Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville

Horton Vineyards

Horton Vineyards

I recently attended my third Wine Bloggers Conference, and this time it was held in Charlottesville, Va.  I was really looking forward to it since I've never been to Virginia, even though I've tasted a small sampling of wine from there and most people haven't had the chance even though production and quality has risen in recent years. 

I purchased my airline tickets early, and unfortunately before American Airlines created a direct flight from O'Hare late this spring.  So I hopped on my double prop connecting flight in Philly and was off to Charlottesville.

After landing I hopped in a cab and was off to the hotel.  I could tell I was in the eastern U.S. as many of the homes and buildings along the main road were older but in great shape.  This really peaks my historic senses, as I start to imagine all the people who lived here and the events which took place.  Grape vines have been planted here since the 17th century and due to a few factors, namely phylloxera and prohibition, Virginia recently just started to come into its own as a top wine producing region. 

The town and surrounding areas are worth a visit for both the traveler and wine enthusiast.  The downtown area has nice local shopping, restaurants and nightlife, with a good portion in the Downtown Mall- a brick street for pedestrian traffic only.  It's a lively area filled with street performers, musicians, outdoor dining, shops and theatres. 


They're surrounded by some very good wineries, and I was able to visit two.  The first was Horton Vineyards and they have a picturesque vineyards and winery.  Viognier, a white French Rhone varietal, has shown an affinity for the state and has become their grape, and Horton does wonders with it.  The wine is full of peach and honey flavor, along with some minerality and full body.  They also make sparkling wine with the varietal, not normally done, which turns out great- it's non-vintage, dry, and brings out much of the grape's natural character.  They turn out a good Cabernet Franc and a surprising Nebbiolo, which does well here and turns out lighter than in Piedmont.


I also visited Barboursville Vineyards which makes amazing wine and has a rich history.  The estate was designed by Thomas Jefferson and built by James Barbour in early the 19th century.  The Zonin family of Veneto fame purchased the property in 1976 and decided to forego tobacco for grapes.  They've created a winery which produces outstanding wines!  I was able to taste vertical library selections of different varietals like Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo and Octagon (their Merlot-based Bordeaux blend), all of which were excellent with age.  TheirPassito Drying Cabin at Barboursville restaurant, Palladio, is world class with a staff that travels to Italy once per year.  I tried fresh antipasti, homemade pasta & pesto, and roasted pork loin.  They also make an outrageous dessert wine, Malvaxia Reserve Passito, made from Moscato Ottonel and Vidal, and dried out 'Passito' style, making the wine golden, honeyed, rich and delicious.  An amazing adventure overall.


Thomas Jefferson's MonticelloThe biggest local attraction is the former home of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello.  Jefferson tried for years, as did George Washington, to make wine from European varietals.  And though neither of them were even able to create a bottle of wine, they showed future generations of the opportunity.  There is a great sense of nostalgia just being on the property, which can bring out the American in all of us.  The home is of great design and enormous, littered with artifacts of exploration and invention.  The grounds ooze with history- gravestones, architecture and ancient vines.  A marvelous place to visit.

In summary, I really enjoyed this trip.  The culture is rich and there are many things to see, do and taste.  Wine has taken drastic turns to accolades and misfortunes over the years and is definitely on the right track to respectability.  My favorite grape varietals here are Viognier and Petit Verdot (honorable mention to Cabernet Franc), which both show great character and a natural ability to make high quality, lasting wines.  I recommend the wines and a visit to this area for any traveler- put it on your list!

Windy City Wine Guy in Seattle

On the wharf by Waterfront Seafood GrillIt was my first trip to Washington and I wanted to let Seattle give me all that it had.  Being from Chicago, I have the priveledge of being surrounded by some of the world's best restaurants, great lounges and bars, music, concerts and an awesome view of Lake Michigan.  When I go to a new city I seek its best aspects and try to live a full experience.  I was only going to be in Seattle for two days so it was time to live it up a little.

My first night I checked into the Roosevelt Hotel, an older building with nice sized rooms and central downtownSatay at Wild Ginger location making it easy for me to walk to my targeted restaurants and bars.  I walked to Wild Ginger, an Asian Restaurant with a reputation for making great satay.  If a restaurant being busy is a good sign, this place would be great- there was quite a crowd for a Tuesday evening.  When I'm in town alone, I like to dine at the bar because there's always someone to interact with.  The bartender's name was Nathan and he clearly had a grip on the action.  He knew his drinks and the menu very well.  I started with two satay- a Thai Chicken and a Young Mountain Lamb, and a Hitachino Nest White Ale (an awesome Japanese whitbier).  Both satay were extremely tasty, accompanied by sticky rice, pickled ginger cucumbers and their own sauce.  The wine list is exceptional with great selections by bottle or glass (which is dispensed by the Enomatic system), and a separate cellar list with over 2000 selections they've collected over a 20 year span.

Purple Wine BarI wanted more to try, so I went to Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, a gorgeous two level building surrounded by windows.  The wine list was full of great choices, with very interesting glasspour options: I went with Tenuta Sant'Antonio Scaia Rosso, 100%Small plates at Purple Corvina varietal from northeast Italy.  Good fruit, light/medium body and cedar box spice.  The menu was full of small plate options and I settled on three:  Housemade Toulouse Sausage, Mimolette and Roasted Garlic White Bean Crostini.  I loved the chance to try a little of this and that while sampling the wine list.  After all these small options it was time to turn in and get ready for another day.

On Wednesday I checked out and met up with the WBC or Bust group at the site of my new hotel room, the Renaissance, before we departed for Woodinville, which I will touch on in my next post.  When we returned that afternoon, it was time for a beer tasting hosted by Charles Finkel himself at Pike Pub & Brewery.  We tasted a lineup of their beers like the Pale, IPA, Kilt Lifter, Naughty Nellie and XXXXX Stout before we moved onto a tour.  I wish we had time for the menu, Roasted Snails in Phyllobut we had to get ready for the Waterfront Seafood Grill where we were in for aBraised Short Rib coursed wine dinner with tasty items like roasted snails, seared scallops and braised short rib.  There was also some killer wine being passed around from producers like Andrew Will and Nota Bene Cellars, both of whom make stellar Syrahs and Owen & Sullivan Winery.  This was an outstanding dinner from a spot with an uncomparable view.

In my visit to Seattle I had a small piece of what makes the city so great and I still have so much more to see.  If you get a chance to visit then make sure to take advantage of it and try to visit the places I mentioned.  If you live there then be proud and let us know what I missed, which places are your favorites and why- share the wealth!

Coming up- Woodinville & Chateau Ste. Michelle, Yakima and Walla Walla.

Quick Takes from Wine Bloggers Conference Walla Walla

I just returned from Seattle and the Wine Bloggers Conference in a hellacious flury of planes, trains & automobiles.  I'm also trying to recover from seven days of traveling, tweeting, taking photos & film, trading business cards, seminars, eating, some BSing, networking and wine tasting.  Now it's time to enjoy my family and home, and get some rest!

But before I do that, here are a few thoughts on some codes I live by and what I experienced:

Beautiful countryside and great land for growing.  Not only is the countryside blessed with great views, mountains, hills and just plain nature, but also with growing land.  The ability to grow so much great fruit: apples, raspberries, cherries (the biggest I've ever seen!), apricots, pears and of course grapes along with wheat and hops means this is extremely fertile land.  Since they can make great fruit, they can also make great wine.

You haven't seen it until you've been there.  I've heard many stories about Washington state and Walla Walla, but almost everything I heard was forgotten after my experience.  I've heard it compared to a "prehistoric" Napa, desolate land, full of nothing but farmers, shack wineries, etc.  But the town opened itself up to us with professional B & Bs, polite and knowledgeable winemakers, quaint yet classy tasting rooms, very good food and wine.

Passion writing, rapid messages and video.  This is the best way to keep fans interested, attract new readers and leave people wanting more.  If you're passionate about anything you do, odds are you will reach your goals and have fun doing it, while infecting others with it along the way.  People want to be captivated online, but only for a few minutes.  The online viewer has these moments to check out your site, get some entertainment and off to the next.  Reach them in this time and you'll be an accomplished online presence.  There is tremendous passion in the blogging community.

Stay true to yourself and your readers.  People will love you for your honesty and transparency.  Don't hide behind an agenda.  Even if you write for work, make sure you pick your employer carefully and you believe in their product.  If you have advertising on your site or promote a product, believe in that as well.  If you accept free samples, make sure to be truthful in your opinion of whatever you review- it may have been free, but that shouldn't buy you off.  Your readers are counting on you.  There is great integrity in the blogging community.

Wine sure is fun.  There may be this snobbish tag placed on wine by a number of people, but it's just a fun beverage.  Life is a celebration and wine is a member of the band.  With so many inexpensive bottles, it's easy to experience.  It goes great with food and they have a symbiotic relationship- they can make eachother taste better.  Winemakers are out there to make a product for us to enjoy, restaurants and chefs make us enjoy it more, sommeliers and wine writers make you understand it better.  Read a little, taste more and drink alot!

Stay tuned for more info and videos about the conference, Washington and wines from the Windy City Wine Guy on the Road.

WBC or Bust!

I'm always up for a challenge, and is putting it out there: 12 citizen wine writers are being given the opportunity to catch a free ride across Washington to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference.

I will now be writing about Washington wine for the next month plus to try to win my behind a seat on that bus!  I've been crazy about Washington wines for quite some time now and for many reasons: good quality, great value, wide range of varietals and numerous subregions.  So I will be sharing my enthusiasm with all of you about this great state for wine.  We'll run through the regions, producers, history and my favorite wines.  So sit back, put your reading glasses on, pop open a bottle and get ready to learn about Washington!

Class at Culinary Institute of America

IMG_1413On my second day at the Wine Bloggers Conference we split up into eight different buses and headed to  Napa Valley, with our first stop being at the Culinary Institute of America.  It is situated in a humongous greystone building resembling Hogwarts School, minus the magic.  I entered and was amazed at not only the size, but the decor and design as well.





Staircase at Greystone

After climbing up two stories of stairs, which showed off a great view of the entire entrance hallway, I walked into a large dining room.  It contained a historic collection of California wines encased in glass- I was simply blown away! 







The oldest was a bottle of 1875 Isaias Hellman Cucamonga Private Stock Port.  The wine is made from the zinfandel varietal, and was aged five decades before being  bottled post prohibition.IMG_1417 












The next one I looked at was the 1941 Simi Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon Hotel 1941 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Del Monte HotelDel Monte Selection.  The Simi brothers started making wine in 1876 after a tough go at the Gold Rush.  Women led the winery to greatness, as Isabelle Simi hid the wines for prime aging in Healdsburg during prohibition, and later hired the first two female graduates from UC Davis.







They also had the 1958 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Martini name1958 Martini Cabernet Sauvignon is associated with bulk wine, but older vintages are great wines and collector items.  Louis was trained in winemaking at the age of 19 in Italy, and returned to his family's California winery to make excellent post prohibition wines.


1962 Inglenook Charbono







Onto a bottle of 1962 Inglenook Charbono.  The winery was started in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum and thrust into fame after prohibition.  The property was eventually purchased by Francis Ford Coppola.








Another oldie was the non-vintage Sebastiani Barbera Bin No. 132, bottled in 1968.  It was another Italian immigrantNV Sebastiani Bin 132 Barbera founded winery, as Samuele Sebastiani started it in 1904.  They were know known for their zinfandel, and are known for many more varietals nowadays.






1973 Ch. Montelena Chardonnay



The best wine I stumbled upon was the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay created by winemaker Mike Grgich, now of Grgich Hills Estate, who put his signature on the bottle.  That wine won the white wine category in the now famous 1976 Tasting of Paris.  This event clearly put American wines on the radar of wine lovers and collectors worldwide.

I eventually settled down to listen to a great wine social media seminar conducted by Barry Schuler, former CEO of AOL.  His information was one of the highlights of the conference.  I think much of what he said will inspire wine writers to push to the next level.  I was also very happy because it was one of the few times I had access to Wi-Fi!  The seminar ended around noon, just in time for everyone to move to their bus and move on to lunch.  More on Bus #6 travels tomorrow...

If you get a chance to visit the CIA Greystone, make sure you do.  It is a majestic building- with a huge kitchen!CIA Kitchen

Go West Young Blogger- Out to WBC '09

WBC '09A couple of weekends back I had the pleasure of attending the Wine Bloggers  Conference 2009 held in Santa Rosa, California.  Over 270 of the nation's brightest wine writers flooded into the Flamingo hotel for three days of wine, tweeting, writing, and networking. 

The conference kicked off with lunch and then we moved onto speed tasting.  It was a bit like speed dating, as we sat at our tables while winery owners and representatives went table to table pouring wines, and giving out info along the way.  We were supposed to be using social media sites to send out live video and messaging while we tasted, but the hotel had Wi-Fi problems, which unfortunately carried on all weekend long.  Anyway, we tasted a few real gems, the first of which was the biggest value wine of the weekend: 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah Lake County for $10 is a steal, with its smokiness and fruit depth.  The best wine of the afternoon was 2004 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($100).  It had spice, chocolate, and a deep earthy, dark berry flavor which lasted incredibly long.

The next day we were on to Napa Valley, where they had a full day of wine country planned for us, which will be covered soon enough.  You will have to wait until tomorrow to check out my visit to the Culinary Institute of America, St. Supery, Terra Valentine, Quintessa, and Spring Mountain Vineyard.  Until then, grab yourself a glass and enjoy!