Tag Archives: Burgundy

SO, YOU WANT TO MOVE TO FRANCE?

My wife, Dorianne, and I decided to move to France about 9 months ago. We have been “on the road” since early 2015, when we sold our home in southern California. Since then, we have spent about half of our time in Europe and the other half in North and Central America. We have visited 23 countries and 16 states. I have blogged about some of our wine-related adventures.

After thinking that we would probably settle in Spain, we chose France for two main reasons: first, we feel more at home in France, second, we like the hours that the French keep – not quite so late as in Spain. Both countries have great food and wine, and both have a “work to live, not live to work” lifestyle, so it was a close call for us, especially since Dorianne is conversational in Spanish and neither of us are in French. But France called us, no matter where else we traveled.

We have been to France about 8 times since 2005, staying from a few days to several months, in places such as Paris, Avignon, Nice, Bordeaux, Lourdes, Aix-en-Provence, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, and Lyon.

We decided on Lyon for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a city, but smaller, less expensive, and less congested than Paris.
  2. It has a well-preserved historic section (Vieux Lyon, where we are currently staying), and beautiful architecture throughout the city.
  3. It has a great culinary tradition.
  4. There are four wine regions nearby (Burgundy, Beaujolais, Jura, and Côte du Rhône).
  5. An international airport and access to high-speed rail (Paris in 2 hrs.).
  6. A good chamber music community (Dorianne plays the violin).

So, we began our research – after a brief visit in November, we began to do online research, looking at expat sites and chat rooms, travel blogs, French sites (including government sites on how to get visas, etc.), and real estate sites. We decided to rent for a year or so to get a feel for in which area of the city we wanted to settle.

What we discovered is that it is very difficult to get a work visa for France unless you are hired by a French company or working for a foreign company and will have a temporary assignment in France. The law says that to qualify for a job, there must be no French citizen who can fill that job, and then, no EU citizen who can fill it. Unless you meet those criteria or are going to invest and start a business and hire ten French citizens, you can forget a work visa. There are no investment visas in France, such as the Golden Visa for real estate purchases in Portugal, Spain, Greece, or Malta.

We applied for a long-stay visitor visa (there are time constraints) (LINK) (LINK). Essentially, we had to show that we could afford to live in France for a year, had health insurance that covered us there, and were not wanted by the law. We submitted a stack of papers and had a short interview at the French Consulate in Los Angeles (you must apply in person at the embassy or consulate nearest to your US residence).

Once approved, you get a visa in your passport, which they hold for a few weeks, so plan accordingly. You must enter France within 3 months of receiving the visa. We got our Visa in May and had it dated July 12, 2017 to July 12, 2018. You must enter France within seven days of the first date. The visa is good for the entire EU.

We arrived in Lyon on July 13th, my birthday, and celebrated with a dinner at the Institut Paul Bocuse (LINK) – the restaurant of the famed culinary school operated by France’s greatest chef. It is run by students, and you get a Michelin-quality meal for a great price. They have a small but nicely selected wine list as well – and the wine prices are about the same as regular retail. I blogged about an earlier visit (LINK).

We initially stayed at a friend’s apartment, but moved to an AirBnb for, we thought, a month or two, while we looked for a long-term rental apartment. That’s when we found out how difficult it is to rent an apartment in France if you are not a citizen or permanent resident (it’s also difficult if you are a citizen). It is illegal to rent to someone who has anything less than a work visa. And short-term rentals are limited to 3 months. We found that there are landlords who are willing to overlook the requirements, but they demand multiple French co-signers for your lease. It is also illegal to pay rent in advance (say pay 6 months or a year). The French laws are very much in favor of tenants, so the landlords take every advantage they can. We are still in an AirBnB.

We are still open to a long-term rental, but we will be away for December and January at least, so we will wait until we return to look further. Actually, it is easier to buy here than to rent – the limitations on visas, etc. do not apply to real estate purchases. So, we may end up buying sooner than we expected. Prices in the Lyon area are cheaper than Paris, but there are not many bargains in the categories that we are looking for.

Another important tip: if you want to do things like get a French cell phone or a transit card (TCL Carte in Lyon), you must have a French bank account. French banks do not operate like US banks in at least one sense – they don’t seem to particularly want new customers. We entered a branch bank to ask to open a checking account and were told that they next appointment to do so was two weeks away. At a different (downtown) branch, we got accounts right away, but we must do everything via that branch. You can do some things online and at ATM machines, but the system is very parochial.

Once we had the account, and got some funds into it (another issue), we got cell phones and transit cards. You also need a French bank account to rent an apartment long-term, by the way. Once you have a French bank credit card (which work sort of like a combination of credit and debit cards in the US – you need to have funds in your account and can only get credit for up to 500€), you will find it easier to use than US cards in restaurants and shops.

As for our first two months in Lyonlife is grand! We are eating very healthy, fresh food from the thrice per week farmers’ markets (marchés) in our Croix-Rousse (4th Arrondisement) neighborhood. Also, there are plenty of bakeries (boulangeries), butchers (boucheries), prepared food shops (epicères & traiteurs), and fresh fruit & vegetable shops as well. Oh, and every neighborhood has several wine shops (caves).

There are also plenty of restaurants, brasseries, bouchons (Lyonnaise version of a bistro), comptoirs (counters), and coffee shops. And wine bars, too. The food is amazing in just about every place you eat (we avoid the chain restaurants other than some of the local chains which have two or three locations in Lyon).

During August, just about everything that is locally owned and not a national or international chain closes for vacation for anywhere from two to five weeks. So, we drank a lot of supermarket wines during the month, which in France, is not a bad thing. There are very cheap to lower-mid-range (1.8€ to 18€ per bottle) wines from all over France, including Burgundy and Bordeaux in every supermarket. The wines are mostly from larger producers, of course, and you don’t see the premier cru labels there, however, the overall quality is very good. We were drinking wines from Tavel, Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, Moulin a Vent, Burgundy, and others from the supermarket (supermarché) shelves. I was also introduced to boxed wine at a local party, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Luberon Valley Syrah sold in a 5-liter box for 25€.

THE FRENCH EFFECT

I’ll close with this interesting tidbit. Despite eating and drinking a large variety of foods and wines, I have actually lost a few pounds since arriving in Lyon. My best guess is that there are a few factors in this welcome phenomenon:

  1. The lifestyle here is to walk. I probably average 2 – 3 miles per day at least.
  2. We are mostly preparing our own meals, and eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And there is wine and bread every day, too.
  3. I think that when you shop daily and eat fresh foods (even from the supermarket – avoid those center aisles with the processed foods), and those foods are grown on smaller farms (very little industrial farming in France), your body reacts differently to the foods you eat.

I’ll be posting more wine-centric posts as time goes on. We are itching to explore the wine regions in the area in person and to delve more deeply into the Lyon wine scene. So, stay tuned.

I would be very interested in your comments about being an expat or about your experiences with visiting France and other wine capitals in the comments section below.

Au revoir!

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

TWO WINERIES TO VISIT IN SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Recently, Dorianne and I visited two very impressive wineries in Santa Barbara County with friends. The purpose of the trip was to scout locations for a wine tasting tour to benefit a non-profit organization. We tagged along to be of any possible assistance!

The first winery, Presqu’ile Vineyard & Winery (LINK), is located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA (LINK) near the Bien Nacido vineyard in northern Santa Barbara County. A family run operation set on a beautiful 200 acre  vineyard property and boasting some amazing architecture, Presqu’ile (pronounced press-KEEL; it means penninsula) focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The beauty of the tasting room, cave, and winery seem beyond what one finds at a vineyard & winery operation producing only 1600 cases per year.

Matt Sobczak, the Tasting Room Manager, conducted our tasting. The wines that we tasted were very good, even exceptional in the case of the Chardonnays; and the Pinot Noirs were a close second. The Sauvignon Blanc was also very good. The 2013 Steiner Creek Vineyard Chardonnay was particularly good, with a rich mouth feel, ample green fruit on the nose and palate, and a pleasant finish. We bought a bottle to share with some cheese and snacks after the tasting, and several of us bought more to take home.

The 2014 Presqu’ile Vineyard Chardonnay is also beautifully crafted and should please those who love the traditional California-style Chardonnays in a slightly less oaky, more modern form.

Dieter Cronje is the wine maker at Presqu’ile. We did not meet him, but I will laud his talents in crafting Burgundian-style wines with a California influence. Presqu’ile wines can be ordered from their website (LINK) and the winery is worth a visit and not far from other wineries off the 101 Freeway.

Our next stop was Pence Ranch Vineyards & Winery (LINK), along Route 246 West in Buellton, California in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (LINK). As I have noted before (LINK), the Santa Rita Hills AVA is unique in that the mountains and valleys run east to west due to a geological anomaly – the AVA is on land not connected to the North American Tectonic Plate. The Pence Ranch property is relatively narrow and runs north from Route 246 West, just west of the part of Buellton made famous in the film, “Sideways.”

Josh Hamilton was on duty in the small, but nicely appointed tasting room (open only by appointment for now). There is also another area adjacent to the tasting room that can accommodate more visitors. Pence has a relatively small production, under 1500 cases, and is expanding into a second label for restaurants. The Pence labels represent depictions of images of freedom and coins from the founding of the United States.

For our tasting, Josh poured the Pinot Noirs first, then the Syrah, and only then the Chardonnays. The reason for this is that the Pinots are elegant by California standards, as is the Syrah. The two Chardonnays are rich and fuller-bodied, yet still retain a sense of elegance. So, this unconventional tasting pattern – reds first – makes sense at Pence Ranch Winery.

The wines at Pence are exceptionally well-crafted. The Pinots are a bit spicy and peppery, but hold their soft fruit on the nose and in the mouth. They are very well-balanced and will work sipping alone, with light cheeses, or with foods such as salmon or vegetarian dishes.

The Chardonnays, both single-vineyard as are the Pinots, are rich yet very smooth. There is an oakiness present, but it does not dominate. The mouthfeel has a nice viscosity and there are many layers to both wines – great complexity here. All the Pence wines (LINK) are well-crafted. Get your hands on some if you can! We took away several bottles.

I am a huge fan of Santa Rita Hills wines, where the Burgundian style has been carried forward by such local legendary labels as Sanford, Clos Pepe, Ken Browne, LaFond, and others. Pence is establishing itself among those names – they produce Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that reflect the Santa Rita Hills terroir very well.

I really didn’t find anything to complain about at either winery. The price points are a bit high, but they make sense when you understand the size and the quality of the operations at both vineyard/wineries. Both Presqu’ile and Pence are wineries worth your time if you are in the Santa Barbara County wine regions. And if you can’t visit, you can order their wines to enjoy at home.

As always, your comments are appreciated.

 

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

WINDING THROUGH FRANCE – BITS AND PIECES – AND AMAZING WINES

As I write this, I am aboard Celebrity’s Silhouette cruise ship heading toward Athens. We embarked at Rome’s Civitavecchia Port a couple of days ago. I blogged about the cruise ship wine experience (LINK) a while back while on the Silhouette’s sister ship, the Equinox. It’s pretty much the same experience as then.

So, let’s look at my recent all-too-brief trip through France. Ten days, split between Paris, Mâcon, and Lyon. The purpose of the trip was to look at a property near Mâcon, which we did; deciding to focus on Lyon instead. But more about that later.

We took the train from London to Paris via the Chunnel – a very nice experience. First class tickets were about 80 euros each. It was a smooth and comfortable ride.

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A Paris Morning – Looking toward the Eiffel Tower through Place de la Concorde.

Our first night in Paris, we went to the legendary Willi’s Wine Bar (LINK), where we had a very good dinner and some very nice wine. We opted for a 2014 Domaine Mee Godard Morgan Grand Cras, which was very nice and on the less expensive side of the wine list. Our young waiter recommended it after I told him what I liked and my price range. Morgan means the Gamay varietal, which is the backbone of all of the Beaujolais reds. This wine won’t amaze you, but it delivered what I wanted to go along with my duck at Willi’s.

Our second evening was a dinner at a friend’s apartment in St. Germain-des-Prés. We took along two bottles of 2012 Jean-Luc & Eric Burguet Gevery-Chambertin Symophonie Pinot Noir, from a favorite Burgundian tthat accompanied the beautiful French roasted chicken and vegetables perfectly. This is a very nice mid-range Burgundian red.

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I should mention that it is considered improper in some places in France to bring wine as a dinner guest – the sense being that no French household would be without so essential an item. However, we checked with our hosts first to get their okay. One of them, John Baxter (LINK), is the author of several excellent books about Paris, including his new one about St. Germain-des-Prés, the first in a series about Paris neighborhoods. His Book An Immoveable Feast, a Paris Christmas is a particular favorite of mine.

The next morning, it was off to Mâcon by TGV High Speed Rail. Another smooth and quick ride. While staying with friends in Mâcon, we ate in most days, so the wine story here is about a small wine shop that I found in Cluny, a monastery town northwest of Mâcon. We had a very nice lunch at L’Halte de l’Abbey Café with a nice house wine. Then, at the wine shop, we realized that the shop owner, Bruno Berthelin, had been at the café, and discovered that he had sold them the house wine. Small towns. Au Plaisir Dit Vin stocks over 350 fine wines, champagne and accessories. Twenty years as a passionate Wine Merchant, a profession that he prefers to describe as acting as a sense awakener, Bruno  like to share the delights of wine with customers.

We purchased six bottles that he recommended, all local Mâconnaise and Beaujolais wines, that proved excellent over the next couple of dinners and lunches.

Then it was onto Lyon, the second largest city in France, which feels much smaller than Paris. We fell in love with Lyon. It is very much like Paris in the downtown and old city, but without the iconic tourist sites that make the city so crowded. And, Lyon is the culinary capital of France, the place where most Parisian chefs are trained. In three nights, we had excellent meals for lunch and dinner. I will highlight one.

Our highlight was a dinner at ‘l’Institut’ Paul Bocuse Restaurant-école at Bellecour Lyon-Centre (LINK), where students of the Paul Bocuse Culinary Institute run a restaurant as part of their training. It is a relatively reasonably priced way to experience a Bocuse restaurant – and it was excellent. Here are some photos.

Surprisingly, the wine list is very reasonably priced – with only a few bottles topping 80 euros. Most are in the 40 to 55 euro range. There is a tasting menu of 8 courses including wine or you can order ala carte. We chose the latter. The service was very good (a little nervousness here and there), and the food was beautifully prepared. We felt that we got a real bargain at about 220 euros with gratuity (and we had an 80 euro wine).

Ah, that wine. They were out of our first choice, another Gevery-Chambertin Pinot Noir. A 2013 Jean Fery & Fils Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Damodes Pinot Noir, was substituted (at a lower price to match the Gevery) it was the essence of Burgundy. Great from nose to finish, it was an impressively well-crafted wine. Simply beautiful. It made the evening even more perfect.

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We plan to return to Lyon early in 2017 to explore the possibilities of living there. First, the rest of this cruise, a week in Rome, and three months in Miami. Stay tuned!

 

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

CREATING A STARTER CASE OF WINE

On a recent visit to New York to visit our daughter, Grace, we decided to purchase a starter case of wine for her and to set up an account at a wine shop. There are a number of very good wine shops in Manhattan, as you might imagine. We chose Union Square Wine Starter case -USQLogo_WBShop (LINK) after some online and in-person research, because of proximity to Grace’s school, a good selection of value-priced wines, and free delivery in the city when you purchase $95 or more worth of wine.

Grace, at 22, has developed a pretty good palate. She has been to France a few times and enjoys French wines very much, especially Bordeaux blends. My thoughts in filling the starter case were to take that preference into account and expand her experience a bit with reds, plus add some whites and rosès since summer is just around the corner. I also wanted to keep the prices under $25, being mindful of the budget of a starving aspiring Broadway star.

After discussing our goals with some of the sales staff, we (Dorianne, Grace and I) began to fill the case. I wanted to find some French wines that she would like first, which we did – one Bordeaux red blend, a Pomerol, two Sancerres, a Burgundian Chardonnay, and a wonderful rosè from Tavel, the only French A.O.P. that produces Au Bon Climat only rosès. To this, we added a reliable California Pinot Noir from, a favorite of ours; a nice Oregon Pinot Noir to  compare to the Au Bon Climat; a wonderful Rhône-style blend from Tablas Creek in Paso Robles; a Spanish Tempranillo blend; an Italian Barbara d’Asti and a Nebbiolo from Langhe; and an Australian Shiraz.

Here is the list:

Starter Case Chart
There is nothing here from Germany or eastern Europe, no New Zealand or South America, etc. Fortunately, Grace has a long future to explore these and other options as she chooses.
Now, you can argue with any or all of these selections, but this starter case was built with some preferences in mind. That is the idea – you decide the parameters of the selections and then you find the best representatives of those parameters based on availability, price, and certain intangibles. Our bias was toward France, with an additional parameter of expanding outward from there and focusing on the Old World with some New World representation as well. That is a lot to cover in twelve bottles.

Starter case -USQ
Union Square Wines and Spirits Shop

My suggestion to her was to make tasting notes of each wine as she drinks it and then replace bottles with a balance of things she likes and things she would like to try. Having a set of preferences helps when she is at a restaurant or a party and there are a variety of options. She already knows to steer clear of the bulk wines and the cheap “critter wines” that populate lots of party bars among people her age (and, unfortunately, people my age as well).

To create your own starter case, for yourself or for your children, my suggestion is to begin where you, or they, are. Start with what you already like and populate part of the case with those wines, then expand outward from there. The value of a good wine shop is that they will have staff who can make good recommendations – something you will not get at most supermarkets or places like Target and Costco (with some exceptions).

I can’t overemphasize the importance of finding a wine store employee or owner who you feel comfortable with. I was recently in an independent wine shop in Baltimore that stocked many wines with which I was unfamiliar. When I asked for recommendations from the owner/manager, he told me that he could only help me with Kosher wines; “That’s all I taste,” he said. No one else in the shop had tasted any of the non-Kosher wines! Interesting business model.

A good wine shop staff member will be of great assistance, especially when deciding what to add to your own preferences. He/she will have the experience needed to make recommendations that are very similar to those, or that are different enough to give you a new tasting experience. Good wine shops will also have tastings that you can attend to expand your wine experience.

It is important that you be clear about what you want. Don’t let the sales staff give you a wine that you are not interested in, or one that is too expensive for your budget.

Keeping these things in mind, creating a starter case can be a really great experience. Your comments, as always, are appreciated.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

HIGH END WINE TOO EXPENSIVE, SAYS ROBERT PARKER, WHO IS PART OF THE PROBLEM

In an article by Patrick Schmidt on The Drinks Business blog, Robert Parker talks about the rapid escalation in the price of high end wine. Parker notes that he is “part of the problem” as his high scores often help to inflate prices even higher. He says that there is a “caste system” developing because of wine prices.

From the article: “Parker told db, ‘I think this is a problem; it means a lot are shut out because basically we have a caste system of wine – at the really desirable high end, whether the wines are Burgundy or Bordeaux, or from California, they have become so expensive that people just can’t afford them, so they look elsewhere.’”

Wine prices seem to be expanding like the Universe – the farther apart they are, the more quickly they speed away from each other.

(LINK TO THE ARTICLE)

Wine - Bordeaux Beauties

TIPS ON DECANTING AND OTHER GOOD WINE AWARENESS

This article (LINK) from WineFolly.com, has some very good information about decanting and serving wines. Decanting, and how long to decant, is often a mystery, and this article gives some good guidelines. There is very little about wine that is exact, so I recommend that you see these as guidelines, then explore and make changes as your experience dictates.

Wine

A FIND IN SANTA RITA HILLS – MARGERUM WINES

Continuing our series on the wineries I visited on a group wine tour in the Santa Rita Hills Appellation on Saturday, we will take a look at Margerum Wine Company (LINK). Our group tasted at the winery near Buellton, but the regular tasting rooms (LINK) are in Santa Barbara. Assistant Winemaker Sam Smith conducted our tasting on Saturday.

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Sam Smith describes Margerum Wines.

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Margerum produces a number of wines from a variety of vineyards (LINK) in Santa Barbara County. They produce small quantities of each wine, seeking to maximize the quality. Their stable of wines runs from Sauvignon Blanc (including a rare late harvest dessert version), to Pinot Gris and a Grenache Rosé on the white side, with Syrah, Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blends under a couple of labels. You can read about each of the wines at the link above. I really enjoyed the 2013 LATE HARVEST SAUVIGNON BLANCa very light and smooth dessert wine that has a light mouthfeel and not too much sweetness.

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I found the wines we tasted to be well-crafted with a tendency toward lightness and elegance, even a sense of understatement, which is consistent with the style that many winemakers adopt in this region. As noted in earlier posts, if you want the big fruit-bomb reds, you need to head north a bit to Paso Robles, where that style is more prevalent.

The owners of Margerum Wine Company are also involved in the Wine Cask Restaurant (LINK) in Santa Barbara. The restaurant has an excellent reputation, and, I am pretty sure, you can get some Margerum Wines on the premises.

Later, more posts on the other two wineries we visited, LaFond and Tyler, each very interesting in its own right.

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Stainless Steel Barrels at Mergerum.
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A Line Up of Rosés.

SOME AMAZING PINOT NOIRS

On Saturday, I joined a group for a wine tour of four wineries in the Santa Rita Hills Appellation (LINK), near Santa Ynez, California. The four were: Tyler, LaFondMargerum, and Ken Brown. I will blog about each separately, beginning with Ken Brown Wines (LINK). The Santa Rita Hills are located about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara. A unique geological area, they are on a circular land mass that separated from the North American tectonic plate about 12 million years ago. Since then, that circle of land has been turning about 1/4 inch per year, so that now, the mountain ranges and valleys run east to west instead of north to south. This provides a “chute” for cool breezes and moisture from the Pacific Ocean to come farther inland and created one of the perfect places on earth to grow Pinot Noir. The film “Sideways” (LINK) was filmed here (before the appellation was established), and the rest is, well, a rich history.

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Ken Brown is a legendary winemaker in the Santa Rita Hills area. He began at Zaca Mesa Wines. His first name is actually Byron, and after Zaca Mesa, he started Byron Winery in 1985, selling it to the Mondavi Family in 1990. He said that both of those wineries got to the level of 80 to 90,000 cases in annual production, and by that point, actually before that, it was no longer fun for him. The current annual production at Ken Brown Wines is just about 3,000 cases in total.

Along the way, Ken Brown has trained a number of winemakers in the area, including Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Lindquist of Qupé Winery. His tasting room is in Buellton, CA, just off the 101 Freeway. It is very nicely appointed, with a corkwood floor that got a lot of attention from some of the women on the tour.

Ken Brown Holding forth about his Wines.
Ken Brown Holding forth about his Wines.

Ken was very expansive in describing his process of winemaking and each of his wines. We tasted one Chardonnay, five Pinot Noirs and one Syrah. My general comment is that his wines are amazingly well-crafted in a Burgundian style, not big fruit bombs like many California wines. In fact, some in our tour group thought his wines were not big enough.

I found them to be nuanced, balanced, and each had different characteristics. I just about fell in love.

The Chardonnay was beautifully made, and very oaky – not to my taste, but you could readily smell, taste, and see the quality of the wine. Several bottles of this were purchased by tour members.2015-02-07 15.43.28 2015-02-07 16.11.47

Each of the five Pinots, one a blend of two Santa Barbara appellations, the rest from Santa Rita Hills, two blends of vineyards and two single-vineyard wines, had a strong sense of place and a very nice blend of fruit, mineral, and spice.

I won’t go into all of the individual wines in detail – mainly because it is unlikely you will be able to get any! All are small production, and available only through the winery (LINK to wine shop site).

I purchased the 2012 Zotovich Vineyard Pinot Noir (LINK), a very complex Pinot; the 2012 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir (LINK), his most approachable Pinot – fruity and very refreshing; and the 2012 Watch Hill Syrah (LINK), a rich fruit-forward Syrah with great complexity. If we were not moving soon, I would have bought more.

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If you are in the Santa Rita Hills area any time soon, put Ken Brown Wines on you list of places to visit, You will not be disappointed (unless you only like the big, big wines. Then you better stick to Paso Robles).

WINE TRAVEL – WHERE TO GO, WHAT TO DRINK?

I love to travel. Since I was a child, I have always gotten excited about traveling – to the next town or across and ocean.

Dorianne shares this passion and we also are passionate about wine, so we combine the two passions wherever possible. This will begin a series of blogs on wine related travel, leading up to our departure in late February for a few months in Spain, Portugal, and France. I will, of course, blog from the places we visit about the locales, the people, and yes, the wines.

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Wine Travel is Fun and Rewarding – Here we are at Foxen near Santa Ynez, CA.

“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” ~ Carson McCullers 

A couple of years ago I took a short sabbatical, six weeks, and Dorianne and I went to France. We spent 3 1/2 weeks in an apartment in Paris, then went to Lourdes in the Pyrenees for a conference, the spend about six nights in Bordeaux and six more in the Loire Valley. The year before that, we took our daughters to Paris, Burgundy, and Provence for three weeks. In each of these amazing places, we sampled the local and regional wines and, where possible, visited the vineyards and chateaus where wine was grown and made, and made friends in cafes and tasting rooms with others who love wine.

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A Great Wine Shop in St. Emilion.
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The Good Stuff.

 

“If I were really really ridiculously wealthy, I wouldn’t buy a mansion, just tiny apartments in every city I love.” ~ Mara Wilson 

Combining wine enjoyment and education with travel is something that may not be for everyone, but for some, it is the essence of a quality experience. Those of us who spend time with people who create and sell wines know that they tend to be very interesting people, indeed. People like Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe Estate in the Santa Rita Hills of California’s Central Coast region and Giancarlo at Le Wine Bar in Bordeaux, are just two examples of friendly, knowledgeable, and approachable people who happen to be in the wine business. There are countless others as well. Wine travel lets you meet these people and have the experience of connecting at a much deeper level with the wine itself.

Wine travel can be a day trip, for those fortunate enough to live near wine-producing regions. I will be taking such a trip in a week, to the Santa Ynez, Santa Rita Hills appellations in Santa Barbara County. This will be a group tour, with many people who I know – four wineries and a picnic lunch. A very nice way to spend a day.

One of the things we will be doing on our upcoming European journey is setting up future small group wine tours in France. Working with travel professional Steve Hooks, we will be creating a series of tours that will include time in wine country – initially Bordeaux then Burgundy – followed by some time in the city – either Paris or Lyon. The tours will be geared toward those who are already familiar with fine wines and in separate groups, those who want to learn about fine wines. The focus of the former will be discovery and enjoyment and the focus of the latter will be education and enjoyment.

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ~ Anaïs Nin 

I really believe that good wine is best enjoyed with others. Our tours will emphasize that point, while offering some really unique opportunities to access some amazing places, enjoy great food paired with fine wines, and exploring the people and places of some of the world’s great wine regions.

We are not certain that there is a viable market for tours of this level. There are not many truly high-end wine tours being offered to North American customers. Some of the major tour companies and some of the cruise lines have tours featuring wine, but they are rather pedestrian, have larger groups, and mix the novice and the expert, which does not often go well in my experience.

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One of the Buildings at Chateau Smith-Haute- Lafitte in the Bordeaux region.
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In the Tasting Room at Smith-Haute-Lafitte

 

Our question is – is there a market for a week-long small group experience with four nights in a premier wine region (Bordeaux, Burgundy) followed by three in a major city (Paris, Lyon), staying in top hotels, with tastings of top wines, dinners in chateaus, connections with locals in the wine trade, special tours of museums (like a private evening tour of  the Musee du Louvre), wine pairing experiences, wine seminars and more?

As the year unfolds, we will be finding out. Share your thoughts in the comment section or email me at DrJim-Lockard@ATT.net

GETTING THE CELLAR READY FOR OUR DEPARTURE

The For Sale sign is up in front of the house. Dozens of folks are streaming through our completely staged home – meaning that it looks pretty much like we don’t live here. Every morning, we hide all of the evidence of our occupancy and we depart whenever the realtor notifies us that a showing is happening. Fortunately, that has been happening very regularly of late.

We will be heading to Europe for a while, no fixed address, probably for most of 2015 and maybe beyond. I am looking forward to sampling more of the wines of Spain, France, Germany, and Austria (at a minimum), but what to do about our wines in our home cellar?

Now, when I say “cellar,” I should note that we live in a suburban tract house. No basement. Our “cellar” consists of a number of stashes around the house, where lighting is minimal and temperature is fairly steady. The really good stuff is in a wine refrigerator in the garage, but there are bottles on a rack in our utility closet, another rack in a hallway, another on the cabinet in our dining room (French only!), and more on a small rack built into our kitchen breakfast nook.

When the move was being planned, we had about 350 bottles in total. We rented a locker at CELLAR MASTERS in Newbury Park, CA, where we put a dozen cases right away and where the remainder will go when we leave.

The focus now is on drinking wines that will not age well, or that are at or near their peak now. We are also supplementing with some purchases of whites, which we do not tend to keep over time for the most part. Our wines are mostly from California, with the Central Coast and Napa and Sonoma well-represented; plus a couple of cases of French wines, and a few Australians and one or two from British Columbia’s Okanagan Region.

So, our case of ARTISTE wines, our CLENDENDEN FAMILY WINES and the AU BON CLIMAT are being consumed, as are our STOLPMAN and some CABERNETS. Our French wines, mostly Bordeaux, will age well, as will the Burgundies. We will keep some of the newer CLOS PEPE Pinots, which should last a few years, and we will have a lot of assorted CABERNETS and MERLOTS from California to keep.

I expect that we will be down to about 200 bottles when we depart sometime in mid to late February. At some point, we will likely have the wines shipped from the storage facility to wherever we land, or sell it off. It is both fun and a bit sad to be consuming some of the bottles that we obtained from the wineries or through friends. But, there are worse things that one has to do, right?