Monday, January 30, 2012

Kendall Jackson CEO on Undercover Boss

Last night if you were on Twitter you likely noticed a lot of tweets about the CBS tv show "Undercover Boss", and it's "guest star"/featured CEO, Rick Tigner. The Twitter account that was most active seemed to be @KJWine, Kendall Jackson's own. I watched the show, though I didn't take it as far as some people, who drank Kendall Jackson wines and hosted viewing parties. Still, the social media leveraging that Kendall Jackson utilized was very impressive, it increased their brand visibility and created conversation about the company and product. That qualifies as a good return on investment, which is contrary to what people like Steve Heimoff claim; that there really is no ROI on social media.

My reaction to the show, again being distinctly in the minority, was one of pity for the CEO and admiration at how Twitter and Facebook were used for the public relations (spin) that transpired before, during, and after the show. Let me first discuss how bad I felt the company looked before analyzing the social media aspect. Before I even get that far though, I want to state that this isn't a personal attack on the CEO. Rick Tigner seems like a nice guy, and he got emotional (I think it was real) at multiple points of the show. I believe he does want his company to succeed and does care about the people that work at Kendall Jackson. Just how much he cares is up for debate though.

In the opening scenes, we see a group of executives sitting around tasting white wine, presumably the infamous Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, and Rick is describing it with words like "smoke", "oaky", and "buttery". My gut told me the scene was staged for the benefit of TV audiences but it came across as somewhat arrogant and snobbish, making wine look more hoity-toity than it needs to. Not a good way to start, I noted.

As we watched Rick screw up in task after task, the entertainment value was replaced by a sense of dread. If Rick is to lead the company, how can he not know his customer-facing employees' job duties and attitudes? In particular, after watching him waste company money attempting to work the bottling line, I was struck at how lost the guy looked doing real work.

"I gotta count every row?"

The question is, would I want a guy like him running a company that makes wine? A short answer is no, a longer answer is hell no. The CEO knows less about making wine than I do, yet he controls a company that sells five million cases per year. His attempts at working the vineyards, on the bottle line, running deliveries, and in a tasting room showed that he really has no idea how the lowest levels of Kendall Jackson operate. That's a big red flag, because just like in any other large corporation, the lower you go, the more likely you are to find someone who is directly interfacing with the public on a daily basis.

"tastes like apples and pears..?"
Mr. Tigner seemed stunned that there were people working for the company that don't speak any English, who the hell did he think picked the grapes and tends the vineyards? Bands of rabid U.C. Davis students and sommeliers? Sorry bud, that only works in Burgundy. He also was seemingly incapable of doing manual labor on a bottling line, and couldn't flip over a case of empty bottles without spilling them everywhere. Having done that with cases of full bottles before, I can tell you that it's a simple task. At the tasting room, Tigner had no clue how to sell a wine club membership, pour a one ounce taste, and I can only pray to Bacchus that he actually was faking his inability to describe sauvignon blanc.

I was left with the sense that the CEO of Kendall Jackson is more comfortable behind a desk, telling people what to do and not really caring how they felt about it, just that they did what he felt was best. Either that or more comfortable behind his incredibly expensive Audi S6. Next I'll explore the social media angle that I noticed last night. By all accounts, it's been a smashing success for the corporation winery.

Watching the @KJWine account last night, I admired how well whomever ran that account managed to get outside their Twitter bubble and into the mainstream trends. There's an old joke that the only people who tweet about wine are wine people. While partly true, last night's tweets showed that it is possible to extend your brand's reach by generating and sustaining conversation based on a different media source. In this way, the TV show itself was leveraged to build brand buzz on Twitter and Facebook.

Through a combination of original tweets and retweets, the twitter account managers kept that buzz going into today. The Kendall Jackson homepage also has links to the TV show and their Facebook page was frequently updated with pertinent facts and details. While it's obviously a public relations coup to score a visit from the Undercover Boss film crew, there is also ample opportunity to squander that publicity. Kendall Jackson may have sold a few more cases of wine in the near term, but the name is now much more common in many American households. How many people going to buy wine (hint: millions already buy wine) will choose K-J because they saw the show? My semi-educated guess is it will be a few thousand, at minimum.

There's a saying: "there is no such thing as bad publicity", and even though the company may have not looked like such a hot place to work, the brand recognition metric took a sizable bump upwards. It's impossible to measure exactly how many more bottles of Kendall Jackson wines will sell but based on the audience numbers (unavailable at this time) we can reasonably assume that Kendall Jackson is going to be recognized by more people than before the show aired. Looking deeper, we can also see that because social media leveraged the TV show, wine consumers (who are already on social media sites) had a greater chance of being exposed to some great PR for the company.

Knowing this, we can therefore understand that a company (be it winery or otherwise) who uses social media to leverage an event (using this as a general term) properly can therefore expect a rise in brand recognition such that they will most likely (50%+ chance) a rise in revenue as well. Because of the fantastic PR job by both CBS and Kendall Jackson on the TV show and because of the well-managed Twitter campaign waged by the brand managers there, Kendall Jackson will see an increase in wine sales.

The people like myself, who remain skeptics and unmoved by the seemingly heartwarming story of a CEO who realizes the need for change, will continue to grumble about how Americans buy into crap like this. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we are a minority and our grumbling is mostly confined to blogs and microblogs.

Now all that remains to be seen is how long the changes Mr. Tigner made actually last. The employee's 401k was brought back and there's a new training program for employees who work with Spanish-speaking coworkers, as well as some kind of paperwork reduction program in place. Will that all stick around or is it just going to last as long as the buzz over the show does?

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Portland Dining Failures at Paley's Place and The Bent Brick

Have you ever heard great things about a restaurant then experienced almost exactly the opposite? How did that make you feel? If you're like me, you probably felt a mix of frustration, sadness, maybe some anger, and even a sense of betrayal. Such is the nature of our emotions when we get our hopes up then have them dashed to pieces on the rock of bitterness.

I generally refrain from blogging about negative dining experiences, preferring instead to use Twitter and/or Facebook to share my story. In this case though, I felt that after two bad dining experiences in the span of about a month, it was time to speak my mind.

My good friend Dan Hammer and his lovely wife were in town this past December, and despite his trip being short, we vowed to get together for dinner at a nice restaurant. He and I both did some research and settled on Paley's Place, in Northwest Portland. To a man, everyone I told about our upcoming dinner had good things to say, noting their food is locally sourced and organic as well as the wine list being very well put together. In the interests of keeping this blog constrained to one page, I'll refrain from any chronological narrative.

Arriving at Paley's, we four were escorted to our table in what seemed like the cocktail lounge. If you've been there, imagine walking in and looking left past the bar, towards the back of the restaurant. Since the occasion was a special one (I get to see Dan only once or twice a year, he lives in White Plains) we both brought bottles of wine. His was a 2008 Sojourn pinot noir, one of his favorite California producers, and mine was a 2002 Kramer Vineyards Rebecca's Reserve pinot noir. I was able to get our server to decant each for us but it would have been nice to have the sommelier come over and say hello too. Becky chatted with our server for a moment, explaining it was her family's vineyard and asking if she (server) would like a pour. All told, we sent back nice sized pours of each wine, and the server did come back to express her enjoyment. What surprised me was that we were charged corkage for both bottles. As an industry courtesy, corkage is usually waived. Also, in my experience, when you send a pour back to the kitchen corkage is often waived. Our party had two industry people, myself and Becky.What bugs me the most is that these people are the same ones going to tasting rooms all over the Willamette Valley (and other places) and expecting their free tasting and industry discounts on purchases. We in the wine industry are happy to extend discounts and are we wrong to hope for some reciprocal discount? I wrote this off to poor server training or poor management.

What I struggled to write off though was the average food. I, like most humans, love salt but use it judiciously. At Paley's, everyone's dish was heavily over-salted. Why? The diners can always add their own salt and I would imagine any kitchen worth their proverbial salt would want diners to taste as much complexity as possible in the food. When everyone at the table notices a problem with their entree and there are three separate entrees, something is wrong. Lastly, upon depositing the check, our server took off for 20-30 minutes, leaving us sitting around waiting for our payment to be processed. For such a heralded establishment, Paley's Place sure screwed the pooch that Saturday night...A good rule: Don't piss off industry people, it gets around. As a restaurant veteran myself, I understand there are variations in the food depending on who is in the kitchen that night, but I really expect more from a high end place.

Refusing to write off Portland's epicurean scene (that would be highly irresponsible), we looked forward to our next outing at a highly regarded place. That outing was this past Saturday at The Bent Brick, located in Northwest Portland. What intrigued me the most was their tasting menu, in the past I've had some amazing meals courtesy of a chef's willingness to prepare his entire menu for us. Again, positive reviews flowed in from all corners. The occasion: celebrating my good friend NubianOR's birthday! She and her husband, along with some mutual friends, had spent a wonderful day tasting wine before making their way back to Portland for this much-anticipated dinner. The experience turned out to be worse than at Paley's Place.

First the good: I liked the decor and vibe at the Bent Brick. They do a lot of things right, creating a fun atmosphere and offering a wine list featuring only Pacific Northwest wines...on tap! I was impressed and happy to be there. Our friend Tamara had been there before and suggested we do the chef's tasting menu. Priced at $55 a piece, it was certainly expensive but she had done it before and told us that there was a lot of food and that couples could split it up and still be full. Of further note, the Oregonian also suggested sharing the tasting menu, reasoning that the amount of food was sufficient for two people.

Here too, Becky and I brought wine, two bottles from Kramer Vineyards. We chatted up our server and sent back a nice healthy pour of the Kramer Vineyards Brut. I'll cut to the chase for their first #fail moment: They charged us corkage, despite there being three industry people, and we are also food and wine bloggers! While I NEVER expect corkage to be waived, within the service industry there is usually a better sense of helping each other out. Also, since we were a party of eight, there was automatically a gratuity charge added. Our server was getting a tip no matter what!

Next, when we presented our request to the server, asking for three tasting menus, to be split by three couples, we were greeted with an exasperated eye roll and the lazy-server anthem "let me go see if it's ok with the kitchen". Apparently the kitchen was able to accommodate our horrifically complex request. So nice of them. But wait! Instead of bringing out three of each of the courses, one for each couple, they decided to screw us by bringing out community-plated courses! By doing this, the Bent Brick got away with serving far less food than we'd normally get. Furthermore out of our party of eight, one couple didn't order the tasting menu but for some reason they had to wait for almost two hours to get their entrees. More issues attributable to poor management? The tasting menu came out at a glacially slow pace, our dinner took almost three hours to complete, which I couldn't believe until I checked the time myself.

(img copyright Becky Kramer 2012)

In the above picture, each person gets one sliver of egg and one sliver each of the assorted pickled vegetables. Yes, I get that it is a "tasting menu", but seriously? For $55? The plate above should have been for one couple, and three just like it should have come out.

Before anyone has ideas that we were trying to get out of there on the cheap, we weren't. Our party ordered a full carafe (that's how they serve their kegged wine) and seven beers. We were happy to spend our money there, provided the experience was worth it. In this case, at the Bent Brick, it was not. I have no interest in recommending that restaurant or returning, despite the cool decor and thoughtful wine list.

At this point I am wondering what is wrong with the service industry here in Portland? Remember, these servers and managers are the ones expecting deals all over wine country and at other restaurants. I've had great meals in Portland, at The Country Cat and Gruner, so I know Portland is capable of wonderful food AND service. In the quest to be relevant though, is managerial proficiency sacrificed? Why is good service so sporadic? I struggle with these two bad instances because I am both a restaurant industry veteran and wine industry veteran, meaning I have a good idea of how things should work. When they don't, I have less sympathy because there really is no excuse for poor service..

The birthday girl herself posted an account on her blog, titled "Dining Debacle". Check it out for another view on our experience at The Bent Brick.

Have you eaten at these restaurants? Share your experiences, good or bad!

Beau Carufel

Friday, January 20, 2012

TasteLive, December 20th.

In celebration of TasteLive moving into a new building in downtown Santa Rosa, they hosted an opening night party. Since I couldn't join the party in person, the great folks at TasteLive sent me and a selected few bloggers a sampling of wines that will be poured at the tasting room. During the festivities, Joel Quigley interviewed the winemakers and/or owners of each of these wines while we peppered them with questions. The venue was crowded and the atmosphere was great, I think each of us who viewed from afar really did wish we were there.

This month marks the official opening of The Wineyard, located at the Santa Rosa Vintners' Square. In its past life, the facility was a big strip mall. (Re)Construction began in 2011 on a new "urban wine village", and many of the materials used in outfitting each of the venues is recycled, be it barrel staves for decoration or even the bar in the tasting room. From what I can tell, the Santa Rosa Vintner's Square will be a pretty cool place to hang out at in 2012. The list of the wineries located there is listed below:
D'Argenzio Winery
Krutz Family Cellars
Sheldon Wines
Atascadero Creek Winery
Flocchini Winery
Jazz Cellars
Shone Farm Winery (The winery is part of Santa Rosa Junior College)

I liked the fact that this tasting didn't have any cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, rather, some "back seat" varietals (and pinot noir) that may not get the coverage of the former two grapes but are just as important to California's wine industry.

Without further ado, here's the tasting notes for the wines we bloggers got to taste:

2010 Shone Farm Sauvignon Blanc: The label also says "Estate Grown, Block Seven, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County". Very precise, specific..and academic, no? No surprise then that this winery is part of Santa Rosa Junior College. Immediately this wine shows it's stripes as a sauvignon blanc. Unfortunately it appears to be made in the New Zealand style. And it's a bit under-ripe too, with lots of asparagus, whiffs of ammonia, and freshly cut grass on the nose. Hints of grapefruit hide behind those volatile methoxypyrazines, and a bit of minerality that you have to look hard to find. On the palate it's got some bittering notes, a green, stemmy quality, and the barest traces of grapefruit and lime juice. Refreshing due to it's acidity, but not something I'd want more than a glass of.

2006 Flocchini Andrea La Rue Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast: I didn't know what to expect from this pinot noir. All too often, Sonoma Coast pinots are over-oaked and juiced with syrah to pump up the flavors. Luckily that trend is falling by the wayside. This Flocchini doesn't taste like it has any syrah added and the oak treatment is minimal. The bouquet is a melange of cherry and strawberry, baking spice, campfire, and a dusty earth note. Flavors of red fruit mingle with earth and tannin to create a very nicely balanced wine that has benefited from four years in bottle. I was impressed with the acidity present too, it kept the body of this pinot light and balanced against the fruit and tannin.

2008 Atascadero Creek Zinfandel Russian River Valley: This zinfandel comes from the Haun Ranch, outside Healdsburg. There's 90% zin with a smattering of other red grapes, and the zinfandel vines go back to 1948. The bouquet is surprisingly complex, with notes of anise, mixed berry preserve, mint, and a touch of heat from the alcohol. I picked up a medicinal scent that seemed to meander throughout the bouquet too, but I couldn't pin it down. For people who like big, juicy zinfandels, this is your wine. The mixed berry comes through, as does that medicinal thing I picked up on the nose. Mild tannin, and a very nice smooth finish. At around $28 a bottle it's extremely well priced and something I would love to pair with barbecue.

2007 Jazz Cellars Las Madres Vineyard Carneros: I'm glad a syrah was included, especially a 2007. Carneros to me is a strange region, you see vineyards growing side by side that really shouldn't. For example, pinot noir, syrah, zinfandel, and sauvignon blanc. It's quite confusing. But a lot of the time, it just works. Like in this case, the team at Jazz Cellars put together a delicious syrah. Aromatically this 2007 Jazz is all smoked meat, black cherry, plum skin, and milk chocolate, with just a touch of a green stemmy quality and a tickle of alcohol. On the palate, well integrated fruit and oak, a touch of pepper, and some beef jerky notes all combine for a nice mouthfeel. Smooth, integrated tannin creates a nice framework for the fruit and savory notes. The alcohol is nearly imperceptible compared to the nose, which given the 15% listed, is impressive. At $34 a bottle it's certainly not cheap but the quality you get is wonderful.

Four wines, three of which were quite good and the sauvignon blanc just didn't do it for me. Still, guests at The Wineyard got to try some delicious wines and if this is indicative of the lineups that'll be poured each week, I predict much success for the Santa Rosa Vintners' Square going forward.

As always, I thank Cailyn McCauley and Joel Quigley for inviting me to participate. 2011 was my first year doing TasteLive events and I had a lot of fun. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, sorry for clogging up your Tweet-stream on multiple occasions! If you are a winery looking to do a TasteLive event, contact Cailyn or Joel at CreativeFurance Marketing.

These wines were media samples.

Beau Carufel

Thursday, January 12, 2012

L'Oca Ciuca Brunello di Montalcino, Drunken Goose Wine

One of my resolutions for 2012 was to get out and taste more Italian wines, so getting this sample from the folks at was a great way to kick things off. Every few months, they send me a bottle of something fun and interesting to taste and blog about, usually imported, and always at a really good price. This time I was given the option of this 2006 L'Oca Ciuca Brunello di Montalcino or a 2006 Tenuta Rocca Barolo, both wines which received high scores from Wine Spectator.

I chose the Brunello because it would be more approachable right now, compared to the Barolo which will probably be a tannic beast for the forseeable future. Don't go grabbing your torches and pitchforks yet though, I am well aware that Brunello di Montalcino wines also need a lot of age, often over ten years before they start truly showing the magnificent angles and nuances that sangiovese can produce.

What is Brunello di Montalcino then? Brunello is the regional (in Montalcino) name for the sangiovese grosso species of grape. In the regional dialect, Brunello means "little dark one", a reference to the size and color of the grapes. A wine bearing the DOCG stamp from the region can only contain sangiovese and must follow strict barrel and bottle aging requirements. Montalcino is a warm, dry region in Tuscany, a region also home to Chianti. Vineyards in Montalcino are planted in varied soils including limestone, clay, volcanic soil, schist,  and a crumbly marl known as galestro. Vineyard elevation is between 500 and 1,500 feet.

Now let's talk about this Brunello, a 2006 called L'Oca Ciuca, or "Drunken Goose".

After being passed through a vinturi into my glass for about two hours, I figure it was time to give the L'Oca Ciuca a proper evaluation. The 2006 vintage has been getting some great press lately, with the print media critics calling it a superb, balanced year.

The L'Oca Ciuca Brunello has a beautifully aromatic nose full of dark cherries, spice, saddle leather, and a whiff of sweet plum. The secondary flavors manifest as a dusty, brown soil component as well as a hint of thyme. The aromatic complexity of good Brunello never fails to put a smile on my face. I'd even be so bold as to state this is a wine, when sniffed, that you will instinctively know is great. Not good, fine, decent, okay, but a great bottle of wine.

The palate presence gives away this wine's age, but it has already developed a silky, beautiful texture. There's the ever-present sangiovese acidic snap, enveloping gorgeous black cherry and plum flavors. As the wine continues to unfold, an earthy note reaches through the tannic mid-palate, beckoning you towards a finish of dried herb, oak, tar, and more silky smooth tannin. There's a soulful depth to this wine, like Etta James singing "At Last", where you cannot help but be touched by the magic at play. Like the song's rise and fall, the flavors rise and fall in intensity, leaving you with the sense that you've just experienced something special.

I highly recommend buying a few bottles of the 2006 L'Oca Ciuca, and is selling it for $29.97, versus the regular price of $65. You can visit their site and purchase some to drink, but I recommend a few more years of rest for this Brunello. After 2015, you'll be rewarded with even more flavor integration and silky texture.

This wine was a sample for review purposes from

Beau Carufel

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Smoking Loon Current Releases

I was recently sent the new releases of Smoking Loon, another project of Don Sebastiani and Sons, to review. You may recall previous blog features on the Don Sebastiani wines that I posted, in 2011, where I explored the brands "Project Paso" and "The Crusher". In this lineup, the wines are each at a suggested retail price of $9, though often can be found for a few dollars less. The bottles are all labelled California, meaning that the grapes can come from all over the state. Similar to the other brands, the Smoking Loon wines are made with grapes purchased by the company.

According to the press materials I got, the name derives from Don's love of cigars and his father's (August Sebastiani) love of waterfowl. Interesting amalgamation to say the least. The PR stuff also says this is the largest and most popular brand in the portfolio. When I worked for Trader Joe's, we sold the syrah and I think the pinot noir. Both were popular wines priced around $6.

2009 Smoking Loon Pinot Noir:
Nose: Cherry, strawberry, candied fruit, touches of spice and pepper. Fairly one dimensional though. A bit of heat on the nose distracts from what could be a rather complete bouquet.
Palate: Soft initially with ripe red fruits appearing first. Spices come through in the mid palate, some nice acidity too. Tastes light, clean. Hint of dusty earth on the mid palate that disappears on the finish. Solid wine, not overly complex but a very drinkable wine. Lacks soul and any expression of terroir but for $10 what do you expect? 13.8% abv.

2009 Smoking Loon Merlot:
Nose: Blackberry, black cherry preserve, red licorice. Touch of earth and oak.Very simple nose, even more one dimensional than the pinot noir.
Palate: Soft tannin, light body. Red candied fruit, earth, strawberry licorice. Light bodied, not hard to drink, but not exciting. Rather unappealing to me but I can't detect any flaws. Seems like an attempt to add a bit of dimension to merlot through the addition of tannin and oak chips. This will please people who just want something red in their glasses. 13.5% abv.

2009 Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon:
Nose: Very ripe dark fruit, blackberry, blueberry, candied cherry. Slight green note lurks in the background. A little more complex than the merlot, and one that perhaps could stand to age a year or so. Yes, I realize I'm recommending aging a $9 wine.
Palate: Firm tannin, dries the mouth out. Medium bodied. Darker fruit flavors and acid combine for a nice texture. The finish is nice and clean, a pleasant surprise. Biggest disappointment was the hollow mid-palate, I felt like the wine evaporated. Flavors came back on the finish, dark chocolate predominantly. 13.5% abv.

2009 Smoking Loon Old Vine Zinfandel:
Nose: Juicy plum, hint of raisin, cherries. Lots of ripeness, no zin spice or pepper that I could detect. Was really hoping for more, especially if this truly an "old vine" zinfandel.
Palate: Full bodied ripeness, hints of vanilla and a fine grained tannin are the first to appear. Plenty of fruit, like a mixed bag of summer berries. A touch of cracked pepper meanders through the mid palate along with a touch of dusty soil. Pleasant, but not exactly expected for an "old vine" designation. Finish evaporates quickly, leaving a bitter tannic note. I had the highest hopes for this wine but it just failed to elicit any excitement. 13.5% abv.

The pinot noir and cabernet were the two here I could see having a glass of, if the only other option was Kendall-Jackson chardonnay. None of these wines were unique expressions of their component grapes and they each tasted like they'd been designed to fit a certain profile. Therein lies the secret to the success this brand enjoys though. For the people desiring a bottle of wine that drinks easily and is very non-threatening, the pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon are just fine. Taking any of the Smoking Loon wines to a casual party won't make you look like a buffoon. Just don't bring any of these to a gathering of wine geeks. Don Sebastiani and Sons has created a brand that doesn't necessarily open up the world of wine to anyone, but it does quench their thirst.

I'll give a lot of credit to the winemaker, Greg Kitchens, for keeping the alcohol levels reasonable in each of these wines. While I cannot tell if that's from using spinning cones or just naturally using less-ripe grapes, it's encouraging when a big producer puts the brakes on the runaway booze levels in California wines.

These wines were media samples from Balzac Communications & Marketing.

Beau Carufel

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Win Tickets to the ZAP Tasting in San Francisco!

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Happy New Year! To start 2012 off right, I have some tickets to the ZAP, that's Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, festival in San Francisco from January 26-28. It's a big, three day Zinfandel extravaganza where most of California's zin producers come to share their wines with the public. Tickets can be pricey but with a few minutes work here on this blog, you could win a set!

You could win these tickets a few ways, all zinfandel-related. In the comment section, I'd like to hear a bit about why you want to go, why you like zinfandel, your favorite producer, something about zinfandel wine. You could also include favorite food pairings, who has the best zinfandel wine list in the country, or even give a list of zinfandel producers to visit. Each comment is going to count as one entry, and there is one comment per person allowed.

Now, to clarify: You are entirely responsible for getting to San Francisco and surviving for the time you're there. I am merely awarding tickets to the winner of this little contest. To further clarify, I have two (2) sets of tickets to give away. That means there will be two (2) winners chosen. The sets of tickets are one for the Epicuria and one for the Grand Tasting. The winners will then receive two (2) tickets for that event. It is critical that you specify which tickets you'd like to win when you enter this contest!

In the interest of fair play, please don't try to win unless you're certain you can make it to the tasting. There are currently 22 days before the ZAP Festival, this contest will run for 14 days, until the 18th. On the 18th or 19th I will email the winners (so include some contact information!) and ask you what tickets you want.

This contest is open to anyone over 21 years of age and is void where prohibited by law. Failure to respond to my notification email within 24 hours means you forfeit the set of tickets.

These are the two events you could win tickets to:

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Thursday January 26:
Epicuria: Food & Zinfandel Pairings, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m., at The Concourse (635 8th Street at Brannan, San Francisco 94103-4901). Discover the diversity: take your palate on a culinary adventure as you discover the diversity of Zinfandel and its wide range of complementary flavor combinations. This informal dine-around expedition features pairings of 50 top Zinfandel wines with creations from master chefs in the ZinKitchen. Mingle with winemakers and epicurean experts as you take a sensual journey.
The teams will be Artezin Wines paired with Kollar Chocolates; B.R. Cohn Winery paired with Preferred Sonoma Caterers; Calstar Cellars paired with Cabot Creamery; Claudia Springs Winery paired with Pacific Catch; D-Cubed Cellars paired with A-16; Dogwood Cellars paired with Sift Cupcake; Four Vines paired with City College of San Francisco; Gamba Vineyards and Winery paired with ESTATE; J. Dusi paired with First Crush; Klinker Brick Winery paired with Fifth Floor; Ledson Winery & Vineyards paired with Centre du Vin at the Ledson Hotel; Mazzocco Winery paired with Radio Africa Kitchen; McCay Cellars paired with Wine & Roses; Outpost Wines paired with Mustards Grill; Peachy Canyon Winery paired with Swan Oyster Depot; R&B Cellars paired with Paul's Paella; Ravenswood paired with Central Market; Rock Wall Wine Co paired with Angela's Bistro; Selby Winery paired with Bocanova; St. Francis Winery paired with Executive Chef David Bush; Starry Night Winery paired with Il Davide Restaurant; Terra d'Oro Winery paired with Taste; Three Wine Company paired with The Fairmont; Trentadue Winery paired with Sarah's Forestville Kitchen and Tres Sabores Winery paired with Dean and Deluca.

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Saturday January 28:
Grand Tasting: From A To Zin, 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. at The Concourse.
From A to Zin: savor the journey through the world’s largest single varietal tasting as you explore hundreds of barrel samples and new releases. Meet winemakers from different Zinfandel growing regions and explore the dimensions of this authentically American varietal at the most comprehensive showing of Zinfandel wineries in the world. You can also experience the Grand Tasting by using ZAP’s ZinTracks ‘map’--- a way to choose one path through the Tasting and build your knowledge. ZinTracks will illuminate the many distinguishing features of Zinfandel----whether it’s why Dry Creek appellation Zins share a certain taste profile…or even just the fun of how many Zinfandel winemakers have red hair! A key part of The Grand Tasting is the role of Zinfandel as America’s “Heritage Wine.”

Either of those sound like they'd be awesome to attend, and I admit I'm a bit jealous of whomever wins, I'll be stuck up in Oregon shivering away! Winning is so easy too, why not take a minute to comment and start 2012 off with an epic wine tasting? If you do, take a lot of pictures and let us know who your favorite producers are. Good luck!

Beau Carufel