PROTOCOL wine studio Website Launch!

Hi Friends!

We’ve published our new website, take a look when you have a chance:  PROTOCOL wine studio.  All of our future blog posts will be at the new site.  In fact, we just posted something new:  Welcome.

We’re incredibly excited about our events, especially our #WineStudio launch–a 5 week course-based program dedicated to a single subject, where we talk, taste and spit.

Anyhoo, tool around the site, sign up for our newsletter where we highlight some really cool wine, and let us know what you think.

 

Cheers!

Tina and GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio

 

 

 

 


A Peacock’s Tail of Similarities within the Differences

What if our religion was each other,
If our practice was our life,
if prayer our words?

What if the temple was the Earth,
if forests were our church,
if holy waters—the rivers, lakes, and oceans.

What if meditation was our relationships,
if the teacher was life,
if wisdom was self-knowledge,
if love was the center of our being.

~Ganga White

The Pinot Noir grape has been called many names:  “finicky”, “changeable”, “heartbreaker”, “cantankerous”.  It is truly a grape that is an expression of its surroundings. Regardless of where it’s grown, the commonality inherent in each distinct region is its winemaker / vineyard manager:  determined, reckless, intuitive, passionate–with the slightest touch of “madness.”

2011 Ankida Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir

2011 Ankida Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir

Dreaming Quixotic

Christmas 2012 and I’m searching the antique shops for a Christmas ornament and not just any ornament. Each shop I entered the proprietor would ask, “May we help you find something?” and I would respond, “When I find it, I’ll let you know.” I was searching for a gift for my friends at Ankida Ridge Vineyards.

An-kee-da is an ancient Sumerian word that means “where heaven and earth join.” I first met Christine Vrooman and her family-run winery at the 2011 Wine Blogger’s Conference held in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ll always be thankful to Virginia blogger Frank Morgan for suggesting I try Christine’s Pinot Noir, from her vineyard site lovingly called “Little Burgundy.”

Christine describes her winery as the “peaceable kingdom”—at over 1800 feet elevation, filled with granite and clay, cooling winds and fog and just under 2 acres under vine on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains

They employ “environmentally sensitive viticulture” by creating a microcosm of “biodiversity and sustainability”.  You’ll find sheep nourishing the vineyard floor, honeybees and hummingbirds, guinea fowl, chickens, a plethora of wildflowers and a menagerie of dogs, cats and children. Ankida Ridge also employs biodynamic practices as much as possible in the vineyard.

Against the Grain

The Vroomans wanted to grow grapes at their site, but they hadn’t set their minds on anything in particular, other than they knew they wanted to do something unique to Virginia.  Enter Lucie Morton, vineyard consultant and ampelographer, studied viticulture from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique of Montpellier, France.  She trekked all over the world as advisor on what and where to plant grapes.  She’s also a Virginia native. Morton’s advice was stunning: Plant Pinot Noir.  That declaration would raise many a traditionalists’ eye.

Jim Law, owner and winemaker of Linden Vineyards located just two hours North along the same Blue Ridge Mountains, said when I visited last year:  “Terroir first, varietal second.”  Pinot Noir is now successfully grown all over the world from the United States (California, Oregon, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley), Italy, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, Chile, Tasmania and of course to the Cote de Nuits, Burgundy.

Consider Francois Mikulski, owner and winemaker of Domaine Mikulski who tends vines spread out over Meursault, France. He’s of Polish descent and lacks the Burgundian upbringing of other French winemakers in the region. Nonetheless he produced his first harvest in 1992 and is now making his own praiseworthy wines.

The decade prior he spent a few years working in California vineyards. He says it was a shared learning experience, “They learned our [Burgundy’s] traditional ways and sprit of winemaking. While from them, we learnt the importance of recognizing the competition.” He continues, “We must prove that terroir is there [Burgundy] and is important.” Mikulski feels the New World approach seems to be of great benefit to Burgundy.  His view is that terroir involves three factors – “the vines, the ground and the people – it has to include the winemakers.” So I have to wonder, if California can learn a thing or two about Burgundy to produce its own unique style of Pinot Noir, can Virginia do the same?

I recently tasted a 1985 Clos de la Roche, and my first sip solicited an exaggerated eyebrow raise. Before I knew it, I had finished the glass and instinctively I pushed glass forward for another. I had trouble expressing what I was tasting.  And now I realize it was because I had nothing to compare.  I’ve tasted Pinot Noir, but nothing like this, so…elusive.  Within a 20-minute span it changed completely. It felt as though I was chasing a moving train. If wines from each of the above regions were tasted side by side, would we know where each originated?

With Pinot Noir, we typically love or hate it. But is this judgment a byproduct of our expectations? Traditionally we know what this wine should taste like and which ground it should originate.  But does this expectation cloud the way for making new discoveries? What if there was no singular profile for Pinot Noir?

No Easy Pass on the Mountain

Pinot Noir is notorious for acting the “diva.” Each growing season a winemaker expects to find a new foe to battle. Add a commitment to sustainable farming and we have quite the challenge to produce quality grapes.

The 2012 growing season brought Ankida Ridge the Spotted Winged Drosophila, which had made the long journey from Japan via Hawaii. Normally, the “peaceable kingdom” inhabitants, this time the guinea fowl and chickens, would earn their keep by consuming the pests, but they were overrun. Dr. Pfeiffer, entomologist at Virginia Tech’s quick solution: a mixture of cider and wine in cut plastic water bottles to catch the insects. Dr. Pfeiffer will assess the situation for next season.

And then there is the ever-present east coast threat of black rot. The humid weather has always been a bane to the winemaker and yet here we have Christine and her team producing quality juice, gaining praise after praise. What’s her secret? Could be La lutte raisonnée, or “the reasoned struggle,” which is the norm at Ankida Ridge.  It’s the less-often and less-aggressive approach when battling unwanted insect guests. Or is it Christine’s absolute joy and love for her little vineyard, where she has been known to go walking between the rows, whispering encouraging words during any and all parts of the season.

Whatever the secret, the work of Ankida Ridge Vineyards is a testament to how striking out against the norm with a commitment to a particular methodology, in this case sustainable farming, can produce exciting results.

Petit Mouton

I eventually found that ornament I was searching for—an exquisitely-crafted fuzzy little sheep. After presenting my gift, I sat at the tasting bar and sipped the 2011 Ankida Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir–a distinct core of minerality and acid, cranberry and cherry tartness, very slight barnyard earthiness and a mouthfeel of little gardenias, with a slight tannin edge for support.

As I sipped I watched Christine flittering about, so ecstatic at their first holiday celebration at the new site.  Family and friends, eating, drinking, talking, laughing—and glasses in hands, raised to lips. I glanced over to Petit Mouton, lovingly named by Christine and I knew he would settle in nicely.

Petit Mouton

Petit Mouton

Tina and GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio

Note:  Research for this article has elicited a wealth of information from new and exciting sources.  As such, we have decided to follow up in the following week with another article loosely titled:  A Peacock’s Tail of Similarities within the Differences Part Deux that focuses on a term that has been used much as of late and what it means for winemakers.  Stay tuned.

Website Coming Soon!


Charles Smith: One – Two – Three

Charles Smith: One

We were introduced to Charles Smith three years ago.  Tina and I were managing a wine shop in San Diego.  I was in Sonoma on a junket of the Russian River Valley and Tina had the con.  It was her first time running the show and Charles Smith was scheduled for a wine tasting.  It was to be an evening Tina would not soon forget.

Charles makes an impression.  You can’t miss the crazy Sideshow Bob hair and his imposing frame.  Charles knows how to make an entrance, but he excels at hosting the party.  He no doubt learned this skill during his time in Europe working in the music business as manager of rock bands where the ability to create interest via forming an underground movement is key.  The wine business was a natural progression for Charles when he returned to the States via the Pacific Northwest.  From retail wineshop owner to winemaker, Charles has made an incredible impression on the wine trade during his thirteen year run in the business.

We began to see Charles Smith Wines in the marketplace a few years back.  These were wines of distinction and style, capitalizing on Washington’s ability to over-deliver in the price for quality department.  Each label is simple and clean with a stark black and white style that stands out in any line-up.  These are exactly the type of wines we love to uncover: unique sensibility offering quality and value.  Initially these wines were sold via a smaller wine distributor.  Mike Rohner, now proprietor of Legit Wine Co. was his representation at the time.  Mike is a bit of a loose cannon himself and the pair of Mike and Charles made a perfect team.

Charles

Charles Smith

Tina says of that day, “I remember when they arrived at the event.  After pausing for a cigarette in front of the shop, Mike and Charles came in pleasant as punch.  After hearing about Charles’ wild reputation I was relieved, ‘Maybe this wouldn’t be as difficult a situation to manage as I first suspected.’”

Tina can remember that night in vivid detail, “It wasn’t long before 50 party-minded patrons arrived, eager to taste wines from this Washington state upstart.  As they filed into the back room, the event gained steam and things got lively.  I was manning the front desk and Mike and Charles were free to conduct the tasting.  It wasn’t long before the jazz standards playing on the building’s sound system came to a screeching halt.  The tasting room had a roll up door to the outside and Mike used it to drive his suv halfway into the room.  When I walked into the back room I was surprised to see Mike’s car blaring alternative rock with tasters milling around Charles excitedly.  The two employees assigned to pour in the back room had looks on their faces that straddled the line between doubt and fear.  Hmmmm.”

I’m glad Tina was there that day, because she’s an excellent administrator and while this experience was no doubt stressful at the time, she looks back on the event with fond memory.  She says of the evening, “It really stretched my boundaries about what a wine tasting can be like.  I was very comfortable with the typical wine tasting, pour wine, talk about taste and scores, etc.  But this was something new, original and unexpected!”

As it turns out Tina remembers the evening ending well but not without a bang, “We went on much later than expected.  I had to pry people away from Charles. I found myself surveying the tasting room with a van parked in it.  Mike was talking to me, others giggling, but I wasn’t hearing what he was saying.  I was locked into thought about all the stresses and distractions of management.  Charles was standing directly to my right and out of nowhere he reached out and gave my hair a gentle but definite yank.”

I know that, at the time, this was a clear and definite violation of her comfort zone.  When I asked her what she did after the hair pull she said, “I think my eyes jumped out of my head and I gave Mike such a look.”  Over the past five years working together I’ve come to know this look from Tina and there’s no mistaking its message.  Mike quickly bid the shop ciao and ushered Charles off to an evening engagement at a local pub.

When Tina and I reflect on this memory today, she’s all smiles about the experience.  “It was an exciting time for me.  I’d just worked my way into management in the wine business and was cutting my teeth as wine buyer.  The tasting with Charles was particularly powerful.  I found him to be a man of the moment and could be he recognized that I was not present in the experience of the evening when we finally had time to connect.  I’m grateful for his reminding me with that hair pull that wine is all about the experience and that experience can be particularly powerful and meaningful, albeit new and scary.”

Charles Smith – Two

Years later Charles Smith Wines has developed ambitiously.  He’s expanded his line and distribution considerably.  But his reputation as a man who loves a party still proceeds him.  When I attended the Washington State Wine Commission’s tour of wineries it was good to see Charles as an active and vibrant member of the Commission.  Part of the event involves wineries taking a group of professionals for an evening and giving them an intimate look at their operation followed by friendly socializing.

The year I attended I couldn’t help but notice that Charles Smith was the only winery member to have a chaperone from the Commission assigned to him for the night.  When I asked why I was told it was because one year he took his group of wine pros bar hopping all night long and dropped them off bleary eyed and sleepless the next morning at the tour bus.  The organizer laughed as he said, “Those people could barely stand much less spend 12 hours touring vineyards and tasting wine, but Charles turned on his heels and headed off to a vineyard to check on its progress.”

CharlesSmithpic1

Charles Smith – Three

Present day: Tina and I find ourselves working another Charles Smith event: this time for our own business.  Charles is not present, but most of his wines are.  We’re conducting an event for VAULT wine storage @ Pacific a local wine and archival storage facility that we’ve partnered with to build clientele.  It’s amazing how these labels become like old friends.  Each time you see them they recall such fond memories.  And one of the great pleasures of coming back to these bottles is sharing them for the first time with new clients.  And so as others have taught us, we do likewise, expanding the idea of what wine can mean in their lives, even if we have to resort to a little hair pulling.

GUY and Tina, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio


Lenné Knows

Lenné Knows.


Lenné Knows

I attended a wine bloggers conference in Portland, Oregon earlier this year.  I was quite eager to go since GUY and I had written a proposal for the Virginia wine industry and our main selling point was the fact that Oregon went from fringe wine to the #3 wine producer in under 30 years.  Although I had researched the subject, I had never visited Oregon, but of course I’ve tasted many wines from all over the state.

For this trip, however, I was seeking a more philosophical approach; I reached out to those wineries that I felt embodied PROTOCOL’s organic and grassroots mentality.  Enter Lenné Estate, and proprietor Steve Lutz, where dry farming and recognizing terroir is the norm.  Steve says of his wine, “Being organic isn’t a goal, making great wine is and doing it in a sustainable way is just common sense to us.”

It’s All in the Peavine

I visited Steve and his gorgeously intimate tasting room not far out in Newberg, Oregon. He hadn’t let on when we spoke a few weeks prior, but Steve arrived this day just for our tasting. He laid out a spread of charcuterie and fresh, chewy bread. And sitting contentedly right next to that plate was a glass jar full of this clay-like, rocky soil called Peavine.

This soil would become Lenné’s bread and butter.  Mountain-made, the Peavine series consists of well-drained soils made from a clayey colluvium and residuum soils derived from sandstone, siltstone, basalt, tuffaceous rock and shale. This poor, gravelly Peavine is ideal for the intense flavor development of Pinot Noir.

Peavine Soil at Lenné Estate

Peavine Soil at Lenné Estate

Whatever Lenné Estate’s doing up there, it’s working.  Steve was gracious enough to send samples of his 2008, 2009 and 2010 Estate Pinots. For a region like Oregon, it’s extremely important to communicate the vintage characteristics because they are slaves to climate, much like Burgundy.  And knowing what went on in the vineyard gives us a better understanding as to what will happen in bottle.

A little Shy for a Burgundian

We started our tasting with the 2008 bottling. Steve told us that this was a stellar vintage, “It is an epic vintage for Oregon and in my opinion will be the longest lived vintage ever.” He went on to describe the details of the vintage, “The temperatures were moderate, with slight heat in early September and then cool, dry weather. All this created fruit set characterized by small clusters with tiny, thick-skinned berries.  And just like fine Burgundy, the 08s are showing a little shyness of late, with acids up front and fruit waiting until ready to be seen.”

Finally Steve nailed his point home with the decisive remark, “I have a strong sense that they [08s] will be legendary when they emerge and I have held back 25% of the vintage betting on that idea.”

As I tasted his Pinot Noir from 2008 his words hit home.  It’s a restrained wine, no doubt, but there’s impacted depth within this restraint, biding its time to unravel its true story.

We moved on to the next vintage and as restrained as 2008 was, 2009 struts in like the naughty girl at the party: big, bold and showy. The vintage was hot and as such, the fruit developed large, thin-skinned berries, prone to dehydration. The resultant wines have higher alcohol and super ripe fruit and although Steve says it’s his “least favorite vintage…” folks do love it because of its intensity.

Finally we finished with the 2010 vintage. Where 2008 was brooding and 2009 bold, 2010 was recorded as one of the coolest in the Northern Willamette. With a cool Spring came worry that grapes wouldn’t ripen fully. But the rains held off until late October and the result was a remarkable vintage. Steve says of the wine,  “The 2010s are right up there with my favorite wines Lenné has ever produced. The wines have density and are still light on their feet which is rare and something I hope I experience many more times in my lifetime.”

 I Grew up Here

Tasting the wines at the winery I noticed a distinct moist forest soil characteristic within all the wines, something akin to a particular guitar riff or drum solo—a “tell” about the wines that says this is where I was grown.  Indeed, Lenne’s wines are known for a mocha aromatic and a denseness in the mid-palate. These characteristics are in direct correlation to that Peavine, Yamhill County’s poorest soil type and Lenné’s terroir signature.

It Takes only One

That signature terroir palate has proven a winner for Steve and Lenné.  Recently, a Spanish restaurant representative had the opportunity to try the wines at a tasting. Immediately the rep saw the value in his glass and summarily bought 50 cases of wine.  Of course Steve was skeptical of the whole thing, but the rep later disclosed that Lenné is the favourite wine of the Spanish Prime Minister’s wife. I imagine Steve closed shop early that day.

Vintage Selection of Lenné Estate Pinot Noir:

2008 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir
2009 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir
2010 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir

Lenné Estate Pinots

Lenné Estate Pinots

Lenné ~ 18760 NE Laughlin Road ~ Yamhill, OR 97148 ~ 503-956-2256
http://www.lenneestate.com

 

Tina and GUY, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio

DSC03743

Steve Lutz

 

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Lenné Estate Vineyards

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Developing Cover

DSC03768

Dry Farming at its best

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gratuitous Rooster Sculpture


The Tipping Point

Adventures in Fine Dining

As the fine dining room slows and the remaining guests saunter out, the manager’s choice of rough-edged house music patiently waits its turn at the speakers.  Beer, the preferred wrap-up beverage of fine dining servers, performs its nightly workout of soothing staff whilst they hash out the evening’s adventures.  Tonight’s fodder: a diner who wrote “Sorry single mom” in her bill’s tip field would no doubt be a gem of a story to pass around, according to a recent post on Reddit. Leave it to the viral social media to explode one of these little dramas into national exposure.

In the past I was a bit of a bastard when it came to tipping.  I played a game of “Save Your Tip.”  Each restaurant experience began with a full gratuity of 15%.  From the time I walked in, the tip monitor was active.  Make me wait at the host stand too long, lose one-half percent.  Forget to fill my water, just lost another half percent.  Even conditions out of the server’s control like an unclean bathroom, food that was slow to arrive or a dining room that was too hot yielded punishment.  For me each meal was some kind of weird reality show where an unknowing server was subject to my judgment.  Sure you could earn your way back toward that magical 15% and beyond, but it was a hard road a’hoe!

My misguided attitude toward tipping stemmed from not working for tips until I was well into my thirties. My income as an investment professional during my twenties was often based on commissions.  One could argue that a commission and tip are similar in that if you do the work, you earn your payment.  But the key difference is that with commissions, there’s no flexibility.  Your payment is well defined before the service is executed.

Fast forward to my thirties when I entered the wine business via retail and eventually ended up working alongside servers in a fine dining restaurant.  It didn’t take long to get the message loud and clear: 20% is the industry standard, never less.  I can imagine for those who have not worked in restaurants this seems a bit dictatorial.  But I can tell you from experience, this is what servers expect, especially in a fine dining establishment.

And as diner, if you don’t meet this standard, it will be noticed. At best, bad tippers receive a lower standard of care and diligence.  At worst, the repercussions could be more distasteful.  Whatever the ramifications of bad tipping, you can rest assured that unaccommodating patrons receive ill wishes among the wait staff at the back of the house “water cooler.”

The Devil’s Contract?

Isn’t a tip optional and should there be an expectation that a server must earn it?  In my experience the answer is No and Yes. Tipping is not optional to many servers, your tip is required as a matter of honor.  To the average server, part of the unwritten understanding between diner and waiter is that the server is not being paid a living wage by the restaurant.  For those who’d suggest that a restaurant pay a better wage, consider that all restaurant expenses eventually pass through and you’d end up paying less tip and more for the meal.

So ultimately in the mind of a server the onus is on diner to compensate.  The expectation for this service is at least 20% of the check.  Anything less is often seen as stealing, much the same way as if you shorted your accountant or lawyer for their professional services.  It would seem customer practices tend to support this line of thinking.  According to a Zagat survey of the nations finest restaurants conducted in 2012, the average tip on a full service restaurant bill is 19.2%.

Most servers agree that they should earn their tip.  But while in my misguided youth I started with a figure and deducted for bad service, waiters often consider a 20% gratuity to be a minimum amount for performing their work adequately.  In fact, many servers expect more than 20% if a diner requires extraordinary service or attention.

The Service Dilemma

In the US, the restaurant service is not often considered a true profession. This is in direct contrast to many European countries where service is a dedicated profession pursued and recognized.  But here, unskilled labor comes to mind.  This is unfortunate because an experienced and talented server can be an incredible asset.

Perhaps it’s this lack of recognition for the service profession that crates a shortage of career minded people in restaurant service positions.  Indeed many fine dining restaurants experience a crisis in finding and keeping high quality servers.  For those that do chose restaurant service as a career path, they usually are forced to make a choice.

A talented server my step out of the tip pool and into management?  The immediate ramifications are reduced income, more hours and extra responsibility.  What’s the upside?  It’s the hope of senior management and even ownership.

Or a talented server may choose to revel in the sweet manna of cash tips and the comfort of less responsibility when compared to their bosses.  This choice has its advantages and while the work of any server is intense, one can make a fine living as a skilled server.  The downside is that until that server steps into management, there will always be the static ceiling height.

The implications of these career path choices are important because the best talent in the food service business either evolves into management or languishes in a position surrounded by non-career minded servers who may view the “professionals” as bane to their very existence, how fleeting that may be.  I believe the end result is a lower level of overall service for the guest.  We can circle back to that 2012 Zagat survey that identified service as the number one complaint issue for guests in fine dining restaurants.

Obviously service is a core issue for the fine dining industry and one that demands recognition.  I’d like to think that restaurateurs can tackle the problem progressively and find an answer to the question: When guests offer a tip, what is the purpose of this act?  Is it obligation, recognition, gratitude or some combination of the three?

Do the Right Thing

I started my tipping methodology as Punisher:  Removing basis points from tips as errors accumulated.  This attitude grew from a place of not understanding the nature of service and the inspiration of expressing thanks via tipping.

I evolved into Obliger: Servers received 20% because that’s the industry standard and I’d offer more if the service was excellent.  But I gave my tips because it was expected of me.

Today I’ve become Recognizer:  I accept that a 20% gratuity is the industry standard.  But I offer at least this amount because I understand the value and work that goes into good service.  I do my best to allow a server to care for me and my guests and to focus not on their work (good service it is said is invisible) but on the experience of sharing this encounter with my guests.  And most importantly when I fill in my gratuity and sign the bill, I feel the pure joy of expressing gratitude for the wonderful experience that is fine dining.

 

GUY and Tina, Partners
PROTOCOL wine studio


Bayesian Bottle Memoirs

Bayesian Bottle Memoirs.


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