The EWBC In Vienna, An Independent Guide

Ξ October 8th, 2010 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Wine & Politics, Wine Bars, Wine News |

What follows is by turns a personal and obvious selection of general and specific web sites to assist especially the North American traveler to Vienna, Austria, this year’s host of the European Wine Bloggers Conference. I have the good fortune (and sense) to arrive a few days earlier than the conference itself. So in the interests of hitting the ground running, I’ve been doing a bit of research on transportation, art and architecture, open flea and food markets, specialty restaurants, cultural events, and, of course, wine. Vienna’s urban geography is completely unknown to me; the German language, a thicket of rough consonants. However, though maps and virtual guides (not to mention a phrase book) are of great importance to most visitors, I particularly look forward to getting good and lost. There is no better way to learn about a city than to fall off the radar, go off the grid. Nevertheless, I offer the following list just in case!
 
Shedding a little light, web cams of Vienna, Austria.
 
Fairly good compilation of Viennese sights, monuments and architectural features.
 
A competent, easy to navigate on-line guide to public transportation in Vienna:
 
Helpful guide to the taxi system of Vienna.
 
A useful Calender of Events. Right side bar features helpful links specifically related to wine & food:
 
I am especially excited about this collection of Austria’s most popular markets. The link leads with Vienna itself. 1000 stories are just waiting to be written!
 
Interesting calendar of Vienna walks. Think I’ll do the Unknown Underground tour on the 20th. Anyone else?
 
Vegetarian restaurants in Vienna:
 
A very interesting art house, The Secession. Radical, innovative, chic. Often in the news!
 
Art, Art, and more Art! A good compilation of museums, and more (there is always more).
 
(Lord, help me!) Another portal for art museums in Vienna.
 
Magnificent! Everyone must visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The Bruegel collection alone is staggering.
 
A very current look at the wine bars in Vienna, part one of two.
 
Supplemental: I am not sure just how current, but here’s an expansive compilation (with multi-lingual reviews) of wine bars.
 
Boy, it’s not easy finding passable on-line summations on the vineyards of Vienna, but this is a start.
 
While many today energetically stoke the fires of (routinized) wine scandals in France and Italy, it is important to reflect on one of the most damaging and, therefore, instructive in recent memory. Here is an amusing and informative wiki entry on Austria’s diethylene glycol wine scandal back in 1985. In a recent round-up of EWBC tweets on a site unrelated to the EWBC itself, this link was mysteriously dropped; clearly an indication of the on-going sensitivity to the subject.
 
Some might have time for a day trip to Salzburg, which according to this website is less than 3 hours away by train.
 
I have a few angles to explore with respect to more controversial topics, some cultural, some political. No maps, busses or taxis can take the hungry intellect such places. It is, in the final analysis, a matter of independence. Wine is culture. Very simple. See you there!
 
Admin

 

Selvatica, A Distinctive Seattle Wine Destination

Ξ August 22nd, 2010 | → 6 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Wine Bars, Wine News |

The rewards of being lost are never better realized than when stumbling upon a place like Selvatica, a new wine and speciality shop in the up-and-coming SoDo district of Seattle, Washington. Located at 3220 1st Avenue South, I stopped in front of its plain exterior to ask directions. Nothing could have prepared me for the magnificent expansive interior of exposed brick, high-beamed ceilings, a rock garden and massive stone archway. Echoing the island landscape of the owners’ beloved Sardegna in the Mediterranean, and their exclusive wine import focus, I quickly found myself transported to a most unique intellectual space, one of reflection, a feeling of spiritual amplitude, as it were. The sheets of natural light and superb music piping throughout certainly helped.
 
I was to learn that Selvatica’s grand opening was just on August 12th, and runs through September 4th. I was fortunate to meet Lauren Price, co-owner and Director of Marketing. She took me on a spontaneous tour.
 
Admin What have you done here!
 
Lauren Price Selvatica means wild in Italian. We chose the name because our first importing endeavor was on the island of Sardinia. We developed a relationship with a small producer on the southern tip of the island. They’ve told us quite a bit about their wines, they call them the wines of the gods; and at first we had no idea what that meant. We just thought it was ego and grandeur. But it has been recently said that Sardinia was probably the first place in the world where wine was made. Sediments indicating this have been found dating back to 1,200 B.C. which pre-dates Mesopotamia. So they’ve had vines growing wild all over the island for millennia. That is what hit us.
 
This is our grand tasting space. We were very lucky to have inherited most of this stone from a local artist who works with a local company called Marenakos. They left all of the stone. This over here is the largest dolmen in North America. We were very fortunate.
 
And it is indoors.
 
LP Yes! The thought of moving it was a little daunting to them. That might have influenced their decision to leave it.
 
It works.
 
LP We tried to keep a lot of the exposed brick, beam, wood and stone intact. It is a really stunning space, one of the few buildings in this area that has been preserved in its natural state. It was originally a foundry. They used to build ship parts here and transport them to the harbor.
 
How did you find this place?
 
LP Very randomly. We were just driving around, and we passed it several times. But we fell in love with it. With all the grittiness in SoDo, outside it’s dirty, it’s gritty, but when you get inside it is just an absolutely breath-taking, serene space. We got very lucky that it came on the market right when we were looking. We snatched it up!
What kinds of event have you or could you have here?
 
LP We’ve had everything from Casino Nights to anniversary parties, dinner parties… we’ve only been open for retail for a short time, but we’ve been importing and wholesaling for a while.
 
All of that was done out of here and then you decided to make it your tasting space.
 
LP Yes. And we’re working on our wine bar license as well. That is in the works.
 
Tell me about the wines you import.
 
LP We started importing Sardinian wine. We’ve expanded our efforts to the Basilicata region in south/central Italy. We’re expanding even further. We’re now working with a small Wenatchee winery, Dutch John. They produce 750 cases a year across all of their vintages. It’s pretty amazing stuff. We’re striving to make this essentially a speciality shop, a speciality market, where you come to purchase goods you can’t really find anywhere else. Our wines, for example, are not available anywhere else in the United States.
 
We’ve had business relations with the sea food industry for about 20 years. So we’re starting to bring in sea foods as well. And we’re working with the Ekone Oyster Company; they are letting us distribute amazing smoked oysters and sturgeon, fresh, ready to eat right out of the can. Interesting flavors, we have barbecue, lemon, pepper, all very good.
 
So you have a 5 year plan?
 
LP Our 5 year plan is to try not to drink too much of our inventory! We’re opening the wine bar very soon. We want this to become a destination. We want this to be the convergence of Italy, hopefully France in the near future, and local goods. Our first tag line was “Where SoDo Meets Sardinia”. A lot of great things are happening in this area [SoDo] right now. It is the newest area of development. We scooped up this place at just the right time. You’ll notice in the next 5 years or so a lot of new businesses, retail, restaurants. There’s a plan for down the street for a 15,000 square foot wine warehouse/restaurant/a few other things. [laughs] It’s a pretty exciting place to be.
 
What kinds of people have been coming through your doors? How did they hear about it? Do you make media buys? Word of mouth?
 
LP We’ve had several different approaches. Our private events have worked very well for us. We host small parties, and we gat a lot of ‘word of mouth’ out of that. We’ve recently started hitting the streets more and putting our brand out there. We market on the Washington Ferry system. We market to hotels, to restaurants, Pike Place Market…
 
Facebook, Twitter?
 
LP We Facebook, yes we do. Look us up! We’re hoping to share the story of Sardinia which really turned us on to the wine business. Oh, I should mention that Sardinian grapes have the highest polyphenol levels than any other grapes in the world, anti-oxidants, resveratrol, all that good stuff. Sardinia has the highest number of male centenarians in the world. They live to unheard of ages.
 
And the women?
 
LP It is actually the only place in the world where more men than women make it passed 100. But they, too, enjoy longevity.
 
Curious. Is it that the men drink more wine than women, or less?
 
LP That is one theory. Actually, for the longest time women weren’t allowed to drink wine in their culture. It only changed recently, in the last 100 years or so. This is according to our friends at the Cantina [Cantina di Quartu winemaking cooperative]. They swear by their wines’ health benefits. They drink a couple glasses a day. That and they have the oldest winemaking traditions in the world. They have quite a claim to fame.
 
It is a very localized economy in a lot of senses. They don’t export a lot, at least out of the southern end of the island. They are very focussed on domestic distribution. It took us about two years of building confidence and friendship with them for the relationship to be truly comfortable. We’ve taken several visits over there. It is such a tough life!
 
Thank you very much, Lauren.
 
LP Thank you for visiting.
 
Admin

 

Soif, An Education in the Wine Trade

Ξ May 14th, 2009 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Wine Bars |

It was my distinct pleasure to interview Patrice Boyle, owner of Soif, a relatively new but now well-established wine bar in downtown Santa Cruz. I’ve known of her, seen her around the shop, for a few years. But familiarity is often lazy, as I was to find out when I sat down with her. Turns out I didn’t know anything about her at all.
I didn’t know she had been the General Manager of Bonny Doon for a dozen years, years during which the winery was to grow from a modest 8,000 case production to well over 40,000 in the early years of her tenure. I didn’t know that she and her former husband use to own a well-regarded winery, one of the early ones, in Paso Robles, back when it was a sleepy cow town. The things you learn with but a simple question…
 
As with my earlier interview with J-P Correa of VinoCruz I learned much from her. Moreover, I couldn’t help but reflect how startling it is that a few short years ago Santa Cruz had neither establishment available. The spectrum of fine wines now available within blocks of one another is a marvel. And there is virtually no overlap in inventory between the two. Each shop has its specific specialities and strengths the other would not be able to match. For the consumer the benefits are sublime.
 
Admin Hi. Could you tell us your name and tell us about your wine background? What do you think of that?!
 
Patrice Boyle Well, that’s one way of starting! My name is Patrice Boyle. My wine background? I’m pretty old so it’s very long, quite in depth. I really became interested in wine just after graduating high school, which is fairly common for a lot of Americans.
 
When the drinking age was 18…
 
PB No this was pre-prohibition (laughs). The drinking age was 21 but I went away to college, I went to Santa Clara University. While I was there the president of the university was Tom Terry [1968-1976], a Jesuit, who was also the winemaker at Novitiate Winery, the Jesuit’s winery. For some reason that sort of sparked some interest.
 
I was also living on my own and I started cooking a lot more. I’ve always liked to cook. I just became interested in wine. When other people were more interested in drinking gallons of red mountain wine or whatever, I was interested in Spanish wines, different things. There was a liquor store or a wine shop between the campus and my apartment and I used to stop there, of course I was under age, but they still sold wine to me, (laughs) maybe because I wasn’t buying vodka or something like that. But I really like to cook and the opportunity to include wine with the meal was great.
 
Of my background, my parents did not drink at all. I didn’t have any exposure to any kind of alcohol growing up. So it was kind of a remake of the taste world, if you will, for me, just after graduating high school.
 
Did you also learn about winemaking itself?
 
PB No, not at all. Just wine drinking. I graduated from college with a degree in 20th century Music Theory which has everything to do with wine! I got married and my ex-husband and I moved to Davis. He was enrolled in the Viticulture program and I was getting a Masters degree in Music History at Sacramento State.
 
Western music?
 
PB More World music, although there was a big emphasis on Western. I gradually became more interested in the wine scene. I was auditing classes at Davis in viticulture and oenology. When he graduated we moved to Healdsburg, California. I effectively quit school. I hadn’t finished my Masters program and there was no way of completing it. So I started working. Then, in 1980, we moved to Paso Robles and started our own winery, Martin Brothers Winery. Then Paso Robles had a population of about 5,000. We bought an old dairy, a defunct, old dairy, planted 40 acres of vineyard, and rebuilt the barn into a winery.
 
Eastside, Westside?
 
PB It was on the Eastside of town. We had Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc… some others. It was really great. It was learning about wine from the ground up. I put in irrigation pipe, I planted vines, trained vines and pruned vines, I picked grapes and I punched down, shoveled out tanks, and then I sold wine after we had some wine to sell. It was really fun. Even at that point I was interested in Italian wines. We started making Nebbiolo probably in 1982. We were buying fruit from the Sierra Foothills, not the best place to buy Nebbiolo, but it was a fun experiment. Gary Gott had been making Nebbiolo 10 or 15 years earlier than that, and had quit trying. The Nebbiolo was never, in my opinion, what it should be. But it was a lot of fun.
Then we split up in 1987.
 
I notice you have a lot of organic and biodynamic wines in the shop. How were you farming?
 
Soif InteriorPB We were farming at that point very conventionally. I didn’t know very much about organic farming, or anything, really. But I have to admit that I was dismayed with what would get sprayed around the place, partly because I lived there! I could see what was going on. And it wasn’t particularly nice. We were fortunate, though, in having a fairly clean vineyard anyway. We didn’t need to use all that much.
 
Nick Martin and I split up in ‘87 and I went to Italy. The night before I left, Randall Grahm, whom I had known from UC Davis, called me and asked if I would like a job up in Bonny Doon. He needed a General Manager and was I interested in coming up. Ironically, I had more experience than Randall at that point because I had a 10,000 case winery and he only had an 8,000 case winery! (laughs) So I told him I was leaving the next morning. And he said that if I really wanted to work at Bonny Doon I should go to France. But I was going to Italy. I told him we would talk.
 
What did the name Randall Grahm mean in those days?
 
PB He was just a friend. I remember reading his first newsletter, my favorite still, it’s called ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’. It’s really a wonderful newsletter. He took text from reviews that Robert Parker had given him and morphed it into Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Joyce’s Ulysses. And it was hysterical. It was great. I love Joyce, I love Ulysses, so I really liked it.
 
So he said when I came back I could work there. I returned about four months later and started working at Bonny Doon.
 
Had you fallen in love with someone in Italy? (laughs)
 
PB Well, actually, yes. (laughs) It was in Italy that I met Marc De Grazia. I had talked to Gerald Weisal of Weimax Wines and Spirits in Burlingame. Great, great shop. Gerald has a huge knowledge of all sorts of wines, certainly the wines of Italy. Alexia Moore had introduced him to me, or me to him. I’d known Alexia since the late 70s. She was selling wine for Lambert Bridge which is where Nick Martin had worked, he was the winemaker there. So when I left Paso Robles and went to Italy, she said I had to meet Gerald, and Gerald said I had to look up Marc De Grazia. And I did when I went to Florence. I became friends with him and his wife. He introduced me to a lot of the Barolo producers. It was a very nice way of getting to know some of those people.
 
But when I came back to Santa Cruz, and to Bonny Doon, Randall was still more interested in Rhone varieties. He was right in the middle of the Cigare, the Sophist, the Clos de Gilroy, all those wines which were terrific as well. I love those grapes. I love Southern Rhone, I love Gamay.
 
So you never set foot in France on your trip?
 
PB I went to France for a weekend to see my brother-in-law. (laughs) We were up in the Loire, which I love. I’m a slooow traveler. I was in Italy for four months and never got south of Sienna. Since then I’ve been in Italy almost every year, to see friends, vacation.
 
And so began the work at Bonny Doon.
 
PB And so began the work at Bonny Doon. It was a great adventure. One of the nice things about Bonny Doon was that there was no script. Randall didn’t know what he was doing next. It was very spontaneous. For a person who has a fairly large capacity for responsibility, to make sure things got done, and also very curious, like I am, it was great. It was a chance to learn a lot. It was a lot of work, crazy hours!
 
And it got bigger and bigger…
 
PB When I was there, the 12, 13 years I was there, we grew on average 23% every year on average. Psycho! Just keeping a staff when you’re growing at that rate is difficult. And making sure everyone is talking to each other for all the stuff that has to happen, the legal issues, distribution issues, production issues, all of it… it was crazy. I didn’t have any kind of background for that. I had plenty of experience for a 10,000 case winery but in two years we were at 20,000 cases, in three years we were at 40,000 cases… it’s nuts!
 
How do you account for his success?
 
PB I think it was at a time when the wine business was really exploding. The market conditions in some ways couldn’t have been better. The early 90s were tough for alot of people from a business standpoint. There was certainly a downturn in the economy, but generally speaking, the wine business was just getting better and better. Randall was getting more and more press. People were so enamored of his ideas about wine. He was discovering, sort of discovering, bringing to the popular market, all of these different varieties. People were just set to discover stuff, and he was the person who did it.
 
Someone said to me, “Oh, Randall’s just a marketer.” I would agree with that but in the best of all possible ways. He is very adept at getting people to understand where he’s coming from, and joining him in this great discovery. If that’s marketing then fine, that’s great. He’s really, really good at that. It translated into notoriety, good sales, all those sorts of things. That’s not a bad thing. He advanced the level of wine knowledge in the United States tremendously, certainly of the consuming public. Discovery is great.
 
After Bonny Doon did you immediately go into retail?
 
PB No. I was at Bonny Doon until about 2000, maybe the Spring of ‘99. I decided to leave because I wanted to do something else. The winery was getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and Randall wanted the winery to get bigger and bigger. I didn’t want to be part of that. I wanted to have something that was small. I thought we could make more money and do a better job with fewer cases of wine and fewer wines. At one point we had 36 to 42 different labels. It was crazy. And, for me, the discovery and excitement was great but it was also crazy-making because nothing was ever as good as I thought it could be. Nothing. I wanted things to be better, to be more manageable. I didn’t want to be on this track of getting bigger and bigger. I wanted ’small’.
 
Didier DagueneauSo I decided to leave. And it was really wrenching for about 5 days. (laughs) I then took a great trip to India. Then to France where I drove all over the place. Andrew Rich is a dear friend and had been one of the winemakers at Bonny Doon. He has Andrew Rich Wines, which is a great winery, a great label. I’ve been trying to talk him into making a Chenin Blanc because he could make great Chenin Blanc. Nobody in Oregon is growing great Chenin Blanc, as far as I can tell or he’s just decided that it would never sell, one of the two. We spent time in Loire. We visited with Didier Dagueneau. We ended up in Bordeaux for VinExpo. Bonny Doon used to rent this beautiful manor house. It had a swimming pool, a pool table, a piano, it was really fun.
 
Then I started to look for different things to do. I had been thinking for a long time about opening a wine bar. I decided to open a wine bar mostly from a selfish standpoint because I wanted the wines that I wanted to have be in Santa Cruz. And they weren’t in Santa Cruz. Having been in Bonny Doon there is a great deal of curiosity about every other wine. There is no such thing as ‘cellar palate’ there, I don’t think so.
 
I was really interested in tasting lots and lots of different things, finding different things, that’s exciting.
 
And the financing? Did you present a business plan to a bank?
 
PB No. It’s self-financed.
 
From the proceeds of your musical books and records?
 
PB Yeah, right. (laughs) From all the money I made at Bonny Doon…. Woo-hoo! I’m sort of conservative financially. I managed to eek it out.
 
When we opened it was very well received, and is kind of a success, much to our surprise. Certainly to me. I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never been in the restaurant business; it’s crazy, psycho opening something like this.
 
Six weeks before we opened I said “Hey, we had better get a cook.” (laughs) So we hired this fellow named Michael Knowles who had worked up at Postrio He was really great. Then Chris Avila came along. He’d been working at Manresa and Theo’s. Our food aesthetic is very in sync. There’s no foam, no deconstructed food, the food is simple but the flavors are very intense. And we don’t make architectural food so high you’d need a building permit.
 
If we are successful I think it’s partly because there is a holistic approach to eating and drinking. There is a very specific aesthetic. There is a certain synergy that happens between the food and wine. We want food that goes with wine not wine that goes with food.
 
Can you tell me about how you select the wines?
 
PB Oh, gosh! I am constantly apologizing to people when I don’t know all the wines in the shop. I tell them I’m drinking as much as I can. (laughs) What I wanted here are the wines that I liked, that I wanted to drink. Generally, these are wines that have to be sought out, they’re wines that are not everyday wines, though they are certainly great for drinking everyday. But they’re not your standard Cabernet, Chardonnay, Zinfandel or even Pinot Noir. We have all of those wines, but we’re really interested in wines that have provenance.
 
Soif interior 3I really think that if you look at the Old World, Italy, France, Spain, Austria and Germany, even Switzerland, the winemaking areas there, people have maintained the old varieties. These are varieties that have evolved in very particular geographic settings to make very particular wines. Wines there are really integrated with the whole way of living in that specific area. So the wines here have great provenance. They are very particular wines. Idiosyncratic. They are not like every other Chardonnay or every other Sauvignon. And they are made by particular people with a strong concept of what they are doing in a particular place for a long time.
 
In the United States the history of wine is much shorter. Wines are much newer. But even so there are people with a deep understanding of their particular place and of what they’re doing. They are real pioneers. There is so much space in California, Oregon and Washington that it will be centuries before everything is worked out. People are nevertheless making great wines here. Certainly here in Santa Cruz.
 
There is a huge spectrum of Old World/New World expressions here in the shop.
 
I noticed a large number of biodynamic wines here. What is it about biodynamic that attracts you?
 
PB The whole idea of being able to produce wine in a way that is sustainable is great. I think biodynamic methods and organic methods both are really important for winemaking. Winegrowing can be terrifically degrading to the environment. It’s a distinct pleasure for me that we can be representing wines and drinking wines that are not environmentally degrading. We do the same thing with the food here. It’s all local. The seafood we serve is all Seafood Watch approved, and our customers appreciate it.
 
Before I started Soif I traveled around California, and looked in Oregon as well, thinking I would like to start a vineyard, get back into the business. I looked at these beautiful places and I thought, we don’t need another vineyard. There are so many out there. Do we really want to terrace this beautiful hillside? Do we really want to take out all of this wildlife habitat? Maybe not. Having biodynamic and organic wines here gives back to these growers who are growing wine in such a respectful, natural way.
 
A final thought?
 
PB Yes. Americans don’t usually save wine, they don’t buy wines by the case and save it for years and years. By finding unusual wines and old wines especially, we are giving people a chance to look at these old wines and see what they are like after 10 or 15 years. That is a huge pleasure for me.
 
Thank you, Patrice. It’s been a pleasure.
 
PB Thank you.
 
Admin

 

VinoCruz, A Retailer’s Perspective

Ξ May 12th, 2009 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine Bars, Wine News |

With all the hurly-burley about the influence of wine magazines and wine bloggers, who is in ascendence, whose sun is setting, it is easy to overlook the fundamental importance of the wine shop retailer. Whereas traditional wine media and my fellow anarchist wine bloggers report, in the main, on their experiences, it is the job of the wine store retailer to listen. Indeed, if they are well studied, familiar with their inventory, it is they who provide the customer with immediate feedback, a qualified drinking experience, impart a knowledge measured to the customer’s needs. And they do it all knowing that to get it wrong has real world consequences to the bottom line and on their reputation.
 
What follows is an interview with J-P Correa, half-owner of Vino Cruz, a small wine shop in downtown Santa Cruz, California opened in September of 2006. The shop’s unique feature is its specialization in the wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
 
Enjoy.
 
Admin Tell us about yourself. How is it you came to wine?
 
J-L CorreaJ-P Correa My name is J-P Correa. I’m co-owner of VinoCruz. I’m in business with my partner, Jeffrey Kongslie. My wine background? It’s interesting, I come from a totally different world. Recently coming into the wine business, my 25 years of experience is in clothing retail. I was in the high fashion business in New York for a long time. I moved out to San Francisco to pursue opportunities in the clothing business. But when I moved out to California my whole view of wine and food totally changed. I’d been exposed to great restaurants, great wines when I lived in New York and in my travels to Europe. I would always go to great restaurants throughout the world, sample wines from throughout the world, but when I got to California, being about 45 minutes from Napa, the first time I went up there suddenly this whole new world opened up to me. Instead of going after an ‘edited’ selection of wines I was able to experience them first hand. And also I looked more closely at the relation between food and wine, how differently people approach it, how I began to approach it differently.
 
Food and wine pairing is different between New York and California. We here have such ample opportunities to taste fresh and interesting produce, organic produce. Coming here just turned my whole idea about food and wine on its head. So when I was looking to get out of the clothing business I wrestled with a lot of different opportunities in front of me and I decided, you know what, I’d built this great passion for wine and food so I need to do something that went in that direction.
 
When I first started coming down to the Santa Cruz Mountains I’d go to some of the PassPort events or would find myself in a position to meet some of the winegrowers from around here individually. The thing that kept coming up in my head was why can’t I find any of these wines in stores or in certain restaurants? I mean, some of these winegrowers, I’ll give you a good example, Dave Estrada from Clos Tita. We tasted his wines once at his home, we were fortunate enough to do so, and when we left we asked ourselves “Why can’t we find these wines? Why doesn’t anybody know about these wines?” So we said to each other that this could be a great opportunity for somebody to put together a store that really focusses on the wines from this region, to let people know how great are the wines from here! So somewhere along the line we decided to do it ourselves. We took the plunge and opened up the business. That’s how we ended up in the wine business!
 
It’s really interesting. People have always said to me how different it was to go from the clothing business to the wine business. But when I stand back and look at it some of the personalities you’d find among high fashion clothing designers and some of the winemakers is not that different. It is about passion, it’s about personal taste, it’s about putting your heart and soul into something, and putting it out there and hoping people will respond to it the same way. Like fashion, it’s a different form of the luxury business. You’re use to buying a handbag, a pair of shoes or a fragrance from a designer, you’re buying a little bit of their lifestyle. It’s the same thing with wine. You buy their wine, it’s something you can personally identify with, it affects you individually, and in a way you’re buying a little bit of their lifestyle, their hard work, their energy.
 
Yes. Of course, in the fashion industry it is subject to trends and very rapid changes. For example, I’m looking at the wines you’ve set up for tasting today and I see Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. They’ve been around for a very long time and have a very traditional, classical approach to winemaking and wine style. And some of the wines here I know are big, ripe fruit bombs. So how do you approach the issue of stylistic variance?
 
J-P Correa That’s one of the things I really appreciate about the Santa Cruz Mountains. Many of the wineries are producing such small quantities that if they decide they want to go in a different direction it’s no problem for them. They’ll actually put themselves out on a limb and go in a different direction, and make a wine in a different style. I think it is harder for the bigger, more established wineries to all of a sudden change direction because they’ve built up this big brand, they have financial responsibilities, things they have to answer to in their business. But some of these guys making 35, 150 or 300 cases, they’re doing it because their passionate about it. Let’s face it. If you’re making 300 cases you’re probably not making alot of money anyway, you’re probably paying more into it than you’re getting out of it financially! So some of these guys might say they want to try something new, to try something different. So they can go in a different direction.
 
I find that alot of winemakers around here to be extremely creative in the way that they approach their business. They’ll test unfiltered, unfined wines, they’ll test doing their Chardonnay in a different way… going back to the trend thing, you look at Chardonnay, the trend was for such a long time to go for big oaky, buttery, a full-bodied Chardonnay, but we have alot of winemakers around here who are reacting to that trend and going for a little bit more of a subtle style Chardonnay, more fruit driven, more minerals, more steel. So you’ve got somebody like River Run Vintners who has gone to stainless steel production on his Chardonnay. We have a couple of other people who’ve started using more neutral oak. They’ve listened to their customers. Maybe they are small enough so that they can have more one-on-one contact with their customers, restaurants, their retailers, and they can react to it.
 
I know of one winery in particular, who we do business with, who got alot of feedback that as the fruit level was getting riper the acidity level was dropping. It was making their wines not as food-friendly. So they really though about it. At the end of the day, realizing this is what it was all about, having wines pair well with food, they approached the grape growing and picking differently to get higher acidity levels. So the relation between the winemaker and the customers directly, and their retailers, is actually much closer here than elsewhere.
 
So how did you assemble such a massive collection of Santa Cruz Mountain wines? Was it knocking on doors?
 
J-P Carrea It was knocking on doors. When we made the decision to open the store we had about four months between the decision and the actual opening of the store. I got a pad of paper and a pencil and made appointments with everyone of these guys, got up to their wineries, told them what we were doing and gave them a business plan. We explained what we were going after and tasted through all their wines. Versus a large retailer, I feel very fortunate that I’ve tasted every one of these wines. I’ve written it all down and can talk to my customers about it.
 
We don’t get every single wine from every winery. We go for wines we would be very proud to put on our table at home. I don’t ever want my customer to get home and open a bottle of wine I suggested and have them feel that they didn’t get their money’s worth. I want to be able to stand behind every single wine that’s out here. So, therefore, I have to like it in the first place. (laughs) That’s how we’ve approached how we bought our wines. Also, I have only 200 and something spaces in the store so I have to be selective.
 
In looking around I’m wondering where are the shelf-talkers, where are the rating points?
 
J-P Correa Ah! OK! That actually comes up alot. We have a couple of shelf-talkers. When we have something that’s gotten an exceptional score, like the Mount Eden over there [pointing] that got 96 from Parker and a 93 from the Wine Spectator, that’s something that deserves being called out. But I think in general we’ve not wanted to be about who got the highest score but about the quality of the wine itself. And a lot of these winemakers, again, they’re small, they are not putting their wines out for judging.
 
In a way it is unfair to put shelf-talkers up about the wines that do get scored if we feel the quality of wines that have not been scored is equal. We try to keep the wines on a level playing field.
 
And this is where the retailer is extremely important to be able to guide the customer.
 
J-P Correa I do have customers that come in and say they like a certain wine, it’s got a certain score; I can guide them to another wine that has as good a quality but it’s that they just might not know about it. Talking about certain Chardonnays from the Santa Cruz Mountains that have gotten great scores, a customer may be intrigued by the score, they’ve read about it, but maybe they can’t go for the price point. Maybe a Chardonnay at $49 or $40 is out of their price range. I can say, hey, I’ve tasted this wine from another producer and I personally feel it has alot of the same characteristics for 30% or 40% less. You might want to try this one and see what you think. That’s actually worked out very well for us.
 
Do your customers come in typically looking for something in particular or asking for advice?
 
J-P Correa Most of the time they are looking for a specific type of wine but they are very open to suggestions. The tasting table has been invaluable for us on that one. I get customers who come in all the time who say they only want to taste reds. I get such a thrill out of it when they end up walking out the door with a Chardonnay, even more if it’s a Sauvignon Blanc! They can surprise themselves, they can leave with something they had no intention of buying when they walked in. That, to me, is very exciting.
 
I encountered a fellow in a Santa Cruz Mountains winery tasting room once who collected Napa Cult Cabs, and he was out tasting with his wife. Or I should say he wasn’t tasting. He simply refused! Because they didn’t fit, or he thought they didn’t fit, his very narrow palate. It must give you considerable personal satisfaction to expand someone’s palate, to open their mind to new wines, different styles, different grapes, for that matter.
 
J-P Correa A really interesting story on that. We’re a tourist community. Our economy here is pretty dependent on the tourists who come through here from all over the country. It’s no different here in our store in the summer months. I’m always surprised when tourists come in to the store and start looking at labels, and they go “Wait a second! You have Ridge in here? That’s not Santa Cruz Mountains. That’s from Napa. I’ve seen it in a magazine. It must be good!” And I tell them, no, it’s from Santa Cruz, see on the label. And then they see Kathryn Kennedy and they do the same thing. “No, no, no. I’ve read about this. It can’t be from the Santa Cruz Mountains.” Or Mount Eden.
 
It’s really interesting when people see Santa Cruz Mountains wines together and they realize they have tried these things. They think it might be from somewhere else. They just don’t realize it’s from the Santa Cruz Mountains. They don’t think of the the Santa Cruz Mountains as a wine growing region. That’s always eye-opening to me. Some people just never associate this appellation with certain types of wine.
 
So what are the total number wineries represented here?
 
J-P Correa Currently we have about 68 wineries represented. We fluctuate but we 210 to 215 offerings from the wineries.
 
Can folks order Santa Cruz wines directly through Vino Cruz?
 
J-P Correa If someone comes in and wants a case of such and such, there’s no problem. I can get it for them. I actually do quite a bit of that. If a customer wants a case of something not from the Santa Cruz Mountains I can go ahead and do that. We know all the companies that represent the wineries in the area, whether it’s Santa Cruz or not. Napa, Paso Robles… I can do that. I do it all the time.
 
What do you think of the Santa Cruz Mountains quality/price ratio? Compare it to some of the high end Napa wines.
 
J-P Correa That’s a stick one! It could put a bug in some people’s buns! Honestly, I think there are a few people, were they up in Napa or up in Sonoma and they had the appellation name on it, they would be charging a lot more for it. Take Ridge Montebello, for example. That’s considered one of the finest Cabernets in the world. And has proven itself as such on a number of occasions. I really do feel that if it had the name ‘Napa’ on it they would be able to charge more for it. A couple of other producers as well, the quality is right up there.
 
What’s the most unusual varietal being grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains?
 
J-P Correa I will say that some of the most interesting varietals being grown right now are not grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA proper. Down Hill Winery is testing Torrontes, but the fruit is grown outside the AVA, Jeff Emery with the Verdejo that he’s doing and the Touriga, the Port. I think that those are very interesting varietals and we’re getting alot of attention for those things, but the fruit isn’t grown here.
 
The appellation is an interesting one. It’s so big but it has such a little amount of space devoted to growing the grapes. The conventional wisdom has been that you’re supposed to do Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on this side of the mountains [West] and Cabernet and Merlot, Cab Franc on the East side of the mountains where it’s warmer, but in the last couple of years you’re seeing people that are testing Syrah, on both sides of the mountains, and getting very different effects from it. That’s very exciting. I think people are growing Cab and Merlot on this side of the mountains, and they’re getting some very interesting effects out of it. I do know that certain producers are testing things like Gruner Veltliner and Riesling on this side as well. And that’s very exciting.
 
It’s an interesting appellaton. It’s so big with so many nooks and crannies with vastly different micro-climates. There is almost a little pocket somewhere for everything to grow well. It is taking people a little time to find those pockets and plant the land with the right varietals. We will see some very exciting things coming up in the next couple of years.
 
Is there anything you’d care to add before we wrap it up?
 
J-P Correa There is one last thing I’d like to add. Going back to the question of my old business and my learning from years in retail that can be applied here, there is one thing both Jeffrey and I were very interested in when we opened up the store was that we didn’t want to create an environment where people felt intimidated. Wine is one of those interesting products where you kind of know what you really like, but you get up in front of some wine people and all of a sudden you can get very intimidated. I’ve been to wineries and tasting rooms, not necessarily here in the Santa Cruz Mountains but in places North of here, where you walk in and may know stuff about wine, know what you like, but the staff behind the counter definitely makes you feel you don’t know what you’re doing. We wanted nothing snooty about our approach to wine in our store. Or too technical. At the end of the day a wine is something people have to have an intimate connection to. Why would you want to put up a barrier between a product and a person that will stifle that intimate connection?
 
Thank you very much, Mr. Correa.
 
J-L Correa You are very welcome.
 
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A First Look At Bonny Doon’s New Tasting Room

Ξ November 4th, 2008 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Tasting Notes, Wine Bars, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

Let me start off by saying that I like Mr. Grahm. I have met him a handful of times over the past year. He’s an American original.
I was fortunate to be given a glimpse of Bonny Doon’s new tasting room. Randall Grahm has been overseeing the effort for what seems like an eternity. Now we know the last day of their tasting room on the outskirts of the hamlet of Bonny Doon will be the 16th of November. The new tasting room, at 328 Ingalls St. on the west-side of Santa Cruz, will open first for a wine club, subscriber-only event, Day of the Doon, November 8th and 9th. Over 300 souls are expected.
 
On November 15th the doors will then open to the general public. Coincidentally that Saturday is also the occasion of the quarterly Santa Cruz Mountains AVA Passport event. Bonny Doon’s new tasting room will be open 7 days a week, from 11:30 to 5:30 (though there is a hint of wriggle room concerning the hours of operation).
 
The room is quite expansive, the ceiling’s high, appointed with skylights. Plenty of natural sunlight pours in, and on cloudy days and late afternoons the warm wood panelling and tungsten lighting adds a rustic, country feel.
 
The space is divided into two main areas by a pair of intimate booths placed against towering floor to ceiling staves. The booths can accommodate 6 to 8 folks. On either side of the booths are passageways, one a simple decorated hallway rounded by a fountain, the headwaters of which are topped by a cow horn, a sign of the biodynamic wines Mr. Grahm now produces from his Ca’ del Solo vineyard. The other passage leads through a faux-barrel, as can be seen. Both lead to the second tasting area where Bonny Doon’s most exciting addition to the tasting room experience may be found, a well-appointed kitchen.
 
The kitchen is the territory of a fine local chef, Sean Baker, currently of the Gabriella Café. He will design the menu of tapas-style dishes. The effort will be to provide small plates that strongly complement the wines poured that particular day or week. The menu will be updated regularly to best match the current flite. The tasting room café will be open Thursday through Sunday from 11:30 to 5:30.
 
On average there will be 10 wines poured, all of Bonny Doon’s current portfolio. As many as 15 to 20 wines may be made available from time to time. The additional bottlings occasionally served will be spirits, past vintages, library wines or special cuveés from Bonny Doon Vineyard’s long vinous narrative.
 
To the immediate right of the second tasting bar pictured above, near the second door, there is a modest selection of gifts: sweaters, caps, locally produced lotions and soaps, etched or frosted stemware and decanters, and both industry-standard texts and biodynamic-themed books.
 
As all the photos above reveal the tasting room is in its final detailing. Work remains. Of particular interest will be how the Biodynamic Lounge comes together. Located in the main tasting area, tucked on the other side of the tasting bar, the Biodynamic Lounge has yet to be fully appointed. The space will be not only for general seating, for wine and food enjoyment, but also for after-hours winemaker dinners and other special events.
Indeed, speaking of after-hours, my understanding is that the entire tasting room may be rented out for special events.
 
In addition to a glimpse of the tasting room space I was treated to a taste of four of Bonny Doon’s biodynamic wines. This pleasurable experience will be the subject of a forth-coming post.
 
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The Houston Cellar Classic

Ξ October 12th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine Bars, Wine News |

The Houston Cellar ClassicI received a delightful, if breathless, email promoting The Houston Cellar Classic beginning October 13th and running until October 19th. I nearly passed on mentioning it here until I began reading about the participating restaurants. I had no idea of how sophisticated the dining scene has become in Houston. (Perhaps we on the West Coast might be forgiven our provincialism!) The founders of the event are Jerry and Laura Lasco, proprietors of The Tasting Room. Their business partner, Jonathan Horowitz, explains it this way,
 
The Tasting Room“Over the years, we recognized that within Houston proper, there was no multiple-day event solely dedicated to the appreciation of fine wine and food. Last year, we decided to fill that void and we introduced to Houston the Houston Cellar Classic: A Celebration of Wine and Food. Last year’s event was a smashing success, and we plan on making this year’s event even better. This celebration will span an entire week and feature multiple events occurring at all of our Houston locations. Our goal is to create the City of Houston’s first nationally-recognized wine and food event, drawing participants from the Houston area, as well as Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and beyond.”
 
17A full list of the participating restaurants may be found here. I would single out for special mention 17, Max’s Wine Dive and Kiran’s.
 
I am not able to determine the quality or extent of the wine offered for The Houston Cellar Classic. Wine lists are posted on only a couple of the restaurant’s web sites. Mark’s, for example, is still building their virtual wine list. Be that as it may, should you find yourself in the Houston area this week check out the schedule of events and go see what all the fuss is about!
 
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A Fjord Fiesta – Wining and dining in Oslo, Norway

Ξ September 28th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes, Wine Bars, Wineries |

My recent trip to Oslo for a conference had me staying in a city centre hotel near the National Theatre. We had a chance to dine out twice over the week and the harbour-front location of Aker Brygge, the site of an old shipyard but now a boardwalk and entertainment hotspot, turned out to be the focal point of both evenings.
 
Bord wine cabinetThe first evening took us to the Bord brasserie and bar. This restaurant demonstrates its wine credentials as you walk in and see the large glass-fronted wine storage unit holding a selection of interesting bottles. The wine list was comprehensive but the menu choice for food was a little limited, and tended towards a younger generation of style; however we all managed to find something that appealed.

I selected Chevre Quesadillas to start & a bowl of unpeeled prawns for the main course – a traditional Norwegian dish, and the most rustic thing on the menu.
 
To accompany the mainly seafood choices we selected the Fred Loimer Käferberg Grüner Veltliner 2004 from Langenlois. This had a deep waxy nose, with a touch of honeysuckle, was dry in the mouth with a little spicy heat at the back of the throat and a dash of petrol as it moved into the mid-palate. The finish was long with the floral, honeysuckle aspect again. At 12.5% abv this was an enjoyable 4 star wine and one of the cheaper offerings on the menu at just over $90.

 
As for the food, nutty seed-bread was on hand to dip in extra-virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, while the rich, creamy goats cheese Quesadillas were warm and delicious on a bed of rocket salad & a sweet syrup dressing. The prawns came in a massive bowl, in their shell with a baguette and a strong garlic mayonnaise on the side – peeling the shells was fiddly, but well worth it once the succulent flesh was released! We had a pleasant evening at Bord, the food and wine were both good and the prices, extortionate by U.K. standards, were actually in line with what to expect in a country that has such a high cost of living.
 
It’s not just the high cost of living in this oil-rich nation that explains why prices are so high. Norway has traditionally had a history of high alcohol consumption and was one of a group of European countries that initiated Prohibition in the early 20th Century, starting in 1916-1917 and continuing until 1927; however this was not a complete ban on alcohol, mainly Spirits and Fortified Wines. In 1922 a state monopoly, Vinmonopolet, was created for the distribution and sale of wines (and later spirits) in the country. This continued until 1996 when the monopoly was ended for import and distribution, however Vinmonopolet still controls the retail side of wine in Norway and until recently most purchasing was an “over the counter” affair similar to Pharmacies. All of this means that a beer costs $10 while a bottle of wine is typically double what you’d pay in the likes of the U.K. and U.S. – this is not the place to come for a thirsty tourist on a budget!
 
The second evening (a Friday) ended at Aker Brygge, but began many miles away at a small Marina to the west of Oslo. Here our Norwegian host, Terje, had driven us to his boat, a small motor-cruiser, and the four of us (with his wife and a friend of mine) cast off and headed back towards the capital. It was a beautiful evening with only a few clouds in the sky and plenty of light as we headed for our first stop, Vollen Flordkro – a restaurant just a few miles further up the coast where we moored and sat at an outside table to enjoy the sunset.
 
Vollen startersThe food on offer sounded simple but delicious. To begin, I had chosen a mixed seafood starter; delicious and creamy Lax (smoked salmon), light and delicate ceviche of prawns and Skagensalat – Crayfish tails in a rich dill mayonnaise. My colleagues had a massive plate of smoked prawns, a wonderful rusty colour with a flavour of smoked mackerel – delicious (and better than the prawns I had at Bord) although the portion was really too big and they couldn’t finish them all. As a main I had a large bowl of mussels in white wine, these really flavoursome mussels, the best I’d had for a long time.
 
The basic wine list, while not as exclusive as at Bord, provided enough choice for a relaxing and informal evening meal. Terje’s wife was a preferred red drinker so I selected something light and fruity which wouldn’t completely overpower the dishes – the Caldora 2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a popular choice, especially with the smoked prawns whose strong flavour could easily stand up to the red.
 
After the meal we boarded the boat and continued on our way to Oslo, the sun had set and the sky was darkening fast but that didn’t stop me having a turn at the wheel (and Terje was inside checking the sonar & GPS system to make sure we weren’t in any danger!). We sailed by some beautiful coves and inlets where other craft were moored up , some having meals on their boats, some on the shore with camp-fires and barbecues – I could easily see how living in this area would necessitate getting a boat and taking advantage of the wonderful geography.
 

Greybeard on a boat

It was after 10pm as we sailed into the harbour just by Aker Brygge and jumped off, waving goodbye to Terje and his wife (they had the same journey back now in the dark, they wouldn’t be home before midnight!). For my friend and I there was still time for a “digestif”, so we went to Café Albertine and sat outside on the terrace. A brief look at the drinks menu and I ordered the Williams & Humbert Collection Pedro Ximenez 12 Year Old Sherry, luscious nectar with aromas of candied orange peel and a touch of marzipan on the nose. The liquid had a deep brown swirl and flavours of Muscovado sugar, raisins, orange peel – in fact Christmas cake in a glass! This was a 4 star offering from Jerez and my first PX.
 
I had an early morning flight and some sore ribs (from trying to lift something far too heavy earlier in the day) so I called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Once again I’d had a good time in Oslo, although once again I was grateful that I was here on an expense account and not spending my own cash. There is definitely an expanding wine culture in this city even with the high prices you have to pay for a good drink (any drink for that matter!), so if you do find yourself in this part of Scandinavia then take a deep breath, open the wallet and enjoy!
 
Greybeard.

 

Vinocruz

Ξ January 16th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine Bars, Wine History |

Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was approved by the U.S. Treasury Dept. in 1981. It is hard to believe that only about 250 acres of vine were then under cultivation within its three county boundary. The appellation is defined by compelling elevation and climatic distinctions, and runs the length of the modest Santa Cruz Mountains, from Half Moon Bay to the north, to Mount Madonna in the south. Approximately 1500 acres are currently dedicated to the vine. An abundance of micro-climates and a hundred and fifty year tradition of strong, visionary personalities, makes for a wide variety of grapes grown and of stylistic expression, more so here than arguably anywhere else in California.

Central to the AVA’s creation was the hell raised, relentless from the 1950’s until his death in 1976, of Martin Ray, a winemaker originally located on Table Mountain, south of Montebello Ridge. He was obsessed with varietal distinction, a hands-off approach, and with the age-worthiness of his wines; and pushed hard, to put it politely, for other Santa Cruz Mountains producers to pursue his vision of Old World excellence singularly afforded by the region. However much despised in life, it is his delightful historical fate that the lofty winemaking standards he championed are today largely shared throughout the AVA.

vinocruz

And we are fortunate the beneficiaries of the AVA’s richness gathered in a small retail wine shop and tasting room in downtown Santa Cruz, Vinocruz. Opened in September of 2006 by J-P Correa and Jeffrey Kongslie, Vinocruz has fast become the ‘epicenter’ of our regional wines. Nearly all of the AVA’s more than 50 producers, including multiple cuvées and vintages, can be found on their well-lit and organized shelves. Tastings change daily. Martin Ray would be proud.

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Soif

Ξ December 11th, 2007 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine Bars |

Santa Cruz, Ca. is known for many things, from Travel and Leisure’s 10 Great Places to Spend Christmas, 2007, to Outside’s Best Towns, 2007. Yet something was missing. Though the epicenter of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA we have a distinctive shortage of wine bars. Into this gap has stepped Soif in downtown Santa Cruz. Soif

Soif, French for thirst, opened August 6th, 2002, and the Santa Cruz community has been well served ever since. Their wine list is clearly international.

Wall of wines

Efforts have been made to open their retail to a greater assortment of local wines. There is not a Ridge to be found. Or Hunter Hill. Neither can be found a Kathryn Kennedy.

The problem of local Santa Cruz wine representation appears to be precisely Soif’s strength: here one may fine vintage Vilmart champagne, rare Burgundy, exotic, steely Chablis, limited productions Priorats, excellent Portuguese efforts, bright Rieslings. Though not the only local wine bar, it is certainly the best. And given the grim business practicalities of operating a shop of any kind here, I wish them the best!

[2008 Spring update forthcoming.]

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