2015 Giuseppe Mascarello Barbera Scudetto

Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this wine. I liked it a lot, but then there were also moments where I really didn’t like what I was tasting. My initial impressions were that this wine was completely imbalanced. The fruit had that baked, over ripe, flabby quality — the dreaded red wine stewed fruit flavors. The alcohol was very apparent, and with every sip, the alcohol poked its head out the other end. It’s hard to describe. I guess I could sum it up as saying that it was all over the place.

About an hour later though, bam! — the wine began to settle down. Everything including the alcohol and fruit began to integrate and the wine started to be a pleasure to drink.

The tannins were very smooth — almost transparent, but present, making the wine extremely gulpable. Lots of dark fruit flavors like plums and blackberries and an interesting savory quality. I don’t know if this wine will be any more interesting with a few more years of age on it, due to its lack of a real tannin structure, but it definitely won’t hurt to find out. I did buy three bottles, so in another year or two, I’ll pop another one and report back!

Harvest 2013 @ A.P. Vin – An end without a beginning

I used to laugh at every blog I came across, of some bright eyed, bushy tailed wine industry newbie looking to chronicle the daily experiences of their first harvest.   The story would look a little something like this – You’d read a post about their first few days or week in the winery and then poof, no posts until the end of harvest, sometimes even several months after their harvest experience was over.  Usually it was because of fatigue and lack of time to do anything else other than eat and sleep after working 12- 14-hour days.  So here I am now, writing an “end of harvest” post of my own harvest experience, without even having written a “beginning of harvest” post.  My blog is worse off than the ones I used to laugh at!

My experience at A.P. Vin Winery during the harvest 2013 season was fast, furious and intense.  After only a couple of hours removed from the end of Harvest 2013, I find myself sitting on the couch writing about how much I think I miss the pain of working 36 out of a possible 38 days.  What the heck is wrong with me?

First pinot noir grapes of the season from Ridgetop Vineyard

First pinot noir grapes of the season from Ridgetop Vineyard

After working my second harvest, I think I’m beginning to realize that despite the many stresses and fatigue of working days on end in a winery during the crush season, I really do want to make wine for a living.  There, I said it and actually mean it.  I didn’t think wine making was going to be something that I would take seriously until I had a chance to experience making wine first-hand; twice now in 2012 and 2013.

I’ve always considered myself a traditional desk job kind-of-guy, so waking up every morning, throwing on dirty jeans and going to work in a warehouse to make something with my hands was not what I was thinking when I decided to major in Finance back in college.


Clean work boots ready for duty on the first day of harvest

I still don’t know exactly how I’m going to approach this shift in my wine industry career.  The obvious thing to do would be to find a job in a winery up north in Sonoma or Napa.  Doing so would mean we’d either have to move out of San Francisco, which we’re both not ready to do because we love living here too much or and that’s a big or, I commute at least 60 miles each way to wine country – something I’m definitely not interested in doing.  The other path I could take would be to start my own wine brand and company and make my own wine.  But then I’d be starting my own wine brand and company and that means owning a business again – something I’ve already tried and struck out with.  There’s something there for me, I know it and feel positive about it.  I just don’t know exactly what it is yet.

Before I down that path though, let’s see if I can at least re-chronicle some of my experiences this past Harvest 2013.


Pinot Noir cluster on the vine in Keefer Ranch in the Russian River Valley

Are California roses any good?


A few posts ago, I stated that I wanted to engage in a mini-research project that would examine the quality of California rosés in the marketplace.  Since I started toying with the idea of someday starting my own wine brand, one of the things that naturally came to mind was – “If I had my own brand, what would I want to make?”

This research project is something that will help kick-start the creative process for me.   Because this business idea is just that, a business idea, I have no clue what I want to make yet.  One thing I can tell you with certainty though, is that whatever type of wines I decide to make, that decision will have been based on a lot of product research and will be a combination of what I enjoy drinking along with what makes good business sense.

Rosés are a category of wine I would consider making.  I used to drink rosés on a purely seasonal basis, but found that I enjoy them as a drink of choice any time of year, rather than only in the spring or summer.  Most of what I reach for on the shelves tends to be from Provence, simply because I think Provence makes some of the worlds most enjoyable rosés.  Seeing how the quality of California rosés stand on their own and how it stacks up against benchmark Provencal rosés becomes my first official business start-up project.  Here is what I found:

  • Most retail shelves are dominated by import rosés or have an import ratio that is skewed towards having more import rosés than domestic.  I’m not sure why, but I have to believe that at least part of it can be attributed to dry rosé production being far more commonplace in other countries than the U.S., thus offering more supply opportunities.
  • Whatever domestic rosés I did see on the shelf, tended to come from small artisan producers.  This may also be due to the local market I live in.  There are many small, neighborhood wine shops in my city that specialize in wines from local producers.  Even the local grocery stores are stocked with wines from the independent, artisan winemaker more often than wines from the “big brands.”
  • The overall quality of what I tasted was very good.  As my individual tasting notes will attest, all the wines I tasted were pretty damn good.  I was really impressed with the overall quality.  All of the wines had character, were well made and most of all, were very tasty and extremely enjoyable to drink.
  • The type of grapes used in each individual bottle varied greatly.  One was made with malbec, another with Portuguese varieties, pinot noir and syrah were used in one and finally, the typical Rhone varieties of grenache, and mourvedre and cinsault were used in another.  One thing they had in common was that they all contributed to making good wines.
  • Quality to price point sweet spot looks to be right at the $15 range.  I rarely saw any roses over $20 from a California producer except for the Arnot-Roberts.  I think few wineries want to invest in grapes with the sole intention of using those grapes to make a rose as a final product.  Doing so would mean having to charge $20+ bottle, which I believe is a tough market for rose regardless of region.

Based on my experiences above, the domestic California rosé category looks promising for an aspiring winemaker like me.  For one, it shows that California producers can make rosés that rival and stand on the same ground as those from Provence.  Second, the retailers from where I bought these wines obviously support the smaller handcrafted wine making operation.  This bodes well for me.  I’ve always known that the consumers in the Bay Area, especially San Francisco, have an affinity for exploring and supporting wines made by small operations, so it’s no surprise that retailers make an active effort to stock wines from the small guy.  Lastly, this small exercise in some sense has helped me define my target market.  The kind of wine I would want to make would probably target the demographic (whatever that may be) of people who would shop at the neighborhood wine shop and upscale grocery stores.  I understand that it was a little bit of an exercise in self-fulfilling prophecies going to these places knowing I would probably find what I did find.  What am I supposed to do?   I know what I want and hopefully I can eventually create something that will have the same desired effect on consumers as these roses had on me.

Wines tasted in this project:

2012 Arnot Roberts Rosé

2012 Vaughn Duffy Rosé

2012 Atrea Rosé

2012 Birichino Rosé

Some other California producers making excellent rosés I’ve had in the past:

Luques (Wind Gap)

CEP (Peay Vineyards)

Farmer’s Jane


Porter Creek

2012 Birichino Rose (Vin Gris)

Flavors:  Lots of interesting and subtle baking spices woven between layers of strawberries, peach, watermelon and roses

Nose:  Fresh cut flowers and more spices!

Price:  $15

Winery website:  Click here

Overall Impressions:  As is usually the case with how I purchase rose, I was attracted to this bottle because of the pretty, pink color of the wine and the matching, attractive label.  At first I thought it was an imported wine, because the text on the back label was literally written in French.  Upon closer inspection though, below the French text was the same paragraph written in English — interesting.  Oh well, it was enough for me to physically pick the bottle up and look at it closer, which I have to think is one step closer to victory in the marketing eyes of the winery.  I continue to be impressed by the roses made by California wineries in the $15 range.  In my opinion, the roses I’ve tried thus far are right on par with the price to quality ratio I would expect from the best rose producing wine region in the world, Provence!  I likes this wine a lot because it was smooth, tasty, pretty to look at and paired well with food, which is the hallmark of a good rose.


...and here's that curve ball of a back label with the wine description in French on the top half and English in the bottom half.

…and here’s that curve ball of a back label with the wine description in French on the top half and English in the bottom half.

A little shameless self-promotion of my cooking skills.  Orange roughy, with orange and preserved lemon pan drippings, wilted mizuna and new potatoes.  The rose paired very nicely with this dish.

A little shameless self-promotion of my cooking skills. Orange roughy, with orange and preserved lemon pan drippings, wilted mizuna and new potatoes. The rose paired very nicely with this dish.

2012 Atrea (Saracina) Rose – Skidrose

Flavors – Very fruity and juicy, but still pretty focused and clean with ripe flavors of strawberries and watermelon

Nose – The aromas echo the flavors

Price – $15

Overall Impressions – I’ve never been very fond of roses fashioned from malbec and while I don’t hate them, I don’t love them either.  They tend to be clunky and UN-interesting, which very well could be more of an issue of me just not having the right one.  This Altrea though, is enough to change my mind and compel me to be a little more open to the varietal.  This wine highlights for me based on this past experience, just how important a grape’s place of origin and production method affects the final product.  Nothing like a wine like this to keep my open-mindedness and taste in check.  In fact, let this be a lesson to all wine consumers out there — Keep an open mind!



2012 Vaughn-Duffy Rose

Flavors –  Strawberries, roses and watermelon

Nose – Fresh, lovely, pretty, ethereal, and any other word you can think of that makes you want to plant flowers and write poetry

Price $15

Palate and overall impressions – A great rose that is right on the mark with price and return on pleasure.  Many roses I’ve had from California that are this light in color tends to lack in flavor and character.  In my experience, I’ve found that many consumers associate a light colored rose with quality — the lighter the better.  Well…I’ve had many roses that were light colored, but completely lacking in flavor and character.  Watery acid water if that makes any sense.  This was not the case as this wine was great.  The label is fun and modern, the story about the proprietors on the website makes you want drop everything you’re doing at the moment to run out and buy more of their wine and in fact, their story inspires you to even make wine yourself.  In fact, The Grape Crusader says the 2012 Vaughn-Duffy Rose is the feel-good wine of the year!



2012 Arnot-Roberts Rose

2012 Arnot–Roberts Rose – Tasting Note

Flavors – There were loads of stone fruit flavors like peach and apricot as well as strawberry and even a little raw almond on the finish.

Nose – Sweaty.  I had a difficult time pin-pointing what it was that was so intriguing about the nose of the wine, but for some reason, sweat kept popping into my mind, so I’m just going to go with it.  Let’s just attribute it to complexity.

Price – $25

Palate and overall impression – This rose was extremely well balanced and simply put, wonderful to drink.  The flavors were expansive on the palate and the mouth-feel had a deceptive richness combined with lift and freshness.  One of the most interesting roses I’ve ever had.  Fresh, enticing and very complex and worth every penny.  At $25 this was definitely on the higher side of the price point spectrum for me with rose, but well worth the experience.

Grilled salmon, sauteed spinach and braised radishes to go with our wine (cooked by me of course)

Grilled salmon, sauteed spinach and braised radishes to go with our wine (cooked by me of course)

A little better look at the oh so pretty color of the wine.

A little better look at the oh so pretty color of the wine.

Domestic California Rose Mini Research Project

As I embark on a journey to create my own wine, I find myself at the portion of the business start up phase containing the least amount of stress and the most amount of fun – Market research!

I’m finding that the initial difficulties at this stage of the game are deciding what type of wine I eventually want to make.  I know for certain that it will be a small endeavor in the beginning – an artisan label and operation of sorts.   Enjoying certain types of wine for pure consumer pleasure is one thing, but deciding what to make on a commercial level is another; so many factors to consider.  I love California Pinot Noir, but do I necessarily want to enter a very competitive varietal field?  I don’t know yet.

Research Goal

To kick things off, for the next week or so, I will look for and purchase from retail shelves only, 3 – 5 California roses at a variety of price points and producers.  With every wine, I will consume at home with our nightly dinner and follow up with a tasting note post.  At the end of the mini research project, I will summarize how the entire tasting experience affected me and how it might possibly affect any future business and creative decisions.

As you can see, I’ve already started the project this past Sunday…tasting note on my first selection to follow soon.

Rose section at Whole Foods Portrero Hill.  In what has become a common theme on the shelves of most retailers, most of the roses offered are of the imported variety versus domestic.

Rose section at Whole Foods Potrero Hill. In what has become a common theme on the shelves of most retailers, most of the roses offered are of the imported variety versus domestic.

Harvest 2012 at ROAR Wines, August West, Sandler Wine Company and Flywheel Wines

Totally lame on my part; I was going to chronicle my Harvest 2012 experience, but with Harvest 2013 right around the corner and one post to my name related to Harvest 2012, the “Chronicling Harvest 2012” ship has passed.  Old news sucks to read, but sucks even more to try and write.  I still need some closure to my experience though, so before I even begin to think about Harvest 2013, here are the top ten random things, in no particular order, that I learned, remembered, enjoyed, hated and experienced during my first experience as a harvest intern.

1.)   Cleaning, Sanitizing, Cleaning and Sanitizing – It’s true what those who have come before you say.  Crush is 99% cleaning and sanitizing and I now understand why.  You don’t want some pesky bacteria spoiling what you only have one shot per year to do, which is making good wine.  It’s too expensive of a proposition to not be maniacal about keeping everything in the winery cleaned and sanitized.


Macro bins being prepped for duty.

2.)   You meet great people – This goes without saying.  You chose to be a harvest intern because you love the wine business, because let’s face it; there are better financial options out there for a job.  However, like minds and like passion create great friendships and are ultimately priceless.


The U.K., Japan, D.C.; harvest interns come from all over the world!

3.)   Insects – How can you forget that mysterious tickling under your shirt or pants? It’s amazing how many earwigs and other creepy crawly things find their way into the bins and on to the sorting tables and eventually into your clothes.


This could’ve made my wife a widow..not really, but it was still scary to see crawling out of the bin.

4.)   60+ hours worked per week in a winery really gets you in good shape – As I’ve begun my ascent into middle-age territory, I actually started to wonder if I still had muscles.  Palette jacking, daily punch downs and believe it or not, scrubbing, actually got my arms looking pretty ripped.


Notice the rippled arms and defined triceps. Now I only wish it were actually me and not Sean Gilchrest.

5.)   How much you learn probably really depends on the size of operation you work – As a first timer, anything and everything was new to me, so the overall learning experience was good.  Because I was at a small, “artisan” operation, the winemaker was very hands-on with every step of the winemaking process, so he wasn’t always readily available or accessible.


Ed Kurtzman doing it all. Here on the forklift dumping chardonnay into the press.

6.)   Urban wine making – It was insanely cool to be able to work at a winery in the city of San Francisco.  Most people I spoke to about my job were very surprised to find out that I worked only seven miles from where I lived in the Richmond District neighborhood in San Francisco.  In fact, there are several wineries in the SF that have grapes trucked in from all over the state to have their wines made in the city.


Standing in the winery loading dock, looking out across the street. Notice the lack of a vineyard or any vines.

7.)   Lunch – Food from the neighborhood restaurants and a little wine provided to us by the winery every day was always a welcome moment.


Beets, expensive beef, arugula, poached farm-fresh egg on top….you know…fancy San Francisco food.

8.)   At some point, the 60+ hours worked per week sucks – Self-explanatory

Tired and drained...just like the grapes behind me, ha ha!

Tired and drained…just like the grapes behind me, ha ha!

9.)   I’m thankful that my friend helped me get this harvest job.   Based on the 2013 job posting requirements, as well as what interviewers told me during the interviews I had, having one harvest under my belt definitely made it a lot easier to get my foot in the door for 2013.

Me with Tim Telli in the background, the man who got me this gig.

Me with Tim Telli in the background, the man who got me this gig.

10.)  Dreams of making my own wine – The overall experience has convinced me to consider a career in the production side of the business; it’s just a matter of whether I want to work in a winery full-time or if I want to take the plunge and launch my own brand on the side…yikes!  We’ll see, as usual, this blog will keep you posted.


Yes, the expression says it all – wine making looks fun.

Harvest 2012!

I often equate wine to the ice cream business. Do you ever see anyone looking somber or unhappy as they’re licking an ice cream cone? Ever see frowns in an ice cream parlor? Chances are, you haven’t. Same thing goes for those who imbibe with wine daily or scan the shelves in a wine shop with great joy and excitement, looking for the next exciting discovery.

Assuming that one is not already involved in the winemaking and production side of the business, every wine industry professional that’s been in the business long enough explores the notion and dreams of someday making their own wine. Why wouldn’t we? The majority of us pursued a career in the wine business for the pure passion and joy one can reap from learning, drinking, sharing and exploring wine. Let’s face it; it’s also a great mood enhancer.

It’s amazing how strong the pull is for many people to pursue a career in wine. I mean I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in the industry who went to school for something completely unrelated to wine. In fact, it’s not uncommon to meet someone who left a stable job and career they spent years and really, a lifetime educating and preparing for, only to leave and find work in the wine business; and often for far less pay. The only logical explanation for someone transferring to an industry where Mother Nature holds your livelihood hostage year after year is that we are all crazy. Why, why, why do we do it? Simple — it makes us (me) happy!

I’ve been in the business now for about seven years now and at this point; I’m definitely a lot more serious about the prospect of making wine. Once this idea of a possible career track in wine production became a little more real for me, the next logical step was to partake in a harvest internship. This is exactly what I did this past harvest-2012. In the coming weeks, I’ll recap my experiences and the many aspects of what I learned during my time at Roar Wines. Until then, thank you for reading!

Me crushing it during a routine punch down.

Me crushing it during a routine punch down.