Jo's World,PR 101,PR Advice,Wine,Wine Business,Wine Publicist

What I Would Love to Tell Clients ~ But, they’d think I was just making excuses

Purchased image copyright: kasto / 123RF Stock Photo


This morning, Cathy Huyghe – a brilliant journalist for Forbes (Harvard grad, et al) and an independent wine writer for “Hungy for wine” was at the Mobile X Festival 2016.

While attending, she wrote on Facebook and then quoted the following:

PR people’s greatest challenge, in this changing world: “The era of the press release is dead. No one reads or trusts them. It’s used just to improve search results.” D Busk, Coke ‪MobileXFestival

D Busk: Global Group Director – Digital Communications & Social Media at The Coca-Cola Company.

[Jo Diaz screen shot of Web page]

Busk’s only got one brand in a limited supply of sodas… In wine, there are now over 10,000 spirits and wine brands in the world. This is what wine PR people are well aware of these days.

  • Distribution of press information is Act One.
  • Act Two is followed up with constant and consistent communications with others. It’s a slow process. Sticking with it – like I have with a client’s particular story – so I could talk the talk – eventually gets results.
  • If my client is a knitter, for instance, and I want to explain that process, besides wine, I have to learn to knit. (Well, I don’t, because I was once a prolific knitter, but you get my point, right?)

Finding those media people I can trust and meet the client’s standards is of the utmost importance to me.

At my current years of experience, I feel like I should get ahead of the pack, having already been there… but the field has become cluttered with PR wannabees, as well as new writers who also want to do it “their own way.” I have to filter all of that out, before someone in media is worthy of a client’s time and energy, never mind finally going through the process of writing the story.

Busk has just articulated the current climate really well. It’s hard to understand, unless it’s your day-to-day. I, for instance, don’t live through clients’ own experiences, either; so I have to try to imagine their nightmares, too… And, they do, when they share.

Yeah, I can’t send this story to my clients, but I can write a story about it, so I can sleep well at night.

This is at least one reason why I write on this blog, if anyone is interested.



Petite Sirah,Wine

Rewriting a Wine Bible ~ Sirah

I have a granddaughter whose middle name is Sirah… Yes, in honor of my life’s work that’s involved Petite Sirah. I’ve been writing stories for my grandchildren, and I recently thought, “How can I explain to a two year old what her middle name means to me personally, and why she was given this particular name?” After all, it’s not like being named Astrid Jo… She’s been named Astrid Sirah.

The name Astrid: Astrid has been a Scandinavian royal name since the tenth century, and more recently in Belgium. But “Astrid” as a name hasn’t assimilated into our culture. Astrid Lindgren is the author of Pippi Longstocking, the children’s story, for a modern usage.  Astrid is also a character in the story “How to Train Your Dragon.” This is how we see our Astrid Sirah…

She’s quite the character, and please pay attention to this story, because this is the “child’s version” of a royal female. I’m going to be upping the game on this one, too, for an adult version of Sirah, and how she came to be, as I rewrite the Petite Sirah Wine Bible…

Sirah, The Scandinavian Princess

Once upon a time, in a land far away called Montpellier, lived a plant doctor. He worked in the royal garden for King Syrah and his Queen Peloursin.

The doctor’s name was François. François loved his plants so much. Sometimes he had to help his flowers and vines in the king and queen’s garden to stay healthy. When one of the royal plants would become ill, Dr. François would always search for a new cure.

Sometimes the doctor could pair one plant with another, and create a child plant that would not ever get that disease again.

One day Dr. François had to cure some very sick grapes. The grapes were getting powder all over them overnight.

This was not good and the grapes needed to be fixed.

But Dr. Francois didn’t understand how this was happening.

It was just time to experiment again.

He decided to first try dusting Queen Peloursin’s silky robes with King Syrah’s magic dust.  Voila! The sickness went away.

Together, they created a new baby girl plant.

What to name her, they thought?

Dr. Francois suggested to the king and queen that they call this new baby girl Durif. 

The king and queen liked that name a lot.and, so, their new baby grape was called Durif.

Little Durif turned into a very beautiful young woman. 

One day, she was down by the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and a Pirate Ship appeared.

The captain Pirate Charles saw Durif by the water’s edge.

Her beauty stole is heart, and so Durif made a plan to ask for her hand in marriage.

Pirate Charles dressed like an important prince. He went to the castle and asked the King and Queen if he could marry Sirah.

King Sirah and Queen Peloursin said yes, that Durif could marry Pirate Charles. And so they were married in the Royal Garden.

Pirate Charles loved her beauty, but soon came to learn that he loved her heart even more, while they were sailing to the new land.

He knew that this young princess would be so happy in the “new” land, and he would do everything he could to have her live happily ever after.

So, he brought her onto his ship, and set sail for California. They traveled almost around the world.

When they landed in the San Francisco Bay, Pirate Charles then brought her to Mission San Jose.

It wasn’t exactly a palace, but it she did love her new land.

Durif had plenty of sunshine to warm her, and her skin hues began to deepen with the sun’s warm rays.

Little Durif flourished here.

Pirate Charles wanted to hide Durif’s true princess identity, so he renamed her. He said, one bright and sunny shiny day:

Your new name is going to be Sirah.

Yes, I like that, he thought.

“You are now Sirah.

And, you’re so Petite, Sirah…

Oh… wait a minute!

That’s who you are,

You’re now Petite Sirah!”

[Don’t tell my Sirah, but Petite Sirah developed into quite the seductress; and, that’s going to be yet another story for when she’s old enough to appreciate it.]

Petite Sirah’s High Seas adventures with Pirate Charles, and their Pirate Secrets… next…



Bordeaux ~ Cabernet Franc, a Luscious Bordeaux Variety ~ partie sept

[Image of a Cabernet Franc leaf by Jo Diaz. All rights reserved.]

Cabernet Franc is a delicious Vitis vinifera. It has luscious black fruit flavors and is the grape that gave Cabernet Sauvignon its color and body. (Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Frank are the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, if you didn’t know this already.)

I once had a boss, who – like everyone else – wanted to hang his hat on Merlot (pre-Sideways). As I looked at what I had to promote for the winery, I realized that this company was a leader in growing Cabernet Franc. I worked hard to turn around the company’s thinking… Why be a small pebble on a big beach, when you can be a big pebble on a small beach? My mother taught me well with that concept, so I hammered it home. This included finally getting him a speaking engagement, and his presentation was going to be about Cabernet Franc. It was a great presentation, I felt. He came back to the winery very high on his experience, and the wine company continues to be a leader with this variety.

Cab Franc 101 ~ Here is what he went off to teach

Image of Chinon, France. Copyright: captblack76 / 123RF Stock Photo

And, what I leaned in the process, so this is a great reminder for me, as I continue to learn as much as I can about Bordeaux and my family roots. (My grandfather came from a family named Bernier. There are some really special wine companies with the name Bernier attached to it. I don’t have my grandfather’s parents names, I just know that his family immigrated to Canada, and then to Maine.)

  • It is one of the Bordeaux varieties, playing a major role as a blending component for Cabernet Sauvignons.
    • It’s less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • It’s more vigorous as a variety.
    • It delivers quality flavors.
    • Black currant fruit dominates.
    • It’s astringent in its youth.
    • It has great acidic content.
    • It can be slightly earthy, sometimes.
    • Dark red/purple to red/brown in color.
  • It’s also referred to as:
    • Bouchy of the Pyrenees
    • Brenton of the Loire

Some Advantages

  • Less susceptible to winter kill
  • Matures fairly quickly
  • Ready to drink within a year or so of harvest
  • Less structured wine than Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Has more aromatic finesse
  • Softer wine than Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Length on the finish
  • In a blend, it softens the Cabernet Sauvignon’s tannins
  • Adds complexity and definition to middle palate



  • Bordeaux
    • Saint Émilion – Often called bouchet or bouchet blanc – 25-30 percent of the blend
    • Médoc – Sometimes known as grand carmenet or gros cabernet – 10-20 percent of blend
    • Pomerol – After Merlot, Cabernet Franc is the next most important grape. Used for blending
    • Graves – Used for blending
  • Loire Vineyards – Only grown for its own virtue, Vinified to produce a while wine, it is often
    • Blended with Chenin Blanc in the production of sparkling Loire wines
    • Anjou – (Best known for its rose wines) Labeled Cabernet d’Anjou or Rose de Loire
    • Saumur Champigny
    • Touraine
    • Chinon
      • If you think of red wines as invariably full-bodied and hearty, the light, tart reds of Chinon in the Loire may come as a surprise. Made from the Cabernet Franc grape, these wines are generally light-bodied but tartly acidic — which sometimes makes them a particularly pleasant match with food — and often show a distinctive “green,” herbaceous quality.
      • The wines… Can be a very hazy, ruby color. Tart cherry and green vegetal aromas lead into a crisp red-fruit flavor, quite lean and tart, but pleasant Cabernet Franc flavor carries through. Fresh, acidic, it’s light-bodied but full-flavored.
    • Bourgueil
  • South-West France – The nearer you are to Bordeaux, the more likely you are to find Bordelais varieties – Used for blending


  • Rioja, along the river Ebro


Light, attractive wines simply labeled Cabernet are likely to be Cabernet Franc. Of the more than 20,000 acres of Cabernet planted in Italy, 80 percent are Cabernet Franc.

  • Veneto
  • Friuli
  • Trentino-Alto Adige


  • California – By 1900 cultivation of Vitis vinifera hit California
  • Washington State
  • New York – Long Island & Finger Lakes
  • Maryland

Other Areas in The World

  • Australia – Very little planted
  • South Africa– Very little planted
  • Tasmania – It is often difficult to tell whether a wine is made form Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc; although, most of it tastes like Cabernet Franc.

*Thank you Millesima CIE for the inspiration to learn more about Bordeaux this year. It’s working and I’m grateful for the lessons. Roots for me, which weren’t quite this understood.


Event,Napa,Petite Sirah,PS I Love You,Wine,Winery

Who Would Dare to Serve Petite Sirah for Breakfast?

Ha… Try Robert Biale Vineyards, that’s who; and, deservedly so. Always ahead of the curve for just getting it done, Robert Biale Vineyards realized their passion a long time ago, and hasn’t wavered one bit as winemakers… against all odds.

And for getting the word out educationally, that’s Proprietor Dave Pramuk’s credo. We’ve been working together through PS I Love You, since the beginning. I’ll never forget the day that Robert Biale Vineyards became a stakeholder with PSILY. Jose came running into my office, very excitedly, and announced… “Biale Vineyards just signed up for PS I Love You. They’re so cult!”

I was pretty ignorant at the time, of who – or what – Robert Biale Vineyards was all about. But it didn’t take long. Before I knew it, Dave Pramuk was on our board of directors. He might have missed one meeting, so we made him president for the next year. You know how those appointments go. (I became the sergeant-at-arms for the Lewiston Maine Rotary Club that way, years ago; which is probably why I knew how to work it.) It didn’t take me long to realize that Dave is a brilliant marketer, and immediately became a trusted source for marketing Petite Sirah.

How he gets from here to there?

Well, in conjunction with the annual Napa Auction, he thought, “How can we capitalize on this one, in order to bring attention to Petite Sirah? It would have to be completely unique… an annual Napa Valley Petite Sirah Breakfast?

Hey, nobody would see that one coming. Nobody but Dave, that is.

The Flyer reads:

Good Morning! Welcome to the Fourth Annual Napa Valley Petite Sirah producers breakfast at Robert Biale Vineyards. We are delighted that you have joined us for this sunrise exploration into one of Napa Valley’s great heritage wine varieties!”

Petite Sirah Breakfast Menu:

Petite Dejeuner

Mushroom, Leek, Goat Cheese & Spinach Frittata

w/ Biale Ranch Eggs

Tater Tots w/ Sausage Gravy

Buttermilk Biscuits w/ Kerry Gold Irish Butter & Blueberry Jam

Fresh Fruit

Classic American Bacon Tasting

Beuton’s Tennessee Hickory Smoked Bacon

Fatted Calf Napa Valley Lamb Bacon

Nueske’s Wisconsin Wind Cherrywood Smoked Bacon

Broadbent’s Kentucky Smoked Pepper Bacon

The participants, included:

Calder Wine Company

Chase Cellars

Frog’s Leap Winery

Madrigal Family Winery

Neal Family Vineyards ~ PS I Love You Stakeholder

Robert Biale Vineyards ~ PS I Love You Stakeholder

Stanton Vineyards

Robert Biale is a strong leader in promoting Petite Sirah as a heritage variety, because his and partner Bob Biale’s passions are there for this underrated variety, as an important contributor to California’s heritage. It’s easy to sing these praises for a job well done and an investment in Petite’s historical significance. For Robert Biale, Petite Sirah is an endeavor that sincerely shouts, “all hail for the breakfast of champions.”

You’ve gotta love it… And, if you don’t know about their Black Chicken story, you’d better ask, when you get the chance.


Diaz Communications,Event,Spirits,Wine

Wine of the Week ~ Kentucky Derby Style ~ Robert Mondavi Private Selection Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon

Getting ready to celebrate the Kentucky Derby this weekend? If you are (or even if you’re not) this is a perfect weekend to indulge your senses in a bit of some Cabernet bourbon…

Cherries Jubilee, waiting for the gate to open and showtime… Crushed cherries – as noted – and very complex. The wine just blew my palate’s mind (in a good way). As I looked at the Kentucky Derby starting gate, I noted #22 Cherry Wine has odds of 30-1. If I was a gambler, you know what I’d be betting on.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon

Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Mondavi Private Selection would be a fun way to go, do you agree?

I may be partial, given that I’m what Robert Mondavi himself considered one of his “alumni.” More than a few of us have worked at the Robert Mondavi Winery, and even moved on… most of us getting that important “Mondavi Bump.” Within our industry, it’s widely considered that if you worked for the Robert Mondavi Winery, you have already jumped through some very impressive hoops. (I may have thrown the bell curve a bit, but I’m not really so sure, knowing some of my colleagues. That’s to say, we were a very eclectic group of people, so – perhaps – I may have fit in perfectly.) I went from Mondavi to a director of PR position with a winery that allowed me to jump from there right into starting Diaz Communications.


So, I have every reason to celebrate this weekend with Robert Mondavi Private Selection Bourbon Cab… Bring on the best of the best in racing and Bourbon.

The deep, cherry red Cabernet in this Bourbon underwent additional aging in Kentucky Bourbon barrels, making it a great addition to your Kentucky Derby watching party, too. The wine has complex, rich fruit flavor of dark, juicy ripe cherries, and screams, “Where are the ribs!” The aromas of toasty vanilla and brown sugar come from it being one of the first Bourbon barrel aged wines produced in the U.S., and make it so succulent in aromas. (Mmmmm.. Throw a bit into your BBQ sauce, as if I have to remind you, right?)

Go make your own history with this one!


This special Bourbon barrel aged wine originates in the coastal vineyards of Monterey County, CA, where the region’s dynamic, geologic past brings forth fruit with an unmistakable sense of place. Grapes are picked at the peak of ripeness, after which the wine is aged and blended to deliver exceptional fruit flavors and complexity. Unique to this wine, a portion of the blend is aged for an additional three months, using a combination of new and used Kentucky Bourbon barrels, creating one of the first Bourbon barrel aged wines produced in the United States.

Bourbon barrels are 100 percent American oak barrels that have been charred to help impart deep toasty flavors and hints of vanilla and brown sugar. Cabernet Sauvignon is particularly suited for Bourbon barrel aging because its intensely rich fruit character isn’t overwhelmed by the flavors of the charred casks. The wine is rich, weighty, and full bodied on the palette, and the 2014 vintage delivers robust flavors of black cherry and blackberry.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon is available nationwide and retails for $13.99.  What could be more fun for you and more appropriate for me, this weekend? Yeah… Robert Mondavi Private Selection is my wine for the weekend…


PR 101,PR Advice,Wine

It’s tough having been all that elsewhere and then entering the world of wine

Understanding Wine PR

Being in public relations has taught me so much about stardom. I was first in PR in FM radio. I produced a community issues talk program for WBLM radio, and was its host. I was the staff photographer, so I had nearly unlimited backstage access to all major bands in the 1980s and into the 1990s. I was also the rep for membership into community civic organizations, being one of the very first women to be admitted to Rotary (Lewiston and Portland, Maine over the years). I led their committees and sat on their board of directors. It gave me great satisfaction and a lot of perspective into the world of leadership.

Then, I moved to California

What did I begin to learn, as I shifted gears from radio PR to wine PR? A lot…

It’s been my experience over the years that people who become prominent in one field then have to learn they’ve just stepped into a new ball game, segue from one game into another. It’s like asking a baseball player to be on the starting line-up of a football team. It’s a completely different area of expertise, new performers, its own set of rules and specialized capabilities.

It’s also very difficult to fully grasp, unless you’ve been there. As a result of my having “been there,” I feel for clients who are experiencing a paradigm shift in their own new chapters. Some will trust what I have to say; others will be frustrated and change horses midstream… Meanwhile, I get emails from media asking if I’m still working with someone years after they’ve come and gone. It’s like the word association game.

When I launched Diaz Communications, PR veteran (at the time) Paige Poulos said to me, “Always be looking for new clients.” At the time I didn’t know what she meant. It was I – as I stepped into yet another chapter – who was the naive one. I didn’t understand what she was saying.  Turning back the clock? Boy, she was so right. If an expert isn’t trusted, this just means that that person will have his or her own personal journey, like I did. Experience is – after all is said and done – the best teacher; we definitely learn from painful experiences.

From my own life… when I lived in Maine, I had set up a community garden that spanned both sides of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge (Lewiston-Auburn). Very expensive price tag, and I raised all of the money, directed all phases of the project with politicos, and worked through the Chamber of Commerce, etc.. Next, I created a scholarship for immigrants and refugees at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Two scholarships a year at the time were approved, I left it in great hands (before moving here) and it’s been expanded to be yet more scholarships. I sat on the dais with Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell at my Portland Rotary (also from Maine). I was at the top of my game.

I then came to California and was laughed out of some very important wineries; because, while I knew PR well, I knew nothing about wine. I found myself at Merry Maids scrubbing people’s homes, while I made the important decision to just start at the bottom in wine; one day a week in a tasting room, until that expanded into full time, then a PR/marketing department. It’s was very humbling experience…. What it did do for me that’s very positive, is a that I got a solid first five years at Belvedere Winery, working in all aspects of wine sales, marketing, and PR.

Ways of Learning

From Learn Dash: There are seven different learning styles.

  1. Visual: These people prefer to use pictures, images, diagrams, colors, and mind maps.
  2. Physical: These are the “learn by doing” people that use their body to assist in their learning. Drawing diagrams, using physical objects, or role playing are all strategies of the Physical learner.
  3. Aural: People who prefer using sound (obviously), rhythms, music, recordings, clever rhymes, and so on.
  4. Verbal: The verbal learner is someone who prefers using words, both in speech and in writing to assist in their learning. They make the most of word based techniques, scripting, and reading content aloud.
  5. Logical: The people who prefer using logic, reasoning, and “systems” to explain or understand concepts. They aim to understand the reasons behind the learning, and have a good ability to understand the bigger picture.
  6. Social: These people are the ones who enjoy learning in groups or with other people, and aim to work with others as much as possible.
  7. Solitary: The solitary

Logical learners make the easiest clients, in my humble opinion and experiences. We just get a lot more accomplished in a shorter amount of time. Not everyone is on as fast of a track. And, that’s okay, too. We’re all  here with our own special lessons to learn.

It’s tough having been all that elsewhere and then entering the world of wine. Slow and steady or fast and furiously… It’s all one and the same complementary yin yang, depending on where we are in our journey back to being a leader, again.




Brian Mitchell PhD ~ Paying Attention to Analyzing Gen Y

[Purchased photo credit: Olaf Speier]

Let me begin by saying that the only formal study I’ve had with Gen Y, is raising three lovely daughters, observing them 24/7/365 at different levels of living, for however many years each one is old. Now, I observe each of them with her own family, and the children that are now coming from their generation. What you will read next are my life experiences and observations, as someone who has been there, done that, and is a writer.

It’s also interesting to note that in a return email, Brian simply wrote, “Amen.”

Jo hi,

A wine brand for Gen Y (as it happened).

Just published: http://bizcatalyst360.com/genesis-of-a-gen-y-brand/



So, I spent about 15 minutes digging around his multilayered issue and links, with a lot of study to back it up what he’s written. I wrote back to Brian. [A bit abbreviated)

Hi, Brian,

Thanks for reaching out.

Well, I’m impressed. Marketers are not ignoring Gen Y.

I recently attended an event hosted by the Wine Market Council. Research experts from Nielsen delivered a lot of information about how the Millennials have now just seen the final age in that group, which hit 21 years of age… For us, our legal drinking age. In the process, they’ve now passed the Baby Boomers in their consumption, too.  Typical for an individualistic society, now all of the attention is going to be focused on this demographic, probably to the exclusion of all else. Sigh…

So much navel gazing was going on by this group early on, as a private observation. As a wine publicist (since 1993, having started PR in 1983 in radio, first), the advent of the internet becoming Web 2.0 – interactive – announced every Millennial aspiring wine writer to break out and announce that [he or she] had arrived. I chuckled, because I was pretty seasoned, by the time this happened… And, I knew before they did, that this opportunity was going to happen. For me, knowing this happened through a college enrichment, business marketing class, by a couple of [prior] years. So, when it hit, I was prepared to just do it, as Nike likes to remind us. My blog began in December of 2005. Meanwhile, I watched the Millennials emerge as self-appointed experts, and I had to smile. What I had gone through to get where I was, and they thought that they had just jumped all of those growing pain, ladder rungs… in their own minds. Today, those who weren’t planning to be journalists have fallen away, attending to real careers, raising a new generation of their own children, and still tasting an occasional bottle of wine and declaring, “This wine is cool!” as a replacement for Robert Parker… Meanwhile, Robert Parker is hand selecting his own talented replacements, and they’re having tremendous success as his successors.

Millennials remind me of my generation’s need for an individualism revolution in the 1960s… a purpose for changing the norm… Where it was pot for us, it’s wine for this Millennial group, chanting, “it ain’t your daddy’s wine.”

We nursed our children [beginning in 19721, for me] and this became the norm with them, where my generation had to be the “freaks,” just to love their babies and not continue with my parents’ ideology of “children are to be seen and not heard, and – oh, yeah, here’s your bottle so I can disengage from you.” I believe – in living through my own childhood – that our country’s need to give returning soldiers jobs in all sectors – a washing machine in every home, blah, blah, blah, led to women having time, finding jobs (too) – along with TV’s multi media – has given birth to a generation who again, have returned to center stage and are making themselves be seen. They will repeat history, too, in a =similar cycle, also experiencing the same growing pains, with crystal wine glasses in their hands, instead of the sheepskin bag that my generations used.

I’ll get deeper into your take and get back to you, too.

You have an interesting career. Psychology is very much a part of PR, as you well know.

I’ll be using your information in a blog posting. I’m inspired.


Next, Brian Mitchell’s observation.



Bordeaux ~ Getting to the Bottom of Left and Right Bank Soils ~ partie six

Continuing from last week’s Bordeaux ~ You Can Bank On It ~ partie six…

This Earth Snapshot image is located on this Website: Sediments in the Gironde Estuary, France, and is of The Gironde Estuary, formed by the confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.

I left soil for last, because its a serious, geological contributor.  Studying geology takes a lot of time, has been my experience… There are so many layers; a natural pun, but so true.

Soil provides grape vines with nutrients, and it also regulates the amount of moisture delivered to the vines, or not delivered, in some cases. Interestingly, soil for viticulture is a paradox to soil for agriculture. For most agriculture, high nitrogen in the soil rules the roost. In viticulture, however, if the soil types have a lot of nitrogen, it will cause the grapevines to over produce. Wine grapes are traditionally tiny little berries. This gives a smaller ratio of skin to juice contact, and produces the intense flavors and tannins so important to making superlative wines.

 Bit of Bordeaux’s Soil History

Winegeeks.com: Until the seventeenth century, most of Bordeaux was swampy marshland. Then, Dutch engineers drained the waters, which revealed a rocky, gravel soil that is rich in minerals. This soil is perfect for growing wine grapes.

Left and Right Bank Variety Review

Like all other regions (e.g., last week’s Sonoma’s Russian River Valley the regions of Napa Valley in my prior post about Bordeaux), remember that soil in only one region can vary to a few different soil types. So, what I’m about to write is clearly board generalizations. I had one grower once tell me about five different soil types, all within his one vineyard. of which I could see all four corners. And yet, it was that diverse. So, think “generally speaking.”

  • When facing west in Bordeaux, looking toward the Atlantic Ocean, the “Left Bank” is south of the Garonne and Gironde rivers.
    • The wine must have at least 50 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • The other 50 percent must contain any variation of the following: Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and/or Petit Verdot
  • When facing east in Bordeaux, the “Right Bank” is north of the Dordogne and Gironde Rivers.
    • The Right Bank wines are Merlot focused.
    • They also a good amount of Cab Franc, some Cab Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Malbec

Left Bank Soils

Cabernet is best suited to gravelly soils:

The level of earth is generally flat on Bordeaux’s Left Bank. It has a gravelly* top soil, which also has a layer of limestone bedrock. This stony top soil makes the each vine reach down deep for nutrients. In viticulture, this creates a desirable environment for old vines, as old vines create more tannins. It’s the tannins in a wine that makes the wines age longer.

Ah, we may be beginning to understand and/or appreciated Cabernet Sauvignon’s Left Bank plantings.

Gravelly* soils: This soil has excellent drainage, and is the type of soil that creates muscular wines with high extract of flavors and dense color.

In the early 1960s, I had neighboring farmer. He was 90s years young, and worked more than an acre of land each day, in a suburban setting. He also was my inspiration to just plant my first garden. I mentioned to him that I was watering my plants (this was in Maine, where rain is a norm). He told me to stop watering. If I gave my plants too much water, the roots wouldn’t go deeply into the earth to create strong plants. That fall, I created 36 quarts of tomatoes from not more than five or six plants.

The lesson if the soil has some gravel: don’t water if you don’t have to. Let the roots go deeply into the earth and create a strong plant.

Left Bank’s Most Famous Wine Regions 

An interesting note: all of the original chateaux from the start of the 1855 classification are on the Left Bank.

Right Bank Soils

Merlot is best suited to clay soil.

The level of earth is generally flat here, too. The exceptions are Cotes de Castillon and St. Emilion.

Gravelly soil is less predominant in the top soil of the Right Bank, where limestone is found at the surface level. clay soil dominates. There is an exception, though, in the Pomerol region. This is because of its location. Pomerol is at the tributary, where the Dordogne and the Gironde rivers meet. As a result, millions of tons of gravel have been dumped here, which has created a bed of sandy clay* deposits. This has formed into a layer of iron rich sands, so we’re back to age-worthiness of the wines.

Limestone* soil: This soil offers beneficial nutrients that make wine grapes grow better and they also produce sweeter grapes (hence the Sauternes). Limestone retains moisture in dry weather, but offers good drainage in cooler weather. While Limestone creates iron deficiency in grapes, viticulturist must frequently fertilize the soil.

Clay* soil: This soil type creates muscular wines with high extract of flavors and dense color, a key to Merlot’s character. Clay has good water retention, and therefore has poor drainage. The soil is high in acidity and is more cool than warm.  The Right Bank of Bordeaux is dominated by clay based soils

Right Bank’s Most Famous Wine Regions 


*Thank you Millesima CIE for the inspiration to learn more about Bordeaux this year. It’s working and I’m grateful for the lessons. Roots for me, which weren’t quite this understood.



Cabernet Franc,Cabernet Sauvignon,Chardonnay,Event,Stags Leap District,Wine

Vineyard to Vintner ~ Celebrating Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District ~ Part 1

I received an invitation to attend the Stags Leap Vineyard to Vintner annual event, being kicked off on Friday, April 29, 2016. I knew that this was an honor. It just happened over this past weekend, and I took them up on their offer for Saturday, April 30. It’s an event that draws out vintners (winery owners), principals, and winemakers, so I knew that it would be a great way to spend an afternoon in Napa Valley.


While at Shafer Vineyards, it was hard not to notice one young couple living the life. They were so elated to be in Napa Valley. (Who isn’t, but not everyone is wearing their hearts on their sleeves, as they were.) Jose and I, plus this young couple, were moving toward the tasting room together. When we realized the views, Jose and I just naturally wandered off to first spend some time taking a lot of images of the that beautiful estate and its view; while the couple also saw the opportunities and took a ton of selfies.

We arrived inside the tasting room ahead of them, and winemaker Elias Fernandez was pouring Shafer Cabernets. It was my naïveté that I didn’t realize Elias is Shafer’s winemaker. (I didn’t study anything before arriving, because I’ve been studying everything else for the last 24 years. The wine business is a continually opening lotus, and there’s no end to what’s inside that blossom.)

Elias Fernandez has been making wine at Shafer Vineyards for more than 30 years. Imagine…  I was impressed with how much he knew, so when I later learned that he’s the winemaker, it all made sense. As Elias and I were speaking with each other, I looked to my right and saw Doug Shafer. I really wasn’t expecting to see him, but then… repeating from above… It’s an event that draws out vintners (winery owners), principals, and winemakers.

As I was beginning to be curious to speak with him, and Elias had nodded for me to do so, up popped the chic, young couple. There was no way I was going to compete with that, so I let it unfold and listened.

Young man, “You’re pouring your own wine!?”

With a smile… Doug Shafer, “Why wouldn’t I be pouring my own wine?”

There is was, reality of the event…

Vineyard to Vintner is  Stags Leap’s crème de la crème, and we adventured onward… Not one to jam in more wineries that we can absorb, Jose and I knew that we were going to be limited to visiting four locations. We planned accordingly. The listed wineries participating were the following:

Baldacci Family Vineyards Malk Family Vineyards Silverado Vineyards
Chimney Rock Winery * Odette Estate Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars *
Cliff Lede Vineyards Pine Ridge Vineyards * Stags’ Leap Winery
Clos Du Val Quixote Winery Steltzner Vineyards
Hartwell Vineyards Regusci Winery Taylor Family Vineyards
Ilsley Vineyards Robinson Family Vineyards Terlato Family Vineyards
Lindstrom Wines Shafer Vineyards * * Wineries that we visited

For this first time at Vineyard to Vintner, Jose and I decided that we wanted to visit places we had never been, but had a long standing history worth exploring. Another year it could simply be the families which are small, and had opened their homes to visitors, while pouring their own wines. Another year could be returning to places where we had been in the past to see what’s new. There’s any number of configurations which would work. For this time, it was going to be satisfying our own curiosity of historic locations yet to be explored, and we were well rewarded: Chimney Rock, Pine Ridge, Shafer Vineyards , and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.


From provided copy, for anyone not familiar with The Stags Leap District American Viticultural Area (AVA)

[It] is located on the eastern edge of Napa Valley, among the foothills of the Vaca mountain range. Barely one mile wide and three miles long, this tiny region is critically acclaimed for the power and elegance of its Cabernet Sauvignon. Rock palisades to the east capture and focus daytime heat, but also funnel Pacific breezes down the hillsides to cool the vines at night. This distinctive climate and the region’s volcanic soils with bale loam overlay, qualified the area for AVA status in 1989.


While at Pine Ridge Vineyards, I was speaking with assistant winemaker Mike Conversano. I had just been poured their 2016 Le Petit Clos Chardonnay, and it was delicious. I did notice – went looking for – the amount of alcohol, just out of curiosity. It was 14.5 percent alcohol. I was pretty amazed that a wine with 14.5 per\cent didn’t taste hot; but then, I also knew that a wine – treated correctly – could overcome that “hotness” associated with a higher alcohol, because of the original brix level at which a wine has to be harvested, to be in perfect balance. So, there I was, privately marveling. Jose asked for the retail price, just out of curiosity. It’s a $75 bottle of Chardonnay.

No surprise, we were standing in the Stags Leap district of Napa Valley; a.k.a, the high rent district.

But, here’s the reality check, as Napa Valley continues to catch up to Bordeaux’ rules and regulation for what grows best where and why…

Mike Conversano was telling me that they were about to be pulling out grapevines, all over their property: Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, for instance. Why? Because the most expensive grapes in this area are Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pine Ridge is going to become more focused on that variety. Honestly, a wine has to only be 75 percent of the variety to be so labeled Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance. And, it only has to be 85 percent of the district to be labeled from that area. So, the differences can be made up from other varieties and from other areas. This is not to say that any shortcuts will be made in the production of these wines. That would be a ridiculous thing to do, diminishing their qualtiy reputation. It simply means that they can be even better and offer more Cabernet Sauvignon, in the long run. They’re making an investment in their own future, and it should be even more delicious.

More to come from this very special event…



Bordeaux ~ You Can Bank On It ~ partie cinq

In northern California, two well known appellations exist: Napa and Sonoma. They’re separated by a mountain range, the Mayacamas. (The Mayacamas Mountain name is thought to originally means “the howl of the mountain lion.” Lions still do exist on this range, you can be sure of that. I’ve seen my own and was wowed.)

  • Sonoma is closer to the Pacific Ocean, by 30 miles, and has its own Sonoma Mountains range for coastal fog to climb over… And it does, I can attest to that, living in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County.
    • Russian River Valley = Great Pinot Noirs and great Chardonnays
    • Alexander Valley = Great Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernet Sauvignons
    • Dry Creek Valley = Great Petite Sirahs and Zinfandels
  • Next are the Mayacamas Mountains, moving eastward.
  • Next is Napa Valley, headed inland to the east, away from the Pacific Ocean. Napa is still influenced, being only 40 miles from the Pacific. It also is influenced by waterways to the south, via San Pablo and San Francisco bays. Winds deliver moisture from a few important directions.
    • Southern end – Carneros Region = Great Pinots and Chards
    • Middle section = Lovely Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs
    • Northern section = world famous Cabernets
    • A bit generalizing a bit here, but the points are still well taken.
At the estate of the Bordeaux producer.

At the estate of the Bordeaux producer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then there’s Bordeaux, with some places bordering the Atlantic Ocean, where those coastal influences are much more primary. But also consider this, as regards terroir, Bordeaux – as a singular appellation, unlike the Northern California separation, is subdivided by the Gironde River. To the Atlantic’s side is the Left Bank and to the inland side, is the Right Bank. What makes this especially intriguing, besides the years of winegrape growing there is it’s come down to this… If it is a Left Bank wine, it is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon; if it’s a Right Bank wine, it’s predominantly Merlot.

With each day of viticulture, in any winegrape growing region, vignerons (viticulturists) learn by trial and error, which grape varieties grow best in the specific soil and climate of that region. Bordeaux certainly has the edge in history for their varietal grapes and are certainly well over experimentation. Let’s first think about climate’s importance.

Aspects of Terroir

My original story on terroir took a very long time to research and write. In fact, it’s just shy of 1,700 words, and I could have continued to write… But, this is a blog, not a dissertation. So, here’s the link for that story, if you have any interest: Terroir, what’s the big deal? I was very pleased to have Master Sommelier Randy Caparoso comment, “Bravo, Jo… one of the most thorough explications of terroir yet!”

According to climatologist Dr. Mark Greenspan of Advanced Viticulture:

Climate often gets neglected in discussions about “terroir.” People think “soil,” and soil is definitely important. When they think about “terroir, it’s definitely important. Grapes grow in an environment, and the flavors and all the ripening characteristics of the fruit are really linked to the environment; specifically and most importantly it’s about temperature. It’s as simple as that. There are a lot of nuances in temperature. It’s more than what’s the temperature right now? It’s what are the day time and night time differences? How cold does it get at night, how warm does it get during the daytime? And different varieties respond differently to different climates, that’s why different varieties are grown in different regions due to climate and soil.

Add sunlight, temperature, and air streams to this explanation, and you’re beginning to get the point.

Those Who Know the Land Best

Vignerons get “terroir,” for which they – the growers – are also an ingredient. They work with vines each and every day. It’s like the Little Red Hen story. They do all of each aspect, following the outline of The Little Red Hen story:

  • Select the vines
  • Plant them
  • Nurture them
  • Irrigate them (if necessary, and where it is allowed)
  • Train them
  • Trellis them
  • Prune and thin them
  • Net them from birds just before harvest
  • Harvest them
  • And get them to the winery for wine production

What Separates the Grape Varieties?

The Gironde River is the main river in Bordeaux. There are also two smaller rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne, which both feed into the Gironde. These two smaller rivers are shaped a bit like the inside of a peace sign, or upside down “Y.”

  • When facing west in Bordeaux, looking toward the Atlantic Ocean, the “Left Bank” is south of the Garonne and Gironde rivers.
    • The wine must have at least 50 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • The other 50 percent must contain any variation of the following: Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and/or Petit Verdot
  • When facing east in Bordeaux, the “Right Bank” is north of the Dordogne and Gironde Rivers.
    • The Right Bank wines are Merlot focused.
    • They also a good amount of Cab Franc, some Cab Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Malbec
  • The area in between the two rivers is called Entre-Deux-Mers (Translated: Between Two Seas).
    • It is a large wine sub-region of Bordeaux in south-western France.
    • Entre-deux-Mers is home to different appellations, known for its sweet botrytized whites of Cadillac, Loupiac, and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont; and table wines of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle, and Ugni Blanc.

Next Monday: Bordeaux ~ Getting to the Bottom of  Left and Right Bank Soils ~ parti six

*Thank you Millesima CIE for the inspiration to learn more about Bordeaux this year. It’s working, but I still need to get to the bottom of it all, the soils.