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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Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards, Church Hill, MD – July 13th, 2014

Cassinelli Winery & VineyardsMaryland, day two. My sincere apologies that it took two months to cover a two day road trip. Come to think of it, it may be a good incentive to live each day to the fullest and extend the good times. Or something like that. Enough rambling.

Cassinelli Winery is located south of Chestertown on Rt. 213 in the heart of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. When you enter the winery, the tasting room is off to the right of the production area. It’s evident there is a lot of change happening here.

Stephanie, Al & JenniferOwner Al Cassinelli is a high energy, enthusiastic guy who is obviously very excited about his endeavor here in Church Hill. In addition to the winery, Al shared his plans to open a distillery in downtown Chestertown this coming April. Since my visit, Cassinelli officially announced their approved Federal Distillery status.

Al & his wife Jennifer have thirteen acres of vines on their farm, and bring in the remainder of their grapes from other sites in Queen Anne County. The wine is all from locally sourced fruit, which will be the catalyst for Al’s distilled spirits as well.

The Cassinellis offer nine wines at the winery, and I wasn’t shy & tasted them all. I can think of much less pleasant ways to spend an afternoon. Mowing grass for example. Anyway, here we go.

Vidal – Floral character with notes of honeysuckle. This wine is dry and somewhat syrupy. Al calls this this Vidal Blanc his winter white.

2011 Chardonnay – The first of two back-to-back Chards today, the ’11 is a nice, easy drinker with aromas of honey. An interesting tidbit on the Chard is that they plant two tons of grapes per acre, as opposed to five for the Vidal.

2009 Chardonnay – This lightly oaked wine is cleaner than the ’11. Two barrels of this was aged in oak, which gives it a creamy mouthfeel.

Pole Dancer WhitePole Dancer White – Al has a thing for old school burlesque, which was the impetus for the name of this one. This wine is from Vidal grapes with 3% Residual Sugar. Very similar to a sweet Riesling.

Rosé of Barbera – A good compromise between dry & sweet, this earthy Rosé is in contact with the skins for 24 hours to keep the color. Excellent summer sipper, RS is about .5%. This wine brought home a lot of medals.

Pole Dancer Sweet Red – This concoction is a mix of whites, reds (Sangiovese & Merlot) and raspberry. This popular, local favorite outsells every other wine here by a huge margin.

2007 Merlot – Nice example of local Merlot and great paired with chocolate. Great color on this.

Livestock! Fun for the entire family!2010 Barbera Reserve – Keeping with the weekend Barbera theme, this light, enjoyable example is earthy on the nose with a dry finish. My favorite wine today.

Chocolate Kiss – Very accurate description. A blend of Merlot & Peruvian chocolate.

Al is an engaging host and was gracious enough to spend the afternoon with us and gave a tour of the facility, despite the busy activity in the tasting room today. Cassinelli’s offerings are a prime example of making the most of the Eastern Shore’s unique terroir. Barbera and Sangiovese are driving the reds as big Cabernets are tough to grow here.

Cassinelli Winery is a part of the newly formed Vintage Atlantic Wine Region, which showcases some of the fantastic wine being offered here on the East Coast. More big news on this new venture to come.

'Nuff saidI personally want to thank Al, Jennifer and their staff for the memorable visit. Best of luck on the distillery. It’s already on the list for next year.

Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards
Chesapeake Wine Trail
Vintage Atlantic Wine Region (Stay tuned for more on this!)

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