Day 2 of WBC09: First Mystery Vineyard Was Sterling Vineyards

For the Wine Bloggers’ Conference day around Napa Valley, conference participants split into small groups and visited a number of different Napa wineries. My bus’ first stop was the historic Sterling Vineyards. Having studied the vineyard for my WSET course, I was particularly excited when I heard that this was one of our winery tours.

As our bus turned into the vineyard, we picked up winemaker Alison Crary. She talked to us about the vineyard as we drove from the entrance, which is at the bottom of the valley, to the winery, which is perched up high on a hill. Once at the top, when we walked from the bus to the private tasting room, there was sneak peak at the gorgeous view of the valley from the vineyard’s overlook.

In the private room, Sterling Vineyards had a great set up of three wines for us to taste. The 22 of us also received boxed Dean & Deluca lunches and listened to Alison talk about the wines as we hurriedly ate and tasted. Unfortunately, we were running a little behind schedule, so there wasn’t any time to dawdle.

The three wines we tasted—a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, and a Cabernet Sauvignon—were from Sterling’s new organic wine collection. However, the grapes were actually grown in Mendocino County, not from the Napa Valley, which was something that bothered me. Don’t misunderstand; it was exciting to taste their new collection, particularly as the Cabernet Sauvignon is not being released until September. However, as the Napa Valley Vintners were a premier sponsor of the WBC and as conference attendees were spending the day visiting Napa Valley wineries, it seemed slightly disingenuous to have our group taste Mendocino wines while we were visiting the Napa vineyards.

As for the wines themselves, they are all made from organic grapes and are all under $20. The wines have screw top closures and are meant for immediate drinking, rather than for cellaring.

The Sauvignon Blanc was not only my favorite of the three wines, but also the least expensive. The wine had nice, bright grapefruit and pineapple flavors with a hint of fresh cut grass. It was a beautiful, refreshing wine with a light body and good acidity. It seemed perfect for a hot summer day. At $14, it is definitely worth grabbing a bottle if you see it. Overall: 4 Corks

The Chardonnay had a little more body and a slightly deeper color than the Sauvignon Blanc did. The wine definitely spent some time in oak, although not too much time. It tasted of apples, pears, peaches, and vanilla with a hint of nutmeg and lime on the finish. At $15, this was a nice, medium-bodied chardonnay. You won’t find anything unusual in the taste, but it was a solid, good wine. Overall: 3 Corks

The Cabernet Sauvignon was the newest wine in the organic grape collection, and it was by far my least favorite. It had plum, olive, and blackberry flavors, with a hint of sour cherry on the finish. The wine had strong tannins and medium acidity. At $18, it seemed a little young and just ok. Overall: 2.5 Corks

Once the tasting was over, Alison walked us to the vineyard’s overlook terrace. In order to get to the overlook, we walked past steel fermentation tanks and oak barrels all filled with wine.

We spent some time at the vineyard’s overlook discussing the winery, specifically, and details about Napa terroir, in general. It was a perfect weather and the overlook was beautiful, so it’s no surprise that we spent as much time talking outside as we did.

Finally, we finished our tour of Sterling Vineyards with a ride in gondolas to the bottom of the mountain. From there, we immediately boarded the bus without a chance to purchase any of the wines we just tasted.

Surprisingly, this was the first of many vineyards that never offered us a chance actually to buy anything we tasted. If we had been offered, I definitely would have purchased several bottles of the Sauvignon Blanc, as they would be perfect to bring to a bbq, both because it tasted great and it would have made a great conversation starter to say that I bought them while at WBC09. Oh, well.

Day 2 of WBC09 at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

To start Day 2 of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference, I quickly grabbed breakfast at the hotel restuarant before catching our 9:00am shuttle to Napa Valley. While doing so, Kathleen Rake (@KathleenRake) from Between the Vines asked me to sit at her table. As we were finishing up, Karen Curney (@WineBard) from Wine Bard joined us. While we didn’t have much too time to talk, it was the first time I had a chance to talk with either blogger, and it was nice getting to know them a little better. It was a great way to start the day.

After breakfast, the three of us headed to the buses. The bus rides on Day 2 provided a great opportunity to get to know other people attending the conference, and while I didn’t end up on the same bus as Kathleen and Karen, I was fortunate enough to site next to Robyn from She and her husband, Tim, have a wonderful blog, and Tim actually was a speaker on Day 3 of our conference. Robyn and I spent the entire ride to the the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone talking and enjoying the scenery.

We had a gorgeous day for exploring Napa, and our stop at the CIA was the first of many picturesque places that we vistied. The building was as gorgeous on the outside as it was on the inside.

Once inside the building, the bloggers headed up to the third floor for a morning of keynote speakers.

Our first speakers welcomed us to the CIA. The President of the school gave us a particularly warm welcome, telling us about the building, about the various CIA campuses, and about courses the CIA offers. He referred to himself as Dumbledore, and with his wonderful accent and the magic in the pastries and coffee that were served, I’m not questioning his nickname in the slightest.

The speaker highlight of the conference was our first speaker, Barry Schuler (@BSchuler). His talk was about “The Future of Blogging and Social Media,” and as you can see from the first slide, he injected humor and “real life” into his look at social media.

That said, what he talked about was anything but “random rants.” In fact, as I tweeted during the speech, Schuler wasan engaging speaker precisely because his talk informative, funny, and relevant. Surprisingly, not everyone at the conference did this, but Schuler never forgot who his audience was or why we were there listening to him. If you ever have the chance to listen or to ask Schuler to speak, don’t pass up the opportunity.

Jim Gordon, editor of Wines & Vines, was our second speaker, and he focused on the future of blogging and wine writing. For some of the more experience bloggers in the audience, his talk may not have been as helpful. However, for someone like me who is new to wine blogging, he provided some good insight to wine writing in general. There was a little push back on the emphasis that Gordon placed on fact-checking because some people felt that it was easier for Gordon, who has a staff at the magazine to research the accuracy of information, to have such an emphasis on fact-checking, but that it is an impractical task for bloggers. However, as bloggers, all we have is credibility, so it behooves us to do some research beforehand. It takes a long time to build trust and credibility with readers, but only a moment to lose it, so I thought that Gordon’s point was a useful one.

After Gordon finished, all of the WBC09 conference attendees split up into smaller groups. We each boarded buses to “mystery” wineries–2 in the early afternoon before meeting the larger group at Quintessa for the Grand Napa Tasting, then 1 more in the evening for dinner and more tastings. My bus had a great group of 22 people, and I was fortunate enough to sit next to Sean Sullivan (@WAWineReport) from Washington Wine Reports for the day. Our three hosts were Sterling Vineyards, Storybook Mountain Vineyards, and Lieff Wines, which made for an interesting and exciting day.

The End of Day 1 at WBC09

After the Sonoma Grand Tasting, WBC09 attendees headed back into the Flamingo Room in the hotel for dinner. As you can see, the 250 or so attendees filled the room. The picture doesn’t convey the loud conversations, the laughter, or the overall enjoyment of the evening, but as everyone chose dinner tables, the energy level was high.

I spent much of dinner talking with Cheryl Beeso, the Director of Marking & Communications for the Winegrowers of Dr Creek Valley, and Linda Trotta from Teresina’s Family Vintners. My table was luck enough to be drinking Teresina Vintners wine with dinner. Linda explained to me that Teresina Vintners is a family-run vineyard that is named after one of the Trotta Family’s grandmothers, and the website goes on to explain more about the family’s history and tradition of making and sharing wine. While my tasting notes on the 2007 Zinfandel are lost somewhere between DC and Santa Rosa, I remember enjoying the wine and thinking that the Teresina Vintners was off to a good start. The website mentions that the 2007 Zinfandel sells for $24, which is a reasonable price for this food-friendly Zin.

Once dinner was over, Chris Alden, Chairman and CEO of Six Apart, Ltd. and the blogger behind R21: Thoughts on the Renaissance of the 21st Century, spoke to room full of wine bloggers, wine marketers, and winemakers about his vision for the future of social networks and blogging. It was interesting look at what basically is a change in who people think about the Internet. Alden described how each blogger develops individual communities within his/her own blogs. In doing so, the blog is used as the focus of his/her social networking environment, rather than using other social networking tools (Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc) as the common link to form the community. This photopraph of the presentation gives a good illustration of the point.

For me, Alden’s approach was a different way to think about blogging, and one that I would like to explore. While I use these other tools as part of my “community relations,” I haven’t been approaching my blog with the idea that it’s the center of my own “A Glass After Work” community. In reality, the change in philosophy won’t mean much of a visible change for the blog, but the concept has given me something to think about as A Glass After Work evolves.

Day 1 at WBC09 ended with an after-hours party hosted by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers, I admit, though, that instead of going to the RRVW party, I actually went back to my hotel room to give my palate and my body a rest.

Sonoma Grand Tasting at WBC09

I admit it, by the time the Sonoma Grand Tasting started, I was a bit overwhelmed. This was my first Wine Bloggers’ Conference, and up until this point, I’d never tasted more than 15-20 wines in one sitting. At the WBC, though, by 5pm there had already been wine tasting in the welcome room, wine tasting at lunch, and wine tasting at the speed tasting, so the Sonoma Grand Tasting was taking me further outside of my tasting comfort zone than I’d even been before. So, I was nervous, but I was also up for the challenge.

The Sonoma Grad Tasting was a roped-off patio area near the pool at the Flamingo Resort. As you can see from the pictures, there were a lot of bloggers in a very small space, but it served as a way for us to get to know each other very quickly. People were standing around talking, eating delicious cheese and spreads with crackers, and of course, tasting 2, 3, or 4 wines from every vineyard at the tasting.

The Grand Tasting was definitely a success for me. I tasted Murphy-Goode wines for the first time and was pleased with what I tasted, as I had never even heard of the winery before the contest for the Really Goode Job. I worked my way through some well-know, affordable everyday wines that I often look at in the wine store, but haven’t had a chance to purchase, as well as tasted some lesser-known, more-unusual wines that were pleasant surprises. While all of the wines were good, none of them knocked me off my feet. Admittedly, I was nervous that I was the only one who felt that way, but after talking with other bloggers throughout the weekend, it seemed that my opinion was shared by others.

My notes from this event aren’t very detailed, but here are some pictures and my overall ratings:

Murphy-Goode Winery (website)
2008 “The Fume” Sauvignon Blanc—$12.50 3 Corks
Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon—$20 3 Corks
2006 “Liar’s Dice” Zinfandel—$21
3.5 Corks

Chateau St. Jean (website)
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon—$30 3.5 Corks
2007 Chardonnay—$25 4 Corks

Souverain (website)
2007 Chardonnay—$13
3 Corks
2007 Merlot—$15
3 Corks

Frick Winery (website)
2006 Cinsault—$26
4.5 Corks
2007 Grenache Blanc—$27 4 Corks

Alexander Valley Vineyards (website)
2004 Syrah—$35
4.5 Corks
2007 Sin Zin—$17 3 Corks
2008 Dry Rose of Sangiovese—$12 3.5 Corks

Dutton Goldfield Vineyards (website)
2006 Sanchietti Vineyard Pinot Noir—$58
3 Corks
2006 Freestone Hill Vineyrd Pinot Noir—$58
3 Corks
2007 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir—$38
3 Corks
2007 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay—$35
2.5 Corks

Speedy Wine Tasting at the WBC09: 3 and 2.5 Cork Wines

In Speedy Wine Tasting at the WBC09 post, I described how wine bloggers at this year’s North American conference had a chance to do a speed tasting of 11 different wines, each within a 5 minute timeframe. I’ve already made two posts outline my tasting notes—one of the 5 and 4.5 Cork wines and another for the 4 and 3.5 Cork wines. This is the last of my notes from the event.

Thanks again to all the wineries who made the event fun and successful!

3 Corks

2007 Lion’s Pride Pinot Noir (website)
The exciting background on this wine is that the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) work with students at El Molino High School to cultivate the vineyard where grapes for this wine are grown.

According to the wine rep, El Molino is the only school in the country that has a vineyard and provides hands-on viticulture instruction. Once the grapes are ripe, the RRVWs make the grapes into a good wine.

The wine itself was a light ruby with very berry flavors—strawberry and cherry—and a bit of residual sugar. It admittedly isn’t a great wine, but it’s solidly a good one and certainly helps a good cause, as all of the proceeds from the wine sales go back into El Molino High School’s viticulture program.

2007 Tandem Chardonnay (vineyard)
According to the wine rep, the grapes for this wine were grown in Mendocino County, and the wine was aged in French oak. The wine had nice floral, lemon, and grapefruit characteristics. Overall, I would like to spend a little more time getting to know this one, although, I admit that my first impression left me feeling that while it was a good wine, the price point was a little high.

2.5 Corks

Pinot Evil Pinot Noir NV (website)
This is actually a French wine that is imported by a CA company, Underdog Wine Merchants. Pinot Evil is a box wine that the representative said leaves 55% less of a carbon footprint than the average wine. The box holds 24 glasses or about 4 bottles, which would work out to be about $5 per bottle.

Outside of the clever packaging, this Pinot Noir left something to be desired. There were some red fruits—raspberry and cherries—both on the nose and in the mouth, but there was something funky that I couldn’t quite identify (maybe ferns or something foresty?) It was light in tannins, acid, and body. For the price, the wine might be worth it, but it won’t offer anything special.

2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah (website)
This wine was very purple, with big, dark legs. It smelled almost creamy, and there were definite dark fruit aromas on the nose. In the mouth, there were buttery black cherries and vanilla, although there was a slightly funny aftertaste. Overall, I thought the wine was ok.