Observations 2014

Don't be fooled by my expression. I'm in my happy place.Well, here it is December and I figured it’s time to jump back into the land of the living. It’s been a good year for the most part and I wanted to share a few tidbits that I picked up along the way.

As I’ve been involved in the local wine community for awhile now, I stepped back and took a look at how my perceptions have changed. I’ve taken a few classes, attended a variety of industry events, talked to many wine and restaurant professionals and tasted a lot of juice. Here’s a peek into what I’ve learned.

It boils down to this …

Wine enjoyment can be either as snotty or laid back as you want it to be. The culture of wine has gotten it’s somewhat pretentious reputation for a good reason. Oenophiles (wine geeks) like to travel the globe and taste wines from well known or obscure regions. Wine is produced everywhere. And in a lot of those places, it isn’t cheap.

The 2011 Cedar courtesy of Va La Vineyards

Photo courtesy of the Traveling Wine Chick, Elizabeth Smith

That said, as a fan and promoter of the thriving local wine scene here in southeastern PA, I found that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good quality wine. Some of you may turn up your nose at the homegrown juice, but hey, more for us in the know. Good winemakers let the land speak to find out what the local conditions will give them. Different grapes thrive in different areas.

So anyway, I’ve gotten off track lately. I had high hopes for this endeavor when I started it and I still do. Where do I want it to go? I’m not really sure at this point. Wine reviews? I think that’s been done. I may go above and beyond for some local gems, though. How about wine photography? If my wife cursing under her breath while I try to get that perfect shot of my glass of Cab for #WineWednesday is any indication, I would say that’s been played out also.

So the big question is: Why wine? What is the appeal of this magnificent beverage to me?


A damn near perfect evening, if I say so myself.That’s it. Wine is meant to be enjoyed with others. Good wine and food is the cornerstone of quality social interaction. A few weekends ago, my wife and I got together with some acquaintances at a little vineyard in Avondale, PA and the night turned out fantastic. By the end of the evening we were all laughing, talking animatedly and enjoying every moment.

And it was Instagram-free. (Though admittedly Facebook wasn’t off limits).

Since I brought that up, here’s what wine enjoyment is not: The number of wine-centric Twitter followers you have. And yes, I have a few. It’s not a 90+ score from Robert Parker or Antonio Galloni. It’s not how much geekspeak the Somm-wannabes throw around at tastings.

Sunset over the little vineyardFriends and the fruits of the earth.

That’s it. Thanks for reading.

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.”
~ Martin Luther

Shouts to:

Va La Vineyards
Traveling Wine Chick
Saveur the Good Life
SMG Winespeak

… and everyone else who gets it.


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Movie Review: American Wine Story

American Wine StoryThis past weekend, I had the opportunity to view a screening of American Wine Story.

This highly anticipated film chronicles a group of people who take their unexplained passion for wine to another level. In the spirit of similar documentaries like SOMM and Blood Into Wine, AWS tries to indirectly explain this unique obsession of a handful of wine lovers who abandon their scripted lives and put everything on the line to follow their dream.

Jimi Brooks, who was an ambitious young winegrower, is the focal character through most of the story. Having tragically passed away at age 38, he left his 8-year-old son and fields full of fruit ready for harvest. A group of several local wine producers came together to harvest and vinify Jimi’s grapes out of support and respect for their lost colleague. This embodies a refreshing example of the American spirit, and the power of hard work, passion and a dream.

EpiphanyWine lovers like to talk about having an epiphany. That first wine that really moved you. The complexity & changing character of the wine. The realization that there is no other beverage like this on the face of the planet. And the idea that this experience emboldens some so much, as to kick their careers and steady, predictable lives to the curb in order to pursue this passion is awesome to me. (In case you’re wondering, my epiphany was a 2010 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel).

I felt a kindred spirit with Alan Baker, who at age 41, abdicated his seventeen year career in radio and moved to California to pursue his dream. He documented his experience in the Cellar Rat, his blog & podcast. He used his voice to to try to fit in somewhere, as his move was completely off the cuff and turned his life upside down. Today he runs Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg with Serena Lourie.

HTML codeMike Officer also has a story that resonated with me. He realized at an early age that sitting in a cubicle writing web code was the recipe for a slow death. He started making wine at home and that endeavor blossomed into Carlisle Winery. For myself, as a web coder in a previous life, that hit home in a big way.

These are just a few stories that are featured in this inspiring piece which screamed words of encouragement at me. The overall gist of the film is to follow your passion and do what moves you.

Seghesio Sonoma County Zin 2010From a personal standpoint, I completely get it. Describing it is another story. Yes, I have the bug. I’m in awe of those who produce the magical elixir. Practically every winemaker that I’ve ever met floors me with their brilliance, creativity and passion for the craft.

And I admit that I felt a deep stirring within myself while viewing American Wine Story. These feelings made it extremely entertaining, yet somewhat uncomfortable to watch. Yes, I have a dream.

As Morgan Freeman quoted in The Shawshank Redemption:

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Strong words. Stay tuned, my story isn’t over.


American Wine Story – Available for purchase 10/14/2014

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Serpent Ridge Vineyard, Westminster, MD – September 20th, 2014

Serpent Ridge Vineyard, Westminster, MDIf you are anything at all like me, after a while the fast pace of living gets to you. It’s something almost all of us have to deal with, and I’m as guilty as the next guy of contributing to it. Traffic, smart phones, messages that seemingly multiply in your inbox, deadlines, etc., etc.

So when Fran & I jumped in the car on Saturday morning to visit my sister in northern Maryland, the plan was to hit the Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster. Don’t get me wrong, I love wine festivals, but when you’re trying to get away and wind down, it may not be the best option. I mean, there were over thirty wineries participating, plus entertainment and food vendors. One thing I learned when we went to Great Grapes! a few years ago was that once you taste ten different Cabernet Sauvignons, your palate is shot.

I sense a theme, ladies & gentlemen.So in the interest of avoiding the equivalent of a wine bar crawl, we opted to pick up my sister after she got home from work and visit nearby Serpent Ridge Vineyard. I don’t regret the decision. With all of the crazies at the wine festival, we were treated to a more personalized tasting experience.

Zork Chess!Amanda was pouring the juice on this lovely Saturday. She was all by herself, but had later expressed she would get plenty of excitement tomorrow as she was working the festival. Yep, the same one that we were avoiding. We opted for the standard flight of six wines available right now.

Working down the list, here we go.

The 2011 Seyval Blanc was produced from local grapes grown at nearby J Rose Vineyard. This wine is bone dry with moderate minerality. Light, citrusy, and well chilled, this is an excellent summer wine.

The Albariño is a younger white, 2013 vintage. As expected, it’s a bigger wine than the Seyval. It has more stone fruit character, and though it also expresses minerality, it’s more in-your-face (yeah, I coined that one) on the nose and palate than the Seyval Blanc. Both of these wines would be fantastic with seafood.

Serpent Ridge 2011 Cab Franc RoséThe Summer of Rosé keeps going. At least for today since fall starts tomorrow. The 2011 Rosé from Serpent Ridge is made from Cabernet Franc. Hurricane Sandy plumped up the Cab Franc grapes that year, so they were used for this Rosé. A strong strawberry finish on this, served best chilled.

The 2011 Basilisk is a blend of 25% Cab Franc and 75% Cab Sauvignon. As I mentioned, the Cab Franc was a little light in 2011, so they scaled it back in the Basilisk. This is more commonly a 50/50 fusion. Heavily oaked, this is a fine example of Maryland red wine. Great with steak.

I think it's a sign! Well ... that's exactly what it is.The 2010 Vintner’s Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cab is barrel aged for a minimum of 18 months with 100% of the grapes from Carroll County. A beautiful, full bodied Cab which will also go nicely with a steak. Or burgers from Five Guys, if you’re so inclined. I loved this wine, my favorite today.

We finished things off with the Port-style Slither. A sweet, dessert wine with 5% Residual Sugar, it blends Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Sangiovese. Very lush, with strong cherry notes. Try this with some dark chocolate.

I think we made the right choice today. After perusing the serpent-themed items for sale (They have some cool T-shirts here, just saying), my wife, sister, and I toasted the end of summer with another bottle of Rosé out on the patio.

Serpent Ridge is another fine example of excellent handcrafted wine being produced here on the East Coast. Look for a follow-up visit from me sooner rather than later.

Mad gratitude to my readers.


Serpent Ridge Vineyard
The Maryland Wine Festival
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
ZORK Wine Closures

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Introducing the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region

Critical mass – “In social dynamics, critical mass is a sufficient number of adopters of an innovation in a social system so that the rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining and creates further growth.” — Wikipedia

The new Vintage Atlantic Wine RegionThis was the theme on Tuesday, September 16th at the official launch of the new Vintage Atlantic Wine Region at Auburn Road Winery in southern New Jersey. This new project has been in the works since last year and endeavors to make the Mid-Atlantic more of a centralized wine destination.

Map of the Vintage Atlantic Wine TrailVintage Atlantic is comprised of six well established wine trails in southeast Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland’s Eastern Shore and South Jersey. The varied terroirs of this region will provide an excellent experience for the wine traveler, and a bevy of world class restaurants, lodging and activities that come with close, convenient access to a major city. The winery owners & winemakers in the area live and breathe agritourism, which is the act of bringing visitors to the farm to promote the locally harvested goods. This new wine region is projected to accelerate critical mass of the local wine culture about five to ten years.

The region is a roughly ninety mile radius, approximately the same as the Finger Lakes and brings together over forty wineries. And that doesn’t count the dozens of other local wine producers not encompassed within the Vintage Atlantic.

Karen from the BV Wine Trail & Caryn from ParadocxAs a local wine enthusiast for many years, and a promoter for the last few, this is very exciting for me on a personal level. I’ve seen the local wine culture thrive and this is a natural progression. World class wine is being produced here, and it’s time that American winery geeks realize that you don’t have to go to California or Upstate New York to find it.

Sarah Willoughby of the Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, spawned this brainchild when commuting between Delaware & South Jersey for separate wine marketing events. She was obviously enthusiastic about this new endeavor as she spoke yesterday to the local winemakers, winery owners, writers, marketers and politicos that attended the event at Auburn Road.

It was really neat to see some familiar faces together in one room yesterday. I touched base with friends from Penns Woods, Paradocx, Crow, Brandywine Valley Wine Trail and Pinot Boutique just to name a few.

Scott Donnini of Auburn RoadScott and Jules Donnini of Auburn Road were excellent hosts at their beautiful facility in Salem County. If you are a serious wine enthusiast, or just enjoy hanging out sampling the local juice (I’m guilty of both), visit a local winery today. There are a wide range of styles to suit every palate

Thanks to my readers and also to all of the fantastic people who are part of the local wine community. This is ready to take off. It’s just the beginning, trust me.


Vintage Atlantic Wine Region
Auburn Road Vineyard & Winery

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