Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for August, 2007

Top wines ordered in U.S. restaurants

Kendall Jackson 2004 Cab Sauv

Just read an interesting report about wine sold in restaurants. In the U.S., restaurants are most likely to feature California wines that sell for less than $39 a bottle, according to Winemetrics LLC.

The start-up research firm’s first annual “On-Premise Wine Distribution Report” was released yesterday. It ranks the nation’s top 100 wine brands based on the frequency of their inclusion on restaurant wine lists.

Topping the list: Beringer (eh), Kendall-Jackson, (eh again) and Robert Mondavi (go for the Reserve). In fourth and fifth place, respectively, are Beaulieu Vineyard (woohoo!) and Washington state’s Chateau Ste. Michelle. I downed their Chard at my friend Elizabeth’s wedding in June. Good stuff.

Winemetrics’ data was gathered from over 10,000 casual and fine-dining restaurants in 20 states. Upscale restaurants obviously had more extensive lists. The study was generated partly because many consumers buy wine based on what they taste at restaurants.

I remember, when Jenny and I were living in San Luis Obispo, we ordered Wild Horse Merlot at every restaurant. These days, I’m much more likely to order a Spanish Cava, sparkling rose, or a Gruner Veltliner. Something that goes really well with food. Anyway, I digress.

Anyway, back to the study. U.S. consumers spent $24.3 billion on wine in 2005, with $11.8 billion coming from restaurants and bars.

The top 100 list is dominated by U.S. producers, with most coming from California. There are also 15 wine makers from France, seven from Italy, two from Australia and one from Chile.

Other brands near the top of the list include Caymus and Cakebread as well as Sterling Vineyards, Veuve Clicquot, and Fortune Brands Inc.’s Clos du Bois. Major eh for the latter. All the others? Fab wines.

According to the sample, the largest portion of wines consumed in restaurants sell for between $25 and $39 per bottle, according to the report. Those bottles would cost $13 to $19 at retail.

Red wines outnumber whites by a ratio of two to one, with Cabernet Sauvignon edging out Chardonnay for the top variety. Pinot Noir was the second most common type of red wine listed. And Merlot was third even thought it far outsells Pinot Noir in volume.

Posted on Friday, August 17th, 2007
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A Beer and Cheese Tasting at Rogue in SF


Thursday, August 30, Seating begins at 5 p.m., tasting at 6 p.m., Beer and Artisian Cheese Tasting, Rogue Ales Public House, 673 UnionSt., San Francisco. Reservations: 415-362-7880,. $30 pre-order, $35 at the door, $25 for those who have signed up to Rogue Nation (Go to Rogue Brewing’s website.) sponsored by Rogue and Sheana Davis of , of Sonoma. Sheana has been doing these pairings for several years.

This time she’ll pair 10 world class beers with various artisian cheeses. It’s a lot of fun and the pairings can be mind blowing. Here’s a link to a report on a similar pairing last year.

Also, if you decide to go, here’s a hint. DO NOT DRIVE. There’ll be a lot of beer and parking in North Beach is very tight. How to get there? Go to this very cool site:

BeerbyBART logo

Posted on Thursday, August 16th, 2007
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Firestone Vineyard sold to Foley

Firestone Vineyard

Weeks after Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars sold to big wine companies for $185 million, Central Coast wine pioneer Brooks Firestone announced the sale of his family’s Firestone Vineyard to the Foley Wine Group this afternoon for an undisclosed price.

Before you get your knickers in a twist, let me say that this sale is a bit different. The Firestones and the Foleys have been friends and neighbors for a decade, and the operation is staying local. Bill Foley acquired the J. Carey Cellars property from the Firestone family in 1997, which became Lincourt Vineyards. They have history.

The acquisition includes the Firestone Vineyard and Prosperity Wines brands, along with the Santa Ynez Valley winery and 480 acres of land, inclusive of 380 vineyard acres. The Firestone family will retain ownership of Curtis Winery (my fave Syrah!), Firestone Walker Brewing Company and the new family winery in Paso Robles, where I visited Andrew Firestone back in May.

I got the Firestones’ PR rep Christopher Weir on the phone and he told me the deal had been in the works for about three months. The reason they’re retaining their smaller, newer properties is because they “want to continue doing the things they’ve been doing, just less of it,” Christopher told me. It’s sort of a right person at the right time thing.

Here’s a quote from Brooks Firestone, from the press release: “While this was a tough and emotional decision for us, we are energized by the opportunity to more closely focus on our other winemaking and brewing enterprises on the Central Coast.”

Brooks Firestone

There you have it. Firestone Vineyard will be folded into Foley’s small portfolio of estate wineries, with further and hopeful acquisitions in Sonoma, Napa, Oregon and Washington. No significant changes are anticipated in the operations, staffing or distribution of Firestone Vineyard wines.

If you don’t know the history, Firestone Vineyard was founded in 1972 as Santa Barbara County’s first estate winery. William Foley established his Lincourt Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1996 and opened Foley Estates Winery in the nearby Santa Rita Hills in 2005.


Posted on Thursday, August 16th, 2007
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Millennial wine doc screening at Los Medanos

Scott Hardie's "Harvest Young"

Slow Food Delta-Diablo is hosting a cool event next Saturday, Aug. 25 at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg. It’s called Food and Farming on Film, and there will be no less than three films screened: Jed Riffe’s “Ripe for Change,” “Eat at Bill’s” by Lisa Brenneis and a series of shorts called “Slow Food on Film.”

But the film I’m plugging is “Harvest Young” by Sonoma State University grad Scott Hardie. Hardie’s film explores the marketing of wine to millennials and making it “whatever you want it to be.” Ya know, like Reisling with leftover pad thai and Sicilian blends with Zachary’s. Or Lambrusco with yo lovah. Arrrrr.

Anyway, sorry to digress. I haven’t seen the film yet but judging from Hardie’s subjects (Naomi Brilliant of Roshambo and Darryl Roberts of Wine X Magazine), his accolades (Official Selections at this year’s Sonoma Valley Film Festival and the California Independent Film Festival), and his goals (“To encourage the wine industry to recognize this generation like any other and to encourage young adults to experience wine), I’m guessing it’s worth watching.

The event is from 5 to 10 p.m. and costs $15; $10 for students and Slow Food members. Hardie will be there as will filmmakers and subjects from the other films. Los Medanos College is located at 2700 Leland Road. The event takes place in the Community Room of the new library.

Posted on Thursday, August 16th, 2007
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Books On Beer: Which Ones To Buy


I just posted an article on great beer books to buy for your bookshelf. The tekkies here still haven’t found time to fix this site, so it’s useless to post here. Links seldom work; photos don’t post properly. Please read the whole post at my other site: Thanks. William Brand

Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2007
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Hiking and wining alert!

Kunde Estate

If you are equal parts Corkhead and hiking buff, you must check out Kunde Estate’s Green Tours. The next tours are on August 25 and October 20, the former coinciding with the beginning of the harvest season (Kunde’s 103rd, no less). The tour integrates lessons in green harvesting practices and sustainable winegrowing.

Fourth Generation Winegrower, Jeff Kunde, leads the eco-hiking tours, which climbs from the Sonoma Valley floor and up 1400 feet through the vineyards and into the Mayacamas Mountains. The program concludes with a wine country picnic and tasting overlooking Sonoma Valley. Hello — that’s so awesome!

Here are the deets:
Green eco-tour, tasting and lunch with Jeff Kunde Cost Per Person: $75.00.
Reservations: required.
The hike: Moderately strenuous and lasts about four hours. You’ll see sights of bountiful wildlife, panoramic views of the breathtaking scenery of the Sonoma Valley.
For more info: 707-833-5501, ext. 331.

If you can’t make those dates, Sonoma Valley Docent Bill Myers does similar hikes on Sept. 8, Oct. 13, Nov. 10, and Dec. 8 and his are free! No lunch, obviously, but reservations are required. You can bring a sack lunch. Myers also goes through Kunde and wind through the estate’s distinct eco-systems, each one uniquely contributing to the process of sustainable winegrowing.

This hike is also moderately strenuous and lasts about four hours. They begin at 10 a.m. at the Kunde Estate Tasting Room. The hike will also conclude at the Tasting Room, where hikers can sample Kunde’s hand crafted estate-grown wines.

Happy wining and hiking!

Posted on Tuesday, August 14th, 2007
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Stag’s Leap Cellars sold for $185 million

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars label

“Bottle Shock,” the movie about the famed 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting, may be leaving out the red wine that put Napa on the map with Bordeaux, but Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars still made headlines this month. Massive ones.

Pioneer and owner Warren Winiarski sold his family’s winery — with its prime spot on the Silverado Trail, between Napa and Yountville — to joint buyers Marchese Piero Cellars (Italy) and Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (Washington state) for $185 million.

It was just one in a string of vintners selling their family businesses to the big boys over the past week. Duckhorn Wine Company sold a majority interest to private equity firm GI Partners. And the larger-than-life EJ & Gallo bought Napa’s William Hill Estate and Canyon Road.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new trend, necessarily. Two years ago, Atlas Peak was sold for $14.2 billion to Fortune Brands as part of a 10-winery deal. And, of course, who could forget the sale of amusement-park-turned Robert Mondavi Winery to Constellation for $1.36 billion in 2004. That started everything.

What’s different now is that family drama, soaring real estate prices and competition from smaller artisan wineries that produce far less wine than these recently-sold properties make it easier to get out, and get out rich. The value segment has also exploded and both brick and mortars and Web sites are devoted to scouring the globe to find the best deals on the best wines money can buy.

This is the way of things. The next generation of small family producers will rise. Folks like Reverie on the Mountain and Orin Swift. Let’s just hope the future cousins of that industry-altering 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon non can live up to the name.

Posted on Monday, August 13th, 2007
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Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants

Pleasant Hill Wine Merchant

A substantial tasting joint was left off of my centerpiece story yesterday “Wine Bars Pour it On,” . And it’s worth checking out.

The Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants, adjacent to T.J. Maxx on Pleasant Hill Road, fosters a winery-like experience. They have separate tasting room hours (5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and 2 to 5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays) and are more than happy to host a private tasting event for you, something I don’t think I’ve encountered before.

It could just be the new birthday dinner. Why force your friends to cough it up for a prix fixe at Slanted Door when you could do a private cheese tasting for a lot less?

Much like Wine Thieves, they have three tiers to their monthly wine clubs — Smart Buy ($18), Estate ($30), Winemakers ($50) — and their tasting events have fun themes, like Ladies’ Night or Screw Caps. That document is hard to read on their Web site, so I suggest you peruse the blog and just go into the store for more information on upcoming events.

Another cool thing about their wine club is that rather than ship the wine to you every month, club members are invited to a two-night tasting event. At “Wine Club Pick Up Party” you get to sample and then select your wines — to go! It’s obviously been a success, as they’ve garnered more than 350 wine club members in the 10 months they’ve been open. Bravo!

Posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2007
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Storvino stackables a good option

Storvino burgundy storage bins

Cool inventor story out of Danville. Seems a fellow by the name of Bob Stanhaus was getting on in his wine collection and storing his precious bottles in the cardboard boxes you get when you buy a case. Not sure what he expected, but the fact that they caved in and fell apart frustrated him, so he pulled that pencil out from behind his ear and got to work. Voila, Storvino was born.

Stanhaus’ plastic burgundy or black (the latter is made from recycled materials) storage bins are flexible and modular, so you can stack them up in your closet, garage or wherever you have room. My current spaces of choice: underneath the bed and in the cupboards of my dining room built-ins. But alas, there’s no room for bins or boxes in there. Just bottles.

That made me wonder — who is this product right for? I’m at the point in my collection that temperature-controlling is becoming a factor. Over half of my 100+ bottles can be stored in my wine racks, no problem. It’s the remaining 30 or so that I need to get into a fridge or off-site storage facility.

Then I took a look at the black box. It’s pretty slick and has an urban feel. So if you live in a loft in SOMA, or a live-work space in Emeryville and want to display the 10 ” x 11 ” boxes — a nifty hole allows you to inter-connect the boxes with corks, pretty cool — it’s perfect for you. You store them on their sides but can pick one up for easy transport to your trunk, say for a barbecue or picnic. I think they’re also great for suburbanites who have basements or garages.

Stanhaus has done really well for himself, and we’re proud. The $19.99 modules can be found at tons of Bay Area retailers, including Vino Cellars (Livermore), Stacks and Stacks (Richmond), Napa Style (Berkeley), Danville Cigar and Wine Shop (Danville), and Cole Hardware (San Francisco), not to mention online at and Soon, they’ll be in Fry’s Electronic Stores, including all six in the Bay Area.

Check them out at Storvino.

Posted on Wednesday, August 8th, 2007
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Weekend sommelier experience

emily wines of fifth floor

I’ve blogged about Emily Wines before. She’s the fabulous, young, award-winning sommelier at Fifth Floor in San Francisco’s Hotel Palomar. I’m jealous of her last name.

To celebrate California Wine Month (officially designated by the governator himself), Wines will be offering a Weekend Sommelier program, offering the public a complete behind-the-scenes gastronomic experience and a peek into what her daily life is like as a top sommelier in a culinary capitol.

The Weekend Sommelier costs $250 and includes:
• Signature Flights + Bites food and wine pairing at Lounge on Five with Emily Wines.
• Behind-the-scenes tour of the Fifth Floor restaurant’s wine cellar.
• Tasting session with to select the evening’s featured wine list.
• Private dinner with the staff to sample the nightly specials.
• Experience acting as guest sommelier serving wine at alongside Wines.
• A late-night snack and wine tasting with Wines to review with day.

A bit on Wines: she’s overseen the Fifth Floor’s award-winning wine list of approximately 1,400 bottles for sever years. Awarded one star by the 2007 and 2008 Michelin guides, Fifth Floor operates a cellar featuring wines from individual growers and smaller winemakers to create a comprehensive selection of marquis brands and vintages. Wines also leads Fifth Floor’s popular Wines on Wine series, monthly classes for all levels of wine knowledge that cover topics such as “Sensory Evaluation,” “Joy of Bubbly,” and “Entertaining with Wine.” I took her class on France, and learned a bundle.

Bonus about the Weekend Sommelier experience: It’s available through through December 31, 2007 and attendees receive a 15 percent discount on their room rates which start at $229 to $369 per night. But you don’t have to stay at the hotel to participate. For more information, call 866-373-4941 or visit the hotel’s web site.

Posted on Tuesday, August 7th, 2007
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