Thursday, May 20, 2010

A. Faustini 2006 Secret Veil Napa Valley Cabernet

For my Wines of California class in the Viticulture program at Las Positas we each did a review of a favorite wine. I chose A. Faustini 2006 Secret Veil Napa Valley Cabernet. I like to try wines from small producers who create hand crafted small lots and I also like to try wines from vineyards at higher elevations. My choice for this report was a combination of both.


The wine is made by Antony Faustini who works as a Product Manager at Cisco, the world’s largest vendor for Internet equipment. Like many people in high tech Anthony yearned to explore his passion and took up wine making in 2005. A. Faustini Winery uses Crush Pad in San Francisco to process their wine and they are opening a tasting room in Napa Valley at a new shared facility near Yontville that will host several tasting rooms for small wineries. This strategy works well for producers who want to limit their expenses as they gain experience and grow production and build awareness for their wines. I made the trek on BART and Muni to their logistics center in San Francisco to pick up my bottle and got a look around. They had cases of wine to the rafters from many small lot producers.

I know Anthony as I also work at Cisco as a Product Marketing Manager. Anthony’s wife Michelle is a sales manager at Cisco and also my Facebook Friend. When she saw in my timeline that I was attending winery events she wrote to me about their wines. They also have a Facebook Fan page for their wines that I joined along with a few other Cisco colleagues.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Wines of El Dorado - A Visit to the Sierra Foothills

When I think of El Dorado I think of the legendary bandito Joaquin Murrieta, called the Robin Hood of El Dorado in books. He is the real bandito of California who the fictional Hollywood character Zorro was modeled after. The story goes that Joaquin turned to robbing gold miners after he was beaten and his wife was murdered by a group of them. Joaquin is even said to have laid in wait along Arroyo del Valle in Pleasanton, which I see out my windows, waiting to waylay miners coming back to San Francisco from the gold fields.

In 1853 Harry Love, Captain of the newly formed California Rangers, and his posse, caught up with Joaquin and his gang, the Five Joaquins, who were suspected of killing at least 20 people, and shot them down. They only lasted a few years and it was all over. It wasn’t long before the gold ran out either and prospectors had to find something else to do. Some of them turned to planting grapes and making wine in gold country. There was a fair amount of Zinfandel planted and produced during the gold rush to satisfy the thirst of panhandlers for strong, sweet wine. After the gold rush with most of the miners gone it was tough going, and prohibition about ended it all, but in the last few decades wine making has made a big comeback in the foothills.

It’s said that Sierra Foothills Wineries attract a different kind of winemaker than other regions. Farming grapes in the foothills is difficult, and given that the region isn’t so well know the wines do not command high prices. The dedicated vintners in this area make wines that express the difficult climate and terrain of the region. What this means is that you can get bargains on wines with character. Which is why I was interested when I heard about the tasting in San Francisco of El Dorado wines at Postrio.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When Irish Wines are Smiling

Today I was introduced to Irish wines. I didn't think there were any wines in Ireland but it turns plenty of Irish are making wines in California. The first of it's kind Irish wine and food tasting event called "When Irish Wines are Smiling" (see Facebook page here) was held at the historic Rutherford Grange Hall, a former gathering place for farmers, just a couple of doors south of the Rutherford Grill.

The event featured the wines of Irish owned, named and ancestry wineries from Northern California paired with Irish influenced food and Irish cheeses, as well as traditional Irish music and dancing. I was given a card for the event when I was tasting at Roche in Sonoma last weekend. They were there and it turns out they have an Irish background. I also heard about the event through Tom Merle who runs a Meetup group for wine fans and was going with a few people. Tom knows the event organizer and filled me in a bit on the event.

I figured the wines and food and Irish tradition were a nice combination and given St. Patrick's day was near and I'm always up for something different and it seemed like a fun event. Luckily I had a friend to was ready to drive so we headed out on a beautiful sunny day. I was just hoping that everything would be tasty and none would be green.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Concannon Founder’s Day 2010

I had a fun time today observing St. Patrick’s Day in Irish style at Concannon Vineyards for their Founder’s Day Celebration. The event was in honor of founder James Concannon’s birthday, on St. Patrick’s Day, in March 17, 1847.

I met a few friends there who are Livermore wine fans and we mingled in the new tasting room that Concanon built last year in a classic style out of brick. The tasting is room much bigger than it was and features special event rooms. Wine was poured, not beer, so I enjoyed a run through their offerings, which included Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet and a few others. They have quite a wide selection of wines and there were some bargains going for about $7 a bottle, but their small lots, which are quite tasty get in to the $50 range.

After a bit we meandered outside to enjoy music on the lawn with The Cooltones, a Big Band Jazz. They played songs that took me back to when I was quite young and listened to my Dads music, like “Days of Wine and Roses.” The grounds are nicely manicured in a park-like setting and fresh flowers that make it a pleasant place to relax on a sunny day. This day was still quite cold though with a chill breeze blowing so I wrapped up in a blanket like an old guy. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my 1992 Petite Sirah magnum for the bottle signing with 3rd and 4th generation vintners Jim and John Concannon, but I did get a chance to say hi to Jim, who is a regular in the tasting room and at Livermore Valley events held by the Livermore Wine Growers Association.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Tweetup at Wente Vineyards in Livermore

This evening I checked out the tweetup at Wente Vineyards. A tweetup is an event where people who Twitter come together to meet in person. It's a novel concept, sometimes called meeting in meatspace. There is probably one going on near you. Click for the map to find out. Normally we connect with our friends online after we have met them. At a tweetup you meet the people you might only know virtually, in cyberspace. It’s finally putting a face to a name. Just as Twitter has evolved from "micro-blogging" to a news source, market research tool, customer service outlet, and communication channel, the tweetup has also evolved. A tweetup is a great opportunity to connect with the people in your network and share more than 140 characters at a time. Talk is often about Twitter, and social media and often there will be a featured speaker who talks on a social media topic or maybe there will be entertainment like tonight. Businesses often sponsor tweetups as a way to connect with customers. The event was put on by the Tri-Valley Tweetup.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dark and Delicious - an Evening of Indulgence

I've been a fan of Petite Sirah for some time. I live 5 miles from Concannon Vineyards, the historic family-owned winery that in 1961 was the first to release Petite Sirah as a single varietal, after using it as a minor blend for years. I'd heard of the Dark and Delicious Fest but last year I didn't manage to get there. I like to take BART going out of Pleasanton and the logistics were difficult. When my friend Tom Merle emailed that he had tickets all I needed was a ride and I was going. Fortunately my friend Carol offered to drive when I told her I had a ticket for her, so finally I was going to enjoy an evening of Petite Sirah and food pairing indulgence. It's good to have friends who share your interests.

We cruised out of Pleasanton and encountered only light traffic. I was thrilled about that as 880 can be the worst in the evenings. Before long we reached our exit and after negotiating the streets of Oakland we emerged from the Webster Tube and made our way through the Alameda Naval Station, past sorry looking empty base housing, to the Rock Wall Wine Company. While Carol drove I played navigator, which as easy as I had watched an in car video on Youtube provided by the organizers and Carols car had a GPS. The venue is an airplane hanger. A really large airplane hanger. It was quite a sight, like from a Scifi movie about aliens at Area 51, as it loomed up in the darkness, abandoned runways, behind and people filing in. The view of San Francisco skyline glimmering across the bay made it even more surreal.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Volunteering at the ZAP Festival in San Francisco

I’ve been a Zinfandel fan for some time. I mean what’s not to like about this California favorite? It is so versatile, ranging from jammy to elegant in the right hands. Until this year though I’d not made it to the Zinfandel Festival. I know, how could that be? I considered going last year but it seemed daunting, difficult to get a grip on. Almost 300 wineries attend, in two large halls, at the Herbst and Festival Pavilions at San Francisco’s Fort Mason, and it’s bit spendy at $59 for the Grand Tasting. Could I really taste enough to make it worth going? What would the crowds be like? How would I know what to try? This year I got a surprise offer from a friend to volunteer. It sounded fun, in a way. I’d be directing the attendees to their destinations for a few hours and afterwards I’d be free to join in and taste some Zinfandel; In fact, a lot of Zinfandel, if I wanted.

I was looking forward to the adventure so when Saturday came around we were on our way with a sense of excitement. Living out in Pleasanton taking BART is the best bet for getting to San Francisco for me. At Embarcadero we jumped on the F-Line and rode it to the end of the line. It’s a fun experience on the old time trolleys, that so many visitors like to share. After the stop it’s just a short walk past the aquatic center and over the hill to Ft. Mason. It was a sunny but cool January day but there were swimmers in the bay. Some people are hardier than I am for sure. I was planning to wet my whistle, but that was it.