When Michael Bonaccorsi passed away, his death rocked the close knit Southern California wine community. Not only was he just the twentieth American to be awarded the Master Sommelier Diploma, and was Sommelier at the original Spago Restaurant, and then the Beverly Hills location, but his winery. Bonaccorsi Wine Company was making a name for itself as well. He died at the age of 43.
In 2004, The Michael Bonaccorsi Scholarship Fund at UC Davis was created in his honor. Annually, Wally’s Wine & Spirits in West L.A. holds an event to raise money for this fund. I had the pleasure of attending the most recent event.
When I got there, it became evident to me that, even though the event is billed as Central Coast, it was mainly southern Central Coast, which meant lots and lots of Pinot Noir. I am sure they were all very good – the ones I tried were certainly tasty. But, when I am not drinking Zin, I am pretty much stuck in the Rhone Zone, and I began my search for Syrahs and the like.
And I was not disappointed.
The Piedrasassi 2007 Syrah Rim Rock Vineyard was pretty incredible. It had just been bottled and didn’t even have a label on it yet. It had everything I look for in a Syrah, great nose, wonderful flavor and a long finish.
But there were others as well, such as the Syrah from Falcone Family Vineyards, which is the private label from the winemaker at Rusack. The non-vintage Annate blend was delicious as well.
Other Syrahs I really enjoyed were:
Beckman 2007 Purisima Mountain Block Six
Foxen 2006 Williamson-Dore
Holus Bolus 2007
Paul Lato 2007 Larner “Cinematique” [Larner Vineyard Syrahs seem to always taste great.]
Qupe 2006 Bien Nacido Hillside Estate
And it was great to taste the blends being poured by Linne Calodo from Paso Robles.
Finally meeting my Facebook friend Dave Corey and tasting his CORE wines was a highlight as well.
Not to mention the food. Several L.A. restaurants as well as ones from the Central Coast were serving, including my favorite from Paso Robles – Artisan.
But the best part of the day…
I’ve known Eve for some time. I’ve been a fan of her writing, we’ve exchanged tons of emails, and I have recently been granted the opportunity to guest-post on her blog. And, she was my first Facebook friend, being the one to encourage me to sign up in the first place.
But, we had never met in person. Last Sunday, we had the opportunity to spend a few hours together, talking about the wine, the food, and a bunch of other stuff. This, to me, is what wine should be all about, sharing it with friends and family, with plenty of food and conversation, not trying to rate it in some sterile environment but enjoying it as part of life.
See you at Rhone Rangers, Eve, and your readers as well. [I’ll certainly get my Syrah fix there!]
On any given day of the week [except Mondays – they’re closed] you’ll find Vic at All Corked Up, staffing the retail store or wandering the restaurant, ready to talk wine with you, determine what you like, and able to offer his expert advice on what might best suit your palate.
On Friday and Saturday nights, if you’re lucky, Vic will sit in for a couple of numbers with whoever is entertaining that evening, offering his vocals on songs such as “Mustang Sally” and “White Room”.
And, if you are really lucky, you’ll be at All Corked Up when his band, Vic Rocks, is playing.
Vic’s love of music possibly started with his Grandpa Jack, a bandleader, and his Mother who in youth was a vocalist with her dad’s band.
His appreciation of wine started at the tender age of 10, with the memory of family=2 0dinners in the wine cellar of Mama Leone’s in New York, and being granted sips of Chiantis and Barolos.
Fortunately for Vic, the legal drinking age in the New York / New Jersey area was 18, so when he turned that age he was then able to go to work for next door neighbor Ike Shapiro’s wine and liquor store in NYC. There, he was exposed to European wines and was able to hone his palate on 2nd, 3rd and 4th growth Bordeaux. This was in the early 70s, so Vic was enjoying French wines such as Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse. California wine had not yet hit it big, although that was soon to change.
[Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse – great stuff. I remember in the late 1980s my boss being given a case of it by one of his suppliers. Since he only drank California Chardonnay, he gave it to me. Nice!]
Vic’s interest in art took him to Europe for the first time in 1973, where he visited 38 art museums in 42 days, visiting museums all over Europe. His love of painting also took him to the Cooper Union School of Art, and three years later he finished getting his BFA at the brand new California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. During the next fifteen years, he exhibited his paintings in a rt galleries in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
At the same time, his prior experience in wine and liquor helped him to gain employment in that industry. Starting at Gourmet Liquors in Newhall, Vic soon moved to Sunrise Spirits. Marriage in the late 1970s took him back to New York, where he first went back to work with the Shapiro brothers and then as head chef for his family’s restaurant.
Marriage also took him to Europe for the second time, where he got to experience great wineries in France and Italy. He also developed an appreciation for the wonderful everyday wines of Europe.
But California beckoned, and Vic returned in 1980, where he went back to work for Sunrise Spirits, where he got to witness firsthand the California wine boom that resulted from the 1976 Judgment of Paris, where California wines shockingly bested their French counterparts. This time, Vic worked at Sunrise until the early 1990s, when the store was sold.
In the meantime, Vic’s marriage ended amicably after 13-years. He pretty much gave up painting. His brother David moved in with him, and asked Vic to teach him bass guitar, which helped to rekindle Vic’s interest in music. Soon he was playing in venues in the Santa Clarita Valley, as well as in the San Fernando Valley, mainly Rock and Blues.
One of the potential buyers of Sunrise was Yoon Lee. Although Lee did not end up buying Sunrise, he and Vic became friends and Lee ended up being a big part of Vic’s career down the road.
Vic soon followed the original owners of Sunrise, when they bought the Irvine Ranch Markets. With them, he became a wine buyer as well as manager of the cheese department. Unfortunately, Irvine Ranch was not to survive, the final straw being the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, and Vic found himself back at Sunrise.
[I think this is when Vic and I first met – not at Sunrise, but when he was working the Sunrise table at the annual Santa Clarita Valley Wine Classic at Cal Arts.]
But again, destiny called, when, in 2003, Lee invited him to interview at All Corked Up. Vic did so, and was hired. Lee has since moved on, and Vic is now wine buyer at All Corked Up.
Although, as I said above, I met Vic much earlier, I didn’t really get to know him until I started going to All Corked Up just about a year or so ago. I quickly realized that, while his palate and wine knowledge exceeded mine by leaps and bounds, we did have in common our love of fruit driven wines. One of his early favorites in this kind of wine was the Brochelle Zinfandel from Paso Robles, and he has since expanded his experience of Paso Robles wines, as well as other regions that are known for these kinds of wines, such as Toro in Spain, Puglia in Italy, and Australia’s Barossa Valley. Since I am especially fond of Paso Robles and Barossa Valley wines, we have much in common in this area. I am looking forward to him teaching me about the other wine regions as well.
In reading over the above, I realize that I am a poor wordsmith and have not done Vic Herstein justice. I think the only way to really know Vic is to go visit him at All Corked Up, get him to recommend a bottle of wine, and [hopefully] get him to sing
My wife left for her seminar via Southwest Airlines on a Sunday afternoon. As the class was scheduled to end 12:30 on Wednesday, I hit the road bright and early Wednesday morning. Leaving around 7:00 AM, I pulled into downtown Napa just as Karen’s seminar was ending.
First order of business — lunch!
I’ve been getting the Bounty Hunter catalogs for what seems like forever, but have never visited this combination wine store, tasting bar and restaurant. So, we stopped in for lunch, shared a flight of reds, and I had possibly the best pulled-pork sandwich that I had ever eaten. Awesome!
Then we wandered around downtown Napa, visiting some of the tasting rooms that were open in town. After hitting a few of those, we discovered Vintner’s Collective.
Vintner’s Collective pours wine from a multitude of wineries. For a tasting fee of $25, they spend time consulting with you to ascertain your tastes, and then pick wines to match. And I have to say, they lived up to their promise. It didn’t take long before I was tasting some exceptional Zinfandels and Syrahs. My favorites were the Syrahs from JC Cellars and the Zins from D-Cubed.
We had dinner at Brix Restaurant. Outstanding food and service. And they treated the bottle of JC Cellars Syrah that we had brought in as if it was one of their own.
The next day, it was off to our appointments. Of course, we were early, so on the way to the first appointment we stopped off at Ballentine Vineyards, where we enjoyed a nice selection, including very good Syrah, Zin and Petite.
Our first appointment of the day was at Outpost Wines. Outpost is way up Howell Mountain, and is worth the drive. They make some incredible Zinfandel, Petite and Grenache. The also make Cabernet, which I really enjoyed — unusual for me, but there seems to be something special about Howell Mountain fruit. And the view is truly breathtaking.
We stopped for lunch at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in St. Helena. Great burgers [including the Ahi burger that Karen had] and delicious sweet potato fries, and the only burger stand I know of with a wine list and corkage policy.
Our second appointment was in St. Helena at David Fulton Winery and Vineyards. An old [2010 will be their 150th anniversary] and very small winery, they only make Petite Syrah and it is great! Hard to believe we managed to spend about 2 hours there with the owners, Fulton [4th generation] and Dink [Erma] Mather. We also met their son Richard, the current winemaker, and he and I spent a lot of time down in the barrel room. Very gracious [and patient] hosts.
That pretty much took care of our wine tasting day. These days, I would much rather have a few, quality tasting experiences, rather than several visits to bigger wineries. And, I solved my problem about what to do in Cab County. I can’t wait to go back!
It seems everybody who goes to Paso now has a different experience, since there are now so many wineries to choose from. This was our latest.
We try to get to Paso about twice per year, usually timed to the Turley pick-up parties. In the old days [getting redundant, huh?], we used to go to several more wineries each day we would be there. Nowadays, we try to pick a couple of old favorites and a couple of new ones to try.
We are not really fans of the bigger and/or busier tasting rooms, although we still love to visit Tobin James [disclaimer – we are in their wine club]. Always a fun experience, but a far cry from when we first discovered Toby’s wines at a small tasting room called Templeton Corners, on Main Street in Templeton [where else?]. Templeton Corners specialized in pouring wines produced by wineries that didn’t have their own tasting rooms. [I don’t think Toby even had his own winery yet, let alone a tasting room.]
Although we usually try to stop by Tobin James on the way into Paso, we got there too late Friday for this. Instead, we just made it in time for our reservations at Artisan, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. Had a great dinner and headed over to Cambria.
The next morning, we went to the Turley party and had a terrific time. Always fun to talk to Larry Turley and winemaker Ehren Jordan, as well as a bunch of dedicated Turley lovers of all ages.
Before heading back into Cambria for lunch, we stopped at 4 Vines for a tasting of their latest releases. Very nice Zins and red Rhones [disclaimer: we’re in their club, too], although I am not sure my humor was appreciated when I said their wines would go very well with the “live venison” we saw grazing on the adjacent hill.
Sunday morning, we made an early stop at Castoro, one of the older wineries in the area. They are always pouring a plethora of nice wines and the people are very friendly.
Then we headed over to our appointment at Ecluse Winery. For this, I owe Vic at All Corked Up a debt of gratitude. They had recently paid him a visit so he could taste their wines. [I think one of his customers had mentioned ACU to the owners of Ecluse.] Knowing what we like, he suggested we go visit them.
He was absolutely right! Great Rhones and Zin! The tasting was in the barrel room and we were hosted by the owners, Steve and Pam Lock. Very much reminded me of the old days, or at least what I think I remember of them. A perfect tasting experience. My only regret was that I didn’t ask for a tour of the property. Next time for sure! Bought several bottles.
Heading down the road from Ecluse, I spied the sign for Fratelli Perata. An old time winery [for Paso] that has stayed very small and off the beaten path. [Come to think of it, I first had their wine at Templeton Corners also, and they showed me the old logo glass to prove it.] They do have a tasting room, staffed by the family. Really enjoyed the Italian varietals and bought several.
[In the same vicinity as Ecluse, we stopped by another winery that I was really looking forward to. The wines were very good. But, in comparison to the two above, it was very impersonal. I realize that not all owners want to be onsite, and that is of course their choice. But just having a pretty girl pouring wine in the tasting room isn’t the tasting experience I am looking for.]
Pretty much at our wine tasting limit for a Sunday [getting old], we visited the Pasolivo Olive Ranch, then had lunch at Panolivo in Paso, walked around downtown Paso for awhile and then headed home. Can’t wait until next time!
Starting out, my first wine mentor was my boss Tim. We sometimes had to travel to see clients, and he introduced me to the miniature wine bottles offered on the plane, as well as enjoying wine with dinner. He also liked to go to the wine stores in the towns we visited, seeking out rare finds that were not available at home or were just priced lower because the shop owners didn’t know any better.
Next, living in San Antonio in the mid-80s, my wife and I made the acquaintance of a private wine broker who introduced us to the wines he was importing from Europe. I regret that I cannot recall his name.
Moving back to California in the late-80s, we spent a lot of time traveling the coast. And approximately mid-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in the town of Cambria, we met Calvin Wilkes, who probably had the greatest influence on me of anybody in terms of my enthusiasm for wine.
Calvin ran a combination wine shop and tasting bar in Cambria, and I received the benefit of his knowledge, both in terms of local wines and wines from around the world. For a short time, he also had a small restaurant in the shop, which local winery employees would frequent.
Bringing in bottles from their wineries and sharing them just enhanced our own experience. We visited him often, until he moved to Pacific Grove, where he and his wife Michele run Fifi’s Cafe Bistro. We like to visit him there as well, and he professes to remember me from the old days. I recommend you stop in if you are in the area. Tell him “hello” from me.
We met DiMaggio Washington in the 90s, when he ran Select Wines. I think this was the first combo wine store and tasting bar in Santa Clarita. His Zinfandel tastings were a big influence on my ultimate focus on this grape, and the blind tastings were fun but challenging. It was only later, after reading more about DiMaggio, that I realized how patient he was with us newbies and how deep his own expertise goes. I haven’t seen him in a long time — I hope to rectify that soon.
Gary R., who has tried diligently but unsuccessfully [albeit expensively] to get me interested in older Bordeaux style wines.
Victor Herstein at All Corked Up. who seems to have a palate similar to mine and has shown me the pleasure of mixing wine and rock and roll.
And, last but not least, Eve Bushman, who has allowed me in a small way to feel a part of this incredible industry.
To all of my mentors, past, present, and future, I raise my glass and say “thank you”.
Here’s my post, if it could run during the upcoming Finals, that would be pretty awesome.
After family, friends, and career, I would venture to guess that two of the most important things in my life are wine and the Lakers. I’m not sure if this sound pathetic, but it is true.
I first became a fan of the Lakers in 1971-72, during that incredible 69-13 season, which included that historic 33-game winning streak. Watching Jerry, Wilt, Gail and the rest of the team during that championship season got me hooked.
Now I am not a fair-weather fan. Some people think that the Lakers have always been good. And, overall, they have been a very successful organization. But, they have had their trying times in between the great teams of Wilt and Jerry, Kareem and Magic, Shaq and Kobe, and now Kobe and Pau. I remember some pretty poor teams — teams that didn’t make the playoffs, or if they did, were eliminated early.
But through it all, I followed the Lakers, often listening to Chick’s “word’s-eye view” on the radio, as these were the days before home games being shown on cable. Actually, these were the days before cable.
In the mid-80s, I discovered wine. A lot of trials and tribulations there too, as I struggled to learn as much as I could about this incredible — what, beverage? Yes, but much more, at least to me. Finally, I was just able to enjoy what I liked and not worry too much about the details.
I was going to try to tie these two things together, my Lakers and my wine, talk about how when a great team plays together it resembles the components of a great wine coming together, but that would be kind of a stretch, don’t you think? But, what they do have in common is the enjoyment I get from them, and I think that’s what matters.
Which is why you’ll often find my wife and me at our favorite table at All Corked Up, watching the game and drinking [and sharing] our wine, especially this time of year.
Aren’t they lovely? Not looking “three sheets to the wind” at all. (a phrase my Minnesota-raised spouse uses for drunks – that I would appreciate a comment on this blog as to where in the heck that comes from…?)
For me, attending the SCV Wine Classic was a wonderful experience. Starting with the library wine tables – where at any other wine event you either 1. didn’t get or 2. you paid per taste for. I still don’t know how wine chair, Jeff Jacobson, gets his countless friends, with the best cellars, to pour.
Steve Elzer, Rober Schwartz, Priscilla and Warren Faubel, Roman Weiser, Chris and Jeannie Carpenter and Les Hershberger must have to keep their addresses a secret. How else would they be able to keep their Spotswood, William Selym, Sea Smoke, Martinelli, 86 and 87 Joseph Phelps Cabs, 2001 Bryant (only 200 cases made), and too many to count and list Bordeaux to themselves for long?
Too busy tasting to write down everything, Chris Carpenter was going to save me empty bottles from the library tables for reference.
In between the library wines I sampled some of the food, but to be honest, never ate enough as there was too much to see/drink.
I met lots of readers and was hugged to death! Ones I didn’t already list on the post below this one include John Kelley, formerly with Raven Oaks, and his friend Dawn Colebank, Laura from Yelp, Victor Abascal from Vines on the Marycrest, Nate Hasper from Pulchella (gave me the best hug encompassing my neck, waist, head and all parts in-between), John Whitman from Old Creek Ranch Winery, Craig Butler from B & P Winery, Michael Cobb from Sorth This Out Cellars and Nick Morello now pouring for new Terravant Wine Company.
My husband bought me the wine necklace that Cathy Craig was selling at the Silkwood table when my friend Diane waved it at me. I missed the entire auction and most of the food…
Next year? I will do it all the same way! But next year I will find Michael P. and YOU!
New! From Correspondent Michael
When I go to an event like this, I go with no expectations other than to have fun. For me at least, this is not really the time and place to evaluate the attributes of what I am drinking. If I happen to come across something earth-shattering, that is just a bonus.
I also rarely go to the library tables. I prefer younger wines, and Zins, Syrahs and the like that rarely show up with the rare Cabs and Bordeaux. Besides, the library tables tend to be the most crowded.
Instead, I usually just meander around, stopping by various tables as the action there lulls.
I had nice visits with the people from Vines On The Marycrest as wells as Midlife Crisis, two Paso wineries I’ve enjoyed for some time.
And I shared the enthusiasm of the owners of Laraneta Vineyards, also of Paso, pouring their very first release at the Classic.
I tried Silkwood Wines of Modesto for the first time and really enjoyed their wines, especially their Petite Sirah.
And it was great to visit with Jay and David of All Corked Up and taste the terrific wines they brought to the event.
There were other wonderful wines as well, but it starts to get a little blurry, except…
Pulchella — I’ve been wanting to try their wines for some time. And they did not disappoint. Both Zins they were pouring were outstanding, although the winemaker and I disagreed on which was “better”. But, now I have to decide — the last thing I need is to be in another wine club. But, they are local and supporting a local business is a good thing, right? Decisions, decisions….
And now I must thank Jay of All Corked Up for encouraging me to go over to the library tables. As I walked up to where Steven Elzer was pouring, I saw a bottle of Scholium Project on his table. I’ve been wanting to try something from this producer for a long time. Abe Schoener is somewhat controversial and is known for making challenging wines. Steven was pouring the 2004 Scholium Project Syrah. Wow! Outstanding! The word that came to mind for me was “muscular”.
Steven and I talked some more [what a great guy!] and the subject of my fondness for Zinfandel came up, so he poured for me the 1996 [I think that was the year] Turley Moore “Earthquake” Vineyard. Excellent! I thanked him for that. I told Steven that I have been a fan of Turley for several years but regretted that I got on their allocation list too late to ever get one of their releases from the Aida Vineyard. Well, what do you know? He popped open a bottle of that! Another goal achieved. Thank you Steven Elzer!
The food at the Classic was excellent as well, although I am a little hazy on specifics as my wife kept me supplied with food as I endeavored to keep our wine glasses full. The ones that stand out in my mind are: Persia Restaurant, Stonefire Grill, Macaroni Grill, Bristol Farms, Whole Foods, RSVP Catering Company, and COC’s Culinary Arts Program.
All in all, we had a blast.
Now, back to making that wine club decision…