Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
June 23, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Groundwork Grenache Rose

Groundwork Grenache Rose

Ok, so I know there’s a percentage of you out there that HATE Rose.  Please bear with me, this isn’t what you think.

Let’s start with some basics, this Groundwork Grenache Rose is made by winemaker Curt Schalchlin whom I met over a few glasses of wine at the Berkeley standout Bartavelle which has become something of a go-to meeting spot for me. His label, Sans Liege is literally a one man show.  Curt does everything.  Manages vineyards, thus the focus on only central coast vineyards and nothing in northern California (not that there aren’t enough choices in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, among other lesser known spots) since he wouldn’t be able to get to those vineyard consistently enough to manage them properly.  Of course, there’s back and forth inherent between growers and vintners, since the two groups often cannot even agree how grapes should be sold.  Growers want to sell grapes by the ton, winemakers want to buy them by the acre. Part of the continuing issue is that growers (well at least the less scrupulous among them, yes, there are a few) will water the grapes hanging on the vines in the last days before they are picked.  That leads to two issues, first that they get paid more.  Second, the wine ends up being worse because it’s watered down.  Of course, winemakers and vintners aren’t innocent in the whole affair either: take the wine market back in 2009 as an example.  A ton of Napa vineyards had long term contracts between growers and vintners, sold by the acre.  Big, awesome vintages happened in 07 and 08, only to see the wine market collapse aftermath of the financial crash. Vintners walked out of contracts, leaving growers holding the bag so to speak, they vowed that they’d never go back to selling by the acre (winemakers tend to keep yields super low in an attempt for higher end wine) because if contracts don’t hold up, they’ve cost themselves a ton of money.

Thus, the focus by most small scale winemakers on vineyards that they can manage and relationships that they can nurture, face to face.

Curt makes his wines down on the central coast and features grapes from some of the most intense vineyards in the region.  From Alta Colina to Bien Nacido, there are high scoring wines coming from these vineyards each and every year, usually made from Syrah-or other deeper, darker wines.

The Rose in your glass is made from Grenache grapes and here’s the story behind Rose.  

Winemakers usually have one of two reasons for Rose if its made by accident and a third, if they actually want to make Rose.  First, they have a red wine that doesn’t quite get ripe enough, so they “bleed” off some Rose to make sure the remaining wine that is left, is significantly dense enough to be interesting.  In essence, they’re making a stylistic choice for their wine, no matter the vintage.

Secondly, a grower has a section of the vineyard that they simply cannot get ripe, or something goes wrong, or simply the vines are new and not established enough as of yet. There’s a vineyard issue.

Lastly, you have a winemaker who wants to make Rose.

They make it somewhere between a white and red as far as process, which is evident here.  When you taste Curt’s Rose, you’ll notice that it tastes like a light bodied red wine, that’s the point and that’s why I can ship it.

I’ve shipped at least one of the first version of Rose-it’s acidity in a glass and I don’t mind it. Curt’s Rose falls into the 3rd category though and it’s the only type of Rose I’ll ship these days.

I get it, outside of SF and NY, Rose simply isn’t too popular.  This type of Rose would play anywhere though.  Think of it this way, if this were a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from a cool vintage, you might end up somewhere like this.  

That’s the beauty with warm vintages, warm weather vineyards and a winemaker who actually wants to make a Rose.

Yeah, I know it’s pink in your glass.  Don’t assume though before trying it, It’s not quite as pink as you think, this is a light red. I hope our Explorations Wine Club members enjoy an interesting look into a wine style that's only now coming into vogue across the country.

Mark Aselstine
June 17, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Vellum Wine Craft

It seems like quite a number of years ago, which would make many of our parent’s generations blush (ok and likely quite a number of our customers as well, so no disrespect meant at all, my wife was happy to find a job at a school a few years ago, where she plans on working until retirement), but in terms of a startup, 4 years is probably an eternity that I had a chance meeting with Jeff Mathy of Vellum Wine Craft.

When I first started Uncorked Ventures, I was living in San Diego (my brother in law and business partner Matt lived here in the Bay Area) so large scale wine events were both rare and without a doubt, major events at which to make connections and meet people.  One such event that does come to San Diego is Family Winemakers.

Family Winemakers offers three large scale tastings in California every year, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.  San Diego, as you might expect ends up being something of the red headed step child of the bunch, offering about half the number of wineries at present as SF does.  Part of it is the distance, part of it is the smaller market and quite simply, San Diegans don’t buy as much wine, or as expensive wine for that matter, as do Angelino’s, let alone those in the Bay Area.

The set up for Family Winemakers is that from 1-3pm the trade is only allowed in for tasting and the room is virtually empty.  From 3-6pm, the general public is allowed in after paying $75 or so.  It’s in the top 2 large scale consumer tastings around (Rhone Rangers is the other), so people are ready and the wineries quite honestly, don’t look forward to that section.  They pour a lot of wine, don’t sell a lot and deal with a percentage of people who are there with the express purpose of “getting their money’s worth” so to speak.

Anyway, members of the trade (and a friend of two that I’ve gotten in over the years) have talked about how you get accustomed to the lighter crowds during the trade only house.  At that San Diego Family Winemakers tasting a few years ago my wife and I were walking around after the consumers came in (which also leads to lines and less opportunity to talk and that’s the fun for me at these events, hearing people’s stories) and we saw a guy, by himself….with a single wine.  

Jeff had dressed the wine up a lot, wooden boxes and a large format bottle on the table, but he was standing there by himself while a “name” winery next to him had a line at least 15 people deep, so my wife (who I think I can share here, is a counselor and she fits the stereotype, she felt bad for him and suggested we head over there, since the guy was young, by himself and was wearing a suit jacket, thus trying to impress or at least taking it seriously).  We chatted with Jeff for a minute, tried the wine and after tasting wine from 25+ wineries that day, his story and the wine his winery had produced, dominated our conversation on the way home.  To me, that made it pretty clear that Vellum was a winery we would need to work with.

In fact, a few months later Matt and I were on a trip to Napa and had some free time after an amazingly short meeting with the sales director of a winery that I won’t name here, so I called Jeff out of the blue and asked if he could meet for dinner, pick a place in our vicinity and be there inside an hour.  Luckily, in Napa this isn’t that strange, nor is the small locals only BBQ spot that Jeff suggested.  It’s a red table clothed type of place to the east of downtown Napa, where you’re as likely to see construction workers, as winemakers, as city employees sitting to dinner. Back Door BBQ has been around for 35+ years, but I would never have found it without some advice from a local.  Jeff also managed to wrangle his business partner and winemaker for Vellum,  Karl Lehmann to our meeting, who if memory serves correctly, showed up fresh from the gym.  Like I said, last minute, but I think it’s important to remember those who were willing to literally drop everything to sell a case or two of wine to two guys who were just starting out and really had no clue what they were doing, other than to treat people well along the way.

Anyway, back to Vellum and the story that we’ve heard and learned: Jeff’s an interesting guy (he is the only winery business manager I have ever met to have had a full career as a mountain climber, he can tell you about the time he climbed Everest (twice!) or when he collapsed a lung and as my 4 year old would say, this all happened….in real life) and the folks behind Vellum have become something of friends along the way, so I’ve had wine club members tell me that I might not be the most rational when it comes to Vellum. Ok, but those same wine club members also respect that these guys went out to Coombsville, well before the colder climates in Napa were as popular as they are today.  After all, Vellum was a startup too and needed affordable grapes. Ask them today if they would have gotten to this point more quickly with Rutherford grapes and they’d like agree-but Vellum now shows up in fine wine stores in 10 states.

Let’s be clear, before I go on, I love all my customers, some will check scores of wines that I ship, well before opening a bottle.  Well, the Vellum wines a few vintages ago, when we first started working with them, were not in the mid 90 point range. For the price, they didn’t seem like a great value when they were sitting around 90 points from Wine Enthusiast.  Parker wouldn’t review them and let’s be honest, once you have your bottle open you’ll understand, this isn’t the style that historically scores well in Wine Advocate (again not an issue, just an honest assessment, I like these wines more so than the larger than life fruit that was readily available in Napa over the years).

Then, viola, things changed, the scores came. Wine Spectator LOVES these wines.

Let’s take a moment and talk a bit about scores from major wine critics. Wine Spectator might be my favorite wine rating magazine, largely because they do taste wines blind, with groups of tasters. That’s a good setup, at least, in my opinion.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, from my experience seeing a tasting being setup in Napa Valley, tastes wine “blind’ but has the wines grouped by consulting winemaker.  In our case, we saw a tasting being set up for Michele Rolland clients in Napa, there’s about 30 of them.  But, let’s also be clear….if you know that the wineries sitting in front of you are all Michele Rolland clients and that he helps his clients make what you consider great wine….aren’t scores going to be better than the group of wines that are not affiliated with anyone whose name you recognize?

The new wineries, especially the ones crazy enough to start by borrowing money from friends, family, former professors, while signing promissory notes to pay people back, have a harder time attracting a huge score. BTW, if that isn’t direct enough, Vellum did exactly that to raise cash at the beginning of their business.  When I tell other winery owners about it, they simply shake their head….it’s unheard of in Napa where it’s often said that it takes a large fortune to either make, or lose, a small one depending on the quality of the current vintage.  Take any winery that you can think of off the top of your head right now and read their story online, you’ll read about what the owner did before the wine business, ie how he made his or her money.  That isn’t the case here and a different perspective is something that I think is welcome in Napa and within the wider wine industry.

One of the less talked about aspects of the wine trade that people might tell you over a beer, or two, is that it’s damn hard to get the major critics to review you and even if they do, it’s damn hard to get a score that’s going to help sell your wine. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it also drives some strange decisions as time goes by as far as style and how wineries go after new markets, to encourage reviews.

Vellum has built itself in a one step at a time model, largely based I’d imagine on their funding, but they considers themselves classic Coombsville in many ways.  First, there’s a very real European sensibility here.  Winemaker Karl Lehmann does have a day job, he’s the assistant winemaker at Storybrook Mountain.  Storybrook is known for their Zinfandel and have been called the quality leader of that varietal by Wine & Spirits Magazine as recently as two years ago. I find winemakers tend to fall into one of two categories, they either buy into the art or the science of winemaking. Karl’s definitely the artist, he’s as likely to quote an obscure 16th century poet as he is to tell you about what BRIX the grapes were picked at.  Maybe that puts him at the extreme, but I like my winemakers to have a perspective. There’s perspective here, that I think is especially prevalent in their Cabernet Sauvignon.  When you open the 2011 in your shipment you’ll notice all the normal flavors of Cabernet, but there’s more acidity here than normal. Too often it seems that to get more acidity, fruit is traded and flavors are lost (after all, you can’t turn off the sun in California) but that is not the case here. Classic Cabernet flavors and more acidity reminds me more of France than it does California, but then again that’s exactly their goal and why they sourced grapes from Coombsville in the first place.

A word about the “Black” that’s part of your shipment.  In the 2010 vintage Wine Spectator gave the wine 94 points and called it their cellar selection for the month.  Yes, it helped put Vellum on the proverbial map.  We shipped that wine well before scores came out and we’re now shipping the 2011 before scores come out for this vintage as well.

I don’t think the ‘11 is as good as the ‘10.  BUT, I don’t buy into the negative hype that surrounds the 2011 vintage as a whole in Napa.  Yes, it was a damn cold and even a challenging growing season. Are we supposed to take an entire vintage off? What does that say for the long term viability for new wineries, or those without millions of dollars in corporate backing? If you’re willing to actually try these wines, you’ll like what’s here.  The French will still argue, to the death in fact, that Bordeaux is more cellarable than Napa simply because there’s more acidity inherent in their wines. Karl’s had the conversation with me quite a few times and is a true believer. Plus, I’ve had at least 10 conversations with various winemakers where they shrug when opening a bottle of their ‘11, only to say…..this is better than people think.

The Black is mostly Petite Verdot, but you can’t sell it with that varietal on the front (after all, when is the last time you intentionally bought a Petite Verdot?), thus the trade name instead: plus it allows them to change the percentage of Cabernet in the blend (typically 15%, but if they cross 20% they wouldn’t be allowed to keep the Petite Verdot moniker anyway.  They do something similar for the Merlot that they now produce, that’s another varietal that grows well in Napa Valley, but that consumers won’t buy any longer (thanks Sideways).

Petite Verdot has traditionally been a blending grape in France where winemakers say that the thing won’t always ripen (somehow this seems ok, for Pinot Noir, but I digress) before they run into their significant rainy season (reports are that every few years, a full vintage is lost on the vine).  The grapes are used, most often, to add structure to Cabernet blends.  The grape in practice also adds color, it’s a dark purple color when allowed to hang long enough on the vine.

The wine will need decanting if you want to enjoy it young, but Petite Verdot does reliably ripen in Napa (like all grapes) and can be allowed to hang well into October.  An old winemaker friend Jean Hoefliger (he’s the winemaker at Alpha Omega which sits in Rutherford along highway 29, Jean made a name for himself a Newton before hand) makes a Petite Verdot on his own (a natural idea for a winemaker who says that he wouldn’t drink a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc without burying it in the vineyard for about 20 years), thus is the perspective of someone who grew up with a vineyard in the family and learned to make wine in a European model. His assistant winemaker Henrik Poulson laughs about the project and shakes his head….it’s Petite Verdot, not anyone’s favorite grape.  That’s because it’s hard to tame the damn thing, too often these are so big that they’re unrecognizable as wine.  Vellum walks the fine line pretty well and I find that the folks with a more European style, along with the California sun can make a nice combination when it comes to Petite Verdot. The Coombsville address, in my opinion, helps keep things under control as well here.

In any case, I hope our Reserve Selections Wine Club members enjoy their look into Vellum Wine Craft this month.  A Cabernet and Petite Verdot made in an unexpected style, from a strange vintage, we thought was worth a look.

Mark Aselstine
June 14, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

How Much Wine Can Be Made with a Ton of Grapes?

It isn't quite high season for this type of stuff yet, that typically happens closer to harvest in July, August, September and October, but on wine industry sites I'm starting to run into an increasingly number of available grape postings.

Wine grapes are sold by the ton by growers to vintners (or winemakers, your choice in essence the two are interchangeable in practice).

A customer asked me the other day, how much wine do you get from a ton of grapes?

Generally speaking winemakers will tell you that they receive about 150 gallons of juice from a ton of grapes.  Converting those gallons to bottles, you have 750ml in a bottle of wine and therefore 2.378 gallons in a case of wine.  That 1 ton of grapes therefore produces right about 63 cases of wine, right around a pallet-depending on how it's being stacked.

In practice, that seems consistent.  I have a winemaker friend who takes a half ton of grapes from a historic Lodi vineyard and says he overfills the container a ridiculous amount and produces about 35 cases or so of the wine in question.

Over the coming days and weeks, we'll be answering more of these type of questions to try and pull the veil back so to speak, off the wider wine industry.

As always, we hope you'll consider a wine club membership!

Mark Aselstine
June 13, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Kermit Lynch Cotes Du Rhone 2013

I've read plenty of different rational's for when and how to talk about companies that are considereded competitors and while Kermit Lynch is both a retailer, as well as a wholesaler (yup, exactly like us) the scale and focus of his business is so different than my own, that I don't feel bad about talking about some of what Kermit Lynch is doing. Plus, what Kermit Lynch is able and wiling to do in bringing small scale French wines to market in America, should be an inspiration to all of us willing to try and do the same.

Video Transcription:

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

Today I'm joined by a Kermit Lynch Cotes Du Rhone.

Obviously with it being from another "retail or distributor", a Kermit Lynch wine is not going to show up in a Wine of the Month club. It also happens to be Cotes Du Rhone which means it's French but I did think that Kermit Lynch deserved some space for me to talk about in this area on Youtube and both on our site ...

So Kermit Lynch started back in the early 70s ... I think it was 72. He's based just down the street from me in Berkeley, California. Quite famously the guy opened a wine shop with nothing more than a positive attitude about sharing really good French wine and Italian wine with people in the United States. It reportedly had about 30 cases of wine stacked on the floor. If I can find a picture of our first warehouse and how we started, that sounds really familiar to me.

What Kermit Lynch does is what we aim to do in California, Oregon, and Washington. Kermit Lynch splits his type part of the year in Berkeley, here, running his retail and distribution operation and part of the year in Provence, France. The guy actually goes to wineries and spends time with vineyard owners and winemakers and that`s what we try to do.

Lynch, they bring in Kermit Lynch marked wines and they do them from ...

This is from the Southern Rhone and there`s a few other ones floating around too. I know they do a rosé that`s really highly liked every year, as well.

The story of this wine is actually kind of interesting and I like it. He found this ... The Cotes Du Rhone is kind of a group of villages and often times you`ll see grapes from multiple vineyards kind of put together into this larger operation and it helps with sales because you don`t have individual farmers that have a few acres selling to one guy and you spend all this time on sales and marketing and not as much time actually making great wine and by combining everything together they can get a more cohesive marketing status and going on ...

What Kermit Lynch found was they had all this good wine getting made for either family consumption or getting bulked out into the négociant market in France and if you`re not familiar with the term négociant, it`s somebody who creates a wine but doesn`t actually make it.

We have a wine like that coming out soon and in essence you work with winemakers that have some extra juice ... you relabel it, you repackage. Sometimes people are good blenders but not good winemakers themselves and that`s how it comes about.

Lynch took this wine and he talked to the folks and convinced them that creating what amounts to the second label from their properties and selling it in America would be a good idea and boom, there you have it, 12 bucks at local grocery stores here at San Francisco bay area.

It`s a classic Cotes Du Rhone ... It`s that thick, jammy, bigger that you`d expect from the region and I think it does a great job in showing what Kermit Lynch does, why the guy`s famous, and why he`s kind of a legend in the wine industry.

Like no-one else has ... Maybe there`s 1 or 2 other guys now that do it ... He actually pounded the pavement for years and years and years. He`s wrote a couple books about his experiences: Travelling Back Water Roads of France.

Those are some of the required reading for us when we started our business and we`ve definitely had some of the same experiences from having to get gas in the vineyard or quite honestly when you seem to be 10 or 15 miles away from driving directions and your seemingly not going the right direction and you`ve turned off the paved road many miles back. There`s some funny stories that come about when you`re driving around agricultural businesses that aren`t quite used to visitors.

In any case Cotes Du Rhone by Kermit Lynch, well well worth it. He does have some distribution throughout wider states and you can find Kermit Lynch and all the stuff online too and the full disclosure and they do a great wine club as well.

The market is the same with Uncorked Ventures and if you`re looking for an easy drinking French Red for 12 bucks, this is it.

Mark Aselstine
June 12, 2015 | Mark Aselstine

Wine at Disneyland’s California Adventure

wine vines grow at Disneyland's California AdventureA few weeks ago, I had the absolute joy of bringing my 4 year old son to Disneyland for the first time.  A little background, my wife and I both grew up about an hour south of the Disneyland in northern San Diego County, so we’ve both experienced the park on at least a dozen occasions.  Well, she might have been there hundreds of times, but no matter the number of visits, there is something about the original Disneyland to those of us that grew up around it, that seems like a right of passage. He’s still at the age where things are magical and seeing the whole thing through his eyes for the first time was a special experience.

My son was finally tall enough to ride the rides that wouldn’t scare the life out of him and some of the ones that might (more later), he was adventurous enough to enjoy them and he was completely, utterly, without a nap under any circumstances...so he’d be awake enough to not only enjoy the hotel, the hotel pool in the afternoon and of course, everything at the park.

A quick note on hotels near Disneyland, the Disney hotels (there are 3 of them, the original Disneyland Resort, the high end Grand California & the Paradise Pier) are still the nicest places to stay, in large part because of the added benefits.  You’re in walking distance of either the park itself, or a monorail station and you’re granted an extra hour in the park through their magic hour program.  I know an extra hour doesn’t sound like much when the park is open 13 hours as it is 9am-10pm during the off season, but when there’s so few people around that you can simply walk onto rides….that’s a great advantage.

Given pricing though and the fact we were planning on 2 days at the park, as well as 4 at the hotel, we stayed off site.  Our hotel choice had a few requirements, first we wanted a good pool.  Second, we wanted to be far enough away to have a shuttle instead of having to walk. That led us to the Marriott which sits just over a mile away from the park, but is a 4 star hotel and offers an awesome place to stay.  We definitely enjoy our trips, my son included and from room service to yes, the pool, the Marriott Anaheim Suites was a great place to stay.  The shuttle picks up downstairs and drops you off a short distance from the front of the park (closer than the parking lots to be sure) and was a real advantage for us. The staff was nice, the room was comfortable and exactly as advertised and finally, room service was great! Oh and the pool was at least 10 degrees warmer than it has to be.  All in all, we'd certainly stay at the Marriott again.

Disneyland is traditionally an alcohol free destination, which I appreciate, it’s a place where you really don’t have to worry about other adults behavior and usually, people despite the sometimes large crowds (that can border on 100,000 people on holidays and around Christmas and New Year’s like the last time we went a few years back) are on their best behavior.  The original park has one main exception, there is wine and beer at Club 33, which is a private, high end restaurant in the park.  I’ve never  eaten there, but they’ve carried a number of wines, including a high end Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon from Vellum Wine Craft that I absolutely love.

walkway to the winery at Disneyland's California AdventureA few years back, Disneyland took over their large parking lot, built parking structures elsewhere and erected California Adventure: a secondary theme park that gives space for another 30,000 people but also has regular alcohol sales.

California Adventure seems at least 10 degrees warmer than Disneyland, but that might be largely because the trees are still growing, the park is still new and that there is a decidedly 20’s and 30’s crowd. As I mentioned, alcohol is allowed and there is a pretty nice beer selection at a number of sites throughout the site, it’s pretty normal to see people walking around on a hot summer California day with a beer in hand.  Having spent plenty of summer days walking along the beach, it’s still a bit of strange sight to my eyes to see a full beer in someone’s hand, as they walk with a small replica of the Santa Monica boardwalk in the background.

Wine is sold largely through their “winery” which I was comped another day at the park (along with my wife) to talk about in this space.  Since I would have anyway, it was a nice addition to our trip.  As I mentioned before, my son doesn’t sleep a ton, so spending another 6 hours in the morning and early afternoon at Disney parks, before taking on the 8 hour drive home, gave us hope for a nap during the ride.  30 minutes was all we got.

In any case, you’ve seen a number of images from the winery at Disneyland’s California Adventure.  First, I absolutely loved that they had real, honest to goodness grape vines growing on the property. It looks like it’s about an acre, but so often people have absolutely no clue what a vine looks like (it’s a hell of a lot bigger than most people expect) any number of vines is a good start.  I’ve long thought that areas with an incredibly large number of tourists (and yes, 130,000 potential visitors per day at Disneyland parks in Southern California, certainly qualify) could sell a ton of wine, all the while educating people a little bit. After all the serious wine drinkers, might spend $100 on a bottle of wine, whereas the regular consumer is buying a $9 glass.

my glass of Oregon Pinot Noir at California AdventureDisneyland and California Adventure share a common trait, first that you’re allowed to basically bring in whatever food you want.  We took advantage of that, largely with snacks and most importantly, water bottles (which we refilled liberally, at free water fountains). Of course, you can’t bring in everything you might want to eat and drink throughout the day, so Disneyland is counting on another $100 or so per day, per guest. That’s my estimate, your spend will of course vary, but given the setup they really don’t gouge you too badly (nothing like movie theatres, sports stadiums or even airports for that matter).

So there’s some good and bad parts about the wine list at California Adventure.  First, the good.  There’s some care and concern going into the list here.  This isn’t a generic list that shows up at most chain restaurants. I’ve complimented Mondavi, Gallo and the big boys in this space before and there are times you should throw them up as part of your list to be sure, but they aren’t a fit everywhere.  For that reason alone, it’s nice they aren’t here-California Adventure is trying to have a bit of a more exclusive experience.

Here’s the rub though: everything on the list that I find interesting, comes from Southern Wine and Spirits. I want to be clear about a few things before I go on.  First, I have absolutely no issue with Southern.  None at all.  Of all the major distributors, I really do think they do the best job.  There’s plenty of interesting wines in their portfolio and anyone looking to really expand their business into the 100,000+ case land, wants and maybe even needs Southern to represent them at least in some states. Also from Disney’s perspective, having a singular invoice to deal with would both be nice and likely make me jealous!

California Adventure Red Wine SignThat being said, Southern keeps a separate Northern and Southern California book and the difference does not tend to be kind to the Southern California folks when it comes to smaller production wines.  That’s ok and I’ll make some suggestions about how the buyers at California Adventure might handle that, if you’ll read on.

Here’s some of the wines on the menu when I visited California Adventure that I thought deserved a specific mention:

Kunde Cabernet Sauvignon: Ok, so the menu wasn’t exactly clear about exactly what Cabernet Sauvignon this was, but I can make some inferences given price point.  They’re selling a glass for $9, which makes me certain that what’s here is the Sonoma Valley, Family Estate Series.  It’s a $25 bottle of wine.  Let’s be clear on this point, the average restaurant would be charging at least $14 by my count for a similarly priced wine.  They’re offering, what sounds like blasphemy for a captive audience, a good deal, on a nice wine that would be scored at 90+ points by many significant wine critics. Kunde’s a name that should probably be more recognizable than it is already, but the interesting parts include it’s 100+ year history and it’s size: about 1,000 acres in total.  On it’s 5th (or 6th by my count) generation of ownership Kunde Winery was the 202nd winery in existence in California’s history.

California Adventure White Wine SignArgyle, Oregon: Again, a good deal.  The cheapest Pinot Noir made by Argyle (if you are not familiar, Argyle is one of the classic producers in Oregon) is $40, give or take based on the vintage. If a restaurant has a bottle, they’re charging about $20 a glass, if they have it by the glass at all, not the $12 on the menu here.  If you’re interested, yes, this is what I drank as I sat and enjoyed a glass of wine, shaded by the trees, looking out into the distance and seeing what must be an exact replica of the background of Piston Springs for the Cars movie. Wine Spectator called Argyle the premiere winery in the state of Oregon in 2000 and in the ensuing years since its founding have purchased close to 300 acres of vineyards.

Justin Winery: Justin is a classic name in Paso Robles wine, but admittedly, seeing the Cabernet here instead of something that’s a bit more obscure is a bit of let down.  Justin’s one of the first names in Paso Robles wine to make a name for themselves with Bordeaux styled blends.  Heck, the website and the winery when you’re there in person are really, really clear on that point. One thing I’ve talked about ad nauseam in this space, wine can really run together, even for professionals.  Try and get people to recognize what makes one wine different from another and you run into issues pretty quickly, even esteemed wine critic Robert Parker has admitted as much which is why Wine Advocate is so heavy on tasting notes (they don’t believe people are picking these all out on their own).  One thing that is different and memorable about wine that people can remember and pick out, are the stories behind the vineyards and wineries on a restaurant wine list.  Why not tell the story of someone in 1981 taking a chance on a relatively unknown area of California for wine production and choosing to focus on Bordeaux varietals in that region, whereas everyone else around was focused on Rhone’s? Of course he also doubled down and purchased close to 200 acres to start, which to the locals in ‘81, must have seemed like a crazy endeavour indeed.

Growing seasons for wine, shown at California Adventure and DisneylandOk, so about that Cars Radiator Springs ride. We were all tall enough.  It wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.  Much like Splash Mountain, the ride spends its first moments, lazily almost moving through scenes of the movie.  Then things start to change and there’s a moment in the ride when your “car” pulls up alongside a mirror with drapes, the drapes are pulled back and you “see” your tires being changed. I had some idea what was coming, my son was busy smiling at himself in the mirror.

Then the damn thing takes off like a race car, it’s a really, really fun ride….if you like race cars and roller coasters.  The couple in the seats in front of us and yes, my little guy, didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did. Probably a better ride for a 6 year old in total, but Disneyland brings the Cars movie to life in a way that, dare I say it, only Disney seems able to do.  For at least a five minute walk in any direction you’re literally immersed in the movie.  From the Hollywood style backdrop in the sky looking like the mountains in the movie, to the fact that every building comes from the movie itself, it’s wonderfully put together.

Ok, so last thing about the wine and wider alcohol in Disneyland’s California Adventure. They’re doing a good job, actually quite a good job considering the circumstances that they are afforded, captive audience, limited sales spots etc.  Tasting menu’s look good and there’s plenty of national restaurant chains not taking as much care with their list as Disneyland does at California Adventure.

That being said, I do wish they would give us some more information on the menu.  What vintage is this from? Exactly which wine is this?

Maybe, some people don’t care.  Hell, maybe most people don’t care.  But, if you’re willing to create a list at an amusement park, geared to little kids, but complete with a selection of wines priced at $40 or more retail, then some of your customers care.  In fact, I’m guessing that given the $100 per day ticket price most of us paid, a higher percentage of their guests, than the general public for sure, might be interested in an even more upgraded wine list-or at least some better information about the wines being served.

wine list at Disney's California AdventureIf I could humbly offer some advice to the winery at California Adventure, it would be this.  Give people more information: they want it and in the age of the internet, they’ve come to expect it.  

Adding vintages to the wine list is an obvious start, it’s the sort of thing that’s common everywhere, including the most casual of casual restaurants.

Secondly, California Adventure already has quite a few wines on their list, with absolutely great stories.  Try and tell them.  People at Disneyland are willing to play along, we spend most of the time there telling our kids about movies that we try to remember as kids, stuff like my attempted explanation of why Dumbo flies…..wait, I don’t actually remember but my wife did remember, of course, that Dumbo flies because of the size of his ears, not because of magic (let’s be clear, magic is a clearly understood preschool topic these days after Frozen).

Lastly, there’s plenty of great information out there on wines and wineries.  Disney and its parks take their food more seriously than most people expect and the beer list at many spots can be both extensive and well thought out.  It wouldn’t take a full time employee to help create something of a workable list of small production wines at California Adventure and adding a bit of interest and change, even seasonally, would likely help keep annual passholders engaged with the alcohol program (if you aren't familiar, Disneyland offers an annual pass for locals that runs almost $800 and covers admission to the park, year around)

California Adventure is doing a good job thus far and they’ve created a virtual winery that can really educate people about a significant part of California’s past and its future.

Adding more information about what’s on the list, as well as some more interesting information on the wineries providing it would be a start. During September and October, it’d be fun to see some grapes fermenting on site as well, if you’re growing them, minus well make something out of them right?

Overall I hope no one takes this as overly critical, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found at Disneyland’s California Adventure in terms of wine choices and quality.  They could do better given the clout behind the Disney brand, but it isn’t like they’re dropping the ball here, not at all.

I do wish they’d lead a little bit in terms of quality and storytelling, much like they do for the rest of their business.