February 2008 Archives

Believe it or not, there are some hum drum days in the wine business. Endless phone calls, meetings, sales planning, financial worries…I could go on and on.

But today was one of those days that reminded me how lucky I am to come to work each day in an actual winery.

We had been tasting through some of our older Fumé Blancs to determine how well they've stood the test of time. Whites are not generally recognized for longevity and yet, I was raised on the notion that SB does indeed age well. So far, our favorites were the 1989, 1997, and 1998 DCV 3 (single vineyard). We hadn't really considered going back to the 1970's, as we have so few bottles left. And by the looks of the moldy old labels, they weren't all that appealing.

Then, on a lark, someone pulled a bottle of 1973 Fumé Blanc. This was our second vintage and of course, it was made by the BIG Daddy himself.  (I was 10 years old at the time.)  None of us expected much-- but WOW we were wrong! Imagine a 35 year old Sauvignon Blanc that still knocks your socks off. Even winemaker Lisa was impressed, and in my experience, winemakers have a hard time admiring wines they didn't have a hand in.

 1973 Fumé Blanc

The color was brilliant and golden. It was juicy and lively with aromas of rosemary, thyme, green olive and Meyer lemons. And then I remembered something my father once told me about older Fumé Blancs. “A well aged Sauvignon Blanc should smell like a great old Italian delicatessen.” And, that
is exactly what this relic wine smelled like.

So, for those of you who have an older Dry Creek Fumé Blanc hanging
around, don't despair. Pop the cork and you just might be in for a wonderful surprise!

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I'm a little irritated right now. I just read an article in a major publication entitled: Zinfandel's Decline. The story told of the writer's disappointment after tasting 50 Zinfandels priced under $20. The conclusion was that wine lovers should give up on finding affordably priced Zins and move on to other varieties that offer more value.

These kinds of sweeping statements really tick me off! It's like saying an entire vintage stinks when regional temperatures and winemaking styles vary so radically.

Frankly, I just couldn't believe it. How could it be that the entire U.S. is devoid of quality Zinfandels that don't cost an arm and a leg?  So, I phoned the publication and asked to speak to the editors. I finally got past a terse assistant and was able to leave a polite voice mail.  I'm hoping they call me back; we'll see.

I'd really like to know what wines they tasted and of course, did they include ours??? We happen to make a terrific Zinfandel under $20 (our Heritage Zinfandel, $17) and I immediately thought of several reliable favorites… Seghesio, Bella, Acorn, and Mauritson to name just a few. But then, much to my great HORROR, I learned that all of these have exceeded the $20 mark, and in some cases, by a long shot! This is truly depressing.

So I'm thinking we should start a coalition in search of great Zinfandels under $20.  If we find enough, we can challenge them to another tasting to see if they might re-think their opinion! If not, we'll certainly have had a great time drinking one of my favorite wines.

So, who's in?

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I just finished reading a report that predicts 50% of the family owned wineries will change hands in the next 10 years. At first, this seemed a bit shocking, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed. Family businesses are tough. In fact, current statistics report that something like only 12% of family businesses survive through the second generation. That figure drops even more (to a paltry 3-5%) in the third and subsequent generations.

So, I've decided to put together Wilma's list of Top 10 Traits of the Successful Family Owned Winery - just in case any of you are considering joining the ranks!  Here goes:

1.      Learn to bite your tongue. In fact, get really comfortable with it, despite the pain.

2.      Find your own corner of the cellar. In other words, don't share areas of expertise or responsibility…especially if you're married and intend to stay that way.

3.      Whenever possible, make it seem like your brilliant idea was your father's, husband's, wife's, sister's, brother's, cousin's…you get the point.

4.      Learn to coerce, beg, borrow, steal…whatever it takes to get your point across.

5.      Know when to smile and roll your eyes at just the right time.

6.      Understand the real meaning of the numbers, i.e. lots of zeroes after your debt load is NOT good.

7.      Have very small families. The more siblings involved, the more likely for conflict. (My Italian friends know this all too well.)

8.      Put aside an emergency fund for all the counseling, therapy and consulting advice you'll need to keep harmony in the family.

9.      Perfect the art of apologizing.

10.  Drink a lot of wine.

Oh, and I forgot one more. Whenever possible, say “yes honey” and then do the exact opposite.

Here we are in 1981 practicing items #1, #5, and #7...still working on #2, #3, and #6!

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There's been a real void in our cellar as of late. While it's great to be sold out of a particular wine, it causes a real dilemma for Wilma and The Husband. Truth is, while I love ALL our bottlings, our Zinfandels are the grape of choice for just about every occasion in our household. Case in point…

What could be better than a glass of Zinfandel after a heated argument with a crabby 15-year-old? How about after a frenzied afternoon of business meetings, phone calls and the dreaded carpool? A glass of Zin is always satisfying.

To my mind, Zinfandel really is the most versatile of red wines. It's perfect by itself and sublime with nearly every meal prepared in our family. Zin and tacos, you bet. Zin and pasta, yum.  Zin and barbecue, absolutely!  One of my favorites is my father's recipe, Dave's "Zinful" Flank Steak, which I hope you will try.

Yes, to my palate, Zinfandel truly is the ultimate crowd and taste bud pleaser. It needs nothing to enhance it, yet enhances nearly everything. So, it is with great anticipation that we have finally released an assortment of delicious 2005 and 2006 vintage Zinfandels.

Check ‘em out while they last!

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I just got home from pouring wine at Boston Wine Expo. BWE is one of the largest wine events in the country with over 500 winery exhibitors, 19,000 attendees, and dozens of wine seminars, cooking demonstrations, etc. It's like Disneyland for the wine lover.

There's something about these mega tastings that seems like great fun to my non-wine industry friends, but let me tell you, this was no cakewalk!

First, you have to deal with the know-it-alls. These are grown ups who feel the need to impress you with their profound wine knowledge. But their ignorance is a dead giveaway the minute they ask, “Do you actually put cherries in your Cabernet?” Then, there's the slick guys trying to impress the trophy date/wife. They're always good for a laugh until they try to grab the bottle off the table and help themselves. And, last is the jerk whose glass is so chunky and wine stained by the time he's reached your table (we won't even talk about the color of his teeth), that it's a wonder he can taste (or remember) anything at all…Ugh.

  I always have the same experience at these tastings. It usually happens after the third hour. My head begins to spin, my eyes get blurry, and I lose my focus. NO, it's not because I'm imbibing in my own product. It's because I've quite literally said the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. This is usually followed by a big smile.  I actually tried to count the number of times I said the same thing this year, but lost track after 78.  Not that I'm complaining. I know full well, that it's a privilege to have the opportunity to introduce people to our wines for the first time. But with over 500 brands in one room, I often wonder if anyone notices or even cares.

Which brings me to an obvious question – do you look for your favorite wineries at these tastings or is it pretty much a free-for-all?

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One of the most difficult things about being in the wine business today is that it's just that — a business, actually a very serious business. At least, that's the case when you're not backed by José Quervo, a corporate merger or a bottomless trust fund somewhere.  No, for Wilma and The Husband, it's a case of passion, determination and good old fashioned "stick-to-it-ness"…something that seems to be dying in American culture today. We're just regular people trying to make fantastic wines that make meals special and people happy.


Just recently I met a woman who purchased the Dutcher Crossing Winery down the road.  Dutcher Crossing was started a few years ago by a retired marketing executive with a hankering for wine. Guess he figured he'd start a little winery and live the good life. Something must have happened to squelch those plans as he's already called it quits after 3 short years.


I wish the new owner much success and luck, but I gotta be honest, I wonder what she's thinking…


Does she really know what it's like to worry incessantly (about just about everything), when we have no control over Mother Nature, the U.S. economy, or the taste buds of the American public… no matter how hard we try? Or, that her future success rides greatly on the opinions and taste buds of a few powerful pundits? Or, that those fancy barrels that cost upwards of $900 a piece are practically impossible to give away as flower pots after just a few harvests. Or, that IF she finds the right piece of ground, she'll still have to fork out $80,000 or more an acre for a piece of bare land that may or may not turn out to be any good.  And, on top of everything else, she'll need to regularly wine and dine with complete strangers for the rest of her life??


Yikes...just thinking about it all makes my hair go straight.

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Last Saturday was surreal. It was my eighth time at the SAG Awards® pouring Dry Creek wines for the stars. Every year, I tell my husband, "It's no big deal honey, I have to go to LA for 2 days, just like any other business trip."  He looks at me, rolls his eyes and asks, "Who are you kidding?"

It's true, I love this event for the sheer thrill of getting up close and personal with some of Hollywood's hottest stars. Not only is it fun to see what they REALLY look like, it's downright exciting to watch famous people drinking our wines. I know I shouldn't get so excited, but I really can't help myself! This year's attendees included Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie (and yes, she really is that beautiful), Sally Field, Cuba Gooding Jr, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Mickey Rooney, and countless others.


I'm always amazed at the lack of wine knowledge amongst this jet set crowd and it's always fun to turn people on to something new. Every now and again someone does something unexpected…like the year James Gandolfini grabbed a magnum of Cabernet Sauvignon out of my hand and started drinking from the bottle. I kid you not! 

This year I definitely noticed an increasing awareness of Sonoma County and Dry Creek wines in general.  And, no one started chugging the Cabernet.  I guess we're making progress.

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I still can't believe they blew it. We were having a fine time at our good friend's house, Chef Charlie Palmer, happily eating (no bean dip there!) and drinking our way through the first half. It was a bit of a Pinot Noir frenzy, starting first with a bottle of 2004 Saxon Brown, Anderson Valley.  In the second quarter, we opened a bottle of 2005 Rochioli (Tom and his kids were there as well).  By halftime, we had gone overseas to a 1st growth Nuits St. George, Chateau de Something.  At this point things were going great.  Even Tom Petty's half time show was entertaining, although none of the kids knew who he was, and found it thoroughly hilarious that this OLD guy was actually one of my favorite singers at one time!


I was worried about Tom Brady though.  He sure looked yellow…kind of green actually.  Could he have had the flu?

  brady2.gifSo, we moved into the Radio-Coteau.  It was a good indicator of things to come…we were sure the Patriots would win!  Now, please recognize that we were in a house full of transplanted New Yorkers.  They were pretty stressed with Eli's performance, not to mention that guy who kept missing all the passes.  But, things were going great for the Patriots.  We were going to win.  And, then the last four minutes occurred.  Some say it was like no Super Bowl finish that anyone can remember.  The Patriots lost a 1 ½ year winning streak to the underdog.


So, I ask you…what the hell do we open up now??  I'm thinking a martini might do the trick.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2008 is the previous archive.

March 2008 is the next archive.

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This is a blog about what it's really like to be in the wine industry...so sit back, take a sip and enjoy!

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Honorable Mentions

Wilma Hits The World of Blogs
Most Intriguing New Wine Blogs of 2008
Midwest Wine Guy
Winery of the Month
Julia Flynn Siler
Meritage wines - and a fascinating glimpse into family business
Winery Web Site Report
New Winery Blog: Wilma's Wine World
Start Up Ladies
Insider's View of Family Owned Dry Creek Vineyard
The Glue that Keeps the Whole Thing Going
Atlanta Dish
Blog of the Week
Blind Muscat
The Merits of Meritage
Boston Wine Expo exhibitors, and the reason why winemakers are so darn happy