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.

New directions….well sort of.

When I first started this blog, my intention was to capture all of my wine experiences after the closing of my store, The People’s Wine Shop.  As loyal followers of The Grape Crusader blog can attest, 99% of the content on here are reviews of wines I’ve tasted, while the other 1% are blog posts stating that “I’m back” or “more posts to follow.”

While I’ve enjoyed immensely writing these reviews and interacting with many of you, I’ve come realize that the reason why I haven’t been very consistent for the past three years is that posting reviews started feeling like a chore.  Yikes!  I don’t like “wine” and “chore” in the same sentence.  In fact I’ve even recently started to grapple with the idea of shutting the blog down, because of this chore like feeling.  I just can’t get myself to do it though, for doing so would mean I’ve called it a day in the wine business…at least according to this blog’s mission.  So what now?

I apologize if this post is lacking any sense as it’s being done in an off the cuff sort of fashion.  I just wanted to get my thoughts out on paper before I lost interest and momentum.  More to follow on another post about my next adventure in the wine business (there I go again with the “new post soon” bull).


Wine Review – 2006 Scherrer Winery Syrah Russian River Valley

Yes, I know that this is a horrible picture, but I’m still using the i-Phone 3. You’re welcome for the laugh.

Always one of my favorite producers, Scherrer Winery does everything well in the cellar. Whether its zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay or their superb rose, Scherrer crafts some of the best wines for both near-term drinking and for the long term. This 2006 Syrah Russian River Valley is another standout from Fred Scherrer. The wine has a wonderful perfume of both blue and red fruit as well as a firm structure, flavors of berry and spice and a fair amount of freshness that you don’t often find in syrah.  I tend to think of syrah as more of a roughhouse, hard edged and wild type of wine, but this one definitely veered towards the more feminine and elegant side, which made it all the more interesting.

The best chance you’ll have in obtaining wines from Scherrer is to join his mailing list.  There are no minimum order requirements, prices are very fair and they offer a winery pick up option, which gives you a chance to taste current releases and the occasional back vintage and barrel sample.  The website also allows you to order from a bevy of back vintages of all varietals, which is a great way to back fill your cellar and also taste older wines to help you assess future purchases from this winery.

2009 Regis Bouvier Marsannay Clos du Roy

It may be more of a product of my search and discovery process more than the region’s wines themselves, but I usually have a hard time finding good, affordable Burgundy that tastes downright delicious. Sure, I’ve tasted a few Premier and Grand Crus along the way that were absolutely stunning, but most often wines I’ve tasted in this arena are way out of my price arena and are usually not “ready” to drink anyway. I want something that I can easily swipe off a retail shelf or order by the glass in restaurant, like this glass. 

Fresh, balanced, lush, perfumed and spicy are just a few of the words to describe this awesome glass of 2009 Regis Bouvier Marsannay Clos du Roy.  I had this past Saturday evening at Spruce restaurant in San Francisco. This was the kind of Burgundy that makes me ecstatic when I find it.  Because I tend to come across more insipid, drying and frankly, unexciting Burgundies on restaurant BTG lists and retail shelves, stumbling upon this one made me, hmmmm….smile?

I know, not the best picture, but just wanted to make sure that you saw that this review was legit.

The importer of this wine is Kermit Lynch, so I’m not surprised at the quality and individuality of this wine.  Any retailer carrying a handful of Kermit’s wines will be a good bet and good starting point in tracking this wine down.  Of course, if you live in San Francisco or the East Bay, you can easily pop your head in Kermit’s shop in Berkeley.

2007 Sean Thackrey Andromeda Pinot Noir

Recently, I’ve been very curious about the wines of Sean Thackrey. They were recommended to me by a wine guzzling friend of mine as must-trys and frankly, with a URL for his website titled www.wine-maker.net instead of the typical – http://www.yourcompanyname here.com, I had to try it.
I purchased the 2007 Thackrey Andromeda Pinot Noir with plans to pair it with a lamb dish I was preparing for the weekend. The lamb was going to be rubbed with Ras el Hanout, a North African spice I have also been curious about ever since it caught my attention on the addictive Top Chef reality television series.

The wine certainly did not disappoint. This is definitely not a wine for those looking for a lighter styled, sub-13% alcohol, elegantly crafted pinot noir. This pinot noir was THAT type of pinot that would cause some to ask – “Is there any syrah in this?” And while the color would lead you to believe there would be, the flavor of the wine still had the pinot-nicity character you’d expect in a 100% bottled pinot noir. This wine was intensely flavored, mouth-filling, deeply layered, deeply nuanced and downright delicious. There was also exoticness in the flavor that mirrored the exotic character of the North African spiced lamb on the table.

If Thackrey’s other wines are as singular and exciting as this one, I will certainly seek them out. If you’re looking for a truly unique and exciting wine, you should do yourself a favor and buy some of his wines.

I’m Back…

After trying out self-hosting of the Grape Crusader Blog for one year, I’m back to this free version. 5 or so posts over the course of 365 days and $150 in self-hosting subscription fees didn’t really make much financial sense, so I’m back. Now let’s see if I can catch up.  You can just look at this pic for now until I get organized again.

Here's a picture of a bottle we drank last year that I wish we had another bottle of. Arrrgh!