Newsletter

July 20th, 2011

I’m coming to think, as time passes, that maybe the highest compliment I have to give is to find a person or a thing non-generic. In this cynical era where corporations are selling unique identities to whoever’s got the money and perfect beauty can’t be trusted not to be made of silicon, it’s so nice to find things that seem only to be representing themselves.

Reading about the Ladera Vineyards, I felt the personalities of a group of people. A farming couple from Montana who miss their cows, but are happy, at least, to still be in agriculture. A winemaker who was so excited, when she got into a professional winery for the first time, to learn that there are machines to de-stem the grapes. The couple’s daughter who studied sound engineering and art history and sells her lavender at the winery, but swears she knows about wine too. It’s not that it’s touching, it’s that it feels real.

We, here at this hotel, are so proud to be pouring wines made by people who take this much particular care of the details of their business. Their wine is every bit as good as their storytelling, every bit as real, and we are so grateful to have a means of supporting them. So, the next time you’re here with us, ask for a glass of Ladera. We’ll be very happy to pour it for you.

June 20th, 2011

If you want an example of ingenious long term life planning, take a look at the life that Tom Leonardini built. Born in San Francisco, he spent the first part of his life running a series of businesses in his hometown. He learned how things run and he made himself some money. He also raised five children; a team, one might call it. It’s unclear at what age he started teaching the kids about wine, but Katie, the middle daughter, recalls blind taste-testings with the family. As this story is in the section reserved for wine recommendations, maybe you can see where this is going. In 1993, the ground set, Leonardini bought the Whitehall Lane Winery in Napa. By the next year he had a son alongside and soon after a daughter followed. This, it seems to me, is not the average family business story. This is the story of a man who crafted his life so that its second half could be spent surrounded by natural beauty and his children, drinking wine and earning a profit through it all. Nicely played, sir.

We’ve got the product of all that planning here in our bar, and a pretty tasty product it is. Come check it out the next time you’re here with us. If you want an example of ingenious long term life planning, take a look at the life that Tom Leonardini built. Born in San Francisco, he spent the first part of his life running a series of businesses in his hometown. He learned how things run and he made himself some money. He also raised five children; a team, one might call it. It’s unclear at what age he started teaching the kids about wine, but Katie, the middle daughter, recalls blind taste-testings with the family. As this story is in the section reserved for wine recommendations, maybe you can see where this is going. In 1993, the ground set, Leonardini bought the Whitehall Lane Winery in Napa. By the next year he had a son alongside and soon after a daughter followed. This, it seems to me, is not the average family business story. This is the story of a man who crafted his life so that its second half could be spent surrounded by natural beauty and his children, drinking wine and earning a profit through it all. Nicely played, sir.

We’ve got the product of all that planning here in our bar, and a pretty tasty product it is. Come check it out the next time you’re here with us.

May 20th, 2011

Writing about Vidovich wines, as I’m about to do now, makes me nervous. I’ve avoided it for all of these years, but it seems that the time has finally come and, so, here I go. Why, you ask, should I be so anxious? Well, you see, the maker of Vidovich wines also made this here humble little hotel that has, thus far, allowed me to write more or less whatever I want about whatever seems like the most fun to me. I’m in a pretty sweet spot, to be honest, and I’d sure like to continue. But if ever there was a time to tread lightly this is it, and I just hope I know how!

Lucky for me the owner of this fine establishment, my boss’ boss that is to say, makes a pretty fine red wine. And what’s great for you about it being here is that our hotel is one of the only places you can find it. The thing is, it’s not available for retail sale, so your choice, now that I’ve got you at least just a little bit curious, is to try to seek it out in one of the handful of Silicon Valley restaurants that serve it, or to come to our bar, where our supply is nearly endless, and even complimentary between 5 and 7 each night, and try a glass. The only problem is that once you see just how nice it is, still can’t buy a bottle in any store anywhere and realize that you’re only reliable access is here with us, you’ll find that your need to come stay in our little hotel is deeper than ever before. Which isn’t really such a problem!

April 25th, 2011

Neyers Vineyards is a pretty young winery. They got going in 1992, purchased and renovated their winery in 1999. Though they produce excellent, and quite well regarded, wines, there is the sense that they are still finding themselves. The best example is in the way they talk about their French influence. They are very proud to have a winemaker who worked in France, as well as an owner who has worked closely with French importers over the last years. They claim a great admiration for the more natural French techniques, which include organic farming and winemaking without fining or filtration, and they say that they’ve learned so much from what they’ve observed in their wine’s ancestral home. So, then, one reads on in anticipation of learning about the Neyers Vineyard’s own organic farms, or some such evidence of a more natural process. And one learns that they are trying. There are years where they bottle their wines without fining or filtration. There are years where they do not. Their Chardonnay is fermented naturally, their Merlot is not. Their vineyards are not organic, but they do import their barrels from France. They are finding their way and, truly, one glass of their wine will convince you that they’re on a pretty good path. But, though I would imagine that it’s hard to find one’s identity in an industry steeped in centuries of tradition, I wonder if wholeheartedly proclaiming themselves to kinda sorta be French naturalists is the way to go. Clearly they need our help! Next time you’re here staying with us, have a glass of Neyers wine, and then tell all your friends about it when you go home.

March 27th, 2011

Neyers Vineyards is a pretty young winery. They got going in 1992, purchased and renovated their winery in 1999. Though they produce excellent, and quite well regarded, wines, there is the sense that they are still finding themselves. The best example is in the way they talk about their French influence. They are very proud to have a winemaker who worked in France, as well as an owner who has worked closely with French importers over the last years. They claim a great admiration for the more natural French techniques, which include organic farming and winemaking without fining or filtration, and they say that they’ve learned so much from what they’ve observed in their wine’s ancestral home. So, then, one reads on in anticipation of learning about the Neyers Vineyard’s own organic farms, or some such evidence of a more natural process. And one learns that they are trying. There are years where they bottle their wines without fining or filtration. There are years where they do not. Their Chardonnay is fermented naturally, their Merlot is not. Their vineyards are not organic, but they do import their barrels from France. They are finding their way and, truly, one glass of their wine will convince you that they’re on a pretty good path. But, though I would imagine that it’s hard to find one’s identity in an industry steeped in centuries of tradition, I wonder if wholeheartedly proclaiming themselves to kinda sorta be French naturalists is the way to go. Clearly they need our help! Next time you’re here staying with us, have a glass of Neyers wine, and then tell all your friends about it when you go home.

February 20th, 2011

After these few years that I’ve spent writing to you about California’s many wineries there is something that I would like to say: To be born into a winemaking family must be among the greatest fates known to man. If I believed in things like karma and reincarnation, I would have to say that the heirs to these operations must have brilliant, shiny, clean souls. As I read about one after the other family owned and operated winery I have to admit, finally, that it makes me crazy with envy.

And, yeah, I’m sure in every case there are the stereotypical complications of working with family. Some form of resistance to following a pre-determined path, maybe, or else the special tensions you can only find when blood is shared. But, come on, then Dad pours out a bottle of something extra special that will never be found in a store, takes the rebellious little brat out onto a patio overlooking one of the world’s most beautiful, bountiful valleys and lets the ideas of natural wonder and eternal job security mingle with ever-so-slight intoxication. Done. And, oh, how I wish that that resistor were me!

Just look at the Bogle Winery, for example. Patty Bogle, owner and winery manager. She seems to be the mother. Warren Bogle, president, vineyard manager and oldest child. Jody Bogle, customer affairs, international sales, wine club manager and middle child, the only girl. And, finally, Ryan Bogle, vice president and the baby of the family. All the children are well-educated, advanced degrees galore, and all of them returned home to let those educations serve the family business. These jobs never were and never will be available to anyone outside the family, the only way in is birth and none of us happened to be lucky enough.

At the end of this tirade I’m glad, at least, to have a job that allows me to drink their wine for free. You can too, whenever you’re here staying with us!

January 9th, 2011

These days, as they say, green is the new black. I know that this is ultimately good. I know that change on the scale that things need to be changed will not happen unless environmentalism becomes a popular movement and that a popular movement will, inherently, be trendy. But, is it just me or is the word green is starting to sound a bit disingenuous? I even found a website, goodandgreen.biz, purporting to give green marketing advice. It sells its services by telling prospective clients that, “perceptions of environmental, ethical, and social stewardship are the fastest growing contributors to consumer brand value”. Notice the word “perceptions”. Still, I know all of it will lead more to good than to bad, and so I am trying harder to accept it.

But, acceptance on hold for just a moment, I found something just ever so slightly snarky tonight on the Conn Creek Winery website that made me pretty happy. In describing the construction, in 1979, of their Napa Valley winery, they refer to its energy-efficient design as having led to “perhaps the first ‘green’ winery building in Napa Valley”. I love those quotation marks, the acknowledgement that the sensible, cost-reducing choice they made over 30 years ago now makes them seem cool and ahead of their time. A lesser company wouldn’t be self-conscious enough to add that bit of punctuation and while there’s no doubt that this is boastful and pretentious on the part of the Conn Creek Winery, still I love it as a snub to all this green-mania.

The thing is, that little syntactical nose-in-the-air gesture was not a stepping out of character on the part of the Conn Creek Winery. Their wines are kind of over-priced and pretentious. But they’re good too. And you can drink them for free every night, here with us in our bar.

November 1st, 2010

The makers of Educated Guess wine are clearly cool people. And by cool, I mean very current. They’re self-aware and self-mocking. They know that, in today’s world, objective superiority is a fallacy and so they acknowledge that any choices that they make in their own process of wine making will be based not on scientific standards of correct technique that will withstand the test of time, but on a series of “educated guesses”. Hence the name. And though they may personally enjoy their own product, they understand that they are unable to be unbiased.

It all sounds good. It’s so very right, the way they refuse to say that anything they’ve done is better than anything that other people are doing. This is the language of the future. But I’m not sure it’s going to sell lots and lots of wine. I, personally, might chuckle at their label and then buy a bottle made by self-aggrandizing, barbaric fools who unselfconsciously tell me that they are making the best wine the universe allows them to make.

That’s one of the problems, though, with this contemporary self-awareness. Educated Guess is made by very smart, very dedicated people who did a lot of work and made a very good wine. But they’re so afraid to look like Fabio or Rambo or something like that, that they end up telling consumers “we’re pretty good, if you like that sort of thing.” Luckily you can try this damn good wine for free, here with us.

September 8th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but up until today the closest I had come to seeing the wine making process was that one episode of I Love Lucy, of which all I really remember is that face she makes when her bare toes squish through the grapes. I assume that most of the wine I drink today doesn’t start with foot-crushed grapes, but I don’t actually know. My nightly glass of wine could be the footwork of Santa’s elves’ offseason employment and before now I wouldn’t have known the difference.

The winemaking process is not secret information, I know, and what I just saw is far from revolutionary. It was a sweet, simple slide show on the Burgess Cellars website following the 2009 harvest. I saw whole, partly crushed and fully pulverized grapes. I saw the crazy big machines that do the crushing, followed by the machines’ warning sign that features a drawing of severed fingers. I saw the Burgess men, father and son, both in action and repose. And all of it set against the stunning Napa valley. It was humble, unglamorous and honest, and such a nice illustration of why the SF Chronicle would say that Burgess represents “the valley’s heart and soul.” I watched their slideshow, learned something about the work they do and came away trusting the people put it up for me to see.

We stock our bar with a wide array of local wines for you to sample, thinking mostly of giving you a nice variety. But it’s also an act in support of local businesses. The Burgess Cellars make us feel proud of that act.

August 8th, 2010

The name Sterling is cool and hard; the chill of silver as opposed to the warmth of gold. The Sterling winery is pristine, white and ultra modern. Not a whisper of decorative excess to be seen. It looks like the secret fortress of an operation bent on world domination, the kind you might see in a James Bond movie. Like whoever built it had access to the most money and the best minds, but maybe you shouldn’t expect them to be helping any little old ladies get across the street.

But modern architecture can be like that, right? So, I tried to get in a little further. I clicked on a button called “heritage” on their website. Over and over and over I clicked on this button. And what came up every time? A big, open, white box. Not a blank page, but an empty white box.

But that could just be a temporary glitch, of course. Sure I tried several times over the course of an hour and got the same thing every time, but the internet is still an unstable place. In the meantime, I clicked on a button called “philosophy.” If anything can show me the humanity I’m looking for, surely it’s got to be the philosophy page, I thought. What I got instead was a very technical description of the making of not just white versus red wine, but chardonnay versus sauvignon blanc. I learned, for example, about the malolactic fermentation that select portions of a chardonnay will undergo, where a sauvignon blanc will not. Philosophy, huh?

Is the Sterling wine a cover for a nefarious plot to destroy the world? I’m not sure. But, as I said, they seem to have access to the best minds and their wine reflects it. Personally, I love it all. I love the wine. I want to wear a very straight, tight suit, comb my hair very precisely and speak with a Russian accent (because it’s always the Russians in those movies) while I drink it. And, someday, I want to go visit the Sterling winery and see if I can find that big red button. You know, the one that sits in the cavernous, subterranean, grey room, ready to destroy the world at any moment.