March 2010 Archives

Twenty-six years ago I was younger than two thirds of the guests then visiting the Dry Creek Vineyard tasting room. Today I'm older than two thirds of the guests. Is it just me or do many of the Millennial Generation really look barely a day over 15? Maybe it's just me getting older. In any case, it is wonderful to see wineries experiencing a surge in younger tasters. When I started at Dry Creek, back in 1984, very few of our tasters were in their 20s; we were catering to a much narrower, older audience then.

There have been many changes over the past 26 years at the winery. In 1984, the “tasting room” was in a small room, probably no more than 18' x 20', with a concrete floor, a wooden bar Click photo to enlarge!similar to today's, but much smaller, and a pot belly wood stove up against one wall. We didn't have computers or cash registers in the tasting room, just a metal box for money and a receipt book we kept in a drawer behind the tasting bar.

The music being played at the time was strictly classical, that was Dave's Law. No Rock 'n Roll or R & B allowed. We were appealing to the 50-somethings and this group was not terribly fond of “that music.” Of course, all of the employees were into R & R and R & B, but we couldn't risk offending our core constituency tasters.

Today 80% of the music played in the tasting room is R & R and R & B and our guests love it. Of course, today's 50-somethings and 60-somethings grew up with Rock & Roll, and the Millennial Generation seems to have a broad appreciation for many styles of music, so they seem to enjoy the atmosphere as well. 

Dry Creek has always attracted a great variety of interesting personalities. Dave, being an independent, intelligent Free Thinker, saw the value of hiring a diverse group of fun loving wine enthusiasts. We worked hard and we played even harder.  I remember playing touch football after work, out on the lawn, with a boom box blasting Rock 'n Roll, while a lovely array of DCV wines graced our picnic tables, along with cheese and crackers and whatever else we had brought with us. Sometimes such events were spontaneous, other times we would loosely plan to bring something to BBQ after work. Summer weekends felt like a nonstop, never-ending party.

Of course, back then only one or two employees had children. The rest of us didn't have to run off after work like obsessed soccer moms. We just had a great time enjoying each other's company. Dave would open his home for BBQs, swimming and dancing, and we would all bring a dish to share, along with a bottle of wine and a towel. Seeing how many bodies we could cram into Dave's hot tub was always great fun. Those were the days.

We used to have a wooden suggestion box which sat next to the coffee machine into which we would place, well, suggestions. Sometimes there were some rather hilarious recommendations, but for the most part they had to do with 'improvements' to the way we were doing things, or with something that was needed to do a better job. My suggestions were mainly about 'going more organic'. I was a dyed-in-the-hide nature hippie, always on the lookout for a 'smaller footprint' on Mother Earth.

I had graduated from Sonoma State University in 1975 and stayed on for a while in the new, alternative energy department, before making my final break from SSU. I was using a solar panel I had built for heating water, along with a solar oven and a solar fruit dehydrator.  I was quite committed to an alternative lifestyle at the time. My suggestions were politely reviewed and then put aside.

The suggestion box was retired many years ago, but I am pleased to note that in recent years Dry Creek has implemented many changes in its operations so that we might tread a little lighter upon this beautiful planet of ours. Changes have been made in the vineyards, including water recovery, and the lighting throughout the winery has been upgraded for greater energy efficiency; we have owl houses and bat houses around the winery, as well as predator perches in the vineyards.

Don Wallace, President of Dry Creek Vineyard and a founding member of the Sustainable Agriculture movement at the California Wine Institute, has been a prime mover behind many of these changes. He has been exploring alternative forms of energy use for the winery, and he is currently involved with the Dry Creek Habitat Restoration project. That old suggestion box may have been retired long ago, but more improvements have been implemented in recent years than I would ever have thought possible 26 years ago.

Karen Tovani,
Tasting Room Associate

| | Comments (8)

I'm calling in the real talent around here..our staff!

| | Comments (5)

Since today is my birthday, (I'm turning 39...again!) it seems fitting to talk about aging wine. Like humans, all wines age differently. Some remain firm and youthful, holding up well to the rigors of time. Others aren't so lucky, showing their age much more dramatically with thinning fruit, insipid flavors, and lackluster appeal.  A highly subjective topic, this is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive. And while I don't profess to be an expert on the subject, I certainly have my opinions as well as likes and dislikes on the matter.

For many, there's a great deal of mystery to the aging of wine. How do you do it? What conditions do you need? What are the secrets to knowing if a wine will taste better in 3, 5, 7, or even 10+ years? And, why is it that some wines can age gracefully (much like a fine piece of furniture becomes a beautiful antique) and others remind you of speckled carpet and flocked wallpaper—two rather awkward trends that did not stand the test of time.

Before I go on, I have a confession. I've noticed that I'm slowly losing my taste for older wines. Whereas I used to love the intense, smoky, earthiness of a well aged Cabernet, today I find myself gravitating toward more plush, fruit forward, juicier reds, i.e., younger reds that are still bold and pronounced. I'm not sure if there is any correlation with my own slow aging, but I've definitely noticed a change in my preference. Could my taste buds be aging too? Is my palate going downhill?? These are the questions I ponder as I count the candles on my cake today.

Back to the aging of wine…

You must begin with a well made and well balanced wine. Sometimes that is easier said than done, especially with so many oaky, high alcohol monsters out there.  Make sure the wine has plenty of acidity too. There should be a subtle crispness to it, even for red wines. A teeny tiny bite at the rear of your mouth, just as you swallow is the general perception. The fruit components (cherries/currants for Cabernet, blackberries/plums for Zinfandel, etc.) should be in harmony with the tannins (the subtle drying sensation that occurs on the sides of your mouth) and overall alcohol content. If you get a burning feeling at the back of your throat, beware. You can bet the wine is quite alcoholic and might not be so well balanced. Or, if you find that any one component jumps out at you (Is the wine screaming with vanilla? That's a sure sign the wine has spent too much time in French oak barrels.) you might be in trouble if long term age ability is your goal.

After balance, the next most important factor is temperature. Ideally, proper cellaring should occur at a constant 55 to 57 degrees. This is generally only possible with a built in cellar or wine storage unit, as few of us are willing to lower our thermostats to achieve this ideal temperature. The more common approach is to pick a cool place in your house (an unused closet, a basement or even an insulated garage) as long as it remains a constant temperature. Keep in mind that temperature fluctuations are worse than a slightly higher overall temperature. If you live in a moderate climate, you will generally be ok with a household cellar. Or, if you are lucky enough to have crawl space under your house as we do, consider storing your wines there. Other than dirt and the occasional mouse poop, this can be a great wine storage area!

Lastly, there's light and sunshine. Just as with us humans, too much is not good.  And while you can't slather your prized bottle with SPF 50, you can protect it from overexposure by keeping it in a dark protected place. Otherwise you risk increased oxidation which speeds up the aging process.

Most of the time, I don't recommend aging white wines. The exception is Sauvignon Blanc. Due to its higher acidity, this aromatic white variety can be quite rewarding given a few extra years of aging. (My most memorable aged Sauvignon Blanc came from the 1937 vintage!)  The abundant citrus and fresh grass aromas are replaced by what my father calls “the Italian Deli phenomenon”...i.e. Italian spices such as rosemary, basil, and thyme with green and black olives. A rich oily texture makes the wine quite sublime with certain dishes.

The best plan with aging is to buy enough wine to get through the “dumb spells”. What I mean by this is buy at least a ½ to 1 case of something you believe to be age worthy so you can crack open a bottle every 6 months or so.  Because like humans, wines go through dumb spells. This is when things are out of whack, and just don't seem right. While the wine isn't necessarily “over the hill” it is at an awkward stage of its life. (Anybody have a teenager that fits this description?!) Thankfully, with additional aging the rough spots even out and you are often rewarded with a superb well aged treat. And, if you bought enough to begin with, you'll know exactly when the wine is at its peak.   

Ironically, there seem to be some correlations between aging wines and the aging of humans.  Both can improve with time. Both need tender loving care. And, both are happiest when shared at the dinner table with loved ones. Which is exactly what I plan to do to celebrate my birthday tonight.

Here's to getting older!!!

| | Comments (4)

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. While I'm not Irish, I've always enjoyed this particular holiday. There's no pressure to buy presents, no unnecessary decorating involved, and no expensive preparations required to celebrate Ireland's Patron Saint. And, as long as you wear a bit of green and appear to be cheery and festive, you are generally safe from the guilt ridden holiday stress that comes with so many of our American holidays. (Besides, it's an excuse to drink!)

But from a wine pairing point of view, it can be rather confusing figuring out what goes best with corned beef and cabbage. First a disclaimer: I actually like corned beef and cabbage. While boiling isn't my first choice for meal prep, the fact that I can throw a bunch of ingredients into a deep pot of boiling water and end up with a simple but filling meal is appealing. And, who isn't happy with only one pot to clean up afterward?

But wine selection can be awkward. Corned beef is salty and often rather fatty, while the boiled veggies are well, boiled veggies. In other words, they're bland. Choosing a typical red wine with moderate tannins and a good acid structure, like Pinot Noir or Cabernet, is not my first choice. All that salt and acid is way too much. Instead, think opposites, because in this case they really do attract. In other words, what is opposite a salty piece of meat? Something with a hint of sweetness such as an off dry white wine like Riesling or Chenin Blanc. Or, you could go with a Sauvignon Blanc as long as it isn't too aggressive and herbaceous. Think sweet lemons, figs, peaches and floral elements instead of the grassier herbal spectrum. A lovely Rosé would also be very nice. If you're stuck on red wine with meat, try a fruity spicier variety like Zinfandel or Grenache. I would definitely avoid wines with high acid, high alcohol, and big tannins. In other words, no Napa Cabs!

This is your opportunity to experiment, so try something different. Maybe a sparkling Rosé from the Loire Valley? Or, an Alsatian bottling your Great Aunt Gertrude gave you? Of course, if you're a Dry Creek Vineyard fan, our Dry Chenin Blanc, Petite Zin (Rosé of Zinfandel) or Taylor's Vineyard Sauvignon Musqué would do the trick.

If you really want to get in the mood, throw a tiny bit of green food coloring into your glass. Unconventional yes, but a fun way to add a touch O' Irish. (I do this with my kid's milk...why not wine?)

If all else fails, there's always a pint of Guinness. This nutty brown ale is the most traditional beverage of choice which, come to think of it, is probably what those leprechauns prefer to drink anyway!  

| | Comments (7)
Re: your most recent blog post…this is what happens when the lines of reality cross.  

Oh, how true, how true!!  A faithful reader, Jim from Ohio, sent this to me, compliments of his friends at Dorothy Lane Market.

It's the perfect segue for today's post because….

I am drowning.  When I say drowning I mean swamped, swimming, sinking. And, no amount of coffee can give me enough hours in a day to get it all done.  I'm like a duck…above water, I look cool and composed but down below I'm paddling like hell just to keep my head above the surface.  

I'm not talking about wine sales.  Or, even profits--although improvements could be made in both areas.  I'm talking about trying to keep up with the way business is conducted today.  Our round the clock, 24/7, electronically connected world has made it impossible for people to catch up, no matter how many hours you throw into the work week. Frankly, it's not the actual work during the “work week” that is the problem.  It's the sheer VOLUME of correspondence that accumulates from emails, phone tag, meetings, and follow up meeting to those original meetings--in both work AND personal life-- that creates all the havoc.  (Heck, even my mother emails me now.)  To top it off, everywhere I look and everything I read indicates that “today's savvy business leaders need to fully embrace all forms of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter as these are vital to connecting with future customers.”  

You have got to be kidding.  Does anyone else out there besides me wonder how this is humanly possible?  Clearly, I'm a twirp (an old fashioned term that seems fitting for us twitter resisters!) and if I hear it one more time, I think I'll scream.  Or discombobulate, which I've been accused of doing a lot lately, if you ask my kids.  Don't get me wrong. I completely agree with the idea of connecting with customers through the use of the internet.  It's fast, it's cheap, and for small family companies like ours, it's a great way to communicate with a wide group of people.  That is why I started this blog.    But I'm not sure it's possible to add Facebook, Twitter, and Lord knows what next to an already full in-box when one wears a hundred different hats—and who doesn't these days?!

And, apparently to do it right it needs to be personal and authentic.

At least that's the message I got from a seminar I attended last week.  Put on by the Luxury Marketing Council (yes, I too, saw the irony in their name which is probably why for $50 bucks I decided to make the trek to Napa to pick up some pointers!), this gathering focused on how to grow our tasting room business and attract more visitors to the winery.  Or, as one panelist stated: “how to separate the wealthy from their wealth.”  The panel was impressive.  And, on most of their recommendations, I'd give us high marks.

Authentic?  Check.

Personalized? Check.

Service oriented? Check.

But, is the owner on Facebook?  No and that's where I'm clearly falling short.  Luckily, I can delegate this function, which is exactly what I've done to my 30 something marketing assistant.  But the pressure is all around me, as is the feeling that I'm NOT KEEPING UP.

While I picked up some good tips, I left the seminar still not sure I want to add Facebook Diva or Twitter Tramp to my list of winery titles.  Sure it can help spread “the word” to a new audience.  And, it seems to be growing like wild fire.  But isn't there a bit of irony to the whole Facebook thing?  While everyone agrees that being authentic is important, wineries using Facebook in their marketing are working awfully hard to make sure it doesn't actually LOOK like marketing.

And to me, that's not being very authentic.

| | Comments (8)

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2010 is the previous archive.

April 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


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

about me

our wines

our winery

our events

contact me

privacy statement

favorite posts

A Lifetime in Wine

Top 10 Traits of the Successful Family Winery

The Dreaded Family Meeting

Board Meeting Jitters

Is the Future of the Winery in Danger?

The Case of the Overweight Bottle

Wine and Dementia

Wanted: Talented (Normal) Individual for Family Owned Winery

A Sea of Wine

The Heroes of Our Industry

monthly archives


Hopes & Dreams

Owning a Coastal Cottage

Sailing for 6 Months

Getting a 100 Point Score

Favorite Haunts

Coast of Maine

Dry Creek General Store

Dry Creek Kitchen

Healdsburg Bar & Grill


Sonoma Country Antiques

Baci Cafe & Wine Bar

The Farmhouse

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

Bad Ass Coffee

Bistro Ralph

Bits of Press

Food & Wine Magazine

The Wine News

Wine Enthusiast

Wine Spectator

Press Democrat

Sunset Magazine

Connoisseurs' Guide

Dan Berger's Vintage Experiences

Cruising World Magazine

Oprah Magazine

The Washington Post

Coastal Living Magazine

Wine & Spirits Magazine

People Magazine

SAG Awards Magazine

Forbes Magazine

Favorite Magazines

Coastal Living

Down East


Country Living

Quarterly Review of Wines

Wines & Vines

Wine Spectator

Wine Enthusiast

California Grapevine

Connoisseurs' Guide

Practical Winery & Vineyard


Vineyard & Winery Mgmt

Blog Buddy List


Hip Tastes

Pinot Blogger

All The Best

Julia Flynn Siler


Winery Web Site Report

The Pour - Eric Asimov

Dr Vino

Steve Heimoff

Start Up Ladies

Good Wine Under $20

Blind Muscat

The Wineroad Blog

Gabe's View

Wine Peeps

Vici Vino

Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk

Uncork Life

WineVine-Imports Blog

The Wine Witch


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