Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
January 23, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Le Jade-Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de PinetHow’d We Get Here? Ok, so yes, it’s French.  I know, we typically feature only wines from America’s West Coast.  Every so often, we end up having a few discussions and even sampling some international wine, tough job we realize.  On even slimmer occasions, some of that wine, we think is important enough to include for our wine club members (if this is a major issue, just email us, we’ll send you a replacement, but we hope you’ll trust us and try this bottle once it is chilled). 

First, this is a Picpoul.  We think that’s important not only because it’s a great alternative to Chardonnay and especially Sauvignon Blanc, but also because it is one of the few grapes catching on in newer regions of France. 

The French, as you might expect, have some of the most strict wine growing and winemaking laws in the world.  You couldn’t grow this grape in Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne. Luckily for people who want affordable French wine, the Languedoc has avoided this type of labeling and rules thus far, allowing some vintners to actually experiment.  Think of Sonoma without Pinot Noir, or California wine without Paso Robles to see examples of why we think, as Californians at least, that experimentation can be helpful to the long term health of the wine industry.

Secondly, both the setup of the winery association and the region itself are important.  The Languedoc sits in the southwest corner of the country, along both the Mediterranean as well as the Spanish border.  It’s home to much of the innovation in French wine, but is also the only growing region to actively grow every grape type from Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah and Chardonnay. The winery itself isn’t a winery as much, as a cooperative of growers.  It’s a unique set up for Americans to consider because the grapes and vineyards are under a sort of community control, but it’s an important one to recognize because it is both adept at creating a standard style of wine from vintage to vintage, but is also being copied by American growers and vintners in areas like Mendocino and Temecula among others in California.

Tasting Notes by Mark Aselstine: Plenty of grapefruit, citrus and honey.  Lighter bodied, crisp and low alcohol make this a nice wine when chilled and served with seafood, chicken or salads. A staple in our house as opposed to Sauvignon Blanc, my wife and I find this a refreshing alternative to other wines.


Mark Aselstine
January 22, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Changes in Sonoma’s Wine Landscape

Over the years, the wine industry in northern California has gone through any number of significant changes.  Napa of course modernized and stepped onto the international stage after the tasting of Paris in the 1970’s.  Sonoma hasn’t had a similar coming out party so to speak, but I wanted to spend a couple of moments in this space talking about what’s happening in Sonoma-a real start up winery movement centered in warehouse spaces in and around Santa Rosa.

Over the past few years, I have found myself increasingly moving away from fruit forward wines that have helped make California famous and increasingly searching out cooler climate and higher acidity versions of common varietals.  I’d count Grenache as my favorite grape today, that’s something I would have scoffed at a couple of years ago.

More and more, I find interesting, unique and noteworthy wineries nestled in warehouses in and around Santa Rosa.

While I wouldn’t say that Adam Lee and the people at Siduri created the movement by themselves, for some number of years Siduri has offered the best example of what is possible using this type of winery setup.  Lee crafts a large number of wines, sourced from grapes from Oregon all the way to Santa Barbara.  If you’re counting at home, they’re probably the only winery in the world that offers a chance to taste Pinot Noir from every famous growing region in America, next to each other.  That’s incredibly valuable as a wine drinker and Siduri has earned every bit of acclaim they’ve garnered over the years.

More recently, I’ve run into a number of other wineries with compelling stories and similar setups.  At Vinify (a custom crush facility) there’s at least a dozen wineries making notable wine.  Matt Duffy is the winemaker in charge of the day to day operations of the facility, he also crafts his own personal label (Vaughn Duffy) and has had his Rose, priced under $20, fall into the San Francisco Chronicle’s top 100 wines of the year.  Sojourn and our old friend Eric Bradley make their multiple, award winning and increasingly allocated wines there (if you are able to buy $50 wines consistently, Sojourn is probably the first Sonoma wine club I’d suggest you join). Jon Grant has one of the best looking resume’s in wine that you’ve never heard of, being listed as Turley’s assistant winemaker will do that for you.  His projects (Couloir and Straight Line) offer a combination of great Pinot Noir and my favorite American Tempranillo, both at price points that are impressive in their brevity.

Elswewhere in Sonoma, I’ve talked about 2 Shepherds ad nauseam I think in this space and elsewhere, but I hope it suffices to say, if you want to know who’s next in wine…..2 Shepherds would be my pick.  The winery is only a handful of vintages in and I’m already having to beg for wine.  2 Shepherds is, without a doubt, the most unique and significant new wine project I’ve come across in the past four years.  Cool climate and small production sizes make for good bedfellows and they come together nicely here.

Lastly, there are any number of small wine projects cropping up in the larger Russian River Valley players.  A great example is the Cabernet Franc project Mark David, which is a personal project of Mark McWilliams, whose family owns the highly respected Arista winery situated in the center of the Russian River Valley. Sure, some of the fruit comes from Napa, but if you want something unique and utterly California, look here.


Mark Aselstine
January 7, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Happy New Year Our 2014 Goals

Let me be the first to simply say thank you to our customers.  Your business is greatly appreciated.  Here’s some of what we’re working on as the page turns and the new year begins:

-Even better newsletters: Last year we upgraded our newsletters from a half page to a full single page each.  This year, we want to continue providing at least that much custom information (unlike many of our competitors, we don’t copy and paste from the winery site, we share our own personal notes and thoughts) while improving the look and feel of the newsletters themselves.

-More Gift Baskets: Your thoughts and feelings about our three gift baskets and the program in general have come in loud and clear.  There’s a place in the gift basket industry for a company with better packaging, better wine and better products included.  We’ve also seen your ordering preferences loud and clear the wide variety of products within the Gourmet Gift Basket is a clear selling point.  More are coming, we promise.

-Easier Re-Orders: We’ve heard you loud and clear, discounts are fun and welcome especially as December credit card bills come due.  In the next few month’s you’ll see a wine club members only store that makes it easier for you to re-order wines you’ve already received, as well as offering a number of other wines that don’t fit in our wine clubs, at a discount.  As you might expect, even though we focus on west coast wines and wineries, we do find interesting international wines on occasion.

-More Video on the Blog: One thing we’ve heard quite a bit as well, introduce us to the people behind the wine that we’re drinking.  On our trips to wine country, you’ll start to see more video from the people that live and work at the wineries we’re shipping to your front door.  They can explain the important parts of their winery better than we can, so we’re going to let them.

-Carbon Neutral Shipping: The wine industry, perhaps more so than others is dependent on both a consistent and stable environment to continue its growth. A few degrees warmer on a daily basis in Napa is going to radically change the character of Napa’s wines, so the wine industry itself, in my opinion at least, has a responsibility to be a steward for the environment.  Much of that stewardship comes from behind the scenes, like Napa Valley, Sonoma and other world class wine growing regions protecting both open space, as well as their water table levels. For us, we’re not the most environmentally efficient part of the wine sales process.  Yes, we use recyclable or compostable materials, but IMO there is more to do.  In the next few months, we’ll be partnering with an environmental agency here locally in the Bay Area to off set the carbon we’re using to ship everyone their wine.  The process is incredibly easy and frankly cheap, so it’s simply the right thing to do no matter where you fall on the long term affects of climate change-this isn’t something that our customers will be charged for, but it’s something that I believe to be an important step for us.

Mark Aselstine
December 9, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Christmas Wine Club Shipping Update

We’d like to thank everyone who has order a wine club for themselves, or as a gift already this holiday season.  We greatly appreciate your business and don’t take the responsibility of delivering high quality wine and good service lightly.  Thank you for allowing us to continue doing what we enjoy so much, finding high quality low production wines.

We’ve received a number of questions the past few days about our shipping and delivery schedule for the rest of December.

To start, if you order from our Exploration Wine Club or our Special Selections Wine Club, you’ll order will ship the same day that your order if its before 3pm Pacific.  After 3pm Pacific we’ll try and get the wine out the same day, but a shipment the following day is more likely since we have drop off and pick up times with Fedex that cannot be changed.

Secondly, if you order from our Reserve Selections Wine Club your wine should ship within 2 days.

Lastly, we also receive a number of questions this time of year regarding special requests. Stuff like, can you deliver my wine after the 17th?  Can you ship only red wines in my shipment?  We’re happy to accommodate all of those requests for you, if you use the “Order Notes” section in our checkout process, that’ll make sure we see that request and if you have any questions along the way please don’t hesitate to contact us via email, or over the phone.

Again, thank you for considering Uncorked Ventures.  If there's anything we can do to help, please let us know.

Mark Aselstine
December 6, 2013 | Mark Aselstine

Prohibition Day

80 years ago today yesterday (hey, I’m busy here) the United States Federal Government decided that their experiment with Prohibition was a failure and it should end.

There’s been a lot of incredible work done over the years chronicling the affects of Prohibition on both the wine industry itself, but the country as a whole.  For some wine regions like Livermore, Prohibition and their inability to get started quickly after its repeal was the end for their inclusion in great AVA’s of American wine. If you asked someone in the early 1900’s what the most important wine region in America happened to be, they might have said Napa Valley, or they might have said Livermore.  It’s interesting to me that some regions were able to innovate and stay afloat during those trying times, while others struggled to come out the other side so to speak. It also makes me wonder, can Livermore come back to the forefront?  Where are we seeing innovation take place currently in American wine?

More to the point of Prohibition and its repeal, Ken Burns produced an outstanding documentary on the history of the laws and their unintended consequences, which is worth a look if you ever have what amounts to a free weekend. The one thing that struck me then and continues to strike me now about the history of that time period is that the IRS and the income tax allowed Prohibition to happen in the first place.

It has been said and documented that before 1913, about a third of the entire revenue of the Federal Government came from taxes on alcohol sales.  After 1920 though, politicians had quickly realized that income taxes were a more efficient way to raise revenue than were use fees, like what had been going on to that point.  With almost two thirds of revenues now coming through income taxes, the government was able to start what we’d largely call a culture war on organized crime and the sale of alcohol.

It’s also been said that behind closed doors in the early 1930’s when declining tax revenues started to hit harder than normal (revenues were down 60% from their peak) politicians found an easy way to raise revenues once again, allow the sale and taxation of alcohol.

In any case, I think all of us can agree it’s an interesting time period of American history and as we continue to have debates about the relatively acceptable size of government today, hopefully we can look back at this time period and learn a little something about taxes, rights and government spending.