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No, this is not a typo.  This really is about “the friends of Les Amis du Vin”.  What the heck am I rambling about now?  It’s actually something very important to you.  So for this one newsletter, I’m going to bypass the usual wisecracks and ask that you read and consider this…  

It is probably no surprise to most of  you when I say that not all businesses deal with wine and winedrinkers the same way.  For some restaurants, wine is almost all about the business benefits it brings; with paper-thin margins on food, and costs and labor rising even higher, the 3x or more mark-up on wine can be the only thing generating significant profit for a restaurant.  For a business person, it’s hard to ignore that potential financial impact of wine.  However, on the other end of the spectrum are establishments run by “foodies” and others just looking to stay out of the red; most share a our respect and fascination with the fruit of the vine.  It’s a wondrous part of a meal, and they want to promote its appreciation just as they want people to expand and enjoy other wonderful products that are part of a great meal.  And, there are those somewhere in-between.  

Unfortunately, the deteriorating economic climate is shifting the balance from ‘love’ toward ‘money’, and that effects you.  With respect to LADV, some who’ve been “friends of LADV” in the past, and provided us with wonderful deals on food and a lovely venue for our events, have switched to a mindset where they care less about promoting a fine wine culture and its associated love of fine food to one that only considers whether an event provides those higher-margin revenues.  This characterization includes both some venues where we hold events and some suppliers.  

LADV is somewhat unique, and more susceptible to the effects of these changes, versus other wine-oriented groups in town.  There are ‘social’ organizations that employ a wine excuse as their basis; any costt increase is just passed along and raises the price of admission.  There are gourmet / culinary groups, for whom wine is but one component, perhaps even a lesser one.  And, there are business-driven wine activities, with the goal of promoting and selling specific products (whether wines or a restaurant location); they can easily afford occasional loss-leader events because they will profit later from the bias they impose.  For these groups where there is less focus on wine at-large, and usually substantially less quantity of wine involved, the economic shift affects them less.  LADV is centered on wine; learning about it and reinforcing that learning with unbiased and thorough experience (though the food and the social interactions are wonderful secondary parts).  The existence of “wine loving” establishments who were willing to forgo the potential profit that wine could bring for the shared goal of wine education and worship, has long provided the invisible foundation that supports LADV.  

Don’t panic.  Fortunately, wine will always nourish a group of people who truly want to promote appreciation of it.  To replace those going to “the dark side”, we’ll have some new friends; new restaurants, wine bars, and more.  So, if things are going to work out, why am I bothering you with this?    Well, for two reasons.  First, to all of you who are always asking if you can help me out, I’d like to ask you to query places that you know, to determine if they’d like to become our “friends”; to help this ‘not for profit’ group with a low-margin facility where we can base events.  Contrary to what many of you may think, I actually don’t know everyone in Austin who loves fine wine.  

And, the second thing you can help me with is even more important; you can work to keep our current “friends of LADV”.  Like other friends in life, if they don’t feel appreciated and somehow rewarded, they’re not going to keep doing all those nice things for us.  You know how it goes; you ask one day, and they’re “too busy” or just honestly tell you that they just don’t feel there’s a good fit anymore (as happened with Sullivan’s, Café Josie, and others; and which is why there isn’t a September event).  I’m going to ask that you take two actions in particular.  The most obvious is to support our friends who support us and the love and appreciation of wine.  I know that we’re all busy and that we’re all under pressure to save a penny or two ourselves, but drive that extra few blocks or spend that extra dollar and help those who help us.  Also, when you do support them, make it a point to tell them of your appreciation for their support of LADV.  I know you may not think so, but believe me, the next time you’re in a restaurant that has hosted us, ask to speak with the manager; you will make their day by being a good customer telling them how much you appreciate their support, and not being yet another flaming idiot demanding the unrealistic from them.  If we are friends to our friends, we can keep LADV alive and well.  

And, I shouldn’t have to say this, but all this is particularly true of our ‘bff’, Twin Liquors.  They are the single most important reason that our events remain affordable.  They have long made it a point to me that they don’t want LADV members to feel any pressure to use them over any other retail outlet; they just want the group to promote the love of fine wine, and hope that they will naturally be rewarded by members using them for a portion of their wine needs.  I’m not going to pressure you, but I am going to remind you that they are very good to us; I think it’s only fitting to treat them as the friends that they are.  Speaking of that, I guess that I’ll ‘spill the beans’ and tell you that they are currently building a new flagship location in the Jabour’s old ‘hood’ in Hancock Center.  This new Twin will have additional space to handle rare and more-esoteric wines, not to mention other goodies.  AND, they are building a facility within it that LADV will be able to use to hold more “wine only” (or ‘wine mostly’) events that many of you have requested, where the event cost will be lower.  

Hey, with all the bad news that we all must endure every day, I thought that I should end that discussion on a positive note.  So, do it; support the “friends of LADV”.  And, speaking of positive things, these events should brighten your day:

 

10/01/08 | AVA Series, Napa Valley - the mountain floor districts
Wed | at  Gypsy Restaurant      1025 Barton Springs Road     499-0200      www.go2gypsy.com 
7:00PM | $70 members  &  $75 non-members     (all inclusive)

This is a continuation of the series of wine events we started last year, based on the relatively new codification of “American Viticultural Areas.”  If you’re still not familiar with the concept, it is the relatively new designation of wine regions in the U.S. as distinguishable by geographic features, performed by the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.  If you weren’t aware, this is part of the old group left behind to focus on taxation that used to be part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms... before it moved to the Department of Homeland Security and got to add “and Explosives” to it’s moniker.  I don’t know about you, but I just can’t drink wine properly without a firearm.  Since AVA’s do not yet have the same status or recognition that comes when you hear DOCG Chianti or Appellation Contrôlée Saint-Émilion, these events will combine learning about a few areas at a time, while reinforcing your appreciation of the areas by sampling wines that reflect the typical characteristics of the region.   

In our previous Napa AVA event, the focus was on the valley floor districts of the Napa Valley.  While those were the areas that really put American wine on the world map, today many have become a bit overshadowed by those wines produced from the slopes of the mountains surrounding the valley.  We’ll look at wine from the mountainsides in the larger Napa Valley AVA, as well as the smaller distinct AVA’s of Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, and Spring Mountain.  

The format will be that of a wine dinner, with the education interspersed between wine flights and paired food courses.  While during the four flights we’ll sample a Sauvignon Blanc, a Marsanne, and other varieties, the majority of the wines will be the crown jewel of those areas: Cabernet Sauvignon, alone or in Bordeaux-style blends.  The producers, which also have their vineyard sites located within these AVA’s, include Barnett, Fantesca (the new home of Heidi Barrett), Robert Craig (we’ll have their renowned ‘Affinity’), and St Clement .  Joining me, to provide better insight into Napa mountain wines, will be Sandy Huffine of the Veraison / Krupp winery; she’ll not only help me edumacate you people, she’ll share some of their great wines with us.  

As for a location in which to showcase these wines, it seemed somehow fitting to return to the scene of the crime of the ‘valley floor’ event.  Shawn Gamble and his great staff continue to produce truly memorable interpretations of modern Northern Italian cuisine, such as the creamy sole lasagna that will accompany our white wine flight.  The cozy confines of Gypsy restaurant should again be a perfect match in which to present a dinner paired to the wine flights.  Great food, stellar wines, and enough education to make the evening somewhat guilt-free; what more could you ask?      [theme: wine survey, mid-level education] 


10/19/08 | Wine, Men & Women, and Song  - Texas Wine and Song Festival
Sun | at  Copper Tank Events Center     5th & Trinity        www.texaswineandsong.com
3:00 - 7:00PM | $25 members-only pre-purchase   &   $35 for everyone at the door  

In keeping with the notion of “if it ain’t broke”- - then make some interesting minor changes with a few improvements and repeat, Fall in Austin means it’s time for the second annual ‘Texas Wine and Song Festival’.  Almost everyone that attended last year really enjoyed themselves.  There were a few minor issues and some suggestions; I’m happy to report that nearly everything that LADV members said they wanted will be addressed (perhaps because I got roped into being on the board this year).   

For those that missed last year, the concept that this event is built around is one of a comfortable afternoon / evening of wine, music, and friends, with a focus on ‘comfortable’.  It’s the only festival that I know of that provides valet parking.  It’s not about pushing and shoving from table to table just to get wine; you can wander to the various winery spots and get a sample (ten samples are included free as part of your admission), but you can also optionally purchase even more tastes or even a glass or bottle of your favorites, get a little snack or two, grab a chair near the music or away from it, attend an education session or few, and relax with your Austin neighbors and LADV friends.  Of course, October is Texas Wine Month, so that’s an emphasis (with Becker, Fall Creek, Flat Creek, Llano Estacado, Mesina Hof, Peregrine Hill); but there will also be others.  To see who all will be there and more details, check out the fest website.   

So how could that possibly be improved?  Some of you thought it was a bit hot outside, (no I can’t control the weather…  yet) so this year it will be held at a new venue with many of the activities indoors (and to address another point, the port-o-potties will be replaced with nice new indoor plumbing).  This also means that the festivities can proceed come rain or shine.  Many had some difficulty conversing with the winery reps during the louder bands (hey, a couple of our friends in charge started sampling early and contracted a mild dose of ‘rock arena promoter’ syndrome); this year we’re both better separating the areas and turning down the music volume.  Further, the band selection is slightly mellower, but still top-notch; there’ll be sets by smoky-voiced chanteuse Suzanna Choeffel, Austin’s current blues-rock princess Carolyn Wonderland, alt-country favorites The Gourds, and more.  A few seemed lost or lonesome in the throng and wanted to see more of their LADV friends (some were happy not to ;-)  so this year the event will be capped to a smaller crowd and there’ll be an official LADV “home base”.   

Once again, as honored wine lovers, LADV members can receive a discount.  Our price is lower than the at-the-gate price of $35, but do feel free to bypass LADV signup and purchase from the fest directly, as all proceeds go to great charities which support the future of Texas wine and the health of Austin musicians.  If you have any questions that the event website or ads don’t cover, just ask.  The event is a great way to enjoy a ‘spoiled adult’ version of a wine and music fest.    [theme: wine survey, social event]  


11/04/08 | The More the Merrier, Better When Blended Together
Tue | at  Fleming’s          320 East 2nd  Street        457-1500               www.flemingssteakhouse.com
7:00PM | $80 members  &  $90 non-members     (all inclusive)

More and more, Americans are starting to appreciate the benefits of wines composed of multiple grape varieties.  I doubt that early US wine producers understood that in the long-run they were painting themselves into a bit of a corner when they standardized on mostly varietal bottlings.  They were simply solving the immediate problems of an undereducated American consumer and the lack of an established wine tradition with well-evolved recipes where grape types had been adapted to fit the terroir.  They certainly didn’t do themselves any favors when they abused a few hijacked European monikers to label their products which were nothing like the iconic wines whose names they employed; the legacy of Zinfandel-based “Chianti” and ubiquitous Hearty “Burgundy” soured the public to the use of anything but labels employing truthful varietal names (I know you remember).  Attempts to gain prestige naming for wines improved through the combining of multiple grape types, like ‘Meritage’,  have been only marginally-successful even when the resulting wines were wonderful improvements.  But the fact today is that most Americans understand “Chardonnay” but are mystified and shy away from “Châteauneuf-du-Pape”.   

Once locked into the varietal view, producers struggled for a way to differentiate their wines from each other.  Many today employ specific single vineyard designation in attempts to elevate their wines.  This certainly works in Burgundy, where hundreds of years allowed fine-tuning to locate small sites that produce complete and outstanding wines from the terroir-sensitive Pinot Noir.  There is no doubt that some sites produce wines with distinctive character, but just like using only one grape type, very often the best wine could result if that characteristic was one of many outstanding traits of a more complete palette combined into a more complex final result.  So, most Americans are erroneously convinced that every ‘vineyard designate’ is superior to wines employing fruit from many sites.  

We better-versed wine lovers understand that a great blended Bordeaux is far from second-class.  But do we really know how blending can create a wine that is greater than the sum of its parts?  Well, for those true wine geeks that want to push beyond a general understanding of the concept, to true applied knowledge, here’s your chance.  We’ll be replacing shiny stemware with graduated cylinders at this hands-on event.  Our guide in this experience will be our old pal Russell Smith.  You may only know him as the genial and knowledgeable manager of the Twin location on Bee Caves Road.  Russell has left that position and has returned to his calling as a winemaker.  If you weren’t aware, before coming to Texas, he was assistant winemaker at the prestigious Flora Springs.  While with Twin, he moonlighted as the winemaker for Becker Vineyards.  "He's a great winemaker and he has a great palate," says winery founder and owner Richard Becker.  Smith worked as a consultant for the winery since 1999, during which time Becker Vineyards has become one of the most outstanding wineries in Texas.  "I attribute that completely to Russell Smith," Becker says.  Perhaps their flagship wine is the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, which (surprise!) combines the fruit from a handful of the best vineyards in Texas, including Neal Newsom's southwest of Lubbock.  

For this event, Russell has kindly set aside the various 2007-harvest component Cabernets that go into the Reserve; he’ll also bring a bit of the Merlot and Malbec.  We’ll discuss the possible effects that each grape variety can bring to a blend.  You’ll each get to try your hand at this important winemaker’s task, taking your own shot at a version of 2007 Reserve and/or a Bordeaux-style blend.  You’ll not only learn what works and why; you’ll get to learn more about your own preferences, which can guide you in your future selection of blended wines.   Of course, it’s only fitting that after such a serious and studious endeavor that we be treated to a rewarding “graduation” celebration, where the atmosphere will be transformed from that of a ‘chem lab’ to one of fine dining.  OK, it’s doubtful that the elegant and inviting feel of Fleming’s private dining area would ever be confused with a chemistry lab, but it’ll have to do.  It will be a much better match when you are greeted with light appetizers and wine on-arrival prior to the blending exercise, and will be perfect for our celebration dining afterward.  Along with a wonderful mixed-grill entrée, we’ll get to enjoy and compare our attempts to the 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve wines.  And it wouldn’t be a true celebration without a decadent dessert and a small pour of award-winning Becker Vintage Port.  

I promise that you will not have to endure the endless droning of “Pomp and Circumstance” in the background during the dinner.  Due to the need of specialized equipment and unique wine components, ‘class’ size will be quite limited.    [theme: advanced education]  


11/17/08 | The Wine Bar Experience
Mon | at  Cissi's Market          1400 South Congress         225-0521               www.cissismarket.com 
7:00PM | $75 members  &  $85 non-members     (all inclusive)

Wine lovers in Austin cannot have missed the surge of new ‘wine bars’ which have opened their doors in the past year or so.  Some of you occasionally contact me, saying, “I heard about fill-in-the-name; should we have an event there?”  I’ve considered it.  There are some nice new places.  I’ve inquired with many of them, and they would all love for me to bring in a bunch of wine lovers like yourselves.  To be honest, the problem is that none had really wanted to do anything ‘special’ for us (except perhaps, set aside a too-small semi-private space); they just wanted to give their normal experience at their normal price.  My thought has been that you can each experience that without me, and I hope you have.

But now, we’ve been made an offer we can’t refuse.  The great folks at Cissi’s Market have been in their SoCo location for a couple of years now; they are a self-described “team of chefs, food artists, food aficionados, foodies, food dreamers” who focus their selection on ”local or luscious”.  Up to now, they’ve offered a really interesting small selection of groceries, some fun wines, and a nice fresh-case where they serve up a rotating offering from a great kitchen (that also caters).  But, as have another couple of small markets in town, they’re evolving to provide expanded in-store consumption.  And, if you haven’t yet guessed, key to that new experience will be a remodeling around a ‘wine bar’ format.  

They’ve been laying the groundwork for some time.  Chef Deegan McClung is from New Orleans, where he received training in classic French technique; here in Austin prior to Cissi’s, he served as chef de cuisine at Uchi during the period in which it gained its fifth star.  They also brought Nat Davis on board as sommelier to expand and improve their wine selection; Nat is a member of the American Sommelier Association who moved here from NYC, and not coincidentally, revamped the Uchi wine program during that period.  As you read this, the space is being transformed to better house that 'wine bar' experience, becoming functional in this new incarnation just prior to our event.  But, how have they proposed to make this truly ‘special’ for us?  For starters, we’ll have the place all to ourselves.  As you arrive, things will start out as a near-normal wine bar experience; we’ll informally try a few tastes of sparkling wines.  

Ah, but again to make this better, not just any wines.  We’ll be sampling wonderful wines from Louis-Dressner Selections.  This is a collection of small, extraordinary wineries throughout Italy and France.  These wines all offer a window into the past: when grapes were hand-harvested, gently pressed, allowed to ferment with natural wild yeasts, free from additives and doctoring.  Quite simply, these may be some of the most exciting, interesting wines you‘ve discovered in some time.  Nat and a representative of Louis-Dressner will be on hand and all yours to answer any questions.  

At this point, at a normal wine bar, you’d sit down and have a little food.  And in Austin, many of these new businesses offer really nice food.  Again, why not ratchet things up a bit.  Let’s sit and have a fabulous, full dinner celebrating Cissi’s new endeavor.  Each course served will be accompanied by wines selected from the Louis-Dressner portfolio.  You’ll have completed the evening with some enlightenment, a terrific five-course tasting menu, and about a dozen wonderful wines.  And, if you notice, all this at a very attractive price.  Special enough for you?     [theme: wine survey, food/wine pairing]  


Miscellany:

Let me remind you that space is always very limited at these events.  I do apologize that so often I have to inform people that a particular event has filled.  However on the flip-side, one of the most-frequent compliments that I get on the events is that people feel special and their experienced enhanced because of the coziness and easy access to the presenters. 

As always, call  925-3985 or e-mail: reservations@ladv.org  to make reservations and to keep them accurate.  After you make your reservations, PLEASE CALL IMMEDIATELY if your plans change.  Communicating changes no later than 48 “business hours” before an event will allow us to adjust and provide an opportunity to any who may be on a waiting list.  Further it will assure we don’t have to pay for wine and food that was reserved for you, and that we won’t have to contact you afterward to pass on those costs to you if we are past the point when we guaranteed attendance to a venue. 

I look forward to seeing all you Friends of Wine at an event soon, and don't forget to support "The Friends of LADV."

Santé
     John