Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lunch With My Daughter - Part 2

Though I don't succeed as well as I would like to in creating a special and individual time with each of my 4 kids, I keep soldiering on. My oldest daughter, April, is making it easier on me, though, by graciously accepting her dad's invitation for lunch a couple of time a month.

As I noted in an earlier post, April is studying Hospitality Management at San Francisco State, and being only a few minutes from one of the great restaurant towns in the world is a convenient way to indulge in dad-daughter time...great wine...and great food.

On Wednesday, we had lunch at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building. April is a vegetarian so I figured that this well regarded Vietnamese restaurant would have be right up her alley. It was...and the food was ridiculous.

I asked our server, Johnny, what's the one dish I should have and he told this great story about how the yellow tail collarbone had been discarded as unusable until the chef started making it for the staff meal. The staff raved so much about it that they put it on the more collarbone for the staff!

The collarbone (before and after pictures below) is flash fried then grilled and arrives on the table with just a dipping sauce. Oh my! Crispy crust, meat so tender it is almost criminal, white flaky tender....

This is one of those dishes that I will order again even in the midst of an abundance of wonderful sounding food. The two of us shared a dry muscat from Spain that had a bit of fizz to it...very nice and an Oregon Pinot, very typical. The wine list was well put together, favoring more fruit forward and less tannic wines that pair nicely with the cuisine.

The nicest moment for me came when I spied my daughter from across the room with the absolutely perfect day (and the Bay Bridge) shining in from the window behind her holding her wine glass up and contemplating what she was tasting....the cockles of my heart were warmed!

Part 3 in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Harvest Festival - True to Its Name

Every Labor Day weekend for the last 27 years, the Livermore Valley wineries have celebrated the grape harvest with thousands of wine lovers. The wineries pull out all the stops: partnering with local restaurants to serve food, set up stages for bands to play, and pulling out a large selection of wines for those oenophiles to taste.

In the preceding 12 years, though, the one thing we had not done at Steven Kent was actually have any fruit come in. 2008 will mark the first time we will have harvested fruit prior to Labor Day weekend. On Friday, we will bring in the Sauvignon Blanc from blocks 8 and 10 at our estate ranch, the Ghielmetti Vineyard.

The Livermore Valley Harvest Festival is the premier event for the Valley's vintners and growers. It is the one true occasion each year in which we get to showcase the natural beauty and world-class quality of our appellation. And with 43 wineries in the Valley now (there were 17 back in 1996 when we started), there is more energy and commitment to quality than ever.

On the Steven Kent and La Rochelle site the crowd favorite, Bacchus Brothers, will be performing, and there will be great BBQ to go along with a wide selection of wines including our Barn Burner, a blend made by our Tasting Room team especially for the Festival.

Join us Sunday and Monday for a great time and great wines.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What's the Big Deal with Aged Wine?

Perhaps I am a troglodyte, in a camp of one, on the outside, not part of the mainstream, etc. But I don't get all the fuss about aged wines.

Tasting with really knowledgeable and experienced wine drinkers often, there hasn't been a time when someone questioned whether the wine was too young, too old; lamented "infanticide" of a recent vintage, harkened longingly back to that dusty old Bordeaux .

One of the most amazing aspects of wine is its constantly mutable character. The first sip is different than the last; the last bottle of the case showing immense differences from the first. But often, these changes aren't for the better. I am an unabashed lover of young wine. There, I said it!

My father's model was Bordeaux. Growing conditions and winemaking culture necessitated long-term aging before those wines revealed any of their charms. "Charms" is used loosely here. For those wines, to me, have great intellectual interest and curiosity, but little gustatory gusto.

I appreciate the effects that time have on wine, the polished curves, the brandied aromas, soft tannins, melding of fruit and wood. But give me the corners and the over-reaching; the impertinence of youth.

I think critics are on the wrong track in factoring ageability into the matrix for quality. What is a 20-year California Cabernet, but a circus freak? Gone is the exuberance of fruit, the astringency of tannin, the mouth-coating wonderfulness of that glorious richness. Ageability is a vestige of a paradigm that has nothing to do with California...a vinous appendix. Let the Bordelais celebrate their aged and dimmed wines. Raise your glass to impetuosity.

What do you think? How important is a wine's ageability in assessing its quality? Am I just a heathen, or am I on to something here?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Are There Cracks in Napa's Glass...And Can We Make Them Bigger?

There was an interesting article in the Napa Valley Register yesterday, warning Napa Valley producers that they are not the only game in town anymore. If Napa is to continue its hegemonic position in the wine world, the article's author writes, it needs to refocus its attention on what it does best.

The author points to a new high-end restaurant in Oakland that doesn't have a single Napa Valley wine on its list as proof that Napa is beginning to take for granted its place in the wine world. And while I don't think that there will ever be a time when Napa isn't the dominant wine region in the US, other regions, like the Livermore Valley, need to do more to bring their wines to a larger restaurant and wine shop audience.

I am deeply conflicted about selling wine through the three-tier system. First, the system only benefits the smallest subset of participants: namely the large distributors, mega brands, and the politicians who receive enormous contributions from the distributors. Small brands are not going to succeed long term presenting their wines this way. They do not have the marketing muscle, case volume, profit potential, or visibility that the mega-brands do. Most distributor sales reps are paid on commission, and when it comes to putting bread on the table, it is the order and not the brand building that takes priority. Secondly, I prefer to know what those who consume my wine think of it. Through direct sale at the winery and through our wine clubs, I have the honor of talking with a great many people who tell me exactly what they think. The gratification and responsibility is immediate.

The conflict comes, though, from the fact that looking askance at an opportunity to tell my story, to pour my wine for someone who hasn't tasted yet, is too important to pass up, no matter how it comes about. If a wine region, like Napa did starting in the 1970s, bands together to show the larger world what it can do, and it continually produces better and better wine, it has a chance
to succeed as a group in this incredibly competitive business.

What do you think? Do you search wine lists for Livermore Valley wines? Are you seeing more good wines coming from Livermore today than 5 years ago? What can we do better?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How Wine and Soccer are Exactly the Same

If you get into the wine business, you are in for the long haul. There aren't any shortcuts to planting your vineyard, farming it for three years before you get a usable crop, making your wine and putting it in barrel for two years; then putting it in bottle for a year before finally selling it.

This same long build applies to soccer too. Unlike most American sports that put a premium on scoring, a successful game of soccer is a succession of feints and flurries, an accumulation of foreign territory until finally (if it comes at all), the ball finds the back of the net.

Anticipation is huge when it comes to've been storing this special bottle for years for just the right occasion; you take out your finest glassware, cook that perfect meal, pop the cork, pour, and then you're overwhelmed by vinous goodness. This exact same quality is what makes soccer the great sport it is. The paucity of scoring is what adds such value to the goal when it finally comes...90-minutes of flat-out running, headers, slide tackles, the beautiful synchronicity of the wall pass and give-and-go, all in service to that one moment of fulfillment.

I could also mention the historic, relative lack of enthusiasm (until recently) for wine and soccer in America and the perceived dominance of Europe vs. America in wine and soccer (again, until recently), but the point is made.

Now either I'm right about this or I've been watching too many of my daughters' soccer games. I guess the real point is that, at least with wine and soccer, often much time must pass before the real special richness of each is obvious.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New Wines Soon

I spent a very enjoyable last couple of days culling through our 2006 Ghielmetti Vineyard Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot lots. I take a glass and a plastic cup and a wine thief and my clip board to the barrel stacks and a taste a sample from each barrel, write notes and grade each wine. Depending upon how far along in their lives the wines are, I am looking for different things.

At this point with the 2006 vintage, I am tasting wines that are pretty close to being where we want them for release. And boy did I find some spectacular wines, too. In part because of the success of the La Rochelle project (with its multitude of small lot wines), but mostly because we now have the right vineyard bearing a wide variety of wonderful fruit, we will be releasing very small lots of wine for all of guests that particularly display varietal typicity, deliciousness, interest, and world-class quality.

I have had the growing sense lately that the decisions I have made regarding, especially, the amount of time some of our Bordeaux varieties spend in wood, need to be revised. Generally, we use a fairly high percentage of new barrels, and it has been our practice to keep Cabernet in barrel a full two years. For the first vintage or so of the other Bordeaux, the practice has been the same. After tasting through these lots, however, I have found some wonderful fruit characteristics showing through at 18 months in barrel that may not be there at 24.

Though we have wine making protocols, they are not recipes. Each vintage is different and requires modified thought processes to make successful wines from them. I think it may play out, however, that we see a more general move to reducing time in barrel (or a higher percentage of older barrels) for more of our wines. Later this year expect a single barrel each of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot in the Barrel Room in both 750ml and magnum formats.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lunch with my Daughter

Sometimes parents (ok, I'm talking about myself, here), make assumptions about what their children are going to like or what they might do when they get out of college. My father (5th generation) never talked to me about going into the family business, probably because I made no bones about my desire to do something else. Well, life took the turns it does, and I wound up back in the family business (can't imagine anything else now!). This is where my kids come into play.

It really isn't my nature to let things just happen, and, though I am trying to show enough of the business to them to get them really excited about the thing their dad does, I try to do it in as subtle a fashion as possible.

Good food is an important part of our lives, personally and professionally. And the opportunities I get to have a meal with one of my kids always end up being a wonderful time. My oldest child, April, who is studying Hospitality Management (concentration in Event Planning) is going to school at San Francisco State, and today we had lunch at one of our favorite City restaurants, Rose Pistola in North Beach (try the house cured sardines and summer truffle raviolos with sweet corn, pictures below).

April turned 21 a few months ago, and the wine education is now beginning in force. I can get excited when talking about wine and April and I talked about appellations in Europe vs. California, what grapes go into Chianti, Barbera in Piemonte vs. ours from was really fun (for me, anyway). The chance to express the wonder of wine to one of my kids is just an amazing experience.

Where this intersects with the larger wine world is in the personal-ness of the experience. It doesn't have to be one of my children, I feel a similar jolt every time I have the occasion to talk to someone who shares this passion that I have. I think what underlines everything we do at the Steven Kent Winery is the attempt to make a connection...the desire to make personal what so often is nameless and faceless. We have tried to make sure that all of our club members and guests feel, at least for a short time while they are at the Winery, that they are part of the family. We hope you feel this too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tasting the 2002 Smith Ranch Cabernet

Play the video for an update on the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Smith Ranch

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Are We Losing a Generation of Wine Lovers?

Steve Heimoff, a very thoughtful, and talented wine writer with Wine Enthusiast magazine posted a new entry on his blog questioning the interest "millenials" (those folks under 30) have in wine. The conclusions he cites don't make the winemaker's heart sing.

Those cited claim that colorful cocktails have taken the place and the dollar that wine had 5 years ago. Our recent experience at Steven Kent belies this, however.

I have absolutely no evidence for this except for my own, often bleary, anecdotal observations, but I think the number of young people who have visited us in the last year or so has increased dramatically.

And I think the chief reason for this is the same reason that gives me hope that we are building a true, wine-loving culture in California: wine isn't that big a deal any more.

By no big deal, I mean this new group of people ( I hate those generational labels!) is the first that has seen wine as a regular part of their every day experience. Mom and Dad weren't celebrating an anniversary, they were celebrating surviving the day. They knew that the wine they chose would not only ease the cares but also make the food they were eating taste better. A shared bottle of wine was the vehicle for re-connnection, for new-memory making.

In this case, familiarity breeds comfort. As the under-30's (sorry!) find the beginnings of their careers and the income that goes with it, the natural consequence, it seems to me, is that they begin to find their wine legs. The underpinnings have been erected; now they place their own favorites on this framework.

Welcome to wine and to Steven Kent!