History,Russian River Valley,Sparkling,Wine

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming

It’s always a joy to receive Iron Horse Vineyards’ bubbles. As I read Joy Sterling’s cover letter about her family’s 2010 Russian Cuvée, it sparked another memory, but first, what was written, so you understand the brain connection.

Understandably, my family still takes complete credit for ending the Cold War. The 2010 Russian Cuvée in this box commemorates the style of Sparkling that we made for this first historic toast on November 20, 1985, which continues to be served at the White House as the toasting wine at State Dinners for five consecutive Presidential Administrations. Russian Cuvée is aged 4 plus years en triage. Total Production: 800 cases. Winery retail is $42.

And, for the record, this wine lives up to its reputation. While enjoying it, I thought… how perfectly delicious this sparkling wine is. It captures its terroir (Green Valley of Russian River Valley) and is totally refreshing on this warm day. Life couldn’t have been more perfect at that moment. Just then, I had a neighbor knock on my door. Gary asked, “Do you know of anyone who owns that abandoned truck down the street, before I report it,” he asked? I said, “No, I don’t, but would you like to share some sparkling wine?” He hesitated, back and forth, finally he said, “Oh, why not!” When he saw that it was an Iron Horse sparkling, he said, “Whoa… the great stuff!” and was very happy that he had made the right decision. I sent him home with the rest of the bottle, knowing that more was to come for me, so why not share the joy?

Gray Matter

The connection I had was with Russian River Valley, and then I thought about how few people really understand its paramount importance to this wine grape growing region. It was a very wise choice that occurred between the White House and Iron Horse’s sparking wine, for that momentous occasion in November of 1985. President Ronald Reagan was presiding over the U.S. at that time, and Mikhail Gorbachev was leading Russia. The wine’s Russian connection is very subtle, and has a lot more to do with the name “Russian River Valley,” than the average wine connoisseur could imagine.


I, too, would have very little knowledge of its origin, as I had been too busying learning about grape varieties and who is making what wine. That is, until Zentrepreneur Ron Rubin came into my life. I began working with The Rubin Family of Wines, and Ron gave an assignment to me: uncover the layers of Green Valley of Russian River Valley. I peeled away the layers, from Pangaea until today, and this gave me a real understanding of not only Green Valley, but also the history of Russian River Valley.

Finally I knew the significance of Russian’s role in California’s history. Kids in local schools travel to Fort Ross and get “the drill;” but still, it doesn’t take in the most subtle of points as regards winemaking.

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming

That’s what the Pomo Indians were thinking as they looked out to sea, but they just didn’t know that it was a group of “Russians,” who were coming, at the time.

Indeed, the Russian were coming; but, unlike other invaders to the U.S. from Europe, they weren’t coming to acquire land for their ruling crown, nor were they coming to lay down religious beliefs in order to enslave a people… for land acquisition… They were fur traders, and the Pacific Coast line held a bounty of otter pelts for them. Also, the climate wasn’t as forbidding as Russian’s. But it also proved to be a benefit, just not its primary raison d’être.

In 1812, they arrived and bought the land in Mendocino, from a local Pomo Tribe, naming it Fortress Ross. The natives had used that land in the winter, not the summer months, because of winter’s milder coastal climate. In the summer, the Pomos moved inland along the existing marshlands. At the time, it was a bucolic valley, which still had lots of waterways. This provided fish and reeds that gave them weaving and hut building opportunities. It was as close to Nirvana as anyone could get, according to today’s standards. Tribes had an understanding… What land is your, is yours; what land is ours is ours. It was only when one tribe member would try to cross into another’s area that justice was swift, and what was quickly delivered was understood by all parties. The Pomos arrived first and had the inland areas. The Miwok people arrived later, and so they became coastal natives.

But, let’s get back into what’s now called Russian River Valley.

In 1836, the Russians sent Moscow-trained agronomist Yegor Leontievich Chernykh, to the Sonoma Coast, in order to improve the crops being grown for their consumption. Chernykh settled in Green Valley, and established a farm along Purrington Creek. This land is just west of what’s now called Graton in Green Valley, just between today’s towns of Occidental and Graton. Chernykh erected barracks and five other structures, growing fruits and vegetables, as well as wheat and other grains. Chernykh also developed a large vineyard, introducing the first wine grapes into Sonoma County. Interestingly, Yegor Chernykh became known as Don Jorge. His wines were intended for sacramental purposes; but, regardless of their purpose, it needs to be noted that he found an exceptional terroir for his wine grapes. These vineyards were among the first cultivated fields in what is now Green Valley of the Russian River Valley appellation. It’s also why so many people refer to the “Bounty of the County.” Yegor found paradise,

Russian River Valley, of Sonoma County, holds a very unique position for who planted the first wine grape vines… It was indeed the Russians… Hence:

  • Russian River Valley
  • Russian River Gateways
  • Russian River Vineyards
  • Russian River Avenue
  • A Google search turns up about 34,700,000 results in 0.45 seconds for a Russian River search.

All of the Russians pulled out in 1841,  including Yegor Chernykh, just missing the gold rush by eight years. Anther interesting note is that they sold the land back to the Pomos, ending the pioneering Russian, viticultural history, as we now know it.

In the process, the Russians left a huge fingerprint in the process, for so short of a time.


Wine,Wine & Food,Wine Manners

Road Warrior Survival Guide ~ It’s not about anything but common courtesy

Ah… common courtesy, will we ever all be in a room together and get along completely?

In light of the recent incident,when a group of rambunctious women were removed from The Wine Train, I’m relaunching this story. While it’s a very funny look at wine behaviors, beneath it is “courtesy,” as a missing ingredient at wine events. What has recently happened, which is regrettable, is just what happens when wine is brought into play. Who hasn’t had a loose tongue slip, while enjoying wine?

Here you go, once again, always brought back by popular demand…


If you’ve read this one before, you know there’s room for additions.

This was first published in Wine Business Monthly. It’s one of my rare rants, and was born from being on the road a bit too much (I think) at the time. While my schedule has slowed down, the following behaviors haven’t… Enjoy!

We all know that it’s not polite to stereotype; but my lord; some people make it so darn easy. They’re there, at every wine festival, you can count on them. They look different than the last festival; they may part their hair on the left instead of the right, they may be bald instead of having a full head of hair. But, they return completely metamorphosed – doing exactly what they did in the last town. And, we all know them.

Pusher-uppers & puller-outers – These are my two personal favorites. Both of them make the decision that you’ve poured enough wine, but instead of telling you in words, they tell you in actions. The pusher uppers are those people who, once they’ve made their split-second decision, will forcefully push up on their glasses, causing you to jump out of your skin. No matter how many times I’ve experienced them, I’m never ready for the pusher-uppers. I pushed back once, just to see the expression on her face… it was classic. She looked confused. “Welcome to my world,” I mused.

Another time, when I had just experienced a pusher-upper, I turned to a colleague who was pouring with me. We had a minute of down time. I said, “You know, I can’t stand pusher-uppers.” He looked at me quizzically… I said, “You know, those people who decide that you’ve poured enough wine for them and they just push their glass up at you.” He said, “Well, I think that it’s kinda nice. They’ve decided that they’ve had enough.” I returned, “Phil, why can’t they just say, ‘thank you.'” Phil thought for a second and said, “You know, you’re right. What would it take to be a little polite?” I said, “My point exactly.”

Then Phil said to me, “You know, I can’t stand the ones who pull their glass away while you’re still pouring!” I said, “Oh, you mean the Puller-Outers.” He said, “Yeah, what are they thinking? You’re pouring, and the next thing you know, they start to take their glass away while you’re still pouring wine. It makes me follow their hand so I don’t spill all over the place.”

I said, “You know, the next time I have a pusher-upper, I going to push right back. I’ve had it.” Just at that moment, my friend R.B. arrived. I was so excited.

She offered her beach home to me as overnight accommodations, and I just couldn’t wait to hug her, so I said to Phil, “I’ll be right back. I have to go to say ‘Hi’ to R.B.” I left the table and looked over my shoulder just in time to see red wine splashed all over the white tablecloth. I looked at Phil, and he gave me this mischievous wink. Later he told me that the very next guy turned out to be a puller-outer. At first Phil started to follow him with the bottle. Then he thought, “What the heck…” and let ‘er rip. Horrified, the husband exclaimed, “That’s the second time that’s happened to me tonight!” His wife retorted, “Get a clue!”

Takes It All Too Seriously – There is one man I’ll never forget… he made my day when he called me “Young Lady.” It’s been so long since I’ve been called “Young Lady;” usually it’s “Ma’am.” I had just poured a Chardonnay that he asked for, and I went into the adjectives; you know, apple, citrus, butter. He stopped me dead in my tracks, “Young lady,” (I was thinking, how sweet!), and he continued, “Do not presume to tell me what I’m going to find on my palate.” Yawn!

Yin-Yang – “I’ll Have Something Red” has a twin… “I’ll Have Something White.” Have you ever been tempted to just pick up two bottles (say a Cabernet and a Merlot) and simultaneously pour each in his/her glass? It could be followed with, “There you go, my own concoction. I’m thinking of going into wine making. Whaddaya think?”

Cleanliness is NOT next to Godliness – These folks have to rinse after each and every pour of wine. Okay, I’d much rather dilute my wine with wine. After three hours of tasting, do these guys really believe that they’re tasting anything purely anymore?

Blotters – Who told them that they could rinse out their glasses and turn them upside down on my tablecloth? Oh, those dirty rings!

Bell Ringers – These guys must love to ring the bell for the Salvation Army at Christmas, because they spend the rest of the year rinsing their glasses; then, shaking them all over the event like they’re ringing the bell for the poor kids who might not have a Christmas without their monumental efforts. My friend Dan likes to call them Flicker Dorks, but Bell Ringers works, too.

The Whole World’s a Phone Booth – They think they’re alone. The tent has 1,000 people in it, but they’re so lonely that they have to call friends to tell them how much they’re missed; meanwhile, they’re missing the tasting. And, with the constant drone of the murmuring crowd, how much can anyone really hear… and who cares!

Dish Washers – Where do these guys get off thinking that my ice tub is their kitchen sink? Each and every person adds more spit than the last. And when you tell them that they’re about the tenth person to wash their glass, they just shrug. Yeooooow!

Garbage People – Where do these guys get off thinking that my spit bucket is their trashcan? I pity the guys whose job it is to empty the spit wine into a sink. Before they do, they have to remove toothpicks, napkins, paper plates, left over food, etc.

Chuckle with the Chain – (note the yellow circle, denoting the hanging glass) Not enough hands or just too clutsy? I can’t decide, but it’s always a giggle to see how some people compulsively put their glass into a glass holder that’s worn like a necklace, and has the potential – with one simple bump – to segue into the next phase… wine-on-shirt badge. (This one proves that we’re all really funny, honestly.)

“Don’t Over Do It!” – My return for this jibe is, “You either!” The same guy who can’t get enough wine from a pour invariably spills red wine all over his shirt before the event ends. (Dribble, dribble little louse, I saw you dribble on your new silk blouse!)

“Ms. Perfume” – Please, please, please don’t bathe in it… It’s so hard to taste anything right, when any perfume at all at a wine tasting is so wrong.

“You Can Do Better Than That” – Usually evokes, “Oh, I didn’t realize that we’ve slipped from the tasting portion to the drinking portion of the program!”

“Ya Look Like The Concierge” – “Do you know where XYZ Winery is?” I usually say, “Yeah, in the Sierra Foothills.”

“Parker” (inspired by a conversation with Jose and Amy Biege) – These are people who come to a table to get their taste of wine, put their food plate down on your pristine table cloth (that you’ve brought back from Italy), and proceed to have a conversation with their friends. There should be a rule, “Get your wine, get your information, then step away from the table,” to let others – who’ve also paid to attend the event – get to the wine and the people pouring. People who are pouring wine are there to promote their products. When you monopolize their tables, they get pretty antsy, even though they’re smiling at you.

“Traders/Traitors” (inspired by Robert Larsen of Rodney Strong, which I too, know all too well)These guys have figured out how to play the game… They’re people who go to a table with an glass empty, and asks, “Can you just fill it up. I just love your wine. It’s the best one here.” Moments later, you see them at a table across the way, getting a full pour, again. Hum… How did they manage that one over there, too?

“Tipsies” – These guys can’t hold their glasses upright, handing you a glass that’s tipped in your direction. They’ve obviously never poured wine for others, because with a glass so tipped, it’s next to impossible to know how to pour it carefully. Have you ever tried that one? You’re not any cooler, because you tip your glass…

“Wine Swill” ~ “No, don’t look in the dump bucket!” about the last hour of any event. You’ll see all those floating tooth picks that are headed down the drain, somewhere. (Inspired by Randy Arnold of Barefoot Cellars.)

“Magician’s Apprentice” ~ “So, what do you have under the table?” – If I wanted you to know, I would have already pulled it out. Smile… (Eric S. Crane helped with this one.)

(Cristin offered this one, the last time that I published this story.) You forgot the “’POP’ drinkers.” The one’s who only want the late harvest/ice wine. They wince and the whine at everything under seven percent RS. – Someone must have dragged them to the tasting, in my humble opinion.

The Last Half Hour All Hell Breaks Lose,
And it Had Better Be Tied Down or You Can Kiss it Goodbye…

It’s-almost-the-end-of-the-event, here – let me drop off my garbage on your linen. Well, I would, but I really need to keep a tidy presence right up to the end.


  • You’ve turned your back, here – let me pour for myself. Well, I would, except this isn’t my living room, and you’re not my new best friend.
  • You’ve turned your back, here – let me steal your table decorations. Well, I would, except I’ll just have to buy them again for the next event, and my boss won’t understand my constant spending on plastic grapes.
  • You’ve got a big bottle on your table, here – let me walk out with it. Well, I would but I promised it to a restaurateur who’s sold a lot of my wine and earned it.

It all gets packed up, what’s left of it, for the next city, and then it all starts again. Thank God the nice folks are handily sprinkled in-between the stereotypes.

And honestly, this just really proves how funny we all are, once it’s all said and done.

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Wine industry comments support the issue of common courtesy

Yesterday’s story about The Wine Train sparked some very interesting comments on that post.

Wine industry comments support the issue

Great thread, Jo! Should be a “must read” for all “wine professionals”, whether in Napa or not! Interestingly, this incident just appeared in our Oregonian newspaper today, but as you can guess, it, too, spoke only to the ‘injustice’ issue — too bad!! Thanks for your always broader perspective ~

— Jo, so true that wineries just don’t want to wade into this one. Like Tom wrote today- “No Comment.” Please keep writing about all the wine industry nuances:

  • -People getting cut off or asked to leave is a relatively common occurrence in tasting rooms, restaurants, bars and similar establishments. Those of us who work in these industries deal with these kinds of situations all the time.
  • -Staff training is crucial- ABC/TIPS as well as cultural sensitivity. Did you know that in certain cultures it’s considered offensive to show someone the bottom of your foot?
  • -Skilled professionals should know how to diffuse a situation without escalating it…unless absolutely necessary. And management should train people to know where those limits are.
  • -Businesses who accept large groups should be able to handle them (i.e. why so many wineries don’t accept buses or limos- they don’t have the room and/or don’t want the liability).
  • -And last but not least, customers need to be sensitive to the experience of others around them. Whether on the Wine Train or in a tasting room you’re “in this together.”

Hospitality, like most everything in life, is a two way street.

— Good one, Jo. We get many groups of young women from bridal parties, and mixed groups traveling together. This happens.

— Excellent post, Jo. I would only add that there is another dimension to this situation. In today’s racially charged atmosphere, and due to all the abuses, African Americans have embraced a culture of victimhood and entitlement. Resentment of whites is simmering just below the surface and an incident like this quickly brings it the forefront. Not sure how we can lessen this antagonism and hypersensitivity. Mixed race book clubs 😉 ?

— There is a huge difference between the Wine Train and a tasting room. And to emphasize the point when the train stops at Grgich they don’t take them into the tasting room, they have a separate space as to not bother the people that are there to learn about wine (and hopefully buy some.) If you take reservations for large groups, be it in a restaurant or on a train, you are going to get parties, some of which may be noisier than others. If you allow limos to stop at your winery you better have a place for them.

— Jo, Very well put and the media etc not knowing the reality of people out of control has made this purely racial, how unfortunate, actually awful. When I interviewed for working in a tasting room, the question they asked me a few times was – how would I handle someone whose had too much too drink – a difficult but necessary condition when it comes to alcoholic beverage consumption. I assume the people on the train were trained to deal with this in as courteous manner as possible.

— Well written Jo Diaz. I had read several accounts of this incident and thought that something was definitely missing in the coverage. Thank you for providing additional food for thought.

— Not unlike what I have to deal with at our music concerts – load people talking while others just want to enjoy the music…

— Interesting read, Jo! Also interesting is how FB “relates” the Wine Train post to the French Bullet Train incident. Gotaa love them stupid algorithms.

— Well done! Agree with your point about limiting group size (specifically on the train) in public areas to 6. Private cars would be necessary for larger groups to keep the peace.

— Thank you, Jo. As usual, very well said.

— Jo nails it. There are few things worse than being next to a rowdy party gang when you are there for a different experience. I once reported a rowdy, alcoholic group at a Giants game. They were impossible to sit next to. The Giants moved me! To much better seats, too.

— Yep, yep yep…spot on. Been in the wine industry a long time and teach hospitality/wine courses at the college. You nailed it, Jo.

The comments following the original articles remind me of how selective Americans are in their reasoning: calling it a “bar” instead of a “dining car”; calling it “racist” instead of “crowd control”; calling it “talking loudly” instead of “annoying other customers.”  I think of it as “the all-you-can-eat buffet version” of the Bill of Rights — don’t like how specific freedoms and liberties affect your beliefs? … then cherry pick the ones you support and renounce the rest.

— Go, Jo, Go! I will ask anyone who is disruptive to leave my tasting room, because we are there to create an experience for EVERYONE (and sell wine), not just particular groups. I don’t care what color you are, if You are wearing Prada, if you are related to the owner – OUT!!! Grrr.

— Rowdy can be fun. Rowdy can be boisterous. Rowdy can be annoying if you were seeking to enjoy the scenery and have a nice train ride. The ladies could have been purple or pink or black or white. When asked to dial it down, they did not. Sometimes scenes fueled with alcohol just get rowdy.

So true, Jo. We’ve all been in the “rowdy and boisterous” situation…and I too don’t think this had anything to do with race.

One person in importing wrote, so hospitality is not his specialty, which is important to state:

The purpose of tasting rooms, bars, restaurants, and yes the wine train is to sell people wine. Too much wine, make people drunk. Drunk people can behave badly. Maybe, just maybe the wine train personnel sold these women too much wine. But isn’t that their job? The wine train has always projected a somewhat holier than thou image of “fiine dinging” , etc. To complain that the women passengers are crying foul unfairly, is absurd. This wasn’t the Tea Train or the Seltzer Train. Even the hushed dining room at the French Laundry has gotten rolicky and loud from too much over priced wine. I think the wine country hospitality needs to take a long hard look at itself, its goals, its treatment of others. Its customers

I had to respond:

Tom, have you ever worked in a tasting room or at a wine event? Just wondering. It’s there that you really see consumer behavior…

Manners are taught at home, then hospitality is more about serving people in a welcoming atmosphere, not controlling people who allow themselves to lose control. As Joan Rivers was so famous for saying… “Oh, grow up!” That’s what each of us are responsible for in life… Maturity. An industry not in the maturity business can’t teach that one. It begins at home.

I’m not alone in understanding this, especially by those who are in or have been in hospitality. There could be classes taught in courtesy, but it really does start at home. When I was a kid, my mother sent me to charm school for a reason. I was her unruly one… If one is going to a winery (or the wine train, for instance), it’s much more intimate than a bar. It’s one-on-one education for many of the best places… And by best, I’m talking about ones that hire people who are thrilled to share their passion and understanding about wine and its culture.




IMHO,Napa,Wine,Wine Appreciation,Wine Etiquette

The Removal of Wine Train passengers is a symptom of a bigger problem

Well, this was bound to happen, regardless of race, creed, or political party. The removal of Wine Train passengers brings a lot of issues to the forefront, from the side of someone on the other side of the bar.

Let me digress for a second… When I was working in tasting rooms, inevitably some group would come into the tasting room and be so self absorbed that they were literally out of control, as compared to the people who really just came to taste and learn about wine. The people around the swam of bees would stay a bit away, to make sure they didn’t get stung. It happens everyday in wine country, and maybe why Americans – in other countries – are considered to be lacking courtesy.

Honestly, I’ve been with a group of people – who hasn’t? – where we got a bit boisterous, and then decided to not care about anyone else around us, because we were having so much fun. (These moments produce great memories, for those who are having the fun.)


A whole new generation has moved in, as regards consumers.

There’s a recent movement to have one’s image taken with the “Welcome to Napa Valley” signs… on both ends of the valley. I’ve never seen anything like the droves that are now gathering. It’s like having one’s picture taken at the Eiffel Tower or the climbing of a Pyramid. It says you’ve been there and done that.

But, this past Sunday, something different was in the air… I saw the ultimate. One guy on the south end of Napa had climbed the sign (not easy to do), and had stuck his head through the bubble part of it and the banner above. What if he fell? (The Girl Scout Day Camp director, in my past life skill set, still asks those questions of safety.) Who’s going to pay that bill, besides the land owners? All of us, as health insurance cost continue to climb for those who can afford to pay, to cover those who can’t. We don’t consider that, when we’re hanging off signs not constructed to hold people, though. We just want to have fun.

So, there’s the guy, head through the sign, while the Napa Valley Wine Train is coming down the road, and little did I know, with a group of passengers noticeably out of control by those who were sharing the car they were in and not invited to their private party.

While some are screaming “race.” This isn’t a race issue, I can tell you that. The guy on the sign was not a person of color, he was a white guy. If the cops had seen him, he would have been told to “get down ASAP.”

[This image has come from the Napa Valley Wine Train Website.]

The Removal of Napa Wine Train passengers

While media are having a heyday with this story, because it’s salacious, it’s doing a disservice to the industry. Everyone is focusing on race instead of courtesy.

We (in the business) have to try to control the people we are serving who step over a line of consideration for the others around them, too. Someone on this train had had enough, but didn’t handle her communication well, so now she looks like a racist. That might have been far from her intent. She may have just wanted the joyous group to bring it down a notch. I don’t really know. I wasn’t there, But, as someone who puts on wine events, I know that there are always those who create situations, and they’re asked to tone it down, whenever possible.

Here’s how it happened:

In a statement issued on Sunday, from a Napa Valley Wine Train spokeswoman Kira Devitt: “…received complaints from several parties in the same car and after three attempts from staff, requesting that the group keep the noise to an acceptable level, they were removed from the train and offered transportation back to the station in Napa.”

Continuing: Wine train spokesman Sam Singer has stated, “On average, Singer said, individuals or groups are asked to get off the wine train once a month for one reason or the other. ‘It’s not a question of bias,’ he said.”

While the chief officer of the train company has issued a public apology, which is the best PR he can do, the behaviors that wine professionals see everyday, would suggest that consumers also need to consider their behavior. Whenever there is alcohol involved, it’s going to be the most difficult and challenging, especially when a large group enters a tasting room.

If that were my company, and remember – this is how rules become rules, I would have a no parties larger than six in the future on public cars, and allow parties larger than that to rent a car for their own enjoyment.

There are good reasons why there are signs everywhere, refusing busloads of people, and that also includes limousines being turned away. I wish I was making this up… I’m not.

From the San Francisco Chronicle: “Later on, Johnson said the manager told them that “this isn’t going to work,” and that if they didn’t “tone it down,” they were going to be asked to get off the train.”

What do you do with behavior that’s been warned? I take the clue…

When there’s alcohol, judgment is off…

It’s a courtesy issue that’s very much connected to alcohol. When we enjoy wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), our defenses for being more private are greatly diminished. [According to Cognitive Sciences, “It has to do with the excitatory affect alcohol has on almost all neurotransmitters and their receptors, including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.”] This reaction has been going on since the beginning of time, and we all know its effects.

The Wine Train, to its credit, asked the passengers in question to “simma down now, simma down.” Obviously, they didn’t and just kept going. They took a private party onto a public train, where others were also wining and dining, and the others weren’t being asked to chill out. It was just this happy party, who forgot that others around them might just want to also enjoy wine and watch the sights go by, and not have to live in their party vicariously.

The group felt demeaned when they left the train, because the police had to escort them away. What did they expect, after being asked to cooperate with the train’s culture? The book reading group was just having too much fun. It’s as simple as that.

Party girls, I might have even been with you in days gone by. I’ve have my fun days, and I have no regrets… My Peter Pan days ended, when I began my job in the wine business, so I couldn’t be with you. When there’s alcohol involved, we just have to be more careful. We, in the wine business, have instructions on what to do, when people have lost control. Pre my job? Yeah, I might have been riding that train, high on… life in the fun zone, too. But not now. I have a responsibility to everyone at the party, not just one group… My parties have me managing 800 people. I need to have it go really right.

As someone who has had to professionally refuse to serve others, who were beyond the norm of sounds being generated at a place of business, it must have had to be done, for the sake of everyone’s comfort. (Comfort is also part of this… ) And, it must not have been an easy call, for whomever had to make the final decision. Weighing in as a person who has served a lot of alcohol, I’ve also actually threatened to call the police, when a customer refused to cooperate. It was the threat that actually turned her around. But, she pushed me that far, as I had my cell phone in hand.

This encounter was a perfectly healthy young woman, who had taken a chair set aside for someone with a handicap from our admin area, and was refusing to give it to a woman with a broken foot. The woman needed to sit down, but the person with high heels that no one should be wearing, had sat in that chair all night. I thought to myself, what if the woman with the handicap decided to turn me in for not complying? I had to go on record with the police department, which had issued my license for the night, lest the person who really needed the chair couldn’t get it from me. When you’re in a position of the parade, you darn well better know how to pull up the rear.

Courtesy is a common missing ingredient, when someone is confronted. From the story’s quotes, something was certainly missing.




Compound found in red wine causes conflicting changes in dogs’ immune systems

I just got an E-Mail, with no link to the video or any content at all, but obviously someone was very excited. So, I went looking to see if the subject title was accurate or another spammer. (I get about 250 spam emails a day. It’s exhausting to filter and delete such nonsense.)
The title of the Email: Compound found in red wine causes conflicting changes in dogs’ immune systems

The E-mail came from Nathan G. Hurst,  at www.missouri.edu.

What I found from a Science Daily link, when I Google searched Nathan’s subject:

Date: August 24, 2015
Source: University of Missouri-Columbia
Summary: Researchers have found that resveratrol does affect the immune systems of dogs in different ways when introduced to dogs’ blood.

Resveratrol, a compound found commonly in grape skins and red wine, has been shown to have several potentially beneficial effects on health, including cardiovascular health, stroke prevention and cancer treatments. However, scientists do not yet fully understand how the chemical works and whether or not it can be used for treatment of diseases in humans and animals.

Well, dogs, huh? That’s a new one on me: rats, mice, bunnies, now dogs, and probably happy to be volunteering dogs, at that.

The story goes on:

Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that resveratrol does affect the immune systems of dogs in different ways when introduced to dogs’ blood. Sandra Axiak-Bechtel, an assistant professor in oncology at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, said this is a first step in determining how the chemical causes immune systems to react.

I also did find the Vimeo video at this link: https://vimeo.com/137149919, if you’d like to watch it.

Compound Found in Red Wine Causes Conflicting Changes in Dogs’ Immune Systems from MU News Bureau on Vimeo.

More credential, making this entire story worth your time, if you’re a wine and health fanatic:

Story Source: The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference: Rowena A. Woode, Sandra M. Axiak-Bechtel, Kaoru Tsuruta, Juliana R. Amorim, Yan Zhang, Amy E. DeClue. Resveratrol decreases oxidative burst capacity and alters stimulated leukocyte cytokine production in vitro. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, 2015; 163 (3-4): 164 DOI: 10.1016/j.vetimm.2014.12.004



Evolution of a Wine Drinker

Evolution of a Wine Drinker, by Alicia Bien, is an adorable read about her journey from being a college beer partier to becoming knowledgeable about wine.

Her journey begins with taking what was going to be a slam dunk, easy senior course. Instead, it turned into a bit of a nightmare, with Captain Sargent leading the torture… Even when it made that turn, an older Marine is still a Marine, after all,… and, you WILL get it.

Alicia Bien is Charming

If you’re beginning a wine journey, I strongly recommend this book. You’ll be inspired, most especially if you’re also a writer. Chronicle it, as I’m doing everyday on my own wine blog, as a wine publicist. Chronicle it with your own special twist. Alicia is also a screenwriter and head writer for the live sketch show Top Story! Weekly in Hollywood. You can follow her at newhousegirl.blogspot.com.

What I enjoyed about her book:

  1. Sense of humor at every turn
  2. Beginning each journey with the challenge
  3. Ending each chapter with a fun outcome
  4. Creating her bullet points, like I love to do…
    1. Kindred spirits abound

Twenty three years of learning, teaching, and enjoying wine, and sill/always there will be more to learn… We all can learn more about wine.

[This is an image I took of a cork tree in Portugal. Notice the date of harvest on the tree. This is cork maintenance, and keeps harvest on track for every nine to 10 years.]

My greatest takeaway: Chapter 22 ~ Ullage, Uvula, U Know

“Ullage is the small space of air in a bottle between the top and the the bottom of the cork. This air space is provided to allow for any expansion of the liquid during storage. As wine ages this space-the ullage-grows because the wine is evaporating slowly through the cork.”

Who knew that there is a name for that air space between the top of the bottle of wine and where it meets the wine. U?

You’re also going to love Captain Sargent, no matter who you are. We’ve all got someone like that in our lives. For me it was Mr. Buckley, my first biology teacher. If your paper was perfect, he’d find that one spelling error that had absolutely nothing to do with biology. I could have been  – and probably was – writing “hear” when I meant “here,” as I worked diligently to spell “abscission ” correctly.

This is a fun read, from a humorous writer, that I highly recommend, regardless of who you are. It’s a quick, quirky read that will leave you wanting more.



Viticulture,Wine,Wine Making,Winemaker,Winemaking,Winery,Zinfandel

Robert Biale Vineyards ~ Perpetuating and Saving Zinfandel

This is Day 4 (and the final day this week) of a series for Robert Biale Vineyards commemorating 25 years of their dedication to preserving historic vineyards. It’s not just about growing wine grapes for the Biale team. It about history, people, wine grapes, terroir, and the best use for all of it. On Tuesday, I attended the Robert Biale Vineyards’ Vintage Review Tasting. (I’ll also blog about that event in the future.)

Perpetuating and Saving Zinfandel

Our Dedicated Vineyard Partners

Stagecoach, the Next Stage of Zinfandel

Also in 1999, the Biale partners, in search of new sources of top grapes, approached Jan Krupp, the managing partner of Stagecoach Vineyards. The purpose was to plant a specific Biale Zinfandel vineyard at this remarkable location, on Napa Valley’s eastern ridge. This area had quickly become regarded by winemakers as being among the most significant vineyard projects, of Napa Valley’s modern era. Ambitious in scope and featuring rocky soils, it had the perfect exposure, along with a newly-discovered abundant water source. Stagecoach had quickly become a lightning rod of interest to winemakers looking to add highest standard grapes to their blends and designations. No one had yet taken on Zinfandel, though. That same year, a cooperative project commenced, whereby Krupp would plant old Biale Zinfandel clones on a slope. It had a dramatic view of Oakville and the entire Napa Valley. The Stagecoach Zinfandels have since gone on to become a key feature in Biale’s portfolio. They also embody the winery’s devotion of perpetuating Zinfandel’s legacy.

Old Kraft Vineyard, Saving a Piece of Napa Valley History

Shortly after the Stagecoach Zinfandel vineyard was established, wine industry executive Bill Hart and his wife Margie purchased a historic property, which was an abandoned vineyard, on St. Helena’s west side. Their objective was to build a family home and plant outstanding grape varieties. After consulting with winery friends, and with the very careful consideration that there are aren’t many of Napa Valley’s historic vineyards left, the Harts decided to embark on a vineyard preservation project. This endeavor was intended to revitalize old vines, which they discovered were originally planted by winemaker Franz Kraft in the 1890s. Enlisting the expertise of Bill Pease (Madrigal Vineyard Management) and Bob Biale, the Harts laboriously pruned and shaped up the overgrown vines, removed vigorous invasive weeds, laid drainage tile, cultivated and amended the soil, and inter-planted missing vines. The results were slow but steady. And the grapes proved to be so impressive that Biale bottled its first Old Kraft Vineyard – a 2006 Vintage in 2007.

The Historic R.W. Moore Vineyard, Heritage on Hagen

Biale Vineyards is thrilled and humbled to be a producer of Zinfandel from the historic R. W. Moore Vineyard, in Napa Valley’s Coombsville Appellation.

Historic Hagen Road runs east/west across Napa Valley’s Coombsville Appellation. This newly recognized rural district near the city of Napa is quickly gaining recognition for producing many elegant, polished, and finely balanced wines from many varieties – both reds and whites – which speak to the region’s cool and hilly conditions, in south Napa Valley close by the San Francisco Bay. Here, Henry Hagen’s legendary Cedar Knoll Winery won many international awards for its wines, before it was closed due to Prohibition.

The surviving historic landmark of Coombsville vineyards, though, lies smack dab in the district’s middle on Hagen Road, adjacent to Sarcos Creek, with a looming Mt. George to the east. In 1905, this is where the family of a seafarer by the name of Pleasant Ashley Stevens planted vines.  Most of those vines still exist today, thanks to the dedicated farming and preservationist sensibilities of Bill Moore. Bill is a retired dentist, who purchased the property as his first home in the 1980s.  This is the oldest vineyard in Coombsville; and, amazingly enough, the region’s only Zinfandel. Bill’s rare and iconic old vineyard came into prominence under the Turley Wines label. Then in 2009, it became a family project, when it came under the direction of Bill, his new nephew-in-law Mike Hendry, and Bill’s wife’s niece Molly Hendry. Biale Vineyards received a welcome phone call in 2009, when Mike offered to share some of his family’s grapes from this grand old vineyard. This is a vineyard Biale had long admired for its ideal site and twisting gnarled vines, and we were thrilled to add this Zinfandel to our repertoire of wines. Now, this vineyard is important to the wine industry, as its genetic heritage is being carefully preserved and propagated through the U.C. Davis Heritage Vineyard project.

In Closing

Robert Biale Vineyards is a key longtime supporter of ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), a multi-winery and consumer-supported non-profit, whose programs raise the money needed to save our Zinfandel legacy for future generations.



Petite Sirah,PS I Love You,Vineyards,Viticulture,Wine,Wine Business,Wine Making,Zinfandel

Robert Biale Vineyards ~ A New Generation ~ the Founding Partnership

This is Day 3 of a series for Robert Biale Vineyards commemorating 25 years of their dedication to preserving historic vineyards. It’s not just about growing wine grapes for the Biale team. It about history, people, wine grapes, terroir, and the best use for all of it. Yesterday, I attended the Robert Biale Vineyards’ Vintage Review Tasting. (I’ll also blog about this event in the future.)

A New Generation ~ the Founding Partnership

by Dave Pramuk, Co-Founder of Robert Biale Vineyards with Robert (Bob) Biale

Aldo Biale’s long held dream was to produce a premier commercial wine from his Zinfandel vineyard. Finally in 1991, with the coming of age of his eldest son Robert, a new chapter began to unfold.

It was in the winter of 1991, when Robert (Bob) Biale, with little experience in the areas of legally commercial winemaking or marketing, called a meeting. Bob summoned a dinner meeting with friends, to gauge interest in a joint wine venture. Winemaker, Al Perry (who Bob was working with at Beringer Vineyards) and Dave Pramuk (lifetime schoolmate, and winery-direct salesman) soon agreed to form a partnership with the Biales. The goal was to produce a premiere wine from the Biale family vineyard.

The fledgling winery’s first bottling was Zinfandel harvested from the Biales’ oldest vines. It was made in the garage of a small winery on Spring Mountain, in October of 1991. As a tribute to Aldo Biale, who had preserved the vineyard his whole life, the wine was named “Aldo’s Vineyard,” and amounted to 415 cases.

A New Twist on an Old Success Story

Initial tastings with consumers and sommeliers in Napa Valley, the Bay Area, and Southern California garnered instant interest and recognition, as a serious new entry into the Zinfandel category. Most of the production was sold to a small mailing list. Then, tastings at the new Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) event in San Francisco garnered strong interest from distributors nation-wide. Bob and Aldo’s careful vineyard selection, from its unique Oak Knoll District source and Perry’s introduction of Burgundian techniques and barrels, were a new twist on Zinfandel’s story. And the young winery’s reputation for a more elegant, balanced, pure, and sophisticated style, for this time-honored Californian variety, was quickly established.

As the succeeding vintages progressed, the winery moved its modest operations to a leased winery in Napa’s Vaca Mountains. Other historic vineyard sources were also added to the production mix. In 1995 Biale was producing as many as five different vineyard bottlings, and being recognized as a new shining star in Zinfandel from the following vineyards: Aldo’s Vineyard, Old Crane Ranch, Monte Rosso, Falleri, and Valsecchi. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and the San Francisco Chronicle were publishing praise, and the wines were being snapped up by a growing mailing list. Perry crafted the winery’s first Petite Sirah in 1995 – an inky, dark and lush blend of two rare old vine vineyard lots, and the winery’s following for that once ubiquitous, heritage variety began to build.

The Winery’s Permanent Home

In 1991, having rented space for operations for so long at three different facilities, the Biale partners begun a search, in order to invest in a permanent winery home. They wanted a vineyard property. It had to be in an ideal location in Napa’s Oak Knoll District, and one became available. The partners were able to fulfill their dream. They would be able to construct a winery, establish a new source of estate grapes, and offer Napa Valley visitors a place to discover the pleasures of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. After a lengthy process of permit applications and winery design, the winery moved into its new home in 2005.


Napa,Petite Sirah,Prohibition,PS I Love You,Wine,Wine tasting,Winemaking,Winery,Zinfandel

Napa Valley Early Forefather Aldo Biale

This is Day 2 of a series for Robert Biale Vineyards commemorating 25 years of their dedication to preserving historic vineyards. It’s not just about growing wine grapes for the Biale team. It about history, people, wine grapes, terroir, and the best use for all of it. Today, I’m headed to the winery to enjoy what they feel is the best of their best: Robert Biale Vineyards’ Vintage Review Tasting. (I’ll also blog about this event in the future.)

Napa Valley’s Early Forefather Aldo Biale

October 29, 1929 ~ December 16, 2009

by Dave Pramuk, Co-Founder of Robert Biale Vineyards with Robert (Bob) Biale

Aldo Benedetto Biale was born to Italian immigrants Pietro and Christina Biale, on Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder. This was on the day that the stock market crashed: October 29th, 1929.

Napa’s booming wineries then basically collapsed during Prohibition. And by 1942, if running a farm in rural Napa during The Great Depression wasn’t hard enough in those days, for the Biales a serious tragedy struck the young family. When Aldo was only 13 years old, he lost his father Pietro in a rock quarry explosion, where Pietro was working a second job.

Deeply saddened, but greatly determined, Aldo and his mother shouldered the burden of the farm. They determinedly continued to grow walnuts, prunes, vegetables, fruit, Zinfandel, and raise hundreds of chickens… all of this while selling eggs as their main income. Christina never remarried, and teenager Aldo, who had learned how to make wine from a relative, began selling the family wine to friends and neighbors to earn extra income. The phone started ringing regularly for re-orders…

Living By the Party Line

The Biale phone was a “party line,” where curious neighbors could listen in on conversations down the road. This offered no privacy; consequently, the phone orders that came for produce and eggs often included a request for a jug of Aldo’s homemade wine, from the barrels in the barn. To keep the clandestine wine operation a secret, Aldo cleverly instituted the use of a code name for his wine-buyers. He didn’t want to divulge the commercial activity that was (and still is) highly regulated by government agencies of various acronyms. He also didn’t want to be penalized if found not conforming to federal, state, and local regulated laws.

The Birth of the Black Chickens

Aldo was raising hundreds of white leghorn chickens. He decided to draw upon his Italian heritage, where the Gallo Nero – or Black Rooster – symbolized the wines of Chianti. He thought that the appropriate moniker for his secret wine should be a Black Chicken. Thus, phone calls started coming with customers requesting; for example, “two dozen eggs, some zucchini, prunes, walnuts, and a black chicken.” A lot of the phone conversing happened in a Napa-style mix of Italian and English. Often the Italian speakers used the term Gallina Nera instead, as the black chicken reference to a jug of wine. As the years progressed, Aldo delivered personally on Fridays in a blue 1940 Studebaker. (This was his first car, which he eventually restored decades later to its original gleaming glory.)

In 1953, Aldo married Clementina Calvi, a young woman he met and courted in Liguria, Italy. The black chicken ordering system was still in full swing. Aldo encouraged Clementina to assimilate to America, by learning two things; how drive and how to speak English. She immersed and learned quickly; but Aldo, avoiding complicating matters, didn’t tell her about what a black chicken really meant. With some trepidation, Clementina would soon start answering the phone while Aldo and his mother were outside the house. And, on the occasional chance where the customer was requesting a black chicken, she would remind them that the Biales “only had white chickens” – and that – “the white ones were better.” Once Aldo received the message from Clementina, the order was discreetly fulfilled, no explanations necessary.

All those ensuing years of raising a family and operating a farm and vineyards, the Biales sold their Zinfandel grapes to St. Helena’s Cooperative Winery. Here, they were processed into wine; and, after blending with similar California old vines vineyards, the Zin grapes filled uncountable bottles of good quality Gallo Hearty Burgundy.


Organization,Petite Sirah,PS I Love You,Viticulture,Wine,Wine HIstory,Wine Making,Zinfandel

Robert Biale Vineyards Unique Point of View

Robert Biale Vineyards is commemorating 25 years of their dedication to preserving historic vineyards. It’s not just about growing wine grapes for the Biale team. It about history, people, wine grapes, terroir, and the best use for all of it. Tomorrow, I’m headed to the winery to enjoy what they feel is the best of their best: Robert Biale Vineyards’ Vintage Review Tasting. (I’ll also blog about today’s event in the future.)

I remember the day that Robert Biale Vineyards became part of PS I Love You. I have to admit that I didn’t know the winery at the time, but Jose (my partner) surely did. He told me, “Congratulations, they’re a real cult winery.” I was new to understanding who the key players of Petite Sirah were back then. I’m definitely more in tune with who’s who, now, and Robert Biale Vineyards is part of the crème de la crème. The winery has participated on our board of directors, with partner Dave Pramuk being a Past President and sitting on our board for years. Also, on occasion, Dave has sought my help with editing his writing. He’s a great story teller, and I just edit his work, without changing very much at all… Mostly the dreaded punctuation that most people ask for help to finalize a great document.

For the rest of this week, I’m going to share their story. Perhaps it will inspire others, and perhaps it will be fun reading for those of you who aren’t in the business of wine. The story has broken down into the following:

  1. Robert Biale Vineyards Unique Point of View
  2. Napa Valley’s Early Forefather Aldo Biale
  3. A New Generation, the Founding Partnership
  4. Perpetuating and Saving Zinfandel, Our Dedicated Vineyard Partners


Robert Biale Vineyards Unique Point of View, by Dave Pramuk

Co-Founder of Robert Biale Vineyards with Robert (Bob) Biale

As a wine lover, wouldn’t it be cool if you could go back in time and taste the wines that our forefathers made over a century ago? Well actually, you can. Zinfandel, having been planted wider than any wine grape in California history, still thrives state-wide; and, many vineyards are among the oldest producing grapevines in the world. When you’re a winemaker in search of complex wine character and a sense of place, these old plants are living treasures.

We have been on a quest to realize the full potential of California’s historic vineyards, and to create greater understanding about the joyful pleasures and true character of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Honoring the wisdom and labors of our forefathers, and keeping the agricultural and social traditions alive that are unique to American wine, it doesn’t get any more gratifying than that in the wine business…

At Robert Biale Vineyards, where a Twenty Fifth Harvest Anniversary is being celebrated this fall, these examples of old vineyards in Napa Valley are very rare and considered by its founders and fanatics to be revered, historic sites. They are living landmarks – if you will – that capture the very essence of California wine quality: fruit purity, ideal balance, a strong sense of place, and an unabashed, unrivalled hedonistic pleasure. After all, our oldest vineyard sites are the near-magical deposits of soil, where our pioneering winemakers first chose to plant wine grapes. The more we make wine from these “heritage vineyards,” the more we realize that our founding farmers’ instincts and wisdom were remarkably spot-on. Farmed at low yields, with the utmost care, and made with minimal handling and intervention, our wines speak directly from the ground through the vine to the glass. This allows us to peer into the natural power of the site that our ancestors saw, while revealing a winegrapes’ fullest potential and expression of character.

And here’s the kicker: isn’t it interesting that our immigrant ancestors planted so many Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vines?

Zinfandel was a grape variety of uncertain origin in those days, but they knew it was hearty, adaptive, and ideally suited to their native rugged terrain and sun-washed growing season. Zinfandel, being tightly bunched, thin of skin, and sensitive to its surrounding conditions, distinctly reflects its environment, much in the same way as Pinot noir does. And, like Pinot, it’s more vulnerable in less than ideal conditions to bunch rot, mildew, and sunburn.

We now know that Zinfandel is one of the world’s most ancient wine grapes, having been traced back nearly a millennium, to the Dalmatian Coast and Central Europe. In the 1830’s, it then immigrated to plant nurseries in New York and Boston, where it was propagated and sold as a flavorful table grape. Once Zinfandel reached California in the 1850’s, the adopted son put down reputation roots across the entire state. And, it thrived in its newfound ideal home.

Petite Sirah followed a parallel path from France’s Rhone Valley to California. This began around the 1880’s, after a botanist named Francoise Durif developed a new variety through the pollination of Peloursin with Syrah. The variety quickly became favored by California winemakers for its inky color, density, reliability, and versatility in blending. It was also commonly interplanted among Zinfandel vineyards, and spread across the state. During Prohibition, Petite Sirah survived as an excellent variety for shipping to other states for home winemaking.  In Napa Valley, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel – the unheralded European orphans – became so accepted that they accounted for nearly half of the valley’s grape production until around 1970.

Today, Zinfandel comprises about two percent of Napa Valley production, where it once held at nearly 25 percent for decades… both before and after Prohibition. Petite Sirah accounts for less than one percent. In 1976, soon after Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were judged as superior to their French counterparts – by French judges in the historic “Judgement in Paris” – instant market pressure mounted to replace older Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and “mixed blacks” vineyards. Winemakers wanted more fashionable French varieties. This nearly doomed the time-honored heritage vineyards, which had performed so well for so long, as a casualty of modern day marketing. Progress was a two edged sword: a boon for the reputation of Napa Valley; but, a shame that so much of our traditional American legacy grape growing and winemaking, which had existed for a century, was lost.