January 2011 Archives

I've had a lot of personal milestones this month...my 29th wedding anniversary, my daughter's 18th birthday, and now my 11th year at the Screen Actors Guild Awards®. Obviously, this last one isn't in the same category as the first two, but it's on the top of my mind in the wee hours of the morning as I prepare to depart for Los Angeles soon. I'll be attending the SAG Awards® media day—a special day for media outlets and reporters to preview the behind the scenes preparations that are underway at the Shrine Auditorium. (The actual show doesn't air until Sunday, January 30 on TNT/TBS at 8:00 p.m. EST / 5:00 p.m. PST.) My hope will be that someone, just someone, will want to talk to that wine gal standing on the sidelines. If they're in the mood, they'll taste a few of my wines and learn a bit about Dry Creek Vineyard's participation. I might get a major interview with one of the news crews...then again, I might not. (I still remember the year I got to say "Dry Creek Vineyard" about 10 times on Entertainment Tonight!) To add some local exposure, I'm bringing Ziggy The Wine Gal, a Sonoma County radio personality who will be doing her wine radio talk show live. She will have the time of her life, I'm sure. Plus it will be fun to share this once in a lifetime experience with someone new.

She'll get to taste our SAG Awards® Cuvée, a very special Cabernet Sauvignon we produced in magnums exclusively for the show. She'll also be sampling our other wines paired with the exquisite cuisine of Chef Suzanne Goin, from Lucques Restaurant and Catering. I met Suzanne last year and instantly felt a connection with her—our lives couldn't be farther from the celebrity scene, yet we both produce a product that ups the quality of the show a notch or two. (Actually a lot, but who's counting!)

Over the years, I've met some pretty amazing people as a result of our involvement. People like Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Pierce Brosnan, and Clint Eastwood. Some have visited the winery and quickly became even bigger fans of our wines. Others were simply lovely people, who passed through my life rather quickly but it was exciting to meet them nonetheless. What they all have in common is this: a love of life that transcends into a passion for what they eat and drink. (Some even own restaurants, as in the case of Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.)  Wine is like that: it's the common thread that weaves people together from all backgrounds and interest levels. Wine sets the stage for friendships to be made and connections to be forged. It's no different whether they're from Iowa, New York, or Hollywood.  

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that 2011 will be a banner year for us. By all indications, it's looking very good. If I can add a few new fans to our expanded family of Dry Creek Vineyard wine lovers today, I'll be off to a good start. Then, next week, I can settle back down to the realities of the trials and tribulations of selling and marketing our wines.

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Being in the wine industry has some really cool perks and this past week was one such occasion.  I was honored to join more than 50 of my industryClick photo to enlarge! colleagues as a professional wine judge at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.   This is the largest wine competition in the U.S. with more than 5,000 wines submitted this year alone - a new record.   For three straight days, we sipped, swirled and yes SPIT, wines in every imaginable category.  Judges from around the country including wine writers, retailers, sommeliers, winemakers, PR people (like me) and industry veterans were chosen to evaluate the entries.

There's a lot to say about the actual judging experience but I want to take a minute to acknowledge the breadth, depth and detail of what goes on behind the scenes to pull off a commercial wine competition of this magnitude.  Held in Click photo to enlarge!Cloverdale, CA at the Citrus Fairgrounds, wines began rolling into Cloverdale in October.  Every single wine is recorded in a computer including retail price, producer, winemaker, technical info, etc.  This, in and of itself, is a massive amount of work all done by a volunteer.  During the competition, a literal army of incredible volunteers makes sure all of the judges needs are met including a full hot breakfast and delicious lunch.  During the competition, more volunteers wheel in flight after flight of wines to us judges as we evaluate and score each wine.  They clean glassware, keep track of our scores and empty spit buckets (not a fun thing to do) all with a smile.  They are an amazing group and the level of detail and professionalism was second to none.  It was a privilege to work with them.

The judging experience itself was fun, interesting, and at times a tad frustrating.   I was on a panel with four other judges.  Each of us brought a unique insight or perspective to the wine industry.  There was a wine writer, a buyer for a large steakhouse, a tasting room Click photo to enlarge!professional as well as an industry veteran of more than 25 years in many different facets of the business.  From early morning to late afternoon, we tasted and evaluated hundreds of wines.  I lost count at 325 wines.  Surprisingly, my palate was able to withstand the beating as I chewed on bread, roast beef and sparkling water to help keep things clean and ready for a new flight of wines. 

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the quality of wines.  From Sauvignon Blancs to Sangioveses, the wines were across the board very good to excellent.  There were some tired not so good wines as well but those were few and far between.  I thought our panel worked very well together.   We were thoughtful, collaborative and fair with the wines we judged and scored.  Ultimately, we sent up several delicious wines for Sweepstakes consideration.  On the last day, all of the judges reconvened to taste through all of the Sweepstake wines in an effort to find the Best of Class white wine and Best of Class red wine.   When the winning wines were revealed, the Best of Class red wine was a wine that our panel had sent up for consideration - it was a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Paso Robles region.  The producer was Ecluse Winery and the wine was in the $30 to $34.99 price range.  It was a terrific wine and I was glad to see it win considering it came from our panel. 

In tasting all of these wines from around the country, I also came to realize that there is a lot of great wine being made these days.  At Dry Creek Vineyard, we always strive to put the best wine in the bottle possible, and for my taste, I think we do an extraordinarily good job of this.   Our wines are balanced, food friendly and most importantly, taste like the grape (you'd be surprised how many Pinots I tasted that tasted just like Syrah).  With my admittedly California palate, I was surprised to find out that my two favorite wines of the competition came from Washington State -  a Sauvignon Blanc and Primitivo from the Columbia Valley.  It just goes to show that great wine can be made anywhere - as long as there is a passion and commitment to the vineyard and grapes. 

Bill Smart, Director of Communications

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In keeping with my New Year's Resolution "drink champagne more regularly," I recently stopped in at the Roederer Estate tasting room in Anderson Valley. We were headed to one of our all time favorite places on earth, The Harbor House on the Mendocino Coast, to celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. Ok, stop right there. How many people do you know who have actually been married that long? And of those, how many are partners in life as well as partners in running a business? And of those, how many are actually still in love? Exactly! That's why I figured it was perfectly OK to be drinking champagne in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

Sipping through the Roederer line-up of bubbles was a delightful way to kick off our special celebration. They have numerous bottlings at various price levels, but by far the best is the 2002 L'Ermitage. If you like traditional French champagne, this one is for you. It is delicate and creamy, with exactly the right combination of fruit and richness.  It's not cheap, at $50. But when compared to the cost of a large pizza and a pitcher or two of beer, well, it wasn't hard to justify the investment.

A little later, it was time to open the Bollinger Brut Special Cuvée that I had picked up at my local grocery store. A shelf talker boasting a 94 point score from Wine Spectator caught my eye so I figured it must surely be worthy of our milestone. It too falls into the pizza and pitcher of beer price range.

"The bubbles are a little big for me" commented The Husband. Huh?? His comment seemed snobbish at first, but upon closer examination, I realized he was right. While the wine was creamy and yeasty, it was not seamless. The bubbles are so big that they fight with the subtle richness and savory nature of the wine. It was like the wine had two distinct personalities and they were definitely not getting along.  

I'm no champagne critic, but this was getting fun!

Our next selection was the Krug Grande Cuvée non vintage, ordered right off the Harbor House wine list. Ahhh, heaven on earth. Now here was champagne with tiny bubbles, complex flavors and a delicate yet sophisticated mouth feel that scored very high on the Yum Factor! It paired magnificently with Chef Adam Able's petrale sole with French beans, onion rings and sauce hollandaise. Talk about sublime. (Note: at this point in the evening I was in direct conflict with New Year's Resolution # 8, Lose Some Weight.) For you foodies, Adam is definitely a chef to watch. Trained in the south, he did a stint at Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg before taking the Executive Chef position at Harbor House. His cuisine is marvelous. Besides, anyone who finishes a meal with homemade beignets is a star in my book.  

As the evening progressed, I realized we were having an all champagne meal. Oh boy, I could get used to this.

Other champagnes we tasted were a 1996 Veuve Clicquot (oxidized with no pop), Roederer Estate Brut Rosé, (also high on the Yum Factor) and an old standby, J Vintage Brut, Late Disgorged.

As for my New Year's Resolution, I've added to it slightly:

“Each and every week, I shall enjoy some type of bubbly grape-based beverage to celebrate the basics of life: love, marriage, family, friends, health, happiness, and harmony. If those don't seem fitting, there's always feeding the dog, folding the wash, or emptying my in-box... 

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Is anyone else out there suffering from this? It's that "damn...is the holiday break really over already?????" blues. In my case, I've prolonged it as long as possible, spending a good part of this week playing catch up at home. We've cleaned out closets, rearranged furniture, ordered a big boy bed for our son who simply couldn't fit in the tiny bunk beds anymore, and a whole host of other "honey do's"  that had been mounting up. It feels good to be somewhat caught up.

Oops, I forgot to say Happy New Year! I hope that everyone reading this had a wonderful holiday season with plenty of rest, relaxation, and good wine.

I used to be one of those people who get completely stressed out Click to enlarge!during the holidays. The mere thought of shopping, wrapping, decorating, and entertaining on top of everything else was mind boggling. And while I love the thought of the holidays, truthfully the added stress made me crazy. This year was different. Instead of running myself ragged trying to do it all; I let a lot of things slide. I never quite got the mantel decorated, but who cares. My tree was less than perfect and no one gave a hoot. (Truth be told, I still had a giant pumpkin on my porch which jauntily sported a Santa hat!) It helped that we didn't have our usual houseful of out of town guests. Instead we focused on spending as much time as we could Click to enlarge!with the kids. We also got in quite a few days at the snow, shhusshhing down the slopes with my two teenagers and their hormonal friends. I hadn't skied in years and I'm hooked. (Don't be surprised if I suddenly volunteer for a tasting in Tahoe!)

One of the best things about the Xmas break is that it is just that, a break. That is why we give Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day off as holidays. It's a time to rejoice and refresh, slow down and take stock. Spend time with family or simply do the things we love to do but so rarely have the time to indulge. For me that meant no computers, no cell phones, no high heels. In essence, I led a simpler life which is now at the very top of my New Year's Resolution list!

Here are my other resolutions:

  • Perfect my guitar skills so Cheryl Crow will want to be my friend
  • Learn to play the harmonica
  • Overcome my fear of black diamond ski runs
  • Drink champagne on a more regular basis
  • Stop worrying so much Click to enlarge
  • Stop writing blog posts late at night
  • Make health a priority
  • Lose some weight
  • Hit the gym more regularly
  • Take a dance class
  • Travel less but smarter
  • Hold others accountable
  • Streamline wherever possible
  • Get more sleep
  • Spend more time smiling
  • Spend more time with my kids
  • Spend more time with The Husband not talking about the business!

I always start the year full of hope and expectation. Maybe this is the year I'll finally get it right. Whatever "it" is, right? But "it" is right now. "It" is my reality and if it isn't working for me, I need to change it. What does that mean? I'm not sure, but watch out world, I've got a fire in my belly and change is a-comin'!

What are your New Year's Resolutions?

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2010 is the previous archive.

February 2011 is the next archive.

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