Posts Tagged ‘Robert Mondavi’

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

July 7, 2012

I’m sure you’ve had one of those moments, when you smack yourself in the head and ask: “Why didn’t I think of that?”

It happened again to me a few days ago. I was online, doing research for another wine story, when I saw a reference to an online reservations system for wineries.

Wineries obviously take reservations, usually for special events. Many wineries are also only open by appointment — which often means an advance phone call or two and an e-mail query to an understaffed operation that’s not necessarily designed to be tourist-friendly. Nobody answers the phone after hours, in most cases.

It just makes sense some kind of formalized  reservations system — like Open Table in the restaurant trade — would work for the wine trade.

Vino Visit

VinoVisit began operations in late 2009. Today, it has more than 80 wineries on a growing list of clients in both the U.S. and Canada. A competitor, Cellar Pass, offers a similar service with a different list of participating wineries.

Familiar names on the VinoVisit roster include heavy tourist draws like Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi, which was the first winery to offer the VinoVisit experience, and Sonoma’s Sebastiani, plus there’s a pack of smaller wineries — like Cabernet specialist Von Strasser Winery in Calistoga — that are also onboard.

If you’ve ever booked an online restaurant reservation, then you’ll have no problems with VinoVisit.

Plan Ahead

I see this as a real time-saver for wine country visitors who prefer 24-hour access to winery information and trip scheduling without ever having to talk to a person until they arrive on-site. Being able to confirm a set day and time for a visit, allows busy tasters to fine-tune and expand their experience.

Sure, most winery websites are chock-a-block with info, but there’s not much of a chance of receiving any real guidance after normal business hours when many wine fanciers are home in front of their computers.

After-Hours Access

“We are staying true to the model to help attract visitor to the wine regions, in general, and then to continue to make it very easy for the winery to take reservations,” explained Bob Ianetta, VinoVisit founder.

“It’s very time-consuming. The phone call comes in. Somebody has to answer the phone, set up the calendar, and confirm all the details,” he said.”They get phone calls at night and emails, too. By the time the winery gets back to them… the guest moves on.”

Ianetta says with his system, 40 percent of reservations are being made after hours,  when wineries are closed.

“We are capturing new customers, potentially 24 hours a day,” he said. “We make it almost like an impulse buy. We make it so easy to book a reservation right there on the website.”

Potential visitors can make reservations directly on each participating winery’s website or directly through

Peju Province

At Peju Province Winery in Napa, use of the VinoVisit technology led them to expand the list of specialized tastings, boosting business at the upper end of the market where veteran wine tasters are looking for a novel experience and willing to pay for it.

“To drive greater awareness we increased the number of offerings to 5 or 6,” explained Dan Gaffey, Peju’s marketing manager. “Besides the scheduled tastings, we wanted to add something different.”

Peju Province Winery

Gaffey said they’ve experienced a 25 percent increase with the online system in place.

“It’s like an Open Table experience for wineries,” he said.

At Peju, which is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., you can sign up in advance for regular tastings plus barrel tastings, private tours, special tastings of reserve-style wines, and wine and cheese pairings.

Fees run from $30-$65/person. The standard tasting is $20, but the fee is waived if you purchase at least $35 in wine.


Hedging Bets With Cal Wine

September 10, 2011

With financial markets doing a crazy up-and-down dance around the globe these days, now might be a good time to invest in blue-chip California wines as a safe haven.

There’s definitely some upside potential and, even with a downturn, you can always drink your liquid assets.

 California Wine Month 

September is also California Wine Month, according to a proclamation from Gov. Jerry Brown that encourages citizens to pick up a glass and support the industry that rang up $18.4 billion in retail sales, employs more than 330,000 workers and drew 20.7 million tourists to the Golden State last year.

Here’s a list of special Wine Month activities, including several in or near the Bay Area.

Overseas Pricing Pressures

Globally,  more wealthy collectors in Asia are flexing their monetary muscle to acquire “trophy” wines from France like Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Le Pin and Ausone — all from Bordeaux.

When, not if, those collectors make a serious move on the California market, look out!

Hong Kong-based auctions — signaling the entry of “new money” from Asia — have pushed up prices for older vintages of top-ranked Bordeaux wines but haven’t helped light a fire underneath unreleased vintages of blue chip wines entering the sales pipeline.

The 2010 futures have been weak and the next vintage, from the 2011 harvest, is just now being picked or is still ripening in the vineyards.

The Wine Spectator Auction Index actually fell back a bit (3.6%) in the second quarter, after reaching a record high earlier this year. The index measures prices at auction of 32 blue chip wines from France, Italy, Portugal and California.

Blue Chip California Wines

All  California entries in the Wine Spectator index are cabernet-based wines from Napa that retail for more than $100, sometimes a lot more than $100. They include Araujo Eisele VineyardDominus EstateHarlan EstateHeitz Martha’s VineyardJoseph Phelps InsigniaOpus OneRobert Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve and Shafer Stags Leap District Hillside Select.

For most California cabernet producers, the latest vintages in retail distribution will be 2008 or 2009, depending on aging requirements.

On a lower price level, quality can be great from many Napa producers.

For example, I just tasted a really good bottle of 2008 Franciscan Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon ($27) sent to me by the winery for review. It had a lovely mocha backdrop with red berry fruit and finely integrated tannins. The wine improved overnight, with the flavors melding together nicely.

Mondavi will introduce its 2008 Napa Valley Reserve next Saturday (Sept. 17) with a special tasting from 2-5 p.m. at the winery in Oakville. Tickets are $75 in advance and visitors will be treated to the new release plus older vintages of reserve wines and a special tasting menu prepared by chef Jeff Mosher.

Screaming Deal

The highest priced Napa wine is usually Screaming Eagle, which can retail for $2000 (or more) per bottle after release.

The exclusive Napa winery’s sister winemaking operation, Jonata Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley near Buellton, offers a more “reasonably” priced selection of red wines from $50 to $125 per bottle.

The 2008 vintage from Jonata is due to be released next Wednesday (Sept. 14).

Wine and the World Series

October 22, 2010

Beer may be baseball’s mainstay beverage, but there’s room for wine in any fan’s hands as we edge closer and closer to the World Series.

In fact, the hard-charging San Francisco Giants roster begs for a comparison with a really good wine list.

Here’s how I see the line-up, through wine-tinted glasses:

Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, is the ace on the Giants pitching staff, winning twice in post-season play with a l.69 ERA. Affectionately known as “the Freak,” with his long hair and slight build, Lincecum keeps hitters off-balance with sneaky speed and a tempting change-up that has baffled most opponents this year.

Giants Ace Tim Lincecum

Lincecum is like a top-drawer pinot noir, with a racy intrigue and tasty finish that’s hard to replicate. I’d look toward the Santa Lucia Highlands for a wine that matches the ace’s on-field performance. Something like the outrageously good Siduri Wines 2008 pinot noir fits the bill. It’s made from the legendary Garys’ Vineyard, located on the edge of the Salinas Valley. This is a big pinot, with luscious red cherry fruit that will improve over time, just like Lincecum.

Buster Posey

Although he’s originally from Georgia, a state where moonshine might be the drink of choice, clean-up hitter  Buster Posey honed his skills right here in Wine Country. The rookie spent time with both Fresno and San Jose in the Giants minor league system before joining the big league club in late May. The hard-hitting catcher and clean-up hitter has been a star ever since.

He’s an everyday hero who I’d compare to a big Napa Valley cabernet. Something with a track record of success like the Silver Oak Cellars 2005, a ready-to-drink selection with strong red fruit and a smooth finish that delivers great taste vintage-to-vintage.

Cody Ross

A hidden gem in the Giants lineup is the late-season addition of Cody Ross. The outfielder picked up on waivers late in the season from Florida Marlins and he quickly made his presence felt as the team’s unexpected hero. Ross swatted four post-season home runs and collected seven RBIs going into the fifth game of the Giants’ National League Championship Series with Philadelphia. Ross reminds me of a “little” wine that over-delivers on quality at a reasonable price. Like the McConnell Estate’s 2007 cabernet sauvignon ($15) from Lodi. This is a smooth customer, discovered at last weekend’s Lodi Wine Fest on Treasure Island, with just enough backbone to support the lively black fruit and currant flavors.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson is the madman of the Giants bullpen. With a bushy beard dyed deep black, he’s responsible for the Giants battle cry “Fear the Beard” that pops up on homemade signs throughout AT&T Park in every game. I didn’t have a second thought when it came to a wine that reminded me of this gritty reliever. It’s the Prisoner, a zinfandel-based blend from Orin Swift that has been great every time I’ve tasted it. The 2007 Prisoner ($35) needs a bit of time to open up, and then it comes on like gangbusters with bowl-you-over blackberry fruit and rich tannins.

Aubrey Huff

First baseman Aubrey Huff is a 10-year veteran who played for Tampa Bay and Baltimore before coming to San Francisco in 2009. He was a solid contributor down the stretch for the Giants, collecting 86 RBIs and 26 homeruns in the regular season. I’d compare him to a high-toned merlot, not too flashy but built on solid fundamentals.

Two merlots I recently tasted from the an up-and-coming district in Napa come closest to matching Huff’s intensity. I enjoyed the Silverado Mount George 2006 merlot ($50) and the Coho 2006 merlot from the Michael Black Vineyard ($55), both tasted earlier this month in a Coombsville District tasting event.

Pat Burrell

Outfielder Pat Burrell played for the Phillies for eight seasons before defecting to Tampa last year and then joining the Giants for the 2010 campaign. He’s another acquisition who has brought power to the SF lineup, slugging 20 homes runs and collecting 56 RBIs this season.

I’d compare Burrell’s performance to a powerful but smooth-sipping syrah, like the excellent 2006 Zio Tony Ranch ($75) from Martinelli Winery in Sonoma.

Freddy Sanchez

Second baseman Freddy Sanchez has been with the Giants for two seasons after stints in Boston and Pittsburgh. He’s a good fielder and reliable singles hitter, who has hit over .290 in an SF uniform.

I’d match up Sanchez with an award-winning chardonnay with a great track record, like the Ridge Monte Bello chardonnay, an award-winning bottling from Ridge Vineyards, which is better known for its legendary Monte Bello cabernet. I got my first taste of the Ridge 2008 chardonnay ($65) a few weeks ago and I’m sold. It’s gold juice with tropical fruit and citrus overtones that counterbalance just the right touch of oak.

The wine will be officially released later this year. Only 250 cases were produced, so get yours quick or wait ’til next year.

Juan Uribe

Infielder Juan Uribe was the star of Game Four of the NLCS with an outstanding fielding play to stave off a Phillies rally and a walk-off fly ball that won Game 4 of the NLCS for the Giants. This was the hardest pick of the bunch, so I went with a personal favorite that’s reliable and inexpensive. I’m talking about the Don’s Lodi Red, an $8 blended red that contains carignane and syrah plus a dash of symphony — a flowery-tasting hybrid grape developed at UC-Davis. I buy this wine  — from Michael-David Vineyards — by the case and sometimes sneak it into blind tastings with higher-priced brands just to see the reaction when the price is revealed.

Andres Torres

Andres Torres always seems to be smiling and hustling, two characteristics that helped earn him the 2010 Willie Mac Award given to the most popular player on the Giants roster each year. He’s backed up that popularity with some key hitting (16 homers and 56 RBIS) that helped deliver the Giants to the doorstep of the World Series. He reminds me of a California sparkling wine, something that goes with any celebration, like the Gloria Ferrer VA de VI ($22), a non-vintage cuvee that’s pinot noir and chardonnay blended with a dollop of fruity muscat. Definitely a pick-me-up wine!

Pablo Sandoval

Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed “The Panda,” had an up-and-down season on offense and defense, but broke out of his batting slump in the playoffs with a key hit as a starter in Game 5 of the NLCS. He’s like a good bottle of everyday wine that you forget you had, like the Robert Mondavi  bottle of wine that you lost track of and, upon re-discovering it, found \that it was still enjoyable. Like the 2007 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon ($28), an easy-to-enjoy dinner wine with a core of red fruits and complementary sweet oak.

Matt Cain

Matt Cain has been a solid performer on the mound all season and his success continues in the play-offs with just one run allowed in two games. He just keeps getting better and better with every outing, like one of my favorite daily-drinking chardonnays from Edna Valley. The 2008 Edna Valley chardonnay from Paragon Vineyards on  the Central Coast continues a long string of reliable vintages that feature tropical fruit tastes and a nice touch of oak.

Jonathan Sanchez

Jonathan Sanchez has pitched well enough to win in the post-season, but without enough offensive support to seal the deal. Still, he owns a 2.03 ERA and collected 18 strikeouts in two play-off appearances in which opposing batters managed just .149 against the lefthander.

I’d compare Sanchez to a zingy sauvignon blanc, like the wine made by Rochioli near Healdsburg. While Rochioli’s claim to fame is delicious pinot noir, it’s worst kept secret is the estate sauvignon blanc. With a $40 pricetag, this is high-class juice, but it’s so smooth with just the right touch of oak that it’s hard to resist. Join the winery’s waiting list (aveage wait to join is five years) to assure yourself of access to the future Rochioli offerings.

Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner is the Giants fourth starter. He won against Atlanta in the division series and then pitched well in game 4 of the NLCS against the Phillies, but left without earning a decision. He’s a 21-year-old, hard-throwing left-hander who’s got a long career ahead of him. I’d liken to one of the smaller, newer producers with a big future in Wine Country, like Urban Legend near Jack London Square which is making its reputation on out-of-the-ordinary varietals like its 2008 barbera ($25), a Cal-Ital wine made from grapes grown in Clarksburg. This round, red and delicious selection would complement pasta, pizza or grilled red meats.

Auction Action Ahead

May 20, 2009

Napa Charity Affair

The Napa Valley Vintners Auction cranks up next month with dozens of auction-related festivities leading up to the main event on June 6. There will be 42 lots of  ultra-exclusive wine, wine-and-food-related trips and winery-hosted events  up for bid.  I’ve got my eye on Lot 42, which includes  not just 40 bottles of top-shelf wine, but also an all-expenses-paid trip to New York on a private jet, a suite at the Plaza Hotel plus luxury box tickets to the US Open tennis tournament.  Before the bidding begins, guests from around the world will be treated to a never-ending parade of gourmet food, wines and entertainment under a tent at the exclusive Meadowood resort.  A limited supply of all-inclusive tickets ($1000-$2500) are available along with single-event tickets ($250).ANV09-logo_lg

Notable among other related events is the annual Barrel Tasting and Futures Auction on June 5 at Robert Mondavi Winery. Attendees can taste barrel samples from more than 100 Napa wineries and then bid on special lots of selected wines for future delivery. Profits from auction events go to local charities, which have received $85 million since the inaugural 1981 auction.  If you want to bid, but can’t attend in person, there is an online auction option. Online bidding begins May 22 and ends June 5.