July 2010 Archives

I have been up to my eyeballs in training new employees these last few weeks. First with my new “dream” assistant and marketing administrator Jennifer, who has been on the job exactly one month. So far she keeps coming back so I guess that's aClick to enlarge photo! good sign! And now with John, our new Director of Retail Sales and Hospitality, one of the nicest people I've come across in a long time.

It's incredibly hard to transfer information learned over the course of a lifetime into someone else's head. I'm always afraid I'm going to forget some important detail. Like the time we won the Grand Prix d'Honneur in Bordeaux France out of 4,200 wines worldwide, which by the way was 1995. Or the time we printed Cabernet labels that said Sonoma Couny-and that's why I'm so anal about proofreading. Yet this is what I must do if I'm to be able to relax on my vacation in a few days. It's probably not the best time to go, but my kids desperately need some “mommy” time and I'm in grave need of some down time. I've begun to have a permanent buzzing feeling in my head along with circles so deep beneath my eyes that no amount of fancy make-up can make a difference.

So off I'm going to one of my favorite haunts, coastal Maine. I'll be making the rounds to see my grandparents and meeting up with my dad who recently bought a small cottage a stone's throw from the water's edge. I'm planning to read plenty of trashy magazines (nothing on wine!) and eat pie. I might play tennis, and then again- I might not. And, I will relearn for the hundredth time how to do a controlled jibe in heavy winds. (That's sailing talk for turning the boat when the wind is behind you.) For a chronic list maker and goal setter, I've got one very important objective: CHILL OUT. Naturally, I've thrown in some time with our Maine distributor, Pine State Beverage but other than that, I'll be incommunicado. And you know what that means, no blogging.

I'll see you in a few weeks folks.  Thanks for the comments, friendship, and support. (I've invited some fellow Dry Creekers to wear the Wilma hat, so we'll see who's up for the challenge!)

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We got some awesome news last week that I don't want to let slip by without yelling a digital yahoo.  That's Wilmaspeak for saying “I get to blog about it!”

First, we learned the Wine Spectator rated our 2006 Dry Creek Valley Mariner 92 points. Next we found out we got a 90 point score and “Editor's Choice” from Wine Enthusiast for the 2009 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc followed by not one but two “Best Buy” selections for both our flagship Fumé Blanc as well as our Chenin Blanc. It was a good week indeed!

We get our fair share of 90+ratings from an assortment Click to read the review!!of respected wine critics and publications, but back to back scores like these feels especially satisfying. And the best news of all is we have plenty available for sale! (I guess I inherited that mentality from dear old dad who always used to say his favorite wine was, “the one we have the most to sell!”)

You'd have to hear the whole story to understand why I'm smiling.

About 10 years ago, we started getting worried about our future. Wineries were being gobbled up, an influx of wine was becoming available from all over the globe and despite our reputation and decades long loyal following, we sensed we were fading into oblivion. Dry who? It was time to make some big changes. Besides, when you have two first born A-type personalities taking over a family business, you can't be satisfied with the status quo.

So we began the daunting task of reinventing ourselves. It was sort of like a winery makeover. We took a hard look at every aspect of the company, from vineyards, winemaking, and production to sales, marketing, and internal operations, just about everything--you name it. It wasn't that anything in particular was “broken”; we just knew we needed to become more distinctive and more focused to fulfill our dream of making wines that command respect. We sold vineyards, planted vineyards, cut production, hired talent, sourced new coopers, installed new equipment, changed our product mix, etc. Along the process, we told the staff “we are taking the winery to new heights. It's going to require hard work and sacrifice. And we know it won't be easy. But if you're on board, we want you. If not, it's ok to leave. It'll take some time but the rewards will be great and our future success and longevity will be assured.”

Despite 9/11, two recessions, family squabbles, countless setbacks, and many a worrisome night, it feels like we're finally getting our just rewards.

Thank you believers of Dry Creek. Thank you and watch out! The best is yet to come.

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As if we didn't have enough to worry about...we can now add water to our list. Generally, I'm not one to comment on the political shortcomings of our state, but this is just too important to keep quiet.

Yesterday afternoon, The Husband attended yet another meeting of local farmers at neighboring Rued Winery. The subject was water rights and more specifically how the Golden State wants to take away the rights of private land owners to the access of water located on their property. At first glance, this would appear to be a rather dull subject and one we've all heard bantered about for years. Oh yea that, do we have to talk about that again?

But hearing firsthand about the latest crap the state is trying to pull over our eyes has me concerned. And, I already have enough worries to last me a good long while.

Let me paint a picture for you. 

Basic water rights are a fundamental human right—right up there next to enjoying ice cream and driving around looking cool when you're a teenager. If you live in a municipality like the town of Healdsburg or the County of Sonoma, you get your water through the city utility commission. Your usage is monitored, and you pay a monthly fee for the service they provide which is chlorinated but clean drinking water that is readily available and on demand 24/7. In a drought situation, they might clamp down on irrigation, but generally water is available.

If you live in the country and are a property owner outside of a municipality, like most grape growers and winery folks are, your water comes directly off your own property via ground water wells. You buy your land (very expensive), you dig a well ($$$), you service your well (more $$$), you irrigate your crops, you get your drinking water, etc. (Sometimes you even have no water like when a mouse crawls into the well's breaker box and wreaks havoc. True story, it happened just last week!) 

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Under new pending rules, all this would change. Every agricultural well or pump in Sonoma County would be required by law to have a water meter on it. The cost at the basic level is $10,000 per well. Farmers would then be required to report their usage to the state on a monthly basis, which adds more costs.  If you don't comply, you get fined. If you report it incorrectly, you get fined. And a whole new generation of law enforcement officials or “water cops” will be out there enforcing the rules making sure farmers are verifying and recording their usage correctly. Hmmm, seems to me the cops have a lot more important things to do……………

The whole subject is so complex and convoluted that it would take a month's worth of research and blog posts to explain in full detail. What's important to know is that the state wants to control ground water and by doing this will control the value of ag property. (A farm without water is a future subdivision.) They are making it harder and harder for farmers to survive, squeezing them tighter and tighter by adding new costs, regulation and water restrictions. It's an infringement on landowner rights and adds unnecessary costs to the business of farming, which already operates on pathetically thin margins. It is downright wrong. But ultimately the public will pay, especially when the farmers are gone and grocery store shelves are bare.

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Day 3 of the WBC continued my love affair with all things Walla Walla. I mean just the name alone makes me smile so how could it be anything but great fun, right?

I almost blew off the last seminar which I'm sure a great number of people considered doing as well. (Sunday after a 3 day conference is never a good day to be a featured guest speaker.)  Thankfully, I stuck around to hear celebrity chef Jeffrey Saad  (25 year culinary veteran, cookbook author, and recent runner up of the Next Food Network Star Season 5) share his thoughts on food and wine pairing. Now I've personally heard this talk about 25 times from some of the best people in the industry, so I wasn't really expecting all that much. BOY, was I wrong! Jeffrey is one of those rare charismatic people who exudes enthusiasm and oozes charm along with his straight forward tips on pairing the right wines with the right foods. He's fun to listen to and puts things in simple terms that everyone can understand. I found myself scribbling notes which I got to put to good use at the hands-on food and wine pairing demonstration immediately following his seminar. It was an awesome way to wrap up the 2010 Wine Bloggers' Conference, sending me home with a few extra pounds to add to my already wine stained teeth and fond memories of Walla Walla, Washington.

Here are some of Jeffrey's basics:

Acid with Acid: If a dish is high in acid, serve it with a wine that is also higher in acid. (Think tomato sauce and Sangiovese.)

Fat with Acid: If a dish is high in fat, serve lean crisp wines high in acid. The acidity cuts through the fat and allows the flavors to come through. (Think lemon juice with fish.)

Protein or Animal Fat with Tannin: For protein rich foods serve wines high in tannins.  The protein will soften the tannins and make the fruit come forward.

Spicy with Sweet: Serve off dry or fruity wines with spicy foods to cut through the spice and bring out the aromatics in the wine. Avoid tannins which get more pronounced with spicy foods. Think Riesling or Gewürztraminer. (My personal favorite = Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc with Thai cuisine!)

For more on Jeffrey's talk, visit http://jeffreysaad.com

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If I had to sum up two words that describe the Walla Walla wine country it's GRACIOUS HOSPITALITY. The second two words that come to mind are DAMN GOOD. Visiting this arid dry region for the first time was a real eye opener. It was also ”hella” fun as my teenager would say.

My first reaction was that it reminded me of Sonoma County 25 years ago. There's a spirit of "pioneerism" that you can just feel. The people are big thinking and adventurous, planting varietals that range from Syrah and Tempranillo to Viognier, Sangiovese, Riesling, Grenache, and Mouvedre to the more traditional Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, etc. It's a shot gun approach, and one that is allowing them to experiment with multiple wines and multiple styles. While I expected to enjoy the Rieslings and Merlots that we've all come to associate with Washington, what excited me most were some of the more obscure wines and blends I got to try throughout the weekend.

Here is a snapshot of a few of my favorites.

I first encountered the fine reds of Spring Valley Vineyard on Saturday night of the conference.  A very Frenchy Frenchman (I'm talking about the kind whose accent is so thick you can cut it with a knife) was enthusiastically pouring his wines for narrow minded snobby types like me. Boy was I surprised. While the label is a bit funky, the wines have an elegance and finesse that are impressive. Happily, our group had the good fortune of visiting Spring Valley Vineyard the very next day. Located in a bucolic valley, this family farming operation is in its 7th generation! Makes us seem like a bunch of pikers… They have 1000 acres of farmland and only 38 planted to vineyards, so there's plenty of room for growth. But for now, they're limited to 6000 cases of assorted red blends. Check out the Frederick and the Derby, named after the owner's grandmother. I have no idea where their wines are distributed, but they're worth looking for. Or you can contact them at www.springvalleyvineyard.com.

Later that day, we visited the very tiny Reynvaan Family Vineyards, nestled against the rolling hills outside the town of Walla Walla. While completely new to winemaking, they are definitely on to something. Their 2007 Syrah-“The Contender “ is stunning as was their 2007-“In The Rocks” bottling. If you're into discovering wines that nobody knows about, this would be a good bet. Visiting this family winery brought out a bit of nostalgia in me too, as it reminded me of the way my mom and dad started out nearly 40 years ago.

A special thank you goes to Ron Williams of Waterbrook Winery. I met him for the first time at the conference, but already feel like I've known him for far longer. Ron is a relative newcomer to the wine scene, and a perfect example of the kind of gracious hospitality that all wineries should strive for in their hospitality staff. He is classy, fun, and down to earth, just like the wines. They make a mean Meritage and a yummy dry Rosé, that along with the rest of their very reasonably priced varietals are a testament to their fast growth and national success. I highly recommend the relaxing patio setting which made our little group feel like we were on a special vacation. If I know Ron at all, you will have the same experience too if you pay a visit.

The fact that all these people rolled out the red carpet for a bunch of ragtag bloggers with little to no credentials like me, was extremely generous. But it was their stellar wines and warm spirit that made a convert out of many of us.

There were so many wines that impressed me over the course of my visit, it's hard to recall. From the Unoaked Chardonnay at Airfield Estates Winery (a steal at $12) to the butilicious blend from Buty (yes, that's really their name!) I came away an enlightened Washington wine enthusiast. And, I realized something very important that I must remember to tell The Husband. No matter how focused we are at trying to keep our nose to the grindstone running our own winery, we must never stop visiting, tasting, and learning about other regions and our peers in the field. It's what got us inspired in the first place, for heaven's sake. But mostly, it's just damn good fun!   

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About this Archive

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

June 2010 is the previous archive.

August 2010 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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A Lifetime in Wine

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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