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This year marks my 30th anniversary in the wine business. I started out working as a sommelier at The View Restaurant in Washington DC, while a student at Georgetown University. At the time it seemed to be a smart financial move, given I was paid commission on sales, but it turned out to be my vocational calling---who knew? In 1984 the wine business was nascent in the U.S. Who would have realized that in such a short period of time, we would become the wine-drinking nation we are today? Still, we have a long road ahead of us, evidenced by many other beverages that are currently enjoying wide appeal (e.g. sake, microbrews, ciders and mead). Back to the future?
This final newsletter of 2014 shares our team's holiday wine picks as well as our individual takes on gratitude this year. Alex Fondren gives us a run down of bubbly for any budget and our rock and roll all star client Jeff Smith of Hourglass Vineyards gives us an unplugged interview.
It’s that time of year again when we set into motion our most-American of American traditions: the New Year’s resolution. In the couple weeks prior to New Year’s Eve, many will begin thinking of that annual resolve to get fit, manage daily stresses and of course, spend less money.
Yet, we’re in the midst of a rapidly changing world where in the last decade alone new technologies have radically transformed the way we interact with our surrounding environment—and the usual New Year’s resolution isn’t quite satisfying our resolve to run harder, breathe easier and balance our checkbooks.
As we head into 2015 and delve deeper into this post-modern era where seemingly anything goes from leveraging our fingerprints ...(KEEP READING).
Ten "Medium Intensity" Questions with Vintner Jeff Smith of Hourglass Winery
Jeff Smith, who was born and raised in the Napa Valley, gained valuable experience at the Robert Mondavi Winery in the late 1980s, where he refined his knowledge of wine, food and business—a skillset that helped catapult him to the role of Vice President of Sales & Marketing for what was to become the brand phenom SKYY Vodka.
While at SKYY, Jeff was responsible for introducing the iconic cobalt blue bottle, and for propelling the business from zero to 600,000 cases in annual volume in just 5 years. In 1990, Jeff took over the management of a small four-acre family vineyard in St. Helena. He replanted it to Cabernet Sauvignon and brought in winemaker Bob Foley to craft the wines. Jeff dubbed the vineyard “Hourglass” because of it geographic location—at the “pinch” of the hourglass-shaped Napa Valley. His first vintage—1997—was released in the summer of 2001.
Recently, Tony Biagi (a veteran of Duckhorn, Neal Family Vineyards and Plumpjack Group) took over the reigns of winemaking and today Hourglass is one of the most sought after brands from Napa Valley. Interesting fact: At San Francisco State University, Jeff’s reputation was “rock star” over vintner.
1. CCA: As a child, you collected ____________________ ? Jeff Smith: Baseball cards. I had a killer collection dating back to the 1950s with older cards likeWille Mays' second season. I had to learning the history of baseball to know who the guys on the cards were.
2. Name a book that has had the most impact on your life?
Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” The journey to the center of madness is better left to others…
3. Recall the biggest and best mistake you ever made and what you learned from it.
My biggest mistake was hiring my own boss at SKYY Vodka, who summarily sacked me for the favor. He made a large sum of money at my expense. As a result I’ve become much more aware and make a point to avoid opportunists. My best mistake was thinking I had enough experience to start Hourglass—I didn’t, but trial by fire is not always a bad way to learn.
4. Cabin in the woods or penthouse in the city and why?
How about a penthouse in the woods? Less congestion, better view!
5. What do you think about a future with driverless cars?
Means another drink at the bar. All for it!
KEEP READING to find out Jeff's 10-year prediction on technology, and what career path might have rocked him from the wine industry.
KIMBERLY NOELLE CHARLES Pick: Bodegas Lopez de Heredia 2001 Vina Tondonia($39)
Many wines are beautifully made around the world, and at heart, I am a classicist. Nothing beats a wine made from indigenous grapes of specific Old World regions (enough of trying to grow Chardonnay in Rioja!). I loved this wine out of all the wines I tasted this year for three reasons: First, from a historical perspective, this bodega was one of the original three established in Rioja dating back to 1877. Second, although nearly 14 years old, the wine is youthful and has a lot of life from an excellent vintage. Third, and certainly perhaps most importantly, it was shared with dear friends who visit once a year from Vancouver BC who loved experiencing it. Sharing is the best part about drinking wine.
Find it: K&L
JORDAN CARMACK Pick: Tio Pepe Fino, En Rama, Gonzalez Byass, Bottled 2014 ($24)
Although 2014 was truly a whirlwind of wines for my novice palate, attending this years Sherryfest in San Francisco has to be one of the most amazing experiences I had ever had--and will be a moment I will never forget. Gonzales Byass Tio Pepe Fini 'En Rama' was one of many sherries I sampled but its balance of fruitiness and citrus qualities made this sherry sublimely easy to enjoy.
ALEX FONDREN Pick: Lynch-Bages 1985, Pauillac ($170-$220)
A special birth year wine for my little brother on his 29th birthday, made unforgettable not only because of the fun impression it made on him, but because it is probably one of the best wines I have ever tasted. Classic Bordeaux aromas of leather and dried tobacco dominate while still-juicy dark fruit tinged with a sanguine thread of iron-like minerality round out a palate of spiced fruitcake, peppered mushrooms and mocha. Ponderous on its own, but perfect with a filet mignon, we enjoyed with it at Seattle's famed Capital Grille restaurant.
Pick: Michael David 2013 Ancient Vine Cinsault ($25)
I recently had the opportunity to try this wine during Charles Communications' presentation of the famed Bechtold Vineyard during the Lodi Wines Brandlive. Though all options were delicious, this Cinsault's burst of intense berries stood out to me.
A HOLIDAY BUDGET SHOULD NEVER BURST YOUR BUBBLE(S) by Alex Fondren
It’s almost hard not to find an evening in December that couldn’t benefit from a little extra vinous sparkle. However, my resulting headaches from a month-long fizz-fest usually are more from wallet angst than alcohol-throb.
This year, I decided to *pop* with more prudence, and—by doing my research ahead of time (hard work, I know)—ensure that my love for spontaneous Champers might also prove financially sustainable for once. Of course, value means different things to different people (yes, former colleague who thinks NV Krug is a ‘value’ – I’m talking to you), so with that in mind, I give you my—admittedly Champagne-heavy—recommendations of bubbles for every budget from under $50 to over $100.