Wineries > A few notes about wine

A few notes about wine

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: July 1, 2011

First stop today was Pine Ridge. Nice lass there, but no one I knew. In fact I knew way more about wine than she did. No worries, I'm an educator and educated her. It's the middle of the week. I didn't expect the A team. I sipped a few wines and was positively surprised by one, the 2007 Tesitura. I used to hate this wine as it was entirely too tight but, it opened up today. As did a recent release of the Onyx, which suffers from the same tautness issues. I didn't buy anything at Pine Ridge, just picked up my shipments. Most of the reason, in retrospect, had to do with the lass pouring wine. She was not a bad person, but just not engaging. In fact, Pine Ridge is getting to be less and less engaging by turns.

This should be of note to the management at Pine Ridge. They recently dumped thier chef, Eric, who sold lots of wine over the years by offering the wine and food pairing experience that adds loads of value vis a vis the average wine pourer. Now they are starting a $50 a head wine and cheese deal on the terrace. Ugh, The premier release tasting there is now $40 a head. Yes, they have their "name" and yes they have a great location in the Valley...but, they may be beginning to take themselves perhaps a little too seriously.

From here I was off to Cliff Lede. They do solid work and are not quite as out there in terms of turning away people. Room was uncrowded as I picked up my shipment from one of the long term employee's, Steve, I think. Nice guy and he is able to hold a convo with me, which really does take some doing. But not too long after we start talking out pops the person who has been there the longest, Sandra. Her visit was the hit and run type as she was doing office stuff, but it was nice of her to pop out and say "Hi" when she recognized my voice. I'm not a huge buyer there, but it is nice to be remembered. This is also a good reason wineries should not hire kids out of college for the job, you really do need seasoning to work the room (the Sideways Sandra, Sandra Oh, being a notable exception.)

The main attraction for me at Cliff's is the 08 Howell Mountain Cab. It won't be released until October. The release lady (name unknown) was there and she had the bad news. I wouldn't get a bottle in the regular club this fall. Only 50 cases made and 31 are going to the premium club. Ugh. She took my number and it sounds like I'm going to have to answer the phone one morning in October to maybe be have a shot at buying some, but I'm most likely out of luck this year. Kind of sad as the 07 Howell was the best Cab I'd opened in the past year. Nonetheless, I bought a little extra of the current rock block release as that was near as monstrous as the Howell. Mostly, I bought it because Sandra popped out to say "hi" and Steve was not a 22 year old. That should be a note to someone about selling.

From here I was off to Domaine Chandon. Of my wineries, this is the most wobbly. They are much bigger than I like. But they get an eclectic crowd that can be interesting. And they make a mix of wines from marginal to very good. Very little that is awe inspiring, however. They are the "utility infielder" in my line up mostly because S. Anderson is no more.

But on prior trip here it went well. I asked the pourer what was good and he said "everything but X and Y". I like it when the staff is willing to own up to some products sucking, because some do at this place. Today I got a young girl who was not up to the job. When I asked her what was good today it was "Everything, what do you mean?" Once again, a savvy pourer gets the question and give you some ideas. The problem here is that you get 1 full glass vice a tasting, so the people working the club bar need to be able to recommend, not just fill a glass. Note to the tasting room manager there.

In the end I was able to order the Salmon for lunch and the pourer was able to offer a wine to pair with that, but it really was a teeth pulling experience. Not what you want on your front lines, especially in this economy.

While there I called ahead to Sojourn to see if they had an appointment. Turns out they had seat at 2. That gave me enough time to run up to Audellsa before Sojourn. This was my second trip to Audellsa's new tasting room in Glen Ellen. I will say Sonoma County is a better experience than Napa by and large. And both the wineries I hit over there are small enough that they feel like home. And oh yeah, they both have the same winemaker, Eric (not the Pine Ridge Eric, different Eric. You'd think there would be enough names to around, but not so in wine country.)

So I stroll in and grab a seat. My pourer is named Greg. Note to management, good call. While chatting with Greg, out pops Leslie to say "Hi". Like Sandra, she had been working in the back room, heard my voice and popped out. Funny thing about Leslie, she had only met me wine once. And it was at a different winery, Sojourn actually. Since this was winery number 4 for the day I was a little slow, but still no excuse. I should be have been more flirty with Leslie as I'm pretty sure she was safely married and was no threat to flirt back. In the end, Audelssa Greg got a sales commission out of Leslie remembering my voice and popping out. There is a lot to be said for having people who pop out, I'm pretty sure of that.

I then made it to Sojourn just in time for the 2 PM pouring with someone who wasn't Leslie. But turned out to be a good hire. Jonathan I think. MId 30's I'd guess, knew his wines and his beers. I was there with a couple from Texas and the guy was a big craft beer drinker also. We had a good three way convo on the merits of Russian River Brewery and their Pliny the Younger release in February.

I did mention that I was interested in the new single vineyard release that Sojourn was coming out this fall "Oh the Ridgetop, turns out I have that open and just enough for two pours..." The Texas guy and I both got the exact same look in our eyes on sip one. No question that this was the real deal. Leslie told me about this upcoming release on my last tasting here and she was dead on. And Sojourn did allow pre-ordering, so I have a half case of that coming at some point this fall.

In the big scheme of things, I didn't buy a huge volume of wine today. But what I did buy was on the margin and the difference was as much the people as it was the product.

That was the note to wine country.

Any Comments?


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