At Last, a Shaved Ice for Adults (You Can Make at Home!)

granita w orangeWhy should kids have all the fun with their shaved ice concoctions?

One of my fondest childhood memories revolves around walking to a stand that fronted Balboa Bay in Newport Beach, Calif., and ordering an “ice cone.” It was available in any flavor one could imagine, as long as that flavor was either cherry or grape. The fact that I always ordered grape no doubt foreshadowed my eventual immersion into the wonderful world of wine.

Today, the number of flavors available is much higher — every fruit flavor you can think of, available in any combination you want, and even some weird flavors such as pickle. One of my family members likes to mix blackberry and black cherry, and add a splash of cream. Me? I still order grape.

But after seeing the recipe that follows, and hearing great things about it from one of my fellow Vinesse staffers, I just may be enjoying a new “thrill of the chill” this weekend. The recipe, which yields 8 servings, is adapted from one of my favorite magazines, Bon Appetit




  1. Purée cantaloupe, sugar, Moscato, and ¼ tsp. pepper in a blender until smooth.
  1. Transfer to a shallow baking dish and freeze mixture until edges begin to set (about 30 minutes).
  1. Using a fork, scrape mixture to break up frozen portions.
  1. Freeze, scraping and breaking up every 20–30 minutes, until mixture resembles fluffy shaved ice (about 2–4 hours).
  1. Serve granita topped with coarsely ground pepper.

You can check out Bon Appetit’s original recipe, as well as other tasty recipes, here.

As one member of our tasting panel so eloquently described it, this dish is “freakin’ awesome — especially on a hot day.”

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

The Magic of McLaren Vale

View of Hunter Valley vineyards, NSW, Australia

View of Hunter Valley vineyards, NSW, Australia

Here at Vinesse, there’s a member of our tasting panel who absolutely loves the wines of McLaren Vale, a region south of Adelaide in South Australia.

Cereal crops dominated the landscape in the region’s early farming days, but then in 1838, Thomas Hardy planted grapevines, providing the first spark of life for today’s vibrant McLaren Vale wine region. None of those vines remain, but some McLaren Vale vines are more than a hundred years old and still producing.

There are close to 90 “cellar doors” — Aussie-speak for tasting rooms — in The Vale, so it would take a long time to sample all of the vinous wares of this special area. Our tasting panel member goes beyond the word “special” when describing McLaren Vale; she refers to it as “magical.”

So, with a Vinesse sampler devoted to wines from Australia — including two from McLaren Vale — being offered today, we asked our tasting panel member if she would open her wine diary and share her entry on McLaren Vale with us. She agreed, and here are excerpts…

“McLaren Vale is filled with strikingly vibrant, soft, rolling green hills, set right up against the deep blue turquoise of the bay. If ever there were a place where leprechauns lived, this would be it.

“If you look due west, you have a straight shot across the Indian Ocean, and can just imagine the tall sailing ships of yesteryear rounding the curve of the Cape of Good Horn, making their way to you with news from afar.

“The wines tend to be softer here, more approachable, easy to enjoy, with a dense, chewy texture that adds richness, but not severity. The wines do not have the structure of Australia’s Barossa Valley, but they are tremendously more enjoyable in their youth.

“I can see myself as a shepherd boy with a large straw hat, peasant shirt, cut-off pants — a la Mark Twain — barefoot and following my herds (goats, of course) meandering over those beautiful hills. You can’t imagine a green so green.

“I’d be listening to the light clanging of the bells (goats, of course), looking wistfully out to the turquoise blue sea, looking due west, watching all the ships come and go from far-off places around the world.


Just like, we might add, the wines of McLaren Vale.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

10 Fascinating Facts About Cabernet Sauvignon

cabCabernet Sauvignon often is referred to as “King Cab,” the most “noble” of all wine varieties. No variety has a more complex aroma and flavor spectrum, and no variety has greater aging potential than Cabernet.

How much do you know about this treasured wine? Here are 10 fascinating facts that you can share with friends the next time you’re sharing a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon…

  1. Historically, the most prized bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon came from the Bordeaux appellation of France — specifically, the communes of Margaux, St.-Julien, St.-Estephe and Pauillac.
  1. In the late 20th century, great Cabernet from California — especially from the Napa Valley, but also from Sonoma County — began to been seen as “equal” in quality to Bordeaux. That opinion was not embraced by the French, however.
  1. The new “competition” did serve notice, however, and many Bordeaux vintners began improving their own products. They started picking grapes based not just on their sugar level, but also on tannin ripeness, and that led to wines that could be uncorked and enjoyed at much younger ages.
  1. In Bordeaux, a complex classification system rates the wines from First Growth to Fifth Growth, based primarily on the location (known as the terroir) of the producing vineyards. If you want to drink First Growth Bordeaux, there is a price to be paid; such wines often will cost three to four times more than even some Second Growth wines.
  1. In the new millennium, France has been looking at its wine classification system differently, now allowing certain varieties to be grown in regions where they previously had not been allowed. This has led to an array of new labels, not to mention some very good Cabernet Sauvignon wines at much more reasonable prices. Look for “Pays d’Oc” on the label — like on the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Domaine de Olibet, featured in the latest Vinesse Cabernet sampler pack that happens to be on sale.
  1. Outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon also is being made today in Australia, particularly in the McLaren Vale region. The Vale is known for the rich, ripe character of its wines, and that personality shows through in many of its Cabernets. (Note: There’s also a tasty Aussie Cab in today’s sampler pack.)
  1. Cabernet Sauvignon is the result of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, believed to have occurred sometime during the 1600s, and probably in Bordeaux. The precise timing remains a mystery, but the varieties involved in the crossing have been confirmed by sophisticated DNA testing.
  1. In France, where Cabernet Sauvignon is king, it’s rare to encounter 100 percent varietal bottlings. Almost all of the releases we refer to as Cabernet Sauvignon include small amounts of Merlot and, in many cases, several other varieties. Blending gives the vintner the freedom to craft not merely the best Cabernet Sauvignon possible, but the best wine possible. One hundred percent varietal bottlings are more common in California, but growing numbers of Golden State winemakers also are embracing the benefits of blending.
  1. The perfect food pairing partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, most winemakers will tell you, is lamb. It pairs well with rich, meaty dishes in general, and short ribs represent another inspired pairing.
  1. Peggy Noonan, author and former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, once noted: “My generation, faced as it grew with a choice between religious belief and marijuana, chose marijuana. Now we are in our Cabernet stage.”
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Posted in Wine in the Glass

A Wine-Friendly Dish for Your First Half-Time Party

red-outside-grass-sportThe kids are back in school in many parts of the country, which means that summer is winding down.

Fortunately, the end of summer equates with the beginning of something else: football season!

The dish that follows is great for half-time noshing, and pairs well with everything from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir, and from lighter-bodied (red) Zinfandel to rosé-style wines. This recipe yields 8 servings.



  • 1 lb. frozen pizza dough, thawed
  • 1 tub (8-oz.) cream cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. milk
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 boneless chicken breast (6-oz.), grilled and sliced into small pieces
  • ½ cup roasted red pepper strips
  • 1 cup sliced canned artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. sliced fresh basil


  1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.
  1. On a lightly floured baking sheet, pat pizza dough into a 16-inch by 12-inch rectangle.
  1. Bake for 10 minutes.
  1. Meanwhile, mix cream cheese, milk and garlic powder until well blended.
  1. Spread mixture onto pizza crust.
  1. Top with chicken pieces, pepper strips, artichoke pieces, Mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
  1. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until Mozzarella is melted and the edges of the crust are golden brown.
  1. Top with basil and serve.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Music on the Mountain: A Sublime Experience for Wine Lovers

MountainInsideBowlJust because the summer is coming to an end, it doesn’t mean that the music stops at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Calif.

Much like Thornton Winery in Southern California’s Temecula wine region, the Mountain Winery melds music, food and wine into memorable evenings that will keep you smiling for weeks.

The Mountain Winery’s summer season is winding down, but just last week, it announced a fall series of concerts. So, if your schedule allows, plan a trip to the San Jose area and immerse yourself in a truly special cultural experience.

Here’s the rest of the 2015 schedule at The Mountain Winery:

  • August 25 — Colbie Caillat / Christina Perri
  • August 26 — Heart
  • August 27 — American Idol Live!
  • August 28 — The Fab Four
  • August 30 — Russell Peters
  • September 1 — An Evening with Pink Martini
  • September 2 — The Gipsy Kings
  • September 4 — Neko Case
  • September 5 — Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
  • September 6 — The Psychedelic Furs / The Church
  • September 8 — Yes / Toto
  • September 11 — ZZ Top / Blackberry Smoke
  • September 12 — Eddie Izzard
  • September 13 — Jagermeister Country Tour featuring Lee Brice
  • September 14 — Little Big Town
  • September 15 — Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • September 16 — Lauryn Hill
  • September 17 — Rodrigo y Gabriela
  • September 20 — ABBA The Concert
  • September 25 — Lost ’80s Live featuring ABC, Wang Chung, A Flock of Seagulls, Naked Eyes, Animotion, The Flirts, Gene Loves Jezebel and Boy Don’t Cry
  • September 26 — The Beach Boys
  • September 27 — Kristin Chenoweth
  • September 30 — Ry Cooder/Sharon White/Ricky Skaggs
  • October 1 — The Doobie Brothers
  • October 3 — Chicago
  • October 7 — UB40
  • October 10 — Galactic and Macy Gray

You can purchase tickets for any of these concerts here:

And for a look at the various wining and dining options on concert nights, go to:

By the way, if you’re an Abba fan and are planning to attend the tribute concert on September 20, you can make a full weekend out of it by taking part in the Los Gatos Wine Walk. Los Gatos is a community that’s just 15 minutes from the Mountain Winery, and makes a good home base when attending a concert at the winery.

The Los Gatos Wine Walk will run from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., and participants can taste wines from 35 local estates as they visit local shops, restaurants and Plaza Park. The cost is $50 per person, and includes a souvenir wine glass.

To learn more, go to:

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Posted in Wine Buzz

The History of Sangria… and a Sparkling Suggestion

Sangria jarIn yesterday’s blog, I told you about breaking my personal 35-year ban on Sangria while having dinner at a tapas bar in Barcelona.

Intrepid reporter that I am, at one point during that meal I asked one of our servers, Maria, how they made their Sangria. She put her right index finger up to her lips and whispered, “Shhh… it’s a secret.”

Little did she know that from my seat, not only could I see into the kitchen, where the tapas were made, but also behind the side counter of the bar. And there, I spotted several empty 2-liter bottles of Fanta soda. My suspicion is that their “secret recipe” was nothing more complicated than some fruity red wine, Fanta soda pop and ice.

Although she wouldn’t reveal the house recipe — perhaps because I was right — Maria did tell us about the history of Sangria in Spain, and how locals think of it as a type of wine cooler… which, when you think about it, is exactly what it is.

She said that the first Sangria probably was made 2,000 years ago by the Romans, who mixed wine, water, spices and herbs to make a flavorful concoction. The idea was that the alcohol would destroy the bacteria in the local water, which had poisoned many people who drank it straight.

Today, Maria added, there is no standard recipe for Sangria in Spain. It can range from the rather simple (but still quite enjoyable) version that she served us to much more complicated and sophisticated drinks with many more ingredients, which are being concocted in the trendy lounges and nightclubs of Madrid.

Maria said that the red wine Sangria served at her restaurant would be referred to by locals as tinto de verano. Although I couldn’t coax the recipe out of her, a server at another Barcelona restaurant told me their tinto de verano consisted of red wine, ice and lemon soda. He also told me that some restaurants add a splash of vermouth.

When was Sangria introduced to America? It could have happened earlier, but there are records that show it was served in the Pavilion of Spain at the 1964 World’s Fair, held in New York.

Because there is no single accepted recipe for Sangria, there’s a lot of room for lending one’s own preferences and personality to homemade versions. Here’s a recipe that one of our tasting panel members used at a recent party. While it’s somewhat similar to the one we featured in Thursday’s blog, a key difference is the use of soda water. “People liked the spritz,” she said.


  • 1 (750-ml.) bottle fruity (not oaky) red wine (such as California Zinfandel, Sangiovese or Merlot — like those featured in Vinesse’s Sangria Reds Collection on sale now)
    • 1/4 cup Brandy
    • 1/4 cup Triple Sec
    • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1/2 orange, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
    • 1 (750-ml.) bottle sparkling water, chilled


  1. Combine everything but the sparkling water in a large plastic container or glass pitchers.
  1. Cover and chill completely (1 to 2 hours).
  1. When ready to serve, add the sparkling water.
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Posted in Editor's Journal, Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Sangria: The Perfect ‘Wine Cocktail’ of Summer

sangriaMy first experience with Sangria was at a then-popular Mexican restaurant chain that included the ice-cold, sweet drink as part of its Sunday brunch. It was an all-you-could-eat buffet, accompanied by all-you-could-drink Sangria.

I don’t remember much about that morning except for the fact that, not long after the meal, I developed a splitting headache. I would not have Sangria again for 35 years, until my fiancée and I traveled to Barcelona last fall.

Visiting a tapas bar was high on our list of priorities, and I knew that meant I needed to end my personal ban on Sangria and give it another try. We wasted no time in setting out on foot in search of tapas and Sangria.

Without a map and with only our intuition as a guide, we traversed the narrow pedestrian streets, sticking our heads inside gift shops, perusing the outside kiosks, sampling tasty bakery goods and soaking in the historic architecture.

And then, there it was: a tapas bar that seemed to be calling out our names. And inside, two friendly ladies — from Peru, not Spain, as it turned out — guided us through the tapas menu and poured their restaurant’s version of Sangria. Michelle had one made with white wine, while I had one made with red, and both seemed to pair quite nicely with all of the tapas we tried.

YolandaMariaIn the accompanying photo, that’s Yolanda on the left and Maria on the right. Maria was our main server, and helped us select the tapas we’d be sharing. We had only one request — nothing too spicy — and everything that was placed in front of us met that criterion while still being packed with enticing flavors.

Just when we thought we could eat no more, Yolanda came out of the kitchen with a tray of freshly made tapas. She stopped in front of us and said, “Lamb?” I told her we couldn’t eat another bite. But it turned out it wasn’t a question. She just shook her head and put TWO small plates in front of us.

Served on a small piece of toast, and seasoned only with a little salt and pepper, that lamb turned out to be the best thing we’d had all night. It also taught us an important lesson: When you have good servers at a tapas bar, place your trust in them. Maria and Yolanda provided us with the best dining experience we would have in Barcelona during a trip that included not one bad meal.

And what about the Sangria? Well, I thought mine was fine, and I helped Michelle finish hers. Best of all, I didn’t get a headache this time, which means my ban on Sangria is officially over, and I’m now free to try any recipes that may come my way.

Here is one that one of our tasting panel members whipped up recently. It makes about 4 servings.


  • 2 large oranges, washed (one orange sliced, one orange juiced)
  • 1 large lemon, washed and sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Triple Sec
  • 1 (750-ml.) bottle of fruity, medium-bodied red wine (such as California Zinfandel, Sangiovese or Merlot — like those featured in Vinesse’s Sangria Reds Collection on sale now), chilled


  1. Place sliced orange, lemon and sugar in large pitcher.
  1. Mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves (about 1 minute).
  1. Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec, and wine.
  1. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
  1. Before serving, add 6 to 8 ice cubes and stir briskly to distribute settled fruit and pulp, then serve immediately.
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Posted in Editor's Journal, Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

In a Blend, Every Component Counts

iStock_000008666127XSmallBlending wine is part science and part art. But don’t ask us to attach percentages to those parts; that would be pure conjecture.

The scientific aspect involves pairing only varieties that complement one another structurally. Determining how much of this, how much of that and how much of the other goes into the blend is where the art comes in.

Vinesse once featured a wine with a varietal makeup of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Symphony. Mathematical logic tells us that the 10% portion would be overwhelmed by the majority varieties in the blend. Which raises the question: Why even include that 10% portion?

Because, as it turns out, even 5% of a blend can make a big difference in the finished product.

Before moving to Sonoma Cutrer, Mick Schroeter made Sauvignon Blanc and other wines at Sonoma County’s Geyser Peak Winery. Although Geyser Peak’s Sauvignon Blanc was 100% varietal, it was still a blend because the winery sourced grapes from a number of growing regions. The 2006 vintage, for example, was a blend of 60% Sonoma County grapes, 25% Lake County, 10% Mendocino County and 5% Monterey County.

Why even bother with that Monterey fruit? After all, Sauvignon Blanc is Sauvignon Blanc, right?

Wrong. It turns out that the Monterey fruit played an absolutely critical role in the finished product.

“It’s all about where it’s from,” Schroeter told us at the time. “If it’s a pungent green-bean, asparagus-juice parcel like the one we source in Monterey, 5% can have an enormous impact on the final wine.

“One year,” Schroeter recalled, “we started our blending with the usual 5% from Monterey, but there was something that didn’t seem to fit right. So, we took out some of that component — the 5% was cut back to about 3% — and the wine was perfect. There’s a case where just 2% of the blend made all the difference.”

Lesson learned: When you consider the varietal make-up of a wine, don’t scoff at the minority varieties. They could be providing the defining characteristics of that wine.

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Posted in In the Cellar

There Still Time for a Summer Trip to Sonoma

iStock_000006095441SmallCalifornia wine country visitors can experience vibrant charm in a tranquil setting at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa — and there’s still time to get there this summer.

Less than an hour north of San Francisco, this exquisite hotel in Sonoma, Calif., is centrally located among some of Sonoma County’s finest wineries. Showcasing the incredible beauty of the valley, the stunning accommodations combine authentically artisan surroundings with contemporary facilities to create a haven of casual sophistication.

Guests can relax in rooms with balconies and high-tech services, reflect and revitalize in the resort’s full-service spa, or go for a refreshing dip in the outdoor pool. Services and treatments at the spa include body scrubs, body wraps, couple’s massage, eye treatments, facials, lip treatments, makeup services, manicures, pedicures, plunge pools, steam room, therapy baths and waxing.

For stylish dining, Carneros Bistro features seasonal farm-to-table cuisine, focused on using the very best from local Sonoma farms, ranches and dairies. The modern local cuisine is complemented by a 400-selection Sonoma County wine list. With its new look in a country setting, Carneros Bistro has been named one of the “Top 50 Restaurants” in the Bay Area by San Francisco Magazine.

For guests in a hurry, the Bean & Bottle coffee and wine bar offers an array of items to go.

To learn more about The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa, call 707-935-6600.

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Posted in Vinesse Style

Working from the Heart: The Story of Mollydooker

Boxer_Front_labelWhen a winery called Mollydooker made a Shiraz wine called “Carnival of Love” that landed the No. 2 position on Wine Spectator magazine’s “Top 100” list for 2014, it was impossible to ignore.

So, we decided to track down the story of Mollydooker, and learned that Sparky Marquis was a successful photographer when his father one day lined up the five kids in the family, and told them that if any of them were prepared to learn winemaking or viticulture, they would inherit his award-winning vineyard and winery.

Sparky‟s sister jumped at the opportunity, but the boys scattered. Then Sparky remembered how much he liked drinking wine, and came rushing back.

But during Sparky’s second year in college, Sarah Watts walked onto the campus. She was beautiful, fun loving, artistic and clever. The next day, Sparky was on the phone to his dad to say that he had just seen the girl that he was going to marry, and he would never be coming home.

It took Sparky four years to persuade Sarah that marrying him was a good idea. While waiting, he researched his thesis on canopy management, won awards for his classwork and won an overseas scholarship.

When they married in 1991, they had $1,000 between them, and big dreams of developing their own business, succeeding in a career they were both passionate about, helping other people, and having fun.

They started as winemakers with Sarah’s parents at Fox Creek Wines. They built a winery, introduced their vineyard watering program in the vineyards so that they got exceptional fruit, and devoted long hours to perfecting their cellar skills.

The day after receiving the winery license, they won the McLaren Vale Bushing King and Queen Trophy for Best Wine in Show. (Since then, they have won the Bushing two more times, and have been Australian Boutique Winemakers of the Year, as well as Australian White Winemakers of the Year.)

They were successful and super busy, and happy working together. When their son Luke was born, they would do their winemaking with him sleeping in a bassinet close by. Then one day, they rejected a parcel of wine and gave it to an agent to sell. The agent made a small fortune in half an hour, and Sarah and Sparky decided that they would become bulk wine producers, giving them more time for family.

After two years, they asked Sparky’s parents to join them. Sparky told them, “Our aim will be to make the best bulk wine in Australia, so we can sell it easily. We’ll start in the vineyards in January, harvest in March, make the wine, sell it in June, and then go skiing for six months.” His parents decided to jump on board.

Unfortunately, the next vintage was the year of Australia’s huge grape surplus. Sarah and Sparky had red wines to sell, but the market wanted Chardonnay. Wine that had sold the previous year for $7 per liter fetched just 25 cents per liter. They promptly lost all the money they had made in the previous two years.

So they went back to making bottled wine for their friends — Henry’s Drive, Parson’s Flat and Shirvington — and to their joint venture, Marquis Philips.

Once again, they were enormously successful. In 1999, they were named Australian Winemakers of the Year. In 2002, they won the Bushing Award for a record-breaking third time, and critic Robert Parker gave their Integrity wine a 99-point rating.

The Marquis Philips brand was a runaway success, growing from 8,000 to 120,000 cases in four years. There was talk of growing bigger still. Then one day, Sarah and Sparky took stock and decided that it was not the life they wanted to lead. They love the vineyards, love making wine, and love sharing wine with friends. They didn’t want to become corporate, so they decided to go it alone and stay small and hands-on.

They reasoned that they had started with $1,000 once before, so they could do it again if they had to. Everyone rallied around to help, staff offered to take a salary cut, growers offered to take late payments, and suppliers offered extended terms. Both families mortgaged everything and chipped in.

In March 2006, they named their new brand Mollydooker — Aussie-speak for lefthander because Sparky and Sarah are both left-handed. Two weeks later, they were down to $17 in the bank. It was scary. They had always been a cash company. Their motto had been, “If you can’t pay on time, pay early.” Now that was impossible. They couldn’t even afford to label the wine.

And then a miracle happened. A local businessman walked in the door, said he had heard that they might be in trouble, and asked to hear their story. Half an hour later, he walked out the door to begin a month-long vacation. Sparky stood, tears pouring down his cheeks, holding a check for enough money to enable them to survive.

Three months later, The Wine Advocate chose “The Boxer” as the best value red wine in the world, the “Two Left Feet” as the second, and the “Maitre D’” as the fourth. “The Violinist” was chosen the best value white wine in the world. The wines sold out in 19 days, and all the debts were paid off.

Since then, it has been a story of phenomenal success. Sarah and Sparky now have more wines of 94 Parker points and higher than any other winemakers in the world, and the “Carnival of Love” Shiraz has twice been on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list, both tomes in the top 10.

During the last three years they have modernized and upgraded the winery, pulled out unwanted grape varieties and replanted with Shiraz, and implemented their vineyard watering program.

Their success has been built on following their passions, and by working from the heart.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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