaker. It is my communication method of choice. As a child, I kept a diary, under lock and key, of course, and as a young adult, I kept a journal for many years. When I was in sixth grade, I wrote my first book in a spiral notebook. Sadly, I do not know what happened to my book. I still have dreams of writing a book about my life of reinvention and transformation.
My experience in professional writing originated during my years as a graduate student and community college professor. I wrote many papers, in French, as a master’s degree student. As a doctoral student, I wrote class papers and my dissertation. As a college professor, I wrote articles for academic journals.
I began this blog June 16, 2011, not having any formal wine knowledge. However, what I lacked in experience, I made up for in my passion to write and my thirst for learning.
I do not think that wines have masculine and feminine qualities, although we associate certain descriptors with gender. However, I do believe that winemakers possess varying sensibilities, palates, and styles, which make their way into the wines that they craft. *CLICK HERE TO READ*
I’m taking a wine marketing class this fall and on the first night of class, my instructor reminded me of something very important: only 20% of the United States population purchases wine and those customers are often drawn to wine brands based on an emotional connection or experience with the wine. Perhaps it was a dinner with friends or family, a visit to a winery made special by the tasting host, or a friend’s recommendation. Generally, most wine consumers don’t want to know what the percentages of blends are, how the wine is fermented and aged, or the vineyard management details. They want what tastes good and brings back memories of a great experience. When we meet someone, we don’t want to know their genetics or their chemical composition, we want a human connection. When I heard this, it hit me that maybe I am doing an injustice to the wines and wineries I review by sharing technical details that only wine geeks want to read. In light of this revelation, I am making a conscious change to the way I write. It should be fairly easy since this is who I am. I crave emotional connections to people, places, and things. I want to feel something inside after winery visit or a wine dinner. I want to feel inspired. Therefore, I’m bringing back storytelling, fun, passion, and emotion.
Three weeks ago, I arrived in Lodi, California, for the Wine Bloggers Conference. Unlike many of my peers, I had just visited Lodi in June and had already fallen in love with the wines and the people. Before that June visit, I harbored no preconceived notions about Lodi. If there’s anything I’ve learned after five years of wine and travel writing, it’s to visit wine regions with open mind, heart, and eyes, without reservation or hesitation.
I was especially lucky this fifth conference that my friend, Jeff Kralik (The Drunken Cyclist), had included me as one of the wine writers who would be staying at Michael David Winery’s Bare Ranch as a guest of the Phillips family. The first night I was there, I had the opportunity to share wine and dinner with David Phillips. Like my earlier trip to Lodi, I was taken aback by the kindness of David and his family to share their event property with a few crazy writers. Thank you again, David and Jeff, for including me in the Bare Ranch experience. I spent five nights there and it was at Bare Ranch that I had the lengthiest exposure to Lodi wine during the conference. The ranch was well supplied with Michael David wines and I had the opportunity to taste a few of them.
One of my favorites was the 2012 Bare Ranch Sparkling ($35), which is a small-production, traditional method sparkling wine crafted from Bare Ranch estate chardonnay (and a little pinot noir), located just over the fence from where I stayed, in honor of and especially for Bare Ranch guests and events. Its fresh and fruity fizziness with just a touch of yeast was the perfect accompaniment to starry Lodi nights by the pool, unspoken shenanigans, camaraderie, and lots of laughter. I am certain that I am not the only one who loved it, as somehow, over the course of five nights, a case of it mysteriously disappeared.
The second day in Lodi, Alison Marriott (Bon Vivant DC) and I visited Michael David’s tasting room and café. I knew I wasn’t in the Napa Valley any more when the freshly made burgers we ate were fewer than $10 each with the most AMAZING fries I’ve ever eaten. Since we were stocked up on wines at the ranch (understatement!), we decided to have a glass of the 2013 Inkblot Cabernet Franc ($35). The polar opposite of the delicate sparkling wine, this bold cabernet franc comes from a single, nine-acre vineyard near the winery. If a wine could be described as tall, dark, and handsome, this would be it. Opulent and juicy, spicy and smoky, this cabernet franc is seductive, the wine I wanted to take home with me after frolicking at the pool with the Bare Ranch Sparkling (wink, wink).
Not to be outdone by the sparkling or the cabernet franc, the 2014 Ancient Vine Cinsault ($25), sourced from the famed, 130-year-old Bechthold Vineyard, found its way into my heart one evening. More of a refined gentleman, this wine was indeed a smooth operator, with delectable red berry fruit flavors and tannins that gently caressed my palate. I had discovered a holy grail of Lodi wine.
Last, but certainly not least, was the comfortable, uncomplicated wine, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($16). The first wine I shared with David Phillips and Jeff Kralik by the pool, it’s easy to drink, clean, and crisp, with loads of zingy citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Like a good friend, this is the reliable, go-to wine for hot, summer days in Lodi or wherever your travels might take you. It’s possible we may have consumed a case of this wine, too, but I’ll never tell. After all, what happens at Bare Ranch stays at Bare Ranch.
I’ve been on a bit of a writing ‘vacation’ since the fourth of July weekend, trying to sort out what I can continue to do in my increasingly limited spare time. I’ve enrolled in a wine marketing course this fall and I am being considered for a print writing opportunity, so I am at a point in my career where I need to make some decisions regarding my writing. I began an editorial calendar to figure out what I can do when so that I am able to enjoy free time as well. However, these past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to taste some interesting wines and an olive oil that I wanted to share with you. Therefore, voilà, an unexpected break from my self-imposed hiatus. These wines and olive oil are worth tasting. From my palate to yours, enjoy!
2013 Antigal Winery & Estates Uno Malbec, Mendoza, $18 (media sample)
What I most love about wine is that one sip can evoke time, place, people, and emotions. The 2015 Antigal Winery & Estates UNO Malbec takes me back three years to Mendoza, Argentina, the trip of a lifetime with a wonderful group of travel and writing professionals like me. Fermented and aged 12 months in French and American oak and sourced from higher-elevation, estate vineyards in Uco Valley, Tupungato, this malbec is not at all shy, with aromas of violets, cedar, blackberries, and spice. This dark ruby red, medium-bodied delight – with its interplay of vanilla, pepper, and dark fruits – is calling for grilled meat, roasted vegetables, and hearty potatoes. In this moment, my mind recalls an Argentine asado, whose intoxicating flavors of wine and food awaken memories of horseback riding in the Andes and late-night laughter in the streets of downtown Mendoza.
2014 Pike Road Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $19 (media sample)
This wine from Pike Road, the sister winery of Elk Cove, defies its $19 price tag by offering a fantastic example of Oregon pinot noir. Sourced from both estate and partner vineyards in the Williamette Valley, the grapes are hand harvested and sorted, then the juice is fermented in open stainless steel tanks and barrel aged 10 months in French oak. The resulting wine is brambly, dusty, earthy, and herbal. The night I tasted it, I took the winery’s advice on the label and paired it with salmon for a lovely dinner at home.
2013 DaVero Estate Sangiovese, Hawk Mountain Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, $75
One of my favorite wines of a recent visit to DaVero, the estate sangiovese is biodynamically farmed at their three-acre Hawk Mountain Vineyard, wild yeast fermented, then aged in all neutral oak. This wine possesses contrasting floral and leathery aromatics. On the palate, black cherry, blackcurrant, and acid abound. The same sangiovese is used in their 2013 Estate Altobasso blend of sangiovese (60%) and barbera (40%), which was the first DaVero wine to captive my palate and my heart a year ago during a Twitter tasting of Dry Creek Valley wines.
2015 DaVero Vermentino, Schatz Family Vineyard, Cosumnes River AVA, San Joaquin County, $30
This vermentino is produced in Sonoma County by DaVero, but sourced from the Schatz Family Vineyard in the Cosumnes River AVA of San Joaquin County, which is in the northwestern part of Lodi. DaVero takes a biodynamic, non-interventionist approach to winemaking to handcraft this wine, including foot stomping the grapes, two days of skin contact for added complexity, and native yeast fermentation. This wine is everything you want in a summer white: lemony, crisp, mouthwatering, and delectable.
2015 Fields Family Vermentino, Delu Vineyard, Lodi Appellation, $19
Now in perpetual pursuit of an alternative to sauvignon blanc, and smitten with vermentino thanks to DaVero above, I enjoyed this small lot, Fields Family offering prior to the start of the Wine Bloggers Conference, sitting by the pool at Bare Ranch talking to winemaker Ryan Sherman. I’ve always preferred to taste with the winemaker because usually I connect better with the wine through the person making it. After whole-cluster pressing, the wine is fermented in stainless steel, dry racked semi dirty, then spends about seven months aging sur lie in five- or six-year-old neutral barrels. Sherman’s love of vermentino, with Ryme’s “Hers” version as his inspiration, really shines. Bright, floral, textured, and tart – as well as exceptionally delicious – the Fields Family vermentino was the perfect accompaniment to that summer night in Lodi.
2015 Mainelli Family Reserve 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil, California, $25 (sample)
I don’t typically review olive oil, although I have, nor do I always eat parmesan herb ciabatta, but when I do, I dip it in Mainelli Olive Oil Family Reserve 100% Extra Virgin California Olive Oil. Each year, Tom Mainelli and his team carefully taste, select, and bottle some of Northern California’s best olive oils. This oil is one you want to taste, with its exquisite flavors, purity, and warm bite, indicative of great quality. Drizzle on almost everything. Delightful. Yes, please.
When I was invited by Visit Lodi to spend a weekend there, I jumped at the chance. I love to travel. I also love dispelling stereotypes and delving into a new place. When Lodi is mentioned, often people think zinfandel. Lodi is more than that. It offers a plethora of wines, food, and activities for everyone. Join me while I take you behind the wine and beyond the zinfandel.
Travel to Lodi from Napa is nearly a direct route by way of California Highway 12, with a few miles overlapping with Interstate 80. Once outside of Fairfield and Suisun City, Highway 12 is quite barren except for what I would call fields of wind turbines, the Shiloh Wind Power Plant. For miles, all you see are turbines. At the closest point, they appear ominous, yet also hypnotic. About halfway between Fairfield and Lodi is Rio Vista, suitably named due to its location on the Sacramento River and gateway to the Sacramento–San Joaquin River (California) Delta. It was home to my food stop that day at the also fittingly named Hwy 12 Diner, where I enjoyed an inexpensive breakfast for lunch. The next 25 miles were a bit more interesting with occasional bridges crossing the delta’s waterways. Upon my arrival to Lodi, I was surprised to discover that it is larger than I thought, with a population of around 60,000 people, not too much smaller than Napa or my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. After checking into my hotel, I decided to see if Lodi had Uber as a transportation option. It did. My driver originated in nearby Stockton to take me only a few miles, where my adventure began at the Downtown Visitor Center.
Downtown Lodi is on the cusp of change, with one foot in history and the other stepping forward into the future. The city’s reawakening began in the 1990s and continues today, yet it still retains a very charming feel. As my group walked around our first evening, the birthplace of A&W Root Beer captivated us with its blend of past and present. My advice to the city of Lodi is to not lose this balance of quaintness and progress because at this moment, it feels like home.
I was not a very good Girl Scout when I was a young girl. I never went to summer camp and only spent one required overnight in a tent for a badge of some sort, which was enough for me. I also sunburn very easily. My idea of the outdoors is relaxing on a patio sipping wine. Visit Lodi gave us the choice to go kayaking or tour on a covered boat, so of course, I opted for the latter. We accompanied the kayaking part of the group for an hour and a half tour of Lodi Lake and the Mokelumne River while we sipped sparkling wine from local producers under the helm of our outstanding captain, Tyler.
Driving in Lodi is easy, but if you plan to visit a few of Lodi’s wineries, look no further than Sip Shuttle, the brain child of Lodi native, Taylor Kininmonth. With Sip Shuttle, you “sip back and enjoy the ride,” without having to figure out directions or worrying about driving if you have tasted too many wines. During our afternoon with Taylor, we were nothing short of impressed with her service, her hospitality, and her kindness. However, I did warn Taylor that her business is going to blow up, which brought a wide smile to her face as she said, “I hope so.”
Local favorite Smack Pie Pizza was a great way to kick off the weekend, with its casual, relaxed atmosphere. Guests create customized pizzas or choose from a few house favorites. The pizzas are made from scratch in front of you while you watch and wait. The beers on tap serve as the ideal beverage pairings.
The winemaker dinner at Oak Farm Vineyards exceeded my expectations. It began with a pairing of exquisite cheeses from Cheese Central and award-winning wines from Oak Farm Vineyards, led by their respective owners, Cindy Della Monica and Dan Panella. The delectable food and wine pairings continued with a four-course catered meal by Chef Warren K. Ito. From chilled scallops ceviche, to smoked quail, to braised prime beef and prime rib, to limoncello-soaked pound cake, Chef Ito and Dan Panella left no stone unturned with this best of Lodi food and wine extravaganza.
In Lodi, grape growing and winemaking are king. Lodi produces more wine than any other appellation in California with around 116,000 acres planted to vine. The Mediterranean climate, cooled by the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta breezes, coupled with mineral-rich, diverse soil types, makes Lodi ideal for grape growing. Its 85+ wineries, some under the leadership of fourth- and fifth-generation winegrowers, craft wines under 450 brands. It’s true that Lodi is home to 40% of California’s old-vine zinfandel, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. During my visit, I had the good fortune to taste wines from four wineries – Mettler Family Vineyards, Harney Lane Winery, Bokisch Vineyards, and Oak Farm Vineyards – all of whom showcased the breadth and depth that is today’s Lodi wine. We sampled a few zinfandels, but also albariño, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, garnacha, garnacha blanca, graciano, merlot, monastrell, petite sirah, sauvignon blanc, Tievoli (Oak Farm Vineyards’ proprietary blend of zinfandel, barbera and petite sirah), verdejo, and verdelho. I was dazzled by the variety and quality of Lodi wines. Most wineries here are still family owned and operated. Many also began as farms, selling their grapes to other producers in California including Napa and Sonoma. For some, crafting their own wine is relatively new, like Harney Lane, who’s only been making wines under their own label since 2006. In fact, Harney Lane still sells 94% of their grapes, while retaining only 6% for their own brand. As Kathleen (Kathy) Mettler, the matriarch of Harney Lane, told us during our visit, “First and foremost, we are farmers.” It’s this farming tradition and entrepreneurial spirit, now captured in every bottle of wine, that makes Lodi a must-visit wine destination.
From the moment I arrived at the Downtown Visitor Center until I checked out of my hotel two days later, I felt welcomed by the people of Lodi. At every venue we visited, everyone was genuinely nice and very proud of what Lodi has to offer. By the end of the weekend, I realized I had made new friends as well as found a new weekend getaway spot. From my perspective, Lodi is one of the most underrated areas in California. It has small-town allure, a beautiful California delta locale, scrumptious food, and first-class wines at a fraction of the cost of some of California’s other wine appellations. If you’re looking for a destination that has it all, visit Lodi and be prepared to fall in love beyond the zinfandel.
This post is a little different than my usual fare. I am two weeks into wine club processing at the winery where I work and I’m exhausted. I have travel on my mind. If I could take off this weekend, I would. I’d hunker down in an awesome rental space or hotel and do nothing but relax, sleep, eat, and drink great wine or beer. Or maybe I would just sleep for a couple of days. I just want to be alone with nothing on my mind in a place I’ve never been. Speaking of travel, did you know that it was my first love, before wine? My first outlet for travel-related social media was Twitter.
In September 2008, after attending an education conference as a community college professor, I decided to try Twitter. I had no idea what I was doing. My original name was @cestbeth, aka C’est Beth, it’s Beth in French (which still exists, I held onto it just in case). I had been a frequent flyer since 1997 and in 2008, I became a part-time, home-based business travel planner for Preston-Layne & Partners, Inc., a wine marketing and sales team. In 2011, I officially became an independent contractor with Montrose Travel and launched this blog. I found myself often having to explain the meaning of @cestbeth, so that same year, I changed my Twitter name to @travelwinechick (because @travelingwinechick was too long). The new name seemed to define who I was becoming, a woman who loves travel and wine, plus everyone understood it. Coincidentally (or not), most of my travel since 2009 has centered around wine destinations, such as Napa, Sonoma, Charlottesville (Virginia), Woodinville (Washington), the Finger Lakes (New York), the Okanagan (British Columbia), Mendoza (Argentina), Chester County (Pennsylvania), Santa Barbara County (California), Tri-Valley/Livermore (California), and the Hudson Valley region (New York).
After moving to the Napa Valley in January 2014, I haven’t had the opportunity to travel as frequently as before (no more Christmas break, spring break, or summer off in the wine business), but I still try to go somewhere four to six times per year, usually a weekend getaway. It just so happens that this year, I have been invited to some great wine, food, beer, and spirits destinations. During early summer, I will be traveling to Waterbury, Vermont for my first TasteCamp, then to Lodi, California as a guest of the Lodi Winegrape Commission. Later in the summer, I will return to Lodi for the 2016 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. I am hoping for more travel opportunities as the year progresses and I am open to travel anywhere (hint, hint).
With all of these wine-related travels past and present, there are a few key things that I always take with me, including my favorite accessory, The Wine Check. As a special treat, the kind staff at HomeAway created for me my own @travelwinechick travel essentials infographic to share with you, the top five things you need to travel if you’re a wine traveler. Pretty cool, eh? If you aren’t familiar with HomeAway (I wasn’t), then head over to their website to read more about how their vacation rental marketplace works. I know that when I plan my own travel or book travel for others, I search every option available for the best location at the best price, so I will include HomeAway in my future lodging searches. Perhaps HomeAway will hook me up with that weekend getaway that I’m sorely craving right now.
Yes, I know it’s June already, but these are some of the wines I tasted last month. Oh, and if you have a better title for my occasional collection of wine reviews, please post it in the comments. I could use some help with blog post titles.
Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Estate Reserve Napa Valley California Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (employee allocation, $75.00 at the winery; Robert Parker 93-95 points)
This wine is super young, but oh, so delectable. The mouthfeel is incredible and the succulent, black fruit aromas and flavors leap from the glass. I just hope I can hold a bottle or two for later. This is going to develop quite nicely.
Passaggio Wines Pinot Grigio 2014 (tasting room sample, $25.00 at the winery)
This Pinot Grigio, whose grapes are sourced from Lodi’s Manna Vineyards, is fermented in all stainless steel. It has floral aromatics on the nose, a mélange of tropical and tree fruits on the palate, and finishes with good acidity.
Cuvaison Estate Napa Valley Carneros Syrah 2012 ($38.00 at the winery)
I promised myself I wasn’t going to write tasting notes about this wine, but I couldn’t help myself. The 2012 Cuvaison Syrah expresses concentrated dark berry flavors right out of the gate. This wine is textured and lush on the palate. The fruit lingers on the finish, the curtain call being a burst of peppery spice.
Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2011 ($50.00 at the winery) Bottle Shock aside, I love this Chardonnay. Fresh apples and citrus explode on the palate, accompanied by a juicy mouthfeel and a hint of smokiness from the oak. The finish is long, with lively, lingering acidity.
Thirsty Owl Wine Company Finger Lakes Dry Riesling 2014 (sample, $14.95 at the winery)
If you’ve never tasted an example of Finger Lakes Riesling, this is a great one to try. It’s pale yellow, crisp, and dry, barely a hint of sweetness, with loads of juicy citrus flavors, and vibrant Finger Lakes acidity.
Red Newt Cellars Finger Lakes Gewürztraminer 2013 (sample, $15.00 at the winery)
This wine is floral, dense, spicy, with a round mouthfeel, sumptuous aromas and flavors of honey, lemon, and orange. It packs a lot of punch for the price point. My go-to pairing with Gewürztraminer is a spicy, Asian dish like Kung Pao Chicken.
Knapp Finger Lakes Dry Rosé 2014 (sample, $15.99 at the winery)
This rosé comprised of 85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Pinot Noir, is bone dry. The grapes for this wine were cold-soaked for 16 hours to give it a light salmon color. It displays aromas and flavors of grapefruit, melon, and strawberry, then finishes with ample, food-friendly acidity.
Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars Finger Lakes T23 Cabernet Franc 2013 (sample, $19.99 at the winery; 90 points, Wine Enthusiast)
This 2013 Lamoreaux Landing unoaked Cabernet Franc is lighter in color and body, but big on aroma and flavor. Think floral aromatics, with baked cherry and cinnamon on the palate. Even my friend who doesn’t typically like red wines likes this one. T23 in the name is the abbreviation for the stainless steel tank in which it was fermented, Stainless Steel Tank #23.
Old York Cellars Pinot Gris 2013 (sample, $18.00 at the winery; Gold Medal – San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition)
This Pinot Gris from New Jersey is a pale lemon-green color and refreshing on the palate, with flavors of tropical fruits, melon, orange, tangerine, and a bright acid finish. As it warms to room temperature, the fruit flavors become sweeter, more like candied fruit.
Old York Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (sample, $21.00 at the winery; Silver Medal – San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition)
This New Jersey produced Cabernet Sauvignon has bright, red berry aromas, black fruit and spice flavors, and a tannin structure that will allow this wine to age a few more years in the bottle, although with some decanting, is drinkable now. Enjoy this with creamy, pungent cheeses or a steak.
*The two Old York Cellars’ wines can be purchased as a package with a 20% discount at this link.*
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($53.00 at the winery)
This 2010 Cabernet far exceeded my expectations for a larger production wine. The black fruits, baking spices, and mocha/chocolate flavors are welcoming and persistent throughout the palate, yet the wine finishes with bright, red fruit acidity. I wish I’d purchased more upon release.
Freiherr Langwerth von Simmern Rauenthaler Baiken Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2008 (gift from a friend, $31.99, currently on sale for $18.99 at select PLCB stores)
Thank you to the friend who gave me this 2008 Freiherr Langwerth von Simmern Rauenthaler Baiken Riesling Spätlese Trocken, Rheingau, Germany! We don’t have too many German Rieslings in Napa. This wine bursts with golden delicious apples on the front of the palate, tropical fruits mid-palate, then finishes with blazing acidity. Or as he would say, “This Is f*cking good Riesling!” I paired this with red chile chicken enchiladas.