Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
 
January 5, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

How We Taste Wine, Winemaker Testing

Before I forget, Happy January...the grind begins again.

Hey, guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

First, a happy January to everyone as we start to get back into normal business. As I'm sure, everybody's finally back to work. At least it seems that way in the Bay area. Most of the folks that we know are off for the entire region around the holidays. One of the questions that's come up a few times over the last week or two is, how do we taste wine and how is that different than both our wine club competitors but then also as consumers?

These, I think, are a pretty good example.

One thing that we like to do that I think is an opportunity if you work in the wine industry that you don't necessarily have as a consumer. I always like to say, "What does a winemaker like to do?" We have these super star winemakers, Phillipe Melka, Michel Rolland from France, who is maybe more of a consultant than a winemaker at this point. These guys who, if you drink wine [inaudible 00:00:47], in essence have become household names.

One of the things I like to try to figure out out is, "What are they doing that's just a little bit different than the competitors?" While you can make these broad generalizations about these folks, I think the only way to really tell is to be able to drink stuff that is made from the same vineyard and the same vintage and then try two different winemakers to see what the output is and how it's different. I think I have a good example here.

We talked a little bit about Lennox Vineyards a few days ago, and I love Mike to death, and Mike makes some good juice from, what in essence is a back yard vineyard. He just happens to live in Sebastopol which is in Sonoma, in western Sonoma County, and it's a really good place to grow grapes. Envolve Winery may be a household name, and at this point. It may not. If you ever watch the Bachelor TV show, this is the juice. If you look at the bottom there, you will see the Lennox Vineyard insignia. In essence you have a really professional trained winemaker, professional enough to even get a reality show out of it, and then a guy who has taken a few classes at Davis and makes some good juice of his own. I think that you can really tell where the finesse comes in and in essence, the the big difference between these two bottles. Envolve you get a little bit more acidity. The wine is truly, a little bit cleaner. It's a little bit lighter on your pallet and you can really see what they're going for with the Pinot Noir.

I think that one really interesting way to drink wine. Especially when you get into Napa and you start having larger vineyards, or especially when you start traveling up Atlas Peak and you see the folks at VinRoc, or Dos Lagos is another great example where they have quite a famous winemaker making their wine in Bob Foley. You can see what folks are going for as winemakers versus what kind of other people who might not be as famous, or is kind of [flowned 00:02:41] out in the profession end up going for.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. Lennox Vineyards, it's a good example of how do we taste wine that's different than other folks? As consumers, how can we do this and enjoy it? This is an interesting point to make. It's something we like to do with friends and family is opening two bottles, same vineyard, same vintage and saying, "Hey, what do you like better?" You're kind of surprised at the results sometimes.

I hope everybody had a nice holiday season, and I will be returning emails, phone calls and everything else here in the next 24 to 48 hours, as quickly as we can. Thanks again. Have a good one.

Mark Aselstine
 
December 29, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Through the Holidays & The 10's

We'll have a more complete-what's coming up post early in the new year.

Hey guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

We've been pretty quiet over the last few weeks as far as on the video blog front and that's in large part, like most retailers, we're just desperately trying to get shipments out as fast as possible. I think we hit most of the deadlines this year, wine club shipments definitely pretty much on the ball. Gift baskets for the most part got at as well. Those are a little bit more of a challenge because they take a little bit extra time and there's kind of some inventory control issues that come into play. I don't mind sharing that but in essence we've gotten rid of the backlog of orders and we're happy to be moving on to a regular schedule.

First if you're watching this and you received a gift from someone, we do do a large percentage of wine club gifts over the holidays. Your January shipments will probably go out around the 10th or so. I tell a lot of people that I grew up with my parents owning an ice cream shop in San Diego and I hated the fact that they had to watch the weather so often and now I have to watch the weather for the entire country. While we can't predict more than a few days out at least it does look like the early January weather should be fine so we'll be getting out wine club shipments both for our regular monthly wine club members as well as gift recipients in early January.

Also this is the time of year when you hear about New Year's resolutions, we certainly make those in my house too although maybe I don't take it as seriously as others. You tend to do that at work too in a lot of places and it's a good time to kind of reflect what you're doing and try to set up a new range of offerings for folks. For us you're going to see a few different things this year. First and foremost you will finally see a new range of gift baskets. More excited about those and those will start rolling out kind of at the end of January or early February. Second, I'm joined today by a, as you can see this is a 375 milliliter bottle which is a half bottle of wine and you can see absolutely no markings. This was a barrel sample. We've been doing a little bit of this, we do it for work and for try to get an idea of where vintners and wine makers are going. But this was a little bit more specific. For our four years in business we've long kind of struggled with the fact that many of our competitors offer discounts and more severe discounts on reorders than we do. From our part at Uncorked Ventures we haven't been comfortable offering huge discounts on reorders because quite honestly it pisses winers off. A lot of the folks that we work with flat out wouldn't work with us if had to do that. We've kind of had to go about it a different way and we've said we want to provide some extra value to wine club members but how can we do that? We're going to have a range of wines, I believe they're going to be called The 10's and there will be a very good reason for that. Ten dollars a bottle add a tier on club shipment for free shipping and I think that's going to be an exciting thing. It's something that we're working with wine makers on currently, it's something that I'm going to continue to work with them on as time goes by. I hope it's a way that we can both grow our wine club base but then also offer something as a ... You know, we all go to Trader Joe's, we all go to Safeway, Ralph's, whatever, Kroeger, whatever you call your local grocery store and buy Tuesday wines. We're hopeful that we can add a range of Tuesday wines to the site without killing everybody on shipping charges. You can look for that with us here in the New Year, it's going to be called The 10's. We may roll out with just two or three wine examples in that range but hopefully over the course of the year that we'll be able to source more and more different stuff that's interesting and quite frankly we'll be doing at break even. But it's something that I think our customers deserve and I think it's something that they want and I think it's a good value added feature. I hope you'll look for that in the new year.

Once again Marked Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. If you have questions, concerns about an order please don't hesitate. Call us, email us we'll get back to you as soon as we can. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
 
December 19, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Murphy's Law Riesling and More

A short intro to Murphy's Law Riesling, Riesling in Washington state and why, I think, we're a different type of wine of the month club:

Hi guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

It's been a while. Truthfully, I've been under the weather pretty much and I didn't think anybody wanted to listen to me hacking on a video. I hope everyone is having a nice holiday season. We're certainly in full swing. We're having a couple of ... we have shipments going out every day and so if you need a tracking number or anything ... sometimes they end up in the spam ... e-mail us or shoot us a phone call. We're happy to help.

I wanted to spend a couple minutes talking about a wine that I really like that some of our customers are receiving right now. This is Murphy's Law Riesling. It's made by a company called Local Wine and Spirits based up in the Pacific Northwest. I think this is a good representation of something that we do well and perhaps, if I should be so brave to say, that some of our wine club competitors perhaps don't do as well.

We handle Oregon and Washington in addition to California and most folks don't. That's because most wineries are really, really small. After prohibition the Federal Government set up wine sales to be what's called a three-tier model. The theory is the winery sells to a distributor. The distributor is supposed to kind of take these thousands of wineries and condense them into the good ones and then sell them to retailers. The retailers are just supposed to take that and then condense it and sell it to people. In reality what's happened is that there's about four nationwide distributors, Southern Wine and Spirits, Chambers and a couple other ones. It's really difficult to get a placement with a huge distributor if you're a small winery. Each individual State usually requires at least a pallet of wine which is 56 cases, you know, 700 bottles give or take. Small wineries have issues getting larger distribution.

That's where we come in and we try to in essence help them find a market for themselves with consumers that are interested in getting 90+ point quality wine at an affordable price. As an example, for this month a lot of folks received a Napa Valley Sangiovese from Benessere Vineyards. It's a retail $35 or so, just an incredible, incredible wine. It's a great story. We'll do a video on that one shortly too as well because I think it's so interesting. If you're paying $40 for a Wine Club and you get a 30- or 32-dollar bottle of wine, you're going to get something that's cheaper. This Riesling, the price point, you'll see it online for anywhere from the suggested retail of 12 up to 20, so in essence the price went up a little bit for most retailers because it got rated between 87 and 90 points from most major wine critics.

I think it says two things. First small winery projects in the Pacific Northwest are making really, really good wine and they're doing it in kind of a hands-off version. This is a classic Riesling. You'll see kind of hints of minerality and then the sour apple and they'll kind of affect those classic flavors that you get from the soil at a fraction of the price. That's what they're kind of looking for. It's more acidic than you might be used to if you've only been drinking a lot of Chardonnay but price point's a lot lower too. Murphy's Law, it's made by a company called Local Wine and Spirits. I think Riesling's an interest grape on a couple levels. Napa hit it big when they had Cabernet and Chardonnay both kind of take off at the same time for them. There's a big question right now is if Chardonnay is going to be able to kind of keep up that market share and if it doesn't, what should be that other white wine grape that people are starting to move towards? While Sauvignon Blanc might be the most logical first place to try, a lot of people think that Riesling might be the long term winner and that's because ... I'm in my 30's. I think that's fairly obvious. People drink Coke, juice, whatever, as Millennials and as you grow up, maybe that taste of sweetness is a little bit more ingrained in your palate than it would be for people that have been of previous generations. Riesling can be made in a wide variety of sweetness levels to the point of ... you know the Finger Lakes in New York that have sweetness, a little chart that they put on the back of every bottle. This one doesn't have it. They don't particularly use it as often in Washington because this one is more off dry than actually sweet. A lot of wine makers and a lot of people within the industry think that natural gravity towards sweetness is going to be something that helps Riesling gain more plantings and more consumer acceptance as time goes on. Really that kind of minerality and that kind of biting acidity that you can get with Riesling, is a good combination for a lot of food that we typically eat. I think in the United States, especially here in California more so maybe than other parts, you're moving ... big cities too ... moving away from kind of this typical burger and fries fare and getting more internationalized with different kind of food groups and all the [current 00:04:38] flavors that come with those. Asian fusion is something that pairs really well with Riesling if you eat Thai very often. In fact, even if you were going to go down to your local taco shop, assuming that you have one, Riesling is something that fits pretty well. Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. I hope you guys are having a good holiday season. I hope you'll consider a wine club membership for yourself or one of your friends. We also do arrange a gift basket so I hope you also look at those too. I hope everybody's having happy holidays and if I don't get a chance to say it before then, Merry Christmas. Thanks again.

Mark Aselstine
 
December 11, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

What is a Meritage Wine?

What is a Meritage wine?

It's a question that comes up every so often, in this case it was asked by someone who had seen our introduction to Korbin Kameron the other day.

A Meritage wine is a blend of two or more of the five official red wine grapes of Bordeaux. Those are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc. These days the Meritage Association has added Carmenere to the list of acceptable grapes for Meritage red wine blends.

If you're looking for a Meritage white wine, it needs to be a blend of two of the traditional Bordeaux white's.  Those are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle du Bordelais.

Another interesting note about Meritage, no single grape can make up 90% of the blend.  That's one thing that's a bit strange to me because if a single varietal makes up at least 75% of the blend, it can be a varietally labeled wine, so there's some overlap.

Lastly, the name Meritage itself is a combination of merit and tradition.  Blends in Bordeaux typically don't contain enough of any single grape to be a varietally labeled wine & vintners in America thought they were losing out on some marketing opportunities because of it.

Hope you've enjoyed this introduction to Meritage, it's a name that has meaning within the wine industry, but perhaps not as much as it once did. If you're thinking of joining an Uncorked Ventures wine club, you'll see these most often in our Special Selections Wine Club just based on the average price point of production in California and elsewhere on the west coast.

Mark Aselstine
 
December 10, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Lennox Vineyards An Introduction to Micro-Wine in Sonoma

A short intro to Lennox Vineyards and how micro-wineries are popping up in Sonoma and elsewhere.

Hey guys. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

This is a video that I can't believe it's taken me this long to make as far as an introduction to a winery that I think deserves some attention that it basically can't receive because it's so small. Lennox Vineyards is a small project. It's a family owned, husband and wife. Mike worked in the tech industry for a long time and wanted kind of a simpler life for his kids as he raised them. They kind of have this quintessential wine country experience. They walk across the vineyard to get to school kind of thing.

Lennox is based in Sonoma County. It's based just outside of the city of Sebastapol which is frankly one of my favorite places to visit in Sonoma. If you think about where the Berkeley liberals went after the '70s were over and prices started to get more expensive, Sebastapol is kind of one of the spots where they landed, kind of western Sonoma County in general. Sebastapol is part of the Russian River and so it's a warmer growing environment than many that you hear talked about kind of in national wine magazines these days where kind of cooler is always thought of as better. Sebastapol as part of the Russian River is one of the cooler aspects of it. Lennox came to us.

We shipped the wine a few months ago in our Explorations Wine Club, maybe a year ago at this point, from Envolve which, if you watch any Reality TV, was the bachelor's winery. That's undergone some ownership changes over the past few months but let's say it's the bachelor's winery. What people didn't realize when they watched the show was that they didn't actually grow their own grapes. They were sourcing them from Lennox Vineyards. Mike and the folks at Lennox, they have two kind of vineyard sites. The first is 9 acres and that's a few blocks from where they live.

Then they have this 2/3 of an acre, kind of a home estate parcel and they have what they consider a micro-winery. In essence they have a really nice garage set up with the home office that's been parceled out and cut in half and so they have kind of their entire wine making operation right there on site. There's a full chemistry laboratory. There's enough space for, I don't know, I'd say 10 or 12 barrels of wine and then they have kind of what we say in the wine industry, finish case storage or where they put the cases after everything's been bottled.

Over the past few years there's been kind of this rise of ... people don't have bottling operations themselves or on site. They're not doing them by hand like I spent a day in San Diego County doing but they have a mobile bottling truck come out. They bottle the whole thing in an hour and then you're done and it's a heck of a lot better kind of setup.

Lennox deserves attention I think, because they grow some outstanding grapes. We said this in the newsletter when we shipped this wines that if you bought a small parcel of land in Sonoma County and you had some basic rudimentary wine-making experience from a couple UC Davis classes. If I think about it, how many times do I walk by my strawberry patch and stuff in the backyard every day, it's a small handful. If you were growing grapes for sale, you might do it more than a handful of times.

If you visit Lennox, that's kind of the idea that you get. You see kind of this immaculate vineyard set up. It's 2/3 of an acre. In essence, Mike can tell you every single vine and what it's produced in over the last three or four vintages and if it's doing well, if it's not doing well. There's kind of this hands-on aspect that people are really craving in the wine industry. There's nothing generic here at all. At the same time, Mike himself, he's improved his wine making skills a lot if you kind of taste from one vintage to the next but at the same time, is this guy the next Phillipe Melka, you know? Eh! But at the same time, he's pretty good. To me that means a lot and so that means that's somebody that I want to support. The prices also are really, really reasonable.

Retail on the Pinot is 32. You'd be hard pressed to find another single Russian River Valley Pinot for $32. Chardonnay, I don't think they have any right now. They've been grafting Chardonnay vines over to Pinot. Quite frankly it's the smart business decision. The Pinot's just more value as you might expect. The Chardonnay I think you'd see run in the $15 to $20 range.

Again, one of the absolutely cheapest versions of Russian River Valley Chardonnay. These are really nice wines. There's a nice balance of fruit and acidity. I think, as people that really, really like wine, people are kind of drawn to stories and the guy and his wife pruning the vines by hand and picking them literally by bunch as they come in for fermentation says a lot about where we hope this industry can go and how we hope this industry can support these type of farms and these type of small scale wine operations because they're interesting and in my opinion they're much more interesting than the large scale Gallo or whatever the case may be, where they're making millions of cases.

I hope if you have a chance to try Lennox Pinot you will not only give it a try but you will also appreciate it for what it is. This is just in essence exactly what you get from the grapes growing in the ground in this vineyard. That's to me something that's really, really special. There's no kind of outside intervention here. It's truly kind of a family plot and a family project. I'm really excited about it. I love tasting these wines as they come out of each vintage because I think they're important and I think is shows kind of where we hope the industry can go.

Once again, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I hope you ... if you haven't received a Lennox Pinot from us or a Lennox Chard and you're joining a wine club or giving a wine club membership as a gift over the holidays, your folks will probably get something that we have remaining of these but we're starting to run a little bit low. Hopefully Mike will work with us again in the future. I hope if you can find him locally that you do although at a couple hundred cases total, you probably won't. Shoot him an e-mail or give him a call. It's highly worth the time and like I said, the prices are really, really fair.

Once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. Have a good one.