On a trip to Olvera Street (LINK)(LINK) in downtown Los Angeles, across from the iconic Union Station, one finds not only links to the earliest settlements in the area and its Hispanic heritage, but vestiges of some of the earliest California wine production as well.
Wine was introduced into California by the Franciscans in the late 18th Century. By the early 1800s, there were a number of vineyards around the Los Angeles pueblo, where Olvera Street sits. Olvera Street was originally called Calle de las Vignas or Vine Street, because of the many wineries there.
Later, French immigrants began to make wine using cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from France in the Los Angeles area and shipping it to northern California. Later, Italian immigrants joined the party on what is now Olvera Street.
Several of the restaurants on the street are housed in former wineries, including El Paseo Inn (LINK), where Dorianne and I had lunch. See the photo of the sign over the door. But, alas, there was no wine in sight, so we settled for an appropriate local beverage – a Cadillac Margarita.
Nearby is the Avila Adobe (LINK), where two large grapevines grow. Over 150 years old, these vines were recently determined to be a hybrid of a native California grape and a European grape. They are related to the Vina Madre, or the mother grape, at the San Gabriel Mission (LINK).
So, winemaking inCalifornia pre-dates the Napa-Sonoma area by quite a bit. It was fun to explore the historic area of downtown LA, and then to go home and have a glass or two of California wine.
Please pardon the lack of originality in the title of this post. It was the best I could do under the circumstances. You see, I am trying to experience as many aspects of the world of wine as I can, and there just isn’t time for creative blog title development.
In fact, there isn’t time to write this blog post – but I am devoted to you, my dear readers, and that devotion shall not wane. But communicating with you like this is eating into my wine exploration and experiencing time. Just so you know.
The reason for this post is the fact that there is just too much.
Too much wine, too many varietals, too many producers, too many pairings, too many restaurant wine lists with too many wines listed, too many wine blogs, too many wine books, too many tasting rooms, too many regions, AVAs, AOPs, appellations, districts, domains, too many wine terms, tasting notes, words in those tasting notes, too much chemistry, too many vineyards with too many terroirs, too many wine apps.
How is a wine lover to keep up?
One answer, the one that I like the best out of the options that I have thought about, is that one cannot and should not even try to experience it all. Can’t be done anyway, so give up that ambition, my friend. Let that sphere of wine experience shrink down to a manageable size. Perhaps you give up on the nether regions of Eastern Europe, the vineyards to Thailand, maybe even China. Take a pass on the wines of Malibu, Michigan, Maryland, and definitely, Florida. You aren’t going to taste them all, travel to them all, anyway. And even if you could, how much enjoyment or appreciation could there be in tasting five hundred wines in a weekend?
Now I say this as a wine lover who has a preference for exploration. There are many other kinds of wine lovers. I know one who drinks only one wine 95% of the time – Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay (LINK). That’s it. As for me, looking back over the photos I have taken over the past year, I have probably had 250 to 300 different wines, not counting wine tastings; you have seen many of them here and more on my Twitter feed (@JimLockardWine). And in that, I have had a few dozen wines more than once. So I get that there is a range of behavior in the wine lovers’ universe. My Kendall-Jackson loving friend probably does not care too much about this post. But she is an anomaly, isn’t she?
Take last night. We are staying with friends in Cleveland for a week. Last night was to be a birthday celebration for family friends of our host. One of the guest is a former wine columnist (yes, Ohio has wine columnists), and a another, their daughter, is currently taking the Certified Specialist of Wine course (LINK) in New York, where she lives. In preparation, our host, a wine lover himself, took Dorianne and I to the best local wine store – Whole Foods – where we purchased a mixed case, Italians for last night, and some others for the rest of the week.
I had a great conversation with the other wine lovers (and a heightened level of wine lover they were to be sure). And I found that while we shared some common experiences and areas of knowledge, that for the most part, our experience and knowledge were different. This is, of course, to be expected. And, it tells me that there is no such thing as someone who knows even close to everything about wine. So we all have to operate within a chosen personal sphere of knowledge and experience that we create ourselves, either on purpose or by default.
So what does this mean for you, treasured reader? Simply that you have dominion over your domain of wine knowledge and experience. So choose what you love, follow your nature (an explorer or a few wines that you return to over and over); include travel or stay at home; talk about the wine at a meal or talk about other things; download half a dozen wine apps or none at all; explore those small wine regions or stick with Napa and Bordeaux; opt for the top shelf at your wine retailer or the bottom shelf, or stay resolutely in the middle.
Wine is, after all, about the enjoyment of life. It is best when shared with friends and family, and it is best when sipped alone with a good book or a beautiful sunset. It is a social lubricant and a solitary muse. It can be the reason for travel, or a small part of a larger purpose. It is a living, breathing thing that can add to the quality of your life, as long as you do not overindulge.
So do not feel pressured to go beyond your own comfort zone in your experience of wine. (Well, maybe a little bit from time to time.) You are not going to know or experience everything anyway. And no matter how broad and deep your knowledge and experience is, you will meet people who know things that you do not, and who have tasted wines that you have not.
My advice is to find your wine sweet spot, explore that thoroughly, and then branch out from there in a way that suits you best. And have fun in the process.
This blog has been pretty quiet since returning from Oregon last week. But that is about to change – next week will see several posts including our full product line tasting of Chile’s Los Vascos wines, the recounting of a tasting of Paso Robles’ LXV wines and a new boutique local wine tour business serving California’s Central Coast AVAs, and Dorianne and I will be heading up to Santa Ynez and Santa Rita Hills AVAs this coming week for a bit of a tour.
In the meantime, The Wine Stalker (LINK) has included us in a really great article about wine bloggers who live a distance from wine regions.
The Rest Of Us: Wine Blogging Outside Of Wine Country ~ The Wine Stalker – A blog for WINE GEEKS & WINE LOVERS (LINK):
“How is your travel availability to actually go to wine regions or blogger conferences?
Again, my wife and I travel nearly full time, 1/2 in the US and 1/2 in Europe. I lead wine tours in France (http://deluxewinetours.com/), so I get to meet a lot of French winemakers. We also spend a lot of time in Spain. This year we will also travel in the Ukraine and Poland, so I am looking forward to seeing what’s happening there.”
So thanks to The Wine Stalker for including us in the blog.
And, since you are here already, time is running out to register for our amazing October 2016 Tour of northern Provence and the southern Côtes du Rhône where we will enjoy some of the finest wines in France.
We will spend seven nights in France, based in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the banks of the Rhône River in a 5 star hotel, exploring the hidden secrets of several wine regions that meet here – The Côtes du Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Luberon.
Hôtel Le Prieuré
This intimate, small group tour (only eight spots available) features lodging in fine hotels, meals in chateaus, visits to the legendary vineyards, and tastings of some of the great wines of France. All the while, you will learn more about wine in the vineyard and at the chateau.
I am pleased to announce that a very special experience awaits you. Long before Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” made it into the international best-sellers list, Provence, the south-eastern region of France, has held a special fascination for travelers from all over the world. Renowned for its beautiful weather, natural environment, and outstanding cultural heritage, this rich region offers us a lot to see and do! If you are a wine lover and are eager to experience some of the greatest wine regions in the world, we have a journey for you. One that envelops northern Provence and the southern Côtes du Rhône and some of the finest wines in France.
Seven nights in France, based in Villeneuve-les-Avignon on the banks of the Rhône River, exploring the hidden secrets of several wine regions that meet here – The Côtes du Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Luberon.
This intimate, small group tour (only eight spots available) features lodging in fine hotels, meals in chateaus, visits to the legendary vineyards, and tastings of some of the great wines of France. All the while, you will learn more about wine in the vineyard and at the chateau.All tours will be in English, and there will be interactions with French people.
I will be leading the tour, and I have traveled extensively in France. I will be joined by travel professional Steve Hooks of Journey Different, Inc. and localexperts, you will get the inside story of some of the great wines of the Rhône Valley and Provence and have access to places not generally available to the traveling public. This small group experience, only eight people plus guides, will give you the opportunity to interact with the guides, the winemakers, and sommeliers. You and a few other wine lovers will share gourmet meals and luxury transportation.
You have the opportunity to join us for the wine experience of a lifetime!
ACCOMODATIONS: You’ll be staying in a five star Relais & Châteaux property, the Hôtel du Prieuré in Villeneuve les Avignon, just a few minutes from the city of Avignon. Hidden in the heart of the village, its serene atmosphere and spirit invite you to relax and unwind. Le Prieurépresents an air of rare and simple charm, it is a haven of peace, a country hotel… in a picturesque town!
Hôtel Le Prieuré
DAY BY DAY PROGRAM:
SUNDAY (Oct 9): Arrival at Marseille or Lyon airport and transfer to Hôtel du Prieuré in Villeneuve les Avignon, a typical Provençal village across the Rhône River from Avignon, where you can easily stroll to many restaurants and bars. A special welcome dinner at our hotel in the evening.
MONDAY (Oct 10): Visit to Costières de Nîmes, Château Mourgues du Grès for a tour and wine tasting. Lunch will be at the winery. In the afternoon: a visit and tasting at Dalmeran winery’s (AOP Les Baux de Provence) in the Saint Rémy de Provence region. Dinner at Bistro’ du Moulin restaurant in Villeneuve lès Avignon.
TUESDAY (Oct 11): We visit Châteauneuf du Pape, its vineyards and the castle ruins; a guided visit of a chateau and tasting of its wines. Wine tasting and wine and food pairing in a very exclusive cellar, Les Cave Saint Charles, in the heart of the village. After lunch we head to Orange to visit Theatre Antique. See the exceptional evidence of Ancient Rome. On the UNESCO World Heritage list, it is the best preserved theatre in Europe. We will have dinner with wine at our hotel.
WEDNESDAY (Oct 12): Discover the Gigondas appellation. Lunch in the village square under the sycamore trees then afternoon tasting in Vacqueyras. Dinner at Les Jardins de la Livrée in Villeneuve les Avignon.
THURSDAY (Oct 13):Those who desire it can stroll to the local market on Thursday morning, only 200 meters from the hotel – But we’ll need to leave by 10:00 am. We visit the appellations of Tavel and Lirac. Visit Tavel’s famed Château de Manissy for a tasting and BBQ in the park. In the afternoon, walk through the vineyards and taste in Lirac. Dinner at La Table de Sorgue, a restaurant renowned among winemakers, with excellent food and an amazing wine selection.
FRIDAY (Oct 14): Late morning (at 10.30) Visit Avignon with some possible time for shopping and lunch on the Popes Palace’s square. In the afternoon, head to Chêne Bleu, outstanding winery nestled in the Dentelles de Montmirail hills for a visit of the winery and tasting. Dinner at Chêne Bleu.
SATURDAY (Oct 15): Last but not least: a day in the Luberon. Morning tour of the typical perched villages of Gordes and Ménèrbes. Lunch in an authentic and exclusive setting next to the old mill in Goult: “Chez Giuseppina.” Slow down, relax and enjoy an excellent meal in the Luberon hills with local wines. A final surprise evening will close our tour.
SUNDAY (Oct 16): Transfer to the airport for departure.
“If food is the body of good living, wine is its soul.” ~ Clifton Fadiman
TOUR COSTS:Full Price is $7600/ LIMITED TIME ONLY $6990/person for double occupancy (based on payment by check; a surcharge applies if PayPal is used). Single occupancy rooms may be availab5 le for an additional charge. A deposit of $1000/person holds your space and price. The limited time price is just that, so get your deposit in!
Visit our special website – DeluxeWineTours.com – for information, to download the complete flyer, and to register.
QUESTIONS? – Leave them in the comments section below and they will be answered. Leave an email address if you want to be contacted privately, or contact Jim at JimLockardTravels@yahoo.com.
A great article from the Lazenne website(LINK) that takes a comprehensive look at airline baggage fees and policies for those who want to travel with wine. The company who makes wine suitcases and other wine carriers wants you to know what you can and cannot do. It also has links to just about every airline and its policies regarding traveling with wine.
The grand finale of the Garagistè Festival is the Grand Tasting, featuring around 70 wine makers who produce 1500 cases or less of their wine in a year. The festival, with newer branches in Solvang and Los Angeles each year, is a great opportunity for these small producers to become known.
This year’s Grand Tasting was held at the Paso Robles Fairgounds in the Frontier Town area. The wine makers were arranged in a figure-eight configuration with a few vendors at the center. There were some wine makers who have been to all five GaragistèFestivals in Paso and some new this year.
The overall quality of the wines presented has greatly improved over the years, as wine making techniques have improved across the board. At the first Garagistè Festival that I attended in 2010, about 20% of the wines were good or better. Today, that figure is closer to 60%.
The Grand Tasting runs from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, with VIP ticket holders who also attended the morning seminars (LINK TO POST) getting first crack for an extra hour from 1:00 to 2:00. The scene gets louder as the day goes along – there are a lot of rookie wine drinkers here who don’t know how to taste, or don’t care, so a few drunks are about by 3:00 or so.
I will point out some of the better wine makers (IMHO) in the photos – also see the post on the Friday Night Wine Makers’ Mixer (LINK TO POST) for the best from that evening, almost all of whom were also at the Grand Tasting.
The Garagistè Festival is a great event, one that I highly recommend. If you want to discover the up and coming and the intentionally small wine makers of California’s Central Coast and beyond, this is your ticket.
Each year at the Garagistè Festival, there are two seminars held as part of the VIP package for the Saturday events. This year’s seminars were “Exploring the Aroma Wheel” with Madeline Puckette of WineFolly.com (LINK) and “Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems,” with Mikael Sigouin, Ryan Pease, and Stewart McLennan.
“Exploring the Aroma Wheel” explored how to discover the various aromas of wine and how to go a bit deeper than the normal surface sniff of the glass. Madeline Puckette is a very good presenter and the seminar was interactive. Each table had 8 covered and numbered coffee cups, each containing a different scent. We were to begin by sniffing each cup and noting what we thought the aroma was. Then, we were provided two glasses, one with Pinot Noir, the other Cabernet Sauvignon. We were asked to sniff the glasses (some instructions were given) and to list three fruit aromas and three non-fruit aromas that we noted in each.
Then, we were asked to sniff one or two of the cups again, and then sniff the wines. The experience of most people was that the aroma of the wine changed after sniffing one or two of the cups (the cups had odors like chocolate, mint, vanilla, smoke, etc.). Ms. Puckette noted that sniffing the aroma in the cup tended to eliminate that odor from the wine for the person sniffing; that changed the aromatic experience of the wine. The workshop was a good experience, and yes, we did get to drink the wine.
“Techniques of the Garagistè: The Secret of Stems” featured three Paso Robles winemakers: Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Company (LINK), Ryan Pease of Paix Sur Terre (LINK), and Stewart McLennan of Golden Triangle (LINK). Each of these winemakers uses stems and whole clusters in making some or all of their wines. The idea is to bring more of the sense of the terroir to the wines and to broaden the flavor profile beyond the fruit itself.
The wines were:
Kaena: 2013 Grenache – Terra Alta Vineyard
Paix Dur Terre: 2013 “The Other One,” 100% Mourvedre
Golden Triangle: 2013 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 50% Syrah
Each was very different in character, although all were the result of whole cluster fermentation. It was very interesting to hear what each winemaker seeks to get from the process and how this process is impractical for large-scale producers.
After the seminars, a lunch was served and then the VIP ticket holders had first shot at the Grand Tasting, with over 70 Garagistè winemakers, producers making under 1500 total cases each year.
We will explore the Grand Tasting in the next post.
As some of you know, my primary bucket list wine is Penfold’s Grange – the classic great Shiraz from Australia. One of these days, I will get a well-aged bottle and enjoy one of those legendary wine experiences, hopefully with a good friend.
Note to self – probably NOT the 2011 vintage!
Apparently, the latest vintage of the wine is not up to normal standards. In fact, one Perth, Australia wine merchant poured two bottles down to sink to show his distaste for the current vintage (and to get a bit of publicity), according to an online article in the Australian Financial Review.
A sad state of affairs. I just want to let the good people at Penfold’s know that I am available to give a second opinion on the 2011 vintage of their Grange.