Category Archives: Lifestyle

My Thoughts on Wine Blogging

Wine Blogging – What it Means to Me

– Xochitl Maiman    September 7, 2014

Xochitl Maiman wine blogging

Harvest at Cass Winery a few years ago.

In the 2 months since the Wine Bloggers Conference was held, there have been many posts about the conference experience , the wines, the winemakers, and much has been said about wine blogging and wine bloggers. Some wineries don’t see the “value” in wine bloggers – some wine bloggers don’t think other wine bloggers are “doing it right” or are credible enough. So here’s my take on the whole wine blogging thing – for what it’s worth and to whom ever cares. But, after all, isn’t that what a blog ultimately is – a place to voice an opinion, make a statement, share your thoughts?

I started this blog, however many years it was ago, so that I could share my love and admiration for the wines and winemakers of the Central Coast, primarily, and to bring awareness of the many small wineries and their wonderful wines to other wine enthusiasts. I love to write, and I thought this would be a good way to exercise the muscle. That’s it. I never claimed to be a journalist or sommelier. I’m not writing for a Pulitzer or to be offered a job by Wine Spectator or the Wall Street Journal. I write for fun. I love wine. I love wine people. I love vineyards. I love to share my wine/winery discoveries with others.

In my blog posts, you’re not going to find long, colorful descriptions of a wine or my “expert judgement” on a wine’s quality. Suffice it to say, that if I mention a wine in one of my posts, it means I enjoyed it in whatever time and setting it was, with whoever I was with at the time and with whatever food I was enjoying with it. That’s the way wine is. Most wines, (rarely do I come across a wine that is just plain bad, thank goodness), to some degree, are chameleons, and will change their color (not literally) slightly with the circumstances in which one is consuming it. So all I’m ever saying is, I enjoyed this wine, I suggest you try it too and decide for yourself if you like it. Everyone’s palate is different, but there is a lot of wine out there. All I’m doing is helping the reader narrow down the field a bit – offer a bit of direction to their own wine discovery.

As for the wineries that don’t see the value in wine bloggers, here’s what I say. Yes, I agree, that there are many different types of wine bloggers. As for me, if I’ve called a winery asking for a tour or tasting, they can be certain I’ve done my homework. Something about that winery has caught my eye and inspired me to learn more – see/taste for myself. I’m not necessarily going to pepper my posts with quotes, as one blogger suggests all good bloggers must do. Worse yet, I might not even find the time to actually write a blog post about a tasting or winery visit. (Often, there just isn’t enough time in a work day for me to write for myself). My work is in social media – I understand the value of social engaging and sharing. So while I may not blog as often as some, or as eloquently or professionally as others, I am making a conscious effort to continually support the efforts of the wineries I visit by participating on their social properties, posting images, proper tagging, sharing of events and providing opportunities for those in my wine sphere of influence to try the wines I find. And when I do post, I am careful to link to winery websites and include good imagery. Most importantly, my objective is to convey to the reader the “feeling” I had during my visit – how a winemaker looked when he was describing his first wine, the excitement and twinkle in the eye of a new winery owner, the awesome beauty to behold from a tasting room deck looking out onto a sea a vines, the majesty of a giant oak guarding a vineyard block, how a vineyard made me cry (yes it happens quite often), the first taste of a ripe viognier grape……. it goes on and on. Those are the experiences I want to share – that I want my readers to seek out for themselves. If this is the kind of wine blogging you’re interested in reading, I would be honored if you’d stop by from time to time.

I am so lucky to live in a state where wine country, lots of it, is just a couple hours away. I am blessed to have an ever growing circle of friends who appreciate wine and all that goes with it. I am grateful for the many opportunities I am given to learn more, taste more, and meet more of the very special people joining the wine industry every year. And in reference to the latter, I want to thank every winery, winemaker and organization that has offered my a seminar, a tour, a visit, an hour of their valuable time….a taste of their wine – each has contributed to and fostered my never ending love for…wine. Cheers!


Cass Winery in Paso Robles Wine Country

Cass Winery and Tasting Room - Paso Robles

Cass Winery and Tasting Room – Paso Robles

by Xochitl Maiman   November 12, 2013

A visit to Paso Robles wine country isn’t complete without stopping by Cass Winery.

My love affair with Cass Winery started many years ago with my very first visit. Steve Cass, one of the owners, was himself pouring in the tasting room that day so we got to know him and his story a bit. After a long career at Charles Schwab, he and his wife, Alice, made the “lifestyle” change to Paso Robles and the wine business. He was the first of many transplants I would subsequently meet in Paso.

It was during our visit there that something happened that would end up being one of my “go to” reasons why I love Cass Winery and Paso Robles in general. That day a young woman walked into the tasting room that clearly Steve recognized then greeted. She asked for a cup of water….. for her horse! Yes, it was a hot day, she was out riding, the horse got thirsty, so she stopped in. Steve gave her the water like that was an everyday occurrence. And perhaps it was, but where I live I can’t even get a cup of sugar from a neighbor! Being the horse lover that I am, I thought this was just too awesome. And so it began….

A couple of years later, Steve helped fulfill one of my dreams by allowing me to help with the harvest. Now there’s no “set in stone” schedule for harvest – when the grapes are ready, they’re ready. So with only 24 hours notice, I drove up from LA and joined Steve, Cass Winery co-owner, Ted Plemons and his lovely wife, Lisa, winemaker Lood Kotze and the vineyard team to help bring in the viognier. Oh how I love this vineyard – with every visit, there is usually at least one point where I find myself standing looking our over the rows with tears in my eyes. It’s just so beautiful and open and alive – vines, oaks, birds, soil and air. And the people are alive with passion for what they are doing – at one point the vineyard manager grabbed a cluster of the sweet sticky grapes and gleefully took a giant bite exalting their perfection. Being out in that open land picking through the grapes for MOG, (material other than grapes), chatting and taking pictures was so relaxing – I always say when I’m in a vineyard, that’s when I can really breathe.

Just couldn't resist a taste...

Just couldn’t resist a taste…

Yeah, that's my happy face...

Yeah, that’s my happy face…

The Cass vineyard

The Cass vineyard

Last month during the annual Harvest Wine Weekend celebration, I attended the Cass Winery BBQ and dance. As usual, we were running later than I liked after a hectic exit from LA, and a late afternoon meeting in Paso, so we arrived at a run. But the magic of this place took hold quickly and time slowed down and so did I. Within minutes I had a glass of  wine in hand and my favorite cowboy boots were carrying me into the scene…….  It was dusk so there was a warm glow to the outside area where tables were set up, a buffet on one side and on the other, the stage where the sounds of Patsy Cline and a country fiddle were luring me in. A quick survey of the large crowd revealed Steve standing along listening intently to the music – I dare say even he was being swept up in the magic. The Cass vineyard provided the perfect backdrop for the event, stretching out into the encroaching darkness. As it became darker and the twinkle lights strewn overhead began to, well, twinkle, a full moon presented itself for dramatic effect, taking up position right between two of the long branches of  the glorious oak tree nearby. In my book, how could there be a more perfect setting…..the vineyard, my cowboy boots covered in dust, “Crazy” being crooned, a glass of wonderful wine in my hand, a full moon, tri-tip coming up and my wonderful husband to share it all with. Yeah, those happy tears made another appearance.  So we ate, we drank, we made friends with the drummer, we listened as a 14-year old fiddle player shared her brilliance right alongside the veteran entertainers, and the whole evening ended in an intimate chorus of “Amazing Grace” sung by the band and the remaining party goers.

Monty Mills and his band in front of the Cass vineyard.

Monte Mills and his band in front of the Cass vineyard.

325Table Setting - Cass Winery BBQSteve Cass at Cass Winery BBQ

Yes, I’m having a love affair with Cass Winery, but there’s more! When you visit Cass Winery, and visit you must, you will be greeted and served by warm, friendly people happy to make people happy. There’s a feeling of family here, like you’ve come home. As you taste through their delicious wines your gaze might fall upon the grand piano, slightly out of place in the tasting room setting. But actually it’s perfectly at home here as music is another passion of the Cass family and they have been instrumental (pun intended) in re-energizing the annual Paderewski Festival and hold concerts to promote young musicians.

Then to complete your visit and your Cass tasting experience enjoy the gourmet food prepared daily by Chef Jacob Lovejoy. Cass is one of the few wineries out on the wine trail that serves food and it’s best enjoyed on the patio with the view of the oaks and the vineyard.

I hope you plan a trip to Paso Robles soon and make sure to leave a couple of hours open for a visit to Cass. Perhaps you’ll fall in love too. Cheers!

Cabernet Sauvignon Weekend in Paso Robles – Part 2

Cabernet Sauvignon Month in Paso Robles Highlighted by CABS of Distinction events.

Day 2 of my cabernet weekend began with a gorgeous drive through the back roads of Paso Robles wine country out to Windfall Farms, the venue for the CABS of Distinction Winemaker Seminar and Grand Tasting, hosted by the Paso Robles CAB Collective. Nothing but rolling hills covered with vineyards and sprawling oak trees. Ahhhh….. so relaxing….

Stallion Barn at Windfall Farms

The day’s events began with a winemaker panel moderated by Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff under a tent adjacent to the main building.  The all-star panel included Paso Robles pioneer, Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery, Daniel Daou, owner of Daou Vineyards & Winery, Steve Peck, winemaker at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, David Galzignato, winemaker at Jada Vineyard & Winery, Scott Shirley, winemaker at Justin and Kevin Willenborg, winemaker at Vina Robles.

Steve Heimoff



This was a trade and media seminar, so everyone, including the Goddess of Wine, was busy posting, checking-in, taking pics and making notes.

Busy media people

Mr. Heimoff, who in an earlier article stated, “It takes powerful, consistent evidence to smash old stereotypes, but I have now experienced it, and am ready to declare for Paso Robles Cabernet”, asked the panel to share their thoughts on the history of Paso Robles winemaking, why they thought Cabernet from this area was different/similar from/to other wine regions and where they thought Bordeaux varietals would go in this region, moving forward. Gary Eberle gave a wonderful history as he has been involved with the area since his first visit in 1972. He thought the area was perfect for Cabernet and in 1973 started his plantings. His favorite vintage so far is 1991, but for this seminar we tasted his 2009 Estate Cabernet, 100% Clone 6. I’ve loved his wines in the past and this one was no exception.

Steve went on to say that “Paso has fulfilled early expectations”, and that was exemplified by the fact that 4 of the winemakers on the panel were transplants from Napa who were excited to move to Paso to make Cabernet. David Galzignato, of Jada, sent the point home when he said, “Paso Robles has the potential to be the best region in California”.

Needless to say, this seminar was amazing – each speaker was informative while offering up amusing wine anecdotes, and their wines were all delicious hints of what’s to come from this Central Coast wine region.

After the seminar we went into the tasting where many more examples of Cabs and Cab/Merlot blends were presented. All received high scores from me, but my personal favorites included:

HammerSky Vineyards – 2007 Party of Four (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc)

Jada – 2010 Jack of Hearts (64% Petit Verdot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon)

Daou Vineyards & Winery – 2010 Estate Soul of a Lion (74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 % Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot)

Eberle Winery – 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

An event in Paso Robles also always means making new friends and catching up with old ones!

Daniel Daou of Daou Vineyards & Winery

Daniel Daou of Daou Vineyards & Winery

Patty Bello of B & E Vineyard

Patty Bello of B & E Vineyard

Gary Eberle sure has the attention of "Hoot 'n Annie" and other attendees

Gary Eberle sure has the attention of "Hoot 'n Annie" and other attendees

Annie and Matt Browne, Gina DeGirolamo, Dina Mande and Brigit Binns

Annie and Matt Browne, Gina DeGirolamo, Dina Mande and Brigit Binns

I was so happy to be introduced to Brigit Binns, renown cookbook author, and learn of her latest book, The New Wine Country Cookbook“. She also teaches classes at her spectacular outdoor kitchen, Refugio, in Paso Robles. Going to have to attend one of those myself!

After the tasting, our group of trade and media was joined by the winemakers back out under the tent for a delicious lunch of duck and pork cassoulet, salads and yum brownies. The winemakers proudly roamed the area offering tastes of their wines for us to enjoy with lunch. As the temperature started to climb into the 90’s, (you know I love it), I retreated to the air conditioned comfort of my car for the drive to my next  engagement….a wedding in Camarillo!

Yes, the trip was a whirlwind, but worth every minute. Nothing beats time spent in Paso Robles, where time slows down, the quiet back roads beckon, the wine flows, the food is fresh and local, and everyone is smiling.  For wine geeks, Paso fans, Cab fans and wine fans – I encourage you all to make a note to look for the 2nd Annual Cabs of Distinction next Spring and treat yourself to the CABS of Paso Robles! Cheers!


Les Deux Chats bottles their 2010 Viognier and Rousanne

The late afternoon before we were to drive to Paso  Robles for some badly needed down time we discovered that our tires were bald and had to be replaced before we could hit the road. We picked up the car in the late morning and left an hour later than I had wanted to. And who knew that the weekend we had planned to go to Paso Robles  was also the same weekend that families were busy moving their college kids onto campus and into their rooms in Santa Barbara? While the weather was perfect, traffic was terrible! And yet, with all that, we only arrived an hour later to Paso than I had hoped. Still had time to catch up with some friends who were bottling that day…I hoped.

Made a call and yes, Chris Connolly of Les Deux Chat said to come on over to In Vino Veritas – they were still working.

We had met Chris and his wife, Patty, at a Paso Robles wine tasting in LA a few years back. We were introduced by mutual friends who knew them from the entertainment industry and we all ended up having dinner together that evening. It was then that I found out they were making wine in their garage, making them the first garagiste winemakers I had actually met. Viognier and Zinfndel were the grapes they had chosen and they had just put their first vintage into barrel.

Well things have evolved nicely for the Connolly’s and while they have not given up their day jobs, they are pursuing their passion to make fine wine. We had the pleasure of joining them, their family and friends, as they were bottling their 2010 Ripken Vineyard Viognier and Roussanne. Tasted both and am happy to say they are indeed making some fine wine.

Also happy to say that Les Deux Chat will be participating in the Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles on November 12, 2011. This is a new festival celebrating the artisan winemaker and over 40 Central Coast wineries with small case production will be pouring their wines. As many of these wineries do not have tasting rooms, this will be a unique opportunity to taste and purchase these wonderful wines and meet the passionate people behind them. And don’t forget to say hi to Patty and Chris! Cheers!



Bottling of Les Deux Chat 2010 Viognier 047









Napa Station Wine Tasting

Last Friday night, being as our regular Friday night dining companions were out of town, we decided to try something different. We’d heard that Truxton’s American Bistro in Westchester has monthly wine tastings featuring the wines of a specific winery and paired with their food. I’d been to lunch there a couple of times, so I knew the food was good, but really, why in the world would we get in our car at 6:00pm on a Friday night and take the 405 anywhere, let alone to Westchester from the Valley?Well…wine was involved…it’s summer…and we didn’t want to be whiners…so we went! And no traffic! I know, shocking.

About 30 guests had gathered in the private dining room at Truxton’s for the event and within a few minutes the guest of honor arrived. Peter Huwiler is the driving force behind Napa Station Wines. The winery is a family endeavor, with his son Peter working closely by his side. Peter Sr, a native of Switzerland, lived in Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand before landing in Seattle where he spent many years in the restaurant business. It wasn’t long before the wine industry beckoned and he went to work for what was to become Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, later for Kendall Jackson and finally Merryvale in Napa. With his passion for all aspects of the wine making business, it was inevitable that he would end up owning his own winery. It is here at Napa Station wines that Peter truly shines. And it was at this tasting that Peter Huwiler shared his boundless knowledge and passion with his captive audience. While most winery owners/winemakers like to talk primarily about the wine, Peter regaled us with stories about Napa soil structures, (there are 110), tannin management, the density of woods used to make the barrels, cork taint and NASA images taken to determine micro climates in the vineyard. He talked about racking and fining, the astringency of grape seeds, acidity and sugars and how the Carneros AVA straddles both Napa and Sonoma counties. I hung on every word.

The wines of Napa Station

The wines of Napa Station

His first wine of the evening was a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, (with 2% Semillon). This wine was complex with good acidity and a long finish. (Bought 2 bottles) 27% of his 08 Chardonnay is  fermented in 2 yr old oak while the rest goes into stainless. I didn’t think the food brought out the best in this wine, but the Shrimp Po Boy Sliders with Cajun Remoulade were really tasty.

Shrimp Po Boy Sliders

Shrimp Po Boy Sliders

The 07 Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic blend of 88% Cab, 9% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 1% Petite Verdot. Paired nicely with Chef Greg’s Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza with Yukon Gold Potatoes, Fontina Cheese, Arugula and Truffle Oil. The arugula complemented the anise notes in the wine. (Love that)

Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza w/Yukon Gold Potatoes, Fontina Cheese, Arugula & Truffle Oil

Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza w/Yukon Gold Potatoes, Fontina Cheese, Arugula & Truffle Oil

Of the two Merlots poured, 07 and 08, I preferred the latter. A smooth, elegant wine, the 08 Merlot displays notes of black fruit and bittersweet chocolate, with more complexity and character than the 07. (I bought one bottle of that as well)

Needless to say, I really enjoyed meeting Mr. Huwiler, chatting with my table mates, the food and an evening out.

Me with Peter Huwiler

Me with Peter Huwiler


Car-meggedon turns out to be great weekend with friends!

We feared the worst and got the best! It was a deja vu of the 1984 Olympics with LA stepping up and staying off the roads and freeways. The only heavy traffic was seen by local businesses as Angelenos strove to keep their driving to a minimum. The other benefit – great excuse for a party and we did lots of that this weekend.

Friday, we welcomed home friends that had been abroad with a home cooked steak dinner and a yummy wine picked up at the local BevMo 5 cent sale. Ceibo is a 70% Malbec/30% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Mendoza area of Argentina. This 2010 vintage was good to go – full bodied, soft tannins and good structure. We spent the evening listening to their stories of visits to exotic locales in Greece and Turkey and finished our meal with Sette Erbe del Monte Fileremo, a liqueur from Greece that they had brought home for us to try. This bright green libation tasted of Rosemary and smelled like eucalyptus and mouthwash.  We tried – just couldn’t wrap our palates around that one.

Saturday, while demolition crews were running ahead of schedule and with the biggest “incident” being some guy who thought it would be cool to skateboard on the closed 405, our friends gathered for a “car-meggedon” pot luck. Tri tip on the grill, asian noodle salad, Caprese stacks, scalloped corn casserole and plenty of wine.

Tri tip

Tri tip

Asian Peanut Noodle Salad

Asian Peanut Noodle Salad and Caprese Stacks

Scalloped Corn Casserole

Scalloped Corn Casserole

We started with what is now my new favorite chardonnay from Lioco. The 2009 Sonoma Coast is a blend of fruit from vineyards in the Alexander Valley, Carneros, Dry Creek and Mendocino areas. Totally fermented in stainless steel, this full bodied, well balanced wine features lemon in the nose and palate. Creamy mouthfeel and lingering finish make this a wine I’m going to want to get more of.

Lioco 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Lioco 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

The best of the reds on this night was a standout from Rosenthal – the Malibu Estate. The 2006 “Block” M single vineyard Cabernet from Malibu Newton Canyon is a knock out wine! Deeply colored, the wine has aromas of oak and cedar, with cassis, black fruit, anise and spice on the palate. Beautifully balanced with soft tannins, this was a great way to end the evening.

Rosenthal 2006 "M" Block Cabernet Sauvignon

Rosenthal 2006 "M" Block Cabernet Sauvignon

Today, the 405 opened at 11am, 17 hours ahead of schedule! And tomorrow traffic will revert  to its prior madness. We spent the morning watching the Womens’ World Cup, drowning our disappointment in the US loss in Bloody Mary’s. Here’s to car-meggedon! Can we do it again next month?

I’ll Drink to That!

Angelino Heights – Guardian of Los Angeles’ Past

Tomorrow Prince William and his new bride Catherine Middleton, the future of the English Monarchy,  will arrive in California with stops in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. And once again the stately Victorian homes perched atop a hill in Angelino Heights will bear witness to another historical moment in time. These ornate homes, modeled after the architectural styles popular in England during Queen Victoria’s reign and based largely on Baroque and Gothic styles,  were located about a mile northwest of the city center, offering stunning views and convenient transportation. Only a few of these precious homes remain and are burdened with the responsibility of telling their story…..

Because of streetcar transportation to the nearby downtown business district, “The Hill” quickly became an affluent neighborhood of bankers, merchants and real estate developers in the late 1880’s. Many of these new residents from the East coast brought with them their taste for the Victorian and began to build their massive Queen Anne and Eastlake style homes . Exemplified by lavish ornamentation, vibrant colors, multiple stories, wraparound porches, bay windows and towers or turrets, these homes embraced eclecticism and grandeur at the same time. Detail and nuance were the focus of great labor with features such as intricate woodwork, colored art glass, lace curtains, and ornate lighting fixtures.

While so many of these beautiful homes were destroyed in the name of progress and expansion, the 1300 block of Carroll Avenue formed the Carroll Avenue Restoration Foundation to help preserve and restore these precious gems and today boasts the highest concentration of Victorian homes in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Conservancy offers a 2 hour walking tour where you are guided back in time to visit this historical area, view the homes, step inside and experience the splendor of an era gone by. An era where craftsmanship and beauty prevailed…where the creak of a floorboard was comforting – where the hydrangeas bloomed beneath the shade of  massive fig trees, and where the soft glow of the 3-globe Llewellyns lit your way home….

The Phillips House - Built in 1887

The Phillips House - Built in 1887

This home’s first owner was Aaron Phillips, an Iowa hardware merchant who came to LA in 1887 with his wife and daughter, Grace. She lived in the home until 1942 when it was subsequently sold to the Morales family, members of which still live there today.

3 globel Llewellyn street light

3 globe Llewellyn street light

An interior balustrade

An interior balustrade

The Foy House

The Foy House

Dating from 1872, this house is the oldest in Angelino Heights. Originally located downtown at the corner of Seventh and Figueroa Streets, this was home to Mary Foy, Los Angeles’ first female chief librarian, a founder of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. This home was the design of Ezra Kysor, architect of the former Cathedral of St Vibiana, today being used as an event venue. (Also a beautiful place to visit)

The Haskins House

The Haskins House

Constructed in 1894 for real estate developer Charles C. Haskins, this was the last Victorian built on Carroll Avenue. Notice the unusual balustrade used on the porch and the very ornate spindle columns.

After our walk and as our minds were still mired in the cobwebs of the past, we headed downtown, just a 5 minute drive to an area nicknamed “the nickel” by the skid row residents near Main and 5th Streets. On Main, just a couple of blocks from the Vibiana is a new restaurant paying homage to the past. “The Nickel Diner”, offers delicious versions of diner food including fresh baked goods including their famous bacon crumble dipped glazed doughnuts. You really just need to try this – it’s crazy different. Even though the line outside looks like the line outside Dupar’s on a Sunday morning, the wait was just a few minutes, prices are right, and the food is homey and inventive with a lean towards the south with bacon and cornmeal showing up in multiple forms. All good!

Wall mural inside the Nickel Diner

Wall mural inside the Nickel Diner

New twists on old favorites from the Nickel Diner

New twists on old favorites from the Nickel Diner

Red Velvet Cake with a Chocolate crunch filling, S’Mores Cake, Peanut Butter Crunch Cake – just to name of few of the incredible dessert offerings at the Nickel Diner.

Stars of Paso Robles Winemaker Lunch

As luck would have it I had lunch with rock stars today! It may have been in the heart of Beverly Hills, but the celebs I was with weren’t J Lo or Steven Tyler or Lady Gaga. No these “stars” were  some of the stars of Paso Robles!  Living my whole life in Hollywood means I have seen many superstars of film, television and music. But meeting a winemaker or other wine persona is always a much bigger thrill. Now I don’t usually admit that to anyone but my husband, but when Ian Blackburn of Learn About Wine said the same thing at lunch today I knew I was in good company.

Today’s winemaker lunch was  the preamble to yet another of Ian’s wonderful” Stars of…” events with Paso Robles taking center stage. “The Stars of Paso Robles Wine” tasting event was a two day event held one day in Orange County and one day at Two Rodeo on the famous Rodeo Dr in Beverly Hills, showcasing  over 25 of the top wine producers from the area.  Now as many of you know, my favorite wine region is Paso and over the years I have met so many wonderful winery owners, winemakers, B&B proprietors and restauranteurs. But today I met three wine personalities for the first time.

Michael Mooney is the owner and winemaker at Chateau Margene,  a boutique micro winery specializing in the production of small lots of premium Cabernet Sauvignon. His other label, Mooney Family Wines produces Rhone blends from the Paso Robles AVA  and Pinot Noir made with fruit from the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA. Their wines are sold only direct from either their estate winery set amidst the gorgeous rolling hills of Creston, or from their Westside tasting room located at the intersection of Vineyard Dr and Peachy Canyon Road, just West of the 101 freeway. I have a very close friend who has been a club member of Chateau Margene for a couple of years and has shared with me some of their delicious wines. She is constantly talking about her visit to the estate winery, before the tasting room was opened, so I was thrilled to finally meet Michael and taste some more of his wine. His first offering was his Mooney Family 2009 Pinot Noir, made with fruit sourced from the Vigna Monte Nero Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. This wine, released in April of this year, is a classic, elegant Pinot exhibiting lots of cherry in the nose, anise and tobacco in the palate with a long finish. This was poured with a dish of sea bass on a corn chowder/succotash like sauce with crisp edamames, and topped with micro greens.


Michael’s second wine was served with our last course, which was piquillo peppers stuffed with shredded beef in a robust tomato based ragu.


He explained that his 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was made from 60% estate fruit and that it was comprised of 90% Cab and 10% Merlot. He further explained the extended lees aging, (no racking for 16 months), and that the case production on this wine was 500 cases. He described this intense full bodied wine as having aromas of  black fruit, cassis, cedar, mocha and eucalyptus. I describe it as just plain delicious, and as it opened up in my glass it just kept getting better!

Chateau Margene Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Chateau Margene Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

The second wine celeb is probably better described as part of wine royalty. Christina Turley of Turley Wine Cellars is the daughter of Larry Turley, an ex ER doc who co-founded Frog’s Leap, and the niece of winemaker extraordinaire, Helen Turley. Turley has established itself an an ultra-premium Zinfandel producer and in 2000 purchased the old Pesenti Vineyard in Templeton, where they dry farm 85 year old zin vines. They also have a winery in St Helena and produce Petite Sirah, white Rhone blends and Charbono. The Turleys recently planted 5 acres of what Larry calls “truffle trees” in hopes of producing domestic truffles on their Templeton property.

The first Turley wine we tasted was 100% Rousanne, Rattlesnake Ridge from Howell Mtn in Napa, 2008. This slightly opaque wine had a figgy  nose with good minerality, full mouthfeel and a long, full finish.  This was poured with a salad of arugula, roasted red beets, candied walnuts, pink grapefruit and goat cheese.


Christina poured her 2008 Pesenti Vineyard Zinfandel with seared tuna wrapped in seaweed, batter fried and topped with lotus root chips. This deep garnet wine had a slightly odd nose, but the depth and spice of this full bodied wine made it a delicious choice for the entree.


The third member of the panel, although not a winemaker or winery owner, is a huge celeb in the wine industry for what he has contributed in the way of industry focused social media marketing.  Dare I gush and say that he is my version  of an American Idol, wine/social media style? Yes. I have followed his work and was just thrilled to finally meet him in person. Joel has worked for many prestigious wineries, but for the last 6 years has been at Hope Family Wines in Paso as their Director of Communications. Last year, with the help of Dina Mande of Juice Marketing, he created the video, “What is Wine”, winning first place in the 2010 Wine Spectator video contest. This video just makes me smile every time I watch it and everyone in it is a star of Paso Robles. And as long as you’re going to YouTube, you should have a look at the video introducing  the new wine being released by Hope Family Wines under the label of “Troublemaker”.

Joel’s first wine, also poured with the salad, was the Treana (another Hope Family label and symbolizing the trinity of elements, sun,sea and soil) White 2008, a blend of 55% Marsanne and 45% Viognier. For those of you still not acquainted with white Rhone varietals, grab a bottle of this wine  – drink it as an aperitif or pair it with summer salads, sushi and really any kind of spicy food. The wine has a floral nose and flavors of stone fruits with honey. Very full mouthfeel. Just delicious! His second wine was the Treana Red, a blend of 70% Cabernet and 30% Syrah, all sourced from Paso fruit. Joel told us that this 2008 is the 12th vintage of this wine.This full bodied  wine  had an initial licorice component that I really liked, but the flavor profile continued to evolve as it opened up in the glass. Also great paired with the beef dish.

Michael Mooney, Christina Turley, and Joel Peterson

Michael Mooney, Christina Turley and Joel Peterson

The food was delicious, the wine was amazing and the company was stellar. I should say also that I really enjoyed meeting the other lunch attendees from the media who provided lively conversation about our common passions…food, wine and writing.

After lunch I popped in at the tasting upstairs and said hi to a couple of my favorite wine people from Paso. Aram Deirmenjian of Kiamie Wine Cellars was uncorking his White Kuvée, one of my favorite white Rhone blends. He was truly looking like a rockstar with his new longer hair!

Aram Deirmenjian of Kiamie Wine Cellars

Aram Deirmenjian of Kiamie Wine Cellars

Ted Plemons of Cass Winery was doing what he does best – smiling and pouring wine. I had the pleasure of working with Ted and his wife, Lisa, during the Viognier harvest in 2009. They are just some of the nicest people I have met in Paso and perfect Paso wine ambassadors.

Ted Plemons

Ted Plemons of Cass Winery

Cass wines being poured at the Stars of Paso Robles - 2011

Cass wines being poured at the Stars of Paso Robles - 2011

So if you haven’t visited Paso Robles yet…what are you waiting for? Great people, restaurants, B&B’s, wineries, parks, farmer’s markets, beautiful rolling hills and back roads and some of the most beautiful sunsets ever! And don’t forget the oaks…Paso Robles means “pass of the oaks”, and they dot the vineyards and frame the views everywhere you look. Paso has lots of annual events so check the website, Paso Robles Wine County Alliance, for updates and plenty of info.


Sta. Rita Hills tasting at Palate Food & Wine

It’s been a busy Spring so far, so I apologize for getting this review out a bit late. This is the second event I’ve attended at the popular Palate Food & Wine in Glendale, California. Steve Goldun, a wine mentor of mine for many years, and his partner Octavio Becerra, have created a hot spot for foodies and wine enthusiasts alike, with the emphasis on creativity served up in a casual way.

With only 20 wineries represented, this event, held April 3, 2011, was small by some tasting event standards, but well attended. In addition to the wines, Hitching Post Restaurant of Buellton was there with owner Frank Ostini at the grill turning out delicious wine tasting “go withs”.

Frank Ostini of Hitching Post Restaurant

Frank Ostini of Hitching Post Restaurant

Sponsored by the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance, located in Santa Barbara County, this tasting focused on wineries representing a group of about 55 in total,  growing over 20 wine grape varieties planted on approximately 2500 acres. I love these “focused” tastings as it really gives me the opportunity to taste wines made with fruit from the same vineyards but by different winemakers, explaining their “whys” and hows”.

Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars was there pouring her own wines, which were very good. The interesting thing was that there were several other wineries pouring Pinot Noir made from fruit from her Fiddlestix Vineyard. Again, a great opportunity to taste the different ways these wines were made. Of these, Pali Wine Co.’s 08 Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix Vineyard, was my favorite.

It was also a great pleasure to meet Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe. Wes has 28 acres of estate vineyards to work with – 24 are planted to Pinot Noir and 4 to Chardonnay. It was the Chardonnay that stood out for me on this day. While I really enjoyed the Chablis style 09 Estate Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented, it was their 2000 Estate Chardonnay, “Homage to Chablis” that stood out and was the most intriguing wine of the day. Not having tasted many 10 year old chardonnays to begin with, I was amazed at the fact that it not only had held up, but in fact had aged beautifully into a complex, multi-layered gem.

Xochitl with Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe

Xochitl with Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe

I very much enjoyed meeting newcomers Kessler-Haak Wines and tasting their inaugural releases of 08 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their estate vineyards. Congratulations to Dan and Ellen Kessler, owners and winemakers.

So when you’re out there in your favorite wine shop looking for something new to try, think about exploring a specific area. It’s always interesting…..


Rabbi does more than bless the wine, he grows the grapes!

The year was 1981 and we had decided to get married in September of that year. Temple Beth Hillel in North Hollywood, California would be the location, chosen because other family members had been married there and spoke highly of the Rabbi…Rabbi James Lee Kaufman, fondly referred to as just Rabbi Jim. That would be the beginning of a long relationship with this temple and its beloved Rabbi.

Rabbi Jim went on to marry others in our family and preside over all rites of passage including bar/bat mitzvah, baby namings and britot, home blessings, and burials. No matter when we called or what was required, Rabbi Jim was there. At one such event held in our home, after the formalities were over we offered the Rabbi something to drink. He replied that a glass of wine would be nice. I asked, “what kind” and he answered, Cabernet, if you have it. Ah…a “cab guy”, I thought, and went to retrieve the best bottle I had. (Sorry I don’t remember what it was, but he seemed to like it. )

The year is 2010 and the results of the San Francisco Chronicle are in.  Willowbrook Cellars Pinot Noir, Kaufman-Sunnyslope Vineyard, 2008 has been awarded a medal. Kaufman-Sunnyslope Vineyard named after its owner…..In 1994 Rabbi Jim and his wife, Sue, thinking they would like to someday retire in Northern California, purchased a then un-planted 6 acre parcel in the prestigious Sonoma Mountain AVA. They originally planted the site to Merlot, then grafted over to Pinot Noir in 2007. Their first Pinot harvest of 3.5 tons in 2008 was sold to Willowbrook Cellars to be used in a single vineyard designated wine.

Willowbrook Cellars - 2008 Pinot Noir - Kaufman Sunnyslope Vineyard

Rabbi Jim has been a part of Temple Beth Hillel’s clergy since 1973, and although he stepped down from his position as senior Rabbi in 2010, he remains active in the temple community. It is there where I caught up with him to find out more about his passion for wine and how it led to vineyard ownership.

Perhaps that passion is summed up best when he says, “I drink wine because it interests me…I like the way it evolves in the glass”. Indeed, he says that it is the nose of a wine that most intrigues him, and can sit with an empty glass for quite some time enjoying the changing bouquet coming from the residual wine…much to the chagrin of many an impatient waiter hoping to clean up a table. In fact, patience as well, is part of what appreciating wine means to the Rabbi. He marvels at the historical component that wine inherently offers, as so many wines go back to vintages of multiple decades gone by. Patience must be practiced by the winemaker as he conscientiously checks his barrels over the years and holds back bottles for further aging in the cellar. Patience must also be a discipline of the consumer/collector as he buys bottles and lays them down until they reach the optimum maturity. Then, and this is Jim’s favorite part as an olfactory sensitive taster, comes the patience required to just let the wine sit in the glass for a bit to gather its bouquet for presentation. The Rabbi has on occasion used the making of wine as a comparison when conducting marriage counseling, pointing out that both require patience and nurturing to thrive and have the best possible outcome.

Rabbi Jim’s first wine encounter was in 1980 with a bottle of Chateau Montelena 1978 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon. He began collecting California cabs in 1980, and his collection includes verticals of Gemstone and Garric. While Jim doesn’t necessarily drink wine every day, he really looks forward to opening up an older bottle periodically to see how it has developed. Rabbi Jim has shared his love of fine wine with his five children. One family tradition calls for celebrating a college graduation with a Double Magnum of 10-15 year old Joseph Phelps Insignia. He sighs and says the “kids” have become quite spoiled and when he tries to serve them some of his “homemade” cab they tend to balk and ask for the “good stuff”. Although he doesn’t drink much Bordeaux, he did indulge in a half bottle of ’83 Margaux this last New Year’s Eve and enjoyed a ’70 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild for his 25th wedding anniversary and has another cellared for their 50th.

Rabbi James Kaufman

Rabbi James Kaufman

Kaufman-Sunnyslope Vineyard is located in the North section of Bennett Valley in the Sonoma Mountain area and is planted to two Pinot Noir clones. The influence of the marine layer coming through the Cotati Gap keeps this section cooler allowing for a more exposed grape in the canopy without danger of sunburn. The fruit achieves fully developed varietal characteristics with ripe Brix, low pH , high malic acid, excellent skin color and great aging potential. 2009 yielded about 12 tons of fruit which was sold to Willowbrook, Paro Cellars and Malm Cellars, some of which will be bottled soon. In 2010, due to cold and fog in June and July, the site production was reduced to about 6 tons and was sold to three different wine producers.

The Rabbi and his wife might  build a home on the property someday…when he really does retire.