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Five years.  On a day that would seem as if I were announcing the punchline of a really long joke, instead, I am rather proudly stating that it has been five years since I first began Under The Grape Tree.  Blogging (despite its rather vulgar sounding verbage) has always been a way for me to “get my ya-ya’s out” as the Stones once so eloquently put it.  I am a writer at heart, as I have droned on about all this time, and the few people that have read this litany of tasting notes and edicts from my besotted brainpan can attest.  I make no money from this blog, and I am not getting tons of samples like most of my fellow blogging brethren do; my samples come from my suppliers.  Working in the business, I feel my perspective to be a bit different from the folks who are passionate about wine, and blog about it as their hobby.   I live this stuff every day.  Wine is my career, my life.

I am not disparaging anyone here.  Just stating where I am coming from with UTGT.

When I started this thing, I was in herd mentality, trying to emulate the random half-dozen or so bloggers I would read daily, and putting my own neurotic spin to it.  I incorporated music, posted videos, paid homage to one of my favorite writers – Hunter S. Thompson – by coming up with titles to posts with subtitles and subtitles to the subtitles, and picked fights, albeit virtually, with several of the famous wine writers who had been long-since established, and rather easy targets.

But after the majority of bloggers out there jumped onto this trend or that trend, it was time to be my own voice.

These days, I do post my tasting notes.  It is a way of keeping track of all the wines I taste, whether on the job or at home, and while there are those instances where some PR firm sends me samples, the majority of the wines I taste come from the various wholesalers who operate in the state of Kentucky.  I have taken to give everyone I work with – co-workers, bosses, wholesalers, importers, winemakers – nicknames, creating a cast of characters that grows each day, creating a world within my world, with a purple sky and a rosé sun, with rivers of sparkling wine just outside my door.

Often times, I play it straight, give up the notes, and move on to the next post.  Other times, I indulge myself in a kind-of prose masturbation, stringing words and epithets together in ways that usually aren’t meant to be together.  I throw shout-outs to fellow bloggers around like a father-son game of catch, and bury veiled pop culture references in the titles of my said prose wanking.

I am quite grateful for those of you who have dropped in and read my insanity, and even those who have taken the time to leave a comment or two.  Being for all intensive purposes, a local wine blog, having folks from California, Europe and South America even, read this web diary of mine, is a real honor.

And having been able to share with all of you my incredible journey, and what I can honestly say is the coolest job in the universe (next maybe to All-Being, Master of Time, Space and Dimension), is indeed a thrill.

April is a month full of anniversaries for me, beginning with this one.  Some are joyous, happy celebrations (my wife and I celebrate 13 years of marriage April 22nd), and others a bit more tragic (I lost my Grandma Keith 13 years ago, April 10th and my father, 26 years ago, April 29th).   April has always been a commemoration of change.  And as this anniversary of UTGT marks my first with The Party Source, I can’t wait to see where my blog will be in 5 more years.

Again, thank you so much dear reader.  Cheers!

commentary recap


Back from OPC, I have to say I am a new believer in Oregon wines.  And this is not a statement made simply as a thank you for the trip, no no no.  This is because I saw firsthand how incredibly united these producers are, how connected they are to their families, their land and each other.  I whimsically mused while riding the bus out there that maybe the idiots in Congress should go to OPC, thereby witnessing how people of different backgrounds, believes, and ideals come together to make things the best they can be.

Leave it to me to make that huge philosophical leap, right?

While I made a lot of good friends, and became an admirer of many terrific winemakers, there was none who impressed me more than Foris winemaker Bryan Wilson.  This guy could win the Nobel Peace Prize without even trying.  I don’t think I have ever met a nicer person in the business than Bryan (and no I am not referring to the guy from the Beach Boys).  Like many of the musicians I have met over the course of my life, he really does do it for the love of it.  Winemaking is like music for him, emanating from his very soul.  Though operating on the fringe of Oregon Wine Country, he exemplifies the passion and love of the grape that resonates throughout the region.

Wine Reviewed: Holy shit.  I was supposed to keep track of that last week?.


Good news in the wine biz: Kicking off Pac NW Month here at DEP’s – featuring the wines of Washington State and Oregon all month long on the tasting table, as well as the Foris Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir as our July Wines of the Month.

Bad news in the wine biz:  Been relatively calm – must’ve been because I was out of the office, right?

Disturbing news in the wine biz: Constellation Brands hoovers up another brand.

On the homefront: My wife was flying solo while I was away, though my friend and neighbor, Laurie Spata was checking in daily, letting me know how Jen was doing.  Unfortunately, Jen, being the stubborn poopyhead she can be, kept a lot of how lousy she was feeling hidden from both Laurie and I, and she ended up in the hospital for a few days.

She hates being a burden to anyone, and it is a neverending struggle getting her to realize that we all need help once in awhile.  I should practice what I preach sometimes, but I was reminded on my trip of that very point.  Now I just have to get her (and myself) to believe it.

What is on my playlist?: The Melvins, Devo, Missing Persons, Gram Parsons, and Jack White.

What wine(s) is (are) impressing me right now at the store?: Foris Pinot Blanc 2010, Ponzi Pinot Noir 2009, Cristom Pinot Noir Mt. Jefferson 2009, Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2010, Gertrand Bertrand Viognier 2011 (almost a clean sweep of Oregon!!!)

Recommended reads, blog or otherwise:  Ready Hunter S. Thompson’s THE RUM DIARY while on the road.  A great book!

What’s on tap for this week?: Trade Show season is coming up.  And of course, the 4th of July!


commentary recap


This week has been nothing short of what I believe warp speed is like.  For all you non-Trekkies out there, warp speed is what the starships travel at to get through large expanses of the universe in extremely short amounts of time.  It was as if I blinked once on Tuesday last week, and one more blink – BOOM!  It’s April 3rd!

In my professional life, I am trying to mend fences as it were, and putting to rest a lot of low-self-esteem demons.  I ran into a former colleague and still, good friend at the store over the weekend, and squashed the tales from certain folks that this person moved on because of me.  Now, I realize I can be a royal pain in the ass most of the time, but knowing that this person quit because of something I did has really haunted me.  The reason for this person’s departure was in fact, what makes most of us move on – money and opportunity.  A huge sense of relief hit me all day after talking with this person.  I have felt like a world-class prick for what has been going on 5, maybe 6 years.  And come review time, it has been eluded to me that I made this person head for the door.  Which has made the current situation with my current partner in the department all the more problematic.

Now, I have talked about how rough I have been on Shannon, and indeed it’s true.  It has been a really difficult adjustment.  I’ve worked in family businesses before, and have never seen them go anywhere but down.  Yet my attitude has become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, and quite frankly has made me pretty tired of it all.  So I have made some considerable efforts to meet Shannon half-way, and with any luck, I think we will finally start making for a good team professionally.

Sometimes I can be a real stubborn prick (just ask my wife).

Wine Reviewed: 39 + 1 bourbon.

Wine of the Week: TIE:  Marques de Murrieta Rioja Reserva Finca Ygay 2005 and Vina Ventisquero Cabernet Sauvignon Grey Single Block 2009.

Good news in the wine biz: The folks over at VinTank have compiled the list of the 9 most important wine bloggers at this very moment – a list I am fairly certain will never boast my name.  Big cheers though for the mention of my West Coast wine brother, Jameson Fink, who was singled out as the one to watch.  Check out his blog at http://jamesonfink.com/.

Bad news in the wine biz:  The vine shortage in California may mean higher wine prices.  But then, this news story may be the product of a Republican writing staff, I don’t know.

Disturbing news in the wine biz: Actually this doesn’t fall under DISTURBING so much as SURPRISING, Banfi Vintners is expanding their international wine empire with the announcement of their impending acquisition of Kenwood Vineyards of Sonoma County.   After having been at this so long, this merger shouldn’t really be that much of a shock, but like a five-year-old at Christmas time, these news announcements never fail to surprise.

On the homefront: It seems like every morning, my wife and I talk about the same thing – what she did the night before in her sleep.  For those of you new to the Grape Tree, my wife deals with a number of health issues, and as part of her treatment, she has been prescribed many pills.  This in conjunction with a lifelong problem with sleep (sleep walking, apnea, fitful dreams, talking in her sleep, etc., etc.) makes for quite the interesting night on an almost-regular basis.

Last night wasn’t particularly event-filled; about all she really did was carry on as if to be in an argument with individuals who, in her words, “had British accents.”  99% of every night at the Keith house consists of only my wife and I, and the high energy play of 6 hyperactive cats (as well as our office, which hosts our two “old lady” cats who no longer like to socialize with their brethren).

She has seen doors that aren’t there, heard partying that wasn’t ever there, had conversations at length with people from all over the world, and tried to wander around the house as if she is foraging through the forest.  At times, it can be downright hysterical.  Other times, like when she has fallen down the steps (I’d estimate 10 times, half of those ending in a concussion, broken bones, or in one nasty case, 15+ stitches in her mouth) as well as falling in the bathroom and breaking the toilet once.

I sometimes think I am constantly being tested by the Man Upstairs on my endurance and patience, because though I project myself as being a patient man, sometimes I am far from it.  My wife has so many bruises and scars from falling down between nocturnal restroom visits, or falling off the bed in fits of unconscious panic, yet when I recount her bedtime shenanigans, she almost always finds them hilarious.  And she has given me carte blanche to retell those tales to you.  I think she’s gonna be sorry.

What is on my playlist?: I heard this band Halestorm on the radio the other day and I have become an instant fan.  They are simply awesome!  And I’ve been listening to old Flatt and Scruggs; reminds me of my Grandpa Keith playing banjo on his patio, which was on the other side of the lake from my house growing up.  The sound of summer coming…

What wine(s) is (are) impressing me right now at the store?: Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009 (I am just as surprised as you are about this admission) and Roederer Estate Brut Rose Anderson Valley NV (a gorgeous pink sparkler from California).

Recommended reads, blog or otherwise:  Picked up FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by Hunter S. Thompson again.  Just started rereading it.  A truly hilarious read.

What’s on tap for this week?: I have absolutely no idea, but isn’t that for the best?



So the wine blogging world is a weird one, especially when it comes to handing out awards.  I have befriended some of the winners, and a lot of the losers (myself included), but the awards that bum me out the most are the one’s doled out by local newspapers/magazines, the ones that local folks nominate and vote on.  While it’s nice to be acknowledged by your peers, it’s nicer to have readers and fans that AREN’T in the same business as you.

There are literally THOUSANDS of wine blogs out there, some extremely professional, with well-written, highly journalistic articles, interviews, and even videos.  Other blogs are simply done, and can encompass a variety of subject matter, including wine reviews, short tutorials, travel notes, and so on.  There are numerous points-of-view, styles, and levels of knowledge.

I must admit, there are some terrible blogs out there (you’re reading one right now!), but the original intent of a blog is, and someone correct me if I am wrong, an online diary.  It’s supposed to be personal, explorative, and revealing at least one new thing about its author with nearly every post.  While it is an admirable goal (and an extremely lofty one too) to want to make money from a blog, and garnered critical acclaim and commanded increasing influence with a blog, those goals are not easily attained, nor are they very likely to happen.  However, the real beauty of the blogosphere is not necessarily the quality, but the sheer volume of bloggers out there.  For so long, wine was an elitist sport, owned by the few and enjoyed by the privileged.  At its heart wine is the simplest beverage ever bestowed to us, yet it had been transmogrified into some earthly version of ambrosia, coveted not by gods, but by shepherds of wealth and power.

Those days have long departed, and us common folk not only enjoy wine, we now champion its joy and wonder through social media.  Wine is currently in the era of demystification, a time of amazing miscellany, with wines from all over the world available right here, right now.  Not factoring all the fallacies of America’s three-tiered system, Canada’s big wine bureaucracy, or lack of specialty wine importers in Asia, we are enjoying a truly global renaissance of wine.

When it comes to blogs, there are thousands, as I said before, and each one speaks to someone out there in cyberspace.  When you can find a universal voice, one that touches not only your senses, yet connects to your heart, mind and soul, that is when you have achieved something akin to crossover – you have transcended one genre and now you have a little something for everyone.  Not many writers can do this.  My hero (or heroine) of this feat is Joyce Carol Oates, who pens all genres of fiction skillfully.  In the blogosphere, there are a few people who manage to perform similar feats.

One person, who I find myself commenting on her site with some sort of regularity, is Samantha Dugan.  Her blog, Samantha Sans Dosage, is a personal account of her life, and how wine plays a pretty significant role in it.  Like me, she is a wine retailer, specializing in French wines for a wine store in California.  Reading her blog, you get a shoulder-side seat to her world, whether she is reveling in an amazing glass of grower Champagne, or cheering on her World Champion L.A. Lakers.  It’s not textbook wine writing.  It’s her way.  And our world is better for it.

Another blog I find myself reading a lot is Gonzo Gastronomy, by Katie Pizzuto.  While Sam is like Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson, Katie is Hunter S. Thompson.  She has a shitlist that she gets to one annoyance after another, and she does it with kamikaze wit and take-no-prisoners point-of-view.

Which brings me to the undisputed King of skewering this industry, Ron Washam, from Hosemaster of Wine.  Ron has been in this business longer than I have, and his wisdom makes for amazing comedic timing.  He lampoons everything held dear and overtly serious in this industry, and does it in a way that is engaging, irreverent, and timely.

Now, I am not condemning or lambasting the folks that write reviews, or write overly-long, or ridiculously short pieces.  I am not here to judge anyone.  My blog, as I have stated in the past, is written for me.  The reviews I post are actually mental notes I make of each wine presented to me, whether by one of my sales reps, or from the samples that are actually sent to me (which are not many), assessments for whether or not I will bring these wines into my store for my customers to buy.  It’s that simple.  Earlier in the year, I took Tom Wark (of the blog Fermentation) up on the gauntlet he threw down, essentially challenging bloggers to become more influential in the industry by writing more reviews.  I took the opportunity I have of tasting so many wines each week as part of my job and made the most of it.  Yet I still am only writing for me, and if anyone else gets something from what I write, that’s great.

I read a lot of blogs every day, as well as trade mags (like Market Watch and Beverage Dynamics), the standard mags (like Spectator, Enthusiast, Parker, etc.) because as part of my job, I have to know what is going on in this volatile industry.  Change is happening every day, and I wouldn’t be able to function in my job if I couldn’t adapt to it all.  I read blogs like Sam’s, Katie’s and Ron’s because I get something more from their posts than most – I get a real point of view, some stunning revelation of character, and a connection that is much more personal than many.  And that’s okay.  Just about every blog I have linked on my own blog I read nearly every day, but I start each day with those three.  So I was a bit bewildered by Sam’s recent post, referring to one of the writer’s at Quarterly Review of Wines, who counted her as the Worst Wine Notes.  Really?  I’ve read far worse.  Yet as I said before, Sam transcends simple wine writing, and morphs it into writing about life.  I don’t know what this guy was expecting when he clicked onto Sam’s blog, but whatever preconceived notion he had, he was obviously in the wrong place (he should’ve taken that left turn at Albuquerque).

Wine is an awesome business to be a part of in the fact that it revolves around celebrations, big and small, and encourages its customers to look at life under positive light.  It always seems strange to me when anyone gets too bitchy about the details (myself included).

I guess I am just the goofy kid who’s trying to get everyone to play happily together in the same sandbox.

off-site events wine travel


Going back to Monday in D.C., we were immediately surprised by the quality in the El Portillo wines.  The Chardonnay was pretty good, yet the Pinot Noir was exceptional at that price.  Along with the Salentein wines, most notably their Pinot Noir, Malbec and top-tier wines – the Numina Malbec/Merlot, Primum Pinot Noir and Primum Malbec in particular were incredible.

The one that really caught my eye though was the Killka Malbec 2009 from the Uco Valley.  New from Bodegas Salentein winemaker Jose Galante (pictured above), was deep, rich and delicious.  Very new, I hope to see this one in our area soon (if I have anything to say about it).

At the MontGras table, the mission was to find their new Quatro, a blend of Cab, Carmenere, Merlot and Syrah, but we Dr. Gonzo and I discovered their 200, a commemorative Cab/Carmenere blend that was unbelievably good.  And according to our Palm Bay rep Michael, what we thought was going to be around $40 would turn out to be around $15.  Back the truck up, Dr. G!

One of the hidden gems of Palm Bay’s book are the wines of Recanati.  Israeli wines are something very much misunderstood here in the States, because kosher wines tend to be synonymous with crap (i.e. Manischewitz). 

Winemaker Gil Shatsberg is turning out amazing wines, as was evident of their value Yasmin Red and White wines.  The Red is a blend of Cab, Merlot and Shiraz while the white is Sauvignon Blanc, Emerald Riesling and French Colombard.

The really amazing wines of his lineup were the Rosé of Syrah and the Petite Sirah-Zinfandel blend which were both incredible wines for the price.  The PS/Zin especially had a lot of spicy power to it.  A far cry from Manischewitz indeed!

I’ll be back tomorrow with a recap of their Italian wines and finish up Saturday with my Jean-Colombo sighting as well as French standouts from Remy Pannier and Laboure-Roi.



It’s the ever-elusive quest we have all embarked upon, ever since being evicted from the comfort of our mother’s womb.  It’s the meaning of Life, the reason to be – the what for in the human equation of “why are we here?”  You fumble around this earth long enough and you will find yourself staring right out the face of self-doubt, that miserable bastard that is always up to no good.

I was reading my friend Samantha’s blog – Samantha Sans Dosage - today (Wednesday) and I was marvelling at her effortlessness in writing earnestly and honestly.  She has a fluid poetry about her words that is truly remarkable.  As a poet myself, I have to say at times, I am really envious.  Not because of what she says, but how she says it.

I’ve always lived a duality of sorts – the professional writer by day with this blog, and the personal writer at night – with my poetry blog and the blog dedicated to my wife’s health crises.  It’s easy to write for those last two blogs because I can just be myself, but when I have unofficially tied my wine blog with my store, I feel the need for some restraint.

There are a host of wine blogs out there, and everyone is clamoring to stand out.  I find myself moving toward the credibility crowd, attempting to construct a more commercially viable wine blog (if there is such a thing), yet every so often I feel like breaking out my inner Hunter S. Thompson and firing one or seven across the boughs of common sense and come up with the wine world’s version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Our most southernly member of the “unofficial” Ohio Valley Wine Bloggers Association” Tom Johnson at Louisville Juice has that kind of David Sedaris/Don Rickles delivery that makes you wanna come back for more.  He’s got a great delivery, and could very well be the first stand-up wine blogger, of sorts.  I always want to interject my own brand of humor into my writing, and never know what to expect from myself.  I have kind of developed a sort-of “channeling” method – I feel a lot of times that what I write is coming from some poltergeist speaking through me, if that doesn’t make me sound even more nuts than people already think me to be.

I love the way Katie Pizzuto over at Gonzo Gastronomy incorporates music lyrics into her titles and text.  She has a really playful way of interpreting her views, almost reminiscent of free flow jazz, or the work of one of my favorite fiction writers, Julio Cortazar.  It has a very improvisational manner that always keeps me intrigued.  With my thoughts, I always feel like a stenographer taking notes from both attorneys, the judge, the jury, the bailiff and all the people in the courtroom simultaneously.  I have a billion thoughts racing around in my head, and I am always trying to keep things straight, as well as keeping all the pornographic stuff stuffed in the darkest corner of my brainpan.

Finding my way, that is the eternal quest.  Discovering the why as I go, the where, the who and the what for.  Makes for a fairly thrilling ride.  How that all interprets in the wine biz?  Well, I always tell my customers, “Wine is an adventure, and everyone has to start somewhere.  Eventually we all catch up to each other.”  I know what you are asking, “Huh?”  It’s just one of those reflective moments I have with myself, assessing and reassessing myself and what I am doing in this business and this world.  I have this bad habit of reflecting too often, but it is how I learn, and why I am where I am now.

Around the store, January is always a month of reflection, trying to figure out what we did last year, what we need to do this year, what we should avoid doing, etc.  Prior planning prevents poor performance, right?

So I am getting a bit more comfortable in this wine blogosphere, gaining inspiration and insight from my fellow bloggers, and bringing back to mine a more integrated sense of self, with a dash more confidence, and perhaps, my own sense of weirdness.  The road opens up, there’s a burnt orange sunset in the horizon, and I’ve a full tank of gas, two cases of wine in the front seat, and the strange smell of ether rising up from the floor boards (thanks Hunter for that one.)  Cheers!

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