Posts Filed Under wine review
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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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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Technically there was a holiday this month, but I could not bring myself to hazard conjuring up some long-shot wine pairing for St. Patrick’s Day in March.
Just… uhm… No. No way.
Anything along that vein is (being kind here) a desperate stretch. I mean, look, why would you even do that? What’s wrong with beer? [ A: the last time I checked, nothing. ] I’m actually the worst person to ask about the subject anyway, because St. Patrick’s Day happens to be my actual birthday. So for me, that “holiday” wine pairing usually falls squarely into the category of “whatever the f*ck I feel like drinking, no mater what food is being poured, and preferably something bubbly and expensive.” But then, with my daughter’s birthday falling less than a week later than mine, these days at 1WD central we more or less give my birthday a passing wave hello/goodbye. “Happy birthday honey. Ok, so, did you order the dolphin place-mats yet for all of the kids coming to Lorelai’s party?”
Despite the daughter birthday madness, and the inevitable hangover resulting from the amount of alcohol one has to imbibe just to survive hosting a dozen 5- and 6-year-old children for a birthday shindig, I managed a few non-St.-Patrick’s-Day tidbits for the Wine.Answers.com gig in March (they are paying for the stuff, after all!).
And, I did celebrate the birthday in serious style, vinous-wise, as you’ll witness from the inset pic. More on all of that below…
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