Posts Tagged ‘sebastiani’

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.


On the Road in Arizona

March 23, 2012

I’ve been on the road a bit lately and discovered some excellent California wines while visiting Arizona to play golf and check out the Spring Training baseball scene.

For seven years running, I’ve spent a week in March in  Phoenix  with four high school buddies seeking sunshine and camaraderie.

The Valley of the Sun provides a lot of options for fine dining and drinking, so I figured I’d share some of my experiences.

Grand Canyon State of Mind

Arizona does have a handful of wineries, mostly in the southern portion of the state outside Tucson. On this trip,  I turned to locally produced beers for diversion.

The brewpub scene is alive and well in the Phoenix metroplex. I tried several homegrown selections and my favorite, turned out to be HopKnot, an IPA from Four Peaks in Tempe.

Following an afternoon baseball game, the brewpub was packed with students from nearby Arizona State University and a mob of hungry and thirsty out-of-towners.

The brewpub is inside an old creamery/warehouse building in an industrial district.

The food is good, basic pub grub and the beers are fresh and tasty.

Besides the Hopknot, an IPA that was the hands down favorite at our table, I enjoyed the Kiltlifter Scottish-style Ale for its sweet malty flavors.

Scottsdale Dinner Break

I always book a table at the Atlas Bistro in Scottsdale when I’m in the area.

The restaurant is small. Only 10 tables. And, it’s located in a nondescript strip mall.

Chef Carlos Manriquez

But, it’s a great place to eat with a wonderful chef, Carlos Manriquez, who has a long track record of gastronomic success.

And, they let you bring your own wine.

That’s important because BYOB is against the law in Arizona, unless the restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license.

The bistro doesn’t suffer because it’s located next door to AZ Wines, one of the best wine stores in the Grand Canyon State.

Alpha Omega

My longtime friend, Paul Ainger, turned me on to a great cabernet sauvignon from Alpha Omega a few months ago, so I was ready to be pleased when he recommended that we put a bottle of the AO chardonnay ($51) on the table at Atlas.

Paul’s batting two-for-two with this recommendation because this Napa chardonnay hits a flavor home run.

The wine is finely balanced, creamy, round and full-flavored with hints of honeysuckle and vanilla. Citrus flavors mingled with apple and a dash of sweet melon.

It was so good, we ordered a second bottle. Same reaction. The balance of fruit and acid was seamless, near perfect.

AO winemaker Jean Hoefliger, with help from jet-setting French consultant Michel Rolland, is on a roll up in Rutherford.

The chardonnay married well with a couple orders of sweetbreads over baby greens that we shared plus a plate of Kurobuta pork belly with polenta that was gobbled up by our group.

The AO carried over nicely with what the restaurant calls its “Absurd Cheese Platter” featuring a rotating selection of 10 international selections.

I can’t remember all of the cheeses, but the entire experience was absurdly delicious!

Sebastiani Scores

We  also tried several red wines that I brought along from my cellar, but one really stood out.

The 2002  Sebastiani Winery Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, which made the Wine Spectator Top 100 list  in 2005, is drinking beautifully now.

I bought a case for $180 and have just a couple of bottles left.

It will be hard to replace, having sold out at the winery long ago.

The wine tastes of slightly dusty black fruit. The blackberry and cassis flavors marry well with the just-below-the-surface tannins to provide excellent balance and structure.

It was a great match for a divine pork confit with juicy meat that nearly melted on the plate.

I’m already gearing up my palate for a return engagement next year!.