Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rant in a Minor Key: Going Against the Green

For me, green is beginning to look a lot browner.

My dad believed in conservation - he was a union wage earner coming out of the Depression with four kids and a wife who was a week-night and weekend farmer because he had always been a farmer and because we needed the food. To dad two of the most dispicable words in the English language were scabs (the anti-union kind) and soil erosion. We caught hell if we tried to dam up the little stream that flowed by our house or cut play roads into the bare hillside.

I grew up as an environmentalist, which meant that I sometimes was at odds with the company I worked for - DuPont - but also sometimes defended them when I thought they were the victim of kneejerk criticisms of big business.

But I'm sick of green. Green is the new patriotism. Salute without even counting the stars in the flag. What set me off this time was seeing an ad about a Ford hybrid with its boast for how many miles a gallon it got in city driving. How much electricity does it take for recharging and how is that electricity manufactured? How much energy does it take to mine rare metals for the battery and what does it do to the environment? What is the total energy savings, if any? Tell me all that information in less-than-fine print, tell me all the tradeoffs, and I might seriously consider the ad's message.

The same with all our electronics. I love computers and my e-mail and my Blackberry and my blogging, but at what environmental cost? Electronics are far from being environmentally clean or even energy efficient from their birth to their final disposal. So spare me that puritan little note about considering whether I need to print out a message on (renewable and biodegradable and recyclable) paper if I want to retain something.

Yes, I do believe in some green causes. I believe absolutely that plastic bags are evil and not necessary because they last forever and are clogging up wire fences across the country and contaminating our oceans. They are the graffiti of packaging. When I need to carry something, I take along my own reusable bag in 90% of the cases. The other 10% is due to a faulty memory. Mostly, I love to carry things in my bare hands, sans baggage.

I was - am- a marketer of products and ideas. But I do get tired of so many false or unprovable green claims that I get daily from people touting their greener-than-green wine or food packaging, their tiny little carbon footprints, and their chastity-like sustainability. I delete most of these messages immediately without reading. And don't worry about me printing them out first.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Friday Lineup: Austin Hope's Terroir

One of the topics wine people often discuss is how certain grape varieties thrive in particular settings or terroirs and how, over time, the wines made from these grapes grow to reflect these respective terroirs.

This week, I spent a few days with Austin Hope, his family and his colleagues at Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles, and it gradually occured to me that wineries and the people who work there often reflect the terroir as surely as their wines. Those who know Austin, his crew, and his wines would probably agree that no person, no winery better reflects the spirit of California's Central Coast in general, and Paso Robles in particular, than do Austin and his multi-faceted winery.

I love the sophistication of the Medoc and Napa Valley, but I also enjoy the more-rural pace of the Central Coast. Things don't move any slower in the country - a tired myth - but things are more deliberate, and there are fewer distractions. Similarly, everything seems less ostentatious and more utilitarian.

Austin Hope and his family moved to Paso Robles in 1978 from the Central Valley to grow apples and grapes (the apples made a quick exit), and Austin started working in the vineyard when he was eight. Today, Hope Family Wines is a very large, though not huge enterprise. Many of us have drunk their Treana red and white for over a decade and their Liberty School everyday wines, especally the Cab, even longer - from the days when the Hopes were selling grapes to Caymus before they bought the brand outright.

In recent years, as Austin began to take over the day-to-day from his father, Chuck, the line and the marketing have expanded. First, there was the prestige Austin Hope varietals that have proven to be a steady brand. More recently, we have seen the introduction of the ground-breaking, multi-vintage Candor line and the relaunching of Westside Red.

Hope is a complex and very likable guy who still has a touch of shy boyishness about him. Although he loves farming and winemaking, he is also a shrewd at business planning, something his father admits was not his first love. Hope understands tradition, but he doesn't get mired down in it. He enjoys thinking radical thoughts - such as betting on multi-vintage wines at higher price and quality levels rather than just sticking to the handcuffs of straight vintages - and acting on many of these thoughts. The people whom he has gathered around him - winemakers JC Diefendorfer and Soren Christenson and grower relations head Kristen Lane - reflect his spirit and intellectual restlessness. It was refreshing not to hear this week the routine, if well-meaning, cliches that often go with winemaking. And there is also some good ol' boy in Hope. He likes cars and bars and hunting as well as the next guy.

Of course, there are the wines. There is a preference for Cabernet and the Rhone varietals - what grows well here - especially at the high levels. If there is a house style, it is fruitiness up front, full body on the palate, and a lean finish with food-loving acidity. Fortunately, I got to taste the wines with a lot of good food provided by Thomas Hill Organics, Il Cortile, Artisan, and Bistro Laurent. You may not find many designer clothing stores in downtown Paso, but you certainly can eat well.

Over the next few weeks and months, I will be writing more about Hope Family Wines, and I will let you know as those articles start to appear as the grape are harvested, the leaves turn, and the snow flies. In the meantime, search out some of the newer Hope wines such as Candor and Westside Red and even Austin Hope wines if you haven't tried them.

When I returned from California, a friend had sent me a Hamilton cartoon that showed a sophisticated woman and a laid-back man chatting across a table with a bottle of wine. She asks him as he looks rather smug, "Do wine writers suffer and all that?" Sometimes, when you're stuck at Charles de Gaulle or it's past midnight in Spain and you haven't ordered the first course or on those long bus rides back to the hotel, we do suffer - a little. But this week, being a wine writer in Paso Robles and hanging out with the Hope folks was pure pleasure.

For wine pricing and location, go to www.wine-searcher.com.

Until next time....
Roger Morris

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Friday Lineup: Ends of the Spectrum

Wine of the Week

2007 Sequoia Grove Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35). There are certain wines that bring a smile to your face when you pull the cork and smell the bottle, a welcoming aroma like coming through the front door on a cold day at dinner time. This is one of them. It may not be an outstanding wine, but it is certainly a very good one, especially at this price - a full-bodied Napa Cab that is not too oaky, too tannic, nor too fruit-forward. Instead, it has a lovely berry and cassis nose with flavors of tart blackberries, dark chocolate, mushrooms, forest floor and mellow oak. It is also somewhat lean and minerally, only mildly tannic and is, perhaps at this stage, a little too tight. The finish and aftertaste are a surprise - touches of raspberry cream and violets. Well structured and a delicious food wine.

Wines of Interest

2008 Ajello Sicily Nero d'Avola ($12). True to the Nero's taste profile, this is a big, unapoletically assertive wine with dark fruit flavors, mouthfuls of tannin and a pleasant bitterness around the edges. Don't try to explain it - like it or hate it for what it is, the wine equivalent of a burly Islay Scotch. Sip it, savor it with some spicy salumi. Let the afternoon pass away.

2009 Thomas Henry Borden Ranch Verdelho ($12). I had this wine a few days after the Nero d'Alba, and I thought they represented the A and the Z of wine drinking. Although both state 14% alcohol on the label, the Verdelho - how many of those do you see from California? - is a pouf by comparison, a little pond of lemon meringue and sugar floating in the middle of your palate. Drink it, and it immediately disappears. A nice amusement while you're waiting around the kitchen with guests before leaving for dinner.

2005 Undone Rheinhessen Pinot Noir ($13). German Pinots are still a bit of a wonder to us, and few to date have gone beyond the novelty state. This is a very simple one - unoaked - with rooty, cola flavors. Light-body, easy drinking at an attractive price.

2007 Waterstone Napa Merlot ($18). This is a Southwest Airlines kind of no-frills wine. Plump, smooth, plummy fruit with light oak and mild tannins.

Prices approximate. For availability, go to http://www.wine-searcher.com/

Until next time...
Roger Morris

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Lineup: Riesling Matches

Rieslings have been collecting for some time in my wine samples bin, so I tasted 18 of them this week in one swell foop. Of these, I thought 11 were quite enjoyable, six not worth noting, and one, a classic German one, was so over-sulphured it never really blew off.

Some of the ones from the West Coast not noted were quite dull and clumsy, and it seems as if they were there simply because someone said, "We need a Riesling in our product line."

Wines of the Week

2009 Johannishof "V" Rheingau Johannisberg Riesling Kabinett ($24). Lovely floral aromas with gamy edges - apricot and peaches melded into a balsamic-like flavors. It's one of those instances where an interesting flavor or aroma gets near the edge, but doesn't go over it. Would be fine with Alsatian dishes.

2009 Craggy Range "Fletcher Family" Marlborough Riesling ($20). Pleasant oily Riesling aromas blended in with orange peel smells and tastes. Mildly assertive. Stony, minerally, metallic under pinnings.

2009 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt "Josephofer" Riesling Kabinett ($30). Clean aromas with delicious, ripe fruit - apricot and plum peel - but with a tart finish. Excellent structure. A lean, piano-wire Riesling that nevertheless has appealing fruitiness.

2008 Mercer Yakima Valley Riesling ($15). Nice and elegant, with a balance between full and lean styles. Petroleum aromas, metallic and minerally, with apricot and orange notes throughout. A nice drinking wine, with or without food.

Wines of Interest

2009 Villa Sacher "Rheingraf" Rheinhessen Dry Riesling ($14). Excellent mouth feel - luscious and velvety - with muted fruit, floral and dry herbal, forest-floor flavors. A savory wine that is long on the palate.

2009 Macari Finger Lakes Riesling ($30). Lots of petroleum in the lovely nose. Lean, minerally, slate-like with tart apple skins. Lightly tannic - a pleasantly assertive wine that would stand up to tuna steaks and sushi.

2009 Liebfrauenstift Rheinhessen Dry Riesling ($14). Very delicate, but well-balanced with light nectar flavors. A good sipping wine.

2008 Liebfrauenstift Rheinhessen Riesling Trocken ($14). Again, lightish with flavors high on the palate of peach peel, minerals, slate. Quite nice.

2008 Blackstone Monterey County Riesling ($12). A good, basic "peaches and plums" Riesling. Not elegant, but-well integrated fruit. Full without being dull.

2007 Firestone Central Coast Riesling ($12). Petroleum notes. Fairly big with lots of apricots and peaches, but with a touch of taffy. Far from classic, but a good larger-style Riesling.

2009 Pacific Rim Columbia Valley Sweet Riesling ($10). Better than in its drier styles. Clove aromas with almost creamy, floral peaches. Well-balanced acidity.

Prices are approximate. For more-precise pricing and availability, check out:


Until next time...

Roger Morris