Check out this month’s staff picks. See something you like? Add it to your cart, buy it online, and pick it up in store!

Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

I first had wines from Sonoma-Loeb last March while I was in the Sonoma Valley. I immediately fell in love with this fun and playful Pinot Noir. It has the wonderful taste of Cherry Coke, a tell-tale sign of Sonoma Pinot. The wine will eventually open up to reveal notes of rose hips, pomegranate, and baking spices. This is a wine that’s got be looking at California Pinot in a whole new way.

– Seth

Domane Wachau Riesling

Cristal clear straw yellow with green reflections; present and pronounced on the nose, ripe stone fruit, delicate citrus, hints of exotic fruit; on the palate juicy apricot, white peach and subtle hints of quince; an elegant structure; very fresh, crisp and well balanced by a great acidity and a dense fruit; long finish!

-Keegan

Loosen Brothers 'Dr. L' Riesling

Trust me, I’m a doctor…

This Riesling blends the taste of plum, apple, and lemon to provide a sweet and fruity finish. It’s the perfect prescription for hydration during this Arkansas summer.

 – Alex

Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs

The grapes that make up this “field blend” are hand harvested from the eastern half of Ridge’s estate in Lytton Springs, CA. The vineyard is planted with 100-year-old vines of Zinfandel and other complementary varietals. The wine is dark with silky tannins and notes of raisin, plum, and baking spices. Enjoy this wine by itself or pair it with cured meats, sharp cheeses, or roasted vegetables.   

– Spencer

Hogwash Rosé

This crisp, smooth rosé has hints of ripe strawberries and fresh flowers. This tastes like a warm day by the pool and will class up any taco truck experience. If you’ve never tried rosé before, start with this one!

– Kalie


The truth is that for most people, wine can be pretty confusing. It’s our job, of course, to change that and to show people just how amazing the world of wine can be.

‘Ask a Somm’ is your chance to ask all of the alcohol related questions that you’ve always wondered about. Have a question? Ask it using the form at the bottom of the page. 

What's the actual difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio? - Mary P.

Well, the simplest is “there isn’t one,” but let’s dig in a little deeper than that. The words “grigio” and “gris” and Italian and French, respectively, for gray. Naturally, wines from Italy will be labeled with “Grigio,” while those from France as labeled “Gris.” Wines from the U.S. are most often labeled with “Gris,” but this is entirely up to the winemaker or, more often, the winery’s marketing team.

Now, name aside, is there is any difference between the grapes themselves? No. On a genetic level, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same. In fact, Pinot Gris/Grigio is actually a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir grapes’ color is determined by a gene called anthocyanin. When this gene is active, it gives the grapes a deep purple color resulting in Pinot Noir. When this gene is dormant, the grapes are colorless and the resulting wine is called Pinot Blanc. Pinot Gris/Grigio comes from an in between coloring in which Pinot Noir skins cover Pinot Blanc grapes, resulting in fruit that isn’t quite white but also into quite red. Hence the name “gray.”

My husband doesn’t drink white wines - only reds. I know you’re not supposed to drink red wines with fish, but we eat salmon at least once a week in our house. Is there any red wine that I can serve that pairs well with fish? - Susan M.

Well, first of all, it’s disappointing that your husband is ruling out so many amazing wines. White wines, when given the chance, can be every bit as good as red wines, and I wish more people would be as adventurous with whites as they were with reds. That being said, I’m a believer that red wine and fish isn’t the ‘no-no’ common practice has lead us to believe. Conventional wisdom tells us that the delicate flavors of fish are too subtle to handle the power of a red wine. I can certainly think of times when this is true (sushi and Napa Cabernet, ugh), but in your case, especially with salmon which is quite flavorful on its own, I think there are a few options that work perfectly.

The first thing to come to mind is Pinot Noir, especially one from France or Oregon. These wines will have enough body to satisfy your husband’s taste without being so robust as to overpower the fish.

My other recommendation is a little less common than Pinot but every bit as good! Have you ever heard of the grape Gamay? Most people’s experience with the grape is from Beaujolais Nouveau, a mass marketed wine that’s released each year just before the Thanksgiving holiday. Though quality varies by producer, most examples of Beaujolais Nouveau aren’t that good, but please don’t let that spoil Gamay for you. Gamay produces a light to medium-bodied red wine that’s high in ripe fruit flavors; think strawberry, raspberry, and plum. It’s one of my favorite reds to drink in the summer largely because of how good it is when chilled. Pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes before you drink it and it becomes the perfect patio red!

I’m someone who doesn’t like to rock the boat...I have my go-to wines both red and white and I don’t venture from them often. This isn’t because I don’t want to try new things. It’s more that I don’t know how to find the wine that comes next. How am I supposed to know what else I might like? - David P.

This is something I see all the time. Trust me, you’re not the only person feeling this way. For a lot of people, wine can be confusing. That’s where people like me come in. It’s literally my job to help customers find a wine that they’ll love. I do this by asking questions and the first question I always ask is ‘what do you like?’ It’s a pretty simple question but knowing what you enjoy is the easiest way for me to pick out something new for you. The second question I like to ask is what you don’t like. Knowing you like Chardonnay is helpful, but knowing you dislike oaky, buttery Chardonnays is even better! Lastly, I’ll always ask how much you’re looking to spend. The worst answer to this question is a non-answer like “not too much” or “a medium price.” Everyone’s budget is different and there’s no harm at all with wanting to spend a specific amount on a bottle. Giving me that information not only helps me choose a better wine. There’s nothing wrong with having a go-to wine, but the beauty of wine is how different every bottle can be. If you’re not exploring even a tiny bit, you’re limiting your palate and your enjoyment in a major way.


Let’s be honest: as much as we’d all like to drink a $100 bottle of wine each night, for most of us, that isn’t an option. So, what’s a wine lover to do?

 

Well, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best wines in our shop – all under $20. Each of these wines represents a great value and have been our favorites for a long time. Now, we want to share them with you! If you see something you like, you can now buy it online and pick it up in store! 

Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Coming it at just under $20, this Alexander Valley Cabernet is a stunner for its price. Lots of plum, blackcurrant, and raspberry flavors give this wine all the body it needs to pair with everything from grilled pork to steak! For those looking for a Napa Cabernet without the Napa price tag, you’ll be hard pressed to look for a better value than this.

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon

South America produces some excellent wines, and just as importantly, those wines are often great values. The Los Vascos Cabernet is bursting with ripe fruit flavors and firm tannins that make it the perfect everyday-drinker. We like pairing it with BBQ, grilled meats, and roasted veggies.

Calera Central Coast Chardonnay

Balance is the name of the game with Chardonnay, and it can be tricky to find a wine at a lower price point that walks the fine like of ripe fruit and oak barrel aging. This Central Coast Chardonnay from Calera does exactly that with ripe apple and lemon flavors and a subtle hint of vanilla and toast flavors from the time it spent in oak.

Juan Gil Silver Label

Wine made from lesser known grapes can also be a great place to look for hidden gems and high-value wines. This Spanish wine is made of 100% Monestrell (known as Mourvedre in France), and we’re in love with its blackberry and violet aroma. It’s perfect for cooking out or enjoying by itself during a night in.

Broadbent Vinho Verde

It’s hard to beat a $8.99 bottle of wine, right? Vinho Verde is a young, slightly spritzy white wine from northern Portugal that’s loaded with citrus flavors and crisp acidity. This has become our go-to wine for warm afternoons in the summer.

Lago Rosé

Yes-way rosé! It’s high rosé season and whether you’ve been drinking pink for yours or have yet to have a sip, this is a rosé full of ripe raspberry and strawberry flavors. It’s perfect for sipping out by the pool with friends. This might just be our wine of the summer!

Check back next week for part 2!


Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


I haven’t done any official research on the topic, but I’d be willing to wager that after December, May is the second busiest month of the year. Everyone is graduating or going to events or on their first bit of vacation. With all of that in mind, we wanted to give you some wines that you could slow down and relax with as this month’s Selections.

How many times have Keegan and I told you that we’re always looking for unusual wines and unheard of grapes? Well, this month, in the two blends we’ve collected, there are 7 different grapes used with 6 of them being (to our count) completely new to Shamrock Selections.

So, sit back and relax and enjoy these wines. They’re superstars on their own, but in tandem, as part of a meal, they really shine.

 

Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia Douro 2013

Who knew they made wine in Portugal that wasn’t Port? Well, you probably did, but have you actually had any of it? If not, you’re in for a treat.

This month’s wine is an interesting blend of 4 grapes: 59% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 5.5% Tinta Roriz, and 5.5% Tinta Barroca. The blend really hangs its hat on Touriga Nacional (tor-REE-ga na-see-o-NAL). This is the grape most commonly used in Port production, but here it’s presented in a dry style. The result is big, bold wine with lots of grip and tannin. There are lots of violet, date, and plum notes with a strong hint of blueberry pie crust on the finish.

The second most prominent grape in the blend, Touriga Franca, is where this wine gets is ink-like color. This is definitely a wine that will leave your lips a shade or two darker. On its own, Touriga Franca can best be compared to Zinfandel with its dark color and milder tannins. Here it delivers a very strong note of black cherry.

The remaining two grapes are popular blending grapes for Portuguese wines, both dry and fortified. Tinta Roriz is the Portuguese name for the Spanish grape Tempranillo which you got to experience in your January selection.

If you’re like me and you’ve been finding excuses to use your backyard grill, this is the wine for you. It’s big and bold enough to handle almost anything you might want to pair with it, from steak to brats. This wine is cravings a hearty meal and company.

Lightning CDP Blanc 2015

CDP stands for “Chateauneuf du Pape,” a wine-growing region along France’s Rhone river. Châteauneuf du Pape is generally known for its red wines, but they also produce a rich white wine that I absolutely love. This isn’t that. But it’s close and it’s delicious!

This is the same blend that you’d find in France, but produced in Napa Valley. The blend here is 55% Grenache Blanc, 30% Piquepoul Blanc, 15% Marsanne.

Piquepoul Blanc is light-bodied grape common in southern France. In many ways, it’s quite similar to Pinot Gris, but with a more herbal character. For me, it’s the two full-bodied grapes in the blend that make this wine so interesting.

As the name suggests, Grenache Blanc is the white version of the red grape Grenache. Here it adds the wine’s tropical notes; papaya, pineapple, guava. Marsanne, on the other hand, gives the wine its unique texture, a subtle viciousness that makes the wine seem heavier or more mouth-coating than many others.

We recommend serving this wine only slightly chilled as many of its herbal aromas are so light that they’ll be easily hidden by a colder temperature. The high acidity of the wine means that it will pair nicely with most foods. I imagine it going well with salads and fish. The herbal notes in the wine would go especially well with a herb roasted chicken.

As always, we hope you enjoy this month’s wines. We’ve already started hunting for June’s selections and we think we’ve found something you’ll love.

Want to join Shamrock Selections? There’s still time to subscribe in order to get next month’s selections. Use the link below to subscribe!


Check out this month’s staff picks. See something you like? Add it to your cart, buy it online, and pick it up in store!

The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Blanc

Where has this wine been all my life? I’m a long time member of the Pinot Blanc fan club, but wheeeeeew, was this a welcome sight: a light-bodied wine with tropical notes that wasn’t a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Let me tell you – I. AM. HERE. FOR. IT. [insert praise hands emoji] This is what I’m drinking all summer long. Get your bottle before I buy them all.


– Seth

Catherine & Pierre Breton Trinch!

It’s about to be 10,000º outside and I just can’t handle a big Napa Cabernet when I’m dinning al fresco. This is when I turn to Cabernet Franc, one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s parent grapes, for relief. This wine comes to us from France’s Loire Valley and, here’s the kicker, you can serve it chilled. Yes, really! Pop it in the fridge for 20 minutes and thank me later.

-Keegan

O'Looney's + Loblolly Creamery Limited Edition Flavors

We’ve partnered with the amazing Loblolly Creamery to produce a line of alcohol-flavored ice creams and sorbets that are available exclusively at O’Looney’s. We’ll have two flavors all summer long: Double Chili Chocolate and Sparkling Elderflower. We’ll also have flavors that we’ll rotate in and out. Currently we have a delicious margarita sorbet!

 – Alex

Charles & Charles Riesling

This excellent, single vineyard Riesling is everything one can want from a Washington wine. Its sweetness is held in balance by a taut acidity. The resulting wine is gorgeous and full-flavored with aromas driven by stone fruit, mineral notes, wet rock, citrus, and floral scents. Its palate has a beautiful focus with lingering notes of honeysuckle and lime.

– Spencer

Broadbent Vino Verde

Vino Verde isn’t actually green like the name suggests. “Green” is meant to signify that it’s a young wine. This is the perfect thing to sip on during a hot afternoon. It’s very light and slightly spritzy. It has a low ABV, which means you don’t have to worry about drinking too much throughout the day.

– Dominique

Bouvet-Ladubay Signature Brut

Bouvet-Ladubay is a sparkling wine from France’s Loire Valley. The limestone subsoil is ideal for the cultivation of Chenin Blanc, and the mild climate coupled with the excellent drainage of the clay creates the natural acidity needed to produce a balanced sparkling white wine. This wine is full of bright acidity and the flavors of baked apple, brioche bun, and pear.

– Mr. Baker


Check out this month’s staff picks. See something you like? Add it to your cart, buy it online, and pick it up in store!

Round Pond Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc

Warm weather means one thing to me: dinner on my back porch, and trust me, this wine tastes 1000% better when it’s drunk outside on a warm afternoon. This is everything I want from a wine this time of year. Lots of bright fruit notes including lime, peach, pear, and honeydew melon. Pair with a salad or any spring vegetable you get from your garden.


– Seth

Bell Winery Canterbury Vineyards Syrah

This wine is full of baked plum, fig and date aromas. Maraschino cherry and kirsch liqueur both come to mind, along with the aromas of ample baking spices. A deep, inky purple color, over time the wine will paint your glass a delicate shade of pink. Delicious now, with cellaring it will evolve and grow into the seductive wine it promises to become.

 Ty

Azur Rosé

Did someone say rosé?! It’s that time of year again, and there’s no better way to kick off the summer than with this amazing wine. Notes of strawberry and watermelon are prevalent here, but they’re combined with a lovely scent of fresh air. This beautifully colored wine has slightly copper tints that make it sparkle in the glass. Cheers to the return of warm weather!

-Keegan

Jordan Winery Chardonnay

Higher acid makes the fruit in this wine seem crisp and fresh with notes of white peach, pear, and apricot. The oak treatment is balanced and serves to elevate the fruit without overpowering it. Hints of vanilla and caramel are a wonderful compliment. I think this wine is ideal for pairing with seafood or chicken and will be a wonderful wine to enjoy in the warmer weather to come.

– Spencer

Eric Chevalier Fié Gris

“If you’re a fan of either Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris, you’re going to like this wine, as it tastes like a unique blend of the two. It’s actually a relative of Sauvignon Blanc, but with light pink grapes. Light and crisp, this wine is full of herbal notes like dill, celery, and fennel. It would make a great pairing with salads, appetizers, and shellfish.

– Walker

Screen Door Cellars Asern Vineyard Chardonnay

We’ve been fans of Screen Door Cellars for a while now. They’re producing some of our favorite small-batch wines coming out of Sonoma. This is their first ever bottling of Chardonnay, and it’s quickly become a constant presence at my dinner table. A mature oak program lends notes of lemon pound cake and crème fraiche. On the palate, you’ll find yellow apples, pie crust, and vanilla mouse.

– Mr. Baker


Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


Some months, choosing the wines for Shamrock is one of best parts of our jobs here at O’Looney’s. We get to dig deep into the portfolios of our distributors and find the hidden gems that no one else has found. It’s really fun to imagine your reactions to what we hope will always be a new and, at the very least, interesting bottle of wine.

Unfortunately, April wasn’t one of those months. This time, finding the wines was like pulling teeth. As is common when people discuss things they’re passionate about, some disagreements can arise, and we had a lot of…passionate deliberations about this month’s selections. We didn’t like the idea of a third bottle of Chardonnay in a row. And though we agreed that it would be an interesting selection, we couldn’t find a distributor who carried any of the Listan Blanco wines grown on the Canary Islands. We briefly toyed with a few ideas from Washington state and New Zealand, but we eventually found inspiration in our own recent trip to Napa.

 

2014 Round Pond Estate Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

As I mentioned in last month’s Shamrock blog, Keegan and I recently spent a week in California drinking all the wine we could find. We’d both tell you that one of the highlights of our trip was our visit to and lunch at Round Pond Estate. Located in the heart of Rutherford, Round Pond is almost in the exact center of Napa Valley.

The Estate has been growing grapes for decades and has long been one of the most sought after producers of fruit on the valley floor, but it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that the MacDonnell family, owners since the 1980’s, decided to start making their own wine.

You may have had “Kith & Kin,” their entry level wine, as it’s one we all try to recommend to clients because of its excellent value, but this is their estate wine (hence the photo of the eponymous round pond on the label). Made entirely of fruit grown right on the winery grounds, this is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Petit Verdot.

While you might think that 12% isn’t much, it’s that small percentage of Petit Verdot (PV) that makes this wine so special. PV originated in southwestern France, near Bordeaux during the time of the ancient Romans. It was planted in Bordeaux long before Cabernet Sauvignon, and up into the mid-1700’s, was a leading grape in most of the region’s wines. Today, PV is most commonly used as a blending grape, with usually less than 10% making its way into the finished product. PV is added to wines for any of three main reasons: to add a deep purple, almost black color, to increase tannins, and to add its uniquely spicy yet floral flavors to the blend.

As you’ll see in your wine this month, the PV is doing all of those things and more. PV is one of most tannic wines in the world, and those tannins, especially when combined with the solid tannins coming from the Cabernet Sauvignon, provide a huge springboard for the wine’s fruit flavors while also creating a solid backbone that will allow this wine to age for years. Don’t worry if you don’t get around to cracking this one open anytime soon. I’d say you’ve got until the early 2030’s before this one even starts to head downhill.

Now, I’ve talked a lot about the PV, but I don’t want to ignore the Cab, here. It is, after all, the real star of the wine and that’s because the quality of the individual berries that went into this wine is just so ridiculously high. Of all the parts of Napa Valley, there may not be a region that produces Cab as well as Rutherford. Most people will say it’s a product of the “Rutherford dust,” the red, dusty soil the area is known for. What does that actually mean? Well, on the palate, you’ll notice key notes of cocoa powder, eucalyptus, and mint, while the tannins are a bit more subdued, more rounded, more “dusty” than the “kick in the face” tannins you’ll find in other parts of the valley. In fact, it’s these dusty tannins that the PV’s brash tannins hold up over the many years of aging.

When you open this wine, you’re going to first notice how deep and dark the color is, so purple it’s almost black. That comes from the PV, though if you age this bottle for a long time, you’ll notice a significant color change. You’ll also pick up the aromas of ripe blackberries, black currant, cassis, and just the faintest hint of lavender (another telltale sign of PV). On the palate, black cherry and raspberry are most noticeable, with notes of pepper, coffee, and dark chocolate on the finish.

For a wine like this, you’re going to need a meal that can stand its ground against such a powerful wine. I had this wine with steak recently for my birthday and it was perfect. If you’re doing beef, I recommend a cut with a bit more fat like filet mignon, hanger, or New York strip.

Also, please do the world a favor and decant this. Thirty minutes will do wonders but ninety will make your life better, I promise.

Lago Cerqueira Vinho Verde Rosé

So, I know what you’re probably thinking: “How you have a rosé from a “green” wine?”

Well, to explain, we have to delve into one of the many misnomers in the wine world. Portugues Vinho Verde isn’t actually green, well, at least not really green. Though literally translated as “green wine,” the more correct meaning is “young wine.” Also, Vinho Verde is not a specific grape, but a large growing region in northwestern Portugal along the Atlantic coast. In Portugal, it’s quite common to see the Vinho Verde label on wines that are either red, white, or pink, though white Vinho Verde is most commonly imported into the US. And yes, depending upon which white grape the wine is made from, there can be a slightly green tint to the juice.

Your rosé this month is made from the grape Vinhão (veen-HOW), a rare grape outside of Portugal where it’s typically made into red Vinho Verde. The interesting thing about Vinhão is that it’s a teinturier or a red grape whose flesh is also red. This is actually quite rare among red grape varieties, and it’s the factor that produces such a vivid hue in this wine. While the juice of many red wines is left in contact with the grape skins for several days or weeks in order to impart a deep red color, this rose’s color was imparted straight from the juice, as the skins were removed from the juice immediately after pressing. To give you an idea of the color of a true Vinhão wine, look for a bottle of Port. Vinhão is often added to Port wine blends to add an inky purple color.

Color aside, this wine is bright with fruit notes of strawberries, watermelon, and cherry. It just tastes pink! We recommend pairing it with a light salad or an afternoon spent outside. This is a no-frills wine meant for enjoying on the beautiful weekends we’ve been having.

Want to join Shamrock Selections? There’s still time to subscribe in order to get next month’s selections. Use the link below to subscribe!



 

While attending college in New Orleans in the early 1970s, Peter took a job as a waiter in a French restaurant and became infatuated with classic French wines and food. His wines of preference were those from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley. He pursued a career in the restaurant industry and served as manager and wine buyer at several restaurants before realizing that he belonged solely in the wine business. He ventured into wine retail, then into wholesale distribution, and then started a wine marketing and sales company. These pursuits took Peter to his favorite wine regions of Europe to learn what the best properties did to make their wines special. These also led him to California during the wine renaissance of the late 1970s to meet the new small, artisan producers. After working crush at two different wineries, Peter decided that he wanted his own small winery to make unique wines to add to the wine world. In 2000, he finally moved to northern California to take a position with a wine importing company and the temptation was too great. He bought his vineyard in Glen Ellen and Spann Vineyards was born.

 


Most people in this industry can trace their love of wine to a specific wine that ignited their passion. Do you have a wine like that? If not, how did you get interested in the industry?

I started college with no idea what I would do for a career and took a summer job waiting tables at a French restaurant with an aggressive wine program. This was my first exposure to fine wine and food and it transformed my life. It fascinated and intrigued me and at age 19 I decided I would spend the rest of my life involved with wine and food.

 

 

The hardest thing about owning your own winery is…

Taking time off. My wife and I are the only employees and we enjoy every aspect from farming to crushing to blending, bottling, branding and selling so we tend to work seven days a week.

 

 

What’s it like running the winery as a husband and wife team? Do you think that gives you an advantage that other winery teams may not have?

We know each others’ strengths, weaknesses, and tolerances very well so it’s easy to divide up responsibilities and to know when the other person needs help and when to leave them on their own.

 

 

What’s been the most rewarding thing about your career?

Bringing joy to other people through something we created.

 

 

Who are the people in your industry that your most admire?

For the wines they’ve made and the things they’ve taught me: André Tchelistcheff, former winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards, and Gary Andrus, founder/winemaker at Pine Ridge Winery. I also admire wine shop owners and restaurateurs who seek out lesser-known great wines to offer their customers rather than rely on wine writer’s recommendations and ratings.

 

 

If you weren’t making wine, what career would you have?

I would love to be a sculptor because I admire people who can take what seems like nothing and create something beautiful out of it that people could enjoy for hundreds or thousands of years. Unfortunately, I have no talent in this regard so I had to settle for winemaking for my artistic expression.

 

 

What advice would you give to people who wanted to get into the industry?

Surround yourself with people who know a lot more than you do about whatever aspect of the business you want to be part of. I managed to do that at an early age and it served me well.

 

 

When hand selling your wines, we’ve been able to introduce our customers to grape varieties they aren’t used to seeing (like Viognier, Semillon, Cinsault). Overall, you’ve come up with some unique blends. Was it your original goal to focus on blends? If not, how did that come about?

We started our winery during the 2001/2002 recession. The dot-com bust happened, followed by the 9-11 attacks and wine consumption dropped dramatically. Many highly regarded wineries were closing out Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots at half price so we decided it would be foolish to make the same wines that the market already had too much of. Betsy and I grew up on French wines, most of which were blends so we simply made the style of wines we knew and enjoyed.

 

 

If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one drink (not your own brand), what would it be?

Chateau Latour, preferably between 20 and 40 years old and hopefully many bottles of it.

 

 

Where do you see yourself and your brand in 5 years?

Currently, we sell our wines in 19 states. I’d like to maintain our current volume but reduce the number of states by one-third to one-half. This would simplify my life, allow me to focus on the markets where we have the best response to our efforts and spend more time in these markets. Arkansas will definitely be one of those.

Want to try some of Kristin's wines? You can now buy them online and pick them up in store!



 

While attending UC Davis, Kristin Belair serendipitously stumbled upon an answer to a daunting career puzzle – for someone unable to choose between a multitude of disciplines, winemaking was an elegant solution.

In 1981, degree in Enology in hand, Kristin began her first of two California harvests, as an intern at Trefethen. It was there that she perfected forklift driving, cleaning tanks, and topping barrels while learning a lot about small winery operations. A southern hemisphere harvest experience in Australia taught her even more. Kristin’s first full winemaking position began in 1985, making Cabernet and Chardonnay at Johnson-Turnbull (which later became Turnbull Wine Cellars). In 1998, after working at one facility for nearly 13 years, she joined Honig as Winemaker. Kristin says that “being able to craft award-winning, nationally recognized Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon and being part of the dynamic Honig team has been nothing but rewarding. For me, what is most satisfying is knowing that I play a part in creating something that people are enjoying in many different settings, with family and friends. Wine has an extraordinary way of connecting together people, places, and experiences.”

When she’s not feeding her passion for winemaking and growing grapes, Kristin can generally be found engaging in some kind of outdoor activity. Her current favorites are skiing, running, mountain biking, and climbing.

 


Most people in this industry can trace their love of wine to a specific wine that ignited their passion. Do you have a wine like that? If not, how did you get interested in the industry?

I don’t have a particular wine that got me interested in the wine industry. It was rather a synchronous crossing paths with a classmate at UC Davis, who had just switched his major to Winemaking. I was in biochem at the time and contemplating how on earth I would pass a year of upper division physical chemistry. His enthusiasm inspired me to investigate the winemaking path and the rest is history.

 

The hardest thing about winemaking is…

Bottling! While it mostly goes smoothly it can get tedious and be fraught with complications, even with lots of prior planning.

 

What’s the most rewarding thing about your career?

The people I work with and the places I work in. Early mornings in a vineyard are so beautiful. And, the stories people share about the wine they enjoyed.

 

 

What advice would you give to people who wanted to get into the industry?

Patience, persistence, passion.

 

As a winemaker, have you ever made a mistake in a vintage?

There are new things to learn from every vintage. What we initially may think of as a mistake becomes a window to refining our methods.

 

What your most listened to Spotify/Pandora/Sirius station?

Usually, some form of rock, but I’ll switch it up to jazz or classical pretty regularly.

 

If you were stranded on a deserted island with only one drink (not your own brand), what would it be?

Beer! A nice hoppy IPA.

Want to try some of Kristin's wines? You can now buy them online and pick them up in store!


Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


2011 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Olivet Lane Chardonnay

With March being Women’s History Month, we thought it appropriate to highlight a wine by one of California’s greatest female winemakers: Merry Edwards. Merry has been inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame and has won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional in the United States, just the fourth woman to do so.

Merry began making wine in 1973, a time when female winemakers were still a rarity. Pinot noir was her first love, but her Chardonnays are every bit as good. The Olivet Lane vineyard sits about 3 miles northwest of Santa Rosa in the heart of the Russian River valley, and from it, Merry makes of one the most regal Sonoma Chardonnays I’ve ever had. It’s very much a Lady. Refined but sassy, it reminds me of Maggie Smith’s character from “Downton Abby.”

Whereas last month’s Chardonnay (from Chablis, France) was sleek and racy, this one takes its time. Less a race than a procession. But what a procession it is! A parade of aromas greets you from the glass: apricot, ripe yellow apples, honey, creme brulee. It’s really just so decadent. The texture here, again comparing it to last month’s light bodied example, is thick and mouth coating, almost like drinking creme fraiche. That’s a result of what’s called malolactic fermentation, a process that takes place after the wine’s actual fermentation in which crisp malic acid is converted into the more lush and creamy lactic acid.

I just can’t get over how good this Chardonnay is. It’s the polar opposite of last month’s example, but the differing styles show what I love most about the grape: that it can act almost like a blank canvas, allowing the drinker to get a better sense of who the winemaker is as a craftsman through the finished product.

As far as food pairings, I honestly don’t think one is needed. This wine more than stands on its own, but if you want to enjoy it with food, I’d recommend something light but filling, like grilled salmon. Merry herself recommends bacon-wrapped stuffed chicken breast, which sounds equally perfect.

2010 Beneventano Aglianico

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of the grape Aglianico (al-leON-a-co).

No one?

Yep, that’s about what I expected. Aglianico originated in Greece but was brought to southern Italy about 2,500 years ago. Known for their distinctly black color, Aglianico grapes are thick-skinned and hold up well in the heat. Interestingly enough, this trait has led to it becoming one of the more widely planted grapes in Texas.

As a wine, Aglianico is known for its high tannin and acidity, two qualities that make it ideal for aging. Stylistically, it can seem similar to Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon and is often blended with those grapes. In most cases, Aglianico is best aged for a few years in the bottle before drinking. Thankfully, you’re getting the 2010 vintage which is perfect for drinking.

This Aglianico hails from the region of Campania, and specifically the vineyards surrounding the city of Benevento, just a few miles inland from Naples. The rich volcanic soils of the area make for an ideal vineyard site and, year after year, they produce grapes of excellent quality.

The wine is still a deep russet color, with a slight fading of the color at the glasses edges, a tell tale sign of age. On the nose, there’s a hint of spiced plum and the smoke from a campfire. The plum is evident on the palate, as well, where it’s joined by black cherry and white pepper notes.

Aglianico is such a great wine for food. You could almost pair anything with it, but I think it’s best for BBQ and other grilled meats. I’m a huge brisket fan, and I can only imagine how well this would be with beef that’s been cooking all day. For a lighter pairing, I think a dish centered around mushrooms or eggplant would be superb. Likewise, any hard Italian cheese (Asiago, Provolone, Pecorino, Grana Padano, etc.) would be ideal.

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