“Sideways” at the Wine Bloggers Conference…#WBC14

I often get asked the question, “Where were you last week? I saw a million pictures and videos popping up! Looks like it was fun!” To this I reply, “Oh, I was at the Wine Bloggers Conference, the #WBC14 event, where anyone who writes about wine, who loves wine and shares it with the world, comes together in one place to share experiences and enjoy the wine of the region together.”  According to Zephyr Adventures, the organization who runs it, “The Wine Bloggers Conference, having started in 2008, is the granddaddy of most niche blogging conferences. It has sold out every year and now attracts around 350 participants each year. The conference is an excellent opportunity for bloggers to connect with and learn from other bloggers as well as wineries, vintner associations, tourism marketing associations, and other wine-related businesses. The conference draws top keynote speakers and key industry representatives in addition to the many bloggers.”

The rolling hills of St. Ynez Valley

The rolling hills of St. Ynez Valley

This year, it was in Santa Barbara, a place I had visited before and adored due to the sun, surf, and rolling hills. This time, I got to really try the wines in true detail. More specifically, I went to the region surrounding the quaint town of Buelton…yes, this is the Buelton, of the movie Sideways. Sideways is now celebrating its tenth year of snubbing Merlot and exalting Pinot Noir. This movie had a huge impact on the wine industry. In the April 2008 issue of Wine Business Monthly, George Schofield refers to the “debacle following the release of the ‘Sideways’ motion picture” when discussing the effects of the movie on Merlot sales.  Did this movie really alter consumer-buying patterns and change demand for either Merlot or Pinot Noir?  “Sideways” was released on Oct. 22, 2004, ten years ago, and it was nominated for five Academy Awards on Jan. 25, 2005.  It won one, for best-adapted screenplay,–and closed May 19, 2005. With popularity like this, how much does movie culture ultimately affect the wine industry?

In the panel, “The U.S. Wine Consumer: Who, What & Where,” given by Wine.com, it found that there was a significant effect on consumer behavior after 2004 and the movie is still impacting sales today. Initially the sales of Merlot went down, while the sales of Pinot Noir skyrocketed. This affected not only consumer behavior but also wine-growing decisions. More acreage was dedicated to Pinot Noir, and the movie also made the US more open to new wine regions, such as Oregon and New Zealand, growing Pinot Noir.  Meanwhile, Merlot, was considered a shunned grape variety, at least for a few years and struggled to compete with the popularity of Pinot Noir.

In a 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal on Merlot, referring to wine retailers, Lettie Teague stated,  “Merlot sales were stable at best and at worst were losing ground. In most cases, Merlot drinkers had simply moved on to other varietals such as Tempranillo and Malbec.”  In one marketplace in New Jersey, Merlot sales were considered “slow” and accounted for less than 1% of total wine sales.  Moreover, these is less acreage dedicated to Merlot, at least in California, whereas in Washington the acreage has increased slightly. A study was done at Sonoma State on the “Sideways Effect, looking specifically into the change in demand for Merlot and Pinot Noir Wines (click here for the fascinating paper).

According to the Wine Institute, there were more than 53,000 acres planted to Merlot in 2006, but in 2012, there are now 45,000 acres planted to the grape.  In Washington, acreage planted in Merlot grapes is up from 5,000 to 8,000 acres; however, for Cabernet Sauvignon, the acreage has doubled in the same amount of time.

Sideways, the Movie

In conclusion, yes, movie culture does have an effect on the wine industry and the culture surrounding it. However, don’t let what others are drinking necessarily affect what you will enjoy. I have always believed that if you love something, drink it!  Who cares whether it is sweet, or dry, or Merlot?…Enjoy it, and share it.


The Unique Oregon Wine Industry: R.Stuart & Co., McMinnville, Oregon

There is a reason why I love Oregon wineries. and it isn’t simply the wines but the people behind the wine. From time to time, I meet people who really shine in this industry, not only in overall quality of their wines but in their personalities. Today was such a day. I had the chance to experience the amazing hospitality and kindness today from the R. Stuart & Co. wine family.

Rob Stuart, Owner & Winemaker of R.Stuart & Co.

Rob Stuart, Owner & Winemaker of R.Stuart & Co.

Today is a Monday. Mondays are generally not known for being great wine-tasting days since most tasting rooms are closed. Monday closings are common because most tourists come on Saturday and Sunday.

Having said that, I still saw it as a unique day to visit some wineries in McMinnville, Oregon. If you haven’t been to McMinnville, it’s time to visit this pleasant and unique town with many attractions. It’s located about an hour south of Portland and 30 minutes north of Salem.

If you make the trip, it will be well worth the visit. McMinnville is situated in the heart of wine country, with Yamhill-Carlton wine country to the north and Eola-Amity and McMinnville AVAs to the south.

Today, I decided to stop by and visit R. Stuart & Co. Wine bar in downtown McMinnville. Tasting room staff, Hunter and Rebekah greeted me with open arms. They offered me a mixed tasting of a number of wines, including two sparkling wines and finishing with a Cabernet Sauvignon Tawny port called the “UnPort”.

This isn’t your normal kind of tasting. Not many places in Oregon can offer you sparkling wine, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo, and a finish with a lovely Tawny.


One of my favorite new wines:  2008 Autograph Pinot Noir

R. Stuart & Co. produces about 16,000 bottles of wine, split between two separate labels: R. Stuart & Co. for single vineyard wines and reserve; and Big Fire for easy drinking, day-to-day every-day kind of wines at a price point that won’t break the bank. While R. Stuart & Co. does not own the vineyards they source from. it works closely with the growers, enabling the company to pick the very best.
This is where I will take a short break and give you some background on Rob. A New York native, Rob initially started his professional career in biochemistry and went on to start his wine-making journey first in Napa, California, and then as a winemaker in Yakima, Washington, and finally, in Oregon. After twenty years of working for others, he decided it was time to make the wine he loves. R. Stuart & Co. was founded in 2002.

After my initial tasting, I was then invited to barrel-taste the brand new 2013 vintages with the charismatic winemaker and owner, Rob Stuart at their winery, a converted Granary in downtown McMinnville.

We tasted through Pinot Gris, Pinot Noirs from all over the valley, Tempranillo, and finally three separate non-vintage Ports made from Cabernet Sauvignon ranging in age from 1991 to 2007.

Rob actually climbed up four levels of barrels to get our amazing last tasting of 1991 Port. A stunning and wonderful port if you can get your hands on it.

A special thanks to Rob and his team for their amazing hospitality and kindness. I couldn’t have asked for a better hosts.

Thank you!

Visit R. Stuart & Co. Wine bar in McMinnville, Oregon, Sun.-Tue.: 12 p.m.- 6 p.m., and Wed.-Sat.: 12 p.m.- 8 p.m. They are located at 528 NE 3rd St. McMinnville, OR 97128.

Make sure to ask them to tell you about the Three Clowns story of their Cabernet Sauvignon wine, it is full of twists and turns, Delta flight attendants and Texas.  As Rob states, “it’s like a fishing story, it becomes more embellished as time goes on.”

Side note: I heard that if you join the wine club, Maria Stuart, Robs’s lovely wife, pairs every new club release with a recipe. What a great benefit! For more info on their wine club, click here. 

Planning a trip to McMinnville?

Here are some downtown tips I’ve heard from the locals.

Place to stay: 

Hotel Oregon is one of  McMenamins renovated classic hotels. This hotel, built in 1905, has quite the history from being a Greyhound bus depot to a Western Union and finally soda fountain and beauty parlor before McMenamins took over.   It is a four-story restored building with 42 rooms complete with a pub on the ground floor and a great summertime rooftop bar.

Great food at a great price:

Like Thai? I certainly do, especially when it’s reasonably priced. Try Thai Country off of the main street of NE 3rd Street.  According to one Yelp! reviewer, “This isn’t the best Thai food in town, it’s the best in the state.” I certainly enjoyed their green curry!

Prefer Italian? Try Nick’s Italian Cafe. I’ve heard it’s stellar! It’s right across the street from R.Stuart & Co. Wine Bar. on NE 3rd street.

Have a wonderful, happy and safe Thanksgiving! Cheers!

Red wine, White Wine and Bubbles…An Introduction to the Willamette Valley of Oregon

Having been here in Oregon now for about four and a half months, starting with a quick introduction via the Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Portland in September and culminating with the harvest season, I have had a chance to learn a bit about the wonderful valley that I now live in. While it is not Spain’s La Rioja, with its full-bodied sour cherry and oaky Tempranillos and Grenaches, the Willamette Valley of Oregon has another breed of wine, an American story different from that of California and La Rioja.

Oregon‘s wine country, like its people, is slower-paced, more personal and less pretentious than some other wine regions. Oregon is not a state where you will find extremely large wineries; instead you will find wineries with less than 3000 cases made annually. Oregon is dominated by a mom-and-pop type of mentality and a family-like consensus-driven way of working. Oregon’s wines are mostly hand-grown, hand-harvested, hand-sorted, and hand-made. There are very few mechanically harvested wines in Oregon due to differences in training systems throughout the state. Every step of the winemaking process is touched in one way or another by a human. Oregon is also leading the charge for organic, sustainable and biodynamic viticulture.

Located right at the 45th parallel, the Willamette Valley is considered a cool-climate region for grape growing. This region is primarily known for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris but has also become home to new varietals such as Gruner Veltliner and even Riesling. The valley is protected by the Coast Range but also benefits from the cool marine air. In Willamette Valley it is believed that a cooler climate is more suitable to Pinot Noir than a warmer one. The valley is also known for its soil conditions and mild temperatures, creating the right terroir for its famed Pinot Noir.

A few good friends from Australia who came to visit me right after the harvest season asked me to give them a tour of the region.  I thought it only made sense to take them to a few places I feel represent this valley for them to see and taste…a little red, a little white and some bubbly.

  1. Eola Amity Hills AVA, to visit Bethel Heights.  We had wanted to make it to Cristom and Saint Innnocent. but unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time. We also toured Willamette Valley Vineyard, which is among the largest in production in Oregon. Ted Casteel from Bethel Heights took the time to talk to us about how they got started in 1977. For more information or to visit them, please visit their homepage at Bethel Heights.

2. Chehalem Mountain AVA, to visit the Ponzi Wine Bar.  Founded in 1970, this is another family-owned business that is now a second-generation-run winery, with Michel Ponzi as the Co-Owner, Maria Ponzi as the Director of Sales and Marketing, and their sister, Luiza Ponzi as winemaker. As there honestly was not enough time to drive all the way up to Ponzi’s main location, I took my Australian friends to the Wine Bar they have in Dundee. We had a bite to eat with a nice tasting of wine to accompany it. I had a chance to try their Dolcetto made from an Italian varietal, which was a nice surprise. They make Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and White Riesling, as well as Arneis and Dolcetto, two rare Italian varietals. Please visit them at Ponzi Vineyards.

3. Dundee Hills AVA, to visit Argyle Winery.  In my opinion, Argyle Winery makes some of the best sparkling wines (i.e., Champagne style) in the valley. I would highly recommend a visit to this winery to try their POP Flight.  They have a number of 90+ point wines highly recommended by Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. They also happen to be located right across the street from the Ponzi Wine Bar, so you can grab a bite and then head over there for after-meal sparkling delights.  Please visit them at Argyle Winery.

When you are looking to find some other great places to visit, do feel free to send me an e-mail, and I will do my best to give you recommendations.  We hope to see more of you in the region to taste some of the great wines coming out of the Willamette Valley.