May your heart always be joyful

It’s been a little while since I talked about wine.  It just takes a little more time to talk about wine.  I have to refer back to scraps of paper, sticky notes on the iPhone and handouts from the winery.  All are barely legible so it’s always an adventure.  Not now though, I’ve got a new toy.  Corkbin.  This is an idiot proof (almost) application that allows me to take a picture of the wine label and then type in a few notes on the wine.  It’s darned near fool proof.  And I mean Fool proof.  The only real opportunity for screw up is if you can’t get a clear picture.  And sometimes you think you have a clear picture but really, you don’t.

I’ve only had two days off in the last month.  June 19th and July 5th.  Yep, the 5th not the 4th.  I held an open house on July 4th just like I did last year.  I get really good turn out on Fourth of July open houses.  21 parties through.  That’s a rockin’ turn out.  I took the next day off.  Didn’t even fire up the computer, that much off.  The day off before that was Keenan’s Annual Summer Picnic.  If you belong to their wine club or know someone who does, you get to go.  I love Keenan.  They’re still in a barn.  No high end la-di-da tasting room.  No bull shit.  Just great wine.  Sonofabun got a day pass and off we went.  Neither of us are oyster lovers, but they had an oyster bar for those of you who are.  And a taco station.  And grilled sausauges.  And grilled chicken strips.  And because it’s Keenan, they had some of the best wine you’ll get in the valley.  Michael was downstairs in the barrel room with his wine thief serving up barrel tastings of his futures.  I have two clone futures I bought a few years ago.  Retail on them is around $200 right now.  I got them for $65 each.  It’s going to be another good release year for Keenan.  They continue to do great things in wine.  They’re up Spring Mountain Road and then up a little tiny one lane road that veers to the right.  Like it used to be.  All I have to say to Michael is “stay independent”.

Sonofabun and me have a game we play.  Sometimes we will go to the old steady Eddies, but sometimes we play this game where we can’t go to a winery we’ve been to before.  We’ll drive down 29 or Silverado Trail saying “Have you been there?” Yep.  “How about there?” Nope.  And in we go.  That’s how we found Benesserre.  Their wine dog is a Newfie.  I love their Zinfandel.  But we’d been there so we couldn’t go there.  We drove past a number of wineries before we had a winner.  Wm. Harrison.   They have a small tasting room and then some tables out on the deck that you can taste at.  Out on the deck in 90 degree weather.  We stayed inside.  Their 2006 Cabernet Franc is a beautiful wine.  Roasted coffee and spice, dark cherries and a very nice finish.  It made me want to sit down to a nice roasted dinner.  Exceptional wine for the $45 price tag.  Although I think I’m on a bit of a Cab Franc jag these days.  Their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was a very nice offering as well.  I think that one’s their flagship.  Dark fruit, vanilla, leather and a nice finish.  My favorite was the 2008 Pinot Noir.  They source that fruit from the Sonoma Coast, always a good choice.  It’s a smoky Pinot.  I got plums, chocolate and some Dr. Pepper in it.  Nice mouthfeel, gentle finish.  They said it was a Pinot that could lay down for a while.  I could see that.

We proceeded down the Silverado Trail “Yep”, “Yep”, “Yep”.  And then there it was, rising out of the mountain.  Nope.  Nope.  We made a quick left and headed up the hill to Signorello.  When we arrived at the top of the hill we found an Estate.  My gut thought with all this structure, I’m worried about the quality of the wine.  No need to worry.  Their winemaker Pierre Birebent is an amazing talent.  He’s been there since 1998 which I think is important for knowing the terroir and then ultimately the wine.  Like William-Harrison they don’t make a lot of wine.  They just make a lot of really good wine.  We started with the 2008 Seta, a Semillon/Sauv blanc blend.  An unusual blend and an unusual wine.  I wanted seared scallops immediately.  There was an air of lemon curd in this wine but the finish was minerally…with a touch of honey.  It wasn’t like anything I’ve had before but it was something that I would love to have again.  The 2007 Chardonnay was a Chardonnay the way the French make them.  Funny enough, Pierre is French.  Not one of those big buttery oaky bombs.  Nope, this was an elegant Chardonnay, bright fruit, crisp on the tongue even a bit of light spice on it.  Then we moved on to the 2007 Pinot Noir, Las Amigas Vineyard.  This was more of a typical California Pinot when I was by now expecting French barnyard since that’s how they like their Pinots.  Bright fruit, strawberry, raspberry creme.  Vanilla finishs off a nice wine with beautiful mouthfeel.  The 2007 Zinfandel was a party in a glass.  There was vanilla, eucalyptus, earth, sweetness, chocolate you name it.  It had the potential for a lot of high heat but it didn’t do that.  Very nice finish.  They have their Kobe and Cab club and I wanted some Kobe beef to go with that Zin put on the grill for me RIGHT THEN.  The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate was quite an interesting wine.  I felt in needed to lay down for about five to ten years to realize what it’s really going to be.  I heard a winemaker say that “wine was a living organism” the other day.  It really is.  And like any living organism it changes over time.  I thought more time in the bottle was going to make this wine absolutely amazing.  It is currently a little young and feisty.  Dark raspberries, caramel, leather, a little tight on the end, but I really think time in the bottle will remedy that in this highly complex, well structured wine.  Signorello’s Frenchman is quite a talent.  I hope we don’t have too many more days where we can’t go to somewhere we’ve been before because I really want to go back to Signorello.  Actually I could live there.  Maybe be their Wine dog.  Me and Bubba and Rita and Ike.  We’d just wander the vineyards and the cellars and take care of stuff that needs taking care of.  Yeah, that’s it.

That’s the other thing.  These wine posts get really long.  Do y’all actually read through all of this?  I kind of feel like Ferris Bueller.

I don’t know if I can yell any louder

Today is a good day.  Y’all get to watch me weave this post together.

A little event occurred this week.  It was not lost on the Wine Dog.  The Burgermeister bought Chalk Hill Winery.  Supposedly he plans to live in the palacial main house.  I suppose the good news is to those in Whitefish, Montana, who, if you’re reading the comments sections are a little over his act.  Of course, the title insurance business is beyond over his act, but the wine business doesn’t know what they’re in for yet.  I’ve sounded the alarm but it’s fallen on deaf ears.  Let this be the “I told you so” post.  He is Satan.  He is going to ruin the wine industry.  Mark my words.  Consider yourselves informed.

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What they should say is that she’s so bad, she isn’t even good at being bad.  I certainly respect her for her battle with breast cancer, but her battle was fought with the best Doctor’s money can buy.  Most women in this country would be just as well off trading a goat for medical services.  It certainly taints the results.  I haven’t been able to find the total number of layoffs from FNF in the last four years and of course we can’t count all the poor schmucks who are still there making 40% less than they were while he takes 171% increase in salary, but you get my drift.  Percentage wise, I bet FNF layoffs dwarf what Fiorina did at HP.   FNF is cut throat.  Foley is cut throat.  What on God’s green earth makes the wine industry think they are immune from this? The worst of it is that California wine is going to suffer because people have their heads buried in the sand.

Here’s what he did.  He took over, paid outrageous salaries, stole the best employees from good paying jobs and then fired them the minute the business had a pull back.  There are quality title officers and escrow officers with 30 years experience who can’t get a job right now because the work is being done predominantly in India for $16 a day.  American workers used to earn twice that in an hour.  Now the part of the job that is Stateside is being done by people being paid $15 an hour.  So think about spending four years at UC Davis or Sonoma and working your way up the food chain for the love of wine.  Then your winery is taken over by a corporate raider, you are now expendable and it’s over.  Just like that.  That’s the future of the wine industry with Bill Foley and is blood money.  It’s going to be bad.  Trust me on that.  I just pray the family wineries can stay the course and make it through his “serial acquiring” phase. I, for one, will support them with an unmatched fervor.  At the end of the day, I want good wine from California.  I want to enjoy the expression of the terroir.  And I don’t give a goddamn about distribution channels.  I’ll find the good stuff if you make it and I will testify from the highest mountain.  Don’t give in to Bill Foley.  Fight for your life.

Bill Foley is a corporate CEO in America.  That means all he cares about is himself and the bottom line.  Believe me there is a path littered with the rotting corpses of quality title and escrow staff who were tossed out by his machine.  He does every thing he can to skirt the DOI laws.  He does every thing he can to skirt the Labor laws.  He is not a nice man.  They cut every corner they can.  In case anyone has forgotten, this is what happens when you cut corners.

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And eleven families will go on without their breadwinner.  Because BP wanted to close it down quicker.  They wanted to save time and money.  How’s that working for you now Tony?  Oh, you want your life back?  So do those eleven families.  And this is the mentality that goes on at the top in corporations.  And it’s wrong.  In BP’s case, it probably is criminally negligent.  I hope they get that “Company Man” and string him up and every one all the way up the BP food chain by the balls.  It’s wrong.  They will do it as long as we let them.  It’s time we said enough.  It’s no different than the abuses that occurred during the Industrial Revolution the resulted in unions.  It’s part of the plan to defang unions, but if companies would act right, unions wouldn’t be necessary.  I would like for their to be less regulation but as long as guys like Tony Hayward and Bill Foley continue to act like spoiled brats, regulation is necessary.  They’re spoiled little jerkoffs that can’t do the right thing if it’s counterintuitive to their personal greed.  And that’s wrong.   So I support regulation, because it’s necessary.  Like The Brother says “Act right and I’ll be out of business”.  Act right and there is no need for regulation.  The new business thinking is to get away with as much as you can.  And that’s wrong.  Bill Foley is wrong and will always be wrong.

Is it possible to do it right?  Hell yeah.  Check out this guy.  He made a gazillion dollars, he did the right thing every step of the way.  They were ahead of the curve in moving towards sustainable materials and he led the charge to leave our precious National Parks as pristine as they were found.  They pioneered organic sustainable recycled products in their clothing line and their equipment line.  So I’m not full of shit.  It’s possible to make a buttload of money while being responsible to your employees and your planet.  That makes people like Bill Foley, Tony Hayward and Carly Fiorina even more reprehensible.  Because they’re too stupid and ignorant to do it the right way.  This makes me think of a discussion I had with Michael Keenan about moving his winery to solar power.  He did the numbers and couldn’t justify not moving to solar power.  That is good management.  Using seawater because you want to go faster and killing eleven employees…you’re an asshole.  And a criminal.

Enough is enough.  Boycott Foley Family Wines or the Foley Portfolio or whatever he’s calling it these days.  It’s the right thing to do.

I’m gonna sing those songs that offend the censors

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Every now and again you get to meet a rock star. I got to meet one tonight at Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants. Pam Starr. Rock star. She’s got a resume that’s as long as all of our arms put together. She’s got stops at Sonoma-Cutrer, Edna Valley, Carmenet and one of my favs, Spottswoode. She teamed up with Charlie Crocker and is doing some amazing things. More important, she’s fun and engaging.  The guy I was chatting with wasn’t a Sauvignon Blanc fan. She makes two and cajoled him into trying both. Two damn fine Sauv blancs. She has a second label, I think it’s Bridesmaid? I want to call it Brideshead. Anyway the Crocker Starr one was the one that I loved. The Bridesmaid was a more typical Sauvignon Blanc, but also a very good one. The CrockerStarr was fully developed with lime on the front and she called it sea shells and it really fit, sea shells on the finish. It’s minerally and has this essence like you just shot an oyster. Just that last bit. Yeah, like that.   She makes a Cabernet Franc that’s out of this world.  It’s damned near chewy it’s so thick.  I got Dr. Pepper, clove, spice and thick ripe fruit on the palate.  A nice long finish.  We agreed that it was the kind of wine that was so good you would drink the whole bottle by accident, just because it felt so good in your mouth.  Amazing offering.  The final wine was her Stone Place, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This bad boy needs a little more time in the bottle to me, but it is going to be unparallelled when it’s done.  Currently it’s a little tight on the finish like all well made California Cabernets, but there’s something about this one that’s going to blow everyone away someday.  Currently it’s got dark fruit, coca cola, coffee, chocolate, leather all that good stuff, but the finish is a little tannic.  Give it a couple of years and all the good stuff will have mellowed into an elegance that I dare say any one else got in 2006.  I wish I’d gotten a bottle of it, but I came home with the Cabernet Franc, which I don’t regret one iota.

My wine buying capacity was deeply hindered by this.

From this point forward the lean green machine will be known as That Punk Ass Bitch of a Car.  Really.  You had to lose your fuel pump on the highway?  Yeah, I need that.  I coasted to the side of the 24 and thanked my lucky stars that I had AAA and a father who taught me common sense with cars.  The bitch of the whole thing was I was about a mile from the shop, on the road to the shop, pointed right at the shop, heading to the shop and I couldn’t make it.  The boys at M Service did a great job of hooking me up on this one.  Dante got in there and crossed a few things off of the list that were fine on my car and didn’t need to be done and got me back on the road for the number I told him he had to get me back on the road for.  I was planning on doing the radiator next week, but on the way home from the City on Wednesday it started doing something funny.  I called them the next morning and was on my way to the shop, but she insisted on dumping me on the freeway.  It’s the second time she’s dumped me on the freeway this year.  Me and that car are heading to the Big D and I don’t mean Dallas. 

Why was I in the City?  I went down to Biondivino  on Wednesday night for their Brunello tasting.  She specializes in Italian wines.   And she’s pretty good at it.  

They had Altare in from the Piedmonte region of Italy.  Altare’s winemaker, Silvia Altare showed up too.   It was a week for women in wine, that’s for sure.  Silvia is a charming woman.  I would guess she’s in her 20’s or early 30’s, she’s got that great Italian skin so who knows.  She didn’t stay behind the table, she grabbed a bottle and worked the crowd.  And she makes some damned fine juice.  They had 9 bottles open.  The first one, which to me was the strangest was the Campogrande Cinqueterre 2008.  Now, we all know I have a pretty decent palette.  I cannot tell you how they arrived at their $77 price point on that one.  To me it drank like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  I can almost consistently spot what they’re talking about not on this one.  Anyone care to explain it to me, I’d be pleased to listen.  The Elio Altare Dolcetto d’Alba 2007 at $25 made a heck of alot more sense to me.  It was bright and fun.  Silva said you could serve it cold in the summer if you so chose.  It was like a good Nuevo Beaujolais.  She had two Langhe Larigi, the 2005 and 2007.  I think the translation is kitchen sink.  Actually they are Barberas.  Very good ones as well.  I preferred the 2005 with it’s intensity and gentle tannins.  They had a vertical of the Altare Barolo 2004, 2005, 2006.  I liked the 2006 best.  It had brighter fruit, a nice ripeness to it.  The Elio Altare Barolo Arborina is her big boy wine.  It clocked in at $130 a bottle.  And she brought two. The 2005 and the 1998.  The 2005 was a bright and lively wine.  Dark ripe fruit, leather, smoke and a little bit of anise on the finish.  Now here’s the rub.  The 1998 had some elegance to it that time in the bottle will produce but it was still very tannic on the finish.  Her wines can and should be laid down for literally YEARS. 

I think Silvia has taken an old Italian tradition and made it sexy.  I don’t know a ton about Italian wines, but I know Altare wines are like a rave in your mouth.  And as they mature, they have that elegance of a maturing artists who still likes to bite back once in a while, because youth is wasted on the young.

Warmth of the sun

We could file this one under “things that make me happy”.   A couple of days ago I got a missive from someone I didn’t know simply asking me if I was going to Barkus and Mutt Lynch.  Barkus?  I hadn’t heard about it, probably because I read about half of my email.  So I check around and they were having an event,  I could drink wine and take my dogs.  OK, that sounds like a good start to the day.  Just before it was time to leave, Bubba found some poop to eat.  The idea of several hours in the car with him after he did that was not attractive so he got the pass.  I loaded up Rita and off we went.  My current dogs aren’t as socialized as Xica and Beauregard were.  Those two could walk through a San Francisco street fair and not bat an eye.  These two are a little more leary.  Bubba is a little more skittish than Rita, so I took the right dog for this adventure.  And right before we left, Rita thought it appropriate to drink a ton of water.

After two hours of driving we arrived at Mutt Lynch.  They are on a little lane just above Healdsburg.  They are a little tiny winery with only three employees, the owners and the winemaker.  The concept was apparently born of tequila and beer.  It makes me like them more.  The event was small but cute.  Everybody had their dogs.  Rita was a little nervous around a lot of dogs on leashes and a lot of people but she did well.  She did not drink from the dump bucket (neither did I) and she didn’t knock over any tables of food.  She also did not like the gourmet dog biscuits.  She straight up spit them out.  I gave it to a sweet Golden Retriever who did like them.

Mutt Lynch has two lines, the regular line and the reserve line which is called Canis Major.  The regular line has great names like Fou Fou le Blanc, their Sauvignon Blanc, Unleashed Chardonnay, Portrait of a Mutt Zinfandel, Merlot Over and Play Dead, and Chateau d’Og Cabernet Sauvignon.  I liked their whites, the Sauvignon Blanc had a nice nose on it.  Pears and melon with a crisp finish.  I think it was like $14.  A win.  The Chardonnay was also tasty.  I’d say honeydew, apples and a creaminess to it.  Also a well priced little wine at around $14.  Of the reds, several of them were green to me.  I would pass on the green ones.  The Chateau d’Og, the Merlot and the Meritage were all a little green, but the Zinfandel was a tasty treat.  It was spicy and jammy without being over the top.  There’s a little Carignane in it, which is kind of interesting to me.  Also at $14 a great little wine.  I’d serve it up at a BBQ all day long.

I have forgotten one of the Canis Major’s, but the two I remember are the two I brought home.  Yeah, I’ve got no room for more wine, but I brought it home anyway.  The Syrah was made from fruit from 3/4 of an acre of Unti’s vineyard.  We all know how much I love Unti.  And these guys did a great job with their Unti fruit.  This one had the layers and balance that I expect from Unti themselves.  It was full bodied and I could not help myself.  It’s got some amazing spice on the back palate, this is an amazing little wine for the price of $25.  I also took home a bottle of the Petite Sirah.  I seem to be on a Petite Sirah kick, just for the record.  There’s none left here.  Or if there is I can’t find it.  I drank it up.  Same with the Pinot.  None of that here either.  This fruit comes from Unti and Perotti.  Perotti is well known for his quality fruit.  This one is full of purply, inky, jammy fruit and spice.  It feels perhaps a little young so I am going to try and hold on to it.  We’ll see how that goes.

Next stop Trentadue.  Because I had wine to pick up and I knew they would welcome Rita.  We hopped out of the truck and this boxerish dog came running right at us.  I did what I always do and yelled “No!”  She slowed down but still approached.  I thought she belonged to the party who was just leaving but nope, she was one of the winery dogs.  She wanted me to throw her rock for her.  Yep, that dog played fetch with a rock.

Rita saw the lush grass in front of Trentadue and used that as an opportunity to empty her bladder.  That made me relax because I knew she had to, she was doing the dance but wouldn’t relieve herself no matter how many times I said “Get busy”.  I guess she thought since we were traveling she should enjoy the luxury of long lush grass for her business.  I had a pick up to do there and left with my four bottles of La Storia.  I think I knew more about the line than the staff.

Next stop Longboard Vineyards.  I love Longboard.  They have a huge screen in there where they are always showing surf videos.  Longboard really makes me happy.  We all know I have a great love of all things surfing, even though I’ve only been up on a board a couple of times.  I think I’d like to spend my retirement surfing.

Or not.  Their wines aren’t the OHMYGODICANNOTLIVEWITHOUTHIS sort, but they are all servicable, some stand out more than others from year to year.  But wine is about the experience and for me, these guys nail it.  I really like the DaKine Merlot.  It’s a good merlot, nice fruit, better balance, decent price and always drinkable.  He makes a nice Pinot but I didn’t have any while I was up there.  I went with the Point Break, a Cab/Syrah blend.  That was a great one.  Lots of layers, nice balance, not too fruit forward, a bit of spice on the back end.  I only had two glasses because they were having an event and selling wine by the glass.  Their tasting room staff were a little unsettled by the idea of putting 6 ounces rather than just one in a glass.  I was a little unsettled holding a full glass of wine.  And a red Doberman.  In a room full of people.  Rita was the only dog there and I thank them for being so cool with her.  They were introducing their Maverick’s Syrah.  It was also a fund raiser for the Save the Waves Coalition.  If you want to know how to put on an event, call up Longboard.  Good wine, check.  Food?  They got these guys from the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market who make fish tacos.  OK easy enough I suppose, well not really, but ok they exist and you hired them.  Good move.  But not these guys, they take it one step further.  The fish was caught yesterday, they do it “Rubios” style and she makes the damned tortillas right there in front of you.  Seriously.  The best fish taco I have ever had and I love fish tacos, especially “Rubios” style.  Food, check.  Surf videos, check.  Surfers, check.  What?  Yep, professional surfers present and accounted for.  Skindog, hello!  Raffle of the surf photos with the photogs present?  Check.  Don Montgomery tooks some shots of Rita.  I hope they show up somewhere, that would be really cool.  And great people to talk to.  A very fine event Longboard.  I wish I could have stayed to the end but I left a little boy home in his crate and he drank a bunch of water right before I left too.

Some people came and listened, some of them came and played

It has been a long week.  I’m not sure why I took a divorce listing.  I guess I thought they could act right for the period of the listing.  Not so much.  Coupled with two and a half days out of town and the house being torn up so that the carpets could be cleaned while I was gone and you can put a fork in this dog.

We went down to Monterey for a seminar.  At the end of the day I believe it’s a system I need to make my business work better. I was even more interested once I found out that a local top producer who I really respect was there and used the system.  I’m not necessarily sure why I would want to give a rich man more money, but  conversely, what I’m doing is only marginally working.  And I really am not doing a great job with the nuts and bolts of running my personal business.

They went into great length about how most real estate agents are average, most people for that matter.  I’d say there’s a lot around here that are less than average, marginal on a good day.  I’m good at what I do, I’m just not great at the part where I do the books, plan the day, that sort of stuff.  I think my clients get exemplary service from a smart negotiator with a good eye for real estate.  My office looks like a crime scene.  That makes it harder for me to be good.  And I typically have no idea what’s in the bank and what bills are due, I don’t know my marketing budget and I’m not getting out on my bike like I want to because of the lack of organization.  What’s worse, I don’t really know how it should be.  So I chose to go with some business coaching to get this thing turned around.  And like I said, one of the area’s top producers was there, a member of the choir.  And it’s not like I don’t see her CLS550 parked out in front of my gym every morning.

I know I am not average in general.  But I am doing an average job of some things right now.  Even my income which took a beating for about six months, was way above average for a Realtor.  I am not an average weightlifter, I am one of the better powerlifters in the country.  In my age/weight class I am the best.  I played for the All Blues when they went to the Nationals.  We didn’t win it all but I played on the second best rugby club in the country.  Not average.  As a Title Officer I never got to put “Underwriter” on my business card, but I underwrote with higher caps than most people will in their entire career.  I did billion dollar transactions, with a phone call.  Not average.  I sent two people to jail earlier in my career for fraud.  One was stealing from private lenders the other was stealing from old ladies.  Both incidents ended up on the 5 o’clock news.  Not average.  As a notary I stopped a major loss.  I was asked to go to the jail to sign off the seller.  I got there and it was a lady probably 50 years old sitting out there in Santa Rita.  I asked the question.  “What’s she in jail for?”  As it turned out, she was in jail for stealing the house she was trying to sell.  No one recorded anything to alert anyone.  Not your average notary.  And I defy you to find someone has blown up a decent title career better than I did. I get asked all the time if I’m a dog trainer.  I’m not.  I have never been trained, but I train my dogs.  Better than average.  Not quite ring quality, but far superior to everyone else.  You should see us walking down the street.  Both dogs are at heel, shoulder to shoulder not pulling and even these two goofballs will sit in unison.  (Xica and Beauregard were precision)

I don’t want an average or even a better than average real estate career.  I would figure it out eventually on my own, but in this economy I don’t have room or time for missteps.  I blow it and we’re living in a refrigerator box under the 680.  I’m going with a new system, I am the converted, and I hope it works.

While we were in Monterey, we spent most of our free time drinking wine.  Except the times we drank beer or in Sonofabun’s case, vodka.  We stopped by a little store called Wine from the Heart.  They did little tastings.  It was kind of wierd in that they poured wine out of the bottles, in to little tiny one ounce bottles or two ounce whatever it was and then served those to the customers.  Those had little bitty lids on them and it all seemed like a lot of labor for not much return to me.  When we arrived there were two ladies at the bar.  Two hammered real estate agents from Cupertino.  The young man behind the counter pulled down a Foley and suggested we try that.  Well, you can only imagine how that went.  I got to preach the gospel to these ladies.  Neither of them used Fidelity, they hated how Fidelity treated their staff.  Hallelujah!  One of gal’s Mom worked for Fidelity.  Preach it Sister Winedog!  Don’t like his business practices in the title industry?  Do your Mom a favor and don’t drink his plonk.  Can I get an amen?  She says “the company is making money but the employees haven’t gotten any of their paycuts back”.  Testify!  It was a good night.

To that end, Fidelity posted a first quarter profit amidst a bunch of leveraging, restructuring of debt and, oh yeah, lay offs and crushing pay cuts for everyone but the executive team.  There is your feel good story of the day.  They did some squirrelly restructuring thing with the tranches, but that stuff has always made my brain bleed.  Suffice it to say it gave them some wiggle room and reduction in debt service.  Naturally with all that executive decision making those boys are exhausted, so giving Foley himself a 170% raise while all of his staff sits there with up to 40% in salary reductions makes sense.  That’s right 170% pay raise for Foley himself.  For the love of God, listen to me, don’t drink his plonk.

Clifford Bay
Firestone Vineyard
Foley Estates
Lincourt Vineyards
Three Rivers Winery
Wattle Creek

And failed me in geometry

And y’all thought I was going to forget to finish my trilogy on Jordan.  Nope.  We’re here to talk about the wine today.

Jordan doesn’t make a lot of different wines.  They do a few things, very well.  Of course, I love that.  Their mainstays are the Cabernet Sauvignon and their Chardonnay.  Occasionally they will make a dessert wine, but that’s only when everything aligns properly.

When we first arrived they were pouring their 2008 Chardonnay.  This is not your big buttery oaky Chardonnay.  This is a Russian River Chardonnay, clean, fresh with a nose full of green apples.  It’s a chardonnay with crispness, bright fruit, and a minerally finish.  The perfect wine on a gorgeous day.

After the initial reception they lead us into the dining room.  The tables were set up with six wine glasses and a water glass.  Nothing good could come of this.  I was seated next to Alan Kropf, Editor in Chief of Mutineer Magazine.  I didn’t know who he was, just a young guy full of exhuberance.  Click the link, read this guy’s bio, he’s the real deal.  And he’s a super fun dining companion.  Each table had a steward from Jordan, mine was Brent Young, their Viticulturist.  Brent is a great guy and has the über-geekiness that’s necessary to make for an interesting dinner conversation, if you’re a geek, which we all know I have my geeky streak.  We had a great conversation about stressing the vines.  He had experimented with a few vines at the estate to see how far they could push them.  He knows that place now.  Stressing the vines will create more vibrant fruit.  The more interesting the fruit, the more interesting the wine.  Stress them too much and it’s “thanks for playing our game this year”.  Brent got there.  I learned something.  Life is good.

Our first course was accompanied by three of the Chardonnays.  The 2005, 2007 and 2008.  It’s thought that Chardonnay cannot be aged, but wine folks know that it can.  Not that 2005 is that old.  But the color darkens over time and the wine picks up viscosity and mouthfeel.  The 2005 while similar to the 2008 had the pleasant addition of a little honey on the front palate and a little toastiness on the finish.  It had become a little creamy over time and I think that’s a good thing.  The 2007 was a crisper wine that had a hint of the creaminess as well.  It was actually my favorite of the three.  But by then we’d all seen the menu and I was itching to get to the Cabs.

They served their 1999, 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.  The 2006 was a little young, but it was a glass full of potential.  Bright blackberries, dark cherries and decent balance made this a wine that I would like to lay down for at least five or six years, possibly longer.  I would later find out that my answer was longer.  The 2005 was starting to show the softening that I would be looking for in cellaring the 2006.  Now the wine was starting to show some real nice structure, gentle tannins, beauty and grace that I love in a good Cab.  But really, I was all about getting to that 1999.  I expected this to be a very elegant old Cab.  Wrong.  Alan said it best.  He gushed “This wine is like a street fight!”  Now there’s a Somm that’s going to go far.  The fruit was dark and luscious, the wine complex and balanced and seductive all at once.  Dark fruit, chocolate, vanilla and that aged wine mouthfeel that really is like a street fight.  I wasn’t expecting that from this wine, it was amazing.

After lunch, Brent took us for a walk in the vineyards.  Brent brought along his vineyard helpers on our walk. He followed the burrow of something.  He never got it, but it was interesting to see this little dog do what he’s bred for.  I hope whatever it is sticks to the weed roots and leaves those beautiful vines alone.

I was interested in how different portions of the same block behaved differently.  He was pointing to a natural depression in the land where he said that the water tended to run off in that direction.  It gave that portion of the block more water than the rest of the block so the fruit grew and ripened differently.

They don’t pick all of the fruit in a single block at the same time.  They go through with Rob Davis the winemaker and decide how much of the block to pick at a certain time.  This attention to detail in the field makes all the difference in the world in the bottle.

Give me a lifetime of promises and a world of dreams

I’m going to talk a little about Chef Todd Knoll today.    Chef Todd is the Evil Genius of the kitchens at Jordan Winery.  This guy is an über food geek.  His wife told me about his quest to make his own sea salt.  So they hump water from obscure places all over the world and he evaporates it and makes sea salt.  Somebody at the table told me he sketched out every menu on a scratch pad.  He does.  Yep, I got his wife to show me that too.

It’s a gift really.  I’m not an über food geek, but I’m getting a lot better.  I know I surprised the staff when I asked if the flower in the gougères was a fava bean bloom.  I know, it’s cheating, I’m growing fava beans.  The blooms are edible.  Actually so are the leaves.  Chef Todd makes his own olive oil, grows his own herbs, evaporates his own salt.  He is Bruce Almighty.

I’m planting my own herbs too Chef so stand down buddy!  OK, maybe not, I’ve got a ways to go.  A long ways.  It must be amazing to have free reign to dream up and create these amazing dishes and menus.  There is a guy at Jordan who runs the garden.  But it sure helps to have a guy there who’s job it is to bury the asparagus so it doesn’t turn green. He does an amazing job with that garden.

There is an entire row of strawberries down there.  And fava beans.  And all kinds of different sorts of goodness.  And just to be sure that weeds stay in check, there’s Barney and Clyde.

They keep them either penned up or on goat leads so that they don’t wander off and get eaten by a mountain lion or a coyote.  They’re very sweet little goats.  That’s Clyde, I’m pretty sure, I think, probably.

And Chef Todd has his toys.  And lots of them.  They are now building a pizza/woodburning/bread oven on the property.  We all know I want one of those so this was of particular interest to me.  It looks kind of boring right now but Chef explained that the foundation went deep into the ground, close to 6 feet.  They asked the local paper if they would like to cover the construction of the oven and they turned their nose up at the opportunity.  I think the locals missed the boat.  People are entertaining more at home in this recession and making improvements to their home.  There are people out there who would love to read this story.  I’m curious as to how it all goes together, but we know a bread oven is on the master plan for The Farm.  Part of a master plan that involves dropping off of the grid.

And there’s this one other toy.  This is where the magic happens.

Isn’t she gorgeous?  Now, what did Chef Todd do with all of that amazing goodness he had to play with?

Mero Seabass and Tasmanian Salmon

with Our First Peas and Ramps

Yes he did.  They paired it with the 2005, 2007 and 2008 Jordan Chardonnay.  More on the wine tomorrow.  I’m not sure what kind of bloom he’s put in there, but I’ve had them before.  Just gorgeous.

Second course?

Gilled Sonoma Lamb and this Morning’s Carrots

with Fava, Morels and Black Garlic Jus

Oh yes he did. That was paired with the 1999, 2005 and 2006 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.  I will not spoil tomorrows post by talking about this wine.  I will not spoil tomorrows post by talking about this wine.  I will not spoil tomorrows post by talking about this wine.  I will not spoil tomorrows post by talking about this wine.

Not only were each of these dishes beautiful on the plate, they were equisite on the palate.  We had a discussion at our table about salmon cooked poorly.  I guess it was to my advantage that my father didn’t like fish so we never had salmon as kids.  I’ve heard more stories about overcooked dry nasty salmon from people’s childhoods.  If my salmon is overcooked it’s because I’ve had an ADD moment.  For the most part I’m used to it being prepared fairly properly.  Rarely perfect.  Chef Todd put perfect salmon on the plate.  And perfect seabass.  In a beautiful pureé of baby peas.  It was a gorgeous dish, paired perfectly with their Chardonnay.

I don’t even attempt lamb here, but I love it when it’s done properly.  Once again they nailed it.  The presentation was in a deep flat bowl.  It allowed the jus and the vegetables to marinade in their own goodness.  It was an absolutely perfect dish.

Our garden tour was actually after the first two courses.  After that we came back up to shaded area for dessert.

Oh yes they did.  Yes, that’s gold flakes, I think on a tiramisu, that’s what it sort of played like.  A very high end tiramisu.  There is the shortbread like cookie drizzled in chocolate, I’m not sure what the one with the foamy sort of stuff on top was, it had kind of a cakelike base with almonds I think.  I skipped the fruit bars for no real reason.   There is also something that is not in this picture.  I believe them to be mini profiteroles with marzipan inside and dusted with powdered sugar.  That may not be accurate.  I’m not really good on dessert names.  Especially all the old French stuff they’re making again.  But they may have been something made with an egg white based dough too.  They were ridiculous.  I could have finished the entire tray, and certainly tried to.  I am a huge fan of anything lemon and tend to choose the lemon dessert off of most menus.  Those little lemon tarts were amazing.  I tried to eat the whole tray of those too.  Simply amazing.

When John Jordan talks about a world class experience, and then allows guys like Chef Todd to deliver, that’s where the rubber meets the road.  I’ve been blessed in my life to have been at the right place at the right time on numerous occasions.  I would consider myself very lucky to be seated at one of Chef Todd’s tables any day any where.  The man is a genius.

Dear FCC, we were all comped at Jordan Winery.  I was not asked to write about them.  If I didn’t enjoy the experience and learn something I wouldn’t have written anything because I think if you can’t say anything nice after you’ve been comped, then don’t.  And guess what?  I’m going to write about this day at least one more time.  So there.

You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave

I spent the day yesterday up at Jordan Winery.  I’m going to write about the entire experience, but the experience was so amazing it needs to be broken up over a few posts. We got there at 11am and didn’t leave until 4pm, and they didn’t leave us there to our own devices, we were doing something with someone from the Estate every minute we were there.

Today I’m going to talk a little about what I took away from my conversation with John Jordan.  It was the first thing I did when I arrived.  He introduced himself as “John”.  I hadn’t done my homework so I had no idea that he was John Jordan the owner of the entire place.  Up until that fateful moment when I asked about the ownership, I thought he was either the GM or maybe the Wine Director or even the Winemaker.  His answer was simple.  Who owns this?  I do.  Ok then.  He is a pilot, a lawyer, an MBA and the visionary for where this estate is heading.

Jordan was started by his father, a successful oil man, in 1976.  His father signed the deed for the property on the day he was born in 1972.  They took the architect to France to see the great Chateaus for inspiration for the winery.  His father had a passion for food and wine.  John’s father had spent time in his young adulthood in France with a young lady and her family.  They taught him the beauty of food and wine the way that only the French can teach that.  John’s father learned the lesson well.  He shared it with his new wife, his son and now it is shared with everyone, it is the Jordan experience.

John Jordan has the vision.  It is an amazing vision.  Numerous times in our conversation and throughout the day he said that he wanted people who came to Jordan to have a world class experience.  When he first said “World class”, it affected me as if he’d said “Gourmet”, another word that has been diluted by over use.  Then he showed us a world class experience.  He can use that word.  All he wants.  He understands it.  He spoke often of the “pleasures of the table”.  And then his staff delivered.  Mightily.  What went in to that delivery will be in the next missive.

John grew up on that property.  It’s where his parents lived and where he now lives with Nimitz and Bismarck.

Nimitz is a 135lb Lab.  Bismarck is a very short little General who seems to be able to hold his own.  There is a lake on the property where John fishes.  This place is Mecca for adults who possess a sophiticated palate.  John was very passionate about how they did not want to run a “belly up to the bar” tasting room.  And they don’t.  As good as their wines are, they do not ask you to, nor could you if you wanted to, join their wine club.  They don’t have one.  He wants to deliver a world class experience and if you are so inclined to buy a bottle of wine, great.  If not, that’s ok too.  They don’t refund tasting fees towards purchases or any of those sorts of gimmicks.  They just deliver.  On every single level.

He didn’t want Vegas styled signs or advertising pointing the way up the hill.  He didn’t want a Disneyland sort of feel (Hello Rubicon, I think he might be talking to you).  Essentially, he wanted to deliver this “world class experience” he talks about.  And he has.  He talked about how the accountant used to run the business before he took over.  He talked about how his job as owner was to find the best people he could and give them the room to be great.  He doesn’t micromanage.  He does what a smart business man does.  Bring in the best talent possible and get the hell out of the way.  His winemaker, Rob Davis has been there for 34 years.  That’s the kind of company they run.

He talked about their place in a industry that is feeling the influx of corporatization and the importance of their place in that industry and marketplace.  He doesn’t answer to Wall Street, or some corporate wanker.  He answers to his customers.  His father said “I’d rather impress people and credit cards than critics”.  Well, John, you impressed my palate.

I was seated with the guys from Mutineer Magazine.  The photographer dude was talking about how other photogs will ask what you’re shooting with and kind of turn up their nose if you’re not using the right this that or the other.  Now, this kid has talent.  And passion.  And a ton of it.  So I pop off and ask them if they watched football.  Of course.  And you know Joe Montana.  They greatest quarterback ever he opines.  I tell him, no he wasn’t the greatest.  He had lousy footwork and a crappy delivery.  He was a fan and looked wounded.  Joe Montana saw something on the field that no one else saw and that’s what made him great.  He saw the play develop and opportunities present that no one else could see.  That’s what made him great.  The guys with all the fancy blah blah equipment?  So what.  I know you see things that no one else sees.  You could shoot it with a freaking Instamatic and it would be amazing.  And really, that’s the story of Jordan too.  They see opportunities and use them to present amazing service, extraordinary product and a world class experience.

Dear FCC, we were all comped at Jordan Winery.  I was not asked to write about them.  If I didn’t enjoy the experience and learn something I wouldn’t have written anything because I think if you can’t say anything nice after you’ve been comped, then don’t.  And guess what?  I’m going to write about this day a couple more times.  So there.

Clutching forks and knives to eat their bacon

Time for the Wine Dog to go to her happy place.  Apparently my spelling and grammar are better in my happy place.  Besides they say as long as the first and last letter are correct the human brain can figure out what you’re talking about.  I don’t know what happens when the sentence is “Who dat?”.  And I’m thrilled to see all the commenters.  Serious.  Keep it up.  I love it.  Well most of it.

We all know what a great fan I am of Cathy Corison and her really amazing body of work.  Well another guy who is all wrapped up in that story is Phillip Titus.  He is currently the winemaker at Chappellet.  Cathy Corison was the winemaker at Chappellet when I first heard of her back in the mid-80’s.  There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the women of wine.  Back in 1984 there weren’t too many of them.

Anywho, this is actually about a sweet little bottle of wine I found out about last night at the Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants.  Sparrow Hawk Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s made by the Parsley Family.  They make négociant wine.  Négociant wine is wine made for a specific seller.  The BevMo nickel sale is full of négociant wine. That Valentin I like so much is a négociant wine.  The Parsely Family make Silver Stag.  It is a mainstay on the menu at Morton’s but you can’t find it very many other places because it’s made for Morton’s.  I don’t know who Sparrow Hawk is made for, but the Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon was made by Phillip Titus.  Seriously.  And the Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants have it for $24.99, $19.99 for club members.

This is a real cab.  And Mr. Titus knows real cab.  He make the Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon which can be found in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 every year.  That Sig Cab is a good’en.  And this little Sparrowhawk is a good’en too.  It smells a lot more expensive than it is.  It has good fruit on the front but isn’t a fruit bomb.  It’s a fresh wine so it’s not going to have the developed elegance yet, but it’s got the structure to develop it.  Parsley keeps the source of the fruit under wraps.  That allows them to continue to get great essentially over flow juice from vineyards for a decent price.

At home I opened the Fort Ross Pinotage.  Why?  Because I had a pork tenderloin on the grill.

I was out of chipotle peppers so I made a dry rub out of brown sugar, California chile powder, Ancho chile powder and New Mexican chile powder.  (3 parts each) Then I added 1 part cinnamon and 1 part allspice and rubbed down the meat.  Threw it on the grill and it came out awesome.  As far as that Fort Ross is concerned…

It had the earthiness of a Pinot, some vanilla, oak and Earl Grey in the back palate.  Gentle tannins and a refined finish.  Very interesting wine.

So said the Wine Dog back a few days ago.  And I concur with myself.  Excellent wine with an amazing pork tenderloin.  I don’t know how I stand myself and I sure don’t know how y’all stand me.

A gopher with a grin

Have I mentioned my charmed existence?  Yeah, I’m pretty lucky.

Last weekend Marcy Gordon, travel writer, wineaux and general good gal invited me and some other wine bloggers up to the Wine Sensory Experience in Calistoga.  I hadn’t had a day off since January 24th so it seemed like a grand idea.  It was also a bit humbling.  T’Anne Butcher, owner and general Mad Hatter put the whole thing together.  There were a total of seven sensory experience that broke down into the various components of aroma and bouquet in wine.  There is a difference.  Hell if I can remember what it is.  Thankfully there’s The Google.  And this is exactly what T’Anne told us.  There were 26 disciplines for us to get wrong.  I got 12 of the 26 right.  There were different kinds of glasses with the same wine in them and we were supposed to pick three favorites.  And I didn’t like the glasses I was supposed to like.  There were 20 glasses that each had a different aroma or bouquet in them.  It was our job to differentiate between them. 

I did things like misidentify the orange as lemon and then go blank on what the lemon was.  The glasses were black and we weren’t supposed to look inside them, which I did not.  It was really hard having the rest of your senses removed and then trying to identify by my sense of smell what was in the glass.  I missed softballs like strawberries and prunes.  I mixed up apricots and plums.  And that was just the fruit aromas.  Then we went to the components of Pinot Noir.  I mixed up Black Tea and tobacco, coffee and chile, cedar and white pepper.  And I like Pinot.  The herbs were particularly brutal.  Camomile.  Really?  I don’t know what the hell that smells like but I said Dill.  I got thyme, basil and rosemary right, but tanked oregano.  I had no idea.  The fourth discipline was Oak Barrel bouquet.  It might have been candy store roulette.  I mixed up maple syrup and caramel.  So naturally when we got to caramel, I had nothing, so I went with marshmallow.  Thankfully T’Anne didn’t have a gong or a buzzer for my wrong answers.  I did nail coconut, vanilla and chocolate.  So I can make a German chocolate cake and live.  As long as I don’t ice it.  The next discipline was 71% chocolate laced with flavors.  Here is where I mixed up the lemon and orange.  That equals 2 wrong.  And who puts thyme in chocolate anyway?  I guessed cardamon.  Yeah, I know.  Real wrong.  I did get raspberry, coffee and chile right and that ought to be worth something.

The whole experience was eye-opening to say the least.  I thought I was pretty good, but maybe not so much.  The palate does play tricks on us.  I was talking about it with my pals at the Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants and they were all surprised that I performed so weakly.  They all said I had one of the best palates they’d seen.  I don’t think I’m that good, but maybe they helped get my mojo back a little.

T’Anne’s parents own W.H. Smith Wines.  Yeah, that W.H. Smith.  Her Dad is an amazing winemaker.  We got to try several of his wines.  His Pinots are something to behold.  His Purple label Cab was amazing with cherry pie and layers.  Amazing structure in a wine that could lay down comfortably for years.  The wine that blew me away though was the one that she and her husband made.  2000 Kailey Cellars Zin.  Full of concentrated fruit, caramel, coconut (goddamit) and a big fat mouthful of fruit.  Really an amazing wine at $35 a bottle.

On the way home I stopped in at Freemark Abbey to pick up my shipment.  They have changed a lot since Kendall Jackson took them over.  They’ve lost a bit of their rough and wooly devil may care approach, but Ted Edwards still makes damned fine juice.  Tim Bell has headed off to the pastures of Kunde.  I don’t know the back story on that one and won’t even speculate.  I really like both guys and I would hope it would improve the quality of wine at two wineries now.  I’m not a big Kunde fan.  Anywho, I got involved in a great conversation with a gentleman at the tasting bar about how I measure all cabernets against the Bosché.  It’s not the best one out there and it’s not the worst, it’s the best value and the barometer to which I measure all others.  I managed to get out of there with a copy of their library wine price list.  The library Freemark Abbey in my cellar is worth around $1500 retail.  And that’s only about 8 bottles.  They’re selling that 1999 Bosché for $200 a bottle.  Sure glad I still have two of them.  Wish I hadn’t drank up the other two.  Or maybe I’m glad I did.

Last stop was the Sift in Napa.    Mostly because I was pissed off that I took three calls from my broker on a Sunday and another four ad calls.  My phone had been riddled with crickets for 10 days until I decided to spend a day in Napa.  So in an act of total defiance, I stopped at Sift and got a Snickerdoodle cupcake.  And a Red Velvet.  Yes I did. Sift rocks.

Dear FCC assholes, we were all comped at Wine Sensory Experience.  I was not asked to write about them.  If I didn’t enjoy the experience and learn something I wouldn’t have written anything because I think if you can’t say anything nice after you’ve been comped, then don’t.  I am a wine club member at Freemark Abbey and was treated like any other member.  And I paid for my own damned cupcakes.