Jazz on the Vine… and a Whole Lot of Wine

Mindi-AbairDisclaimer: No, I do not get free tickets for the events I mention on this blog. I simply enjoy sharing news about events I’ve attended… or would one day like to attend… that offer special experiences and the potential for special memories for people like me — people who love wine.

Now that we have that out of the way, I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite annual events. It combines not just one of my passions, but two: wine and music.

It’s called Jazz on the Vine, and it’s held at the historic Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. During my 14-year tenure in Chicago, I attended Jazz on the Vine 10 times… and was never disappointed.

Elkhart Lake is situated about an hour from Milwaukee and about two-and-a-half hours from Chicago, and it annually attracts attendees from both big cities. The genre of music is “smooth jazz” — a term reviled by many traditional jazz lovers, but embraced by people who prefer their instrumental music with a distinct, danceable beat.

This year, the headliner is saxophonist extraordinaire Mindi Abair, who will be backed by The Bone Shakers. Even if you’re not into smooth jazz, you may have seen Abair at various times on “American Idol,” or perhaps touring with Rod Stewart.

Other performers announced for this year’s Jazz on the Vine include Michael Lington, featuring Kenny Lattimore; Nick Colionne; Vincent Ingala; Cindy Bradley and Chris Strandring; Down to the Bone; Roman Street, and Marcell Gayton.

As in past years, the music will begin on Friday evening, continue all day and into the night on Saturday, and conclude with Sunday brunch.

What makes Jazz on the Vine special — besides the wonderful music and unique setting — is the opportunity to sample wine from all over the world. Wineries and distributors display their wares in a tent that also houses the performance area, and attendees can walk from table to table sampling a wide array of varietal wines and blends. Once you find something you like, you can purchase it by the glass or the bottle.

I use Jazz on the Vine to sample wines I’d otherwise never encounter at a supermarket or even a wine shop — the kind of wines that are featured in the clubs and Cyber Circle offerings of Vinesse. And through the years, just as with Vinesse, I’ve discovered a number of wines that have become personal favorites and I now enjoy with each new vintage.

We all know how wonderful wine can be, in so many ways. The same is true of music. When you put the two together in a bucolic setting, magic can happen… as it does every year at Jazz on the Vine.

For information on the 2015 edition of Jazz on the Vine, which is scheduled for May 8-10, click here.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

New Zealand: The Home of Expressive Sauvignon Blanc

savbMarlborough is New Zealand’s flagship wine region that, in combination with its expressive renditions of Sauvignon Blanc, has elevated the country to the international wine stage.

But as we’ve learned in recent years, Marlborough offers depth in both grape varieties and terroir.

Pioneers first planted the region in 1873, with further vineyards established gradually into the 1960s. Following a lull, grapes were planted again beginning in 1973, despite stiff opposition from local farming and forestry interests.

Today, viticulture is dominant, with nearly 50,000 acres of vines (approximately two-thirds of the national total) under the care of wine producers of all sizes.

Consistently ranking as one of New Zealand’s sunniest and driest regions, Marlborough’s Wairau Valley was referred to by the Maori as “Kei puta te Wairau” — “the place with the hole in the cloud” — reflecting the outstanding protection offered by the topography. The Wairau River bisects the valley west to east, with the Richmond Ranges to the north and medium-sized foothills to the south.

The combination of a cool yet high-sunshine climate, low rainfall and free-draining, moderately fertile soil produces uniquely vivid wines across a wide range of varieties and styles.

Alongside the increasing range of varieties, the diverse soils and meso-climates have revealed sub-regions — including Southern Valleys, Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley — and it is within these that Marlborough’s exciting future lies.

In the Southern Valleys area, soils and meso-climates vary, but tend to be heavier with more clay than seen in the Wairau Valley. It gets cooler and drier farther south into the valleys.

Old riverbed and riverbank soils, along with diverse aspect and rainfall, provide numerous meso-climates within the Wairau. Broadly, it covers cooler, drier inland sites; barren, stony, early-ripening sites; and sea-breeze moderated coastal sites. The soils are more gravelly to the north, closer to the riverbed.

The Awatere Valley is the most geographically distinct sub-region. Situated south of the Wairau Valley and stretching inland from the sea, it climbs toward the inland Kaikoura ranges. Cooler, drier, windier and often with a degree of elevation, the vineyard sites with typically lower yields produce bright, aromatic Pinot Noir and dramatic, distinctive Sauvignon Blanc.

If you’ve never had Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, you need to check out Vinesse’s latest Sauvignon Blanc Sampler. You can enjoy expressive Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and compare it different with bottlings from different countries.  The whole collection is on sale through this week only.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

Sustainability Gains a Foothold in New Zealand

vineyard rows“Given that wine has long been marketed as a natural product, it is of little surprise that this industry has been one of the first agricultural sectors to embrace the concept of sustainability, particularly to evoke in consumers a feeling that wine is a natural product and not industrially manufactured.”

So wrote Roger Kerrison, a consultant who works in the food and beverage industry in the fields of design, development, systems and management in sustainability for Asia Pacific consultancy Aura Sustainability.

“In New Zealand, where our head offices are based, there is a strong industry approach toward promoting wines as ‘sustainable.’ There is now an industry-wide environmental management program in place, and there are efforts to ensure that much of the industry is certified to this program. New Zealand’s lead has seen similar programs put in place in other world wine regions such as California, Oregon, South Africa and Australia.

“The wine industry is working to recognize initiative in areas such as organic production, bio-dynamics, carbon labeling and packaging innovation. This leading approach by the wine industry is to be applauded, but we need to bear in mind that sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s about social and economic impacts as well.”

Tomorrow: The special Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties of New Zealand’s Marlborough region.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

This May, Join Vinesse & Sojourn for a Private Cycling Tour of Sonoma

California-cyclists-red-winery-rd-900x600If you’re a frequent reader or an active Vinesse member, you probably already know that Vinesse is about to kick off our first ever Private Cycling Tour of Sonoma Wine Country in a partnership with Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations. The tour takes off May 31st of this year and ends the 5th of June. It has an enviable itinerary for any wine fan and includes great gourmet meals at top restaurants, insiders’ tours and tastings at wineries, and lodgings at several of Sonoma’s most desirable locations. Many of which we’ve already featured in this blog.

A trip like this is a great way to visit multiple wineries in a single trip and really get to know the beauty of Sonoma. Rides on gentle, rolling hills take you through the Dry Creek, Alexander, and Russian River Valleys, with stops to enjoy lunches, tastings, tours and more.

As outstanding as the food and wine sound, if you listen to tour guide Sue Boyle, it sounds like the views on the tour are even better:

  1. The trip begins and ends at the beautiful Madrona Manor in Healdsburg. Not to be missed is a walk through the terraced gardens of the Manor.  An orange grove, a variety of flowers, fruit trees, and many of the herbs and vegetables used in the five star restaurant are grown on the grounds.  
  1.  First time travelers with Sojourn are often concerned that they may not want to, or might not be able to, ride the 25 to 45 miles we have scheduled for the day.  The Sonoma trip easily lends itself to the guides selecting the best, easiest, most scenic 10 to 15 miles of riding for those travelers.
  1. The diversity of the topography on this trip is amazing.  The route takes us from the vineyards to the Redwoods, along the Russian River and down the coast to a magical place called Bodega Bay.  From the first time I rolled into the parking lot of the Bodega Bay Lodge I knew this place was special.  I have often heard from guests that the rolling 10 miles of riding along the coast to Bodega Bay is the most fun and scenic riding they have ever done.  The fact that guests get to unpack and stay in Bodega Bay for two nights is always a plus.  Personally, I never miss the opportunity to get up early and take a solitary walk along the beach or do some early morning bird watching before the Sojourn day begins. 
  1.  During day two of our stay in Bodega we cycle out to Bodega Head where we take the guests on a two mile hike on the bluff high above the ocean.  The views are breathtaking and the hike is always a trip highlight.

There are still several spots on the tour remaining so if you place your reservation soon, you could be taking in the sights and making memories with Sue, Vinesse members, and staff this May. For tickets, terms, and other additional information, click here.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Does the Type Matter When Cooking With Wine?

vegetables on the cutting board are falling in the potGiven the storm that hit the East Coast over the weekend, a whole lot of people were staying home and cooking rather than going out to eat.

Little wonder, then, that the following question came in. Since winter isn’t going away anytime soon, I thought we should waste no time in addressing this topic…

QUESTION: I’ve read a lot about cooking with wine. Does it really matter what type of wine you cook with?

ANSWER: Absolutely.

The first thing you should know is that you should never, ever… ever… cook with “cooking wine,” which is typically sold in supermarkets. Most of those products taste dreadful, and many are laced with salt.

When a recipe calls for wine, your best bet is to use the wine that you intend to drink with the dish. While it’s true that some subtle nuances of the wine are lost in the cooking process, it’s also true that some of the qualities remain — and that will help make the food and wine pairing sing.

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Posted in Wine FAQ

What Goes With a Cold Night and a Glass of Merlot?

Crock PotAs I was writing yesterday’s blog about Merlot, I started thinking about some of the dishes I’ve enjoyed with Merlot over the years.

I happened to have the Weather Channel on at the time, and was reminded of how numbingly cold it has been this winter in so many parts of the country.

And THAT reminded me of a dish we featured here back in 2007. It’s called, simply enough, Slow-Cooking Stew. It not only makes a house smell wonderful as it cooks, but it’s a perfect pairing partner for Merlot.

A flavorful wine such as Merlot calls for a flavorful main dish. This tasty recipe fits the bill deliciously, and makes about 6 servings.



  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 lbs. cubed stew meat
  • 1 packet dry onion soup mix
  • 1 can (10.75-oz.) condensed golden mushroom soup
  • 1 3/4 cups water


  1. Place carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, onion and celery in slow cooker. Place stew meat over vegetables.
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the soup mix with the can of soup. Add water and mix well. Pour in slow cooker over meat and vegetables. Add water as needed so liquid comes just to the bottom of the meat.
  1. Cook on low setting overnight, adding more water as necessary in morning. Allow to cook all day.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

A Decade After ‘Sideways,’ Merlot Survives and Thrives

merlot“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any (bleeping) Merlot!”

When movie-goers heard Paul Giamatti’s Miles make that proclamation in the movie “Sideways,” and in another scene heard him wax poetic about Pinot Noir, it changed the California wine industry — perhaps forever.

In reaction to public demand, wineries and growers planted new Pinot Noir vineyards up and down the California coast, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino. Today, there’s even an American Viticultural Area that is devoted primarily to Pinot Noir: the sprawling Sonoma Coast.

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since “Sideways” stood the wine industry on its head. But we are happy to report that Merlot is still alive and well and taken very seriously by hundreds and hundreds of California wineries.

One North Coast estate that has always taken Merlot seriously is Duckhorn Vineyards. In fact, fundamental to Duckhorn’s tradition was the early decision to focus on the production of Merlot. Dan Duckhorn felt that this elegant varietal was under appreciated in North America.

“I liked the softness, the seductiveness, the color, the fact that it went with a lot of different foods,” he said in an interview on the winery’s website. “It seemed to me to be a wonderful wine to just enjoy. I became enchanted with Merlot.”

And so did a lot of other people. If you’re one of them, or if you’d like to see what all the enchantment is about, check out today’s Vinesse Cyber Circle sampler.

  • Tomorrow: A Merlot-friendly recipe for cold winter nights.
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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Cohn Festival: Takin’ It to the… Field of Dreams

2001-dave-mason18-copyIt’s the end of one era, and the beginning of another.

For more years than I can remember, Bruce Cohn — a man who has guided the careers of the Doobie Brothers and other music stars, and the founder of B.R. Cohn Winery in Sonoma County — has produced a music festival on the grounds of his wine estate.

Sadly, it appears the 2014 festival was the last to be held at the winery. But there’s also good news. This coming October, the newly christened Sonoma Music Festival will move to downtown Sonoma, on a piece of property dubbed the Field of Dreams.

“It became clear to us that we had outgrown the B.R. Cohn Winery, Cohn said in a press release. “The Field of Dreams is a more patron familiar and friendly venue, which will be less costly to build out — which translates to more money for the event beneficiaries. We are excited about the move to downtown Sonoma.”

In 2015, the charities will be Northern California-based organizations, as well as local and national veterans’ causes, Cohn added.

The event dates are October 2-4, and the list of performers is expected to be announced soon. You can get more information here: www.sonomamusicfestival.com

Early October is a great time to visit the Sonoma Valley, and if you’re a classic rock fan, the Sonoma Music Festival promises to be a memorable experience — just as the annual events were at B.R. Cohn Winery.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Taking Wine to New Heights in Washington

naches heightsAmerican Viticultural Areas are the U.S. equivalent of wine appellations in France.

In order to gain AVA status, an area must be shown to possess unique characteristics that separate it from neighboring areas. In some cases, it’s the general environment. In other cases, it’s the weather. Even the soil could be a determining factor in whether an area gains its own AVA status, or remains part of a larger AVA.

Naches Heights became the 12th AVA in Washington state in 2011. Located within the Columbia Valley on an ancient volcanic bedrock plateau, Naches Heights is above the level of the Missoula Floods, at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,100 feet.

Because I’m a huge fan of Washington state wines, I decided to do some research on this still relatively new AVA. Here’s what I found out…

At present, there are about 40 acres planted to wine grapes in Naches Heights, although the AVA encompasses 13,254 acres in total. The first grapes planted within the AVA’s boundaries were Pinot Gris, Riesling and Syrah in 2002. Those boundaries are the Naches River to the north and east, Cowiche Creek to the south and west, and the lower Tieton River on the west.

The land is comprised of windblown soil, also known as loess, which is heavy in clay and helps the soil to retain water. Around 10 to 13 inches of rain fall annually in the Naches Heights region, and it is considered a cooler region for Washington.

Several features distinguish Naches Heights from its neighboring AVAs, including its geological formation of Tieton andesite, rich volcanic soil, higher elevation (which reduces winter damage to vineyards), and sustainable farming. All seven vineyards in Naches Heights grow their grapes using organic, biodynamic or LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) certification program practices, making it Washington’s first exclusively sustainable AVA.

“We farm with love,” noted Phil Cline, proprietor of Naches Heights Vineyard and a third-generation farmer in the region. “Love of the land, grape-growing and making the region a sustainable place for generations to come.”

The region was formed 1 million years ago from a lava flow from the Cascade Mountains. After that flow, andesite cooled and hardened to form the single, elevated Naches Heights plateau.

“The Naches Heights Winery and Vineyard Association hopes that all future vineyards on the Heights will also agree to go organic,” said Cline. “With our ideal growing conditions, ample irrigation water from the Cascade Mountains, and 310 days of sunshine per year, there is no need to use chemical herbicides or fertilizers on Naches Heights.”

If there were degrees of uniqueness, that would make Naches Heights extremely unique.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

Honors for Winemaker/Environmentalist Mike Benziger

salmonI’ve long admired the wines produced at Benziger Family Winery in the Sonoma County burg of Glen Ellen.

And that was before I learned about his biodynamic farming practices, important not only now but for future generations, and his efforts to conserve water, extremely important during a period of extended drought that California has been experiencing.

Appropriately, Benziger’s environmental work is starting to become as well known as his superb wines. On March 13, he will be honored by the Golden Gate Salmon Association at its 2nd annual Sonoma Dinner, to be held at the Ramekins Event Center in Sonoma.

“Mike is well known in the region for his water conservation practices and biodynamic farming,” said Victor Gonella, founder and treasurer of GGSA, in a press release. “Conserving and wise water policies are needed to keep the iconic salmon industry strong, along with California’s water dependent economy. As a farmer, Mike Benziger understands this. So, it is our great pleasure to honor him.”

The release included this description of the GGSA: “A coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants, tribes, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GGSA’s mission is to protect and restore California’s largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley rivers that feed the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable, commercial, recreational and cultural resource.”

Tickets for the dinner honoring Mike Benziger are available by calling 855-251-GGSA (4472) or by visiting www.goldengatesalmonassociation.com. They cost $125 per person, and table sponsor packages are available for $1,200, and include reserved VIP seating for eight and $100 worth of raffle tickets.

And, yes, Benziger Family wines will be served.

You can read more about Benziger’s environmental efforts here.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment
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