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5 Outstanding Texas Wine Country Vintages

5 Outstanding Texas Wine Country Vintages

Texas wine country has a weath of fine wines to share with the world. Start by sampling five of the finest wine vintages from Texas.

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Napa Valley

Nestled between San Francisco and Sacramento, Napa Valley is the ultimate vacation spot for wine lovers. Don’t believe us? Check out these vacation must-dos in Napa Valley. Wineries There are over 400 wineries throughout Napa Valley, all with a little twist, making them unique in 

The Ultimate 20 Cruise Packing Hacks

Tips and Hacks for Traveling on a Cruise Line
How to make the most of your cruise.

The tickets are booked, the boat has docked, and you’re still not sure what you’re going to take. Packing for a cruise is a little bit different than a normal vacation because you can’t just run out to Target and grab the ten things you forgot to stow away. Make your cruise more fun, organized, and smooth sailing with these top 20 cruise packing hacks.

Apps and Electronics

1. Plug it in. Cruise cabins usually have limited outlets, and while you can usually snag a USB port from the back of the TV, packing a travel power strip adds more outlets so you’re not scrambling.

2. Surf the net. Many ships have their own Wi-Fi you can access via a loyalty rewards card. If no rewards are available, reserve your Wi-Fi package prior to shipping out for up to a 10% discount.

3. Map it out. Many cruise lines now have their own app that you can download prior to boarding. The app includes maps of each deck, helps you check your account balance, and even make dinner reservations! Check in the App Store, or on Google Play Store.

4. Do the Slide. Some cabins have energy-saving slots that require an inserted room key to turn on the lights. This often means your electronics won’t charge unless your key is in the slot. Be sure to bring an old gift card or anything that will fit inside the key slot to keep your power on when you need it.

5. Snap it. Snap a picture of your luggage in case it gets lost. It’s easier to tell a crewman what your bag looks like when you have a picture handy.

Clothes and Accessories

6. Dirty Shoes. With all of the walking, you’ll be doing at the port, it might be impossible to keep your shoes clean. Stash a shower cap in your bag for your dirty shoes.

7. Carded. If your day-to-day wallet is too thick, consolidate your wallet before the trip. That way you’re not risking anything happening to cards left behind in a cabin.

8. Check the weather. It might be unseasonably hot or cold, and not having the proper gear can leave you sweating or freezing. Be sure to pack shorts even if it calls for chilly weather, and a sweatshirt even if it’s 80 degrees. You never know what you’ll need!

9. Know the dress code. Ships often have daily dress codes, formal nights, and casual buffets. Check your cruise line’s dress codes to make sure you’ve packed for every occasion!

10. Stay wrinkle-free. If you dry clean, leave your clothes in dry cleaning bags when packing. Roll them up and tuck them into your bag. If you’re in a jam, pack a small spray bottle of wrinkle release spray to get out any stubborn wrinkles.

11. Cover up. When going on cruises that might visit religious attractions make sure that you’re properly covered. This means scarves for women, and hats for men. Bonus, the scarf can double as a blanket, a shoulder cover for sleeveless dresses in cold dining rooms, and a sarong for beach days or when lounging by the pool.


12. Hang it up. Head to the dollar store and scope up an over-the-door shoe organizer. Cut it to the size you need, packing your toiletries inside each pocket. Roll it up and stash it in your bag. All you have to do is unroll and hang, and you’re already organized.

13. Wrap em. It’s happened; shampoo leaks mid-flight, your contact solution is all over your clothes. Grab some plastic wrap, unscrew the top or pop open the cap, and create your own seal. Cut a roll in half and stow it in your luggage for a safe trip home if you need it!

14. Switch it up. Switching to smaller bottles will help you save space on those must-have items. Consider using flexible, squeezable tubes, like the GoToob, or even just grabbing smaller containers from the dollar store. Don’t forget to make a seal!

15. Tune them out. There’s not always a guarantee you’ll be in a quiet part of the ship—or that the family next door doesn’t have a screaming toddler. Grabbing a pair of earplugs can ensure that your cruise is quiet—when you want it to be.

Liquids of Luxury

16. Pack it up. Take advantage of the one bottle of wine most cruise ships let you carry on. Worried about that beautiful Willamette Pinot Noir breaking and spilling all over your seersucker? Pack the wine bottle in a WineHero, a specialty wine bottle protector, to keep your bubbly safe secure and your belongings safe. Check the limit per person. Some cruise lines even allow two bottles per person or stateroom.

17. Drink for cheap. Plan ahead by looking at all of the spots in port that offer happy hours, brewery tours with drinks included, and excursions like snorkeling with a twist. You can research all of your cruise ports here.

18. Snag a mug. Cruises are known for small coffee mugs that you can’t leave the dining room with. Consider bringing your own mug for coffee on the go, and the promise of a full cup, rather than a mini mug of coffee. Bonus: Pack valuables in your coffee mug if you need to check them.

19. Pack the soda. If your cruise line lets you bring soda and carbonated water on the ship, pack some to alleviate any motion sickness.

20. Add a dash of flavor. Trying to save money? Pack a flavor boost, like packets of drink mix, or a little squeeze bottle of water flavor. Ships usually give water for free, so adding a little flavor yourself keeps the cost down.

Whether you’re braving the high seas in a month or a year, these cruise packing hacks will make sure you have the best time out on the open water.

Written by Danielle Watson @DWatsonWriter

Orange wine is cool, but will it stick around?

  What is Orange Wine? My most recent encounter with orange wine was about 4 months ago, in the Shoreditch area of London, where hipster culture has firmly taken root. I don’t live in the capital, so every time I visit, I expect to encounter 

6 Ways to Open a Wine Bottle Without a Corkscrew

You’re screwed. Or rather, you’re not. You’ve misplaced your corkscrew, and you’ve got a perfectly chilled bottle of wine sitting on the counter. Before you get mad, get creative. A corkscrew isn’t the only thing you can use to get the nectar of the gods 

The 5 Most Notable Pinot Noirs of Oregon’s Willamette Valley

pinot noir of willamette valley oregon - clare carver big table farm
2015 ‘Earth’ Pinot Noir ($105) & 2015 ‘The Elusive Queen’ Chardonnay ($85) from Big Table Farms. Oregon’s Willamette Valley has been under serious cultivation since the 1960’s. Photo Courtesy of Clare Carver @clarecarver of Big Table Farm

Oregon Terroir

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as wine goes, is new. The first serious plantings were in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the Pinot Noir promised land of Burgundy, France they were in the second century AD, if not before.

In several decades, the Willamette has gone from not a wine region to a backwater that maybe had potential, to a global star and one of the finest Pinot sources in the world. An explosion of vineyards and wineries has taken place and the number of truly great wines has multiplied exponentially.

50 years after the first Pinot Noir was planted, it’s time to take stock. Before diving into what should be an infuriating list for anyone familiar with top Willamette Pinots, some context.

The Willamette Valley

Pronounced ‘Will-AM-ette,’ helpfully demonstrated by the popular expression ‘It’s WillAMette, dammit!,’ the region stretches south from Portland, following the Willamette River’s basin between the Oregon Coast mountains to the west and the Cascades to the east.

This protected environment is ideal for Pinot Noir, with a distinct volcanic soil and a gentle, dry summer.

Its wine story begins with the young David Lett, who came out of UC Davis, the preeminent American viticulture school, and set out for Oregon- against their advice- in the mid-’60s. The success of his Eyrie Vineyard is the reason we’re here today talking about the Willamette.

Over the ensuing years, others followed suit, and the region took shape, with its own distinct stylistic voice given by the land.  Buoyed by surprise recognition in a high-profile international Pinot Noir tasting and, a few years later, the decision of a superstar Burgundian to plant a large vineyard, growth continued at a strong pace.

In recent years the region has come of age, with tremendous critical success and marketplace cachet. Further brightening the landscape are many vineyards coming into maturity and reaching their potential, a string of excellent vintages, and growing collective wisdom. Times are good and getting better. Perhaps most satisfying is that the region has remained one of the mostly smaller independent producers, with a strong culture of good land stewardship and sustainability.

Given all this, how does one go about selecting the 5 most notable Pinots from such an embarrassment of riches? It’s a fool’s errand. I know just the fool to do it.

I thought about what would make a wine important in the context of this region, still new and alive with change and progress. There are a few things that make good criteria for placing a wine on a list of notable achievements:

  • Consistently high quality
  • A distinctive style, showcasing its terroir and conjuring a sense of place
  • Outstanding complexity and aging potential
  • A prominent or interesting place in the landscape- in terms of the region’s history, its present place and where its future may be.

For many obsessives, these are the things that get us excited. Wines that not only taste great but speak to us of where they came from, or who made them, of a region’s history or its future: those are real treasures.

These are totally subjective criteria. They and the wines selected here can and should be debated and picked apart. Every good wine discussion and every Top 5 list of anything should be argued just the way the record-store nerds in the film High Fidelity fight over the all-time top 5 Side One, Track one songs.


The Eyrie Vineyards, ‘Original Vines,’ Dundee Hills

THE EYRIE VINEYARDS Willamette Valley Oregon

David Lett’s trailblazing Eyrie Vineyards remains at the top of the heap. The Original Vines bottling is made exclusively from that first vineyard planted in  1966. The 1975 vintage from the South Block of this vineyard is the one that shocked the world in the Gault Millau French Wine Olympiad, instantly putting Oregon on the world stage. But the stature of this wine isn’t just from its first-man-on-the-moon significance. It remains one of the region’s greatest wines, year after year, and the exceptional complexity of decades-old bottles is the surest proof of Willamette’s potential we have.



Big Table Farm, Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

Brian Marcy and Clare Carver have such an interesting, and so very Oregon thing going on it seems necessary to include them. Brian held winemaking jobs at a string of elite California wineries, and in 2006 he and his wife, artist Clare Carver, bought some land in Willamette and started a farm. They grow and raise their own food, including fruits and vegetables, pigs, cows, chickens and bees for honey- and from a number of nearby vineyards, make some of the most exciting Pinots in Oregon. They are a tiny producer but instantly made a big impact.

They live and breathe a sustainable and authentic relationship with the land, and that same philosophy holds with their wines- they are pure, clean, expressive and dead true to the land they come from.


Shea Wine Cellars, Shea Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton

When Dick and Dierdre Shea planted this vineyard in the late ‘80’s and started selling the fruit, their winemaker customers used it as one component of a blended wine. But in 1993 a soon-to-be-famous winemaker named Ken Wright thought the vineyard was special and made a single-vineyard bottling. The result was a critically-acclaimed wine and a stampede of requests to buy fruit from the Sheas.

Since then, reputations have been made time and again from the Sheas’ fruit, as everyone who bought from this vineyard ended up with an extraordinary wine. Shea became the most famous single vineyard in Oregon, and it remains so today for the wines’ dense, muscular style.

The Sheas still sell most of their fruit to their superstar customers, but they now keep a small amount for themselves, and it’s a great showcase of this special terroir.


Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Pinot Noir DDO, Dundee Hills

In the early ‘80s Robert Drouhin, head of his family’s century-old maison in Burgundy, gave the region its next leap forward. Stunned by that Eyrie wine’s success, he took a serious look at Oregon. He planted a 100-acre estate and sent his talented daughter Veronique to run it.

The mere fact of a venerable Burgundy producer turning its eye to Oregon was a watershed moment, giving a clear signal that there was something big here. And like Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards, Domaine Drouhin Oregon today continues to produce some of the region’s best wines year after year.


Brick House, Cuvée du Tonnelier, Ribbon Ridge

Doug Tunnel is a native of the region. The wine-loving CBS News correspondent was inspired by hearing about Domaine Drouhin’s purchase in Oregon and bought 40 acres in 1990. The Willamette’s spirit of sustainability and authenticity is embodied by his farm and his wines.

Tunnel’s new farm was stripped of health from years of conventional farming and synthetic pesticide use. He adopted organic practices and allowed the soil to slowly regain it’s natural biodiversity. He then became one of the region’s pioneers in biodynamic farming, a holistic set of practices going far beyond organics.

Today Brick House produces from this vital soil some of the Valley’s most lively, pure, and gloriously expressive Pinot Noir. These wines are an unadulterated testament to this extraordinary environment.


There are so many treasures in the Willamette, so many great stories, and wines, that much is inevitably left out here. Cristom, Adelsheim, Elk Cove, Belle Pente, St. Innocent, and so many others offer a wealth of special wines unparallelled nearly anywhere in the world. One of America’s greatest wine success stories, the Willamette promises to only get better.


Article by Joseph Quinn @sommelierjoe

Photo Courtesy of Clare Carver @clarecarver of Big Table Farm


In a Hurry? How to Chill Wine in Under 10 Minutes.

There’s nothing better than a chilled glass of wine after a long day at the office. Actually, there’s nothing better than chilled wine, period. Liquor stores have caught on, charging more money for chilled wine on the go, but they only offer a few select