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WBC 09 Day 2: Napa Napa Here We Come!

July 30, 2009

Napa, Napa, here we come!
Right back where we started from!
Where bowers of flowers
bloom in the sun!
Each morning at dawning
birdies sing and everything!
A sun-kissed miss says don’t late!
That’s why I can hardly wait!
So open up that white bus door
Napa here we come!

OK, so we didn’t really sing this on Day 2 of the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference. But by 9:15am we were on various buses headed over the hill from Santa Rosa in Sonoma County to Napa. Some of us, like me, were a little green in the gills by the time we arrived at CIA, the Culinary Institute of America. What’s up with that?  I used to have an iron stomach! It’s not just all the wine I had on Friday, really. Someone asked if my ability to handle “winedy” roads had changed since I had a child….yes, yes, there’s the truth.

The wifi at CIA worked like a charm and I wrote three posts while there:

Keynote address by Jim Gordon: Wine Trends Worth Blogging About

Keynote Address by Barry Schuler: “The Future of Blogging and Social Media”

Then we were off again, each bus of eight with a different itinerary and me in charge of herding my busload of wine bloggers from here to there on time.

Our first stop was Chandon, the American arm of the veritable Moet-Chandon, producers of the house favorite and perenially popular “White Star.” Unfortunately, I left my iPhone in the bus so no pictures to share from that stop. We were to get a talk about how Napa has gone green–as soon as we each had our small plastic bottles of water. (I asked for–and eventually received– water in a glass: I have to be dang desperate to accept water in plastic and the trash that is produced for me to enjoy that convenience).

Chandon produces a LOT of sparkling wine. And I guess we should be grateful they are making an effort to be “green.” But honestly, I am unimpressed. Maybe because they are so big, they don’t think they can do otherwise; that they have to rely on technology rather than following traditional by hand methods. Maybe I don’t know enough. It looked like green washing to me.

I heard lunch at St. Supery was amazing, that new tech guru Rick Bakas let them know it would be worth it to go all out for the wine bloggers. At Chandon, the sandwiches were fine, but many of us gazed longingly at the lovely green salad prepared for one of our party allergic to breadsWBC 09 Trinchero Panel. There was plenty of sparkling wine and it went down easy under the hot sun, and most of us said yes to a second glass to take into the winery. Their new rose was a hit and all gone before I got a chance to taste it as I started with the blanc de pinot.

It took me awhile to herd everyone back onto our bus, but soon enough and not too far off our schedule we were on our way to Trinchero, formerly known as Sutter Home.

Can you say, “White zinfandel has been very very good to me?”

What a gracious host! We stepped off the bus and walked a short ways to a beautiful reception: a crisp, cold sauv blanc served with two kinds of thin crust pizzas and into a room set up with tables covered with cloths, water pitchers and glasses. Servers offered more wine and pizza as we settled into our seats for a panel discussion on “What is value?” As the wifi wasn’t up yet, I took notes the old fashioned way: using word on my laptop–

What is value: Panel at Trinchero

Scott Becker, global wine partners

Larry Stone, Rubicon Estate, gen mgr
He wrote for Chi Tribune, sommelier, wine maker, involved w/Coppola’s, blogged on Wine Spectator site a while a go for awhile. Says hidden expense in restaurant wine is to have a decent sommelier and other human resources; that’s what’s being cut right now with the down economy

David Stevens, Acme Fine Wine
His store specializes in high end wines, since 95 been in the valley. He reads blogs but thinks it’s inappropriate (it’s cheesy in his words) to comment on blogs even if he thinks info is wrong. Offers unusual wines, small, local, first dibs; people call and want unusual special different bragging rights. Sounds to me like he should be tweeting and blogging about what’s new and exciting that’s coming in.

Barry Wiss, VP, Trinchero
He comes from the hospitality industry, lived in Napa since 91, has a blog.
Sutter Home, family owned and operated–co in the world (not sure what this note means–do you?). The Trincheros kept the name Sutter Home because they had no money for paint to repaint the barn, but after making a fortune off of “pink” wine, they can call watever they want whatever they want! The rooms we’re in have been dedicated to the Trincheros; this winery specializes in Bordeaux blends. He wants the perception of really great value: $10 wine they can sell for $5. Gotta make a great product and sell at a great price; selling more wine right now but selling $10 wines.

David Stephens is asked what’s hot: Scarecrow hot wine still, winemakers Luke Morlay (spell?), Mark Harold, Ghost block.

Trends—pinot noir, pinot grigio, new regions

Value—are the wineries being responsible to the environment? That’s marketable, something of value to the consumer

9 consecutive RAP awards

How can we get rid of the score and capture the story? Technology provides the answer—enforces it.

Too soon it was time to go; Trinchero closed the deal by handing us sweet boxes of sweets–a chocolate chip cookie, brownie, and a tin of nuts. Next time, I told Barry, I expect to have wifi! He handed me his card, and invited me back to give it a go another time. (Thanks, Barry! I look forward to my next visit!)

Prince of Wine at QuintessaSMFrom Trinchero, we raced down the Napa Valley to the biodynamic winery Quintessa. Second to arrive, we enjoyed the view and a decent enough sauv blanc. Prince of Wine Walid Romaya took the opportunity to set up a shot; I of course caught him in action.

We descended into Quintessa, strolling the rubber mats acros the catwalk, then down the stairs to the winery floor. An incredible flower arrangement and an excellent selection of cheeses and breads as well as more Quintessa wine like Faust greeted us. I lobbied for a copy of the book, beautifully bound in leather, but I guess I didn’t rate high enough. Who better deserves it than the Art Predator? Oh, well, maybe the next time I visit.

WBC09 Art Predator on the move at QuintessaWe were the second bus to arrive, but it didn’t take long for the space to throng with people tasting, socializing, mingling as six more buses and another 180 people joined us to taste some 50 Napa Valley wineries represented there.

I’ve learned from attending industry wine tastings in LA that it’s best to have a strategy otherwise an event like this can be too overwhelming: when it’s all good when and where do you start? So I circled the cavernous room, once, twice, doing my best to ignore the enticing wines on display, scoping out who was there and where I wanted to put my attention and my rapidly dilapidating palate.

Ggrich chardonnay was not to be ignored so that’s where I gave in, and I was not disappointed. So nice, so balanced, just what I want in a chardonnay, a perfect place to start. I could have left right then and been happy. But I didn’t have my marching orders yet so next I headed around the bend to Schramsberg which offered a sparkling wine in a dramatic contrast in many ways to the large production house of Chandon where I’d been just a few hours before. Winemaker Keith Houck was a wealth of information and I stood there chatting for quite a while with Russ Beebe who leads walks through various vineyards and keeps a very popular blog, Winehiker Witiculture.

From there I admit it’s a blur. Somewhere I am sure I have a list of the wineries who were pouring that late summer afternoon, and that would jog my memory. I know I tasted a number of phenomenal big big big Napa valley bordeaux style reds–because that’s what they do best, in my opinion. When I get a chance, I will supplement this post with some details. But for now, I press on, just like I did last Saturday.

Back on the bus it was a quick trip down the valley to Pine Ridge (at least I think we were going down valley at that point!) They’d been pouring their chenin blanc viognoir at Quintessa and that’s what they greeted us with as we stepped off the bus. our busload was joined a few carloads as well adding Lisa DeBruin from Hahn, Rick Bakas from St. Supery, and Jeff Lefevre from The Good Grape to our party.

Soon we were traipsing through the cave, going deeper and deeper into the mountain along a narrow route, with wine barrels beside us, catching but not interpreting the cryptic notes labeling them, until we arrived at a beautifully set table lit by flickering candles. I’m sure the evening outside was gorgeous but this setting was spectacular in its own way.

To Pine Ridge’s credit and pride, they had wifi set up for us, but at this point, I think even the best of us, the most dedicated of us, the most intrepid wine bloggers in the crowd (ummm, might that be the Art Predator??) was, well, done. Try as I might, it was time to relax, listen, taste, live for the moment, be impressed.

And we were. The chef, a passionate young man, had spent the day cooking polenta and concocting a special meal to match the special wines poured from four Napa wineries: a flight of 2004 and 2005 Pine Ridge cabs made form their best barrels, “Big Boy” Howell at the Moon specializing in Howell Mountain wines by winemaker Sarah Gott, and two more (I swear I will remember them! give me a day and I’ll get it linked up!) I couldn’t have asked for a better meal, better wines, better company: I even sat next to the Pine Ridge winemaker with Murphy-Goode semifinalist Frank Gutierrez @FrankLovesWine and his partner Anita beside me. More on the wines and the meal when I get a chance.

Too soon it was my responsibility to round everyone up one last time and get them on the bus back over the hill.

Where another wine tasting waited–this time Portuguese wines! And as much as I love port, that’s not what this tasting was about. I will try to add another post on this tasting later, also.

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