If you had told John Shafer, when he moved from Chicago to Napa Valley in 1973, that his winery and one specific vineyard would earn the highest critical acclaim, bring in top bids at wine auctions and create a formidable fan following, he would probably have scoffed, being the practical vintner that he is. But Shafer’s success in the wine world wasn’t instant and wasn’t easy going at all. In fact when you learn the stories of harvests where they couldn’t get pickers on time, or the vintage with a stuck fermentation that he had to get started using electric blankets, well, you wonder how Shafer ever made it to where the winery is today with a cult-like status.
Fragrance is having its moment. You expect to find perfume on display in drug stores, in department stores, in high end boutiques. You even find it airports at duty free shops. In a museum? That’s probably the last place you’d expect to find perfume. By the way, don’t call it perfume. I’ll explain later. Chandler Burr is the mastermind of the new Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. His position as curator is one he created, successfully pitched to MAD in 2010. At that time, Chandler was the one and only scent critic for the New York Times, where he wrote about fragrance the same way as art, dance and book critic would write about the art they cover. Chandler’s point of view then as now, is that scents are works of art and the people creating them are artists in their own right.
It’s not easy to make a film or a video around the subject of wine. I should know, I produced the TV show In Wine Country on NBC for nine seasons. Wine on the big or little screen gets super boring. Our challenge was always ‘how do we make wine interesting? How do we make it less intimidating?’
One way to do it is to tell stories about the people and not focus on the wine. And that’s what SOMM, a documentary film directed by Jason Wise does. SOMM opened the 2nd annual Napa Valley Film Festival Wednesday night to a packed house and standing ovation. While I’d venture to say our crowd was very wine savvy, SOMM does something that makes it worth seeing. SOMM takes you into the world of The Court of Master Sommeliers, an organization that is notoriously secretive. That they let Jason’s camera capture what it is like to prepare for an exam that only 200 or so people have ever passed is extraordinary.
He’s backstage at Michael Kors, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Narciso Rodriguez. Color is his mantra; helping women feel beautiful is his goal.
Uber makeup artist Dick Page was in San Francisco recently for an appearance at Nordstrom as the Artistic Director of Shiseido, a position he’s held since March 2007. He brought with him a team of Shiseido makeup artists to add color to the more than 230 women who came to the event. And what an event it was. Page consulted on color for the guests, and posed endless times with fans under the glare of bright lights in front of the Shiseido step and repeat.
Alison Sokol Blosser is in Portland, Oregon at the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) instead of being on her honeymoon. She just got married on the August weekend before the start of the conference at her family’s winery in Oregon’s Dundee Hills AVA,which is about an hour outside of Portland. As the winery’s Co-President along with her brother Alex, she’s at WBC to pour for nearly 400 bloggers during an activity called live blogging, which is more like speed dating. Then she’s hosting a busload of bloggers from the conference at Sokol Blosser Winery for a dinner with several other local wineries pouring. With all that going on and with harvest underway, Alison says she’ll go on her honeymoon after the fall craziness is done.
It’s not everyday you get to have lunch and taste wine with a Napa Valley icon. Bernard Portet, founding winemaker at Clos du Val invited a small gathering of journalists to reflect on his 40 years making wine in the Napa Valley. He officially retired from Clos du Val at the end of 2009, but as so often happens he was going stir crazy and he knew he just had to get back into making wine.
Even sailing can’t keep Bernard away from wine. He has a 36’ sailboat named Obelix and loves to get out on the water. He’s also involved with the 34th America’s Cup through the Napa Valley Vintners. The weather for the upcoming weekend is perfect sailing weather but Bernard says he can’t go. He’s harvesting grapes instead.
The crush is for Bernard’s new label, Heritance. The project developed after Bernard bumped into Clos du Val’s former COO, Don Chase who also wanted to get back into wine. So they hatched a plan where Don would handle the business aspects and Bernard would make the wine. But the set up is nothing like Clos du Val. Bernard calls Heritance “a winery without walls.”
If you’re a cosmetics junkie and wine lover like me, no doubt you’ve heard about skincare products and makeup that contain some form of beneficial ingredients from wine grapes. Polyphenols in grapes and resveratrol are powerful antioxidants. Grape seed oil extract helps protect skin from free radicals and hydrates at the same time. You’ll find these anti-aging ingredients in many products including the French skincare line Caudalie to 29 Cosmetics, created by Lydia Mondavi, which uses grape seed extract in its skincare and color cosmetics.
Blending all this grapey goodness into beauty products is not groundbreaking. But two newcomers are focusing on what you put on your lips, especially since we all end up ingesting our creamy lipsticks and shiny glosses.
Dutton Ranch. Durrell. Hudson. Hyde. Chenoweth Ranch. Pisoni. What do all these names have in common? Yes, they are all vineyards, and some are wine brands too. But they all provide grapes for the single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines of Patz & Hall.
The Sonoma-based winery isn’t the first to put single vineyard designations on their wines but they also champion the grower. “The longest grower relationship we have is with Larry Hyde. We started to buy Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay in 1990,” says winemaker James Hall.
How Chardonnay remains the most popular white wine sold in America is a mystery to me. Maybe because it is easier to pronounce or remember? At least some California winemakers are now showing restraint and instead of using lots of new oak they’re making unoaked wines instead. I just had a yummy Chard which was crisp with apple and citrus from Chamisal Vineyards in the Central Coast called Stainless Chardonnay. This bright vibrant wine is totally unoaked, very nice for sipping.
I’ll admit it, Chardonnay gets more than its share of bad raps. People are proud to say he or she is an ABC drinker – Anything But Chardonnay that is. So what’s the alternative? Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are options, but sometimes I want something richer and creamier than a zippy Sauv Blanc or citrusy Pinot Grigio. Thank goodness for the white Rhone varieties grown in California that make wines memorable enough to compete with Chardonnay and even best it. You may even agree with me that the white Rhones are so much more complex and interesting.
Twice a year fragrance lovers descend upon New York City for the tour de force that is Sniffapalooza. One of the fragrance event group’s signature perfume odysseys is the annual “Spring Fling,” a weekend event that explores scents all over the city. While many large perfume houses introduce new scents to our group, Sniffapalooza is also known for the debuts of small boutique labels. I love discovering new fragrances and sharing the stories. While we tried over 100 scents, I fell in love with six of them, all different, but complex and interesting. Some are just launching, others have been around for a few years, but all are making a big splash in the perfume world.