Tag: life

This is what I call a drinking problem

This is what I call a drinking problem

There is a winery in Paso Robles – Dracaena Wines – that we have been hearing about for the past year or so.  Friends and fellow bloggers have posted about the winery’s Cabernet Franc and the reviews have been positively glowing.  On more than one occasion we visited the Dracaena website and took a closer look at their story – and it’s a really cool one.  For some reason, though, we never pulled the trigger and ordered any wine from them.  Until last week, that is.  We are not sure what happened on that particular day that compelled us to go to the Dracaena website (http://dracaenawines.com/) and order four bottles of the 2014 Cabernet Franc.  Usually we buy a single bottle just to make sure that we like the wine before making a bigger commitment.  However, at $32 a bottle (way below the Napa Valley average for any style of red wine) the value ratio was simply too high to purchase less than four.

Once the order was placed we sat back and waited for the wine and got very excited when the UPS tracking system alerted us the wine was scheduled for delivery that day.  Of course, both of us were out when the UPS truck came and all we had to show for our patience was a sticker on the front door promising that they would come back the next day.  Early evening the following day we were in the back yard and heard a truck coming up our secluded and dead-end street; at that time of day it could only be a delivery.  Both of us raced from our seating area, flew out the back gate and intercepted the UPS man in our driveway:  “Do you have something that requires a signature?” we asked him.  When he confirmed that one of our packages did in fact require a signature we knew that our wine had arrived.  It did not take us long to unpack the bottles and make the four lovely ladies feel at home.

Aren’t they beautiful?

We have read about people who, when their wine arrives, put it away and save it for some time in the distant future.  We are not those people.  Five minutes after rescuing the wine from the UPS box, we had popped the cork and poured the first two glasses.  And the next night?  Yes, we had more of the 2014 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc.

We enjoyed it as much the second day

At the rate we are going we will run of the Dracaena Cab Franc before the end of this upcoming weekend!  We will try to be disciplined enough to set aside a bottle or two to enjoy in the coming months – especially now that we have learned that the 2014 Cab Franc is sold out and the 2015 is just being bottled.

Most Americans consume Cabernet Franc not as the exclusive or even primary grape in a bottle of wine, but generally as a smaller percentage blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.  A number of producers in the U.S., however, are making 100% Cab Franc (the 2015 Dracaena will be exclusively Cab Franc) or blends where Cab Franc is the majority grape.  For an excellent primer on the grape that is in fact one of the “parents” of Cabernet Sauvignon read this article:  Jancis Robinson on Cab Franc.

When we took our first sniff of the Dracaena Cabernet Franc, the aroma took us completely by surprise.  Often, Cab Franc has a very strong vegetal aroma, in particular bell pepper; we have tasted several Cab Franc’s with people who were turned off by the bell pepper aroma and flavor. (If you want to know why wines have the aroma and flavor of bell pepper, read this easy-to-understand article:  Why some wines taste like bell pepper).  With its super-value price of $32, we were definitely anticipating that the Dracaena Cab Franc would come across a bit young, harsh, and definitely have the strong vegetal/bell pepper aroma and flavor.

We could not have been more wrong.  The Dracaena Cab Franc was smooth, delicate, balanced, and sophisticated.  For several minutes after pouring the wine into the glass we were stuck on the first step of the three-step wine tasting process (“sniff, swirl and sip”).  We couldn’t seem to get past “sniff” because the Dracaena Cabernet Franc was so richly aromatic.  On the nose, the wine resembled something you might expect from France, and this expectation was reinforced on the palate as well.  The tannins were present but not overpowering and overall the wine balanced fruit and acidity very nicely.

We have some wines that we call “Tuesday night wines,” usually wines lower in cost and where a price-quality compromise has been considered.  On the other end of the spectrum are our “going out wines”:  those that are good enough to take to a fine restaurant and share with good friends.  The 2014 Dracaena Cabernet Franc is a “going out” wine . . . but at a Tuesday night wine price.  An American wine this good for $32.00 a bottle is an absolute find and an impressive addition to the roster of excellent Paso Robles wines.

Now that we know the 2014 Dracaena Cabernet Franc has sold out, we will try our best to hold out and not consume the last bottle until the 2015 release is in sight.  With our shaky self-control, however, we may not make it!


John & Irene Ingersoll

May 24, 2017

The fruits – or grapes – of war.  

The fruits – or grapes – of war.  

Last night we opened a bottle of 2015 De La Guerra Viognier from Napa Valley’s Carneros region.  Translated literally, the words “de la Guerra” in Spanish mean “of the war” or “from the war.”  In this case, however, De La Guerra refers not to any battle or war but instead is the name of one of the oldest winemaking families in California.  De La Guerra is a second wine label of the esteemed HdV Winery in Napa.  In our very first post on this blog, we wrote about HdV, a partnership between the Hyde family in California and the famous de Villaine family in France.  Larry Hyde, grower of some of Carneros’ best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, is a De La Guerra descendant .

De La Guerra 2014 Viognier

Like all of the HdV and De La Guerra wines, the Viognier was sophisticated, balanced and luscious. For those that have not experienced this varietal – Viognier is a French grape from the Rhine region of France.  Typically, it has strong citrus and floral aromatics and flavor with a full-bodied finish.  Many American expressions of Viognier end up very smooth and creamy as a result of ripe fruit, secondary (malolactic) fermentation, and the use of new oak.

Lovely golden color and silky texture.

Fortunately, the De La Guerra Viognier was made in the more traditional French style and did not suffer from the overdone, heavy-handed style that often results in a sweet, almost syrupy wine.  On the nose, the Viognier had strong citrus elements – lemon and tangerine – as well as a strong floral component with hints of rose and honeysuckle.  On the palate, the wine was crisp, pleasantly acidic, with clear minerality mingling with the fruit flavors.  The Viognier went nicely with dinner but could also be enjoyed by itself (by which we mean with a good book and a patio chair outside).

We have many bottles of the HdV brand at home but this was our only bottle of any variety from the De La Guerra label; there is also a Chardonnay listed on the website that we are planning to order.  For more information on HdV or De La Guerra wines, visit the HdV website:  HdV Wines.

For the HdV story and an introduction to the team, click here:  The HdV Story and Team.

John & Irene Ingersoll

April 17, 2017

Heart is Good for the Wine

There is a heart inside the Ehlers logo

Over the past decade or more, numerous reports have suggested that red wine is good for the heart.  At one of our favorite wineries in Napa, the heart has been very good for the wine as well.  As the picture above shows, inside the “E” in the Ehlers logo there is a heart, an homage to the legacy of the founders and the cause that is a big part of the winery’s purpose today.  Many wineries in Napa Valley are owned by large beverage conglomerates or international wine enterprises.  Ehlers Estate is unique in that it is owned by a charitable foundation, the Leducq Foundation, which is dedicated to funding research in cardiovascular and neurovascular disease.  This foundation was formed in 1996 by the founders of Ehlers Estate and today proceeds from tasting fees and wine sales help fund the Leducq Foundation’s activities.  This is one winery where members and visitors can be confident that their money not only delivers high-quality wines but truly has a charitable purpose and impact.

We have been members of Ehlers since just after our move to Napa Valley and we visit as often as we can.  This past weekend, we took relatives visiting from Miami to Ehlers, their first ever visit to a winery.

Feeling welcome

There are many things that we like about Ehlers, beyond the direct link between their wine business and their charitable operations.  One of our favorite aspects of Ehlers Estate is its location and story.  Although the Leducq family started producing wine in this century, the property was originally planted with vines and olives in the late 1800’s by Bernard Ehlers.  In 1886 Bernard finished construction of a stone barn on the property, a building that (with a bit of modern renovation) is still standing and serves today as Ehlers’ winery building and tasting room.

ehlers tasting room exterior.jpg
Exterior of the Ehlers tasting room

Original beams of wood and stone walls are still visible from the original construction but the interior has been refreshed with colorful furniture and many paintings hanging on the walls.

Interior of Ehlers Estate tasting room

Despite the ravages of  phylloxera, the long period of prohibition and ownership changes along the way, the property Ehlers sits on has been continuously producing wine for over 120 years. While there are no vines remaining from 1886, the original olive groves are still on the estate.

Another thing that we love about Ehlers is their commitment to sustainable farming.  Since 2008, they have been certified organic;  no chemical herbicides, pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers are used in their vineyards.

Vines and mustard

The Ehlers wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon – are produced in a style that is as much Bordeaux as it is Napa. The wine making team at Ehlers Estate firmly believes in making wines that reflect the unique terroir – the diverse soil types and the microclimate.  An important difference between Ehlers and most other Napa Valley wineries is that they do not employ seasonal vineyard labor or outsource to outside companies for their vineyard management.  They have a full-time team that handles all of the work in the vineyard:  planting, weed and pest control, pruning, canopy management, and harvesting.  Maintaining a full-time staff throughout the year ensures a consistency in the way the grapes are grown.

During our visit this past weekend we enjoyed four different Ehlers wines; as always, we started with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Crisp Ehlers Sauvignon Blanc

Like all of the Ehlers wines, the Sauvignon Blanc – the only white wine they produce – is crisp, rich, and bone dry, with zero residual sugar.  There has been no malolactic fermentation and no new oak was used in the aging of the wine.  A perfect wine with food or to sip with friends or alone with a good book.

The remainder of our tasting consisted of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Ehlers’ luscious “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ehlers Estate Merlot
Ehlers Estate Cab Franc
Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon “1886”

We enjoyed all three wines and have always been big fans of the Ehlers portfolio of red wines.  Certainly, the most impressive wine is the 1886 Cab, but the Cab Franc is also very structured with strong tannins and spicy aroma and flavor.  This visit, the Merlot really stood out for us and we all ordered an extra pour (or two) of the Merlot as part of our tasting.

So a winery with a great story, a beautiful location, and great wines.  What more could you ask?  How about great events? One of the reasons we have held onto our Ehlers membership while jettisoning most of our others are the fantastic events that occur throughout the year. When we visited this past weekend, there happened to be an open house with great food and an array of local artists and craft sellers in the tasting room.

There was quite a spread which we sampled along with our wine.  Our family from Miami had a great time and we didn’t have the heart to tell them that every tasting doesn’t have such a bountiful spread.  It’ll be difficult to take them to another tasting if there’s not an event going on – they may feel let down.

John & Irene Ingersoll

December 7, 2016

What Are You Grapeful For?

Everyone has a reason to be grateful

Wouldn’t it be nice if drinking wine was considered an act of philanthropy?  Some of us would be donors on the scale of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.  Well, I’m happy to report that there is a cool new concept that allows caring, big-hearted wine lovers to kill two birds with one stone:  enjoy great wines and give money to a worthy cause at the same time.  Grapeful is a relatively new company that has created a unique way to use the love of wine to help charitable and other philanthropic organizations raise money.  Grapeful essentially brings two groups together: (a) those that are looking to raise money for a specific organization, cause, drive, etc., and (b) great wineries which have agreed to be a featured part of the Grapeful program.  Through its winery partners, Grapeful ensures each cause earns 15% of the retail cost of every bottle sold in support of the effort. So how does it work?  There are two models for people to raise money with Grapeful:  

The first way is to create a Grapeful order site on drinkgrapeful.com; all of the heavy-lifting in creating the site is done by the folks at Grapeful, so there are no web development or other technical skills required.  Individuals looking to raise funds would direct their friends, family, acquaintances and other potential donors to their Grapeful order site to select from a list of wines.  Each time a bottle is ordered, 15% of the retail price is directed to the selected cause; the site can be kept open indefinitely for those that have a cause that is not time-bound.  For longer fund-raising campaigns or efforts, it might be fun to create a rotating list of wineries, essentially creating a “wine of the month” club for contributors.  Most of the wineries that Grapeful partners with have a nice balance of quality and price and would be in the price range of even casual wine consumers.  For those that care about a cause, buying a wine at retail price and knowing that 15% of the cost of the wine is being directly donated to a cause they care about should be a no-brainer.

The second way to work with Grapeful to raise funds for a cause is to have a Grapeful Party at home, a restaurant or local event center.  We think of this as the wine version of the old Tupperware parties our parents had in the 1970’s (with better wine!).  The individual looking to raise money for a cause would purchase wines in advance and them invite people to the Grapeful Party.  It might be tricky to figure out how much wine to order but the Grapeful team says they can help guide the party planner plan the right number of wines to order.  Those that enjoy the wine at the party will then be directed to your Grapeful Order site to purchase wines and start generating donations.

We are intrigued by this approach to fundraising and think it is going to take off.  On the winery partner side, Grapeful has already partnered with a number of well-regarded brands, and they will be adding new partners in the future to give more options for “wine of the month.”  On the cause side, there are several causes raising money at drinkgrapeful.com now which you can donate to.  Or, you can bring your own cause forward and set up your own Grapeful Order site.

If you want to buy wines and support a cause, click here:  Grapeful Order Sites.

If you want to check out their current winery partners, click here:  Grapeful Winery Partners.

Social media mavens can find them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @drinkgrapeful.

So in a week where we take time out of our busy lives to give thanks, think about giving back …while enjoying great tasting, great value wines!

John & Irene

November 23, 2016




Paradise, Napa Valley (Part I)

Napa Valley Vines

Images of Napa Valley often depict sprawling fields of grape vines and majestic winery structures that resemble castles or Tuscan villas.  Certainly those pictures are appropriate as we have literally miles and miles of vineyards and side-by-side wineries along Highway 29 and Silverado Trail.  However, Napa Valley is more than just grapes and wineries; for about 135,000 people, it’s the place we live.  Although we enjoy the natural beauty of our wine-based agriculture, there are many dimensions to life here – some of them good and some not so good.  Since moving here in 2013 we have captured our exploration of the region as well as just everyday life in photos.  We share some of our favorites here.

Our first garden

Less than a month after moving into our new home, we decided to plan our first vegetable garden.  In addition to peppers, corn, sage, dill, eggplant, cucumbers and rosemary, we planted tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes.  The locals started to take notice.

Praying Mantis or Preying Mantis?

Our hot summer generated some beautiful, plump tomatoes and we were looking forward to a very long growing season. We figured we would be harvesting well into November.  Mother Nature had other plans.

What the Hail?

A freak hailstorm hit Napa Valley, pelting our homes, cars and plants for about 20 minutes.  I am sure we will get very little sympathy from our friends in the Midwest who endure bowling-ball-size hailstones and storms that last hours.  But hey, we’re not used to this!

Frozen tomatoes

I assured my wife and my mother-in-law (who had just that day planted a bunch of seedlings on the right of the planter box) that everything would survive, recover and thrive.  It was a lie.  The tomatoes were done after this storm and the rest needed to be replanted in the following days.

The hailstorm was the second-worst event that Mother Nature threw at us our first year.  The worst was the 2014 Napa Earthquake which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in loses for homes and businesses.

It’s okay to whine

We bought a lovely hutch for our small but cozy wine room.  Because we lived in Los Angeles, we were aware of the risk of earthquakes and the need to secure furniture.  Our wine hutch was bolted to its base, and both pieces were bolted to the wall behind. Unfortunately, the wall moved quite a bit in the earthquake and thus so did the wine.  Prior to the quake, the hutch held 110 bottles (two per slot, 5 columns by 11 rows); after the quake, it held six.  Some bottles remained intact on the shelf below.  Many others fell to their death.

Hardwood stained an authentic wine color
Wine carnage

We didn’t have the stomach to count the number of bottles that broke, but our rough estimate is that approximately 50-60 shattered after hitting the floor or having other wine bottles fall onto them.  We were proud of some of our “babies,” though, for surviving the traumatic event.

The survivors

My favorite bottles is the one in the lower left-hand corner of the picture; this bottle hit the wall opposite the hutch, probably bounced a couple of times, and landed upright.  I imagine this as a really cool gymnastics routine.  Tada!

The 50% survival rate for the wine bottles was not, sadly, experienced by our collection of cognac and Armagnac in the living room.

Cognac River

After taking in the destruction in the wine room, we made our way to the living room to see how bad things were there.  There, the loss rate was closer to 90 or 95% and there was a brown river of liquid making its way along our brand-new tile floor.

Where’s the mop?

If you look closely you can see the rug that used to be white but is now brown, saturated with cognac and Armagnac.

Everyone was okay after the earthquake and we felt very blessed not to have had much structural damage in the house.  But the earthquake, coupled with the freak hailstorm, made us think twice about our move. As someone in Napa said to us, “If I see a locust, I’m out of here!”  Luckily there were no other biblical pestilences in 2014.

John & Irene Ingersoll

November 17, 2016

Wine With A ‘Tude.

Patio tasting area at Etude Winery, Napa Valley (Carneros)

American playwright Edward Albee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”) once wrote:  “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance.”  That is, more or less, how we found our way to Etude Wines, a winery located in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley.  On a recent trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region we visited Soter Vineyards.  When we told the Soter team that we were from Napa, they told us their founder (Tony Soter) was the founding winemaker at Etude in Napa Valley.  That’s how we learned about Etude – which is about 3 miles from our house – as a result of a 500 mile trip to Oregon.

As soon as we drove down the long driveway onto the Etude property, we knew we had waited too long to visit. The grounds are simply gorgeous, surrounded by vineyards of course but also landscaped beautifully with trees, flowers and other plants.  We entered the tasting room and right away were poured a glass of Etude’s Pinot Gris, their “welcome” wine.  It was chilled, crisp, refreshing, and a definite guilty pleasure at 11:00 in the morning.  We took a look around the tasting room and immediately fell in love with the decor.

Our kind of decor

Momentarily, we considered having  our tasting inside at the bar.  In the end, though, we opted to sit outside as the weather was in the high 70’s with a nice breeze coming off of San Pablo Bay.  In addition to the lure of the weather, the view was pretty hard to beat as well.

View of property though our (wine colored) glasses

We had the good fortune to be served by Jim, a veteran of the wine industry who gave us the scoop on the winery, its philosophy, location of the various vineyards, etc.  To maximize our exposure to Etude, we each did a separate tasing – one of us the Premium and the other the Reserve ($20 and $30, respectively).  As a result, we were able to try quite a few Pinot Noir offerings (Etude makes 9-10 different Pinots) and an extra Cabernet Sauvignon.

Etude Reserve Tasting Menu
Etude Premium Tasting Menu

Both tasting menus started with Chardonnay, but they were not the same. One of the Chards was aged in neutral oak and not subject to secondary, or malolactic, fermentation. Meanwhile,the second Chard was partially aged in new French oak and underwent the malolactic fermentation.  Both were strong wines – nice fruit flavor balanced with minerality. Even the oak-aged wine that underwent malolactic fermentation was balanced and, a far cry from the “buttery” Chards that common in Napa and the rest of California.

After the Chardonnay and a delightful Rose (of Pinot Noir, naturally), we moved on to the red wines.  Between the two tastings menus, we were able to try four unique Etude Pinot Noir offerings. In addition to the four on the menu, Jim was nice enough to give us a splash of a couple more Etude Pinot Noir wines, including their Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot from northern Sonoma Coast.  It was so good we had to buy some and take it home with us (we bought bottles of several different Pinot Noir’s).  Our tasting finished with several Cabernet Sauvignon offerings, including at least one not on the menu.  Thanks Jim!

Jon Priest, the winemaker at Etude, has said “winemaking begins in the vineyard long before the harvest … superior grape growing diminishes the need for intervention by the winemaker, resulting in authentic varietal expression.”  At many wineries, this supposed philosophy dies some time after grape harvesting and before bottling as wine makers engage in excessive wine making.  At Etude, however, you can taste a unifying….attitude.  It may seem strange to say that you can taste restraint, but we think you can.  While all of Etude’s wines have lovely aromas and flavor, with plenty of fruit on both the nose and palate, there is also a strong connection to the earth in all of their wines.  Both the Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon offerings that we tasted had earthy, mineral notes that were not overwhelmed in the wine making process.  For that reason, we have been telling people that we love the ‘tude of Etude.  Clearly, the approach that Tony Soter started when he founded the winery continues today.

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 16, 2016