CVIndependent

Sun12152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Selling wine is not for the faint of heart. The travel schedule is grueling; the competition is fierce; and the customer base varies wildly—from masters of wine to … well, the uninformed.

However, Christina Hammond makes it looks easy. She shows up energetically to dozens of appointments and tastings and trade events each week, always touting her Red Car Wine.

Good wine needs good people fighting the good fight—and Hammond is one of the good ones. She’s not a wine snob, but she knows her stuff. She cut her teeth working for a big wine distributor (where, in her words, she learned to “show up” to her accounts each week), then transitioned to a finer wine distributor, Henry Wine Group. Red Car is distributed by Henry, and after four years at Henry, she began to work for Red Car directly. Now she travels the country, extolling the virtues of the special Sonoma Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area) and the deliciousness of Red Car Wine.

Hammond and I chatted and sipped a Red Car rosé. We followed up by phone. And texted. And e-mailed.

You get the picture—she’s a busy woman!

When did you first start getting into wine?

My family always loved good food and wine. Vacations were centered around where we were going to eat. My dad did client liaison, and took clients to eat and drink a lot, and loved the finer things. I personally got into wine, embarrassingly enough, when in college at (the University of San Diego). It was a dry campus, but I would buy a whole case of two-buck chuck, and it would be party favors for anyone who came to parties. I got into good wine when I was in restaurants in San Diego, then through working with Henry Wine Group.

What was your first wine love?

Grenache. It reminded me of my grandmother’s strawberry rhubarb pie. It was more than the wine; it was that moment that made me realize the way I taste and experience wine is very different from many people. I smell memories and visualize the entire situation I was in, and see the food, place and item, and break it down from there.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

Transparency and access to information. Producers and consumers are giving and getting more information than ever before. So many people freak out about what’s in their food, down to knowing the name of the animal their meat came from … yet with wine, we have a long way to go. I think we are getting there and unveiling the mystery. I applaud those who inform and give information and seek out truth about what’s in their wine, because there’s so much crap in wine. … Let’s not forget to mention the arsenic:Kevin Hicks, a former wine distributor who started Beverage Grades, a Denver-based lab that analyzes wine, tested 1,300 bottles of California wine, and found that about a quarter of them had higher levels of arsenic than the maximum limit that the Environmental Protection Agency allows in water.

Why did you decide to go to the distribution side? What do you like about it?

The hours, and connecting to the producers and to the vineyards. Traveling and connecting with people throughout the country, after I had really only traveled internationally, gives you perspective, good and bad. I love it when people and places surprise me by doing good work and pursuing great wine.

Your desert island wine?

Desert islands are hot, and I am pretty simple. You’d find me sunning on my MacGyver’d chaise lounge, with some bamboo-speared fish and cold rosé! I’m not sure how it would be cold, but we’ll go with that. … One of my favorites is the Clos Sainte Magdeleine Rose AOC Cassis. … Or, you know, Red Car rosé would do just fine!

Your favorite food pairing?

Champagne and potato chips, and if I’m really lucky, there is caviar and crème fraîche around for those chips!

Your favorite wine book?

For beginners, I always say Windows on the World by Kevin Zraly. … But there are many I love and recommend: The World Atlas of Wine, Reading Between the Wines by Terry Theise, The Wine Bible and so on.

What are you drinking now?

Lots of rosé. I’m trying to will the weather into full-swing spring. Actually, I drink rosé year-round and think everyone should offer it year-round.

What do you love about the desert?

The sun and the pools. The vibrations are totally different there, and I love the energy of the natural desert; it’s beautiful.

Favorite places to go in the desert?

Dead or Alive, or course. I love the Sparrows (Lodge) and the soon-to-be Holiday House Hotel. Mister Lyons and the back bar, Seymour’s, is top notch.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

When you think of good wine, what comes to mind? A sit-down restaurant? A white tablecloth? A fancy bottle pulled from a cellar for a special occasion?

This is an outdated way of thinking: More and more, good wine isn’t limited to just high-end places or special occasions. For example, someone may not expect fine wine from a place well known for its coffee—but at Joey Palm Springs, you’ll get just that.

Vince Calcagno and Joe Lucero are partners in life and in business at Joey, which opened a little more than a year ago on Palm Canyon Drive. Calcagno spent more than 20 years as the owner/operator of Zuni Café in San Francisco, so he knows a thing or two about running a restaurant. At Joey, he does whatever needs to be done, including, on occasion, washing the dishes. One of his other responsibilities is curating the wine list.

Zuni Café has an expansive wine list and a sommelier, both of which helped Calcagno develop a love of wine. He brings this ethos to Joey’s more-casual bistro style. Although there are just six wines on the list, there is a little something for everybody—and you won’t find the usual affordable brand names, but instead offerings like a white Côtes du Rhône (which should please any chardonnay-drinker).

Calcagno and I sat down one morning at Joey and sipped not wine, but coffee—although I did taste the aforementioned white Côtes du Rhône!

What was your first wine love?

I was a waiter at the Hayes Street Grill from 1979 to 1981. Chalone Chardonnay! When I would have a hard night, my boss, Dick Sander, the owner, would pour me a glass, and I would sigh and say, ”Nectar!”

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

I will always love delicious French wines, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc. I love blends. Since we live in the desert, (I love) rose all summer long. Italian whites.

Your desert island wine?

I mostly drink whites, so any white Tablas Creek, and Chablis.

Favorite Food Pairing?

Hmm … a Zuni chicken, although I make it differently now, with tarragon and a splash of sherry at the end. Then a great pinot noir … yum!

What are you drinking now?

I was having a Manhattan with Buffalo Trace and Carpano Antica, but I have a bottle of Clicquot rose staring at me.

What do you love about the desert?

Well, the weather, first of all. After living in the cold city of SF for so many years, it is fun to be in a warm place, where everyone seems so supportive. It is conducive to my “older” lifestyle.

Your favorite places to go in the desert?

I love Lyons. Tropicale, because it is always fun. Seymour’s, of course. Spencer’s for breakfast, and, oh … Dead or Alive.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

After customers, the people I interact with most, wine-wise, are reps—the people who sell wine for a living.

I’m not afraid to play favorites, so meet my fave, Kristin Ryall. Tasting with her is like getting together with an old friend—it’s easy, comfortable and fun. She’s incredibly knowledgeable, but you’ll get no snobbery or condescension.

Ryall is originally from New Hampshire, and has worked with wine all over the place—including her native state, plus Chicago and now the desert. She started out working at a well-known New Hampshire wine bar, Michael Timothy’s, where she cut her teeth. She’s worked in restaurants and retail, and has sold for brokers, importers and distributors. These days, she’s an account manager for The Estates Group, the fine-wine division of distribution behemoth Young’s Market Company. She has access to a world of wine—a book as thick as a wrist. Yes, Ryall knows her stuff.

Beyond Ryall’s expansive wine knowledge, she is a relationship person—she loves to get to know about her customers’ lives, businesses and families. Wine can be very personal, and that’s what she likes about it—bringing a human component to sales.

On a recent afternoon, we sipped a 2015 Domaine Saint Nicolas “Gammes en May” and talked about moving West—as well as, of course, wine.

When did you first start getting into wine?

Twelve years ago, when I was working at a little wine bar in southern New Hampshire, where I am from.

What was your first wine love?

Like most people, when I started getting into wine, I liked big, rich wines—specifically, red zinfandel. As my palate changed and evolved, I fell in love with pinot noir.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

Wines that over-deliver for the price. Everybody expects a wine that costs $100 retail to be amazing. But what about that $15 Italian white that you can’t stop drinking because it is so delicious?

Why did you decide to go into the sales/distribution side? What do you like about it?

I had been working in the restaurant industry for quite a few years, and was tired of working late nights, weekends and holidays. I wanted to take a love for wine and find a new career related to it. I like the flexibility, and the fact that I don’t have to work out of a cubicle. I also enjoy the fact that in sales, your job changes every single day.

Your desert island wine?

That is a hard one, but a friend bought my husband and me a case of J. Lassale Champagne for our wedding, and I love the producer. It’s maybe not the best producer out there, but wine has power to bring you back to a place and time—and that is what this wine does.

Favorite food pairing?

Brachetto and Indian food.

What are you drinking now?

I drank a lot of Champagne over the holidays, but Rooster and the Pig has this vermentino right now that I just love.

What do you love about the desert?

Many things: The landscape, the weather and the proximity to everything. My husband and I enjoy hiking, and we have plenty of that here. Coming from a major city, I appreciate the pace here. Overall, my quality of life has improved.

Your favorite places to go in the desert?

Any place I can get away from it all. I love Joshua Tree National Park. After a nice hike, Pappy and Harriet’s is a sweet respite for a cold beer.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

I first chose to drink a wine from France’s Rhône valley because pronouncing it fell within my radius of linguistic confidence.

I was sitting in a bistro in Paris on Rue Mouffetard, a street whose movements feed the Paris of the imagination so slavishly that the cast—garrulous fishmongers dangling cigarettes and old men nursing espresso at Frisbee-sized cafe tables—could be actors who pick up weekly checks at l’Office du Tourisme. I remember rehearsing my order of a glass of Côtes du Rhône as the bartender approached, then letting it tumble out. The wine itself, I don’t remember so much.

A few years later in Los Angeles, I had a girlfriend whose head-turning beauty and hunger for fame made me feel like my only two choices were to hold on to her more tightly than I should, or risk her disappearing forever. In the wee hours one Saturday, we helped ourselves to a bottle of wine that her spectral roommate had left on top of the fridge. Although her place was just a few blocks away from two bustling boulevards, the street late that night was serene. The misty quiet seemed to wash up to the balcony and infect us for once; it was a rare and welcome evening of calm in a tumultuous affair.

Late the next morning, before walking down the block to get a coffee, I finished the bottle by myself. Only in that sober moment did I realize that I was drinking something extraordinary. I brushed my thumb over the bottle’s embossed insignia. The words in ancient type on the label, inscrutable at the time, stayed with me long after the girl had disappeared forever: Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

These unexpected path-crossings led me to what are now my favorite wines: those of France’s southern Rhône valley and its most regal appellation. While I will never untangle the wines from the circumstances of my introduction to them, those memories are old and require careful unearthing. What has replaced them at the forefront of my mind is a specific fantasy of the Rhône: My wife and I on laden bicycles, mashing up steep hills fueled by coffee and two-euro baguettes. We roll into village after ancient village to be nourished by cassoulet and wine so provincial that a bottle has never made it to the capital, let alone to the States.

The southern Rhône is where the green and lush give way to the dry and stony, where the sun and wind are strong. There, the hardened grenache vines push through the crusty earth, emerging from the blanket of warm stones that insulate their roots and lend a lunar quality to the vineyards. Ripe wines result—a bottle of Côtes du Rhône may be light, but it will seldom want for supple fruitiness. At their most humble, they are uncomplicated but satisfying, good with a meal or diluted and downed as a morning restorative. With luck, they borrow the herbs of Provence, the whiff of humidor and the puissance—the power—of their doyen, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Jay McInerney calls Châteauneuf-du-Pape the “vinous equivalent of a megadose of vitamin D,” because a glass on a gloomy evening can revivify a pallid body like a grapefruit could a sailor with scurvy. I crave it on the dark and windy afternoons when just arriving home and taking off my shoes feels like something to celebrate. Detractors call it rustic like that’s a bad thing. Fans call it rich. Meaty. Stewy.

Years ago, I listened with saintly patience as a California cabernet chauvinist derided French wines; as he saw it, they lacked fortitude. “They’re like wine-flavored water,” I can still hear him saying, as my blood pressure elevates with the memory. Thinking of the stout, high-alcohol reds, I almost succumbed to my helpful instincts and steered him to Châteauneuf. But then I thought better of it. Châteauneuf may lack the cachet of Champagne and may not spark recognition like Burgundy and Bordeaux, but the wine’s renown inspired zealous protections a century ago, which inspired France’s appellation system, which inspired the whole world to take its wine much more seriously. It is not a wine to be trotted out in a vain attempt to convince some lumpen drinker of France’s worth—it’s better than that. And when the days get short and the nights get cold, it’s better than anything else.

Published in Wine

It’s hard to tell what Misty Carlson is more passionate about: hiking, food or wine?

For the sake of this column, I’m going to go with wine, but in any case, it seems like Carlson has the joys of life figured out: working with wine, living in Palm Springs, hiking a lot, and cooking almost every night with her partner.

Like many of us, Carlson got into wine without knowing ahead of time she was, in fact, getting into wine. It started with an interest in pastries, which took her to Paris to pastry schools on her vacations. She went into advertising before embarking on a second career as a cheese monger. She’s always loved food, from the time she was little—so when she got her current job at Whole Foods, it meant that she got to enjoy many of her passions at work every day. She now runs the wine department.

Carlson is a farmer’s daughter from Iowa. That background influences her perspective on wine: She loves the story, the journey from grape to glass. There are some people who want the same wine every night, and they want it to taste the same way. “I understand that, and being in the grocery business, of course, I have that available,” says Carlson, “but personally, that’s not what I’m interested in.”

As far as I am concerned, Carlson oversees the best selection of wine in the desert. One can get brand-name staples, yes, but one can also always find something unique and interesting—and delicious.

We sat down one evening at Dead or Alive and chatted as we sipped on some Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, “Stiftskellerei Neustift.”

When did you first start getting into wine?

About 10 years ago, as a cheese monger back East. I did a lot of wine and cheese tastings when I worked at a specialty food store; that’s when the food/wine thing started to coalesce for me.

What was your first wine love?

German riesling, in college. I went on a trip to Europe and visited friends there.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

Definitely small production “natural wines”—wines that are really clean and unmanipulated, wines that let the grapes tell a story. Using the word “terroir” seems to freak people out these days, but that is what I am looking for and hoping to find in a bottle. I also like knowing who makes my food and wine, and the stories that go along with that. Right now, because of the large number of varietals available—many of which I am not as familiar with—I seem to be gravitating to Italian wines. But the Santa Maria/Lompoc area is a big favorite of mine. You can tell that when you go through our pinot noir section at Whole Foods.

What are your favorite selections available at Whole Foods right now?

Saetti Lambrusco, Chanin pinot noir (I love his wines), Cruse Wine Co., dry-farmed wines from Tablas Creek, Stolpman syrah, La Clarine Farms Jambalaia, Donkey and Goat, and Venica and Venica pinot bianco and pinot grigio. Grower Champagnes and Pét-Nat.

Your desert island wine?

That would be tough, because I can’t stand to drink the same thing two days in a row. But if I must, I’d have to say Champagne, because I never, ever grow tired of it. Otherwise, a nice, thirst-quenching rose.

Favorite food pairing?

This will probably gross you out, but pan-fried chicken gizzards or livers with a simple Beaujolais! Or lambrusco and charcuterie! Gruner veltliner and wiener schnitzel. Polenta with a fresh wild mushroom ragout and a lagrein. I can’t limit myself to one answer! I really love food, and so does my partner, so we do a lot of serious cooking at home. It’s our “entertainment.”

Favorite wine book?

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. I keep it on the table so I can read about what I am drinking on any given night. Also, Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch.

What are you drinking now?

Statti Gaglioppo.

What do you love about the desert?

It’s so gorgeous … the mountains and cactus. It’s easy to step out your door, or drive a couple of miles, and be surrounded by nature.

Your favorite places to go in the desert?

Bogert Trail to Murray Peak, Joshua Tree, Mecca and the Painted Canyon, and Whitewater Preserve. As far as food and entertainment, I like Cheeky’s, Tyler’s, Farm, Dead or Alive, Joey Palm Springs, Johannes, Bootlegger Tiki, and my must-have every day: Ernest Coffee.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Evan Enderle and Marissa Ross call themselves “Partners in Wine”—a playful turn of phrase. Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what the two of them bring to wine: playfulness.

That’s not to say they don’t know their stuff. During day two of a recent Wine Not? event—their regular weekend wine parties at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club—Evan was waxing poetic about the vibrant acidity of one of his favorite California rieslings while shirtless, in swim trunks. That is the beauty Wine Not?—it’s fun, but you learn. You’re drinking obscure varietals made by serious winemakers, but there is a DJ. Take note: The next and final Wine Not? of the year takes place Nov. 5 and 6 from 1 to 7 p.m. and will feature all female winemakers!

When they’re not sipping wine and swimming at the Ace, Evan and Marissa keep busy with other wine-related activities. Evan, formerly the bar manager at the rooftop bar at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, does freelance event production and is a hospitality consultant and occasional DJ. Marissa drinks wines and writes for her popular blog www.wine-allthetime.com and is the wine editor at Bon Appetit. She’s also writing a book, due out next year.

The three of us hung out poolside, drinking one of Marissa’s and my favorites, Vini Rabasco Vino Rosso “Cancelli,” out of delightful enamel wine tumblers designed by Marissa.

When did you first start getting into wine?

Evan: I’m from Missouri, where the first (American Viticultural Area) designation was given, and there is a surprisingly long history of winemaking. I’m not saying it’s all high-caliber stuff these days, but I was around it a lot as a kid. My mom drinks an inordinate amount of juice from a local winery, Les Bourgeois, particularly a bottle called Riverboat Red. Spoiler alert: It’s a sweet wine. I call her back home now, and she loves to say she’s “sailing on the riverboat.” I can’t touch the stuff now, but it was always more the culture of wine—the ritual of these folks gathering around a bottle in the backwoods—that intrigued me. I ran the rooftop bar at Ace Hotel in L.A. and wanted to bring that same spirit to the wine list there, so I’d drive around California and seek out thoughtful, well-made wines that people could celebrate with. I love wine itself, but I love the people, the smell of barrel rooms, the culture, the vineyards and the small towns in equal measure.

Marissa: I grew up in Southern California in the ’90s, and wine has always been the epitome of being a successful adult to me. I started drinking wine in college, and when I moved to Los Angeles, cheap wine was the only thing I could afford to drink—or eat, if we’re being honest! I was so broke. But I loved drinking it, and that eventually led me to be curious about other wines. Now six years later, wine is my entire life.

What was your first wine love?

Evan: I will always think fondly of the 2012 Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat.

Marissa: According to Internet history, it would be cabernet sauvignon, but cabernet is more like my first boyfriend I had when I was too young to understand what true love really is. I still love a good cab, but my first true love of wine, and forever love, is gamay. Nothing, to this day, gives me more butterflies than gamay.

What’s exciting about wine right now?

Evan: It’s not just the cabs and chards from California our parents drank in the ’90s anymore. There’s an influx of young winemakers coming in and sourcing vines that have been all but ripped up completely, planting grapes that have never been planted here, bringing pét-nat back to the masses. To quote Drake, “What a time to be alive.”

Marissa: To echo Evan’s sentiment, I think California is very exciting right now. I love all the wacky varietals and fermentations that the Golden State is playing with these days. I also love the natural wine movement, or as I confusingly like to call it, “low-intervention” movement. As someone who loves sour and salt, low-intervention wines are like my dream juice, and it’s crazy how these practices can change wines you think you know. For example, I fucking hate moscato—or I thought I did. I recently had one called Emma, a low-intervention wine, that was unlike any moscato ever. It wasn’t the sugary-sweet sorority-girl wine—it was bright and acidic, with a little meat on it. Incredible. That is so exciting to me—seeing varietals taken to places you’ve never seen them before, from the geography to the bottle.

What inspired you guys to start Wine Not? Why in Palm Springs?

Evan: Wine Not? was started to give small-production winemakers a platform. I think one of the more interesting byproducts has been to give the uninitiated a safe space to drink and learn. I see lots of people act sheepish around wine, because they don’t want to sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about. You don’t have to know everything about wine to enjoy it. No one can “know everything.” I’ve seen master sommeliers get stumped by a grape. We want to set folks free with good wine they’re not going to find just anywhere.

Palm Springs and Ace Hotel is that neutral territory: It’s not wine country, and it’s not a wine shop, so we’re catching people off-guard and in a safe space. Also, when a dude orders a glass of wine from us instead of a Jack and Coke, I sleep better at night. Maybe he’ll go home and stop by a wine shop and continue his journey.

Marissa: Wine Not? started sort of as an accident. I went to one of Evan’s events at the Ace in downtown Los Angeles, and we met and thought it’d be fun to host an event together. I really thought it was going to be a one-off thing. It turned out Evan and I were both passionate about small producers, low-intervention winemaking practices, and drinking outside of the dining room. Neither one of us was like, “All right, let’s start doing events monthly.” It was more like, “Hey, I love these wines—let’s share it with people!” Then suddenly, a year later, Wine Not? is a full-fledged monthly event, and Evan is one of my best friends. I’m so grateful for him, and for the Ace Palm Springs for giving us this amazing opportunity.

Your desert island wine?

Evan: The Tintero Bianco Secco covers a lot of ground. It’s mostly dry, a little frothy, affordable, drinks with food, drinks with me. I support that.

Marissa: The Brendan Tracey “Wah-Wah” red blend. Surprisingly, it’s not a gamay, but damn, is it close, with 75 percent grolleau (a rarer Loire Valley native grape used mostly for blends) and 25 percent côt (French malbec, but it’s much lighter than Argentinian malbec). It smells like barnyard lemonade, and tastes like poppy sour blackberries and ripe black cherries with hints of sea salt. I legitimately drink it like water, and I never cease to be delighted and thrilled by it.

Favorite Food Pairing?

Evan: Sparkling and any street food.

Marissa: Sangiovese and homemade pasta, or gamay and anything. I wanted to mix it up, but I cannot deny who I am—and gamay does go with everything! It’s the riesling of reds!

Favorite wine book?

Evan: Rajat Parr’s book (Secrets of the Sommeliers) was very generous. He’s a smart guy, but he doesn’t talk down to you in it. Also, did I mention Marissa’s book comes out next year?

Marissa:The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert. This sounds like a joke, and while, yes, it is a scratch-and-sniff picture book, so much of tasting wine is smelling it. It’s honestly the most useful wine book if you’re someone who wants to know more about wine, but isn’t interested in reading a novel on Mosel or some shit. … Oh, and my book—Wine. All the Time—of course!

What are you drinking now?

Evan: I discovered a new wine shop in Northeast L.A. called Rosso, which is my secret weapon. The Italian selection there is just bonkers, because the guy who runs it comes from an old family over there. There’s something about a nice Italian red and the smell of the leaves this autumn that is making me super emotional.

Marissa: Matassa “Coume de L’Olla” Rouge. It tastes like fresh, cold-pressed red Starburst juice.

What do you love about the desert?

Evan: I don’t think you have enough space in your column for all the things I love. Palm Springs is an inspiration to both Marissa and me. It’s like L.A.’s version of the Hamptons without the pretense. I want my bones buried in the mountains.

Marissa: When I was a kid, my family had a couple of places out in the desert, one off South Palm Canyon Drive. We’d spend one or two weekends out here a month, with my mom picking us up from school on any given cloudy day with our bags already packed. The desert came to represent an escape for me at a young age, and I could wax poetic about my love of it forever. It is my happy place—relaxing, rejuvenating and hedonistic all at once. My trips there as a kid cultivated an obsession with mid-century architecture and culture that permeates all of my work today. Even just the colors, like watching the Highway 111 sand turn into those rolling hills of green grass outside the communities across from the tram. It’s all heavenly to me.

Favorite places to go in the desert?

Evan: The Ace Hotel was the place I stayed when I first visited here. We owe them a great deal for giving us the platform to do our party out here and letting us run with it. We haven’t burned the place down yet, so that’s a relief. Obviously, we love Dead or Alive, and I’m not just saying that. And Revivals … I got what can only be described as a kimono made from rice sacks on my last trip, and let’s just say it’s turning heads.

Marissa: Las Casuelas Terraza has always been and will always be my favorite. I also love Mr. Lyons, and taking the boats around in the Palm Desert Marriott, although I wish they hadn’t ever remodeled it from its ’70s splendor). And most recently, Dead or Alive.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Joane Garcia-Colson is a recovering attorney—her words—turned chef who owns the much-loved Dish Creative Cuisine in Palm Springs.

She’s always had a passion for food and service, and says she played “restaurant” with her cousin when she was a kid.

Local foodies know Garcia-Colson opened Dish several years ago in a humble Cathedral City strip mall (of course, humble strip malls are where the best food can often be found!) before upgrading to bigger digs early last year in the Uptown Design District.

Not all chefs understand the dance between food and wine—which is why far too many restaurants offer wine lists with little more than grocery-store favorites. Garcia-Colson, however, takes her wine seriously: She loves wine and has tasted every wine she serves in her restaurant.

We chatted in the lovely, intimate Chef’s Room—which boasts Dish’s cellar and a view of the kitchen—while we enjoyed sips of the new AM/FM Chardonnay.

How did you get your start in wine?

I got into wine in relation to food. I didn’t really start drinking wine until my last year in law school, 1989. That is when I went on the wine-and-dine interview circuit while I was getting recruited by law firms in Chicago, New York and other places. On that interview circuit, I really got exposed to red wine. Then, of course, (I learned more) during culinary school. It’s been an adventure over years. Now I’m really into good wine!

How do you select the wines to serve in the restaurant?

I always try to have in mind: “How is this going to fit with our current wine list? Is this a product I think our guests would enjoy? Can we pair it with our existing menu?” It’s really important to me to taste every wine. When someone asks me, “What’s your favorite?” or, “What wine would you drink with this?” I want to speak to them from a place of knowledge. The other thing I try to do is bring in wines that have a small retail presence. I don’t like to bring a bunch of wines on my list that guests can go down to Ralph’s and buy. We do have a few of those, because you have to carry some standards people are familiar with, but I really try to look for interesting small-production, boutique wines so that when guests come here, they can try something new and different, and get exposed to something new and different.

I think that is part of our role, our obligation, as a restaurant—to give people a different experience than they are going to have at home. Why go out if you can make it at home? I feel the same way about wine, and that’s another reason we serve 90 percent of our wine list by the glass—virtually everything we have is available by the glass. We have created a reserve list for more high-end wine.

Do you ever taste a wine and reverse-engineer—in other words, think about making a new dish to pair with it?

Oh yes, I have done that. I am open.

What is your advice to wine-drinking novices?

People shouldn’t be afraid of wine. A lot of people are afraid of wine. They are afraid to taste; they are afraid to try because they fear they don’t know enough. Be adventurous! Go to a place where you can try things, because you just don’t know how it’s going to hit your palate until you taste it. If you can go to a wine-tasting event, go to one—that is how you learn.

Did you entertain a lot at home before Dish?

Oh yeah. I loved having people over—dinner parties, cocktail parties, etc. I love setting the table and making delicious food. In my family, over the holidays, I’ve always been in charge of the food. I’m an introvert, so I’d rather be in the kitchen cooking. My wife and I formed a little supper club, four or five couples. The hosting couple would make the main dish, and the other couples would bring the side dishes. It was awesome!

What inspired you to open your own place?

A moment of temporary insanity. (Laughs.) When I went to culinary school, I didn’t have any intention of opening a restaurant, but when I weighed my options after I graduated, I realized I wanted to do something on my own. I want to create my own food; I don’t want to cook somebody else’s. I want to have that control. This is sort of my last hurrah. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say, “What if?” Also, I’ll tell you my son (Stefan, a filmmaker in Los Angeles) in a lot of ways is my role model, because he has always marched to his own drumbeat; he’s very creative and talented, and he has always wanted to be his own boss and do his own thing. He has been self-employed since he left college. I so admired in him that he chose a path where he was true to himself, and he could follow his passion and use his creativity and find a way to make a living from it. I said, “You know, maybe I ought to do that.”

What are the challenges of selling wine?

Providing customers with an experience with wine that is positive and educational for them. We’re not afraid to suggest wines we like to customers and give them a taste and be honest about our preferences. People get really used to what they like, and if you don’t have it, sometimes, they get pissed off. There is no way possible that you can carry everything, so the challenge is introducing guests to something different and new that they might not have experienced.

The rewards?

I get to taste a lot of wine! (Laughs.) That’s one of the perks of the job. Another reward is that there is nothing that feels better than when a guest thanks you for giving them a wonderful experience. That feels really good and gratifying—when someone gets what you are trying to do and appreciates you for it.

What’s are you drinking right now?

We are really enjoying Daou cabernet (and) also the Paloma merlot. It’s a gorgeous wine. I’ve become very fond of Emmolo merlot—and the Pessimist, also by Daou. My palate really tends toward Paso Robles, so I love Justin, Daou and Sextant. Those are some big ones. And Peju!

What are you loving on your list right now?

We have the Daou on our wine list; we also have the Emmolo. I really love our merlots, and I want people to be more adventurous with them. We have a great selection.

Favorite pairing?

I like pairing sparkling with things. I think it’s fun to do whites with seafood, and it’s really fun to pair wine with salads. The last wine dinner we did, I made a grapefruit, avocado and crab salad that is on our menu now. We paired it with Truth and Valor chardonnay. Delicious!

Desert island wine?

It would definitely be a cabernet or a blend—something really rich. It might be the Emmolo, actually. I’m loving that one.

Favorite wine book?

It’s a book I often recommend to people: The Flavor Bible. It’ll tell you about wine pairings, too.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

In Palm Springs, I tend to go Johannes and Copley’s. I also enjoy Le Vallauris.

Favorite thing to do besides drink wine and cook?

I like to read.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Bruce Davis has a reputation around the valley for knowing his stuff when it comes to wine. After one conversation with him, I understand why the wine specialist at Palm Desert’s Bristol Farms has this sterling reputation.

Davis, like a lot of great wine people, loves to tell stories. He casually connects wine history with the present without being didactic. He considers himself an educator—although he says his customers cry mercy when he gets too detailed about, for example, soil types. To him wine, is a grocery. “It’s supposed to be fun,” he says.

Davis grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and has worked off and on in the grocery business since he was a teenager. He got a taste for wine thanks to the roadside tasting booths in Napa, which he passed en route to his inlaws’ cabin in Clear Lake. He’s been drinking and selling wine since the ’70s and has seen the progression of the items on store shelves from Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy and jug wine through the explosion of the varietal—chardonnay, cabernet and pinot noir—to today. He sees the pendulum swinging back, both on the producer and consumer side—away from big, high-alcohol wines toward more acid-driven, low-alcohol wines made from diverse varietals. Bristol Farms’ inventory reflects this: Half of the inventory in the wine-shop-within-a-grocery-store is imported, mostly from the Old World.

To chat with Bruce Davis and taste his wine picks, I recommend one of Bristol Farms’ wine dinners, which take place on Thursdays, starting in October and going through the season. It costs just $20 for dinner and four or five wine tastes.

I’d normally bring a bottle of wine to enjoy while we talked, but since it was 10 a.m., and Davis was at work, coffee and water had to suffice—though I did buy a couple bottles, based on Bruce’s recommendations, to take home.

How did you get your start in wine?

I moved to Lake Tahoe in 1979 and started working for (grocery-store chain) Raley’s. They had a very large wine selection, and the company that provided us a lot of our high-end products sponsored me to go to Napa, where I went to Mondavi and Beaulieu Vineyard and learned an incredible amount. We tasted a ton of wines—different vintages and varietals—and learned about wine-making techniques. That went on for about six years, and meanwhile, I became very much a consumer. I had a cellar with 200 bottles and experimented with aging. I then worked in real estate for many years before “retiring” to Rancho Mirage in 2000. Around that time, Jensen’s opened a La Quinta store, and I answered an ad (looking) for a wine steward. From there, I went to the Palm Desert location and worked there until 2014.

How is working at Bristol Farms?

I’ve been at Bristol Farms for two years, and I’m never leaving here. I’m not going to open my own wine shop. I’ve been offered other jobs, but I have a lot of support from the store, and the company is very aware of the symbiotic relationship between wine and food—that wine is food.

How do you select the wines at Bristol Farms?

We have a corporate director of wine and spirits and a buyer who does all the buying companywide. (Bristol Farms has 12 locations.) They’re stored in a warehouse that I buy out of. It’s large enough that I have everything I need there—it’s huge. We have thousands of items. It’s changing all the time based on vintages and buyer trends.

What is a trend that is taking hold?

One trend that is really, really hot is rosé.

Finally, right?

Yeah! It’s interesting, because when I was at Jensen’s, the rosé selection I had there was probably only 11 bottles, and I probably sold 10 cases a year. The rosé selection I have here is closer to 50 to 60 bottles, and I sell 50 or 60 cases—maybe even more! I have promoted rosé, and the company has promoted it, too.

What is your sommelier/education strategy?

A lot of people allow themselves to get locked into varietals, and I’m constantly trying to get them out of the box. … Maybe they’re stuck on chardonnay. So the first thing I’ll say to them is, “You know, have you tried a Rhone white? Let’s find a Côtes du Rhône that’s a marsanne, roussanne, viognier blend, and (by drinking it), you can then understand the beauty of those grapes and how they blend together, and that they can make a very refreshing, interesting wine that gets you out of your chardonnay box.” The same with sauvignon blanc—if someone is stuck in their sauvignon blanc box, I’m going to point them to a verdicchio, verdejo or albariño. Any of those varietals from Italy or Spain are beautiful wines. For myself, I’m a huge fan of arneis.

Another thing I try to do is give people is information so they can make a decision. Often times, people won’t understand it if I put the information in wine terms, but they will understand if I use an analogy. I use two analogies very regularly: human beings and cars: the age/stage of a human being—for example, a teenager, or middle-aged person. And makes and models for cars: Is a wine a Smart Car, or a 7 Series BMW? They’re both cars; they both have a motor and a steering wheel, and they both get you from point A to point B, which is the reason you got in the car in the first place, but beyond that, the pleasure that is derived from being in that car is very different. It can range from ordinary to ethereal.

What’s are you drinking right now?

Scotch. (Laughs.) But if I’m drinking wine, my wine of choice is pinot noir. It’s just beautiful, and it goes with everything. I’m a big Santa Lucia Highlands fan. Of all California (American Viticultural Areas), it’s my favorite for pinot. If I was going to get put on a desert island …

Hey, that’s my next question!

… and I had to choose one varietal for the rest of my life, it would be pinot noir.

What are you loving in the store right now?

A wine that I’m really taken with is the Orin Swift Mannequin. You’ll recognize the label, because it has about 15 mannequins on it, which is all you see. It’s technically a chardonnay, because it exceeds the 75 percent rule, but it’s referenced on the label as a “white wine,” and there are four or five other varietals blended in. That, to me, is a phenomenal wine; I’m a big fan. I’m also really loving garnacha (grenache) from Spain right now.

Your favorite wine book?

The Oxford Companion to Wine. It’s a doorstop, but if one wants to learn about wine, check that out and just peruse it.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

My wife and I like to go to Kaiser Grille, or Le Vallauris if it’s special, or Jillian’s if it’s special. Ristorante Mamma Gina. My favorite Mexican is Salsas Restaurant in Cathedral City—phenomenal.

Your favorite thing to do besides drink wine (and Scotch)?

My passion is tennis. I played this morning for two hours before I got here. My wife and I both play tennis four to five days a week at Mission Hills. My other passion is golf. 

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Marcus Kempken has been living and breathing wine for more than a decade. As the Palm Springs sales manager for Mosaic Wine Alliance, his job is to meet with his various accounts and sell wine … but to Kempken, it’s so much more than that.

Many wine-lovers, for some reason, also love storytelling, and Kempken is no exception. During our chat, he waxed poetic about Stolpman’s 2013 Roussanne—a brand which, of course, is represented by his wine-distribution company.

Mosiac Wine Alliance—which represents and distributes brands such as Saxum, Frog’s Leap, Paul Pernot and Francois Lamarche, just to name a few—is a wine broker born here in Palm Springs. Pierre Lemieux, one of Mosaic’s founders, was working at the old Rusty Pelican 25 years ago when he saw an opportunity to bring fine wine to the desert. The company was formerly called PMDL, but Lemieux and company have rebranded and expanded to other areas of Southern California.

Marcus got his start in hospitality at Red Robin—humble beginnings, in his words. He caught the bug for wine and food service at an early age and worked his way up from busboy at Red Robin to server/sommelier at Sullivan’s. He then held various sommelier/wine buyer/manager positions at The Hideaway, Indian Ridge Country Club, and the 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro. He started working with Mosaic part-time while with 3rd Corner and has been with the distributor ever since.

Marcus and I chatted over that bottle of Roussanne, enjoying every sip.

How did you get your start in wine?

One of my co-workers at Red Robin also had a job at Fleming’s, and he showed me one of his wine-education books. Just seeing a couple of pages sparked an interest. I thought, “This could be an opportunity where I could go and learn something and better my life”—not knowing exactly what it would actually do for me. It changed my life, 100 percent, in so many different ways. At the time, I didn’t even know how to pronounce “cabernet sauvignon” or “merlot”: I knew red and white. I didn’t drink wine when I was younger, but between seeing those pieces of paper, and hearing about how servers were making $250 a night, I thought, “This is awesome.” So I went to get a job at a steakhouse, thinking I could make more money. The maître d’ at Sullivan’s took a chance and hired me. There, I met the sommelier, Robert Chancey. He had this energy for people and wine that I have not seen since. He really harnessed the energy of the passion of wine and the love of connecting people with that. He taught me that, and it’s the foundation of who I am as a wine guy today.

What was your first wine love?

I had a guest at Sullivan’s who came in alone one night and ordered himself a nice meal and an expensive bottle of wine out on the patio. In my mind, I’m going, “Why is he ordering a $150 bottle of wine for himself?” I didn’t understand at the time why he’d do that, but then he let me have a taste. It was Stag’s Leap Cask 23. That wine was truly amazing—the finish lasted 15 minutes. That experience and that wine taught me what wine was really all about: generosity and good winemaking—and on top of that, I can make a little money. All that came together that night: I can make a living from this; I can taste good wine and be passionate about it; and I can spend time with good people. Wine is great that way. It’s a bridge, it’s a conversation piece. I drink wine to share, to be with friends and family.

How was the transition from wine-buyer to sales rep?

I wouldn’t have done it any other way. For any old sales rep coming to the wine world, there is a really steep learning curve and a tough transition. For somebody like me, who has relationships from working in restaurants and a background in wine, it makes all the difference. My first year wasn’t as difficult as it could have been; because I could get a meeting based on my existing relationship with wine-buyers, it was a huge benefit. Four years later, many of those buyers are gone or have moved on, so I don’t have the same advantage. Now, I’m resting on my book, my service, my thoughtfulness and what kind of deals I can find my customers.

You enjoy being on the sales side?

I do. I love our book and working with the wineries we represent. They’re all family-owned and -operated, so representing them is meaningful and a pleasure. I really enjoy working with Mosaic and Pierre. He’s created a wonderful culture that is reflected in the way we do business. We have flexibility to do wine dinners and spend time with accounts. Pierre is all about quality of life and taking care of his reps, and I really appreciate and admire that; we’re like a family.

One thing I do miss is interacting with the end customer. Given the opportunity, I’ll chew off someone’s ear talking about the wines.

What are you drinking right now?

Rosé, white burgundy and Alsace riesling.

Desert Island wine?

Cult Cabernet, 2001. It will last forever; it’s built for the ages.

Favorite food pairing?

Steak, potatoes and cabernet. (Laughs.) I’m simple-hearted. I don’t need foie gras and caviar or champagne.

Favorite wine book?

Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy. It’s the only book you use for Italian wines. And the first wine book I read taught me the basics: The Everything Wine Book. Those two really spoke to me.

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

Spencer’s. Andre (de Carteret, the sommelier) has stuff that is not on that wine list that is hiding in the cellar that will rock your world. You can get a great meal at Copley’s. Mr. Lyons. Johannes—he has a great wine list, some hidden gems. LG’s has been running some wine specials lately; you can get some good deals.

Your favorite thing to do besides drink wine?

Riding bikes and hiking the Indian Canyons. So much natural beauty in the desert!

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Lisa Tussing, a Southern California native, got her start in wine while attending college in Arizona. She started out like many of us do—drinking wine from Trader Joe’s, where she worked during college. From there, she moved on to fine dining, at places like John Howie Steak in Bellevue, Wash., and the historic Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. In 2014, Tussing was the youngest woman in Arizona to hold a Level 2 sommelier certification. A chance meeting with La Quinta Resort and Club general manager John Healy at the Biltmore (which is owned by the same company as the La Quinta Resort) brought Tussing to the desert last year.

Tussing and I chatted in the dining room of Morgan’s over a bottle of Los Bermejos Malvasia Seco.

When did you first start getting into wine?

When I worked at Trader Joe’s. I got a job there when I was 22, and worked there for three years while I was going to Arizona State. I’m the biggest Trader Joe’s cheerleader: I had a great work experience. Everyone loves being there; they pay well; they feed you; they encourage you; they let you take ownership and make you feel empowered with your guests. I started working in the wine department a little bit, and my friends and I started to taste our way through the wine selection. By 23, I had drank my way through the wine program! From there, I kind of started taking it over. I started making the orders and became the go-to wine person. People would laugh at me and say, “You’re not even old enough to drink, are you?” After Trader Joe’s I got back into fine dining at luxury hotels.

What’s the best part of your job?

At Morgan’s, we do these “festivals” menus. Every two weeks, depending on what is in season and what’s local, we do a different three-course menu. We do this all summer. … We do wine pairings with the menus, too! It is really fun to work with my chef (Jimmy Schmidt); he gives me an idea of where to start, then we’ll sit down together and bring new wines in and make the perfect little pairing.

I also love it when guests bring in wine and share some with me. Some of the best wines I’ve ever had are wines guests bring in.

What are you loving on your list right now?

The Bonny Doon “(I Am Not Drinking Any) $%&*#!” Merlot is a fun, inexpensive wine. I love the name, and it has a really fun story behind it. Another of my favorites on the list is Trefethen Dragon’s Tooth. The Dragon’s Tooth is a malbec blend out of Napa Valley which Janet Trefethen makes that is a winery- and wine-club-only wine, but I managed to convince them to let me put it on the list. … I also like the Tamarack Cellars rosé that I pour by the glass. Last summer, I went wine-tasting in Walla Walla, and after a week of tasting syrahs and merlots and these giant cabs and Washington reds, my palate was blown, but we went to Tamarack last-minute because my chef’s friends said how amazing it was. I drank this rosé there, and it was like the wine gods were shining a light on me.

What’s your sommelier strategy?

It’s all about your guest and knowing what they’re looking for. My strategy is to approach a table and get a feel for them and what they’re trying to accomplish with their meal. I ask what they’re having for dinner, what they normally like to drink, and how much they want to spend. I also ask if they want to go more traditional or do something fun. With all that info, I can pick out the perfect bottle on my list for their occasion. My strategy is not limited to wine: I have no ego once service starts. I’ll bus your table; I’ll run food and seat people. Once service starts, it’s all about the guest and what they need to have the best experience possible.

How often do people want fun versus traditional?

A lot more than you’d think, actually! A lot of guests will come in here with their minds made up. They might say, “I really like The Prisoner,” and I’ll ask why, and they’ll say, “I really like the fruit and texture, and it is really mellow.” I’ll say, “If you really like that wine, definitely get it! But if you want to try something a little different tonight, go with this B Cellars Sangiovese out of Napa Valley.” It’s all about reading the table.

What are you drinking right now?

Vodka. (Laughs.) When I go out, I drink cosmos and beer, like hefeweizen and lager. When I’m at home, I drink bubbles. I also love any white that doesn’t touch oak: torrontés, vinho verde, albariño and New Zealand sauv blanc.

Your desert island wine?

Just one wine?

I’m not a monster. (Laughs.)

Well, I’d do a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner wine: Bollinger (Champagne) for breakfast, torrontés for lunch, and Jones Family Vineyards Cabernet for dinner. I remember the first time I had that wine. A guest brought it in, and I thought, “Why don’t all red wines taste like this?”

Favorite food pairing?

I love a good oyster/champagne combo, or oyster/rosé. I love our oysters here; they are one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever tasted—a raw oyster topped with tangerine and Eroica Riesling granita; poached ginger; and tangerine salsa. It’s one of the chef’s signature dishes.

Favorite wine book?

All the study books are good, like Windows on the World and The World Atlas of Wine, but I read a book one time that really inspired me: Cheryl Ladd’s Token Chick: A Woman's Guide to Golfing With the Boys. It’s about golf, but (I) kind of tied wine into it. She was the first woman on the celebrity pro-am. It’s not technically about wine, but it’s about being a woman in a man’s world, so I relate to her. 

Where do you like to go out in the desert?

I stay in La Quinta a lot. There is a restaurant up the street called Casa Mendoza; I try to stop in there on my days off. (The restaurant has) killer margaritas, and the owner is always there; he’s really friendly. The food and service are great. I send a lot of people there.

Your favorite thing to do in the desert?

Golf at the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West. Right now, the bighorn (sheep) are out on the course! It’s a sight to see. During the summer, I can golf about once a week. During the season, I don’t get to play at all. I don’t mind the heat. I don’t drink on the course—just water and Gatorade, so I sweat it out. It’s cleansing.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine