Season 2, Episode 17: “Tasting Room Etiquette”

In the old days of the Long Long Ago, Before Corona, people would sometimes leave home and visit wineries directly to obtain their wine. This was often done as a ritual, accompanied by wine tasting, often with friends, sometimes even creating a party-style atmosphere. Everything changed when the Fire Nation Attacked Covid came into the picture. Now, with vaccines starting to be distributed, someday we might return to the halcyon days of visiting tasting rooms directly. But this leads to a couple of questions. The first is, “How should I act in a tasting room as a visitor?”

The second? “How should I act if I’m a tasting room employee?” When I visited Nassau Valley Vineyards a few years ago, I was horrified at the way the people on the other side of the bar were treating my fellow customers, and me. The two folks (who were not the owners, nor the winemaker, I should stress) would curtly and rudely answer questions, did not know the information about their wines, acted very put-off that they were working, and generally acted snobbishly and unwarm towards us. They would also ignore us at times. It was so bad that my compatriots at the bar actually asked me afterward if this was normal for a tasting room, once they found out that I worked at one myself. You see, this was their very first time visiting any winery. They found themselves completely put off by the experience, and were close to having decided that the whole thing wasn’t worthwhile until I told them that this was not normal, or proper. As an industry person, I was absolutely horrified by their behavior.

I decided, though, that I needed to get this bottle of their 2017 House Red (a blend of 70% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon) simply to talk about that side of the etiquette question. As for the customer side of the equation, I was specifically asked to do this episode by Dan Pierce, of Bodega Pierce Winery; we visited one of their wines last episode. This episode was our attempt to make a Meta-Episode, where we sort of acted like problematic tasting room people to show the point, though I fear this doesn’t come through as well as I would have liked. I apologize for this necessary train wreck of an episode…

Etiquette As A Customer:

  1. Be curious. Try new things! Break out of your box. Sure, you may like only Cabernet Sauvignon, but there’s a whole world of different full-bodied red wines out there, but you never know, you might find your new best friend.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be honest. It’s okay if you don’t like anything, and you can be polite about your dislike. That’s perfectly fine. But don’t go out of your way to say that something is miserable.
  3. Don’t wear heavy perfumes. These can block some of the delicate aromatics of wine from both your nose and the nose of other patrons.
  4. Spit if you’ve visted a lot of tasting rooms. Yes, you can swallow your wine. But if you’ve been visiting more than four or so, it might be wise to spit so as to preserve your palate, at the very least. It also helps you keep your wits about you. After all, we sometimes have that experience at the end of the day where our palate is shot, we visit the last winery, buy everything because we’re drunk and we think it tastes good and we open them later to be… disappointed.
  5. Corollary: Feel free to dump a wine if you don’t like it. That’s why the dump bucket is there.
  6. If you are part of a bachelor or bachelorette party, make plans in advance. Tell the winery you’re coming a few days ahead of time. It can be easy to be overwhelmed in a busy day when there’s a full crowd and suddenly another 15 people walk in.
  7. Do Buy wines, but don’t haggle. We’re happy to sell wines! That’s why we’re here! But just as you wouldn’t haggle in a supermarket over the price of a block of cheese, you shouldn’t haggle with the winery over the price of a bottle. It’s just rude.
  8. Don’t be an insufferable know-it-all. Yes, it’s okay to flex a little bit of wine knowledge. But the person next to you who is here for the first time may not know anything (more on that in a moment), and might feel super intimidated. There’s also a huge difference between being a wine geek and enjoying the sharing of information, and being the asshole who is trying to impress everyone for no reason (or to impress their date). Sometimes the tasting room staff don’t know as much as you might, either. And that’s okay…
  9. If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay! A good tasting room staff person should know, at least, just enough to make you comfortable with wine. One of the great things winery staff can do is teach the basics about wine to make you more comfortable. And remember, it’s wine. It’s not nuclear physics, it’s alcohol. There’s nothing that will explode in your face here if you DO get something wrong.
  10. Don’t be super loud. Don’t scream. Don’t yell. Some people want to contemplate the mysteries of glass. It’s okay to talk to others in a tasting room; indeed, encouraged, but be mindful of other people and their experiences. But your fellow patrons (and the person behind the bar pouring your wines) do NOT really need to know AT ALL about why your lover’s penis is better than your husband’s. (Yes. This happened to me. No amount of brain bleach has removed this memory. I’ve tried.). Save that talk for the ride home with the girls.
  11. Don’t Pressure/flirt with your wine pourer. We’re here to teach you about wine, and introduce you to new worlds within a glass. We’re not here to be flirted with. It makes us very uncomfortable. If you’re a dude pressuring a woman who’s pouring your wine, that’s not nice, but it has happened with women pressuring me as well, and I’m a dude. Neither side is okay.
  12. Tip, unless explicitly told not to. At least, I would say this is the rule for America. Many of us are barely making enough to scrape by, and that tip money will come in handy for rent, or helping pay off a student loan. You can tip based on tasting price OR total tab, but it doesn’t matter as long as you tip.
  13. Have Fun. Really, that’s what you’re hoping to do, right?

As for the rules if you’re working in the tasting room? Well, you’ll just have to listen to the episode. I’m sadly running out of space as to how much text will show up on the show notes…

Cabernet Franc Count: 7

I strongly recommend not doing anything you see in this photo inside of a tasting room. Things got a bit, uh, crazy when we recorded this episode…

Season 2, Episode 16: “AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide, with Jenelle Bonifield”

Long-time listeners may know about my connections to the Wine industry in Arizona, where I got started, and it’s high time I return to my roots, pun intended. In this episode, I sit down with Jenelle Bonifield, who just released her fantastic new book AZ Uncorked: The Arizona Wine Guide. Alongside her in this episode is her daughter Isla, who you may remember from our group podcast at ODV featuring the New Jersey wines of Sal Mannino, and of course Megan and myself. Oh, and Jason Dudley makes an appearance giving us snacks to pair with the wine we chose to drink over the course of our discussion.

I’m not kidding when I say this book is fantastic, even though I helped write an introduction to a section. The photography is absolutely stunning and vibrant, and I’d love half of them to be sitting on my walls. (I honestly spaced about asking during the recording whether prints of her work in the book could be acquired; I was told later she is considering it). As it turns out, literal blood, sweat, and tears went into the production of this book. (For that particular story, you’ll have to listen to the podcast!) If you are outside of Arizona, you can grab a copy online at https://arizonawineguide.com/order-book/

The wine we drank while recording this episode is the 2017 Gallia, from Saeculum Cellars. This wine is a sultry, supple blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and is a perennial favorite of mine from winemaker Michael Pierce. The percentages change a little every year, but it’s always a great bottle to grab. The grapes are sourced from Rolling View Vineyard in the Willcox AVA; farmed by Michael Pierce’s father. Thank you once again, Michael, for letting us record our podcast in your barrel room!

Cabernet Franc Count: 6

AZ Uncorked
Jenelle Bonifield poses with her masterpiece, and the 2017 Gallia by Michael Pierce

Episode 46: Arkansas

Welcome to Episode 46, where we focus on the Natural State, Arkansas. Arkansas is known for the state’s natural scenic beauty, clear lakes and streams, and abundant wildlife, but also has quite a few wineries. It is also one of the few states that even has a “State Grape” as well: Cynthiana, one of the oldest clones of Norton in existence. However, the wine we’re looking at today isn’t a Cynthiana vintage; it’s the Majestic Merlot, from Hot Springs Winery, located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (I tried really hard, for the record, to find a Cynthiana from Arkansas, but nobody would ship one to me here in Arizona.)

Now, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the history of wine in Arkansas, let’s talk about that much-maligned varietal: Merlot.  We’ve had a few blends with Merlot in our podcast so far, but never on its own, and it’s time to fix that.  The grape became maligned after the movie Sideways, with the main character stating, bluntly, “I will not drink any fucking Merlot.” This film caused the market for Merlot to tank precipitously. In fact, Merlot is used to create some of the finest vintages in Bordeaux–including the vintage that Miles drinks in a styrofoam cup at the end of the film. The name of the grape comes from the French word for Blackbird, both for the dark color of the grape, and that these birds really do seem to love gorging themselves on the ripe grapes still on the vine. In reality, Merlot is actually pretty popular: it’s the second most abundantly planted wine grape in the world, coming in just after Cabernet Sauvignon with 657,300 acres planted across six continents. One of the reasons for the popularity of Merlot with winemakers (and wine drinkers) is the “softness” and “fleshiness” of the flavors, which combine well with the sterner character of the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon.

The history of wine in Arkansas begins to the first French Catholic settlers, who were then followed by German and Swiss settlers who came to settle in the town of Altus. This region began making wine commercially beginning in the 1870’s, and today the four oldest-running wineries in the state are located here.  (One of the notable settlers and winemakers of the area is Jacob Post, who emigrated in 1872, and his descendants are sixth-generation winemakers at Post Familie vineyards today.) At one time, Arkansas had over 100 wineries and was producing produced more wine and grapes than any other state. Prohibition, however, intervened, (oddly enough, regarding the wine industry in the state, after prohibition ended elsewhere) and the industry in Arkansas has yet to fully recover with only fourteen wineries in existence as of 2019.

If there is one person responsible for stabilizing the precipitous drop in wineries in Arkansas and thereby setting the ground for future growth, it would be Alcuin C. Wiederkehr, of Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, who was responsible for penning and supporting many bills relating to wine in the Arkansas State Legislature. Despite the lackluster growth in Arkansas wine in the last few years, the state does have three viticultural areas, nestled inside each other like matryoshka dolls. The Ozark Mountain AVA, the sixth largest AVA in the US, surrounds the Arkansas Mountain AVA, which in turn surrounds the Altus AVA.  As I mentioned above, the area surrounding Altus is where wine in Arkansas began.

I acquired this bottle from the winery website for this podcast, where it was shipped to me here in Arizona.  I was not able to encounter any other wineries in Arkansas that shipped here, though I hope to get more bottles from Arkansas (including a Cynthiana) later this year when I will (hopefully) be passing through the state. If you like this podcast, please donate to us over on Patreon, at https://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast

arkansas wine
The Majestic Merlot from Hot Springs Winery/Bath House Row Winery is our introduction to the Arkansas wine scene, as well as Merlot.

Episode 23: Rhode Island

The smallest state in the US, as it turns out, has a wine industry that rivals some of the biggest states.  Rhode Island is about the same size as the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area but has almost three times as many wineries as the capital of Arizona!  With 13 licensed and bonded wineries, the state (okay, technically Commonwealth) of Rhode Island has one of the most vibrant winery scenes in New England.

The history of wine in Rhode Island begins in 1663 when KingCharles II of England specifically included wine production among the land uses approved in the royal charter which established Rhode Island as a British colony.  As in so many other parts of the United States, the nascent wine industry in the region was wiped out by Prohibition in the early 20th century.  The industry picked up again in 1975 with the opening of Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, located near Little Compton.  Half of Rhode Island lies within the Southeastern New England AVA, and most of the wineries found in the state are found in this region, with few exceptions. (Key among these exceptions is Verde Vineyards, which we will hopefully meet in a later episode in season 2 of this podcast.)

The wine we’ve chosen to look at for our first look at Rhode Island viticulture is the NV Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards, which is a blend of 50% Merlot, with varying percentages of Landot Noir (a French-American Hybrid), Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.  This bottle was acquired by yours truly on the same trip I acquired the 2014 Cinco Cães for our Massachusetts episode. That episode also happened to be our introduction to the Southeastern New England AVA–in this episode, however, Gary and I focus a bit more on the nature and purpose of wine blends.

Cabernet Franc Count: 5

rhode island
The Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards is our introduction to Rhode Island wines.

Episode 18: Georgia

It is said that Georgia is a state of mind, but perhaps in actuality, wine in Georgia can be considered a state of confusion! The reason for this, is, of course, the American state of Georgia shares a name with the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains, which has a very long history of winemaking going back an absolute minimum of 6,000 years.

The history of winemaking in the State of Georgia, on the other hand, is decidedly recent by this timescale.  While Georgia was an important winegrowing region of the United States in the 19th century (ranked sixth in production among U.S. states by 1900) this state suffered very early on from Prohibition.  The prohibition movement in Georgia took hold in 1907, derailing the industry here until, like so many states, the early 1980’s.

Today, Georgia is the leading producer of wines made from the various Muscadine grape varietals–a type of grape we will eventually meet on this podcast, I promise.  Georgia is also home to two AVAs, the Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA, a bi-state appellation which covers parts of Cherokee and Clay counties in the southwestern North Carolina; along with Towns, Union and Fannin Counties in northwestern Georgia, and the Dahlonega Plateau AVA, (established in 2018) which covers most of Lumpkin, Dawson, White, Pickens, and Cherokee Counties. This AVA is about 133 square miles in size and includes (at last count) 7 wineries and 8 commercial vineyards totaling just over 110 acres of planted vines.

The wine we are looking at today, the 2011 Propaganda from Frogtown Cellars, comes from the Dahlonega Plateau AVA itself.  This wine is a blend of 57% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, and 13% Malbec.  This, as we discussed in the Idaho episode, makes this wine a Bordeaux-style blend, which are often called Meritage blends in the USA–though that’s a subject for a later episode.

(As a tangent, I found myself rather impressed with the list of varietals they’re growing as a whole, incidentally: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Tannat, Touriga National, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, Chambourcin, Teroldego, Norton, Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Seyval Blanc, Petit Manseng, Vidal Blanc, Greco di Tufo and Muscato.  Dang.  Some of these are grapes we will visit in future podcasts, but I digress.)

This bottle of the 2011 Propaganda was kindly provided by friends Aileen and John, who also form my drinking cohorts for this episode, alongside an appearance from Mark Beres, the CEO of Flying Leap Vineyards.

It’s time for some Pro-Georgian wine Propaganda. Specifically, the 2011 Vintage.

A Snooth Interlude: Murietta’s Well Tasting

A few days ago, I did an online tasting with Snooth, focusing on the wines from Murietta’s Well, which is located in the Livermore AVA in California.  It was my first experience doing an online wine tasting; the center point was the winemaker, Robbie Meyer, on video chat talking about his wines while we all sipped along and inquired about the processes and ideas behind each wine–something I enjoy doing rather often with local winemakers over on podcasts at The Arizona Wine Monk wherever possible–the main difference was in the distance, and tasting with a group of others was particularly fun.

All the wines from Murietta’s well are small lot (though larger lots than anyone in Arizona, by and large), and wild-fermented, which is fascinating.  Wild fermentation can be difficult to do well, after all, as wild yeasts can be a bit… Well, cantankerous to deal with, to say the least.  Overall, these wines had a more Old World feel to them than most wines I’ve encountered from California.  Here are the wines we tasted, and some thoughts I had about each.  The next podcast episode will load in another six days–we will stick to the every tenth-day cycle which has worked so far. (There won’t be any Riesling to miss it, so stay tuned.)

muriettas well tasting
Here is their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc which was fermented in neutral oak; resulting in something very like a Sancerre. This was nothing like the over-bearing oak bombs I usually encounter with California Sauvignon Blanc. Notes of pear, apple, gooseberry, and apricot intermingled with crisp minerality and high acidity.

 

muriettas well tasting
Next up was The Whip (2016), a blend of 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat, and 10% Viognier. This was a well-balanced white blend that really struck me as quite sophisticated and versatile. What was particularly interesting for me was that I could pick out the role of each grape in this blend, which is always a fun exercise. The Viognier provided the strong apricot character, the Sauvignon Blanc provided most of the skeletal structure, while the Semillon provided the heavier body to this blend, and so on. I honestly wanted to pair this wine with Pad Thai, which is odd to me because I normally don’t want to pair white wines with this sort of body with such spicy food.  (I also think it could work well with enchiladas, but that’s just me.)

 

Third up for the tasting was their 2016 Dry Rosé. This was a well-structured, high acidity savorfest blend of 42% Grenache (farmed specifically for rosé), 39% Counoise, and 19% Mourvèdre. Watermelon/Cotton Candy notes imparted by the Counoise were especially prominent,. intermingling with the bright strawberry notes imparted via the Grenache. Overall, this wine was evocative of some of the heftier rosé blends from Provence or Bandol. This wine was probably tied for second out of all the wines. I really do wish more winemakers played with Counoise.  I would serve this wine as it is–no food needed–it is a great summer sipper.

 

muriettas well tasting
The rosé was tied with The Spur (2015) for second place in the tasting as far as I was concerned. This was a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petite Sirah, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Livermore Valley is apparently well-known for Petit Sirah, which adds in a dimension of place, according to Robbie Meyer.  Apparently, it is pretty common in the Livermore Valley to blend in a bit of Petit Sirah into otherwise “Bordeaux-Style” blends there. (This aspect made me think of how often in my homeland of Arizona, we add in Petit Sirah to our GSM-style blends for color and tannins.)  The 2015 vintage of The Spur (named, of course, for a part of the grapevine) was savory, fruity, and well-balanced, with an elegant scaffold of tannins. Nothing was over the top here on this vintage, which again struck me as unusual for most California “Bordeaux-style” blends which usually require me to decant extensively to enjoy them in any form.  This elegance will lend this wine to being paired with a wide variety of foods–I ended up pairing the rest of this bottle with a crockpot pork roast with root veggies and green chili and it worked fantastically.

 

muriettas well tasting
My favorite wine of all the Murietta’s Well vintages was the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a pre-release preview. Now, I normally do not like California Cabernet at all; I find them generally to be too brusque, masculine, and inelegant. I usually find that I either need to decant wines of this sort for three hours, or smoke a cigar with them, to peel back the insane use of oak that seems to be the de jure style.  I am convinced that many winemakers in Californa use this insane level of oak to hide flaws that are resulting from potentially shoddy winemaking, or to hide an otherwise unexciting vintage.  Now, that being said, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Murietta’s Well was completely the opposite of that.  I was amazed by this wine.  This was an elegant, balanced, well-structured and sophisticated vintage–sort of like a well-dressed professor in tweed. Notes of olives and Connecticut shade-grown tobacco wrapper intermingled in this wine with earth, vanilla, cassis, and blackberry, alongside hints of lighter fruits such as plum and raspberry. It is, I think, a wine well suited for a New York strip steak and a nice cigar like an Ashton Symmetry. I was deeply impressed by this wine and was sad when I finished it off. If I didn’t already have all of my wines lined up for the California episodes of this podcast, I would have used this bottle in a heartbeat.  It is everything that a California Cabernet Sauvignon *should* be.

 

 

 

 

Episode Six: Idaho

Welcome to Episode 6 of Make America Grape Again! In this episode, we visit Idaho and meet up with one of the most abundant styles of wine blends: the Bordeaux Blend. Blends in this style, often referred to as “Meritage” blends in the New World, typically are a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, with additional grapes associated with the Bordeaux AOC of France in these blends. The wine in question is the 2014 Seven Devils Red from Hells Canyon Winery, located in the Snake River AVA.

This wine provides us with an introduction to a region associated with Wine Gags (Like Arizona, Idaho has been subject to a number of gags over the years). The 2014 Seven Devils Red is also a fantastic introduction to the nature of Wine Flaws–are they always bad, or can they provide additional points of interest into a wine? (In this case, the flaw was VA–volatile acidity.)

Again, sorry for the choppy audio quality in this episode– Audacity was being difficult. This bottle was purchased for this podcast by Gary Kurtz, my erstwhile cohost, while he was on vacation.

Cabernet Franc Count: 1

Episode 6
The focus of Episode 6 is the 2014 Seven Devils Red from Hell’s Canyon Winery, located in the Snake River AVA.

Episode Two: Nevada

In Episode Two of the Make America Grape Again podcast, we will look at Nevada.

Nevada is a bit of a frontier in winemaking, due to the unwieldy nature of legislation focused on winery and vineyard production in this state.  Indeed, Nevada serves as an excellent example of the often ridiculous and Byzantine nature of alcohol legislation that can be a major challenge to winemaking in the United States; something we will explore in this episode.

The wine in question for this episode is the 2015 Silver State Red, a blend of eight different red varietals from Nevada Ridge winery; a label focused on Nevada-grown grapes found at Pahrump Valley Winery.  In this episode, along with exploring a textbook example of viticultural legislation as mentioned above,  we will also be examining the practice of blending wines, along with a discussion about what exactly makes a “good wine.”

This bottle was acquired directly from the winery by myself while visiting Pahrump Valley Winery with a dear friend of mine last year.

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Wine Number 2: 2015 Silver State Red, Nevada Ridge Winery