The daytime seminars were an opportunity to share, learn & create camraderie.  So, were the various night time events.  To that, I would add, while having some fun too.  

BLIND TASTING

 

 

 

 

 

 

NIGHT ONE “BYOB” at the Carlton Hotel


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NIGHT TWO “A Taste of Paso Robles” at the Pavillon by the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to ALL!

 

 

Thank you to all who made Wine Speak 2018 such a success–first & foremost event co-founder Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (the true star of making it all happen & so flawlessly), the sponsors, the speakers, the event team & all of the participants.  It really was truly memorable because of each you.  Also thank you to Meredith May, owner of The Somm Journal & your team.  Thanks also to Cameron Ingalls for all of the wonderful pictures.  Much Mahalo ALL!

 




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wine Speak journey really started when Amanda Wittstrom Higgins asked if I would come to Paso Robles to teach some classes for the wine tasting room attendants & the servers of restaurants from their area.  I was really quite taken that she & her team were searching for ways to move the wine community of her area forward.  Education is certainly a good call…..especially their wish to bring “outside” talent in to shed light from a different perspective.  That would prove to be the underlying driving core of Wine Speak–come to share & learn, thus fostering camaraderie & collaboration.  Thank you all who came to share & learn!

DAY THREE-Panel One “ABC’s of Wine” 

I was really moved looking at the attendees faces during this seminar.  One could readily see a community of professionals wanting to learn.  I was just looking to say things that would make each think…& then hopefully “imagine the possibilities”.

 

DAY THREE-Panel Two  “So you want to be a professional”

Originally, this panel was entitled “so you want to be a somm?”  Back in the 1980’s Fred Dame worked hard to bring the Master Sommelier exam to America.  (It was previously only given in England, AND in my opinion, Fred was the only person I knew who could make this happen.  We as a wine community truly owe him so much thanks for all he did & still does).  Today, because of the great influence the Court Of Master Sommeliers has on setting standards on wine service, there has been a whole new generation striving for the MS pin, with generations also lining up behind.  The purpose of this panel was to ask 3 iconic, long time sommeliers to share their insights, wisdom & experiences which would hopefully remind us what the true “craft” of being a sommelier is & inspire all, moving forward.

 

–Fred Dame MS–former long time Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers

–Nunzio Alioto MS–former long time Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers

–Mark Shishido–Wine Director of Alan Wong’s Restaurant in Hawaii & Hawaii Restaurant Association “Hall of Fame” recipient

Thanks guys for coming to share.

 

DAY THREE-Panel Three “Hospitality by Hawaiian Airlines” 

Up until 10 months ago, I was traveling interisland here in Hawaii, at least 2 times a week.  Add to that the mainland jaunts I would also take during the calendar year & that added to the growing number of miles on an airplane.  I always prefer to fly on Hawaiian Airlines.  The flight attendants truly make me feel welcome, appreciated AND cared for.  So, when my event partner Amanda asked the principals responsible for the service to come share what they do hospitality wise & how they teach this, I was thrilled, as I have experienced the results of their hard work countless of times.  How they execute hospitality is remarkable & special & hopefully, the professionals of the Paso Robles/Atascadero area would benefit from their story.

–Renee Awana, Managing Director Product Development, Hawaiian Airlines 

–Alisa Onishi, Director of Brand Management, Hawaiian Airlines

These two ladies absolutely killed it!  They created ambiance, incredible content & an A+ presentation that, judging by the crowd’s reaction, inspired & moved all who attended, including me!  I was so thankful for the experience.  Thank you ladies.

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Just to provide a very different perspective on the Syrah & Cabernet grape varieties featured & discussed on Day One, we assembled 2 panels for Day Two, with some very amazing talent from the Central Coast of California to foster & continue the open discussions.

DAY TWO, Panel One–“Central Coast Syrah” 

We settled on featuring 3 panelists for this one.   (left to right in the picture)

–Matt Dees. Jonata.  Jonata is a top echelon wine project, which is the Santa Barbara-n sister of Napa Valley’s much heralded Screaming Eagle winery.  The estate vineyard is located in the Ballard Canyon, southeast & therefore warmer than the Pinot Noir country of the highly acclaimed Santa Rita Hills.  As we have seen over the years, this special site, under the direction of winemaker Matt Dees & iconic superstar wine consultant, Michel Rolland, has been producing some super high scoring, sought after Syrah & Cabernet Sauvignon based red wines. 

–Justin Smith, Saxum.  I think most would agree, Justin is one of the most prominent wine figures in the Paso Robles appellation & deservedly so.  His family own & run the very revered James Berry Vineyard.  His own label, Saxum, is one of the very top collectibles out of all of California.  In fact his 2007 Saxum “James Berry” bottling garnered 100 points AND was selected at the top of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines.  In addition, Justin has helped many top level wineries to kick start their project by helping them select a site, advise on the planting & even winemaking.  Who better to provide insight into the Paso Robles appellation than he?  

–Adam Tolmach, Ojai.  I am one of those BIG fans who believe the Ojai Syrah from Bien Nacido Vineyard is one of the true standout Syrah based red wines in all of America.  In the 1980’s/early 1990’s, owner/winemaker Adam Tolmach was co-founding winemaker/partner of Au Bon Climat, which specialized in Chardonnay & Pinot Noir done with Old World sensibilities.  We were so thankful when Adam founded Ojai & added Syrah to his portfolio.  With the 1992 vintage Adam convinced the Miller family to plant Z Block, up atop the hill rising above Bien Nacido proper (Santa Maria Valley).  It really was this parcel & what it offered & his Old World sensibilities that catapulted the Ojai Syrah to the head of the class.  He is more than a top winemaker.  Adam Tolmach is “Hall of Fame” in my book & it is an honor having him on the panel.

 

DAY TWO, Panel Two–“Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon” 

We settled on featuring 4 panelists for this one. 

–Matt Dees, Jonata (Ballard Canyon).  El Desafio de Jonata is one of the most highly acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon based out of the Santa Barbara appellation & we asked founding winemaker Matt Dees to shed some light on the evolution of this wine.  Unlike its neighbors, the Jonata estate vineyard sits on sand.  How does Cabernet fair in such soils?  To show us what can be, Matt shared his 2005 with us.

–Guillaume Febre, Clos Solène (Paso Robles).   Clos Solène is the fulfillment of a dream for Guillaume & his wife Solène.  In the beginning, his family has crafted wine and farmed wineries in Narbonne, South of France for the past three generations.  “Guillaume lived on the winery in the south of France, Château Saint-Eugénie, until he was 22. He was attending University in 2000 when his family decided to sell its land and move the wine business to Bordeaux, in the Côtes de Bourg, Northwest Bordeaux City“.  Guillaume instead chose to move to California where he worked with Stephane Asseo at L’Aventure for many years.  It is understandable given his past that he works with both red Rhone varietals & Cabernet Sauvignon.

–Tyler Thomas, Star Lane (Happy Canyon).  I remember back in the early 1990’s, Bryan Babcock noting the huge potential he felt Cabernet grown in Happy Canyon had.  Winemaker Tyler Thomas was recommended to us by Matt Dees of Jonata, saying Tyler is the one who can help us understand the insights & potential this appellation has.  

–Michael Sinor, Ancient Peaks (Paso Robles).  We included Michael Sinor & the wines of Ancient Peaks, so we could be reminded of the great value these wines offer.  Estate grown fruit, from a family owned & operated vineyard, 1000 feet in elevation in southern Paso Robles…….all at $18 a bottle retail? As a wine buyer, one of our jobs is finding such value driven, quality wines.  What a discovery this was for us & we wanted Michael to provide insight into the project.

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It started when I was asked to do a ABC wine class for tasting room/restaurant servers in Paso Robles by Amanda Wittstrom Higgins at Ancient Peaks winery.  I said sure.  Can we do more?  In 2 weeks time we were able to assemble our “dream team” of TOP professionals who could foster interesting insight, wisdom & experiences dialogue that would hopefully create more questions & dialogue.  And, if we included some from  “outside” the region this would help nurture cammaderie & create collaboration.

The first panel–“New World Syrah” was held on January 9, 2018.

The premise for me is I believe Syrah is one of the world’s top 3 red grape varieties AND so grossly under appreciated.  I believe as a wine community, we need to help raise awareness. 

I remember the first time I had the Cote Rotie from Gentaz Dervieux & thinking how the hell can God & man grow & produce a wine like this…..something way beyond a grape variety & winemaking.  This beckons the question, how can we in the New World move forward with that thought.  NOT to be French, but to move the taster similarly to what I had experienced.

Amanda & I were hoping through collaboration & sharing of ideas, insight & experiences with vine material, growing & producing, this can help those of the New World to move forward with this varietal.  We then thought, who would be our dream team to inspire people.  While I originally thought one panel would be enough, we decided to change & do a few panels, so we could better foster more discussions….from different perspectives.

DAY ONE, Panel One–“New World Syrah” 

We settled on featuring 4 panelists for this one.    

–Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars (Washington state), who I think is one of the VERY best from that area right now. In addition, FYI, Greg was the former wine director for the Wolfgang Puck restaurants AND Emeril Lagasse restaurants.  He was also President of the Court of Master Sommeliers—America Chapter for 5 years.  His wines deftly display his knowledge, vast experience & passion. 

–Bruce Neyers of Neyers Vineyards is one of the wine yodas.  I have known Bruce for 40 or so years.  I first met Bruce back in the 1970’s when he ran Joseph Phelps—a time when they were one of the first to champion Syrah (& Riesling) in California AND created Insignia, a Cabernet blend, with the 1974 vintage.  In addition, in1992 he took over as National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants (the premium game changing importer of true artisan standout French wines, such as Chave in Hermitage, Gentaz Dervieux & Robert Jasmin, Rene Rostaing in Cote Rotie & Clape, Verset & Allemand in Cornas amongst others).  Because he goes to France 3 to 4 times a year to visit them he clearly understands what they do & how, as he is REALLY good friends with each.  Bruce therefore because of 40+ years in California wine industry & 25 years dealing with the top producers of France is the ideal man to translate the New World & the Old World in these kinds of wines.

–Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards.  We asked Andy to come & give us insight into “cool” climate grown Syrah.  The Peay estate vineyard is located in the far northwestern corner of the Sonoma Coast, four miles from the ocean & reputed to be one of the coolest sites in the world for the Syrah grape variety.  It’s hard to imagine such an extreme, inhospitable site like theirs could ripen quality grapes every vintage. 

–Serge Carlei from Carlei Wines out of Victoria, Australia.  Although Serge is renown for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, he also produces some very interesting Syrah in a much more civil style.  In addition, Serge has some very interesting views, insights & experiences on the whole organic/biodynamic grape growing subject.

 DAY ONE, Panel Two–“Cabernet Sauvignon”

Fortunately, all three of the panelists from the previous session also grow & produce superb Cabernet Sauvignon based wines too.  So, with this session we switch grape varieties, but continue the dialogue, sharing & insights to address this grape variety from different perspectives & 3 different parts of the New World.

Panelists:

–Serge Carlei  Carlei Wines (Victoria, Australia)

–Bruce Neyers Neyers Winery (Napa Valley, California)

–Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars (Walla Walla, Washington)

I loved how Bruce Neyers shared memories of the 70’s & 80’s in Napa Valley (& his work at Joseph Phelps); his work since 1992 with the producers from the Kermit Lynch portfolio & how he & his team continually evolve & transition because of his experiences.  And, Serge Carlei, for his “under the radar” region & very practical AND very personal organic/biodynamic regime in the vineyards & why.  And Greg Harrington for his wonderful insight into what’s happening in Washington state, wine production wise AND his incredible understanding & insights in a very practical, worldly manner.  Wow!  What a day!

 

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I am most thankful for how the communities of Atascadero & Paso Robles just jumped in to support the Wine Speak event.  It really is what made this event & moment in time so special.  Thank you to ALL who made this happen in such a special way.  

The Carlton Hotel of Atascadero for being such an integral & gracious host.    

The town of Atascadero for letting us use their town hall, because of the size of attendance. 

 

 

The Pavillon

The people.  

 

The amazing event guru, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins & her Ancient Peaks team.

Again, thank you ALL!

 

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“Wine Speak” was a gathering of top wine professionals & wine lovers this past January (9, 10 & 11) in Paso Robles/Atascadero, California. 

Our goal was to create an opportunity for the wine community to get together for a time of sharing, learning and camaraderie.

By featuring a diverse range of topics, wines, regions and panelists, we wanted to kickstart dialogue and conversations that will move the central coast forward. Simply put, Wine Speak is all about sparking innovation through collaboration. 

We are so honored that leading wine authorities from near and far signed up to steer this inaugural event. We thank the many winemakers, sommeliers and hospitality professionals that attended AND the whole community of the area for just jumping in to create the collaborative magic I believe this event had.

Furthermore, this was ultimately a unique chance to make friends and build relationships in the name of our wine community.

Thank you to all who joined us.  

Sincerely,
Chuck Furuya (Co-Founder) and Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (Co-Founder Mainland)

 

 

 

 

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Feb
03

6 Santa Barbara-n Chardonnays

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Yes, the Santa Barbara appellation is the home to some of the most compelling Chardonnays produced in the state.  It has something to do the pockets of very special marine soils, the cool weather during the growing season AND a new generation of extremely gifted and skilled winemaking phenoms.  On this night, we were fortunate to taste some real standouts!!!  

2010 Brewer Clifton Chardonnay “Santa Rita Hills”–a very flamboyant, snazzy and highly acclaimed wine–the most forward of the group.  A blend of 3 estate vineyards.  The wine now being 7 years old, the transparency, clarity & minerality is starting to re-emerge & strutting its stuff.  Drinking nicely.

2010 Tyler Chardonnay “Zotovich Vineyard”–Owner/winemaker Justin Willett’s wines feature such purity, precision & sophistication.  The 2010 “Zotovich” Chardonnay was really the first Tyler show stopping Chardonnay.  Yes, previous renditions were really good, but this one had extra star power somehow.  Thanks Gayle & Vern for sharing.  Right out of the gates, it was pure, so ethereal & quite sublime in comparison to the 2010 Tyler Chardonnay “Clos Pepe Vineyard”, which also featured the Dijon clone 76, grown right down the road across the street.  In comparison, the Clos Pepe was much firmer, much more stark & somehow a little thicker.  (this was also the last vintage Tyler bottled Clos Pepe Chardonnay).  On this night, the Zotovich was very pretty, light & ethereal.  I loved its wonderful purity, grace & charm.  The Clos Pepe, in comparison was strutting its stuff in all its glory.  Lots of minerality! 

2013 Chanin Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”–Sanford & Benedict, in my opinion, tops the list of single vineyards for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir in California.  This is the 2013 from phenom Gavin Chanin…..from the own rooted vines (Mt Eden selection) planted in 1971.  The wine was aged in oak, sur lie, for 15 months, only 10% new.  The 2013 is a stud–lots of brawn & fortitude, intensely structured & quite masculine.  You should put this away for a few years before popping the cork.

2013 Hilt ChardonnayOld Guard”–In my opinion, there is a new kingpin in town made by winemaker Matt Dees of Jonata (Screaming Eagle’s sister wine project).  In fact, on our last trip to California, the Hilt wines were certainly THE standouts & this wine should show you why. The 2013 is mainly organically farmed 40+ year  old, own rooted Mt Eden selection from Sanford & Benedict vineyard, aged in old oak barrels ala the Old Guard of the Santa Barbara winegrowing area.  The 2013 is very masculine, studly, virile with lots of mojo & stony character–very different stylistically from Clendenen at Au Bon Climat & Adam Tolmach at Ojai.  Definitely worth searching out for.   

1994 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Le Bouge D’ a-cote”–thanks to Carl for bringing this absolutely stunning wine to share.  I was so blown away with the nose–so complex, fine, minerally & mesmerizing.  Most tasters thought it was Burgundy.  Yes, the minerality really did shine! On the palate this 1994 was surprisingly light & ethereal, so divinely seamless, well textured & wonderfully balanced.  Talk about drinking a wine at a prefect time of its life!  I would suggest, however, you drink up those remaining bottles you may have stashed.  It is too good at this point to let it just sit there in the cellar.

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Here is a blurb from Honolulu Magazine you might find interesting to read–

http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/Biting-Commentary/January-2018/9-Ways-To-Woo-Your-Special-Oenophile/#.WnCx3kxFzPM

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The now iconic James Berry Vineyard is located in the Willow Creek district of westside Paso Robles.  Now, 45 acres planted, there is a waiting list of winemakers trying to get even a smidgeon of grapes.  Justin Smith now runs this family vineyard & in addition has his own wine label, Saxum, which is one of the most ballyhoo-ed wine projects out of California today.  We had a chance to walk the vineyard with him & some friends recently (Adam Tolmach, Ojai Vineyard; Cris Cherry, Villa Creek; Michael Sinor, Ancient Peaks, Nunzio Alioto MS, Mark Shishido, Wine Director-Alan Wong’s Restaurant; Stewart Cameron, Ancient Peaks & my wife Cheryle–all pictured).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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