Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Perfect Pillow

Just saw a great movie last night, an Irish film called Once. Small budget, made with great passion, and if you like music...incredible soundtrack. The acting was done by amateurs (both leads are musicians), there were no special effects, the performances were not actor-ly (but just what was called for!). What struck me right about the movie, and I felt this way about Lost in Translation the first time I saw it, was the absolute perfection of the tone of the movie.

There was a feeling about the movie that was just so authentic and natural and proportionate that to tweak any part of it would have been like drawing a mole on the Mona Lisa. Knowing when to leave well enough alone is one of the hardest things, though.

I fret a lot about this viz. the tasting experience we try to give our guests. It's not just the wine or just the staff or just the sign out front or the is ALL of these things in a balanced, appropriate mix.

We strive to have just the right pillow in the chair (in a figurative sense, of course) for everyone who comes to visit. We don't want any discordant tone to interfere with the stories we are trying to tell through the wines we make.

What is most important to you in a Tasting Room experience? What is your perfect pillow?

Friday, December 28, 2007

What is the Price of Acceptance?

With apologies to Seth Godin, who is much better at this than I am, his recent post inspired my New Year's promise:

If you work in the wine business and read and believe what the major wine press says about the Livermore Valley, it would be easy to be discouraged. It would be comforting, in a perverse way, to accept that we will always be second-rate. It would allow us to stop competing with the larger world, to only pick off the low-lying fruit that are the folks who already know and are satisfied with what they have right outside their door. We wouldn't have to worry about trying to be as good as Napa or Bordeaux; we would be comfortable being cute...a local wine region whose grasp can't exceed its reach because it doesn't stretch for anything.

We have always thought of our Valley differently. Knowing what we know about the conditions needed to grow great fruit and having a firm idea about what great wine is (hey, our palate is only ours!), we have always known that greatness is possible in the Livermore Valley. It will take a lot of effort certainly. It will take a long time, too. It will take dedication to farming for quality, not for a small profit. It will take the desire to compete with the big boys...the need to prove to everyone that all our ascendancy took was time because we put into place all the other vital things.

It will also take not just an acceptance of risk, but a welcoming of it. We are a podunk wine region in most afficionados' eyes; we must push the envelope and stretch our arms out farther; we must strive to make statements, to make foolish(?) boasts and to work really hard to back them up. The only true glory comes in hanging your ass out over the line and seeing it pay off. This is what the Livermore Valley really could be. We know it...and welcome it.

That ass you see hanging out will be Steven Kent's.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wine For Those Who Know

We have never thought of ourselves as outsiders (outside of Napa, in this case), but rather as missionaries. We know what kind of quality our home is capable of delivering, and we figure if we tell the story often and well enough, our audience will eventually find us.

If you are competing against the best in the world, there comes a time when you have to put it in the glass. The "underdog" points you get from producing wine in the Livermore Valley get used up quickly when the discussion turns to world-class Cabernet.

January 1, 2008 marks the date that our career-long aspirations finally run head-on into reality. On the first day of the New Year, our finest Cabernets to date will become available to order.

Our Premier Cabernet Collection represents our highest winemaking achievement of the vintage...2006 yielded six spectacular, singular examples of Cab...all sharing a wonderful depth of flavor and ageability, and each made in extremely small quantities.

I'll be blogging about the genesis of this program, what goes into our evaluation of the wines, and why we think they are worthy of passion, as we move forward.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Piemonte in the Livemore Valley

Exciting and frustrating at the same time was the New World's predilection to plant everything in the same place. A whole new world of potential offerings was available, but you didn't know what you were going to get for several vintages, and a lot of expenditure.

At Steven Kent (and before that under the Ivan Tamas name), we have been producing California-Italian varietals since 1991. Though Trebbiano has gone by the way side, Barbera has thrived.

From our 1.5 acre HRV vineyard in Livermore, we produce a Barbera (grown mostly in the Piemonte region of Italy) for one of our wine clubs that exudes rich aromas of black plum, leather, soy, and subtle citrus notes. And while 5 vintages isn't long history, there is no reason to believe that the grape isn't suited just right for our Region 3 climate.

Called Fiore della Vita in honor of the artwork (above right) created by Thom Roberts (the handsome guy, also above right) one of our Barrel Room staffers, this wine is available to taste for the next 60 days in our Livermore tasting room.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Size Matters?

This article from the San Francisco Chronicle points out the difficulty in storing half-drunk bottles of wine.

Maybe the answer is a smaller bottle?

Monday, December 17, 2007

All Wine is Local

A story in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat yesterday caught my eye. The largest wine company in the world, Constellation Brands just bought 5 more wineries for nearly $600 million. This same company, which produces 110 million cases of wine a year, bought the Mondavi group of brands a year or so ago for $1.5 billion.

While the gigantic getting more gigantic makes selling wine to stores and restaurants much harder for wineries like Steven Kent and La Rochelle, it underscores again what we have come to learn...the best part of wine is local.

Being local is not the same thing as being close to home, not in the wine business. In the last several years, with the Supreme Court decision in 2005, being local means being able to send a bit more of the winery across more state lines to those who want our small-production wines. It also means, at least for us, that most new relationships we create come about face-to-face.

You come to the Winery, taste our wines, hopefully like them and the experience we shared together, and we get to continue to tell our story to you through each new release. This way of sharing can't be done by the mega-wineries.

All wineries lost shelf space today to Constellation, but a real and true and LOCAL relationship just got that much harder for them.

Past, Present, Future

For those who drink wine regularly it seems as if California wine, in its present state of world-class quality, has been around forever. The truth is, though, that it wasn't really until the late 1970s, early 1980s that California wine earned the "but, of course" status when high quality was the issue. And California wine as an industry is only nearing its 100th birthday. Compared to Europe, our wine industry and culture are still in their infancy.

A few decades can seem like forever and when a strong moment of inertia meets a critical ossification of thought, a sense of inevitability is the end product. All truthful winery owners (me included) would love to have the built-in "Napa premium" that our neighbors to the north enjoy when it comes to the critics and to the wine shop owners. Plenty of great wine is made in Napa, and no region has done anywhere near as good a job at telling its story than them.

And while this is true, it does not mean anything else but that. The fact is that there are more good wine regions than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio. The difference is that they are in the process of living up to their natural gifts and being discovered.

My appellation - the Livermore Valley - is just this sort of area. One of the oldest wine growing regions in California, blessed with warm days and cool evenings (there's your ripe fruit and acid retention), a wide variety of soil types, a bunch of micro-climates, etc. All the things that one needs to grow great fruit. What Livermore is discovering now is the real hard work of making really good wine..the slavish attention to detail in the vineyards, the farming for small yields, the buying of the best barrels, etc. This is a work in progress, and the progress is picking up pace every year.

Napa Valley produces great wine. And it will never produce anything surprising or exciting again. It has had its time. Areas like Livermore, Paso Robles, Santa Lucia Highlands, these are the areas where the excitement will be created. Our growing number of visitors each year are getting it. Some day the wine press may too.