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One of the side jobs that comes with becoming a winemaker is the position of chief of all family wine questions and situations. As someone who just plain loves wine, I’m not always the best suited for this job. When a family member does a bit of research and tells me, “Oh, let’s hold off on the Chardonnay right now because I heard that you can’t drink it with the salad dressing I used.” I can tell that they really don’t care, that they are just worried that I will look at them scornfully as they serve me the evil mixture of wine and vinegar. As if people expect me to fly off the handle yelling, “How dare you ruin the sanctity of my wine that I perfectly crafted. This meal is RUINED!” Instead, I usually reply with something like, “You know, that might be technically true, but who cares. Never hold off on drinking wine, bad pairings can be just as fun as a good one. You can see what difference the food makes in the way the wine tastes.” This is a great way to truly understand food pairing.Wine’s relationship to our palates fascinates me endlessly, so I’m not one to dogmatically follow the rules of food and wine. Like most trained scientists, I feel there is just as much to learn in failure as there is in success. Sadly, my offhand dismissal of hard and fast rules just makes everything more confusing for my family.These situations always get me thinking about why wine can be so confounding to those first exploring it. I think people are scared that they will demonstrate some form of wine ignorance by flubbing a basic rule. Well, rules like these are meant to be broken indeed. The world of food and wine is so complex, simple rules should only be the roughest of guidelines. As an example wines are often described as being “food friendly”. I guess this is said implying that some other un-named wine is unfriendly or just plain rude. Since wine is so completely intertwined into the culinary experience, this has to be one of the harshest critiques possible of a wine. The problem that immediately comes to my mind is this: What does the critic in this case mean by “food”?

When I lived in San Francisco, a typical 8pm question was, “What should we eat tonight?” I know this is a common problem in homes throughout the world, but the seemingly endless choices made available in my neighborhood invoked that same feeling of hopeless confusion as when choosing a toothpaste.

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Seriously, what’s the answer here?

Anyway, here is just a sample of the choice of restraunt styles that were within a 4-minute bike ride of my front door:

American, New American, Southern, BBQ, Californian, Cajun, Seafood, French, Italian, Vietnemese, French-Vietnemese, German, East German, Hipster German, Pizza, Southern Indian, Northen Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Nepalese, Cambodian, Thai, Ethiopian, Senegalese, Moroccan, Spanish/Tapas, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Mexican, New Mexican, Tacos, Burritos, Vegan/Raw, Cuban, Japanese, Mediterranean….(Man, now I need to spend a week eating in the Mission)

The idea that there is some formula out there that x and y features of wine make it good with “food” seems totaly absurd. I don’t care what the pH, TA, tannin, alcohol, balance, ten-cent wine descriptor, you can find a food that works for you with pretty much any wine. I’ve met people who swear by sushi and whiskey!  Not my ideal pairing, but if you love it, anyone who tells you otherwise can take a walk.  When one combines the entire spectrum of sustenance with all the styles and characteristics of wine, then throws in the full range of human taste and experience, I think you’d have to be a Numberwang champion to figure out all the possibilities.

So take this as a challenge to disregard much of what you’ve read or heard and just go exploring. Eat at places that are passionate about what they serve and express a unique point of view. That passion will lead them, and in turn you, to all sorts of interesting and unexpected places that simply following “the rules” would steer you away from. The role of the experts should not be to confuse you and limit your choices, but instead be a role of expanding and leading you to try something you might otherwise avoid. Any sommelier will tell you the greatest triumph in pairing is the success of the unexpected. Don’t be afraid of failure or of some snobby upturned nose at a bad pairing. Try anything and everything with the full confidence that failure and success are both wonderful outcomes when it comes to wine and food. This more than any book, video, magazine, or blog will lead you down the path of understanding your unique palate.

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J. Lohr employee Megan Carder shares her food and wine adventures while camping on the Northern Coast of California last weekend.It’s officially the middle of summer, and all this mild weather we’ve been having in California is beckoning us to the great outdoors. Without the normal amenities of a kitchen, camping is a great opportunity to get creative. Long gone are the days when camping meant drinking filtered creek water and eating freeze-dried beans. With the right tools and a flexible attitude, even the most particular gourmets can now get their food on at the beach or in the middle of the woods. And don’t forget that wine! This weekend, we brought some J. Lohr Estates South Ridge Syrah to pair with our dinner.Red wine – for camping? Absolutely. For starters, it doesn’t have to be chilled, and therefore will not take up valuable space in your cooler. This is a definite plus, especially if you’ll be camping for more than a couple days. And while most people recommend screw caps for camping convenience, natural cork closures protect the wine from raccoons, who have not yet (to our knowledge) learned how to use corkscrews. But perhaps most importantly, red wine goes great with barbecued meats, grilled veggies, and other standby camping favorites like hamburgers and hotdogs.

For this camp dinner, we prepared a Greek salad with yellow and orange bell pepper, red heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, onion and feta, and tossed it with salt and pepper, fresh garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Then we grilled some gourmet sausage from a local meat company over the fire, and paired it with J. Lohr Estates South Ridge Syrah. (Yum.)

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This was easy and quick camping meal! If you decide to try it, keep in mind that the salad can be prepped after breakfast before you head out on a hike or other adventure. This will give the flavors enough time to meld together. Just make sure you have a cool place, away from any critters, to store it for the day.

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If you do prefer white wine (we recommend J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay), pair it with chicken or fresh-caught trout, which you can easily cook in foil packets right on your campfire. Just throw in some seasonings, veggies and whatever else you choose.

Happy Trails!

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Thursday: The Winery Team on Tour

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Wednesday:

With a mouthwatering theme! gamey: a wine with a distinct animal aroma, not necessarily in a bad way. Often characteristic of Syrah and Mourvedre. flabby: lacking in acidity, could be characterized by a lack of focus in the way a … Continue reading →

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Tuesday:

Keys to the new winery facility were handed over to the winery team by the construction crew as of yesterday. The excitement is palpable! After a full 2.5 years of anticipation, we will finally be moving into our new production … Continue reading →

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Monday: Just Photos: Triangular

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Sunday:We are back pouring in our newly remodeled tasting room! The weather is beautiful, our wines are showing wonderfully, and we finally have room to accommodate more of you! Come check us out!

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Block 42 is currently undergoing the very focused and time consuming process of lateral and wing removal. Laterals are shoots that grow outward at axil (base of a leaf) points along the vine. Fundamental to the pruning process is arranging … Continue reading →b.gif?host=halterranch.wordpress.com&blog=20215195&post=543&subd=halterranch&ref=&feed=1

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Early June, when I wrote about how cold our spring had been, seems like a lot longer ago than one month. When I returned from a two-week trip to the Rhone (during which it was consistently in the 90s here in Paso Robles) the vineyard had grown so much that it was barely recognizable. There are vineyard blocks where the canes have grown so much, so fast, that you can’t see the ground between them. Neil, Ryan, Levi, David and the vineyard crew are spending most of their time shoot thinning, but it will be another few weeks before they’ve caught up. This last month of warm weather is exactly what we wanted to see. We’ve nearly caught up to last year in degree days, and more importantly the vineyard looks like it’s only a few weeks behind rather than a full month.I snapped one photo of a hillside of Grenache that gives a sense of what things are like out there, with a sea of vines topped by a robin’s egg blue summer sky.

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