Keep Your Eyes open for these upcoming Events

Check out what is happening October 27th! It's a field trip!
More Info to Come, just starting to gather info now. Plan is to rent a van and have it tote us around, stopping at Tequesta Brewing Company, Bx Beer Depot, World of Beers, Due South and do tastings at each location. Like I say, I am just starting to do the legwork now, so just save the date state.
Let me know as soon as you know you are interested so I can plan accordingly
the cost of this event will be in the range of $30-$35. Purchasing beer at the stops will not be included so that you can budget your flights or single pints for yourself. Your price will include a delicious "lining your bellies" lunch at the Serenity Garden Tea House and your transportation for the day. Timeline and More to come

Monday, December 10, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Gulpers!

Wow!  It was a fantastic contest!  It was a perfect party.  It was a new location!  Coreen and LeBeau invited the group to their office/warehouse in Lake Park for a Christmas pairing event.  As is our Christmas tradition, (wait…we’ve been together long enough for Christmas traditions?) we split into teams, took all the knowledge we have accumulated and prepared our own special pairings.  There were six teams and while there were 3 winners there were no losers.
Here are the teams:
 Team 1-Michelle Getty, Kelly Ainsworth, Tracy Cottle, Bryan and Tony .  Their pairing was a  Malbec and a Crostini with bacon jam, brie and roasted tomato.
Team 2-Coreen, Chris Pawlowski, Heather Hatter, and Todd Johnson .  Their pairing was a pan seared mahi with a grapefruit vinaigrette and micro greens with a grapefruit mimosa.
Team Three-Mariana and Aladia Nascimento,  Adriel Wright and Barry.  Their pairing was an apple crisp with carmel popcornthe food and Riesling.
Team 4-Jim and Kelly Brogan :) & Xtina & Wally Lurz :)  They paired a 3 cheese mac and cheese with a Spanish Rioja Crianza.
Team 5 - Mame Burkett, LeBeau Kpadenou, Ashley Walker, Pam Schuster.   These guys paired a spice cupcake with sparkling rose and smoked bleu cheese with Riesling.
Team 6 - Deb Knepp, Alicia, Steve Hussey and Keil Brand.  Olive picnic pizza was paired with Reisling.

All of the food was a delicious but the winners were: 
In third place was the cheesy group of Team 4-Jim and Kelly Brogan :) & Xtina & Wally Lurz. 
Second place went to the spice gang of Mame Burkett, LeBeau Kpadenou, Ashley Walker, Pam Schuster.
drumroll please…….
In first place with a blinging and “look at me” table  was Team 1-Michelle Getty, Kelly Ainsworth, Tracy Cottle.
Congratulations to all the winners! 
In addition to the food pairing contest there was also a Yankee Christmas swap.  Since your intrepid blogger was sick with a head cold I didn’t stay for this part of the evening.  Can someone tell me who picked the redneck wine glasses? 
Finally, what a year this has been.  Engagements, Elections and Excitement abounded.  We met locally and across the country in search of more knowledge and adventure in wine pairings.  Some of us struggled sometimes and some of us announced wonderful successes and triumphs.  We did it!  We filled up another year of living and loving and drinking wine the whole dang time.  I wouldn’t have missed a minute with all of you.
So lift your glasses my friends with the fruit of the vine and the juice of life.  As Mr. Grgitch said, “Men need only two things.  They both start with “W”…women and wine.  Women need three things. 
They all start with “M”….men, money and merlot.  No matter what you might need may 2013 bring us more of all!  Happy Holidays Gulpers!
See you next year!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

November’s Gulp got Cheesy

Florida’s weather has been absolutely gorgeous this month.  Temperatures are in the 70’s, low humidity and sunny skies.  The conditions were perfect on November 17th to get togethjojoer at Casa La Sally and make some cheese.
What you ask?
We drink wine but we don’t make cheese.   Well, you’d be Wrongo Marylou.  
Thanks to the excellent mentoring skills of Jojo Milano of Delilah’s Dairy we Gulpers can now make cheese to go with our wine. (This post is ripe for bad puns and cheesy jokes.  I will try to keep them to a minimum).  I have to apologize in advance to our loyal followers, this was a hands on class.  I didn’t get a ton of notes or even pictures.  I did get the process of making paneer cheese pretty well documented and some silly video of the mozzarella making that if it doesn’t instruct you it will make you giggle a little. 
Let the cheese making begin!
We start with a few very important and serious instructions.  The most important being sanitation.  Everything must be clean and sanitized.  We made our cheese from Jojo’s fresh whole goat’s milk.  It was raw which means it hadn’t been pasteurized which means it is essentially alive.  We must treat it with respect and care.  All the pots, utensils and such should be well washed and sanitized.  Our hands must be well washed and sanitized too.  Jojo had a soapy solution with a little bleach in it for our washing needs.  One Gulper said she felt like she was prepping for surgery!
Another interesting point was because we were using raw milk our cheese would be considered vegetarian, NOT VEGAN, vegetarian.
You can use store bought milk to make this cheese but you need to make sure it isn’t ultra-homogenized.   The process changes the milk radically, removing calcium and changing the protein in a way that makes it unable to cut the cheese.  If you don’t have access to raw milk, (please see Jojo), then make sure it is only homogenized.  Organic milk can be ulta-homogenized so make sure you read the label.  Whole Foods sells one brand that would work, I think it is called 365? Jojo also mentioned Publix Greenwise milk would work too but make sure to read the label!  You could use skim or whole milk but keep in mind the butterfat is what gives the cheese more flavor.  What’s the point of going through the effort for no flavor?  Just my opinion.
Finally, while there is certainly an art to cheese making it is also a science.  Directions matter.  To get a good curd the milk needs to be at a specific temperature before adding the acid.  Rinsing is important to get rid of excess whey and makes the cheese last longer.
Let’s make some Cheese!
Paneer is a fresh simple cheese found much in Southeast Asian cuisine.  In the U.S it is called Farmer’s Cheese.  In Mexico it is Queso Fresca.  It is made with milk and an acid like lemon, citric acid, vinegar or yogurt.  In our lesson we used goat milk from Delilah Dairy and vinegar from Publix.  The recipe calls for 1 gallon of milk to a 1/2 cup of vinegar for approximately a pound of cheese.
Here is what we did:
paneer collage1.  In a large saucepan bring the milk to 187 degrees stirring constantly.  Do not stir vigorously or you might spill the milk and then someone might start crying and that would be well, crying over spilled milk and just not done.
2. Once it is at temp slowly add the vinegar.  This will make the milk curd which will become the cheese.  Note:  even though the directions are for a half cup of vinegar we needed to add an additional 1/4 cup to get a good curd.  Jojo said that was fine.  “While there is definitely a science to cheesing making it is also an art”, wisely advised the day’s sage. 
3.  Once the curd is formed begin spooning it out of the pan and into a cheese cloth covered colander.  This allows the whey to continue to drain.  After scooping out all of the curd from the pot pick up the edges of the cheese cloth and twist to continue draining away the whey or a whey it goes!  (I couldn’t help myself).
4.  Take the curd in the cheese cloth to the sink and rinse it under running water.  Then twist again to squeeze out water and any left over whey.  Be careful not to over squeeze.  Too much and all you will have left is no curds and whey.  Seriously, too much and it will reduce the amount of cheese produced.
5.  This is now for all intents and purposes cheese.  But how do we make it taste good?  Well you gouda add herbs, ( I swear no more), but first add salt.  IMPORTANT:  Do not use iodized salt.  It will turn the cheese green!  I am not kidding it is true.  Use kosher or canning salt to season the cheese.  Here let Jojo explain:
no green cheese allowed
After the exciting adventure with paneer cheese the gathered Gulpers sat back and enjoyed noshes prepared by Coreen and Lebeau.  While I sipped my Brandsen Reserve 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon I munched on cheese and sausages, mini tacos, sweet potato fries with a sriracha sauce, mini blt bites, and pears with spiced ricotta.   In the meantime Jojo prepared the stage for a demonstration on mozzarella cheese making.  Once again I am going to let Jojo do the talking.  Give her your unfeta’d attention:
The recipe for the mozzarella is as follows: 
yes I know the first few frames are sideways. The wine was very good!
1. let milk stand to room temp 55 ° and above in pot.
don't start heating till :
2. in 1/4 cup of chilled water add 1/4tsp of rennet put back in fridge
in 1/4 cup of chilled water add 1.5 tsp of citric acid
in% cup of chilled water add 1/4 tsp of lipase powder chill in fridge 20 minutes till
on stove
1. with room temp milk add the lipase powder and the citric acid and stir stir stir.
2. heat milk to 88 ° (i can sometimes go up to 90 °)
3. pour in rennet. stirring as you go. up and down motions for about 30 seconds.
just make sure all rennet is stirred into milk.
4. make sure milk is still at 88-90 ° a bit above is fine.
5. take milk off stove and let sit for 20-50 minutes. cover it.
6. at 20 min. check to see if you have one giant curd. stick your finger in to test.
should look custard like. if not, leave it alone.
7. Cut curds into 1 inch squares.
8. put on the stove to heat it up again to about 105-108 ° to firm things up a bit. or
if a good firm curd just let sit for another 10 minutes. can remove soMe whey.
you can start to stir to mix the curds. they should start sticking together and first
look of gooey mozzarella is starting.
9. take off stove and pour out tome of the whey. are curds melding tOgether? if
not, put back on stove to heat up to 108 °
10. ladle the cheese into a colander (plastic is fine), start to fold curds into each
other, get the whey out. should be clear.
11. take the big ball of curd and place in a microwave bowl. place in the
microwave 30-50 seconds (my microwave) where its almost too hot to touch.
and start playing with it. seeing a stretch starting, when slightly cooled to touch
determine if its too soft or too hard, or not pulling enough put in microwave for
another 30 sec. repeat above.
12. add some salt to itkeep pulling
At this point you should have a lovely shiny, long, stretchy mozzarella.
13. rope. braid. roll.
14. stick in an ice water bath to chill the moz... 10 minutes.
It was an amazing evening.  The setting was perfect.  The friends were perfect and the cheese beyond all expectations.  I butter quit for now.  I camembert for the next event!

Friday, November 9, 2012

I love Oktoberfest with Gulp!

Before I begin this post I just want to send out prayers and well wishes to all those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  We in South Florida know what you are going through and feel your pain, aggravation and need for electricity.  For anyone who reads the Gulp posts who wishes to help out our Northern neighbors visit or donate blood at your local blood bank.  That’s what neighbors do, we help each other out when the times get tough!
Onto the pairings!
This was a unique pairing event.  Not because it was beer.  We’ve done that.  Not because it was Oktoberfest, done that too.  We have never done, however costumes.  Yep, that’s right people came in costume to celebrate Halloween!  I give big props to everyone who dressed up but my personal favorite was the ooompa looompa!  Yes, I have pictures…hehehehhee.  It was also unique because this pairing featured not only Coreen’s skills in the kitchen but also her brewing chops as well.  Two of the courses were paired with a homebrew created by Coreen and I can tell you right now that I liked both.  Great job young lady!  This was also the largest gathering to date with 35 Gulpers joining in on the fun and learning about beer pairing. 
1st Course:  This was a course as far away from Germany as one could get.  Coreen and LeBeau went deep into the heart of Dixie and made chicken and waffles.  Can Y’all say chix and wafflefinger lickin’ good?  The waffle was freshly made with a pat of butter and maple syrup and it was topped with a crispy fried chicken tender.  It was paired with Coreen’s first brew of the day.  The Vanilla, oatmeal and maple syrup stout was like breakfast in a glass all on its own!  Paired with the crispy chicken and sweet, toasty waffle I was visioning big verandas, roman columns, and oak trees dripping with spanish moss.  (I refuse to see myself in hoop skirt or crinoline.)  Seriously, the aroma of the stout was all maple syrup and then when I took my first drink I got the maple but right behind it the vanilla coffee.  The oatmeal gave the brew body and weight making it definitely a meal.  It paired wonderfully with the waffle.  The maple in the stout said hi to the maple on the waffle and chicken and they all became very good friends in my mouth.  Michelle said she was going to have this for breakfast everyday!

pumpkin lasagna2nd Course:  This course put us smack dab into the middle of Fall.  The beer was Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Stout and it tasted the way its name sounds.  It was big, and bold with aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and pumpkin.  Its flavor was caramel-y and pumpkin-y with a faint note of citrus on the back end.  It was paired with more pumpkin in a lasagna that everyone wanted seconds of.  The pumpkin lasagna was lovely thin layers of tender noodles filled with ricotta, pumpkin and acorn squash puree.  It was topped with mozzarella and parmesan.  The parmesan was a smart ingredient that gave the lasagna a nutty, salty component that kept the rest from being really sweet.  The match between the brew and the food was phenomenal!  Almost every Italian will tell you cream sauces are enhanced with a touch of nutmeg and the stout provided that touch.  This was savory, warm and creamy meets cool, spicy and satisfying.  In short, yummy!
Dessert in the middle:  Before we moved to the third course we were served dessert.  This lovely little bite was created by our own Deb Knepp.  It was a pumpkin pound cake w/ amaretto cream cheese DSCN0647frosting.  It was moist rich and dense cake topped with a decadent cream cheese frosting that just melted in my mouth.  I have to say I am a sucker for cream cheese frosting and this one reminded me why.  I love the sweet, tangy creamy flavor and then mix in a cake that was full of pumpkin goodness I could have eaten a lot more, as it was a had two pieces!  I paired it with the pumpkin stout and wow was that delicious!

brats3rd Course:  With this course we came fully into Oktoberfest.  Coreen braised brawursts in stout and caramelized onions in the same stout and put the two together in a soft bun.  My mouth is watering at the memory.  The aroma of the meat and onions tickled my nose as Lebeau presented it to our table and I knew then and there I was in brat love.  They paired  them with a Lefthand Oktoberfest Marzen.   This pretty amber colored brew smelled sweet and a little yeasty.  The flavor followed suit.  After two fairly big flavor beers this one was lighter and if I may say refreshing especially against the sandwich with it’s porky, fatty goodness.  There was a caramel note to the beer as well which matched the sweetness of the onions.  It was a really a perfect pairing.

4th Course:  Coreen excels at sweets!  This is a bit funny because she isn’t much for eating them.  Personally, I don’t care about that, just that she keeps coming up with these tasty closings to every Gulp meal.  Thisbananas one was a banana fosters cup with banana mousse, chopped nuts, caramel sauce and ginger cookie crumbles.  REALLY?  Oh yeah, really and it tasted better than its description.  Creamy, cool mousse meets banana and then crunch, crunch, crunch go the nuts and cookies.  Crap! It was good.   Coreen’s homebrew heffeweisen was the perfect match with all that banana flavor.  It was slightly cloudy and a smelled a little yeasty.  It was mild in flavor and I thought a perfect foil for the richness of the dessert.  All I wrote at the time was YUMMO!
Well my friends that is it for this edition of the Gulp Recap!  Have a great November and if I don’t see you have a Happy, Safe and Grateful Thanksgiving!
Enjoy the Halloween costume pictures:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sonoma, The Friday Brewery Tour

Friday was the brewery tour.  I was not there for all the fun so I am turning the reporting duty over to Coreen.  Take it away Coreen:


Twas a beautiful, sunny day as we all loaded onto the Platypus tour bus with Scott for our second tour date. Today, September 28, Scott picked us up outside of our hotel and we headed off to the first stop for brew!
We went to Russian River Brew Pub in Downtown Santa Rosa. Here, we tried 32 different beers ranging from stouts, to blondes, to IPA’s, and even some sours aged in pinot noir barrels.  For some of us, (me) it confirmed our love for the hoppiest IPA’s with Pliny the Elder, one of the most fantastic brews I had all day, (at this brew pub anyway).
Then there was Redemption, Benediction, Damnation, Temptation, Salvation, Consecration....all the lovely ations made me salivat-ions. We worked on a pretty nice buzz at this pub.
We “MOO”-ved on to a photo shoot of a pastured cow and hot air balloon mural on our way over to the second watering hole … Third Street Aleworks. We did a couple of flights of 7 here, but it was really about coating our guts for the next stop. So we all shared some parmesan fries, zucchini sticks, and calamari and then headed to our third stop for the day.
Next stop, Lagunitas in Petaluma, CA. We met up with our ever loving Sally here, who set up a tour for just seemed like one heavenly sight after the other after that! Met up with Don (Mr. Nice Guy), our tour guide for the day, he brings us upstairs to this loft rock star hang out and cranks on some music and goes to town hanging out with us and pouring us samples of beer while we stroll around and take in all the funky sets and props. He makes us an Imperial Stout Ice Cream Float, and float we did, it was amaze-balls! So there we are overlooking the brewery on one side of us with all the fermenting tanks, that to any brewer or brew patron, just looked like castles amongst this fantasy world we are all in with Don, our Unicorn Tour Guide! Once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us, sincerely.
We unsaddled from the bar stools (literally) and went on a tour of the place. One stop after the other learning and cruising around this place was amazing. Fermenting warehouse, control center, on to the bottling house where we all donned safety glasses and got this funky bottle beat going from all the noises of clanking and clunking bottles. Don screams out “Everyone go ahead and grab a Hop Stoopid off the line!!!”Whhaaaaa???? We were giddy! So there we are drinking Hop Stupid in its birthing room!
Hard to move on from that huh? But we did, he then brought us into the warehouse area showed us the process of bottling and packing their delicious brews. Then he takes us to the tap room and pours us a ton of free beers and sends us all on our way without taking a single penny for a tip or anything! I swear, even the guys were swooning over our unicorn by the end of the day! 

Our amazing, patient and tenacious tour guide Scott then brought us back to our hotel, let us drop off all of our items and left us off safely at Bear Republic Brew House in downtown Healdsburg where we proceeded to get nice and toasty. Well, I did, anyway.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sonoma was my kind of vacation!

I am a reader.  I love fiction.  The juicier, bigger, more fantastic the fiction the more I like it. I like my wine the same way.  There is an ingredient that makes a really good book a forever memorable book and that is when I learn something while I am being entertained.  “The Da Vinci Code” was one of those books.  So was “A Discovery of Witches.”  Sonoma was that kind of trip.  I didn’t want to leave!
firepitdrycreekFirst thing that made this trip memorable was the group.  Coreen, LeBeau, Kristina, Wally, Jim, Kelly, Michelle, Bryan, Sally, Janice (my new friend), and Maureen were wonderful travel partners.  We toured together and then did our own thing as well.   Thank you all for one of the most amazing vacations I have had in years!  Special thanks must go to Coreen for the suggestion of a wine vacation, contacting Platypus Tours and setting up two great days of winery and brewery tours.  Additional thanks goes to Kristina Parker for arranging our hotel stay at Dry Creek Inn.  Thank you Cat Wofford for shipping our wine to us so carefully and gently!DSCN0388

Onto Vacation!
Day One: We Gathered
Sally and her friend Janice arrived a day or so earlier than the rest of us.  She rented a cottage instead of staying at the hotel.  Kudos Sally!  It was a brilliant idea! 
The cottage was a charming spot situated on Bauer Farm.   She spoke with owner, Blake Bauer and he generously agreed to arrange a welcome party on the 26th when the rest of us arrived. It is going to be challenging to put into words how wonderful this was but I am going to try. 
After a long day of flight delays, car rentals, crazy traffic and crappy airline peanuts we arrived at Bauer Farm.  Maureen and I were the last to land so when we got there everyone was gathered on the back patio.  This patio looked onto Blake’s garden filled with vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs.  Gulpers were sitting and chatting or wandering through the garden while this quick moving man with gray pony tale worked setting up two tables laden with goodies.  Fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden were skewered with lettuce and bacon, yep, baby blt’s!  Salmon was laid out with all the accoutrements of capers, onions, cream cheese spread and fresh artisanal bread from a local bakery.  Locally produced sausages and chorizzo were grilled and offered on platters.  More bread was sliced and was surrounded by homemade spreads using ingredients from his garden like basil, peppers, and garlic.  Mission figs from his trees were piled up next to a pomegranate reduction dipping sauce.  Yes, he grew the pomegranates.  Bottles of wine were scattered around the tables for our tasting pleasure.  Blake invited a friend of his, Chris, who was in the local wine business and he shared his knowledge and passion of wines with us.    The buffet tables looked beautiful and the food tasted as amazing as the setting looked.  (Please note:  From here on out I apologize if I repeat my adjectives.  I just don’t think there are enough in the English language to describe the scenery, flavors, smells, and pleasure).
While chatting and munching Blake showed us his fruit press and then demonstrated how it worked.  Several of us took turns pressing local Gravenstein apples.   We then enjoyed tasting the fresh juice.  I grew up with an apple tree in my yard as a kid and we ate apples, cooked apples, canned apples, you name it we did it.  It was nothing to eat apples fresh off the tree, warm from the sun.  That,s what drinking this juice was like.  Now when I drink any juice from the store I want it cold.  It tastes better.  I can only guess this is because it is mostly processed sugar water but this juice was so fresh, sweet and full of flavor I was smacked in the face with apples and memories.  I could have drunk several glasses of it.  We went through the pressing process again this time with grenache grapes from Blake’s vineyard.  Here comes the first of dozens of fun facts from this adventure.  Blake explained as he filled the press with purple grapes that no matter the color of the grape on the outside the juice inside is always white.  It is the skins that give a particular wine its color and imparts the extra flavor!  I think I kind of knew this but I didn’t realize for instance that champagne is made with pinot noir and chardonnay grapes and is white even though pinot noir grapes are very dark purple.  They just don’t put the skins in!  Crazy, I know.
Blake’s friend Chris then took all this a step further when he offered a tasting of recently bottle grapes from Blake’s vineyard.  Blake’s grenache grapes (and skins) produced a pretty garnet colored wine.  It smelled a bit like honey and flowers.  I might have just been smelling the garden I was in.  It was light bodied and was still young in flavor, more alcohol than grape but it was good nonetheless and I wanted to kick Sally and Janice out of the cottage and move in.  I was having Lucy Ricardo visions of grape stomping and vine wrapped bottles dancing through my head.  It was a perfect evening of laughs, relaxing and friends.  It was a dream and I didn’t want to wake up but eventually the day caught up with us and we said our good nights.
Day Two:  We Toured
Thursday morning came with cool temperatures (it was 50 degrees) and fog.  After everyone got breakfast we gathered at 10:00 am for a day of winery tours.  We met Scott, our guide from Platypus Tours and he gave us a quick rundown of the day and invited us onto the bus to get the tour started.  Before I go on just let me say that Platypus Tours and Scott rock.  Scott was knowledgeable, fun and boy he knew how to drive a tour bus on very curvy roads.  Scott also guided the gang the next day on brewery tours but we will get to that later.
Our first winery was Inspiration Vineyard.  It was located in a business park.  Strange, right?  Not really.  Vineyards and wineries are not necessarily the same thing.  Some vineyards grow grapes for sale but never produce an ounce of wine.  Some wineries produce wine but never grow one single grape.  Not all wineries are in vineyards.  If a farmer has all available acreage planted then he/she will have the winery offsite.  This was the case with Inspiration.  Jon Phillips with his wife Barbara have been making wine sine 1999. They started off just as a winery, buying their grapes and making wine and then in 2001 purchased a farm with 4.5 acres of vineyards.  For more on their story please visit Inspiration Vineyards.  Jon introduced us to the job of “punching down the grapes.”  His winery was filled with giant tubs of grapes.  Some were open, some closed, and all were in the middle of fermentation.  Everyday, three to four times a day he uses a big metal paddle and punches down the top of the grapes.  Get ready for another fun fact!   When grapes are fermenting yeast eats away the sugar and pushes out alcohol, heat and co2.  When the co2 releases stuff floats to the top like seeds, and skins.  Remember that the skins give the wine color so they must mix with the juice to do this hence the punch down.  He demonstrated the process and then invited us to give it a try.  We were so enthused we punched down 7 of his tubs!  We PAID to punch down his grapes, (the tasting cost $10.00).  Isn’t he a wily winemaker?   After we finished our chores Jon took us to the tasting room where we enjoyed 8 different tastings from Chardonnay to Syrah.  I am sure you know my favorites were the reds.  I especially enjoyed the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was so dark purple it was almost black.  The nose was chocolate, leather and raisins.  The flavor was just like its aroma with a lovely finish of chocolate.  I could totally enjoy this with a steak or chocolate mousse.  Others really enjoyed his 2010 Russian River Estate Reserve Chardonnay.  It was golden in color and smelled like apples and toast.  The taste was more minerally than I expected but the creaminess from the oak was there in spades.  It was a very tasty wine.  We thanked Jon for his hospitality and headed on to our next vineyard.

Scott took us on a lovely long winding road and shared different tidbits of wine lore like why are there sparklers in some of the vineyards.  After a quick tug of our legs with “Oh that is just the bubble from the sparkling wine grapes….ha ha” he explained that they were reflective streamers to keep the birds out of the grapes.  Later another source would explain all the abundant rose bushes at the end of rows were to distract the deer, (they love to eat roses), and keep them out of the fields.  Finally we pulled up to one of the prettiest locations I have seen in a very long time.  VML Vineyards is situated in the middle Russian River
Valley.  We were awestruck by the beauty and abundance of flowers, fruiting bushes and trees that lined the walkway up to the Tasting Room.  VML stands for Virginia Marie Lambrix. She is the winemaker for the partnership of Bill and Woody Hambrecht, Phil Hurst, Mark De Mawulenaere and Paul and Heath Dolan who are the owners of the vineyard.  While VML is a new kid on the block opening in 2011 they vineyard has been on the site since 1979.  It was originally owned by the Hambrecht family and was called Belvedere.  There was a lawsuit and a long story then in 2011 it became VML. Ms. Lambrix employs biodynamic and organic principles to the growing of the grapes.   Back to the tasting.  Christine was our guide through this tasting.  We started off with a gew├╝rztraminer.  This was was the palest of yellows, almost clear and smelled of apples.  It was drier than I expected and I didn’t get any of the clove or cinnamon I usually taste with this varietal but it was full with apples and peaches.  With a little more age this will be one heck of a good wine.  The 2010 Boudreaux Pinot Noir was another interesting selection with its pretty ruby hue.  The nose was full of smoke, chocolate and blackberries, much bigger than your average Pinot.  For me, it was high acid and there was an alcohol hit right at the beginning then it mellowed to a very jammy glow with a touch of licorice. (Real licorice, not the cherry stuff).  It was at this location that Scott our guide made a picnic lunch for us.  We enjoyed sandwiches, quinoa salad and fruit as we took in the scenery and sipped a rose’ Christine brought out.  Made from pinot noir grapes it was coral colored and smelled like strawberries and pepper.  As with the Pinot Noir it was high in alcohol which deflected from the other flavors in the glass.  While we were sipping Jim and Kelly came strolling out of the vineyard and Kelly had tears in her eyes and Jim was wearing a big Cheshire cat grin.  Those two crazy kids went into the grapes and got engaged!  Woo Hoo!!!!  Congratulations you two!  In their honor Christine broke out a bottle of sparkling rose’ they had just bottled.  It was my favorite of the visit.  Pale pink with the strawberry smell I now associate with VML.  It was refreshing and tasted like happy!  It was fruity with just a hint of spice and a lovely crispness that I could have enjoyed all day long sitting on their patio and gazing into the gardens and vineyards.  What a great place!  Finally we had to say goodbye and head to Montemaggiore.

Montemaggiore, (pronounced: montay-ma-johray), is a breathtakingly beautiful vineyard precariously situated on a mountainside.  Owner, Vince Ciolino told us the mountain wasn’t only for the great view.  His grape vines struggle on the mountain…alert alert fun fact coming:  It is better for the wine if the grapes are stressed and starved a bit on the vine.  The reason is a stressed vine produces small berries with more concentrated juice and more skin.  Remember from before the skins give the wine color and flavor.  A happy, healthy and juicy grape might be good for Welch’s but not for winemakers. The Ciolino’s produce predominantly syrah wines and they want the deep dark colors, aroma and taste the these grape skins give their juice.  Vince was a wonderful host and husband, referring often to the deft winemaking skills of his wife and partner Lise.  He spoke extensively on the care they pay to their vines.  The Ciolinos employ biodynamics and sustainable farming methods that they believe not only take care of the earth but make a better wine.  They use no chemical products on the vines and the employ both animal and hand labor.  Sheep are used as natural mowers and weed eaters.  Cow horns are used in the compost to add important nutrients to the soil before broadcasting it across the vines.  Their efforts were proven in their wines.  Tasting the 2007 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah I can totally understand why it won “Best in Class”  At the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  It is dark purple in color and smelled like raisins, dark berries and cinammon.  It was smooth and balanced full of jammy flavors touched with more spice and, call me crazy, a hint of eucalyptus.  It was wonderful.  Another phenomenal example of this family’s commitment to the wine was the 2004 Superiore.  This Cab/Syrah blend is delicious.  Again, it is inky in color with scents of cassis, black cherries, and smoke.  The flavor matches the aromas with an additional hint of chocolate.  We loved this so much the group went in on a case of it.  Thank you Ciolino family for a wonderful visit during a most amazing day.  We are back in the bus and onto Hawley Vineyards.
We arrived at the Hawley Vineyard in the middle of the harvest.  The Hawley men were in the process of pressing the grapes that had just come in from the fields.  We were greeted by Austin Hawley while his brother and dad kept working at getting the grapes in.  It was a real treat to visit a working vineyard.  Not that the previous stops on our tour weren’t wonderful but there was something special about walking around hoses, conveyor belts and fermenting tubs.  Austin set us up at a makeshift counter of a plank on top two wine barrels. We were treated to about 7 different wines from white to red and there were two standouts that must get mentioned.  The first was a viognier.  Austin called it sunshine in a bottle and he wasn’t wrong.  This golden color wine smelled of honeysuckle and tasted like summer peaches.  God it was delicious!  The second wine was so good I bought a bottle and opened it as soon as I got back to Florida.  It was a 2005  old vine zinfandel.  It was a deep dark ruby color and smelled like berries, smoke and vanilla.  It tasted like heaven.  It was smooth, with a long finish and full of jammy berries and spice.  Austin was a warm host but it was obvious we were interupting.  We didn’t linger and thanked them for a big finish to a great day.
At the end of the day we went our own ways.  Some went back to their rooms to relax after a busy day.  Others went into town for a couple more tasting rooms and dinner and others got together for an impromptu dinner at the hotel.  Before we parted we thanked Scott once more for such a crazy informative, tasty, romantic and completely fun day.
Coreen will tell the story of Day Two and the beer tours.
The next Gulp gathering is Oktoberfest featuring beer on October 28th.  Get your reservations in as soon as you can for this annual grand event!
See you there!