Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wine Whisperer Re-run

On March 31st Charter Cable 2 is rerunning the TEACh Foundation Telethon. If you missed the Wine Whiperer's TV debut here's another chance to see this enigmatic character in action.
You can also see a trio version of my band, The Cliffnotes. The performance was a little rough around the edges due to lack of time for rehearsals these days ... Grapevine Radio has expanded so rapidly it is consuming most of the time I used to have for music!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Eleven Years Later and the Future Still Looks Bright!

As I began thinking about my first entry for the Grapevine Radio blog, I couldn’t resist looking back over the past decade. I’ve been writing about Central Coast wineries and restaurant in various publications for 11 years. I moved here in February of 1996 and a week later met a local foodie who said: “You must be depressed about leaving San Francisco.” “No,” I responded in surprise. Realizing she assumed I was suffering from withdrawals I laughed and added, “Not yet anyway.”

The truth is I’ve never been remotely sorry I moved here, although I had previously lived in San Francisco. During the 10-years I lived there I graduated from the California Culinary Academy, cooked for Wolfgang Puck at Postrio Restaurant, and became tasting coordinator at Wine Spectator magazine. But I left it all behind to move here with my soul mate Dan Hardesty, a nuclear engineer at Diablo Canyon. Besides, San Francisco didn’t seem so far away despite the four-hour drive.

I will admit some things disappointed me at first. I’d visit a locally owned coffee shop and find “homemade” muffins were nuked to the density of week-old-bread, and the coffee -- strictly industrial grade. No place compared with my favorites in San Francisco like the taqueria’s on Mission Street or Chinese restaurants that prepared excellent dishes, whether you ate there or ordered take-out, at dirt cheap prices.

In fact, a visit to the highly recommended Benvenuti Italian restaurant in San Luis Obispo subjected us to a self-described sommelier who couldn’t pronounce winery names correctly let alone varietals. When I asked her to recommend a nice Chianti around $35, she said, “Oh, you don’t want Chianti, it’s a blend.” So is Opus One I thought disdainfully but held my tongue. She recommended the prestigious Gaja Barbaresco hoping I’d “buy” her suggestion for the most expensive wine at $250.00 a bottle – that’s the ultimate in bad service. Happily, Central Coast experts like Archie McLaren led me to local talent, chef Bill Hoppe of Hoppe’s Garden Bistro in Cayucos and chef Rick Manson of Chef Rick’s in Santa Maria.

I loved San Luis Obispo and its down-to-earth locals who made me feel at home immediately. I was befriended by many just as passionate about food and wine as I: Archie who’s devoted his life to promoting the Central Coast wine and food scene; Brian and Johnine Talley who’ve honored every Central Coast winery by capturing the attention of major critics like Wine Spectator; Jim Adelman, general manager at Au Bon Climat and Qupe winery for16 years, who introduced me to passionate winemakers he worked with there, including Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Gary Burk of Costa du Oro, Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini of Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wines.

In 1998, I was thrilled to learn chef Laurent Grangien was opening Bistro Laurent in Paso Robles, and many talented chefs followed him there. The self-effacing Grangien, who came by way of Paris, maintains his popularity no matter how much competition opens around him. Paso Robles was a sleepy little town a decade back, now it’s a destination for connoisseurs. In fact, we can credit this county’s popularity with foodies to the wineries that proved Central Coast wines stand beside the world’s finest wines.

What’s happened in San Luis Obispo County over the past decade is amazing, and I’m proud to be part of it. Restaurants run by passionate chefs can be found in every town in SLO County. We have a wealth of terrific locally produced foods, including abalone, sustainably grown foods, cheese and wine. Soon we’ll be able to find the finest quality foods and wines in every neighborhood, just like I did in San Francisco. I’d love to see local foodies join this blog to help report where to find the best of Los Osos, Cayucos, Nipomo or Santa Margarita.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Wine Whisperer Makes TV Debut

The Wine Whisperer appeared on the seventh annual TEACh Telethon, Saturday night, March 3rd, between 8:15 and 9:15 pm. He was helping out the irrepressible Vaughn Taus, well known local wine merchant/expert, auction wines to raise funds for The Endowment for the Advancement of Children.

Resplendent in his purple cape, mask and matching fedora, the Wine Whisperer dazzled and amused the in studio crowd and got the phones ringing.

His appearance was followed by yours truly leading a trio version of the Cliffnotes to provide some musical entertainment.

Show is due for rebroadcast March 31st, 2007 on Comcast Cable channel 2.

Gettin' Screwy at Cal Poly

In this adventure, Kathy and I were on a panel for marketing and packaging trends in the wine industry. It was hosted by the Cal Poly's (California Polytechnic University) Wine Department and organized by July Ackerman.
If you thought the debate about screw caps vs. cork was simply a matter of effective sealing of the bottle and the romance and ceremony of corkage, you don't even know a 10th of the story.

Niels Udsen, of Castoro Cellars Winery, is an expert in the subject (he launched the state's first mobile bottling line that could handle screw caps. Neils was on our panel and gave a detailed dissertation on the technical aspects involved and their impacts on quality and durability. Another panel member, Alan Kinne, wine maker for York Mountain Winery and Martin-Weyrich Winery, filled us in on the adjustments necessary in the wine making process itself when preparing for "getting screwed."

I was amazed and impressed to learn how much goes into the decision of whether to "screw or not to screw."

A few years ago, on the radio show, I made a joke of inventing a screw cap remover that looked just like a traditional corkscrew to ease the transition. Of course, six months later, there was one on the market.

World of Pinot Noir, Shell Beach, CA

Cliff and Kathy's Enological Adventure, would be an alternate title. Our first time going out in the "field" to bring back interviews with Pinot Noir ophiles from all over the world. It was the seventh annual World of Pinot Noir event at the Cliff's in Shell Beach, CA. A blue, sunny day overlooking the Pacific, tasting great Pinot, sampling amazing cheeses from The Carmel Cheese Shop, and gourmet appys from guest Chef _________ (Kathy has to fill in this one) and, of course, Chef Michael Woods of Marisol, at the Cliff's.
This event has achieved such an international reputation that there's a waiting list of wineries who want to participate. I didn't taste them all, but of those I did I really liked Paul Wilkins' wines under both the Alta Maria and Ninth to 9's labels, Mike Sinor's (a founding member of the event) latest endeavors under the Sinor & Lavelle marque, and Kynsi, who showcased three completely different styles of Pinot and all of them good.... just different. That Don, Kynsi's winemaker, is the low key guy making world class Pinots!

You can hear all about it in the podcast version on our website: