Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vesuvius Vineyards and Arugula

Mount Vesuvius ( is located on the coast of the Bay of Naples, and is best known for an eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. On a clear day, it provides spectacular views of the Bay of Naples, Napoli and the Campania countryside. During a recent visit, we decided to hike to the top. Having missed the last bus that goes to the Vesuvius national park, we hired a local driver for a ride. Half way up the mountain the driver skidded to a stop, and we followed him out of the car into wild vegetation from which he plucked several leaves of wild arugula. As we gleefully nibbled the arugula, I noticed vineyards on the hillside slopes that grow the wonderful Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (meaning “tears of Christ”). Although perhaps best known for its Bianco, it was the rich flavor of its Rosso that caught my attention.

Since my discovery six years ago, I have only seen it once in the USA – and immediately purchased the one case held by the retailer. Now this fantastic wine is imported to the USA by Mastroberardino (, and can be found in select restaurants (thank you to the excellent Pasta Moon restaurant and their award winning wine list! and wine shops including BevMo. Established in 1750, Mastrobererdino imports a variety of southern Italian wines, and is perhaps best known for its Greco di Tufa and Aglianico varietals. Their Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso is about $15, and gets a four star ranking on the Drink Plonk Value Index.

So, you can call me an “arugula-eating elitist” if you choose… just make sure mine is served with Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso.

Best, Joe Plonk

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bonus Question Answer

The bonus question from last week’s blog was “Name the location of the second vineyard in the Disney parks in Anaheim, California.” The answer is the Dream Castle, Cinderella Chateau, French Village, in the Storybook Land ride in the Disneyland theme park. A photo of the Cinderella Chateau and its expansive vineyard property (about 12 inches by 18 inches) is above.

The Disney experience for wine fans can be a good one. Their fanciest hotel, The Grand Californian, includes a California-fresh restaurant called the Napa Rose. And, in the area between the different Disneyland Hotel buildings is an underground wine tasting room called The Cellar, which boasts an impressive California-centric wine list. But, Joe Plonk warns, bargains will not be found here. During a recent trip, I purchased a bottle of 2005 Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel, North Coast appellation series (see my review on Drink Plonk) for $39 -- which is listed on the Rosenblum website at $18. Not a bargain under any budget.

Best, Joe Plonk

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Answer to Name That Tune...

Congratulations to Frank of Campbell, California, for being the first of two correct responses to identify the Golden Vine Winery as being the subject of our Name That Tune column earlier this week. Located at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, California, the Golden Vine Winery includes a small acre vineyard. (Hey, nobody said this would be fair…)

Disney doesn’t sell the wine grapes grown here, which were originally part of a Robert Mondavi educational experience that included a seven minute video about winemaking called “Seasons of the Vine”. In addition to serving a variety of California wines, it includes the California Wine Trattoria that serves fabulous but relatively expensive Italian cuisine. The Golden Vine Winery is also an ideal place to watch Disney parades while sipping bubbly.

Bonus question: Name the location of the second vineyard in the Disney parks in Anaheim, California.

Best, Joe Plonk

Monday, October 20, 2008

Name That Tune (err... Winery)

Attached are several photos of a California winery that could rightly (I believe) claim to being the most visited winery in the world. This winery grows Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Zinfandel, as well as Moscato Bianco, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio. The first person to e-mail me with the correct answer will be given proper kudos in my blog posting later this week. If you think you know the right answer, send it to me with your name and city. Happy sleuthing!

Best, Joe Plonk

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tasting Room by Ritz-Carlton at Rubicon Estate

For many wineries, a tasting room is significant money making venture. By selling to consumers direct, they avoid significant distribution expenses and mark-ups that come with selling to distributors, wine shops and supermarkets. They also have the ability to the control quality of what ultimately reaches a consumers’ glass, as they can be assured the bottle wasn’t subject to extreme temperatures, exposure to intense light, or prolonged periods of standing that can dry-out tree bark based corks. It is also a chance to promote their wine club, share information about wines and the winery, and to sell t-shirts and golf caps.

It is also, unfortunately, creates an easy way to alienate customers. I’ve spoken with tasting room staff that knows almost nothing about wine, and heard unbelievable hyperbole that wasn’t remotely matched by the contents of my glass. I’ve also stood three people deep at some of my favorite wineries begging for a sip of sauvignon blanc, being largely (and perhaps understandably) ignored in favor of giggling coeds. The tasting room experience can easily make or break a consumer’s love affair with a particular brand.

The purpose of this posting is share a recent tasting room experience that merits Five Stars under the Drink Plonk Value Index. Our recent tasting at Rubicon Estate was hosted by Sean Green. This experience enhanced my interest in the wines, and the winery, and followed these simple guidelines:

- Casual and friendly atmosphere in which we were treated as guests.
- Explanations were simple but not patronizing, and each also answered more technical questions about the wine once asked.
- He was happy with his work at Rubicon, and passionate about wine in general, with the ability to discuss food pairings and differences in wine styles.
- Our experience was not rushed, and he was willing to taste with us to compare notes.
- Prompt but not rushed service.
- Bread (not crackers).

Some wineries try to get by with volunteers in their tasting room, and it often shows. Sean’s first rate customer service provided a big lift to our wine tasting experience. We were already members of the wine club at Rubicon (and, admittedly, had our tasting in the club members’ room). But, we certainly purchased more wine by virtue of the goodwill generated by Sean’s Ritz-Carlton-like service. I suspect Rubicon Estate invested a few additional dollars in hiring and training. But, to have happy (and returning) customers? It sounds like good business sense to me.

Best, Joe Plonk

Monday, October 13, 2008

Heart’s Fire Delivers Passion in a Bottle

Hidden behind several auto repair shops and numerous industrial supply lots reside the wineries of Campbell, California:

Heart’s Fire (
Pinder Winery (
Stroth-Hall Cellars (
Travieso Winery (

Not the typical town in which you’d expect to find wineries, given that orchards and vineyards were long ago paved over in favor of Silicon Valley suburbs and technology companies. In fact, I only discovered that Campbell has wineries through a random Google search (try your town as you never know). These wineries collectively support each other together through the Campbell Winemakers Studio ( Pinder Winery was the first, and leases space and equipment to Heart’s Fire and Stroth-Hall Cellars. Travieso is in the same building on the other side of a kung-fu studio, which could be helpful if they ever pursue the art of champagne sabering. The Campbell Reporter already has a great article, entitled “Vintners heard it through the grapevine”, which can be found at:

I visited a tiny winery, and discovered three tinier wineries inside. We entered the Pinder Winery tasting room, but a chance opening of the back door revealed a beehive of activity. Unknown to us at the time, Heart’s Fire winery was in the process of bottling their 2006 Zinfandel from Sonoma County’s Treboce vineyard. Instead of treating us like the nosy intruders we were, they welcomed us as honored guests. Heart’s Fire winery is owned by couples Dan and Julie Scheve and Brian and Kristin Link. Each of them, along with friends and the Link’s daughter, were joyously working to fill the bottles, insert the corks, attach the label and put the finished bottle into boxes. Photos of the bottling process can be seen at:

(Heart’s Fire photos copyright 2008 Frank Anzalone. All rights reserved. For more information, go to It’s always good to have a professional photographer for a friend. Thanks Frank!)

They showed us every step of the process, and let us sample their fantastic zinfandel. This was a labor of love, not a corporate undertaking. They have pursued their passion (thus, the name Heart’s Fire) turning friendship and a shared interest in wine into rich and flavorful zinfandel and petite sirah (done in what I’d categorize as medium, balanced style). My tasting notes from their current bottlings are below, and reviews can be found at

2006 Zinfandel, Price Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Evenly balanced zinfandel with strawberry, pepper and a touch of earthy spice. $24.

2006 Treborce Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Strawberry, plum, and spice notes. Fuller bodied than the Price Vineyard, but not over the top despite 15.6% alcohol. $28.

2006 Petite Sirah, Rhodes Vineyard, Redwood Valley, Medocino County. Flavorful petite sirah that shows cherry, strawberry, pepper, spice, and leather. Lightly tannic. $32.

Their beginnings as home winemakers grew as friends and acquaintances became more and more interested in their quality wines, prompting Dan to say “We had to rent some space or get a new hobby.” Fortunately, for us, they did! Heart’s Fire is currently located at the Pinder Winery, 165 Cristich Lane, Campbell, CA 95008, and is open for tasting on the first Sunday of every month. Do stop by…

Best, Joe Plonk

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fargo Means Fabulous...

During a fabulous meal recently with friends in the Fargo, North Dakota area (, I casually commented that all wines (Rosenblum Cabernet and Chardonnay) poured were from California and that I wanted to try the North Dakota wines. Before I could pull my foot out of my mouth, one of our hosts returned with great ceremony to present me with two bottles of North Dakota wine – Rubarb wine and Honey Comb Plum wine from Maple River Winery ( in Casselton, North Dakota. I soon learned that the Peace Garden State has at least four wineries ( producing a variety of wines that embody the unique character and spirit of the region in which they are produced. My friends also told me to serve the wine chilled – advice that I plan to take. Following my return to California, I shared my experience with some oenophile friends, one of whom was a Minnesota native who exclaimed that she loved rhubarb. Start chilling that Rhubarb wine now, we have a winner!

This was a humbling reminder that each of our fifty states has at least one winery, not just California, Oregon and Washington. A future blog post will be dedicated to some of my favorites.

Best, Joe Plonk

Monday, October 6, 2008

Economics of Sticks

U.S. Highway 101 ( runs north-south through the western portions of California, Oregon and Washington. The highway includes many beautiful sites, especially along the California coast near Santa Barbara. My favorite part of the highway, however, is the portion between Paso Robles and Monterey. If you’ve driven this portion during the last 5 to 10 years, you will have noticed that miles and miles of new vineyards have been planted. If you’ve ever seen a newly planted vineyard, it looks like rows of Sticks standing up in plastic wrappers (to protect against the elements, and hungry predators like deer). As the Sticks grow, they are trained to grow up to a certain height, and then horizontal along connecting wires. It takes 5 to 7 years for vines to yield fruit that is ready for winemaking. And, according to my calendar, many of these vineyards are about ready for harvest.

It doesn’t take an economist to know that as the supply of grapes increases to meet the demand, wine pricing will go down. Fortunately for wine consumers, OPEC has no direct impact on wine production decisions. As more Sticks that get planted, more wine grapes are available to be made into wine. And, with ever improving farming and winemaking methods, quality will undoubtedly also increase. Happy thoughts, indeed.

So, when you see Sticks, you’ll know that better wine pricing is on the way.

Best, Joe Plonk

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Who is Joe Plonk?

Joe Plonk resides in Aptos, California, with his wife and daughter.
Joe Plonk has two cats and is getting a dog.
Joe Plonk enjoys the outdoors, but spends most of his waking hours hunched in front of a computer monitor.
Joe Plonk has a real job.
Joe Plonk votes.
Joe Plonk surfs better than he performs brain surgery, but it’s close.
Joe Plonk supports the arts.
Joe Plonk prefers aloha shirts and soccer kits.
Joe Plonk loves Zinfandel, and believes Cabernet Franc is more than a blending grape.
Joe Plonk wants to know your opinion about which wines are good values.
Joe Plonk wants to help consumers unite to improve their wine drinking experience. Visit, and help me help you.

Best, Joe Plonk