Monthly Archives: April 2013


My apologies for the slow down in posts last week. Mid-week my laptop quit working and it took until the weekend to get it sorted out. i yi yi. Thankfully the fix wasn’t too expensive, as I wouldn’t have been able to replace my computer. This is just a tiny homespun blog, after all. I’m grateful to have it working again. There is a lot of writing to catch up on.

Hope you’re all doing well!


Developing a Pinot Noir Tasting

As I posted about a month and a half ago–Victoria, Australia reinspired my devotion for Pinot. The wines are so full of life and liveliness in Victoria that Pinot Noir often carries a wonderful vibrancy and tension, with freshness and just a touch of surprise that I appreciate.

Returning, then, to the United States, I decided to design a Pinot tasting with North American wines, focused on finding and sharing examples from here that offer such interest. The goal behind the group of 25 wines tasted, then, was to gather a range of wines banding around a focus on vibrancy, tension, and acidity. The selections were based either on previous experience with the wines, or recommendations, as well as availability. Many were provided by samples–the complete list of samples versus purchase appears at the bottom of this post. There are of course a wealth of other wines that could have also been included.

Tasting North to South

A couple weeks ago several of us got together to taste through the 25 Pinot Noir wines from the West Coast of North America. The other tasters were winemakers that work with Pinot. We did not taste blind out of an interest in considering the specifics of the wines’ vinification, soils, and climate.

Following are notes on the wines from the tasting. Each of the wines were tasted first with the group, then again the next day, and for a final time on the third day.

The top stand out wines from this tasting as a whole were the Eyrie 2010 Original Vines Reserve, followed closely by the Eyrie 2010 Estate. Three more stand outs were found in the Big Table Farm 2010 Wirtz Vineyard, Wind Gap 2011 Gap’s Crown, and the Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills.

Okanagan, British Columbia

Black Cloud 2009 Pinot

Representing the Okanagan, we were unfortunately able to access only one wine. Okanagan is an area of growing interest that produces what some consider to be the top Pinot Noir of Canada. In June of this year, the Wine Blogger’s Conference will be hosted in the Okanagan, so expect to see a wealth of online traffic about the region later this summer.

Black Cloud 2009 Altostratus, Remuda Vineyard, 13.2%
The Black Cloud Altostratus comes in with a pomegranate and fig, lightly toasty, and ripe, pretty nose. The aroma moves back and forth between ripe scents, and underripe scents, a phenomenon that follows in the palate, as the wine drinks as though it came from both an early slightly-green pick and a later riper one. There are concentrated flavors of dried berries and musk here alongside more woody, and lightly medicinal ones. The wine brings a strong mid-palate focus, with slightly rough tannin, and good moderate acidity. I am interested in tasting further vintages of this wine, as the 2009 was a rather compressed vintage for the region, which may be showing as a challenge here.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Oregon Pinots

The Willamette Valley was the big winner, with the group generally pleased by the overall quality of each of these wines. In each case, the Willamette wines also simply became more alive over the three day tasting period, with more lush and pleasing flavors and greater liveliness.

Cooper Mountain 2010 Reserve, 13.5%
The Cooper Mountain Reserve offers the nice tension of older vines alongside great acidity. The nose is floral and dance-y also showing both fresh and dried strawberry, and rhubarb, as well as a touch of funk. The palate comes in juicy and lean giving more elemental flavors starting with a rich opening, an ultra-light mid-palate, and a long finish. The wine was a bit simple upon opening but the flavors relaxed, becoming more lush with air, and drinking beautifully on day 3.

* Big Table Farm 2010 Wirtz Vineyard, 13.1%
Big Table Farm‘s Wirtz Vineyard 2010 is a beautiful wine, and yummy. The aromatics are a nice blend of Italian herbs, berry, rhubarb and spice all lifting from the glass. On the palate a vibrant mix of green bean freshness and orange plus grapefruit zest accent red fruit and pink flowers. This wine is full of life and just kept getting more lively into day 3.

* Big Table Farm 2010 Resonance Vineyard, 12%
The Big Table Farm Resonance Vineyard started much more muted compared to their Wirtz, but techno-danced its way from the glass by day 3, full of vibrancy. The wine carries a wider nose focused on red berries, red flowers, and cardamom. The palate follows, offering a smooth, lush texture. While it opened less fresh on day 1, the aromas and flavors of this wine became more vibrant and complex as it stayed open. I’m impressed by its vibrancy with air.

* Eyrie 2010 Estate, 13.5%
The Eyrie Estate gives a wonderful combination of lean structure, and rich flavors making the wine feel both refreshing, and compelling. The nose gives more than just red berry and rhubarb, offering herbal notes and just enough vineyard sweat and garlic to bring intrigue. The wine has a pleasing sandwash silk texture, and a long lean-line finish. The sexiness on this wine just kept increasing into day 3. I am a fan.

** Eyrie 2010 Original Vines Reserve, 13.5%
The big winner of the tasting found itself in the complexity and focus of Eyrie’s Original Vines Reserve, drawing entirely from the original plantings from the mid-60s. The Reserve is vibrant and full of life in the glass, giving smooth tannin, a lean body, full of rich flavor, and a long finish. The nose comes in musky, and fresh at the same time, showing porcini reduction, grapefruit zest, red and pink flowers, pomegranate, and dried black cap raspberries, all beautifully integrated. On the palate the flavors follow with a pleasing spice and light menthol lift. This wine comes together through beautifully integrated elements, and a pleasing, well-knit complexity of flavors.

* Antica Terra 2010 Willamette Valley, 13.0%
The Antica Terra gives a great example of desirable focus with rough hewn edges. That is, this wine does well at showing a winemaker’s focus coupled with the willingness to let the wine be a touch feral and of its own mind. The nose gives scents of small berried, concentrated red fruits, with hints of greenery, and just a touch of fuminess. The palate carries a textural focus giving rhubarb, strawberry with light graphite, spice, and a little bit of pleasing stink. The Antica Terra has power without being overwhelming, though it does also present as just a touch hot in the mouth.

Northern California with Ant Hill Farms

Ant Hill Farm Pinots

For Northern California we tasted through the smallest bottlings from Ant Hill Farms 2011 Pinot Noirs. Ant Hill Farms focuses on small sites as well where they have hand’s on connection to the farming. What is common through the Ant Hill Farms wines is an enlivening mineral tension.

Ant Hill Farms Mendocino 2011 Comptche Ridge Vineyard, 13.2%
The Comptche Ridge bottling from Ant Hill Farms is an ultra lean wine with a focus on mineral tension, and a long finish. The nose brings together bay leaf, herbal earthiness, and a touch of aspirin lift, moving into lightly sweet red fruit, light cocoa, and notes of lime on the palate. The flavors here give ideas of sweet (but not sugar) fruit but with a lean focus and a long drying finish.

Ant Hill Farms Anderson Valley 2011 Demuth Vineyard, 13.1%
The Demuth Vineyard needs time to open, as the wine presents as closed right now. That said, there is a great juiciness and tension here that I believe will offer more flavor later. What the wine does give now includes red fruit, dark chocolate with stem chewiness, light brazil nut, and a refreshing methol lift rolling into a long fresh finish.

Ant Hill Farms Anderson Valley 2011 Abbey-Harris Vineyard, 13.4%
Where the Abbey-Harris Pinot from Ant Hill Farms starts as red methol and cherry, it opens into cardamom and bergamot, with leafy notes and hints of copper. The wine starts simple but offers more complexity with air showing graphite and red berries on the palate, chewy stemmy notes, and nice tension coming from an enlivening minerality, and long finish.

Sonoma County

Sonoma County Pinots

With the wealth of Pinot Noirs made in Sonoma County we focused on bringing together a few labels that connect through winemaking experience and site.

* Verse 2011 Pinot Noir Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros, 12.9%
The Verse 2011 gives spiced red fruit and a light tang on the nose, rolling into a juicy raspberry full plant expression–berries, pleasing seed crunch, and bramble with leaf. The flavors are lush, deepened with elements of white sage, pink flowers, and blueberry leaf, followed by a lightly briny finish. The texture here is smooth, giving a light graphite reduction, and a drying finish.

Vivier 2011 Sonoma Coast, 13.5%
Vivier‘s Sonoma Coast Pinot blend draws from fruit off of all three of his vineyard sites–the Terra di Promisio, Sun Chase, and Gap’s Crown. There are nice layers of fruit here but the palate comes in a bit wider than I prefer (and more so than on either his Sun Chase or Gap’s Crown single vineyard bottlings). The wine opens initially with a bit of funk on the nose that blows off to reveal strawberry, with blueberry leaf, and touches of aspirin. There is a broad mid-palate here, with a long breadth of flavors through the finish.

* Wind Gap 2011 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast, 12.8%
Carrying an herbal and earthy focus, the Wind Gap Pinot is all about minerality and leanness in a way I enjoy. The wine shifts away from fruit flavors instead bringing in raspberry leaf, with some red berry rolling through juicy, with accents of tomato leaf, cumin, and graphite on a long textural finish. There is a great enlivening tension here throughout that vibrates in with almost electrical-metallic accents I enjoy.

Boheme 2009 Stoeller Vineyard, 14.3%
Boheme Pinots are each made from vineyard sites managed through hand’s on farming by the winemaker. The Stoeller Vineyard sits at 1200 ft elevation ultra close to the coast showing focused fruit, and its coastal elevation influence. The wine offers a lovely experience of drinking Pinot pie–giving cooked fruit, baking spice, and pie dough all together along with sea air freshness, and a juicy tingling finish.

* Boheme 2009 Taylor Ridge Vineyard, 14.5%
The Taylor Ridge Vineyard was my favorite of the three Boheme Pinots, offering a pretty example of its style, also showing well over the three days. This wine is all about breadth, lightness, and a long finish, showing a little broader than the Stoeller, without being overly broad. The flavors include cooked fruit and spice, opening into more floral elements over the three days, with polished sand tannin and a lot of juiciness leading into a long finish.

Boheme 2009 English Hill Vineyard, 14.7%
The English Hill Vineyard is the furthest inland site for Boheme Pinot, giving a slightly warmer red fruit expression on the palate in comparison, and red fruit and flower on the nose. The wine has the widest palate presentation of the three, with ultra clean lines of flavor, and lean tannin. The finish brings in herbal and dried grass notes rolled through with cocoa.

The Central-Coastal Stretch

Central Coast Pinots

Calera 2009 Mt Harlan Ryan Vineyard, 14.1%
The Ryan Vineyard shows the incredible throat tension generated by a bit of limestone and elevation on the vines. The wine has an aromatic focus followed by a perfumed lift in the mouth. It comes out all fig and date mince meat with cocoa and nutmeg. The wine couples both a dryness and slippage in the mouth giving a sexy, lush texture leading into a drying lightly salty finish full of tight lines. This wine is a bit of a challenge while enticing at the same time, like going out with a New York woman after life in a small town for several years.

* Presqu’ile 2010 Rim Rock Vineyard, San Luis Obispo, 13.0%
One of the most intriguing of the wines in the tasting, the Presqu’ile Rim Rock gives a strong textural focus riding on a core of pliant, dark, round fruit that then moves with the flavors of the Southwestern United States–jalapeno on the nose, hatch chiles on the palate, dried black bean and mole–alongside orange oil, cocoa, red berries, and light caramel. It’s both yummy, and strange, not your typical Pinot Noir. I enjoyed it.

Nagy 2009 Santa Maria, 14.5%
The Nagy 2009 opens with a reductive funk that blows off and gives over to light red cherry, and light green pepper. The palate keeps some reductive elements accenting cocoa, cherry, and mint palmed by hot peppers and black tea on the finish, all touched through with fine cord textural tannin. Give this wine some time in the bottle, or some air to open up.

Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara County

Bien Nacido Pinots

Chanin 2010 Bien Nacido, 13.7%
The Chanin Bien Nacido gives sweet red fruit and a touch of funk on the nose, followed by a candied red fruit expression on the palate. The alcohol comes in as hot on this wine showing primarily in the finish on top of a core of tension. I would be interested in tasting other vintages from Chanin as the 2010 drinks like it was a challenging vintage that didn’t quite come together in bottle.

The Ojai Vineyard 2010 Bien Nacido, 13.0%
Offering kirsch accented by notes of rainwater, and lightly candied powder accent on the nose, the Ojai Bien Nacido carries into lightly dusty soil, cooked cherry, and light green chili on the finish. The wine has a singular focus throughout its presentation that remains consistent through the three day tasting period.

Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County

Santa Ynez Pinots

Pence Ranch 2010 Weslope, 14.5%
2010 marks the first vintage for brand new vines for Pence Ranch, its vineyards growing just outside the Eastern boundary of Sta Rita Hills AVA. The Weslope portion of the vineyard grows in Western facing sloped clay, taking the brunt of the ocean winds the Santa Ynez Valley is famous for. The wine offers a terra cotta spice and raspberry leaf focus with hints of smoke, white clay, and metallic elements, all coming through a lush texture, good juiciness, and a long finish with good tension.

Pence Ranch 2010 Uplands, 14.5%
Where the Weslope portion of Pence Ranch rests in deep clay, the Uplands grows in finer grained mixed loam, with protection from the wind. The vines of both sites are the same age, just coming online for harvest with the 2010 vintage. The Uplands bottling shows more leafy and peat aromatics giving a light smokey element with medicinal accents in the mouth. This wine is all about the acidity, and smooth while grip-able texture. It is a touch hot on the finish.

Pence Ranch 2010 Estate, 14.5%
The Estate bottling from Pence Ranch brings together a blend of both the Weslope and Uplands sites combining the clay and peat aspects of the two, alongside smoke and cherry, with spice notes. There is a juicy mid-palate here followed by a juicy, focused, lightly reductive finish and tight lines throughout. The Pence Ranch wines are worth watching over the next several years–they drink with the elements of young fruit that is perhaps less focused now and will likely show more complexity with age. Considering how new the vines and project are, the wines still seem to give a (albeit young) sense of genuine site character. I’ll be interested in seeing how future vintage releases taste.

* Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills, 14.7%
The Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills was a crowd pleaser with its fresh ripe red berry focus touched by sweaty red tropical flowers, fresh sea water and air, touches of terra cotta, and hints of green chili heat. The wine had a nice long mineral line throughout with good stimulation, a pleasing balance of tongue pinching tannin and real juiciness and a lightly powder-touched finish. This wine shows off subtle, fresh complexity.


Black Cloud, Cooper Mountain, Eyrie, Ant Hill Farms, Verse, Wind Gap, Boheme, Chanin, The Ojai Vineyard, and Pence were all provided as samples.

Vivier, Calera, Nagy, Presqu’ile, and Brewer-Clifton were purchased.

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It’s my sister, Melanie‘s birthday today. She is old. We all are.

Native kids in the 1970s

us Native kids in the 1970s (she’s on the left. I’m in front. Paula on the right.)

Gratefully, she is old in that “I know how to love life better, and appreciate simple pleasure for the joy it truly is” sense of old.

Last July we met up in Willamette Valley for IPNC and she missed her flight from Portland back to Alaska because we were too busy eating oysters and drinking Egly Ouriet champagne. That seems an appropriate use of age to me–wise enough to know that moment was enough. The flight would come, even if later. It’s not the only time she’s visited and then missed her flight because lunch got in the way. Let it not be the last.

Happy Birthday, Melanie. You are my sister.

To read Melanie’s sum-up of her own very good year:


p.s. for anyone unsure: our great-grandfather retired from commercial fishing for salmon at the age of 84. He lived well into his 90s. In my book, life doesn’t really get going till you’re almost 40, and being old is a good damn compliment. Happy Birthday, old woman! -Your sister

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Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla vineyard, July 2012

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla Vineyard, July 2012

This post is part of an ongoing series titled “Attending Ribolla Gialla University” that I began last summer as a tracing of the grape in California. The title was originally, to be honest, a sort of joke–there is no such thing as R.G. Uni, I made it up–while simultaneously meant to take seriously the work started here in California by George Vare. He studied the potentials of the grape through on going conversations with winemakers in Slovenia and Friuli, tastings of their wines, and then experimentation with picking times, and winemaking techniques on his own fruit. The name is also a reflection of my own following Ribolla Gialla around, having fallen in love with it (and at least one of its winemakers) in Friuli, later also finding myself within it’s few acres in California.

George Vare examining his Ribolla clusters, July 2012

George Vare examining his Ribolla Gialla clusters, July 2012

I was lucky enough to spend time talking with George about how he fell in love with the grape, as well as what he hoped for it, and to taste multiple examples and vintages of the wine under his own label, Vare. I don’t want to overstate my connection to George, he is someone I was lucky enough to meet and spend time with several times, as well as to email with on occasion. I can only say that, even with this small connection, George was someone that meant a lot to me. His generosity of spirit, and his encouragement to follow one’s own enthusiasm are irreplaceable. Somehow in the midst of everything, George was an ongoing source of encouragement for me. I say this because I know he played such a role for very many people. It is truly a gift.

George Vare and Steve Matthiasson discussing the Vare Vineyard

George Vare and Steve Matthiasson discussing Vare Vineyard fruit, July 2012

The following post is a write-up of a recent tasting held at Arlequin Wine Merchants focused on the wines made from Ribolla Gialla of the Vare Vineyard. Besides a recent barrel sample brought by Forlorn Hope of his 2012 version, the wines I had tasted and enjoyed before. In gratefulness for George’s sense of community, and in recognition of the work these winemakers were able to do, I am happy to have attended. It is a gift to be with friends. Thank you to Arlequin for hosting.

Following are notes on each of the Vare Vineyard wines from the tasting (other wines were also poured. Those notes are not included here). One of the things I understood about George’s love for Ribolla was the range of possible styles it had to offer, its unique history, and its place as a bit of an underdog. With that in mind I have chosen to write up the wines of the Arlequin tasting within a frame considering the grape’s history and various styles. The tasting notes are shown in drawing, with any additional information about vinification in italics following. Each of the vinification comments is also summarized with a comment on when each particular style is most appropriate, or for what sort of palate.

The diversity of styles represented below is something George celebrated about the work done with his vineyard–the wines give example to the great range possible with this noble grape as well as expression of what’s possible with thirsty curiosity.


The Arlequin Tasting of Vare Vineyard

Arnot-Roberts 2010 and 2011 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Arnot-Roberts Ribolla Gialla: Nathan and Duncan have chosen to play with their approach to vinification of RIbolla each year, while maintaining earlier picking times, and thus also up acidity. In the 2010 vintage the wine was made going immediately to press, thus offering a linear ultra clean version of the fruit. The 2011, on the other hand, was kept intentionally on skins, after foot treading, for six hours, gaining a bit of the textural richness, and some slightly medicinal elements typical of the grape with skin contact. Both 2010 and 2011 were fermented in steel, and aged in neutral oak. In 2012 (not tasted at Arlequin), the pair have also chosen to age the Ribolla in tinajas, Spanish clay vessel (aka. anfora, in the Italian). If your interest is in a juicy, linear expression of Ribolla Gialla, both the 2010 and 2011 Arnot-Roberts offers that wine.

Arlequin Wine Merchants hosted a tasting of the wines made from fruit of Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla this last week, with six producers present, all in honor of George Vare himself, who died a little over a week ago.

A fellow attendee asked me which wine I thought had “the greatest varietal typicity of the tasting.” It’s a common view to take–that there must be some core of type to any particular grape, and, as such, one of the questions we can or should ask is which wine comes closest to that standard of measure. I believe in the case of Vare Ribolla Gialla, however, such a view is misleading. To put it simply, making a claim of a grape’s typicity based on wines made from only 2.5 acres in an area on the other side of the planet from the grape’s primary region seems out of place. But further, even in its homeland Ribolla Gialla has never been a grape with only one style.

One of the beautiful aspects of the wines made from Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla is that they represent a true expression of range for the grape, moving from ultra clear, vibrantly acidic examples on the one hand, all the way through to darkly colored, textural tannin-focused versions on the other, with a full arc of picking variation, and oak influence in between. This fan of expression–Arbe Garbe, and Vare himself previously as well–celebrates the variety’s true typicity–the ability to offer a wide band of possible structural expressions.

Considering History

Grassi 2011 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Grassi 2011 Ribolla Gialla: to keep the lightness of a white wine while gaining some of the aromatic and textural advantages of Ribolla Gialla, the Grassi is whole cluster pressed, then the juice is poured back over the skins. George Vare said that in blind trials he and Grassi winemaker, Robbie Meyer, agreed that such a practice gave a similar effect as leaving the juice to soak on skins for 48 hours before pressing. The juice is then put into neutral barrels for aging. Mark Grassi explained that they choose to pick when the fruit has reached a full yellow color, giving a richer weight and presentation of flavors in the final wine, without heaviness. Grassi’s 2011 offers richer flavor with a deft touch. This is the wine when you want a full palate presentation without heaviness.

Ribolla Gialla grows almost exclusively along the borderland of Friuli and Slovenia, with only very small plantings found outside this zone. Though its origins reach back to Greece, documentation of the grape in Friuli begins as early as the 13th century with it quickly found almost exclusively in Fruili-Slovenia’s intersection zone. History shows it as the definitive white of Friuli for centuries, with royal decree demanding payment through Ribolla during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and laws established prohibiting the blending of Ribolla with wines from outside the region in the 15th century. The grape, then, has a long narrative of respect and adoration. With the timing of phylloxera, however, many growers chose to ignore Indigenous varieties in their replantings, turning instead to established International red grapes with the hope of economic boon. The noble grape of Friuli, then, suffered a massive decrease in attention, and acreage in the last hundred plus years.

The historical reality of white grapes through Northeast Italy, and the Balkans is rooted in a technique now thought of as fringe–skin contact fermentations. Technology until the last several decades simply did not allow for the cleaner straight-to-press style seen as typical for white wines today. Part of what this means, then, is that the Ribolla wine celebrated in historical texts would often be closer to the murky, textural style of what we now call orange wines, than it would be to the beautifully clear straight-to-press examples also made with the grape.

Considering Recent Origins

Forlorn Hope Sihaya, 2011 and 2012

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Forlorn Hope’s Sihaya Ribolla Gialla: Forlorn Hope’s Sihaya offers a balance of heightened aromatics and texture generated by skin contact, coupled with a lighter body achieved through shorter maceration duration (14 days). While the 2011 was filtered, giving a lighter, cleaner presentation compared to the 2012, both offer a pleasing touch of funk that comes alongside the nuttier aspects of the wine smoothly. The 2011 vintage is also a more focused linear year compared to the breadth of 2012. The tannin on both wines is still young and textural, and will continue smoothing out in bottle. Forlorn Hopes Sihaya brings prettiness and dance-y feet to the orange wine style, a choice for an introduction to skin contact wines, or when you simply want a lighter version.

In Friuli and Slovenia today, a current of interest in Indigenous varieties helps ground a wine industry still also focused on International grapes. The quality of land through the area, with its unique soil type, known there as ponca, along with the high acidity driving climate, gives even non-native grapes a form of expression unusual for their type.

In a recent interview with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey he explained his view of the terroir of the region. As he describes it, whether macerated ferments, or straight to press wines, “The wines of Friuli have their own vibe.” As he puts it, they have an edge to them that differs from wines in other parts of Italy. “You can taste the ponca. It has a little more bitterness, a little more edge to it.” The wines of Alto Adige, as a counter example, also give the linear focus of the region’s cooler climate, but do not show the slightly bitter-saline bite of the calcareous marl characteristic to Friuli. Stuckey also emphasizes Friuli’s climate, however, pointing out that thanks to the cool nights their wines can marry both ripeness of flavors, and still high acidity.

One of the unique gifts of Ribolla Gialla is what Talia Baiocchi describes as its ability “to transport the minerality of its ground.” The grape acts as a direct conduit between the flavors of the soil in which it’s grown and your palate, as though all the mineral ions of the earth are pouring over your tongue in the wine (whether that is ever literally true or not, as is so oft argued over these days).

In Friuli, then, Ribolla carries the edge Stuckey refers to, ushering in the seabed salinity and freshness of sedimentary rock. At Vare Vineyard, however, the plants rest at the base of Mt Veeder, in a cool zone of Napa Valley, giving vines root within gravelly loam full of volcanic soils. Where the fruit at harvest in Friuli tastes briny and bright off the vine, at Vare it gives a fresh slurry of wet rocks followed by hot wet concrete and steel. Aspects of these flavors follow from fruit through fermentation.

The Choice of Harvest Differences

Ryme 2010 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on the Ryme 2010 Ribolla Gialla: Ryme offers a full quality example of Ribolla Gialla from a macerated ferment, leaving the fruit on skins a full month, thus extending skin contact beyond fermentation. Such a practice demands giving the wine time for the tannin to resolve. Ribolla is a highly tannic white, but is also known to offer smooth polished tannin when given time to barrel and bottle age. The 2010 Ryme wine has arrived at these polished tannin and well integrated flavors. It also shows the positive aspect of a medicinal note that Ribolla carries from skin contact, with it integrated into the overall presentation as a refreshing light spearmint lift. The tannin, acid balance here is also well struck, making this a wine to pair with food (I want brown rice and salmon here). For the full orange wine presentation, Ryme is the wine.

Winemakers of Vare Ribolla also represent a wide span of picking decisions, with two weeks to a month separating harvest dates between the earliest and latest of picks depending on vintage.

Vare preferred to judge his pick based on the grape color, as in his view the grape’s best arrived when the fruit was a full round yellow (as reflected by its name “Gialla” meaning “yellow”). Mark Grassi, of Grassi wine chooses his picking times in a way that resembles George’s practice. George claimed to have learned this from his friends in Italy and Slovenia. Stuckey too explains that Stanko Radikon, a friend of Vare’s and someone he relied on for insights into the grape, also gives the fruit longer hang time, allowing it to fully ripen before picking. In Stuckey’s view, the longer hang time is partially possible thanks to the cooler nights of the region (which keep acidity up even with sugar gains), and are also more desirable for the macerated ferments Radikon is now known for. The location of Vare Vineyard rests in a cooler zone of Napa Valley, supporting the fruit with cooler nights as well. To play with the advantages of the developed skin, Vare explained that once harvested he preferred at least 48 hours of skin contact on his Ribolla, even as he also played with making the grape in a wealth of other styles.

Dan Petroski, winemaker of Massican, on the other hand, selects his picking time for Ribolla based on aromatics, wanting to find a balance point on the earlier side of the ripeness window when aromatics are perfumed and lifted and acidity is higher, while still reaching physiological readiness for harvest. Along with Petroski, Steve Matthaisson, manager of the Vare Vineyard, and winemaker of Matthiasson Wines, as well as Nathan Roberts, and Duncan Arnot Meyers of Arnot-Roberts, have traditionally picked earliest of the winemakers drawing from Vare Ribolla. The result in their wines is a focus on acidity drive that brings freshness and verve to a wine.

The Election of Vinification

Massican Annia 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge; notes from the Massican Annia white blend: Inspired by the textural, aromatic white blends of Friuli and Campania, Massican plays with the ideal blend of Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Chardonnay from each vintage. The 2012 brings 46% Ribolla Gialla with fruit from both the Vare Vineyard, and the Bowland Vineyard. Bowland Vineyard is a younger, virus free planting of Ribolla that gives ultra clean juice, and a lighter wash of flavors. The 2011 Annia relies on only Vare Ribolla, though a smaller portion, also showing a bit more texture when compared to the 2012. 2012 is also simply a rounder palate vintage than 2011, giving more open flavors, and a slightly softer structure in general. The Massican Annia is the wine to choose for textural focus, and perfumed aromatics, with refreshing acidity.

Ribolla Gialla is known as one of the most tannic of white grape varieties, offering unique opportunities for shifts in mouthfeel, and food pairing as a result. By playing with skin contact techniques, the tannin influence shifts in the wine. Robbie Meyer, winemaker of Grassi, and George both utilized a technique of pressing the fruit, then pouring the juice back through the skins to draw more tannin into the wine without having to let it sit directly on skins. Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines brings up the tannin elements of the grape by giving it some extended skin contact time–two weeks in both 2011 and 2012 (about the duration of his Sihaya’s (the name of his Ribolla bottling) fermentation). Megan and Ryan Glaab, of Ryme Cellars, on the other hand commit to not only macerated fermentation, but also extended maceration keeping their Ribolla on skins for a month followed by two years in barrel to allow the tannins to resolve.

Other attentions brought to the grape through vessel selection show through previous and not yet released vintages, not presented at the Arlequin tasting. In the two harvests that Enrico Bertoz of Arbe Garbe worked with Vare Ribolla (2009 and 2010), he brought some small oak influence, a practice known in Friuli and that those wines plus Bertoz’s has shown the fruit can readily carry by offering greater breadth of body and some spiced flavor. Incorporating an entirely new direction for California, Arnot-Roberts vinified their Ribolla Gialla in tinjas, a Spanish clay vessel for the 2012 vintage, not yet released.

George had tasted me too on a macerated ferment project of his in which he’d left the Ribolla for an entire year on skins, a design he’d taken from some early experiments by Josko Gravner the winemaker showed George during a visit in Italy. On George’s version, the tannin when we tasted it was both wonderfully present and utterly smooth–giving the wine a polished textural weight. He also played with a less discussed approach of making sparkling wine with the grape. In Friuli, it is more common to blend Ribolla with Chardonnay, while in Slovenia winemakers do a straight Ribolla sparkling, so George bottled it both ways.

Ribolla Gialla is more commonly seen as a blending grape through its home region. It gives a sense of body to a wine without overly impacting the blend’s flavor. Such examples from Friuli celebrate white wine with a sense of freshness and lift. From Vare fruit both Massican and Matthaisson offer the fresh white blend expression. In 2011, Petroski offered his white blend with 33% Vare Ribolla, shifting in 2012 to a higher portion of Ribolla also including juice from the newer Ribolla planting at Chris Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard in Russian River Valley.

Re-Considering Typicity

Matthiasson White Blend, 2010 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge; notes on the Matthiasson white blend: Inspired by the fresh juiciness of white blends from Friuli, Matthiasson focuses on making clean, light, almost delicate ferments consistently bringing together Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Friulano for the white blend. Both vintages offer light aromatics, pleasing lightly-viscous palate presence, with juicy flavors, and a long finish. The 2010 shows lightly deepened character with a slightly more open presentation to the 2011, which also gives a very light tang in the finish. Matthiasson white blend is the wine to choose for freshness and refreshing-ness.

What is common through the wines of Vare Ribolla is a kind of flavoral family resemblence, and liveliness. They each show themselves as RIbolla Gialla but the range of styles present expresses what I believe to be the grape’s true type–it is not a vine that reduces to one single best expression, but instead gives itself in generosity to the curiosity of the winemaker.


George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla Vineyard

With thanks, most especially, to George.

Thank you to Steve Matthiasson, Matthew Rorick, Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts, Mark Grassi, Robbie Meyers, Dan Petroski, Ryan and Megan Glaab.

Thank you to the good folks of Arlequin Wine Merchants.


For previous posts in this series:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa:

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


The following is part 3, the finish, of a talk I gave to UC Davis Viticulture & Enology students on Monday.

To read part 1: on Freedom, Paul Draper, and Camus: UCDavis Talk, Part 1: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

To read part 2: UC Davis Talk, Part 2: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

Here is part 3


Freedom, Expression, and Love: An Exploration of Choice in Winemaking
By Elaine Chukan Brown, aka. Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka

Blind tasting trials of the 2011 blends

just after blind trials of Ridge Monte Bello (A), and Ridge Estate (B & C) blends

Part 3: Love: Paul Draper and Principles

The first time I interviewed Paul Draper he wanted to talk with me about philosophy. What he told me was this: philosophy was what got him, and Ridge Wine, the brand and the business, to where it is today. He considers it the basis of his success. We talked about what that statement meant, and by the end what I understood was that philosophy gave him the clarity of long term vision, long term commitment, and balance. Integral to Draper’s work with Ridge, is the goal that it surpasses him. It has done well for 50-years, he has developed it to last at least another 50. The team, and company seem well equipped to accomplish that goal.

I assume most of you don’t have thoroughgoing backgrounds in philosophy. I’m not trying to suggest you have to have one. Instead, I am pointing out that what Paul Draper has that UC Davis in itself cannot give you is his own long term vision, and the clarity to follow through—his own commitment to the kind of wine he believes is good, the care to plan for the sake of long term persistence as well as brilliance, and the willingness to experiment in a thoughtful manner to ensure he makes that wine. My view is that this combination—commitment, care, and willingness—amount to what must be understood as love. And it is love that defines Draper’s work and his success. I recognize this could sound too precious, so let me give you one last example. It will be brief.

Paul Draper began making Ridge wine at the end of the 1960s. The core portfolio has remained recognizably clear—quality soils, older vines, simple techniques, a focus on structure, American oak—even with the foray into White Zinfandel in the 1980s, or the occasional trouble with brett. I was able to blind taste the 2011 Monte Bello and Estate blends with Paul recently. He and his winemaking team had already selected their Monte Bello assemblage, but they were deciding between two possible assemblages for the final bottling of the Estate blend. One version resembled a blend with the lots that had traditionally been included for the Estate bottling. The other they just had a feeling about early on. It struck them as interesting, so they decided to keep it out and follow it through the year. By the end of the tasting they’d selected the second option—the assemblage that was less traditional showed better that vintage. By being open to something connected to what they made there—it was still a Bordeaux blend from the Monte Bello estate—but different than what they traditionally did—a blend from different lots than those used in previous years for that bottling—Draper was free to choose the wine he loved to make.


What I want to say finally is this. UC Davis offers you the very best tools of your industry. Knowing I am standing here among you and this quality of education you are receiving honestly makes me swell with pride. But what you have the chance to gain from UC Davis itself is not enough. You are free right now to ask yourself how are you going to exercise your strengths? How do you want to apply these tools? What is it you want to love?

Thank you.


Thank you to UC Davis for inviting, and hosting me.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


The following is part 2 of a talk I gave to UC Davis Viticulture & Enology students on Monday.

To read part 1: on Freedom, Paul Draper, and Camus: UCDavis Talk, Part 1: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

Here is part 2


Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking
by Elaine Chukan Brown, aka. Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka


Part 2: Expression: Pneumonia and Technique

For the second part of my talk, I want to consider the idea of this expression, but I want to reflect on it by telling you a story from my own life that few people know. For all the personal confessions that exist in my writing about wine, this is a story I haven’t written. It’s how or why I left my academic career.

In 2010, I was awarded a research fellowship with Dartmouth College. I had already been teaching philosophy full-time in Northern Arizona for several years at that point. The fellowship I won is given to one person a year for someone whose research is seen as a positive resource for the Dartmouth community, and academia at large. The winner is funded to live on campus and simply do the work they were already doing. I arrived, then, in summer 2010 as a philosopher in residence working on questions of Indigenous Identity.

While there, I was also asked to give the response to a keynote address at a conference occurring in Montreal, Quebec, where I had also done graduate coursework at McGill. To prepare for the response, I’d of course thoroughly considered the article itself, but also read each of the books and articles written by the keynote speaker. The day I was to respond I woke up severely ill. I was used to toughing out sickness, however, and made plans to clear my schedule until the keynote that evening so I could rest until I needed to get up for my response. Two hours prior, I discovered I was still too sick to get out of bed. In the end, though, I had to be convinced by the conference organizer that it was acceptable for me to stay in bed and let someone else read my pre-written response.

The person who wrote the keynote was one of the leaders in my field, and the occasion had been designed partially to give us the chance to meet, so as to facilitate the possibility of her acting as an ongoing mentor—it is common for younger faculty to be guided by more experienced professors. It turned out I was sick the entire week and I never met her. Finally, by the weekend, a friend took me to the emergency room, as I was having trouble breathing. I was diagnosed with pneumonia that ultimately sent me to the emergency room three times over the course of almost two months, and demanded three rounds of antibiotics.

I actually suffered a poor reaction to the first set of antibiotics that included severe headaches lasting for several hours after taking the pills. The pain was intense enough I could not do anything for the hours they peaked besides meditate through them. It was unbearable but I had no choice but simply get through it. Fighting the headaches made them worse. Stopping the antibiotics would only make the pneumonia worse. The headaches were also severe enough I couldn’t do any other work. There was no way out. You might say the illness was my boulder during this period.

In the midst of this time I made a surprise discovery. At the best of it, I would clear my thoughts entirely. But often uncontrolled thoughts would come through mind. After a little while, I recognized that when I thought about something that lined up with my preferences, the pain would subside slightly, and I would feel better. If I thought about something that did not agree with me, I would feel worse.

When I recognized this pattern I decided to test it. I would intentionally think about things I already knew my preferences on: over extracted Australian Shiraz—immediately bad; over-oaked Chardonnay—even worse; champagne—ah, better; coffee—better still. I continued testing it until I was confident the pattern was consistent. Then, I began testing things I wasn’t so clear on to see if they made me feel better or worse. During my meditations through the headaches I would treat my body as a kind of i ching making small insights into aspects of my life I hadn’t been sure about before. Over time, what I came to recognize was that when I thought about anything relating to my career in academia, I felt immediately worse. The sensation was utterly consistent, and in fact became stronger through my headaches. By the time I finished that round of antibiotics, the idea of continuing in academia in the way I had been before immediately triggered migraines.

As I recovered my health, I decided I had to change my life. I had committed so completely to philosophy, and pursuing it through an academic career I had no idea what else I could do for work. Even so, the message of my health was too clear. So, I made a different commitment. I would give myself one year to extract myself from my career in academia. By the time I finished that year, I still had no idea what I would do instead. I only had images of what I wanted—I wanted to write. I wanted my life to be full of sunlight. I needed alone time. I liked listening to people that really meant what they were doing. I had no idea what it would look like to make all those elements come together. I only knew I’d made myself a promise, and I had to act on faith that my promise was worth something.

Around the time I had planned to give my resignation I worried that my decision was crazy. By this point I had returned to Arizona to complete my last year of teaching with an ongoing contract from the university. The same moment I questioned whether I should stick to my plan of leaving, or stay another year, I got asked to a meeting with my department chair and was told that due to severe budget cuts across the state I should expect my teaching load to increase one class per term without any raise in pay. It was the only confirmation I needed, and I submitted my formal resignation that same week. I understood that I was still a philosopher. But the success I’d cultivated in academia I left behind. Though I recognized myself as a philosopher still, there was no guarantee it would ever be recognized by anyone else outside a formal philosophy program. I walked away from any guarantee of being recognized for my work by others.

Here is what I want you to know about that story: everything in me knows that I made the right decision pursuing a career in philosophy. The personal clarity I gained from suffering through the rigorous demands of advanced training in careful thinking is irreplaceable. It has shaped who I am. I am endlessly grateful. Everything in me also knows I did the right thing in leaving my career in academia. This is not to deny the benefits of academic life. It is an excellent career to consider. It was simply not the right career for me to stay within. So while I am grateful I chose philosophy, I am also grateful I left academia.

My point, however, is this: advanced training in philosophy gave me decisive access to a wealth of tools. What it did not tell me was precisely how I must use those tools. It gave me a range of possible models I could follow, but it also did not expose me to others that were also possible. An academic career in the discipline is one framework through which I could exercise my training. But through faith, and a lot of luck, and now continued hard work, I bumbled my way into an entirely different form of expressing those same tools.

When I meet with people in wine, what I am doing is listening to what they say, as well as what they don’t, listening for their values, their beliefs, and their principles not only through how they overtly express them, but also through the implications of what they do and do not say. While listening, I track the form of their expression, to ask myself who it is in front of me. I ask questions to make sure I understand where someone is coming from. In a strange way, I do something parallel to this when tasting and drinking wine.

What I have learned from this approach is that the more willing, and more often I am willing to take people, and wine this seriously, the better at hearing what each has to offer I get. Then, once I am comfortable that I do recognize the actual person, or beverage in front of me, I write about them. What I am practicing, then, is another expression of my philosophical training. I chose to leave one form of philosophical practice to instead pursue another.

What I want to suggest is that each of you have a similar choice. Most likely, and hopefully, it won’t be as dramatic as headaches and pneumonia that helps you make your decision. But you are still in a similar situation as I just described for myself. This is true in two senses. First, it is up to you to decide how open, and how systematic you want to be in approaching your practice with wine, and with people. This point connects to the second.

Here at UC Davis what you have been given, or what you are gathering, is a collection of tools. If you do choose to continue in vineyard management, or in winemaking, eventually that choice will become the rock you are committed to, but you will still have the question of how you will apply the tools you have gained here. In what way do you want to express yourself as a vineyard manager, or winemaker? To put it more simply, you have an incredible opportunity to ask yourself, what kind of wine do you want to make.

In the world of wine, it can be easy to assume sometimes that we have been handed a preset model of what is good—that Burgundy is the model for terroir, as an example. It is one of the oldest. Sometimes we assume that most established is equal to the best. Or, we might think that over oaked Chardonnay is always bad. Today, common models of wine include the idea that natural wine is best, or that it is crap; or, that only low alcohol wines are balanced. But each of these approaches to wine are actually methods developed over time by a series of tasters, and winemakers, and, just like Sisyphus’s rock, these ideas are in a sense arbitrary.

We still have to choose our views. They are what give shape to our life. But if you recognize your own ideas here about what counts as the right kind of wine, I want to ask you to consider, what is the source of that opinion? Is it what you want to commit yourself to?

From the peak of Mt Olympus these distinctions in wine do not mean much. It is us, with our face right beside the boulder, that decide they are meaningful. We get to ask ourselves which approaches we want to invest our time in.


Tomorrow: Part 3: Love: Paul Draper and Principles

Part 3: UC Davis Talk, Part 3: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

Thank you to Dr. Boulton. Thank you to all of the students that attended.

Thank you to Kate MacKay.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


The students of the UC Davis Viticulture and Enology Program operate a Spring speaker series course, attended by upper level undergrads, and graduate students, as well as some professors. The course is run by students themselves, with a group selecting the speakers, arranging schedules, and invitations.

I was lucky enough to be included for the series this Spring, and gave my talk yesterday, after receiving a tour from Dr. Boulton. Seeing the facilities, and what they offer in terms of research potentials for the community of UC Davis is truly inspiring. The design of the newer buildings offer an international class marker for sustainability as well.

I am inspired too to witness the passion and openness of the current students through conversations had after the talk, and questions asked during. The legacy of the UC Davis program is unmatched. The future of these young people is exciting.

Several people asked if I would share the talk here. It was not recorded. The talk was delivered without notes by simply moving through the ideas with the group. However, in order to prepare I pre-wrote a paper as though I was speaking with the group. What I delivered in person followed the form written here, as well as the points made, even if without reading it. What is lost here is the interaction with the group.

The talk was designed to be 45 minutes, with time for questions after, and discussion along the way. Because of the length I have split it here into three parts. Following is the first part.


Freedom, Expression, and Love: An Exploration of Choice in Winemaking
By Elaine Chukan Brown, aka. Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka

Me Teaching

a photo taken of me by a student on the first day of Epistemology class when I was still teaching full-time

Let me begin in a way that is not typical here, but is integral to my understanding of who I am, and is the foundation of anything and everything I have accomplished in my life.

My maternal great grandparents are Paul and Anna Chukan, from the Bristol Bay region of Alaska. My grandparents are Gordon and Anisha McCormick. My grandmother on my father’s side is Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown, from the Norton Sound Region of Alaska. My parents are Melvin and Katherine Brown. I am the youngest of three daughters. My name is Elaine Chukan Brown.

Within the Native communities of Alaska, and elsewhere, recognition of each other is based, not only in the choices we have made on how to live our life, but also primarily in the family, the ancestors, from whom we come, and also the land from which we rise. It is understood that only through these connections, through the history of our place in the world could we be who we are today. Our life depends on the people that have raised us. Their life depends on the land from which we come. This is true for everyone in any community, and yet it is highlighted as foundational within Indigenous communities.

In talking with you today, I want to keep this perspective hovering in the background, while we go on to discuss the theme I have developed. But before I admit to what that theme is I have to confess something.


I have struggled to understand why I am here. I am deeply grateful to be invited. I am honored by the invitation. The idea that I am here meeting with this wealth of talent, with all of you, the future of the wine industry, is overwhelming. I am humbled and grateful.

As I believe you know, I am not a winemaker. I have no substantial vineyard experience. I have never owned a winery, or a wine business. I am a writer, and a philosopher. The most honest explanation I can give you for what I do is that I write about people in wine because I must.

In preparing for this talk, I spoke with a number of winemakers, and members of the wine industry asking for their insights for our discussion. My talk is a fusion, in a sense, of a wealth of conversations and suggestions for your good fortune. By the end, I had to ask what I uniquely offer in being here with you.

I cannot tell you how to make wine, or how to manage your vineyard. Hopefully your other courses have helped with that. I cannot relate how I transitioned from this program, or another like it, into my wine career. I believe others in this series will offer that. So, instead I must speak to you as a writer-philosopher that works very hard at listening to people.

As some of you know, I am lucky enough to spend my time traveling around, tasting and drinking, speaking with people in wine. At the core of these experiences, I find a common theme; a philosophical question that I believe drives the very best winemakers, as well as the most astute tasters, and is the topic I want to focus on with you today. It is the simple question, what does it mean to make wine.

To tease out the answer, I am going to move through three parts, each arising out of consideration of one quotation. The parts, to give you a preview, will sound overly metaphysical at first, or perhaps commonplace, but I will name them for you anyway, and then we will work through what each one of them is. Here they are: (1) freedom, (2) expression, and (3) love.


Part 1: Freedom: Paul Draper and Camus

A. Paul Draper

Paul Draper from my first visit to Monte Bello

Paul Draper, from my first visit to Ridge Monte Bello, October 2012

Here is the quotation. In a recent conversation I had with winemaker Paul Draper he made the following statement, “I am not an oenologist. I am a winemaker.”

Let me point out that when each of you finishes this program, you will take with you more formal training on viticulture and/or oenology than Paul Draper. He has never gone through a certified education program on the subject. Consider this. Paul Draper is arguably one of the best, and most historically significant winemakers of North America. If you really think about that, the reality of your training should be very exciting to you. What it means is that you have the opportunity to accomplish something truly significant in your career.

At exactly the same time, if you are really paying attention, the reality of what I’ve just pointed out should intimidate you. Here’s why: one of the best, and most historically important winemakers of the United States has accomplished all he has without any of the formal training that you are receiving here at UC Davis. What that means is that whatever it takes to achieve the kind of brilliance and success Draper has does not depend on anything Davis is giving you. It comes from something else. That does not mean you cannot find it here. It does mean Davis cannot in itself give it to you. It is that something else that we are here to discuss. To do this, I want to consider what Draper’s comment really means.

Let’s start simply, what, do you think, is an oenologist?

Students’s suggestions from yesterday:

–       someone trained in the science of winemaking

–       a lab chemist

–       by Draper’s explanation, an oenologist is someone trained to solve problems with wine

–       surely someone could also be an oenologist AND a winemaker

What, then, is a winemaker?

Let’s set that question aside for a moment, and look first at a story from Camus. It will appear disconnected at first, but my reasoning will circle back in the end.

B. Camus

In the final essay of his text, The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus gives his account of Sisyphus from Greek myth. Sisyphus tricked the gods again and again, avoiding death repeatedly, and thus acting as though he was cleverer than Zeus himself. When finally caught, the gods exacted their punishment. Sisyphus is consigned to push a boulder up a hill for all eternity—he is down there still right now. The boulder is right at the edge of Sisyphus’s strength. He can barely move it. But he must, all the way to the top of a particular hill. Then, just as he reaches the top with it, the boulder immediately rolls back down again. Without rest, Sisyphus is required to follow the rock back to the bottom of the hill and begin again. What is peculiar about the story is that according to Camus, we must imagine that Sisyphus is happy.

What I want to propose is this—to understand this claim, we have to assume that Camus is right. Sisyphus is happy. Then we have to assume it is our job to determine what it looks like for what Camus says to be true. The onus is on us.

This point—the onus is on us, I take into every conversation I ever have. It is my job to listen to you. It is my job to recognize the wine’s purpose. It is my job to be happy. I’ll admit, sometimes I get tired and fail in these tasks, but they are still my job.

Do people have ideas here? How can we understand Sisyphus as happy?

Students suggestions from yesterday:

–       reveling in having tricked the gods before?

–       hope he might escape again?

–       appreciation for a worthy task

My suggestion is that Camus is offering us two views of freedom.

Here is the first. The rock is so massive that it demands absolutely everything Sisyphus is to move the rock up the hill. In those moments, Sisyphus exists only as a rock-pusher. He is so consumed by the task he is not even conscious of it. Strangely, in these moments the punishment is its own escape. The rock is so demanding he cannot waste energy or awareness on performing it. He simply must be the one that moves the rock. He is entirely directed at the exact task. He is free in these moments only in the sense that he exists without conscious awareness. For Camus though, lack of consciousness would be less a form of freedom, and more simply a form of escape.

What, then, is the second form of freedom? When Sisyphus has arrived at the top of the hill with the boulder, the rock runs away from him. It escapes his grasp and tumbles back down the hill. Sisyphus now must turn back, walk towards the boulder he will meet again at the bottom of the hill, and prepare himself to push it back up again.

In these moments, Sisyphus is free of the boulder in the sense that he is no longer pushing it. But what he must literally do is still defined by the boulder. The gods have taken the choice of his activity away. He has no choice but to walk down the hill to push the boulder again. But, even so, it is in these moments that Sisyphus is truly free. What Sisyphus can choose to do is determined for him by the gods, but how he can choose to do it is not. It is a subtle distinction here.

In any literal sense, he is required to walk to the bottom of the hill and repeat his task. But in these moments Sisyphus is conscious of his fate, and the way he will choose to face it in terms of his countenance is now up to him. If he walks down begrudgingly, the gods have won. They have truly punished him.

He is not free in the sense of being able to wildly choose any activity. He is free in terms of how he will be about the task he is required to do. The gods cannot decide for Sisyphus what his countenance will be, nor how he will feel. Camus contends that Sisyphus is happy.

This is what I want to suggest. The rock represents what any of us choose to do in our lives. At some point the rock becomes our required task—whether because we made a decision and now are following it through as our career path or relationship or other activity, or, because something outside our control now bears down on us to face. Camus is pointing out that if any of us are going to accomplish something significant with our lives we must accept the reality of what that means. Any life long project bears endless repetition. It also includes some breaks—an ebb and flow of accomplishment. The greatest accomplishments rest in choosing something with genuine substance almost beyond our capacity to handle, and a consistent form that we commit to fulfilling again and again. We must pick our rock and follow through with repeatedly pushing it up the hill.

Camus uses the metaphor of the rock also to point out that what we choose for our lives is in actuality rather arbitrary. Sisyphus’s task appears meaningless. The gods do not even care about the task except inasmuch as they gave it to him. From the distant view on top Mt Olympus, what we do is mostly irrelevant. But for us, the ones right there face hard against the rock, what we choose is intensely meaningful. What we choose matters because it will shape everything about our daily and long term lives. It is also only me that can push my rock. The rock any of us has belongs to us alone. Sisyphus is happy because the rock belongs to him. He has accepted his fate, but without giving up. He claims his rock. Each walk down the hill he gets to choose how he will face it. In this choice he finds his freedom.

But again, it is a very particular type of freedom we have to emphasize. It is not the freedom to wildly pursue any activity—Camus is also pointing out each of us actually faces a genuine limit to how thoroughly we can really choose our daily activities anyway. Now that I am here at Davis, I cannot choose to have dinner tonight in Paris (if any of you want to get me to Paris for tomorrow though, please talk to me after). Once we have selected what we want to do with our lives, we have also, in fact, chosen to limit ourselves. But without choosing to limit ourselves we have no opportunity to accomplish something. The freedom we find through our own commitment is the freedom of how we are going to express our choices.

Part 2: Expression: Pneumonia and Technique will follow tomorrow.

Part 2: UC Davis Talk, Part 2: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

Part 3: UC Davis Talk, Part 3: Freedom, Expression, and Love: A Consideration of Choice in Winemaking

Thank you to Dr. Boulton. Thank you to all of the students that attended, and especially to those that spoke with me after. I’m so grateful for our conversations.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

for George, with gratefulness

Danger, and Excitement: Giving Time to Wine

Bobby Stuckey

Bobby Stuckey

“A new approach or trend in wine is not exciting right off.” Bobby Stuckey tells me, “first it’s dangerous.” Stuckey is a Master Sommelier with a wealth of experience in Northeastern Italy (and elsewhere), as well as co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado, and the wine label Scarpetta. Stuckey’s idea of danger and excitement are meant to point out the challenge that a new discovery in wine carries with it.

The first introduction to a brand new style can offer such a break with previous expectations of wine that, as Ryme winemaker Ryan Glaab put it, the experience “is mind scrambling.” The feeling is dangerous when put up against old standards for judging wine that have grown inflexible. For those that remain malleable, however, an encounter with what’s new moves us past the danger zone into excitement–the first glimpses of new information giving charge to experience.

We’re discussing the idea of responsibility in the wine world when Stuckey touches on the role that knowledge and education plays. In order to make his point, Stuckey compares the oft discussed orange wine phenomenon to the surge in interest on Alsace that occurred in the mid-90s United States. When attention first turned to Alsace, a lot of sommeliers didn’t adequately understand the region–sweet wines? dry wines? what grapes? “It took a couple years for people to figure out what was going on,” he says. “We’re doing that right now with orange wines.”

The point behind Stuckey’s comparison, is that it takes time to genuinely understand new regions, or approaches to wine, let alone to simply gather basic knowledge. “Wine buyers need to take time to figure it out.” A mistake occurs, in other words, when people are quick to judge without having first put care into their study.

The time required to gain depth of understanding works against the pace of a world where it’s more common to quickly name drop wine styles, winemakers, or regions currently considered cool simply because trends too often equal street cred and attention. “We get buzz word trend focused, then go off the deep end.” Stuckey comments. “But,” when tasting wine, or trying something new we need to take the time and “ask, why did that work well there.” Stuckey characterizes this more in depth approach as “the craft of tasting a wine.” As he describes it, it’s a craft that develops with time and experience, and depends not just on sensory awareness, but intelligence and interest.

Answering Stuckey’s question “why did that work” depends too on recognizing the role of time for the winemaker. He points out that when it comes to exploring a new technique to making wine, “even great winemakers, 10 to 12 years before getting it, didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.” The best winemakers need multiple vintages to dial in their understanding of a new approach. In the process of trying out new techniques, there is also the risk of not knowing how the wine will be received.

In a U.S. context, Pax Mahle offers one such example. He began experimenting with using white wine maceration in 2003, but, as Mahle tells me, “it wasn’t until 2007 that one came to fruition.” Mahle was looking for texture and tannin without having to use oak or high alcohol, but wasn’t willing to bottle a wine until he was happy to put his name on it. Prior to that Mahle would find ways to blend his skin contact batches in to other wines. It was a way of allowing experimentation while mitigating the risk, maintaining credibility and quality.

Recognizing Responsibility and Hearing Voices

Levi Dalton

Levi Dalton

The responsibility piece kicks in in that it is generally wine professionals that are charged with greater access to a range of wines, as well as the position of representing the world of wine to consumers with less knowledge or experience. As proselytizers of the esoteric, wine professionals can slide into the more Catholic approach of acting as strict gatekeepers–a priest between the common and god–or take the more varied protestant approach of recognizing the people can talk to god directly. From the protestant view, anyone can learn about wine. As metaphorical spiritual leaders, we get to choose how we want to interact with that.

Levi Dalton takes the position of what I’m calling the more protestant aesthetic but counters it instead to an image of the Magician Sommelier. Dalton is a Sommelier in New York City, now working as the Wine Editor for Eater New York, and the voice of the interview podcast series, I’ll Drink to That. “Magician Sommeliers,” he tells me, “don’t want you to know the answers. They want to keep the illusion.” It’s a practice Dalton opposes. “You should want people to know things. You can’t stop them from googling stuff.”

Behind Dalton’s view is a similar consideration of time as that given by Stuckey.  “Engage with something or someone on a real level,” Dalton suggests, comparing the process of getting to know a wine as that of having a genuine conversation with someone. When encountering a new wine, Dalton suggests, “sit down, try to treat the wine right, and try to hear something.”

In hearing something from a wine, Dalton is pointing out too that the responsibility for recognizing what a wine might have to offer rests in the person drinking it, rather than simply in the wine itself being immediately likeable. Recognizing the important role of the taster allows that not every wine will speak to every person. “If I find this interesting,” Dalton points out, “maybe other people will find it interesting. Not everyone but some people.”

Dalton’s openness to differing experiences with wine pulls the compulsion away from trends and shifts value back to individual wines, and particular markets. If not everyone is going to “hear” a particular wine, the need for supporting variation in the wine world comes to the fore of importance. It also makes the embracing of differences not only important, but fundamental to the overall ethic, not to mention integral to providing good service. That is, I may not like a wine, but my satisfaction in helping you find one you like depends on me listening to where you might differ from me, and valuing that.

The Relevance of Orange Wines

Stuckey and Dalton are both known, at least partially, for their insights on what are now called orange wines, macerated ferments of white grapes. Throughout our conversation, Stuckey demonstrates an intimate knowledge of the vintages of Radikon, as well as producers from throughout Italy. Dalton carries thorough experience of Italy as well, and developed the wine program of two Italian focused New York restaurants with an emphasis on integrating accessibility, education, and lesser known wines through the design of the menu. In this way, Dalton helped introduce the U.S. market to the phenomenon. Though orange wines as an approach reach to the techniques preserved in Georgian culture, Italian producers that drew from Georgia’s heritage brought the wine style to the fore of attention.

Dalton considers the meaning of the differing structure and texture of orange wines. “Orange wines,” he tells me, “make people think about how wines are constructed. It breaks the illusion.” With the illusion lifted, suddenly the winemaker’s trick is revealed, it gives the wine drinker access to the wine in a new way. The wine drinker has a new opportunity to start asking questions.

For many winemakers, playing with macerated ferments is a parallel process of asking questions. Back again in the U.S. context, Sonja Magdevski, winemaker for the label Casa Dumetz, describes that exploration, “the more I do, the more I learn. There are so many ways to make wine.”

Magdevski understands herself as early in the winemaking learning process after starting her label in 2009. It’s a view of winemaking she seems likely to carry far into her career, being committed to the process of exploration. She has begun playing with skin contact trials on Gewurtztraminer, so far expecting to use them as integral to a Gewurtztraminer blend. For Magdevski, the barrel that was left on skins for 21 days through fermentation was fascinating, but she recognizes too the limit in getting pulled into a wine only because it’s intriguing. “I wanted to do the skin lot as a separate bottling because it’s interesting,” she tells me. “But I realized, if the wine is not also pretty, and attractive to others, what’s the point?”

As a winemaker, Magdevski sees her responsibility as bringing together her learning process with the desire to share the wine with others in a pleasurable way. Playing with the two versions of Gewurtztraminer barrel side, a blend of the two draws on the heightened aromatics and pleasing texture of the skin contact, with the lift and purity of flavors from the pressed lot, together each gaining greater dimensionality.

In considering again the role of the wine professional, Stuckey emphasizes the importance of recognizing the winemakers learning curve. As he puts it, “if you’re doing something different, it takes a minute.” The winemaker learns their craft over timel. But ultimately he brings the point back again to the wine professional and their ability to facilitate for a patron. “Our responsibility as a wine buyer is to learn, and know what is going on, not wild west it on the customer.”


To read previous installments of this series:

Part 1: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 1: Considering Recent History

Part 2: The Butterfly Effect: How the death of a fad gave birth to beautiful color in wine, Part 2: Variety, Terroir, and Mind Scrambling

To read last year’s series explaining Orange Wines beginning with how they’re made, then their presence in Georgia, Italy, and California, begin here: Understanding Orange Wines Part 1: A Quick and Dirty Look at How They’re Made and What Their Tannins Do To Our Saliva


The next installment will further consider the interplay of technique and terroir.

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Talking with Frédéric Panaiotis

“There is a French saying,” Frédéric Panaiotis tells me. “Help yourself and the sky will help you. I like this. This is my motto.”

Frederic Panaiotis

Frédéric Panaiotis, the Chef de Caves for Ruinart Champagne

I met Frédéric Panaiotis after arriving embarrassingly early to a private Ruinart dinner due to a mix-up with my driver. He and Nicolas Ricroque, the champagne’s brand director, welcomed me warmly and offered bubbles to set me at ease. We began with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and their dinner’s good view. Later, with food, we’d also step back into older vintages of Dom Ruinart paired with courses made for us by the talented chef Michelle Bernstein.

Ruinart began as the oldest established champagne house in the world, founded in 1729, at a time when bottling the beverage had been illegal. With its forbidden nature, so the story goes, it was desired and enjoyed at the court of Versailles, where the original Ruinart family was friendly. Over drinks one evening with the king, Nicolas Ruinart had an epiphany. His champagne would please. The Ruinart “wine with bubbles” business began September 1, 1729 with the intent of offering unique gifts to Nicolas’s fabric customers–the family owned a cloth company–but within six years of founding the bubbles venture it dominated the family interests and by 1735 they shifted entirely to champagne.

Now, a little less than 300 years later, Ruinart persists, founded on blending strategies with a focus on chardonnay. Today, Frédéric Panaiotis serves as the house’s Chef de Caves, or chief winemaker, in charge of nursing the grapes from vineyard to vin clair (champagne’s first step still blend), to bubbles, all with the intention of maintaining the Ruinart house style.

It is this willingness of the winemaker to give over to something older and longer that gives champagne its persistence and brilliance both. Panaiotis recognizes he is part of this longer tradition. “When you join a champagne house,” he tells me, “it is important to understand my name will not stay.”

Panaiotis emphasizes the importance of this history. “In California, a winemaker can make their mark on a house, and that is understandable. But, in Champagne, it is different.” He continues, “In Champagne, you should never remember who was making the wine 40 years ago. He is just one of the guys making sure the wine style is the same.” The comparison highlights two different models of success–one of persistent innovation, on the one hand, and one of established grace, on the other, both to be valued but for different contexts.

Panaiotis discusses the history of Ruinart w Morimoto's help

Frederic Panaiotis discussing Ruinart champagne at a special demonstration with Chef Morimoto, Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2013

Panaiotis strikes me as a man full of grace, and gravitas both. As much as he regards himself well integrated into a larger team–both historically and currently–he also acts as the facilitator of that team’s larger goals.

It is in listening to Panaiotis, I am struck by how the two models–California and Champagne–showcase not only different ideas of history, but also differing examples of leadership. He appreciates the value of both approaches, having resided in Mendocino for almost three years between 1989 and 1991, assisting in the production of sparkling wine for a California label.

Now as chief winemaker for Ruinart, Panaiotis emphasizes the strength of the house band. “When it comes to winemaking, a well-honed team is so much more efficient and reliable. There can always be someone that is sick, but not all of us. So, the response, the assessment of the wine has to be done by the team, not one person.”

Successful focus on the group together, however, depends on also recognizing each individual’s talents. Creating that well-honed contingent, Panaiotis explains, comes from smartly utilizing each person’s abilities. “I must understand who on the team is more competent, more sensitive on certain areas than others.” In describing his meaning, Panaiotis uses himself as example. If he is feeling off one day, it’s necessary for him to recognize who around him can be more effective. “Everyone has expertise, skill in something.” He says, “I have to recognize that. Then I can trust you. Then the team responds. Whoever from the team for each part of what we’re doing.” Panaiotis emphasizes the advantage of this approach, “it’s very satisfying and more fun when we all work together.”

Nicolas, Michelle, and Frederic

Brand manager, Nicolas Ricroque, Chef Michelle Bernstein, and Frédéric Panaiotis doing final preparations for dinner

Getting Panaiotis to discuss his time in California uncovers an aspect of his character I suspect is foundational–curiosity coupled with systematic study. His education focused on the sciences, taking him through a career that has included chemical wine analysis, years of research on cork taint, and several positions making sparkling wine, in both California and Champagne. Talking about his work in Mendocino, Panaiotis tells me about his studies. “I took Spanish while I was working in California. Wine is great. With wine, you learn something everyday.” He references an idea we both agree upon–the more you know, the less you know. “But with me, it is not enough, so I study languages.” Currently Panaiotis is getting started with Mandarin.

It is not just a thirst for more knowledge that drives Panaiotis, it is also an interest in deeper understanding. We touch on the idea of food and wine pairing, a subject common to the world of wine. But with Panaiotis it blooms into a conversation about culture, recognition of values and ideas. Panaiotis’s thinking is multi-layered throughout. To understand food and wine pairing more effectively, he studies other languages.

He explains his reasoning. “Language is a key aspect of learning how people think,” he offers. “I am always interested in food and wine pairings. Language is key to understanding a culture’s ideas.” By recognizing the ideas of another culture, you gain new insight into flavors and food relationships as well. The various forms of study, then, all circle back, even while revealing something new in themselves. It is both that are true.

In discussing Panaiotis’s wealth of experience he reveals again his blend of grace, and gravitas, coupled with what I recognize as genuine humility, a trait he already revealed through his discussion of team work and leadership–a person of genuine humility, I believe, recognizes what they are genuinely good at, while understanding too there is always more to learn.

Through the Ruinart dinner, and the next day’s Morimoto cooking demonstration, Panaiotis showed his talent for pairing food and wine, an ability clear throughout our discussion as well. But he understands the source of his own strengths. “I am not gifted.” He explains. “People think I am gifted in food and wine pairings. No. No. No. I am not gifted.” As he speaks he is utterly sincere and to the point. “I work very hard all the time to keep learning.”

The hard work Panaiotis puts into his job he also does with clear gratefulness and joy. “I don’t make champagne,” he tells me. “I make something to make people happy. Putting a smile on people’s face, that is my job. How many people can say that?”


Thank you to Frederic Panaiotis for including me, and taking time to talk with me.

Thank you to Nicolas Ricroque.

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The Iron Chef Morimoto, Ruinart Champagne Cooking Demonstration

This recent weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a cooking demonstration with Master Chef Morimoto including perfect pairings with Ruinart Champagne and the house’s Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaiotis held at Pebble Beach Food & Wine.

Morimoto preparing

Master Chef Morimoto on stage alone, selecting his perfect tools in preparation for the demonstration

I was grateful to be included, knowing he is held in high regard for his sushi, good nature, and cooking talents. What hadn’t registered, however, was that he is held in high regard partially because he is on television showing these things. He is, in fact, one of the original Iron Chefs, and for many the favorite. The truth is, I haven’t had a television hook-up since 1996 (except for one brief stretch in 2000, when Jr. was only a year old and I watched all 10-years of Beverly Hills, 90210 (the original series), skipping the trashy season 8, in 4 months). Some of the heights of fame, as a result, allude me.

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

Master Chef Morimoto and Ruinart Chef de Caves Panaiotis prior to the demonstration

What hadn’t alluded me is Morimoto’s positive reputation. The fame part hit when at the start of the demonstration the audience curtain was opened, and a beautiful, very small, older woman ran across the room ahead of everyone to ensure she got her seat with the best view.

The scene in the mirror

Morimoto’s cooking area set up in advance of the demonstration, as seen in the demonstration mirror

The event, as they explained, was a marriage of two cultures–Japanese and French. The demonstration, then, brought together an account of Japanese sushi tradition, with insights into French wine culture, and advice on how to enjoy the two together in a meal.

The team preparing

the team works on final preparations prior to inviting in the audience

Ruinart’s Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis opened the event explaining, he is happy to give us the chance to enjoy champagne sitting down, with a meal so that it may be more closely appreciated. Also, by drinking bubbles in a wine glass, rather than a flute, the aromas are more accessible. In describing his own history with sparkling wine, Panaiotis explained he’s been drinking champagne pretty much all his life. In the region it is common to place a finger dipped in the wine on a baby’s lips after birth, the first offering to a new life. He also joked, “Champagne is what my grandmother used to drink when she was not so happy.” He went on, “but it is also a beverage we know is not just for special moments. It is for anytime. Champagne makes the moment special.”

Ruinart and Sushi

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, and sushi pairing

In thinking about food and wine pairing, Morimoto offered insight in relation to how he also flavors the fish itself. When preparing sushi he has four different levels of tamari, four different densities of sauce. Seafood with no fat–octopus, shrimp, as examples–does well with lighter flavored sauce, lighter tamari. Fish with more fat, mackerel in winter, perhaps, take double the flavor needed as mackerel in summer when there is less fat in the meat. The more fat on the fish the more soy and wasabi you use. Similarly, when thinking about the wine, Panaiotis offers, a clear fish pairs with a really clear wine. The flavors accented on the fish, then, or added to a dish, can echo the flavors of the wine.

Morimoto explains fish quality

Chef Morimoto introduces the first course, explaining the differing cuts on a single fish

The Ruinart blanc de blanc is served to us alongside a Japanese white fish that is unique to the region but resembles an American Amber Jack. The Ruinart rosé, on the other hand, comes in a bit more savory, and is thus paired with preparations that have hardier flavors, such as fried dumpling in tomato, salmon, and uni. The team offers too that it would work with lighter meats, such as duck.

Big screen helps the audience see details

the demonstration included large screen close ups for the audience

Both wines, however, are delicate, all about subtle layers of rich flavor. It is here that Panaiotis gets excited about his wines with Japanese food. Morimoto’s preparations resemble a description of the wine–simple, clean food with rich flavors and freshness.

Panaiotis discusses the history of Ruinart w Morimoto's help

Morimoto and Panaiotis worked together. As Morimoto prepared more intricate cuts, Panaiotis was able to discuss the food and wine. Morimoto also offers insight on the champagne along with Panaiotis.

Chef Morimoto has been studying and developing his cooking techniques for well over 30-years, and offers tips to the audience on how to choose the best fish. First, he explains, his favorite knife is any knife that is sharp. The best cuts of fish have not been sitting directly on the ice–the cold damages the meat over time. When eating sushi, place the wasabi directly onto the fish, not into the soy, and put the fish side of a nigiri role down onto the tongue, with the rice side up. This gives the purest flavor.

the audience

a glimpse of the audience

The team explains that this demonstration is a proud moment. Chef Morimoto is honored to be included in a prestigious food & wine event. Wine is an established, and respected culture. Twenty years ago seeing an Asian chef on the itinerary for such a demonstration would have been unheard of or un-thought. Panaiotis, likewise, is pleased to see Ruinart alongside Japanese food, where he thinks it can pair so well.

Morimoto puts the final touches on Panaiotis's sushi

Morimoto puts final touches on Panaiotis’s sushi

In considering his Iron Chef reputation, Morimoto explains that even there he is not cooking for the judges, or cooking to beat the other competitor, but instead cooking to improve himself. With each ingredient challenge the approach is similar. “I cannot do same, same, same.” He says, “So, I have to create a new thing. Every single time, I’m shaking when I hold the knife, then I have to ask myself, what am I making? Each time, I’m challenged. I’m shaking.”

Chef Morimoto Sings

After the demonstration was complete, the audience was invited to propose questions. An audience member asked if Morimoto would sing. Bashful at first, he offered what he called “a fisherman song from Japan.”

Thank you to Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone and Nicolas Ricroque.

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

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Pebble Beach Food & Wine

One of the great annual food and wine extravaganzas on the West Coast United States occurs each Spring in Pebble Beach. The town becomes host to the best chefs, wines, and sommeliers from all over the world, as well as the folks that want to be there to drink in their offerings.

Here are photos surveying some of the activities I was lucky enough to attend over three of the four days (it begins Thursday but I arrived Friday).

Friday:The Grand Tour: European Continental Cuisine Lunch, featuring Wines of Portugal

Pebble Beach

Garden lunch reception begins at Pebble Beach

Salmon Cavier Popsicles

appetizers are served on the lawn, Chef Roland Passot’s Salmon Lollipop, w Quinta da Raza, Raza 2011 Vinho Verde

Cassolette des Fruits des Mer Printaniere

Inside for a seated lunch: Chef Johan Bjorklund’s Cassolette, w Companhia das Quintas, Quinta da Romeira 2011

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes by Chef Michael Ginor, w Esparao Reserva 2008

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard


World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch


World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch

Wines of Portugal

Portuguese wines from lunch

Ruinart Private Dinner

The Ruinart Table

Nicolas, Michelle, and Frederic

Nicolas Ricroque, Chef Michelle Bernstein, and Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis discuss final dinner preparations


welcome with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

Ruinart Dinner Setting

Ragout of spring vegetables

Ragout of spring vegetables, seared foie gras, truffle vegetable nage, served w Dom Ruinart Rosé 1998

the brilliantly improvised skatewing and uni course

beautifully improvised dish of Skatewing w fresh Sea Urchin, Sourdough Bread, paealla, open clams, and fresh peas, served w Dom Ruinart 2002, and 1998

Dom Ruinart Rose 1990 and 1996

Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990 and 1996

Chef Morimoto Master Cooking Demonstration w Ruinart Champagne

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Frederic Panaiotis preparing for the demonstration

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis prepare before the demonstration

The preparations

the view before hand in the demonstration mirror

Chef and Chef de Caves

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

The demonstration tent

Panaiotis discussing food pairings as Morimoto preps

the event begins. Frédéric Panaiotis introduces Ruinart Champagne

The crowd

Offering sushi

Chef Morimoto gives sushi for Chef de Caves Panaiotis some final touches

Fans with Morimoto

the audience excited for pictures after the demonstration

Fans for Morimoto

Ridge Monte Bello Panel at Spanish Bay

View from Spanish Bay

the view at Spanish Bay

Flowers seaside

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Nine vintage vertical of Monte Bello–1984, 1995, 2006-2012

The Ridge Panel

The Ridge Discussion Panel preparing

Ridge Monte Bello Barrel Samples

2011 and 2012 are still in barrel

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Battle of the Coasts: WEST Dinner

Starting dinner with Dom

beginning with Dom Perignon 2003

Opening Course

Uni by Chef Dominique Crenn, served w Grieve Family Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Black Cioppino

Black Cioppino by Chef Thomas McNaughton, served w Clendenen Family Chardonnay “Le Bon Climat” 2008

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake by Pastry Chef Lincoln Carson, served w Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto 2003

The Grand Tasting

Food at the Grand Tasting

Grand Tasting

Pouring Wind Gap

Pax Mahle pouring Wind Gap Wines

Chris Williams

Chris Williams, Brooks Wines

Brooks Riesling

Brooks, Willamette Valley Riesling and Pinot Noir

Chef preparing food

Chef projector

The Lindt Chef Projector (This image talked about the chocolate while the real her was standing 5-ft away talking about the chocolate. It was a trip.)

Pouring Palmina

Steve Clifton pouring Palmina Wines

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Nicolas Ricroque, and Frederic Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

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