Tag Archives: wineries

Get on the bus: The road to Bien Nacido Vineyards #WBC14

24 Jul

The first time I boarded a school bus, I was a five-year-old kindergartener toting a thermos full of orange juice. My biggest mistake was sitting next to a boy, not knowing that girls and boys had to sit on opposite sides of the bus. I thought he was cute. He thought I had cooties.

The last time I boarded a school bus was two weeks ago. This time, I am a wine blogger of–ahem–a certain age, toting a wineglass full of rosé.  My biggest mistake was sitting in the back–right next to the stripper pole.

Bien Nacido Bus

Yes, Virginia–that is a stripper pole.

This is how the Friday night excursion at Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 began. I and 30 other bloggers boarded the Stripper Pole School Bus with no idea where we were going until the bus engine started. Our destination: Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley AVA.


Once there, we were transferred to the “CHOOL BUS,” the official mode of transportation at Bien Nacido. We were chauffeured away in primary-school comfort to the Z Block, home to some of the finest Syrah vines in the region and voted one of the top 25 vineyards in the world.


Get on the “Chool” bus.

Nicholas Miller, vice president of sales and marketing for The Thornhill Companies, the umbrella company that owns Bien Nacido Vineyards, noted that 100- and 90-point wines come from grapes grown in Z Block (a block is a section of the vineyard). For the record, ‘bien nacido’ means well-born, and the grapes born in Bien Nacido grow up to be made into some of California’s best wines.

Don't' worry, you won't go to the principal's office for drinking on this school bus.

Don’t’ worry, you won’t go to the principal’s office for drinking on this school bus.

Bien Nacido Vineyards is not open to the public, nor do they have a tasting room. They grow grapes for clients including Hitching Post, Au Bon Climat, Qupé, Foxen and Longoria. Besides Syrah, Bien Nacido also grows Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, among other wine grapes.

Very young Syrah grapes from Z Block.

Very young Syrah grapes from Z Block.

After winding up a gentle slope, the Chool Bus stopped on a perch with a view of some of the 600-plus acres of vines at Bien Nacido. Free to wander around the vineyards, we selfied away with the grapes, the view, and each other, while Gray Hartley, winemaker for Hitching Post Wines, poured Foxen Chardonnay, made from grapes grown on the property.

Gary Hartley poses for a close-up of Foxen Chardonnay.

Gray Hartley poses for a close-up of Foxen Chardonnay.

Traipsing through the vines at Z Block was a religious experience, and like most religious experiences, this one left me famished. We boarded the bus again, making our way to the property’s historic adobe, built by Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros in 1857. A five-second history lesson: Ontiveros bought the ranch from his father-in-law, Tomas Olivera, who first received the property as a land grant from Spain. Fast-forward to 1969, and that’s when the Miller family bought the property.

For dinner, we were treated to a traditional, Santa Barbara-style barbecue with grilled vegetables and what felt like an endless supply of world-class wines. By the way, don’t ask me to define “traditional Santa Barbara-style barbecue.” I’m sure they explained it, but by then I was having a religious experience of the one-glass-too-many kind.


Dinner on the adobe patio.

Yes, there were dump buckets. But if you were offered a pour from a magnum of 1997 Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir,  not only would you drink all of it, you might be inclined to lick the inside of your glass. Don’t worry – I didn’t. I just got another pour.


Turns out sitting by the stripper pole was not a mistake after all. Out of the 30 bloggers, not a one cozied up to it on the bus ride back to our hotel. Maybe it’s because we were all in a post-vino lull. Or maybe we’re just too well-born for that kind of thing.




Canadian #wine, eh? Part 2 of 3

19 Jul

Question: What’s worse than taking bad photos on a wine tasting trip?  Answer: Accidentally deleting the album on your computer.

Yep, color me embarrassed chicas y chicos, but somehow I managed to lose a chunk of my pictures from Canada’s wine country. But in the spirit of Stiff Upper Lipping it, let’s all keep calm and drink wine.

Today’s post features more wines I discovered while attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2013 in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine region.

And you all know what comes next: El Full Disclosure! Say it loud, say it proud–I got free wine samples while attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2013, which happens at these events (duh!). None of the folks who plied me with free sips paid me to write any of the following content; the opinions are mine,  as are thet photos I rescued from my iPhone.

In no particular order, I give you…

1. Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced Inka Meep)

A FIrst Nation dancer greeted us at Spirit Ridge Resort.

A FIrst Nation dancer greeted us at Spirit Ridge Resort.

The first North American winery to be owned and operated by aboriginal, or native peoples, Nk’Mip is run by the Osoyoos Indian Band of First Nation people. The winery produces Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Icewine and various blends. In other words, there’s something for everyone.

Not a wine drinker? There’s something for you, too. Nk’Mip Cellars partners with Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa, which is located on Lake Osoyoos. So while you’re friends are a-sippin’, you can be a-destressin’. Sippin’ just happens part of my de-stressin’ routine, but I digress…

Nk’Mip Cellars was voted “BC Winery of the Year” at the Canadian Wine Awards in 2012.


Inniskillin's classy packaging. Oh, and the wine's pretty good, too.

Inniskillin’s classy packaging. Oh, and the wine’s pretty good, too.

Remember my blog post about what makes a wine sweet? You don’t?  I’m not offended. Here it is again. If you look at #2, cryoextraction, you’ll get a sense for how Icewine is  made. And it bears repeating that Canada produces some of the world’s finest Icewine.

Inniskillin harvests the grapes they use in their Icewine during the Okanagan winter months. The grapes freeze on the vine at -8 degrees Celsius. That’s 17.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is a glorious, nectar-like wine with a honeyed taste and hints of ripe apricot and honeysuckle.

Inniskillin won the Top Canadian Producer International Wine and Spirits Competition in London in 2012.

3. See Ya Later Ranch

Who doesn’t love a juicy bit of chisme? (That’s ‘gossip’ for my English-language readers).

In 1919, dog-loving Major Hugh Fraser purchased land in this remote part of the Okanagan Valley and built himself a ranch. Quite the character, the Major threw some wild parties and was a bit of a free spirit. Legend has it that his lovely English bride grew tired of the dogs and the isolation, so she bailed, leaving behind a note that said, “See ya later.”

Today, See Ya Later  is the highest elevation vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, and the views from there are breathtaking. If you can’t visit, try hunting down the 2011 Pinot 3, which won a Silver  Medal at the 2012 San Francisco International Wine Competition and a Bronze Medal the same year at the International Wine & Spirits Competition.

No photos of See Ya Later Ranch survived my iPhoto fiasco, which leaves me with no choice but to go back. ¡Salud!

Next week: Visiting the Okanagan Valley: How to plan your own Canadian wine odyssey

Vino 101: Wine Tasting Tips, Part 2

28 Feb

Still ticked off about the spit bucket being your new BFF? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look-sie at Wine Tasting Tips, Part 1 for the first in this two-chapter primer on how have a fabuloso wine tasting experience.


So now that you know about reds before whites, the five S’s, and the infamous dump bucket rule, here are three more tips to make your next winery-hopping weekend a snob-free breeze:

4. Be vino-lingual. Consider the Wine Snob, that pompous dork (or dorkita) whose contrived geek-speak upon taking a sip of Chateau-de-Je-Ne-Sais-Pas makes me want to douse their ecstatic rapture with the contents of a dump bucket. If you remember anything from reading this blog, it’s this: Don’t. Let. The. Big. Words. Scare. You.  Now that we’ve got that straight, here are some basic wine-tasting terms you may hear:

Astringent. A puckering sensation caused by a wine’s tannins (see below)

Bouquet. Not quite the same thing as “aroma,” “bouquet” refers the smells a wine develops as it ages in the bottle

Complex. A wine that displays various characteristics, such as fruit, earth, acidity, floral aromas, etc. Usually a mark of quality.

Dry. The opposite of sweet

Earthy. Your tío Pedro may have an earthy sense of humor (i.e. raunchy). In wine, earthiness is like the smell of a garden after it rains.

Finish. What happens after you’ve taken a sip of wine. Think about how long the flavors linger, and whether the wine has a kick or leaves a smooth sensation.

Fruit forward. A wine in which fruity aromas and flavors are dominant

Full-bodied. A wine with high alcohol or a heavier feel on the palate

Jammy. The taste of ripe, almost preserved fruit. Usually an indicator that the wine is made from grapes grown in a hot climate.

Minerally. The taste and smell of gravel, chalk, wet stones, granite. Some French and Spanish wines are prized for their minerality.

Mouthfeel. A wine’s texture. Think silky, velvety, soft, mellow, supple, coarse, rustic, etc.

Residual sugar. The sugar left over in a wine after fermentation

Tannic. Tannins are natural compounds in grape skins and seeds. They also can be found in the wood from barrels used for aging wine. Heavily tannic wines leave an astringent, puckering sensation in the mouth.

Terroir.  The influence of climate, weather, soil and geology on a grapevine. Can also be used to describe the earthy aromas and flavors of a wine.

Well-balanced. A wine in which acidity, tannins, fruit and alcohol are evenly present.


5. Food sold separately–somewhere else. A tasting room is simply that – a space for tasting wine, and not a café or wine bar. On occasion, a winery may serve water crackers, but these are more a kind gesture than a snack. If your wine tasting sojourn spans the lunch hour, you may want to pack some sandwiches and fruit (or any portable, fuss-free food you may like) and have a picnic in between tastings. Most wineries allow visitors to bring food and eat in designated outdoor areas.


6. Save dessert for last. You may see dessert wines being offered on tasting room wine lists. Going back to the picnic for a minute, you wouldn’t eat the cupcakes before the turkey and brie baguette, would you? For some of the same reasons, you should taste the dessert wine last. Dessert wines, as you may recall from previous posts, are often honey-sweet and heavier on the palate. If you start with a late-harvest or dessert wine, any dry, lighter-bodied wines you taste after that will seem watered down and flat.

Now go forth and taste wine, chicas y chicos, and let me know how you fare. ¡Salud!

Most Romantic Wineries

14 Feb

There’s more to Valentine’s Day than sappy cards and waxy chocolate. And if you’re reading this, something tells me you know what that would be: Vino!

Yes, darlings, if you want to really score some points this Valentine’s Day (or to paraphrase the late, great Donna Summer, anytime you feel love), get thee to a winery. Here, in no particular order, are Señorita Vino’s top three romantic winery picks. Mmmmuuahhhh!

1. St. Supéry Estate Vineyards and Winery, Napa Valley

Do you remember your first time? The exhilaration, the butterflies in your stomach, the thought that this could be The One? Ah yes…I’ll never forget the first time I joined a wine club without telling my husband. It was St. Supéry.

The Atkinson House at St. Supéry Vineyards. Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

The Atkinson House at St. Supéry Vineyards. Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

My idea of the perfect date - a private barrel tasting. Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

My idea of the perfect date – a private barrel tasting. Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

Pétanque, s'il vous plait! Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

Pétanque, s’il vous plait! Photo courtesy of St. Supéry.

And Señor Jim was so accepting of my impulsive streak that we celebrated one of his Big Birthdays here with a private barrel tasting. Sip some of their sublime Sauvignon Blanc, then indulge your inner francophile with a game of pétanque. That’s French for bocce. Santé!

2. Bodega y Granja Narbona, Carmelo, Uruguay

The only depressing part of my visit to Bodega Narbona was that I was on business and thus traveling without my better half, the sensational Señor Jim. This is the kind of place that will make even the most die-hard cynic break out the red wine and roses. Not only can you taste a selection of fine Uruguayan wines, including the country’s signature Tannat, but you can dine here and stay the night. ¡Excelente!

A tasting room at Bodega Narbona. Photo courtesy of Bodega Narbona.

A tasting room at Bodega Narbona. Photo courtesy of Bodega Narbona.

Old-world charm in a new-world winery. A guest room at Bodega Narbona (image courtesy o Bodega Narbona).

Old-world charm in a new-world winery. A guest room at Bodega Narbona (image courtesy of Bodega Narbona).

An al fresco lunch at Bodega Narbona.

An al fresco lunch at Bodega Narbona.

Carmelo is in the heart of Uruguay’s wine country. It’s fairly easy to get there from Buenos Aires. Take the ferry to Colonia del Sacramento and then take a bus or taxi to Carmelo.

3. Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley

¿Qué cosa? A medieval castle in the middle of a California vineyard? Winemaker Dario Sattui was so taken with medieval architecture and a particular castle he visited in Beaune, France that he decided to build one of his own back home. Besides the well-known international varietals like Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay, Castello di Amorosa produces Italian classics such as Pinot Grigio, Barbera and Sangiovese.

A view of the castle from the vineyard. Photo courtesy of Liza Gershman Photography.

A view of the castle from the vineyard. Photo courtesy of Liza Gershman Photography.

And here’s the super-romántico, almost-too-good-for-a-telenovela part: The winery offers two different proposal packages! Yes, chicas y chicos, you can pop the question in the castle tower or in a “hidden” room. You get 30 minutes of privacy, a  bottle of wine and a fruit and cheese platter. You even get to keep the glasses! That’s what I call romance.

Señorita Vino wishes you all a Champagne-toast-worthy Valentine’s Day. I’ll leave you with a sentimental quote you can memorize and casually tell your  main squeeze as you’re uncorking a bottle of bubbly tonight:

“May our love be like good wine–grow stronger as it grows older.”  (Old English toast)


Oregon Wine Country, Part 3: All in the Familia

19 Oct

I knew the gods were smiling on me the day I married Señor Jim. You see, his familia hails from the Pacific Northwest, land of the Pike Place Market, birthplace of Nordstrom, breeding ground for some of the world’s most delectable salmon, and home to two wine-producing states. Oh, and he’s a pretty fine hombre, too.

Oregon boasts 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), or officially recognized wine grape growing regions.

So earlier this year when he told me his cousins were planning a September family reunion in Oregon’s premier wine region, the Willamette Valley, I thought it would be fun to finally get to meet some more of his family, and try some smaller label Oregon Pinot Noirs. But when I learned that two of his relatives actually made small label Oregon wines, I knew I’d hit the Spouse Super Lotto.

As it turns out, Jim’s cousin Brenda worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years, both in California and Oregon. And Brenda happens to be the proud mother of not one but two winemaking sons, Stirling and Christian.

Brenda’s son, Stirling (photo: Mad Violets Company).

Stirling Button Fox is the proprietor of  Mad Violets Wine Company, where his lovely wife, Kelly Kidneigh, is the official winemaker (Girl Power!).

Kelly, the winemaker at Mad Violets (Photo: Mad Violets Company)

Mad Violets is a family business in every sense, including its moniker, which is a mash-up of the names of Stirling’s two daughters, Madeleine and Violet. Fort-five percent of the grapes in the 2009 Pinot Noir come from the couple’s own vineyard, Buttonfield Estate (careful readers will note that Button is a family name), and 100 percent of the grapes in the 2010 Pinot Gris are also from the estate.

What’s a family reunion without family-made vino?

Both the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris display classic characteristics. I personally loved the minerality of the Pinot Gris, and the Pinot Noir’s gorgeous strawberry notes were a hit at the reunion dinner. If you like your vino with peach and honey aromas, the 2011 Riesling is a winner. These grapes are sourced from the oldest Riesling vineyard in Yamhill county.

One of the things I adore about Jim’s family is how warm, open and genuine they are. This blog post would rival a García Márquez novel in length if I were to acknowledge each and every one of them for their hospitality and kindness during our five-day Oregon wine county odyssey.

So let me acknowledge one cousin whom I got to meet for the first time, the one whose newsy Christmas letters I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the 12 years Señor Jim and I have been together, and the one without whom today’s post literally would have been impossible.

Brenda with her fabuloso cousin, Señor Jim.

Brenda, thank you for sharing your love of wine and passion for life with us, not to mention your enormous heart.

And to the entire Button clan (I’m looking at YOU, Carolyn, Diane, Jeanie, Carlee, and your wonderful hombres), I raise a glass to you. ¡Salud!

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