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Halleck Blog

Ross Halleck
 
January 5, 2017 | Ross Halleck

State of the Union: 2017

When one sets sight on “Building Community Through Wine”, it suggests union. This isn’t about one, nor individuals, but a group with a common thread. It’s what inspires me about Halleck Vineyard: it combines family, agriculture, manufacturing, creativity, and communication to actualize something bigger than the sum of the parts. It creates community. Owning a winery from-earth-to-glass is true synergy.

So please forgive any pretention in offering a State of the Union for Halleck Vineyard. If you’re reading this, you’re a part; I hope you find my musings relevant, informative and at best, inspiring for a new year, 2017. Thank you.

2016 was one for the record books. Halleck Vineyard, for the first time in over a decade, entered wine competitions. This was a strong recommendation from our Board that we took to heart. Between the end of 2015 to the end of 2016, Halleck Vineyard won 24 awards in 7 of the most respected national and international competitions in the world. These included The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition, the Pinot Noir Summit, the New York International Wine Competition, the Six Nation Challenge, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and California’s 50 Best.

Why we chose not to compete for many years hails from our upbringing. We were taught and groomed by one of the most talented winemakers in the world, Greg Lafollette. For those who don’t know, Greg achieved meteoric success with the catapult of “Flowers”, a winery he built for the Flowers family. Now owned by Constellation Brands, Greg oversaw the construction of the winemaking facility, managed the vineyards, and made the wine to national acclaim. It was one of the first “cult wines” of the Sonoma Coast. Our present winemaker, Rick Davis, worked under Greg for years.

Greg had a “thing” about competing for scores. He believed, like we do, that reducing a wine to a number misses the point. Wine is not a one-dimensional experience, so it’s irrelevant to grade based on its flavor at any point in time. The EXPERIENCE OF ENJOYING wine includes the setting (internal and external), with whom you’re sharing, the food accompanying, the temperature, the stemware, the vintage, the varietal, the moment, and an infinite number of other contributors. To include hundreds of wines, even thousands, in competition, more factors suggest the randomness of the results: who is tasting, what they had before, after, and in what order, temperature of each wine, how the wine was transported, distance transported, how long it had been in transit prior to tasting, how long it had been opened when tasted, ad infinitum. Attempts are made in the best competitions to manage these variables, but most are cosmetic, because the true number of variables is incalculable.

To exacerbate, the internet has eclipsed the rags/mags of last century. The numbers don’t go away! So a winery is marked by a number forever, however insubstantial. You can open a stunning 2005 Halleck Vineyard Pinot Noir today and check online to find a review written in 2007. Is that review relevant to the bottle you’re about to drink? Only by comparison to the current moment. If you use that review to purchase the wine in 2017, it’s entirely irrelevant, giving no indication of the experience you might have or the quality of the wine.

But in our culture, numbers have not only become a shortcut to knowledge, they’ve achieved true status on their own. The system is fickle and has become pay-to-play in the larger publications. Truth be told: the wineries who buy advertising get scores bumped. Since we’re a young aspiring brand, we didn't have the luxury to bark at the moon. We needed to roll up our sleeves and get dirty.  On strong recommendations, we started paying the entry fees and sending wine around the world. Fortunately for us, it bore rewarding fruit. That doesn't mean I’m converted, just successful this year. And grateful.

We also grew the number of restaurant partners, thanks to the hard work of our son, Adam. At 21, he had just come off a year working at one of the best restaurants in Sebastopol. He loved the culture, but was challenged by the demanding hours and little opportunity. So he decided to work for the family business and sell to restaurants, the people to whom he felt affinity. And it was great for us. In our first months of training and working together, I could see how easily the young wine buyers related to Adam. The somms could talk to him because he came from a wine family and was closer in age than his dad.  Adam almost tripled the number of restaurant accounts we serve in the Bay Area and New York City. He took his first trip alone to New York and made bank!

We also filled our Inner Circle this year. We capped at the people we can serve with the wines we produce. This gives us an audience large enough to produce several wines in small lots specifically for the Club.  It’s been so validating growing our list of people interested in joining our Inner Circle. This is the Holy Grail of an artisan wine like Halleck Vineyard; We have a waitlist.

Our vintner events were memorable. Dinner at Gramercy Tavern with Michael Anthony topped the charts. This was our 8th, so the relationship has become family-like. I’ve worked with all the servers and Michael joined us for cocktails in the middle of service. Then, before dessert, he escorted the whole group through the kitchen to meet the team and witness the magic taking place.

The night following at Eleven Madison Park was also stunning. It was a wonderful group that magically congealed and carried on until 3 am, going from dive-bar to dive-bar. A great punctuation to an elegant dinner in the Big Apple.

We will focus attention this year on San Francisco, as we’ve some amazing restaurant partners and a wonderful Halleck Vineyard community in the Bay Area. But two trips to NY are already on the calendar for 2017 in the Spring and Fall

What I’m about to reveal is not generally shared. But Halleck Vineyard is more than a business and you more than a customer. We are community. In Yiddish, we’re mishpucheh (mish-pukch’-ah). In 2016, we “hit our numbers”. We achieved our sales goals, set three years ago. It was challenging and our future is dependent on it.  And it is because of you. We actually met our goal on December 31. Not a moment to lose. All I can say is “Thank YOU!”

So what does this mean for our future?

There are three legs to the stool we call “Building Community”.  The first leg is making the wines we all love to mark special occasions in our lives. In fact, opening a Halleck Vineyard wine makes any occasion special. This is by intention and we are grateful to be given license by you to continue. We welcome you to our home to stay connected. A part of that first leg is sharing our home and family with you.

The second leg represents shared experiences. We plan trips around the country, the world and to your town. We enjoy food, wine, and camaraderie, hosted by some of the finest chefs in the world. Some are right in your own kitchen;) Or favorite club, restaurant, or backyard. Among many, these have included Gramercy Tavern, Per se, Eleven Madison Park, the Grand Central Oyster Bar, and the Union League Club in NY. In the Southeast, we’ve enjoyed the hospitality of Restaurant Eugene, the St Regis, Aria, and Bacchanalia. In the west, we’ve been honored at the Olympic Club, the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, Michael Mina, Boulevard, Bix, Restaurant Picco, the Buckeye Roadhouse, RN 74, Nick’s Cove, and the field box at AT&T Park to see the Giants! We’ve also taken trips to Honduras, Kenya, Italy and Cuba, where we’ve enjoyed our wines with the cuisines of many local chefs and tribes.

2017 is more. We have two trips planned to NYC. One at the end of April through the first week of May. The second is the week surrounding September 13. We have many special experiences only NY and Halleck Vineyard can offer.

We’ve a cruise planned in mid-March with the band, “America”, in the Caribbean. If you enjoyed the music of the 70s, this should be fun. And a special trip is in the works to a private island in the Bahamas, also sometime in the spring. We hope to go back to Yosemite in the fall. Due to conflicting schedules, Guatemala was postponed. We will revisit this later in the year.

The final leg to our stool of Building Community lies in philanthropy. We believe it important to support not just ourselves, but those in need. So we offer to those causes closest to your heart. As part of our Inner Circle, if there’s a charity that is deserving of your time and effort, we lend a hand. We create auction lots with some of our esteemed restaurant partners or those in your community. We offer our wine, our time, our community and our ideas. In the last few years, we’ve raised almost $500K. This is how a community can stand.

To conclude, the underlying theme to 2016 has been gratitude. This wonderful area in which we live, Sonoma County and Sebastopol, have awarded us with an extraordinary environment to grow: our community, our family, ourselves, and our grapes. It has placed us smack-dab in the center of a vortex of talent and generosity, all of which contribute to our efforts. We are buoyed by the people supporting us; that means you.

So the state of our union is healthy and thriving. Thank you for being a part.

Time Posted: Jan 5, 2017 at 11:08 AM
Ross Halleck
 
June 6, 2016 | Ross Halleck

Best of Class: Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits

Within 12 months, HALLECK VINEYARD HAS TALLIED 22 AWARDS IN 7 COMPETITIONS INTERNATIONALLY.
For 77 years, the Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition has showcased the finest domestic and international vintages through a wine-tasting event that is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious in the United States. 

An esteemed panel of judges use a blind-tasting method, maintaining the highest standards of integrity and professionalism that has remained the competition’s foundation for 77 years. 

Results are as follows:

2013 Halleck Vineyard Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: GOLD AND BEST IN CLASS in Pinot Noir above $30. 92 Pts

2014 Halleck Vineyard Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley Dry Gewurztraminer: GOLD AND BEST IN CLASS in Gewurztraminer. 91 Pts

2014 Halleck Vineyard Little Sister, Russian River Valley Dry Gewurztraminer: GOLD, in Sauvignon Blanc above $!5. 91 Pts

2013 Halleck Vineyard Hillside Cuvee, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: Silver, in Pinot Noir

2010 Halleck Vineyard The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir: Silver, in Pinot Noir

Add this to our previous list.

San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition of over 7300 wines:

We entered five wines, all won medals: Two Gold, Two Silver, One Bronze.

1. 2014 Halleck Vineyard, Little Sister, Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc: GOLD

2. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: GOLD

3. 2014 Halleck Vineyard, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley Dry Gewurztraminer: SILVER

4. 2010 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: SILVER

5. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Hillside Cuvee, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: BRONZE

In Australia's Six Nation Challenge, we entered one wine

6. 2014 Halleck Vineyard, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley Dry Gewurztraminer: GOLD

These wines won in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, of over 1250 wines:

7. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: GOLD

8. 2014 Halleck Vineyard, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley Dry Gewurztraminer: GOLD

9. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Little Sister, Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc: GOLD

These wines won four Gold Medals in the prestigious Pinot Noir Summit and California's 50 Best (one Gold each, in each competion):

10/11. 2010 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: GOLD

12/13. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Clone 828, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: GOLD

Time Posted: Jun 6, 2016 at 3:55 PM
Ross Halleck
 
May 8, 2016 | Ross Halleck

Vintage 2015: Making Wine!

As a vintner, I share a profession with practitioners of varied backgrounds; there is a broad swath of activities that the title, "vintner", covers. Rarely does one person do them all. These include:

  • Viticulture (farming of the grapes and collaborating with other viticulturists)
  • Monitoring the maturity of grapes to ensure their quality and to determine the correct time for harvest
  • Crushing and pressing grapes
  • Monitoring the settling of juice and the fermentation of grape material
  • Filtering the wine to remove remaining solids
  • Testing the quality of wine by tasting
  • Blending the wines from different lots to determine final bottling.
  • Placing filtered wine in barrels or tanks for maturation
  • Preparing plans for bottling wine once it has matured
  • Selecting, purchasing, designing and producing all the components of bottling (glass, labels, capsules, corks, shippers)
  • Making sure that quality is maintained when the wine is bottled.

There are many things not included, but fall into my job description. These ALL have to do with the "business" of winemaking. I'm more involved in some aspects than others, but I touch them all. This is also true of Rick Davis, our winemaker. And of Jennifer Halleck, my business partner and ex-wife.

We operate in close communication and collaboration throughout the year. Much we can do by phone and email, each of us acting independently to get the necessary parts done.

But at this time of year, we circle the wagons. This is my favorite!  It's in the spring that all the vineyards picked from the previous vintage have become wine-in-barrel. They've been contained for 6-8 months. Each is expressing characteristics of vineyard, vintage, and cask. 

This year, we had only 16 full barrels of wine to work with. This is in contrast to 50 last year! 2015 was a lean vintage. We also discovered a slight spreadsheet error late last year that alerted us we were making too much wine for our budget or for our sales. The Gods shined on us with a small crop this year.  

Bung holeA barrel holds about 60 gallons, give or take. This represents approximately 25 cases. The wine from each vineyard has been contained in a unique collection of French casks, representing different coopers (barrel makers), forest sources, toasting regimens (fire applied inside the finished barrel during manufacture), and age. It’s truly amazing how impactful a barrel is to the flavor of the wine. And even more amazing how many barrel variables impact the wine, even down to individual barrel makers, everything else being equal.

It’s is our work to make sense of this amalgam of liquid and determine all the wines made. We decide which wines will be vineyard designated (wines from a single vineyard), blends, the names, and the composition of each. 

One would think it easy to take a single vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, let's say, and call it a wine, combining the barrels together. But this isn’t how to make the very best wine from that vineyard. As I mentioned, each barrel imparts unique flavor components. So it’s our job to taste each of the barrels, say eight in this case, and see which combination make a wine that expresses itself the best. And we don’t need to use full barrels. We can employ partials. Oh, and we have the liberty, per law, to use as much as 5% from other vineyard sources, just in case we can elevate that wine with the infusion of more magical elixir. Underlying our creativity, we’re thinking about how much wine we can sell and the price. 

Vineyard designated wines, by appearance, are the most straight forward. For the blended wines, we have more latitude, choices and complexity. Laws dictate how much wine from specific sources are required to achieve the AVA (American Viticultural Area) designation of Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast or Napa Valley. 

This year, we again had Pat Kuleto's vineyard from Napa. This gave us more juice from a place far from our home turf. Last year’s vintage required care as the barrels combined didn’t add up to a complete wine; we had to bring in surgically precise amounts of our Russian River fruit to elevate that vineyard. The results of the 2014 are stunning! But this year, 2015, the fruit was stunning and yielded a vineyard designate we didn’t anticipate. You will LOVE it!

We ended up with six wines for 2015 as a result of approximately four hours of work. This is how we did it.

Prior to the work-day, Jennifer and I review the previous year of sales, our wine club memberships, and the growth year-over-year. We then look at the vineyards and our wines by SKU (shelf keeping unit or the names of the wine, i.e. Three Sons Cuvee, Clone 828, Estate Grown, etc.). We project what we can sell by channel and SKU: through tastings, wine club memberships, internet sales, and restaurant sales. To a great extent, this is divination. Every business has to do it. They are called "projections" and it’s always surprising how close one can come just by setting the intention. In this case, we are projecting five years out, as our wines for any given year generally do not hit the market for two years, sometimes more. 

We provide case quantities to Rick for the current vintage. He must apply the wine in barrel, in gallons, to a rough mix that aligns with our projected sales/desires. Since 2001, when we started working with Rick, he understands what we’re looking for from the wine in the barrels. We often bring in new vineyards and are always looking. But we have maintained the cornerstones of The Estate, The Farm Vineyard and a few others for many years. Rick makes calculations and proposes blends on paper.

Day 1

On the first day, Rick collects individual samples from all of our single vineyards into small crew cap laboratory bottles. Every bottle has a portion of each vineyard wine collected from all barrels. This gives us a fair and representative sample of our vineyards. We have only 5 vineyards for 2015, vs. 8 last year. These samples await in a conference room at the winery. We also bring in a dozen wine glasses, graduated cylinders, a long pipette, masking tape, flasks, pens and notepads. 

First, we taste through the vineyard samples and comment. We do not swallow a drop. We have flasks for spitting and it isn't pretty. We take personal notes. A casual conversation ensues full of chuckles, side comments, critique, aha's, and general observations. We’re formulating opinions about the vintage and vineyards. There are generalizations across the board, indicating vintage character. Then specifics to the vineyards are noted from the past. 

Once we have a sense of the component wines, Rick presents his suggestions from the Rubik's Cube of possibilities for the percentages to make up our desired finished wines. These are on paper. After discussion, we construct them, using the graduated cylinder for measuring into wine glasses. 

We taste through these: casual comments, critiques, observations. We all have opinions and they often don’t agree. So we try variations. The pipette is used, as small amounts can make HUGE differences in flavor. These small amounts translate into big gallons at scale. The conference room is our lab for concocting the perfect blends. 

This goes on until we’ve all agreed with the flavors in the glasses, their names, the amounts of each from our vineyard sources, and the proper percentages for AVAs and vineyard designations. When it's over, however, we still have another day of tasting work.

There are successes and disappointments in this process. One wonderful surprise is the Kuleto Vineyard. In 2014, it needed a boost. So we determined to make it a blend, bringing in wines from Russian River and Sonoma Coast to elevate. This year, 2015, the Kuleto is outstanding on its own. We’re excited to introduce this wine to our Inner Circle members as a vineyard designate.

Our flagship wine, the Estate Grown, however, suffered in 2015. As much as we want to make a vintage every year, we had to be honest with ourselves. The quality of the fruit did not warrant a vintage. So this wine will be blended into our Hillside, which will give it a big boost.

Day 2

After a week, we convene again on the winery floor. All 16 barrels are laid out in two long rows, side to side and end to end, with space to walk on either side. The barrels are all labeled: HL (for Halleck), cooper (barrel maker), toast level, forest source (in some cases), age of barrel, and vineyard. They are grouped into general clusters by vineyard for ease.

On a clipboard are the results of tasting the previous week. The wine in the barrels (by vineyard) is divided amongst the individual wines to be bottled. We use the barrels to create new samples in glasses. Every vineyard is in a complement of oak barrels by age: new, 1 year old, 2 year old, neutral. They also are made by different coopers, or barrel makers. These each impart different flavors to the very same wine. 

We start by vineyard. We pull the bung, or plug, from the top of the barrel. Using a wine thief, we draw wine from a single barrel into a glass. We smell it, take notes, and pour it back. We do this through the entire selection of barrels for that vineyard. This gives us an idea of the character of each barrel. Then we discuss the barrels. If we are blending for The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir, for example, we start with the best barrels for that particular wine. They are ALL good, mind you. But some sing and some SCREAM!!! This is an AWESOME job :-) We eliminate the singing barrels, but also look for individual character that may not be screaming on its own, but we sense will add something special to the overall blend. Then we taste and spit through our top selections. 

When we have a sense of the vineyard and our top selections, we look at our proposed formula. The Farm Vineyard blend may include a skosh of the Estate, or a dash of the Hass, or a dribble of the Marshall Vineyards. To be a vineyard designate, it cannot contain more than 5% of anything else. And that "anything else" has to be the same AVA. 

We go through each wine by vineyard and smell through, taking notes. By elimination, we choose the best. We may only need a few gallons. We taste. We very pull from each barrel using a wine thief the rough percentages to create the final blend into a glass. This is alchemy. 

We have a VERY different wine than we tasted in the conference room the week prior. The conference room was the starting point. Our second day revealed specific barrels, each with their own character. The flavors are amazing and we keep going, trying different barrels with the formulas to detect nuance. 

We worked another two hours on the barrel floor. After determining the specific barrels and vineyards for each of our vineyard designated wines, we’re left a mix of everything else. This goes into one of our blends, depending on the sources of the fruit: Russian River Valley fruit goes into our Three Sons Cuvee and Sonoma Coast fruit goes into our Hillside Cuvee. We taste through the results and we can move wines back and forth to achieve greatness in both. 

This is not science. Science contributes an important lens to monitor and guide some decisions: brix (sugar), acidity (pH), volatile acidity (VA), tannins, alcohol level, protein precipitation, bitartrate precipitation, malolactic fermentation, press cuts and many more.

But winemaking is a greater part art and mysticism. Magic is what happens. 

Enjoy!!!

 

Time Posted: May 8, 2016 at 5:59 PM
Ross Halleck
 
March 30, 2016 | Ross Halleck

Cooking With Mike at the Gramercy Tavern

When I'm in New York, I have to pinch myself to see if I'm not dreaming. There is no city in the world that I find as hospitable, culturally rich, exciting, fun, or has as good of dining.

We've been privileged to be served by Thomas Keller at Per se with 24 members of our Inner Circle. And equally fortunate to dine at my favorite Jewish haunt, 2nd Avenue Deli. And everything in between. Whether it's Keens, Grand Central Oyster Bar, Del Friscos, Blue Hill, The Union League Club, Eleven Madison Park, The Norwood, The Tennis and Racquet Club, The Penn Club, Estiatorio Milos, The Trustees Dining Room of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or any spot we stumble into at Eataly, there is nothing like the quality of food, service and ambiance of NYC.

With all these to choose from, time and time again we plan our trip around Gramercy Tavern and the extraordinary gifts of Mike Anthony, the Executive Chef.

Mike grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and graduated from Indiana University with degrees in Business, French, and Japanese. We both hale from the Midwest.  He embarked on his culinary career in Tokyo, Japan, falling in love with the simple, seasonal Japanese approach to food. 

Mike moved to France in 1992, working in several renowned kitchens.  He returned to the United States five years later, working first at Restaurant Daniel and then as the Chef de Cuisine at March Restaurant.  Subsequently, Mike joined the team of Blue Hill as co-Chef Blue Hill NY in Manhattan and later as the Executive Chef at Blue Hill Stone Barns.

In 2006 Mike took the position of Executive Chef at Gramercy Tavern. In this role he leads the restaurant into its next chapter while staying true to its original vision: to honor the rich tradition of American cooking and bring guests together in a convivial spirit of community to enjoy exceptional, seasonal food. 

Passionate about using ingredients that can be traced to their sources, Mike forges strong ties between the restaurant and local farmers, very much like we do in California with our food and grape growers. He and his staff visit local farms.  Mike also invites outstanding local producers to Gramercy Taver.  The menus highlight these relationships and Mike’s farm-fresh, thoughtful cuisine.

Mike was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs” and was also lauded in Bon Appetit’s “Next Generation”.  Under Mike’s leadership, Blue Hill at Stone Barns received a three-star review in The New York Times, as well as a James Beard Foundation nomination for “Best New Restaurant” in 2005.  The New York Times awarded Gramercy Tavern its second three-star review, and Time Out New York declared Mike “Best New Chef” in New York City.  In 2008, Gramercy Tavern earned the James Beard Award for “Outstanding Restaurant.”  In 2011, he was named Chef-Partner of Gramercy Tavern. In 2012, Michael won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef in New York City” and in 2015, won the James Beard Award for “Outstanding Chef in America.” Mike is also the author of The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook  and V is for Vegetables.

I enjoyed the Arctic Char on my visit to Gramercy Tavern with my son, Connor, when he entered NYU. We paired it with our Three Sons Cuvee and it blew my socks off. I think it would go also particularly well with our Sonoma Coast Pinots due to their brightness and minerality. 

Arctic Char with New Potatoes, Apples and Endive

Serve with Three Sons, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

Yields: 4 portions

4 four ounce portions artic char, skin on

4 small white new potatoes

4 small purple Peruvian potatoes

1 honeycrisp apple, ½ small diced, ½ julienne

½ cup celery, small dice

1 Tbsp pickled mustard seed (recipe to follow)

1 head endive, julienne

½ bunch chives, minced

Olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, to taste

For the potato salad:

1.    Boil white and purple potatoes in salted water until tender. 
2.    Peel the potatoes and cut into a medium dice.
3.    Mix the potatoes with diced apple, celery, pickled mustard seeds, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

For the artic char:

1.    Season artic char filets with salt, pepper, and a light layer of olive oil. Place filets skin side down on a hot grill. Cook for 4 minutes on each size for medium rare.

To serve:

1.    In a bowl, mix the endive with minced chives and julienne apple. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
2.    On each plate, place artic char on top of room temperature potato salad. Top artic char filets with endive salad.

For the pickled mustard seed:
Yields 1 C

1 cup rice wine vinegar                

1 cup sugar                        

1 cup water    

1 tsp salt                    

1 cup mustard seeds    

1.    Bring all ingredients to a simmer. Simmer for five minutes. Let cool at room temperature.    

 

Time Posted: Mar 30, 2016 at 10:08 PM
Ross Halleck
 
March 14, 2016 | Ross Halleck

Caring for an Adult

It feels like yesterday when we planted Halleck Vineyard. Jennifer was combing the Yellow Pages looking for rootstock, stumbling across a single-line listing for “John Caldwell” under “Nurseries”. This was amongst ads hawking all manner of services and products. Previous calls came up empty. There was a dearth of Pinot Noir rootstock available in 1991-92.

John answered the phone and spoke to Jennifer about our location and specific site. He was an enthusiast and guided us to some new Pinot Noir clones from Dijon, France: 777, 667 and 115. We’d never heard of them. But we hadn’t heard of anything. This was our first foray into agriculture.

There’s a book on our coffee table written by Judy Reynolds called “Once Upon a Vine: Stories of California’s Artisan Wineries”. It describes us as “Pioneers”. This suggests foresight. In truth, we embarked on this expedition blind, simply pursuing a passion for Pinot and a relatively inexpensive way to landscape our newly acquired property. 

As they say, “the rest is history”. We met Greg Lafollette through our son’s school. He offered to purchase our fruit. We won the prestigious Pinot Noir Summit in 2002 as Judges Choice, establishing Halleck Vineyard as the #1 Pinot noir in the US. It was the first wine produced from this spot. Our area has filled with viticulture, providing ample selection to complement our small Estate Grown Pinot Noir and build a cult following.

23 years have passed. Our vineyard has continued to mature, flourish, and display a growing complexity. The depth of fruit is nowhere more apparent than in our most recent 2012 vintage. This will be sold out this month. But last year we tasted all vintages since 2001 of our Estate Grown and all were stellar. The 2001 still demonstrates its wondrous heritage. Read the tasting notes of our library wines.

As we move into our 18th vintage, the vineyard is an adult. This suggests shifts in care.

Cordon PruningWe recently pruned, taking note of the vigor of each plant. We’re striving for quadrilateral pruning. As a Cane-Pruned vineyard, we can manage the fruit production of each vine more directly than with a Cordon-Pruned vineyard (see photo to right). We cut the canes back right to the trunk, giving our property a denuded appearance.  Each vine “whispers” what it wants (see below): 

• A vigorous vine declares, “four canes” (quadrilateral)

• Another states, “three canes” (trilateral)

• And a third requests, “two canes, please” (bilateral)

These are judgement calls and overall vineyard production and quality are impacted.

In response, we’re adding a new system to deliver nutrients through irrigation to the vineyard . It will include a tank for introducing the organic supplements and a pump for distribution. 

To determine the exact additives, in a few weeks, we’ll take soil samples from different depths to provide insight into condition and content. Further, we’ll cut early leaves for a petiole analysis, giving us a view to the health and well being of the plants. From these perspectives, laboratory results will inform us what we can feed our family. We strive to meet their craving and maintain the quality and lusciousness of our Halleck Vineyard Estate Grown, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir that we all love.

Time Posted: Mar 14, 2016 at 11:19 AM
Ross Halleck
 
March 10, 2016 | Ross Halleck

Curried Quinoa and Salmon: Austin Perkins from Nick's Cove

We are privileged to partner with the finest chefs in the world. Thomas Keller of Per Se and The French Laundry, Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, Cat Kora, and Michael Psilakis, to name a few. 

We're featuring dishes from many of our friends on a monthly basis with recipes and stories, like Austin Perkins from Nick's Cove, my local favorite. 

He grew up in our neighborhood enjoying the coast, its natural beauty and abundant farm produce. Austin likes to keep it simple and let the natural flavor of each ingredient do the talking.

He began at Nick's Cove Oyster Bar and Cottages in 2008 and he contributed to some our first vintner dinners. He took the helm at Nick's Cove in 2011 as Executive Chef, creating the finest seasonal, sustainable California cuisine from the area's abundant farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties, including fresh seafood and oysters from Tomales Bay.

Austin has built relationships with local farmers, like ourselves, sourcing ingredients for the menu. Dishes change seasonally as he creates special experiences and events to highlight the bounty of the area.

The dish we've come to love, the Curried Quinoa with Fresh Salmon and Aioli, he developed to pair with our Dry Gewurztraminer in his early days at Nick's. We use it to highlight the spicy and complementary fruity notes of this amazing wine.

Curried Quinoa with Fresh Salmon and Aioli

Ingredients:

Flank of salmon (think 8 slices, 1 inch wide to lay on top of quinoa in large martini glasses)
1 Cup Quinoa
1/2 tsp. Salt
4 shallots
small bunch green onions
small bunch of cilantro
cinnamon stick
1 med. jalepeno
Trader Joes curry powder (or create with equal parts Cumin, Corriander, Cardomom, Cumin and double Tumeric, with cayenne to taste)
Curry aioli (good mayo)
Cayenne

Preparation:

Salmon

Place salmon on small baking sheet covered in ample aluminum foil coated lightly with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and wrap in excess aluminum foil to finish cooking as it cools to warm or room temperature. Delicately flip salmon and remove the skin. Slice to desired size.

Quinoa

Cook as rice (1 1/2 cups water: 1 cup quinoa); boil water with salt, 2 tsp. of curry powder, and a cinnamon stick.  Add quinoa, simmer covered for about 15 mins.  Cool, drizzle with a little olive oil. Add more curry and salt to taste. Can take a good strong curry flavor.
Sauté chopped shallots and chopped jalepeno, add a little white wine when browning starts.  
Fold this into the quinoa
Chop up fresh cilantro and green onions (about 1/3-1/2 cup each) 
Fold this into the quinoa 
Salt to taste

Aioli

Select organic mayo made from olive oil. Just mix in curry powder to a strong flavor and deep mustard color. Add pinches of cayenne to taste.

Presentation

Place Quinoa in martini glass. Lay slice of salmon on top. Dollop aioli on top of the salmon.

PERFECT Pairing!

2016 Halleck Vineyard, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Dry Gewurztraminer

Ross Halleck
 
January 22, 2016 | Ross Halleck

13 Awards!!

The Largest Competition of American Wines in the World names the Best of the Best: With 7,164 entries from 28 states across the country, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition once again successfully narrowed thousands of wines down to an exclusive few. This is the highest number of wine entries ever entered, shattering 2015's previous record of 6,417 entries.

Submissions poured in from across the nation, from independent winemakers and boutique wineries to large scale producers.

The winners of the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition were announced last week. For four days, 65 judges from around the nation and world met in Sonoma County to deliberate and choose the best wines from the entries. The wines were judged by an independent panel of experts and presented by the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGATE. 

We entered five wines, all won medals: Two Gold, Two Silver, One Bronze.

1. 2014 Halleck Vineyard, Little Sister, Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc: GOLD

2. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: GOLD

3. 2014 Halleck Vineyard, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley Dry Gewurztraminer: SILVER

4. 2010 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: SILVER

5. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Hillside Cuvee, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: BRONZE

ALL HALLECK VINEYARD WINES HAVE EACH WON TWO GOLD MEDALS IN 5 COMPETITIONS:

In Australia's Six Nation Challenge, we entered one wine

6. 2014 Halleck Vineyard, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley Dry Gewurztraminer: GOLD

These wines won in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, of over 1250 wines:

7. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Three Sons Cuvee, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: GOLD

8. 2014 Halleck Vineyard, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley Dry Gewurztraminer: GOLD

9. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Little Sister, Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc: GOLD

These wines won four Gold Medals in the prestigious Pinot Noir Summit and California's 50 Best (one Gold each, in each competion):

10/11. 2010 Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: GOLD

12/13. 2013 Halleck Vineyard, Clone 828, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: GOLD

So this makes it a sweep this year. ALL OUR WINES WON. 

Time Posted: Jan 22, 2016 at 1:58 PM
Ross Halleck
 
January 15, 2016 | Ross Halleck

Going Organic

Halleck Vineyard has been farmed organically for well over a decade. We are not certified, but we are wholly and intentionally organic. This means that all our farming practices, amendments and pest control is both sustainable and everything we use comes from the earth with no synthetic chemicals.

Certification requires thousands of dollars in paperwork and fees, but does not yield a different result. Given the one acre size of our vineyard and the intimate relationship we have with every purchaser of our wine, we determined this money better spent on things other than government, lawyers, and administrators. We chose expenses that contribute to the quality of the wine.

Farming organically costs a bit more money than "conventional" farming because naturally sourced material does not hang around as long. So it must be administered a bit more often. It's also slightly more expensive. We are investing in a new in-line fertilization system to reduce labor and enhance control over the delivery of nutrients. Further, we are embarking on a revitalization of Halleck Vineyard, now 22 years old, moving emitters, diagnosing the health of every vine, and taking steps to bring each to its fullest potential.

Going organic was a decision Jennifer and I made early, prior to its recent uptick. We were growing our sons on this property, as well as grapes. Keeping them safe and healthy was the highest priority. When we began, the "word on the street" was that organic wine was not as good as conventional wine.

Fortunately, this has been proven dead wrong.

We are determined to move this needle further, so we decided to ask Ben and George, owners of The Farm Vineyards, to follow suit. We are the only winery to have made wine from this pristine site. The decision to go organic required a lot discussion.

Ben and George live on the vineyard with their dogs, llamas, and bees.  When I approached them about organic farming, they listened intently to my romantic notions of the importance of organic farming for the land and community.

They responded with their hard truth: while they understood, they weren't convinced the hard costs outweighed the benefits. In their own research, they visited a local wine store and called friends who control some of the largest brands in the world. All reported that "organic" is not important: not worth the time, or the money.  My experience told me otherwise.  After much conversation, we came to an agreement.  The Farm Vineyards will be using organic farming starting this spring!

We are in for the long haul. On the front lines, as we are, people are purchasing our wine at the vineyard. Almost everyone asks if we are organic. I want to answer yes, but can only do so partially. It's not the same as a retail environment where that question is not obvious nor the vintners within reach. Halleck Vineyard is also at a much smaller scale than agri-business; large enterprises turn like a cruise ship rather than a speedboat. We are a boutique winery, working with mostly boutique vineyards.

We are hoping to influence our community to going wholly organic across all our wines. We are asking all our source vineyards. We are often very small purchasers of their crop. But the more who ask, the faster it will change.

Time Posted: Jan 15, 2016 at 4:41 PM
Ross Halleck
 
November 15, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Cuba: Epic!

A journey is difficult to characterize in words. They are insufficient in conveying one's feeling as events unfold, scenes change, landscapes transport, people are encountered, generosity witnessed, and experiences shared. 

offer my impressions of Cuba, now almost 60 years through a blockade that's created deprivation and suffering. One would think the Cubans might hold resentment and hostility to Americans for a random act of political violence intended to bring Castro to his knees. It didn't work. Instead, it strengthened the resolve of these highly educated and resilient people. The Cubans have neither succumbed to hate. They are loving and festive. We were treated to gracious hospitality, rich culture and a privileged view, though clearly from the outside. There were limitations and advantages.

A baker's dozen of us dropped in just prior to the gates opening for general tourism from the United States, its closest and most affluent neighbor. The jury remains out as to when unstructured tourism will be permitted. Though the American Embassy stands tall on the Malecon, a sea wall of miles along which people congregate, stroll and sit, the embargo is still in place. It's clear at every turn.

We met in Miami, thankfully all on time and in good spirit.  Jay Holland and I took 6 months of planning, design and manufacture of a custom rolling Halleck Vineyard travel bag which holds a 6 bottle wine carrier. I'd arranged for the custom cases and 52 bottles (we were restricted to 4 per person) to arrive the day before, giving me time to pack "goodie bags" for all guests; each bag with loving contents poised for check in. The bags were completed only days before our trip.   It was a fun group! Bob, Carol, Ken, Kerri, John, Tara, Arnon, Carolann, Carolyn, Howard, Dave and Valeria gelled into instant friendship. 

At 4:45 the following morning, we headed to the airport from our hotel. We noticed on the flight schedule that planes were leaving for Cuba every 15 minutes throughout the day!

Except for 13 people attempting coordination for the first time, the 40 minute flight went seamlessly, as did our entry into the country. Our bags were never inspected. We could have brought more wine. We lost 3 bottles to breakage. Not bad, in total, for wine. But some adjustments to the bags will be made.

We were met by Mariana, 24, working as a tour guide in social service to the state. She is not paid and is indebted to the state for 2 years in compensation for her free education. She spoke wonderful English, had a rapier wit and was an excellent representative of Cuban education and culture. We were her second group. 

Our bus was a crisp, modern 20 passenger Chinese coach, air conditioned, with big windows, reclining seats, a sound system and plenty of chilled water bottles. Ably driven by Gerardo, we made a couple of stops: a sweltering tour of the bullet-holed Museum of the Revolucion; then a delicious Cuban lunch at El Aljibe, which boasted an impressive wine cellar. Afterwhich, we headed to our hotel.

We were concerned about our accommodations, as Cuba is "as advertised": falling apart. It was shocking to witness the ravages of time on a clearly once-thriving metropolis. It was dystopian, as if post-apocalypse. The most beautiful of buildings looked bombed-out, abandoned and crumbling. We were hoping to find an oasis in this "city-of-deferred-maintenance" to call home for a week.

It was a relief to pull up to the Melia Cohiba. It's an urban resort overlooking the sea, surrounded by squalor. It boasts several music venues, bars, restaurants, luxurious pools, work-out facilities, spa, clothing store, cigar shop, apothecary, medical services, and night club. It was built to international standards for a five-star hotel. It was disconcerting at the pool bar, looking up to towering decrepit skyscrapers surrounding the area, vacant and shedding. 

The Melia Cohiba, with 470 rooms, was full and booked for seven months, as were all 4 and 5 star hotels in and around Havana. But even at 5 stars, the night club did not have toilet paper in its marbled luxurious bathrooms. There is a shortage.

As we proceeded, the schedule was jam-packed, creating some grumbling amongst our seasoned travelers. In attempting to carve some free time, it was clarified that, as Americans, we were not tourists, but travelers. This included participating in the activities planned. There was clearly an agenda. With a short reorientation, we went with the flow and continued to be surprised and delighted. Mariana also capitulated and included some free time to wander independently. Each experience bonded our group.

We were treated to the finest dining Cuba offers. We enjoyed several dinners at famed Paladars, the latest expression of capitalism in this socialist country. These are restaurants converted from homes by their owners. Each expressed the personality of its proprietor, and every meal was better than the last. 

La Casa was hosted by young Alejandro, who took it over from his parents. They still live in the back and he reminisced about watching TV in the dining room we enjoyed. His was the most established, boasting 20 years in business. The dining experience and hospitality were signature. 

An unusual find was NaZdrarovie, a Soviet inspired eatery serving nostalgia to the large population of Cuban famiies who worked and were educated in the Soviet Union. It's Canadian owner, Gregory, has lived in Cuba for 25 years, more than half his life. He was the first North American to teach politics at the University. We were surprised to find photos of Mariana's father all over the walls. Her father was a Cuban Soviet Cosmonaut. It was her first time to see this. At just a year old, the establishment is thriving. We reveled in the extraordinary view from our veranda three stories above the Malecon. And the food was delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A highlight was a lunch we helped prepare at El Ajiaco, a palapa-styled Cuban diner nestled in a suburban neighborhood. We first toured a small organic farm, hosted by Jesus. He grows the herbs and greens for this Cuban specialty, Ajiaco, the namesake of the restaurant. The efficiency and ingenuity invested in this small residential yard were impressive, bordered by a stone wall dug from the plot. Then a few short blocks away, we disembarked at the restaurant where Jesus walks his herbs daily. Everything in Cuba is organic. Everything. There is no money for or access to chemical augmentation.

On the back patio, we were treated to a demonstration of the ingredients and preparation of our Cuban stew. We split into groups. One half worked in the kitchen at the stove preparing some of the components for lunch. The other headed to the bar where we enjoyed instruction in making the perfect Mojito. It far surpasses the American version. Then we swapped stations to assure we all had drinks.

Prior to eating, Pedro, the owner, introduced his entire staff. We had the opportunity to open all Halleck Vineyard wines to taste and educate the dozen service personnel. It was an honor to share my wines in this global arena.

Pedro is one of Havana's unique group of Sommeliers. Their mission is to elevate the position to include not only command of all the world's wines, but also chocolate, spirits, and, of course, cigars. They entitle the post "Habana Sommelier". This will be a challenge with the limited access to world wines in Cuba. One admires the ambition. 

The day prior, Pedro was joined by professor and Somellier, Jose Pellogrino, author of Mi Pasion Gourmet, a text on the art and appreciation of wine in Cuba. The two hosted a private seminar for our group in the Hotel Florida in Old Havana to explain their wine program. They boast over 100 budding sommeliers.

Eating and drinking was a focus, but we also toured the National Museum of Fine Arts and the home/studios of two world-renown Cuban artists, Beatriz Santacana, sculptor and ceramicist, and whimsical mosaicist, Jose Fuster. 

 

 

 

 

 

Jose's home and entire neighborhood is "like Disneyland, only real". We found ourselves using this catch-phrase often throughout our trip. Every surface of Jose's three story home is covered in small tiles with messages and colors. And this has spread throughout the neighborhood. This prolific artist recruited an army of participants as his projects became more ambitious. Characters and shapes sprout everywhere. His world lookes as much like Who-ville from Dr. Suess. 

We toured Old Havana, a district in the process of restoration. It was encouraging to see these historic buildings in restored glory. We hardly passed a bar without a drink and swept into small boutiques and kiosks full of art, handicrafts, and antiques. Music was everywhere we went. We enjoyed fine dining in two august remnants from the jeweled past, Cafe del Oriente and Conde del Castillo, both in Old Havana and state owned. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were tours of Havana Club Rum factory and Partagas Cigar factory. Then the group headed out of Havana into the countryside to a tobacco plantation and toured an enormous network of caves the African slaves used to escape Spanish oppression. The caves ended at a boat ramp, deep underground. Boarding the large wooden vessels, they were guided out to daylight. Just like Disneyland, only real. 

Cuban history under oppressive regimes (the Spanish, the British and the Americans) forged a fierce nationalism. It's been tempered in blood and there is evidence of this throughout the country. The red in the national flag symbolizes blood. We witnessed the nightly cannon blast to close the walls of the old fortress city. There are remnants of older walls removed as the city expanded beyond their boundaries. Statues, t-shirts, paintings, books and graphics of revolutionaries are ubiquitous. 

There were many confusing aspects of Cuba. We couldn't comprehend how real estate is divided, coming from a market economy. There are some luxuriously restored homes, but most are not. The majority would not be considered habitable. We were told by Mariana that some of the larger homes house multiple families. She described privilege as "luck", as many live in homes that go back generations. But there is no rent or taxes. Gregory opened his Soviet restaurant on the sea in his apartment of decades.  He pays no rent for his apartment/restaurant. Then he rented another place to house his family. It was unclear how the rental market worked or was supported locally.  

Staple foods and provisions are not centrally available. One day, you might buy onions from a vendor on the corner. On another, the vendor will be gone or out of stock. This is true of all aspects of life in Cuba: restaurant dishes and flatware are sourced individually. There is a shortage of toilet paper and many other daily necessities. Most toilets do not have seats.

The practice of "baggage provisions" pervades. Business people with contact outside the country cajole friends, relatives, and associates to bring items in their luggage. This is the only way Gregory can procure caviar for his Soviet diner. 

One evening, thirteen of us were served the best prepared lobster I've ever enjoyed. They were huge tails, succulent and gorgeously butterflied and presented. The restaurant was called, "The Californian". Charlie, the owner, represented one of the "new entrepreneurs" of Cuba. He sported pictures on his Android standing in comradeship with the American Ambassador for the opening of the US Embassy. In speaking with Charlie, he was embracing every aspect of the changes occurring in Cuba. He moved his car out of his garage to warehouse beer for a local event. His wait-staff takes home $100-150 per night, more than the monthly wages of most Cubans. And many of his servers are doctors, lawyers and other highly educated professionals. 

There's not a great deal of modeling for young people in this new era of entrepreneurism. There is an embedded distrust I sensed from Mariana of this new "order". Most Cubans get everything for free, are paid nominal wages for their jobs, and have little example or incentive to achieve more. The 50+ years of austerity has ingrained itself. But things are changing and it may be rapid. The biggest barriers are infrastructure and orientation. 

Yet there are exceptions sprouting. One great example of capitalist ingenuity is a night club called the Art Factory. It boasts a purely avante garde setting,  live music, dancing, provocative installation art, delectable nibbles, several bars, and a pulsing beat for change. It's the creation of two young men with a vision. And it's garnering international attention. 

As a counterpoint to the new order, our last night we were caravanned from our hotel in a line-up of beautifully maintained 1950s American cars. Following a tour of Havana by night, we enjoyed yet another elegant meal at a chic waterfront bistro called Del Mar. 

After dinner, we were transported to 1939 and the historic Tropicana Club. Sitting outdoors stage-side, beneath a canopy of caoba trees, we were dazzled with a musical dance performance that lit the night over two hours. The choreography, production, costumes, music, lights  and stage play were nothing less than spectacular. There were perhaps 75 performers and musicians sequencing show number after number, replete with headgear of color and stature. Every performance had a different set of costumes and themes. I've never seen or heard anything like it, as it represents 76 years of continuous refinement. Like Disneyland, only real.

With a large influx of Americans chomping-on-the-bit to see Cuba, the question is: "Can Cuba handle it?". With Yelp and Trip Advisor offering unfiltered impressions, will our compatriots be generous or unforgiving? There are many things lacking. They are FAR outweighed by kindness, generosity, cuisine, art, rum, cigars,  fun, and love. But time will tell. 

The success of this visit was uplifted by the people of our Inner Circle. Many had met at different events over the years, but what gelled between us eclipsed all expectations. Every day had us considering destinations for our next trip. Cuba was a pure expression of "Building Community Through Wine" (and rum;-).

Cuba stands as an epic journey. I've been invited back.  Halleck Vineyard wines lubricated many new and promising relationships. There are upcoming wine festivals and a keen interest in boutique artisan wines to balance the "big brands" from around the world available everywhere. I've volunteered to help with the Habana Sommelier program. The timing is perfect. We had the opportunity to participate in history as Cuba opens its doors to change. 

Time Posted: Nov 15, 2015 at 6:19 PM
Ross Halleck
 
October 23, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Getting Gold

It's been a whirlwind 6-months. From weeks of travel from event to event, it's all I could do to maintain my girlish figure and stay out of de-tox:-) I'm fortunate to comfortably maintain balance between indulgence, exercise, and meditation. 

At the end of the day, the internal metrics drive me. The "high-life" holds little weight against the feeling of peace. This path of making, selling, and sharing wine leads in both directions. It's easy to get swept into the excitement of working with incredible chefs, dining in the best restaurants, and traveling to destinations where friends are always waiting. These benefits are most enjoyed when the "home-fires" are burning within.

So it's been interesting to achieve so many accolades in the past months, a showering of attention. 

Not only have we won 8 Gold Medals in four national and international competitions, but the wine press has also taken notice. Dan Berger, probably the journalist I respect most, just rated ALL our current vintages EXCEPTIONAL, his highest. 

Further, I've been invited to host vintner events at the prestigious and historic Union League Club and Tennis and Raquet Club in NYC in February. Joined by the recent dinner hosted at the SF Olympic Club, we have over 450 years of collective history honoring our wines from these three august establishments alone. 

This has caused me pause; I'm a child of a mentor, Greg Lafollette. I couldn't be more grateful to Greg for all he shared with us: his sensitivity to the grape, discerning palate, and keen skills were the cornerstone for our brand. It was Greg's winemaking acumen that earned us our first achievement as the #1 Pinot Noir in the United States in the 2002 Pinot Noir Summit. And it is Greg's colleague and friend, Rick Davis, who has hung with us since Day-One, guiding and crafting, carrying on the tradition of making extraordinary wine.

But Greg's influence also guided us away from the competitive arena. He's been opposed to wine competitions of any kind. His observations are obvious: wine tastes differently to different people at different times in different places. So how can there be a reasonable way to judge, let alone score, any given wine. This argument away from the wine press and judging held strong weight to Jennifer and I. And we were selling all our wines. 

In 2014 we hit a wall. We simply couldn't afford to continue. This precipitated rethinking our mission, the search for counsel and funding. Both were readily available and with them came broader wisdom.

We were coached that to continue in this business required participation across all areas: organizations, competitions, and the press. So for the first time in a decade, early this year we began sending our wine to other people to evaluate. 

The results have been overwhelming. Every wine has won a Gold Medal, some more than one.

What's been the most surprising has been the response from you. I send newsletters almost weekly and post my blog at least every month. I receive kind words occasionally, but I don't write for them. I simply enjoy sharing and it supports our community through wine, shared interests, experiences and relationship.

But something shifted when we started announcing our wins these past months. Right away, I received replies to my missives: tons of "attaboys", "great work", "well deserved", and "keep it up". I felt engagement and encouragement. Sales picked up and everyone I meet smiles and congratulates me. And it feels great!

So I've shifted, too. It's not that my inner world is less important. It's not that these "outer metrics" of recognition mean any more. 

I've simply come to understand that we're all seeking connection. 

Often tragedy is the catalyst that propels us together in times of need. But celebration is an equally powerful driver. It brings us together in times of joy.

I'm honored and bouyed by people rallying to support our success.

Thank you.

 

Time Posted: Oct 23, 2015 at 7:49 AM