It seems appropriate to close out the writing year with an end-of-year post. At this moment, I don’t have a plan of how this is going to evolve, so please bear with me and stay along for the ride.
First and foremost, thank you to those of you who have been reading, especially those of you who may have been around the four and a half years this website has been in existence. Thank you to the various wineries and wine public relations businesses who have sent me samples for consideration. This endeavor is still purely a hobby and I do not earn any money to do this. However, I do believe that this website was one of a few catalysts that led to me living and working in Napa, so this is why I continue to write.
The readership of my website has increased exponentially in 2015. I believe there are a few reasons for this, such as being featured as a top 100 wine blog on a couple of websites such as Wine Turtle and Exel Wines. My writing has also been featured in wine writing challenges and on other websites such as American Winery Guide, Grape Collective, The Drunken Cyclist, Snooth, and Wine Turtle, which has brought new readers to this site. I also won the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #18 (#MWWC18) with this post. I am forever grateful for this fortuity.
I am especially thankful for the opportunity to write winery reviews for American Winery Guide. I have published seven reviews the past four months. While I love tasting and drinking wine, from the very start of this endeavor, I have been called Travel or Traveling Wine Chick, with travel coming first. Travel experiences are my niche. I love sharing my impressions of a winery and/or its winemaker(s), and if a wine tasting review fits, I add it. In 2016, you will see more travel, winery/wine experiences, and follow-your-passion stories in my writing.
The other day, WordPress sent me my end-of-year statistics for this blog and I was a bit surprised at the staying power of some of the posts. Three of the most viewed posts this year were written in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The top five viewed posts are:
Themes of travel, winery, and personal experiences dominate four of these posts. As to the Skinny Vine post, I am not sure why that’s still popular, as I was such a beginner three years ago. It is cool to see how far I’ve come, though.
The top referrals to my website came from Facebook, Twitter, Wine Turtle, The Drunken Cyclist, and The Fermented Fruit. The latter two websites are written by two of my dearest wine writing colleagues and these connections warm my heart. It would also seem that the next time that I see them, I owe them at least a drink.
These were difficult to choose, but below are my favorite experiences and/or writing of the year published on this website, American Winery Guide, and Snooth, in sort of alphabetical order. Most touched me on a very personal level. When I reread these, I feel as if I am reliving the joy and pleasure I felt during the visits and tastings. If you haven’t read them, please do. Better yet, please visit these producers and/or taste their wines.
I’ve attended four Wine Bloggers’ Conferences: Virginia (2011), Okanagan (2013), Santa Barbara (2014), and New York (2015). While I always enjoy the conference, I’ve always found it challenging to share with my blog readers, most of whom may never attend a conference. I am also the kind of person who feels an experience and finds it very hard to put my feelings into words. That being said, I do have some favorite activities and takeaways each year. Below, in no particular order, are some of my highlights and thoughts.
The Host Region
My primary reason for attending the conference is to connect with and learn more about the host region. I came to the Finger Lakes because I wanted to taste Finger Lakes wines and interact with the region’s key players in the wine industry. While this year’s conference had many Finger Lakes sessions and tastings, I still think more could be done to focus on the host region each year. In my opinion, there should be more winery excursions or more sessions held at local wineries, because the best way to learn about wine and winemaking is tasting the wines and visiting the winery and/or the vineyards. Also, because being a conference sponsor is quite costly, I fear that some of the best, small producers are being left out due to financial constraints.
Keynote Karen MacNeil
This year’s keynote by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, was on target. Her inspirational remarks included personal and professional stories as well as serious and funny ones. She told her own story of perseverance and success and offered us advice on how to improve our wine writing and tell our own stories, then took questions from the attendees.
Riesling, King of the Finger Lakes
This was my favorite wine discovery session, as we had the opportunity to taste Finger Lakes Rieslings from Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes. The samples from Dr. Frank, Keuka Spring, Red Newt, Knapp, Lamoreaux Landing, Sheldrake Point, Fox Run, and Lakewood varied in terroir, style, and age. The session was a nice introduction to Finger Lakes Rieslings, especially for those who had never tasted them before. The only caveat is that there’s never enough time to fully taste and experience wines in a 60-minute session that includes 30+ minutes of introductory material. Key Takeaway: Finger Lakes terroir varies greatly from lake to lake, vineyard to vineyard, and winemaker to winemaker. There is not just one Finger Lakes style.
Conference Winery Excursion
Every year, there is a surprise destination excursion to a local winery. This year’s excursion took my group to Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars on Keuka Lake. I had visited Dr. Frank before on my first trip to the Finger Lakes in November 2012. This visit included a library wines tasting with wines from Dr. Frank, Glenora, and Lucas, followed by a wine dinner on the patio overlooking Keuka Lake. It was a perfect evening, complete with a rainbow and a gorgeous sunset. Key Takeaway: We may be doing Finger Lakes wines a disservice by drinking them too early. Many of these wines are built to last for years and evolve wonderfully in the bottle. We tasted Brut Rosé, Blanc de Blancs, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon from all three wineries, vintages 1983 to 2007, that were outstanding.
Jordan Winery After Party
The Jordan Winery after party is always one of the highlights of the conference. While it’s difficult (at least for me) to stay up until 11:00 p.m. to attend, I always do, because Jordan is one of the masters of wine and food hospitality. This is the premier, official networking event every year. Thank you especially to Lisa Mattson for hosting us.
The Final Dinner
The final dinner was both delicious and fun this year, held at the gorgeous Corning Museum of Glass, with a preceding glass blowing demonstration. Each meal course featured a wine showdown of sorts, a lighthearted, competitive pairing of two different wines from Finger Lakes producers. Representatives from the wineries shared with us why they selected their particular wine for each food offering.
Unofficial Activities Some of the unofficial (aka #goingrogue) activities are fantastic, because they allow us to step out of the conference box and taste some great wines. This year’s favorites included:
Craig Camp and Cornerstone Cellars
Craig Camp is a longtime supporter of bloggers as well as the conference, so I don’t feel guilty attending his Cornerstone Cellars tasting, where he opens his hotel suite to participants so we can experience some of his California and Oregon wines in a very relaxing, friendly, and hospitable atmosphere. The wines are exquisite and improve every vintage. The dialogue between Craig and those of us who attend is open, honest, and educational.
I keep trying to come up with a way to describe this year in my life, but all I keep coming up with is crazy. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to do a life 360 needs to give it a try. You can read more about my personal life this year at this link.
At any rate, this is my year-end roundup from the wine and travel side of my life, clearly not normal, either. I’d been struggling to figure out what to call this post, then all of a sudden, this song popped into my head (see, crazy, I’ll tell you!), so voilà, below are a few of my favorite things from 2014.
Favorite Wine Blogs (besides mine, of course)
1. Uncorked Remarks: Doug’s niche is local wine and wine tourism and he excels at writing about winery experiences so that you feel like you’re right there with him. He has this conversational style that immediately draws you in and you can’t stop reading. His blog is also the reason I’ve discovered Pennsylvania wine and traveled to the area three times in 2014. (Editor’s Update: This website is no longer available, unfortunately).
2. The Drunken Cyclist: I love Jeff’s mix of wine, bicycling, travel, and his son, Sebastian. I’m especially envious of his travel to France, as I haven’t been since 2005. He also isn’t afraid to tell it like it is from his point of view. His writing makes you feel welcomed in his world. I’m happy to have had the honor of meeting Jeff at the 2014 Wine Bloggers’ Conference and hope our paths will cross again someday.
3. 1WineDude: Joe’s strengths are his creatively awesome 140-character wine reviews and his opinions about wine writing and the wine business. He’s both serious and seriously funny. He’s also controversial. Yes! I’ve been following his blog for a while, but meeting him in person made me pay more attention. There’s nothing like a real-life connection to add another dimension to one’s writing.
4. SAHMmelier: I really admire Alissa’s ability to capture a wine moment or event. She, too, like my other favorites, is able to personalize her wine experiences and cause me to experience them in my head and my heart. I also met Alissa at the 2014 Wine Bloggers’ Conference during a presentation which included the aforementioned 1WineDude.
5. Cheap Wine Curious: I’ve enjoyed getting to know Loie both online and in real life, so it’s no surprise I like her blog. She calls herself The Comtesse du Cheapeaux Vin and is always looking for great wine bargains. She writes some of the most creative, well-researched posts I’ve read in a long time. I also love her wine rating system: Case Worthy, Guest Worthy, Buy Again, Drinkable, and Blech! Cheers to wine unpretentiousness!
Most Memorable Wines
I’ve been reviewing wines over at Vivino as a Pro and Featured User more than my blog because it’s quick and immediate (gotta love immediate gratification), so you may have missed 56 wine reviews (as of this post date). I hope you will take a look. I never want to hurt a business, so you’ll only find the good stuff over there, no negative reviews. These are a few of the most memorable wines of 2014.
1. 2011 Va La Vineyards Cedar: This is perhaps one of the most unique blends I’ve ever tasted. Va La Vineyards‘ winemaker Anthony Vietri captures the fruit and terroir of his aptly named little vineyard in this Nebbiolo-based blend bursting with dark fruits, sweet spice, earthiness, tannin, and acidity. You can decant this wine for 6-12 hours and drink now or put this baby back for a while. (My Vivino review)
2. Finger Lakes Wines: I wish I could pick just one, but I can’t. Anyone who has dismissed Finger Lakes wines are making a huge mistake. All the wines I’ve been fortunate to taste have been outstanding and I can’t wait to visit again in August 13-16, 2015 for the 2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. You can read more about these wines at Finger Lakes Rieslings continue to shine!
3. 2012 Mark Ryan Dead Horse: I first visited Mark Ryan Winery‘s tasting room and tasted a vintage of this wine in August 2012. That was the wine I brought home. Two years later, I had the opportunity to visit Mark Ryan again in its new tasting room location in Woodinville, Washington and it’s still my favorite. If you love Red Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon-based red blends, you can’t do much better than this. It’s rich and bold, yet balanced, a mélange of lush fruit, firm tannins, and good acidity. (Excerpted from my Vivino review)
4. 2012 Passaggio Unmarked Code Seven Pinot Noir: Aged in neutral oak means amazing red berries, spices, and acidity. I love this Pinot Noir produced from Sonoma Coast fruit. Perfect for the holidays. And 5% of the selling price goes to families of fallen law enforcement officers. Win-win. However, I’ve heard it’s almost sold out, so get yours before it’s gone. (Excerpted from my Vivino review)
5. 2011 and 2012 Anderson’s Conn Valley Right Bank (Very different, but both stellar. And yes, I work for Conn Valley, but these wines rock!) 2011: Velvety smooth mouthfeel with a near-perfect balance of red and black fruits, tannins, and acid. Don’t be afraid of this blend of 78% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc. (My Vivino review) 2012: This vintage is more Cab Franc than Merlot and it shows in color and on the palate. It’s gorgeous with lush, black fruits, firm tannins, and a long, juicy finish. It’s hard to say no now to this wine. Drink now or later. It’s simply amazing. (My Vivino review)
Favorite Winery Experiences
You would think living in Napa that I would be wine tasting every weekend, but there’s this thing called real life that gets in the way. Oddly enough, I may have tasted at more wineries outside of California this year. Here are my personal favorite experiences this year, although again, all the wineries I have visited this have been great.
1. Va La Vineyards: If there ever was an example to set or a bar to reach, every winery should aspire to be Va La Vineyards. Anthony Vietri, the self-proclaimed, ever humble, The Farmer Va La, gets it without compromising his core beliefs. Va La is family owned and operated, Anthony and his team produce enough wine to sustain a happy and fulfilling lifestyle for the family, and there’s that freaking awesome juice for his deliriously happy friends and fans like me produced from just a little, 6ish-acre vineyard in Avondale, PA.
2. Domaine Carneros: At the other end of the spectrum is Domaine Carneros, owned by Tattinger, a French champagne producer. I immediately fell in love with this winery during my first visit in September 2012. The Chateau Society is the only wine club in Napa Valley I’ve joined because I simply feel like a princess at their Carneros chateau, sitting on the beautiful patio or in the club room, sipping bubbles. I still love the vintage Brut Rosé, with juicy strawberry and stone fruit notes and flavors, vibrant acidity, and a fine, creamy mousse. (Excerpted from my Vivino review)
3. Penns Woods Winery: Penns Woods is another American Wine Story-worthy success from Pennsylvania. This was my first Pennsylvania wine experience and it was a superb first introduction to the wines of Pennsylvania. I felt welcomed, in spite of being from Napa now: no pretentiousness, just a great family-owned producer with a wide range of wines for every palate, from the sweeter side to the drier side. I suggest visiting when it’s warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the patio and vineyard views.
4. Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery: Again, nothing quite tops visiting a family owned and operated, craft winery. Galer Estate is truly a blend of nature, art, and science, and an exemplary producer of award-winning, Pennsylvania wines. During my visit, I was particularly enamored with the friendly and welcoming staff, the behind-the-scenes tour, and their terroir-driven wines. I am looking forward to trying the inaugural 2014 wines from their new winemaker, Virginia Mitchell.
5. Jordan Vineyards and Winery: Jordan is another place you need to visit if you want to feel like royalty. The building, grounds, and views are impeccable and gorgeous. Jordan only produces two wines, a Russian River Valley Chardonnay and an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, both splendid examples of wines produced from those AVAs. I’m also a big fan of their nontraditional rewards system for frequent buyers of their wines.
In looking back through my posts and reviews, I’ve experienced a few wine firsts this year.
1. Pennsylvania Wine: I’ve always believed good wine can be made anywhere, but when I mention Pennsylvania wine, some people still don’t believe me. However, I am here to tell you there are some great ones out there, so don’t be afraid to try. The key to finding what you like is leave your biases at home and open your mind and palate. Taste with your eyes closed. Recommended wineries and their wines (in alphabetical order) include Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery, Penns Woods Winery, and Va La Vineyards.
2. New Jersey Wine: My first wines from New Jersey hail from Old York Cellars. Don’t dismiss New Jersey, either. I had the opportunity to try two through a Twitter tasting, hashtag #virtualvines, samples provided by the winery.
Old York Cellars Dry Riesling 2013: This is my first ever wine from a New Jersey producer. It’s lemon in color, not as pale as many Rieslings often are, and is medium bodied. It has aromas and flavors of apples, peaches, and pears, with a grapefruit-lime finish. It’s 100% Riesling vinted in New Jersey. Residual sugar of only 1%. $17 direct from the winery. (My Vivino review)
Old York Cellars Malbec 2013: This is an award-winning Malbec vinted and produced in New Jersey. It is deep purple in color and medium bodied. The nose and palate are dominated by blackberry, raspberry, and plum. This is a big red wine, 15.8% alcohol, and I think the alcohol will integrate more with time in the bottle or by decanting first. Enjoy this fine effort by Old York Cellars with a steak or burger! (My Vivino review)
3. Wines from Turkey: My first Turkish wines came to me by way of importer VinoRai. To date, I’ve tried these from Turasan:
Turasan Cappadocia Emir Dry White 2013: This is my first Turkish wine, produced by Turasan in the Cappadocia wine region. It’s a winery that dates back to 1943. The grape is Emir, the primary white grape produced in the area. It is pale straw in color and light bodied. It’s quite refreshing. To me, it’s reminiscent of some white Greek wines I’ve had, a balance of bright citrus and tropical fruits, great acidity, and a salty minerality. The sole importer of this wine is VinoRai and this was a sample provided to me. (My Vivino review)
Turasan Kalecik Karasi 2012: This is my first red wine from Turkey and it’s nothing like I’ve ever had. It’s light to medium bodied, but very aromatic. The front palate bursts with ripe red berries, like strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry, while the back of the palate finishes with bold, exotic, peppery spices. I think this wine screams holidays. It’s fragrant, festive, and flavorful. This was a sample provided by the importer, VinoRai. (My Vivino review)
I promised myself I would not write a book about this year, but it appears I almost did. I want to thank everyone who had supported both my blog and me personally during this year of great change, wines, and travel. I will never forget you, no matter where my path takes me in 2015 and beyond.