New Chapters

(Above: sort of a self-portrait from a recent trip to the Grand Canyon. Man, that place is awesome! Also, it ties the UN’s FAO headquarters in Rome for language diversity.)

As some of you already know, I recently left Wine & Spirits, where I have been, successively (and oftentimes simultaneously) a tastings coordinator, editor, staff writer and critic for the better part of the last five years. But now it’s time to move on, and I’ll be joining my friends in the trenches and hitting the streets of San Francisco to pimp wine. Of course, I plan to continue writing — especially here — but also in venues on subjects where there’s no conflict of interest. (And if any of the wines discussed, reviewed or profiled on this site happen to be those that I represent, then I will make that distinction quite clear.)

It’s no secret that times are tough in journalism, publishing and the wine industry (and elsewhere). And where those three subjects come together, well, let’s just say it’s been particularly tough. But I will say that for wine at least, there’s real strength to be found in the people and relationships that make up this business. I’ve worked in wine for over a decade, for the entire ‘aughts’ or whatever the fuck they’re called, and I’m constantly impressed, engaged, and then re-engaged by the relationships formed over those years.

That I believe is the wine industry’s true gift to world commerce and culture — sure, the latest and greatest vintages matter, but at the end of the day it’s the workers picking and pruning vineyards, the cellar crews lugging hoses, winemakers tasting their blends, distributors and reps out working the streets, somms and servers working tables, and retailers walking their aisles, that keep this whole thing going. Nature may make the grapes into wine, but it takes women and men to move it, to build excitement stoke the passions of the people drinking it.

I’m grateful for all the support shown by folks in the industry during these past few days. It’s why I love this business.

Thank you all, and here’s to a great new year!

Depeche Mode’s version of the classic ‘Route 66’ – good times!

(Above: I snapped this pic of tired old cars along historic Route 66 somewhere in Arizona.)

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The NPA – Keeping Winedrinkers Safe

I have a post up at Wine & Spirits that talks about the Natural Process Alliance, a new project from Kevin Kelley of Salinia Wine Company. Kelley has made a skin-fermented chardonnay and a pinot gris relying only on indigenous yeasts and without using any added sulfur dioxide. The wines are delicious although quite limited in production. Also cool: They challenge the rules of packaging and are shipped in reusable stainless steel canisters.

(If you’re in San Francisco however, you can get the pinot gris now at NOPA where it’s $8 a glass – yum).

Anyway, to learn more about the Natural Process Alliance, head over to Wine & Spirits.

*Alice Feiring has an account of her visit with Kelley when this wine was in its infancy.
*For more about the usage of sulfur dioxide in contemporary California winemaking, check out this article I wrote last year for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Biodynamics and Classic Japanese Cars

I couldn’t resist that title, sorry.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the southern Californian auto business, but I’ve always had a place in my heart for classic Japanese cars. I even drive one, the 1976 Datsun 280 ZX seen below pulled off to side of highway 128 in Anderson Valley.

Anyway, the New York Times ran an interesting little article on the increasing collectibility of old Datsuns/Nissans (read it here). While I would love to own a 1972 240 Z, my little ’76 is pretty damn reliable, to say nothing of being quite fast. It’s also yellow. We won’t speak of gas mileage.

(There’s also a nifty slideshow at the NYT showing a few cherry Datsuns from over the years.)

Changing the subject from my wine country getaway mobile to something more vinous, over at Wine & Spirits you’ll find a series of short profiles and tasting notes on wines featured at Josh Greene’s seminar on biodynamics and natural wine at this year’s VinItaly. The seminar itself was lively and fun, and the audience–including some representatives of the Italian edition of Vanity Fair–really dug the proceedings. Anyway, the post will be updated Wednesday and Friday to include all 8 wineries from the presentation. Read the first batch here.

Lastly, my friend and colleague Peter Liem has been profiled by Tom Wark over at Fermentation (thanks for the shout out, Peter!). For those of you not familiar with Tom’s Bloggerview feature, it’s a somewhat regularly updated collection of profiles of the many bloggers posting in the eno blogosphere. I’ve found many a distraction here, and I’m sure you will too.

VinItaly 08: Anteprima 2007

Besides this picture, which I thought captured a certain attitude towards the well-reported Montalcino scandal at this year’s VinItaly, one of the things I came away with from the event was the excitement many growers and winemakers feel towards their 2007 wines. You can read a brief report I wrote about tasting wines from this vintage at VinItaly over at Wine & Spirits.

Recalibrating My Palate

…Etc.

Maybe it’s because I had an excellent yoga class earlier tonight, but I’m suddenly in a mood to recalibrate a few things in my life. Starting with my palate. Although that’s more of a work excuse than anything else. After a long break from tasting wine at Wine & Spirits, I’m about to start regular panel tastings again tomorrow. And here in San Francisco, that means all North American wine, all the time.

For various reasons, I’ve had a long break in what is normally a long and intense tasting stretch (the most recent tasting cycle pushed 1,000 by my most recent count, if not more). Thank god that number is spread out over several weeks and not, as shown by Jamie Goode over at his blog, concentrated into the two grueling weeks of the International Wine Challenge in London. (Jamie, btw, I’m available to judge next year.)

As part of that long break, I’ve been drinking mostly European wine (and of that, mostly Italian), and without going into the details, it’s been quite lovely. Tonight though, I wanted something from California, and taking that theme further, I wanted zinfandel. Not my usual choice, I know, but I think I might be a closet zin lover, a log cabin member of ZAP, as it were (kidding).

But what I pulled out of the cellar wasn’t entirely zin, and damned if it doesn’t taste downright Mediterranean. Once upon a time I was a member of Ridge’s ATP (ATP=Advance Tasting Program) and I have a delicious collection of Ridge wines as a result. I opened one of these–a 2000 Mazzoni Home Ranch–this evening. According to a history on Ridge’s site, one Giuseppe Mazzoni and his brother-in-law Abramo Trusendi (who was apparently all of 14) arrived in California from Italy in 1898 and began working at the Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, Sonoma County. Long story short, they eventually bought land in Alexander Valley and planted a vineyard of ‘mixed blacks’ there: zinfandel, carignane, petite sirah and a slew of other such grapes. Ridge has made wine from this vineyard since 1996. This bottle of 2000–which is almost done, sadly–is tasting great, all fresh red berry and red plum fruit, with snappy acidity. Delicious, and perfect with tonight’s impromptu pasta tossed with roast purple cauliflower, pine nuts and capers. And a little pancetta for kicks.

So there, palate recalibrated.

Oh, the Scandal

There’s been plenty of chatter over the recent ‘scandal’ in Montalcino, and you’ll find ongoing coverage of saga at VinoWire as well as a tidy write up by Eric Asimov at the Pour.

For a thorough look at today’s Brunello, and possibly a backgrounder to recent concerns, check out this excerpt from an article by David Lynch published in the April 2008 issue of Wine & Spirits. You should also be able to find the issue on newstands.

Update 4/23/08: The New York Times published a comprehensive report on the Montalcino scandal. You can read the informative article here.