Last Sunday I had the distinct pleasure of joining Lisa de Bruin (Twitter) of Wine Diver Girl and Hahn Family Wines at the inaugural Hahn Wine Blogger Forum, alongside many of my fellow wine bloggers.Â Also invited were various other wine people prominent in the new social media wine landscape, including the busy Judd Wallenbrock (Twitter) of Michel-Schlumberger, Drink Charitably and his own Humanitas; John Pianetta of Pianetta Winery in Paso appellation and the man who also straddles many worlds, Jeff “El Jefe” Stai (Twitter) of Twisted Oak and El Bloggo Torcido.Â Also attending from L.A. were wine and beer mutineers Alan Kropf (Twitter) and JJ Bagley (Twitter) from the awesome Mutineer Magazine (Twitter). Aside from organizer Lisa, Hahn had a few other people in attendance: Evelyn Pool, VP of Marketing; Bill Leigon, President; and most interestingly the Winemaker for many of the wines, the nicely zany Adam LaZarre and the warm-hearted Vineyard Manager, Andy Mitchell.
I caught a ride up with my comrades-(increasingly)-in-arms, the Brix Chicks, Liza (Twitter) and Xandria (Twitter). Thanks for the ride, ladies!Â We arrived just as the last piece in our chaotic vinous puzzle pulled up, Thea (Twitter) of Vinquire and Luscious Lushes.Â A few hello’s later and the group decision that we were now “professionally” early as opposed to “unfashionably, do you really need to drink wine so” early…we headed in to the Napa headquarters of Hahn Family Wines.
The day’s wine tasting, while held at Hahn’s headquarters and centered around their family of wines, was intended to begin an intimate discussion between wine bloggers and the industry they follow. Much of the Hahn background was given in my post about TTL #5 and so I won’t go into it here.Â In some ways the tasting could be considered as a continuation of some of the discussions that took place at the first Wine Bloggers Conference back in October.Â Namely, how can wine bloggers and the wine industry work together for mutual benefit?Â What makes a good wine blog?Â How can the wine industry utilize wine bloggers better and how can they themselves, move into the the new social media space effectively?Â Lastly (and most vociferously) how can these interactions take place in an ethical manner so that both sides are satisfied?
Lisa, herself, has written an outstanding post addressing many of these issues and summarizing much of what was discussed and added to the on-going meta-discussion of these topics. A subsequent post by said blogger also dives into Comparative Wine Tasting in more detail.Â Essentially, Comparative Wine Tastings are scheduled tastings, typically organized by the wineries, themselves, or other industry organizations where multiple wineries get together and open some bottles for an audience.Â Now, this has been going on for years obviously, and really took off in the 90’s when organizations like ZAP and Rhone Rangers came into being for the sole purpose of expanding their customer base by the wineries working together as partners and not as competitors.Â I also like to think that those sprung from the great collaborations and informal gatherings that were had in the early days of the California wine industry when people like Robert Mondavi, Louis M. Martini and other early luminaries would get together for lunch, taste each others wines and provide feedback and advice for the betterment of all.Â The tastings we’re discussing here take both earlier versions into the new social media space, currently ably codified and expanded by Open Wine Consortium (1 of two major organizers of the Wine Bloggers Conference) and Wine 2.0, and allow for instant micro-blogging on Twitter and further wine reviews on social tasting notes such as WineLog.net and finally into full blog recaps, such as the wonderful one on Luscious Lushes (which also contains a full list of attendees).
As mentioned previously, Twisted Oak’s wines were there, courtesy of El Jefe, unfortunately I wasn’t able to taste his wines that day, however.Â I have tasted quite a few superb efforts from that Calaveras winery in the recent past. John Pianetta, proprietor of the family winery Pianetta Winery in San Miguel, CA had some wines available and I was able to taste some of his selections during the heated but civil ethics conversation that ensued following the main tasting.Â I found his ’06 Petite Syrah was an outstanding effort, filled with chalky and earthy blue and red fruit and great structure.
The best part of the day for me was the chance to speak to virtually everyone that is involved in the business at Hahn (ok, well, the free wine was certainly a damn good highlight, but I digress!).Â I find all parts of the wine biz interesting. To have the chance to speak to the President of a larger portfolio of wine labels, the head of PR, the head of New Media AND the head winemaker and vineyard manager…well, why WOULDN’T I jump all over that opportunity?Â This is where I find the power and value of these new-styled wine blogging gatherings.Â Yes…there are the somewhat rare events where you can meet the winemaker or the vineyard manager.Â Occasionally you might meet the head of marketing or the president.Â But it is extremely informative and powerful to meet these people all together in the same room and just pound them with questions and listen and sip and write and learn.Â Yes, the nibbles and wine were free, the event was at Hahn and there was some free wine at the end with some small thank you gifts.Â Yet, I didn’t like all of the wines and have reviewed them as such, below.Â I can’t think of another time that I was able to learn so much about a single winery, however, nor about winemaking and winegrowing, in general.Â Plus, the Hahn folks (particularly Bill, Adam and Andy), who are very candid, unafraid of being honest about their work and very knowledgeable about their respective wine spheres! So, after all of the discussion, I just reverted back to the nebulous conclusion that I came to at the Wine Bloggers Conference…attend these events knowing that there is a certain element of “wineing and dining” but stay transparent and stay consistent with your palate, messeage and interests in your writing.Â There you go.
SO!Â What were some of the cool things that I learned that day?Â Well crap…there were a lot of great bits of info but I’ll summarize.Â One, Hahn has done some incredibly cool things in the new media realm.Â A good example is their graphical flyover of their Estate in the Santa Lucia Highlands.Â Further interesting soundbites (picked from the enormous wealth of knowledge that can be found while picking the brains of Adam and Andy) include the fact that assistant winemaker Greg Freeman is also a semi-professional player of the bag pipes.Â Smoke taint has hit some of the wines in the Monterey County appellation, introducing the potent phenol glycol into the grape and thus, the wine.Â Hahn’s SLH vineyards have been certified sustainable in the past year. Lastly, Pinot Noir actually has water soluble anthocyanins for color, not just alcohol-soluble ones like most varietals.
The other important part of the tasting was, of course, the vino!Â While I did speak about the Pianetta and Twisted Oak wine that was there, I haven’t yet discussed the wines that Hahn had available for the day.Â They had three labels of wines there, the Bin 36 line made as a collaboration between Hahn Family Estates, Adam and famed sommelier Brian Duncan of the Bin 36 restaurants.Â We also had another chance to taste the SLH line’s ’07 Pinot Gris.Â I’ve already stated how much I loved this wine during my Twitter Taste Live #5 recap.Â Yum.Â The day’s highlights were the flagship wines for the Hahn family, the Lucienne Vineyards single-vineyard Pinots.Â There are two wines in this lable, the Lone Oak Vineyard and the Doctor’s Vineyard.Â Both are phenomenal examples of this varietal and boldly represent this up and coming maritime appellation (which was actually drawn by Nickolai Hahn). While it was difficult to choose which wine was my favorite, I leaned towards the full balance and earthiness that was found in the Lone Oak.Â Major props to Adam and Andy and their teams on these two wines!
Lastly, I’d like to thank the Hahn folks, El Jefe and John Pianetta for a wonderful and informative wine experience.Â I’d also like to thank Lisa for her novel idea to plan this event and (hopefully) at other wineries in the future on a quarterly basis and the fortitude to follow through with those plans!