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Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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

A little more than three decades ago, Coors Banquet Beer was the best beer that American breweries had to offer.

It was brewed with Rocky Mountain spring water near Golden, Colo., and was only available in the West. President Eisenhower had supplies of it airlifted to the White House via Air Force One. Keith Richards would keep cans onstage; Clint Eastwood and Ray Charles even sang a duet praising the beer. Heck, bootlegging Coors was part of the plot line of Smokey and the Bandit.

Yep, there even were Coors connoisseurs. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

In 1974, a story in TIME magazine, “The Beer That Won The West,” told the tale of one enterprising fella who made weekly runs with a refrigerated truck from Denver to Charlotte, N.C.—making a nice profit along the way. A different fella, named Tom Del Sarto, witnessed this beer bootlegging firsthand, as a promising Coors salesman back in 1978.

More than 35 years later, Del Sarto is still in the beer business, working as the director of sales at Coachella Valley Brewing Co. His beer career actually began in 1975, when he was just 18 years old.

“I actually made a wrong turn looking for my summer job, and they told me that it wasn’t there any more. So, as I was driving back home, I thought, ‘What do I do now?’” he recently told me as I sipped a Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale.

It was then that Tom saw a Coors distributor sign and stopped—only to discover that his baseball coach was working there. His coach gave him a shot—and that ‘wrong turn’ turned into a 25-year career with the same distributor. Del Sarto began in Redwood City, Calif., in the recycling department. At 20, Tom was promoted to district supervisor, managing a team of five people. By 23, he was the youngest sales manager in the country for Coors. By 29, Tom was the vice president, general manager and partner of Coors West/South Bay Beverage.

Tom learned the business from the bottom up, and worked with the godfather of the business: Bob Franceschini, Bay Area beverage distributor and president of Coors West Regal Beverages. Between Prohibition and 1976, Coors was available in only 11 states, all in the West. It wouldn’t even reach all 50 states until it landed in Indiana in 1991.

Del Sarto’s first big sell was a truck full of Coors Banquet to a liquor store in Millbrae, Calif., in 1978. After lining up the cases along the building and leaving, Tom’s intuition told him to drive back—when he caught the owner restacking the coveted beer in a different truck to resell back East.

Del Sarto said the biggest difference between selling beer in the ’70s and ’80s and selling it today is volume: Today’s craft-beer landscape has brought consumers many, many more choices, meaning distributors carry more beers from more breweries than ever before. To help meet this demand, Del Sarto also consults for two Northern California premium-brand distributors.

“I train distributor management on how to get the most out of suppliers,” he said. “When I have my CVB hat on, I’m the supplier getting the most out of the distributor. So it’s an easy thing to transition, to do both sides.”

Del Sarto handled the agreement for distributor Young’s Market Company to distribute CVB’s Desert Swarm, Kölschella and Monumentous throughout California.

The beer world’s three-tier system requires beer to go through a middle-man—the distributor, or wholesaler. The distributor does on-the-ground sales and marketing for the producer, and sells the beer to retailers, all while making sure breweries are well-represented.

“Brand loyalty is a big thing,” Del Sarto said. “The problem is keeping people from switching to another beer of the week. … It’s all about the consistency of the liquid. I think we’re making better beers than we ever have created. I think the choices are awesome, and people are starting to understand it.”

As of last November, there were more than 3,200 beer brewers in the country. On March 16, the Brewers Association revealed that in 2014, for the first time ever, craft brewers achieved a double-digit (11 percent) share of the marketplace. It’s been a challenge for some distributors and wholesalers to adapt to and accommodate the rapidly growing craft-beer industry.

Because of the massive volume of breweries in the state, California also allows self-distribution with no limits as to production size. Breweries like Russian River and Kern River take advantage of this, as does Escondido’s Stone Brewing Co., which operates a self-distribution network that carries more than 30 craft and specialty brands to Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. In fact, Stone’s Greg Koch and Arlan Arnsten started the Craft Beer Wholesalers Symposium in 2004—and like the craft-beer industry itself, it continues to grow.

“The generation that is kind of moving this, it’s a pretty big age group,” Del Santo said. “They don’t want to be sold to; they want to make their personal selections. They want to work with their buddies and say, ‘Hey, such and such is on tap over here, and you need to try it.’ That, to me, is much more powerful.”

Just as Del Santo was saying this, Anheuser-Busch’s advertisement criticizing the craft-beer industry came on TV.

“What is the chance of that?!” he said, laughing about the commercial that first aired during the Super Bowl.

There’s a reason Anheuser-Busch is on the defensive: Sales of mass-market beers like Budweiser, Old Milwaukee and Miller Genuine Draft have slumped. For example, Michelob Light sales have fallen from more than 1 million barrels in 2007 to around 350,000 barrels in 2012, according to BeerInsights.com. Budweiser sales have been declining for more than two decades.

On the flip side, Forbes magazine this year announced two craft beers from California breweries—Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA, and North Coast’s Old Rasputin—made its list of the 30 best beers available in Brazil.

What a difference 30 years can make.

As for the future, Del Sarto thinks the next big opportunity for the craft-beer industry is in the Spanish-speaking market. He also predicts that innovative packaging and styles will continue to be hot.

We all have our favorite beers and breweries, but what if someone asked about your favorite distributor? A bewildered stare would likely follow. But think about this: Distributors are the go-between that brings delicious craft beers to the bars and stores that carry them—enabling consumers to easily purchase the savory suds.

In other words, thanks to talented beer-lovers like Del Sarto, the beer-bootlegging era is history.

Published in Beer

It’s time to take a look back at another glorious year for the craft beer industry. The year that was 2014 wasn’t just great for beer; it was a push-the-envelope, challenge-the-palate, variety-exploding year.

In November, there were more than 3,200 breweries in the United States, with more than 2,000 in the planning stages, according to the Brewers Association. The majority of Americans now live within 10 miles of a craft brewer.

So, what were some of the largest and inspiring stories and trends of 2014?

Transporting American Craft-Beer Culture to the Old World

History was made in July 2014, when Green Flash became the first U.S. craft brewery to begin making and selling fresh beer in the European market. The San Diego brewery started selling its signature West Coast IPA, brewed and bottled at traditional abbey brewery St-Feuillien, in Belgium.

Around the same time, Escondido’s Stone Brewing Company announced plans to open a Stone facility in the old world: America’s 10th-largest craft brewer will build and operate a brewery and beer garden in Berlin, Germany, with an expected opening in late 2015. The Brewery’s “Stone Groundbreaking Collaborations” campaign on Indiegogo earlier this year had a stated goal of $1 million; the brewery wound up bringing in more than $2.5 million.

These two breweries make in-your-face, West Coast style IPAs. This speaks volumes about the craft beer drinker’s voice and the recent global domination of American craft beer.

This brings me to the next obvious trend.

India Pale Ales (IPAs) Remain the Most Favored Craft-Beer Style

These hop-laden beers have come full circle: IPAs are up 47 percent by volume and 49 percent by dollar sales, according to the Homebrewers Association. The style was the most-entered category at the Great American Beer Festival in September.

Because of the massive popularity, a new, more “sessionable” version of the IPA is now favored by many. At less than 5 percent alcohol by volume, session beers are easier to sip by the six-pack. Try Stone Go To IPA, Firestone Walker Easy Jack, or—one of the newer Los Angeles beers on the block—Three Weavers Stateside, a 4.5 percent session IPA.

Canning Continues to Get More Craft Beer Into More Places

Tin is in!

Can are cheaper to produce, and require less energy to cool down. Less packaging means packing more beer in less space, which reduces a brewery’s carbon footprint.

According to CraftCans.com, there are now 453 breweries with more than 1,600 craft brewed canned beers now available across the United States.

As a matter of fact, the airlines are getting in on the craft canned trend. In early December, Delta Air Lines began stocking carts with a selection of regional craft beers from breweries like Ballast Point, Lagunitas Brewing and Stone Brewing.

On a local level, La Quinta Brewing started canning in February 2014 with The Can Van. New painted cans that are now making their way into stores.

The Rise of American Wild Ales

Sours are made by introducing bacteria and/or wild yeast strains into the beer. And the results? Think bright, tart, funky and mysterious. Building off classic Belgian and German styles, U.S. breweries are harnessing wild yeast, creating beers with novel dimensions of aroma and flavor.

Coachella Valley Brewing started a sour program when they first opened their brewery, more than a year ago. CVB’s sours will be offered in small allotments for Fault Line Society members, and in the tasting room in 2015, starting with Framboys, a boysenberry raspberry framboise. Keep an eye out for Flame Rouges, an American wild brewed with red flame raisins. Both are aged in port and cabernet wine barrels.

CVB will also be releasing Epineux Poire, an American wild brewed with locally foraged prickly pear cactus fruit. Persnickety, CVB’s persimmon sour, will also make an appearance next year. If the beers don’t sell out to the FLS members, the remainder will go on public sale.

“I think in 2015, you will see more and more of beer-style fusion,” said Coachella Valley Brewing’s Chris Anderson. “Think along the lines of a Belgian IPA. I think farmhouse ales, wild ales and Brett beers (created by a funky wild yeast) will all continue to be hot.”

The Rise of the Farm-to-Table Movement

The convergence of the slow-food movement and the craft-beer revolution has led to fantastic events and exhibits, like the Great American Beer Festival’s Farm to Table Pavilion. The Pavilion provided 28 pairings designed and prepared by small and independent breweries and chefs from around the country. Coachella Valley Brewing was specially selected to pour, and was also chosen to present a special “Farm to Glass” tasting for 200 people.

“I found that our beers were very unique and innovative compared to other breweries, and it inspired me to see more breweries jumping into the concept of farm to glass,” he said, referring to the use of more fresh, local ingredients in beers.

Farmhouse ales have also seen a huge spike in sales. With applications of new-wave hop varietals like Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado and Hallertau Blanc, more people are asking for those less-bitter beers and raising their glass to juicier brews.

Breweries, like CVB, are embracing agriculture and sourcing even more local fruits, vegetables and grains. More people are recognizing the compatibility of craft beer and contemporary cuisine, too, with more beer-and-food pairings. If in the Los Angeles area, stop by Hook and Plow. Locally, don’t miss Workshop Kitchen + Bar, which offers farm-fresh heirlooms, wild arugula, watermelon, champagne grapes and lemon cucumbers in season, along with a nice selection of Southern California craft beer.

Nano Breweries Continue to Open

When it comes to beer, size really doesn’t matter. Nano breweries, often started with a single batch of homebrewed beer, typically produce one batch at a time. They represent craft in the truest sense. Also referred to as pico breweries, nano brewers make beer on a three-barrel system or smaller. There were reportedly more than 300 breweries operating in the United States as of the summer of 2014 that would qualify as nano breweries.

San Diego’s Hess Brewing opened in 2010 and produced about 1.6 barrels of beer per batch. Mike Hess Brewing has since grown to include two locations: the original “nano” in the Miramar area, and a production brewery in North Park, San Diego.

Big Success for Local Breweries

In Rancho Mirage, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse celebrated a massive win this year when the brewery took home a medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The beloved restaurant and brewhouse nabbed its first-ever GABF medal in the “Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale” category for the Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale. Babe’s is also reportedly celebrating a 110 percent increase in off-site sales from 2013 to 2014.

Over at CVB, Tom Del Sarto, the director of sales, spearheaded distribution deals with Young’s Market Company to sell the brewery’s beers throughout California and now Arizona.

It’s a trend: More and more people are eschewing big, mass-market brands in favor of craft beer. Del Sarto noted the fall of Budweiser’s annual barrel sales from 30 million barrels in 2003, to 16 million in 2014. Meanwhile, the craft-beer industry has gone from selling 5 million barrels in 2003, to 16.1 million barrels this year. As a result, more craft beer is appearing in restaurants and grocery stores alike.

“National chains are giving more autonomy to regional stores as customers are seeking local brands, adding to the major breweries’ decline in volume," said Del Sarto.

La Quinta Brewing, as noted earlier, has also had a big year. Owner Scott Stokes said he’s been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance and support of craft beer in the desert in 2014.

“Just the attendance and success of this year’s Props and Hops Festival, compared to two years ago, illustrates the passion that desert residents have for craft beer,” he said.

He went on to add: “We’re proud to say that after only a year, La Quinta is the second-most-widely distributed craft beer in terms of bars and restaurants within the Coachella Valley, just behind New Belgium (Fat Tire).”

Bring on the next round, 2015!

Published in Beer

A region formerly best known for old-school martinis continues to expand its craft-beer prowess—and a brewery that’s not even a year old is, in many ways, leading the way by offering small-batch offerings, tap-room special releases and seasonal farm-to-glass brews.

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. may be best known for its popular wide releases like Kolschella, Desert Swarm and Monumentous, but it’s also pushing limits with clever blends, new yeast strains and inspiring bourbon beers.

Currently aging in the barrels at the Thousand Palms brewery is Mayahuel, a new Belgian-style agave tripel. This will be the first offering of the brewery’s new Fault Line Society, premium reserve club, with memberships starting at $150 per year. Fault Line Society members receive discounts and can earn points, which can be redeemed for gift cards to be used on future purchases. Members will also be invited to beer-release parties, among other perks. Find details on the CVB website.

Mayahuel gets its name from the Aztec goddess of agave. Additions of Blue Weber Agave Nectar and clear candi sugar, imported from Belgium, lighten the body while adding complex alcoholic aromas and spicy flavors of banana, clove and anise. The complexity is complemented by the additions of tangerines and limes. This beer has been aging in bourbon barrels for more than a month, with another month or two left to go; expect those bourbon barrels to add rich notes of toffee, vanilla and caramel.

Desert locals are no stranger to small critters and insects—and CVB is offering a seasonal bourbon-barrel-aged Russian imperial stout to Fault Line Society members called Black Widow. At a whopping 16 percent alcohol by volume, Black Widow is formulated with a Maris Otter malt base and five different dark-roasted malts. After fermentation began, brewmaster Chris Anderson and company added Belgian chocolate, molasses, Vermont maple syrup and Belgian dark candi sugar. This pitch-black beauty was then placed in bourbon barrels, where it’s currently aging.

If you’re looking for something lighter to suit the warmer valley days, try the Oasis Ale, a 5.6 percent ABV ale-and-cider medley. Anderson has been known to gather the apples from Julian orchards himself. This unique offering begins with malted white wheat and pale malted barley; freshly pressed cider is then added to the brew, resulting in a refreshing beer.

Currently on tap is the popular “Luke Rye Walker” Belgian-style rye double India pale ale. The beer is named after Luke Anderson, Chris Anderson’s new son. The intergalactic IPA was formulated with Pacific Northwest pale malt, caramel malt and malted rye, resulting in a sweet, yet earthy backbone. The toffee notes are given life with simcoe and Australian summer hops. The force continues with Torulaspora delbrueckii, the house wild yeast, deepening the complexity with fruity esters of pear and peach. Try a pint before it disappears!

CVB is also busy expanding its reach and brand. Young’s Market Company started distributing 1,200 cases of CVB beer state-wide in mid-March, with Desert Swarm, Kölschella and Monumentous India Pale Ale being offered. And watch out for 200 CVB handles in bars and restaurants across Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.

Of course, April is known for being the biggest music month in the Coachella Valley, and the brewery is helping locals warm up with the help of local artists and DJs. On Saturday, April 5, from 3 to 8 p.m., CVB and the Coachella Valley Independent—yep, that’s us—will offer live art, food, six DJs and, of course, great craft beer at the Pre-Coachella Warehouse Party. Southern California native and Palm Springs resident Caitie Magraw and fellow artist Michael Perez are collaborating on a live art piece and will be painting throughout the day.

The lineup includes local music luminaries, All Night Shoes (aka Alex Harrington, an Independent contributor and one of the party’s organizers), Synthetix, Ivanna Love, Feeme A, RowLow and CreamSFV. The $35 ticket price includes four 12-ounce Coachella Valley Brewing beers. Get tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/594166.

Proceeds will go to the EcoMedia Compass; the nonprofit is working to raise awareness about and funds to restore the Salton Sea. EcoMedia Compass and its “Save Our Sea” movement began when Kerry Morrison, a local musician, filmed a music video there. Morrison realized the sea’s needs and potential, and banded together with fellow artists, scientists, filmmakers and activists. Get more info at www.ecomediacompass.org.

In-between the two Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival weekends, CVB will take over the taps at Eureka! in Indian Wells: On Wednesday, April 16, CVB will have a minimum of five handles at the Indian Wells craft beer and burger restaurant.

It’s great to see Coachella Valley Brewing answering the call for a bigger selection of sophisticated and modern beers. As Anderson frequently implores: Stay thirsty revolutionaries.

Published in Beer