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Mondovino-A review

August 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Mondovino

I honestly haven’t seen many wine movies(there aren’t many made) but the other day at Blockbuster I saw Mondovino on the shelf and thought that a wine movie might be interesting.

I hadn’t heard about it before my wife and I sat down to watch it and we didn’t realize it was documentary style until we took it out of the box. It’s a rather complicated documentary and the film makers intentionally leave out any real understandable storyline which to both of us made the work as a whole feel rather incomplete and after it was over left us wondering…….. What was the point?

Ok, so I probably don’t have a career coming as the next Syskel or Roper or Ebert….but I did enjoy parts of the movie.

I’m going to start by saying that every documentary filmaker or commentator has their point of view and his certainly comes through at points. To me, it seems that he is trying to make the point that large scale wineries/corporations like Mondavi, a few French examples such as Mas De Daumas Gassac, wine consultant Michel Rolland and wine critic Robert Parker are taking away from the artistry gained from small wineries and giving more and more power to larger companies.

I take issue with the premise on a couple of levels. One of his most clear examples is Opus One winery in Napa which is a joint venture between Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild. My wife was surprised when I told her that Opus One had been around since the late 70’s. If deals like this would have meant the end of the wine industry in both Burgundy and Napa…..why haven’t we seen many more(any more?) examples of this in the 30 years since? Opus One still only makes 1 wine- a Napa blend which has been highly rated by both critics and the general public in most releases.

Opus-One-Szmurlo

Secondly he seems to take issue with Robert Parker and his influence on the wine industry and the taste of consumers. I understand that this is going to be a major concern with wineries, but I have to admit that almost every wine drinker I know from the serious to the casual, seem to have similar tastes to Parker. If he were constantly rating wines highly that the wine consuming public didn’t like, then he would lose his following rather quickly and people would pay more attention to other publications which the filmaker seems to leave out for the most part, with a small reference of Wine Spectator and their 2M+ yearly readers.

050831_WW_RobertParkerJR_ex

Lastly there is the issue of Michel Rolland and the images of his lab in Bordeaux. The film repatedly shows him telling his clients to micro-oxygenate the barells.

From Wikipedia: Since the film, Rolland has said that he is “not a fan of micro-oxygenation. The film suggests I am. Some of my clients inquire about it. It can help in special conditions — if the tannins are fierce or hard, micro-oxygenation can make them softer and rounder. In certain countries with certain terroir, like Chile or Argentina, I may use it.” Wine Spectator’s James Suckling notes in an article about Rolland that “He is not a proponent of micro-oxidation in wine-making as some suggest, and never has been”.

Ok so outside of some artistic license that the film maker seems to have taken I will say that I took some things away from a few of the people shown in the movie:

Michel Rolland- Seems like a likeable guy who knows everyone who is anyone in the industry. His reputation and sense of humor come through quite a bit…frankly speaking he seems like an interesting guy who would be a good choice to meet for a glass of wine….or a beer.

Mondavi- I don’t subscribe to the view that Mondavi is the Wal-Mart of the wine industry. Frankly speaking I think they still make some very good wine and we need to be realistic about a company which was sold for over 1B dollars and the type of access a documentary filmaker is likely to receive. I’d assume that a press atache or PR person would be present for an interview with the family, especially if they don’t know the journalist. That being said….. is it still a family run business? Probably not, but that is ok too. Most vineyards(yes even in Napa and France) are family owned despite the size. They aren’t shown in a good light in the film, but I would hope that people would remember that they are only making business decisions(the film maker seems to want them to no longer look for profit, they are a publically traded company and need growth/profit for their shareholders) as well as their many charitable and civic projects throughout Northern California. To me, the Mondavi story is an interesting one in that one man and his family took a small winery and made it into a huge multinational corporation in about 40 years. That type of success I’m sure we’d all like to have a small part of.

Small French wineries- They definitely come off as the sympathic characters in the story, but I do want to take a couple of minutes and explain what terroir actually is, since they brought it up in every conversation throughout the film. Terroir is not simply the area where the grapes are grown, but is meant to take into account the culture of the people growing the wine as well as the history behind the bottle. To me, I love history…..but how do I taste that in the bottle? How can culture come through a bottle? I appreciate being able to cellar a wine for 15 years and then drink it…..but how many people across the world really have an adequate cellar space to do something like that? How many people have the disposable income?

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the so-called Americanisation of wine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All those small wineries in France are still operating and we now could buy a bottle of their wine because of globalization. They haven’t been put out of the industry and frankly speaking having independent reviews of wine is a good thing. We need more critics, more wine blogs and more reviews….not less. I’m not willing to say that simply because old world wine regions have been around for a long time that they make the best wine anywhere in the world forever. Yes I like some of the complexity that comes with old vines…..but isn’t comparing and judging wine a good thing for the industry long term?

I think watching the movie made me think of today in some ways. Rampant globalization isn’t good for the wine industry if it means that small family producers are driven out of business….but I don’t see that happening. This afternoon my business partner is attending a family winemaker conference in San Francisco. I’m sure many of these producers have these same concerns of their French counterparts in the film. If they make outstanding wine, we’re very excited to work with them to get their products out to the general public. With more wine being consumed every day across the world these issues will continue to manifest themself, at Uncorked Ventures we love working with small producers that produce outstanding wine….we’ll always continue to do so, after all we’re a family business as well.

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Final Napa/Sonoma wrap up

August 21, 2009 Leave a comment

So I’ve been asked to give a quick wrap up of our trip by a couple of friends and since both Matt and I have been straight forward about what wineries we were visiting…..I’ll be much more honest then I probably should be politically speaking.

We’re excited to partner with(yes in alphabetical order): Alpha Omega, Audelssa, Copain and K Vitners(from Washington state). We also have a couple of wineries from the Central Coast that we like and should work with as well. To be honest, from a wine sourcing standpoint we’re in excellent shape, at least for our September and October shipments.

After meeting with Cornerstone Cellars as well as Elizabeth Spencer I don’t anticipate moving forward at this time with either of them.

So what’s next on the Uncorked Ventures agenda? We’re constantly working on SEO stuff because we do believe that long term that is going to be a key to our business. Matt and I are also more activly engaging our personal networks to see what they’d like to see from our wine clubs. One thing that has come up repeatedly is a corporate gift either on an ongoing monthly basis or a one time gift for either a birthday or holiday.

Those conversations will lead to another section of our website(Gifts) which we plan to have completed by Tuesday of next week. You’ll also see some changes in format to the About Us page, the Other Media page as well as at least 3 new articles added to the Education section around that same time period.

Lastly we’re continuing to work toward sourcing new and exciting wineries. We have a few that we’re looking forward to speaking to on our next visit to Napa and Sonoma.

Specifically I think we may be a little Cabernet Sauvignon heavy right now, so a great Zinfandel producer would be nice…..of course I also love more Pinot Noir.

Audelssa Tasting Experience

August 20, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve talked at some depth about a couple of our winery visits in Napa, but as I’ve said we’re especially pleased to be moving forward with Copain (as Matt states very nicely in his blog) Alpha Omega and of course Audelssa.

Audelssa was a winery that I was looking forward to tasting with at the end of our trip for a couple of reasons. Like most of the other wineries on our list they are family owned and have been very open to talking with us. I’ve appreciated the time Dan gave me on the phone, including his stories of previous frustrations with exporting wine, especially the taxes and exploding prices involved, I’ve gotten to know Gloria a little bit from both Twitter and email (we are at a similar place, how do you correctly use Twitter to actually sell a product?). Lastly I am pretty much fascinated with their V 27 concept.

A quick run-down of V 27 and remember I worked in real estate for a while, so this is probably especially interesting to me. V 27 explained simply is a timeshare. They are building a Tuscan Villa on their mountain ranch (where they grow most of their grapes) after buying into the concept you’d have the right to stay there, I believe 4 weeks a year, plus the capacity to create your own red wine blend with their resident winemaker. Please don’t hold me to exact details, but I’ll say I think it is underpriced for what they’re charging….how many people do you know that would love to have a second home in wine country? What about a 2nd home that comes with the ability to bottle your own wine? Pretty interesting concept huh? I’m guessing you know more then a few people who would be interested depending on price….. and this is going to put you back well less, well much less, then a 1 bedroom condo in Napa/Sonoma. Plus, check out the view:

Audelssa view

Ok, so we were set to meet with Mike at their Glenn Ellen tasting room at 2pm on Thursday Aug 13th. Matt and I thought we would have plenty of time since our Copain tasting was at 10am and the trip, according to Mapquest, would take about 45 minutes. We left Copain around 12:30 thinking we’d still have time to get a quick lunch at a small cafe in Glen Ellen and decided we would take, what we thought at the time, the safe route to the tasting room. The safe route takes us down the 101 south to the 12 east and then right on Arnold Drive….more on that later.

After being on the 101 for some time and discussing our previous meetings, both the positive and negative, we realized that we were seeing signs such as Welcome to Petaluma. I’m not a bay area resident but I do now that Petaluma is about 30 miles north of San Francisco….we were suppose to catch the 12 somewhere around Santa Rosa…..which is 17 miles further north.

Needless to say that meant we weren’t going to have time for lunch…..so just make that right on Arnold. Well to make a long story short we missed Arnold…mostly because it isn’t marked Arnold from the 12….it’s marked Glen Ellen….yeah we should have known better, but what can you do.

In any case we arrived at the Audelssa tasting room at least an hour late, Mike was still waiting for us, which was quite kind especially because the air conditioning was being worked on. It was set up to be a bad tasting, we hadn’t eaten all day, were hot, tired and frustrated.

We sat down and got a chance to try all the different wines(which are all red) and we were impressed by all of them.

We started with the Tephora which is a $25 retail bottle, we hadn’t seen the price point yet and were guessing that it came in around $40 which has been backed up by other friends and family when we’ve had them try it as well, except one family member who named the $25 price tag exactly, but I’ll let her stay anonomous for now.

In fact we opened one of the bottles I brought home last night and my mother in law (who knows her high end wine, especially those of French varietals) said quite simply that for $25 she’d definitely buy more of this wine which is a nice compliment in my book. My wife agreed that it was certainly worth more then the $25 that Audelssa is charging. The bottle went very, very well with a steak from the BBQ and also with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate for dessert.

The two real standout wines for my palate were the Zephyr which is a right bank Rhone blend which was an interesting wine. I don’t believe I’ve tried any, at least not many, wines from Napa/Sonoma that come from volcanic soil like this one does. You definitely get a stronger fruit taste then you do from many Napa/Sonoma wines, we were told it is because the grapes are grown at altitude which leads to a much smaller yield and more intense flavors of the fruit then you get at the valley floor.

Lastly Matt and I both quite enjoyed the Summit estate wine. Like many great blends it takes some of the major parts of all its components like the Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc. I’d hesitate to try and describe it in detail here, but I will say that it is very nice wine. I’m having a moderate size dinner party over the weekend to finish up my 30th bday activities and will be bringing a bottle with me. Of anything we smelled the entire week, this was perhaps the best and I do enjoy complicated tastes in my wine….so this was a real winner and one that I’m looking forward to trying to figure out more about this weekend.

Overall Audelssa was a good tasting experience and offer a nice series of wines that we can feature in our wine clubs. Despite our experiences their Glen Ellen tasting room is pretty easy to find. At Uncorked Ventures we’re looking forward to working with Audelssa and featuring their wines in one of our first wine club shipments.

Alpha Omega Meeting

August 17, 2009 Leave a comment

On Wednesday morning of last week(Aug 12th, 2009) Matt and I had the chance to sit down with Jean Hoefliger the lead winemaker and the general manager of Alpha Omega winery in Napa. To start Alpha Omega is in a great location on highway 29 in Rutherford, just a couple of miles south of St. Helena. They have recently opened a new tasting room which we were impressed with both in terms of architecture and the general feel inside.

The winery itself is much as you would expect with the vines surrounding the tasting room and some construction still going on, the one point of interest is definitely the fountains that they have between the tasting room and highway 29. It really is a beautiful location and the tasting room is situated in such a way, and slope, that you don’t notice highway 29 while you are there.

Alpha Omega Tasting Room

Alpha Omega Fountains

After arriving and meeting Jean he took us into a side room which had a long table with seats for approximately 10 people, leather chairs, rustic orange chandeliers which we later found out had been installed that morning and place settings for the three of us.

We spent the next 90 minutes or so talking with Jean about his wine-making philosophy, the history of Alpha Omega and how our two companies could work together in the future.

It was definitely a fascinating conversation especially because Jean’s passion for his work definitely shined through and he was completely at ease talking about everything from why they use only naturally occuring yeast, to how he was recruited to Alpha Omega, to his like for new ventures.

Our conversation was intermixed while tasting their 6 different wines, so I’ll go over conversation first and wine second.

Jean Inside the Tasting Room

A couple of things especially stick out in my mind:

*Alpha Omega uses only naturally occurring yeast in their wines. Instead of using one type of industrial yeast they allow their wines to spend more time in barrel (100% French because the grain is finer and imparts a more even flavor) in order to allow the 7 types of yeast that occur naturally on grapes to work without an outside addition.

* He tastes each wine daily as it is barrel to check and make sure it is being blended appropriately, it is definitely a more hands on approach then most winemakers use.

*98% of wine sold in the USA is consumed within 48 hours of purchase. Although this isn’t hugely popular in winemaking circles, he understands this fact and needs to create wine that will be good when consumed immediately as well as aging well when cellar-ed.

*Specifically in regards to both the Proprietary Red and ERA, asked what the blend was exactly. Interestingly Jean said he wasn’t sure off the top of his head because he never wants to think that he made the perfect wine a couple of years ago and now he needs to try and duplicate it. Each year will have a different blend because different fruit gives different results.

As for the wines:

I thought everything offered would stand the test of time, some notes on the 4 wines which stick out in my mind to this day:

Chardonnay Napa Valley 2006: By far the best Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted. I typically find the varietal too acidic but this was quite smooth and the flavor combinations which I found to be unique really did shine through-specifically honey and almond. When we got into the car we were wondering why we didn’t bring home a couple of bottles. To give you an idea of the winemakers taste he said he would bury this wine in the vineyard and drink it in about 15 years. I’m not sure I’m quite that patient.

Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006: I thought this was simply put an outstanding wine. It is quite masculine because you do get a sense of pepper as well as cherry. The three of us all remarked that this would be an outstanding Cab to pair with a slice of grilled meat. We took home two bottles of this wine.

Proprietary Red Wine Napa Valley 2006: To me, if you want to see what Alpha Omega does differently in their winemaking then many of the other wineries around the world, you need to try their blends. To start the wine is a beautiful purple color and on the nose you really can easily pick up red cherry. On the tongue the wine is smooth and overall it comes across as balanced. I would gladly drink this by itself, or with a meal. We took two bottles home with us.

ERA: Ok, so yes we did taste the $160 a bottle ERA. Did it live up to expectations? Yes it did, it is the smoothest wine I’ve ever tasted. The three of us all agreed that it is perhaps a more feminine wine then the others we tasted, most likely because it has a much higher amount of petit verdot, which incidentally is Jean’s favorite wine grape. Matt and I didn’t take a bottle home but would certainly buy a couple of bottles for a special occasion, especially if our wives and mother in law would be drinking because we know without doubt that all three of them would love the wine. I did especially enjoy the wine as well, frankly if we weren’t allocating funds to our business purchases we would have loved to bring home a few bottles and cellar them for a while.

Lastly we were able to talk with Jean about moving forward with a business agreement between our two companies. We are extremely happy to say that we will be featuring an Alpha Omega wine in one of our first shipments. Jean was very gracious and shared our opinion that having a long term partnership between our two companies would be good for both of us moving forward. I can’t say that at Uncorked Ventures we disagree, we’re very happy to add Alpha Omega to our growing list of partner wineries.

At the end of the day, this was a great meeting for Uncorked Ventures and we can’t thank Jean Hoefliger and the staff at Alpha Omega enough. We’re looking forward to working a day of harvest with the staff in the next few weeks.

Jean, Mark and Matt outside Alpha Omega

You Cannot Always Drink Wine

August 16, 2009 Leave a comment

I haven’t had a chance to go into more detail about the wineries we visited on our Napa trip, I’m certainly excited to move forward with great names like Alpha Omega, Audelssa and Copain but I do find sometimes that it helps me get some clarity about a business trip if I sleep on it for a couple of days.

With that in mind I spent last night at my wife and I’d favorite Mexican restaurant, Miguel’s which has two locations in the San Diego area: Point Loma and Coronado.

We chose Coronado-the Crown City. A couple of reasons for going there even though it’s about a 45 minute drive for us now; To start we lived there for about a year before a job change necessitated a move and secondly it is one of the most beautiful areas in southern California. Coronado is an “island” (actually it does connect to Imperial Beach by the Silver Strand which is a very thin strip of land, made somewhat famous by it being the home of Navy Seal training) with about 20,000 residents just about a mile off downtown San Diego. It’s basically split into two parts, one part residential with a great main street style set up and the other North Island-a large Navy base where two carriers and about 20k seamen are based at any one time. Coronado’s best known feature is the Hotel Del Coronado, but my wife and I love spending time out there because it gives a truly small town feel which is getting extremely hard to find in and around San Diego. It also is one of the places where the local community and military really do live hand in hand which is always great to see, especially with so many service men spending so much time away from their families.

Ok so what is Miguel’s? It started in the early 80’s from a pretty famous restaurateur family in San Diego, but last night was kind of nice in that my wife, my mother in law and myself were seated back in a new addition to the Coronado location which has for sale artwork and is a sort of boutique store in and around the tables which makes for a pleasing visual experience.

The Somewhat hidden entrance

So generally speaking the food is excellent, I can definitely suggest the carne asada plate which is more of a traditional marinated steak then some of you may be used to. How often do you order something at a Mexican restaurant to be asked how you want it cooked?

Carne Asada Plate with rice, beans and guacamole

Overall we had a great time, one small snafu on the drink front was that the bartender was new and did not know how to make my wife’s margarita which was a combo of pineapple juice and cranberry(I believe) anyway after waiting for it for a while….well it actually came after the food…..it sort of resembled jungle juice that a lot of us used to make in college. On the good side, they removed it from the bill and the other two margaritas were both quite good.

Strawberry margarita flanked by salsa and spicy carrots

Margarita served in shaker

Again, you can’t drink wine all the time and we had a nice evening out in a beautiful area. I’ll be going into some more wine depth over the next couple of days but Matt and I have been invited to work a day of harvest which we are both very much looking forward to, it should be quite the experience!

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A great day in Napa

August 13, 2009 Leave a comment

So a quick synopsis of our day today in Napa. Matt(my business partner) and I have had a great trip thus far despite at least 1 small hiccup.

We started our day without much trouble in the way of traffic, we had some extra time and stopped in at Bouchon bakery. I had an almond-strawberry scone and a cup of coffee, the scone was a rare treat having a nut related item….my wife is allergic so I typically obstain from eating nuts products that I’m not familar with.

We then headed over to our tasting at Alpha Omega. We had a great time visiting with Jean who as I’ve mentioned before is both the GM and winemaker. Both Matt and I were impressed by the full selection of wines as well as Jean’s passion for his type of winemaking and the type of support he has at AO to make truly top shelf wines. I plan on giving a more detailed review of both the winery itself and some of the conversation when I have some extra time over the weekend. Bottom line we enjoyed the wine and believe it represents a unique style that will be enjoyed by our wine club customers.

After spending about 90 minutes with Jean we headed over to lunch in St. Helena. We had a nice meal at Cindy’s, one of the best burgers I’ve had.

After lunch we headed over to Cornerstone Cellars tasting room, which incidently is now off premisis of their winery and right across the street from Bouchon. We weren’t able to taste as scheduled with Craig who is their general manager because of a scheduling problem. I’ll go into some more detail later, but with a lot of the wine we’re thinking of including in the club we’re not sure Cornerstone is going to offer the right compliment to some other producers we’re positive we want to work with.

After Cornerstone we stopped by and spent some time with Skip Karabian who is the director of sales and marketing for Elizabeth Spencer. We did like the wine and would be interested in having more substancial discussions with Elizabeth Spencer in the future, although to be perfectly honest we might not be a perfect match to move forward together.

Lastly we had a quick bit to eat at the Bear Republic Brewery in Healdsburg. Good meal and a beautiful area to spend some time in. We also stopped in to Golden Spoon for a yogurt before spending some time driving around to take a few quick photos.

Tomorrow brings meetings with Copain and Audulssa.

Very much looking forward to both and please come back the next few days for more substancial updates on each of our meetings.

Packing….Ready to Go

August 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Every so often I think we all feel like we reach a point in our lives where things are about to change. That can happen with personal relationships, work or even within ourselves. I get the feeling that professionally I am reaching one of those points this week.

I leave for my first Napa trip since forming Uncorked Ventures tomorrow morning. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to really start taking the next step forward with Uncorked Ventures and do believe that we’re very close to closing on agreements with a few producers on this trip.

One of the great things about the trip for me is that it seems it is coming at the perfect time. We have an expanding interest list and we’re getting close to having a fully completed and functional website.

While we have plenty to do, we’ve come an incredibly long way in about a month. I’ll be packing much of the day today so this will be shorter then normal and while I cannot promise definitive updates from wine country….we plan on having an extensive review of our trip as well as finally getting the first of our videos and podcasts rolled out.