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The Freewheel line with a couple of English friends.

It takes a lot of beer to keep the wine business running smoothly. Here in Redwood City, we are very fortunate to have a great English style ale producer right in our backyard: Freewheel Brewing Company. The staff of K&L are fictures at our local pub, and it is a rare moment when one of us isn't there having a pint and a bite of their excellent food. We are also lucky enough to be the first place to offer their bottled beer for sale. If you have never had it, the Freewheel Brewing "FSB" Freewheel Special Bitter, California (500ml) is the benchmark in fresh, balanced, smashable ale. We will do our best to keep some in stock for you, the customer too!

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Entries in sommelier (5)


SOMM: "The most difficult test you've NEVER heard of."


Welcome to the obsessive, all consuming road to the Master Sommelier exam.

I’m still amazed that someone made a movie about becoming a sommelier, especially one that pulls in admirers from outside of the industry. Most people can’t even pronounce 'sommelier', much less know what one is. The Court of Master Sommeliers has four levels of certification: Introductory, Certified, Advanced, and Master. You have to be personally invited to take the Master's level exam by The Court of Master Sommeliers. Earning the title of Master Sommelier is to reach a level of madness most of us in the industry do not understand on many levels. Today there are 201 Master Sommeliers in the world. We’ll find out this week if there are more after the annual exam in Dallas.

In the movie SOMM, we watch four candidates prepare for and then take the exam, which is still shrouded in secrecy. Through the documentary we are given glimpses into the madness of each candidate during the process - the flashcards, the blind wine flights, the maps, and the relationships, both personal and professional. Would we have the same level of interest about students studying to pass the bar? Perhaps... if there were only 200 in the history of time! SOMM writer and director Jason Wise successfully conveys the tension, excitement, courage, and self doubt that each candidate experiences, along with the romance and history of wine.

The idea for the film began after Wise graduated from film school at Chapman University. At the time he was bartending to pay his rent and trying to make a film about Champagne during World War I, but he abandoned that project when his friend Brian McClintic mentioned he was going to start taking the first level of tests to become a sommelier and invited him to observe the practice tastings. Wise was blown away. In his words, "it was one of the most insane and beautiful things I had ever seen in my life. I knew we had to set it to music and that it would be my first film.” He began documenting McClintic and the three others he was working with on their crusade to pass the Master Sommelier exam.

For over two years, a crew of just two filmed the Olympic-like exam training, sleeping on floors and surviving off of Starbuck's gift cards for food. Over two thirds of the production happened sans budget and the cameras were borrowed as favors from friends. Permission from the Court of Master Sommeliers to make the film was not granted; they were fought every step of the way until The Court realized there was no stopping them.

The resulting film is beautiful, moving, and exhilarating, and brings a new level of respect and admiration for those that have worked their way through and up the levels of becoming a sommelier. 



Jason Wise

Interview with Jason Wise, Writer and Director of SOMM

Did you have any idea what you were getting into?

JW: From the perspective of filmmaking, I knew I was getting into a story that didn't have a set end point, it wasn't as if we got to the last page of the script and finished filming. I knew if we had the patience to see it all the way through, it could end up being a really compelling story.  The other thing entirely was the wine and how deep the world really is. I had no idea what I was getting into there, but this is why you make films, so you can learn about different subjects that happen to be part of stories worth telling.


Did you drink wine before you began the movie?

JW: Definitely.  I had worked in restaurants since I was about 15 and had been a server and a bartender for several years.  I came into this thinking I knew about wine since I sold it and I drank it, but man was I wrong.  I definitely drink more wine now, and I now know that I know nothing about wine.


Did you have any other connections to the industry besides Brian’s experience?

JW: I was a restaurant bum before college, through college and after graduating from film school, mostly as  a bartender at a high end restaurant so I knew several wine reps and distributors.  My connections to the world of elite sommeliers started with Brian, and expanded enormously while making this film.


How did you pick the somms for the movie?

JW: We never really picked the people in this film. Brian MClintic was my friend way before starting this and he introduced me to Ian Cauble, with whom he was studying, and I began following Ian with a camera.  Ian introduced me to DLynn Proctor and then Brian moved in with Dustin Wilson in San Francisco.  These four guys formed a study group to get through the master exam and we found them interesting as a group, so to answer your question it was a very organic process that just came together over time and we were very lucky.


What great experiences didn’t make it into the movie?

JW: We forced ourselves to keep a pretty narrow focus while editing the film, and wanted it to be about four friends going through a very difficult process together.  Some very pretty wine region and wine making footage didn't make the cut, but by far the greatest thing was an original ending you will have to see to believe.  That will be on the DVD.


What surprised you the most about the Master Somm process?

JW: The thing that surprised me the most was how relatable the process and the people are to so many outside the wine industry.  I found the people in this world to be the exact opposite of the snooty wine snob stereotype.  The people we met are the same you would see at a baseball game or at a concert, normal people who happen to talk about this insanely complicated subject.  So many from other professions have told me how the film stressed them out because they could relate to it, everyone from lawyers to firemen to accountants to underwater welders. Ambition and really difficult obstacles are a universal thing.


What did you want the audience to come away with?

Besides the need to drink a glass of wine immediately?  I hope Sommeliers are seen as a more approachable and I hope people try different wines than what they are used to drinking.  Above all of this though, I hope they are entertained and feel like they enjoyed a good movie.


What did you come away with?

JW: I came away with a story that was one of the great honors of my life to have been able to share.  I also learned that good wine doesn't need to cost a lot of money, those two things are not mutually exclusive, you just have to listen to people who taste way more wine than any sane person ever should.  Listen to your Somm, they know what they are talking about.


I personally wished the movie was twice as long, did The Court dictate what could make it into the movie?

JW: HAHAHAH God I wish it was twice as long too, and our first cut definitely was!  The court had no say in who & how we filmed, or how it was cut, so no - I am sure they were worried though.  What dictated it is that documentaries have to have a serious reason to go over a certain time length, and we wanted the film to have an arc for the characters.  That is the ultimate goal for a filmmaker, that people wish the movie was longer.  


What were the hardest parts of making the movie?

JW: Shooting this film on a shoestring budget for three years proved incredibly difficult, I know all of us came very close to not making rent several times during the process.  The other thing was convincing the Court of Master Sommeliers to trust me with this film.  I came to them and asked to make this film, they were sort of blindsided by the idea.  Thankfully I was able to wear enough people in the organization down and make the film, but it had some very trying moments.


Will there be a follow up?

JW: I truly hope we will be able to do some sort of a follow up.  There is so much depth to this world and we only scratched the surface in SOMM.  We have all talked about it for sure.


What is your next project?

JW: I have a couple of documentaries set in the food and wine world I have been prepping. One is set in the world of Whiskey in three countries and one is set in the Oyster industry world wide, both incredible stories.  There is a chance one of these will be the next project, you have a rich aunt or uncle I can talk to?

 SOMM is available on iTunes, Amazon, and in some local theaters



Behind the Wine: Sommelier Service at Justin

Justin Vineyards & Winery is one of the featured producers in the Paso Robles Wine Alliance Tastings taking place tonight at K&L RWC (7/14) at K&L SF and tomorrow (7/15) at K&L RWC.

Go to our event pages on Facebook and for more details!

               Inspired by the First Growths of Bordeaux, former investment banker Justin Baldwin founded JUSTIN with the goal of producing Bordeaux-styled wines in the US. "He came upon Paso Robles in his search for a place to do this," relates Jim Gerakaris, JUSTIN Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator, "and saw great potential with the soils and climate of the region." Image courtesy of JUSTIN.JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery is a family owned and operated winery making estate grown and produced wines in Paso Robles, CA. Founded in 1981 by Justin and Deborah Baldwin, JUSTIN began with 160 acres planted to the major Bordeaux varietals and the goal of producing wines in the style of the great wines of Bordeaux. In addition to estate wines, today JUSTIN also works with a handful of small growers in Paso Robles.  

Higher limestone concentration in the soils at JUSTIN "promotes higher drainage and lower nutrient value," explains Gerakaris, "which naturally reduces our yields, keeps the vines reaching into the ground for water and nutrients. Along with our large summer diurnal change in temperatures, these conditions produce an ideal, natural structure of acidity and tannins in our wines contributing to their balance, and longevity." Image courtest of JUSTIN.When JUSTIN started, there were fewer than 10wineries in Paso.  Since those early days the region has exploded to include hundreds of wineries, many of which produce modern, fruity wines meant for near-term consumption. The wines of Justin are different - classically styled, balanced and ageworthy. As a result, JUSTIN takes wine education and service very seriously, incorporating specialized sommelier services, department training, hospitality, and overall customer services to ensure their wines are appreciated to the fullest extent possible.

Whether you're not sure when to open that special bottle, looking to build a vertical collection, or are interested in learning more about wine in general, JUSTIN has many resources for you, from Master Sommelier Joseph Spellman, who heads up the Mid-West Marketing and Sales Department, to Jim Gerakaris, Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator on site at the estate and the subject of today's Behind the Wine interview below: 

Q&A with Jim Gerakaris, JUSTIN Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator 

How did JUSTIN get started?  What is your role?

My name is Jim Gerakaris, [and I'm] the Winery Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator here at JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery.  I work with our guests and various departments here at the winery to educate and provide information and training about our wines and wine in general.  I also manage our library and conduct educational reserve tastings that include everything from library wines to barrel samples, or both!

For cellaring advice, food and wine pairing tips, and other specialized sommelier services, guests to Justin in Paso Robles look to Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator Jim Gerakaris. JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery was founded by Justin Baldwin, a former investment banker who was so affected after tasting a few of the [Bordeaux's] 1st Growths that he decided to make a wine in that style here in the United States.  He came upon Paso Robles in his search for a place to do this and saw great potential with the soils and climate of the region.

How has the region of Paso Robles changed since JUSTIN was founded?  How has JUSTIN changed since then?

There were eight other wineries here when Justin Baldwin purchased the property.  They were growing mostly Zinfandel at that time and the idea of producing a high quality, Bordeaux-style wine was not a part of the mainstream thought.  The soils and climate are ideally suited to growing grapes with concentrated and complex fruit character, but with great balance, whether you are growing Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.  We have grown steadily in size and in quality and you will see a continuation of this through our mission statement “to belong in the company of the finest wines in the world."

Describe the viticultural and winemaking philosophy at JUSTIN.

Justin studied the 1st Growth Bordeaux Château and used the same grape varieties, vineyard care, low yields, careful attention to the vines during the season, and hand harvesting when the grapes showed the highest promise for making balanced and ageworthy wines.  He also used many of the same cellar techniques typical to a high quality Bordeaux producer: specifically their attention to careful and ruthless sorting of the fruit, extended time with the skins and predominant use of the highest quality free-run wines to make the best blends. 

Where is JUSTIN located? What is it about this site that makes it uniquely suited to producing Bordeaux varietals?

Justin produces Bordeaux-styled wines that can be tannic when young and thus benefit from time in the cellar. Curious about when to open that bottle? Click on the image above to view the JUSTIN Ageing Chart. image courtesy of JUSTIN.We are located in the far western part of the Paso Robles AVA, about 15 miles west of the city of Paso Robles at about 1,200 to 1,900 feet above sea level.  This gives us slightly lower temperatures in the summer, and more rainfall in the winter.  Our soils have a high concentration of limestone from calcareous deposits formed when the area was under the oceans.  The uprising of the mountain range just west of us exposed this layer of almost solid limestone and it eroded from the mountains toward the city of Paso Robles. For this reason it is of a higher limestone concentration in the west than it is toward the city.  This higher limestone concentration provides our soil with good drainage and lower nutrient value that naturally reduces our yields, keeps the vines reaching into the ground for water and nutrients. Along with our large summer diurnal change in temperatures, these conditions produce an ideal, natural structure of acidity and tannins in our wines contributing to their balance, and longevity.

What do the words "organic," "biodynamic," and "sustainable" mean to you?  How are these practices applied at JUSTIN?

These are all valid methods to improve the quality of our wines.  In any endeavor, the materials you start with dictate the outcome of your work.  In food, the best, fresh, locally grown ingredients, selected at the peak of their condition, will always yield the best, most distinctive results in the finished dish.  Wine is no different, and the highest quality, grapes picked at the peak of their condition gives us the best result with little or no need to try and balance the wines made from them. 

JUSTIN employs practices from all three schools of production - organic, sustainable and biodynamic - in the vineyard and in the winery. "Our Vineyard Manager, Paul Kaselionis is an advocate of staying in touch with each of the blocks in the vineyard personally," says Gerakaris, "using minimal intervention for any problems that might arise." Image courtesy of JUSTIN.Organic, Biodynamic, and Sustainable practices all contribute to the health of a vineyard and subsequently the quality of the grapes we use for making our wines.  Their approaches may be slightly different, but the idea is similar: to provide the best fruit while promoting continued excellence in the future. 

Sustainable practices take a holistic approach toward everything done by the operation. Ideally this improves everything from the vineyard through the entire winery to assure that the vines, the people and the ecosystem surrounding all are maintained in a way that allows them to coexist indefinitely in balance. 

Organic addresses problem solving in the vineyard with "natural" intervention, when necessary, that is to say without the use of synthetic (especially petroleum-based) inputs. 

Biodynamic is a bit more all encompassing and proactive. It regards the health of the soils as the primary concern.  If the soil is healthy, the vines will thrive, if the vines thrive, the wines will be at their best, if the wines are at their best, the people who work for the winery will be well provided for, and consequently, the soils and vineyard will be well tended, completing the circle.  Biodynamics also incorporates a hyper- sensitivity to all conditions in the vineyard including things we cannot see, or always understand, but nevertheless need to be accepted in order to gain the overall benefits of the method.  This is where many people get a little skeptical about some aspects of Biodynamics (burying cow horns, phases of the moon, etc.), but the differences made  in just a few years practice can be substantial.

At JUSTIN, we have been using all of these methods to some degree, but we have not sought certification.  Almost half of our estate vineyard is on a biodynamic program, which includes spraying preparations, composting and pruning or even picking by the Biodynamic calendar.  Our Vineyard Manager, Paul Kaselionis is an advocate of staying in touch with each of the blocks in the vineyard personally, using minimal intervention for any problems that might arise. In essence we are using techniques from all three schools including techniques such as mechanical weeding, predatory bird control of rodents and composting.  In fact, what we have found is that as we get further into balancing these programs, we have had to do less direct intervention because the general health of the vineyard has been improving, and as a result, the quality of our grapes has improved.

What's your position on wine-pairing and what do you like to pair JUSTIN wines with?

Of course as a Certified Sommelier," explains Gerakaris, "I am always concerned about how our wines pair with food. One of the reasons both our Master Sommelier Joe Spellman and I are a part of our wine education staff, is that our wines are so well matched for food pairing." Above, visitors to JUSTIN enjoy JUSTIN food and wine pairings on the Patio at the estate. Image courtesy of JUSTIN.Of course as a Certified Sommelier, I am always concerned about how our wines pair with food.  One of the reasons both our Master Sommelier Joe Spellman and I are a part of our wine education staff, is that our wines are so well matched for food pairing.  Our "house style" is that of Bordeaux and of course these are very food friendly wines, especially after they are cellared for a few years.  The combination of our soils and climate here in Paso Robles gives us wines that have great concentration and complexity, but with a structure that balances the wines and allows them to be an elegant companion to food at the table.

For instance, we have a wine called SAVANT, which is a blend of mostly Syrah with about 25-35% Cabernet.  While there is full fruit intensity in this wine as well as an underpinning of deep spicy tones, the acidity and tannin structure help make the wine perfectly well behaved at the table, complimenting food instead of competing with it.  Because of the wonderful peppery aspect of the Syrah and a smoky spice that our barrel fermented Syrah adds to the blend, it goes well with lamb or game dishes, especially when herbs are added to the mix.

On the other end of the spectrum, our JUSTIN Cabernet Sauvignon  is our most popular and widely available wine.  A lighter styled cab, this wine is very popular in restaurants around the country since it complements, rather than competes with various dishes.  For about $25 it provides quality, balance and complexity rarely seen in this price range.

2008 Justin "Isosceles" Paso Robles Red Blend ($49.99; 91-93pts RP) is in stock and available now at!Our anchor wines are ISOSCELES and JUSTIFICATION, styled respectively after the Left and Right Bank wines of Bordeaux.  The ISOSCELES, with its primary Cabernet component, is the perfect match to a full flavored, grilled New York steak, while the Cabernet Franc based JUSTIFICATION is perfect with the more subtle offerings like fillet mignon, duck or pheasant.

What advice do you have to offer people interested in learning more about JUSTIN and the wines of Paso Robles?

Come out and see us!  I have traveled to many wine regions around the world and found that if you want to truly understand the soul of a particular wine or its region, you need to visit and see it in its natural element. 

We hold a number of educational tours and tastings at the winery; everything from our daily facility tour to special reserve tastings in our ISOSCELES library located 120 feet underground in our caves. To get a better idea of how our wines pair with various types of food, join us for dinner in our restaurant, where we feature our wines paired with a seasonal menu created by our Executive Chef, Will Torres.  We also offer lunch on our Wishing Well Patio on weekends.

During harvest, we offer guided tours of the production during the week so you can get a closer look at the care we take in harvesting and sorting our fruit, as well as a good look at our winemaking process.  For more information about any of these programs, just visit us at


What: Paso Robles Wine Alliance Tastings at K&L

When: 5pm-6:30pm Thursday 7/14 in San Francisco and Friday 7/15 in Redwood City

Where: K&L SF and K&L RWC

Details:  on facebook  on



Buy JUSTIN Wines now on


What K&L Employees Bring to Holiday Parties

A few days ago Patrick Comiskey, who writes about wine for the LA Times (among other publications), published a piece about what sommeliers will bring to holiday parties. As the designated wine nerds in our respective clans, and since I figure you're probably more likely to invite one of us to your holiday party than Peter Birmingham (no offense to Peter, we just cover more territory with three retail stores),  I polled the K&L staff to find out what they're bringing to this year's holiday festivities,so you could drink like us even if we're not invited. Here's what they said:

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