One of the most exciting parts of the annual Wine Bloggers Conference is the excursion dinner at an offsite location (most times at a winery with catered food). This year, we bought our tickets ahead of time so we could join our friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings, who we had met at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi. They bought their tickets as soon as the Thomas George Estates excursion was announced, and we did as well soon after. The dinner experiences are a hot commodity at the WBC. This time, the tickets were only $20 per person, and I’m not kidding when I say it was the best Andrew Jackson I have ever spent on a wine and food pairing! Don’t believe me? I have the pictures to prove it.
I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm as I detail the evening, but I have to admit I felt like royalty from the moment we left the conference hotel to the moment we returned. We met our dinner group and loaded on to a limo bus. Below is a photo of us on the bus, and you can see the excitement in our faces! We heart wine dinner excursions!
After a long and bumpy ride, we arrived at Thomas George Estates–a bit of a mystery spot for me, because I could not find much information about them on the web. After getting off the bus, I was pleasantly surprised to see our group was being escorted into a wine cave! We were led into a foyer area and presented with a charcuterie spread from Black Pig Meat Company the likes of which I had never seen before. Our glasses were also filled with Thomas George Estates Blanc de Blancs, an estate bubbly made from chardonnay.
We mingled amongst ourselves while sipping the sparkling wine and enjoying our selections from Black Pig Meat Company: Cured Meats, Roasted and Marinated Vegetables, and Hummus with Crostini. I snuck away from the group to take pictures of the tables where we would later be dining. The attention to detail of the table setting was remarkable. Plus, I took a peak at the menu for the evening and I could hardly wait for what was to come!
Our first course of the meal would be a roasted Brussels Sprout Salad, with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona Almonds, Aged Sherry Vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery “Capriago”, an asiago-style cheese made from goat milk and aged between 8 and 10 weeks. This course was paired with a 2015 Chardonnay from the Thomas George Sons & Daughters Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The best part about this dish was the crispy bacon nuggets and Marcona almonds nestled in the salad hidden like buried treasure. Alyse and I laughed about our disdain for frisée…I did not know someone else shared my dislike of its curly texture and overall annoyingness when trying to cut/eat it. Still, this salad was a major hit with me.
The entrée course was a stunning “Cracklin'” Pork Belly and Star Anise Liberty Duck. It was served with Black Rice, Thomas George Estate-Grown Pomegranate and Watercress. The wine pairing was an Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley. The texture of the rice was wonderfully chewy and sticky and was offset by the crispy pork skin and the tenderness of the duck leg. As you can see it was a beautiful presentation and the pomegranate lent itself in both flavor and color. There was also a bit of persimmon on the plate, special to me because Fuyu persimmon is my favorite fruit, and it was my first taste of it that season!
For our final course, we were presented with a Quince & Apple Tartin, served with Bourbon Gelato. I was served a dessert without the crust, as they kindly remembered my gluten free request. I thought the Bourbon Gelato was pretty incredible, especially with the wine we were served as a pairing: an Estate 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from the Baker Ridge Vineyard “Baby Block”, Russian River Valley. Success! The wine WAS slightly sweeter than the dessert, and that is how it should be in a dessert/wine pairing. Lately, I have come to appreciate/enjoy dessert wines more and more, and might have even purchased a few bottles of Pinot Gris in the last month. I used to hate on sweet/dessert wines (like, a lot), so here is my formal apology of sorts.
Our dinner was skillfully prepared by Chef Duskie Estes of zazu kitchen + farm. I asked her to take a picture with me and she kindly obliged (below). I just took a peek at zazu’s sample menu and I’m probably going to have to stop in next time I am in the area! Luckily, we have friends who live in Sebastopol… 😉
Not only were the wines and the meal terrific, the company I shared them with and the memories I have of the evening are unforgettable. Thank you to the staff at Thomas George Estates for your hospitality and to Chef Duskie for her food presentation.
For another account of this excursion, head on over to Appetite for Wine, and read what Kent had to say!
AN IMPORTANT P.S.!!!
The winery is closed to the public during the month of January for annual maintenance and improvements, but will return to regularly scheduled operations on February 1st. So this means you have plenty of time to plan a future visit!
Keep an eye out for more coverage on this website from the 2017 Santa Rosa conference. I’m not sure which direction I will go content-wise, but would like to say something that hasn’t been already said. It was a conference definitely filled with mixed emotions as a result of the fires in October, but definitely an uplifting place to be in witnessing the resilience of wine country and its representatives at the conference. Cheers, and thanks for reading! #WBC17
This year will be the conference’s 10th, and it will be held at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country. We are looking forward to meeting new writers and reconnecting with the ones we met last year.
It is particularly meaningful to me to attend this year because the conference is being held in the area most damaged by the fires that recently took place. It will be wonderful to play tourist in this area and promote this region just when they need us most. I feel it is my duty to serve the area because this wine country (Napa/Sonoma) is the very reason I moved to California. I fell in love during my very first visit to the region in 2003 and moved not far away to Sacramento in 2004 (also a growing hub of food and wine with its close proximity to Amador, Lodi, Napa, Capay, Dunnigan Hills, and more).
Thirteen plus years later I will discover even more of the Sonoma region along with my husband and hundreds of other bloggers. Our itinerary and agenda for the weekend is very exciting for anyone the slightest bit nerdy about the grape.
I am especially happy to be reunited with Elizabeth of Traveling Wine Chick tomorrow and our Oregon friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings for the Thomas George Estates wine dinner on Friday. I’m sure our interactions won’t be limited to those events, because we just love all three of those awesome people! We even stayed with Neal and Alyse for a few days last June and ran a half marathon in Eugene! Have to burn those wine calories somehow… 😉
While I am at the conference, I am also actively promoting one of my lady bosses, SG Coaching and Consulting. With over 35 years of experience, the SG team creates custom-tailored programs to fit your winery needs. They provide detailed analyses and work with you to make improvements that can will get people into your doors and make your business successful. They offer Digital Marketing, Event Planning, Front Office Improvements, Recruiting and Hiring, and Wine Club Management.
So let’s do this, Wine Bloggers Conference 2017!! Let’s get together this weekend, taste a lot, encourage tourism, learn from each other, inspire each other, network, and taste a lot more. Andy and Kristy Harris from cavegrrl.com are thrilled to participate and share the experience on this blog as well as our social media channels.
See you there! Cheers 🙂
By Andy Harris
Opening night of the 2016 Wine Bloggers’ Conference kicked off at Mohr-Fry Ranches, with locally catered food and live music by Snap Jackson & The Knock On Wood Players, a bluegrass band. All in the backyard of fourth-generation Lodi grape farmers Bruce and Peggy Fry. Coincidentally, the Frys were not only hosting this party, but celebrating their 53rd wedding anniversary. But, let’s not forget the purpose of this gathering: Wine!
Multiple tasting booths were set up in a semi-circle in the Fry’s backyard, with many familiar wineries represented. Fields Family Wines, St. Amant Winery and Turley Wine Cellars were in attendance, and they are very well regarded as being among many area wineries leading a renaissance in Sacramento Valley wine making. But I was out to try something different. Maybe something I’d heard of before, but did not really know that much about.
I had heard and read about Harney Lane Winery, and was anxious to try a tasting of what they were pouring. I also wanted to get the back story on when and how the winery was established. It turns out that this winery is only in its eleventh year, having first tried their hand at making wine with their 2006 vintage. The owners, Kyle and Jorja Lerner, told me that Jorja’s great-great grandfather bought land in Lodi in 1907 and started farming grapes, which he sold to others for wine production. Up until 2006, the Lerners were doing the same, but never producing their own wine. Then that all changed…
Their line-up of wines at this event started with a very crisp and fruity 2015 Albarino. This one won a silver medal in the 2016 California State Fair wine competition, and definitely lives up to its billing. It won’t break the bank for $20.00.
Next up was their 2013 Tempranillo. At 15% alcohol, it was a big, tannic wine, but not overpowering. At $26.00 a bottle, it certainly won’t overpower your bank account. Probably slightly more costly than typical Tempranillos, but try it and you’ll see why. I believe this one will improve with age. It was awarded Double Gold, best Tempranillo, 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Last but not least were a duo of Zinfandels that I believe represents what is unique and wonderful about Lodi Zinfandels. First up was their 2012 Estate Zinfandel. This one was aged 21 months in American Oak, and comes in at 15.5% alcohol, but doesn’t taste even slightly hot. This one has the distinctive Lodi spice and fruit, and is very competitively priced at $22.00 per bottle. It is also an award winner, garnering a Silver Medal at the 2015 California State Fair Wine Competition.
Then I sampled the 2013 Lizzy James Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel. Lizzy James is a 20-acre plot of land that is so special, the Lerner’s named it after their children, Kirsten Elizabeth and Ian James. The property is within the Mokelumne River Sub Appellation which is characterized by its deep sandy soils, common for the Lodi region. Also at 15.5% alcohol and aged in American oak for 21 months, this is a wine of uncharacteristic complexity and power derived from 109 year-old vines. Definitely the best wine I tried that evening, and possibly the top wine of the entire conference. Somewhat more costly than your average Lodi wine, but at $36.00, still a relative bargain as compared to Napa wines twice the price. This wine won a significant award at this year’s California State Fair Wine Competition, a Double Gold, Best of Class of Region. Only 650 cases produced, so get some before they run out! Visit Harney Lane Winery & Vineyards at harneylane.com.
WBC16’s Saturday night dinner party was aptly named Dinner With Lodi Wine. And that it was. But before I start talking about the wine we shared that night, let me tip my hat to local Sacramento restaurant South. South is a downtown Sacramento establishment specializing in barbeque, and they were the caterers for this special dinner. They prepared an outstanding three-course dinner to pair with typically-hardy Lodi wines. The huge conference hall at Hutchins Street Square was divided into several round dining tables with each table hosted by a different Lodi winery.
Kristy DeVaney and I had the distinct pleasure of sharing dinner and wine with Cassandra Durst of Durst Winery & Estate. She shared her wines with us and we sat right by her at our table. We also sat with Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings. I had never heard of Durst, which is not surprising, as the number of wineries in Lodi have gone from 30 to about 200 in the last 15 years. At this point, I can’t keep track!
The first course was a fantastic kale salad paired with their 2015 Albarino, which was very crisp and fruity with just the right balance of acid. This is an outstanding summer wine at only 13.4% alcohol.
Next up was the main course, which was actually five different items, highlighted by a chili rubbed pork loin and dry rubbed smoked brisket with garlic mashed potatoes and baby carrots. The three cheese macaroni and cheese topped with breadcrumbs is something I avoid because of wheat, but it was offered. (Kristy and I shared a gluten free pasta dish instead, which is pictured below). This course was paired with the fantastic Durst Winery 2013 Fairbanks Blend. This wine was 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot for added structure. At 14.8% alcohol and aged in American oak for 18 months, this is a perfect pairing for barbeque.With smooth tannins and a peppery nose, this was a truly excellent wine.
Finally, it was time for dessert. This was a treat for me, as I don’t normally have dessert. But the wine pairings were too good to ignore, so I gave them a try. Featured were 2013 Durst Winery Amada Mia White Blend and 2014 Durst Winery Amada Mia Red Blend. These wines were paired with an excellent brown sugar cinnamon streusel with whipped cream. I liked it so much, I ate mine and Kristy’s!
Amada Mia is in reference to the house at the 90 year-old vineyard in nearby Acampo that was scheduled for demolition before Dan and Cassandra Durst rescued and restored it to its former glory. Along with the house, they also restored adjoining 50-acre vineyard which had fallen into complete neglect. Now, after years of hard work, they are making some of the best wine in the Lodi area. Visit them at durstwinery.com.
These are only two examples of the passion of the wine makers who make Lodi such a unique region. In every tasting room you will find wine makers who farm the land and take the big risks to put something special in your bottle. Enjoy!
You can find Harney Lane Winery online here, find them on Facebook here, and follow them on Twitter here. They also have an Instagram account you can follow here and if you are into Pinterest, you will find them here.
Do you ever have reservations about doing something because you are not sure you are good enough or that you will be accepted?
Initially that is how I felt about attending the Wine Bloggers Conference. I was not sure whether or not I even belonged there. All I knew is what I heard about previous conferences and above all my love of wine. Even though I am not a wine expert and I have no formal wine education. Even though I am honestly uncomfortable writing about wine in depth because I think I will sound ignorant to someone well-versed in the world of oenology.
It doesn’t matter. I eventually decided I DID belong at the conference and I do have something relevant to say about wine (most of the time), and more importantly, I can HELP small winemakers by trying their wines and promoting the ones I like, especially when I can pair them with a recipe (as I do in my Flights by Night series).
Following my self-pep talk, I began to get excited about what was to come, and finally opening day had arrived.
The opening reception was held on Mohr Fry Ranch, home of 12 varieties of grapes grown to purchased by several different wineries and turned into magnificent bottles of wine.
I don’t know if Andy was as excited as I was that day, but I felt like a kid on Christmas morning as we looked around to find the registration table and pick up our badges. It was kind of like the first day at school, as a lot of attendees that evening were bussed in to Mohr Fry and meeting other writers for the very first time. Another set of writers we met later on that evening, Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings share this “new kid”-type sentiment with me and you can read about it here.
Then there was the table of excursions that would be held on the next evening. Each blogger chose from these clipboards where they would be going for touring, tasting, and dinner based on a title, and no other clues as to location. Some titles included “99 Bottles of Wine”, “The Wine Abides”, “The Clone Wars”, “She’s a Brix House”, etc. Out of several very clever and funny titles, I chose “Gone with the Wine”. You can find out about my selection and the incredible evening Andy and I had here.
Oh yes, and then there was wine, because that is why we were there! Several Lodi producers brought out some of their finest elixirs hoping to grab our attention. One of those wineries that caught our attention early in the evening was Harney Lane. I recommend their Albariño and Tempranillo, two varietals I am nuts about.
Musical entertainment of the evening was Snap Jackson and the Knock on Wood Players
I got a kick out of the “guess the grape varietal” display. I had no idea which grape was which, but it sure was fun tasting them all!
It was a fun evening meeting new faces (Jennifer Nelson of Wine Antics, as well as Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings, and Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator, just to name a few) re-familiarize ourselves with Lodi wines (after a 4 year absence), and kick off the weekend to come. Lodi wine, it’s what all the cool kids are drinking!!
Above photo courtesy of Holly Shaw of Wine not WHINE.
Can we just go back to Lodi this weekend?
That’s what I was thinking a few days ago as I was going through all the pictures I took and the thinking about all the fun we had and the great people we met. Sigh, back to the real world and my life as a pixel pusher. I think I might slightly have Post Wine Bloggers Conference Syndrome (symptoms include sadness, low energy, crying episodes–SOBBING, anxiety, and irritability).
Of course I am kidding and I have some very exciting wine-centric things coming up in the next few weeks, so I am not sobbing at all. I am actually still buzzing with excitement about my first conference and wanted to use this blog post to tell you about one part of it in detail.
Wine Blogger Conference attendees get the VIP treatment throughout the conference, but they get even more special attention during the Friday evening excursions built in as part of the conference package. On the Friday afternoon of the 3-day conference, all writers were split into small groups and shuttled to secret locations for property tours and a hosted dinner. We chose our secret location during registration at a reception held the night before, only by a title to name the experience (not to describe where we were going, what was for dinner or what winery would host). There were names like “The Wine Abides”, “The Rolling Stones”, etc. I chose the excursion titled “Gone with the Wine” because I really love the movie “Gone with the Wind.”
It turns out our destination was Oak Farm Vineyards for a tasting, tour, and dinner. Of course Friday night is pretty early on in the conference, so I was hoping for a winery I knew a lot about already and I didn’t know a thing about Oak Farm (though I had tried some of their Cabernet at the opening reception and thought it was good). Andy and I are very local to Lodi, and are very fond of McCay, Michael David, M2, just to name a few, and I would have preferred any of those because I knew I would not be let down by the wine. It’s sad, because I get stuck in familiarity all too often, and many times it keeps me from discovering new and exciting things. My chagrin was only temporary, because my mind was about to be blown.
It was dry and hot and I was very thirsty when we arrived at Oak Farm, and we were all led into a reception area to be introduced to Keith (tasting room manager), Dan (one of the owners), and Chad (the winemaker). The introductions were paired with a crisp and cold glass of Albariño. Albariño happens to be one of my favorite white wines, so I was very pleased to be tasting it in Lodi, and also that it tasted so wonderful. I’ll also mention it scored 95 Points and won a (Gold) Best of Class of Region Award at the 2016 CA State Fair Commercial Wine Competition.
Soon, our little group (including Holly Shaw of Wine not WHINE, Eli Med of Fine Wine Poet, and Maia Parish of The Wine Suite LLC, Heather Atherton representing Sacramento International Airport, Rhett Moffatt of Gone with the Wine, Steve and Charlotte Ferree of Wine Prof Guy, Jamie Gall of Minnesota Girl in the World, Maureen Blum of Mo Wino) was directed outside for a tour of the property. We walked down a path towards the main house through a field of Cabernet Sauvignon as we sipped the Albariño and got to know each other a little better.
Other varietals grown on the Oak Farm property include: Chardonnay, Verdelho, Malbec, Zinfandel, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Sangiovese and Barbera. The aformentioned Albariño is sourced from two relatively new vineyard sites not on the property, but also located in Lodi AVAs: Silvaspoons Vineyard and Wetmore Vineyard.
During the tour, tasting room manager Keith told us many stories on the history of the property, including tales of its original owner William DeVries, who purchased the property in 1860. DeVries simply loved trees, especially oak trees, which to this day are allowed to thrive on the land, hence the name of the property and the winery today. The home on the estate was built in 1876 (it looks a lot like the house in Gone with the Wind (Tara), which is probably why the excursion was named Gone with the Wine. Eventually William DeVries became a congressman, a judge, and a legal authority on wine regulations in the 1930’s. Which if you think about it, the latter helps immensely when you are already growing grapes and producing altar wine during the prohibition era. Something tells me I would really get along with this guy!
Oak Farm Vineyards is more than well equipped to host events big and small, and is the home of many weddings throughout the year. The winery actually happened to be set up for a wedding on the night we visited that would take place the next day. I can’t imagine what the to-do list at Oak Farm must have been like that weekend because of both its participation (and constant presence) at the Wine Bloggers Conference and holding a rehearsal dinner and a wedding simultaneously. To me, that makes our experience all the more impressive because I felt like the staff took their time with us and made us feel very welcome.
Of course, I have only talked about the glamorous side of Oak Farm Vineyards and the beauty of the property. However, the truth is that wine making is not at all glamorous, and actually quite messy. Above is a shot behind the scenes of one of the giant machines used to press the grapes.
Pictured above is winemaker Chad Joseph, who also makes wine for a few other labels in Lodi. Andy and I love his efforts at Oak Farm. I have to say that Lodi is so different than it was the last time I visited four years ago. It’s like they always made pretty good wine (as far as I knew having been in California and familiar to Lodi wine since 2004), but it is as if something good grew into something great in almost no time at all. We also had the pleasure of sitting with he and Keith during the dinner that evening which I am about to share with you!
2016 Oak Farm Blogger Dinner prepared by Chef Michael Midgley of Midgley’s Public House (Stockton, California)
August 12th, 2016
We felt particularly lucky to taste the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc which is currently sold out! The grapes were from the same clone (clone 1) that helped put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the map. This one was more balanced than that with equal citrus and grass notes. It was a great pairing with the food, just strong enough to stand up to the cheese and the basil and the truffle in the dish.
This Barbera received a Silver – Best of Class of Region – 2016 CA State Fair Commercial Wine Competition Award. It also received a “two thumbs up, baby I’m down with that one” award from me. I’m not the only lady who loves it because it received Best of Show Red, Best of Class, Gold at the 2016 International Women’s Wine Competition. Ding!
Then there was the food course. Midge was killing me with those pork rinds. I loved scooping up the seafood cocktail in those crispy, salty, fried pieces of pork. It was tomato, seafood, crunchy, porky bliss!
OK I am dead. We can safely have my funeral right now (as long as everyone promises to drink Oak Farm wine at my service and watch a marathon of Robert Downey, Jr. movies in my honor). I mean, I’ll talk about the wine first, but seriously, look at the crust on that meat!! That’s the kind of crusty grubbin’ you dream about. The lobster mashed potatoes were a rich, decadent side dish. This course also brought us a glass of Oak Farm Zinfandel. It was recently rated 91 points in Wine Enthusiast magazine. Are you still in doubt about Lodi wines?? To think I didn’t even know about Oak Farm three hours before this dinner? Head still spinning.
Dessert brought along a peach cobbler, much of which went to my partner-in-wine, Andy, while I fully enjoyed the dessert wine, Fiano. I was kind of longing for something even more simple like roasted nuts, dried fruit, and cheese, but I know I am odd that way and everyone else loved the dessert and ice cream. Fiano is an actual varietal, and this one was sourced from Clarksburg. The wine was an admitted experiment of Chad and Dan’s, but I really enjoyed it and was happy they shared it with us.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to our conference host hotels, and get ready for the next big day ahead! I snapped the picture below to show you how lovely the patio of the Oak Farm Vineyards tasting room looks like at night.
I am sending out a huge thanks to the staff at Oak Farm Vineyards for hosting such an incredible excursion and making every one of us feel like we were family. The next time I am in Lodi, Oak Farm will be one of the first stops I make because of the great memories I have there.
If you are local and have not yet visited, tasted, or experienced all that is Oak Farm, please put it on your immediate to-do list. If you are not local, but you are a true wine lover, please put Lodi on your destination list, and put Oak Farm Vineyards on your trip itinerary. I recommend the Historical Legacy Tour ($30) which lasts about an hour and includes a stroll of the grounds through the vineyard while learning about Lodi’s wine history, the estate’s history told as you stroll past the family home, cemetery, barn and outbuildings, a walk through the first tasting room and lesson about Oak Farm’s beginnings, a walk through the new tasting facilities and barrel rooms, and a tasting in the VIP room.
You can follow Oak Farm Vineyards on Twitter here and “like” them on Facebook here. The next Wine Bloggers Conference is November 9-12, 2017 and will be located at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa. Will I see you there?
Farm-to-Fork events are kicking into high gear all around Sacramento as noted by the Farm-to-Fork regional events page. Farm-to-Fork Restaurant Week begins on September 8th and takes place for 18 days, along with the Farm-to-Fork Festival on the 24th of September and the Farm-to-Fork Gala (Tower Bridge Dinner) on the 25th of September. But if you’re a wine lover, Legends of Wine (on Thursday, September 16th from 6-9pm) is the hallmark affair of the Farm-to-Fork celebration.
Legends of Wine provides the unique opportunity to sample and discover more about some of the region’s most celebrated varietals, as selected by two of Sacramento’s internationally recognized culinary powerhouses—Darrell Corti and David Berkley. Set against the backdrop of California’s majestic State Capitol, guests will sip a wide array of award-winning wines paired and presented with artisan cheeses and local delights.
Each year of Legends of Wine, Lodi wine has been well represented. I have always been a bigger fan of the region for its Zinfandels (over Amador who I feel produces better Barberas). I bring up the Lodi region because this year it is the home of the Wine Blogger’s Conference taking place next week, August 11th-14th. I am looking forward to learning more about Lodi and revisiting the wineries and taking part in the many seminars planned for the weekend, so that during Legends of Wine, I can chat more in depth with the winemakers about their craft as I try the wines.