5 Questions with Three Thieves

Three ThievesIt’s not every day that we as wine lovers get to stumble upon a truly good show about wine.  I’m not talking about something that involves some guy dressed in tails and swishing aged, thin wine in his mouth and spitting…no, I’m talking about three renegades digging deep around the world to find new wines to grow, to sell and to chug by the bottle: Three Thieves (Twitter) aren’t here to mess around.

Already known around the wine biz as the triumvirate to buck any stodgy trend with their affordable and tasty jug wine, Bandit Tetra Pak wines for that on the go tipple among many other fun and innovative wine brands, the guys have fully branched out with their first tv gig, Three Thieves now on The Cooking Channel.  I managed to hunt down thief Charles Bieler (Twitter) to chat about his Cooking Channel adventures with his fellow vino amigos, Joel Gott (Twitter, WineLog) and Roger Scommegna.

1. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): I’ve been a big fan of the Three Thieves vino concept for some time. You guys seem like you know how to rock the party and that said, how did you *really* come up with the original plan to collaborate together…or can you remember those deets, at all? 😉

Charles Bieler - Three ThievesCharles Bieler (Twitter)/Three Thieves (Twitter): Joel and I were friends through a common distributor we had and I met Roger when I was investigating doing something on the Sonoma Coast. I decided that we’d be better all together… Neither Joel or Roger liked the idea at first but I think they are pretty happy about it now.

2. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): A lot of my readers are in the wine biz and are always itching for new opportunities to push the boundaries of wine + biz + media + social media. How did you get the show started and off the ground?

Charles Bieler (Twitter)/Three Thieves (Twitter): Roger had always thought that a camera should follow us on our trips. Joel and I thought he was nuts but he kept pushing (for years) and eventually managed to get a meeting with Cooking Channel that had just started and was looking for something. It was good timing.

3. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): Now that you have visited some very cool wine places of the world to film the show, where would be your dream spot to start a vineyard (besides your current ones, of course) and what varieties would you plant?

Charles Bieler (Twitter)/Three Thieves (Twitter): That’s a really hard question. There are loads of places that I’m excited about and couldn’t pick just one. And generally speaking, I like the flexibility of not owning vineyards.

4. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): Tell me a story that happened during filming that couldn’t or won’t be aired on show? I *know* there’s got to be at least a few!

Charles Bieler (Twitter)/Three Thieves (Twitter): Honestly, the editor did a good job covering the fun parts. Sure, there were lots of laughs off camera but no stand out.

5. Ward (Twitter)/VinopanionWineLog (Twitter): With so much thievery happening in your vinous worlds, what could possibly be next for the big Three?!

Charles Bieler (Twitter)/Three Thieves (Twitter): I’ve got a long NEXT list. I do a lot of projects on the side outside of the 3T’s group and they tend to be pretty weird. As for next with 3T’s I want to go to China! Apparently 500,000 hectares of vineyards were planted last year. There’s got to be something interesting.

Catch replays of Three Thieves on The Cooking Channel at

12pm EST on 02/25/11 and 5pm EST 02/26/11.  Cheers!

Three Thieves - The Cooking Channel

Vintners Hall of Fame Class of 2011 Inductees

Vintners Hall of Fame - CIA GreystoneLast November I had the distinct pleasure to again welcome the newest class of wine legends into the Vintners Hall of Fame (VHoF) at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (Twitter) in St. Helena, CA. The previous year’s luncheon and gala for the 2010 inductees were quite the shindigs and so I was very thankful to be invited back as a member of the wine media.  The 2011 class of VHoF members is another set of US wine icons and the upcoming celebratory gala should be another extremely memorable night.

Vintners Hall of Fame Class of 2011 InducteesPer my usual neuroses, I was quite early for the event and cruised around the gorgeous Greystone building until it was time to head upstairs to the famous Greystone Winery Barrel Room where the VHoF is based and the event was to be held.  The event did start a bit ignominiously for me however, as someone opened their car door quite heartily into my own.  As I turned to give a rather steely stare I instead found myself looking at one of the VHoF’s own alumni…and bit my tongue. 😉

I started off the reception with a taste of the very good  08 Lail Vineyards Napa Valley Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc and followed that up with a taste of the phenomenal, AwesomeWK-awarded 04 Diamond Creek Vineyards Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.  A few glass clinks later and it was time to sit down and learn who were the latest inductees, which I have listed below.  Noted journalist, W. Blake Gray (Twitter) led most of the proceedings as chair of the nominating committee and kept the pace lively and light, to accompany the continually tasty food.

Richard Graff - Vintners Hall of Fame 2011

Richard Graff, leading light of California Pinot Noir with his Chalone Vineyard (some of my fav Pinots, ever).

Joel Peterson - Vintners Hall of Fame

Joel Peterson, Zinfandel purveryor of “No Wimpy Wines” at his groundbreaking Ravenswood Winery.

August Sebastiani - Vintners Hall of Fame

August Sebastiani patriarch of Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery and huge supporter of the California wine industry, through good times and bad.

Vernon Singleton - Vintners Hall of Fame

Vernon Singleton longtime leading US expert on the chemistry surrounding wine, with more than four decades of teaching and researching at my alma mater, the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology.

Bob Trinchero - Vintners Hall of Fame

Bob Trinchero, pioneer of White Zinfandel at Sutter Home Winery and almost single-handedly introducing millions of Americans to wine since the 1960’s.

There are still tickets available for the grand induction ceremony on President’s Day, 02/21/11, but they’re going fast.  This year’s ceremony is a combined event: 5th Annual Celebration of California Wine & Food and Induction of Vintners Hall of Fame Class of 2011.  The walk-around dinner is sporting a featured guest that is none other than former White House Executive Chef (and CIA graduate) Walter Scheib!  Full deets below.

SAVE THE DATE: Presidents Day, February 21, 2011

5TH ANNUAL CELEBRATION OF CALIFORNIA WINE & FOOD

and INDUCTION OF VINTNERS HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2011

4:00 p.m.: Reception with Wine and Food Pairings from White House State Dinner Menus

5:30 p.m.: Induction Ceremony for Class of 2011 and Unveiling of 2010 Honoree Plaques

6:30 p.m.: Celebrity Chef Walk-Around Dinner featuring former White House Executive Chef and CIA graduate Walter Scheib and perennial favorite Congressman Mike Thompson

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

All of the wines that I tasted that day are listed below and tagged with “2011VintnersHoFLunch” for listing in your own WineLog.  The photos from that day are in a set on my Flickr.  Cheers!

Greystone Cellars California Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Greystone Cellars California Merlot 2004

Greystone Cellars California Chardonnay 2009

Lail Vineyards Napa Valley Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc 2008

AwesomeWK - WKBadges Diamond Creek Vineyards Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Color: Dark garnet, with medium garnet edges

Nose: Deep loam, blackest fruit aromas, slate and fresh anise

Palate: Distinct pencil lead minerality here, with more loam and all black fruit into the super smooth, integrated finish. Great acidity and understated, powerful fine tannins. Very, very good: AwesomeWK

P.S. I Love You kicks it Dark & Delicious

P.S. I Love You: Dark & DeliciousYou can walk up to any wine-o-phile and ask them about the wines that they love the most and they’ll probably toss out some famous name from Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux, Burgundy or what have you.  But if you were to pour them another glass, compliment their good looks and expound upon their precise palate, you might just find that they’ll open up a bit more and tell you about their “pet wines”: wines that they seek out and which light their face up whenever they successfully discover a new one.  One of my pet wines are none other than the true Pet, ie. Petite Sirah.  While a professed fan of cool climate, balanced wine I can’t help but fall over my feet (before AND after) whenever I spot a Petite Sirah within close proximity of my glass hand.  It is with this in mind that I’m foaming at the mouth at the return of PS I Love You‘s Dark & Delicious annual Petite Sirah fest at Rock Wall Wine Company, Alameda CA on 02/18/11.

P.S. I Love YouThe Lady and I attended last year at the kind invitation of organizer Jo Diaz and were overwhelmed at the quality and number of wines available and equally so at the amount of quality food that was thoughtfully paired by many of the extended Bay Area’s best restaurants and chefs.  Hear me now…many wine events proclaim the food and nibbles that are available at their events and some actually pull off some good matches.  PSILY:D&D takes those proclamations and stares them down while munching on a Kobe beef slider and slugging back some powerfully structured Petite Sirah: YesThe food is that good.  Pair that shizzy with some slammin’ wine offerings that prove Petite Sirah is a fantastically fun grape with which to make wine and what?… yeah, to drink!

So come join the Lady and I at this year’s PSILY:D&D and prove me right!  Deets below.  Cheers!

P.S. I Love You: Dark & DeliciousDark & Delicious Wine and Food Event

Rock Wall Wine Company

2301 Monarch Street, Suite 300, Alameda, CA 94501

“If you live in the Bay Area, PS I Love You’s Dark & Delicious Event provides an amazing food and wine experience. It’s on Friday, February 18, 2011, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. This year the event is returning to Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda. With 45+ preeminent Petite Sirah wine companies and 30 fabulous Napa and Bay Area restaurants and/or food caterers, there’s nowhere else that you can have this much fun, food, and wine for only $63 per person. Free parking, no gratuity!”

DISCOUNTS for GrouPieS and Designated Driver available upon request. Call or Email. GROUP PURCHASES for eight (8) or more people available.

Note: Due to the nature of this event, please note that all ticket purchases are non refundable.

Minimum Age: 21, Kid Friendly: No, Dog Friendly: No, Non-Smoking: Yes!, Wheelchair Accessible: Yes!,

The 9th Annual Pinot Noir Summit

The Pinot Summit - Affairs of the VineI’m very happy to announce that one of the coolest wine events of the year is coming back to the Bay on 02/26/2011 with the arrival of the 9th annual installment of The Pinot Summit (Twitter). Spanning three different segments that day, attending the whole Summit gives you access to almost 9 full hours of delicious Pinot and tasty morsels. It is one of the most educational and complete consumer trade events that I’ve ever seen and it will definitely leave your bellies and brains full of new flavors of and knowledge about Pinot Noir.  Best of all?!  I’ve got an awesome contest to win some wine from one of the Summit finalists!  More after the break…

9th Pinot Shoout - The Pinot Noir SummitRun by Barbara Drady (Twitter) of Affairs of the Vine, the event is meticulously designed so that only the most highly rated wines out of three elimination rounds of blind judging make the cut for the Pinot Summit.  I was fired up to be chosen to judge the finalists for the Summit in the last round Pinot Shootout, held at Fort Mason Center on 01/15/11.  We tasted in 3 teams (mine was Blue) and each team tasted 4 flights of 8 wines, completely blinded.  We were instructed to score using the 100 point system and to write copious notes to back up our scores.

I found the quality very high for the vast majority of the 32 wines that I tasted that day, most of them from the 2007 and 2008 vintages and rather on the fruit forward side.   I also discovered a few favorites that exhibited some incredible balance, earthiness, fruit, fine tannins and bright acidity, aspects that are right up my pinot alley (and a couple dogs).  I was also pleased to see wines made it to the Grand Sweepstakes at the Summit from some previous favs, like Hahn SLH and Wild Horse Winery.

[winebadge id=”57552″]

My favorite of the whole judging was the ’07 Athair Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  Exhibiting all of the characteristics that I geekily reeled off above and ringing in at only $36 (or even less), this delivers so much tastiness that I gave it a coveted AwesomeWK from the WKBadges.  You can check out all of the wines at the end of the article to add them to your own WineLog.  All of the wines that I judged that day are tagged with “PinotShootout2011” and the wines that I judged that also made The Pinot Noir Summit are tagged with “PinotSummit2011“.  I’ll also be moderating a panel entitled “A Question of Style” featuring one of the wines that I tasted, the 2007 TR Elliott Russian River Valley Burgonet Pinot Noir.  It will feature Ted Elliott from TR Elliott, Christy Griffith from Lazy Creek Vineyards and Marc Goldberg from Windward Vineyard.

So what’s this contest that I talked about earlier?  Well it’s pretty super cool if you ask me.  You can win a two pack of vino from one of my favorite wineries that also made the Summit finals, Wild Horse Winery!  One of the wines will be their Grand Award winning wine, the 2008 Wild Horse Central Coast Pinot Noir, winner of a QPRWK badge. Sweeet!  All you need to do is to enter the code “drxeno” when you check out to buy your tickets and you’ll be entered to win the wine.  You can pick it up at the Summit.  You’ve gotta hurry though, only 300 tickets will be sold and it sells out every year.  Good luck!

The Pinot Noir Summit

Hilton San Francisco Financial District
750 Kearny Street
San Francisco, California 94108

Full Day: 11:30 PM to 6:45 PM
Sparkling Wine Reception: 4:00 PM to 4:45 PM
Grand Awards Tasting: 4:45 PM to 6:45 PM

Click here for directions – convenient parking is available at the garage attached to the hotel and the Portsmouth Square Garage located across the street (733 Kearny Street). There are lots of other garages in the area.

Pinot Noir Summit Pinot Noir Summit Pinot Noir Summit Dinner
Pinot Noir Summit $125
(includes Blind Tasting, Workshops,
Sparkling Wine Reception, & The Grand Awards Tasting)
Pinot Noir Shootout
Grand Awards Tasting $80
Meet Pinot Noir winemakers in an intimate setting $125

Wines that I judged at the 9th Pinot Shootout (PinotShootout2011) for The Pinot Noir Summit 2011 (PinotSummit2011), listed by highest rating:

AwesomeWK - WKBadges Athair Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2007

Color: Medium garnet to brick core, lighter brick red edges

Nose: Musty, leather nose, loam and slight brett, baked rhubarb, dried cola

Palate: Very good. Love the mushroomy, and loamy notes, medium mouthfeel, balanced acidity, fresh tobacco and darker rhubarb fruit. Finest of tannins, quite good!: AwesomeWK

Lost Canyon Russian River Valley Morelli Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Sequana Green Valley Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2008

David Noyes Sonoma Coast Crane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007

QPRWK - WKBadgesOldWorldWK - WKBadges Bogle Vineyards California Pinot Noir 2007

Color: Light ruby core, lightest ruby to clear edges

Nose: Cola and rhubarb are all over this nose with some char and dried florals underneath.

Palate: Great structure here, more angular with good acidity, medium body and still smooth out to the finish. Unsweetened cherry cola with good fresh garden herbs of rosemary, as well. Good: QPRWK, OldWorldWK

OldWorldWK - WKBadges Chamisal Vineyards Edna Valley Domaine Alfred Estate Bottled Pinot Noir 2008

Color: Medium ruby core, light ruby edges

Nose: Good earthy, cherry-wood nose, rhubarb and light florals.

Palate: Burnt cigar here and dried leather, with earthier rhubarb from the nose and more of a fuller, cigar box finish. Good tannins, great complexity. Good balanced acidity, as well. With air, juicy cherry comes through: OldWorldWK

OldWorldWK - WKBadges TR Elliott Russian River Valley Burgonet Pinot Noir 2007

Color: Medium ruby with light ruby edges

Nose: Musty and murky dark red fruit here, charred toast: interesting.

Palate: Earthier here with some loam to it, dark red fruit here of black cherry with good toast that is balanced with the fine, medium tannins and medium acidity: OldWorldWK

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Hahn SLH Estate Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir 2009

Color: Medium to light ruby, lightest ruby edges

Nose: Deeper and darker rhubarb and bigger cola here, with some black cherry poking through.

Palate: Bigger mouthfeel here with a coolness to the spiced rhubarb pie.  Big, chewy and toasty root beer finish with dried florals and hops.  Big but good: NewWorldWK

Lucas & Lewellen Santa Barbara County Goodchild High 9 Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir 2008

Bouchaine Napa Valley – Carneros Estate Vineyard Pinot Meunier 2008

Nth Degree Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir 2008

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Asuncion Ridge San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir 2008

Color: Darker ruby core, light ruby edges

Nose: Big red fruit medley here, ripe and juicy baked cranberry, fresh black cherry and sweeter rhubarb, toast underneath and distinct cinnamon. Big, but good.

Palate: Fuller mouth, with hoppy florals, baking spice, and ripe and juicy Bing and black cherry. Balanced, bigger yet fine tannins, cola all the way into the finish. Very Good: NewWorldWK

Summerland Santa Rita Hills Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

R. Stuart & Co. Willamette Valley Autograph Pinot Noir 2008

Fulcrum Sonoma Coast Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir 2008

QPRWK - WKBadges Wild Horse Central Coast Pinot Noir 2008

Color: Ruby core, light ruby edges

Nose: Distinct fresh cherry pie, complete with toasty pie crust, very bright.

Palate: Cherry pie here as well, fuller body and smooth and chalky mouthfeel, toast out to the cola finish: QPRWK

Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2008

Davis Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Horseshoe Bend Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Paro Russian River Valley Indindoli Vineyards Pinot Noir 2009

Tarras Vineyards Central Otago The Steppes Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Erath Willamette Valley Leland Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Alysian Russian River Valley Rochioli Vineyard Allen-Rochioli Blocks Pinot Noir 2007

Claiborne & Churchill Edna Valley Twin Creeks Pinot Noir 2008

Armitage Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir 2008

Expression 39° Anderson Valley Annahala Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009

Windsor Vineyards Sonoma County Private Reserve Pinot Noir 2009

V. Sattui Winery Los Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir 2007

Leveroni Vineyards Sonoma Valley Seven Oaks Vineyard Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2009

Mueller Russian River Valley Emily’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2008

Kenneth Volk Santa Maria Valley Nielson Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007

Beauregard Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2008

Prix Napa Valley Fagan Creek: Block 38 Reserve Estate Bottled Pinot Noir 2007