OWM | Oregon Wine Month | WWYBD?

binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

Oregon Wine Month |  May 2015

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It’s almost time!

Oregon Wine Month starts May 1st.

What will you be drinking?!?

Join the conversation on Instagram or Twitter |  #WWYBD  #OregonWineMonth!?!


Care to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Red Thread™ | Napa Narrative | Shypoke Vineyard

binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

Red Thread™ |  Napa Narrative  | Shypoke Vineyard 

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Stories about wine, the Red Thread™ that binds us all.


Welcome to the second in a three-part binNotes | Red Thread™  wine maker interview series:

Napa Narrative | Shypoke Vineyard | Calistoga, CA.


Fame requires maintenance. High Maintenance. Especially if you’re a wine region.

Especially if your name is Napa.

Napa today – a glossy, gilded lily adorned with elegant grounds, lavish chateaux, and high-priced tasting rooms, overshadows its en foule founding, one focused upon the land, the vines, and its people.

Many contend Napa’s fame comes at a price.

A steep cost to the soul, a cost some wine makers refuse to pay.

This secret strata of artisan wine makers – wine makers rooted generations deep in Napa’s history – value family and friends over image; wine as art, not business. Much like their ancestors who planted the vines they now tend. But today’s wine makers willingly hold ‘day’ jobs to fund their ‘passion’ projects.  A passion palpable in each pour of their wines.

A tribe of proud renegades toiling to honor their past, savor the present, and preserve a legacy for future generations.

A tribe of wine makers with stories worth sharing.


Today the Red Thread™ talks terroir with one of this tribe,  Peter Heitz of fifth-generation

Shypoke Vineyard in Calistoga.


b/N:  Who or what brought you to Shypoke?

PH:  My great-grandparents got it all going in 1904, with bonded winery #43. 

b/N:  Your family immigrated from Alsace to Northern Napa with the specific intent of crafting fine wines. Tell readers a bit  about the history of Shypoke, and what makes it unique – including, perhaps, a little bit about the winerys name.

PH: My ancestors left Alsace for opportunity in the new world- initially settling south of San Francisco in Pneumonia Gulch.’ Suffering from the damp cool, they struck upon Calistoga with its mineral waters and Mediterranean climate .  Early wineries were in the works (Schramsberg, Krug, Beringer)  and they jumped in. The winery almost made it through prohibition, but they never stopped farming. The other half of the winemaking heritage comes from Lucca, Italy, and came to Calistoga for similar reasons. 

NOTE: The name of the winery, Shypoke derives from the local name for a native species of heron prevalent in the region at that time.

The label derives from an image of Peter’s great-grandfather’s original pruning tool used on the first generation’s farm and vineyard.

b/N:  Shypoke represents five (5) generations of winegrowers. What, if any, historical wine growing and making techniques or traditions does Shypoke still honor today?

PH:  We farm for the future, the thought driving our actions is that this little slice of dirt should be making exceptional wine in another 110 years and future generations will be happy with our stewardship of the legacy.

b/N:  Because your winery enjoys such a rich, unbroken history in the region – any particular memories that resonate for you while your are out working in the vineyard, during wine making, or when you open a vintage bottle of your wine?

PH:  I certainly reminisce on growing up amongst the vines, and making wine as a family.  We honor and carry these traditions on everyday and make future memories each day. We are truly blessed in being grounded to our craft.

b/N:  Your family planted their first rootstock in 1904. You grow some interesting varietals, including Charbono. Are most of your vines heirloom?

PH:  The Charbono is pretty close to an endangered species, our guiding light.  We also grow Sangiovese, Grenache, Malbec (Cot) , Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah (Durif).  A regular farm stand. Diversity keeps it interesting and gives us fun ingredients to work with.

b/N:  Shypokes vineyards contain rich alluvial soils. How has your understanding of the nuances of the land and environment shaped your approach to crafting wines of such elegance, honesty, and sense of place?

PH:  The old family ranch happily sits on a little alluvial fan of limestone that peters out into some lovely gravel and loam.  Each little block has its own thing going on.  All we try to do is capture that spirit.

b/N:  Over the years, your family must have weathered some major storms, both literally and figuratively, including Prohibition. What has been the key to Shypokes success?

PH:  Keep it simple.  Make wine that we want to drink.

b/N:  What are your greatest challenges at Shypoke?

PH:  We pinch ourselves each day at our good fortune. Those pinches hurt a bit.

b/N:  Anything else you care to share with readers that we havent touched on? 

PH:  Thanks for enjoying and supporting the small local farmers in your area. It really is a partnership.

b/N:  Finally, If wine making in Shypoke has taught me anything, its taught me…”

PH:  Youve got this on video! and I have no idea what I said :)

 Here’s what Peter has to say…

Red Thread ™ | Shypoke Vineyard | Napa Narrative from binNotes on Vimeo.™


More Red Thread™ interviews here.

About the author.

Care to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved.  | All photos courtesy of the author.

Thank you:

Peter and Meg Heitz* –  Shypoke Vineyard

*Thanks from Lucca for free run of the farm!

#MWWC 16: Finish | Jamais Fini

binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

#MWWC  16: Finish   | Jamais Fini

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MWWC logo

“There are many ways to the truth, and Burgundy is one of them.”- Isak Dinesen

Note:  binNotes interrupts her regularly scheduled posts for a special edition of The Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.

The monthly challenge, brainchild of thedrunkencyclist, pits wine bloggers worldwide in a quest to out-scribe one another on a topic provided by the previous month’s winner.*

 Kudos to last month’s winner, jvcuncorked. His topic of choice this month: Finish.

 #MWWC  16: Finish | Jamais Fini

Fleur de Lis Rouge

Love affairs rarely make sense. And yet, passion drives the world.

As a girl, I fell in love with words. Like Frank McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes”, I found words ‘like jewels,” collecting them, protecting them, hoarding them.

This passion never wavered. Eventually, I also discovered the art of wine, the ‘red thread’ that binds us all.

In 2009, the two merged during a life-altering trip to Burgundy, where I fell down the rabbit hole of this maddening, beautiful, enigmatic wine region.

The visit resulted in successfully pitching a historical novel set in WW II Burgundy France.

Some years, two French wine designations, one horrible first draft, and several edits later, my manuscript nears the finish line.

Like fine wine, it’s taken time to tell the story.

Time, much toil, and plenty of derision from a few family, friends, and former co-workers after leaving a reliable corporate career to pursue this ‘leap of faith. ‘

More derision from a few members of the wine and writing world as I thudded through.

Creation takes courage.

The words, the characters, and Burgundy – her people, history, and traditions – fueled me when I doubted.

A loyal cadre of wing guys and soul sisters (and you know who you are) picked me up when I fell down, urging me towards the finish line.

It’s been tough.

And yet…it’s also taught me a valuable lesson.

I learned that writing is not about ‘telling,’ but about listening; a valuable insight when interviewing wine makers for the Red Thread™.  My own struggles help me appreciate theirs all the more.

Word-smithing the Red Thread™, binNotes, and freelance gigs allows me the pleasure of side trips into the present tense of non-fiction.

And pouring at a boutique winery on occasion keeps things in perspective, providing interaction with real, not fictional, folks.

Each competes for attention with Lady Fiction as she moves towards the finish line.

It’s a balancing act. We all have our own.

Finish. Noun, and verb.

Nearing the finish line brings a bittersweet finish to a inspiring, illogical journey awash with serendipity and struggle.

However….a writer needs to write, just as a fish needs to swim.

And so…sequel already started…so much for finish lines.

 Jamais Fini


About the author.

Care to share? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved.


* Special thanks to  The ArmChair Sommelier  for devising the MWWC  logo.

Top Chefs Dish ‘al Dente’ on Seattle’s Italian Cuisine

binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

FoodableTV | Top Chefs Dish ‘al Dente’ on Seattle’s Italian Cuisine 

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Like Sofia Loren, Seattle’s Italian cuisine scene owes ‘everything to pasta.’  And a bit more. With over 2,300 restaurants in the city, Italian eateries with staying power offer far more than just spaghetti and meatballs. Read more at FoodableTV…


Care to share? Leave your comments below.

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Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Red Thread™ | Napa Narrative | Shafer Vineyards

binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

Red Thread™ |  Napa Narrative  | Shafer Vineyards 

Follow binNotes: | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook | Instagram

 Stories about wine, the Red Thread™ that binds us all.


Welcome to the first in a three-part binNotes | Red Thread™  wine maker interview series:

Napa Narrative | Shafer Vineyards | Stags Leap District,  CA.


Wine making pivots on people plush with passion. Passion that may not make much sense to others.

In 1973, Chicago publisher John Shafer uprooted his family and a successful career to grow grapes in northern Napa Valley. 1973 proved quite a year, not just for John Shafer and his family, but for the ‘valley within a valley’ he chose to plant his vines, a region he would later help designate as Stags Leap District.

In 1976, fortune smiled when the Judgement of Paris blind tasting awarded first place to a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from this region of Napa, overshadowing illustrious French entries such as Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. That day launched a legend.

So named for a stag once observed leaping over a cliff, Stags Leap District (not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, which won the 1976 Judgement of Paris, nor Stags’ Leap Winery, both Stags Leap District wineries) stands out as America’s first viticultural area so designated due to its unusual terroir. A complex combination of volcanic, erosive, and river soils, sheer rock palisades, rolling hills, flatlands, and proximity to the Napa River, Stags Leap District boasts silky, textured wines.

Shafer Vineyards wines share these intensely supple flavor profiles. Today, John Shafer’s vision includes vineyards in other regions of the Napa Valley, his passion passed along to son Doug Shafer and wine maker Elias Fernandez. The family philosophy is simple: respect the vines, respect the wines – and never take success for granted. 

Here binNotes | Red Thread ™  talks terroir with Doug Shafer, President of Shafer Vineyards, part of the Napa narrative.


b/N:  Who or what brought you to Shafer Vineyards?

DS:  Our family moved here from Chicago in January, 1973. My dad was making a big career change from the corporate publishing world to life as a grape grower, and eventually a winery owner. For the first couple of years here I was a kid in high school. Dad put me and my younger brother, Brad, to work in the vineyard, mostly picking up rocks or as Dad called it “contouring the land.”

After high school I attended UC Davis and majored in viticulture but before coming back to Napa Valley, I made a career detour as a junior high teacher in Tucson, Arizona. By 1981 I was back in the Valley and working as Randy Mason’s assistant winemaker at Lakespring Winery. My dad asked me to work for him as winemaker in 1983 and I’ve been here ever since.

b/N:  Tell readers a bit about the history of Shafer Vineyards (such as Batista Scansi’s original vineyard) as well as Shafer’s unique place in the Napa narrative.

DS:  The Shafer property has been the site of grape growing since about 1880, when a wine country was first carved out of a wilderness. In fact, if you put the deed that my dad got in 1973 and the deed from the 1800s side by side, you’ll see they describe the same property boundaries, so not a lot has changed.

One of the property owners (and there’ve been about a dozen), was an Italian immigrant named Batista Scansi, who planted vines in 1922, the same vines we inherited when we moved here.

Dad bought the property because it had a beautiful hillside, perfect for his plan to establish a hillside vineyard. Initially, he wasn’t sure which grape variety he’d plant. He wanted something that suited the site.

At dinner one night with our neighbor, Nathan Fay, he tried one of Nate’s homemade Cabernet Sauvignons from a small vineyard located less than a mile from our house. That sealed the deal. Dad planted Cabernet on our hillside and by 1978 he had his first harvest and released that vintage in fall of 1981. From there it was a long learning curve as I came on as winemaker in January of 1983 and I hired Elias Fernandez as my assistant winemaker the following year. He came to work for us March 1984 after graduating from U.C. Davis.

In 1985, Dad helped organize our neighbors to submit a petition to the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) to establish Stags Leap District as an AVA. After a long process, the petition was approved in 1989.

In the 1990s Elias and I started to hit our stride in terms of getting things right in the vineyard and in the cellar. Ever since it’s been a matter of looking for every possible way to continue to improve wine quality.


b/N:  Shafer Vineyards recalls an Old World domaine with its extensive holdings and infrastructure, including caves. Did John Shafer envision such a legacy when he first purchased land in Napa back in the early 1970’s?

DS:  The Shafer Vineyards you see today is the result of a long evolution. There were no caves and no winery structure in 1973 – just 30 acres of vines that were long past their prime, an old stucco house and a few aging outbuildings. My dad is a long-range thinker and his goal was to create a winery that produced world-class wines.

As for creating a legacy, that was not part of Dad’s plan. He was just following his dream. If one of his kids went along with him, that was even better. But he’s said a number of times that he didn’t come into this with any vision of founding a dynasty. He just really fell in love with wine and the wine business and he wished the same for each of his children and grandchildren – he wanted us all to follow our dreams, whatever they may be. 

b/N:  Terroir seems an important consideration for Shafer Vineyards. Can you speak to the similarities and differences between your various sites – Hillside, Borderline, La Mesa, Ridgeback, School Bus, Red Shoulder Ranch?

DS:  While our Hillside Estate Vineyards (the single source of Hillside Select) are in fact a contiguous 54-acre site, we think of it as 14 vineyard blocks as each has different slopes and faces in different directions, offering varying solar exposures meaning that some face west, others southwest, south, etc. The soil depth on the hillside ranges from 18 to 22 inches of rock-choked volcanic soil. When we have rain, run-off is quick, so that vines are never afforded much by way of moisture or plant nutrients.

The extra work required of a hillside vine for survival results in small, intensely flavored berries, in this case Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine reflects this, loaded with concentrated, rich, dark layers of aroma and flavor while saved from being over-brooding by classic Stags Leap District softness and suppleness.

Our other main Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, called Borderline (a main source for One Point Five), sits just inside the southern boundary of Stags Leap District. This 25-acre site provides a contrast to our Hillside Estate Vineyards as it is a nearly flat, valley floor vineyard with loam soils that range from 3 to 4 feet.

Normally this would provide a paradise for plant life – lots of water and deep soils full of nutrients. To offset this, before planting the vineyard we installed an extensive drainage system to equate the kind of run-off we get on our hillsides. In addition we established narrow vine rows and tighter planting to pit the vines against each other. The wine that results from this site, like other valley floor Cabernets, certainly has the dark, rich black-fruit aromas and flavors of Hillside Select but with that I think you find more red fruit on the palate. I would say it’s brighter in character.

La Mesa, Ridgeback and School Bus are a cluster of vineyards, all adjacent to one another, just south of Stags Leap District, largely in the foothills of the Vaca Mountain Range that creates Napa Valley’s eastern border. These are sites all on slopes with fairly shallow gravelly loam and volcanic soils in which we grow Syrah, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Malbec. If anything they represent a half-way point between Borderline and our Hillside Estate Vineyards in terms of slope, solar exposure, and soils.

In terms of a unifying terroir, I think what you see in the wines from these sites is a nice balance of richness and liveliness, intensity of varietal character and flavor yet with a sense of lift. Remember these sites all lie in the cooler southern end of the valley. These sites get warm days and chilly nights in very uniform fashion throughout the growing season that typically offer the potential for good sugar development as well as very nice acidity.

Finally, there’s the outlier, Red Shoulder Ranch. When we first grew and produced Chardonnay, starting in 1980, it was all Stags Leap District (or adjacent) fruit. Over time though we began to realize that the best Chardonnay fruit, and therefore the best wines, were emerging from farther south in Carneros. We purchased a Carneros site in the late 1980s and by the mid-1990s were producing a single-vineyard Chardonnay from this site we called Red Shoulder Ranch to recognize the Red Shoulder Hawks, who we had integrated as part of our approach to sustainable agriculture. This hilly vineyard, which is 66 acres, lies within sight of the northernmost reach of San Francisco Bay. The climate and soils are marine-influenced. The soil is a dense Diablo and silty clay, which makes root penetration slow and difficult. The climate tends to be sunny, clear, and breezy with moderate temperatures on the cool side. The resulting wine is bright, zesty Chardonnay with a purity of varietal flavor.

b/N:  Most consider Napa America’s preeminent wine region. In a sense, Shafer has ‘grown up’ with Napa. How has Napa’s rise in status impacted Shafer Vineyards, if at all?

DS:  I see the rise in status as being tied to wine quality. It was a step first begun by Robert Mondavi with the winery he built in 1964 and his vision for what Napa Valley wines were and could become. This was rapidly built on and expanded by the pioneers who came here in the late 1960s and early 1970s – names such as Duckhorn, Spotteswood, and Chappellet.

My dad came here to plant a hillside vineyard, which no one else at the time was doing. You couldn’t buy a book on planting a hillside, you couldn’t Google, “How to establish hillside vines.” There were a lot of mistakes but there was also a great deal of learning and of excitement about what Napa seemed on the verge of becoming if we all got creative, worked hard, and helped each other out.

The Shafer story and the story of Napa Valley intertwine. The same things we were struggling with were the same challenges facing our neighbors. I think that largely remains true today.

b/N:  What are your greatest challenges at Shafer Vineyards?

DS:  Once you’ve learned how to do something well, the temptation is to continue doing the same thing over and over. There’s also a temptation to rest on your laurels. Both lead any business directly to stagnation (do not pass go, not collect $200).

It is of paramount importance to keep learning, keep pushing yourselves, and keep experimenting.

If I’m not excited about coming to work in the morning, if our vineyard and winemaking team aren’t into what they’re doing, it shows up in the bottle.

b/N:  One final question: “If wine making in Shafer Vineyards has taught me anything, it’s taught me…”

DS:  Two expressions. First in terms of getting right the cellar: “Check it. Check it again. And check it again.”

And then in terms of selling wine: “A great wine seldom mentioned is soon forgotten.”


More Red Thread™ interviews here.

Care to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved.  | All photos courtesy of Shafer Vineyards.

Thank you:

Shafer Vineyards

John Shafer 

Doug Shafer – President

 Elias Fernandez – Wine maker

 Andy Demskey – Media Relations

Basque Country Redux

binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

Basque Country Redux

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 Basque Country Redux

Recently, I posted an update about TASTE Vacations tours to Basque Country and Rioja, Spain. A reader asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing a little bit more about the visit I referenced in the post. Duly noted. Here goes.  As a side note, I made the trip before my affiliation with TASTE Vacations, so did the legwork and research myself.

Sun, Sand, Surfing…and Stars

In case you haven’t yet visited, San Sebastian ranks among the top gastronomic destination spots worldwide. Only twelve (12) miles from France, San Sebastian boasts 15 Michelin stars, including the internationally renown Arzak. For me, San Sebastian and Lyon, FR  top my list of most favored food and wine travel destinations ever, both so rich in history, culture, and flavors.

Lyon and San Sebastian both boast rivers running through them, the Rhone and Urumea, respectively. However, unlike Lyon, San Sebastian abounds with beaches, from the white sands of Playa de la Concha to the Belle Epoque boardwalk of Playa de Ondaretta to surfer haven Playa de Zurriola.

Heart of Basque Country

While technically part of Spain, San Sebastian, also known as Donostia, beats with a proud Basque heart. Good luck trying to decipher their gorgeously complex language, one of the oldest on earth. The written words look like a cross between Greek, Russian and Turkish, and the sound, well…enigmatic.

Pinxtos Throwdown

Linguistic puzzles aside, when attempts at Basque, Spanish and English fail, don’t despair! Basque people exude warmth, charm and humor, so sign language proves a hilarious and spirited last resort.

The efforts will leave you ravenous for the local tapas, called pintxos – exotic, memorable, and inexpensive small bites. The variety of pinxtos astounds, including fruits from the sea,  jamon, cheeses, potatoes, olives and peppers, each served up with local wines, among them a fresh, exuberant local white known as txakoli. 

Was my trip to San Sebastian worth the effort? Absolutely! Would I do it again? Yes! But, in all honesty, next time I’ll cut to the chase, and just hire Jenny. Hope this helps.


Basque country tour info lives here.

My previous post on Jenny Siddall’s Basque Country and Rioja tours lives here.


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Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved. All photos courtesy the author.

Red Thread™ | Napa Narrative

binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

Red Thread™ | Napa Narrative

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Today binNotes gets personal.

L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML

Earlier this year, I wrote about my new wine maker series entitled the Red Thread™.

While I actually began these wine maker interviews in 2014, the name for the series came to me while working with my sister on her own, separate wine making quest last harvest.

It’s so amazing to have a sibling with a different perspective on the same industry.  She’s the hands-on, dirt-under-the fingernails, pruning, picking, fermenting, racking and bottling gal.

I’m the geek word-smith inspired by the hero’s quest each wine maker undergoes every vintage.

In 2015, I knew I wanted to circle back where I’d left off last year with a piece I did entitled Napa for Normal People.

Napa gets a bad rap as an overpriced Disneyland for wine snobs. In actuality, Napa nurtures some deeply creative souls fashioning finely nuanced wines that fly under the radar.

This month, I’ll feature a series of three such wine makers in my Red Thread™ series entitled ‘Napa Narrative.’

And during Oregon Wine Month in May, look for my series on Willamette Valley wine makers.



See my recent Red Thread ™ interview with Woodinville wine maker Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars here

See more Red Thread™ interviews here.


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Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved.