11 August, 2016

My Year of Living Dangerously: Event Planning In Austin

Best Welcome Amenity ever
The Omni Barton Creek
Austin is a place I would love to plan an event.  It's central.  It's awesome.  And as I discovered on my #goingrogue Women Wine Writers Weekend, there is delicious wine and food in those TX Hills.  So in the spirit of my theme, here are five event planner lessons I learned

Be prepared to reconsider
I had travelled to Austin many years ago early in my career and had attended events at the Barton Creek Resort.  A lot has changed since then, all for the good.  The resort has grown and improved.  Now in addition to the golf course, there is a great fitness center as well as a full spa.  The Welcome cocktail alone was one of the nicest amenities I have ever experienced.  Everything was fresh and local and hit just the perfect note to welcome, relax and sweeten your journey. The staff was friendly and always helpful.  The rooms were comfortable including a princess bed. Many venues that put "resort" in the name don;t seem to get the concept.  However The Omni Barton Creek pays attention to every detail to make your visit relaxing, and comfortable.  I felt cosseted, so will your attendees.  I even felt cosseted when I wandered off the Nature Trail and onto the golf course.  Right when I was wondering if I was in danger, Steve Johnson, a former news reporter turned hospitality expert came and rescued me.  No rescue would be required from the meeting facilities here.  Elegance and convenience blended seamlessly.

If you feed them, they will come

Golf is great and the spa is luxurious, but the Fine Dining program here is reason enough to attend, event or no event.  The 8212 Wine Bar and Grill boasts "wine pairing".  I am in general a skeptic,  Was I pleasantly surprised! When this venue says Wine and Food pairing, they really have the team to make spectacular dining.  Our visit included  previewing a monthly dinner program .  First we were tested on wines and tried an Edna Valley Gruener Veltliner, an Oregon Riesling, and a lovely Rhone Syrah Grenache blend.  We were feeling bold blinding these successfully, then they threw in a Susumaniello. After the wine hazing, I mean orientation was complete, they brought out five perfectly paired dishes. These expertly seasonal and delicious plates showcased the kitchen's style.

While they are currently offering fun Burger Pairing and Tequila tastings, the staff , especially Chef Andre Natera have the range to really knock the socks off your guests.  Andre came from
Dallas and  is now the  regional chef for Omni.  His fine dining flair and focus on rich and surprising flavors are shining in Austin.  The Wine and Dine event happens about once a month .  It includes four to five courses and is designed to help you unwind with your family and enjoy destination dining.  At about $95 per person plus $35 for the skillful wine pairing it is affordable luxury.  There is also an 11,000 square foot gym to help you work off those delightful calories.  The Omni Barton Creek thinks of everything. More on the current offerings here

Life is better when you can explore snacks, booze and fire

Viewing Austin from an event planner's eyes, I was impressed with all the city has to offer in terms of great entertainment planned or on your own.  The food was amazing, the bar scene lively and there was a pronounced sense of place.  The mantra to "Keep Austin Weird" meant that guests would have a chance to explore an authentic place with a distinct identity.  Another wonderful thing about the knowledgeable staff at the Omin Barton Creek was when we asked for entertainment tips, they came through,  We took the reco to visit Rainey Street and ended up having a super fun time exploring the drinkity spots that were once disused bungalow-style housing. People watching, cocktails and snacking were a great way to spend an evening and come away with a sense of Austin.  We also got up close and personal with some Barbecue.  That could be a whole exploration on it's own.  Snacks, booze and fire.  Does it get any better?
Actually it does with a tour of Texas Hill Country Wineries, but that deserves a post of its own.  Event planners, people will think you are crazy but will come away thinking you are a genius if you select the right Texas Wineries where delicious fine wine is being made.

Have a good exit strategy

Some of my favorite people in the worlds have an Austin connection,  It seems like a lifetime ago that I visited often,  A lot has changed.  I found it all for the better.  One thing stayed the same, but I didn't have time to indulge on my whirlwind #goingrogue weekend.  Amy's Ice Cream has been keeping it weird and fresh and wonderful in Austin since 1984.  I was so thrilled to see an outpost at the airport where I could get my Mexican Vanilla and Irish Coffee on,  Those bold bright flavors were with me when I boarded my flight back to California.  It might fly in the face of the credo "Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first", but it was the perfect sweet exit to a wonderful event.  And I am most grateful that I didn't have to plan it!

Photo Credit: DallasWineChick
Many thanks to 8212 Wine Bar and Grill and the Omni Barton Creek for hosting me.  As well as Dallas Wine Chick, Melanie Ofenloch for planning a spectacular Wine Writer's retreat.  Y'all got me to enjoy Texas and hope I will be able to return to share the wine and fun again

10 August, 2016

My Year of Living Dangerously: Event Planning in New Orleans

Who rules the world? #Girls
Life lessons are fueled by wine.  If one event was tough, could I do a second simultaneous and competitive event?  My wine fueled answer, as always, was yes.  Degree of difficulty is nothing when you have a cockeyed, optimistic belief in yourself and your colleagues.  Was it easy? No.  Did I learn a lot? Yes.

Here are a few lessons I learned event planning in the Big Easy, New Orleans:

Lean on Your Team
Having seized control, mostly because everyone else was off fighting different fires, I quickly rallied my wonderful folks at TMN Events to see if they thought they could help us with an additional event.  This time we would have  less time, less money and expect the same level of guest experience.  Talk about optimism.  Their answer was yes. Napa was easy for me as I knew my way around and had a vision. New Orleans was a completely different beast. Leaning on the team in this case meant to leverage TMN Events's experience and trust that they would manage.  Quality shines through as they had already done several events there and had minimal set up time to get us up and running.   After a few rounds of back and forth we were in business.  We had to deal with delays, budget and even family emergencies at our vendor partner, so making sure the team was solid meant success.
Trust, but verify.  Yes, this Jordan wine is delicious #harvest

Count on brands you can trust
One of our key factors was relying on brands we could trust.  When picking a venue, we picked the Ritz Carlton.  When ordering wine, I picked Jordan.  Jordan Winery  is a producer in the Alexander Valley whose name is synonymous with quality.  They focus on luscious Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay elaborated with a sense of place.  Their focus on knowing what you can do best and executing perfectly is a philosophy we can all emulate.

When making decisions a bunch at a time, I realized that trusting in a brand makes your decisions easier so you can go off to the next.  And it is so gratifying when the menu you selected (Barbecue Shrimp with Jordan Cab) is mentioned several times as the guests favorite thing

Typical Tuesday Night in the French Quarter

Take people out of their day to day
Now my task was to help shape the event.  Midweek is an appealing time to attend a work incentive trip, because what kind of incentive is it to "work" on the weekend? New Orleans sounded like the perfect destination because of its history, its culinary arts and its entertainment wow factor.  We knew finding entertainment would be easy.  The Ritz Carlton gave us great walkability.  And the city spread out like an amusement park for adults.  Our guests loved it.  We had a wonderful private dining event at Arnaud's Touted as a "French Quarter Classic" Arnaud's confirmed that classic happens for a reason.  This delicious venue with an amazing bar staff was an event in itself.  We enjoyed the period correct dining salon, the Mardi Gras museum, and innumerable perfect Sazeracs. Getting to observe a typical Tuesday from an authentic French Quarter balcony was awesome.  However, I do still want to know what makes Strawberries Arnaud so delicious.

Learning is great especially when it involves snacks, beer and fire
To make the guest experience memorable, I asked for excursions that would have cultural relevance. Partying at a night club is fun, but you can do that at home.  Part of the allure of a destination like New Orleans is capitalizing on the opportunity to learn.  The Cooking Class at  the New Orleans School of Cooking fit the bill.  Not only was it a delicious lunch, but we learned about the history and culture of New Orleans.  Part of the process to become a certified guide in NOLA, involved knowing and communicating the history and culture.  We got more than recipes from this experience.

Appreciate the natural beauty
Reataurant August
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  New Orleans offered us so much more than the usual venue.  We worked to make sure our guests could choose what suited them.  Or choose simply to relax and walk around enjoying the bar scene, the jazz scene and of course the restaurant scene.  My particular guests don't drink alcohol.  However we had the most delicious dinner at John Besh's elegant  Restaurant August You can order a lot of foie gras and cookbooks when you don't have to spring for booze.  We revelled in the ambiance with brick and crystal, the leisurely yet attentive service and mostly the food.  With an eye to what is uniquely his own within the the local tradition, John Besh's menu delighted us at every turn.  This was bucket list for me and I was thrilled to accompany my hard working winners to this luxe dinner.

 Not everyone is fancy.  Another super fun activity was a boat tour through the Bayou where we got up close and personal with some denizens of the water.  Riding through the Spanish Mos laden cypress trees with our Cajun guide amid 18 foot alligators was an amazing and particular experience.  We loved this trip that allowed us to appreciate the natural beauty and charm of the area.

With the meetings all completed and our activities finished, we went home rested and relaxed to start the process again for another year of hard fought wins, collegial conflict and work.

New Orleans came through for me as a destination.  This process helped me learn valuable lessons, the most important of which is of course:

Laissez le bon temps rouler!

09 August, 2016

My Year of Living Dangerously: Event Planning in Napa

Scott from TMN Events
Ever take one of those assignments where you learn a lot but more than anything else live the maxim: "What doesn't kill you.."? Well, at least I can say I am stronger now and I came away with some very good advice.  Here are five life lessons and some nice Napa travel planning you can use if you find yourself tasked with event planning.

Don't say yes till you have a team you can count on 
The smartest thing I did was select a vendor I knew I could 120% count on to create a wonderful event no matter how inexperienced the event planner was #ME.  TMN Events could make a five star happening in the break room of a Wal-Mart if they had to.  So, it was a piece of cake (well, maybe closer to an eclair from Bouchon) to make our event magical.   At every step of the way, I had a partner I could count on.  And unlike, say brides,  I actually got immense enjoyment out of the event itself because this awesome team took care of the nuts and bolts. One of their secrets is that their staff members all came from other lives that enrich the event talent pool.  One member is a CIA (think culinary not Langley) trained chef, while another is a golf pro. Awesomeness on many levels.

Invest in the best
Photo credit TMN Events
My first executive decision was to tweak the budget to get our group into the Bardessono Hotel and Spa.  We toured several other venues but the combination of walkability, amenities, and overall luxury tilted us easily to this wonderful spot.  A modern venue that has constructed a place where every touch, literal and figurative, feels comfortable, planned and artful.  The Bardessono is one of only three LEEDS platinum hotels in the US; all that luxury is sustainable.  They helped us with garden tours, welcome cocktail contest and at every step of the way, let our guests create a memorable experience tailored to their needs.   Mornings in Yountville are a world away from my day to day and something I will always remember.  Cool points for seeing so many of my east coasters out and about too.
The Bardessono Pool will uplift you but you have to be a guest #memorable

When in doubt choose bacon 

Photo: TMN/ On fleek t=me
Photo Credit TMN Events
Napa throws a plethora of world class experiences into your lap.  My biggest problem was narrowing down the choices.  Two added degrees of difficulty were that we needed to let the guests choose onsite and I loathe anything  that requires large busses.

 Peju rewarded my indecision with an amazing Bacon Bacon Bacon experience that kicked off our adventure with an elegant  snack and pairing lesson in their vineyard.  Having an outing with universal appeal made the people on our excursion happy they picked us instead of indolence by the pool.  And even people who were Peju Wine Club members felt like they received a special discovery of something wonderful at a familiar spot

People will remember coming to the mountain top

Photo Creidt TMN Events
Photo Credit TMN Events
But which mountain do you pick?  I reached out to someone I knew was familiar with my type of guests, an expert on Napa and an overall lovely human being: John Corcoran.  He provided me with some wonderful recommendations, one of which was Robert Craig Winery.  My Day 1 excursion covered the Napa Valley floor.  Touring Howell Mountain was a great contrast and was the extra step that many attendees had never experienced.  This brought everything together and ended up being the most memorable part of the trip for many of the guests. Many had never spoken to a winemaker, or felt a windy vineyard first hand.  To get to try this amazing wine on the top of Howell Mountain in the vineyard was worth the adventure of scaling it.  We field tested the theory that there are six ways to get there. Each SUV felt that their way was best. Great advice and an amazing staff at Robert Craig transformed the visit.  We were all grateful to  Lori Reed, Director of Retail Experiences, who  knocked it out of the park for my guests. Anyone can make a rez at the tasting salon, which I am sure is lovely, but taking it  to the literal mountain top makes memories,  However everything we planned after that fell a little flat, so my lesson was really plan the rhythm of the day. I see you experienced planners nodding and smiling

Be two steps ahead
Dinner at Flora Springs
Looping back to the first item, having a great team on your event makes life worth living.  Attention to detail meant that our final gift was a copy of the Wine Bible.  In addition to being the perfect gift for novice and expert alike, author Karen MacNeil took the time to hand sign each and every copy.  These delighted our guests, but suddenly the prospect of carrying home all their loot loomed.  No problem. We had a checkout process that included our staff packing any items small or large and Fed Exing them back to their final destinations.  It allowed us to include a thank you and make sure all those amazing fluffy robes, bottles of wine, fragile candles, etc got home in one piece

This event  was the cherry on top of a firecely tough fiscal year and adding the stress of managing this entire process nearly killed me.  However, the relationships we fostered and pulling it off made it all worthwhile.  I think fondly of the event when I wear my fluffy Bardessono robe and my hope is that so do our guests

08 August, 2016

How to Know if You are a Drunk Ho

Repost of my classic article:
Mainly as a public service announcement to help those attending the Wine Blogger's Conference in Lodi this week.  Of course I don't mean you.  No.  Not you! Never....
I have heard wine tastings described as "intimidating", "hoity toity", "snobby". This is a misconception.  Most wine lovers go out of our way to make wine feel accessible to all. In fact, as long as you have not spritzed yourself liberally with that bathroom Polo, or Aquanetted yourself into a HAZMAT violation, I welcome your curiosity, input and company on my journey to learn more about all things wine.

That is as long as you are not a Drunk Ho.

If you or a loved one are exhibiting symptoms, please seek professional help. Here are some signs:

Falling off your Barbie heels?
Well, why were you wearing 4 inch metallic stilettos in the first place? Seriously?  Dressing like you robbed a Forever 21 is seldom appropriate for Sunday afternoons. Sister, you put that mess together sober! And now you're wobbling on your aching tootsies or worse yet---you can't feel your feet. If it talks like a Drunk Ho and walks like a Drunk Ho....well, you get the picture.

Menage a trois?
Funny. The guy who picked you up this morning has a twin? Wait a minute. You think you see triplets! And suddenly the one in the middle is looking kinda foxy. Blurry. But oh so foxy. What was his name? Please resist the urge to merge right in the middle of the venue. Get a room. You're going to need it later. Public restroom floors can be notoriously unsanitary. And no those Muni wind shelters will not do in a pinch. For either purpose---unless you are a Drunk Ho.

Eating disorder
Believe me. Not only do the Italians know fashion, their colorful phrase for "Yo! You're a Drunk Ho!" translates roughly to " Poor thing. She has not yet eaten enough," If you are attending a wine tasting, today is not the day for low carb, no carb, meal skipping nonsense. Mangia Bambina! The best of us on an empty stomach can quickly turn into Drunk Hos. Might I suggest some bacon?

Over swallowing:
Today is the day to let fly the phrase: Spit. Don't swallowYou heard me. Today your personal maxim has its place. Do not chug. Do not consume 20 full pours no matter how much you like the buzz---I mean wine. And stop looking for the keg; those red party cups are Personal Spit Cups. Figure it out. Otherwise, you risk turning into a Drunk Ho.

Thinking you are Batman?
Ask yourself:

  • Did I just scream at the person who picked up my check?
  • Was that really me drinking brown liquor from the bottle?
  • Why am I challenging security?
  • When did I get these superpowers?
  • Can I really fly? (And why does that seem easier than walking in a straight line?)
 All these can be signs that you are a Drunk Ho.

 If you find yourself wobbling on your Barbie heels on a rough plank three inches from an embarrassing plunge into the San Francisco Bay, and if at that time you find yourself sassing a security guard or any member of volunteer staff,  because *they* are acting "deranged", later, you may find that you, in fact, were the Drunk Ho. NOTE: This is not limited to female persons. Men, be aware, if you have over imbibed, you too can become, yes, Drunk Hos.

Male or female, your Uber driver is going to charge you bigtime for doing the Boot and Rally in his vehicle.  Really "Is it more cost effective to hurl in an Uber, Lyft or regular taxi?" is definitely something a Drunk Ho would ask themself.

But in all seriousness, I have seen an alarming uptick at several events with out of control, should-be-wearing-a-toga drinking. Besides ranging from unpleasant to dangerous to downright illegal, it takes away the opportunity to learn about a very interesting topic. It also potentially jeopardizes the ability of the organizers to continue with enjoyable events. And hey, Drunk Hos, why are you travelling to events with "friends" so careless that they will let you get a ride home in an ambulance or accompanied by the Park Police?

I'm not talking about responsible drunkityness. Or crossing the line from wine scholarship into giddy indulgence. Rosy cheeks. Laughing too hard. Getting flirty. Fine. Getting hauled off by the EMT's?
You are a Drunk Ho.
Oh, and unless you are a Russian prince/princess with the means to fling fine champagne flecked crystal into the fireplace of your cozy dacha, it is never appropriate to throw stemware onto the floor. It is not cute. But then you've lost your compass for cute, because, by that time, we all know. you are drunk, Ho.

07 August, 2016

#LoCA for Lodi Must See Recos...

Getting a chance to visit Lodi before the conference was a gift.  This area has many great vineyards producing yummy wines. The people here are dedicated to their work.  From Albariño to Zinfandel, you will find something to love.   There are also great resources to help to tailor your visit to your specific agenda
Click here:

Meanwhile,here are some standouts from my visit to help you get the most of your visit:

Onesta's Jillian  Johnson

The Bechthold Vineyard: Planted in 1886, this vineyard grows wonderful cinsault (sahn-SOH) grapes.  A dark red grape it was known, and largely dismissed as a California variety called Black Malvosie till producers like Boony Doon, Turley, Onesta, Micheal David rediscovered it and began making delicious cinsaut based wines.  We got to meet Jillian Johnson, owner and winemaker of Onesta Wines.  She is one of those scary smart people who somehow makes you feel smarter yourself by talking to her.  Along with David Phillips, of Michael David Wineries, who tempted us with, among other wines,  his Inkblot Tannat, they met us at the vineyard.  We started with a jog though the vineyard and got up to our ankles in sandy loam.  When Jillian first started, the soil looked like sand at the beach. It has been built up . This soil is ideal for Cinsault because it makes the vines struggle the right amount.  Jillian wanted to bring cinsault to the world, so we could all enjoy her realization of a wine with the delicate body of Pinot Noir and the zippiness of a zin.
Lucky Cellar Dogs

2012 Cinsaut had fresh bright aromas of coriander seed and filè and celery on finish.  The allocated 2012 Rosé had mouthwatering acidity and was bone dry and pale coral in color.

David Phillips from Michael David Winery treated us to the 2014 Micheal David Cinsaut which was a pretty and clear medium  ruby color.  Red fruit, strawberry and rhubarb flavors and aromas were present along with integrated vinous notes  and cinnamon stick in the finish. Texture, more than overt tannins and persistent finish with a snap of astringency marked the wine.   Jillian says it's true expression of vineyard . At $24 an amazing deal for small lot historical vineyard
History, family and experience make deilcoous wines
Harney Lane: Under the shade of the Deodora Pine tree is natural air conditioning to enjoy delicious Harney Lane Wines.  While I was familiar with the yummy Lizzie James Zin,  discovering the Albariño and stories of  Cathy Mettler was great.  In 2003, they started making a barrel here and there.  2006 was first year they made their own wines.  And soon Harney Lane was winning gold medals.  Their goal has always been to capture the essence of fruit and show Lodi's sense of place. Cathy loves icy cold wine and Albariño stands up to that.  My favorite was the 2015 Albariño: Very clear bright pale straw color. Intense bright citrus fruit with floral notes of limes in flavors. Knowing how the fruit ferments and what the yeasts will do is something experience brings.  Cathy notices wild swings in fruit characters year to year.  It can be peach one year and pineapple another, so vintage impact is big even with all other factors being exactly the same. Delicious wines and a great story await you in this beautiful tasting room.  Look for the historical touches in decor, like an old Chardonnay vine and the handcart originally used by the family progenitors.  Restoration Hardware eat your heart out!
Award winning Oak Farms Wines

Oak Farm Vineyards: A gorgeous spot to taste wine.  This elegant space boasts delicious wines. 2014 Verdelho had aromas of lime blossom and almond with a touch of mandarin orange in the flavors.They pick at lower brix to get bright acidity.  It was an amazing salad wine.  2015 Albariño had a nice note of salinity and a silky texture.  They attribute that to gentle press and very cold fermentation , <60 degrees,  taking care to stay anaerobic during several months of pressure. They use this hands-off/ sous vide method to  breakdown the yeast so the finished wine maintains silkiness in texture.  2015 Grenache: Unfiltered with a light and pure character of grenache 2013 Barbera was elegant with fruit forward notes of  blackberry jam.  Snappy acidity with laser focus on fruit, the wine has a touch of spice in its fruit driven finish. These lovely wines  are super food friendly and versatile.  Oak Farms broke the rules and offered us their Zinfandel: InDIGenoUs from the Cementary vineyard.  The wine was juicy bright with lots of red fruit and orange juice in finish.  I liked the  lively acidity and what Randy says expressed the very deep fruit acidity characteristic of east side. This example of post Lodi Native project showcases producers who have embraced the spirit of the program and are revealing the character of the land via expression of wine

Pét Nat: Who would have thunk?
Fields Family Wine:  Our Facebook friend Ryan Sherman took us way the other side of the expected with a pétillant Naturel wine as well as the Fields Family wines.

Yummy and unexpected.

That phrase that describes my trip to Lodi.  Although ironically, our whirlwind  "Anything but Zin¨ trip left me craving Zinfandel.  And more Lodi wine.

Bokisch brings a Spanish flair Viva Lodi-berico
There is so much to see, learn and experience, that I left off three of my must revisit topics:

McCay Cellars, who produce a Grenache so enchanting I leave extra time when I pass through to pick up more.

Bokisch Vineyards who now have a spiffy new tasting room and the same high quality Lodi-berico  delights we have followed for years.

Also Mokelumne Glen  a vineyard with more than 47 hard to pronounce but easy to drink German grape varieties and a family passion for farming that embodies the best of Lodi.

Some people are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, I am now fully LoCA for Lodi!

Many thanks to Randy Caparoso who is the ultimate ambassador of Lodi, Lodi Wine Commission and Charles Communication for hosting me on my voyage of discovery.  I cannot wait to return again! See you at #WBC16

06 August, 2016

#LoCA for Lodi: Wine and Roses, Acquiesce to Good Taste

Long had I dreamt of visiting Wine and Roses, a resort and spa in Lodi, California.  When @Luscious_Lushes Thea added me to her agenda, I jumped at the chance to tag along.

Wine and roses are two of my favorite things (okay, my favorite thing and some flowers).  Now, I add this fabulous resort to my list of favorite things and I can't wait to go back during the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference.

Wine and Roses is set in a lovely spot, lush with greenery and built for relaxation.  The rooms are large and well appointed; I toured the best Napa had to offer for my day job, and Wine and Roses, if ranked among them, would finish in my top two.

For one thing the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center is conveniently adjacent to Wine and Roses.  This enables a super efficient mini-break, as you could literally drive to Turner Road, park the car, taste and stock up on wine, have an amazing meal, spa treatment, and night's sleep before you would have to leave the property.  I suggest a stop at Delta Farmers Market for souvenirs like peaches, jams, wine you forgot to buy, or Snickerdoodles. You will still be back to the Bay in a flash.

Sue Tipton of Acquiesce Wines
Efficiency can be luxurious. However, take a beat.  You will want to stay longer.  We were super lucky to be hosted by Wine and Roses for our stay in the Lodi AVA. We were also treated to dinner with the wonderful Sue Tipton, owner and winemaker of Acquiesce Winery,  Sue worked with the culinary team at the Towne House Restaurant, headed by John Hitchcock, to create a sumptuous tasting menu featuring her beautiful wines.

As the sun set, we dined on course after course of perfectly matched wine with food.  I was in the middle of a wine and food pairing class and it felt like studying perfection as each of the plates meshed with Sue's amazing wine.

At Acquiesce, Sue works with Rhone grape varieties to produce delicious white wines and roses. They are meant to provide an experience---a moment of luxury and good taste. Incorporate them into your quotidian maelstrom or add them to your gourmand lifestyle.  They will enable the act of sitting  back to enjoy your time and loved ones.

The bottle itself  has a curvy, elegant shape that telegraphs a message of quality. Its tactile weight  at once makes you stop to take a moment to consider, and surrender.  That white flag I was waving was my napkin, signalling more please.

2015 Picpoul Blanc
We started with the 2015 Picpoul Blanc.  Picpoul is one of my favorite Rhone varieties, but you don't see it much as it can be shockingly acidic.  This wine had lovely balance and an interesting note of pineapple.  Sue said Lodi's Picpoul expresses itself differently and deliciously.  Pairing the lush briny oysters with this taut wine was delightful.  Chef John incorporated Yuzu Pearls into the dish.  Pearls are made by combining a flavored liquid with an alginate like agar agar then dropping them into a reagent bath so a thin coating forms around the flavoring liquid. Yuzu, an exotic Asian citrus, created a fragrant (and literal) pop of acid that married well with the flavor and texture of the wine.
2014 Rousanne

We then moved on to the 2014 Rousanne,  which was paired with seared Foie Gras on a round of toasted brioche with pear gelee and brunoise of pear .  If I end up in Hell, it will be because of my deep love of foie gras.  This meltingly delicious plate of food was a perfect match for the wine.  The Rousanne has a lovely minerality and notes of stone fruit, but also notes of pear.  They initially tried the dish with apples, but Sue's amazing palate suggested pear would strike a better note.  It did.

Once sweetness, acidity, and textural components are balanced, what moves a food paring to synergy is that element of magic, where the flavors in a dish match or contrast with the wine.  Sue mentioned her love of Rousanne, though it is difficult to cultivate in the US, with less than 300 acres planted.  She had Rousanne paired with foie gras in the heart of the Rhone, Chateau Neuf du Pape (CdP), and loved it.  Literally an inspired pairing.

Spicy Tuna Tartare
It kept getting better.

2015 Grenache Blanc  with Spicy Tuna Tartare was my favorite pairing of the meal.  The third course was alchemically delicious with all the elements in balance.  The flavors all worked in concert, despite  a higher degree of difficulty by pairing what can be ubiquitous, tuna tartare, and also, handling the spiciness of wasabi.  The Rousanne elevated an already sparkling dish. There were many contrasts as well: creamy, perfect Central Valley avocado, against the crisp snap of a lotus chip, unctous fish against the lovely Rousanne.  Basically, food and wine heaven.

It still kept getting better.

But I lost the light and now I just feel bad, since you weren't there.  Suffice to say, my favorite hard to pair varietal, 2015 Viognier danced a culinary tango with Billi Bi, a saffron infused soup featuring mussels,  And I eschewed my culinary prohibition about eating Disney characters with a 2014 Belle Blanc paired with Rabbit three ways.  Buh bye, Thumper! You were tasty.  Especially accompanied with a CdP insprired blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Rousanne that makes up the Belle Blanc blend.

We ended with a tour of the kitchen, where all the hard work took place and thanked the wonderful team who produced such an amazing meal.  Can you tell we had an awesome time?
Behind the Scenes 
Good night, BCL!
I ended where you will likely find me #goingrogue at the Wine Blogger Conference: In the lounge at Wine and Roses sampling warm cookies and listening to live music, before slipping off to my comfy bed and the sleep of the righteous.

I have been back several times and it keeps getting better.  I even joined the Wine club, which I almost never do, as an excuse to go back,  to drink deeply of the great taste of Lodi

Many thanks to Wine and Roses. Towne House Restaurant, Sue Tipton of Acquiescse Winery and Charles Communication for hosting me at this dream fulfilling event

05 August, 2016

#LoCA for Lodi: Getting There and Getting Wine

@LusciousLushes @BrixChick_Liza
This Spring brought me everything but locusts in terms of life challenges, but one bright spot was a pre-trip to Lodi, CA with @Luscious_Lushes, Thea Dwelle.  To me, Lodi was a land of heat and Zin I had always meant to visit, but had never quite gotten around to going.  Shame on me!  Turns out, Lodi is a magical place of delicious farm fresh food, delightfully diverse wine, and dedicated people who bring the best of place forward for the rest of us to enjoy.
Old Codger

One of the reasons I put off visiting was the "Shangri La" nature of how to get there.  My friends in Sacramento said it was "20 minutes. 45 minutes. 2 hours" away.  My friends from San Francisco said it was "1 hour, 2 hours. 5 hours" away. Turns out, it is an easy hour and 45 minutes from the East bay and a fun drive.  I left the gritty flat lands of Oakland, zipped through Contra Costa suburbs and quickly found myself on an implausibly bucolic highway, with covered bridges and dappled shade between stretches of authentic farmland.  With more levees and water than mile markers, the road wended me toward the Lodi Wine Commission's Lodi Wine and Visitor Center.  There we met our Wine Sherpa,  Randy Caparoso, who graciously shepherded us through a great experience in Lodi.

Parking Lot or Vineyard?  Good taste says vineyard
Randy's knowledge is as deep as his patience, and his love of Lodi is infectious.  One of the first places he took us was to see old zinfandel vines tucked into light industry.  Many thanks to all of us who drank copious amounts of white zin in the 80's, 90's, and Oakland Art and Soul Festivals, because we created market conditions that saved many old vines.  It didn't hurt that the sandy soil of the area is inhospitable to phylloxera and so, many grand, old codgers are still bearing fruit and bringing wine to our tables.

Parking lot to fork #fresh
Speaking of tables, with the produce of the Central Valley fresh at hand, the food is amazing.   Traipsing around vineyards builds up your appetite.  Pietro's Trattoria is a must stop destination for the nexus of local wine and farm-to-fork cuisine.  In fact, they take it one step further and if you are lucky, you will get parking lot-to-fork tomatoes from the rich Lodi soil straight to your salad.  Their kitchen garden makes freshness easy. Pietro's pasta is tender and made from scratch, as are their sauces, which are hauntingly authentic.  The eponymous Pietro and his wife, Amelia Murdaca opened this family-style restaurant in 1957.  Today his son Jim and his wife Annette continue the tradition.  Their son, Peter is already active in the restaurant and will make sure their authentic family recipes continue. A comfortable patio at Pietro's is a  natural spot to hear stories and try wine as you dine al fresco.

Here are some favorites from our lunch:
Sidebar Kerner '14
100% Bacchus
Made by David Ramey with national distribution around 100 cases.
This German variety is a pale clear gold.  Floral aromas and touch of smoke in nose. Amazing fresh mouth feel bracing acidity Lime pith in mid palate and finish

Holman Cellars is a producer in Napa. These Bacchus (bah-KOOS) grapes came from an enchanted glen in Lodi: Mokelumne.  We tried Holman's  2015 Uncharted Bacchus. This 100% Bacchus grape based wine was a medium gold and star bright.  Lovely acidity that jumped out of the glass and a nice color from oxidation

2014 Nimmo Made by Markus Niggli.  This Kerner Gewurtztraminer Riesling Bacchus blend spends time in oak. It gets blended before it is co fermented.  An interesting process that develops into a fascinating wine with sage on the nose and a touch of Chinese 5 spice on the palate along with an overall freshness and minerality. Nimmo is an acronym Markus used to find his way home while on an internship in Scandinavia.

2013 Borra Vineyards Heritage is a field blend of 70% Barbera, 10% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah and 10% Alicante Bouschet.  This is a true expression of terroir.  Field picked  and co-fermented, these grapes produce a wine with warm welcoming primary aromas with deep black spiced fruit underneath.  Driven by the barbera acidity, it is earthy and delicious.  Yields are low at less than a 1/2 ton an acre, but the results are luscious. #worthit

 The name "Heritage" Steve Borra told us, was inspired by his memories of his dad.  He described a scene of his dad who always had a dry salami hanging by a barrel in the basement.  He would funnel wine from the barrel to bottle and drink deeply of his field blend.  The love makes it taste better, I think.

Along the way we would encounter many great stories and a levee full of delicious wine.  For Bloggers attending the 2016 Conference in Lodi, you are in for a treat.

Many thanks to the Lodi Wine Commission, Charles Communications and all the producers who hosted me on this wonderful wine adventure

Tomorrow: Wine and Roses...and more wine