Big thanks to the “little” guys

•January 24, 2010 • 2 Comments

Holy water…


In Wine Spectator’s recent “Top 100” issue (Dec. 31, ’09 – Jan.15 ’10), a report in the business section tells of the latest wine purchasing trend for the American wine consumer. According to the article, consumers are dealing with tough economic times by relying more on larger, more familiar domestic brands. The reasoning behind this, the article relays, is because consumers are less willing to experiment with smaller, lesser known import brands and potentially waste their money on something they may not enjoy.

Sadly, this makes (economic) sense: why take a gamble on an unknown producer and/or region that charges more for the same grape? Without taking out my wine/soap box on the matter, I can, at the very least, say this: value in wine isn’t strictly an issue of money. At the end of the day, we all need to have the necessary funds to pay bills, eat, put gas in our car, and with luck, have a few bucks left in our pocket. If your experience with wine, however, has been reduced strictly to dollars and cents, you might need to re-think, or hopefully just remember why you entered the world of wine in the first place.

Wine is one of the world’s greatest products in terms of its variety, particularly to the American consumer. Where else can you find a wine from virtually every corner of the world? If you’re not exploring these options due to a financial fear, I’m sorry to say, you’re making a BIG mistake; there are thousands of inexpensive wines from smaller producers that have a unique character and personality you’re not likely to find in many of the larger “safe bets” on the shelf. And if that bottle of cabernet from South Africa is four bucks more than your old stand-by from, say, Sonoma, isn’t that four bucks worth the opportunity to meet a new friend?

Allow me to step off my box for a second and relay another good find here in Hood River. One of the things I miss most about living in Portland is having so many wine options. In the mood for something off the beaten path from Sardinia? No problem. Got a hankering for cab franc from the Loire? Please- too easy. Maybe you’d like to try a pinot noir from New Zealand. Or better yet, save some money and go with one from Chile.

So it was with great joy that I wandered into The Wine Sellers, a small, family owned and operated shop that looks more like a B&B from the outside than an actual wine shop. I didn’t expect a lot of variety when I entered, thinking there would be the typical selection of NW wines, but nothing too different from the other, bigger stores in the area.


Not only is there an excellent variety of wines from all over the world, including sparkling and fortified, but they’re buying most of their wine from some of the more eclectic and interesting distributors in Oregon. As a perused the shelves, I noticed wines from the likes of Galaxy, Domaine Selections, Casa Bruno, Triage, Vin de Garde, Mitchell, and Lemma. These name might not mean anything to some of you, but trust me, you can travel the wine world, and travel it well with these guys. It should also be said that many of these distributors are fairly small (back on the soap box!) compared to the BIG suppliers, whose brands tend to dominate shelf spaces. And guess what a lot of those brands are? Safe bets…

I can only hope the small guys – whether they be wineries, wine shops, or distributors – don’t suffer too badly from consumers unwillingness to explore their options. Really, everybody loses in that game.

So I would encourage, even implore, hell, BEG the consumers who can’t seem to move their hand away from that bottle of Beringer chard to try this: take the time and find that cheap bottle of Macon-Villages. Challenge your wine steward to find you something different, good, and affordable- they’re all around. You just need to look past the looming shadows cast by the big boys.

With good cheer,


Farm Stands and The God of Mischief

•December 15, 2009 • 10 Comments

Old Mc Robert had a farm…

Greetings and welcome back to the wild and wacky world of Jared Wines Up. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, full of flavor and grateful thoughts…

A few days prior to the holiday, I caught a program on public radio regarding the idea of being thankful. A woman on the air was railing against the idea of having one day to be thankful for whatever.

“I just don’t subscribe to this silly holiday and all its supposed sentiments for thankfulness,” she proclaimed.

I suppose she had a point there, but geez, lady- lighten up. It’s one thing to sneer at all the mass consumerism that revolves around the holidays, but what’s wrong with reserving a day to reflect on the good things in life. Friends. Family. Good health. Wine. Cats… Cats?

Actually, Santa decided to bring my present early this year- the day before Thanksgiving, my good buddy for the last 11 years, Loki, showed up after going AWOL for the past 6 months. 6 months! A bit nicked-up and mangy, he was nevertheless fine. We had a great turkey meal the next day, pinot noir with mine, a little milk with his. Thank you Santa…

*    *    *

OK, enough mushy stories of lost kitties (I can hear the collective “Awwwww” from here) and grateful reunions. I’ve found another one of those little gems here in good ole’ Hood River. A few weeks ago, I needed to stop and grab some bread and cheese for a party at the winery. After making a couple of wrong turns (I prefer the circuitous route…), I wound up heading north, out of town towards Mt. Hood. Ooops.

But low and behold, there was “The Farm Stand“. Not an actual farm stand, but not far from it either, The Farm Stand is a small community market full of all the great things you need when you’re a hopeless foodie: fresh produce, exotic meats, truffle cheese and butter, organic cereals, breads, herbs, etc., etc. And they just got their liquor license- bingo.

This a small town where there are only two major grocery stores to pick from. One of them – and I’ll take the “safe way” and not mention any names here – takes the liberty to address you by your name when you leave: “Thank you very much Mr. Jones!” (barf).

So I’m thrilled – and grateful – to have found Robert and his groovy little shop of treats. Where else can you find Elk sausage soaked in pinot noir and full of huckleberries on the “Wild Meat Thursday” board? Robert always takes good care of me when I come in, and was good enough to let me shoot away inside with my camera. I hope his shop continues to thrive in Hood River and the selections of cheese, meat, wine, and all other forms of gastronomic goodness remain plentiful.

*    *    *

Until we meet again friends, stay warm, be well and give thanks.



The Floor is Yours…

•November 21, 2009 • 11 Comments


With less than a week away from our annual food and wine orgy called Thanksgiving, the question wine professionals hear over and over again is also the most difficult to answer: what kind of wine should I serve?

I’ve had my own opinion(s) on this over the years, and I recently put some of these down on paper via two articles in the latest edition of Indulge Magazine, a complimentary food and wine publication available at Zupan’s Markets. Without revealing all the deep and profound secrets therein, I can tell you I don’t believe there is one specific type of wine that is, in effect, The Holy Grail of holiday wines. Holiday meals – especially Thanksgiving – can be loaded with multiple flavors and textures (a good thing), and traditional approaches often leave out the more food-friendly wines (a very bad thing).

So allow me to turn the table here and pose the question to all of you- what do you drink with your holiday meals? What have you had good success with? Disasters? Biggest surprise? Which wines have you never paired your meal with- and why? This is how we learn; communicating to each other with ideas, experiences, and passions allows us to wander outside the box and find a brave new world of food and wine pairing.

I expect lots of replies…

With good cheer and an open ear,


Country Time…

•November 18, 2009 • 2 Comments

Looking east from the tasting room

“Well, life on the farm is kinda laid back,

Ain’t much an old country boy like me can’t hack,

It’s early to rise, early in the sack,

Thank God I’m a country boy.”

…Who, me?

Yeah, I know, I ain’t no country boy. Not even close. I grew up an hour away from NYC, called Portland my home for over twelve years, and spent the summer wandering around some of Europe’s major cities. I drive a Honda Element, all four cylinders of it. I listen to Yo-Yo Ma. And, here’s the real kicker, I blog.

But shoot, no one’s gotta know all that, right? O.K., so they can see my Burgundy colored box on wheels coming at ’em from a mile away (I make sure to change the radio station to country at stop lights). And occasionally I slip up in the store when I see some really nice looking wild mushrooms and fawn over them for a minute or two.

All kidding aside, the scenery sure has changed for me. Instead of seeing speeding BMW’s out my window, I’m surrounded by pick-ups and big rigs. Instead of doing battle with multiple sales reps and importers, I go to war now against the army of flies, birds, deer, and other various varmints that attempt to call the winery “home”. I can see for miles out a pop with no obstructed views. The mostly green from all the trees, lawns, and moss has been now replaced with mostly golden-brown from all the sandy hills, basalt rock, bitterbrush and wheatgrass. What a view…

*    *    *

“Well I wouldn’t trade my life for diamonds or jewels,

I never was one of them money hungry fools,

I’d rather have my fiddle and my farmin’ tools,

Thank God I’m a country boy.”

Not too long ago, the style of shoe you see to your left was what I slipped on before heading off to work (The black and/or brown, NOT the white…). Designer slacks and shirts, matching belts, and a good dose of product for the hair were all part of the morning ritual. Ohhhhh, how that’s changed. Now, it’s all about the basics of survival. How cold will it be at the winery today? Will I be getting really dirty today, or just sorta dirty? Will I be trudging through wet, cold mud? Should I bring an extra set of pants just in case I slip and do a Nestea plunge into one of the fermentation tanks?

Below are my NEW, fancy work shoes- a little less flashy than the Steve Madden’s, I know, but still pretty sweet.

It took me a while to remember how to even walk in these things. I kept thinking there were dead beavers, fully bloated, strapped to my feet. Occasionally I would forget to pick my feet up and the big clunkers would catch a rock and send me stumbling forward. I told Edwardo, our do-all assistant winemaker, that I had a bum knee… hunting accident.

*    *    *

“My daddy taught me young how to hunt and how to whittle,

He taught me how to work and play a tune on the fiddle,

Taught me how to love and how to give just a little,

Thank God I’m a country boy.”

My father made a living as a carpenter, and my very first job was working with him. I dreaded the way 6 AM seemed to roll around so fast, and he had little patience for slow starts. I hated the way the cold winter mornings greeted us in the truck. Swinging a hammer outside in December pretty much sucked. And I despised his up-beat, cheery demeanor from the moment we started to the moment we quit for the day. “What the hell could he be so happy about?” I thought. He was friends with all the people at the lumber yard. At the bank. In the deli. It drove me crazy.

I find myself smiling and singing to myself as I drive into work nowadays. My typical morning routine consists of a quick pit stop at Holstein’s Coffee in The Dalles, where they greet me with smiles, quick chit-chat, and a “Have a great day”. As I head back onto the highway, there’s this older woman, a road worker, who wears a big ole’ Stetson hat. She smiles and waves to every one who slowly passes by.

The first time, I thought she was just crazy. The second and third time, I figured she had strict orders to do this from her foreman. “People ain’t happy about paying taxes for us to spend two weeks playin’ in the tar, Alice, so you make sure and give ’em a smile and a wave…”. But now, after a month of this, I’m startin’ to believe that she’s just… happy. And likes to make others feel the same. I think my father was- and still is- like this. A day’s work feels a whole lot better when you’re in a good state of mind.

Looking southwest from the parking lot

It’s not likely that I’ll become a tried-and-true country boy, no matter how many rocks I trip over or how many flies fall to the lightning-quick draw of my swatter (President Obama would be proud). And I still have a pair of those fancy dress shoes- I wasn’t hired, after all, just to mend fences, clean tanks, or kill bugs. Those things just come with the territory. I’ll soon need to wheel and deal in the retail market back in the “big  city” of Portland, so the work boots will get a periodic break from all the rocks.

But it suits me just fine out here. Sitting on top of the pump house out in the vineyard and overlooking the Columbia River earlier today, I could hear only the wind and a train’s whistle. I thought of my father and how he would sing Louis Jordan’s Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie when we would hear a train in the distance. A second later, my clunkers began a slow tap and the lyrics came back to me… “Woo Woo, ooh ooh Ch’ Boogie…” And wouldn’t you know, a big ole’ country-time smile found its way to these lips.

With smiles and good cheer,


Lost and Found

•October 27, 2009 • 17 Comments


Cliffs, vines, and new beginnings

Serendipity: The occurence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

…How do you “start over”?

You can move, change jobs and make new friends, but ultimately you have to trust your instincts. For me, it was quitting my job, selling most all of my earthly possessions (not my wine, though, no-no-no…) and following my gut all the way across the Atlantic for the summer. And while the experience was profound, it didn’t answer that burning question: What do you really want?

Wine is an extraordinary creature– it can drink you in, reveal to you all sorts of flavors and textures, and then quickly spit you out. Such was the case for myself after years dedicated to the retail side of wine. Margin. Profit. Inventory. Display. Sell.

Rinse and repeat daily.

Because of the daily pressure to sell, sell, sell, I found myself (gasp!) falling out of love with wine. I hate to even write that down, but it’s true. It occurred to me I was becoming a stranger to the things which brought me to its doorstep in the first place: small family farms, ancient history, cultural connections to people, the magic of yeast, the land and the vine. If I had a day off and was invited out to one of the local wineries, I’d scramble to come up with an excuse for being unavailable. I’d sneak away to the Gorge by myself. My beloved wine books at home began collecting dust. And worst of all, I started giving sample bottles away as if they were junk mail. Commence burnout…


Signs of the past along the Deschutes

If you’re reading this and you’re in the wine biz, I know what you’re thinking: join the club. And it’s the business of wine that allows it to be enjoyed and explored by millions of people every day. I’m not trying to rail against the economics of retail or wholesale- I’m saying one needs to be honest with themself.

Back to that pesky question. The past few weeks here in Oregon has, ironically, led me back to the same constricted feelings I had six months ago. Should I go for another steward position? No. Mind you, I loved my job for a long time and hold no resentment for the company or any of the people. But after ten plus years, it was — and remains — time to move on.

How about wholesale? I have many good friends who work for wine distributors here in Oregon and some other states as well. And I have a truckload of respect and to some extent, sympathy, for what they do. Hell, a lot of them had to deal with me every week! It’s a dynamic and high-energy job, full of self destiny, if you will, but not my cup of tea. Trying to get from account to account, I’d probably get multiple speeding tickets, high(er) blood pressure, and some serious emotional scarring from select buyers. I really don’t know how you guys do it, but God love ya for it…


*    *    *

I met Bob Lorkowski at his winery and vineyard, Cascade Cliffs, about five years ago on a trip out to the eastern end of the Gorge. His laid back, friendly and content demeanor was something you wanted to be around and something you wanted to live up to even more. I was amazed that his focus at the winery was not the typical cabernet, merlot and syrah (although he produced them too) that prevails in Washington state’s warmer wine country. Bob was growing and producing top-notch barbera, dolcetto, and nebbiolo.  “Piedmont’s about 6,000 miles that way, dude,” I thought. But the wines were awesome- richer than the traditional Italian expressions of these grapes, but still layered, intense and lingering. DSCN0597

I would re-visit this area of the gorge many times after that hiking, driving, and just getting away for the day. Dramatic basalt cliffs, warm and bright sunshine, and ancient petroglyphs welcomed me back time and time again. I ignored the winery not because I didn’t love the wines, but I made it a rule not to do anything “wine” on my days off. In a twist of righteous fate, I can now be somewhere I love personally and embrace all the aspects of wine I neglected for so long.

I’ve been hired by the winery to help them in all facets of operation, including marketing, sales, event planning, grape picking, vine pruning, bin stacking, floor sweeping, tasting room duties, and deliveries. Among other things. And really, that’s usually the deal at a small, family-run winery and exactly what I was looking for. To be part of something, literally, from the ground up.

A winery. After wandering around throughout the country and overseas, it became clear to me that this is where I wanted to be. Not in some monster, large-production winery where there are locked gates, men wear suit and ties and the women click-clack around the polished floors in their best heels. No, I needed some good ole’ fashioned country winery, where the people behind the counter have grape (nebbiolo!) stains on their pants and everyone’s family.

DSCN0599I’m having a hard time just staying calm, keeping my big mouth shut, and not trying to build Rome in a day. A couple of years ago, they expanded the back of the winery and added an upper floor that will soon be an event center for dinners, parties, private tastings, and who knows what else. If you’ve not been there, get there. I’ll give you a personal tour of the vineyards and winery myself. Bob and his wife Denisse also grow Garlic, produce honey, make mead and more importantly, will know your name when you leave.

*    *    *

Will “Jared Wines Up” turn into “Cascade Cliffs Wines Up”? Nah. That’s my own personal forum for ranting and one of my goals is to create another blog for the winery’s website. I’d like to apologize to those of you who’ve tried to see me while here– it’s been a personal whirlwind of sorts for me lately, and I’ve been desperately trying to get settled. But I now feel the spin cycle coming to a slow halt.

I hope to see all of you out at the winery. I’d better. This post could have, maybe should have been focused on the winery, its 20 acres of vines that overlook the Columbia river, and the awards that the Barbera (2009 Best of the Best Wine Press Northwest), Nebbiolo, and others have won. But as usual, it’s all about me. What can I say? It’s been a while since we last talked, so I gave you all an extra pour…

With grateful and blessed cheer,



A parting view as you leave the winery

Hello old (and new) friend…

•October 10, 2009 • 5 Comments


It’s almost unfair how beautiful this state is. Amazingly, most people throughout the US and abroad are fairly unfamiliar with the Beaver State.

Seattle? Sure. The Oregon Trail? O.K., a little better, but still, Or-uh-GAHN remains a bit of a hidden gem in the world of food and wine.

Portland will always take the lion’s share of credit for the state’s culinary prowess. But areas like Ashland, Bend, Cannon Beach and Hood River are all offering wine geeks and foodies a little somethin’-somethin’. You have to work pretty hard these days to find an area in the state that doesn’t have at least one boutique wine-themed bar, bistro or shop.

On a sunny and crisp autumn day at the beach, I walked into The Wine Shack, a small but seriously impressive wine shop in Cannon Beach. As the owner chatted with some customers I looked around and noticed high-quality selections from Elena Walch and Paolo Scavino. First growth Bordeaux lazily slept in a locked cabinet. And many of the typical cult NW favorites were here as well.

DSCN0532After exchanging some Portland wine gossip and updates (St. Innocent is now sold by WHO?), I confessed to co-owner Dean Reiman that I never knew Cannon Beach had such a great wine shop. “We’ve got visitors from all over the world,” he told me, and hinted that even in tough economic times like these, the shops in and around this beautiful coastal town continue to do well. Still, you can’t just set up shop in a high tourist area and wish for the best. In a state full of winers and foodies, you’ve got to “bring the thunder” as Gary V. from wine library tv often preaches. And this place definitely does. If you haven’t been there, and your at the beach, drop in and check it out. You can taste some of the goods there every Saturday, 1-5 P.M.


Speaking of the goods, I noticed a bottle of pinot noir I hadn’t seen before: Puffin Oregon pinot noir. Puffin? Turns out this is The Wine Shack’s proprietary label, and is an homage to the marine wildlife that occupies Oregon’s coast. A percentage of the sales from this label goes to the Friends of Haystack Rock, a typically excellent Oregon organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of coastal wildlife in the area. Bottles like this with “causes” can pluck the heartstrings but are often, unfortunately, less than great. Last night with friends, we put the Puffin to the test.

DSCN0536The latest bottling of this pinot is from 2007, a vintage that got some pretty harsh press. Don’t believe the hype. Remember that multiple wines from a single vintage are hardly singular. 2007 pinot noir is often bright and fresh, if a bit lean. Isn’t that what pinot noir should strive to be? This pinot was indeed bright and fresh, but still rich with silky strawberry and raspberry flavors on the mid-palate. A touch of that Oregon spice and earth on the finish made this a great wine, eco-driven or not. Puffin pinot noir, sadly, is not available outside of The Wine Shack. You’ll have to order it from Dean and co. or better yet, take a trip to Canon Beach and get your hands on some there.

*    *    *

After being on the road here, there, and nowhere, it’s good to be “home”, if only for a short while. I hope the people who do live here in Oregon understand how good they really have it. And I secretly wish that the world continues to overlook this place — a gem can only remain brilliant after so many hands touch it…

With homegrown cheer,


Say “Uncle”! Sugar, yeast and other fun in Lodi

•October 5, 2009 • 12 Comments


Hanging out in Lodi

About five years ago, a very good friend of mine, Tom Lowes, brought me a bottle of his “uncle’s wine”. At the time, I was a wine steward in SE Portland, and many of my new friends from the hood would bring in some their favorites. A typical scene would go something like this:

“Hey Jared- Mary and I decided to make our own wine last year and we wanted your opinion.”

“….Oh! Wow — thank you. I’ll take it home and let you know what I think. What’s that? You want me to try it right now? Right here. In front of you. (gulp) Well, O.K…”

Glasses are brought out, the cork is popped, strange and funky aromas of sulfur and prunes would make their way out and find my big schnoz. And then the sip… “Hmmm. Interesting. Lots of… earth.” Pleasantries and deeper conversation would ensue and when the impromptu tasting would end, I would go rinse.

I always appreciated the intentions, and I sure don’t know how to make wine myself so it was still a learning experience, albeit a painful one at times. I was never one to pull punches with Tom, so when he handed me a dark bottle with no label and some crunched-up aluminum foil over the neck, I gave him a big ole’ sarcastic smile and teased “What have you got there, homey? Some of uncle Willie’s backyard hooch?” He didn’t bother to defend this mystery juice, but just quietly replied “It’s petite verdot. Pretty good…”.

So I took it home that night and braced myself for the usual funk and fear so prevalent in home-made wine. The first thing I notices was how dark it was. “Well, he got that right anyway,” I thought. When I stuck my nose in the glass, I had to pull back, not because of anything off-putting, but because of the sheer intensity of all the dark, spiced berry aromas. After a minute more of intrigued sniffing, I went in for the kill. My palate was bombarded with rich, velvety flavors of ripe blackberry, cherry, and licorice. The finish lasted forever. “Whoa…,” I brilliantly concluded.


“Uncle Dave’s wine” became a bit of a cult wine for myself and others Portlanders in years to follow. Uncle Dave is better known as Dave Huecksteadt, or “Hux” as he was nick-named growing up.  When Tom said he was going down to visit Dave, some of his less than proud – ahem – friends would give him a puppy-dog look and ask if he was bringing anything back with him. “You know, you should come down with me some time. Help out with crush,” he offered.

I never did get down there — until now. I arranged to meet Tom at his uncle’s farm/winery in Lodi on my way back to Oregon. Over the years, I was treated to samples of tempranillo, syrah, petite sirah, roussanne, late harvest viognier, and other home-made beauties. I repeatedly asked if Dave was ever going to try and sell his wines, and for the love of God, let me sell it!

And so, on a late, breezy evening in Lodi, I met the man responsible for “Hux Vineyards”. The three of us tasted barrel samples of grenache blanc, tempranillo, mourvedre, and maybe my favorite, roussanne. Roussanne is a white/green varietal that is home to France’s Rhone valley, and often used as a blending partner to marsanne and viognier. It can be a real pain to grow and is often subject to mildew, but as Dave informed me, Lodi’s cooling evening winds help keep the grapes healthy and balanced. His small plot of vineyards are meticulously cared for, trained in a “quad” system, and situated well above the ground for maximum sunshine and air flow through the canopy.


Not to be labeled as a complete and utter slacker, I got my hands dirty (sort of) and helped punch down several vats of fermenting red grapes. The smells and sounds of this process is amazing; witnessing first-hand the magical interaction of yeast and sugar is something to behold. There are lots of stories of over-zealous cellar workers getting their head a little too close to this action, and suffering the debilitating effects of the carbon dioxide that comes off the breaking “cap” of this purple soup. An unwilling (and dangerous) bath can ensue if you’re not careful.

The beauty of Dave’s wines, aside from the variety and overall quality of them, is that he admits to knowing virtually nothing about the selling, marketing, etc. phase of wine making. “I just want to make the stuff,” he said at one point and asked me how much I thought some of his wines could go for. I told him that he wouldn’t need to make a whole lot of his wines, as these were, in my opinion, “premium” wines for serious winers. That is, you would likely sell these in 6-packs rather than cases. That is, they wouldn’t be stacked at the local shop-n-save. And why not? Small, fairly unknown newcomers from areas like Walla Walla are charging an arm and two legs for their wines, and there’s always a market for this combination of power and elegance (Owen Roe anybody?).

I don’t know where Hux Vineyards will land, or if these special wines will even make it to retail. I sure hope so. It would be a shame if more wine lovers never got their lips on these. Dave and family are, fittingly, as down to earth as you get, and in a state teeming with wineries and winemakers full of themselves, this is one Californian label I’ll brag about knowing before they were (really) known.

*    *    *


“Uncle Dave” attending to his babies

It was a real treat to spend some time with Tom, Dave and the rest of the family down in Lodi. I never felt “stuck” there (har-har), and learned quite a bit. My most gracious thanks to the whole “Hux” crew for their hospitality. Lodi wine is a lot more than high-octane zinfandel…

And more fun was had on the drive back to Oregon, as Tom, the leech that he is, hitched a ride with me. I could tell you about our adventures with towering mountains, dragons, rainbows, monster burritos and more, but enough’s enough. Or is it?

With good cheer, always,



Drinking Old in the New

•October 1, 2009 • 9 Comments

Scenes from the past in the present

Viva Las Vegas New Mexico.

The Land of Enchantment has a certain desert magic to it with its Latin flair and American Indian roots. Not just a bunch of sand, the state has ski resorts, wilderness areas, and many of the cities have a vibrant art and culinary scene. And the wine! The wine?? O.K. you got me there– the wine’s got a way to go yet, with all the sweet fruit and cheeky labels. But fortune has shined once again upon this lonely traveler and guided me to Vivác Winery, producers of fine New Mexican wines.

DSCN0303An oasis on the road to Santa Fe

Now that may sound like an oxymoron to many wine lovers, but you’ll have to trust me when I say that brothers Chris and Jesse Padberg are doing something pretty special down in the SW. First and foremost, they’ve decided to craft dry wines. In a market where many, if not most folks gravitate towards fruity-tooty wines, the two brothers have gone against the desert grain and created something that might be mistaken for old world Italian wines if you didn’t know better.

DSCN0297Producing wines from dolcetto, nebbiolo and sangiovese outside of Italy is always a gamble; one needs the right type of conditions and vineyard savvy in order to grow these types of grapes and actually make these wines for business purposes. It’s one thing to make a barrel or so of nebbiolo for friends and family, but it’s another thing entirely to sell this as one of your winery brands. In New Mexico.

And guess what? The wines, in my most humble and lip-stained opinion, were great. Not just decent, palatable, or fun. But really solid, serious wines that belong on a table alongside your gourmet meal.

The sangiovese had appropriately dusty and fine-grained texture with bright, sour-cherry fruit. The dolcetto was a smack of dark berry and touch of black fig while still remaining medium-bodied and dry. And their nebbiolo, surely the biggest test of them all, had fantastic, layered aromatics (as it should) and tasted maybe not quite like the wines of Piedmont (as it shouldn’t), but was still true to what this grape is — complex and lingering.

Kudos to this small, family winery in between Taos and Santa Fe. They’re proving that you can make stellar wine in lesser-known wine areas of the world, and I hope the surrounding populations embrace and appreciate this effort. As I tasted and chatted with the rest of the family, a local band played outside on the patio sending sweet sounds into the warm air. May that music — and their home-made chocolate — remain the only sweet thing produced at Vivác Winery.

* * *

And so, the road continues. It seemed fitting that my best wine experience thus far on this cross-country trip be in the sunny and dry confines of NM. After a long time in a cool and damp setting, it was “bright and fine”, as they say in the UK, to sip something a bit more serious in such a place. For many people, the desert is a harshDSCN0342 and unforgiving place. I suppose it is just that at times, but it’s always been good to me, and now I can happily say the same for the wine.

With warm and dry cheers,


Find out more about this unique winery and their products at


•October 1, 2009 • 2 Comments


Run, Jared, Run!!

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing here in the SW. Of course, roasting isn’t always a bad thing. There’s always roast pork, roasted coffee beans and of course, roasted peppers. And who doesn’t like roasted peppers? HOT, HOT, HOT peppers!

What a magnificent area of the country — high desserts, snow-capped mountain ranges overlooking small ranch towns, and castles tucked away in national forests. Wait. What? Castles? Correctomundo. Driving through the San Isabel National Forest, I came across the one-man wonder known as Bishop’s Castle.  

Jim Bishop has been putting together his masterpiece, brick by brick, with his two hands only, for over thirty years now. And he’s had to fight tooth and nail with government officials to continue to do so. What makes this place so special, aside from the fact that it’s been built, and remains under construction by one individual, is the fact that Jim has continued to do this for so long. The place is one of the coolest, most magical castles I’ve seen, complete with a grand hall, a towering, steel dragon’s head that attacks your vision as you walk up the driveway, and a steel orb, up 120 feet, that you can climb in to get a spectacular panorama of the surrounding area.


So what’s the motivation behind this medieval masterpiece? When I asked why he decided to build a castle in the middle of the Colorado forest, he quickly shot me a  “Because I can.” He then launched himself into the government, organized religion and anything else that seemed to chap his hide. Jim Bishop will never, ever be accused of not being a passionate man.

I felt a sense of wildness in this guy at first and had to gently, carefully walk away from him, choosing to explore the castle rather than stand and listen to his strong, strong opinions. But after climbing around this byproduct of his passion, I found myself back down along the base of the castle with Jim discussing hot topics like government, religion and other taboo issues for the dinner table.

He’s got bigger and bolder plans for his masterpiece, including a full moat and reflective glass plates on the orb that will “reflect into space and contact aliens”. I say go for it. Live long, Mr. Bishop, and prosper…

The road sure does lead to unseen and strange experiences. I feel lucky to have run into Jim Bishop and his project, gathering up new perspectives on what freedom really is and why we should use it (or not). As you climb towards the top of the castle, some of the openings in the tower walls are unchained and a serious hazard should you step too far. I’m assuming he’s hoping people will treat these spaces responsibly and not venture into areas they ought not to. Ironically, in doing just that, he’s created a towering example of just how precarious are freedom really is.

With good cheer and wide open roads,


“Wylde” wines of Kansas

•September 28, 2009 • 2 Comments

DSCN0024The sky’s the limit…

Welcome back to the long and winding road. I’m deep in the American SW right now, and I have to say that I’m a bit parched. After being in cool and damp environments throughout the summer, the heat is most definitely kicking my you-know-what. It’s sort of like putting a frozen piece of meat in the oven — it might take a while to thaw out, but eventually, it’s gonna sizzle.

More on that later, though. For now let’s get back to the heartland. Driving through Kansas can be a monster to drive through, full of… nothing. But the weather was fine, the roads clear, and I decided to turn over another one of those pesky rocks. Kansas wine? Why not. I pulled into the parking lot of Wyldewood Cellars winery with an open mind and just pretended the surrounding corn fields were actually vineyards glistening with fully ripened grapes.

DSCN0146All alone in the heartland.

Wyldewood cellars specializes in (drumroll)…. Elderberry wine! Now before you laugh yourself to death, you should know that elderberries have a long and proud history of both medicinal and culinary uses. Got the flu? Have an Elderberry, you’ll feel better. Aches, pains, fever, they all get whooped by these little shrub berries. And the flowers are used as well. In fact the first wine I tried was a light, dry white made from fermented elderflowers and lemon. Sounds weird, huh? It was great! Simple, yet clean and fresh, and who can argue with lemon?

My most patient and excellent host, Megan, educated me on the x’s and o’s of elderberries and even attended to the boo-boo on my pinky (awwww). She explained to me how Kansas and Missouri were once prolific wine producers prior to prohibition. And when I was saying goodbye, she told me that she wanted my job, to which I sheepishly replied “…Ummm, I really don’t have one.”

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I’m glad, inspired even, to see families producing wine (they do make a full line-up of vinifera wines as well) in places that you wouldn’t expect to see viticulture. Good for them, and really, good for us. The world of wine, no matter how complex and varied it actually is, can get very predictable and homogenous. It’s a big, big country we live in, with lots of land and people to cater to new and fun wines.

Here’s to thinking — and sipping — outside of the box. And the grape. May our travels and taste buds never get too comfortable.

With good cheer,