Taking my #wine kung fu to the next level: #WSET II & Napa Valley Wine Academy

406064_562298363799327_175257724_nI have been immersing myself in the study of #wine in a semi-systematic manner for much of the last 8 years.  Indeed, #Vinopanion‘s 8 year anniversary with @WineLog is approaching in the middle of this month. Yet I have slowly realized that something is lacking in my devotion to the knowledge of the vinous delights: focus, structure and external credibility. You’d think that a trained scientist would have recognized this long ago and I did notice these thoughts in the back of my mind a few years back.  But they were always battered back by “where’s the time?” and “I’m still receiving plenty of media travel & event invites,” along with “my wine consulting services continue to expand.” Then I reached last year and I started to recognize some clear patterns in my wine work. While I had plenty of media opportunities and my fellow wine colleagues were continuing to get work, I could see that the pace of my own trade offers beginning to slow down. It was then that I noticed that most of my colleagues began to sport letters after their names on their business cards: they were taking certified educational courses to formalize their wine training. I needed to set up my wine game. It was then that I contacted the good people at Napa Valley Wine Academy (FB, Tw): “help!”

Our-certification-menu-logoThe Napa Valley Wine Academy (NVWA) was founded in 2011 by longtime wine industry veterans, R. Christian Oggenfuss, D.W.S., F.W.S., I.W.P and Catherine Bugue, D.W.S., IWP. As residents of Northern California wine country, they both perceived a lack of true connection between the schools that offered wine and spirits training and the actual regions about which they taught…and thus a fine beverage academy in the Napa Valley was born!  Featuring industry educational luminaries including Master of Wines Peter Marks and Tim Hanni, as well as Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser; they are truly “one foot in the classroom and the other in the vineyards.” The NVWA has experienced tremendous industry support and strong early success, prompting them to expand to satellite locations around the US in Tampa, Florida and Santa Barbara, CA; as well as online. 

IMG_5975The NVWA instructors are spread across all of the major industry certifications, allowing the Academy to provide a full service range of official beverage certifications, including wine, spirits, saké, and beverage service, and region-specific courses. All courses and examinations are given by the academy itself, making it a one-stop educational experience, unlike many other piecemeal organizations. I have chosen to start my wine and beverage education in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (FB, Tw, YT, NVWA) program, starting with the WSET II Award, courtesy of the NVWA.  More on those adventures later however, as I need to get studying for my first exam! ¡Salud!

Le Wine Buff Returns

Le Wine Buff - Enjoy BordeauxMany of you delightful readers may remember a very cool pilot project that I worked on late last year called Le Wine Buff, part of Enjoy Bordeaux (Twitter, Facebook).  Sponsored by the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB), it was an innovative re-introduction of affordable Bordeaux wine to the American public.  As one of the six original “Le Wine Buff’s”, I helped spread the word about the great value and QPR that can be found in red, white and dessert Bordeaux wines at all price points below $25 via email, FAQ and live video chat.  The program took a winter break to expand and get even better and we’re now ready to relaunch our BDX mission!

Look for an expanded schedule of live video chat from our team of six ‘Buffs.  I’ll be starting off the new program 05/03/10 with my time slot every Monday night, 7-10pm PST.  If you need a refresher, check out this great intro by new Le Wine Buff Megan.  Simply sign up and become a member to participate in any of our video chat sessions.  You can follow the Twitter feed of with the hash tag #LeWineBuff.

Enjoy BordeauxThe team at Enjoy Bordeaux has also been hard at work to greatly improve the wine search engine on the site, where you can now search by wine name, region or key term and find where to buy those tasty wines near you or online.  In addition, we’ve also teamed up with the Bordeaux Wine Council to film short tasting videos of every single one of the Today’s Bordeaux 100 Top Affordable Bordeaux wines for 2010. Our Events section has also been expanded to include all of the many events featuring Bordeaux wine across the US.  If you have an event that you’d like to post to the site, feel free to contact me and I can help get it posted.

Lastly, but maybe personally most excitingly, all of Le Wine Buff’s will be traveling to Bordeaux for a week in June to become fully immersed in the Bordeaux wine culture.  We’ll be filming new video and live chats, interviewing winemakers, sommeliers and other Bordeaux wine phenoms in order to best be able to help you find the Bordeaux wines and info that you need!  I look forward to chatting with you live online…cheers!

Le Wine Buff: Enjoy Affordable Bordeaux!

Life Goes Better With BordeauxI am incredibly fired up for this new project that I’m working on with the CIVB (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux). I’ll be a founding “Le Wine Buff” working with EnjoyBordeaux.com to reintroduce affordable, high quality Bordeaux wines back to your dinner table.

UPDATE: The official Le Wine Buff- EnjoyBordeaux.com Press Release has been posted by the Bordeaux Wine Council!

UPDATE 2: We’ve just been written up in a wonderful article by Eric Pfanner in The New York Times!

Ward Kadel - Le Wine Buff ScreenshotThe CIVB have put together an incredibly informative, yet easily accessible website, with a wonderful story to tell about the history of Bordeaux.  Learn about all of the many Bordeaux sub-appellations.  Or, find out where to buy value-packed Bordeaux wines near you.  Need a food pairing for your wine, check out the outstanding food and wine pairing web app.  You can also keep up to date on all of the Bordeaux wine and food events happening near you!

Le Wine Buff - EnjoyBordeaux.comJoin me, starting next week at 9pm PST on Monday 11/09/09, as I broadcast my first live Video Chat session as one of Le Wine Buff, here to answer all of your Bordeaux and wine-related questions on live video and in real-time!

Submit your questions at the link below (a lot more will be rolled out next week) or tweet them me @drXeNo or to @BordeauxWines.  You can also ask me questions on my Facebook or even better, on the great Bordeaux Wine Facebook Fan Page.

I will also be a good resource for the local SF Bay Area winos who need to find where to get these wines that pack in quaffable value. Logon and drink some Bordeaux wine with me!

Disclosure: I will be reimbursed for each broadcast.

Bordeaux Appellation Map

5 Questions with Rudolf McClain (Merlove)

MerloveWe’re going to be making many new changes and additions here at  WineLog.net this year. One of these is a new series of interviews for our blog called “5 Questions With…”  The inaugural interview is with the brilliant young documentarian, Rudolf (Rudy) McClain (Twitter), who recently released a real-world, global response to the backlash seen against Merlot following the release of the quirky, blockbuster 2004 film Sideways, based on the novel by Rex Pickett. Merlove is a documentary about a world’s love of a grape in the wake of a fictitious (and ironic) slandering, a discovery of a love wine and an understanding of the nuances of terroir.

You can currently find Merlove at limited engagements around the US, or request one here.  You can also find trailers and shorts at the uniquely and beautifully designed website.  I had a chance to meet Rudy at the Crushpad BYOZ event the week of ZAP 2009 and I promptly set up a chance to interview the man behind this novel documentary.

Château Cheval Blanc1. Ward/WineLog (Twitter): What was the impetus for making Merlove?  As you made the film, did you find that purpose remained the same, or did your priorities and interests evolve during the filmmaking?

Rudy/Merlove (Twitter): I overheard a conversation Chris Phelps [Swanson Vineyards] was having.  He said, “I think someone is doing a Merlot movie in response to Sideways”  I looked it up on imdb and there were no Merlot movies in production so I grabbed my camera and Chris Phelps was the first interview.  The project began as a way for me to make a feature length movie.  I figured, if wineries where hurting because of Sideways I could come in and get some support to make a movie championing Merlot.  The project took on new life for me when I  fell in love with the idea of terroir, a sense of place.  That Merlot is a terroir driven wine and can change its expression depending on where it is grown.  This evolved into the idea of the total unlimited adventure of wine once I understood that despite wine knowledge no one can know everything about wine.  Now the idea that all of Merlot (or any varietal) can be ‘known’ is similar to saying, “oh, I’ve met that color person.  I know what they are like.”  Knowing this puts the pop-culture, SIDEWAYS effect to rest for me.

2. Ward/WineLog (Twitter): You mentioned that you didn’t have a whole ton of knowledge about wine before making this film.  What were some of the most lasting things that you learned about wine during your research and the shooting?  Are your wine preferences different now after finishing the documentary?

Rudy/Merlove (Twitter): Again.  In my research an experience, terroir, dominated my shift in perception.  Beyond that, the next most significant insights were the way dominating oak can bury the expression of the fruit and that chemically there are hundreds of things to smell and taste in wine which explains why everyone should be confident in what they taste and smell.  Don’t let someone talk you out of your experience; they are not you.

Chateau La Tertre Roteboeuf3. Ward/WineLog (Twitter): You met with a number of influential wine people and personas for this film.  Who were some of the most interesting and why did they have such an impact on you?

Rudy/Merlove (Twitter): Francois Mitjavile Owner/Winemaker Château Le Tertre Roteboeuf was one of the most interesting and he took the idea of Terroir to new levels with the idea of “protecting the contradiction, variety of the pleasure” in other word protecting the local terroir, culture, way of living so that the local wine will give you the unique experience of that location.

Judd Finklestein4. Ward/WineLog (Twitter):I see that you’ve teamed with the man known as Judd Finklestein (Twitter) from Judd’s Hill to create the irreverent Judd’s Enormous Wine Show. How did that awesome collaboration come about?

Rudy/Merlove (Twitter): Judd wanted just to chat, then to discuss, then to film a bit, then to help him create a show.  It’s something, I think, he’s been wanting to do for some time and having seen Merlove he wanted to work with me.

5. Ward/WineLog (Twitter):Taking off from the last question is the always neccesary, what’s next?  Do you plan on more works about/within the wine industry or are you ready to tackle something comepletely different?

Rudy/Merlove (Twitter): Next is an original screenplay that I’m turning into a feature narrative.  It has nothing to do with wine.

Merlove - Official Selection Sonoma International Film Festival 2008

On the Subject of Corkage

A couple of weeks ago, I was at Paradise Lounge in San Francisco for the very interesting Twestival SF global Tweetup.  While there and conversing with @JustElle, @Krystyl and @FogFish, we came upon the topic of corkage fee policies of the restaurants that we visit in the Bay Area.

Corkage fees have been controversial for as long as they have been around.  I admit, I have been distressed numerous times in the past at having to pay a corkage fee on wine that I already own.  It’s similar to the feeling I get when I have a fee to withdraw my own money from a bank!  Yet, with friends all over the food and wine industry, I also get a lot of great perspectives on the topic.

My bartender friend doesn’t necessarily see a problem with it…would you allow people to bring in food or wine to your own restaurant and use your facilities for free?  Well…no, right?

My waiter and waitress friends feel the same.  Not only are drinks a big ticket item that greatly impact their tips (which greatly affect their income, wayyy more than their actual wages), but the service that is provided to open the bottle and pour it, just like every other part of meal service, is something for which they’d like to be compensated.

My restaurant manager friends are also big proponents of their corkage policy, combining a mixture of the two opinions above, as well as their own knowledge of the cost associated with purchasing and storing wine and wine expertise in the form of their wine service staff.

After hearing all of these opinions and re-reading the outstanding feature by Amanda Gold in 2006 that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on this very topic (and the origin of the great illustration above), I have come up with my own opinion and ideas about corkage fees.

Corkage fees are a necessary beast.  I do think that it is something that is abused by many places, however.  If you don’t employ a wine staff, you don’t store the wine in long-term, properly humidified and temperature-controlled appliances/environment then for what are you charging this fee?

On the other hand, yes, it can seem frustrating to have to pay to drink the wine that you’ve already paid for in the past, but…you didn’t have to bring that wine into an establishment that makes no profits from your decision.  If you don’t like it, then don’t go to that restaurant!  But that is the rub right there, isn’t it?  Does the restaurant *really* want you to avoid their establishment, particularly in this brutal food and wine fiscal environment?  Heck no!

I propose a new caveat to the corkage fee:

Charge an advertised set fee, and display that fee where it can be easily discernible on your menu and your website.  But right below that line, add a little message that says “Fee waived for server education.” What does that little line mean?  It means that if I bring a wine into a restaurant and offer an ounce or two  for the wait staff to taste, the corkage fee is waived.  Food AND wine knowledge of your servers are two of the single most powerful components to a good dining experience.  Free wine-tasting experience is thus, invaluable.  Think of all of the wines that your server could taste over the course of a given week, greatly expanding their palate and wine expertise.  All of that knowledge benefits the server and your restaurant. The patrons win by not paying for their meal’s wine more than once.

What do you think about corkage fees and this new twist on that topic?