Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sidebar Rant: how great German dry wines are

So, I have been thinking about my next blog post, which should be Part VII about the fabulous dinner that followed the first part of the TBA tasting on Saturday April 17. The dinner took place at Mille Fleurs in Rancho Santa Fe, where the tasting took place. I'll talk about the wonderful dishes we had at this dinner in the next post, but I'll take a sidebar here to rant a little about the wonderful wines we had with our meal.

All the wines at our dinner were German dry wines. This is a curious concept to many, because German wines are known to be sweet. This is across the board, whether you ask novice wine drinkers, or even non-wine drinkers, or if you ask people who have been drinking, collecting and/or cellaring wine for decades, or people who work in various parts of the wine business. Across the board, people think that German wines are, by definition, sweet.

Which makes presenting dry German wines quite difficult.

Which makes people ask, why bother presenting German dry wines? Why doesn't Germany just make sweet wines? Why do something no one expects it to do?

These sound like bizarre questions, kind of like asking someone why they aren't doing what the whole world expects him or her to do, instead of what they want to do, or what they excel at doing. Would you ask someone to do what the world expects, instead of letting him or her do what he or she wants to do? Especially if he or she is really good at it?

Ranting aside, let me just say that Germany makes some kick-ass dry German wines. Yes, Germany makes TBAs and all sorts of noble sweet wines, but they are more curiosities, while the fruity Kabinetts and Spatlese are good stuff, the dry wines are solid top-notch specimens, as good as any made in any top region of the world. I'm not just saying that because I sell them; I know it. These wines are difficult to understand and only show themselves after the following two conditions are met (in my opinion):

1. They have a few years of age on them

2. You have them with fine European-style cuisine

When you meet above conditions 1 and 2, then you see these wines shine.

As pictured above, here is Hansjorg Rebholz, owner and grapegrower and winemaker for Rebholz Estate in the Pfalz region of Germany. He is holding on to a 3 Liter bottle of his 2001 Rebholz Kastanienbusch Riesling Grosses Gewachs, an absolutely gorgeous single vineyard dry Riesling that will blow your mind. It was paired at the dinner with the seared Maine scallops on a bed of cauliflower puree, and it was utterly awesome, as it was by itself when I went for a second glass later on in the evening. The wine, 9 years old, was subtly aged, but not nearly at its peak; its creator said that if this were out of a 750 ml bottle, it would be at its peak right now, but out of the double magnum, still an infant.

When you taste these wines, and I hope you will get to some day, you will understand how I feel about these wines, which is sad that they don't get the attention they deserve because people don't expect this type of wine out of Germany and they think it is too expensive and they don't think they will sell, all the while, French wines and California wines of this price point of the same or lesser quality get shelf space and wine list space.

Well, enough ranting, it is my job to get these wines out there and market them and create a market for them and show how terrific they are, and worthy they are, and how deserving they are to exist in the form that they do. These wines need respect. They are excellent, and people should know. I hope, soon, that I am in your neighborhood pouring you a fine example of one or more of these top-notch wines, be they dry Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Silvaner, or Scheurebe.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Photo Gallery - Rudi Wiest collection: German Riesling TBAs 1921 to 1959

Part VI: Saturday April 17: Day 1 of Rudi Wiest's historic TBA tasting

Bruce Sanderson of the Wine Spectator has just written and published a very professional, eloquent, and well-researched account of this tasting I'm about to share here, which you can find on the Wine Spectator website. Here is my humble perspective.

Saturday afternoon, after that wonderful lunch of local vegetables and bit of mingling, we launched immediately into Rudi Wiest's tasting of his private collection of German Riesling Trockenbeerenausleses ("TBAs" as they are affectionately called) - get this - 50 years and older. Actually, they are all older than 50 years - the youngest of the wines in this tasting were from the heralded German Riesling vintage of 1959... this being 2010, the young-uns at this tasting were 51 years of age. Now, the oldest Riesling I have tasted to date, I believe, is 1959, and that was at the Wegeler Rheingau estate when I was there in September of 2007, my first trip to Germany. I had also previously hosted an older vintage Riesling tasting which was the cellared wines of Dr. Cary Feibleman back a few years ago when I worked at The Wine Country - I did post about that tasting, and I'll have to go re-read what I wrote to see if I had on that evening experienced something older than 1959.

But this tasting went all the way back to a time I know little about - 1921. Imagine that. My paternal grandmother (with whom I was close) was not yet born; my paternal grandfather was 10 years old. World War I was over but World War II was not yet close to being conceived. 1921 - there were 6 wines from this vintage that we tasted and they were older than anyone in the room.

To my surprise, we started with the oldest wines first, these ancient 1921s. Bruce Sanderson, sitting to my left, said this was often the case in these vertical old wine tastings, that the oldest, being the most delicate, were tasted first. Though sometimes it would happen the opposite way. I thought we would start with the young-uns and work our way back to the most mysterious of the wines. But instead, we plunged into the oldest ones.

Those 6 viscous, dark-coffee colored wines, darkened by almost a century in the bottle, were:

1921 Schloss Vollrad Riesling TBA (Rheingau)
Complex beautiful nose of caramel and cinnamon; palate chewy, dense, with chocolate, fig, medicinal herb.

1921 Reichsrat von Buhl Deidesheimer Leinhohle Riesling TBA (Pfalz)
Nose of light, fresh mint; palate rich with caramel candy, mint, quince, orange rind; clean and elegant. My favorite of the first flight of 3.

1921 Schloss Schonborn Marcobrunner Riesling TBA(Rheingau)
Nose is muted while palate is high acid, bright, with a slightly chalky texture, cranberry. Some said this is typicaly Marcobrunner style; others said this bottle was slightly corked, or not showing well.

1921 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling TBA (Mosel)
Best wine of this second flight of 3. Nose is very beautiful, aromatic, elegant, captivating, full of fresh figs and dates; palate is savory, lush, sweet, bright, balanced. Shows the beauty of this vineyard.

1921 Maximin Grunhauser Herrenberg (Ruwer)
Nose had a hint of TCA (cork), otherwise muted; palate dry-ish, high acid, lighter body.

1921 Staatsdomane Serriger Vogelsang Riesling TBA (Saar)
Nose of spiced raisins, some oxidation; palate very concentrated, rich, dense, brown sugar and coffee, Christmas spice, some bright acidity, long finish.

We went on to taste wines from 1927, 1934, 1935, 1937, 1938, 1942 (WWII!), 1945 (WWII just ending!), 1949. Then we left the 1950s to day 2. I won't post tasting notes on every wine I tasted, but I will say that the following wines had stars next to them, and the 1949 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener-Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling TBA (Mosel) had double stars!

The best of the bunch:

1938 Dr. Thanisch Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling TBA (Mosel)
What is it with these Bernkasteler Doctors proving how great they are? While Bernkasteler Doctor is a terrific vineyard and shows its beauty in youthful wines, it really stands out after these wines age like 60 or 70 years, it seems! Then we see what everyone is made of. This wine had a very light coffee color, a nose of sea salt caramels, very interesting and savory; the palate bright, elegant, delicate and balanced like a Mosel wine should be. Fresh and so far from oxidation, even at 72 years old. Gramps looks good and is running faster than you are...

1935 Bassermann-Jordan Deidesheimer Hohenmorgen Riesling TBA (Pfalz)
Nose of caramelized sugar and mint; palate bright, succulent, hint of prune

1945 Franz Karl Schmitt Niersteiner Kehr-Flachenhahl Riesling TBA (Rheinhessen)
Viscous, color of dark honey (not brown, but honey gold); nose of sweet unctuous brown sugar; palate richly sweet but well balanced. Notably, Bipin Desai, physicist and avid French wine collector and host of many big (impressive) vertical tastings, sitting nearby said that this wine most reminded him of a '45 Chateau d'Yquem (sweet white wine called Sauternes from Bordeaux, France). With that comment, I did note that this wine would be quite terrific with a generous portion of seared foie gras.

1949 Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener-Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling TBA (Mosel)
For many in the tasting, this might have been the wine of the day. It was really able to show why J.J. Prum has been reigning in the Mosel for so long, and why the wines at this estate are revered and regarded as cellar gems, why they command the prices twice as much as their neighbors making wines from some of the same vineyards. This wine, a young-un, only 61 years old, was orange gold in color, with a nose of sugared orange slices and dates. The palate was exciting, rich and delicate at the same time, with orange cream and fresh herbs, tons of complexity while remaining clean. Perfect.

As for the source, this is harvested not as a single vineyard, but as a blended selection of 2 vineyards: Wehlener Sonnenuhr and Zeltinger Sonnenuhr (the Wehlen Sundial and the Zeltingen Sundial, no doubt the best suntrap vineyards in both of those wine villages). Prior to the 1971 Wine Law in Germany, this was allowed. Since 1971, this type of labelling is forbidden; it is single vineyard, or estate wine, nothing in between.

It was an afternoon of curiosities. A great 4-hour long tasting, after which we were overwhelmed with strong feelings and newfound knowledge. The oldest of Rudi's collection had been opened, revelled in, consumed, pondered over, discussed. We would then break for a couple hours before dinner. And then be in for another gastronomic treat.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Part V: Day 6: Saturday morning: Do you know the way to Rancho Santa Fe?

Saturday morning: Rudi calls: "Are you coming with us to the farm?"

"Um, no, I thought you said I didn't have to go to the farm, I could just come for lunch at 11."

"Well, you don't have to, but we are meeting at the restaurant, and if you want to come to the farm, get here by 10 or 10:15."

So, I packed my bags as quickly as I could, and found my way to quaint, upscale Rancho Santa Fe, to the meeting place, which was the restaurant Mille Fleurs.

I got there too late, about 10:30. Luckily, when I called Rudi, he said that chef Martin of Mille Fleurs was returning from the farm with his vegetables, and I could follow him back if I wanted to see the farm.

So I did - met Chef Martin of Mille Fleurs, who was super nice, and because he had to drive people back to the restaurant, I followed him in my car to Chino Farm, just about a 5 minute drive from his restaurant, along some pretty country roads.

Chino Farm, a place I only learned about this past weekend, is apparently a well known high end local farm situated in Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego county, and supplies high end restaurants, but ships to none of them except for Alice Water's restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley. All other restaurants have to shop there personally and pick up the veggies and fruits, like Chef Martin does every day. Which I thought was pretty cool.
The farm seems to specialize in miniature organically grown vegetables - everything from mini radishes (some purple, some red), beets, fennel, leeks, zucchinis, other squashes, cauliflowers and asparagus. They also have French strawberries, those wild ones, which are red all the way to their core. Rudi bought some of those to share with the group, and they were very good. It is open to the public, and seemed to have a bit of a following, and the oddity was that no prices were posted - all the service seemed personalized, with the owner behind the counter filled with veggies and fruits.
Back at the restaurant, a group of 25 or so people mingled for a bit with 2009 Schnaitmann Evoe Rose from the Wurttemburg region, a rose blend from 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Trollinger. When we sat down for lunch, we got a taste of those farm fresh veggies right away with an exclusively vegetarian meal. A gorgeous green soup, a plate of grilled assorted baby vegetables, and after that, a homemade veggie ravioli topped with cave aged gruyere - rich and heavy that would help our group prepare our tummies for the wines about to be poured: a tasting of trockenbeerenauslese Rieslings all over 50 years old, Rudi's private collection (supplemented by a few recent purchases and contributions) that created this incredible, seriously once-in-a-lifetime tasting.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Part IV: Day 5: Friday: Hosting the SCGGG Wine Tasting Group - Tuscan Reds

On Friday, I left behind all that was German, and found myself in the sunny hills of Tuscany.

Well, not really. I have never been to Italy, so what I know of it is a figment of my imagination, a combination of words and images put there by others who have been there. Just like I have an image of New York City, Chicago, Spain, Argentina. It will be interesting to go to these places for real someday and be surprised at how much each place is or is not like how I imagined them.

But my palate did go to Italy on Friday, because it was our turn to host, at our home, a blind tasting of Tuscan red wines. We belong to a tasting group with a long history, but we are recent members. We were invited by good friends about a year ago, and with some false starts, we are attending the monthly meetings a little more regularly this year.

SCGGG stands for Southern California Grape and Gripe Group. The format of this group is once a month meetings where blind tasting is done. Yep - brown bagging. While this is, to some, the most objective way to taste wine, I have had a difficult time grasping this. When I ask myself why, I first think that it is my upbringing. Not my upbringing during childhood by my parents, but my upbringing in wine. I was brought up in the wine business very recently (so I am a baby really, maybe a toddler, or a kindergartener) by the kind folks at The Wine Country. At The Wine Country, blind tasting is not so much revered. I believe the theory is that wine is not something to be tasted blind, like some object, but something to be felt, studied not in isolation, but in context. That 10 or 20 wines shouldn't be subjected to a line-up like some criminals in a Law and Order episode, but appreciated on its own merits and peculiarities. That wine, at least fine wine, be regarded as works of art and not mathematical puzzles.

Or like, I believe Kermit Lynch or someone once said, blind tasting is to wine appreciation what strip poker is to making love........ or something like that (I should really google this one).

The point here is, from the folks that taught me 80% of what I know about wine: they don't like blind tasting, they don't like putting wines in a line-up, and they don't feel that wines show well in this way.

So I had my resistance about blind tasting. So initially, I didn't attend many of these tastings.

But I've come around a bit. I've shed some of my resistance about this form of tasting, and accepted it for what it is, without allowing this exercise to mean more than it can mean. Blind tasting is simply one way of tasting wine, to see what one prefers when one cannot see the label. Blind tasting challenges one to think about what aromas and smells one is getting from the wine, without the help of the label.

I must add, though, that SCGGG is a group of wine lovers, not wine industry folks, so the blind tasting takes place to choose what wines one subjectively prefers; the tasting is not designed to be a challenge to guess what a wine is, which is another game wine people play.

So anyway, it was our turn to host this month, and it happened to land on my busiest week ever, so Tasting #4 of the week was of Tuscan reds. Everyone brought one and we were 9. We ended up with 5 Chianti Classico, and 4 other Tuscan reds, none of which were Brunello, but 1 was a Rosso of Montalcino (baby Brunello), 1 was a Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, and 2 were super-Tuscans.

Interestingly, the top three favorites chosen by the group at large were all Chianti Classico. I actually chose as my favorite a Super-Tuscan - 2006 Il Sasso Carmignano by Mauro Vannucci but the wine came in 7th place (out of 9) overall. The overall top three winners were, in the this order 2006 Querciabella Chianti Classico, 2006 San Giusto a Rentennano Chianti Classico, and 2006 Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico. I did agree that the Chiantis were very nice wines indeed, especially with the sliced Italian salamis that I served alongside.

I like to draw conclusions from these blind tastings, and my conclusions were: (1) maybe Chianti Classico shows well in a line-up against other Tuscan reds, (2) maybe if you are going to buy a red wine from Tuscany to have with some delicious Italian food, choosing a Chianti Classico would not be a terrible choice in most circumstances, and (3) lighter wines, like the 2006 Dei Vino Nobile de Montepulciano will never fare as well in such tastings with more heavyweights like Chiantis, though they are lovely, elegant wines on their own.

In all, the wines were enjoyable. They were all in the $20 to $35 range, so nothing too grandiose like a $70 Brunello or anything. Which I would find a waste of money to put in a blind tasting personally anyway - I like to save those wines to go with a great meal or just by themselves, without too many peers.

So that was Friday evening! Great fun was had by all. I enjoyed it. Except that I looked tired. Because I was, and I knew I had to get up early the next morning, pack my stuff, and head out of town for tasting #5.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Part III: Day 4: Thursday April 15 - Dry Wine Tour in LA, Fritz Haag Tasting at The Wine Country

It was a wonderful, sunny day in Beverly Hills, California on Thursday April 15, and all the winemakers were ready to do their last show for the week at Lawry's Prime Rib, our restaurant of choice to host events in Southern California.

Pictured above are Rainer Schnaitmann (left) and Fritz Becker Jr (right) sitting outside Lawry's getting ready for the noon tasting.

All was prepared. All we needed were the guests.

Sadly, many of them didn't show up.

Well, that might be an exaggeration - we did have some turn out, but much fewer than we had hoped. The turnout was not even as good as in San Francisco. We would have liked to have packed the room with wine buyers from all over, clamoring to taste these beautiful wines and to hear how they were made and the history of these fine estates from the winemakers and estate owners themselves. However, many I had hoped would attend did not.

It is the sad state of affairs these days - most restaurants and wine stores are on tight staffing, and spending 2 hours at a tasting is a luxury few can afford.

Anyhoo, we still had fun, as you can tell above, and we still had many cool people from both restaurants and retail who showed up and spent the time to taste the wines, which were terrific. I even tasted and learned a few things. For example, the Hans Wirsching wines, how they all have this salty minerality - Uwe Matthius from the winery explained this as a component of the soil - the high lime content - which increases the pH of the soil, and of the wines made from grapes grown in this terroir - which gives the wines that salty minerality which balances the acidity in the wine. So that's where it comes from!

I learned from listening to Fritz Becker about his family's estate that his father had established the winery in its present day form, back in 1973. But he was from a long line of winemakers. It was just that the winery had an unpleasant interruption between 1940 and 1972, when the town had been leveled during the war. There was even a 10-year period where the vineyards, through which the border of France and Germany was drawn, made it so that Fritz's grandfather could not cross the border into France to farm his own vineyards, so they lay neglected for a decade. After this time, a treaty did come about where the French in Alsace could have access to the German town's water supply, and in exchange, the winemakers could have some of their land back, and Fritz's grandfather at that time went back to farm the vineyards and sell to the cooperative, as there wasn't the option to make his own wine at the time. It was not until 1973 did Fritz's father begin making the family's own wine. Now, they are very successful making top end Pinot Noir and white wines from the family's vineyards, of which 70% are across the border on French soil (now there is no problem at all crossing the border!)
After this very educational tasting, I had to leave - to drive to The Wine Country to host my second tasting of the day (third tasting of the week) - the Fritz Haag commuter tasting. This is a fun event, last about 2 hours, located only 5 miles from my home, so no big deal. The only issue was that this tasting was not so well attended, The Wine Country being located just across the street from the big central post office, the street being blocked by last minute tax return filers who opted not to send electronically...
We had about 15 attendees (low compared to a more desirable 30 or 35); the wines showed well, in particular the 2008 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Spatlese, which was elegant, crisp, and full of delicious ripe fruit, and more open for business than its more expensive big brother, the 2008 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, which was also good, but a little more closed, begging for just a little more time in the bottle before it would show all its hidden charms.
After these two tastings, I headed home, ready to tackle Friday, which itself had its own tasting to contend with...

Part II: Days 2 & 3: How Far Calistoga really is, and the Dry Wine Tour seminar

Tuesday was a bit of a blur. What I remember is that after that really nice dinner at Gary Danko Monday evening, I had a restful sleep back at the hotel, and began to feel more human. That meant, I wanted to get right to work. So I got up early and began working - I had 8 customer accounts to see - and I didn't get back to my hotel room till 11:00 pm that night. Nope, there was no fine dining for me that night - dinner was a plate of Mexican food from Via Corona in St. Helena in the Napa Valley, a place that I went to once before, and that dinner lasted from about 9:00 pm to 9:20, when I had to hit the road to return to my hotel in San Francisco. At that point in the evening, I had to wonder why I didn't book a place to stay in the Napa Valley instead of driving all the way back into the city, 1.5 hours away from my last appointment.

But that would have involved perfect planning.

Instead, I had a day where I used up a tank of gas getting to appointments all over the East Bay, from Walnut Creek to Danville to Napa to Calistoga. (Yes, I had to go to the Napa valley again on Tuesday - because there are buyers that work Monday but don't work Tuesday, and buyers that don't work Monday and work Tuesday.) And that's when I found out that Calistoga is a looooong way from Napa, even though it in the Napa Valley. Who knew it was like 30 or more miles from the "bottom" of the valley?

The account I saw in Calistoga was Solage, a beautiful resort nestled in the mountains, a spa retreat, with a beautiful restaurant. Here I met with two managers who were super nice, and made my long drive worth it. They loved the wines and promised to bring them in. That helped my mood that evening.

That appointment was at 8 pm at night, and it made me remember why I don't like to work that late - it does not feel good... I was out of there close to 9, and that's when I headed down the 29 highway to the restaurant where I had dinner in record speed.

Wednesday morning I woke up and had to see 1 account before heading to the Dry Wine Tasting. The account turned out to be a tiny market in a neighborhood. It was so small I missed it several times driving by. It is so interesting to me, these little neighborhood markets all over San Francisco - so different from Los Angeles, where there aren't so many of these since no one here walks. In a more walking-focused town, these independent markets seem to thrive, and their customers have a strong loyalty to their local place where they can walk to.

Next was the Dry Wine Tasting. I got there a little later than I had hoped, found parking, and arrived at the front door just when Rudi Wiest, the 6 growers, and Laura Williamson, the newest member of the Rudi Wiest team showed up with all their luggage. They had arrived from their Tuesday tasting in Chicago, which followed their Monday tasting in New York City. So they probably weren't going to be very sympathetic to how tired I was feeling! Their Tuesday, I heard, was brutally long and hard, with a flight in the morning from NYC to Chicago, a tasting in Chicago, followed a flight from Chicago to San Francisco.

I was nervous before the tasting - all these winemakers were there, and Rudi, and others, and we had to fill the room with good customers ready to taste the top dry wines of Germany. Getting buyers to attend the tasting was a challenge because most are too busy to get away for several hours to attend a tasting. But in the end, many good customers did attend, and enjoyed the tasting. Whew!

At the end of the day, I was exhausted. I returned my rental car (after getting lost a bit finding the rental car place again), barely got on my flight back home on time, then took the hour long flight home, only to find that my checked luggage didn't make it. Fortunately, Johan picked me up and we went for dinner, got a call from the airport folks, and were able to return to the airport to pick up the luggage shortly after 9pm, which had made it on the very next flight. So all was not lost. And the bottle of wine that Gunter Kunstler gave me after the tasting, which I had carefully wrapped in a bunch of clothes, stayed intact, which was good, because it was a nice bottle, a 2007 Franz Kunstler Kirchenstuck Riesling, an elegant dry Riesling that Gunter recommended to go with a nice piece of "white beef" (which I translated to mean veal) in a mushroom & cream sauce, on noodles, "topped with those expensive things from Italy" he said, while making a motion with his hands that looked like grating cheese, to which I asked, "cheese?" and he said, "no, no, not cheese," and I guessed, "Oh, truffles!" and he said yes.

So when the occasion, strikes, I will make a veal chop with a mushroom cream sauce on a bed of homemade noodles, and buy some nice Italian truffles and grate them on top and serve his lovely dry Riesling with it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Intense Week Part I: Day 1: Arrival to Northern California

The past 7 days have been a concentration of some of the most excitement I have experienced in a while - too much excitement - lots of ups and downs, of the type I would never have experienced in my previous profession in the health care biz.... the week was quintessential exciting wine biz stuff, for sure. We're talking tastings, winemakers, travel, dinners at high-end restaurants, schmoozing with known entities, the whole bit, all the things I wanted to experience back when I was trudging my way into the hospital day after day, putting on my white lab coat, and thinking, hey, I'd rather be working for a European wine importer.

Well, where there's a will, there's a way. And what I wished for and made changes toward, here I am.

Let me start with the period Monday April 12 to Wednesday April 14. Just three little days, and I put on some serious miles. The plan was to be up in San Francisco for the first two days to work the market, then be there for the Dry Wine Tour tasting with our 6 winemakers on Wednesday.

The Dry Wine Tour is a tasting tour that goes across America, with Rudi Wiest at the helm, and 6 growers who specialize in dry German wines. This year, we had Rainer Schnaitmann of Schnaitmann Estate in Wurttemburg, Fritz Becker of Friedrich Becker Estate in the Pfalz, Hansjorg Rebholz of Rebholz Estate in the Pfalz, Gunter Kunstler of Franz Kunstler Estate in Rheingau, Marcus from Heger Estate in Baden, and Uwe Mathius from Hans Wirsching in Franken.

Monday morning I was up at 5 am, and was driven to the airport by Johan. I flew into SFO from Long Beach Airport via JetBlue, my favorite airline right now. JetBlue flies out of Long Beach and previously only flew to Oakland and Sacramento, but now has recently added San Francisco. Super convenient, this airline has been great for me, and they serve delicious Terra Blues chips on the flight with bottled water.... lovely - a perfect distraction for a flight that takes about an hour.

It was my first time flying to SFO, and it was my first time using a small carry-on sized cheapie piece of luggage. It took a ton of time getting out of this very huge airport (it felt much bigger than OAK), but after I finally maneuvred myself to where the shuttle was that would take me to my cheapie car rental place (Ace Rent-a-Car), and after I finally got my cheapie rental car (Hyundai - no power door locks, no power windows), I unzipped my checked luggage to find that my trustie GPS device was BROKEN.

This was very traumatic. I was at an airport I had not flown into before in recent memory, I had no idea how I was going to get to my appointments all over the Bay Area and beyond, and my security blanket was gone. And no, I had no back-up, no maps...

I dragged my cheapie car to the Shell station to buy a map of SF..... and improvised the rest of the day until the next day when I found myself an AAA to pick up more than 7 different maps for all the different areas I was going to...

Long story short, over Monday and Tuesday, I managed to make it to all of my appointments except one; I was late to some, but managed, and I succeeded in navigating myself using MAPS! I patted myself on the back. I got myself from San Francisco to Napa and back more than once (sometimes not using the most efficient route, but I did it)... I got to places I had never been before, such as the Blackhawk neighborhood of the city of Danville... overall, I was happy with my success in the navigation department!

There's a nice feeling of accomplishment that I get when the going gets tough, like when I'm in a foreign town, and the weather is not all good, and I don't know where I'm going, and there's pressure because I'm running late, and there's pressure because 6 winemakers are coming and I had better make sure there are clients that will be at the tasting. Little feats I accomplish feel extraordinary at the time.

Monday evening, after a stressful day, I had dinner plans with my coworker, and, after finding out that several restaurants (Zuni Cafe, Bar Crudo) we wished to go to were closed on Monday, we ended up at the famed Gary Danko Restaurant. This is a place that I wanted to check out from the bar, because I wanted to go here with my husband. So we went there with the full intention of sitting at the bar, having a drink and some food... we ended up a with a table in the intimate dining room, and had an amazing dining experience. Pampered was a good word for it - the service, the wine, and the food were exceptional.

I neglected to take pictures of the food, but everything was artistically plated and delicious, from the lobster salad and the seared scallops to the cheese plate to end the meal. Extra special was the glass of Amarone they recommended with the cheese plate; we expected a recommendation of a white sweet wine with the cheese, but instead got this full-bodied, deliciously balanced red instead, which was indeed a great end to a satisfying experience. So Monday had the big lows of dealing with landing in SF with no GPS and driving to Napa and back in the rain, contrasting with the highs of having an exceptional dinner experience and catching up with friend and coworker, and enjoying the enlightening experience of Amarone paired with cheese at the end of a meal, a pairing I have heard of and agreed with in theory, but never experienced in practice. Now I have a story to go with that etched in my mind.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Just home after a Saturday tasting at The Wine Country, where 40 or 50 people came by in the afternoon to taste through 10 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Rieslings from the 2008 vintage. The wines showed well, everything from the medium-dry Qualitatsweins 2008 Zilliken Butterfly and 2008 Dr. F. Weins-Prum Estate Riesling, up to the 2008 Wegeler Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Spatlese and the 2008 Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese. It is always a pleasure to see so many people who love Riesling from Germany.

Now, back at the home ranch, just pondering it all - and realizing that much of what I do is work related. Whether it is visiting a California wine region, like I'm planning to do in May (Santa Ynez - where we will also throw in a little half-marathon while we're there), or helping to host a tasting or seminar (Dry Wine Tour is happening in April, and I'll be at the San Francisco one April 14 and the LA one April 15), much of what I am doing is work related. Maybe that's true with most people. Maybe we are all work animals, and work consumes us.

My recently retired dad pointed this out to me recently - he loves retirement, and says often that he can't believe he lived the life of a working man for so many years of his life, and how time consuming that was. If one wasn't working, one was getting ready to go to work, or recovering from working, or trying to get a solid night's sleep so one could be in his or her best condition to work a solid 8-hour day.

And why not? Work is one of the most fulfilling activities around - it fills our bank accounts (at least long enough for us to write the checks to pay the bills), it fills our emotional needs for praise and accomplishment, and it forces us to be in a social environment that eventually results in us making friends with whom we work. And if you don't work, there is so much pressure from everyone asking you why you don't work, and when you are going to stop this nonsense and start working.

That said, I've been happy for the last 4 or 5 years because I've been in an industry that I like, yes, the wine industry. I like wine. But more so, I like the industry. I like being in the lifestyle or luxury industry. I came from the health care industry. I prefer to deal with restaurants and stores that exist to make people happy. In fact, you might say I have a passion for it.

I'd like to have some passions outside of work too. It used to be running. I still run, but I'm not sure I have a passion for it. I enjoy it. I enjoy being outside in beautiful scenery (running through a wine region is my absolute favorite; I can run through rolling hilly vineyards very well; hence I am looking forward to the Santa Ynez Half Marathon). But is running something I can obsess about? Not so much anymore.

In the future, I'd like to embrace some passions outside of work. I'd like to be with my family more often. I'd like to buy a home. I'd like to have a dog. I'd like to travel to some places I've never been (Italy, Spain, parts of China). And I'd like to write about these places, and of course, take many pictures.

Yes, writing about that feels good.