Sunday, April 25, 2010

Paso Robles AVA Event

28 Wineries Offer Their Products
to Media and Trade Members

By John Olney
April 24, 2010

Web site:  E-mail:  
Phone: 707-299-9548 

Copyright, all rights reserved by Wine Country Marketing and Promotions,
1370 Trancas St., #409, Napa, CA 94558  Phone: 707-299-9548

Thursday, April 22, 2010. Stacie Jacobs, Executive Director, of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRWCA) was the Master of Ceremonies and opened the one hour event kick-off seminar with a general review of the location, mission, objectives and characteristics of this large and geologically diverse AVA . The AVA is located in the Central Coast area of California, just about halfway between San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south. To examine this AVA in greater depth, click here:  (Click on any graphic/photo for an enlargement)

(map courtesy of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance)

That’s Stacie standing in the picture below: (all photo’s by John Olney)

Following her presentation, Stacie turned the balance of the seminar session over to the well known wine editor of Sunset Magazine, Sara Schneider, co-author of Sunset’s 2007 edition of its very popular magazine/booklet series, “California Wine Country - A Sunset Field Guide.” The earliest version of this Sunset series was published in August 1968. Click here to read her thoughts on tasting wine: \

I first met Sara back in 2008, when we both served on the Nominating Committee to select the ballot list of potential inductees to the California Vintners Hall of Fame, Class of 2009, sponsored by and housed at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone Branch, St. Helena, California. Click here for details on the Hall:

Sara, pictured above, performed the duties of moderator among three distinguished Paso Robles AVA winery representatives who would be speaking about their wines, and the seminar attendees who would present them with their questions. The seminar was limited to a small group of about 32 media/trade representatives. Needless to say, I was very pleased that I was able to submit my RSVP early enough to be accepted to attend.

The seminar format was to taste and compare red wines of two distinct price points with each of the winery representatives providing us their rationale supporting the difference in pricing structure. This was a very interesting wine seminar theme and concept which comes at a particularly relevant point in time given the general economic downturn of the past couple of years plus. So, what the attendees did was first taste the wines of all three in the price range of about $15-16 per bottle. Then we moved to the wines priced between about the $35 to $50 range.

Value Priced” Wines
J. Lohr Vineyards and Winery
The first winery representative she introduced was Steve Lohr, Executive VP/Chief Operating Officer of J. Lohr Vineyards and Winery. (He is pictured below)

Steve gave us a little insight into the history of his family in the American Wine Industry. His father Jerry Lohr started the first family vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County, back in 1972 and first winery in 1974 in the San Jose area. Next on the growth plan was a vineyard purchase in St. Helena of the Napa Valley AVA. Then in 1986, Lohr again decided to expand and this time chose acreage in the Paso Robles AVA. You can view much greater details on the family members, history, vineyards, wineries and their wines by clicking here: .

Steve selected the 2007 J. Lohr Los Osos (the bear) Merlot: Los Osos and Creston Vineyards. You can visit their web site listed above to review vineyard location and winemaker notes. The wine was certainly indicative of a “value priced” product as supported by my third extensive swirl it opened up quite nicely into a very enjoyable wine.

Clayhouse Wines
The next presenter was David Frick (pictured above), Winemaker at Clayhouse Wines. The winery derives its name from the 150 year-old adobe house that the proprietors, the Middleton Family, restored. As a historian, I am looking forward to visiting and touching the walls of this old classic. Click here to review all the history and chronology of growth and production for this winery:  . For the “value priced” wines he brought the 2008 Clayhouse Malbec from their Red Cedar Vineyard. Much of his discussion about this wine focused on the nuisances and difficulties of working with this grape varietal.

I only recently have begun tasting this varietal wine so my palate is still gaining experience with it. I found it with a long lingering spicy influence which I liked very much.

Ancient Peaks
The final presenter was Mike Sinor (Pictured below), Winemaker for Ancient Peaks Winery. Click here for history and details on Mike’s background, the owners, and their wines:

I found extremely interesting this little fact on their web site: “Margarita Vineyard resides in the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, which was first planted to vines by Franciscan missionaries in 1774."  Their web site also says that, “ Ancient Peaks and Margarita Vineyard are owned by three longtime local winegrowing families—the Filipponis, Rossis and Wittstroms….”

For the “value priced” Ancient Peaks wine, Mike presented us with their Cabernet Sauvignon from the Margarita Vineyard. My immediate reaction from the first sip was “Wow!” And, it just kept getting better with each additional intensive swirling and sip through three iterations. What a value wine! I had to see its blend: 92% Cab. Sauv., 4% Zin., 2% Malbec and 2% Petit Verlot. I don’t know what percent of which varietal made me like this wine so much, but I want some more of it, particularly at this price - $16/btle!

Higher Priced Wines

Now Sara got us all excited for round two of our tasting - the higher priced wines - when she really encouraged the winery representatives to give us the meat of why these wines are so priced.

J. Lohr Vineyards and Winery
Steve presented the Lohr Hilltop Vineyard Cab., a blend consisting of 90% Cab. Sauv., 4.6 % Petit Verdot, 2.8 % Merlot, 2.3 % Cabernet Franc and .03% Malbec. I must admit, the immediate effect on my palate and senses was that I was enjoying a very smooth wine. Steve described how the grapes were hand selected not only on the vine but in the sorting process on the way to the crusher. This wine just kept getting better with each swirl and sip.

An attendee asked Steve to discuss the move afoot to further specialize the AVA into eleven (11) distinct sub-appellations.  He described his winery's efforts to spearhead the segmenting which will be based on better defining the geological and climatic differences that exist as one moves around in the large Paso Robles AVA.  He feels optimistic that they will be successful in their attempts to better define the unique difference in the AVA.

Clayhouse Wines
David presented the Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah-Show Pony from Red Cedar Vineyards. This wine also improved significantly as I swirled and sipped it. It had a most enjoyable flora- like nose to it. David gave us his insight into how much more of an in-field vine/grape selection process defines the final product of fine wine.

Ancient Peaks
For the final wine, Mike presented us the Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge, a blend of grapes from Margarita and Whittstrom vineyards. This was a blend of 46% Cab., 24% Petite Sirah, 15% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot. Again, I found a most enjoyable wine. Mike also provided his description of the increased selectivity process used to produce this more expensive wine.

Mike was asked by an attendee to comment on a rather local alleged debate  about whether the East or West side produced better wines. Mike carefully placed this question in perspective to the fact that Highway 101 basically divided the AVA and what the gentleman was referring to was simply that and not intended to reflect of wine quality on either as being better than the other.  He suggested that people were making more of the loose statement than they should be.

Wrap Up

Other than the Ancient Peaks 2007 Cab., the third wine tasted and priced at $16/btle, the higher price wines, $35 to $50/btle, were more pleasurable to my taste. That is not to say I didn’t find the lower price point wines just fine, because I did. I suppose that probably just like most folks during these economic times, my budget would require me to purchase the lower price point wines but when I have those extra bucks, I’m going to splurge with a purchase of the higher end wines.

This seminar session was very well organized and coordinated by the PSWCA. It was a great educational as well as delightful tasting event. Congratulations to Stacie and Sara. And, a special thanks to Steve, David and Mike for letting us hear their expertise and taste their wines.

As I still had a fairly long ride back to Concord, California, I only had time to taste a few of the wines of the other attending wineries. I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc from the booth of the Vina Robles Vineyards and Winery ( and found it very much to my liking.

The  next booth was Robert Hall  Winery ( )/ selected to taste the same varietal. This was also an enjoyable wine matching the style I like best.

Then I went back to reds. At the Opolo Vineyards ( booth, I first tasted their 2006 Sangiovese and found it much to my liking. I followed that with a taste of what seemed like an interesting blend of 2006 Barbara and Sangiovese that they call Montagna-Mare. I am a big fan of Sangiovese but this blended wine was just not for me.

My final taste was the 2005 Pinot Noir of the Maloy O’Neill Vineyards. ( This wine left an excellent lingering taste on my palate as I exited the event satisfied that I now knew some of the tastes in another AVA beside Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma.

This was an afternoon well spent and now I plan to travel to the Paso Robles AVA to experience more of their wines and expand my taste buds and experiences!

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Media Tasting Event at Swanson Vineyards, Rutherford, CA

By: John M. Olney
Phone: 707-299-9548
Web site:

Copyright, all rights reserved by
Wine Country Marketing and Promotions,
1370 Trancas St., #409, Napa, CA 94558
Phone: 707-299-9548
Web site: /

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 Media  Tasting Event

Double click on the picture-map below to enlarge it
and roam around the valley.

 Swanson Winery and Vineyards are highlighted in red.

(Copyright map reproduced by permission of Swanson Vineyards, Aril 22, 2010.
Further reproduction with advanced permission of Swanson Vineyards only)

But before featuring the tasting event, let me give you some history of the winery site and its owners
Swanson Vineyards (  ) is located on a narrow side road, named Manley Lane, on the west of Hwy 29., in Rutherford which is just south of St. Helena, California. The site was originally occupied by the Cassayre-Forni Winery (founded in the mid-1970s and closed in the early 1990‘s).

The current owners, W. Clarke Swanson, Jr. (  ) and wife Elizabeth Pipes Swanson (  ) reopened the winery site in the year 2000 but have owned vineyards in the Oakville area since the mid-1980s.

In the 1950s, Mr. Swansons father and uncle developed the innovative “Swanson TV Dinners” (for some history click here:  ) which revolutionized how American families could meet the time required to work, raise the family, juggled with meal preparation, and watch a relatively new media called “Television,” which in those early days was mostly only available during the late afternoon and evening hours. Swanson's TV dinners were first advertised in 1954 and were immediately a hit with consumers who were just beginning to afford and appreciate Television (or simply, “TV“). Swanson was eventually acquired by the Campbell Soup Company which ranks fourth behind Nestle (makers of Stouffer's and Lean Cuisine brands) in a $4 billion industry today.

First the Swansons acquired 100 acres located along Oakville Cross Road (runs between Hwy 29 to the west and Silverado Trail to the east) and it is sandwiched between Opus One and Groth vineyards and wineries. The second purchase was the 40 acre vineyards formerly known as “Schmidt Ranch,” located against the Mayacaymas Mountain range to the west of Hwy 29 and between the famous Napanook vineyards of Dominus winery, and Far Niente and Harlan vineyards and wineries.

The April 21, 2010 Media Awareness Event

Swanson Vineyards ( ) has been quietly undergoing cosmetic surgery with the addition of what is being called “The Sip Shoppe.” It is immediately adjacent to the original tasting room labeled “The Salon,” and occupies the area formerly used for bottling. Let me get to wine tasting event that we were invited to and then I’ll come back to “The Sip Shoppe” in a short while.

Today, eleven of us representing rather unique sectors of the media trade, were gathered in “The Salon “ to taste Swanson wines with winemaker Chris Phelps (  ), who joined Swanson in 2003. Attending media invitees were:
Autumn Millhouse, blogger and author, (  )
Fred Swan and wife Eva, NorCal Wine, ( )
Jim White, Napaman, ( )
H. Annette Hanami, blogger, frelance writer, Wine Muse, (  )
Daedalus Howell, dhowell media group, ( )
John Olney, Wine Blogger & Historian ( )
Ziggy Eschlimann, radio show host (KRSH Santa Rosa/nationally syndicated, ( )
John Cesano, wine blogger,( ) with friend, Fred Albrecht
Mary Orlin, blogger and videographer, On Line Media, ,(  and

Representing the winery were:
Mr. Clarke Swanson, winery owner, (
Chris Phelps, Swanson Winemaker, (
Julie Ann Kodmur, Publicity/Marketing ( ) who was coordinating this event.

As we entered the winery at the classic “The Salon” room, we were offered the first of many wines we would taste; a wonderful 2008 NV Pinot Grigio. As Winemaker Chris would later share with us, he would prefer that the varietal was called by the French name, Pinot Gris, (PG) than the Italian. Ever since Chardonnay’s were being made with too much malolactic fermentation (MF) making them very milky (also known as “buttery) and they were over oaked, I have preferred either Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio and Swanson’s PG is right up there in the top labels I desire. Lots of fruit making it very refreshing while it lingers in my mouth before the inevitable swallow. Hate to see it go but alas there is yet another sip to be taken! However, it disappoints me when the bottle seems to have evaporated just when I wanted yet more. Go figure!?

Next in order was a Merlot tasting of the 2005, 06 and 07 vintages. I particularly liked the 2006. That is not say that there was anything objectionable with either the 2005 or 2007, it is just that the 06 matched what my palate liked the most. Next favorite was the 07. As it breathed, it kept getting better. Because of that, I went back to retry the 05, but it still wasn’t the merlot for me.

Now we moved into the Cabernet Sauvignon, vintages 2005 through 2007, with anticipation at least from my standpoint. These Cabs are named, “Alexis,” after the Swanson daughter, Alexis Swanson Traina ( , who performs at the winery as the Creative Director.

There are some pictures of “The Salon.”  Double click on the picture-map below to enlarge it

Mr. Clark Swanson, II is the gentleman seated near the center of picture, at the back table.
Seated to his left is H. Annette Hanami.  That's Swanson winemaker Chris Phelps standing
and checking his tasting notes.

We took a break to now go next door to experience “The Sip Shoppe.” For this portion of the show, Shawn LaRue, Salonnier, provided us with an explanation of what Swanson Winery was going to implement. My overall immediate impression was that I was entering a circus tent. Now please, understand that I mean no disrespect to Swanson Winery owners and management, but we just exited the rather classic elegant Salon and within a few small steps we were in a tent-like decorated room with bright white and red narrow strips running vertically from the floor to the peaked ceiling.

Now let's look at some pictures of “The Sip Shoppe.Let me reiterate, I have no objection to the d├ęcor of “The Sip Shoppe” whatsoever. It is just that to me it is such a shape contrast to the image that Swanson Vineyards presents through its ‘The Salon” tasting and education sessions.

If I didn’t know about “The Salon” and my visit took me from the parking lot into “The Sip Shoppe” without a stop at the other tasting room, I wouldn’t know anything different and visa versa. But, the two rooms are only a few feet away from each other. Right outside the door way is  a lovely courtyard.

Swanson does plan to offer a limited food menu that can be paired to the wines being tasted in 'The Sip Shoppe.”

I guess my concern is how will Swanson keep visitors from wandering back and forth between the two co-located tasting rooms and wondering why they were taken to one room but not the other.
Double click on the picture-map below to enlarge it

That's Shawn LaRue, Salonnier, on the right

I’m guessing, but I think the plan is that the more formal and thus pricey wines will be offered in the traditional and classic Salon tasting room while the more casual tastings will be offered in the whimsical "The Sip Shoppe" and patio area. I am truly looking forward to visiting Swanson to experience a tasting in “The Sip Shoppe” when it opens in late spring/summer.

From this room, we were escorted into the barrel room where Chris was about to spoil us rotten with tastes of 2008 Merlot (Oakville), 2008 Alexis - Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 2009 Chardonnay (Oakville) and 2009 Zinfandel (Napa Valley). In each varietal tasting, everybody present was only complimentary to Chris and Swanson Winery for what they were producing. Just a couple of comments here.

Again, I was particularly fond of the Chardonnay which had no MF thereby eliminating that “buttery quality which I despise in Chardonnays as well as those which are treated to lots of influence of oak, because these treatments seem to cover up the taste of the grape.

The Cab is a wine I’m going to be looking forward to when it is bottled and released. Great nose and lingerer on my palate until the next sip. Another wine that I’ll be happy to see released will be their 09 Zin which was full bodied yet very comfortable as I let it sit in my mouth before swallowing a small amount.

We closed out the media event with a very enjoyable lunch prepared by Chef Shannon Kelley, Knickerbocker’s Oak Avenue Catering,(

Winemaker Chris paired this lunch with the 2008 Salon chardonnay and 2008 Rosato of Syrah. As I said before, I fully enjoy his Chardonnays since you can actually taste the fruit. I have yet to develop a palate for Syrah so the Rosato was still a different and unfamiliar taste to my palate. This has nothing to do with the quality of Chris’s wine but rather my inexperience with the varietal which I just have not warmed up to yet.

Chris then paired the dessert of Country Apple Galette with his 2005 Tardif, Late-Harvest Chardonnay. What a marvelous finish to a wonderful educational and promotional event.

Congratulations to Swanson Vineyards for giving this media group the opportunity to better understand their winery, their wines and their plans for the future. A job well done, guys and gals, thank you very much.

Friday, April 02, 2010

My name is John Olney and I have been Maria Kitzmiller’s best friend for over 20 years. I am sad to report that  Maria’s two daughters elected not to hold a memorial or celebration of life service for their mother.

In March, six months after Maria’s passing, the daughters have filed suit to contest Maria’s will and trust desires The primary reason for their contest is that they claim I had undue influence on her and convinced her to change her bequeaths significantly from spitting her estate between them to giving the largest sum (about 60%) to leukemia charity. Of course, these charges are false and the daughters will not prevail.

I will attempt to hold a celebration of Maria’s life in the new future. Please stay in touch via the web site I created for her at  or call her phone for messages at 925-825-2901.