Archive for April, 2014
Remember when I said I was heading to New Hampshire Wine Week (as a media guest)? That was back in February, and, yes, I am just now getting around to talking about it.
I’d love to tell you that delay is due to me being stupid amounts of busy (which I am), but it’s not. The delay is total aww-man-I-don’t-wanna-have-to-write-this-term-paper procrastination. Why? Because writing about NH’s consumer-facing wine event requires facing my own personal hell, which is having built a life in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and then becoming a wine lover, and having to deal with the PA Liquor Control Board.
Now, NH is also a control state, with the NHLC acting as both wholesaler and retailer for distilled liquor and wine. But NH’s progressive take on being a control state – which is driven almost entirely by the fact that it has competition, with half of its business comes from cross-border states – further solidifies PA’s status as the f*cking North Korea of U.S. wine and spirits shopping experiences. As one NHLC exec told me, “We give selection and price, and now we need to focus on service to complete the circle,” which I can basically tell you is indeed happening, after having spent time there reviewing how they stack up to PA. From profitability (all of their stores turned a profit last year) to shipping (>1K direct shippers) to associate training to wine selection/availability (14K SKUs) to fees / taxes (roughly 8%), NH makes PA look like what it really is, the single worst state in the Union in which to buy wine.
So… coming back to PA from NH is like returning to hades. It’s like the end of 2112 where that dude finds the guitar in the cave and the Priests tell him to get bent on his music and he dreams of a more progressive future and then kills himself in despair (since this came out in the `70s, I’m not considering that a spoiler), only without the suicide though with the Prog Rock (because I was listening to awesome, angry King Crimson music on the ride home). In NH, I have seen a system that, while not perfect (hey, we’re still talking about the government being involved in private enterprise, which is bizarre at its core), is like a dreamy glimpse at what PA ought to be, what it could be if only the PLCB gave a stale rat’s ass about anyone actually making, buying, or drinking wine (when only the middlemen benefit, you know the system is totally broken).
So, before I get depressed enough to grab an acoustic and head off to a cave, let’s talk about a happier topic: namely, the juice being poured at NH Wine Week 2014…
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If you’ve ever wanted to introduce a misbehaving corkscrew to the business end of a firearm (I think anyone who’s ever snapped a cork in half when opening a bottle can identify with this feeling), then you’re not actually too far off from one of that tool’s original uses.
That corkscrews may have derived from implements used to pull unspent musket material from rile barrels is just one of the fascinating tidbits I picked up in researching my latest piece for PUBLIX Grape Magazine, titled “The Art of the Corkscrew,” which is appearing in their Spring 2014 issue.
Yes, Spring. Yes, really. I know that most of you who are, like me, on the East Coast (or are reading this from the northern Midwest U.S.) have probably, after this hellish Winter season, ceased believing in the memory of Spring, and chalked its flowers, rain showers, and warm, Sunny days up to a vague, pre-ice-age fantasy. But I can assure you that it has, in fact, actually and for-real arrived. Sort of. I think.
Anyway, if you’re in the PUBLIX sphere of shopping, you can pick up a printed copy of the issue for free (or subscribe for delivery), and get your geek hat on to learn a few surprising things about one of the world’s only tools that’s essentially designed to open one and only one product (a fact that, in and of itself, puts the wine world into a kind of odd, anachronistic light, doesn’t it?), along with all kinds of other interesting wine-and-drinks-and-food-related content. My article also includes a guide to the most common corkscrew types, along with hints on how to best use them (which you, of course, don’t need, because you’re a way-cool bad-ass who’s never, ever, not-even-once ripped a cork in half when trying to open a bottle of vino… yeah… right…).
- 08 Carpineto Brunello di Montalcino (Brunello di Montalcino): Still a youngster, playing in the dirt and skipping graphite stones. $55 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 10 Brooks Riesling (Willamette Valley): Grapefruit pith, toast and chalk that are patiently discussing stern austerity measures. $25 B+ >>find this wine<<
- 11 Cliff Lee Moondance Dream (Stags Leap District): For those who want their Bord'x blend turned up full throttle, with afterburners. $95 A >>find this wine<<
- 11 Cliff Lede Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): Brawny; like it stepped thirsty right off the paper towel roll. $70 A- >>find this wine<<
- 10 Cliff Lede Vineyards Songbook Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): A tune that's more Wagnerian cycle than quickly-digested pop song $190 A >>find this wine<<
- 11 Argyle Riesling (Eola-Amity Hills): Fresh, mineral-driven mountain spring water, with twists of limes added for good measure. $17 B >>find this wine<<
- 12 Grey Stack Rosemary's Block Dry Stack Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Bennett Valley): SB as hazy, thought-provoking art house flick. $33 B+ >>find this wine<<
- NV Villa Sandi Vigna la Rivetta, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Cartizze (Prosecco): Chalk-lined paths leading to elegant secret gardens. $40 A- >>find this wine<<
- 09 Wakefield The Visionary Cabernet Sauvignon (Clare Valley): Arrives tossing out gifts generously; turns around & leaves too soon. $120 A- >>find this wine<<
- 10 Wakefield St Andrews Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Clare Valley): Soft earth & eucalyptus leaves clinging to obsidian blocks $60 A- >>find this wine<<
Peabody’s Wayback Machine has got nothing on the steep, two mile drive from Napa Valley’s Bale Grist Mill State Park up to Stony Hill Vineyard. Brave that vertical, moss-covered tree-lined climb between St. Helena and Calistoga, and in many ways you’re transported at least forty years back in Napa time, and to what seems an entire world away from the Disney-fied scene of the opulent temples of vino-ness that pervade Route 29.
Feel free to insert your own clichés about technology being the only indication we’re living in a modern age when touring this winery’s weathered but functional buildings and it’s gnarled old Riesling vines. They’re pabulum, sure, but in this case also apt (I was warned to plan on no cell phone coverage when I reached the top of their road; the Wayback machine renders that inoperative, I suppose).
“This is the land that Napa Valley Time forgot,” mused Sarah McCrea, the former corporate marketing brand director who, in 2012, stopped fighting the inevitable call of becoming Stony Hill’s third generation proprietor. “And we like it that way.”
McCrea’s grandparents, Fred and Eleanor McCrea, bought this little chunk of Spring Mountain in 1943, when it was a former goat ranch that “nobody seemed to want.” The first plantings happened “in `48, `49, after the war,” according to McCrea. Some Riesling vines from that era still remain on the property. A small winery was completed in 1953, and trust me when I tell you that, while charming and unquestionably setup in a beautiful place with a beautiful valley view, it would hardly qualify as garage-sized for some of the polished-with-gobs-of-cash winery façades just a few miles farther south on Route 29. Since that time in the fifties, almost nothing (thankfully, blessedly, miraculously) seems to have changed here. Case in point: in sixty years, Stony Hill has employed fewer winemakers than the venerable Pittsburgh Steelers have head coaches.
To put Stony Hill in perspective, one has to understand that when they started in the wine business in Napa, there was no perspective. There wasn’t even much of a Napa fine wine business. There’s is a tale that, as Morrissey sang, starts “from before the beginning…”
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