Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Lunch with Hourglass Vineyards

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

At the end of March, I sat down with Jeff Smith, the owner of Hourglass Wine Company. Jeff's father, Ned Smith, purchased six acres of land in 1976 and created a bed and breakfast along Lodi Lane, which Jeff claims was one of the first in Napa. Ned was not particularly interested in biting into the wine industry at the time, but decided to plant his favorite varietal Zinfandel, in hopes of trading grapes for finished wines. The Zinfandel vineyards were decimated by phylloxera in the early 1990's, at which time Jeff took over management.

"It was close," explained Jeff. "We were thinking of selling the land. But first I wanted to be sure we were doing the right thing. My friend Kelley Maher put me in touch with Dr. Mark Kliewer and said if we would host him for a weekend, he would evaluate our site."

Dr. Kliewer was the Dean of the viticulture program at UC Davis and one of the world's premier experts in grape growing climates. He concluded that the Smith property had the potential to produce some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. This high praise from such a prestigious source had Jeff planting Cabernet Sauvignon as fast as he could. By enlisting Bob Foley, already a noted winemaker, Jeff propelled the Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon to cult status starting with the very first vintage in 1997.

My favorite part during my talk with Jeff was when he described the land. Besides having fantastic visions of sunsets and cooling winds that come through the vineyards in the summertime, a newer property that Jeff recently purchased with several business partners has two blue-line streams (streams that run for most or part of each year) that run through the vines, creating a winery with a branded namesake "Blueline." Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are currently planted in the Blueline Vineyards, with plans to add plots of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Each year an interesting occurrence takes place on the Blueline Vineyards:  Steelhead's (a type of Rainbow Trout) run up the river to hatch their young upstream. I would love to be there to watch it happen, but it is somewhat unpredictable and only lasts for a short period of time.

After talking about the vineyards for a while, we tasted the 2007 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. There are some wines that are like meeting a cheerful, bubbly friend of a friend. Some wines are like meeting someone who asks awkward questions at inappropriate times and you just have to smile and suddenly remember that you had to be somewhere else. This wine was like meeting an old friend on a porch while the sun is setting. The nose was silky, with blackberry and raspberry up front, moving to that pleasant smell I associate with walking into a tea shop. The taste was delicious: smooth with soft currant, blackberry, with a pleasant hit of black pepper and eucalyptus that stretched on and on and on...

After talking about the wine and the winery, Jeff wanted to ask me about my blog and what I do. I found this extremely interesting because the more I spoke to him, the more I understood that he did not quite get it but really wanted to learn more about social media. He put his trust in his PR agency to help him, which I always think is a good idea. Jeff was fascinated by my views on twitter and Facebook and bloggers. After the lunch, I think he was starting to understand that most bloggers have other day jobs and that the reason they blog is for the passion of writing about something they love, wine. Jeff could definitely relate to that.

Disclosure: This post resulted from a press lunch. 

I am also going to add an additional disclosure to my blog posts. Now that I am working for Blue Streak Wines & Spirits I am going to further disclose whether or not the store carries the wine or wines that I talk about. Discussing a wine on my blog will not automatically mean that the store carries them. That said, there may be some wines in the store that I will talk about here. As in everything, I will attempt to be as honest and transparent as possible.

The store does not currently carry any of the wines discussed in this article.

Monday, April 19, 2010


by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

It has been a difficult road the last four months, but I am once again employed! I am pleased to announce that I have been hired to be the Manager of Events and Promotions at Blue Streak Wines and Spirits! Blue Streak is a retail store in Long Island City, literally on the water with an amazing view of the Manhattan skyline.

My role will include marketing and promotions for the store as well as assisting in wine buying, community relations, and wine education programs for customers. This past weekend I was there and the customers were great: many enthusiastic foodies, flowering oenophiles, and experienced wine geeks. The wine selection in the store is a good mix of a little bit of everything, with a healthy dollop of spirits and sakes.

I am very exciting to be working at Blue Streak. The other employees are very knowledgeable about wine, spirits, and sakes as well as really great people to hang out with. I feel extremely lucky and I think that I found a great place to work!

If you are in the area, come on by and chat!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Quick Taste: Campo Viejo Reserva Tempranillo Rioja

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

I always like it when I find a cheap, cheerful, and widely available wine that I enjoy. That is what I found in the 2005 Campo Viejo Reserva Tempranillo. Before I get too lovely-dovey on the wine, let me go back to harping on an old pet peeve: the website needs some help. In the age of technology and information, every winery should have a website. Ok, good, we got that part right.

But then there is the information for me, the consumer (and pseudo journalist). I want to see how much wine is made there. I want to know the people that make it. And I want it expressed to me in a friendly, interesting fashion.

I dug around and found a second (and MUCH BETTER) website for Campo Viejo. They seem to have a separate UK Website for the winery. That puts us Americans in our place. I would say it is strange that a company has multiple websites, but it really is not. However, to have such vastly different branding on the two different sites is somewhat strange.

But back to the wine. I found the nose to be smooth cherry, raspberry and slightly rustic, showing off the Rioja style. The taste was smooth, with scratchy raspberry, blackberry, and licorice. There was a lot missing from this wine that I would look for to make it "interesting," but overall the wine is exactly as billed for $14.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Quick Taste: Hall Wines Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

The first time I was introduced to Hall Wines from Napa Valley was from a sample I received in the mail. It was a bottle of 2006 Hall Wines Katheryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon. I did not really think too much about it. It had an attractive label, came in unattractive but serviceable packaging. Then I went to the 2009 Wine Experience hosted by Wine Spectator. Copies of the November 15th Issue were lying about everywhere, and I could not help noticing that the bottle that had just arrived in the mail was one of the three wines on the cover for the Napa Valley Issue.

I then got the chance to taste the wine during the orgy of wine that ensued. It was absolutely delicious. My notes can be found midway down the page at my blog post about the Experience.

When I received an e-mail asking me if I wanted to taste some more wines from Hall, I immediately said yes. I received a bottle of the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Napa Valley.

2008 Hall Wines Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley - Fresh in the glass, the wine has a strong pink grapefruit expression, with some rich herbal notes, like fresh cut tea leaves. The taste was very peppery, with white pepper and jalepeno, finishing on grapefruit and lemon rind.

2006 Hall Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley - I took this wine out to dinner with a few friends of mine, because I had some expectations for the wine. We went to a BYO Italian place, that I do not mention, because if I keep talking about it you might think I am shilling for them. I am not, I just love the place. Anyway, I opened this bottle there, with a few friends and found the wine to be as much the little brother of the Kathryn Hall Cabernet as I could hope. There was classic blackberry and cassis, with some ripe cherry and caramel. The taste was filled with cinnamon and chocolate, with some ripe fruit towards the end. The difference was that this wine did not taste as finished. The Kathryn Hall was pure bliss, while this was just nice to drink. The difference between a swiss chocolate and a bar that you picked up at Acme. Both of chocolate, and both are tasty, but one just blows the other away. In my next life I think I will be a chocolate blogger...

Disclaimer: These wines were both received as unsolicited free samples.

News Update: I wrote this blog post about a week ago and checked through my e-mail and found that on March 31st Hall Wines announced by press release that the winery has received Organic Certification from the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), one of the nation’s oldest and largest organic certification and trade associations in North America. The organic farming certification process spans three years and each of HALL’s six estates located throughout Napa Valley and Alexander Valley in Sonoma County follow the strict guidelines set forth by the CCOF. To date in 2010, 355 acres owned by the HALL’s have been certified organic. The last of the estate vineyards, known as the Hardester Ranch with 145 planted acres, will receive its organic certification on August 18, 2010.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Slightly Distracted

This is not a wine post, so if you were expecting the usual wine discussion, sorry to disappoint.

I did want to introduce you to someone new in my life. Her name is Mellon and she nearly a year old. Leah and I brought her home yesterday and we have been loving every moment of having her around. Well, perhaps I did not enjoy being woken up at 5:30 by whiskers and claws, demanding attention, but besides that everything has been extraordinary.

This week I will be returning to more wine discussion, with quite a few winemaker interviews. But for now, enjoy the sight of one adorable Calico kitty.

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