Archive for the ‘Review Chardonnay wine’ Category

Three Cheers for Four Vines

The guys at Four Vines are not like everyone else — intentionally. When their winery was a start-up, back eight or so years ago, they departed from the herd of heavy, oaked-up whites to make one of California’s first un-oaked Chardonnays. Their Zinfandels, which were their signature wines back then, were regionally specific and showcased regional flavors, instead of being all jammy-pruney-blocky like a lot of California Zin.

I was pleased recently to revisit Four Vines through an online tasting of current vintages. Here’s what I thought.


The 2011 Four Vines Naked Chardonnay is all about pineapple. The nose is tropical and bright, and the first sip zings across the palate with luscious tropical fruit balanced by crisp natural acidity. This stuff never comes near a barrel, so there’s no heavy wood or vanilla flavors.

But wait! There is a nice tapioca creaminess that comes through near the end and rounds out the mouthfeel. I did a little research and yes, the wine did make a passing acquaintance with malolactic fermentation (you know, that secondary fermentation that transforms green-apple-y acids to milky-creamy acids). That little bit of ML apparently toned down that intense acid created by the super-cool weather during the summer of 2011.

I liked this wine, and my husband, who likes those over-the-top New Zealand whites, liked it too. I’d call this a crowd-pleasing, well-balanced, fun summer white.

The 2010 Four Vines Truant Zinfandel seems to be trying really hard to be a bad boy, but I’d have to say:


Truant Zin is not jammy, not prune-y, not block-y, and not hard to drink. In fact, it was really easy to drink a bunch of it with my Seared Ahi Tuna. Who would have thought?

Truant Zin is also not 100% Zin. Actually, it barely beats the 75% needed to be labelled Zinfandel, and includes a healthy dose of Syrah and a splash of Petite Sirah, Barbera and Sangiovese. Really? Who thought of that blend? But it works beautifully.

I really like the dominant blueberry and blackberry flavors that are forward, but balanced by good natural acidity (is that the Italian varietals strutting their stuff?). This red is relatively light on its feet, with a hint of spice to make it just a little bit edgy, and is a great food wine. In fact it may need to make an encore appearance next time I make red sauce (that’s spaghetti sauce to you non-Italians).

Paniza, Spain


A surprising addition to our wine tasting was a Spanish red called Alto-Cinco 2011, which is a collaboration between Purple Wine Company (which owns Four Vines), and Bodega Paniza in Spain. There is so much history and romance to this winery that I don’t know where to start, except to admit my prejudice right up front: I love Spanish reds. I think Spain stands shoulder to shoulder with any wine region on earth when it comes to producing high-quality, value-priced wines. So don’t expect a totally unbiased review…

Now back to ancient, cobble-stoned streets and visions of kings, queens and warriors… The village of Paniza is located in the province of Aragon, which since the 17th century has been a leader in the production of Garnacha (that’s “Grenache” in the rest of the wine world).

Alto-Cinco (“High-Five” to English speakers) is a blend of Garnacha from high-elevation, old-vine vineyards, with a splash of Tempranillo (Spain’s other world-famous grape). French and American oak barrel aging rounds out the mouthfeel. California winemaker Alex Cose worked with the winemaking team at Bodegas Paniza to create this red that I’d call an “Old World food-friendly but New World fruit-forward” wine. I loved the juicy dark berry flavors framed  by that lovely European acidity and supple tannins.
All three of these wines are priced to be good everyday drinkers (under $12 for the Four Vines, $13 or so for the Alto-Cinco), and I’d be happy to add them to my table. Cheers!


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The Santa Ynez Valley: “A little paradise for wine grapes.”

Main Street, Los Olivos

“Toto, we’re not in Napa anymore…”

I felt as disoriented as Dorothy and her little dog when I landed in the middle of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. I was supposed to be in Wine Country, but where were the sights so familiar in the Napa Valley? Where were the gigantic Tuscan tasting rooms crowded together along the roadway? Where were the high-end restaurants grudgingly serving $200 a plate lunches? Where were the traffic jams?

Instead, I saw the brick-front Lompoc Chamber of Commerce, Circa 1892. It sits across from Sissy’s Cafe, where they make a mean lentil soup.  I saw the Los Olivos General Store, and further up the street was Jedlicka’s Saddlery, where working ranch hands still buy bridles and belt buckles. I saw the pseudo-Dutch village of Solvang, which was, well, weird — but features an antique dealers showroom with one of the country’s finest collections of clocks.

And I tasted some very, VERY good wine.

The Santa Ynez Valley is south of San Francisco, just a few hours north of Los Angeles, and  close enough to Santa Barbara for a nice day trip. It’s blessed with wonderfully moderate temperatures, and if you’re a wine geek like me, you know that the valley runs east-west, splitting the coastal hills and allowing morning fog and cool afternoon breezes to blow in from the ocean. This creates the longest and coolest growing season in California, and when you add endless summer sunshine, low rainfall and well-drained soils, you’ve got a little paradise for wine grapes.

Cool-climate Santa Rita Hills

Our first taste of paradise came at Melville Winery, which nestles in the cool Santa Rita Hills appellation on the west side of the valley. This is where the Melville family and winemaker Greg Brewer craft some amazing estate wines. They’ll tell you it’s all about their vineyard practices, using techniques such as these:

  • High density planting creates really intense flavors in the fruit. Vines must compete for nutrients from the soil and yields are very, very low.
  • Leaves are pulled to expose the stems to the sun. The stems become dry and brown so they can be included in whole-cluster fermentation without adding green flavors to the wine.
  • Their Pinot Noirs see no new oak, which seemed like sacrilege: what’s red wine without oak? But the crafty folks at Melville let the dried wood from the stems act as their “oak.” It imparts that soft vanilla undertone without overpowering the fruit.

Alvin is a great host at the Melville tasting room.

I loved several of their Pinot Noirs, including the Estate Pinot which I’ve reviewed in the past (read about the Melville 2009). My first love was Melville Sandy’s Pinot Noir 2010. It’s made with fruit from a four-acre block planted on very sandy soil, and named after a woman named, you guessed it, Sandy. The nose hit me with sweet raspberry notes, and the palate offered intense dark cherry/berry fruit without weight or jamminess. Yumm…

Melville Carrie’s Pinot Noir 2010 uses fruit from a five-acre block that sits atop an exposed mesa, where the roots have to reach deep into the soil in search of nutrients. This creates the “darkest and most powerful” of their Pinots. I loved the luscious berry compote on the nose, and the rich, textured body of this Pinot. Again, there was plenty of lush fruit and layers of spice, but it was all balanced by good natural acidity.

Sister wineries Dierberg and Star Lane

A few miles further up the road, we found what looked like a big old Midwestern cattle barn plopped down in wine country. It houses sister wineries Dierberg and Star Lane. Between the two of them, they capture the diversity of the Santa Ynez Valley:

  • Dierberg makes Chard and Pinot Noir from vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, which sits further north and eight miles closer to the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Star Lane grows Syrah and Bordeaux varietals in Happy Canyon, otherwise known as the Banana Belt of Santa Barbara County. The owners were so impressed with this warm-climate region that they bought a whopping 8,000 acres — about one third the total area of the Canyon.

Dierberg’s Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2009 was an absolute stunner. Delicate and rich at the same time, I loved the bright pear and tropical fruit with notes of pineapple and butterscotch. The palate was lush but the finish was tangy and crisp, showing the great natural acidity that balances this wine. Thanks to aging in large oak vessels that impart just a hint of toast, and minimal secondary fermentation that maintains the natural acidity, this Chard will actually age like a White Burgundy. If you can wait that long to drink it…

Besides plenty of high ratings, Dierberg has the distinction of being served to a bevy of international dignitaries at the 2012 NATO Summit (that was the 2007 Syrah). That’s high praise, indeed.

Star Lane is like the big, bad-ass sister next to refined Dierberg. Their vineyards in Happy Canyon are unexpectedly warm for Santa Barbara County,

The beautiful Happy Canyon

with more degree days and less rain than almost all of the Napa Valley. They’re also among the highest elevation, with grapevines climbing up the lower slopes of the San Rafael Mountains. They can make big reds here, like Star Lane Estate Happy Canyon 2007. Five years after vintage date this beauty is bold, rich and soft. A blend of Bordeaux varietals plus Syrah, it opens with rich creme de cassis and vanilla, following with dark berries, mocha, and a little exotic spice. The mouthfeel is juicy and the tannins are beautifully supple. A few bottles left the winery in the back of my car, and I can’t wait to revisit them with an appropriate meal to match.

There’s more to tell but I’m out of space and out of time. Stay tuned for the final installment of our adventures in the Santa Ynez Valley. Cheers!





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Chamisal Vineyards: Kiwis Invade California!!

Well, not really. There’s just one Kiwi that I know of, but I think he’s made a big impression…

Fintan du Fresne is the New Zealand-born winemaker for Chamisal Vineyards in California’s amazingly beautiful Edna Valley. These rolling hills are situated about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but are a world apart from both. I know — I’ve been there. And I still remember the spectacular view from Jean Pierre Wolfe’s front porch, as vineyards and rolling hills framed a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Only it’s not very distant: Chamisal’s vineyards are just five miles from the Pacific, and Edna Valley is the California AVA that’s closest to the ocean.

Fintan says the ocean defines Chamisal’s wines. If you look at the videos on their very cool website, you can see the marine layer (or fog bank) that rolls in from the ocean and covers the valley’s vineyards most summer mornings. The fog cools down the vines, acting like a giant wet blanket that slows the development of the grapes. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. Cool is actually good, because the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more complex and intense the flavors become. The result is wines that are delicate but intense — an award-winning combination.

Chamisal also holds a special distinction in this AVA: its vineyards were the first planted in the Edna Valley back in 1973. Chamisal now grows five varietals, and we tasted most of them during a recent streaming live online wine tasting. It was delightful to hear Fintan du Fresne (and his sexy Kiwi accent) talk about Chamisal Vineyards and its wines, the first of which was a stunning example of Fintan’s influence.

Chamisal Stainless Steel Chardonnay Central Coast 2011 is what happens when a New Zealand palate meets California fruit. New Zealand’s very cool climate produces wines high in acid and bursting with lime and grapefruit flavors (drinking some NZ Sauv Blanc is like sucking on a grapefruit…). It’s as far away as you can get from the traditional California style that favors (or at least, used to favor) lots of oak and butter.

When Fintan came to Chamisal, the first thing he did was create a bright, clean, snappy white wine. This is the “no” Chardonnay: no oak barrel aging, no malolactic fermentation, no sur lie aging. He uses a long, cool fermentation to deliver fresh, bright fruit flavors with lots of natural acidity.

But I found this wine surprisingly rich. The nose offered lots of floral aromas and candied fruit, and the palate led with rich tropical flavors. Exotic floral notes crept in behind, followed by a spice note that’s quite unique. Fintan calls this “Chamisal spice,” and says it’s a terroir thing that manifests in all Chamisal wines. I enjoyed this wine, and think it will make a great summer quaffer for all those who want flavor without oak. It’s worth noting, too, that this Chard is from the much-vilified 2011 growing season, which threw vintners and winemakers all sorts of nasty weather curves. Fintan said he actually liked this vintage because it created fruit that was better suited to the stainless style. Read the rest of this entry »

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Wente Vineyards Shows Chardonnay’s Range

lumber“I don’t like Chardonnay.”

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard this lately, from customers and friends. Heck, I’ve even heard it from my significant other!

I used to try to argue, or to persuade, but it was usually a waste of time. The problem was that these folks thought all Chard tasted like the old-fashioned California style: a 2×4 and a stick of butter.

They should have tasted Wente Vineyards Chardonnays. They could have picked from a range of styles that hit all kinds of palates, and hit one very important nail right on the head — BALANCE! This deceptively simple feature just means that none the elements of a wine — fruit, acid, oak and alcohol — overpower any other. They play a nice little symphony in your mouth, without the tuba player or the cymbals hogging all the attention.

So how do the folks at Wente make such kick-ass Chardonnay? Well, they kinda have it in their genes… The generation that’s currently running the winery and vineyards is the fifth — which takes the winery’s founding way back to 1883. They have the distinction of being the country’s oldest, continuously-operated family-owned winery.riva

But being old doesn’t make you good. What makes them good started with the second generation, Ernest Wente, who was in the first class that graduated from UC Davis’s famed enology program. One of Ernest’s professors went to Europe and brought back some Chardonnay cuttings from Montpelier, France. In California’s climate they produced particularly beautiful fruit flavors. They propagated what they now call Wente Clone 4, and the rest is history: something like 75% of all the Chardonnay grown in California is the Wente clone. Most of those high-priced, highly-rated Chards you’ve read about use fruit descended from Ernie Wente’s French cuttings.

So I knew all this when I fired up my computer to participate in an online, streaming wine tasting with Karl Wente, the fifth generation winemaker. We tasted through four Wente Chardonnays, each representing a different style and flavor profile. It became clear that the words of another Wente ancestor, maybe Ernest again, were true: he said that Chardonnay was the grape that offered the most opportunity to create a style by manipulating different elements (Sorry Karl — you said it better but I forget your words). A winemaker can choose:

1 – When to pick the grapes. When they’re picked at lower sugar levels, like 22 Brix, the wine will be lighter, leaner, and less “fruity”. Grapes that hang on the vine till they reach 24 Brix will be riper, rounder, and richer tasting.

2 – A winemaker can choose to ferment and/or age in stainless steel or oak barrels, and if oak is used the possibilities are almost endless for what type of oak is used; whether the barrels are new or used; and how long the wine sits in barrel.

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Pine Ridge Winery Wicked Whites

pine ridgeWhen you’re talking classic, blue-chip Napa wineries, you’d better be talking about Pine Ridge Winery. Sitting just off the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District, Pine Ridge has been making wine since 1978, long before the Napa Valley was choked with wine tourists and Highway 29 became a parking lot. Gary Andrus’ first vineyard was planted on a ridge above the winery, and it’s been joined by four others representing the best and brightest appellations in the valley — Rutherford, Oakville, Howell Mountain and Carneros.

I remember visiting Pine Ridge Winery several years ago. I remember the warm Napa Valley sun, and then the cool calm of the Pine Ridge wine caves.

And I remember the wines — sort of. I know I loved the Chardonnay and a handful of Cabernets. But the details are foggy, lost in a touring-and-tasting haze.

I tasted them again recently in a manner much more conducive to memory retention. I tasted them through a Twitter TasteLive event where I watched a streaming video of the winemakers discussing the wines, while I tasted them in the privacy of my own home. It was a great use of online technology.

Winemaker Michael Beaulac and Assistant Winemaker Jason Ledbetter tasted whites first, so I’ll talk about them today.

The first white is a blend that I’d expect to be a hell of a hard sell to most American wine drinkers. Chenin Blanc and Viognier don’t really rock the U.S. wine world, but somehow Pine Ridge has made their Chenin Blanc/Viognier 2010 into a big seller. I’d wager that 90% of the folks who like this wine don’t know anything about these native French grapes, but they don’t need to. Anyone can enjoy this wine if; a) you don’t like oak; and b) you don’t like dry.

That doesn’t mean this wine is sweet, but it has a rich, soft approach that makes it friendly to almost any wine drinker. The Chenin Blanc (79%) is sourced from vineyards in Clarksburg, which is northeast of Napa in the Sacramento River Delta area. The relatively cool climate there allows the grapes to retain great natural acidity, which balances the fruitiness of the grape. The Viognier (21%) in the blend, sourced from warm-climate Lodi, adds richness and lushness.

For me, I got a nose that led with honeysuckle and slid into tangerine and floral notes. The palate was rich and viscous, with apricots and honey morphing into a tangy, spicy finish. There is a trace of residual sugar, which is what helps this wine appeal to a really broad market.

At under $15, this is a very good value, and a step up for those who’ve been buying White Zin just to get some sweetness in their glass.

The Pine Ridge Carneros Dijon Clones 2009 is a more “serious” white wine. It’s made with fruit from Pine Ridge’s Carneros vineyards, which Michael and Jason explain are covered in cool fog for a good part of the day. Cool temps allows the grapes to mature slowly, creating intense fruit flavors with good acid to balance them.

Pine Ridge is certainly not a typical California Chardonnay. Instead of all that heavy oak and butter, this Chard offers crisp fruit and a clean finish. On the nose, I got more spice than fruit: there was wood spice and Meyer lemon, and maybe a hint of banana.

The palate was more obvious. I got baked apple, custard, and baking spice, all wrapped up in a viscous mouthfeel that comes from aging “on the lees.” Again, just like the Chenin blend, there was crisp acid on the finish that balanced the rich flavors.

Pine Ridge seems to be hitting the modern American palate right on the button. They’re making very sound, very delicious wines that can appeal to lots of wine drinkers. I wish them all the best.


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Olema Sonoma County Chard: A Perfect 1, 2, 3

friendsI love Chardonnay, but I’m really fussy about it.

I’ve tasted way too much over-oaked, fake-oaked, or way-too-buttery Chard. There are too many out there that are way off balance in one direction or another, and I’m done with suffering through them.

So I’m thrilled when I taste balance. That’s what stopped me in my tracks recently when I tasted Olema Sonoma County Chardonnay 2009.  I thought, “OMG, I taste wonderful richness without a 2 x 4 in my teeth!”

Olema has a great back-story. It’s actually the second label from a winemaker who’s a veritable Napa Valley icon.olema

Ever heard of Georges de Latour Private Reserve? Or BV Cellars? Of course you have, and you know that BV’s Private Reserve is one of Napa’s classic Cabernets, created for more than 25 years by winemaker Joel Aiken. He left BV to pursue his own wine interests, and ended up hooking up with some good friends to form Amici (Italian for “friends”) Cellars.

I pulled an Amici cork out of my Olema, because it’s is the second label from Aiken’s winery. But this Chard is anything but second-rate. Let me give you my 1-2-3 on that.

1 – The nose on my Olema Chardonnay was positively beguiling, with luscious butterscotch mingling with bright tangerine, and some creamy tapioca creeping in as it warmed in my glass. I could have sat with my nose in the glass all night, but that would have made me really unpopular with my dinner companion.

2 – My mouth tasted rich tropical fruit, with more butterscotch (or was it creme brulee?) rounding out the back.

3 – The finish, which I’d been afraid would have that California “butterball” thing going on, was tangy and bright, lifted up by good natural acidity.

Wow! I should have expected this quality from Joel Aiken — I just didn’t expect to find it in a wine under $20.

My research showed that there are a few reasons why this Chard hits my sweet spot. First, only 58% of the juice underwent malolactic fermentation. That may be an unfamiliar term, but Chardonnay lovers should get up close and personal with this key determinant of a Chardonnay’s style. This secondary fermentation takes the grape’s natural malic acid, which is like the acid in green apples, and turns it into lactic acid, or the acid in milk. Chard’s that undergo 100% ML have that buttery (some would say “flabby”) finish.

Aiken uses just enough ML to round out the mouthfeel. His oak treatment is equally restrained. Only 50% of the wine goes into French oak barrels, with the balance aged in stainless steel. That’s why Olema Chard reminds me of vanilla creme brullee instead of a 2 x 4.

Of course, Aiken had some great raw material to work with. Grapes were sourced from Carneros and Russian River vineyards — arguably the best sources for California Chardonnay. And 2009 was an awesome vintage, with mild temperatures and a long Indian Summer allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and develop lots of flavor and complexity.

So here’s my summary — just go buy this. Then pour it for someone who thinks they have to spend $40 to get a top-quality Chardonnay. Cheers!


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My Current Fave: Benziger Signaterra Chardonnay

sangI think I’m in love. And I didn’t even expect to be “in like.”

I had a bottle of Benziger Winery’s single-vineyard line, Signaterra. This was a 2009 Chardonnay from the Sangiacomo vineyard, a very prized plot owned by the Sangiacomo family in the Carneros region in southern Napa/Sonoma. I’ve tasted other Chardonnays from this vineyard and loved them, particularly Barnett Winery’s.

But what I’d read in Signaterra’s tasting notes had me scratching my head. First, I read that this Chard is totally un-oaked — aged in stainless steel instead of oak barrels. Now I know there’s a distinct trend away from heavy-handed, over-oaked Chards, but I still hanker for a little bit of roundness and toast.

And the notes said the Signaterra undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation, which is a secondary fermentation that takes the tart malic acid (like in green apples) and converts it to lactic acid (like in milk). This creates that buttery mouth-feel that many California Chardonnay drinkers have grown to love.

Both these processes are standard, but as far as I know, not generally used in combination. The way I think of it, stainless steel treatment heightens acid and freshness, while complete ML minimizes it. So what’s this combination gonna taste like?

Pretty damn good, is the answer.chad

Better than that, really. I enjoyed this Chardonnay more than anything I’ve tasted in recent memory. And I drink a good bit of Chardonnay…

Let’s start at the beginning. The Benziger family and Sangiacomo family go way back, like 30 years back. That’s earned the Benzigers the right to source fruit from ”the sweet spot” of Carneros called the West Rows. The naturally cool climate combined with well-drained soil and protection from the often harsh winds, produces some very spectacular fruit.

The weather during the 2009 growing season was also a humdinger: there were warm days when they were needed to push ripening, and enough cool days to slow down the ripening process and allow complex flavors to develop. The grapes were picked relatively early to preserve good acidity and keep sugar levels on the low side.

So here’s my take on Signaterra West Rows Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009.

Right off the cork, the nose was not your typical Cali Chard. It took a few minutes and a few degrees of warming for rich tropical aromas (read pineapple) to start flowing. That was layered with hazelnut and vanilla (where does that come from in an un-oaked wine?) and lovely sweet fig.

The palate was rich and juicy and tangy all at the same time. I got more tropical flavors that morphed into creamy tapioca and then into palate-cleansing acid. I thought the balance was tremendous, and I would like to humbly apologize for questioning the “ML and stainless” thing.

This wine is like potato chips — you can’t stop drinking it. Actually, I’ll admit that I was eating chips (the No-Trans-Fat, kettle-cooked, sea salted variety, of course). The rich/juicy/tangy thing worked incredibly well with the salty/crunchy/greasy thing. I think I may have found another classic food pairing!

The punch line is — this is a wine that develops beautifully in the glass, and will continue to develop in the bottle. I’d love to put some down for a year or two and see what happens, and I’d encourage you to do the same. It may be difficult to find because production is small, but see what happens if you contact the winery. Cheers!

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Lost and Found: William Fevre Chablis Fourchaume 2006

chablisI love finding things unexpectedly; like when you put on a coat you haven’t worn for a few months and find a $20 bill in the pocket. That’s a great surprise. (Except that in my coats there’s never more than $1.)

Yesterday I dug into the hard-to-reach places in my wine fridge and found — a half bottle of white Burgundy. I’d forgotten it was there, and still can’t remember who gave it to me (probably a distributor rep trying to win points). But I didn’t care. I had a potentially great bottle of wine to taste, as we sat on our deck on a beautiful summer evening.

The wine is William Fevre Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2006, so it’s a white Burgundy from the Chablis region. Many of you may know that the Chardonnay-based wines of Chablis are known for their austere, flinty, style. They typically never see an oak barrel, and the cool climate in northern Burgundy produces plenty of acid in the grapes, and adds ageability to the wines.

I was anxious to see how this 2006 was drinking. When I poured it into our glasses, the wine was beautiful to look at. The color was a crystal-clear pale lemon yellow, suggesting a delicate palate to follow.

The nose was — nothing, at first. This wine really needed to be worked over in the glass, so I swirled and swirled to get some oxygen into it. When the aromas finally released, I was surprised. Instead of the citrus and flint I’d expected, I smelled tapioca, butterscotch, and maybe even creme brulee. All these rich aromas from a Chablis?? Read the rest of this entry »

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Win Big when you Submit Your Ideas to Promote La Crema wine!

la cremaIf you’re a member of the professional Advertising/PR/Corporate Communications community, you need to read this. There’s a new concept out there that could put you out of a job…

But if you’re not a card-carrying member of that community, you may think the following is pretty cool.

I recently got a message from the folks at La Crema (you know, that winery that’s part of the Kendall-Jackson family of properties and makes some best-selling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). La Crema wants to create a new video campaign to promote their wines, and they’re doing it with an organization called that “uses crowdsourcing to help brands concept and produce fresh, compelling video content.”

You say, “What the heck does that mean?” The way I read the Tongal website, it means that Tongal solicits submissions from…anyone…for videos to promote selected products. If they choose your submission over all the other entrants, you win $money$!

The way they explain it, “Anyone can submit their ideas and videos on Tongal for a chance to earn real cash for their creative work.”

This could signal the democratization of the advertising/PR business. And in case you’re skeptical, check out the list of clients who are using Tongal’s services. They include Allstate Insurance, Benjamin Moore Paints and Barbie.

Barbie??? Yes, that’s the anatomically impossible doll.

But anyhow… You may want to explore this project. La Crema is looking for videos to promote “The World’d Most InCremable Party.” A total of $10,000 in prize money is being offered for three distinct phases – an idea, video and exhibition phase.  You can submit an entry for any of those phases, so you don’t have to be a budding Francis Ford Coppola in order to apply.

Go to and then click the Projects tab. Scroll down until you get to La Crema and you’ll see the details.

But note that the deadline for submissions for the first phase, “Ideas,” is August 15. So don’t wait too long.

And let me know your thoughts if you participate. This could be the next new Big New Thing! Cheers.


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Wente: It’s All About Chardonnay

wenteYou literally can’t talk about California Chardonnay without talking about Wente Vineyards. Ever heard of the Wente Clone? It was created from cuttings that a Wente brought back from France in 1912, and can be linked to 85% of the Chardonnay planted in California.

The family’s (and winery’s) history doesn’t stop there. Wente Vineyards has the distinction of being the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned winery in California. (The current winemaker, Karl D., is the fifth generation.) And did I mention that Wente Vineyards produced California’s first varietally-labelled wine? It was a Sauvignon Blanc from the 1935 vintage. And only a year later Wente produced the first varietally-labeled Chardonnay.

I’ve tasted and enjoyed Wente Vineyards wines, so I was glad to get an invitation to join their second “Twitter Tasting.” I explained this in a post a few months ago, when I did my first Twitter event, but I’ll run it by you again. The way it works is that Wente Vineyard’s very helpful PR folks, Charles Communications, sent me and other bloggers (or “members of the on-line wine community,” the much more reputable-sounding name that I prefer) some bottles of wine. At the appointed time, we all log onto a special Twitter page called TasteLive and watch as winemaker Karl Wente tastes and talks about the wines. The medium is interactive, of course, so those of us in the blogosphere are tasting and tweeting questions and comments. Karl responds to them, live.

It’s really a blast — cheers to CC or whoever came up with the idea.

So let’s get to the good stuff — the wines. We were focused this time on four Chardonnays produced by Wente Vineyards. They represent just about every style of American Chard, and it was great to taste them side by side.

Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay 2009 is their entry level bottling, made from fruit grown in their Livermore Valley vineyards. Although the area doesn’t have the name recognition of, say, the Napa Valley, it’s one of the best places in California to grow wine grapes. The valley runs east to west from the San Francisco Bay, sucking in the cool morning fog off the Bay. Gee, maybe that’s how this Chardonnay got its name… Read the rest of this entry »

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