When Wine Bloggers Meet: 8 Takeaways

As soon as I heard about the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, I knew I had to be there – and what a spectacle it was! With about 300 of my new best friends, I swirled, sipped and spit my way through the Livermore Valley and Lodi, California wine country. Here’s a bit of what I learned:

1) Yes, you can appreciate good wine at 8:15 a.m.

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The good folks at Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard prepared a lavish breakfast for us one morning, paired with three of their tastiest wines. “Best of show” for me was The Spur, their primo red blend, which sells for $30/bottle.

2) Those aren’t grapevines, they’re windmills.

You can’t miss the massive wind farm on the fringe of the valley; the freeway cuts right through it. You’ll be surrounded by nearly 5,000 small-ish wind turbines, but they’re gradually being replaced by bigger turbines – it turns out the smaller version kills some 4,700 birds each year, 1,300 of them raptors. The new turbines sit higher and turn more slowly, so they’ll be less dangerous to animals.

3) If you want a career in wine, volunteer at a winery and learn the basics.

Sounds simple enough, but not all would-be winemakers get it. “We get kids coming to us all the time, wanting a job,” Stuart Spencer, program manager at the Lodi Grape Commission, told his audience. “They have oenology degrees, but they don’t know how to hook up a pump.”

4) There’s a “trail” for everything, even plants that don’t get thirsty.

Livermore Valley has a “drought-resistant trail,” showcasing drought-resistant gardens or plants at wineries. California is in its 5th year of drought with no relief in sight (something to keep in mind if you dream of owning a vineyard on the West Coast), and this trail is popular among visitors who garden.

5) “Old vine” in these parts means really old.

It’s a little comical, here in the Midwest, when wineries label their 30-year-old wines “old vine.” In Lodi and Livermore, it’s not uncommon to find century-old vineyards, some dating back to the early 1880s. Now, that is wine with character.

6) No, you’re not in Greece, but go ahead and pretend.

Those tall, skinny, pointy trees dotting the landscape are Cypress trees, a familiar sight in Greece and other Mediterranean countries. It makes sense; Livermore has a Mediterranean climate. At least five species of Cypress grow here, some reaching a height of 65 feet, and they’re gorgeous juxtaposed against palm trees and oaks.

7) Some of the finest spirits around are crafted by artisans.

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I learned that at the after-hours Spirits Lounge, organized by “whiskyologist” Justin Koury. Two standouts: Few Rye Whiskey, produced by Few Spirits in Evanston, Illinois, and Willie’s Coffee Cream Liqueur by Willie’s Distillery in Ennis, Montana, possibly the best-tasting drink in the history of drinking.

8) Winemakers are generous souls.

This was evident when so many hosted us, led workshops and spent hours talking with us – even though they were in the middle of their grape harvest. They also shared their finest top-shelf wines, most notably Ehlers Estate’s 2013 “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon ($110/bottle) and Livermore Valley’s Lineage ($165/bottle).

I have much more to share about the Wine Bloggers Conference, but I’ll save it for next week.

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Tears = These used to be called “legs,” but if you use that term in front of wine people they’ll think you’re old-fashioned. You can see tears on the inside of your wineglass after you swirl your wine. They’ll be more evident with higher-alcohol wines (say, above 13 percent) and, of course, easier to see with reds. There may also be a relationship between tears and the wine’s age; that’s one of those geeky points experts like to debate. The scientific explanation of tears involves molecules and something called “interfacial tension,” but if I talk about that my brain will hurt and I’ll need someone to bring me alcohol.

Vino ‘Views:  It would make sense to review a California red today, especially since August 28 is  Red Wine Day, but I have Abruzzo on my mind. An earthquake devastated much of central Italy this week. I can’t do much to support the region, but I can pour their wine and send good thoughts for their quick recovery. I’ve chosen a bottle of delicious Borgo Thaulero Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (13% alcohol), a dark ruby-colored wine that leaves thicker, creamier tears than you’d expect for a wine of this alcohol level. The smoky, dark-grape aroma prepares you for smoke and a little leather in your mouth, mixed with ripe plums and a long blackberry finish. The body is medium-light, so in spite of the bold tastes I wouldn’t drink this with anything heavy like steak or sausage. This is more a chicken sausage-with-pasta wine, with lots of Parmesan on top. 

Salute!

Mary

 

Bastille Meal: No Big Deal (Just Add Wine)

It was a grass-roots movement that actually succeeded: the storming of the Bastille by a mob of raging Parisians on July 14, 1789. Louis XIV’s ruthless soldiers had been holding political prisoners there, and the powerless but growing proletariat was fed up.

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So they revolted, liberating the prisoners – all seven of them – and taking down the monarchy’s most conspicuous symbol. Today the French celebrate Bastille Day – La Fête Nationale, national holiday since 1880.

They do know how to celebrate; they’ve even named an official Bastille Day drink: Lillet, an apéritif or, according to EU law, an “aromatized wine.” Produced in Podensac, a small village south of Bordeaux, Lillet is an apéritif, 85 percent a “blend of rigorously selected wines” and 15 percent fruit liqueurs.

Meals for this holiday are hassle free: there are no traditional foods connected to Bastille Day, but you’ll find families literally “breaking bread” together, eating simple peasant foods as a nod to their rebellious ancestors. Baguettes, cheeses, charcuterie and a bottle of wine will do; some get a bit fancier, serving savory crêpes filled with mushrooms and sausage or bacon.

If you’re in Paris this week, you’ll be treated to spectacular fireworks and the world’s largest and oldest military parade. Wherever you celebrate, let’s raise a glass to the proletariat everywhere – and to liberation!

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Apéritif = a drink served before a meal to stimulate the appetite.

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Vino ‘Views:  I like a light-bodied red with my savory crêpes, so I picked up a bottle of 2013 Les Dauphins Côtes du Rhône Réserve Rouge (13% alcohol, $12.99). Ruby-red and fading to a rim that can only be described as fuchsia, this wine stands up to a savory dish, yet lets you know its origins with a scent of lavender. Mild tannins and gentle tastes of strawberries and tropical fruits make Les Dauphins Rouge a great choice for a summer evening.

Vive la France!

Cheers,

Mary

[Photo of Bastille Day celebration, courtesy of the United Nations/Rick Bajornas via Flickr]