Have you ever been on a wine tour in Asheville, North Carolina? When I was there last month, I visited three incredible wine and food venues in the area with creator, producer, and maker of video magic, Gary of G Social Media. The first stop was wine and dinner at Rezaz – Pan Mediterranean Cuisine. Next, we walked up the hill to sample a few wines at the tasting bar at Appalachian Vintner. Last, but not least, we took Uber to plēb urban winery to celebrate their Beaujolais Day release of the inaugural 2018 wine, a lovely rosé of Maréchal Foch from North Carolina. What an amazing time I had. I cannot wait for my next visit and tour.
When I recently received my review copy of Wine Folly Magnum Edition, I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the book’s cover design. I know that you should not judge a book by its cover (or a wine by its label), but dang, this is a beautiful book. The good news is that it only gets better inside. This book is a plethora of outstanding content, a fantastic resource for the wine novice to expert. With the assumption that one does not know anything about wine, this book starts at the beginning, then breaks this wealth of information into manageable chunks, presenting it to the reader in an aesthetically pleasing, colorful, and easy-to-follow design. While I am thankful for my more formal wine certification program, I must confess that if the content had been presented the Wine Folly way, learning would have been much more fun.
This sample copy of the book left me wanting to know more about Wine Folly – the brand, the books, and the website – so I contacted Avery Books, a division of Penguin Random House, to schedule an interview with author and designer, Madeline Puckette. When you read Madeline’s answers, you will understand why Wine Folly is such a delight in every way, and why you need Wine Folly Magnum Edition in your book collection.
When did you fall in love with wine? Was there a wine moment and/or a special wine?
Wine found its way into my life in stages. That said, I did have an “aha” wine. It was a $13 bottle of Côtes du Rhône from the 2005 vintage. Not at all fancy. My boyfriend and I sat there sniffing it, trying to pick out fruit flavors and nothing fit. Suddenly, he blurted out “olives!” and my mind was blown. Who knew wine could be savory?
I tried to buy more but the vintage sold out and the next vintage tasted gnarly. (and not in a good way.) That experience taught me about vintage variation, French “terroir,” and active wine tasting all in one fell swoop!
What other wine industry roles have you held prior to Wine Folly?
Prior to starting Wine Folly, I worked in restaurants including several steakhouses, a French restaurant, a wine bar with 50 wines by the glass, a cool chef-driven spot (Poppy in Seattle), and even at a large casino hotel. (You’ve never seen a hotel until you’ve seen their laundry!)
I absolutely love working the floor. It’s exhausting and exhilarating all at once. The people who work in hospitality are some of the coolest people to work alongside.
What made you decide to share your knowledge of wine with the world? Was there a void you wanted to fill regarding wine education?
When I became certified in 2010 I was at odds with my level of wine smarts versus other people. It’s like knowing how to speak another language but not having anyone to talk to. And, at certified level, you’re still trying to practice. So, I started Wine Folly to bridge my knowledge to others. To practice communicating. As a communicator, I’m not particularly adept with words, but if you ask me to draw something… This is where I shine.
What is the history/story and philosophical approach behind Wine Folly both the website and books?
The philosophy behind Wine Folly is intricate, even the word “folly” is multi-layered. Still, the modus operandi of Wine Folly easy to put words to: To communicate wine as simply as humanly possible. And, to explore the human condition through the lens of wine.
Side Note: The funny thing about wine is that it deals with a lot of root human behaviors, from our desire to connect with others to our ability to recognize patterns (as a species.)
Why did you choose the name Wine Folly?
Oh, you ask! Hahaha. This is my folly! I should have read ahead…
So, the word “folly” has multiple meanings if you look it up. It’s a foolhardy mistake as well as an architectural element that has little purpose (other than just looking good from a distance.) So, why “folly?”
For those just getting into wine, being interested in wine seems like pure folly because it’s just an alcoholic beverage. Why should anyone care? That said, once you’re inside, you come to realize that wine is an edifice with deep scientific and cultural implications. In short, wine is deep. It will go as deep as you’re willing to dive.
So, we named it “folly” for that moment when you decide to take the plunge and see what’s out there.
Who is Wine Folly’s audience?
At this moment, I love teaching wine beginners. That said, we will continue to develop our content past this level. It’s surprising how quickly people are absorbing and using the information with the visual approach!
Wine Folly Magnum Edition is the follow-up edition of your hugely successful first book, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine? Why did you decide to create this new edition?
The Essential Guide was an MVP (minimum viable product) to use entrepreneurial jargon. I did it to test the model against the market. Sure enough, the model worked! Hot cakes!
Of course, as soon as the book came out, I felt a burning desire to iterate on the model. Magnum Edition is the iteration. I’m not sure where the burning desire comes from, but it’s there and it’s unavoidable.
What makes this edition different than the first? Why should purchasers of the first book buy this new edition?
Besides the fact that it has over two times the content and a stunningly beautiful cover, it does a better job of communicating the topic of wine. There is some repetition in the format (and I did save a couple of excellent infographics in book 2), but the added value well exceeds the cover price. It was also redesigned from the ground up so there’s lots of new stuff.
If anything, you can now pass down your last book to a well-deserving wine beginner!
Do you think anything has changed in the wine world, from the consumer and professional perspectives, during three years since the release of your first book? How do you address those changes in this edition?
I’ve observed enormous change since the first book launch.
These days, consumers care more about where wines come from, how they’re made, and what they contain versus the love story and hedonism that defined the past. Of course, the wine world has been very slow to adapt to this new mindset.
So, in this new book, we tried very hard to be information rich and answer the fundamental questions of wine that are often left out of the marketing story. In this way, the book helps consumers take a more pragmatic approach to exploring wine on their own. It’s more about how to think about wine and where to hunt for it than what to think and buy.
What is next for Wine Folly?
I was supposed to write out my five-year plan out today, but I thought answering your questions seemed way less intimidating.
Seriously though, we have the lighthouse vision built and it’s audacious. We just need to figure out how to paddle there without killing the team or losing the passion. I promise it will be big, or the other option: you’ll find me washed out living by a vineyard in Oregon with a VW Vanagon and a Blue Heeler at my rear. One of the two.
Biltmore has been synonymous with quality and hospitality since the estate’s inception in 1895, with its French Renaissance-style château designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscaping by Frederick Law Olmsted of New York’s Central Park fame. Today, Biltmore continues as a family-owned, self-sustaining 8000-acre estate and world-class destination, with hotels, restaurants, shopping, a plethora of events and activities, and a winery, which replaced the beloved Biltmore Dairy Farms and opened to the public in 1985.
A visit to America’s Largest Home® includes a complimentary tasting at the winery, the most visited in the United States with around 600,000 visitors annually. Biltmore produces over 150,000 cases of wine to meet growing demand and universal appeal. The winery’s wine club has doubled annually the past three years and currently has around 6700 members at the time of this visit. Making around 50 wines for diverse palates and price points might seem like a daunting task, but not at Biltmore. After 32 years of winemaking – first as assistant winemaker, then winemaster – Bernard Delille, who retired in July 2018, along with Sharon Fenchak, who has been at Biltmore 19 years, have honed their craft, creating award-winning wines for everyone. The wines range from sweet to dry and include whites, reds, rosés, and sparkling wines. In addition to the complimentary tasting, Biltmore offers in-depth experiences such as the Premium Wine Tasting, Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting, Behind-the-Scenes Winery Tour & Tasting, Wine & Cheese Hour, and the seasonal Candlelight Winery Tour for an extra fee. With distinct wine collection categories and a Virtual Sommelier, the winery’s website assists online guests with finding wines and food pairing suggestions at all price points. Wines are widely available in the wholesale and direct-to-consumer markets. Biltmore ranks in the top 1% of wine businesses in the United States.
When the idea of a vineyard and winery first came to fruition in the early 1970s, George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V Cecil, realized the challenge of growing wine grapes in North Carolina and led the charge for statewide research. Like other non-traditional, grape-growing regions, Biltmore and other state producers have had to prove themselves time and time again that Vitis vinifera grapes grown in North Carolina can produce high-quality wines. The reality is that not every grape variety is suited to North Carolina’s growing conditions and some consumers prefer the riper, fruit-forward styles produced in winegrowing areas like California. Thus, Biltmore produces wines from its 94 acres of estate vineyards; key winegrowers in Polk County (NC), Arroyo Seco Vineyards (Monterey, CA), Pietra Santa Winery (Ciegega Valley, CA), Tenbrink Vineyards (Solano County, CA); and California AVA wines from Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, and Sonoma County. Biltmore makes and finishes AVA-designed wines in those AVAs, per TTB law.
During a recent visit and tasting with Delille and Director of Business Development, Jeff Plack, Delille revealed that the honor of making such a large portfolio of wines from different vineyard locations is what makes winemaking at Biltmore exciting and why he has spent nearly his entire career here. Both he and Fenchak travel extensively to partner vineyard and winemaking facilities to ensure that all aspects of wine production, from vineyard to bottle, live up to Biltmore standards. Plack, a 12-year member of the wine business team, echoed Biltmore’s pledge to wine excellence across styles and price points, as well as took it a step further to emphasize that it is the winery’s renowned model of hospitality which first leads visitors to the winery, where they are treated to tasting experiences led by brand ambassadors empowered to deliver personalized experiences to wine novices and aficionados alike.
A tour of Biltmore’s production facility confirmed a real, working winery, complete with fermentation tanks, caves, and wines ready to be transported to the winery’s own fulfillment warehouse, not outsourced to a third-party company. It was also bottling day for one of Biltmore’s wines. The crew members were delighted to show off the winery’s bottling line, as they engaged in a friendly competition of most bottles produced in a day.
An opportunity to taste three of Biltmore’s estate wines, a Sonoma County wine, and an American AVA designated wine, demonstrated the exemplary breadth and depth of Delille’s and Fenchak’s winemaking talents. The tasting began with their grande dame sparkling wine, the 2015 Biltmore Estate® Château Reserve Blanc de Blancs, North Carolina ($50), which recently earned gold in the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. A favorite of the tasting, this wine showcases a lovely balance of zingy acidity, mouthwatering citrus, and a yeasty, creamy mousse. The second wine, the 2017 Biltmore Estate® Reserve Chardonnay, North Carolina ($24), is an outstanding value. Barrel fermentation, six to eight months of French and American oak aging, and malolactic fermentation gently cradle the wine’s zesty tree fruit flavors. The third wine, the 2016 Biltmore Estate® Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, North Carolina ($25), is proof that Biltmore can grow and make cabernet sauvignon in North Carolina and do it well. Its softer style and lower alcohol (13%) speak to those who think they do not enjoy red wines. In stark contrast stylistically to the first three wines, the 2015 Biltmore Estate® The Hunt, Sonoma County ($40 for the 2016 vintage), inspired by the estate’s former game hunts, is a robust, luscious, Bordeaux-style blend of 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% cabernet franc, and 25% merlot, calling for rich meat dishes. At lunch in The Bistro, I enjoyed a glass of the NV Biltmore Estate® Blanc de Noir, American ($25), whose effervescence and vibrant red berry flavors paired exquisitely with the salmon dish of the day.
Biltmore’s reputation as a premium destination and lifestyle brand is unrivaled in the hospitality industry, so much so that they offer their own “immersion into luxurious world-class service” program through the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) accredited Biltmore Center for Professional Development. This pursuit of excellence translates into every aspect of Biltmore, including the winery, which, after 33 years, continues to be a pioneer and a leader in American, East Coast, and North Carolina wine production.
In September, I visited El Dorado County for the second time, my first time returning since fall 2016 when I met and tasted with Greg Boeger of Boeger Winery. This trip, I was graciously hosted by Visit El Dorado and ventured beyond the wine to whitewater rafting. My first whitewater rafting experience was many years ago during a Spanish summer abroad program in Costa Rica and I loved it. Therefore, I was thrilled to return to the rapids of the South Fork of the American River with Raft California and guide and operations manager, Anna Weber. I wish I could think of a more polite word, but Anna is badass in every way. She inspired me so much that I decided to interview her. Below are my questions and her answers.
What kind of experiences does Raft California offer?
Raft California offers whitewater rafting trips for ages four and up, from mild Class II to wild Class V. With over 40 years of experience, Raft California provides both day and multi-day trips on over 12 rivers in the state of California. The beautiful rivers for which we offer commercial rafting trips range from the gateway of Sequoia National Park all the way to the Oregon border. Some of our river offerings are nationally preserved wild and scenic stretches! The raft guides are also the chefs and cater delicious riverside meals to accompany the trips. Over the years, we have branched out to include hot springs, wine tours, and fishing whitewater trips – all fun ways to spice up a rafting outing!
What makes Raft California different from other rafting companies in El Dorado County?
Our staff and our river offerings are what set Raft California aside from other companies in El Dorado County. Our campground is over 60 acres of private grounds and includes beautiful riverside camping with canvas tents and riverside dining. The staff is extremely experienced – many with over a decade or two of guiding experience. Select guides on our staff head to the southern hemisphere in our off season to pursue the same line of work because of their passion for whitewater rafting. Our claim to fame is the long list of permitted rivers that we offer. If someone rafts with us in El Dorado County and wants to explore more rivers in our state, Raft California can offer that.
What drew you to become the operations manager and raft guide for Raft California?
I began as a raft guide for the company. I was often appointed head guide and trip lead for many of our trips. Our general manager knew that I had prior managerial experience in a similar industry which led him to ask if I would like to manage the South Fork American day trips that we offered. This quickly morphed into a river manager position, and this season, grew into an operations manager role. I enjoy the challenge of managing and decided it would be best to continue this line of work in the summer. This enabled me to free up time in the winter to travel and play in the snow.
How long have you been with Raft California?
I have been full time with Raft California officially since 2015 but helping part time since 2012.
What qualifications are required to be a raft guide? What does a raft company operations manager do?
The qualifications required to be a raft guide are different all over the world. In the United States, it varies by state. To be a raft guide in California, many people attend a guide school. These are offered by many commercial companies including Raft California. After completing guide school, raft guide candidates train on each river section until they are deemed capable of guiding commercial guests by a senior guide staff member. In Maine where I learned how to raft guide, each raft guide must additionally acquire a Maine Whitewater Guide’s License through the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The duties of an operations manager at Raft California consist of overseeing the operations! I manage a staff of coordinators appointed to run the grounds and facilities, river trips, meals, transportation, and satellite operations, like our base for the Truckee River located in Truckee, California. Anything Raft California related that happens outside is the operations manager’s domain. This also includes raft guide housing and handling the guide, scheduling, and reporting aspects of our computer system.
Please share one or two memorable rafting trips and why they are unforgettable.
Oh man, I love this question. There are so many memorable rafting trips and I could write about this all day because every trip is different. Sometimes the trip is so memorable because of the chemistry between the guests. Other times it is because of the weather that day or the wildlife we were lucky enough to see. For me, sometimes rafting trips are memorable because it is not a commercial trip and I am in an exotic place with my friends or family experiencing a new river.
I took a couple rafting in the spring. Only a husband and wife in their mid-60s who had never been rafting before had signed up for a day trip on the Chili Bar section of the South Fork American River. When our shuttle driver had left us, they, especially the wife, seemed extremely nervous. There was no one else except for the three of us. They could not imagine we would get down the river safely with the power of only three people. After navigating the first Class III rapid with no problem, they eased up a little bit. About an hour into the trip a bald eagle flew up the river at eye level and landed on a tree branch hanging over the water. As we floated by it watched us and we watched it. After we passed by it would leap frog us and land on another branch on the opposite side of the river downstream looking at us until we floated by. No one said anything. This leapfrogging with the bald eagle and our raft lasted for almost a mile until it flew off. The look of amazement in their eyes was indescribable as the husband blurted out “Did you see that ******* bald eagle?! It was ******* AWESOME!” Everything – from the silence on the river that day (we did not see another boat), to the eagle experience to this man’s ridiculous exclamation – made this one of my favorite commercial trips.
My most memorable non-commercial rafting trip was the first time I was lucky enough to float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. This was for many reasons, but particularly the weather. Our group of seven had landed a permit to float this section during monsoon season. We were taking a day off from rafting to enjoy our campsite, “Matkat Hotel,” for two nights and a whole day. Our timing of choosing to lay over on this day was impeccably coordinated with the weather. The first night we were camping here, a thunderstorm rolled in. This was not just any thunderstorm. It was the granddaddy of monsoon thunderstorms. All night it poured rain and the thunder boomed through the canyon amplified by the canyon walls. At sunrise, we were greeted by what seemed like hundreds of gigantic waterfalls pouring in from every inch of the canyon walls. Depending on the drainage, each waterfall generated caused the water to be a different color. The juxtaposition of each waterfall’s color was unreal as they each cascaded into the opaque brown of the Colorado River. The Colorado was carrying massive amounts of tree trunks and debris from flash flooding tributaries upstream. The amount of sediment in the water would conceal these huge hazards from sight until the turbulent current would swirl them around until we would see a giant tree trunk shoot randomly shoot out into the air. Needless to say, this day I was glad to be a spectator from the bank of the river in the right place at the right time.
When is rafting season in El Dorado County?
Commercial rafting season in El Dorado Country is from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Raft California typically takes guests down our rivers from March through October. If a group wants to go winter rafting, and the river levels are navigable, we will take them!
What kind of work do you do in the off season?
I snowboard as much as possible during the winter season. Teaching, training, and managing at ski and snowboard schools has made it possible for me to do this during the winters since 2002. There was a short stint I worked at a Heli Ski Lodge in Alaska. I also travel during the winter months. The past few years, I traveled to Japan, Alaska, and France for snowboarding endeavors.
When you are not rafting, what else do you enjoy doing?
If I am not playing on the river or on the snow, you will often find me sleeping, seeing live music, or cooking. In recent years, I have learned mountain biking, which has provided me with a new challenge!
During my experience with you, I discovered that whitewater rafting is a great metaphor for life. Do you agree? If so, how?
Absolutely, whitewater rafting IS a great metaphor for life. You must go with the flow. You cannot fight against the current. Sometimes you need to eddy out. I decided this year that I am rigged to flip for life!
For many, brunch is the earliest meal of the day when alcoholic beverages are deemed socially acceptable. It often conjures up images of Mimosas and Bloody Marys and calorie-laden breakfast and lunch foods, because after all, brunch is two meals rolled into one. People who brunch usually have limitless finances to spend on this leisurely and lavish, decadent meal. However, what if brunch were both more, and less, than that? What would happen if we envisioned brunch as a warm, casual meal for everyone, an educational experience, even a healthy approach to eating and drinking? The latter is the approach that friend, chef, and photographer, Gary Monday, decided to pursue when we planned our intimate brunch with friends.
Both Gary and I have been through major lifestyle changes in our lives, which have resulted in great weight losses and improved health and fitness. We both have learned which foods are good for our bodies. We also both discovered a passion for sparkling wines as standalone or food wines. They are lighter in style, lower in alcohol, available for all budgets, and fit with our newfound lifestyles.
With this vision, I invited sparkling wine producers to contribute to our brunch. We received seven wines at all price points from Italy, California, Michigan, and Virginia. Suggested retail prices ranged from $17 per bottle to $55 per bottle and case production ran the gamut from 109 cases to 240,000 cases. The samples included wines made both in the traditional and charmat methods, the difference being secondary fermentation in the bottle or tank. The wines were made from a variety of grapes: chardonnay, chardonel, glera, muscat, and pinots – noir, gris, and meunier.
Gary created a menu that he called Southern/Pacific Northwest infused food, a nod to both his North Carolina roots and current home in Seattle. His expenses were around $110 to feed six people, a brunch bargain. Food included bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers; grilled pork loin and salmon; a kale, citrus, and pomegranate salad; a fresh fruit bowl; and biscuits and gravy. Since Gary is dairy free, he made dairy-free sausage gravy and purchased vegan biscuits from Redwing Café in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, along with making traditional milk-based sausage gravy and buttermilk biscuits. While all the food was amazing, the attendees delightfully discovered that the standouts were perhaps the healthiest foods: the grilled salmon; the kale, citrus, and pomegranate salad; the Redwing Café vegan biscuits; and the dairy-free gravy.
Gary learned the kale recipe in a dairy-free cooking class taught by Danielle Premo. Perfect for brunches and holidays, ingredients included kale from Full Circle – a community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery company – clementine oranges, pomegranate seeds, candied pecans, and Danielle’s dressing made from orange juice, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The kale is massaged with the dressing, left to sit for 15 minutes, then the clementine orange slices and pomegranate seeds added. The finished salad is garnished with the candied pecans. The beauty of this salad is that it can be prepared ahead of time without the kale becoming soggy. In fact, the flavors integrate the longer they are together.
For the dairy-free sausage biscuit gravy, Gary used the drippings from cooking bacon, sausage, and pork loins. He added all-purpose flour and cooked on medium heat until he had a thick paste in the pan. He introduced unsweetened cashew milk slowly until the desired consistency was achieved. He reduced the stove to low heat for simmering and thickening, stirring continuously, while adding salt and pepper to taste.
Gary bought vegan biscuits from Redwing Café, which specializes in healthy food options. I contacted the owners to ask what makes these biscuits vegan and they explained that they use olive oil and hemp milk in place of butter and buttermilk. After tasting these, I may never have another traditional biscuit again.
One of our brunch guests was Rhonda Hamlin, biscotti maker and owner of The Art of Crunch. As the dessert finale, in honor of National Biscotti Day, she contributed samples of her handcrafted biscotti, including a special test flavor for all of us to try and contribute our input as to the final recipe. It is not often I veer off my strict eating path, but these biscotti were a delicious way to conclude our brunch. To learn more about The Art of Crunch, visit this link to read my interview with Rhonda.
The beverage stars of our brunch were the seven sparkling wine samples we received. As an educational tasting experiment, we gave our guests an index card for each wine and asked that they take notes on the wines they enjoyed the most and with which foods, then we discussed the results. Below are our collective thoughts.
2017 Adami Vigneto Giardino Asciutto Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Rive di Colbertaldo, SRP $22, 3700 cases produced
Across the board, our brunch attendees chose this wine as one of their top wines of the day, two writing “#1” and “Favorite! <3” on their index cards. In fact, someone said, “I didn’t know Prosecco could taste like this!” This floral, fruity, and spicy sparkling wine made from 100% glera, charmat method, was mesmerizing. It was also one of the most versatile food wines, pairing well with nearly everything, especially the fruit salad, biscuits with raspberry jam, even Rhonda’s biscotti.
2015 Enrico Serafino Brut Rosé Alta Langa DOCG, SRP $26, 5000 cases produced
This Brut Rosé, made from 100% pinot nero (noir) in the traditional method, was light in color, but big on flavor, exhibiting clean, bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors cradled in yeastiness. A hint of sweetness was beautifully offset by mouthwatering acidity. This wine was a perfect match for our kale salad.
2013 Frank Family Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, SRP $55, 500 cases produced
This is wine that our attendees said tasted “the most like Champagne.” Made in the traditional method and hand riddled, the Blanc de Blancs was the elegant, grande dame of our brunch. Fine mousse, brioche, and freshly cut, tart apples dominated the palate of this lovely 100% chardonnay sparkler, which was the preferred pairing with grilled salmon and pork loin.
2014 Frank Family Vineyards Brut Rosé, Carneros, 2014 SRP $55, 1000 cases produced
I admit, I jumped the gun when I tasted this wine, exclaiming that it was my favorite. I am Brut Rosé gal through and through, and this blend of Carneros-grown 88% pinot noir and 12% chardonnay did not disappoint, bursting with red berries and a pleasantly creamy mouthfeel. One of our guests wrote, “Love it! This is great all by itself!” Our favorite food pairings were strawberries, the kale salad, and biscuits with raspberry jam. Click here to read how this wine gives back during the month of October.
NV L. Mawby/M. Lawrence Sex, Michigan, SRP $17, 246 cases produced
With a name like Sex and a price point of $17, how could you not like this wine? This sparkler, a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and muscat, was dry and crisp, with an interesting juxtaposition of cotton candy and white grapefruit on the palate, making it a fantastic accompaniment to fresh fruit. Exclaiming, “Yes, yes, yes!”, we drank every drop of this wine. Of course, it left us wanting more.
NV Mumm Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, SRP $24, 240,000 cases produced
If you want a sparkling wine that consistently delivers palate-pleasing flavors and is and affordable enough to drink anytime you feel like bubbles, Mumm is the wine for you. A blend of 45% chardonnay, 45% pinot noir, and 10% pinot gris and meunier, Mumm’s signature wine is made in the traditional method. On the palate, think pears with a honeyed quality, coupled with soft effervescence. The Brut Prestige complemented rich foods like bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers, biscuits and gravy, and grilled salmon. With a quarter of a million cases produced, Mumm is most likely available right around the corner from you.
2016 Rosemont of Virginia Brut, Virginia, SRP $25, 109 cases produced
This wine was the most unique of all the wines we tasted. The only brut nature (no dosage) of the lineup and made from 100% chardonel (a cross between chardonnay and Seyval) using the charmat method, this wine showed zingy, citrus fruit flavors like white grapefruit, lemon, and lime. The bone dryness and racy acidity cut through the fattiest foods, like bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers, sausage gravy, and grilled salmon. This vintage is sold out, but next year’s vintage will be released in early 2019.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend one of Sommelier Christopher Sawyer’s first Somm Sessions, an intimate tasting experience with winery owners, at Feast It Forward in Napa. After the tasting, Gary Lipp of COHO Wines graciously allowed me to ask him questions about his winery and wines. Below are his answers in his own words.
What is the history and story of COHO Wines? Why did you choose the name COHO?
I started COHO in 2002 with winemaker and former COHO partner Brooks Painter. The goal was to produce balanced, supple wines, priced to be relevant for the market. Both of us had been working for other California wineries since 1980-81 and wanted to use the expertise we had acquired into producing our own wines. The name was inspired by an old Celtic legend, “The Salmon of Knowledge.” It is about the wisdom to do the right things in the vineyard to promote the long-term health of the soils and all the creatures with which we share the vineyards.
What do you think makes COHO Wines different than other wineries in the Napa Valley?
Our approach to extended maceration, post-alcoholic fermentation is a bit out of step with many of the highly regarded wines produced in Napa Valley. It has become popular to leave the wine in contact with the skins and seeds for two to four weeks, drawing out color, tannin, and varietal character. At COHO, we are pressing the wines six to eight days after the completion of the alcoholic fermentation. I feel we achieve all the elements we need without the density.
How much wine does COHO produce? How many wines and what grape varieties?
The biggest crush we had was in 2012 and we made a little more than 5,800 cases. The last few vintages due to the loss of some vineyard (some our choice, some the vineyard getting a lot more money per ton) we are making between 2500-3000 cases. The current wines we produce are Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.
Do you have a favorite grape variety? If so, why?
I guess it would be Merlot, but Pinot Noir is a close second. As to why, it is two-fold. Firstly, I love that when grown in the right conditions, Merlot can have the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon with more finesse and elegance on the palate, displaying blue and red fruit flavors. The second reason is that in the United States, Merlot is still a stepchild. Many consumers and some retailers do not want to hear about it. As a producer of what I consider an exceptional Merlot, I love the challenge of changing their minds and delighting the palates of those that do appreciate how delicious a Merlot can be.
What are your favorite vineyard sources in the Napa Valley and why?
All the vineyards with which COHO sources are in the cooler-climate areas of Napa Valley: Coombsville, Los Carneros, and the hillsides southeast of downtown Napa. I love the spicy flavors and aromatics, and resolved tannins are characteristics of the cool climates in which our fruit grows.
Do you have a wine club or allocation model?
No. With only four wines, there is not enough choice to make for an interesting club. Instead, we send newsletters several times a year that offer our new releases to our direct customers.
Tell us about Feast It Forward and why you decided to become a partner.
Feast It Forward has so many interesting components: a nice lineup of wineries, a cooking studio that broadcasts on their internet station, lots of music, the charitable component, and a fun place to enjoy it all. Also location, location, location: being across the street from The Oxbow Market in Napa has the potential to expose our wines to several million visitors per year.
In addition to Feast It Forward, where does one find and purchase your wines?
COHO wines can be found in fine wine shops and restaurants in fifteen markets around the country and directly from us through our website.
Are there any new wines on the horizon?
I hope to revive a second label wine that we produced in 2012-2014 called Old Poodle Dog. The Old Poodle Dog is named for a notorious San Francisco restaurant of the same name that dates to the city’s Barbary Coast days. We made a Cabernet Sauvignon using the fruit that did not quite fit into the other programs. The wines were very good and would sell quickly. Unfortunately, because of the small harvests in 2015 and 2016, there was not enough fruit to pull from the COHO wines to make any. By 2017, prices for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have gotten too expensive to make the wine. I am searching for appropriate vineyards and a winemaking facility outside of Napa where we can revive Old Poodle Dog again.
How do you envision the future of COHO Wines?
In 2014, Phillip Carollo-Titus began making the wines, giving us access to several new, exceptional vineyards that are already elevating the quality of the wines. The other side of it, though, is that the price of quality fruit in Napa Valley continues to rise. As a small winery that tries to keep our retail prices accessible and reasonable, I have decided to reduce the total quantity of our wines to be able to pay my growers and not bust the bank. However, I really like the quality of what we are producing and am convinced that our friends will continue to enjoy the wines we are offering.
I am thrilled to present my first Ten Questions interview and delighted to introduce you to Rhonda Hamlin, owner of The Art of Crunch and and magnificent creator of handcrafted biscotti. Rhonda and I met a little over a year ago at dinner at Russell’s in Bothell, Washington, and reconnected at a brunch tasting I hosted in Seattle. When I invited Rhonda to the brunch, I did not realize that September 29 was also National Biscotti Day until she shared that with me, so I asked her if she would be kind enough to bring biscotti for us to try. She brought a variety of flavors, including a new flavor test batch. The biscotti was so incredible that I knew I wanted to share her entrepreneurial story and love of biscotti. Below are my ten questions and Rhonda’s answers in her own words.
Tell us about your work and baking background. Was there an ah-ha moment when you decided “I want to bake for a living” instead of doing something else? Please describe.
I had worked in retail for 30+ years, 20 years at Nordstrom, before starting my biscotti business. I have no formal culinary training, just a love for baking and food! I started my company while working in cosmetics at Nordstrom. I had no idea at the time what I was getting into going into the food business.
What motivated you to create your own business?
I wanted more than punching a time clock. I am very grateful for the time I spent at Nordstrom and everything I learned about business, but I wanted to explore having my own brand.
How long has The Art of Crunch been in business? How did you choose the name?
The Art of Crunch is in its sixth year. The name was actually inspired by a men’s grooming line called The Art of Shaving. The crunch factor of my biscotti is very important, so I thought it was the perfect option.
It is the passion I have been given!
What are your flavor inspirations? Do you have any favorites?
I have many inspirations. In the beginning, my colleagues in the cosmetics department at Nordstrom and I would dream of flavor combinations at break at the Ebar. Some have been requests and some from Pinterest. I LOVE to play with flavor!
What do you enjoy pairing with biscotti?
Coffee, wine and beer. Italian tradition suggests Vin Santo wine, but Americans love coffee. I collaborate with a local beer tour company in Tacoma called Tacoma Hops and pair biscotti amazingly with beer!
Do you make other treats besides biscotti?
Yes, we have a line of dessert bars and savory crackers.
If you were not making biscotti for a living, what would you be doing instead?
What? Not making biscotti? I was born for this! Of course, I suppose I could go back to cosmetics…
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Anything with food! My daughter and I also love treasure hunting at thrift shops.
Where can we find your biscotti and other baked goods? Do you sell online