2009 Sonoma Valley Barbera

Last week we tasted the 2009 Sonoma Valley Barbera – that was one of my mother’s favorite varietals. It’s amazing!  The key to a beautiful Barbera is to bring out the richness in the fruit to balance the acidity. And that same acidity is what gives the wine such nice structure and makes it so easy and fun to match up with all kinds of food, like pizza, pasta, grilled poultry and meats.

The Sonoma Valley Barbera vineyard is special to me. It’s a very small block, only three acres. The wood that we grafted for these vines is from an old, old vineyard, about 100 years old! Even though it’s not considered “Old Vine” because it’s planted on new rootstock, it has the character and complex mouthfeel of an “Old Vine” Barbera.

This wine is a beauty. Bold dark fruit with lovely aromatic undertones of vanilla and rose petals make for a gorgeous nose. On first sip, you notice the silky mouthfeel and then the bold black cherry, chocolate, cola undercurrents and mild black licorice.  On the finish, lingering black plum so delicious it’s almost like biting into a piece of fruit. This wine is so layered with flavor, and the acidity is so perfectly balanced by the rich fruit, it will pair with almost any Italian dish.  My favorite is classic Italian lasagna. There’s nothing better for lunch than a good old plate of Mom’s lasagna and a glass of our Sonoma Valley Barbera.


Books That Inspire Me

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of business books written by many successful people. But recently I came across two books co-authored by William R. Benner that have greatly enhanced my life, both professionally and personally. Benner is a success in his own right; he’s President and CTO of Pangolin Laser Systems, a multi-national organization with offices in the U.S., China and Central Europe. His products have been used by such companies as Walt Disney World, Universal Studies, Boeing and Samsung. Not too shabby!

I enjoy sharing my life stories, and I love listening to those of others, especially when there’s a message. In Benner’s two books, “Game Changers” and “Win: 35 Strategies from Today’s Leading Entrepreneurs,” hugely accomplished people generously share personal stories on their lives and all that they have learned to reach their goals.

What’s so fascinating to me is that each person is successful in their respective fields, but they all “arrived” in their own unique way. Let’s face it, it’s never a straight road and figuring out how to maneuver the bumps and the sharp turns is what keeps life exciting!

Many of the lessons are so basic that they should be common sense, but it’s easy to forget them. In fact, it’s really interesting to see how my success in life has mirrored some of the same paths of the authors in these books. It brings to light the things I’ve done that have really worked.

I’ve read these books cover to cover more than once.  But many things stay in the back of my mind and as time goes on and things happen in my life, I may flash back to a specific story. That’s when I open the book, read it again and say, “Man, that’s exactly what I should be doing, that’s exactly it.”

I also came across stories that remind me what I should be doing again – the “aha” moment: “Come to think of it, that really worked for me in the past. I need to focus again on that approach.”

If you want to reach higher levels of success, or just like to read about great journeys to success of others, I encourage you to check out these books.  I just received Benner’s latest book, “The Only Business Book You’ll Ever Need.” It’s on my nightstand. My life is great and my own stories are evolving, but I’m always ready to be enlightened and reminded of what I already know.

Futures, Friends and the Team: An Evening to Remember

A few Saturdays ago we had our annual “Wine Club Only” barrel tasting event.  It had to have been one of the most incredible evenings of my life. There were close to 500 people at The Castle from all over the United States. I even heard that someone flew in from Canada. The weather was picture perfect. It was the kind of magical Sonoma Valley spring evening when the sun is warm as it descends and the breeze is mild and refreshing. An incredible energy hung in the air.

It was amazing! I went from one conversation to the next. I must have talked to 200 people myself! Everybody was raving about the wines, about the staff, about the building, the food, the evening.  Everything.

Words can’t describe what it’s like to work in an industry like this, where so many different facets are involved in the finished product:  Finding the right piece of property to plant grapes, going through all the soil tests and weather checks and getting the right root stocks with the right clone with the right trellis system, planting the rows in the right direction. And then you have a good four years of growing the vines before you get any grapes!  Once you finally have grapes, there’s another two or three years for the winemaking process.

From the time the root goes into the ground to the moment the wine crosses our customers’ lips, it’s been six or seven years, and in some cases, eight!

That only gets the wine into the bottle, then it needs at least six months to a year to evolve.  Once it has passed over the palates of our most expert tasting panel, then it is time for our wine consultants to contact our valued customers to receive their wine. A lot of hard work from so many people, vineyard workers, winemaking team, wine consultants, Marketplace staff, wine club department, shipping, runners, admin, and janitorial.  A total of 122 people on our little team at Ledson all working seamlessly over seven to eight years to bring our product to our loyal customers.

And so that’s why, on Saturday night, when couple after couple , one after the other, came up and  shook my hand and saying things like, “This is one of the best events I have ever been to.  Your staff is absolutely incredible, you can see they love what they do here. The wine is impeccable and so is the food.” It was music to my ears.

As the sun set behind the mountains and the building became lit, and with the warmth of the night spring air, the castle could not have looked and felt better – there was no place I would rather have been that evening. It was such a high, an evening like that, not only for me, but for my entire team. They get up early and put in long hours with so much passion and drive for what they do, and always with a smile.

I was so moved throughout the event that I couldn’t sleep when I got home. I kept thinking about the event and all the positive things people said. I was thinking about all the people who have worked so hard for so many years. You know this did not come to fruition overnight – it took a lot of people with positive perspectives years to put it together. I am so proud of all my staff and so happy to be part of it. I don’t know how life can get any better.

The Marriage of Veola’s Two Favorite Varietals

Last Friday, our talented panel of palates tasted one of my grandmother’s favorite wines, Veola. We all agreed that the Zina Hyde Cunningham 2008 Estate ‘Old Vine’ Veola is without doubt an impeccable wine. It warms my heart!

Veola is a bold, explosive blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. The wine is incredibly dark in color, almost black. On the nose, intriguing aromas of dark jammy overly ripe crushed blackberries are tantalizing. In the mouth, rich and stunning notes of chocolate evolve into dreamy soft cocoa, in perfect harmony with an abundance of luscious blackberry fruit, followed by a slight touch of clove and a bit of spice. All the while the palate is treated to an amazing velvety texture.

The fruit for Veola comes from our ranch in Redwood Valley. You may have read my recent blog, “Success: The Win/Win Approach,” where I wrote about the old man who put all his passion into making those very vineyards the best in the valley, achieved his dream, and then lost it all as he grew older. But after a lot of work, a dedicated team, and a generous amount of love and care, I’m seeing the vineyards thrive and they’re producing some really exceptional fruit! Every time I drink a wine from these vineyards, it’s like I’m tasting history.

As a lot of you know, Veola is named after my grandmother Edna Cunningham’s sister. Veola’s two favorite wines were Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. You can imagine how she would love the two together! And this wine highlights the best characteristics of both varietals – robust complexity from the Petite Sirah and spicy, jammy fruit from the Zin. I’d say this wine is a fitting tribute to our Veola!

The Cunningham Winery was started back in the mid1800s by my late great-great grandfather Zina Hyde Cunningham. Sadly, it was closed during prohibition by my great grandfather William Cunningham.

One of my closest friends and dear cousin, William (Bill) Cunningham, reopened the Cunningham Winery in 2004, naming it Zina Hyde Cunningham. Bill and I’ve always had an extreme passion for family and for carrying on the family tradition. I lost my dearest friend in 2008 to cancer, but our friendship and all the wonderful experiences we shared are still alive, as if he were here today.

Bill was just a few years older than I am, and an extremely bright individual. He was an assistant to the Governor of California for the Board of Education for eight years. But wine was in Bill’s blood, and he saw his dream of reviving the family winery come to fruition.

Bill and I enjoyed many bottles of Veola together, and every time I take a sip of it, I can picture the smile on Bill’s face, and the old stories start to roll through my mind.

For Love of Sauvignon Blanc

For Love of Sauvignon Blanc

I am ecstatic about the 90-plus scores that our Sauvignon Blancs continue to receive year after year. Our newest scores are incredible: We scored 93 points and received a Gold Medal on our 2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and 91 points and a Gold Medal on our 2010 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc from the World Wine Championships.

I wanted to celebrate these great awards with Amy, so I stopped by the Big Three Fairmont at the Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa and picked up what I think is the best calamari in the world! I bought four orders of it, it just melts in your mouth, and I knew it would pair impeccably with both of these wines.

I decided to have the Napa Valley, and was just planning to have a glass, but I ended up drinking the whole bottle! Of course Amy loves it as well, but being pregnant with Taylor, she can’t drink right now. She did eat the calamari and asked me several times, “How good is that wine?” And I said, “It’s over the top.”

And a little tip to all my friends who love Sauvignon Blanc as much as I do: 2010 and 2011 produced very light crops of Sauvignon Blanc, not just for us, but for everybody.

A Performance You Won’t Forget

I love live music and I get particularly excited when I discover a rare talent. Luna Itzel is just that. I can tell you from first-hand experience that she sings with heart and soul. She lights up a room and always leaves you wanting more.

Her beautiful and expressive voice has put her at the top of Mexico’s contemporary music scene. She brings her passion for living and shares her traditional spiritual values through her music. She’s been singing for 14 years and has produced seven discs. She is always interpreting different musical styles, but traditional Mexican music is what drives her.

On Friday, May 4, Itzel will perform live at Centre du Vin at the Ledson Hotel from 6:30-9:30 in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. This is a rare opportunity to experience one of the most talented performers in all of Mexico, in an intimate and cozy environment. Itzel doesn’t perform in the United States often, so this is going to be a treat!

Word is getting out, so it’s a good idea to make reservations (707-996-9779)! And to top it off, Chef Justin Bruckert has come up with some great Cinco de Mayo specials to celebrate the weekend.

Chapter Five: Letting the Pigeon Fly Free

Well, we’ve had the pigeon for about four months now, and I decided it was time to let him out so he could feel more free. I hate seeing any animal be penned up all the time – he is such a cool little guy with an awesome personality and so loveable. I want him to have the best life but don’t want him to be killed by a predator. So on Sunday morning we let him (we call him “little piggy”) out of his cage and he sat by the window for a while. When I opened the window, he continued to sit there for another 15 or 20 minutes. It was like he was thinking, “What do I do? Do I fly out there? Do I stay here?”

He’d look outside and then look at me and then look outside again. Sure enough, eventually he flew out the window and around the yard, flew around and around until he finally lit on the roof of the garage. He was there pretty much all day. I was whistling at him and making pigeon noises and he stayed around. I thought for sure he’d come back to the cage to eat, and he did that evening. But later when I went to close the cage, he wasn’t there.

Monday morning I didn’t see him. I walked around the neighborhood and finally spotted him on the top of a house with another pigeon. He kept looking at me and cocking his head. A couple of hours later, towards the end of the day, he was back on my garage with his little pigeon friend – I assume it was a female. They flew around and sat on the garage and flew around some more. I keep putting food out for them. But yesterday he didn’t eat any of his food and today he didn’t eat. I hope he went over to her house for a couple of days and will be back. I don’t know if she got lost and never returned home or goes home at night – she is definitely a domestic pigeon.

So I don’t know where the little guy went, but he’s not around right now. Maybe tomorrow.