Funny, those days also seem to involve great wine and great winemakers. Great wine and great winemakers just have that tendency to melt away all the frustrations that come with the business of selling wine. Just ask anyone in the wine business.
Great wine and great winemakers make up the art side of the industry, the passion side, the human side. They are why people like me move cases of wine from point a to point b like in that Dire Straits song say "We got to move these microwave ovens..... custom kitchen deliveri-i-i-ies! We got to move these refriger-a-tors! We got to move these color TVs!"
Yes, spending a day like yesterday is like getting money for nothing and chicks for free!
Okay, let me tell you what happened:
Yesterday was the day of the Dry Wine Tour 2009. It was billed as a Pinot Noir Seminar featuring 6 German winemakers that specialize in Pinot varieties - they were coming out to New York City to do a Pinot Trio event, which featured not just Rudi Wiest growers, but others from Germany that specialized in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. So 6 winemakers, Fritz Becker, Conrad Salwey, Meike Nakel, Sebastian Furst, Jaochim Heger, and Hansjorg Rebholz came across the pond to spend a week doing a tour across the country - Washington DC on Monday, Chicago on Tuesday, NYC on Wednesday (the Pinot Trio event), Los Angeles on Thursday, and San Francisco on Friday.
The Dry Wine seminar was fully packed, with about 30 people in attendance to taste 45 wines, 30 of which were presented by the growers who had flown here, and 15 more wines by other growers who did not come. The wines were impressive. Some older vintages, such as a vertical of Gunderloch 3 Star's 1996, 2000 and 2007 vintages. Stunning. Some lovely 2002s also, and Pinot Noir from 1997.
The event took a full 3 hours, and tasters were good enough to spend the time to thoughtfully consider some of the most painstakingly made wines on the planet! Wines that are more about grace, elegance, and balance.
But after that was when the fun really started!
Together with Joachim Heger, Conrad Salwey, and Hansjorg Rebholz, we did a mini-tour of Beverly Hills. The day was less than perfect in terms of weather - it was hazy, not sunny - but the temperature was right and we did get to see some sights. These weathered travelers enjoyed driving by the Beverly Hills Police Station, scene where the movie Beverly Hills Cop was shot years ago..... while we didn't drive on Rodeo Drive per se, we drove near the area and saw the shops and the residential areas. We visited the wine director at Crustacean Restaurant in Beverly Hills, where everyone got a chance to do a fun presentation with the wines, and have a tour of several wine rooms.
After that, we drove up the hills to the Hotel Bel-Air where we met with the wine director there, a young French sommelier with a passion for German wines. Again, a beautiful tour of the facility and gardens, where Hansjorg Rebholz in particular displayed his intellectual and sensual affection for the various aromas emminating from blooming spring flowers both in the dining room and in the garden. Hansjorg has been to me normally a quieter winemaker, but I really got to know him better on this trip, as he shared more of his thoughts, and I appreciated his intellectual and focused approach to all things - aromas of plants, subtle tastes in food (which I will share later), tunes in music, and observation of cars. Oh yes, we saw lots of cars in Beverly Hills, many good German one in particular, and the whole group seemed very into cars!
I had scheduled an early dinner for us at Spago, and that ended up being a very good decision. The travelers were weary. I have learned that when working with a winemaker, especially one who has traveled a great distance, less is more. Wearing them out bringing them to 10 or more accounts, some of them lesser accounts, accomplishes nothing other than to wear them out. Better to focus on some good accounts, not waste anyone's time, reduce stress for myself, and have a good time.
So at 6:15 pm we were seated in the courtyard patio at Spago, and it was starting to look like everyone was relaxing. The winemakers enjoyed themselves people watching, listening to music piping out into the courtyard that was a mix of classic rock, tunes that Hansjorg mentioned would never be played in a Michelin 2 star restaurant in Germany. He seemed to like the relaxed and casual vibe of the restaurant. Everyone seemed to.
Joachim Heger, one of the two Baden producers I had with me (the other is Salwey - they are both in the subregion known as the Kaiserstuhl, which is a volcano, and the region is full of volcanic soil) - he was a very happy jovial person on this trip - very social, and really enjoying the traveling aspect of this work journey - he suggested we do the tasting menu at Spago, and invited me to join them. Perhaps all of them had decided on the tasting menu - I'm not sure! But we ended up doing the tasting menu, with wine pairings suggested by the wine director, who we were also there to see. When they asked for regional wines to be paired, "but with not too much alcohol please," implored Conrad, the Spago somm cleverly replied, "But I thought you said you wanted regional wines!" LOL wine geeks would understand this means California wines are through the roof in their alcohol content, no possibility of having a moderate alcohol wine here.....
We went through a number of lovely courses, including sweetbreads, risotto with black truffles, skate in a lemon sauce, rack of lamb with a berry sauce. An interesting observation again by Hansjorg was that the food is sweet - the sauces are sweet - and he felt that maybe his wines would not go with many of these sweet dishes. Also observed by everyone at the table were that the wines were sweet - aha!!!!! to all those non-believers who do not agree with me when I tell them that California Pinot Noirs are sweet sweet sweet!
Of course I am not the first to say that wines made in the U.S. are sweet but there are so many denyers that occasionally I have to say it again!
I am a seller of German wines (and a lover of them) so I am the last person that would say sweetness in a wine is not good, but I think the denial of sweetness in a wine is what bugs me! Of course, there are other qualities one should appreciate in a wine - if all it has is overwhelming sweetness, there is something lacking!
The wines we went through included a rose Champagne from Ruinart (not a local wine, but something they added for fun). The German winemakers said that Ruinart is dominating the Champagne scene in Germany with their promotions and sponsorship of large events such as sommelier competitions. It didn't sound like a good thing to me! I have not been very much exposed to Ruinart before - and given what I was hearing about the producer, it sounds like it is a big house, and I have more been bred by The Wine Country to go for the small house Champagnes...... at any rate, the Ruinart Rose we were tasting was not fantastic to be honest. It was very dark red, soft, lacking in acidity and structure. Others at the table said this was a sweeter version than what they have in Germany and questioned whether it was made for the American market. One also mentioned that Rose was the worst thing that has happened to Champagne (!!) because it is made by the addition of red wine, but the saignee method of lightly pressing red grapes, but simply adding red wine to sparkling white...
Quite the fun discussion there!
After that, in terms of wine, we moved on to a Californian produced Viognier called Cold Heaven. I didn't catch the vintage, but it was a pleasant, not over-the-top viognier which I actually liked. After that was a Chardonnay, the name of which I did not catch - it was oaky and toasty and vanilla and toffee - the winemakers said this was from a heavy barrel toast - I didn't much go for it and with my food chose to go back to the cleaner Viognier.
We moved on to reds. We received an Oregon Pinot Noir which I am familiar with - Belle Pente from the Willamette Valley (again I didn't catch the vintage). Joachim said this reminded him of a German wine in its nose and palate. At first, the nose was full of sulfur reduction, but it did blow off and improved in the glass. The palate was light and fruit driven, not oaky, so that did make the wine easy to drink, definitely. Most at the table liked it, but found it simple, lacking in tannin structure. Conrad said it was good in its fruit and acidity, but lacked tannin backbone. Hansjorg found it lacking in everything but fruit, that it was all fruit, a bit sweet (he should taste a California Pinot!!), but lacking in acidity, tannin, and balance. I agreed with all of them, that it was a easy enough to drink wine, but probably not one that would make me want to choose it over a German Pinot Noir or Burgundy.
The second red was to go with our rack of lamb dish - a Cabernet France from the Napa Valley, the name of which escapes me. Black-red in the glass, staining, and smelling of an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, those were my first impressions. Literally, sticking my nose into the glass, I would have guessed Aussie Cab, it was that full of eucalyptus and mint and all that Aussie-ness. On the palate, it was dense, oaky, and overpoweringly alcoholic. I didn't take more than 2 sips of the wine and decided I don't need to drink all of that, and I went back to the Belle Pente Pinot Noir to go with my delicate lamb dish. That, I did finish.
Finally, dessert came, and it was a layered flourless chocolate torte (dobostorte from the Hungarian), and with it, they served something from Europe - this time, Moscato d'Asti, and it was refreshingly delicious, even with chocolate. Perfect. As Joachim noted, with Moscato, there is also natural acidity. This grape is called Gelber Muskateller in the Germanic world. Everyone seemed to like its lively freshness and its balance of fruit, sugar, and acidity, even in its simplicity. No wonder Randy of The Wine Country always wins customers over with Moscato d'Asti!
The evening was coming to a close. Everyone was happy. The three generous winemakers did not let me pay. They treated me to their company as well as to an evening of great food and interesting wine. I also got to listen in as they analyzed wines much like a chef would analyze a dish to see how it was prepared. They did this wint the wines which was so much fun to listen to.
I flagged down the wine director to leave him with about 10 bottles of these winemaker's wines so he could taste them later. He was happy to take them. I hope he gets a chance to enjoy these and brings some of these wines in!
Finally, we left the restaurant, had the valet take a picture of us outside the restaurant, and it was back to the hotel for all the winemakers. A perfect finish to a very long and successful day.
Here's to winemakers who make genuine real wine of the earth, and show their passion in everything they do. Thank you!