Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thanksgiving Salami

I know I know, I still owe you 'The Harvest Part Deux,' but Thanksgiving in Montaldo this year was just too good to not share.  It really does not have much to do with wine other than the fact that I drank a lot of it.  Bare with me as I try to make this super long day short and sweet and 'blog-ish' for your reading pleasure...

I started Thanksgiving menu planning, preparations and shopping all the day of.  I headed down at 11:30 to our little village to hit the three stores, vegetable store, bread store and everything else store.  At the vegetable store we started off strong, parsley - check, celery - check, onions - check, carrots - check, sweet potatoes - not so much.  I eye a basket holding what looks like sweet potatoes, but as I glance down at the little sign I see that they are not labeled 'patate dolce (sweet potatoes)' but instead 'americane'.

No s***, they call sweet potatoes 'American's'.  I laugh out loud by myself (a common occurrence with me on my misadventures in this small little town).  As I walked over to pay, my trusted vegetable guy (whom I adore and who special orders me avocado's so I can get my fix) is looking worried and skeptical because he heard me laughing, alone, with his potatoes.  As he's tallying me up he grabs one of the little Americans and explains to me that they're sweet... but sometimes people do buy them, not him, but the foreigners.  Clearly.  I assured him I was not laughing at his Americans, but instead at the name as we call them something else.  Clearly.

Next stop is the bread store.  I walk in and start pointing to the loaves I want, and as the bread lady (who I like, but is not quite as friendly and flirtatious with me as the vegetable man) gives me a disappointed look.
"Why didn't you call to reserve the bread if you needed this much?"
This is a battle that I fight weekly on principal.  I have enough going on, and one of my jobs is not making bread, instead her only job is to make bread.  So make it, try not to run out, and don't make me add to my 'to do' list 'bread reservations,' it's hard enough to remember restaurant reservations, let alone BREAD reservations!
I say my usual "ooooh, so sorry, totally forgot."

Final stop, the everything else store to pick up the bird.  I had asked my favorite butcher in all the land, that works at the everything else store, the week before if they ever carried Turkey's.  He said, "of course not, but I can order you one, how big?"  He is one of the few Italians left that still loves America, and loves to talk about it, and hence was clearly informed that Thanksgiving was coming up and I didn't have to answer any questions about why one would buy a Turkey.

When I made my way back to the store he got a huge smile on his face when he saw me, and ran to the back leaving the poor little boring lady he was waiting on mid-sentence (she was probably explaining how her mom used to make pork chops, and how she doesn't do it like that, but she has a cousin that does, and her niece doesn't like it, but her cat's husband does... ect., ect.), the little old Italian ladies love to talk.

My trusted butcher came back with my bird in hand, and a proud smile on his face for the fact that he remembered to order the bird, handed it to me, and wished me a happy Thanksgiving.  Love that guy.  I inquired (despite little boring lady glaring at me) if anyone else had bought a Turkey that day... just out of curiosity.  No.  One guy had the day before, "some American guy, and he wanted the biggest one I could get him!"  Of course he did, being the good American, bigger is better right!

This was not my first Thanksgiving in Italy, but it was the first year I decided to celebrate it here.  Hence it was the first time I experienced what it feels like to be a foreigner and have an entire country ignore 'your' holiday.  Growing up an American in America we of course are taught that there are other holidays in other cultures that we need to recognize as we have lots of people from those cultures living amongst us.  However, as they always say, you just can't really understand the sensation until you've 'walked in another mans shoes'.  I got it, and it kinda sucks.  You just want to yell, "HEY, HAPPY THANKSGIVING A**H*****," at the top of your lungs, in a big crowd, to get some attention and recognition.  Good thing there are no big crowds where I live.

I get home at 12:30 and start chopping, and prepping.  Cooking is therapeutic for me, and pulls me out of the emailskypetextiphone frenzy that has become my work day.  I start off with the 'singer songwriter' category on my iTunes.  Relaxing, nice.  Water drinking for now.

By 3:00, when I finished making the homemade croutons and stuffing (no Peppridge Farms pre-bagged stuffing here, or even croutons for that matter) the 'singer songwriter' music wasn't doing it for me anymore and I switched over to some Citizen Cope (my go-to cooking jams), which leads me to my first glass of wine.  Here is the part where wine comes in.  Poggio Trevvalle Rosato.  Cold, pink, and delicious, perfectly hit the spot.  MMMMMM, I say out loud, alone with my croutons.

At 4:00 I unwrapped the bird.  I decided she was a 'female,' I have no evidence to prove this, but apparently according to google we generally only eat the females.  I plucked the few feathers she still had on her, cleaned her out, stuffed her, tied her up and smeared her with herbed butter.  Herbs from my garden, butter from the farm at the bottom of the hill. She was all dressed up and ready for her party.

At 6:40 I need more from iTunes, I change the genre to rock, and 'Fat Bottomed Girls' comes on.  Mind you at this point I have been cooking since 12:30, alone, and I'm starting to get a little delirious (or maybe I was just getting drunk). Thank you iTunes genie, and thank you Queen!  I shaved the Brussels sprouts, and peeled the Americans.  THEY WERE NOT ORANGE INSIDE!  I didn't have time for this mystery, I guessed they were yams or something.  Not even sure there is a difference... other than I think you only 'candy' yams.  Whatever.  More wine please.

I cook the Brussels sprouts in a pan I had just cooked pancetta in and then added caramelized shallots and finished them with toasted hazelnuts - the hazelnuts were the only 'touch of Piedmont' I added to the entire meal. Finally, I boiled the Americans.

At 8:00 Fabrizio's family and Valeria arrived along with two other close friends.  Fabrizio's mother came into the kitchen to give the scene a once over.  At this point I was opening a bottle of Iuli Nino, and switched the music to Reggae, needed to be in a peaceful place now that I was no longer rocking out alone with my bird and the Americans in the kitchen.

The bird was beautiful, she was absolutely perfect I thought, but I guess 'mothers' always think that!  I basted the hell out of her with her own juices as well as plenty of wine and vegetable broth during her stay in my oven.

I asked Fabrizio's mom to do the honor and handed her the knife and mini pitch fork thingy.

As I uncovered the stuffing I had in a pan she leaned over and asked if the stuffing was a soup!!  I am not sure what to say here.  There was no liquid.  It looked like lots of bread broken up into pieces with herbs with a crispy top.  It looked like STUFFING, not soup!

Now, Fabrizio's mom is a renowned (retired) chef in the area, and had a restaurant in the town for 50 years, but this was her first carving of a Turkey (and apparently the first time she had seen stuffing)!  As she went at my girl with the big knife she went to the neck and was about to cut her in the wrong direction, crosshatch if you will, when I yelled, "Noooooooooooo!!!!"

Sometimes when I'm panicked my Italian falls short, and that was all I could get out.  She jumped and looked confused.

She apologized and said she had never cooked a Turkey, let alone carve one.  I drank more Nino, laughed and showed her how to go at it, and concentrated on making my mom's famous gravy.  The most important piece of the meal.  Fabrizio's 6 year old nephew watched in wonderment as the 'soup' fell out of the big weird 'Chicken' that his Nonna was painstakingly carving.  I explained that it was called stuffing, and he was going to love it, and that it was a turkey and not a chicken.

Our Valeria had spent a few years in America, so she finished up the Americans for me mashing with butter and milk and adding S&P, she knew what was up, I can always count on Valeria!  I then went into my pantry, back row, and pulled out a can that had been resting in it's place for two years, dusted her off, and proudly showed my cranberry sauce to Valeria. Vale smiled devilishly, knowing I was at this point looking for shock factor.  No cranberry sauce in Italy.  A friend had sent this as a joke a few years ago when I told her about the things you couldn't get in Italy.  Now was finally the little can's moment to shine!!

I opened two bottles of Le Due Terre Merlot and we sat down.

Fabrizo's father, Renzo, doesn't believe there is any other food that is edible in the world other than Piemontese fare.  Renzo one time told his family he was 'risking death' by eating yogurt that a doctor ordered him to have for breakfast on a special diet.  He also eats chicken livers, pig feet, brain, intestine, and 'head', but mention 'Dannon yogurt' and he get's nauseous.

This was the moment I was most nervous and excited for all at once, Renzo at Thanksgiving.

I watched him closely as each dish was passed to him.  He looked disgustedly at each dish, passed it on to his wife without taking any, and then scowled at her as she served herself and then put some of each dish on his plate as well.  He was somewhat patiently waiting for the salami to arrive.  He took a few small bites of each thing, mumbled something angrily in dialect to Fabrizio's mother, and then put his fork down.  He reached for the Le Due Terre.  Even though it was not from Piedmont, it was red and Italian, and a relief and comforting to him in lieu of what was going on in front of him on his dinner plate.  Dinner was normally his favorite moment of the day.

I grabbed some salami from the fridge, and asked if he wanted me to make him some pasta.  He declined, drank wine, ate bread and salami and pouted.

The rest of the crowd, while somewhat confused and at the same time interested, was for the most part pleased with the meal.

Here is Fabrizio's sister trying to convince her son to just TRY the Turkey, Fabrizio's mother standing up still trying to figure out what the weird 'soup' was that we were calling stuffing, and best of all, Renzo in the back at the head of the table, pouting.

In the end I was happy and thankful.  It tasted like Thanksgiving, I finally got to use my aged cranberry sauce that was taking up valuable real estate in my pantry and I had successfully completed my first solo T-day flight.

Here is a quick reference list to sum up why Thanksgiving doesn't work in Italy... yes, I guess I could have just 'blogged' this at the beginning, but then you would never have read the long version!

  • They don't eat turkey here, "it doesn't taste like anything," and don't understand why anyone would eat turkey when you can eat the pig
  • There are no cranberries in Italy
  • There is no such thing as croutons to make stuffing 
  • There is no such thing as gravy
  • It is a meal without pasta
  • It is a meal without salami (well, in most cases)
  • They don't have orange 'Americans'
However, the most barbaric part to the Italians is that we put everything on our plate at once, and all the foods touch, and are mixed up.  I didn't even dare tell them about the day after thanksgiving sandwich tradition!!

Once again I pleaded guilty, I am just an American (or I guess you can say, 'just a Yam')!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Saving the 'Independent' Everything!

Three years ago when I first met Fabrizio Iuli, and decided to help him find a good honest distributor that his hard work and product merited, an 'ambassador' to his wines that would also be enthusiastic to have this special hand made juice, and would understand the importance of selling the 'independent vigneron,' my biggest motivation was the fear that if we didn't find the right hands to sell these small soul filled estates, that we would loose them forever.

Fabrizio Iuli and his dad, 'Renzo', his only 'employee'

It was this fear of loosing these small winemakers to big business, and to bankruptcy that eventually led me to the famous epiphany:

"F*** it, I'll just do it myself!"

... and just like that, Indie was born.

Our plight is simple; share these winemakers stories and history, express not only the passion of these artists, but also our own, teach our clients and consumers that it is JUST as important to know where your wine comes from as it is where your food comes from.  To teach those that don't understand, that vintage variance is the best part about wine... that wine is alive, a natural product, and when done like our winemakers do it, brings you to a place and time, and has a personality all it's own that you won't meet even in a neighboring estate.  All of this, as well as be able to support ourselves and our families.  We aren't looking to build an empire, we aren't looking to have fast cars or houses all over the globe.  We're looking to do a job that we love, and to keep these independent wine makers fed so they will keep making these wines that make us glow, ask questions, inspire us to cook new things, and share with our loved ones.

What I didn't foresee, was that we also need to save ourselves.  Just as the big companies and industrial wine estates are slowly but surely eating up the small independent estates that don't have money for marketing, or time and/or knowhow to find agents/importers and distributors, the same thing is happening on the importation and distribution side of the business.

We are a new company working honestly and with our hearts and souls, and simply can't compete with all the 'free' that is thrown at our buyers.  We can't buy new barstools or wine menu's for by the glass placements, and quite honestly if we could, wouldn't.  Is telling your customer that the reason you pour a particular wine by the glass is because you wanted them to be comfortable on their new shiny barstool really what we want to convey?  We can't offer 20 cases of free 'plonk' wine for 3 by the glass placements that are promised for at least 6 months.  Is telling your customer the reason you pour a particular wine by the glass because it was free what we want to convey??

I have been called many times, 'hopelessly optimistic,' and I hope this never changes, and this is obviously why none of this entered into my train of thought before starting this passion project.  I believed in the good people of the wine world.  I believed that the people that were interested in the honest, natural, hand made wines we have to offer were the same people that wanted to support 'small business,' and the dream of entrepreneurial independence.  I still want to believe this, but we are unfortunately seeing more and more of our fellow 'freedom fighters' (as one of our distributors calls them) fall subject to the fist of the big business.

Without risking 'soapy' feet, I will finish here, making this short and sweet.  We at Indie Wineries ask you, our loyal friends, family and clients, to not forget to support whenever and as much as possible, the independent 'everyone'.  Go to the corner store rather than 7-11, buy local produce at the farm stand, go to the locally owned restaurants rather than the chains, support the small grocers, the small shop owners rather than the GAP, and support the small independent wine growers and the distributors that carry them.  Not only Indie, but all the small distributors of everything you buy, that are trying to do something different.

In 'Independent' there is passion first and business second.  This is what it should be about.

Thanks for listening, and please pass along :)

- Summer

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Straight From the Producers Bocca; Harvest 2011...

Between picking and de-stemming, crushing, pump overs and punch downs, racking and pressing, stressing and not sleeping and often barely eating, and forget about showering, we somehow convinced our producers to take 10 minutes to reflect on this years harvest, and the even bigger challenge; to actually write it down! The honesty, passion, and feelings from these producers that jumped off the page while I was typing their words actually brought tears to my eyes more than once.  My nickname is Summer 'easy-tear' Wolff, but it was honestly a moving experience reading through these entries... I hope you all enjoy as much as I did, and a huge warm thank you to all you producers for taking the time to share!

We are missing a few, but here are reports on; Campania, Tuscany, Friuli, Sicilia, Le Marche, Basilicata and Piedmont!

Without further adieu...

The aftermath of destemming... or, 'harvest shrapnel' as I affectionately call it, splattered all over our courtyard

NANNI COPE, Caserta, Campania
"Very early harvest also at Sopra il Bosco, 20 days earlier than average, and 25 days earlier than 2010.  Fortunately all went well, thanks to the beautiful tannins of Palagrello Nero which ripen slowly from the moment of version.  The fruit was ready September 10th, too bad only for the quantity, which was much lower than the average.  Two and a half hectares gave us only 8 tons of grapes... 2011 Nanni Cope will be rather 'rare'!"
- Giovanni Ascione

RAMONI, Montalcino, Tuscany
"Harvest was on the 22nd and 23rd of August, at least a week earlier than usual.  Grapes show great equilibrium and we foresee this vintage to have a strong body and a power that we will try to tame with the help of our wooden barrels and lots of patience."
- Gianni Fabri

SAN LORENZO, Montecarotto, Le Marche
"The harvest at San Lorenzo was not as rich as in past years, the grapes are beautiful, but there is a low yield due to the lack of rain.  Get back to me later on and I'll tell you more :) "
- Natalino Crognaletti

LE DUE TERRE, Prepotto, Friuli
"For someone who is in his 50's, harvest used to be associated with the first day of school.  Long ago it was October 1st.  In these 40 years many things have changed, including the weather.  The smell of summer, lucid air, strong sun, singing cicadas, are all now part of our harvest, even here in Friuli!  This change has brought us our first vintage that we were unprepared for, literally and emotionally.  However, we have learned a new way of talking to our vineyards; remembering what our grandparents used to say, and adding our own new personal experiences.  
As producers of natural wine, it has been a difficult year.  It required an extraordinary amount of patience and hard work.  
This season in Friuli, and especially in the Colli Orientali region, has been characterized by a warm spring with very little rain.  In April we had high temperatures (summer like), followed by a very wet and cold July that kept us incredibly busy in the vineyard.  We had to monitor daily the health and cleanliness of the fruit.  Our neighbor producer had heavy hail, and some other nearby producers lost the entire vintage.  Luckily the hail missed our vineyards.
This is the beauty of this small region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.  We don't have "one and only" microclimate, but many!  The proximity of the sea and the mountains with different air streams and temperatures can make the difference.  Even during tragic events like hail, some areas are destroyed and others untouched.  
August sun, dry days, and the lack of rain made the grapes and the pips and tannins ripen quickly.  August 28th we called our trustworthy harvesters, we sharpened our scissors, and the morning of the 29th we started the harvest of Pinot Nero 2011.  In the first few days of September we harvested Tocai Friulano and Ribolla Gialla for our Sacrisassi Bianco.  After a 10 day break we were ready to harvest the Merlot.
The weather was still beautiful.  Hot days were swept by soft wines.  Grapes were beautiful and smiled at us.  It has been a relaxed harvest and we weren't forced to "steal" the grapes from the plant, like it has happened at times in the past.  Our land is wonderful, but can also be difficult.
We will next harvest Refosco and Schioppetino at the end of September.
Meanwhile Flavio, like a lighthouse guardian, is everyday meticulously checking his grapes.  Prunning leaves back to expose the grapes to the sun, and picking out the small green berries that didn't ripen on the Schioppettino.  He also has been doing some fruit dropping and the bunches that are less, 'perfect'.  He tries to simplify the work of the harvesters that will have to gather only what is left by Flavio on the plant.
Let's hope the weather will be nice until the end of harvest.  Until now we are very satisfied with the results.  When we take the wine off the skins after the fermentation, we will know a lot more about this vintage.  Meanwhile our fingers are crossed.  Being farmers, we know that we must be humble; only when the wine is ready will we be able to toast to our success!
Here at Le Due Terre harvest is still a moment of happiness and an occasion to celebrate together.  Everyday we cook something special and have lunch together.  Old friends sit at the table under the old porch sharing this moment of happiness together.  Everyone hoping that it will be a GREAT VINTAGE"
- Silvana Forte and Flavio Basilicata

VINI LA FAVOLA, Noto, Sicilia
"Harvest has been very good.  Grapes have a good quality even if in Sicily the vineyards have been attacked by downy mildew all summer long.  Never the less however, the vines have produced less and smaller bunches, so the overall production resulted in half of last years quantity.  The harvest was early, and for us has already finished."  
- Corrado and Valeria Gurrieri

CAPRANDOLE, Pontassieve, Tuscany
"Here after a nice season until mid August, harvest arrived in extremely hot weather and drought!  We worked the land at the right moment, so the vineyards suffered very little from the drought and the grapes ripened correctly.  It has been a very awkward season and I can't really predict how this is going to affect the quality of this vintage.  Right now all seems fine even if I harvested only 5 tons of Sangiovese of the Bocciole vineyards.  This vineyard hasn't been in production since 2006 so I'm really happy with the fruit from this 40 year old vineyard.  Even if the yield is low, I've been putting a lot of effort into cultivating it.
I made a strict selection of the other Sangiovese and Merlot for the Tirle.  The latter looks wonderful.  I believe that by September 24th, everything will be ready in the cellar ready for fermentation and I'm confident that the results will be very good as long as these last two weeks don't hold any surprises!"
- Thomas Colella

SAN MARTINO, Forenza, Basilicata 
"The season had been pretty steady until June, then we had lots of rain and a very cold July.  Very unusual. However, we were pretty much on course.  The veraison was completed just slightly before mid August, then from mid August the temperatures jumped, with a lot of sun, and with days that were over 100 degrees Farhenheit.  Vines suffered a little from the heat, but luckily we had 3 days of rain that helped us breath again.  We usually harvest in mid-October and so we are going to be forced to advance our plans.  We hope to have at least 10 days more of lower temperatures.  At night, temperatures drop to 59 degrees.  Uf everything goes well, we won't have to start our harvest until the end of September.  Meanwhile, we keep on looking at the sky.  A farmer should be brave and courageous... however, it's still scary!"  
- Lorenzo Piccin

IULI, Monferrato, Piedmont
"This year the whims of the climate influenced the harvest.  It started off well in the spring, with rain and good temperatures, a cold July, and then a really really hot August and September.  Fortunately we didn't suffer any drought.  Therefore we ended up harvesting around 7-10 days ahead of traditional vintages.  The quality of the grapes is very good, very aromatic, a lot of color, it is only unfortunately the yield that is inferior to the norm.  Pinot Nero was harvested on the 29th of August, and I was really happy after racking after the fermentation finished.  From the 15th of September on we started on the Barbera, and it seems we are working with a really good quality.  We harvested the Nebbiolo on the 21st.  It's too early to say, we are only still fermenting, however it seems we have good things in the cellar, not a lot, but good!  Happy harvest to all!!"
- Fabrizio Iuli

The sunset from our front door on one of the last day's of harvest... fitting :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bringing 'Baby' Home a Week Early: Nino is in the House!!

The cellar, tanks, crates, tractors, pumps, hoses, de-stemmer, pruning shears, gloves, teams of pickers... all part of the preperation for harvest.  Then, there is the mental preparation that the 'big show' is about to start... and the next two months are the cumulation of a years work all concentrated in anywhere from 4-8 weeks.  This means cooking meals for teams of 12-20, little sleep, Fabrizio being somewhat 'out of his mind,' and basically 'back to bedlam,' as sexy James Blunt says.

This year she snuck up on us, we barely had time to get the cellar ready before this relentless dry heat and sunshine required us to bring the Pinot Nero in... let alone wrap our heads around the fact that it was already harvest time!  Fabrizio didn't even have time to do an chemical analysis on the grapes (not that he usually does anyway), he just took one taste and look and said, "in they go!"

Nino, planted in '99 on the north side of the estate, at about 300m, with the Alps in the background...killer real esate!!

Unfortunately we were hit with hail in July, and while our Barbera vineyards weren't affected, Nino did not fare as well.  So, in combination with the hot weather, low yield and being already our earliest maturing variety, 2011 will be a record setter on two fronts;

Date of Pinot harvest: 8/29/2011
Total picking time: 1 hectare, 11 pickers, 2.5 hours 

The march down... (it's steeper than it looks)

The Cast: 5 Moldavians, 2 Americans, 6 Italians
(I think the Americans and Moldavians helped with the record setting)!

The 'Babies'... "Nino" (for those of you that I haven't told yet) means baby in Piemontese dialect

This was a lot more painful than it looks... the little bastard skeeters don't photograph well!

We were so busy getting the cellar, and everything else ready this weekend, that we forgot the bug spray.  It got ugly out there, and the mosquitos definitely won this battle... but we'll be ready and armed for when we are knee deep in the Barbera trenches!

At 9:30AM we were back at the ranch sipping coffee, covered in battle wounds from the 'skeeters', but barely warmed up by the AM sun.

We'll have a little break, maybe 10 days to two weeks before the Barbera is ready... so even though we weren't necessarily mentally ready for the anticipated picking, we'll have some time to prepare before the next round!

However party people, it's on... finally, HARVEST TIME!!!

To be continued....

Safe at home...

Monday, August 22, 2011

'La Conserva'; Tomato Sauce and Nebbiolo allocations...

August in Montaldo means many things; the calm before the storm in the vineyards, getting the cellar ready for the 'big show' (borrowing Kevin Costners famous line from Bull Durham), a layer of mosquitos that are of a special malevolent Piemontese breed, the sound, sight and smell of 'heat' omnipresent every day in everything you do (no AC in Montaldo folks)... and last but not least, a bright spot in the horizon, the month Fabrizio's mother makes, "La Conserva," that will get us through the rest of the year.

The heat...

The day was chosen, Friday the 19th, the tomato's were ordered, 50 Kilos, and the human sized pot was dragged out and dusted off from last years batch.  We hand cleaned the 50 Kilos of tomatoes one by one, basically polishing them with a damp cloth. They are the variety we call 'Roma' tomatoes in the US, but here are called 'perette' or 'little pear' tomatoes.  Mariuccia (Fabrizio's mother) uses these because they have the least amount of water concentration.  I then understood better why we were hand polishing each tomato rather than dumping them in a sink... just like cleaning mushrooms; water is the enemy.
Once shined up, we quartered them and threw them into the cauldron.

  Mariuccia teaching the next generation
Amanda, our 'Intern,' approximately half way through the 50 kilos...
(Note: Amanda is interning at Iuli for wine making, not pasta sauce making)

The cauldron was then put on it's on special burner set up outside, attached to a propane tank.  From that moment on it is all about stirring stirring stirring, keeping the buggers from sticking to the bottom. Then, as the tomatoes reduce, it's time to add, in no particular order:

2 Kilos of Carrots
1.5 Kilos of Celery
7-8 Onions
1 Bunch of Parsley
3-4 Heads of Garlic, Peeled, Whole Cloves

Stir some more...

The adding of the parsley... a big moment!

The pot started cooking at around 10:30 in the AM, we pulled it off around 5:30.  Always stirring.

Once pulled off Mariuccia added sugar to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.  After letting it cool about 1 hour, we started ladling the mixture into the 'passavedure' or food mills.  We then manually turned and turned, cranked and cranked, grinding the 'soup' together and leaving the skins, seeds and stems out, and leaving with us a velvety, scrumptious, tomato sauce. The final step was jarring.

I asked Mariuccia if she had altered the recipe at all in all of her years, and she said, 'nooohhh,' with a touch of 'why would you ask such a question' in her eyes and smile.  She then said, I've been doing this same sauce for 56 years, at least once every year, starting when I was a young girl and had to help my mom...

"It's good, simple, why would you change it?" 

There is so much wisdom in that response, I had to laugh at my own question, and tell her she was absolutely right, and that I wouldn't change it either :).

The entire project lasted a full day, we took a break around 11:00 for bread and salami (obviously) and a quick glass of fresh white wine to wash it down, then we all ate lunch together at 1:00, a little break after lunch, and finished up that evening.  The jarring was done after dinner.  With 50 Kilos of tomatoes we ended up with only 30 jars of 'la conserva' to last two families all year long.  This allocation of 15 jars made me nervous, and got me to thinking about 'allocations'.

In thinking about allocating out these 15 jars of la conserva for the rest of the year, I started thinking about allocations in wine.  We recently had to start allocating out the Bocchino's entry level Nebbiolo, 'Roccabella'.  We started with the 2008 vintage, and there were 500 cases.  They sold out in 8 months, and it was the first vintage ever produced of this label.  The wine took off this winter, and before we knew it there was 30 cases left, and all of our distributors and NY clients were writing emails and calling wanting 100+ cases more, as the wine in a matter of months had been placed in restaurants by the glass across the country.  We quickly shipped the 2009, of which there was a little more... 700 cases, and we are already half way through that in 2-3 months.

It is our number one selling wine, and the reason for that is easy; It's good, simple, and he is not trying to 'change' it (sound familiar).  It is pure Nebbiolo from a place, no bells or whistles, made by two people that know Nebbiolo almost as well as Mariuccia knows her 'conserva'.  It is priced fairly, so that everyone can enjoy it.

The tricky part is making enough that everyone get's some, and can have a good run with it, enjoy it, and then if they have to wait a month or two until the next vintage comes in ... well, we think that's ok, and will make it taste that much better when it does come back.  We eat seasonally, and why wouldn't we also drink seasonally!

We've allocated the 2009 out between our distributors across the county as well as in NY/NJ, and so just like we know we have only 30 jars of la conserva to get us through the winter, these guys know how much Roccabella they have to get them through the winter as well.

If there were endless supplies of Roccabella and La Conserva, they would be found on grocery store shelves, and discount stores, and not, instead, just in our own private cellars.



Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Androgynous and Ambiguous - Not Adjectives for Wine...

We created a game 6 years ago called, 'who is this wine,' where we had to 'name' the wine that we were drinking, ie; Clint Eastwood vs Clark Gable, Selma Hayek vs. Sigourney Weaver.  Not only was it about whether the wine was male or female, but also what kind of personality the wine had.  Obviously you can not play this game with wines that don't tell you anything about who they are...

This past week I attended two tastings; one was a double blind tasting of 6 white wines, and the other was during a trip to Val d'Aosta, where at one of the estates we did a tasting of 24 varietal based wines, 8 of which were white.  I can't begin to describe how different these tastings were.

The blind tasting was ridiculous, Fabrizio and I taste wines almost every day, often from all over Italy, and at times from all over Europe.  These were ALL Italian wines, and we were not able to identify ONE, and the sad part was, we were not even able to identify correctly and with certainty the region.  To be honest, at first we looked at one another remarking, 'wow, we really suck,' then as we listened to the rest of the 'tasters,' re-tasted, re-nosed, again, and again, and again... we realized something (besides the fact that we were starting to catch a serious buzz from trying so hard to peg these wines).

All these wines were TRYING to be something, they were manipulated, none spoke of a particular terrior, none had the typical characteristics that you jump out at you and say, "I'M VERDICCHIO AND I'M PROUD."  We could smell the sulfur, we could smell and feel the wood, we could tell that there were a lot of aromas jumping out that were from selected yeasts, aging vessels, vinification methods, instead of from the climate, variety and age of the wine. One wine a few of us were certain was from Tuscany, and around the 2001 mark (and I was hedging on a Merlot, there were NO tannins, and very low acidity and little to no fruit left, so not Cab, or Sangiovese)... it was a 2007 Nebbiolo from northern Piedmont!!  Upon seeing the sneaky smirk on the sommelier leading the tasting's face when we made our 'guess,' Fabrizio said;

"Please please please don't tell me this wine is a Nebbiolo!"

It was an insult to Nebbiolos.... we sent a silent apology to all the other Nebbiolos that we know and love.

I named this wine 'Pat' from SNL!

It is easy to understand immediately a wine when you are given some facts up front, when you are looking at the label and variety, and you know, or you can guess and/or see more or less what kind of estate it is, whether they produce wines naturally or use chemicals and selected yeasts.  Whether their production is 500,000 bottles a year, or 50,000 bottles a year.  Whether it is a farmer and/or artist making the wine, or a celebrity, politician or businessman.  Whether the wine was born out of a family history and passion for a terrior, or born out of the desire to make money, get the 'points,' and hence some fame.

Point is, we did not correctly guess one.

On the other hand, at the tasting in Val d'Aosta, the wines were honest, while the 'producer' was actually 'Institut Agricole Regional/Aoste' (an agricultural institute and learning foundation), and the vineyards are not farmed organically (they use herbicide, sucked), they do however try to work with their varieties and with respect to their beautiful land and backdrop.  The scope of this school (more or less) is learning which terrior each variety wants, working and learning about the indigenous varieties of Val d'Aosta, and how and each needs to be managed in the vineyards as well as in the cellar.  This school does not make any money on the sale of these wines, but the money for the sale of all of these wines go back into the foundation to pay for the costs, the students and the employees.  It is non profit so to speak.  This is another telling piece in why the difference, the wines were 'grown' and 'vinified' in order to learn more about these varieties in particular terrior... not to please a particular audience.  The wines that spoke to us were; Petit Arvine, the Pinot Gris as well as the Monchoisi which was a classic method sparkling wine made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir (this last wine being the biggest surprise ... it was beautiful, balanced, playful, pleasing and not ostentatious, what a nice refreshing change in a classic method wine).  I could smell and taste these varieties, and although all 8 were from the same estate, and the same region, they could not have been each more unique and his/her own.  The only disappointment was the Pinot Noir, that would have been a wine for the previously mentioned blind tasting that was full of all the ambiguous and androgynous wines...

Point and lesson for me; if you can't find the varietal in the glass, at least something that tell's you it's him or her, on the nose, in the mouth, on the finish - hell, even in the color... change wines!


Val d'Aosta line up

Monday, May 2, 2011

Stolen Recipe; Easy Cheese Dressed in Black Tie...

I love eating, I love cooking, and I love discovering new 'outfits' for my favorite ingredients...

As my grandmother once watched me eat a salad in a shopping mall in southern Florida, she commented, "I've never seen anyone actually ENJOY their food as much as you do," good thing it was only a 'mall' salad, and she has never seen me 'go to town,' so to speak, here in Italy, on carne cruda, or oven roasted cinghiale!

While all of us 'gourmands' seem to find time to enjoy eating our food... we may not be able to find as much time to 'make' it.

Having my own company, running an agriturismo (aka Bed & Breakfast, and yes, yours truly prepares the breakfast), and daily life here 'on the farm/winery' with a constant stream of visitors and guests does NOT leave a lot of time for me to experiment with recipes, and study cookbooks.  So when I find something new, that is wonderful and easy - I am all about it.

We recently had dinner at Fabrizio's partners house, Umberta & Gad Lerner, and Umberta served an herbed fresh cheese that blew me away.  It was so simple, yet aesthetically beautiful, seasonal, and so delicious it was massacred in no time, with no traces left ... we soaked up the left over oil and herbs with bread.

It's this easy:

1. Fresh Herbs; Rosemary, Chives, Thyme (I used lemon thyme as well), Oregano, San Pietro (which is indigenous to this region of Piedmont), Mint (I used a few different types), Sage, and anything else you have or find in your garden or market...

2. Rough chop the herbs, drizzle a fair amount of a GOOD quality olive oil over a fresh cheese.  I used a fresh goat Robiola, which by definition; an Italian soft-ripened cheese made with varying proportions of cow's, goat's and sheep's milk.  Then sprinkle the herbs.

3. And serve with toast points...Voila!


So for those of you with little time, a love of food and 'impressive' looking appetizers that you can whip up in less than 10 minutes, here you go - steal away ...

I recommend from the Indie Wine list these pairings;

- 2008 La Colombera Timorasso Derthona: Sharp acidity to cut the fat in the cheese, herbal minerality to pair with the fresh herbs, and a structure to stand up to the complexity of the fresh herb mixture

- 2010 Arndorfer Vorgeshmack: Herbal wine for an herbal dish... the acidity and freshness of the 2010 Gruner is a perfect match for the fresh Robiola.

- 2009 San Lorenzo Verdicchio 'Vigna del Gino': The natural creaminess of Verdicchio is a perfect pairing to the cheese, and the salinity of the variety is also perfect to compliment the herbs and olive oil.



Friday, April 22, 2011

Sunday De-BOCCE-ry in Montaldo...

So as I mentioned in my first post... not every single post is going to be about wine, but low and behold I couldn't keep it out of this one either, however there is a touch of 'Italian Culture' sprinkled in.

Sunday; we all have a different reason for the love hate relationship.  For the majority of the working public it is a 'relax' day, but at the same time, the LAST day of the weekend which is in the air all day - the fact that the dreaded Monday is a nights sleep away.  For many Sunday is either adored (men) or abhorred (most women) for the American pig skin, aka Football, and the same goes for the fried food and beer that seems to be a mandatory 'pairing'.  Sunday seems the perfect day to run errands with your partner, but as you arrive at your destination you utter, 'what the @#@$^$% was I thinking', EVERYONE had the same brilliant idea you did, so the parking and lines tend to send those of us with low tolerance for crowds over the edge.  As a child I remember hating Sundays because it meant dad watching football all day, so there were no cartoon's for us or outings because he had to see the game, and it was early to bed because school was the next day.... nothing fun about any of that!

My dear mother however helped change Sunday's when we decided to start using the day as a 'cooking' day, and together we baked bread, made soups, and baked desserts.  Well... Mom was unknowingly getting me ready for life here at Cascina Iuli.

On the table above:

  • Peach tart I made with peaches from the 'La Colombera' orchard, cookies from the left over tart dough, and homemade pasta Fabrizio's mother and I made.

Sunday in Italy is about cooking all morning for the big 'pranzo,' and then sitting down for hours and hours eating and drinking, talking and smoking, drinking some more, maybe some coffee thrown in, and then maybe the cheese and meats even come back out again depending on the crowd and the wine consumption.  This past Sunday, Fabrizio and I invited the owners of our favorite restaurant in Torino, Il Consorzio,, our Italian national distributor from Les Caves de Pyrene Christian, and his lovely girlfriend Hanna, as well our neighbors and fellow wine lovers the Cesca brothers, Cascina Tavijn producer Nadia Verrua, and Roccalini Barbaresco producer Paulo Veglio and photographer Laura Tessera, and Fabrizio's daughter Sofia.  Fabrizio decided he wanted Bollito (which you can refer back to the blog about the cold morning with the Bue grasso for the recipe), and so Bollito it was:

In the picture:

  • Tongue, head and intestine... needless to say I was less than thrilled with this part of the meal, Fabrizio's daughter courageously 'peeled' the tongue before serving... GROSS!   
The lunch started at 1:00, and the first bottle was opened... and here is the WINE part:

  • A Saint-Aubin 1er Cru '"En Remilly,"  a mag, that Christian brought, it was lovely.  Beautiful expression of Chard.

  • From there we opened a Grignolino from Cascina Tavijn that Nadia brought.  Nadia is the producer, and she is a very talanted one at that... it is not easy to find GOOD Grignolino, but she makes it seem easy ... the color and body of a Pinot, but while still floral, more rustic and simple than Pinot, great acidity, and a great red for a first course and for warm weather.

  • Then a mag of 2007 Roccalini Barbaresco was popped, absolutely beautiful, a Barbaresco 'for the people,' charming and friendly with just the right amount of complexity.  Even in a mag it was drinking 'now.'

  • Finally the famous 2004 Iuli Barabba in mag was brought out.  Fabrizio bottled 400 mags in 2004 that he wanted to set aside for release in 2014 (I don't know how many will actually be left in 2014 at the rate we like to consume them ourselves with our friends).  He states that a vintage like 2004 may come around only once in the lifetime of a producer, and so he wanted to do something special... this bottling was from a certain section of the old vineyard that had an incredibly high fixed acidity and incredible concentration.  This is a wine that you start worrying about the prospect of there being none left before you take your second sip.

From here I lost track (because I was busy trying to keep up with the dishes and back end of the lunch)... and bottles started getting popped left and right.  A quick coffee, and the BOCCE balls came out.  Two teams, two hours, one throw, and then 10 minutes playing, and in good Italian spirit, 20 minutes debating over whether team A or team B's ball is closer.  My team won, 13-3 (I've grown quite affectionate towards the game, it's not just for old Italian men :).

The eating, drinking, eating, drinking more, and then the 2 hours of 'exercise' chucking metal balls in our courtyard, finished around 7:00.  Half the guests left, and the other half moved inside and I used the broth from the boiled meat to make a pastina in brodo for dinner with a salad and some 48 month old parmigano.  It was the meal that kept on giving...

Moral of the story, the idea of a 'relaxing' Sunday here in Italy, forget about it... I'm not saying it wasn't fun, but let's just say it reminded me a little too much of my waitressing days when I worked doubles to pay the bills - only this time there was not a 'dishwasher' in the back to help me out!



Our recycling bin see's no sleep...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Lessons of Veal Tartare

A breathtaking lunch in Barolo hosted by Eugenio and Cinzia Bocchino last week. Wines were pulled back to the 2002 vintage. Many have reported a tough vintage in 2002 for Piedmont in general, but the Bocchino's 2002 La Perucca simply brought the house down at the end. As Kermit used to say: COMBAT VINTAGE CHART MENTALITY!

The first course of the lunch was veal tartare prepared in two ways. The first, on the left, was a modern expression. Perfect veal, finely chopped, seasoned with salt and pepper and finished with sea salt. The second, on the right, was the old Piedmontese preparation in which the veal is ground several times, and in the preparation a small amount of finely chopped garlic is added along with both lemon juice and olive oil.

There is no right way. I finished both preparations and was satisfied by both equally. Some slightly preferred the modernist version, some the more traditional. But, what everyone did discuss was the quality and the subtle but very obvious distinctions in both. I don't think I saw a single plate that wasn't empty.

I saw this picture yesterday and thought- there's a greater story here regarding wine and choice in general. There are many schools in wine these days. The Modernists. The Traditionalists. The Natural Wine School. The small grower school. Etc...Each of these distinctions and schools has little to do with identifying a wine's quality, and has everything to do with selling wine. Yes, even the natural wine to winemakers who work naturally and the one's who've been doing it for a long timesimply talk about their farming techniques; they rarely if ever mention natural farming or winemaking in order to qualify what they are doing. That's a sales / marketing thing.

Summer and I constantly look at our growers and our portfolio in the frame of how we tell the story. I think it's best told like the veal tartares. Taste! Taste! Taste! Just taste. You may find you prefer the more old school, traditional winemaking. You may find you like the modernista style. I think the more you taste the less you will try and categorize a grower's work, and the more you will fall in love with the grower themselves and their body of work. You will be excited to see how that grower fares when the next 2002 comes around.

No its not about modernists or traditionalists, natural or conventional here at Indie. It's only about one thing here at Indie- the quality of what's put in front of you.

Taste and enjoy, and decide for yourself.



Monday, April 4, 2011

Delicious Sicily

It started with fresh tuna crusted in local pistachio's, and ended with an oversized cannoli that I'll never forget... and in between- lot's of amazing people, colors, wind, sun, rain and of course, indigenous grape varieties that stole my heart!

How do I not ramble on about the last 48 hours that I spent in Sicily, this is my present challenge.  I will do so by doing a top 10, just like Letterman - who doesn't have time to read all ten!  Then, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

In chronological order, not in order of importance:

1.  Our first day with producer Corrado Gurrieri of 'Vini la Favola,' exploring and breaking into an old abandoned, ingenious wine making facility called a 'Palmento' built in the 1700's.  Over 300 years ago in Sicily they were already making wine working with gravity on four levels, all in cement.

2.  Stealing 'roadside' artichokes with Corrado.  'Roadkill' for vegetarians??

4.  The homecooked lunch Corrado's wife Valeria prepared, which we added a last minute menu addition of our vegetarian roadkill to, aka, Artichokes.  Their own olive oil doused all over everything was absolutely incredible... and we had 'Italian Bread' done right, what a difference to that stuff you buy already bagged in the grocery store!  It was like crack... we couldn't stop eating it!

5. Frappato; it's incredibly expressive and pleasing fruit filled nose that jumps out of the glass, a super playful easy wine that is immediately likable.  It is believed that Frappato is a cross between Sangiovese and another unidentified Italian variety.  Frappato also is 30-50% of the constituent of Sicily's ONLY DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the rest being Nero d'Avola.  ALL three of Corrado's wines (his 100% Nero d'Avola is amazing, Noto is the home and birthplace of Nero d'Avola, and it is evident in this wine) were intriguing and exciting, especially for two 'northern Italianer's'.  We have a new member of the Indie Wineries club - and I can't wait for you all to taste!!

6.  The Colors:

7. Our fearless leaders, our own Stefano Borsa (of Pacina), and enologist Fabrizio Tomas... who were a constant source of laughter and information (they have been friends since 'boydom') - and grazie to them we were able to meet these talented and special producers and enjoy Sicily from the backseat of our rent-a-car with no stress of getting lost.
Here they are, frick and frack, with producer Marchesi De Gregorio (Marchesi is in the middle):

8.  Our visit to the absolutely breathtaking estate of, 'Porta del Vento,' with producer Marco Sferlazzo.  The, 'taking of our breath' was due to the incredible backdrop of this estate, combined with the 39 knot winds blowing - threatening to lift us off our feet.  Porta del Vento means "door of the wind," ... wan't hard for them to come up with that name.

9.  Our visit to Valdibella... a cooperative of 6 partners that all have their own vineyards built as a project combined with a 'community' that houses boys from 14-18 that come from troubled families.  The boys help in the cellar, and the cooperative helps finance the community house.  Five of the 6 partners showed us around, tasted us through the new vintages in the cellar, and then we all sat down for a 'grilled lunch' prepared for us by the boys.  We found a Rose that was just perfect, some very cool Grillo and Cataratto, and a single vineyard of one of the most elegant Cabernet's I've ever tasted. The entire visit was like a scene out of a movie, Camporeale is in the heart of 'mafia' country, and these guy's are not without related problems, but they have a spirit and sense of humor and vigor for life here in their hills that they adore that is contagious.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Valeria Brings Wine to Class

Our own Valeria's first post...

Thirty years ago I was a student at  El Segundo High, California. At the end of the first semester I had to attend speech class because I could no longer play volleyball (I was too lame at it!). So the teacher, the best of all, Mrs. Jeanette Leneman, told me to prepare a speech, on whatever it was important to me as an Italian exchange student to the US. I was reluctant, but I had to. I could not bring pizza to class, it was too obvious, and by the way, I hated that "pizza and mandolino" thing. So I talked about something else, something distant and mysterious when you are 17, but still so entwined with being an Italian. I got up and walked to the podium and I poured a glass of red wine. My classmates jaws dropped simultaneously. They could not believe at what they were looking at. Speechless. The class was soooooo silent! Then one of my classmates said "Why is she allowed to bring booze?"

I turned to Mrs Leneman who was smiling. "It's ok Vale", she said, "Go ahead, you didn't know that you can not carry an open bottle of alcohol at school." Mrs Leneman was my hero at the time, infact, she was one of the few people around to know what prosciutto was.

"Alcohol?" I said, "I brought it in because of its color and its smell. It's like being at home."
It was, and still is. Dad had always wine at the table and during summer Grampa mixed it for you with water to make you feel like a grown up. Grampa used to yell at Grandma for doing so with her wine. You could not water down such a good thing as much as you wouldn't water down meat broth or gravy.

So much for my exchange student experience. 30 years later I was the one to teach to a class of entry-level English and I thought, let's talk about wine in English class, it'll be less boring. We opened two bottles of Iuli Rossore and ate cheese, salami and breadsticks. My students were really happy and learned a lot of new words. I hoped that after the second glass they would have the guts to speak more English, but I had to push for the third… They didn't know that only half an hour away from where they lived, Fabrizio Iuli was making such a great wine. We had fun and, and once again, we discovered one of the wonderful wines our country has to offer. Wine is something we Italians all grew up with and, and sometimes we forget to appreciate.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

1st Annual Indie Wineries Road Show, "The Coming Out Party"... the credits

The party started in Pennsylvania with our distributor, The Artisans Cellar. Scott and Federico did an amazing job setting up two impeccable events.

Thank you to:

- Steve Wildly and his awesome pallet and hospitality, fluent Italian speaking and incredibly talented chef Jeff Michaud (thank you so much for that pork dish... WOW, still thinking about it, and the Italians were stupefied :) and the entire Vetri group, especially the staff at Osteria, that not only worked the event beautifully, but are all fellow wine geeks!  Indie Wineries is thrilled and honored to be a part of your restaurants!

- Scott and Donna and all of your hard work,  Donna thank you for sharing your husband with us for the week :), and Fede... for putting up with all of us, your tireless commitment to TAC and Indie is inspiring!  Scott, thank you for your amazing generosity and passion, it is contagious and always a pleasure to be around! We will never forget our incredible bowling evening, and Elisa from "La Colombera's" .0005 mile per hour strike!  Go team Indie!  Scott, maybe we should reserve some lanes now for next year!

After a week in PA, we all took a bus (somewhat giddy and exhausted already), back to NY to fly out of JFK to Denver, landing in Denver at midnight.
Colorado went to fast for all of us (next year we need to dedicate a few more 'fun' days), but as always beautiful, and this time covered in a fresh blanket of snow (actually powder, that for us skiers was slightly painful).  In colorado we would like to thank:

- The Kitchen Restaurant for hosting our Boulder tasting, it was non stop and filled with great folks from start to finish, and the space was perfect, bright, cheery, intimate and friendly.  We hope you had as much fun as we did... and we are still thankful that Elisa's wines arrived in time! I was definitely sweating tears on that one, and running down Pearl street after the fed ex man in heel's is something I'll never forget.  Maya - thanks for being there girl, you kept me sane :)

- The Frasca team, ALL OF YOU!  Thank you Bobby Stucky and Lachlan Patterson for hosting us the evening of the 'big game' at the new Pizzeria... straight from the producers mouths, the pizza was better than they are used to in Italy!  Thank you as well Benjamin Richardson and Matthew Mather for your stellar pallets and constant support of the Indie Wineries - AND to the entire staff at Frasca for hosting the Le Due Terre dinner, the food and wine pairing was incredible... Silvana felt, 'At Home'!  That was a special dinner for all of us afterwards... and one we look forward to repeating next year!  The service was impeccable as usual :)

- Our talented friends at the new Boulder hot spot, 'Oak,' and our own Mike Joyce for setting up and co- hosting a dinner, that for a snowy, freezing, February evening was what seemed a 'sold out' Iuli wine dinner!  The food rocked, and the place does too... we can't wait to come back, awesome energy and congratulations to you all!  Thank you!

- To Brad at Primo Vino, Shelly at Bella Bistro, Steve at City Wine, the Italian Institute at Piatti, and of course Davin and the staff at Tag Restaurant in Denver for hosting and organizing our tasting, again, we were up against the elements, and we still managed to have a room full of great wino's eager to taste and learn!

- Finally to the Bowen family of five for having us, and just being flat out awesome! Rock on Natural Wine Company!!

The last leg took us to the one and only LAS VEGAS, smack in the middle of the strip at the Bellagio!  It was the first time in Vegas for all the producers, as well as for Christian... all were astounded, as it is quite a long way from the vineyards and hills of their home lands.  No one won... but no one lost that much either, so I guess you can say it was a draw!  Thank you to:

- The entire staff of Sensi at Bellagio for hosting the last portfolio tasting of the trip.  It was absolutely a perfect ending, a full room - and attentive, and of course professional, clientele (we don't know how they behave after hours, but everyone was very well behaved for the tasting).  The light 'fare' offered at the tasting was just perfect as well :)

- Jason Smith, my dear friend, and wine director (and coolest dude in a suit) of the Bellagio who introduced me to our distributor Patrick Pretz, partner and 'the man' of Crush wines.

- Jay Beattie, owner/partner of Crush wines for making the trip down from Seattle, as well as 'making copies' all morning so our guests had tasting guides :)  It was a great tasting guide Jay!

- Art Podneisinski of 'The Intern' wines, our dear friend, and first 'cali' producer... for meeting us there and bringing your wonderful energy to the event!

- Jim Neal and Allison Millhollen from N2 wines for making the long drive to join us for the tasting (yes I said drive... from San Francisco, in one shot)!  We LOVED having you!

- Jared Hooper, my old friend and colleague, for showing up from LA (also drove), perfectly attired in bright red pants, a purple sweater and yellow golf tee (essentially, the only one not in a suit).  When everyone asked 'where did that guy come from,' it was my pleasure to say with a grin, 'he's with us' :)

- to John Curtas for his awesome blog and write up on the event:  - John, I want to make the hot hostess list!

- To Patrick Pretz for making it all happen, and for placing Indie Wineries on some of the coolest wine lists on the strip!  Crush wines... making it happen, one small (hehe) casino and resort at a time!

- Finally, a HUGE thank you to Alexi Cashen and Tim Elenteny, our importers, colleagues and friends, for all their support and help in making this all happen.  The wine did not arrive to all the different destinations alone - Alexi, we owe you big time, next year hopefully we won't have to count on the 'pony express' and it will be a little easier on all of us :)

That's all folks... we hope to do it all again next year, but of course - bigger and better :), hope to see you ALL THERE!