Toast: No Joking, Paulsen's Wines Are Seriously Good (From the Vacaville Reporter)

Monty Paulsen Monty Paulsen is the son of a famous man, but that is the least interesting thing about him.

The collection of lava lamps at the door, the mysterious name, and a bathroom outfitted with jungle noises, Don Ho music and a Tiki head dispensing tissues are your first clues that EBGB Underground Wine Bar is a refreshingly different approach to wine tasting.

If that were not enough, enter Monty’s partner, Gigi Benson.

The first thing Benson might tell you is that she is an actress and an “Intuitive Extrovert,” referring to the Meyers Briggs personality profile. The next might be the story of when the cat, upon hearing the bathroom’s jungle bird sounds, jumped into the toilet. No Napa nature girl here, Benson rocks short skirts, high heels and a charismatic transparency that is hard to resist.

Lava lamps and bubble chair signal something differentThe Monty/Gigi dynamic has a Lucy and Desi quality:  she’s outrageous, he’s deceptively reserved. Deceptive because Monty has a droll humor of his own, not surprising for the son of Pat Paulsen, a comedian best known for his appearances on the Smothers Brothers TV show and his tongue-in-cheek bid for the presidency in 1968.

Something of a Renaissance Man, Monty found his way into the wine business after earning degrees in English and enology from U.C. Davis, followed by an MBA from Duke. As head of operations and winemaking at Rosenblum Cellars, Monty nurtured lasting relationships in the wine business. According to Benson, “He has a talent for blending wine and he has these connections, they’re not networking connections. They’re real.”

When Rosenblum Cellars was sold to beverage giant Diageo, Monty had the time and money to re-invigorate his father’s label, Pat Paulsen Vineyards, and as a wine consultant, leverage his contacts with over 100 different growers. If he helps to make a wine that turns out especially good, he suggests a partnership. “I say, ‘Hey, I made this, can I claim it? They say sure, take a couple barrels,’” said Paulsen.

Tiki bathroom complete with jungle soundtrackThis talent for blending, of people as well as wines, is one of the reasons Pat Paulsen Vineyards garnered nine medals at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. A partner with a local angle, Stefanie Jackson is a winemaker who met Monty when she was a “cellar rat” at Rosenblum Cellars. Jackson created a Cabernet for Pat Paulsen Vineyards from grapes grow at Wirth Ranch, in Suisun Valley’s Green Valley appellation. “I’m a single mother and I didn’t have the money to get my wine into bottles. Monty had the wherewithal and it made for a good partnership. The difference with Monty is that he preserves the story. He gave me an opportunity.”  Jackson is bullish on Suisun Valley grape growing. “I love it as a winemaker because it is stellar fruit, wonderful terroir that is a well-kept secret. The prices are still low enough for a winemaker like me and that plays out for the consumer.”

Jackson’s 2008 Wirth Ranch Cabernet is ripe with cherries and blackberries, with velvety tannins and a juicy finish. You can find it at the Pat Paulsen Vineyards website at along with other wines at a range of price points, from the edgy EBGB series at $14 to the winemaker collection at $18 and reserves at $34. Better yet, visit Monty and Gigi in person at the EBGB Underground Wine Bar. Their next event is an Academy Awards Party on Sunday, February 24, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The dress code according to Benson is “Black tie or shorts.”  And check out the Tiki bathroom, don’t let the jungle birds scare you.  


No Weather In Napa, Instead A Restaurant Report 

I love to walk in the evening when it is just getting dark. The lights come on in the houses and I can see people preparing dinner. Very little blue glow from TVs. The light is gold coming from the houses and the people are in their kitchens. Eating is big in Napa.

I sensed a kindred spirit when Parker Hall told me about a friend of his who lives near downtown.  He also walks in the evening, and his ritual is to count the people in the restaurants, "Morimoto was busy. Uva about 15." Parker filmed a cooking demo for the local public access station this afternoon and at the end he included a "Restaurant Report" from his friend.  Only in Napa.

Parker told me this story over dinner with his wife Janet. We had a fresh salad with fuji apples and carrots dressed with his secret (or it should be, but he shares everything) green dressing and enchiladas that were so deeply, roundly and richly flavored with ancho chile steeped in beef stock I'm not likely to forget them soon. 

He cooks for his friends, so don't be a stranger. Get on his Park Hall Comfort Takeout email list for your own enchilada fix. 


Toast: A Wine Label, More Than Just A Pretty Face (from the Vacaville Reporter)

Far Niente Cabernet labelThis column was first published in the Vacaville Reporter on January 15, 2013

Fifty items in 50 minutes -- that's a typical trip to the grocery store. Convenient, yes. Fast, sure. But choosing wine in the supermarket has all the charm of online dating.

Yet grocery sales account for 40 percent of the wine sold in the U.S., which means the mighty wine label needs to tell its story in nine-square inches of paper or less.

Wine marketers and label designers create mental cues, most of them unconscious, that tell the consumer what to expect.

"I am a luxury, I will impress your boss," or "I am an everyday wine, it's Monday, pick me up," and "I am French, ma chérie d'amour!" Creating a label so compelling that it is chosen over the thousands of other bottles of wine on a shelf, it is no wonder that wine-label design must be an exacting art.

Most wineries approach their wine labels, or "trade dress," which includes all aspects of the bottle's appearance, as an ongoing process. Trade dress brings to mind a bottle wearing a dress (I once bought a hula skirt for a wine bottle-- yes they sell such things), but I digress.

According to Jim Caudill, the director of public relations and hospitality at the Hess Collection, wine marketers believe labels and related trade dress need constant care, with regular updates to reflect evolving market tastes. The Hess Select brand was recently refreshed with brighter colors to appeal to younger consumers without alienating their core customers.

"We're constantly absorbing insights and information as we interact with consumers, getting feedback from retailers, our distributor partners, often directly from consumers we talk with at events all around the country," said Caudill.

Given that consumers (would you believe 75 percent!) sometimes can't remember the name of the wine they like, icons on wine labels serve as useful mnemonics. Thus everything from kangaroos to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, all make an appearance.

A friend once recommended an inexpensive syrah, saying "I can't remember the name, but it has a rooster on the label." That sounded simple enough. But gazing at the Safeway syrahs, I wondered, "Which rooster?" I think there were five.

My favorite wine label does not have a rooster on it. An artist who was originally commissioned to create a stained-glass piece for the winery owner’s home designed it. According to Rachelle Newbold, Far Niente Winery's communication coordinator, the label has changed very little since its original vintage in 1979. Framed in gold foil is a pen and ink drawing of the historic winery and vineyards, with the Mayacamas mountains in the background.

Clustered around the drawing are water-colored grapevines in an art-nouveau style. It reminds me of a Tiffany window and the sumptuousness of the label's craftsmanship suggests an equally rich and artistic wine inside.

Far Niente comes from the Italian saying, "dolce far niente," the sweetness of doing nothing, a reminder to take a breath and smell the wine.

A wine label's work is never done. The bottle sits on our table as we drink, melding in our memories the flavors, the food and the friends.

And perhaps, when the party is over, it remains on the counter, too beautiful to throw away. 


Amazon Wine: One Inch, One Second

Screen shot of Amazon's wine storeFollowing with interest Amazon's entry, after two earlier aborts, into the online wine marketplace, this quote in Advertising Age struck me:

"The self has become the screen; the onlycopy truly detectable is price, ounces and a logo," It is even more imperative in the online-shopping experience, as brand are condensed to a one-inch image." (Terri Goldstein, Goldstein Group)

When the "story" is so central to selling wine, and when, presumeably, wineries team up with Amazon to extend their reach, how is that story communicated in one inch and one second of a viewer's attention?  


Does your logo bring to mind a flushing toilet?

Uhboy.  The UC logo folks must have a giant and collective migrane right now.

 I can't say I liked it or "got it," especially the disappearing "C". Now that it's been dubbed a flushing toilet, I'm unlikely to see it as anything else.

 Perpetually loading computer icon? Can you hear me grinding my teeth?

Bottom line, logo changes are perilous, especially when there are so many smart,  vocal, social-media using stakeholders--234,464 of them. I'm surprised there wasn't more student engagement in the design process. Maybe there was- if so, that's the first message I would have sent when unvieling the new look.


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