Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Me, during harvest 2008 at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars in Newberg, OR having a little trouble with the hoses.
As the Northern hemisphere is knee deep in yet another harvest, we figured it would be a fun excuse for all of our friends and colleagues to share a snapshot of how they're involved in the world of wine. From the cellar-rats running the presses late-night in California, to the diehards finishing up pruning in New Zealand, there are so many picturesque moments to be shared. From the blessed souls sampling fruit in the vineyards of Europe anticipating a pick date to the salespeople driving around showing wines for a busy fall ahead, the casual wine lovers welcoming fall with a nice bottle of red and a roast, to the geeks sitting in on a vertical of esoteric and rare vintages, everyone has a story to tell. A picture is worth 1000 words, so share your story on September 25! Just use the hashtag #feelthewine on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and see what others are up to. Cheers!!!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Good Friends We Have Had, Good Friends We Lost

'Brut Force With a Touch of Finesse'

The single-most enlivening part of my time in the wine industry, without a doubt, has been the people I’ve met. People drive me. Their quirks, life stories, clothing choices, cleanliness, eating habits, accents… they’re fascinating. From high-profile sommeliers to legendary winemakers and writers, I’ve shared some amazing dinners, been welcomed into people’s homes, and popped some stellar corks at my relatively young age. Those who have made my experiences most worthwhile up to this point, however, are all the young people I’ve met during my stint as a ‘traveling winemaker’. Sadly, last week I learned that one of those bright young stars is no longer with us. 

Niki Dow was a young guy from New Zealand I met last year during my brief ‘harvest’ time in California. He shared a tiny room in a modest suburban Santa Rosa apartment with some friends who were working at a different local winery. He was a seamless counterpart in the cellar. His constant, quick-witted grin was enough to make you laugh in even the most stressful situations, or elicit laughter in the calmest of times. He put up with the crazy antics of his Moldovan roommate ‘John’ who didn’t speak a lick of English, and even managed to convince us all that John was a good guy at heart, despite some of his outward antics. Niki lightened the mood for anyone who cared to share in conversation. His eloquent stories of his rugby days from college made me wish I could have spent time as a fit young kiwi bloke; I was stoked to get an old rugby shirt of his when he moved back to NZ, even though it had a few holes in it and plenty of stains from a tough vintage. His physical aptitude was apparent, and he seemed to be the type that succeeded in every task he took on. Nonetheless, he possessed the ‘Kiwi-Humble’ I’ve come to know and love; so overwhelmingly sarcastic and jabbing (in a lighthearted sense) upon first impression, but in the end full of compassion and friendship. Nik, as I knew him, embodied all that I’ve come to love about harvest. A young person, fresh out of school with the world ahead of him, when it was easier to find a fulltime, well-paying job at home and settle into normalcy he embarked on a journey to follow his dreams, better his craft and expand his world outlook.

With a number of vintages under my belt I’ve gotten pretty good at saying goodbye. We, as seasonal harvest workers spend so many hours together in a relatively short timeframe. Best friends are made alongside the wine, and when it’s all said and done, everyone usually parts ways and moves on to the next job. I have fostered some high quality friendships and kept in touch with a few people, but have also lost touch with many more I was sure to see again. The wine industry is so small though that you never know when you might one day cross paths with an old friend. I somehow figured that would happen with Nik so his passing hit me like a bag of bricks. Maybe it’s also because it could have been me if I hadn’t decided to stay home this vintage. Maybe because it’s a harsh realization of hope, so quickly lost. He was in Portugal working for a world-class Port producer, a job that isn’t given to just anyone. Only 23 years old, he was surely brimming with excitement and infusing the locals with his positively high-octane energy. They were surely challenged, yet humbled by his work ethic, so notable it has inspired a Facebook tribute group called ‘TheLegacy of the War Donkey-Niki Dow’.  I encourage you to check it out.

After sorting through the emotions in his passing, I move forth with a renewed energy and outlook. I’ve reached out to a few old friends who deserve a better effort from me. I’m going to do a better job of busying myself with work that I truly love, push myself to physical and intellectual extremes, and be sure to laugh a little more often, knowing that today could be my last.

Cheers to you Nik! You will be missed, but your legend will live on and inspire us all.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


The ‘Sideways’ shunning of the poignant Bordeaux grape varietal gave rise to Miles’ beloved Pinot Noir, at least domestically, in the years following the popular wine flick. Why? I have no idea. The fact that a single film could have such a drastic effect on the market is beyond me, even as Merlot-based wines from Bordeaux, such as Petrus and Cheval Blanc continue to fetch top dollar on the auction and futures markets.

I’m partial to Pinot, and have found it a theme in my wine-work-travel ventures around the globe. All of the wineries I’ve worked for have been high-end Pinot producers. Living for three months in Burgundy only solidified my love for the delicate ‘Queen’ grape as one winemaker called it (Chardonnay being King of course). Recently, however, I’ve started a new love affair with an old friend, Merlot. It’s only in the beginning stages, like third-date new; Hand-holding is a given, we’re way beyond the first kiss. Splitting the tab is out of the picture; I’ve got it. I can’t get her out of my mind and every glance is met with a glimmering smile. Where did she come from? Is this love? Will it fade? We were ‘just friends’ for so long and now that we’ve finally given it a go, I can’t imagine the world without her.

Okay, sorry for the romanticizing, but I taste a lot of wine. It’s part of my job. When something moves me, it really moves me. Sometimes it’s nearly to tears. Two years ago when I was working as a wine buyer up in the Twin Cities I was blessed to welcome a number of Washington State winemakers to my store for a night of tasting during Washington Wine Month. The focus was on smaller producers: Dusted Valley, Amavi, Trust, and Pepperbridge. For many wine-loving people, Washington wine still doesn’t conjure up much for thought. Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling maybe? For the geeks, maybe Leonetti or Cayuse in terms of notable producers. Columbia Valley and Walla Walla usually elicit a reaction in terms of regional terms. Yakima is there, but maybe it’s known more as the name of a car-top bike-rack. Check out the Washington State Wine Commission for all sorts of great information.

In short, Washington is HOT SHIT right now for winemaking. Only second in terms of production behind California, it boasts incredibly diverse sub-regions and soil-types with unique microclimates that enable experimentation and success across the board with grape varietals. Smaller producers are honing in and making incredibly expressive wines that represent the true potential of their vineyard sites. Pepperbridge Winery is my ‘gateway drug’ to the excitement. Back to the in-store tasting.

Jean Francois Pellet the winemaker/partner of Pepperbridge was a welcomed presence. Perhaps it was the rare opportunity for me to speak a little French in a blue collar Minnesota suburb, or his reserved demeanor that I saw right through, sensing a wealth of knowledge and winemaking wisdom that I could pick apart. Ever so gracious and humble, it was a pleasure to have him pour his wines for me. The 2008 Merlot (current vintage at the time) quite literally spoke to me. So complex, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around it all. I couldn’t stop coming back to the glass, voraciously swirling the dense, young wine to elicit any aromatics it would offer (which were astounding). The palate was not heavy, it was not overly juicy. It was not closed, it was not open. It drew a perfect line. I couldn’t help myself from imagining what the wine would taste like in five years. JF’s winemaking experience was presenting itself, not on paper, but through his wine, as it should. The poignant ‘take-away’ from all I gathered was his philosophy on making wines that present well young, express the unique estate vineyard sites, and are meant to evolve with a number of years in bottle.

Fast forward to last week, July 2 2013. I found myself sitting shoulder to shoulder with some of Madison’s finest wine personalities. The minds and palates that form the wine lists for Osteria Papavero, L’Etoile, and Square Wine Company to name a few, all gathered around a communal wine table. The night’s blind tasting theme: All American Reds. Seven wines, all relatively different in their own right. One stood out. My exact tasting notes:

‘Age. Color separation on the rim proves it. Oak influence, spicy cinnamon. Cigar Box. Cherry caramels. Ripe dark fruit and integrated tannins. Bordeaux blend?’

The wine? 2006 Pepperbridge Merlot. Magnificent! Granted I didn’t call it head on, in terms of varietal and site specificity it seemed perfect. My world came full circle. I was, quite nearly on the verge of tears when I realized the potential of a wine with which I had become smitten only a few years prior. A few extra years of age in bottle did wonders on the juice. It was in perfect balance. Given the fact that most wine produced for the market these days (last I heard was 90%) is meant to be consumed within the first year of bottling, JF’s vision of creating a wine for longevity had become a true reality. Wow.  

Points gathered? Step out of your comfort zone. You are limiting yourself by saying ‘I only drink California Chardonnay,' 'I don't like sweet wine,' or ‘I only drink wines from Morocco’ (wink). Merlot, as passé as it might currently be, grows in vineyards on nearly every continent and there are winemakers there who are making it well. Investing in a case of a wine that moves you and letting some bottles age for a few years might reward exponentially down the line. Drink wine with people of diverse backgrounds and palates; they will bring you things you never imagined. Winemakers are rockstars, but they really just care about sharing their bounty with you, the consumer, and hope you enjoy it. Drink more Washington wine.



Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Ahh, Portugal. The word itself, for me is wrapped in layers of vivid memories. Scholastic details from my time as a student in Political Science, poetic and aural representations from two weeks traveling within its borders, and sensory particulars that have built up over the years tasting wine. I have a small place in my heart for the wines and people of Portugal that traces back to some of my very first experiences in the wine industry; I interned for an importer during my final semesters of College and spent my weekend evenings behind a tasting bar educating people about unique Portuguese wines while my peers were out getting inebriated on god knows what.

Recently I welcomed Portugal back into my life in the form of the Portuguese Wine Invasion.
In short summary, A Midwest-born-wine-loving expat who now lives in Portugal wanted to spread the love of his new(ish) home and its wines in his former home. So, he gathered a few Portuguese cohorts and embarked on the ‘All American Roadtrip’ around the Midwest, a region that all too often gets left out when it comes to important wine events. Ryan Opaz, the aforementioned expat, curates a killer blog with his wife Gabriella called Catavino.net. I’ve been a fan for years now. It’s quite possibly the first wine blog I started following and I’d be willing to bet it was one of the first comprehensive wine blogs in general.  Needless to say, I was pretty stoked to meet Ryan and amazed at how small the world, particularly the wine world can become.

They came prepared

The itinerary for their trip did not include a Madison event (where I now call home) but with a few tweets and email exchanges we were able to throw something together last minute. En route from Chicago to Minneapolis, Madison proved to be a perfect spot for a lunch and informal tasting at a friend's wine store, Square Wine Company.  The food from famed Madison deli Stalzy’s made for some interesting pairings, even inspiring a twitter hashtag #delimeetsduoro. Few foods represent American culture more for me than a greasy Reuben and potato chips so it was fun to share and see how the Portuguese wines stood up. 

Andrea Hillsey of SquareWineCo

I was humbled by the positive energy and kindness of the group who was on day 5 on the road in a cramped van. Julia, Pedro, Vitor, and Oscar, the four Portuguese natives, filled the wine shop with smiles and stories upon arrival. Almost with no introduction we found ourselves in a tasting that felt more like a gathering of old friends than a wine showcase by mere strangers. Each wine had a story, it wasn’t just juice in the glass; the history, innovation, family and tradition involved in each and every wine was shared by the very people responsible for producing it.

Pedro Poças Pintão and Ryan Opaz share a laugh

Besides the fact that it was an all around casual and fun event, I took a few important things away that I think are worth sharing:

In Portugal, Blends are King
There are hundreds of different indigenous grape varietals, most all of which are nearly impossible for a native English speaker to pronounce. Many winemakers are forgoing single varietal bottlings and instead focusing on blending unique wines that harness the different characteristics of the grapes in a particular region. The still wines of Poças were a fine representation.

Pedro Poças Pintão

Vinho Verde Can Age
A surprise that shouldn’t be, given the acid content and structure of the finest of these wines. Ryan spoke of a recent experience drinking a 15 year old Vinho Verde that tasted as if it was just coming into its prime. The young wines of Quinta de Gomariz were incredibly complex with stunning aromatics, worlds away from the $5 ‘Vinho Verde’ that most of us are used to from the bottom shelf in the grocery store. I’d surely love to taste some of them in ten years time.

Vitor Mendes of Quinta de Gomariz gets serious with
Madison's Ruben Mendez of L'Etoile

New World in the Old World
Not a single wine I tasted was flawed or ‘dirty’ and it seems a high standard has been set for ‘modern’ winemaking techniques across the board. Julia Kemper is lawyer by trade who took over her family’s estate because there was nobody else to do so. She was enthusiastic in describing the technology and investment that go into her winemaking, while preserving the heritage and tradition of the land that she has inherited. Julia deserves a nod for her wines of balance that don’t scream heavy oak, high alcohol, or obscene fruit concentration.

Julia Kemper

We Need More White Port
Somewhat of a rarity in the American market, white port is much like its red counterpart, only made with white grapes. When Oscar Quevedo presented his white port to the crowd, he needed relatively little explanation. Insanely sweet-herbal aromatics preceded a strikingly dry-ish finish. Need a summer cocktail? Mix it or any other white port 1:1 with tonic water on ice. It’s what the Portuguese drink on the regular, Portonic!

Oscar Quevedo shares his white port

The #PTWineInvasion extended a big-fat wide-open invite to anyone and everyone to visit and seemed more than willing to help out in making it happen. If there was one message they stressed more than any other, it was how much they wanted visitors to come experience Portugal and its people, wine, food, music, art, history, and culture.

Vitor was all smiles

Thank you to Ryan Opaz for taking the time to stop in Madison with your wonderful crew. Thank you Vitor, Oscar, Pedro and Julia for sharing your wines and your stories. I hope that you felt your time was well spent and that maybe this will turn into a (semi)annual event. Thank you to Andrea at SquareWineCo for hosting the gathering at her shop, Emily for hand washing all the stemware when it was over, Andre Darlington for wrangling the troops. Thank you also to Eric Baillies for capturing the smiles and intrigue in each and every photo.

Check out the website www.PortugueseWineInvasion.com for a wealth of information and dispatches from their time on the road.

The aftermath

Cheers to Portugal!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Beer with your burgers?

Wisconsin is a beer state, Milwaukee the BREWCITY, and Madison, definitely a beer town. Considering Spring is officially here, based on the fact that tonight was the first time we could grill and sit outside all evening without donning a sweater, the grill is fueled and fired. What to drink with grill fare you ask? A pre-barbecue trip to the liquor store to stock up on thirst quenchers and conversation lubricants will, naturally, end in the purchase of a six-pack showcasing the local, tastiest, or rarest new brew. I've been guilty as any other. Lately, however, my mind has been busy coming up with showstopper wines to bring to gatherings from here on out. I guess they call me the Wineguy for a reason. Rose is a natural fallback, but tonight I chose a different gem:

 2012 Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling, Eden Valley, South Australia.
Without much thinking at all, it fit seamlessly into my grand scheme of wine drinking, learning, educating, and enjoyment.

The nature of today's wine-press, ratings and advertising often leaves casual wine drinkers little room to think for themselves. My last post on Tempranillo-Moscato is a prime example. Apothic Wine's 'limited release' Rose is another, and Adam Carolla's 'Mangria' is the nail in my coffin. Attractive endcaps, eye-catching labels, disgustingly low prices and truth-streching shelf talkers pretty much place a bottle in your hand whether you like it or not (if you're not shopping for wine at a small retailer who has the time and willingness to help you choose a bottle suited to your needs). The rare wines, the real wines of the world, the ones with a story, and the ones with the most interesting flavors become all but inaccessible. I keep saying it over and over, but for a generation so keen on local and crafty food, we should not relegate our wine to any less of a playing field.

Riesling has gotten a lot of press and love the past few summers, thanks most to Mr. Paul Grieco of NYC and his whole 'Summer of Riesling' phenomenon. Considering the reputation (stateside) Riesling has garnered as a sweet and uninspiring wine, I'm humbled by the hype that Summer of Riesling has churned out, and I'm excited to see where it will go this year. I'm not surprised, however. Riesling kicks ass, plain and simple. Usually fresh upon release, it's often better with age. I've had bottles of Grand Cru German Riesling from the 1970's that have brought me close to tears. The ways that sugar, acid, and flavor jive blissfully with food can write new pages on wine pairing. It only makes sense that sommeliers push so hard for the public to respect this not-so-respected grape. Riesling is not only for wine-geeks.

The Pewsey Vale tonight was stunning. The color, a tinge of yellowish green in a chilled glass sitting on a seasoned deck. My nose was tickled with what felt like an endless flow of floral and herbal notes weaving themselves deep into my senses. Prickly at first, the acid kicked my taste buds into awareness. In a blind tasting I would have never called it a Riesling, but I've also little experience with such wines from Australia. Lemon and lime came to mind on the palate, but I really, honestly was thinking more about how darn great this wine tasted than anything else. There's a time and place for analyzing a wine in all of its parts and pieces, but a back porch is not one of them. Friends loved it, even the ones who said they don't like Riesling. Bam! If you can't find this wine at your local retailer, try and find something similar. If you can't find something similar, ask for help. If you can't find help, then pick something else and let me know how it turns out.

Cheers to Spring!

follow me on Instagram and Twitter:
and email me your questions and comments:

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I saw something that boggled my mind today. Something so original, so unique, so cutting edge that it left me speechless. It was not a good feeling. It was very bad:



As a member of the 'Millenial' generation I feel, quite frankly, shat on by the most powerful people in the wine industry. I guarantee this wine, at a $6.99 retail, was not marketed to the Benz driving 40 somethings, or the 70 somethings grabbing for their classic Lambrusco. No. This wine was crafted to draw in the person (under the age of 35) who's heard of Tempranillo, as well as the person who so gladly enjoys a bottle of Moscato from time to time. For a generation who, more and more, puts emphasis on healthy and locally grown food with a story, there's no reason we should hold our wine to any less of a standard.

Yes, I get that Moscato is (or maybe was) the hottest category in wine sales. When I was a wine buyer it was a running joke that each week a distributor would surely bring along a different color of Moscato to sell. Even today, I heard that Barefoot Wine(ry) is releasing a 'NEW' Red Moscato. Barf. If I sourced Moscato from somewhere, added blue food coloring, attached a straw to each bottle, and came up with a mediocre ad campaign, I think that moving a few thousand cases would be a simple business transaction. It makes sense in our Fast Food culture, but unhealthy Fast Food is dying, right?

I'd like to think it's my responsibility to voice some opposition. You guys, the ones in suits laughing at your quarterly meetings about how your 'outcome based wine' actually succeeded. You guys, the ones who have no connection to, rather no care for family estates or grower-producers. You guys, the ones who don't even drink wine, only endless dry vodka martinis or Bud Light, but somehow attach your name to a corporate wine label. Enough is enough! Tempranillo has already been watered down and stripped of it's regional character in Spain. Why in the hell would you even, in a million years, try and add it to Moscato, THEN sell it for $6.99 a bottle?

I'm Pissed. Millenial wine drinkers will not fall for your garbage (I hope). And if they do, it will only be once, because there's no way that the piss you put into bottle will dazzle them enough to go back and buy a second.

On a more positive note, It's supposed to snow here in Madison this weekend. I'm going to stock up on Rose', from small, family run producers in France, Spain, and America. I'm going to fire up the grill and fill the fridge with fresh produce and cheese. I'm going to surround myself with great people, and drink REAL wine, with REAL food. We're going to welcome Spring to Wisconsin once and for all. And no, my nose isn't always pointed skyward, only when I get fired up about things like freaking Tempranillo-Moscato.

and don't forget to

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Bubbles

People don't drink enough sparkling wine. Period. It's too often saved for special occasions or mimosas, unfortunately. There is such a wide array of styles and flavors, from under $10 a bottle Cava made from indigenous Spanish grapes, to high end Grower Champagne, grown, vinified, and bottled by humble farmers with a story, and elegant Lambrusco that will put your grandmother's Riunite to shame. Given the taste profiles and high acid content in most bubbly, it's also one hell of a food wine, standing up to the fattiest of foods (potato chips, thanks WineCoMN). Try it, I dare you.

While working at a small wine shop in Milwaukee during a short stint living at home I was energized and inspired by the employee tradition of popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly every Friday afternoon. We all celebrate our little victories and forget about our downfalls from the week prior once 4:00 rolls around on Friday. What better way to do it than with a bottle of bubbly? It's a weekly 'special occasion'. Instead of your 'go to' wine, why not try something new this week? I did, and I'm greatly pleased. Cheers, and don't forget to FEELtheWINE.

Wines that inspired this post:

Jansz Premium Non-Vintage Cuvée
Tasmania, Australia
Avg. Retail: $23 USD

58% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Meunier

This unique bubbly comes from the Northeast corner of Australia's little island to the South. The cool maritime climate surely adds to the acid profile of the wine. Claiming to be the first in Tasmania to craft high-quality sparkling wine in the traditional Méthode Champenoise, Jansz has aptly named their production Méthode Tasmanoise which I find hilarious. I get green apple, orangey spices, and creme brulée on the nose. The bubbles are finer than many, enhancing the unique mouth-feel, with a dry, carmely, crisp finish. Once it's warm enough to be sitting outside on a patio, the yard is in full bloom, pollen clogging your sinuses, and good friends chattering all around, I have no doubt this wine will be a surefire 'porch pounder'.

Chateau Gaudrelle Crémant de Loire
Vouvray, France
Avg. Retail: $18 USD

50% Chenin Blanc and 50% Chardonnay

Crafted in the 'Cremant de Loire' appelation by fifth generation winemaker Alexandre Monmousseau. There is a subtle, sweet roundness I presume comes from the Chenin Blanc. Chardonnay, while not necessarily signature to the region, fills out the mouth and adds some fine acidity. Absent are the bready, yeasty notes of traditional Champagne, though this wine is made in the same style and aged in bottle 18 to 24 months before disgorgement. A smoky, struck match note lingers over and over on the nose, while the wine finishes slightly off-dry. Mr. Monmousseau is part of the 'tendre-sec' (gentle dry) movement of producing slightly off-dry wines, along with notable giants as Huet and Champalou. I would pair the shit out of this wine with any fatty appetizer, and for the price, it seems like a no-brainer for high-quality, small-production bubbly.
Here's a link to a video review of the wine I found on YouTube, which I feel to be well informed.

Cheers, and Happy Week-End!