The Papers that Hold the Pride of a People

As the glow of the sunset across the vines lit my inner soul on fire, I could hear calls to dinner that came from inside the centuries-old, beige, Southern Italian castle. At first I didn’t want to acknowledge the need to go inside as the golden sky defied it, and then, as if by design, the sun seemed to instantly disappear as if to nudge me inside… before I knew it I was frozen at the door by the shear beauty and beckoning mysteries that were tucked away in the stone-vaulted room. There seemed to be an infinite amount of delicate wine glasses on the tables that shimmered under the various pools of light.

Finally, I forced myself to walk inside as I felt the anticipation of the crowd behind me and I tried to quickly survey my surroundings… stone carvings in the wall, a distinguished looking book here and there, side hallways that were illuminated by the warmth of lights that foretold that there was more to come. But then I saw a series of old papers that seemed to be handwritten notes of some kind that were framed and hung side by side along the wall. My chair was too far away from the papers to decipher any notion of the Italian script but close enough that they were always in my line of sight… through time they built my curiosity as it seemed odd to have hand-written papers with scratch-outs in such a grand dining room.

Radici del Sud

I was in Puglia (Apulia), invited by the Radici del Sud association to be part of their 2019 exhibition that brings buyers and journalists from around the world to taste, judge and explore the wines of Puglia (Apulia), Basilicata, Campania, Calabria and Sicily. One of our evenings was spent visiting the Agrinatura estate between the Andria and Castel del Monte areas in Puglia that produces the wines of Giancarlo Ceci.

Giancarlo Ceci

The owner, Giancarlo Ceci, met us outside to talk about the existence of their ancient estate that has existed for at least 200 years as well as having eight generations of farmers in the family. Giancarlo said he has lived on the estate his whole life and only briefly left when he went to University for agriculture; when he came back in 1988 he was convinced that organic was the only way to farm.  Giancarlo said that “my father and everyone was against the idea” but he continued pushing until all their vineyards and farming practices were 100% organic, starting with his first steps 31 years ago. He said that from that time, he had only one philosophy – “balance.” Through time Giancarlo became a believer in biodynamics as he feels no other system “manages the soil as completely” as it does.

Nero di Troia

Later that night, inside the vaulted dining room before dinner commenced, Giancarlo gave us a vertical of his Nero di Troia wine Felice Ceci “A Mio Padre” (meaning “To My Father”) and we were given the different profiles of the various vintages as well as an introduction to the Nero di Troia variety and its history in the area. The red grape Nero di Troia is technically listed in the Italian National Registry as Uva di Troia but as there has been a recent focus on it in the region of Puglia, many producers thought it better to have a more approachable name. It was a favorite for blends and actually was exported to France and other parts of Italy to bring color, aromatics and a sense of grace to the wines. According to Giancarlo, despite not being an easy variety to grow due to its “fragile” quality making it susceptible to parasites and mildew, it was kept by farmers because it was highly prized for the attributes it added to a blend and so money could be made on exporting it. It was uncommon for grapes in Southern Italy over 50 years ago to be grown for anything else besides as a daily supplement to give calories but thankfully it survived, and over the past 20 years there has been a focus on making single variety Nero di Troia wines as the grape deserves to be known on its own merits.

Then, at one point, Giancarlo gestures to those papers on the walls, the ones that I kept eyeing, wondering, thinking about during the whole time, and he said that they were invoices. As he talked about the demand of Nero di Troia in other wine regions, he pointed to the framed papers on the wall “here are all the documents of the invoices from the 1800s that we were writing for our wine importers in France as well as a company in Italy.” It was a moment that took my breath away as I was not expecting it; out of everything in that room, these old, stained papers with scratches and scribbles meant the most to him.

What Money Can’t Buy

It must have been a good financial situation for grape growers in Puglia, especially during the times when people were dirt poor, to be able to have a steady income but I’m sure many of these growers felt like a part of them died a little bit every time their indigenous grape from their ancestor’s land was shipped off; that distinctive grace and complexity was awarded to another grape, another place, another people. That type of pride in the fact that the region has reclaimed one of their cherished grapes for the world to see means more than anything that money can buy. And so, that is why I understood that those were the most valuable items in that grandiose room; they were symbolic of those people who once felt like they had to keep their heads low who can now finally lift them up high.



Tasting of Giancarlo Ceci Wines June 5th, 2019

The designated wine area, Castel del Monte DOC & DOCG, is known for its calcareous soil with limestone. Giancarlo said that this is a critical component as it slows down the maturation of the Nero di Troia variety so it doesn’t get too much body or sugar and keeps its “grace” developing phenolic maturity and aromatic complexity.

 2006 and 2008 Vintages

Dry seasons, it was pretty much dry throughout the both seasons which caused a lot of stress during budding that remained during the ripening of the grape and for this reason the grapes developed a lot of phenolics. There is a lot of power in 2006 and also in 2008 which are not the same but pretty similar.

2007 and 2009

More rain than 2006 and 2008 during July and August and so the grapes had a longer hang time which helped to develop more complex aromas.

2006 Giancarlo Ceci, Parco Grande Rosso, Castel del Monte DOC: 70% Uva di Troia, 10% Aglianico and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. There wasn’t a 2006 of “A Mio Padre” because this is the year Giancarlo Ceci’s father died so he didn’t make a 2006 vintage of it. Dusty earth with fresh blackberries with firm tannins that had a hint of spice on the finish.

2007 Giancarlo Ceci, Felice Ceci “A Mio Padre” Nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte DOCG: 100% Uva di Troia from their “Grand Cru” vineyard. Dried herbs with cedar box and brambly berries that expanded with sculpted tannins on the length.

2008 Giancarlo Ceci, Felice Ceci “A Mio Padre” Nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte DOCG: 100% Uva di Troia from their “Grand Cru” vineyard. Dried red cherries with smoldering earth with structure and power that was lifted by fresh acidity.

2009 Giancarlo Ceci, Felice Ceci “A Mio Padre” Nero di Troia Riserva, Castel del Monte DOCG: 100% Uva di Troia from their “Grand Cru” vineyard. Rich, silky tannins with lovely floral and baking spice aromas that had a fine textured finish.

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A Loss in Life Can Create Open-Hearted Richness

Leola Watts is a woman who has had to suffer through one of the most imaginable losses – her son passed away at the tender age of 34. She said, “I was lost. I was literally lost. He was my baby.” In the face of a great tragedy it can seem impossible to go on, and some do decide to crawl into a hole and die, but others find a way to take that deep pain and turn it into love, then give that love to those that desperately need it.

Chablis 2017 Vintage

Chablis is a designated wine area that is in the most northern area of Burgundy; actually it is closer to Champagne than to the rest of the designated Burgundy wine areas such as Côte d’Or. Recently, many of you might have heard about the extreme frost Chablis received in the beginning of April or even more shocking were the photos that flooded the internet showing icicles on the vines, or the beautifully tragic photos of tin containers filled with a flammable substance burning for many hours during the night trying to protect the delicate buds. Well, unfortunately this threat of frost is starting to become a common experience and Didier Séguier, William Fèvre’s Cellar Master, said that they lost “50-70%” of their yield in some of their Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards during another spring frost in late April of 2017.

Open-Hearted Richness

Leola Watts decided to take the path of turning her sorrow into love by volunteering for The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA)’s Foster Grandparent Program. She is currently assigned to the first grade class at Montclair Elementary School. According to NYSOFA, “Foster Grandparents offer emotional support to children who have been abused and neglected” and Leola gives her heart to each child – the entire student body calls her “Granny”. The other teachers found out that Leola was anonymously buying the kids much needed gloves, hats and scarves during the wintertime as well.

In the same way that a devastating loss can be an opportunity to give affection and kindness to kids that desperately need it, it is like the grapes in the Grand and Premium Cru vineyards of William Fèvre that become rich and generous since, in many cases, over half of the buds were lost in the spring of 2017. There was a lot more energy in the vines than grapes to give it to, and so, an immense amount of vitality and potential went into each grape. And William Fèvre, despite going through difficult times, is striving to find greater expression in their top sites. Didier Séguier noted that they are using “natural yeasts for Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites” and sometimes for their village wines as well, if the grapes are pristine. Also, they started biodynamic practices in 2010 on the right bank of Chablis with all their Grand and Premier Cru plots, and all of their vineyards are organic. Didier talked about the importance of this sense of place by stating, “the expression of Chablis is the expression of the soil. We don’t make Chardonnay, we make Kimmeridgian soil wine.”

Investing in Potential

It can be crushing to be given such a horrible blow in life; many times, the only way to go on is to find how one can turn tragedy into purpose. Of course, William Fèvre is trying to find the best ways to deal with highly destructive frost, as well as hail, but they also realize the importance of investing in the health of the vines, making them stronger, better able to handle the ferocity of life. Leola Watts said that the Foster Grandparent Program “saved my life” but I’m sure that she is not only giving comfort in the form of winter clothing to those six year old kids, she is strengthening their potential with love, and I’m certain she is saving some of their lives as well.


***All of the above photos are credited to William Fèvre


Tasting of 2017 William Fèvre Grand and Premium Cru Chablis Wines on March 6th, 2019

The term “Domaine” notes that it is a vineyard owned by William Fèvre. Also, William Fèvre owns 15% of the Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis. And for those who don’t know, as it can get a little confusing, all Chablis AOC wines is made with 100% Chardonnay.

Didier Séguier said about the 2017 vintage “We started harvest the 4th of September and very small yields with 15-25hl per hectare; but perfect grapes because the weather was perfect. We decided to harvest a week earlier for acidity.” Also, “The wind the last two weeks before harvest reduced the yields and concentrated the sugars and acidity.”

2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume: Citrus zing with concentration and good acidity, citrus peel and has a real mineral backbone.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Montmains (Domaine): This Montmains Premier Cru vineyard is known for its upfront minerality, which it did display along with an energetic, quince flavor that had a long finish of lime blossoms.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons (Domaine): This Premium Cru represents all the different types of Chablis terroir within its vineyards. Tropical, juicy fruits with hints of chalk and white flowers with marked acidity that lifted the richness.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre (Domaine): The oldest vines they have are in this plot, planted in 1936 – over 80 years old. White peach skin with crumbled rock that had a rich, creamy body with a stunning purity on the persistent finish. This really over-performed as a Premier Cru.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Bougros (Domaine): Delicious generosity of ripe nectarines with enchanting nose of lemon verbena with a thrilling vitality on the focused palate.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Bougros ‘Côte Bouguerots’ (Domaine): These vineyards have a very steep slope with a gradient of more than 30%. This was an outstanding wine that had fierce, steely acidity yet an intense richness of multilayered fruit flavors that was laced with saline minerality.

-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses (Domaine): A textured Grand Cru with upfront minerality with hints of lemon confit and dried flowers that finished with an incredible finesse that made it powerful with its shear beauty.


2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos (Domaine): These vineyards have soil mixed with fossils and stones (lots of Kimmeridgian soil) with 31.5 inches of limestone as well as the majority of vines were planted by William Fèvre’s father in the 1940s. An exotically spiced wine that had golden apple and honeysuckle flavors with an oyster shell edge that danced in my head for the next hour. These wines warmed my heart with their generosity while still keeping their elegance and sense of freshness and place. Chablis does not need to be austere to deliver nobility, if anything, the addition of rich fruit and lack of hardness makes these the type of fine wines that are felt by the heart.

Extra side notes:

-Gravity pressing

-They harvest in small baskets

-Vinify plots separately and then blend

-These wines that I tasted above were only bottled two and a half months earlier

-William Fèvre vinifies 30% in used large barrel for six months for texture while the rest is vinified in stainless steel

-Many of the vines were planted by William and his father during the 40s and 50s – so lots of old vines – small yields

-Chablis is the only place that makes still Chardonnay wine from Kimmeridgian with England making sparkling wine from Chardonnay in Kimmeridgian soil

-William Fèvre has been practicing sustainable growing in their vineyards for nearly ten years now and they have just obtained High Environmental Value (HEV) status

-William Fèvre is not the largest producer of owning Chablis vineyards overall but they do own the most amount of Premier and Grand Cru sites: around 130 different plots

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Distant Lands Inspire the Exploration of Truer Sense of Self

Traveling to far-flung, vastly culturally different places is challenging on many levels and at times extremely exhausting. When one lives such an already overwhelmingly challenging life trying to survive, such as I’m sure many of you do, it may seem odd that someone like myself who feels overwhelmed ever week, or anyone else for that matter, would want to spend her small amount of vacation time visiting a place that offers so many obstacles – the best way I can explain it from my own experience is that this type of travel gives you a chance to tap into a purer form of yourself.

Louis Gaspard d’Estournel

Louis Gaspard d’Estournel is considered the founder of Cos d’Estournel – the ‘Super Second’ Left Bank Bordeaux wine in the most northern area of the Médoc, Saint-Estèphe, for the Grand Crus Classés wines. d’Estournel inherited the properties of Cos and Pomys in 1791 and even back then he was a believer in the terroir (sense of place) of the hill of Cos. And so that is how Cos d’Estournel started, and despite it being located in an area that had issues ripening tannins, it was placed quite high as a 2nd growth in the 1855 classification.

Travels to India

d’Estournel did not only sell his wines to British officers stationed in India starting in 1838 but he also built Cos d’Estournel to look like an Indian palace, made from French limestone, that has accents suggesting sacred pagodas throughout the property. As I walked around the estate, I felt that the surroundings evoked feelings of South Asia and East Africa (India and Zanzibar respectively) – several artifacts pointed towards many trips taken to exotic lands. This Cos d’Estournel estate showed the commitment, especially during those times, of a man who had more than just a business interest in the East but who was truly smitten and perhaps connected to places he visited.

My husband and I took our first trip to the other side of the world over 13 years ago. It was our honeymoon and we actually had two weeks off – that is a lot of time for Americans – and so we thought we would go to Thailand and Vietnam, never to have that chance again. It was a complicated journey that was tough on the body and mind, as well us getting ourselves into a few harrowing situations. But despite that, we found ourselves not wanting to go back home because we had found the home we were always missing. Of course, we came to our senses, realizing we could never figure out a way to make a living in either of those countries and took some small mementos back – like the carved piece of wood we bought in northern Thailand – to bring back those memories.

I have thought long and hard about the reasons behind us contemplating staying in South East Asia and walking away from everything to live in a place with an unforeseeable future. It is sort of like the path that the character Larry takes in the book The Razor’s Edge – a traumatized American WWI pilot who no longer feels at home in his old life. At one point in the book, Larry has a discussion about a trip he took to India that helped him to find where he belonged in the world. The discussion takes place between Larry and the author, W. Somerset Maugham, who places himself in the book as an observer. In the book, Maugham notes that this conversation can be skipped without losing the plot of the story yet he states that without this section he would not think the book would be worthwhile to write. I first read this book when I was a teenager, and several times in my early 20s, and that one section of Larry talking about his trip to India spoke to me. I never knew why until I was 31 years old in the middle of South East Asia.

Cos d’Estournel

I’m sure there were many Bordelais who did not appreciate the architectural style of Cos d’Estournel when it was first built, and even today, some traditional, old school Bordeaux drinkers refer to the property as being bizarre. Today the property has great appeal to a younger audience of Bordeaux drinkers who love the infusion of East and West – for me it is one of the most beautiful estates I have seen. While I walked around during my visit there, I could not help but think of the man himself, Louis Gaspard, and his own connection to the East. Did he always feel like an outsider and so that is why different cultures appealed to him? Did something happen in his life that changed him to seek out another land to connect to? Or did he end up traveling to distant lands out of a sense of adventure and realized that there was more to life than he could have ever dreamt?

For the main character of Larry in The Razor’s Edge, it was about him being forever changed by war; for myself, I was always an outsider trying to fit in and oddly I felt more comfortable in a land where I stuck out like a sore thumb. There is something wonderful about going somewhere so different that when you travel off the tourist’s path you are treated by people simply as a human being because it is difficult to have any assumptions when people are so far removed from each other. It is a much truer way of connecting, contrasting with the encounters we have with others in our own world where quick assumptions are made based on a few superficial facts. Traveling to cultures that are foreign to us in almost every way frees us to tap into a sense of self that goes beyond the expectations of the societies of our homeland.

Expressing the Terroir that was Always There

In many ways, that has been Cos d’Estournel’s journey as it has always been a great property and certainly one of the top in Saint-Estèphe, but it had always seemed different and placed in a box which has limited its potential by outside expectations and so no one ever thought of this property rivaling the great wines of Pauillac. But instead of trying to turn themselves into a great Pauillac wine like Lafite or Latour, Cos d’Estournel decided to go deep, not being afraid of its atypical or exotic nature – to go on the journey of discovering a whole new expression of excellence in Bordeaux.

The current owner, Michel Reybier, constructed a vat room that involves four vats encased in glass elevators, so no pumping is required, which creates finer tannins in the wines. Furthermore, Reybier and his team have isolated specific plots in their vineyards – 19 different soil types and varying microclimates – and not only can they gear their vineyard practices to these discoveries, but they choose which variety goes where depending on their analysis of that plot. Cos d’Estournel has been on an inner pilgrimage, peeling back the layers revealing that the property is more extraordinary than even its greatest fans could ever imagine and the outside world has been impressed – many Bordeaux wine experts placed Cos d’Estournel on the top of their lists for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages.

All those years ago, Louis Gaspard d’Estournel knew that there was something special about the Cos that seemed of another world, a world beyond Bordeaux, hence it is fitting to have it be such an exquisitely unique place; a place that reflected the dream of d’Estournel that finally makes wine that lives up to that once thought of impossible dream that was inspired by distant lands.



Tasting at Cos d’Estournel on March 26th, 2019

-2018 Vintage-

2018 was a vintage of extremes in Bordeaux and the quality is inconsistent, yet those properties that had luck on their side, as well as the desire and capacity to go the extra mile, produced excellent wines with beautiful texture and complex flavors.

-2018 Goulée by Cos d’Estournel: 73% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet France. This wine comes from their Goulée vineyard that is ideal for elegant Merlot. An expressive nose with notes of broken rock with hints of rose oil that had cinnamon spice throughout with blueberry pie that has tannins that caressed the palate with an energetic focus.

2018 Pagodes de Cos: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. A generous wine that had an open heart with delicious cassis flavors that was also deeply complex with fresh leather and an earthy charm that has an intriguing turmeric root note, finishing with a fine structure. Impressive second wine!

2018 Cos d’Estournel: 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. A stunning sense of grace that left me completely enchanted with a satin texture, incredible linear energy and rich dark fruit flavors layered with cocoa nibs and traces of sandalwood incense smoke that transported me to another place. The finish was breathtaking in its persistence and pure finesse.

-2018 Pagodes de Cos Blanc: 93% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Sémillon. Crisp acidity that gave a wonderful vitality with juicy nectarine flavors and hints of lime blossom and a hint of wet stones.


2018 Cos d’Estournel Blanc: 67% Sauvignon Blanc and 33% Sémillon. Honeysuckle with white flowers, chalky minerality and green mango notes made this wine regally exotic with an enticing textural component that at once gave it weight and structure that had an impeccably purity of fruit on the finish. The whites of Cos d’Estournel are extremely impressive although I had never thought of giving them much attention until this tasting.

-2014 Vintage-

2014 vintage was not a super star like the 2016s as it was lighter, but 2014 was certainly more concentrated than 2013 or 2007. Basically it made fresh, classic wines but some areas and estates did better than others with round tannins and a fair amount of concentration. The top estates of Saint-Estèphe did quite well in the 2014 vintage and so it makes sense why Cos d’Estournel proudly tasted us on the red lineup of this vintage.

-2014 Goulée by Cos d’Estournel: 78% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc. This had a gamy, savory quality that I liked that was perfectly balanced by blackberry liqueur and had firm tannins that played off of the lush fruit.

2014 Pagodes de Cos: 43% Merlot, 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. More forest floor notes on this wine with a gravelly character with a laser focus that gave it lift and fresh black fruit showed on the sustained finish.

2014 Cos d’Estournel: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. I loved the smoldering incense character I got with this Cos d’Estournel, with a nose of dried flowers, fresh herbs and wild truffles that had tannins that felt like silky ribbons across the body.

-2005 & 2003 Cos d’Estournel-

2005 was known as a perfect vintage where everything happened in the ideal way in the vineyards and it was also the vintage that created a whole new standard in Bordeaux. 2003 was one of the hottest in recent history where some elderly people actually died in France from the heat-waves; many of the wines ended up becoming too desiccated for classic drinkers, although a few, such as Cos d’Estournel, were able to make elegant wines with freshness.

2005 Cos d’Estournel: 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. This bottle was a lot more open than when I had the 2005 last in January of 2016. Incense and clove notes were still dominating the nose with extra layers of cigar box and stony rocks that still had plenty of that blackcurrant jam on the palate. I still feel it is far from its peak and will only get better with more time.

-2003 Cos d’Estournel: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet. This 2003 shocked me back when I had it last in the beginning of 2016 and it shocks me still today as it is fresh and vital, unlike so many other Bordeaux wines that are dead and dried-out. This is a beautiful wine to drink now as it had sweet spice, round pretty fruit and it was seductive with its plush body yet that sandalwood note was still there with bright acidity and elegance.

-2017 Cos d’Estournel-

2017 is one of those vintages that is difficult to summarize because it is all over the place. For many wines, the quality is a couple notches below the across-the-boards stellar 2016s, but there are standouts, especially in Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe. I tasted over 150 wines at the Panorama Primeurs (tasting the wines one year after En Primeur) at Millésima on the same day of my visit to Cos d’Estournel. It was a fun vintage to taste because there was so much variety and there were some shining stars that unexpectedly thrilled me. I will be posting my 2017 notes soon.

2017 Cos d’Estournel: 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. This 2017 was just as extraordinary as their 2016 but stylistically different. Instead of prancing and giving everything at once like the 2016, it was deeper and mysterious as it was always evolving in one’s head with, yes, that incense and spicy note but it had multifaceted flavors of an array of black fruit while being laced with intense minerality. And despite the tannin quality being an issue for some in 2017, the texture on this Cos was fine and outstanding and it made this wine desirable while still being deeply moving in its complexity that seems never-ending.

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Full Circle: Realizing That Paradise Is Where You Started

Turning onto a dirt road, the fear of the GPS no longer being of any help starts to sink in; yet the fear is tempered by the raw beauty of the surrounding forest that enveloped the car with the slowly rolling fog seemingly a greeter to an enchanted place. Once it got to the point where it seemed that one’s destination would never appear, the forest opened up showing a glorious hillside vineyard. It is serene – hawks flying overhead and old redwood trees circling the vines as if they were the ancient protectors of this parcel of land. There is no way to capture this place with a photo – one can only take in the moment. A vineyard that no one would ever guess was there, tucked away like a hidden treasure.

Santa Nella Vineyard

This story was shared with me by the winemaker of Kenwood Vineyards, Zeke Neeley, about his single vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Nella as we tasted this wine from the 2015 vintage. Zeke said that the great thing about Sonoma, with its protected 52 regional parks, is that many of these vineyards are tucked away surrounded by nature – and most importantly, that nature could be enjoyed by those who lived and visited Sonoma County. The locals have such a commitment to preserving such a healthy way of life that the Sonoma County Winegrowers has made a commitment to try to get as close to 100% sustainability as possible for their vineyards. In 2018 they reported 97% (58,318 acres) as being sustainable according to a self-assessment and 89% (51,485 acres) actually being certified.

Zeke talks about Kenwood’s plans for sustainability with not only having their own vineyards being 100% certified sustainable, moving towards organic in their estate vineyards, but trying to get all the farmers they deal with to become certified sustainable as well; right now he estimates that “90-95%” of the vineyards outside of their own estates are sustainable. Yet trying to get multi-generational grape growers to become certified has its challenges as the paperwork can be scary to people who know a lot about working their land but do not know that much about the outside world. On the positive side, Kenwood is there to assist them as well as the Sonoma County Winegrowers who will help them with the logistics of becoming certified for free.

Kenwood Vineyards

Zeke became the winemaker for Kenwood around 2 ½ years ago. He has an interesting background as he initially started in the BioTech industry working on cancer research until he found himself at UC Davis studying for an M.S. in Viticulture and Enology. For about a decade, Zeke had been a winemaker in Napa Valley with experiences at two very different wineries; the first, Trefethen and the second, Orin Swift. Trefethen is a family owned winery that only works with their own estate vineyards while Orin Swift is a much bigger enterprise sourcing fruit from “60 different vineyards and working with four separate facilities.” Both experiences taught him a lot in regards to great terroir as well as juggling the logistics of managing a multitude of vineyards. Zeke said that a new winemaker is expected to bring innovation to the winery that he is joining and so there is an expectation for him to take things to the next level. Kenwood already has all the goodies when it comes to modern technology and his innovation is to make the wines better year after year. “That is the only innovation I can offer” said Zeke and he continued, “If we are not improving the wines every year, we are failing.”

The Barn

Despite Kenwood making their single vineyard wines since the 1970s, expanding to a more selective process with their Six Ridges line a few years back, such as the Russian River Valley ones I tasted below, there is a more concentrated focus in finding top performing vineyards among the plethora they source from in the Sonoma area with new projects such as the first vintage of The Barn – a wine that represents the heritage of the past with the energized direction of the future. Many of you will know Kenwood’s wines as those bang for the buck ones found in your local corner stores. Of course, giving a more general taste of Sonoma County for $16 is still important to their mission of making these wines accessible to all, just like allowing the natural beauty of the area to be enjoyed by everyone, but there are a lot more hidden vineyards and attention needs to be given to expressing their brilliance instead of blending it away – that is where Zeke comes into the picture. It is no small feat to visit several vineyards (that are not so accessible) on a constant basis to find the next stars but he is up for the task.

The name and label of The Barn is an homage to Kenwood’s restored old winery which is now their tasting room that was originally established by other owners in 1906; not only did it survive the changing of various hands throughout the decades, but it has survived Prohibition, WWI, WWII, the devastating 1906 earthquake (which was their first vintage) as well as the economic collapse after this tragic event. Zeke looks towards his four best vineyards and takes the strictest selection of premium fruit from each, and then, after the various plots of wines are aged for a year, there is a final selection to create The Barn and then it continues to age – the first vintage is 2016. It was singing the day I tasted it and showed the potential of Zeke being the custodian of these vineyards.

A Coming Home

Zeke said that, in many ways, working for Kenwood was like coming back home because he grew up in the Bay area of San Francisco – just south in Daly City. He spent his summer vacations at his grandparents’ home in Sonoma and he remembers it being “paradise”. Even before he went into the wine industry, he and his wife would drive up from San Francisco and take his grandparents out for lunch and go wine tasting, and sometimes they took them to Kenwood. Again, that was before he changed paths to go into the wine world and so he feels he has come “full circle”. Sometimes we have to step away from home for a while to truly appreciate everything as it is and to cement the idea that it is every bit the paradise that our young minds remember.

***Photo Credits for First and Third Pictures Above Belong to Kenwood Vineyards


Kenwood Vineyards Tasting on March 12, 2019 with Winemaker, Zeke Neeley

 2017 Six Ridges, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: 100% Chardonnay. This wine only has around 25-30% new oak (French and Hungarian) as what he is shooting for is to showcase the fruit with only partial malolactic and some battonage for body. It was a pretty wine with elegant white peach and a hint of spice and white flowers that was slightly creamy yet invigorating on the palate as well.

 2016 Six Ridges, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: 100% Pinot Noir. This is a blend from selected vineyards that displays different aspects of Russian River Pinot like the above Chardonnay; some linear and tart and others lush and fruity to create a multilayered wine. This wine had a rich concentration with strawberry reduction balanced with dried sage and a brightly flavorful finish.

2015 Single Vineyard Santa Nella, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: 100% Pinot Noir. This single vineyard had more vibrant fruit with fresh cranberries and black cherries that had a thrilling energy with a touch more tension; it had complex aromas on the finish with anise seed and a stony minerality.


-2016 The Barn: 100% Pinot Noir. This bottle had only been opened for 30 minutes (kept in the bottle) and it was singing from the start – remarkable. Zeke sources from four of his best vineyards and takes the top selection from each, and then, after a year of aging, he makes the final selection and it goes back to aging some more. The Barn is on another level with an incredible richness of cherry pie, cocoa powder and pressed lilacs with baking spice that had an extra layer of hints of forest floor and wild morels.

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The Way to Enlightenment

The people who seemed closest to enlightenment who taught me many of my values couldn’t have been more outwardly different from each other; my childhood next-door-neighbor’s mother who came from a poor background in Mississippi who always was so compassionate to everyone who crossed her path, the mother of my superintendent in my old New York City apartment building who spoke only Spanish and my time communing with her that went beyond language barriers, or a yoga teacher who lived an extreme, monastic life that based his life on social justice. All of these people have their own pile of hurtles in life yet they all lived by a similar philosophy: you have to find a way to work around the reality of the world while never forgetting your soul along the way.


For each of us, what feeds our soul is different and sometimes it is not so easy to recognize what will nourish it when we feel removed from it. It is not the same thing as ethics as I think an ethical code is more concrete… but what keeps that empty feeling at bay, relinquishes us from the constant battles with ourselves to endlessly find worth through superficial accomplishments? I have found, for myself, it is those things that stir our passion yet there is no real logical reason to pursue it except that it makes our heart skip a beat… and keeps our existence from being purely pedestrian. Burgundy wines, especially those from smaller producers, are those that fall into the category of feeding some wine lovers’ souls.

Burgundy makes no sense in so many ways… the weather is brutal (too much rain=disease, frost during Spring=tiny yields and hail=complete destruction), they work with mainly only two grape varieties in a place that has vintage variation (not giving much of an opportunity to blend different types for difficult years) and they work with one of the most challenging noble grapes in the world: Pinot Noir. Burgundy constantly enflames your heart as it will never exactly be what it was before… it is always evolving as a wine that expresses a specific snapshot in time from a particular place that is at once transcendental and illogically exquisite in how it moves you.

Back in February, I attended a wine/media tasting for Terlato Wines, a U.S. premium wine/spirits importer. I was surprised to see that this tasting only showcased the wines of three small Burgundy producers, as usually winemakers on this small of a scale are only known by hardcore Burgundy wine nerds and they are typically imported by much smaller importers. Long ago, Terlato established itself as one of the main luxury wine importers in the U.S. with the vision of its chairman, Anthony Terlato, and the help of his sons Bill and John Terlato. It was a mystery to me why would they gamble on these wines.

Mysteries of Life

I think there are many times when we are mystified by others’ reactions as well as are never able to explain our own motivations to people whose souls are not fed in the same way. These motivations may have been woven into our mental wiring from birth or our early childhood experiences – those moments that flooded our minds with feel-good chemicals in our brains. My next door neighbor’s mother (the type of woman who didn’t bother taking the cigarette out of her mouth before she cursed someone out) and my environmentally-conscious, vegan yoga teacher couldn’t have been more different but there was one mantra in common that they both lived by – you have to first conquer paying your bills (a lifetime pursuit, and yes, life is unfair when it comes to surviving) before you can even attempt to try to save the world. No one can be enlightened or even preach such a path if they are not dealing with the harsh realities of what surrounds them.

It is certainly quite an undertaking to be a long-standing, fine wine importer in such a competitive market and it takes leadership that chooses the logical path to success at each turn. But it was interesting to talk to vice chairman, John Terlato, as he shed some light – that this collection of artisanal Burgundian producers was an actualization of building these relationships for several years. He said that Terlato’s commitment to quality, which is centered on an expression of sense of place, was taken to another level with these wines. He openly admitted that others were critical of taking on such a portfolio, but as he enthusiastically poured a 2001 Bâtard-Montrachet from a decanter into my glass while beaming with joy, he noted that sometimes you need to get behind what you believe in… and when he tasted these wines and talked to these producers about their vineyards, there was no doubt in his mind that these were the wines that represented the heart of his portfolio.

Slipping Off the Edge

It is a constant balancing act – trying to fulfill your responsibilities while reminding yourself of why you take on these responsibilities – day in and day out. I remember when I first moved to New York City around 25 years ago with no family, no connections and no idea of how to function in the world… I was so overwhelmed with working as much as I could since I felt that that was the only way to continue my existence in NYC – so downtime was few and far between. But every time I had a package delivered to my tenement apartment, the superintendent’s mother would accept it and I would have to go down to get it from her… she always welcomed me into her home and made me something quick to eat and sat there across from me, talking in Spanish with a big, beautiful smile on her face. Many times I felt anxious since I came from a dysfunctional home where I was an accident and not wanted, so I felt that somehow I was intruding on this woman’s time and she was being nice out of unnecessary obligation. But when I look back, I realize that despite never knowing what she said to me, it fed my soul to spend time with someone who seemed to cherish my company, and perhaps I did the same for her. Back then I didn’t know what nourished my soul, but thank goodness the Terlato family has no doubt what does.



Terlato Burgundy Wines Tasted on February 25th, 2019

The list below is broken up into four different names yet Domaine Pierre Labet is made by the same producer, as well as in the same winery, as Château de la Tour – the name Château de la Tour is reserved for their Clos-Vougeot vineyards. All of the Blanc wines are 100% Chardonnay and all of the Rouge wines are 100% Pinot Noir with the exceptions of where it states that it was made from 100% Aligoté. Any wine that has a name in quotes without having Premier Cru preceding it notes a specific vineyard that has not been classified and any wine starting with Grand Cru will have the specific Grand Cru vineyard noted after it. Finally, Vieilles Vignes means old vines.

Domaine Michel Niellon

2016 Bourgogne Chardonnay Blanc: Moderate palate weight with a hint of hazelnut and bright acidity.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Blanc: Richer, more textural body, with energy and fleshier peach fruit.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Champgains” Blanc: Linear with hints of stone fruit yet minerality dominated.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos de la Maltroie” Blanc: Intensely stony with pretty white flowers and focused.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos St Jean” Blanc: Broader but still had white chalky notes with a long flavorful finish of golden apples.

2016 Grand Cru Chevalier-Montrachet Blanc: Sensational acidity that had a nice bite with complex nose of limestone, citrus blossoms and honeysuckle that had a rich, expressive finish.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge: Wild flowers with baking spice and fresh raspberry fruit.

2006 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Vergers” Blanc: Smoky minerality with slate and exotic spices that still had marked acidity with subtle fruit and a thrilling precision on the finish.

Domaine Ramonet

 2016 Bourgogne Aligoté Blanc: 100% Aligoté. Aligoté is one of the other grape varieties that one can find in Burgundy that is a fiercely acidic white grape. Light, nimble body with a sharp-edged acidity that was extremely refreshing.

2016 Bouzeron Blanc: 100% Aligoté. More aromatic, with citrus rind and jasmine that had a sharp-edge as well yet with more flesh on the body.

2016 Puligny-Montrachet Blanc: Laser focused minerality that was vibrant.

2016 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Enseignères” Blanc: Flinty nose with mouthwatering acidity and a thrilling tension.

2016 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Boudriotte” Blanc: Hint of nuts with rounder body and allspice with juicy apricots.

2016 Bourgogne Rouge: High-toned red cherry fruit that pranced on the palate.

2016 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge: More floral, with brooding flavors of dark fruit on the palate that was richly textured.

2014 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Ruchottes” Blanc: Poured from 6 liter bottle. Delicious almond paste with white peach skin and fierce acidity that, overall, was a wine with breathtaking delineation in its expression.

2001 Grand Cru Bienvenues Batard-Montrachet Blanc: Poured from 3 Liter bottle. Richly powerful yet elegant in its pristine purity with mint and lemon confit that had seamlessly integrated oak, a lush body with layers of complexity and a mineral laced, long length.

Domaine Pierre Labet

2015 Beaune “Clos du Dessus des Marconnets” Blanc: Lemon flavored pastries with creamy body.

2015 Meursault “Les Tillets” Blanc: Pure quince fruit that was tingly and fun that had subtle hazelnut notes – a vibrant Meursault.

2015 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes: Intoxicating perfume with more richness than one would expect on a Bourgogne.

2015 Beaune “Clos du Dessus des Marconnets” Rouge: Tight on the nose so may need some decanting, with a wonderful texture that had lots of definition and shape.

2015 Beaune Premier Cru “Coucherias” Rouge: This wine displayed the same textural component of the previous but with more available fruit – blackberries that had hints of forest floor in the background.

2015 Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes Rouge: Lots of spice with cinnamon and cardamom that was extremely focused with an edgy energy.

Château de la Tour

2015 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Rouge: Richly textured with lots of generosity for a Clos Vougeot so young that had dried herbs and freshly picked mushrooms that were intriguing.

2014 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Rouge: Fresh tarragon and dried red cherries that had a fantastic finish of orange blossoms and crumbly earth with splendid definition.

2015 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: The nose was singing with violets and ripe blueberries that had more structure and power than the others, with hints of espresso and cocoa powder on the finish.

2014 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: Mineral-rich with marked acidity that had succinct black and red fruit that was well knitted together, with well-judged oak and a sustained, lifted finish that left pressed flowers in my head.

2013 Grand Cru Clos-Vougeot Vieilles Vignes Rouge: The nose was pretty and bright with rose petals and orange peel that was expansive on the palate with cherry liqueur that had fine tannins creating ribbons of silk on the length.

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Taking the Time to Remember What is Important

The mist enveloped the vineyards while the grey skies beckoned with a mystery that filled my heart with intrigue and wonderment. The road wove itself around tall masonry stone walls that enclosed terraced vineyards of grape varieties that made the known wines of the area. As the rain sprinkled on the windshield, patches of wet, red soil could be seen on the hillsides that highlighted the ancient volcanic layers of earth that were interspersed throughout the area. Strangely enough, this gloomy weather was like a comforting blanket that made me fall into a deep meditative state… I was in the protective embrace of Mother Nature as she rejuvenated the olive trees and vines with a break from the sun while giving a vital drink of water to all that needed it.

I was at Anteprima Amarone to assess the 2015 vintage as well as learn more about the current research of the Valpolicella area in northeastern Italy. Unfortunately, I got food poisoning while flying to Verona – not a good way to start off a work trip – and then I spent the rest of the time trying to make sure I didn’t get sick as it was prime cold/flu season. It was an odd experience to get sick on the flight from New York City to my connection in Frankfurt, Germany (I have never suffered from motion sickness) and it was a first for me to throw up while traveling on any type of aircraft, vessel or vehicle – usually, I quite enjoy the soothing movement. I shouldn’t have been so surprised that I could have been in trouble during my flight as the day before I was taking care of my husband while he suffered from food poisoning, and we had eaten the same thing every day before he was inflicted by the food borne illness.

So there I was on a long haul Lufthansa flight, throwing up in the middle of the aisle as I was trying to get to the bathroom while feeling an odd, unsettling sensation in my stomach. Yes, I was that person! If I was in better shape I would have apologized to everyone around me. Again, because this has never happened to me on a flight or any other moving vehicle, I never thought that would have happened or I would have brought the “barf bag” with me.

By the way, I need to give a big shout out to the Lufthansa airline stewards and stewardesses who came to my aide and stayed with me throughout the rest of the flight. They placed me in premium economy as there was a row of seats vacant (and I was glad not to bother anyone else), made me herbal tea with honey, took turns sitting by my side (accompanying me to the bathroom and waiting until I got out), gave me oxygen from an emergency tank and just gave me an overall feeling of warmth and comfort. It was hard to leave them!

Anteprima Amarone

So when I arrived at Anteprima Amarone, taking place in Verona, Italy, I was not in the best shape but my favorite parts of the trip – the learning, connecting with people from around the world and the focus on tasting/analyzing the wines helped to perk me up. And interestingly enough, because my body and mind was so exhausted from trying to recover from food poisoning, I was able to intensely focus in during my tasting of the new 2015 Amarone wines that included 68 different producers. I could taste all the nuances and textural contrasts as my mind was not distracted by anything – I simply did not have the energy – and it was soothing to just sit peacefully there for three hours while concentrating on the wines.

After I finished, a part of me wanted to just go back to my room and rest before I woke up the next day at 4am to take the long journey back home, but there was one producer who I was dying to talk to and if I didn’t talk to them I knew I would regret it.

Vigneti di Ettore

At last year’s Anteprima Amarone (2014 vintage) I discovered a small producer called Vigneti di Ettore – their wine had such a beautiful sense of minerality and purity of fruit expression. And so I made my way to their booth which was downstairs from the 2015 vintage tasting to talk to the grandson, Gabriele Righetti, who is now the winemaker. Gabriele’s grandfather, Ettore, led the Winegrowers’ Cooperative of Negrar, the Cantina di Negrar, through the ups and downs of Valpolicella – even during the times when growers wanted to abandon their vineyards. Although the Vigneti di Ettore vineyards were established in 1930, the grapes were never vinified until 2011. Ettore’s grandson (Gabriele) got the winemaking bug and went to enology school so he could help his grandfather accomplish the dream of producing wines with finesse Ettore always knew in his heart that the land of Valpolicella could yield.

Impromptu Visit

So I went to Vigneti di Ettore’s booth as they were pouring wines to media and wine trade amongst other producers and I was able to pick Gabriele’s brain about what he tries to achieve with his wines. Not surprisingly, it was rooted in purity of fruit and expression of place with an overall freshness and finesse. Earlier, he had mentioned that he could set up a visit to his winery but I thought there was no way that could happen as he seemed overwhelmed with people wanting to talk to him. Then he quickly messaged his father, Giampaolo, to see if he could take me to their winery and within 30 minutes I was in the car with Gabriele’s father as we drove up to the hills of Valpolicella during a cold, rainy day.

It was impressive visiting the Vigneti di Ettore cellar as they were experimenting with using different types of oak in various sizes (Slovenian and French oak/tonneau and barrique sizes) to find the most subtle that would bring out the best qualities of each variety – as some of you may know, Valpolicella uses a blend of red grape varieties to make their four different styles of DOC/DOCG wines: Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto. They only use native varieties, mainly Corvina and Corvinone, but they work with several other indigenous varieties without using any international grapes.

One of the indigenous varieties that has been discovered in recent times is the Spigamonte grape that has a lovely floral and spicy note, and goes with the complex aromatics that all top quality Valpolicella wines aspire to achieve. It also has lots of tannins that can have a round quality when handled correctly, and so, it is great to give a wine structure and ageability. Also, an interesting side note is that Spigamonte was discovered due to the vineyard recovery project that Cantina Valpolicella Negrar implemented, and so there is a special connection to Gabriele’s grandfather.

It was wonderful to see Gabriele taking this winery to the next level with not only a fresh interpretation of these classic wines but also coming up with a fascinating new one called “Arsi”. It is made like an Amarone (drying the grapes after harvest) but the drying period is only for 50 days instead of the 90-120 that is required by the Amarone DOCG and malolatic fermentation is blocked – a conversion of malic acid to lactic acid to make the wine less acidic (typically allowed in most red wines). It was zingy with those complex Amarone aromas and a bright finish. Giampaolo was really impressed with his son’s ability to make such amazing wines and when I also commented on their incredible labels, he smiled as he said that they were made by a friend, and so they were special to the family.

Passion for Traveling

As Giampaolo was driving me back through the mist, he was talking about his love of traveling and meeting people from around the world. He said that it was one of the reasons he has a bed and breakfast call Le Croibe at the winery – which also was attached to his home – is because he greatly enjoys talking to people to learn more about their homes and way of life. We even both agreed how much we would love to travel across the Middle East but that right now was not the best time to do so – hopefully that will change in both of our lifetimes.

It was one of those conversations where I felt so much better for having it and it recharged my body, mind and soul. It is easy to remember what is important when we are in our own homes and dealing with our own personal responsibilities, but the world can be overwhelming… and down right frightening at times when we are placed in harrowing situations. We sometimes feel all alone in our struggle when we are out in the world… but when we take the time, or our bodies force us to slow down, and we are able to see through everything that filters out what is at the heart of any moment, we realize that we never walk alone in this world, which is one of the most important things we often forget.



Vigneti di Ettore Tasting at Winery on February 2nd, 2019

Vertical of 2015, 2014 and 2012 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG wines that generally have a blend of 75% Corvina and Corvinone, 10% Rondinella, 10% Croatina and 5% Oseleta from 40 year old vines. This is a dry red wine that has had the grapes go through a drying process of around 100 days after harvest.

 2015 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico: A wine that was singing and very bright with lots of vitality – raspberry, cranberries and cherries that had hints of spice and an intense energy made it thrilling on the finish.

 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico: This wine had an overall finesse and elegance that I immediately loved with aromas of cumin seeds, lily of the valley, rose water and raspberry scone. Its aromas wafted around my head for several minutes after my first taste.

2012 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico: An intoxicating nose with black cherry skins, fresh leather and pressed flowers that had a lovely precision and long expression of flavor.

 2015 “Arsi”, Rosso Verona IGT: This wine is not exported outside of Italy but it is a big favorite with young wine drinkers in Verona. Grapes are dried for 50 days and malolactic is blocked. A zingy wine with sour red cherries and black pepper that had a fierce minerality on the mouth watering finish – exciting to see the possible future of Amarone with this wine.

2015 Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG Classico: 40% Corvinone, 35% Corvina, 15% Rondinella and 10% Croatina. Grapes dried for 120 days (Recioto DOCG allows 120-150 days) and this is the sweet wine sibling to Amarone. Smoldering earth with rhubarb compote and plum pie that had baking spices with a hint of cocoa powder with a lush, flavorful long finish.

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Quality is Sustained Through Collaboration

Collaboration is one of those things that many of us know is beneficial, but in some ways can actually be detrimental. The human mind is complex and through time, it is possible to have experienced so many interactions with others that chip away at our self-worth, making us want to continually prove ourselves which can cause friction within a group dynamic. Toxic competitiveness and the attitude that there can be only one winner can dominate our lives. It is tough to find the balance between working together for the greater good and fulfilling personal goals when we live in a free democracy (and I think the problems of a democracy is worth the freedoms we enjoy) that allows us to choose our own paths, since many times it seems like a binary choice between focusing on individual growth or focusing on the collective good.

Willamette Valley AVA

One of those rare collaborative havens is the AVA (American Viticultural Areas) of Willamette Valley in Oregon. It is no secret that their success with Pinot Noir wines was not only based on having the right climate for this finicky grape, but early in their founding, their decision to work as a community. A collaborative spirit cannot be faked for a significant length of time – after a while, the cracks start to show to the world. I have met so many people who put on the display of a ‘stronger together’ attitude but many times, the act of throwing a proclaimed friend or colleague under the bus when it benefits them makes it clear that the ‘together’ attitude is not heartfelt. As I have gotten older, I have realized that no matter how incredible a person or organization may seem from the start, it takes time to know their real intentions, and that at the end of the day, many of us only have a handful of people who we can depend on.

One of the best and worst things about living in New York City, or any major city I would imagine, is that you meet all types of people. Some have a ruthless attitude that they either hide, or in some cases openly flaunt, others are just trying to make their way in a tough environment with as few cuts and bruises as they can manage, and then there are those whose life is devoted to the community in which they live. I have found myself connecting to my own community as a source of grounding while learning to create strong boundaries in my work life.

Oregon is one of the places where it seems, for many, to be one of collaboration, in both personal and professional lives, as the foundation of their sustainability is forged from this philosophy.  For at least a decade, if not longer, I have been talking to Oregon producers who have done market visits to New York City. They truly do keep to that code of promoting each other, even when they are pushed by their distributor to only brag about themselves. I remember working in distribution many years ago and we represented one of the original founding families of Willamette wine. The producer was considered a ‘tough one’ to bring on appointments with wine buyers because they refused to only speak about their wines and they were insistent on promoting Willamette as a whole. Eventually this producer moved to a smaller distributor that respected their set of values.

Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction

I got together with a couple of women who work in the Willamette wine scene back in January to discuss their fourth annual Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction. Shirley Brooks, VP of Sales & Marketing of Elk Cove Vineyards, came to Oregon 25 years ago when she was studying to become a certified dive master and Eugenia Keegan, Oregon General Manager of Jackson Family Wines properties, found her way to the Oregon wine scene after she closed down her own wine brand in Sonoma County’s famed Russian River Valley.

It was an afternoon with refreshingly frank women who have been involved with wine and Oregon for at least a couple of decades – Eugenia started in wine back in 1976. Even bigger wine companies like Jackson Family Wines (Gran Moraine, Penner-Ash, WillaKenzie and Zena Crown Vineyard) or Burgundian négociant Drouhin have to bow to the collaborative will of Willamette; instead of these powerful wine enterprises changing the utopian alliance of the Oregon winemakers, these enterprises have to conform to the Willamette way of life.

At one point, when the Oregon ladies were asked about their inspiration for this auction, Eugenia said without missing a beat, “It is a complete rip-off of Premiere Napa Valley” – an auction only for the wine trade that will allow those in distribution or wine sellers (sommeliers at restaurants or wine store owners) to make special wines available to their customers. Premiere Napa Valley has raised large amounts of money that can be used to help Napa Valley Vintners to promote wines around the world and despite Willamette knowing that they won’t come near to the Napa auction numbers, they realize it is a good way to raise money and awareness.

The Willamette Valley Wineries Association also sees a side benefit to the auction of getting the national wine trade out to Willamette to experience their beautiful way of life, framed by the charming nature of the area that offers adventure at every turn. This experience will be passed on to their customers that will hopefully inspire more wine travel to the area. But both Eugenia and Shirley stated that they are not trying to be Napa Valley, or Sonoma, or Burgundy or any other well-known Pinot Noir wine producing area. They feel that what makes Willamette special is its raw country splendor that no one dares to alter.

Grounded to the Earth

Eugenia made an interesting point that many other well-known new world regions focus on climate, and despite Oregon being great, weather wise, for Pinot Noir (a grape that has a narrow range of ideal temperatures), for them, it is all about the soil. Maybe that devotion to the soil is what grounds everyone to a collaborative mindset. Many of us have our own pockets of our personal community but I think it is rare, in these times, to have a group of businesses, large and small, stay true to the collaborative mission in a painful, slowly recovering economy – which is possibly teetering on another downward slide. But perhaps part of how Willamette producers keep the strength to stick together for the greater good is that they root themselves to the earth knowing that they have everything they need… and they pay less attention to the horizon that promises the false grandeur of self-importance.


2019 Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction

(Tasting Notes of Wines I Tasted with Eugenia and Shirley are Below this Information)

Friday, April 5th, 2019

Morning: Willamette Immersion Seminar

Afternoon: Welcome Tasting Event

Evening: Dinner Series: Winemaker Dinners at Wineries Around the Valley

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

Tasting and Live Auction at the Allison Inn & Spa, Newberg, Oregon

11am-2pm: Concurrent Walk-Around Lot Tasting and Buffet Lunch

2pm: Live Auction

4-5:30pm: After Party

2019 Auction Lots

86 WVWA (Willamette Valley Wineries Association) Members Participating

92 Lots of Wine Produced Exclusively for Event, All 2017– Cooler, Structured Vintage

86 Lots of Pinot Noir

6 Lots of Chardonnay (Auction Chair Lots)

82 Five-Case Lots, 8 Ten-Case Lots, 2 Twenty-Case Lots

21 New Participating Wineries for 2019

Attendees by the Numbers

420 Attendees, Including 258 Trade Professionals, Guests and Sponsors

82 Successful Bidder Accounts from Last Three Auctions

Bidders Represent 37 States and 4 Countries

30% Retailers

42% Restaurateurs/Hoteliers/Private Club Proprietors

28% Wholesalers/Distributors/Brokers/Importers


Tasting of Willamette Oregon Wines on January 21st, 2019

A brief explanation of a couple of interesting aspects of Willamette Valley soil, broken up into 2 types: Volcanic (Jory Soil) and Sedimentary (Willakenzie Soil); a 3rd soil – glacial sentiment – exist in Chehalem Mountains but was not represented in this tasting. The volcanic soils are said to add a spice and more red fruit character than the sedimentary borne black fruit profile, yet Shirley and Eugenia went further in explaining the structural differences. Eugenia explained their tannins/ overall structure variation in terms of music; wines from volcanic soils were like violins as they are tight, high acid, focused, with lots of energy and tension; wines from sedimentary soils were like the cellos as they are big and broad… they have reverberation. In the below lineup, the Elk Cove Vineyards and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars wines are from sedimentary soils and the Soléna Estate and Argyle Winery are from volcanic soils. Many consumers may not get the soil differences at first, as many of the entry level Willamette Valley wines are a mixtures of the main two discussed.

***Aperitif to get us into the Willamette mood

2015 Big Table Farm, Laughing Pig Rosé: 100% Pinot Noir. Strawberry and cherry blossoms with hints of wild mushroom; finishes with slight structure and white pepper.

I discovered Big Table Farm over the past year and I am very impressed by this tiny producer from Willamette. Brian Marcy and Clare Carver are partners in life and in this winery – Brian is the winemaker and Clare is the artist who designs all their labels for each small lot, but they are both farmers at heart. Their wines are distinctive. Only 480 cases made of this wine.

***First set of wines that would not be available at the auction:

2011 Elk Cove Vineyards, Mt. Richmond, Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. Smoky, brooding with broad shoulders yet has the restraint of the 2011 cooler vintage. Only 798 cases made.

Founded in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell with their son, Adam Campbell, joining his parents to farm their 380 acres (154 hectares) sustainably across 6 separate estates in northern Willamette.

2012 Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Hyland Vineyard, Pinot Noir, McMinnville AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. Black cherry with a zing that had dried herbs and a rich body that finished with a floral lift. Only 190 cases made.

Founded in 1998 by wife-and-husband team Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash specializing in Pinot Noir, Syrah and Riesling from the northern Willamette Valley.

2013 Soléna Estate, Zena Crown Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. Ripe raspberries with smoked paprika that was linear with fierce energy despite having plenty of fleshy fruit from this warm vintage. Only 199 cases made.

Laurent Montalieu is a much beloved character filled with passion that has helped shape the Oregon wine scene. Laurent was raised partly on the Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe and partly in Bordeaux, France, and he eventually found his home in Oregon in the late 1980s. Laurent purchased this property to celebrate his marriage to his wife Danielle in 2000. Soléna is the combination of the Spanish and French words Solana and Soleil, and the name that Laurent and Danielle gave to their daughter.

***Second set of wines that would be sold at the auction:

-Lot #36 – 2014 Argyle Winery, ‘Lone Star’, Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. High toned fruit that leapt from the glass and it sang with floral enticement and beautiful brambly fruit that was focused until the finish. The lot size is 10 cases.

In 1987, Argyle was founded on the idea that cool-climate Willamette Valley was ideal for producing sparkling wines and they are well-known to Oregon wine lovers for their sparklers, but this wine proves that they can produce elegant still wines as well.

-Lot #9 – 2015 Drouhin Oregon, Roserock, ‘The Auction Cuvée’, Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. Slightly dry tannins that chisel a sculptured texture that gives a textural complexity while being balanced by juicy fruit that finishes with weight and allspice. The lot size is 5 cases.

Maison Joseph Drouhin (Burgundy negociant and producer) established Domaine Drouhin Oregon and family winemaker Véronique Boss-Drouhin is one of the biggest advocates for Willamette Valley wines.

-Lot #66 – 2016 Gran Moraine Winery, ‘Terminal Moraine’, Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. This wine is an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ with an elegant body that is packed with lots of aromatics and flavors of dried cherries, pressed flowers and crumbled earth that is all at once silky smooth and riveting in its delivery. The lot size is 5 cases.

Grand Moraine’s vineyard is located in the Coast Range foothills at the wild western edge of Willamette Valley. Some of their beliefs include LIVE certification, reducing yields as much as possible, picking fruit at the cusp of ripeness and using native ferments.

-Lot #6 – 2016 ‘The Pioneer and the Punk’ Chardonnay, Ribbon Ridge AVA: 100% Chardonnay. Golden apple and white peach with almond paste and toasted cardamom pods are lightly interwoven within the bright fruit that articulates itself with finesse. The lot size is 5 cases.

This is a joint venture of only 5 cases made of Chardonnay from Willamette’s smallest AVA, Ribbon Ridge. The producers Bergström and Adelsheim teamed up to blend the best of each one’s Ribbon Ridge estates.

Quick Notes about Vintages in Willamette:

2011 and 2017 are cooler, more structured vintages

2012 a moderate vintage with good weight

2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 are warmer vintages that have more ripeness than is typical that just happened to occur back to back

2013 is heralded as one of the greatest Willamette vintages in modern history that has lots of structure (tannins and acid) to make great old bones

2012 has more generosity at this time

Sub-Zones in Willamette:

Willamette Valley Sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas)

-Chehalem Mountains AVA

-Dundee Hills AVA

-Eola-Amity Hills AVA

-McMinnville AVA

-Ribbon Ridge AVA (ocean sediment)

-Yamhill-Carlton District AVA

-Van Duzer Corridor AVA: Newest AVA approved is Van Duzer Corridor



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A Time for Peace and a Time for Progress

The sun shining through the windows illuminated the image of a man and horse deconstructed into squares, triangles and rectangles. Lacking real human and animal lines, the figures seemed to be toy-like in their presentation making my brain process each section separately instead of assuming the whole and skipping the details. The stress that I held in my head melted away as I stood there looking at the nuances of something that was familiar yet foreign at the same time. I was transported out of my reality to a work that was at once calming and mysterious.

Center for Italian Modern Art

I was visiting the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in New York City where their exhibition “Metaphysical Masterpieces” was featuring various Italian artists’ work from 1916-1920. The metaphysical movement started when Futurist painter Carlo Carrà met Metaphysical artist Giorgio de Chirico in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, when they were both stationed there in 1917 during World War I.  Futurist artists emphasized speed, technology, violence and youth as they enthusiastically anticipated the world fiercely changing. Carlo Carrà’s world was drastically altered but not in the way he intended as he quickly found himself amongst the worst type of violence and change in the form of communities being obliterated; the meditative qualities of metaphysics that would, at one time, have been boring became a salvation for him.

Simple objects were transformed into dreamlike pieces under the Metaphysical philosophy of painting established by Carrà and de Chirico. Their works enabled the observer to escape and find peace in dreamlike images that were extreme contrasts from the brute force tactic of the illustrations of Futurists. As Carrà’s world quickly escalated from industrial aspiration to nightmarish turmoil, so did his focus shift in regards to the type of art he felt compelled to show the world.

Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino

My Metaphysical art experience was combined with the introduction to the 2013 Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino and its Riserva the 2012 Gualto. Brunello has an interesting history because even though it was not officially designated as a DOCG (Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed) until 1980 – the first bearing a specific seal from the Italian government – it had been recognized as a superior wine for more than 100 years before its DOCG status. In 1869, Clemente Santi’s Brunello wine (he was founding father of Brunello di Montalcino) was awarded a silver medal from the Agrarian Committee of Montepulciano and a few years later, a report was released by The Grapevine Classification Board of Siena which stated that Brunello wines that were tasted from the 1843 vintage, which were 32 years old at the time, were “perfectly preserved”.

But Brunello wine producers’ ambition to show the quality of 100% Sangiovese made in Montalcino, Tuscany, had to be placed on hold. World War I and II took its toll and it would take Italy decades to recover – some areas never being completely repaired. Just like Carrà’s initial desire to bring Italy into the future with his works of art, that passion was replaced by the yearning to bring tranquility to the bleak reality of war.

Purpose Influenced by Our Times

Sometimes our personal ambition is superseded by the greater good for all depending on the state of our times. Whether it is those pillars of society that keep our communities going or those who are simply peaceful forces during tumultuous periods, it is often the people who ground us that eventually make future progress possible. Brunello di Montalcino was able to become one of the greatest red wines in the world because they were built on the backs of winemakers who were happy to do the work knowing that it would not be appreciated until after they were long gone.



Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino Tasted on December 6th, 2018

2013 Camigliano, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: 100% Sangiovese. Difficult vintage. A beautifully classic Brunello from a cooler vintage with layers of complex aromatics of cherry blossoms, rosehip oil and a stony minerality that is highlighted by a linear body with finely integrated tannins.

2012 Camigliano, “Gualto”, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: 100% Sangiovese. Considered a top vintage by many wine critics, the 2012s won me over even from their first release. This Camigliano Riserva lives up to this enchanting vintage with a stunning nose of espresso, dusty earth, fresh leather and fennel fronds with juicy black cherry and those mind-blowing silky tannins! Yes tannins that caress the palate with taffeta goodness. Camigliano’s elegant style is showcased well in this vintage.

The name Camigliano “the camel” comes from a seal that was found in a local castle that had a symbol of a camel on it. The seal is thought to date back to the 13th century and perhaps was connected to the influence of the papacy during those times.

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When to Hold On and When to Let Go

I felt like I was following the pied piper walking up a country road in the region of Veneto in Italy as one spaniel dog after another appeared to faithfully trail after their master. Then, before I knew it, the dirt road opened up to a magnificent estate with a villa that was reminiscent of the White House back home in the USA, except it was more extraordinary in its artistic expressions. The legendary Venetian architect Andrea Palladio designed this villa in the 1500s and he has inspired building designs around the world with his creations. The leader of our band of spaniels was Count Vittorio dalle Ore, and despite being a very soft-spoken man with a quiet demeanor, his presence had a powerful effect on the pack of dogs that followed him everywhere.


We were visiting the Villa di Maser (also known as Villa Barbaro) in the Asolo comune (Italian for township) within the region of Veneto to explore the “other” top quality Prosecco DOCG area that is much lesser known than the famous Conegliano Valdobbiadene. We had just tasted their “Il Maserino” Montello Rosso DOCG, which is a red wine coming from the Montello zone of Asolo, and since Asolo has varying degrees of factors that influence its topography and micro-climates, some zones can actually produce top level DOCG reds as well.

Vittorio (Count Vittorio dalle Ore introduced himself simply by his first name) knew that we had been drinking sparkling Asolo DOCG Prosecco for most of the day, and therefore he made sure that we were supplied with a bottle of his top red during lunch, so we would have something to drink with our richer dishes. Vittorio helps to pay for the upkeep of Villa di Maser, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by making wine from the vineyards that came with the estate purchased by his wife’s family back in the 1930s.

One of the many things I kept hearing over and over from the Asolo locals was their strong desire to preserve the history of the past, many times taking the form of rebuilding what was destroyed in WWI, and working hard towards the progress of the future for a good economy for all.


Montelvini was one of the Asolo Prosecco producers that I was already familiar with, although I didn’t know that their roots were specifically in Asolo. Like any other inhabitants living in a major wine loving city around the world, New Yorkers try to go deeper to find the best examples of styles that are popular. Since Prosecco has become a big trend with it deliciously floral and juicy fruit flavors that tickle the palate with gentle bubbles, many in NYC want to find higher quality versions as Prosecco can range from being ‘drinking on the porch wines’ to those sparklers that intrigue and delight with complex yet generous qualities, and consequently, I was originally introduced to Montelvini by a Prosecco loving wine nerd from Brooklyn.

It was surprising to learn during my visit that the president of the Asolo wine producers group (Consorzio Vini Asolo Montello) was also the president of the Montelvini winery. During a couple of our morning tastings that displayed wines made by an array of Asolo winemakers that he led, there was no indication of which one was his wine. Armando Serena, president of Montelvini, with his son and daughter helping him to run the business, made it clear that he would not note which wine was his during the tastings as he didn’t want any favoritism. Armando kept to his intention of only discussing the factors and qualities that made Asolo a noteworthy territory for Prosecco (intense aromatics, increase in structure and weight, and ability to age) while never referring specifically to his own wines. As Armando spoke passionately about the Asolo people and all that they have survived, especially the winemakers, it was not surprising to eventually learn that his family had been making wine for over 130 years since his passion is deeply rooted in his ancestry.

The Montelvini winery was an ideal example of a company preserving some wine traditions such as making low-cost, easy drinking wine available for locals to fill up a glass jug at one of the spouts in their stores. This is balanced with Montelvini’s realization of Asolo’s great potential to make higher end Asolo Prosecco sparkling wines and Montello red wines. Furthermore, Montelvini is letting go of an outdated perception by making a commitment to reduce their carbon footprint by exporting wine in steel kegs. Despite their sparkling wine not being able to be labeled as Prosecco when sold in the kegs, this initiative has become very popular with younger drinkers, especially in places such as Brooklyn in NYC where young people want something fun, eco-friendly and quality driven.


Another producer called Bedin also illustrated a lovely harmony between keeping true to their roots – this was illustrated by them honoring the first Asolo hillside vineyard purchased by their grandfather in 1948 by noting “Collina 48” on the label (collina meaning ‘hill’ in Italian). But Enrico Bedin, the grandson of the founder as well as owner with his brothers Luigi, Denis and Damiano, smiled when he brought out a playfully pink bottle after our tasting of their Asolo Prosecco wines. This festive looking wine was called “Il Lieve” (a reference to being aged on lees) because it was a non-disgorged sparkling wine from his family vineyards in the hills of Colli Asolani.

Il Lieve is a wink to the traditional times when the second fermentation, which creates the bubbles, would happen in each individual bottle and then the lees (the deposits from the yeasts) are left for further enrichment. Enrico called it a funky wine that the youth in the area couldn’t get enough of… and I myself find these wines enticing with their fresh baked bread notes that, in this case, was balanced by juicy peach flavors and a dry palate with a mouth-watering finish.

The Choice is Not Always Clear

Before we met Vittorio, the owner of Villa di Maser, we were told that he was going through the mourning process of losing his wife a few months earlier. I could sense his deep sadness and struggle to have to talk to writers during such a trying time. I wondered if his noticeable grief was part of the reason his dogs were so vigilant about staying close to him. Then I noticed that he was still wearing his wedding ring and it made me think that it is not always clear when we should hold on and when we should let go. But the Asolo producers are constantly working to sustain such a balancing act for the harmony of their community that seamlessly expresses itself with the elegance of their wines.



Tastings during my Asolo Trip in October 2018

-Tasting Notes Focusing on Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG-

Montelvini, “Il Brutto”, Col Fondo: 100% Glera. Low sugar (2 g/l residual sugar) so bone dry, unfiltered and a miniscule amount of sulfites in the wine since it has never been removed from its lees that resulted from second fermentation. A lower pressure (2.5 atmospheres – aka frizzante style) creates a sensation of creamy bubbles. Sweet stone fruit on the nose with toasted notes that became very mineral driven on the palate.

**As of 2019, the term Col Fondo, meaning “with the bottom” (sediment or lees are present) will no longer be allowed on the label since one producer has trademarked it – “ui lieviti” meaning aged on lees (sur lie) will have to be used instead.

Montelvini, Millesimato, Extra Brut: 100% Glera. Extra Brut indicates that it is on the drier side of Brut with only 5 g/l residual sugar. This Asolo Prosecco had a great salinity to it with the trademark full body and nectarine flavor that had a bright lime blossom finish.

Bedin, “Collina 48”, Brut: 85% Glera and 15% native varieties Perea and Boschera. The grapes are from their first 1948 vineyard in the Asolo area and this Brut has 10 g/l residual sugar which is still considered on the lower side for sparkling wine with evident acidity. Zingy citrus peel on the nose that was accompanied by white flowers with white peach skin.

Bedin, “Collina 48”, Millesimato, Dry: 85% Glera and 15% native varieties Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera and Boschera. The grapes are from their first 1948 vineyard in the Asolo area. This Dry style was amazingly 22 g/l residual sugar and it is a real favorite with the local drinkers – it was delicious and pairs dangerously too well with cured meats and cheeses. Flavor of quince paste enriched the palate with an intense aroma of wild flowers lifting the finish.

-Tasting Notes Focusing on Montello DOCG Rosso-

2011 Villa di Maser, “Il Maserino”: Red blend of 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. The DOCG vineyard in Montello has a well-deserved reputation for Bordeaux blends such as this Il Maserino. This 2011 had a bright red currant heady aroma that had crumbly earth and pencil lead bring complexity in the background with a lean, energetic body.

2012 Montelvini, “Zuitèr”: Red blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. Only made in the best years for Montello DOCG and so there was no 2014 and 2015 but the next vintages will be 2013 and 2016. Smoldering earth and fresh leather on the nose with restrained dark berried fruit and spice on the palate that had fine tannins creating a structure that was like intricate lace.

-Rest of Wines Outside the DOCG Areas of Asolo-

 –Bedin, Prosecco DOC Treviso, Brut: 100% Glera and 10 g/l residual sugar. Very aromatic with flowers and orchard fruits that is lighter on the palate and more straightforward than the Asolo Prosecco wines.

Bedin, “Il Lieve”, Vino Frizzante:85% Glera and 15% native varieties Bianchetta Trevigiana, Boschera and Perera. Unfiltered with a miniscule amount of sulfites in this “Il Lieve” since it has never been removed from its lees (acting as a preservative) that resulted from second fermentation. A lower pressure (2.5 atmospheres – aka frizzante style) creates a sensation of creamy bubbles as discussed above. A bone-dry palate had an enticing note of freshly baked bread on the nose with peach cobbler and a stony minerality intermixed within the full body that had a fun grated ginger finish.

A Couple of Interesting Points about Asolo Prosecco DOCG:

**There are only 2 DOCGs in the Prosecco designated area in Veneto, Italy: Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo

**Asolo Prosecco DOCG wines are shown in research to have a longer shelf life compared to many other Prosecco designated areas due to the higher amount of dry extract in the wines as well as give an impression of more weight in the body of these wines.

Different Sugar Levels in Prosecco:

Extra Brut (0-6 g/l residual sugar)
Brut (0-12 g/l residual sugar)
Extra Dry (12-17 g/l residual sugar)
Dry (17-32 g/l residual sugar)

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Carrying the Torch of the Golden Gifts

There always seemed to be overcast skies with a greyish hue that placed a gritty film over everything in sight. The drug dealers selling crack and other drugs on the street corners would wear dark colored camouflage, despite police officers seemingly never being around, as they didn’t want to take the chance of being too in the cops’ faces as they shouted out, “crack, crack, smoke, smoke”. Although everything seemed gloom and doom, there was very little time to get noticeably depressed as there was an electricity in the air that was rooted in many things: fear of getting attacked while walking down the street, fear of not making enough money for rent and ending up on the street, and oddly, the elation that came from witnessing a rare piece of music, art, or performance that was not there to charm tourists out of their money as no one but the poor residents, and visitors who wanted to score drugs, would hang around such a place… these artistic expressions were created by lost, broken humans whose souls cried out to connect.

Lower East Side (LES)

The place I’m talking about is Alphabet City in the East Village of New York City -specifically B & C Avenues in the 1990s – my home from 1993 until 2004. I still live within walking distance and find myself there a couple times a week, yet many times when I am in my old neighborhood, I am furiously running around trying to get everything done with all that I juggle as a freelancer, so there is never much time for nostalgia… until a little over a month ago. I felt a pull to wander farther east, into the heart of my old ‘hood that still has many of the run-down tenement apartments (slums originally created for the poor immigrants flooding into NYC back in the early 1900s), and my heart started to ache for my previous home… I ached for all the creativity that surrounded me back in those times… witnessing some of the most amazing performances from people, like myself, who didn’t have enough money to eat on a daily basis let alone buy materials. Scavenging the streets and garbage cans was where many of us found the items to work with… many times what we gathered from the street was not ideal but it would not stop us from creating and performing… in many ways, it made us even more inventive.

A couple weeks after allowing myself to walk down memory lane, I watched the last episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which was filmed in the Lower East Side (LES), my old neighborhood being showcased at certain points. It is interesting to note that although the LES does not technically include the East Village, the Alphabet City section of it that was part of the whole artist scene from the 70s until the 90s was connected to part of the Lower East Side; actually one can draw a completely different map that takes parts of the East Village and parts of the LES to create the area where artists, drug addicts, murderers, and solid blue-collar people all struggled together in this lower income neighborhood. I ended up there by chance as an 18 year old with no family, no home, no sense of how to navigate my life, except that I loved to read and I loved to create and NYC gave me the ability to do both… initially I lived in the YMCA and then I found my way to Alphabet City.

I never got into drugs – not even marijuana (but that may be reconsidered once cannabis becomes legal in New York) – and there was a time that I didn’t even drink alcohol. It wasn’t because I had a holier-than-thou attitude but it is because I came from parents, who luckily wanted very little to do with me, that were a combination of alcoholics and drug addicts. When you come from such a background, typically one of two things happens: you either become an addict yourself, or you never touch any type of drug (for many years, I was even against taking over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin). But through time, I fell in love with wine before I even started to consume it… for a geek like me, it had everything: science, history, geography, culture and most importantly, a sense of connecting to a community, to many communities around the world as I was surrounded by poor artists who came from around the globe and they shared the wines from their homelands.

There was a group of us who decided to save up during the week to be able to splurge on a bottle to share with different people from around the world, with everyone taking turns. Many times I only ate potatoes during the week, a habit that I still continue to this day funnily enough, so I could save enough money to pay my fair share. I would dream about the bottle, reading as much as I could about the area of production in books at the library in anticipation of what I was going to drink with my struggling artistic wine group that week… and I will never forget the week that I first tasted gold.

Golden Bordeaux

I was one of those weird kids who was not a big fan of sweets… I mainly went crazy for salty, fatty, umami qualities – I think that is why I loved Chinese food with lots of MSG. And so I was certainly skeptical of my pauper-ish band of artisans spending our hard-earned money on a sweet wine named Barsac – the area that encompasses one of the most famous sweet wine areas, Sauternes in Bordeaux, France (side note: all Sauternes are Barsac but not all Barsac are Sauternes). Well, I was amazed by its complexity of spice, umami represented by mushrooms and truffles, array of sweetness from coconut to marmalade, a bouquet of mixed flowers and a range of minerality that I had not yet learned the words to express. Then, over the next few weeks, we really sacrificed to be able to get a bottle of Sauternes, which blew our minds to another level. After that, I started the process of reading about other sweet wine areas near Sauternes and Barsac and even though it would take many years before entering the wine business when I would be given a chance to taste a parade of these golden delights, I dreamt of them all the time and those dreams helped me to get through many tough times.

Back in November, I was sent 8 samples of golden sweet Bordeaux wines from Snooth as they were promoting these wines, many from tiny wine producers that never had the means, before social media, to get the word out, to be tasted alongside a video seminar they launched on their site. Not only did the Snooth video about these golden beauties address the extreme nature of farming and making these wines that involves several harvest passes (picking grape by grape) and the minuscule yield that comes from grapes that are blessed by noble rot, but they addressed the idea that these wines were not only meant to be drunk with fine food but paired very well with everyday salty, fatty and crispy delights such as fried chicken – a fantastic recommendation from Mary Gorman-McAdams MW, who co-hosted the video with Snooth.

Treasures for the Downtrodden 

Tasting through the snack pack sent by Snooth to pair with the wines, I found that the spicy beef jerky and Calabrese salami were my favorites and the whole experience made me flash back to some of my more precious wine working times in Bordeaux… going to visit a tiny sweet wine producer for dinner where a ham that was cooked buried in the ground was served to us, a lunch that paired Sauternes sweet wines with spicy Szechuan food where the producer of a small winery nervously sat at my table wringing her hands not knowing what to expect as she had never previously eaten Szechuan food (at the end it shocked us all how well these foods went with each other) and all the times that my former group of artists gathered on the floor of someone’s apartment with potato chips, Doritos and cheap cheeses and meats – anything we could afford that would create a poor person’s feast to go with these wines.

We may have been downtrodden back then but we did, in many ways, get so much out of life… no one was there to compete, show off knowledge, make anyone else jealous, or even knew the words “trophy wines.” We were there to share, to learn, to be enlightened, to be part of something special. Just like all the downtown theater that was prevalent during my time, it was not about being a star – you went to midtown in NYC or LA for that – it was about finally belonging, about finding other broken beings who just wanted to do something good with the volcano of emotions and images that plagued their minds, hearts and souls.

It was a little painful to watch Tony Bourdain revisit the Lower East Side because you could see in his eyes that he desperately wanted to go back to the old days and that too much had changed… just like for myself and for so many others, that time no longer exists… only bits and pieces of that creativity can be found there now. But change is a part of life and it sure as hell is a part of New York City; you need to find a way to keep moving and evolving with it. And let’s not kid ourselves, there was a lot of bad going on back in those days… I do not miss fearing for my life every time I walked down the street or seeing prostitutes every damn day or drug addicts shooting up. Yes, it is still there, but not so much in your face.

Making Gold

At the heart of many of these golden sweet wines is the process of botrytis that is common in certain wine growing areas in Bordeaux because of the confluence of two bodies of water, one warm and one cold, that creates a mist in the morning that is ideally balanced by the sun coming out during the day to dry the damp grapes. While some of the grapes can quickly turn into bad rot that cannot be used for the golden wine, others slowly shrivel to perfection as microscopic spores find their way through the skins of the grapes without breaking them, concentrating the sugars and altering flavors, bringing complexity.

I am grateful that I came to wine and discovered the artist within myself in Alphabet City back in the 90s – especially storytelling – although I must admit that I was probably one of the least creative people in my old neighborhood.  I think my desire to learn, as well as being surrounded by those who amazed me at every turn helped me to see the world in a different way. But many of those people paid a price, whether it was damage from expanding their minds with major drugs or ending up on the street because of insane amounts of debt that was incurred by making spaces available to artists such as myself… it was a constant balancing act of being part of a beautiful, yet in some ways, toxic community, just like how producers need to find balance grape by grape, sorting between the ones destined for a divine sweet wine and those that are simply rotten and are to be thrown away – each of us has the capacity for noble or bad rot and each day our choices lead us to one or the other.

The Art that Lives within Us

To me, the most precious moment of Bourdain’s LES episode was finding out who was the person(s) who made captivating mosaic art on lamp posts all over the East Village – it was one man named Jim Power, who was mainly unknown, because his intention, as he explained, was to bring beauty to the struggling
residents, and I have to say that on many an occasion while walking home from balancing working a couple of jobs in order to survive, while sadly witnessing the depravity on the streets, I would turn and see one of his mosaics (not knowing if it was one or many people doing them) and smile with hope reignited in my heart. It was the most precious part because it represented everything that was good about that time that not only still remains on some old lamp posts they reinstalled but that still resides inside of me.

My challenges are different these days but can be just as overwhelming at times. Some people want to suck you into their world of jealousy, competition and elitism with wine and that really has very little to do with the good parts of it and has nothing to do with why I got into it. Many of these small Bordeaux producers making sweet wine are artistic farmers committed to an extreme practice of making liquid gold because they have been given a gift and a curse at the same time. They take on all the challenges because the grapes’ souls cry out, just like so many of those people I have known in the past, to express a wine that is deeper, richer and much more complicated than the easier route of not making noble rot wine. They continue the fight and struggle to find a place for these wines in an ever changing world just like I am trying to carry the torch of all those who introduced me to wine – people who were so much more brilliant and talented than I, yet for some reason, I am one of the few still standing, and because of that I have a responsibility, just like these golden wine producers. I was given a gift that may not have seemed like one at the time, and instead of mourning its loss, I now need to find a way to keep the essence of it alive.



#GoGoldenBordeaux Sweet Wines Tasted on November 7th, 2018

 ***Quick Helpful Note: The below sweet wines can be placed in the fridge for about a week with either the cork back in, or better yet, a bottle vacuum sealer, and in some cases these wines may last up to a couple weeks. All the sugar makes them much more durable than dry wines. Also, it is best to place these wines in the fridge from the beginning as the best serving temperature ranges between 48-53F (9-12C).

 2016 Château Manos, Cadillac AOC, Bordeaux ($10 for half bottle 375ml): 98% Sémillon, 1% Sauvignon Blanc and 1% Muscadelle. Cadillac is a great area for value and typically they get less noble rot on their grapes and so the wines are not as rich. This 2016 was a fresh, more moderately bodied sweet goldie with lemon curd, cardamom and anise seed spices with only a hint of the mushrooms that one gets from noble rot. But also, 2016 was a fresher, less concentrated year for the sweet wines.

-2016 Château Loupiac-Gaudiet, Loupiac AOC, Bordeaux ($16 for a half bottle 375ml):  90% Sémillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Again another fresher style sweet wine from the 2016 vintage with apricots and grilled pineapple that had hints of honey and only a touch of forest floor.

-2015 Château La Rame Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont AOC, Bordeaux ($22 for a half bottle 375ml): 100% Sémillon. This is actually a well-known small producer among sommeliers in NYC, and probably other cities in the US that appreciate these wines. 2015 was a lusher, richer year which brings a real creaminess to this wine that would go great with avocado, as Mary Gorman-McAdams MW suggested, for perhaps those who want to stay away from meat. Also, crispy bacon in a BLT sounded amazing as well. Candied oranges seemed to dominate this wine for me with a lovely aroma of pressed flowers that had a sweet, mouth coating length that was lifted by mineral notes expressed on the finish.

2014 Château du Cros, Loupiac AOC, Bordeaux ($22 for a full size bottle 750ml): 90% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle. 2014 was a year of high acidity and lots of savory notes that works out well for sweet wines. Yes, fierce acidity with smoky minerality and ripe peaches that had a flavorful yet zingy finish.

2011 Château Dauphiné-Rondillon, Loupiac AOC, Bordeaux ($16 for half bottle 375ml): 70% Sémillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc. This is considered a great year for sweet Bordeaux wines so start grabbing them up. 2011 had high acidity and it was ideal for noble rot so they had tons of good, clean botrytis and these wines are meant for long-term aging although they taste great now! Preserved exotic oranges on honey drilled vanilla ice cream and grilled peaches with citrus zest on the finish.

-2016 Château Lapinesse, Sauternes AOC, Bordeaux ($22 for half bottle 375ml): 100% Sémillon. Viscous texture that went so well with the beef jerky, with flavors of peach pie and roasted coconut with a long decadent finish that still had zing with orange zest. Despite it being a less concentrated year, the richness of the Sauternes AOC comes through.

2015 Château Filhot, Sauternes AOC, Bordeaux ($25 for half bottle 375ml): 60% Sémillon, 36% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Muscadelle. Marmalade and piña colada with cloves and a long textural finish.

2006 Castelnau de Suduiraut, Sauternes AOC, Bordeaux ($20 for half bottle 375ml): 99% Sémillon and 1% Sauvignon Blanc. 2006 was a higher acidity year and quite difficult for producers yet the best pulled off some beautiful wines that will make wonderful old bones, especially for the sweet wines. This is the second wine of 1er Cru Classé Suduiraut and shows its evolution well with freshly dug truffles, dried porcini and coconut cream pie and orange blossom water on the expressive finish.


Snacks Provided by Snooth to Pair with Wines:

 My Favorites

-Jack Link’s Sweet & Hot Jerky

-Olli Calabrese Spicy Salami


-Sweet Potato Crackers & Beet Crackers from Trader Joe’s

-Emerald Sriracha Cashews

-Wilde Jalapeño Chicken Chips

Sauternes AOC is the most famous of these golden Bordeaux but there are other AOCs we explored located either right across the river or literally next door to this legendary sweet wine area and benefit from the same noble rot creating factors such as Cadillac, Loupiac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont which were all explored in this tasting. Many of you may wonder why Barsac was not included but since the AOC is as well known as Sauternes as well as many Barsac wines can be labeled Sauternes (since Sauternes is in the commune of Barsac) it seems like there was more of a focus on lesser known AOCs being compared with a couple of Sauternes producers.

These sweet golden wines are a blend of white grapes such as Sémillon (typically the majority or sometimes 100% varietal wine), Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes Muscadelle. Sémillon is ideal for noble rot (botrytis) as it is thin-skinned, develops a lush, waxy texture, expresses a wide range of complex aromas and flavors; Sauvignon Blanc gives fresh aromatics as well as high acidity; and the inconsistently used Muscadelle can add interesting spice to the wine.

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