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I love California wine—but perhaps not in the way that you think.

California wines are often described with adjectives like powerful, jammy, oaky, buttery, ripe, intense and concentrated—but it’s descriptors like these that make my stomach turn and have me reaching for the nearest can of Modelo. Yes, the flavor profiles that have become synonymous with mainstream California wines are the very attributes I loathe in a wine.

In the world of wine geekdom, loving California wine—in all its over-extracted glory—is often associated with being a pedestrian wine-drinker: You needed a wine to punch you in the face with its flavors and aromas in order to appreciate it. Bigger is better, right? This is how the California wine industry defined itself and how it found unparalleled success with the cocktail-to-wine converts. But there is another wine story beginning to emerge—a story that is compelling and exciting, being written by young, innovative winemakers who are consciously choosing to break away from convention and forge a new California wine style.

This is the California that I love. These are the wines that are creating a new definition. That said, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that this “new” style is really not new at all.

These winemakers are embracing the way wine was crafted for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, before chemicals and flavor manipulation—before “recipe” winemaking and a desire for wines to always taste the same from year to year. Wines were supposed to be different, depending on the vintage and where the grapes were from. Wine was a time capsule that so beautifully reflected a time and place that could be revisited with the pull of a cork.

A friend of mine once used a brilliant analogy to describe this winemaking mindset. He likened these guardians of the grapes to midwives: The winemakers are simply there to guide the process along, protect the wines from harm during the various stages, and interfere only to prevent tragedy. Otherwise, you stay out of the way and let nature do its thing. The result? Wines that are wild, diverse, energetic and unapologetically honest.

Much to my delight, I’m not the only desert denizen who has a passion for the avant-garde wine styles making a splash in the Golden State. Christine Soto of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs decided in 2018 that she was going to create an entire wine festival dedicated to the “new California.” But this wasn’t going to be just any old trade tasting. No … she assembled a roster with the greatest emerging talent in the state, all under the very hip roof of the Ace Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs.

Anyone who’s ever been to a large-scale wine-tasting knows that, more often than not, you will hold your glass out and receive your taste from anyone but the winemaker. Sales reps, suppliers, importers, a temp from the tasting room—all are decent ambassadors of the wines they represent, but let’s be honest: There’s nothing quite like having a one-on-one conversation with the person responsible for creating what’s in your glass. This is just one of the elements of Golden Grapes, as the Palm Springs Wine Fest is also known, that make it so special.

Needless to say, the Palm Springs Wine Fest—dedicated to the fierce and determined California wine successors—is indeed a success. This December marked the second year of this gathering of talent—and for the second year, I found myself positively giddy as I wandered around the room, more than just a little bit star-struck. To my surprise, the winemakers and principals were just as happy to be here as I was to see them. Over and over again, I heard comments about how fun this tasting was, and how great the consumers were. They were so impressed with the thoughtful and genuinely curious questions that were being asked. The energy was palpable, and the vibe in the room was electric and brimming with happiness. There was zero pretense or snobbery—just a room full of passionate people, with the creators and the consumers equally appreciative of each another. Trust me when I say that this is not the norm.

Many of the winemakers hadn’t been to Palm Springs in years. Some hadn’t been here since a childhood vacation, and others had never visited our sunny paradise. One thing was for certain, though: Everyone I spoke to said they love it here and want to come back.

So, at the end of the event, we were left with happy winemakers, coming together in a stunning location, interacting with fun-loving and inquisitive patrons. Sounds like a good time to me. I have no doubt that Golden Grapes, or the Palm Springs Wine Fest, or whatever you want to call it, is going to become one of the most important wine gatherings in the country. It goes well beyond simply tasting fun, esoteric wines, and is actually setting a higher bar for future winemakers and producers—and represents a shift in consumer wine awareness.

Now, I just need to be patient and wait for next winter to roll around. It just keeps getting better and better.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

The Goal of the Second Desert VegFest: Sharing Info About Veganism With the Coachella Valley

Bryan Lopez is passionate about the vegan lifestyle—so passionate, in fact, that he produced a whole festival focused on vegan food back in the spring.

Just six months later, Lopez is back with the sequel: The second Desert VegFest—a whole day of food, music and guest speakers—will take place on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the UC Riverside’s Palm Desert campus.

“I went vegan two years ago, and I have a lot of friends ask what I eat,” Lopez said. “‘What do you eat? Grass?’ I get poked at a lot, because a majority of people don’t understand it—so I thought that it would be a good idea to bring a lot of food into the valley that people can taste to try to disprove many people’s misconceptions. Vegan food is good, but a lot of people don’t know that.”

To Lopez’s knowledge, Desert VegFest is the only vegan-centered festival in the Coachella Valley.

“There are a lot of vegan festivals throughout the U.S., and I tried to use their formula to do mine,” Lopez said. “For the most part, I did what they are doing—but I plan to do different things in the future now that I know what I’m doing and am more confident with myself.”

While Lopez pulled off a great festival in the spring, he learned a lot of lessons—some the hard way.

“There were a lot of last-minute expenses,” Lopez said. “There was a big tent that we had for the artists, but we found out we couldn’t stake it down into the ground because of the piping, so I had to pay out-of-pocket for some cement blocks.

“The night before the festival, our generator got stolen. That was also expensive, but it also delayed the music by an hour and a half. … It was definitely a trial-and-error experience, and I know I’m going to be better (this time).”

The May event hosted some 2,000 people celebrating the vegan lifestyle by chowing down on food from various vendors.

“I’m hoping that a lot of people get to try the food, because the way to people’s hearts and minds is through food,” he said. “You can show people facts and statistics about going vegan, but the truth is that it’s all about the taste of the food. If I could get some people to consider going vegan just by trying the food, then that would be great.”

The second Desert VegFest will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7, at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert campus, at 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive. Tickets are $3 online, or a buck more at the door. For tickets or more info, visit www.desertvegfest.com.


In Brief

Sing along: “It’s the most yummiest time of the year!” To translate: It’s time for the 28th annual Indio International Tamale Festival! It all goes down on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7 and 8, in downtown Indio. Admission is free (but alas, the tamales are not). Expect a food-truck park, a farmers’ market, entertainment, beer gardens and all sorts of family-friendly fun. Get more details at www.tamalefestival.net. … Now open: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, at 73040 El Paseo, in Palm Desert. The high-end seafood restaurant is owned by the same company that runs The Capital Grille; learn more at www.eddiev.com. … The second annual Golden Grapes Wine Festival will take over the Commune at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8. This joint production of the Ace and the Palm Springs Wine Festival will feature more than 50 winemakers “who are part of a radical shift in the wine industry in the Golden State.” Ooh! Tickets are $85; $99 gets you a VIP ticket, which comes with a free bottle of wine and admission to the soiree an hour early. Get those tix at www.acehotel.com. … Coming soon to 13104 Palm Drive, in Desert Hot Springs: Taste of India. That’s all we know for now; watch this space for more info when we get more info. … New to 461 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs: Las Palmas Brewery. The microbrewery and natural wine bar is the latest feather in the growing cap that is the Coachella Valley beer scene. (Apologies for that terrible analogy.) Visit www.facebook.com/laspalmasbrewing to learn more. ... Coming soon to Palm Springs, at 170 E. Palm Canyon Drive, next to Kreem: Gabino’s Creperie. Watch www.facebook.com/gabinoscreperie for updates.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Owner of 533 Viet Fusion to Open Roly China Fusion in Former Alebrije Space

One of downtown Palm Springs’ best restaurants is no more—but a veteran restaurateur is going to take over that restaurant’s space and hopefully fill a culinary need.

Here’s how it all went down: Alebrije Bistro Mexico, at 1107 N. Palm Canyon Drive, closed in early July. The Mexico City-style upscale restaurant announced on Facebook: “Dear amigos, Alebrije will be closed for the rest of the summer. See you again in September!”

Within a couple of weeks, however, it became apparent that Alebrije would not be seeing us again in September—because Chad Gardner, the owner of both 533 Viet Fusion and Dash and a Handful Catering, announced on Facebook that he’d be opening Roly China Fusion in the space that had been Alebrije’s home.

A July 28 announcement on Facebook said Roly will be “serving authentic Cantonese and Sichuan Chinese Cuisine with (Gardner’s) own modern twists. Roly China Fusion will offer an exceptional social and traditional dining experiences in our indoor-outdoor lounge and restaurant.”

What does all of this mean? First: The closure of Alebrije is truly a loss. For my money, it served some of the most sophisticated food and drink in the Coachella Valley. The roasted suckling pig was on my unofficial Top 10 list of the valley’s best entrées. It will be missed.

Second: The opening of Roly, which could come as soon as October, will be most welcome. Gardner has been looking for his next restaurant project for a while now; he announced back in 2016 that he’d be opening a Mediterranean restaurant in the much-and-still-delayed Andaz Palm Springs hotel, but those plans fell through. Given his success with 533 Viet Fusion, I am excited to see what he’ll do with Chinese cuisine—and it’s a well-known fact that the western Coachella Valley badly needs some good Chinese fare.

Watch www.rolychinafusion.com and Roly’s Facebook page for updates and more information.


Ace Hotel Launches a Monthly Wine-Tasting Series

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club is holding a monthly poolside wine-tasting series in the months leading up to the second annual Palm Springs Wine Festival.

The Golden Grapes tastings each cost $20, will occur on a weekend day between noon and 5 p.m., and will feature a “curated selection of wineries represent(ing) just a few of the new California vintners who are transforming the landscape of wine in the Golden State and beyond,” according to a press release.

On Sunday, Sept. 29, Nomadica wines will be available; on Sunday, Oct. 13, the featured winemaker will be Amy Atwood Selections. On Saturday, Nov. 9, it’ll be Scribe Wine (Nouveau).

As for the second annual Palm Springs Wine Festival … mark your calendars for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7 and 8.

The Ace Hotel and Swim club is located at 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. For more information, visit www.acehotel.com/palmsprings.


In Brief

New to 72301 Country Club Drive, Suite 110, in Rancho Mirage: The Sandbox Kitchen, a deli/taco joint that opened in early August. For now, the place is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day but Sunday (and Saturday, when it’s open until 9). We’re already hearing raves about the street tacos and the impressive number of vegan/vegetarian options. Call 760-565-6044, or visit facebook.com/TheSandboxKitchen for more information. … New to 360 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs: InKa Peruvian Cuisine. The restaurant wins our Weirdest Facebook “About” Description Award with this: “The InKa came to Palm Springs, brought with him his best dishes with which he will conquer the entire city.” OK then! The expansive menu features a lot of yummy-sounding dishes with meat and seafood, as well as some intriguing vegetarian options. InKa opens at 11 a.m. Monday and Tuesday, and 9 a.m. the other five days of the week; it’s open daily until at least 10 p.m. For more information, call 760-992-5311, or visit www.facebook.com/inkaperuviancuisine. … Acqua California Bistro, at The River (71800 Highway 111) in Rancho Mirage, is now offering a “Buffet Bar” every Sunday through Friday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.: $7.99 will get you a selection of pizzas, pastas, salads, sliced meats and other goodies—and the house chardonnay and cabernet wines are just $4.99. Call 760-862-9800, or visit acquaranchomirage.com for more information. … Coming soon to 100 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Suite 130, in downtown Palm Springs: Stout Burgers and Beers. It’ll be the sixth Stout location, joining three other Southern California locations, plus restaurants in Brentwood, Tenn., and Louisville, Ky.; visit www.stoutburgersandbeers.com for more information. … Coming soon to 73040 El Paseo, in Palm Desert: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood. It’s a sister restaurant to The Capital Grille chain; visit www.eddiev.com for the scoop.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

I’m now going to gush about the best wine-tasting I’ve ever been to—ever. I am going to spend the next 900 words or so name-dropping winemakers you’ve probably never heard of, and describing wine-making techniques that will bore you to tears. Consider yourself warned.

Earlier this December, the incomparable desert wine goddess, Christine Soto of Dead or Alive bar in Palm Springs, did what no one in this industry thought was possible: She managed to convince a laundry list of the best and brightest winemakers in California to converge at the Ace Hotel for one day of wine-tasting fun in the sun, for the first Palm Springs Wine Fest. You might think that wouldn’t be such a difficult task, given the beauty of our desert this time of year. I mean, who wouldn’t want to come to sunny Palm Springs in December for a little work/play? Well, the truth is the desert has not exactly been on the forefront of cutting-edge food and wine concepts. The wine scene here has always been a little conservative, if not staid and out of touch. So, to have a venerable list of the coolest “kids” making wine in California right here in our back yard was not only pretty damn exciting; it had never been done.

When I first walked in to the open-air event space at the Ace, it was a little overwhelming. There was a live band and throngs of people wedged between rows of tables. It was hard to even know where to begin. From across the room, I saw Abe Schoener of Scholium Project. I hadn’t seen him in years, and I was certain he wouldn’t know me from Adam. Back in my Napa days, I would sit at the bar of a local hotspot called Norman Rose and hope to get a seat next to him so I could eavesdrop (in a non-threatening fangirl kind of way) on all the cool wine stories he and his buddies would share. I introduced myself to him a couple of times—each attempt a little more awkward and pathetic. But he is such a sincerely nice guy that I think he just pretended not to notice my social ineptitude. But here at this tasting, in my hometown, I suddenly manufactured the confidence to walk right over to him, introduce myself (again) and immediately dive into a conversation about the gloriously strange glass of white wine from his table. It’s called La Géante, and it’s a blend of a couple of white varietals, none of which I can remember, except there’s 1 percent gewürztraminer in there, and I think he said something about skin-contact sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. But what makes this wine so crazy is how he’s making it. Abe proceeded to tell me about some friends of his at Hiyu Wine Farm in Hood River, Ore., making a solera red that blew his mind. So he decided to try his hand at it with some white wines. If you’re curious about the solera process, it’s chiefly used in sherry and other fortified-wine production, and it creates a multi-vintage aged product by fractionally blending the liquid through a series of barrels from top to bottom, with the oldest liquids being in the barrels on the ground. Fascinating stuff, right?! The wine was beautiful and complicated and fearless. I was off to a good start.

From there, I looked for any table that had an opening. I needed to regain a little personal space from the shoulder-to-shoulder New York City sidewalk vibe and blissfully found a spot at the Minus Tide table. Best discovery of the day! These guys released their first vintage in 2015, with the focus being the cool-climate wines of Mendocino. The first wine they poured for me was a riesling. As with Abe and his unique approach to wine-making, these guys do it a little differently, too. This riesling is made by carbonic maceration. If you’ve stuck with me this far, this might be where I lose you … but if you’re a wine geek, you just shouted out loud: “A RIESLING?! CARBONIC MACERATION?! WHAT?!” Yup. It’s 100 percent carbonic, whole-cluster pressed, unrefined and unfiltered from only 40 vines located in the pinot noir dominant Langley Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Just enough for one barrel. I’m choking up a little; it would be impossible for me to love a wine more. That said, this darling wine didn’t overshadow the stunning Feliz Vineyard Carignane—also 100 percent carbonic and 100 percent mouthwateringly delicious—or their velvety-rich malbec from the famed Alder Springs Vineyard. The unbridled happiness I feel knowing these wines exist is only shattered by the fact that everything they make is sold out, and I can’t get any.

Field Recordings from Paso Robles has long been a favorite of mine, and I had the pleasure of tasting their orange wine called Skins. This is a blend of chenin blanc, pinot gris and verdelho, and the result is a wine that, unlike a lot of other orange wines I’ve tasted, is full of bright acidity with that savory, cidery aroma and textured mouthfeel, without the bitter wood varnish component that can sometimes be too overpowering.

I think I hung out at the Red Car table for about an hour. The founder, Richard Crowell, and I discussed our mutual sentiments regarding scores; the beauty of syrah and why everyone should drink it all the time; and the rugged and picturesque vineyards from which the fruit for their insanely balanced and elegant wines comes. He was like a friend you’ve known for years, and our conversations were my high point of the day. If you haven’t tried Red Car, go to Eureka! in Indian Wells right now, and have a glass of their rose. Oh hell, just have a bottle. I did.

I hopped from table to table, tasting one gloriously foot-trodden wine after the next. More often than not, these wines are naturally fermented, and generally left un-fooled-around with by the hands that made them. All of these winemakers were there to tell a story, and what I found so endearing is that they were all so happy to be here in our desert. Many of them had vacationed here as children or had been here years ago without much reason to return … until now. The energy in the room was palpable, and everyone there, whether they were pouring or drinking, was genuinely excited to be there.

There is a wine awakening happening here in the Coachella Valley. Go buy a bottle of something fun and be a part of it.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine