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da perks da perks

12 Aug

I may not be making tons of dough at the new job but there are perks to working in the wine industry; at least in Napa Valley anyway.

The winery facility where I work is dedicated to custom crush, which is a program where the average bear – or Joe – can make wine and have their own label. Let me paint a picture with a terrible analogy.

A winery facility that offers custom crush services is to one of those do-it-yourself pottery stores.

You want to design and make a finished clay pot product (wine) but don’t have the clay (grapes) or don’t know what kind of clay to purchase. You don’t have the workspace (winery with fermentation tanks and such) to roll out your clay and build with it and you can fiercely benefit from the experienced voice of someone in-house who has experience making pots (i.e. a Winemaker).

If that wasn’t clear enough – custom crush enables you and me to make wine without having to own our own winery, without having to grow our own grapes and without having to know a whole lot about wine making other than be able to describe what the label will look like or what varietal we want to produce and it’s associated characteristics.

How I benefit from the custom crush operation where I work. When bottling is going on, and they’re pouring that liquid yumminess into sealed vessels, readying it for market – occasionally a label will be misprinted on the bottle.

When this happens, somebody deems it a total loss. Those defunct bottles are usually distributed amongst the staff or taken home by the person whose wine they are bottling. Occasionally a custom crush client will consciously (and might I add graciously) float one of his or her newly bottled wines to the office and tasting room staff – which is always a nice bonus.

On my wine shelf, I have an unmarked bottle of either 2009 Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon. The eastern Europe intern who works in the winery wasn’t sure what varietal it is, but promised me it was going to be good. I’ll take his word for it. Hell, it was free.

Just this afternoon one of our tasting room superstars called me at my desk up int he office where I work, and told me a woman from Indian Springs lodge and spa came by doing some outreach and offered free mud baths and pool passes to employees at the winery. Another score!

Aside from these random occurrences of generosity – as a wine industry employee equipped with my business card, I am entitled to free tastings at most winery locations, and 30% off wines being sold through most wineries. Not bad.


just ignore the linoleum floors

7 Aug

Acorn Zin, Cristolino sprakling, Lyeth Pinot, Plow & Stars Riesling, Jaffe Estate red medley, and Cuvaison Chardonnay

Okay so please try to ignore the linoleum floors and focus on the corks. Darn, now you’re probably staring at the linoleum. These corks have been taking up residence on our kitchen windowsill the past couple weeks. I thought – what the heck,  I may as well group them together and take a photo before bringing them into work to drop in our cork recycling bin. After all, it’s a direct representation of what we’ve been drinking lately and this is a noob wine blog.

As you might imagine – each cork has a story behind it.

The Lyeth Pinot Noir was a wine my boyfriend bought at Traverso’s; a gourmet deli/high end grocer here in Santa Rosa. He brought home one bottle and we liked it so much, he went back and bought a whole case of it. We now have lots ‘o Lyeth and it continues to please us. Recently, he also brought home a Lyeth Zinfandel or Cabernet that wasn’t bad but just not as preferable to me as the Pinot Noir.

The Plow & Star corks represents a Riesling I picked up at our neighborhood Whole Foods Marketplace. I bought it because I was craving a chilled white wine high in acidity and light and flowery. Whole Foods also marked it as one of their top ten budget wines. I’m a shelf-talking-whore I guess. The wine retailed at $7.99, I loved the label and so .. I bought it. Great buy! I loved every sip of it and if I weren’t saving up for a newer car I’d probably buy a case of it. Shoot, I might do that anyway – for $7.99 a bottle – especially if they offer a case discount.

The Cuvaison S Block Chardonnay was an absolute delight. This Chardonnay is estate grown (as all their wines are) at Cuvaison’s Carneros vineyard. Their winemaker feels that the chardonnay grapes from this specific vineyard block are so well balanced on their own, that he need not blend grapes from any other vineyard in – and they call it S Block because the vineyard is vaguely shaped like an S. Their Carneros Chardonnay for example – is a blend of grapes from a multitude of vineyards – although it’s very approachable and lovely as well.

Jaffe Estate. I don’t know much about this wine other than it is called Transformational, and is a blend of several different kinds of red grapes. I was pretty buzzed by the time we opened it so … my senses probably weren’t as acute. I remember it having characteristics of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet, I just read their website description of the wine and it states that it’s a blend of Merlot and Cabernet with the Cabernet’s characteristics presiding over the Merlot’s.  (Maybe I’m getting better at this wine thing?!)

Acorn’s 2006 Heritage Zinfandel is an absolute keeper. It’s the kind of Zinfandel you want to get down on one knee for. If you have been at all following this blog, I wrote a post titled “baby’s first case of wine” where I described my first case buying experience.  I tried this Zinfandel twice; one time at an event in downtown Santa Rosa and once at Willi’s Wine Bar. When I learned the winery was selling it to industry partners at over 50% off – I had to get a case! I’ve since opened one of the bottles. The wine is as enjoyable as I remember at the tastings. Guess what you’re getting for Christmas – yeah if I can part with it!

Lastly, Cristolino Brut Rose Cava. Retails $7.99 – 90+ rated wines under $20. Shoot, try under $10!  It’s often on sale for under $6 too at Safeway and other retail locations. It’s more pleasant to drink than many other sparkling wines I’ve had and affordable for frequent consumption. My boyfriend does not drink sparkling wine, so it makes more sense for me to have an affordable bottle at home to drink than spending a bunch of money on a bottle I’m going to drink alone. Strangely, I don’t feel that way about all wines I consume.

The bubbles are very small. I’ve had some Prosecco wines where the bubbles are huge and flatulent and too tart. Again, I don’t know enough about standard Prosecco or Cava sparkling characteristics to even compare the two at this point in time. Some of the BEST sparkling wines I’ve enjoyed come from Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma County. I recently went to Mumm in Napa Valley and was displeased. Their wines tasted like they were lacking the complexity and snap that Iron Horse has to offer. Just my opinion. I understand that Mumm is very popular in the Napa Valley though – and their facility is beautiful.


6 Aug

Corn dogs, Dijon and Sauvignon Blanc

1 Aug

The AMA Pro Flat Track Race was going on yesterday evening at the Calistoga Speedway Half Mile. This was the first flat track race this raceway has hosted in over a decade and proved to be some good redneck fun. Well, only partially redneck. After all, I was there and I’m not a redneck.

An hour before the race commenced, the grandstands and infield were packed with race fans who traveled to bear witness of this event from all over the country. Many out-of-towners had traveled to watch their son or nephew or friend compete, and my guess is that some of them coupled the race-going with day tripping through wine country – since both Sonoma and Napa Counties have so much to offer.

The standard “fair” of food vendors were present; steaming hot corn on the cob, wood fired pizza by the slice, BBQ ribs, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw, pina colada and raspberry flavored snow cone sugary goodness, vanilla or chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone, grilled hamburgers (that were reported to have the same taste and feel of hockey pucks), baked beans, chili cheese fries, cotton candy and kettle corn. Ah ‘lest I forget – there were also corn dogs and veggie corn dogs.The veggie dogs were a surprise offering, and not surprisingly the vendor said they were not a popular item on the menu.

I had to order one to revisit my vegetarian past and the verdict was … not bad. When you get a budget dog and dress it in a corn jacket and then deep fry it – I’m not sure it matters really what’s inside. A plastic grenade or ankle sock might taste the same.

Despite the event being located smack dab in the middle of “Wine Country,” there were zero wine vendors pouring. Granted motorsports events like the AMA Pro Flat Track race are more aligned with beer drinkers – it’s still wine country and most of the fans were from the surrounding Napa and Sonoma counties. There must have been some method to the madness of why one of the 400 + Napa Valley wineries were not present … anywhere.

I could have used some chilled Sauvignon Blanc to compliment my veggie corn dog and Dijon mustard.


17 Jul

I’ve been lagging a little on my Oenophyte wine blog posts but before I run out the door today, I definitely want to blog some quick impressions from WITS (Wine Industry Technology Symposium) that I attended this past week in Napa.

WITS is a symposium designed specifically for the technological aspects of the wine industry. I first heard about the event through a coworker who attended the previous year and claimed to “take home” a lot of valuable information. Since technology changes so quickly, I decided that it would behoove me to attend and see what the new thing is. As predicted there are new advances not only in the way businesses are approaching their marketing but also in the tools and resources available to them.

My main focus is marketing, but the symposium supported just about all technological aspects of the wine industry – from sales to marketing, vineyard management, finance and so on.

Much of the content covered the growing prevalence of social media and the most effective tactics wineries can implement into their social media strategy to gain more exposure, drive more traffic into their tasting rooms and hopefully sell more wine!

There’s no two ways about it. Advances in technology are changing the way we are communicate. Long gone are the days when you had to travel home to check your answering machine to see if you missed any calls. Gone are the days of having to drive home to check your email. And who gets snail mail anymore?

People and information are mobile. One example. A couple weeks ago I stayed over at a friend’s house in San Francisco (they were out of town). When I awoke I was wondering where I could find a good latte. Instead of wandering around aimlessly (which has its merits), I went to the yelp app downloaded on my Droid phone and selected “coffee and tea” as the category of interest. Within seconds every coffee shop and tea house within close proximity popped up in list format including walking, driving and bus directions to those locations. The yelp listing even included information on whether or not the business was currently open.


I admit. It was actually quite delicious.

Do I think our society is spending too much time gazing into their 2″ x 4″ wonder screens? Yes. Am I wasting time – head in the mobile world – more than I ought to be? Absolutely! Would I be healthier if I spent more time engaged with a friend in person, called my mom more often or watched the sunrise from a mountain top. Yes sirree! Am I willing to give up the ease of having information at my fingertips … maybe not so much …yet.

WITS was cool; almost like a Rennaissance of communication centered around a specific industry. I think this is just the beginning – of what? I don’t know.

spit or swallow

10 Jul

Welcome to the first post on my blog Oenophyte
(eeh no fight).

I recently started in marketing at a Napa Valley winery. Previously I worked at a motorcycle dealership in Sonoma County in marketing and sales.

The position at the motorcycle shop challenged me professionally and as a human. Somehow I managed to stick with selling bikes from my mid twenties through my early thirties. I’m 31 years old now. I could literally go on for days about the chicanery that came along with a commission-based sales involving the general public – but I’ll save that for another day and another blog.

My goal with Oenophyte is to post weekly sharing my experiences as an “oeno-neophyte.” If you you are still confused about the name, I made it up to mean mean – one who is new to wine.

So yes, I am new to wine.

Mom and Dad were and are not drinkers. My mother’s entire involvement with wine consisted of buying one box of Franzia’s White Zinfandel annually for a party she threw for colleagues.

At the experimental age of fifteen, my closest friend and I stole into the hall closet of my house where Mom stored the Franzia (does it ever go bad? does it improve with age?). We each poured it into coffee mugs, disguising our underage drinking as cocoa or tea.

That was the first night wine had ever touched my lips – and I thought it was plum awful! Granted, that was also the first time alcohol had touched my lips and to be honest, I don’t think I “liked” it until I was in my twenties. We thought all booze tasted something awful; and if it wasn’t for the peer pressure and “buzz” we were after, we would have surely opted for a cold and frothy milkshake or a glass of cold apple juice.

We were curious knuckleheads. What can I say?

For all the wine drinkers that may be reading this … don’t blacklist me yet!  I can assure you that I DID graduate to bottled wine soon after the box wine experience. In fact, the first time I copped a true honest to goodness buzz was off of Boone’s Strawberry Hill.

Uhh … anyone still listening? Well, Boone’s was the next step, but I wouldn’t truly call it graduating.

Wine didn’t become a part of my drinking repertoire until I was in my early twenties, and even still I was a beer drinker at heart. In 2004 I moved to Sonoma County. My best friend worked at Roshambo Winery at the time and her boyfriend worked at Sante’s restaurant in Geyserville as a chef.

When I was new in town, I remember attending parties primarily attended by Sonoma County winemakers and others involved in the wine industry. It was  a smorgasbord of wine people. It was only until I moved to Sonoma County that I started to look wine in the legs – I mean, eyes.

Many of my customers at the motorcycle dealership were involved in the wine industry either as winemakers, cellar masters, vintners, wine marketing professionals, etc. Just lovely and gorgeous bottles of wine often and graciously found their way to my desk throughout the years; one of the perks I hadn’t intended on working in the industry.

Paradigm, Grgich Hills, Paro, Clos Du Val, Mer Soleil, Boheme and on and on.

Landing my current winery position had nothing to do with my wine knowledge. I can assure you of that. The winery (let’s refer to them as BCD) that had extended the offer recognized how my greenness might bring a breath of fresh air, exciting new ideas and trainability to custom tailor me to BDC; their business culture and way of doing things.

Anxious to depart from the motorcycle industry, I was proactive about seeking jobs in other industries and if anyone knows anything about Sonoma and Napa Counties – they know there’s a LOT to do with wine!

I thrust my greenness into my interview and apparently it worked. Either that, or nobody else experienced and qualified enough would accept the pay which for all practical purposes is average considering my skill and experience level. No complaints here.

In any event, I wanted to give a background sketch on my wine experience before launching into the body of my blog. I ENCOURAGE feedback, followers and questions. I am up for any challenge. I an reaching out and hoping to learn as much as I can about this beautiful industry and hope you join me.