#NapaFire: Devastation & Community

The Judge breathes safely during the #NapaFire. #Yountville

The Judge breathes safely during the #NapaFire. #Yountville

The week of October 8th, 2017 was the most bizarre week of my entire life to this point.  The fires that struck the NorCal counties of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Solano wreaked an incredible amount of devastation, yet as many disasters have shown around the world, it also taught the Lady and myself a beautiful lesson about community. While the #NapaFire flames destroyed much of our beautiful eastern and western hillsides in Napa along with homes, wineries, businesses and farms, it did not destroy the love that binds our Valley together, despite danger and distress.

Smoky sunset over The French Laundry Garden & Mayacamas. #Napafire

Smoky sunset over The French Laundry Garden & Mayacamas. #Napafire

We first sighted the #AtlasFire a little after midnight.  We were celebrating our move with brand new neighbors who happened to have a third story window facing east.  We all saw the flames coming over the Vacas Mountains, but I assured everyone that I had seen many fires during my life in the Valley and never had seen much destruction, much less see it make it down to the valley floor…this was obviously wildly optimistic about the final outcome. The Lady and woke up the next morning with the sun…with no power, cell phone service, internet (not that we had it anyway due to the move) or landline service, we had no idea how badly the fires had already spread.  They were fanned by up to hurricane-level winds (clocked at 55 to 80 mph down the mountain ridges).  Powerlines and transformers were quickly toppled, possible sparking the original fires, but definitely spreading those fires extremely quickly, at times faster than a human can run.  We became worried once we saw the thick, smoky air outside and could not use any powered device or phone at our new home.

Air Support filling up with water at Yount Mill Rd & 29. #Napafire

Air Support filling up with water at Yount Mill Rd & 29. #Napafire

What followed was over a week of incredibly anxious and yet hazy stretches of time where we spent our days and nights pinning down fire updates by our own eye, and updating our friends & family by SM.  We were briefly evacuated in our new home of Yountville, my parents were evacuated for ~3 days from their home in southwest Napa (Browns Valley), while our family HQ was at my sister and brother in-law’s home near my alma mater, Vintage High School.  Our cousins’ home SW of Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa survived with minimal damage, though not all of their neighbors were quite as fortunate.  All in all, we ended up being quite safe and very lucky as a family…the flames came about ~1.5mi at their closest, but were seemingly always threatening one home or another, all dependent upon the winds.  The first, second, third, fifteenth responders that poured their entire, danger-wrought lives into saving people, animals and homes were brilliant and we will never be able to thank them enough for their hardest work and sacrifices.  They came from all over the world in fact, Australia had a corp of firefighters fighting the #TubbsFire, as did Mexico and Canada.

It is in this spirit of support that the Lady and I quickly came to know our new community of Yountville in a very warm and loving light.  Our new neighbors were constantly asking if they could help us move, as the flames and smoke would allow. Bardessono Hotel and Spa was one of the only businesses that stayed open all week, supported by their own generator and with cell and internet service the whole time.  They graciously gave free coffee, power, internet and local news on tv to all locals and emergency personnel. Ranch Market Too stayed open by candlelight to provide goods for sale for locals. Bouchon Bakery provided free coffee and pastries to anyone in town. R+D Kitchen, also on a generator along with neighbor Kelly’s Filling Station & Wine Shop also stayed open and acted as a central hub to exchange news. Lastly, Pancha’s of Yountville, as always, was HQ for locals to gather, blow of stress and steam and find out the latest information from those of us that work for the city and county. Pancha’s, Bardessono, Kelly’s and all of these businesses kept our little village in a tight embrace and worked hard to take care of all of us, as they could.  We can’t thank them enough during that first crazy week.

#Yountville is open! #Napa #wine #food #art

#Yountville is open! #Napa #wine #food #art

And it’s here in Yountville that I think I will finish…feeling so fortunate to be a part of a community of quirky, yes, but loving and fully supportive neighbors; blessed with wine, food, art and fun. Come support the valleys, virtually all of us are open, despite incorrect news reports that abound.  You will find grateful independent business owners and industry workers, happy to serve you during what is typically the highest season of the year.  If you would like to donate more directly, please click on the link below to be taken to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Fire Donation site. These funds go *directly* to those in need in Napa County.  Thank you and I hope that all of you are safe and happy, around the world, as your read this post.

     – Ward Kadel@drXeNo#Vinopanion

#Vinopanion #wine Bits & Pieces

#Vinopanion has been a wild ride these past 8+ years (so hard to believe!).  Towards the end of last year, as life got exceedingly busy and I was unable to put my best efforts to my love of #wine writing and education, I pondered what step this blog would next take. I have always treated my wine life as a privilege and have felt grateful for every turn that it has taken.  Each little or big step was only partially planned/hoped for…most things like paid wine consulting, wine judging, being flown around the world for media trips, all have been joyous surprises, though they didn’t come without hard work (on the side).

I have missed my wine world these past ~4 months, but the introspection has been useful.  I’ve come up with new plans, reapplied old ones and have concocted new post formats, such as this new one: Bits & Pieces will cover multiple topics in short, 1-2 paragraph bites.  Prepare for more news in a more concise format. And so… ¡Vámonos mis Vinopanions!

CabFest Napa Valley Returns 3/4 – 3/6 (tickets)

cabfest_logo_color-01CabFest Napa Valley (WL, FB, Tw, IG) still ranks as one of my favorite wine festivals of all time.  The Lady and I attended the entire first incarnation weekend, back in 2014. The event hit on all cylinders right off the bat, with a fantastic opening night, all the way through 2 grand tastings, and multiple unique breakout tastings.

This year, the highlights again include a fantastic opening concert in the main hall, this year by Mat Kearney, followed by the infamous Cigars & Guitars VIP Party. Saturday features multiple 4hr tastings, including the San Francisco Magazine Grand Tasting and the Boutique Tasting, along with multiple breakout sessions and food & wine tastings, including Cab on the Couch with Karen MacNeil. Sunday features its own suite of tastings and VIP sessions, including the Sonoma Magazine Grand Tasting and a tremendous VIP Platinum Wrap Party, featuring cuisine by local legend Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc crew.

You can still buy tickets and can also see the full details at their website.  See you all there!

Bodegas Cepa 21 Virtual Tasting 3/9/16 6pm PT (#Cepa21VT)

sobre-nosotrosBodegas Emilio Moro is a legendary name in Ribera del Duero DO (WL) of Spain. Bodegas Cepa 21 (WL, FB, Tw) is a newer endeavor by the Moro brothers, striving to create a modern Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) wine inside their new, super sleek winery. The winemaking brother of the duo, José Moro, is visiting the US in March and he is kind of to sit down for a virtual tasting of his wines, from his temporary home in NYC.  I’ve had the fortune to try some of their wines in the past, so it will be enlightening to go through these new releases and to speak directly to José about his vinous products.  Follow along that night using #Cepa21VT. ¡Salud!

NVWA WSET II Endeavors Continue…

406064_562298363799327_175257724_nI continue my studies of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Intermediate (WSET II) certification this year.Napa Valley Wine Academy (FB, Tw), already leaders in wine and spirits education, is leading my efforts.  Their unique position, situated in the heart of #Napa grants them special access for taking their teachings directly out into the field…and I do mean “field!”

Indeed, their WSET Ultimate Level 2+3 course two week immersive course will “take you directly into vineyards and working wineries“, all right nearby in Napa Valley.  I’m looking forward to getting more intensely into my studies!

HITS Napa Valley Triathlon: The Hometown Race 4/9 – 4/10

65760_789077141133939_416503315085470558_nI am also full steam back into my #triathlon training season, since the last week of December. This time I’ll finally be doing my hometown olympic distance triathlon at Lake Berryessa: HITS Napa Valley 2016. The HITS Triathlon Series (Tw, FB, YT) is a long-running, well-respected endurance race production company (HITS Endurance), particularly their multisport series.

Once again I’ll be taking on my awesome brother in-law in a race for the family.  This year, it should be particularly exciting, as we’ll be going off in waves within 3 minutes of each other.  I’m looking forward to chasing and passing his ass! 😛

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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!

Hall Wines Cabernet Cookoff tastes great, gives help

11855799_868280449915926_2336774847356483997_nWe’re a little late on our coverage of this fine event, but we did want to send out hearty Vinopanion props to Hall Wines (WL, FB, Tw, IG, YT) and their highly enjoyable 6th Annual Cabernet Cookoff charity #foodie and #wine event this past April. Fifteen Napa Valley and San Francisco based chef teams competed to see which one could most favorably pair their small bite with the 2012 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvigon and the 2012 Hall Napa County Coeur Cabernet Sauvignon red wines.  To whet the almost 700 attendees’ palates, the festivities were kicked off with a glass of the delicious 2012 Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  On this particularly hot April day, the SB was quite a treat, with its juicy citrus acidity, rounded out with some tropical fruit and floral notes, and finishing with some zingy minerality.  Following the SB intro, the Lady and I headed into the array of tents to taste through the many culinary delights on prep.

Bunny Foo Foo welcomes the culinary charity masses. (By Lawrence Argent, Hall Wines).

Bunny Foo Foo welcomes the culinary charity masses. (By Lawrence Argent, Hall Wines).

Hall Wines has been producing ultra high end reds and whites in the Napa Valley at their two properties since 2002.  Owners Craig and Kathryn Walt Hall are renowned art collectors and thoughtful curators of their land and ecology with 5 Certified Organic estate vineyards and a Leed Gold Certified new winery at this, their St. Helena location.  We had the lovely opportunity to attend their grand opening of the gorgeous new St. Helena facility earlier in the year, but this was our first opportunity to see it in the daytime. And it was quite an experience! While it was a bit difficult on the hot sunny day to grasp the pairings with the smoky and oaky young Napa Cab, the brighter acidity and less oaked Coeur paired brilliantly with many of the dishes, including our favorite of the day: The Farmers Market Pantry’s Ancho Chili Roasted Mushroom & Squash Blossom Quesadilla. They were sponsoring the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center and their alternating savory and lightly spiced quesadilla rocked it with both the sauv blanc and the Coeur cabernet.

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11060935_868285769915394_6407453637873669927_nThe event was a resounding success, raising over $59,000 for the local community and satisfying the thirst and stomach of hundreds of charity-minded patrons that day.  The people’s choice and judge’s choice winners are listed below, along with a link to the fantastic drone video courtesy of Darren Chestnut.

A big thank you to Hall Wines for our attendance that day.  Cheers!

Judges’ Choice 1st Pl: Chef Zack Mutrux, PRESS & Charity, If Given a Chance

Dish: Braised lamb neck with beef fat potatoes and bacon sherry vinaigrette

People’s Choice 1st Pl: Chef Chris Jorosz, Andrea Reiter, Capital Dime & Charity, Food Literacy Center

Dish: Savory wild rice Belgian waffles, crispy duck and fig balsamic wildflower syrup

Drone video of the festivities, courtesy of Darren Chestnut.

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#OleWinos Final Day: Tilenus/Estefanía & the little #wine valley that could

IMG_5408The final day of our brilliant #OleWinos trip was spent in a little appellation in the northern part of Spain, tucked in between still snowy mountains (if only we had that snow and rain in California!): DO Bierzo (WL, FB, Tw). Our group was finishing up our stay across Spain, hosted by high end #wine group MGWines Group (WL, FB, Tw), in the small, but lovely & ancient, Roman-era town of Ponferrada.  It was here that we would visit the previously known property of Bodegas Estafanía (WL, FB), now known better by its main label, Tilenus. Named for the Celtic god, later appropriated by the Romans for their own Mars god of war, their label features a Roman coin that was once found in their very old vine vineyards. It is those very vineyards that sparked an image of ancientness themselves in my mind, with their Dantesque vine-hands reaching towards the sky, during our soggy visit to their longtime home.

More details after the leap!

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MGWines Group’s very old vine vineyard in DO Bierzo, part of their Bodegas Estefanía Tilenus estate. #OleWinos

The Bierzo DO is made up of a lot of ancient, family-owned vineyard properties that have a similar Napoleonic inheritance process as Burgundy: each property is split into equal portions following the inheritance of the next generation.  This results in a lot of small vineyards that still sit right next to each other.  As such, MGWines sources fruit from both their own properties, as well as very select, old vine neighboring properties that share some of the same characteristics as their own estate vineyards, such as soil and vine age. Depending on how close you are to the mountains in the Bierzo valley, you will find sandy soil sitting on top of clay or slate.  This has contributed to the lengthy life of these vines, as they have avoided the phylloxera plight of most of European vines, being protected by the mountains and in some cases, sandier soil.  It is quite common to come across a head-trained, gnarly row of dry-farmed vines that were planted 60-110 years ago.  These elderly vines produce a small amount of fruit, but it grows into tight, small berries with plenty of flavor concentration, savory characteristics and deep minerality.  And the vines of Bierzo are almost entirely of one grape: mencía.

Relief of the Roman coin of Bodegas Estefanía & Tilenus. #OleWinos MGWines Group

Relief of the Roman coin of Bodegas Estefanía & Tilenus. #OleWinos MGWines Group

Bodegas Estefanía is yet another beautiful jewel in the stable of MGWines Group.  Originally founded by the local Frias family in 1999 in a former creamery, MGWines Group purchased the property last year and kept on our host, Pablo Frias as General Manager.  Pablo is a stylish and tall Spaniard, dressed comfortably in a semi-hipster fashion, yet still functional for the winery work environment in which he’s developed his career.  He is very well-versed in the property and its wines, and a wonderful, soft-spoken, well-humored ambassador for the brand.

The winery has received extensive restoration and remodeling since its old days as a creamery.  Clean, stylistic wood and concrete modern Spanish design still maintains the painstaking utility to produce minimally-handled fine wines, as seen at all MGWines’ properties.  Gravity flow is enforced here as well, where they also hold onto their wines for 3-4 years before release in their “sleeping room” racked cellar. Once told by the then Bierzo Coop head winemaker that mencía would never make a fine, single varietal wine, Pablo’s father and uncle are now respected leaders of the mencía monovarietal movement that has been taking Bierzo and Scandinavia by storm, not to mention the US if you can find their wines. Twenty wineries in the DO ten years ago have now expanded to 72 wineries, as of March 2015, all focused mainly on mencía and the lone white in the Group, godello.

The #OleWinos Tilenus #wine lineup! MGWines Group

The #OleWinos Tilenus #wine lineup! MGWines Group

Mencía, despite appearances after 4+ years of aging, is an extremely ageable grape variety. Many of the wines that I enjoyed below, as evidenced by the many WKBadges given out, showed color aging as early as the 2011’s.  In some ways they reminded me of garnacha, including it’s medium weight and acidity.  Yet, these wines feature a lot more savory complexity than many garnacha, along with their shared floral notes, and mixed mainly red fruits that complement their good acidity.  Mencía does have a slightly smoother mouthfeel and fuller tannin, however.  Based on our historical tasting of wines from the property, even the Tilenus Bierzo Godello can age well, not just their well-priced mencía varietal wines, at all price categories.  Seek these Tilenus wines, and all Bierzo DO vino, near you, they are worth the affordable price!

IMG_5239 - Version 2A giant thank you goes out to our hosts, MGWines Group and Kraynick Consulting.  You can find all of our #OleWinos content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The photos are posted at the #Vinopanion Facebook page and the wines reviews at WineLog. You can read the MGWines Group blog post about our trip at their site, as well.

Wines tasted during our #OleWinos visit to Bodegas Estafanía Tilenus (WL, FB):

Tilenus Bierzo Godello 2013

Tilenus Bierzo Vendimia Roble Mencia 2014

QPRWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2011

Color: Dark garnet in the core, with garnet on the edges as well, slight brick.

Nose: Good earthy & meaty nose here, with all dark black fruit and flinty toasted notes.

Palate: Very nice smooth and full mouthfeel here, then cherry liqueur comes in, deep and ripe. Flinty, floral oak comes in towards the good and long finish that is more savory and with finer tannin and great acidity: QPRWK.

Tilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2010

Tilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2008

Tilenus Bierzo La Florida Mencia 2008

KeeperWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Pagos de Posada Mencia 2006

Color: Darker garnet in the core, garnet edges.

Nose: Big ripe black and red plum, graham cracker, light toast and flinty earth.

Palate: Big mouth here, more coating tannin, then all of that ripe plummy fruit arrives, with more toasted graham into the full, toasted, powerful finish, with more tannin: KeeperWK.

KeeperWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Pieros Mencia 2006

Color: Very dark rust colored sediment core, rust edges.

Nose: Huge black plum here, with some raisin and mocha aromas.

Palate: Big juicy plum here as well, distinct pencil lead and flinty earth, with cocoa and big tannin structure. Cocoa into finish with some sweeter toast as well. Continues to open with air, and gain forest floor: KeeperWK.