Metz Road Riverview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020

Click here for tasting notes.

Scheid Family Wines got their start in 1972 when Al Scheid first purchased property in Monterey County and wine grape growing there was in its infancy. Scheid was drawn to the region for what he considered its untapped potential, for making money as well as farming.  Scheid was running his own investment company at the time.  A graduate of Harvard Business School and an investment banker, he realized that vineyards could make an excellent tax shelter, with their usual heavy investment on the front end and no income until at least five years later.  Originally named Monterey Farming Corporation, the enterprise he founded was a limited partnership; the tax laws at that time allowed investors to offset losses in one business against regular income from another one elsewhere.  And even before one acre was planted, Scheid, shrewd operator that he was, had found a customer for 100% of the grape production he anticipated (although, I’m guessing, not allowing revenue to outpace expenses, for a few years at least).

A hard-nosed origin story, for sure.  But Scheid was a firm believer in Mark Twain’s quote: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” So the truth is what it is. Continue reading “Metz Road Riverview Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020”

Ernest Vineyards

An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is an American wine-growing region classification system inspired by the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC, but without the French rigor.  An AVA simply defines a geographic area, and omits grape varieties, maximum production per acre, alcohol levels, etc.  The requirements for wine with an AVA designation is that 85 percent of the grapes used must be grown there, and the wine be fully finished within the state or one of the states in which the AVA is located. AVAs range in size from several hundred acres to several million; some reside within other larger AVAs.

California’s newest AVA is the West Sonoma Coast American Viticultural Area, located on the farthest western sliver of Sonoma County, holding approximately 50 vineyards planted with varieties ranging from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Syrah in this cold, marginal grape-growing region.

Sonoma’s 19th AVA encompasses the steep, rugged mountainous terrain along the Pacific Ocean coastline. Elevations range from 400 to 1,800 feet, with vineyards planted on steep ridge tops along the San Andreas fault line up against the consistently cold Pacific Ocean, both above and below the fog line. The maritime conditions moderate the temperature in the vineyards – daytime highs are cooler, while nighttime lows are warmer than just a few miles inland. This modest diurnal temperature swing allows the fruit to ripen slowly throughout the day and the night, a phenomenon experienced only in a truly cold-climate, maritime environment.

For West Sonoma Coast Vintners member Alma Fria, the West Sonoma Coast is distinguished by its remarkable originality, “The West Sonoma Coast combines a cold, maritime climate with rocky, well-drained soils and a mountainous topography. It is a rare terroir indeed, one that distills coastal redwoods with a seafaring spirit. It has lured adventurers, naturalists, and pioneers for a near century.”

Indeed, the area comprising the West Sonoma Coast AVA has a long agricultural history dating back to the 1880s, with the earliest vitis vinifera vines planted as early as 1817. In addition to wine grapes, the area still produces commercial apples and supports a lively dairy and ranching industry, as well as many nature parks, conservancy efforts and environmental projects.

Ernest Vineyards

Todd Gottula and Erin Brooks

Located in the new AVA, Ernest Vineyards was co-founded by wife and husband team Erin Brooks and Todd Gottula in 2012. The winery was named for Gottula’s grandfather, Ernest, who he credits with introducing him to every aspect of good food, good service, and good wine. First working in the technology industry, Gottula has been in the wine world since 2007, when he bought a four-acre vineyard and planted Pinot Noir, embarking on a new phase as a grape grower. He went on to develop relationships with winegrowers and wine producers in the Sonoma region. Continue reading “Ernest Vineyards”

Tenuta Vineyards

Nancy Tenuta is one of only six female winery owners in the Livermore Valley, due east of San Francisco. Tenuta and her then-husband Ron purchased a 22-acre lot just east of the Ruby Hill subdivision in Livermore in June 2000 with the vision of immersing themselves in the world of wine. There, 14 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were being grown in about a 50/50 mix. All of the vines were between 12 and 25 years old at the time. Over the next three years, the Tenutas built a 16,000-square-foot winery and a 5,000-square-foot estate home nearby. In all, they invested more than $5 million in the project, money that Nancy Tenuta collected using a variety of “creative” means, according to her, given that banks aren’t fond of such risky ventures.

Nancy Tenuta graduated from Portland State University in 1981, and spent the next twenty years in the business world. She held a number of sales positions, and in the 1990s she traded stocks. Ron Tenuta was general manager of Protection Services Industries in Livermore, which specializes in commercial security.

With the owner’s extensive business savvy, Tenuta Vineyards quickly became Livermore’s third-largest winery in a valley that has produced wine for more than 150 years. The first and second spots are held by Wente Vineyards (300,000 cases a year) and Concannon Vineyards (200,000 cases a year) respectively. As they began to plan their operation, the Tenutas researched the local market and discovered that many wineries there were small and had no production facilities or space to store their wine. Therefor, they ambitiously built a winery facility much larger than they needed so they could provide custom crushing, sorting, barrel storage, bottling, and even vineyard maintenance to others. Because of this, Tenuta’s own wines are a minority of the operation. Only 3,000 cases of the 30,000 produced annually is released under the Tenuta label. The rest is private labeled for 15 other growers in the area. Continue reading “Tenuta Vineyards”

Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019

An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is an American wine-growing region classification system inspired by the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC, but without the French rigor.  An AVA simply defines a geographic area, and omits grape varieties, maximum production per acre, alcohol levels, etc.  The requirements for wine with an AVA designation is that 85 percent of the grapes used must be grown there, and the wine be fully finished within the state (or one of the states) in which the AVA is located. AVAs range in size from several hundred acres to several million; some reside within other larger AVAs.

California’s newest AVA is the West Sonoma Coast American Viticultural Area, located on the farthest western sliver of Sonoma County, holding approximately 50 vineyards planted with varieties ranging from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Syrah in this cold, marginal viticultural region.

Sonoma’s 19th AVA encompasses the steep, rugged mountainous terrain along the Pacific Ocean coastline. Elevations range from 400 to 1,800 feet, with vineyards planted on steep ridge tops along the San Andreas fault line up against the consistently cold Pacific Ocean, both above and below the fog line. The maritime conditions moderate the temperature in the vineyards – daytime highs are cooler, while nighttime lows are warmer than just a few miles inland. This modest diurnal temperature swing allows the fruit to ripen slowly throughout the day and the night, a phenomenon experienced only in a truly cold-climate, maritime environment.

For West Sonoma Coast Vintners member Alma Fria, the West Sonoma Coast is distinguished by its remarkable originality, “The West Sonoma Coast combines a cold, maritime climate with rocky, well-drained soils and a mountainous topography. It is a rare terroir indeed, one that distills coastal redwoods with a seafaring spirit. It has lured adventurers, naturalists and pioneers for a near century.”

Indeed, the area comprising the West Sonoma Coast AVA has a long agricultural history dating back to the 1880s, with the earliest vitis vinifera vines planted as early as 1817. In addition to wine grapes, the area still produces commercial apples and supports a lively dairy and ranching industry, as well as many nature parks, conservancy efforts and environmental projects.

In the early 1970s, Joe Phelps started looking for a place to make a little wine. After a stint in the Navy, he’d grown his father’s Greeley, Colorado-based construction business into a multi-state powerhouse, expanding to northern California in the mid-1960s to work on bridge and dam projects and the infrastructure for BART. As a hobby, he did some home winemaking in Greeley using grapes shipped by air overnight from Napa. After landing the contract to build the Souverain Winery, the idea of starting his own winery took hold.

Continue reading “Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Pinot Noir 2019”

Robert Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Located 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles is in California’s South Central Coast region. It is one of California’s oldest wine production areas, with a winemaking tradition that stretches back to the 1790s. Known particularly for its rolling hills and valleys, nearly 80% of the wines produced here are red varietals, including Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The climate of hot days ripen the grapes, and cool nights help to maintain acidity, complexity, and aromatics. Soils vary from silts to silt loams to clay to limestone.

An entrepreneur out of St. Paul, Minnesota who founded and grew a broad range of innovative businesses, Robert Hall and his family went on a trip to southern France in the 1970s and their passion for wine began. After “retiring” in 1999, he came to Paso Robles to realize his dream of owning a winery, which he did until his death in 2014.

When Hall and his wife Margaret purchased the land “there was nothing there” as she recalled, “but dirt.” The two were hands-on building their dream, designing the production facilities and winery. Twenty-six feet below ground are 19,000 square feet of caves. This cool sanctuary is home to 4,000 premium French oak barrels. Now the fifth-largest winery in Paso Robles, Robert Hall was named “Winery of the Year” by the California State Fair and California Mid-State Fair.

The winery and tasting room.

In August of 2016, Robert Hall was purchased by O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, the seventh-largest wine producer in California by volume. In addition to Robert Hall, the company’s national brands include Line 39, Harken, Exitus, Day Owl Rose, Austerity, and Intercept. Continue reading “Robert Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2019”

Reddy Vineyards Field Blend 2017

A fifth-generation farmer, Vijay Reddy came to the U.S. in 1971 to pursue a graduate degree in soil and plant science, and obtained a doctorate in 1975 from Colorado State University. Along with his wife Subada, Dr. Reddy established and ran a soil consulting laboratory for 20 years while also farming cotton, peanuts, and various other produce in the high plains of west Texas near Lubbock (Reddy is a fifth-generation farmer).

In 1997, Reddy’s friends Neil Newsom and Bobby Cox talked him into planting five acres of grapes. Since his property was composed of sandy loam soils mixed with limestone deposits at an elevation of 3,305 feet, it seemed like a worthwhile experiment. Indeed, the grapes thrived.  In short order, Reddy abandoned all but grape farming, and now has 400 acres under vine; the operation sells 38 varietals to a number of Texas wineries.

Reddy Vineyards has been recognized as a leading source of premium grapes by wine producers now for more than 20 years and is considered a pioneer in the Texas Wine industry due to their willingness to experiment with different grapes.

The Reddys

Continue reading “Reddy Vineyards Field Blend 2017”

Niepoort Dry White Porto

True Ports (now often referred to as Portos) hail from the Douro valley in northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

Port is a fortified wine. Fortification is the addition of brandy (usually) or a neutral spirit to wine in order to boost the alcohol content. Fortified wines are often sweet, because the alcohol kills the yeast before fermentation completely runs its course, leaving residual sugar. This accounts for Port’s characteristic rich, luscious style and also contributes to the wine’s considerable ageing potential. Fortification also stabilizes the wine, a definite benefit for a product destined for the long sea voyage from Portugal to England, the first large market for it.

There are four basic categories of Port: vintage, tawny, ruby, and white.  Vintage Ports are the rarest (just one to three percent of all Port production), the best quality, and the most expensive, of course.  They are made from grapes of a single vintage and bottled within two years of harvest.  In order to maintain the highest quality standards, vintage Ports are only made in the best years, which are “declared.” These wines can age extremely well; there is an old English tradition where a vintage Port is purchased on a child’s birth year, and consumed to celebrate when he or she turns 21.  (Late Bottled Vintage Port is bottled at either four or six years old; although they have been aged longer, these Ports are often of second-tier quality when compared to a producer’s Vintage offerings.) Tawny Ports are a blend of fruit from many different years, and can be wood-aged for as many as 40 years.  A high-quality tawny Port will always list the barrel age on the label.  The characteristic amber color is the result of this wood aging.  Ruby Ports are made from wines not deemed worthy of vintage classification, and are aged in wood for about two years.  These youthful, fruity Ports are often the least expensive.  White Ports are made like other Ports, just using white grapes.  Although they have been made for as long as red Ports, they are much less familiar to Port drinkers.  Indeed, I’ve been consuming Port for decades, but this is the first white I have tried.  (These white wines run the gamut from sweet to dry, and are usually consumed as an aperitif.

The Douro

Continue reading “Niepoort Dry White Porto”

Sosie Rosé of Syrah Vivio Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma 2021

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s a maxim Sosie Wines lives by. “Sosie” [so-zee] is French for twin or doppelganger, and as it says right on the bottle, “We are inspired by the wines of France. So we employ an Old World approach to wine growing that favors restraint over ripeness, finesse over flamboyance. Our aim is to craft wines that show a kinship with France’s benchmark regions. Wines that are their sosie.”

Sosie Wines also pays homage to the French tradition of location, or terroir, believing that the vineyard site is perhaps the most important component of a bottle of wine.

Sosie Wines co-owner Regina Bustamante was introduced to wine at an early age, one of the first being Chateauneuf du Pape. “I remember the shape of those bottles and the crossed-keys of the papal crest. It was a symbol you could trust, my mom used to say. I never forgot that, and as a young adult one of the first places I had to visit in France was Chateauneuf. To this day I still love those wines.”

On a quest to cement that fascination, in 2006 she and partner  Scott MacFiggen took a trip to the Loire in western France, and then in 2008 they spent 10 days traveling the Côte de Nuits, walking the vineyards and tasting the wines. In 2016 they visited both northern and southern Rhone, working their way down from Côte-Rôtie to St. Joseph. Continue reading “Sosie Rosé of Syrah Vivio Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma 2021”

Lampley Reserve Demi-Sec Sparkling Wine

The founder and proprietor of Lampley Reserve is Illinois-native Chrishon Lampley, a remarkable African American woman, and the first in the Midwest to go national with a wine brand. She is also one of the less than 1% of wine industry negociants, vineyard owners, or winery owners who are black females in the traditionally Euro-centric, white, male-dominated world of wine. A rarity, to say the least.

Building on over 20 years’ of experience in the wine industry, Lampley launched Love Cork Screw wines in 2013 with six varietals. The operation has since sold more than one million bottles of wine. Still not satisfied, Lampley also offers brand extensions like five wine-scented candles, as well as the new eponymous Lampley Reserve label just now coming to market. On a mission to reinvent how we think about and experience wine, Lampley is also passionate about leveraging her platform to mentor budding entrepreneurs and pave the way for more inclusivity and opportunity for women of color in wine and beyond.

Lampley credits her never-give-up mentality to her father’s entrepreneurial spirit and her mother’s tenacity. Now that her Love Cork Screw portfolio of eight varietal wines, which feature bold, untraditional labels like “Head Over Heels” and “We’re Movin On Up,” are firmly established, Lampley is turning to her new collection of wines called Lampley Reserve. Continue reading “Lampley Reserve Demi-Sec Sparkling Wine”

Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac

First, let’s talk about brandy vs. Cognac. Brandy is a liquor distilled from grape wine and aged in wood. (Brandy can be made from fruits other than grapes as well, but that’s a story for another time.) Cognac is brandy that specifically comes from the town of Cognac and the delimited surrounding areas in western France. (The one which has the most favorable soil and geographical conditions is Grande Champagne.) So, all Cognacs are brandy, but not all brandies are Cognac. For more detail on Cognac, click here.

Cognac has been sold under the Ferrand name since the 18th century, spanning 10 generations of producers, beginning with the birth of the first Elie Ferrand in the small town of Segonzac in 1630 (nine more Elies would follow).  In 1989, Alexandre Gabriel partnered with Pierre Ferrand, the living heir of the family, to develop a line of Cognacs.  Once Pierre Ferrand retired in 1993, Gabriel became sole proprietor.

In  short order, Gabriel bought the Logis d’Angeac distillery, built in 1776 and located in the heart of the Grande Champagne region of Cognac. He also purchased the 18th century Chateau de Bonbonnet, once owned by the Martell family, and turned it into his home as well as Ferrand’s state-of-the-art blending facility and offices.

Photo: Alexandre Gabriel

Continue reading “Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac”

Austin Hope Quest 2017

Chuck Hope and his wife Marilyn came to Paso Robles (which roughly means “passageway of oaks”) in California’s Central Coast in 1978 to farm, and eventually to start what would become Hope Family Wines. This early arrival put them on the forefront of the Central Coast becoming a world-class viticultural region. Initially, the Hopes planted apples and grapes in this then sparsely-populated area. Seeing the property’s potential for grape growing, Hope eventually replanted the apple orchards with grapes. Vine density was increased, and each vine was pruned to limit yield for better-quality fruit.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Hope family grew grapes for various wine producers. In the 1980s, the Wagner family, owners of Napa Valley’s Caymus Vineyards, turned to the Hope family to source Cabernet Sauvignon fruit for their Liberty School label. Thus began a long-lasting partnership between the two families.

Since that beginning, in Paso Robles specifically and throughout the region generally, Hope Family Wines has built long-standing relationships with over 50 growers. They coordinate with farmers to carefully limit crop yields to ensure concentrated flavors.

In 1995, the Hopes acquired Liberty School from the Wagners. In 1996, they launched Treana Winery with Chris Phelps serving as winemaker. Continue reading “Austin Hope Quest 2017”

Gran Duque d’Alba Solera Gran Reserva Spanish Brandy

For those who don’t know, brandy is distilled from wine and aged in wood to give it its characteristic flavor and color.  The word brandy comes from the Dutch brandewijin, meaning  “burned (distilled) wine.”  It is usually made from grape wine, but can be distilled from other fruit wines, most often apple, in which case it is called apple brandy or applejack generically, and Calvados in France.  (Calvados is in northwestern France, on the English Channel.)  Cognac, perhaps the best-known type of brandy, specifically comes from the town of Cognac and the delimited surrounding areas in western France.  So, all Cognacs are brandy, but not all brandies are Cognac.  For more detail on Cognac, click here.

Of course, wherever you find wine you will likely also find brandy, and Spain is no exception.  This brandy was first introduced in 1945 by a wine merchant in Madrid at that time. He was a good friend of the Seventh Duke of Alba, Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falcó,  and asked the duke if he could endorse the new brandy he was about to offer for sale by applying the duke’s name to it. After tasting it the aristocrat was pleasantly impressed and suggested that for such a noble product it would be far more appropriate to use the name of his ancestor the Great Duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, who was a Spanish noble, general, and diplomat, shown here. He was an adviser to two Spanish kings, governor of the Duchy of Milan, viceroy of the Kingdom of Naples, governor of the Netherlands, and viceroy and constable of the Kingdom of Portugal. Continue reading “Gran Duque d’Alba Solera Gran Reserva Spanish Brandy”

Gibbs Centa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

In 1947, Dr. Lewis Gibbs Carpenter Jr., a farmer and psychologist, moved to Saint Helena from Gilroy and bought land on the Napa Valley floor. He began to work the property by growing walnuts, dates, and a small selection of grapes in the 1950s. Over the next twenty years, he replaced most of the nut and fruit orchards with several Bordeaux varietals of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, all of which were beginning to gain international attention following the Judgement of Paris in 1976. It was at this momentous event that Napa Valley garnered international respect as a premier wine growing region. This no doubt helped propel not only Carpenter’s vineyards to esteem, but the entire valley as a whole.

Dr. Lewis Gibbs Carpenter Jr.
Craig Handly
Spencer Handly

Although Carpenter himself never had plans of starting a winery, his sixty-plus years of premium grape-growing set the stage for Craig Handly, his son-in-law, to establish Gibbs Vineyards in 2013. Early in life, Handly was an Alaskan crab and salmon fisherman.  Later he became a print shop owner and a wine label designer, working for such brands as Beringer, Mondavi, and Kendall Jackson, among others.

In 2000 he and his wife Susan began crafting wines from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes grown on Carpenter’s property. These first batches, made in a tank in the Handly family’s barn, were the beginning of his new career as a winemaker. Over the next decade, he honed his skills while making wines under his first labels, Terroir Napa Valley and Sentall.

After graduating from the University of San Diego in 2014, the Handly’s son, Spencer Gibbs Handly, joined the family in growing and making wine. He is the third generation of the Handly family working in the vineyards. He got his start in the vineyards when Carpenter taught him to drive a tractor at the age of five.

The Gibbs tasting room in St. Helena.

Continue reading “Gibbs Centa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016”

Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

True Ports hail from the Douro valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

To make Port, a neutral grape alcohol is added to the wine partway through fermentation.  This stops the fermentation before the yeast has eaten all of the sugars, leaving a natural residual sugar of 9 to 10 percent, and boosting the alcohol content to 18 to 20 percent.  This was originally done in the early days of Port production to stabilize the wines for the long sea voyage to England, at one time the biggest market for Port.  There are four basic categories: vintage, tawny, ruby, and white.  Vintage Ports are of the best quality, and the most expensive, of course.  They are made from grapes of a single vintage and bottled within two years.  In order to maintain the highest quality standards, vintage Ports are only made in the best years, which are “declared.” These wines can age extremely well; there is an old English tradition where a vintage Port is purchased on a child’s birth year, and consumed to celebrate when he or she turns 21.  Tawny Ports are a blend of fruit from many different years, and can be wood-aged for as many as 40 years.  A high-quality tawny Port will always list the barrel age on the label.  The characteristic amber color is the result of this wood aging.  Ruby Ports are made from wines not deemed worthy of vintage classification, and are aged in wood for about two years.  These youthful, fruity Ports are often the least expensive.  White Ports are made like other Ports, just using white grapes.  These wines run the gamut from sweet to dry, and are usually consumed as an aperitif. Continue reading “Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port”

A Good Cheap Brandy

For best results, blend your own.

Obviously, I enjoy wine, but I’m a fan of liquor too, especially brandy.  Brandy is distilled from wine and aged in wood to give it its characteristic flavor and color.  The word brandy comes from the Dutch brandewijin, meaning  “burned (distilled) wine.”  It is usually made from grape wine, but can be distilled from other fruit wines, most often apple, in which case it is called apple brandy or applejack generically and Calvados in France.  Cognac is brandy that specifically comes from the town of Cognac and the delimited surrounding areas in western France.  So, all cognacs are brandy, but not all brandies are cognac.  For more detail on cognac, click here.

My favorite brandy of all time is Kelt Tour du Monde.   Just a few years ago, it was selling for $40 a bottle; now it’s $60.   Brands like Martell, Hennessy, Courvoisier, and Hardy have suffered similar inflation.  Capitalism at its finest.  Regardless, all of them are too expensive for me to drink on a regular basis.  For that, I turn to bottles under $20.  American producers include Paul Masson, Christian Brothers, Korbel, and E&J Gallo.  And there are readily-available European offerings such as St. Remy from France, Hartley from Italy, Pedro Domecq from Mexico, and Veterano from Spain. Continue reading “A Good Cheap Brandy”