Just Pondering

The wine bar is quiet tonight.  It is raining and nobody comes out in the rain to wander from bar to bar, much more comforting to sit at home with your wine in the dry.  So I have time too much time to think.  Three months in – what have I learned, what would I do differently?

  • My first mistake was several months ago when I initially leased the space for the wine bar.  I had no way of knowing it would take 10+ months to get the build-out completed and the doors opened but that is irrelevant; I still should have negotiated that the rent payments didn’t start until construction was complete.
  • I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter how great your wine selection is or how great your tapas menu is, people want a festive atmosphere.  They may tell you that they want to be able to sit and talk while they enjoy their glass of wine, but they will still leave your bar and head to the party bar if they are not entertained.
  • There is a steep learning curve to running a bar or a restaurant and you have to run hard just to keep up and even harder to get ahead of the curve.
  • There are more restaurant consultants (probably in most towns) than there are restaurants.  Even though you are a new business and you have to watch every penny you spend, these consultants won’t hesitate to ask thousands of dollars to show you how to succeed.
  • Advertising dollars are scarce, but once again, sales people come out of the woodwork to try to convince you to use their advertising medium to reach the masses.  Knowing the right source for your advertising so that you actually reach your target market isn’t easy.
  • Sleep is overrated!  If you get all of these things (listed above) spinning around in your head, sleep is elusive; but you keep going because of that learning curve and because success is the only option.
  • Eating, while not overrated, isn’t quite as important as you once thought.  If are looking for a weight loss program, open a bar – guaranteed 20 pounds.
  • Your wine list does matter.  It is nice to be able to brag about how extensive your list is and even more uplifting to have a master sommelier brag about your wine list.
  • Building a group of regulars is important.  It is nice to see that smiling face come through the door.  It is like having family come visit and it is important to your customers to be recognized and treated like family.
  • I have learned that you actually drink less if you own the bar – you can’t drink at work and you are way too tired by the time you get off!

I don’t want to write about the bar very often.  I still want to write about wine and the experiences that go along with it.  So the wine bar is open.  I have survived thus far – a little thinner, a little more knowledgeable about the industry, but still going strong.  Good days are really good, slow days are just slow days, not the end of the world.

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Cheers, All!!!  Thank you so much for all your support while I have chased this dream. If you are ever in the Bluffton/Hilton Head area, pleas come me.  You are all like family!

 

My 15 Minutes of Fame (almost!)

The wine bar has been open for 3 months now.  I keep thinking I am at a point where I can slow down long enough to post on my blog again, but something always comes up that keeps me hopping.  But I am not so stressed anymore so I do see the light at the end of the tunnel and unless it is a train, I will be back soon!  🙂

For now, please enjoy this video from my appearance on a local TV station for their Restaurant Show.

Latitude Wine Bar on the Restaurant Show

 

 

Southern Charm

I was born and raised in the South.  Except for a few years from the second through the fifth grades when my family moved to Indiana, I have always been a southern girl.  As a southerner, I use several colloquialisms that are common to my roots.  For example, when I see someone I know, I don’t say, “Hi,” I say, “Heyyy!”  Most southerners have never met a stranger – we smile and speak to strangers, we strike up conversations in the checkout line with people we have never seen.  I personally never call anyone, “Sugar,” but if you visit a traditional southern restaurant chances are the waitress will address you this way.  Most people seem to appreciate the southern drawl.

Another thing Southerners like is sweet tea.  When you are below the Mason-Dixon line and you order tea at a restaurant, if you want it without sugar, you must specify when you order that you want unsweet – they may have it and they may not!  And sweet tea isn’t just sweet, it is REALLY sweet.  I have been told several times over the last few years that this sweet tea phenomena leads southerners to prefer sweet wine as well, which may be a good thing as the conditions in the deep coastal south only allow for growing either Muscadine grapes or a close relative of Muscadine.

The reality is though, these sweet Muscadine wines sell.  There has been a quiet resurgence of sweet wine over the last couple of years.  Part of the reason is that people love spicy foods.  Dry wines are not as easy to pair with spicy fare, but sweet wines pair with almost anything from Asian to Thai to Latin.

So in comes September Oaks with all their Southern Charm and a full range of sweet and semi-sweet Muscadine wines.  Their driest wine is a Chardonnay made with grapes sourced from California.  They also have a Sauvignon Blanc but add a touch of Muscat to it so that it has some residual sugar.  The rest of their lineup has increasingly more residual sugar ending with 5.5% in their Carolina Wren which can be served as a dessert wine.  Muscadine wines are not meant to be aged.  These sweet wines have a 6-12 month drinkability, are meant to be consumed soon after purchasing and are best served well chilled.  They are perfect for the long, lazy days of summer.

SO Registry

SO SOV

SO wines

Grady Woods, winemaker and vineyard owner, is working diligently to establish the Lenoir (pronounced le-nwah like Pinot Noir) grape as the state grape for South Carolina.

Embracing My New Surroundings

Having lived in North Carolina since 1996, I have become accustomed to having wineries at my finger tips.  The wine industry is alive and well in North Carolina with almost 120 wineries in their repertoire now.  I live within 15 minutes of some great wineries and could easily run out on a Friday afternoon and hang out with good friends and sip on some of NC’s finest wines.  That’s not so easy here in South Carolina.  The weather here is not conducive to grape growing because of the sandy soil and extreme humidity so there are only 12 (yes, I said 12) wineries in the whole state.  😦

But I have decided to embrace the wine culture here so I started by visiting my first South Carolina winery, Island Winery on Hilton Head Island.  I was pleasantly surprised!

pulled from Island Winery website.

pulled from Island Winery website.

Island winery has quite the wine list, ranging from whites like Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio to red wines like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Carmenere.  They also carry some sweeter Southern favorites.  My suspicions were confirmed – the grapes are sourced and delivered to the winery immediately for crushing.  They come from some of the best wine regions around the globe.  Riesling is sourced from the shores of Lake Michigan to the upper regions of Lake Ontario in New York.  They get Zinfandel from Lodi, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the Suisun Valley and Sangiovese from Amador County – all part of northern California.  They also get Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Carmenere from the Curico Valley in Chile.

IS wines 1

The winery is owned by Loren and Georgene Mortimer.  If you recognize the name, the Mortimer’s also own Westfall Winery in Montague, New Jersey.  The vineyard at Westfall Winery was first planted in the fall of 2000.  The Mortimer’s spend the hot summers in New Jersey and then head South to Hilton Head for the winters.  Some of the same wines are sold at both wineries.

Island Winery offers fun evenings for locals and tourists alike.  Each evening Monday through Thursday they have Happy Hour starting at 4pm where they serve wine flights consisting of three different wines along with a cheese plate.  Every Friday they offer a barrel tasting featuring two different wines during the tasting along with your choice of a glass of wine and a cheese plate.

The winery also has a selection of “Lowcountry Specialty Wines” consisting of their own blend of Sangria called Southern Passion and Peach on the Beach – perfect for mixing with prosecco to make a drink similar to a bellini.  But my favorite is their Margarita Wine.  It tasted just like a margarita, all I needed was some salt on the rim and a lime.  What a great, refreshing summer drink!

Friendly couple tasting along side me

Friendly couple tasting along side me

I have had homemade Margarita Wine before, but had to get creative and make a Sangria Styled Margarita with it.  I couldn’t drink it “straight.”  But this wine is delicious.  Something tells me it will be one of those fun items on the menu at Latitude Wine Bar!

I wan to say a special, “Thank You,” to Linda Biersack for guiding me through my tasting and for all the great tips regarding the South Carolina wine lifestyle.

Grapes and Small Plates Returns

Grapes

Grapes and Small Plates returns to Winston Salem during the month of April for its second annual food and wine event.  This culinary event is an opportunity to try a great local restaurant at a really reasonable price.  Last year we discovered Cimarron and The District, both of which became immediate favorites during Grapes and Small Plates.  So as soon as I saw the event advertised again this year, I started scoping out all the new restaurants I could try.  This year’s event goes to a new level by partnering with local wineries and creating pairings for their menu.

The event started Tuesday, April 2.  There are 11 participating restaurants and five participating wineries.

We started this year’s event by going back to Cimarron.  To my surprise, they actually had someone from Childress Vineyards there pouring samples of the wines they had on the menu.  They were pouring the Childress Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah as well as “3”.

Hubby ordered Prime Rib for his “small plate” and paired it with Childress Syrah.  His dinner was served with Au Jus, Horseradish Cream Sauce and Sautéed Vegetables, served with warm bread and a fresh basil olive oil dip.

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I selected Flank Steak marinated in a Sriracha, Lime, Cilantro and Cumin Sauce, then grilled.  This was served with Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Mashed Sweet Potatoes.  I also paired mine with the Childress Syrah.

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Each of our menu items was only $12.  The wine was $6 per glass.  We had a gourmet dinner for only $36.  The great thing about Grapes and Small Plates is that each restaurant prepares a special menu for each week, not just a special item.  You have several choices at each restaurant and the menu changes weekly.  It has been my experience with “Restaurant Week/Month” that each restaurant only offers one item for each night so this is a real treat.

Another added feature this year is a kiosk set up at each participating restaurant for donations to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

I already have a restaurant picked out for next week, but you will have to wait.  It is a surprise, and I have never eaten there so it should be fun!

For more information on Grapes and Small Plates, please visit:

Carolina Epicure:  2nd Annual Grapes and Small Plates

My post from the inagural Grapes and Small Plates

Inaugural Wines

Senator Chuck Schumer chairs the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and as such, he was able to get more media attention for the New York wine industry than money could ever buy.  The inaugural luncheon menu had each course paired with some of New York’s finest.  The first course featured lobster and New England clam chowder paired with a Tierce 2010 Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes.  This Riesling is a joint effort from Anthony Road Winery, Fox Run Vineyards and Red Newt Cellars.

Tierce_riesling_re2

The second course, hickory grilled bison with wild huckleberry reduction and red potato horseradish cake was paired with a 2009 Merlot from Bedell Cellars.  Bedell Cellars prides itself  in allocating their wines to their wine club members first, then to restauranteurs, but something tells me they made an exception in this case.  This Merlot is touted as coming from some of the oldest Merlot vines in the country and the 2009 vintage was a stellar year for the North Fork area.  Even though I have never had this wine, the descriptors of  “local red fruit flavors of strawberries, dried cranberries and cherries coupled with the subtle aromas of red raspberries, herbs and beach stones” make my mouth water.  (I may have to add this one to the bucket list!)

Bedell Cellars

The third course was the ever famous Hudson Valley apple pie served with sour cream ice cream, aged cheese and honey.  All of this was paired with Korbel Natural, a Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne.

Korbel Natural

Grove Winery for the Holidays

Bragging Rights:  The annual North Carolina State Wine Competition was held on October 3-4, in Raleigh, featuring a record 471 wines. Guilford County’s Grove Winery once again came up big in this year’s competition by taking 15 medals, the most medals awarded to any small winery.

Gold medals were awarded to the Grove 2011 Estate Tempranillo and the Red Clay Red made from the Carménère grape. Silver medals were awarded to the Roanoke River Red and the 2011 Viognier. Eleven additional Grove wines were awarded medals. These wines are available at the Grove Haw River Valley tasting room which is open daily noon until 6pm. To see a complete listing of awards won by Grove wines click here.

 

Grove is offering a couple of GREAT specials reserved strictly for people who receive their newsletter so I would encourage you to sign up:
  • Knock out your entertaining and gift buying the easy way. Make any purchase of wine or wine accessories online by Tuesday December 18 and use discount code TakeTwenty to receive 20% off your entire purchase.
  • Buy at least one bottle of Grove wine at either TotalWine or The Fresh Market in November, December and/or January, send us a copy of the receipt, and you’ll receive a coupon for a free tasting or glass of wine at Grove. Additionally, each receipt sent to us also enters you in a drawing for other prizes including wine hardware, concert tickets and more. Receipts can be emailed to info@grovewinery.com or faxed to 864-752-4882.

Wine accessories like decanters, quality corkscrews, related foods, puzzles, etc. make great holiday gifts. And wine is one of the best and easiest ways to quickly shop for many people on your gift list. GroveWinery.com has some of the best prices in the country on wine accessories and you can, of course, buy Grove wines there as well. We have relationships accessory manufacturers like Oenophilia and VacuVin, so if there’s something you don’t see on our website, let us know and we might be able to get it.

As the holiday party season begins, keep local wine in mind for serving at parties and as hostess gifts.

In the interest of full disclosure, Grove Winery is a sponsor of this blog.

Let’s Get Vertical

Category 5 from Raylen Vineyards has always been one of my favorite wines.  Every time I go to Raylen to pick up a case of wine, I make sure this wine is included.

With what I do in writing and tweeting about wine, I drink a good variety of wines and sometimes I forget what is in my wine “closet.”  (No, unfortunately it is not a wine cellar.  However, it is the coolest area in my house and actually does an excellent job of storing wine.  It keeps my wines at consistently between 65 – 70 degrees at all times.)  Flashback to 2010.  I was digging through my wines to see what I wanted to drink that evening and found a 2007 Category 5 and opted to drink it.  With Category 5 being a blend, you are apt to get a variety of aromas and flavors on the palate.  The aroma of this 2007 was absolutely heavenly.  With the first sip, cherry, plum, vanilla, and a silky finish that lingered just long enough on the palate to make you want another sip.  This is when I decided to collect enough Category 5 to do a vertical tasting.  I was on a mission. 

I had a bottle of the 2008 and the 2009 had not yet been released.  I went to Raylen Vineyards to see if they happened to have a bottle of the 2007 left over and as luck would have it, they did.  So I had the 2007 and the 2008.  I was only focused on having 3 vintages for my very own vertical tasting and with the 2009 aging nicely in the barrel at the winery, I knew I wouldn’t have to wait long. 

I picked up the 2009 on my next visit to Raylen, but as time and wine move through my life, I didn’t get around to doing the vertical tasting.  Then through a stroke of luck, I was playing the “Wine Board” at a local fund-raiser for the March of Dimes and pulled a bottle of the 2006 Category 5.  I was elated!!!  This changed the game.  I was determined now to go for 5 consecutive years for this vertical tasting and to make it a real party.  Afterall, there is no way I could drink 5 bottles of wine by myself in a week let alone one sitting so back to Raylen to pick up a bottle of the 2010 Category 5.

                                

Last week hubby and I decided to get vertical with six of our closest friends.

As is typical for any wine tasting, the comments and reviews of each wine were all over the board.  Unfortunately, the 2006 (which was completely out of my control) may have not been stored properly.  The general consensus was that it was a little flat and didn’t have anything on the nose.  Opinions varied for the 2007.  You could still pick up a bit of the vanilla and it was still very approachable.  We tried a second tasting of the 2007 by aerating it.  This really brought out the aromatics and that silky finish that I had remembered so well.   The 2008, though, was the winner overall; great bouquet, a little earthy with hints of tobacco and vanilla.  We decanted what was left in the bottle, but didn’t see any changes in the taste of the wine.  The 2009 was actually my favorite for the evening.  It reminded me of the 2007 that started me down this path.  I just happen to have one bottle of it left and will hold onto it just a while longer.  It will be a good wine to share with family over the upcoming holidays.  The 2010, while still a very drinkable wine, could easily be aged another couple of years.

 

 

A lot of people think that Category 5 is named after the strength of a category 5 hurricane when in reality it is named for the 5 grapes that have been meticulously blended to create this premium wine.  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot.

Varietal: Red Blend          Alcohol: 13.8%          Price: $18.99

TWEETUP TIME!!!

This is a special invitation from me (and the good folks at Grove Winery) to come join us Friday at 6 pm for a tweet-up and a new wine release!!!  Max and the gang will be releasing their new Cabernet Franc and all you have to do is show up to get free tastings!!!

But that’s not all – we are going to have a REAL party!  Light appetizers will be served along with your free tasting of the new Cab Franc and you will get 20% off bottle purchases; only $3 for glass purchases.  AND you will be entered into a drawing for tickets to the opening concert at Lake Cabernet on April 20.

The 2012 concert series starts off with Jon Shain who will be promoting his new The Kress Sessions album.   The concert series will run from April through October. Grove’s Lake Cabernet stage was voted runner-up as Best Outdoor Music Space in the Triad by the readers of the Greensboro News-Record in 2011. Two other winners in this Best of the Triad vote were Lauren Light  and Hanging Thread who will be making appearances this year at Grove on 6/15 and 7/20 respectively. We will also be featuring three large festivals this year. To see the complete lineup of artists, click here.

 What: Open invitation for wine, food and fun

Where: Grove Winery

When: April 13, 2012, starting at 6pm

Viognier: Poetry Bottled at Raylen Vineyards

This wine was a media sample from Raylen Vineyards

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Raylen Vineyards Viognier chilled perfectly at 50 – 55 degrees fills my glass with a beautiful pale straw color.  The glass sweats just slightly as I put it to my nose and get a hint of honeysuckle.  Pulling the glass back, I give it a good swirl and repeat.  This time the floral aromas burst from the glass with apricot and peach on the palate.  Still being fairly new to the “white wine world”, I was pleasantly surprised at the tart but yet sweet taste of this wine.  Even though the humidity here can cause problems for the fruit, Steve Shepard, winemaker at Raylen Vineyards, does a great job with Viognier.

A light wine, Viognier almost became extinct a few years ago.  In the late 1960’s, there was approximately only 40 acres planted in the Northern Rhone Valley of France and that was it – world-wide!  Thankfully, somebody thought to bring this fruit forward grape to the United States where it is grown and appreciated from California to Virginia and North Carolina.  In California Viognier is basically used as a blending wine to bring out the aromas of Chardonnay, but in both Virginia and North Carolina it is bottled as a stand-alone grape.  Although Viognier can be temperamental, our long, hot, humid summers give the grape ample time to hang on the vine, achieving the perfect ripeness for harvesting.

 The Raylen Vineyards Viognier  pairs really well with foods that are mildly spicy: Thai, Black Beans and Rice, grilled chicken or a pasta Alfredo.  This 2010 Viognier can be drank now or layed down for a couple of years.

Varietal: Viognier        Alcohol: 12.5%                     Price: $15.00

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