Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

HISTORY

There is a long-extinct volcano that is part of the Mayacamas Mountains called Mt. Veeder, named for a Dutch Presbyterian pastor, Peter Veeder, who lived in Napa during the Civil War era and enjoyed hiking on the mountain, where the Douglas firs and Knobcone pines reminded him of the forests of home.

Winemaking on Mount Veeder was first recorded in 1864 when Captain Stelham Wing presented the first Mount Veeder bottling at the Napa County Fair, a wine hailing from today’s Wing Canyon Vineyard.

Commercial scale production arrived on Mount Veeder in 1900 when Theodore Geir, a colorful and flamboyant German-born Oakland liquor dealer, bought the property that would later become the Christian Brothers’ Mont La Salle Winery (today’s Hess Collection Winery). By that time, there were some 20 vineyards and six wineries on the slopes of Mount Veeder.

The Modern Era

The modern post-Prohibition era began with the planting of the Mayacamas Vineyards in 1951 and the Bernstein Vineyards in 1965. Once the site of an old prune farm, San Francisco attorney Mike Bernstein and his wife, Arlene, purchased the property in 1963 to use as a weekend retreat, and planted a few vines two years later in the most casual way possible. A farmhand who lived on the property gave the Bernsteins a bundle of cast-off grapevine cuttings. As legend has it, Bernstein stuck the unrooted cuttings into the ground and promptly ignored them. Miraculously, of the 60 cuttings planted, 58 lived. In 1969, the Bernsteins purchased another farm a half mile up the road, which was turned into a five-acre vineyard planted to the classic Bordeaux grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. Next came an actual winery, which produced 375 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1973. By 1977, Mount. Veeder’s other Bordeaux varietals were ready for blending with the winery’s Cabernet; the 1977 Mount Veeder Cabernet was the first California Cabernet to be composed of a blend of all the classic Bordeaux grape varieties.  The Bernsteins were also the first in the state to produce a Meritage-style wine using all five grapes, like the great chateaux of Bordeaux

In 1982, the Bernsteins sold the operation to  Henry and Lisille Matheson, formerly of Miami, Florida, where Matheson’s family was very active in real estate. (His great-grandfather once owned the entire island of Key Biscayne!) A year earlier in 1981, the winery had retained a new winemaker, Peter Franus, who had worked previously at Chalone and Chateau St. Jean.

Unfortunately, Matheson was more adept at real estate than winemaking, and in 1989 the winery was sold again, this time to Agustin Huneeus of Franciscan Estate Selections, which owns Franciscan Oakville Estate, Estancia, and an estate in Chile known as Veramonte.  Huneeus and his team immediately set about making many improvements, such as retrellising the vineyards, providing drip irrigation so that the vines would not be over-watered, and installing a computerized press for the grapes. Changes were made in teh winemaking style to soften the aggressively tannic nature of the Mount Veeder fruit, and new barrels were brought into the winery.  Darice Spinelli became winemaker in 1993 after working for three years under Greg Upton, the senior winemaker who oversaw all the Franciscan Estates properties.

At the time of the sale Mount Veeder had about forty acres planted to vine, and Huneeus increased that by another fifty acres (called the North Ranch).  Production now centers on  four Cabernet Sauvignons, and two red blends. Total annual output is about 12,500 cases.

The whole operation is rather secretive.  Janet Myers is the current winemaker, but Mount Veeder provides no biographical information on her.  There is no tasting room (they used to pour at Franciscan, but that tasting room is permanently closed), and although the winery is now located in Rutherford, Calif., no address is available.

The Mount Veeder district was granted AVA status in 1990.  The boundaries of this appellation include 25 sq mi (64.7 sq  km) with 1,000 acres (400 ha) planted on thin volcanic soil. Many vineyards are found on the steep mountain face some as steep as 30°. The steepness of the angle gives the vineyards benefits of more direct sunlight and better drainage.

Philosophy

The philosophy at Mount Veeder Winery is that each  wine has its own way of expressing the mountain soil from which it was born. Mount Veeder asserts that great wines are a reflection of their terroir—the combination of soil, topography, microclimate, and people—and  that excellent grapes handled with minimal processing have the potential to produce the greatest wines.

The Vineyards

“The mountain is unforgiving, but only an environment this demanding offers the potential to cultivate such exceptional fruit. My mission is to be a true steward of this land, and to have that care come through in every glass of wine.”  — Matt Ashby, Vineyard Manager

Resembling a giant staircase, Mount Veeder’s vines are planted on wide terraces of earth cut into steep slopes. At elevations of 1,000 to 1,600 feet, the microclimate is very different from the Napa Valley floor. Above the fog bank, exposed to the gentle morning sun and protected from the afternoon heat by the surrounding mountains, grapes on these vines ripen slowly and evenly.

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This Cabernet is classic deep ruby in color.  A blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 3% Malbec, and 2% Petit Verdot, it spent 20 months in French oak barrels. The nose is moderately aromatic, offering up ripe berries and black cherries, complemented by hints of cedar and dried sage.  The well-structured palate presents black cherry, leather, cassis, plum puree, and a bit of dust and cocoa.  It’s all supported with snappy tannins and just the right amount of acid.  ABV is 14.5% and 60,000 cases were produced.

https://www.mtveeder.com/

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Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Chuck Hope and his wife Marlyn 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.

At about this same time, while studying fruit science at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, the Hope’s son Austin spent some time working in Napa Valley under Caymus winemaker Chuck Wagner. This opportunity solidified his decision to pursue winemaking for his family. He became the head winemaker in 1998, and has held the position ever since. Since taking the lead as president and winemaker, Hope has helped Hope Family Wines grow from producing around 20,000 cases per year to over 300,000 cases per year. Austin’s wife Celeste, a professional photographer, produces all winery-related photography.

Hope shared, “At Hope Family Wines, we believe that it is our job to demystify wine and make it approachable. As a beverage that often accompanies food, we need to get away from the rules and intimidation, and trust our individual preferences. I am excited to see the wine industry becoming more dynamic and approachable as younger generations embrace education through online sources that are right at our fingertips.”

In 2000, the family started a limited-production label, Austin Hope (surprise!), focused exclusively on Rhone varietals grown on the family’s estate vineyard, based on the calcareous loam, marine sediment, and dense clay soil  of the Templeton Gap, which has the coolest microclimate in Paso Robles. It closely matches the climate of the Rhône Valley in France, as well as Napa’s acclaimed Rutherford district. The winery’s now-mature vineyards produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Mourvedre, and Grenache.

In 2008, the winery introduced Candor Wines, a multi-vintage label focusing on Zinfandel and Merlot wines with fruit sourced from family-owned vineyards in Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and Lodi. It introduced its second multi-vintage blend, named Troublemaker, in 2010.

The winery.

The tasting room.

Hope Family Wines is committed to sustainable growing practices that promote vine health, improve wine quality, and ensure that growers remain profitable. Spraying is only done when necessary, and never after August first. The number of tractor passes is kept to a minimum, protecting the integrity of the root structures and avoiding compacting the soil. The winery works actively to promote best practices in the vineyards of the growers they partner with. They use the self-assessment tools put together by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers to gauge progress and identify areas for improvement over time.

Austin Hope Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

The 2017 is just the third iteration of this wine, and is 100% sourced from Paso Robles.  This luxurious wine is inky purple in the glass.  There is a super-rich nose with an abundance of dark fruit, such as blueberry, black currant, and hints of cherry.  The full-bodied palate is full of lush fruit, especially blackberry, supported by vanilla and subtle oak.  The polished tannins and fresh acidity are just right, and in excellent balance.  It all wraps up in a nice long smooth finish.  ABV is 15%.

https://www.hopefamilywines.com/

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Kenwood Vineyards

Kenwood

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Author Jack London (1876 – 1916) was an American novelist, journalist, and social activist. A pioneer of unabashedly commercial fiction in both novels and  magazines, he was one of the first American authors to become an international celebrity and earn a large fortune from writing. His most famous works include The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set during the Klondike Gold Rush.

In 1905, London purchased a 1,000 acre property in Glen Ellen, California, on the western slope of Sonoma Valley which he named Beauty Ranch. He wrote, “Next to my wife, the ranch is the dearest thing in the world to me. I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate.”

Working with famous botanist Luther Burbank, he educated himself about caring for the land through the study of agricultural manuals and scientific tomes. They conceived of a system of farming that today would be considered “sustainable,” and hoped to adapt the techniques of Asian agricultural practices to the United States as well.

London intended the ranch as a commercial enterprise, but due to a number of factors, including London’s total lack of business acumen, it was an economic failure.  (Indeed, the property was originally up for sale because the owners believed that the land was “played out.”)   London’s workers laughed at his efforts to play serious rancher, and considered the operation a rich man’s hobby.

Although the vineyards have always been, and remain, owned by London’s heirs, today the the forested parts of the ranch are a National Historic Landmark and are part of Jack London State Historic Park. 

Kenwood Vineyards

The financial success that eluded London has been captured by Kenwood Vineyards, which has been the exclusive producer of wines from the vineyards on this historic property since 1976.  Kenwood was established in 1970 when John Sheela and his brothers-in-law, Mike and Marty Lee, bought the former Pagani Brothers Winery, which was built in 1906.  They converted what was a “bring your own jug” wine facility into a modern winery; this was long before the region’s AVAs were created.

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In 1978, local artist David Lance Goines was commissioned to create original artwork to be used for the label of the 1975 reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the first release of Kenwood’s Artist Series.

In 1996, F. Korbel & Bros., Inc. acquired a 50 percent stake in the winery. In 1999, Korbel acquired the remaining 50 percent and bought out the founders.  Under Korbel’s management, the operation nearly doubled in size, from less than 300,000 cases (still substantial) to more than 500,000 cases.

In 1999, Korbel sold Kenwood to New York-based Banfi Vintners, the makers of Riunite.  Korbel owner and president Gary Heck explained at the time that the rationale for the sale was to prioritize the company’s sparkling wine business, an operation that was eventually completely abandoned.  So much for the best-laid plans, eh?

In 2014, Kenwood ownership was transferred to Pernod Ricard Winemakers.

The Winemaker

Zeke Neeley grew up in Daly City, south of San Francisco.  He studied biochemistry at U.C. Davis, and later worked in the biotech industry as a cancer researcher.  However, during this first career he kept dreaming of making something physical, and was more and more drawn to wine.  To that end, he took an M.S. in Viticulture and Enology, and subsequently worked at wineries in Santa Cruz, Carneros, and Napa.  He joined Kenwood as chief winemaker in 2017.

Neeley shared, “When walking a vineyard near harvest it feels like a conversation between me, the vineyard, and the wild forces of nature, discussing what personality [a] wine will have, and then I do my best to reach that ideal.”

Neeley works with Winemaking Assistant Rachel Gondouin and Enologist Lois Mateer,

The Jack London Estate Vineyards

The 2,400-foot Sonoma Mountain range rises above the town of Glen Ellen at the western edge of the Valley of the Moon. The 130-acre Jack London estate vineyards sit here at 920 feet, with an eastern exposure that catches the fog-free morning sun. The vineyards’ soil is a unique red volcanic type composed  of Spreckles loam and goulding clay loam.

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Following London’s inspiration, sustainability is the order of the day at Kenwood. Farming techniques are employed that utilize as little of the valuable water resources as possible. The biodiversity program supports endangered fish such as Coho and Steelhead salmon by creating habitats along low flow areas. Bird and bat boxes made from reclaimed pallets are placed throughout the vineyards to attract these creatures as they in turn eat pests. The vineyards are entirely worked by hand, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, as their layout and slopes make mechanization impossible.

The vineyards are Sonoma Sustainable Certified, with the goal of preserving natural resources, improving  air and water quality, and protecting ecosystems and wildlife habitats.  In fact, through the efforts of the Sonoma County Sustainability Program, 99% of Sonoma’s grape farmers have met the criteria, a remarkable achievement attained within just six years.

The Jack London Wines

With a combined total of just 6,833 cases, these four selections from the Jack London Vineyards represent only a small portion of Kenwood’s current annual output of 300,000 cases.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Red Blend 2016

This red blend is made of Zinfandel (62%), Merlot (21%), and Syrah 17%), and saw 18 months in oak barrels, of which 65% were new.   (The blend can and does vary each year.)  It is a completely transparent but dark garnet in the glass.  The nose offers subtle aromas of dark fruit, especially plums, which continue on the lush palate, with hints of toasted oak, plus a bit of pepper from the Zinfandel. The medium tannins and acidity are in excellent balance.  If you are a fan of Pinot Noir, this is a red blend for you.  ABV is 14.8% and 833 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

A blend* of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 6% Syrah, this wine saw 26 months of aging after fermentation in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 31% of which were new.  It is a dense, dark purple, with a nose of plums and a hint of sweet Bing cherries.  The plums are on the full-bodied palate as well, plus a hint of mint from the eucalyptus trees that surround the vineyards, and a suggestion of cocoa.  The grippy tannins are balanced by good acidity.  ABV is 15.2% and 5,000 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Dry Farmed** Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

In order to meet California’s strict “dry farmed” classification, the fruit for this wine comes from a single block in the vineyard, and must be carefully segregated from bud break to bottle.  The wine saw 17 months of aging after fermentation in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 60% of which were new. This age-worthy 100% Cabernet is a deep, dark purple, with a nose of brooding blackberry.  The palate is super dry, with recessive dark fruit, particularly dried blueberry, paired with flavors of earth and bay leaf.   Jack London himself can be seen on the label, admiring his Beauty Ranch in 1913.   ABV is 14.1% and 500 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Wild Ferment*** Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Zeke Neeley makes this wine “whenever his ulcer will permit.”  Although he claims to be a “control freak,” relying exclusively on wild yeast to ferment a wine is about as risky as it gets.  Visually identical to the Dry Farmed, the barrel regimen was also similar: 17 months of aging in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 54% of which were new.  The nose presents aromas of raspberries and blackberries.   The soft, rich palate offers that same raspberry, with black cherry and a bit of dust and leather.  The tannins and acidity of this hedonistic wine are in excellent balance.  On the bottle, Jack London can be seen on horseback riding through the ranch in 1915.   ABV is 14.9% and 500 cases were produced.

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https://kenwoodvineyards.com/

* The US Government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau mandates that in order for a wine to be labeled as a varietal, i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, a minimum of 75% of that grape must be used. 

** Dry farming, also called dryland farming, is the cultivation of crops, in this case grapes, without irrigation in regions of low precipitation. Dry farming depends on efficient storage of the limited moisture available in the soil. Tilling the land shortly after harvest, keeping it free from weeds, and prevention of runoff are typically done.

*** A wild-fermented wine uses only native yeasts that are found on the fruit and in the winery, rather than commercial yeasts. For winemakers looking to showcase an individual vineyard and vintage, using wild yeasts for fermentation is the most honest reflection of what’s going on at that site, and is another component of terroir.

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Raymond Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

History

The Raymond name has been associated with Napa valley since the year Prohibition ended.  The Raymond family arrived in Napa Valley in 1933. Roy Raymond married into the Beringer family in 1936. He worked as winemaker for Beringer from 1933 to 1970. The following year, he and his two sons Walter and Roy Jr set out on their own with a 90-acre estate property in Rutherford. They released their first commercial wine under the Raymond Vineyards label in 1974.  The estate now comprises 300 acres in Rutherford, St. Helena, and Jameson Canyon. All are are certified organic and biodynamic. The winery is also operated on 100% solar power.

In 1989, Kirin Holdings purchased the winery, with the Raymond family still managing the property and production.

In 2009, Raymond was acquired by  Boisset Family Estates, a major French wine company, with operations in Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Rhone Valley, the South of France, and expertise in French sparkling wines. Boisset had already purchased properties in California’s Russian River Valley, making it one of the top twenty-five producers in the U.S.

Under Boisset’s ownership, Raymond has become a biodynamic producer. There is a two-acre exhibition on the property about biodynamic farming, called the Theater of Nature. The self-guided exhibit is the largest exhibit showcasing biodynamic practices in the region. It aims to teach guests about how biodynamic farming impacts wines via a five-act presentation.

In 2012, Wine Enthusiast named Raymond “American Winery of the Year.”  Two years later, the winery was cited by Great Wine Capitals as the Regional Winner for “Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences.” Raymond Vineyards was named “Best Unique Tasting Experience” by CellarPass in 2014 as well.  The North Bay Bohemian named Raymond Vineyards the “Best Winetasting Room” in Napa Valley in 2015 and 2016 and for having the best Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Winemakers

Northern California native Stephanie Putnam is a  graduate of UC Davis with a B.S. in Fermentation Science. As Director of Winemaking, she oversees all aspects of wine production for Raymond.

Previously, Putnam had spent eight years as winemaker at Far Niente Winery, Prior to that, she was part of the team at Hess Collection, where she began as a cellar worker and progressed to winemaker. She also worked with the winery’s South American partners.

Winegrower and Vineyard Manager Sophie Drucker did her undergraduate studies at UC Davis in viticulture and enology, and then did cellar and vineyard work in Napa Valley, Portugal, and New Zealand. She returned to UC Davis for a master’s degree in horticulture and agronomy.

Assistant Winemaker Kathy George is involved with tasting evaluation, blending, quality control, supervising the bottling, and providing lab analysis.

George began her wine industry career at Beringer Winery. Following that, she worked at William Hill Winery, where she was involved in winemaking at every stage.

Thane Knutson is the Associate Winemaker. He graduated with a degree in International Business from the University of Oklahoma, where he made wine in his dorm room closet and worked in the cellar of a local winery.

After spending a couple of harvests making wine, he interned at Cakebread Cellars, where he decided winemaking was his calling. Knutson spent two years at Hess Collection as the laboratory technician before joining Raymond Vineyards.

Raymond Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

The fruit for this wine was harvested from a single, but unnamed and non-estate, vineyard in the warmer northern reaches of Yountville, The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and was part of Raymond’s District Collection series, which now seems to have been discontinued.  It is the typical deep, dark garnet of Cabernet Sauvignon in the glass, with a nose of blueberries and cassis.  These are echoed on the silky, medium palate, but the fruit is somewhat recessive.  There are also some black cherry notes and a hint of dust, and the entire production is backed up by medium acidity and some nice black-tea tanninsABV is 15%.

https://raymondvineyards.com/

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Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

For over three decades now, South America, particularly Chile and Argentina, has enjoyed a growing reputation for high-quality wines at very reasonable prices.

Chile has a long history of wine production, starting in the north of of the country as early as the 16th century under Spanish colonial rule. The wines gained quick acceptance, and they were soon being exported to Peru, Spain’s other colony, challenging imported wines from Spain itself.

E A R L Y  H I S T O R Y
The Echenique family, originally from the Basque region on the Spanish-French border, planted vineyards in the Peralillo area of the Colchagua province around 1750. In the 19th century, the family was part of the rapid expansion that took place in Chilean winemaking at the initiative of a handful of pioneers who were inspired by the French model. The first French grapes were planted in the Cañeten Valley of Colchagua in 1850. Vineyards went from 22,240 acres [9,000 hectares] in 1870 to 98,8442 acres [40,000 hectares] in 1900, largely driven by the phylloxera that ravaged Europe’s vineyards during that period and sharply reduced wine production there. (Happily, and rather surprisingly, Chile has avoided phylloxera for as long as vines have grown there.)

THE FRENCH ARRIVE

In the late 1980s, the legendary French producer Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) started looking for a property in Chile, and conducted extensive research into the wine industry there. Eventually, the Los Vascos estate, which  translates as The Basques, in honor of the Basque origins of the original farmers, was selected because of its location near the ocean, and the quality of the soil. The property was purchased in 1988. Along with excellent  weather conditions, Los Vascos benefits from intense exposure to the sun, adequate water sources, semi-arid soils, and little risk of frost. At the time, the property amounted to some 5,436 acres [2,200 hectares], of which 543 acres [220 hectares] were planted with vines.

After the acquisition, DBdR began to deploy their vast resources, both financial and technical. The existing vineyard was restructured, a program for new planting was implemented, and yields were intentionally reduced to drive up quality. Water resources were secured with a drilling program, and a weather station was built in the vineyard. The winery was enlarged and modernized in several stages in order to meet the new owner’s production requirements, with the addition of a stainless steel vat room, pneumatic presses, and a barrel room.  Over the next twenty years, work was done in both the winery and the vineyard to increase the quality of the product as much as possible. By the late 2000s, the vines planted in the 1990s had reached full maturity. Large-scale drip irrigation was adopted, and  a variety of new grape varieties were added.

THE VINEYARD
Having by now been expanded to 1,580 acres [640 hectares], the vineyard is one of the largest vineyards in the central Colchagua valley, at the foot of Mount Cañeten. The volcanic soil consists of sandy-clay soil and granitic sand. The vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), Carmenère (5%), Syrah (4%), Malbec (1%) and Chardonnay (5%). The oldest vines are 70 years old. The vineyard is worked with traditional growing techniques, drip irrigation, and green harvesting. Maximiliano Correa is the chief winemaker, a position he has held for nearly 18 years.

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

This selection is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and is estate grown and bottled. Perhaps predictably, this wine straddles the characteristics of New World wines and Old World wines, given that it is grown in Chile and produced by French winemakers.  (For more on New World vs Old World, see my post here, or my podcast episode here.)  It is a moody, dark purple in the glass.  It has a nose of rich dark fruits, particularly black cherry and plum,  backed up by some leather and earth.  The palate features those same, rather restrained, dark fruits and a bit of cocoa, in balance with good soft tannins.  It has a relatively light acidity. Be sure to decant for about an hour before serving.  The ABV is 14% and the average annual production is a mere 250,000 to 300,000 cases.

http://www.lafite.com/en/the-domaines/vina-los-vascos/

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Trefethen Family Vineyards

The pioneering Trefethen Family Vineyards is truly a rarity in the Napa Valley: a winery that grows, vinifies, and ages all of its wines entirely on the property, and has been helmed by a single family for three generations.

The area in which Trefethen is located is one of the oldest in Napa Valley’s wine history. Nearly 2,000 acres were originally purchased in 1851 by J.W. Osborne, who called it Oak Knoll. He planted grapes there the following year, and by 1860 had the largest vineyard in Napa, at 50 acres.

In 1886, banker brothers James and George Goodman founded the Eschol winery in Oak Knoll. The name was taken from the Old Testament,  Numbers 13:24, “The place was called the brook Eschol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.” The original estate was 280 acres, with 40 acres planted in vineyards. The winery used a gravity-flow system: a horse-drawn winch brought grapes to the third floor of the three-story structure for crushing; gravity carried the juice to the second floor for fermenting; and, eventually, the wine descended to the first floor for aging. It is now the only surviving example in Napa Valley of a wooden gravity-flow winery from the 1800s. After struggling through Prohibition, by 1940 the winery building had fallen into disuse, although for a time in the ’40s Beringer Winery used the space as a storage facility and leased the surrounding vineyards.

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Following retirement from a successful career, including CEO, with Kaiser Industries, Eugene Trefethen along with his wife Catherine, better known as Katie, purchased Eshcol and six adjoining properties in 1968, with the goal of become genteel farmers.  They installed a robust water system that still serves the vineyard today, but neither of them ever wanted a winery.

The winery operation got going in 1973, the year the Trefethen’s son John and his wife Janet produced their first commercial vintage (2,000 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir).  They also replanted the vineyards and restored the historic winery building.  Located at the end of what is possibly the longest winery driveway on the Napa Valley floor, it is the largest winery in the Oak Knoll district.

The trees were eventually planted to prevent John Trefethen from using the driveway to land his private plane. Photo: Carlin Arthurs

The Trefethens’ restoration efforts were recognized in 1988 by the Department of the Interior, which placed the winery on the National Register of Historic Places. The property is also known for an extensive garden established by Katie. It has been featured in many publications, and has been a destination for many gardening enthusiasts since it was created.

The flower logo shown here has been part of Trefethen’s branding since the beginning. Katie had originally used it on signage in her garden areas, and the winery put it on the bottle capsules from very early on. It was long referred to as the “Welsh Flower,” thinking that Katie had tapped into her Welsh heritage. But later research couldn’t find any Welsh history for the mark, so its origins remain a mystery, and it is now just called the “Trefethen Flower” instead.


Eugene and Katie Trefethen’s residence, The Villa, is now used for special events.

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John and Janet Trefethen have largely stepped back from day-to-day oversight, and the third generation of the family is now deeply involved in the operation. Son Lorenzo focuses on sales and marketing, and daughter Hailey on vineyards and employees.

In addition to the family, Jon Ruel has long been a part of the business.  He started as the viticulturist, but steadily increased his involvement over the years that have followed. He is now fully responsible for all aspects of the company’s operations and strategy, and was named named CEO in 2015. He had this to say about Trefethen, ““As a true estate winery, we have the unique opportunity to bring integrity to every step of the process, from the soil to the table. My entire focus these days is on cultivating this extended family – and when we succeed, you  can not only taste it in the wine, you can feel it.”

Winemaker Bryan Kays joined Trefethen in 2006 as a viticulture intern. Fascinated with estate-grown wines, he started in the cellar, and eventually worked up to the position of winemaker in 2015.


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In 1979, a “Wine Olympics” was organized by the French restaurant guide Gault Millau in Beaune, France. A total of 330 wines from 33 countries were evaluated by 62 experts from ten countries. The 1976 Trefethen Chardonnay won first place in the category that pitted California Chardonnays against those from Burgundy, and was judged best in the world. This came three years after the more-famous “Judgement of Paris,” further helping to establish the quality of American wine in the world market.

The spirit of support and cooperation in northern California’s wine country that has been so much in evidence during this year’s wildfires goes way back.  Two now-notable wineries got their start at Trefethen. Cakebread Cellars purchased some grapes for their first vintage from Trefethen, and made their initial wine there. Domain Chandon (the American operation of the French Champagne leviathan Moët et Chandon) began their winemaking efforts by taking over the second floor of the winery while their own facility was being constructed.

The Vineyards and Environmental Commitment

The Main Ranch Vineyard.   Photo: Arturo Pardavila

The Vineyards

The original 400 acres surrounding the winery are known as the Main Ranch.  It sits on the largest alluvial fan in Napa Valley, where Dry Creek spills onto the valley floor and spreads gravel eroded from the Mayacamas mountains over clay and loam left by an ancient ocean. Over twenty different soil types have been identified in the vineyard, allowing Trefethen to grow nine different varieties there, all planted in their preferred soil.

Trefethen now also owns another 150 mostly hillside acres surrounding a spring-fed creek, the Hill Spring Vineyard, of which 40 acres are planted to Bordeaux varieties. It is about three miles from the winery in the foothills of the Mayacamas.

Although a relatively large producer (about 75,000 cases annually, but it varies with each harvest). Trefethen has farmed their vineyards sustainably since the beginning. They are all managed by employees, without outsourcing the work to a vineyard management company. A true “estate” operation, they have never purchased grapes from anyone.

Biodiversity

Bluebirds, owls, and bats inhabit the vineyards. All of these species are native to the area and play important roles as natural predators. The property also attracts other birds of prey such as kestrels and red-tailed hawks. Cover crops provide habitat for beneficial insects, spiders, jackrabbits, and more, all of which play important roles in the ecosystem. Cover crop use also increases water infiltration as the roots create channels in the soil that can directly impact soil fertility via nitrogen fixation.

Soil Health

Every part of the grape cluster but the juice– the stem, skins, and seeds – is combined with clippings from the gardens and manure from the  stables to make a compost which is spread out into the vineyard each year.

Water Conservation

The property includes two reservoirs. After collection, the water is transferred to biological settlement ponds, where the organic compounds are digested by bacteria, rendering the water appropriate for re-use in vineyard irrigation.

Energy Usage

A number of solar arrays are on the property, providing power for the winery and production facilities. They were one of the first wineries to offset 100% of their electricity usage with on-site solar power.

Certifications

As a major part of their commitment to ecological responsibility, Trefethen participates in a number of certification programs.

The Napa Green organization supervises two programs.  Land is an umbrella program that recognizes growers with validated environmental compliance and verified farm plans as meeting standards for watershed stewardship. Winery is one of only four sustainable winegrowing programs nationwide, offering the opportunity for comprehensive soil-to-bottle certification in both the vineyard and winery.

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance is a certification program that provides verification that a winery or vineyard implements sustainable practices and continuous improvement

Trefethen Family Vineyards Oak Knoll District Estate Chardonnay 2018

Trefethen’s highest-volume wine, this Chardonnay was 100% sourced from the Main Ranch. After both barrel and malolactic fermentation, the wine was aged for nine months in 13% new oak.

It is a pale straw gold in the glass. The nose presents aromas of lemon, lime, and grapefruit, plus a hint of peach. The smooth palate features these same flavors, as well as some lemon curd and just a suggestion of oak. It’s all wrapped up in a refreshing zippy acidity. The ABV is 13.3%, and 28,800 cases were produced.

Trefethen Family Vineyards Oak Knoll District Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

This wine is a blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon (enough that it isn’t labeled a “red blend”), 10% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Franc, all sourced from the Main Ranch vineyard. It always amuses me when winemakers include 1 or 2% of something.  It’s hard to imagine how much difference that could make, but they certainly think it is worth the effort. After fermentation, it was aged for 18 months in 52% new oak.

This full-bodied wine is inky dark purple. The nose displays aromas of dark stone fruits, particularly plum, and earth.  These continue on the palate, with the addition of prunes and cocoa, plus a little vanilla.  There is well-balanced acidity, as well as plenty of grippy but nicely integrated tannins.  The ABV is 14.2%, and 23,880 cases were produced.

https://www.trefethen.com/

Note: Trefethen releases some of their red wines fairly young – if you have the patience, consider holding these for several years while they develop additional complexities and nuances.  But do as I say and not as I do; there was a time when I would have bottle aged a wine like this for 10 years or so, but I have largely abandoned holding bottles more than four or five years at the most, as I prefer the more up-front characteristics, especially tannins, of a young red.

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Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon

Wikipedia says an “estancia is a large, private plot of land used for farming or cattle-raising. Estancias in the southern South American grasslands, the pampas, have historically been estates used to raise livestock, such as cattle or sheep. In Puerto Rico, an estancia was a farm growing frutos menores, that is, crops for local sale and consumption; the equivalent of a truck farm in the United States. In some areas of Spanish America, especially Argentina, they are large rural complexes with similarities to what in the United States is called a ranch.”

So much for the definition. In my opinion Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the greatest California wine values you can find. I’ve been drinking it for over thirty years, and it is consistently delicious and reliable. And I buy it by the case; the most recent one cost $84. Yep, that’s $7 a bottle, folks. Although harder to find, it’s available in a four-bottle-equivalent box for about $30 as well.

Estancia began in 1986 when Agustin Huneeus bought vineyards in the Monterey town of Soledad for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In 1999, he bought additional acres in the warmer Paso Robles 73 miles to the southeast for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and other red Bordeaux varietals.

Huneeus started his long career in the city where he was born, Santiago, Chile. He entered the Chilean wine business in 1960 as chief executive officer of Concha y Toro. Although a small winery when he took the reins, Concha y Toro grew under his leadership to become Chile’s largest winery. In 1971, Huneeus reluctantly abandoned Chile due to the unsettled and difficult political climate of the time.

Salvador Allende Gossens became president of Chile in 1970. He was a Marxist physician and member of Chile’s Socialist Party, who headed the “Popular Unity” coalition of the Socialist, Communist, Radical, and Social-Democratic parties. Sadly, the nation’s economy suffered under Allende, and by early 1973 it had been battered by prolonged strikes by a variety of workers. A military coup finally overthrew Allende in September of 1973. As the armed forces bombarded the presidential palace, Allende committed suicide. The new government, led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, hardly an improvement, was marked by human rights violations, the abolishment of civil liberties, and the erasure of the Allende administration’s agrarian and economic reforms. The junta jailed, tortured, and executed thousands of Chileans.

Safely in New York, Huneeus headed Seagram’s worldwide wine operations, which included fourteen wineries in nine countries, including Paul Masson in the United States. After leaving Seagram, he founded Noble Vineyard in California’s Central Valley in 1977 and later acquired Concannon Vineyard in the Livermore Valley.

In 1985, Huneeus became partner and acting president of Franciscan Estates, where he oversaw Franciscan, Estancia, Mount Veeder, and Veramonte Winery in Chile. In 1999, he left that position and created Huneeus Wines, a company dedicated to fine wine properties. Huneeus is also the proprietor of Quintessa, one of the Napa Valley’s most highly-regarded wineries.

The winemakerMonica Belavic

Monica Belavic has over 15 years of winemaking experience in California’s Central Coast. “At Estancia, I am able to continue my love affair with this region and experiment with many different varietals that this area is so keen to grow. I also have access to some of the most incredible vineyards and grapes in the area.” She has a BS in Food Science and Agriculture Business from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Paso Robles AVA: Keyes Canyon Vineyard

This vineyard features hot days and cool nights, a half-dozen types of meager soils, (including sandy clay loam), and stressed vines that yield tiny grape clusters with high skin-to-juice ratios that create deeply concentrated wines with intense flavors. This benchland vineyard is the source of Estancia’s Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Merlot and Zinfandel.

The winery sources Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc from two other vineyards, Stonewall Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and Pinnacles Vineyard in the Monterey County AVA.

Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Tasting this wine critically was a challenge for me, since like I said, I’ve consumed a lot of it over the decades and knew exactly what to expect.  But, here goes: After fermentation, this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Paso Robles appellation spent nine months in French and American oak barrels; 35% new. It is dark ruby crimson in the glass, with a bit of transparency. The nose offers up aromas of dark fruit, especially black cherry.  These continue on the tongue, with classic flavors of blackberry, black currant, and cassis, plus a hint of cocoa.  The acids and tannins are in good balance, and there is not an excess of either.

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Adega Northwest Winery

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When most of us think of a winery, what usually comes to mind is the romantic stereotype of a rustic but exquisite barn situated halfway up a mountain in the western U. S. overlooking a bucolic valley below; a fabulous hundred-years old chateau surrounded by ancient vines somewhere in France; or perhaps even a charming azienda agricola in Italy with a view of Roman ruins. But that’s not the only way to do it.  Adega Northwest of Portland, Oregon, is very much an urban winery.  There are vineyards, of course, you just won’t see them if you pay the winery a visit (by appointment only).  And because they are not tied to an estate, Adega Northwest can and does draw on sources throughout the region.

It doesn’t get much more urban than this.

THE WINEMAKER

Bradford Cowin began by working in the restaurant industry. He pursued and completed a wine certification from the International Sommelier Guild, and has worked as a sommelier in New York City, Colorado, Washington D.C., Seattle, and now Portland, Oregon.

In 2007 he decided to focus on making wine instead of just serving it. He started as a cellar hand (aka a cellar rat) at R. Stuart & Co. in McMinnville Oregon, followed by working Malbec-focused vintages at Bodegas Renacer in Mendoza, Argentina, where he was also exposed to Italian Amarone-style winemaking techniques through work with renowned winemaker Alberto Antonini.

Once back in the U.S., he toiled at the famous Williams Selyem, Andrew Rich Vintner, and Long Shadows Winery. His time at Long Shadows proved to be an important turning point in his pursuit of full-time winemaking. In 2011, under the mentorship of Gilles Nicault, Long Shadow’s Director of Winemaking and Viticulture, Cowin purchased his first Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Weinbau Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope of Washington State (from which he continues to source fruit to this day) and was given space at Long Shadows to produce it. This was the beginning of his first winery, Script Cellars, formed with fellow sommelier Frederick Armstrong and wine enthusiasts Ken and Cheri Hick of Portland, Oregon.

Script Cellars’ Exordium 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon won the Platinum Medal and Best Red at the Northwest Food & Wine Festival, and received 91 points from Wine Enthusiast (for people that care about such things). Production increased from 100 cases to 500 cases within three years. Dramatic, but still quite modest.

Although he continues to make wine for the Script Cellars label (in Adega’s Portland facility), by 2014 Cowin was ready to try something new. Adega is Portugese for wine cellar, and  pays homage to his grandfather specifically, and the family’s Portuguese ancestry in general. Cowin teamed with his mother, Tana Mendes Bidwell, to establish the new operation. The aim was to  create hand-crafted wines in the Pacific Northwest influenced by the wines of Europe, especially Bordeaux and Rhone in France. They were later joined by investor and real estate mogul Darren Harris.  Cowin had this to say about opening an urban winery, “I’ve always been more of a city kid, having lived in large cities most of my life. For me it is more appealing to operate out of a facility where I prefer to live. We aren’t really much different than any other winery our size. I like being able to offer high quality wine to the general consumer without having them go out of their way for it.”

The winery currently produces Alvarinho (aka Albarino), Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah, Grenache, Mataro (aka Mourvedre), Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Souzao, and Graciano.

THE VINEYARDS

I mentioned that Adega, not being tied to an estate, can draw from many vineyards.  And do they ever.  These are their 12 current sources.

Destiny Ridge Vineyard Columbia Valley, Paterson, Washington

This 267-acre site, the only one actually owned by Adega, is located high on the bluffs overlooking the  Columbia River, in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA in southeastern Washington, and is part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA. Elevation in this area ranges from 200 feet above sea level in the south to 1,800 feet above sea level at the northern boundary. Destiny Ridge itself sits at 850 feet. Strong winds arrive from the west via the Columbia River Gorge, reducing the likelihood of rot and fungal diseases taking hold, and keeping frost at bay. The quick-draining soil includes clay, limestone, schist (medium sized mineral rocks), and gravel, along with sandy top soils.  It is exclusively planted to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Delfino Vineyard, Umpqua Valley, Roseburg. Oregon 

This 18-acre site is similar climatically to Spain’s Ribera del Duero, with a mix of rocky soil types. There are seven grape varieties under cultivation here: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Müller Thurgau, Merlot, Dolcetto, and Tempranillo (for which Umpqua is becoming increasingly well known).

Double Canyon Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, Prosser, Washington

Located between Yakima Valley and the Columbia River, the 90-acre Double Canyon Vineyard has a dry desert landscape. The weather is influenced by close proximity to the Columbia River, which creates sweeping winds and other distinctive weather patterns that protect the vines from extreme temperatures, fungal disease, and pests.  The soil is sandy, quick-draining loam. The vineyard is planted primarily to Bordeaux varietals and Syrah.

dutchman vineyard, yakima valley, Grandview, Washington

Dutchman Vineyard was planted in 1991. It is located in a very cool region in the Yakima Valley. Adega Northwest has been sourcing Alvarinho, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Riesling from here since 2017.

Firethorn Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Echo, Oregon

Firethorn was originally developed between 2006 and 2008 by famed NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe under the name Flying B Vineyard. Jay and Kim Bales purchased the vineyard in 2010 and have done the farming ever since. The vineyard sits on basalt cliffs that support a layer of granite and basalt silt deposited as the Missoula floods receded at the end of the last ice age. The top layer of soil is wind-driven loess (a silt-sized sediment that is formed by the accumulation of wind-blown dust). It is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Muscat.

french creek Vineyard, yakima valley, prosser, Washington

French Creek was established in 1981 with the planting of nine acres of Wente Clone Chardonnay. The vineyard is on a south-facing slope above the Yakima River, and lies at the edge of a canyon that allows for great air drainage, crucial for mitigating frost damage. The soils are mainly silt loam with weathered and unweathered basalt bedrock. Plantings are primarily Chardonnay, 28-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.  Adega NW has been sourcing  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from here since 2018.

Gamache Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Basin City, Washington

Planted by brothers Bob and Roger Gamache in 1980, this 180-acre vineyard sits up on the white bluffs overlooking Basin City to the east in the Columbia Valley AVA. The soil is primarily Warden sandy loam, with a little Kennewick sandy loam, as well as, in the northern part of the site, caliche (a hardened natural cement of calcium carbonate) about 12 inches down. The property is planted to Riesling, Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Malbec.

Kamiak Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Pasco, Washington

Established in the mid-1980s by Jeff Gordon of Gordon Estate Winery, the 100-acre Kamiak Vineyard is south-facing, and is perched 620 feet above sea-level along the Snake River. The vineyard has excellent air drainage and benefits from the river’s moderating influence. It has a unique volcanic soil breakdown that includes basalt, sandy loam, clay loam. and gravelly loam. It is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer, with a few small lots set aside for Tempranillo and Malbec.

Red heaven Vineyard, red mountain, Benton city, Washington

The many varieties planted here include Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah (aka Durif), Tinta Cão, Souzão (aka Vinhão), Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo (aka Valdepeñas), Counoise, Grenache, Mourvèdre (aka Mataro), Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Barbera. Adega Northwest has been sourcing Rhone and Portuguese varieties from Red Heaven since 2017.

Two Blonds, Yakima Valley, Zillah, Washington

This is the estate vineyard of Andrew Will Winery. Two Blonds, named for proprietor Chris Camarda’s late wife, Annie, who was a 6’2” blond, and Melody, the also-blond wife of vineyard partner Bill Fleckenstein, it was planted in 2000 with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. The soils of the 30 planted acres are silty loams.

Upland Vineyard, Snipes Mountain, Columbia Valley, sunnyside, Washington

Farming wine grapes since 1968, four generations of the Newhouse family have helped maintain the Upland legacy, which started over 100 years ago. Originally planted by William B. Bridgman in 1917, Snipes Mountain is widely considered the birth place of Washington wine. Today that original vineyard is still bearing fruit, and the vines’ longevity is a testament to the favorable weather conditions there. With an elevation that ranges from 750 to 1300 feet, the fecund Upland is able to grow over 35 varieties of wine grapes. (To be clear, Upland is in Washington, and on Snipes Mountain, but the snow-covered promontory in the background is Oregon’s Mt. Hood, seen looking to the southwest.)

Weinbau Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, Washington

With views of the Rattlesnake Mountains to the south and the Saddle Mountains to the north, Weinbau Vineyard slopes gently south, with elevations ranging from 710 to 950 feet. It is a relatively warm site, with excellent air drainage, and the soil is dominated by Kennewick silt loam. This 460-acre property was originally planted to Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer in 1981.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Mourvedre, Merlot, Carmenere, Grenache, and Cabernet Franc were added in subsequent years.

[SOME OF] THE WINES

Adega Northwest normally produces between 2,000 and 2,500 cases annually. Unfortunately, this year COVID-19 has forced a retrenchment back to 1,500. Although Adega Northwest’s production of each selection is quite limited, and therefor harder to find, they are very reasonably priced and are worth seeking out.

Interestingly, Adega, as well as another producer I have recently encountered, doesn’t use a foil at the top of the bottle.  Cowin shared, “Foil doesn’t do much other than being for aesthetics. I prefer the natural look of the cork. It also makes it easier to tell if there is a cork malfunction or a storage issue. On my single vineyard wines I do wax just the very top of the cork. However, you can still see all the sides of the cork in bottle.”

The cellar image on the labels was inspired by a picture of a classic Portuguese Adega from an original design by Cowin.

Adega Northwest Double Canyon Vineyard Syrah 2016

This 100% Syrah was fermented in stainless steel, followed by 22 months of barrel aging in 500-liter puncheons made of 100% French oak, 30% of which were new. A semi-transparent dark purple, it opens with aromas of dark fruit, mostly wild blueberries and mountain blackberries, and a hint of camphor (which receeds after the bottle has been open an hour or so).  The lean palate follows with muted fruit, especially tart cherry, with some leather thrown in.  It all wraps up with a medium-length finish. ABV is 14.6%, and 135 cases were made.

Adega Northwest Tempranillo 2015

Sourced from the Delfino vineyard, this wine is 10% Syrah and  90% Tempranillo. The latter is an important red-wine grape in Spain, and two Spanish clones of Tempranillo were used: Tinto del Pais (Rioja Clone) and Tinto del Toro (Toro Clone). It was fermented in stainless steel, followed by 20 months of barrel aging in 100% French oak. It is dark purple, with a nose of dark fruits plus black olive and leather. The full-bodied palate features flavors of tart cherry, cocoa, tobacco, and earth. There is lively but unobtrusive acidity, and a relatively short but dry finish. ABV is 13.8%, and 100 cases were produced.

Adega Northwest Weinbau Vineyard | Block 10 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was fermented in stainless steel and then saw 21 months in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new. It is dark purple, but a bit more transparent than is common for Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose is classic Cabernet, with big aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and cassis. These continue on the palate, supported by cedar notes, bracing tannins, and good acidity.  It all wraps up in a nice long finish. The ABV comes in at 14.6%, and 125 cases were made.

Adega Northwest Eremita White Blend 2018

The fruit for this blend of 70% Marsanne and 30% Roussanne came from the Dutchman vineyard. After barrel fermentation, it underwent full malolactic fermentation and aging, all in neutral  French oak.  The wine pours a hazy medium yellow. The nose is predominantly grapefruit (with hints of orange marmalade and apricot), and this dominates on the round and creamy palate as well, supported by Seville orange.  There is plenty of zippy acidity.  The ABV is 13.3% and 150 cases were made.

Adega Northwest Alvarinho 2018

The type of low-yielding, thick-skinned grapes from which this wine was made originally hailed from Portugal’s Vinho Verde. It is also cultivated in Spain’s Galicia region, where it is known as Albarino.  Adega NW sourced the fruit from the Dutchman vineyard. The wine is all Alvarinho, which underwent a cool, extended fermentation in stainless steel. It spent further stabilization (but perhaps not enough; see note below) and aging in stainless steel as well.  It is a medium yellow in the glass, with a hint of pink.  The nose offers up honeydew, cantaloupe, and peach. The palate features a full, creamy mouthfeel, with flavors of those same melons, joined by Seville oranges.  It’s all backed up up by plenty of racy acidity.  The ABV is 13.5%, and 250 cases were produced, and although still quite modest, it’s a relatively high number for Adega NW.

Note: when I finished my sample bottle after 24 hours in the refrigerator, some tartrate sediment had precipitated out. While this doesn’t impact the quality of a wine, it is an inconvenience, and you should consider decanting through a filter before serving, just in case.

Adega Northwest Chardonnay 2018

This 100% Chardonnay was sourced from the French Creek vineyard. It underwent barrel fermentation, followed by partial malolactic fermentation and aging, all in in neutral French oak.  It is crystal-clear, medium-pale straw in color. It is mildly aromatic, with scents of honeysuckle and brioche. The creamy palate features Meyer lemon and grapefruit, balanced by harmonious acidity and hints of vanilla and oak.  It closes with a medium-length finish. The ABV is 14.5% and 100 cases were made.

https://www.adeganorthwest.com/

Secret Door Cabernet Sauvignon

Patz & Hall was founded in 1988 when two Flora Springs Winery and Vineyards employees, assistant winemaker James Hall and national sales manager Donald Patz, decided to strike out on their own. Their ambition was to apply traditional (i.e. French) winemaking techniques to fruit from elite, small vineyards in Napa Valley specializing in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  The winery went on to great success.

Patz left Patz & Hall in 2017 to establish the Donald Patz Wine Group with his wife and business partner Jung Min Lee.  The project oversees three distinct labels: Maritana Vinyards focuses on Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; Terminum produces Mendocino County Marsanne/Roussanne and Syrah; and Secret Door Winery, owned by Mrs. Lee, exclusively makes Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Jung Min Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, to a prominent family. She received a degree in Music from Kyung Hee University where she specialized in playing the oboe. She moved with her young son to the U.S. in 1993. While living in Virginia, she found it easier to acquire the wines of Bordeaux rather than those of California, and developed an appreciation and palate for them. In 2010, she met Donald during a trip to Napa Valley, and they began their personal journey together.  Before they were married in 2014, he promised her that if she joined him in Napa he would create a Cabernet Sauvignon for her.  And a winery as well, as it turned out.

Secret Door’s first wine was a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon  made from juice purchased in barrel from a winery that shall remain anonymous.  That producer originally intended it as their primary $300/bottle wine. They mysteriously abandoned that plan, but not because the wine lacked quality. Secret Door acquired the wine and finished it.  Further details behind the wine have to (by NDA contract) remain secret. To Patz and Mrs. Lee this seemed like the perfect way to start a winery called Secret Door.

THE VINEYARDS

Secret Door primarily sources fruit from two grower-owned vineyards.

Hirondelle Vineyard, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

Designated in 1989, Stags Leap District is the smallest AVA within the Napa Valley.  It lies along the  famous Silverado Trail and includes some hillside sites, but primarily covers flat or gently rolling territory. The AVA’s name comes from an outcropping of red rocks at the area’s eastern end where a stag supposedly escaped his pursuers by leaping across the treacherous gap. The climate is appreciably cooler than further up valley in either Rutherford or St. Helena. The vineyard takes its name from the French word for the swallow. The birds are a sign of good luck, and swallows return each spring to build their nests there. The portion of the vineyard allocated to Secret Door is a three-acre block planted in 1996, and was recently converted to organic farming.

Sage Ridge Vineyard, Napa Valley

This vineyard is perched high on the hills above Lake Hennessey to the east of St. Helena. It was planted in 1998. The land here is a unique mixture of well- to excessively-drained sedimentary and metamorphic soils underlain by a bedrock of Franciscan complex. Silty clay loams with varying depths, mixtures of gravels, and fractured rock undulate among the steep slopes. The vineyard is a series of small plots that run along the ridge lines, and is owned by Judy Jordan of J Winery fame. The Secret Door parcel is a little over one acre planted to a selection of Cabernet Sauvignon taken from the legendary Martha’s Vineyard.

J-M-L Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

J-M-L is Second Door’s second label, and is intentionally different from their two single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons.

Although long involved with sales and marketing, Donald Patz drew on his degree in biology and over thirty years of experience in the wine business to assume the duties of winemaker at Secret Door.  His winemaking process is the same as that for those flagship wines. Although they begin the same, Patz looks for differences in the barrels of each wine  early on in their development. For the 2018, he selected barrels from Secret Door’s Hirondelle Vineyard and the third-party Edcora Vineyard on Atlas Peak in roughly equal quantities.  There were a few gallons of Sage Ridge Vineyard topping wine added as well to create the blend, one intended to mature more rapidly and to be drinkable on release.

Like all of Secret Door’s offerings, this is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was aged in 100% new French oak from Bordeaux coopers for 18 months. It is an opaque dark red in the glass. The nose displays subdued aromas of dark berries and truffles.  Perhaps not surprisingly, given Mrs. Lee’s fascination with Bordeaux, the palate is very much in the European style, with lean recessive fruit, including blackcurrant and blueberry, plus some graphite. This is complemented by black-tea tannins and a medium finish with a hint of bitterness. The ABV is 14% and 600 cases were made.

secretdoorwines.com

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Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Disclaimer: I’ve been a member of the Clos Pegase wine club for years, so this post is hardly impartial.

Clos Pegase was founded by Jan Shrem in 1983 on a 50-acre vineyard near Calistoga in Napa Valley. He was born in Colombia in 1930 to Jewish-Lebanese parents, and spent his childhood in Jerusalem and his early adolescence back in Colombia. After he arrived in the United States at age 16, he attended the University of Utah and UCLA. While in college, he sold encyclopedias.

A romance with a Japanese woman named Mitsuko led him to Japan, where they were married in 1960. They stayed 13 years, and during that time Shrem established a book distribution company that sold English-language encyclopedias, and books on engineering and art. His company also published translations of books into Japanese. By the time Shrem sold this operation, it had 50 offices and 2,000 salespeople.

Shrem then moved with his wife and two sons to spend time in Italy and France, where he continued with publishing and book distribution ventures. While there, he began collecting art and learning about wine. He studied enology at the University of Bordeaux.

The Winery

After finally retiring from the publishing business, Shrem returned to the U.S., settling in Napa Valley, where he established Clos Pegase Winery. In cooperation with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, he held an architectural design competition for his new winery’s building. Out of 96 entries the winner was the late Michael Graves. The building opened in 1987, and was designed in the Postmodern style with which Graves was closely associated at the time. Graves described the character of his creation as tending “to evoke memories of a European ancestry” and having a “timeless sensibility.” The selection jury explained, “it embodies a celebration of the lifestyle that is unique to the Napa Valley.”

In the Washington Post in 1988, James Conaway said that “Clos Pegase is our first monument to wine as art.” It was later described by architecture critic Susan Dinkelspiel Cerny as “an interpretation of Classicism in ochre and burnt sienna, with a spare desert feeling.”

 

The winery has since been painted a rather drab gray, not a particular improvement, I think.  As you can see, the original open lawns were replaced in the summer of 2015 with desert vegetation.

Photo: Francisco Vidal Mora

This “heritage garden” is a commitment to water conservation and landscape design. The project, in partnership with San Francisco garden design company Flora Grubb Gardens, replaced water-thirsty lawns with a special collection of rare, drought-tolerant plants and trees. The garden is anchored by 19 heritage Jubaea Chilenis “Wine Palms” — the largest West Coast collection north of Santa Barbara.

While he was proprietor, the winery housed a number of pieces of art from Shrem’s private collection, particularly outdoor sculpture. When he was 83 years old, Shrem sold Clos Pegase to Leslie Rudd’s Vintage Wine Estates in 2013. As of this writing, he is still with us at 90. While he was still active in the wine world, Shrem frequently delivered a humorous lecture on the history of wine as seen through art called “Bacchus the Rascal: A Bacchanalian History of Wine Seen Through 4000 Years of Art.”

The winemaker

Robin Akhurst has handled the winemaking duties at Clos Pegase since 2016. A native of Scotland, he graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a degree in environmental sciences. Following graduation, he took a job as a sommelier in Edinburgh, then worked in London for one of the city’s independent wine merchants.

Determined to make a life in wine, he moved to New Zealand and received a graduate degree in viticulture and enology from Lincoln University in Christchurch. He worked two harvests in Marlborough before moving on to Burgundy’s famed Domaine Leflaive and Australia’s Two Hands Winery.

A fortunate suggestion from Michael Twelftree of Two Hands led Akhurst to accept a harvest position in Napa valley with Thomas Rivers Brown in 2009, working with the team at Outpost Wines on Howell Mountain. Under Brown’s guidance, he worked on  wines from Schrader Cellars, Maybach, and Rivers Marie. Following that harvest, he took a position that lasted four years directing the production team at Envy Wines, a winery and custom-crush project established by partners Nils Venge and Mark Carter.

The Vineyards

Clos Pegase has 410 acres in Napa Valley made up of three vineyards where 11 grape varieties are cultivated.

Mitsuko’s Vineyard, named for Shrem’s late wife, is 365 acres in the Los Carneros appellation within the Napa Valley.  Because of the size of this property, there is a wide range of soil types, elevations, slopes, and  microclimates.

Here, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir benefit from cooling breezes blowing in from San Pablo Bay which create the slow, balanced growing season these varieties need to build complexity. A section of the vineyard is Haire clay loam, similar to the soil of the Right Bank of Bordeux. It was planted with a blend of Merlot clones well suited for this climate. Next to it is a section known as Graveyard Hill with its own unique rocky, well-drained soil and plenty of sun exposure, making it ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon, rarely seen in Los Carneros.

The Tenma Vineyard is located in the foothills of Mount St. Helena northeast of the town of Calistoga. The 40-acre site is part of an alluvial fan spilling out from the Palisades Mountains in the northeast corner of the Napa Valley. The rocky terrain is well-drained with a very sparse topsoil. It is populated with old vines that produce low yields. These grapes are the backbone for Clos Pegase’s  flagship Hommage Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Applebone Vineyard is the four acres of vines planted directly on the winery property, and  is devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The soil is gravely Bale loam. The name of the vineyard comes from the sculpture Applebone by Mark di Suvero, part of Shrem’s modern art collection.

Photo: Michael S. Herzog

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

This silky wine is a clear dark purple. The nose offers plenty of dark fruit, like black cherry and plum. There are rich flavors of classic blackberry, cocoa, and black tea on the palate.  This Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly not a fruit bomb, though, and the grippy tannins and lively acidity are in excellent balance. The ABV is 15.1%.

https://www.clospegase.com/

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7 Deadly Wines

7 DeadlyThe Phillips family has been farming in Lodi since the 1850s, and cultivating wine grapes since the early 20th century. The founders of Michael David Winery are brothers Michael and David Phillips. They released their first commercial wine in 1984 under the Phillips Vineyards label after years of growing grapes for other wineries on over 800 acres of vineyards in the Lodi AVA. The brothers are fifth-generation farmers who “raised their families in the vineyard,” and they have been joined by Mike’s son Kevin and daughter Melissa as the family continues to thrive. “We, more than most, understand the importance of leaving it better than you found it for future generations. Our family legacy and love of Lodi drive our focus on sustainability,” declared Michael Phillips.

7 Deadly Zins was named one of Wine Business Monthly‘s Hottest Small Brands in 2004.  It grew to more than 250,000 cases annually in its first 10 years, and now annually sells some 300,000 cases. “It appealed to all demographics, young people and old people,” David Phillips said. “It was just one of those brands that took off and we got lucky with it.”

The operation was sold to The Wine Group in late 2018. You can learn more about their extensive holdings here.

7 Deadly Wines are sourced from the vineyards near Lodi, located in California’s Central Valley. The soil here is mineral-rich, free-draining, and sandy. The warm days and cool nights of this Mediterranean-like climate are considered ideal for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Key to their commitment to sustainability, 7 Deadly has met the Lodi Rules™ certification, based on grower farming practices that benefit the environment, community, and local economy. Launched in 2005, this was California’s first third-party-certified sustainable winegrowing program. By 2014, over 20,000 acres were “Certified Green” in the Lodi appellation. Lodi Rules is among the most rigorous and comprehensive sustainable winemaking programs in the country. It dictates over 100 sustainable vineyard farming practices across six areas, including:
• Water Management to conserve water use for the vines’ water needs.
• Integrated Pest Management to maintain a natural habitat for enemies of pests.
• Air Quality Control to minimize dust, reduce air pollution, and conserve energy.
• Soil Fertility to maximize soil nutrition for more concentrated fruit quality.
• Land Stewardship helps to preserve native plants and protect wildlife habitat.
• Human Resources programs provide comprehensive employee training for job safety, efficiency, and advancement opportunities.

7 Deadly Zins Old Vine Zinfandel 2017

This wine, 7 Deadly’s main selection, was first released in 2002, starting with 700 cases of the 2000 harvest.  According to the winery, “7 Deadly was born from a Catholic school upbringing, and our winemaker’s lust for hedonistically seductive wine.  Seven certified-sustainable vineyards were chosen for the inaugural vintage.  The Seven Sins were related to the seven old vine Zinfandels blended to create 7 Deadly Zins, now America’s favorite Zinfandel.”

Clear and dark purple in the glass, this wine starts with aromas of dark stone fruit and leather.  There is plenty of traditional zinfandel pepper on the palate, abetted by tart cherry and racy acidity.  It ends in a medium finish, with a bit of cardamom bitterness.

7 Deadly Cab Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

That “Zins” pun just doesn’t work when you replace it with “Cab,” does it?  A peril of trying to overextend a clever marketing concept.  Regardless, the wine itself works pretty well.  It has the same dark purple color of the Zinfandel, with plum, vanilla, and a bit of marshmallow on the nose.  Flavors of blackberry and bing cherry follow.  It has a rather thin mouthfeel, but well-structured tannins and a moderately long finish. It is an approachable and easy-drinking Cabernet.  The 2020 is the first release of 7 Deadly Cab.

www.7deadlywines.com

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Coursey Graves Winery

Coursey Graves

 

Cabell Coursey

Cabell Coursey is a busy guy these days. In addition to being the winemaker at Lombardi Winery, he is also winemaker and co-owner at Coursey Graves Winery in Santa Rosa, California. He began his career in wine in Burgundy, where he worked his first harvest during an undergraduate semester abroad. After graduation, he returned to the States and pursued the menial but necessary chores of picking grapes, scrubbing tanks and barrels, and learning traditional winegrowing methods. He went on to toil in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and later traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand, where he earned graduate degrees in Enology and Viticulture from Lincoln University. It was there he developed the passion for cool climate wines that guides his style today. Before starting Coursey Graves in 2015 with partner John Graves, Coursey made wine for Alder Springs Vineyard, DuMol, Flanagan, and Kosta Browne.

He is committed to constantly improving the wines he makes from vintage to vintage by understanding his vineyards and maximizing their quality.  He also feels obligated to mentor young winegrowers by teaching parameters they can use to customize and improve grape farming for better produce.

Coursey stated,  “I am interested in making wines that show the place where they are grown, taste great young, but also age [well]. With most wines, aging means maintaining. I strive to make wines that evolve, not just maintain.
Except for a little bit of Chardonnay, I grow all the grapes I make to wine. It’s important, because my team learns about the vineyard and can change how we grow the grapes to make better wines.”

John GravesJohn Graves began his career in computer technology, and after a decade spent working for others, he left to strike out on his own. Thirty years later he sold a successful B-to-B software business. He and his wife Denise used a portion of the proceeds to establish the Graves Foundation, whose mission is to provide disadvantaged youth in greater Minneapolis with access to the resources, opportunities, and caring relationships that will propel them to a successful life. Specifically, the foundation focuses on K-12 education reform and providing foster kids with support during the transition to adulthood.

Grave’s interest in wine began as a hobby, influenced by a good friend and by Robert Parker’s reviews in the Wine Advocate. At length his interest expanded until the desire to learn became a desire to own a winery. Serendipitously, about the same time his winemaker friend Cabell Coursey began talking about starting a new venture of wines in a style they both loved to drink and share. Graves acquired the existing Bennett Valley Winery, and the first vintage of Coursey Graves was bottled in 2017.

Bennett Valley AVA

In 1862, Santa Rosa winemaker Isaac DeTurk planted a vineyard on land he purchased from valley namesake James Bennett. DeTurk called his winery, the valley’s first, Belle Mount. However, the combination of phylloxera and Prohibition cleared the valley of vineyards. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that vineyards returned to Bennett Valley in a meaningful way at the pioneering Matanzas Creek Winery.

The Bennett Valley AVA is located south of Santa Rosa, on high ground between the Sonoma Valley and Cotati Valley. The AVA begins where the city’s suburban neighborhood known as Bennett Valley abruptly gives way to rolling oak woodland and horse pastures bordered by ancient stone walls.

This tiny appellation is one of the coolest AVAs in Sonoma County. This is because of  the Petaluma Gap, where a break in the higher coastal hills lets in cool winds and fog from the Pacific Ocean. Bennett Valley sits directly in the path of the initial incursion.   The fact that there is fog in all of the photos in this post is testament to that!

Although there are plenty of renowned wineries and vineyards throughout Sonoma, of course, the lesser-known vineyards of Bennett Valley quietly yield some of the area’s most highly concentrated fruit. This is because the well-drained volcanic soils of the area ensure that the vines grow deep root systems in search of hydration. Ultimately this leads to concentrated, complex wines, as the water-stressed vines will focus their attention on grapes, rather than luxurious foliage. The rocky soils coupled with the cool weather mimic the austere conditions of Bordeaux.

There are now 650 vineyard acres and four wineries in Bennett Valley, which was awarded AVA status in 2003.

The Coursey Graves Vineyards

Coursey Graves is located on vineyard sites 800 to 1500 feet above sea level on Bennett Mountain overlooking Sonoma, on the western edge of the ancient, volcanic Mayacamas Range that separates Napa and Sonoma. The winery, estate vineyards, and caves are built into the slope overlooking the Bennett Valley below. Eighteen acres are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.

 

In addition to the estate vineyard, Coursey Graves relies on two others as well. Nestled on the sloped edge of an ancient volcano, Coombsville Vineyard is home to sixteen acres of Bordeaux varieties growing between the red and black igneous basalt and the white, ashy volcanic tuff. At two thousand feet above sea level, Cabernet from Howell Mountain Vineyard benefits from much cooler daytime temperatures and slower ripening.

The wines

I have now had the opportunity to try eight of Cabell Coursey’s wines.  They all have a smooth and silky mouthfeel.  Thinking this had to reflect the intervention of the winemaker, I asked him about how he achieves that, and he had this to say,  “First is vineyard work.  I get up-front and mid-palate concentration through diligent effort in the vineyard, by managing fruit load to the amount of vine canopy, and careful applications of irrigation. I have some control over berry size, and therefore juice to skin ratio, by controlling how much water-stress the vines have at various times during the growing season. Extra stress at flowering and fruit set limits berry size, while more water increases berry size. I don’t have a standard plan each vintage, but rather change according to conditions.

“Second is tannin management during the winemaking process. Certain tannins (phenols) extract from grapes at different ranges in temperature. Also, they bind at different temperatures. I manage the temperatures during fermentation very closely and change to either extract, not extract, or bind, depending on taste and mouthfeel. I do use lab numbers to double check what I taste. However, it’s mostly by taste. After working with these vineyards and my cellar for a few years, I’ve started to learn where the wines’ tannins need to be at the end of fermentation to age properly upon the wines’ release and subsequent aging.”

Coursey Graves Chardonnay 2018

The fruit for this wine was sourced from the Durell and Heintz vineyards on the Sonoma coast. It was fermented in oak and stainless-steel barrels. It is light bright lemon yellow in the glass, which is appropriate as it opens with the smell of lemons, paired with a hint of melon and crushed stone. Those flavors continue on the palate, abetted by a zippy acidity and a suggestion of oak.  It wraps up in a brisk finish.  Only 91 cases were made.

Coursey Graves West Slope Syrah 2016

This 100% Syrah  hails from Coursey Graves’ estate vineyard in Bennett Valley. It is an opaque but brilliant purple color. It features aromas of dark red fruits. The rather lean palate offers flavors of blackberry and olive, with a bit of pepper at the end.  It’s all complemented by good  tannins and a moderately long finish. Production was limited to 268 cases.

Coursey Graves Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (although in some years Coursey adds and just a bit of Merlot). The grapes were  mostly harvested from vineyards in Howell Mountain and Coombsville in Napa, as well as some from Bennett Valley in Sonoma.  The aromatics are of rich, complex dark fruit. On the palate the wine offers tart cherry, black cherry, red licorice, and cocoa. The  oak tannins are well-integrated and bracing.  According to the winery, it will be at its peak performance around 2023 to 2024, by which time those tannins will inevitably round out, if you prefer them softer. .192 cases were produced. 

Coursey Graves Bennett Mountain Estate Red Blend 2016

This elegant wine was my favorite of the quartet. The blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot, all from the estate vineyard in Bennett Valley.  This deep-red selection displays aromas of crushed rock and currant, with a hint of strawberry.  These are followed by flavors of dark plum, blueberries, crème de cassis, and a touch of vanilla, supported by fine tannins.  It offers an excellent example of Coursey’s super smooth, lush mouthfeel.  There is just a bit of dried herbs on the long finish.  234 cases were made.
Coursey Graves’ tasting room is located in downtown Healdsburg, just off the historic Healdsburg Plaza.

https://www.courseygraves.com/

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HALL Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon

HALL Jack's MasterpieceJackson Pollock
Reincarnated

Kathryn Walt Hall has a most impressive curriculum vitae. To touch on just a few of the high points, she is the proprietor of HALL Wines and WALT Wines [family businesses she has been involved with for over thirty years], was assistant city attorney in Berkeley, California, worked as an attorney and businesswoman in Dallas, Texas, and has served on numerous non-profit and institutional boards, with an emphasis on issues related to social care and mental health. From 1997 to July 2001, Ms. Hall served as the United States Ambassador to Austria. In the midst of this, together with her husband Craig she has raised four children.

HALL wines hail from five estate vineyards: Sacrashe (Rutherford), Bergfeld (St. Helena), Hardester (Napa Valley), Atlas Peak Estate, (Atlas Peak), and T Bar T Ranch (Alexander Valley). From these 500 acres come classic Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. In each vineyard, small-vine farming is employed to produce low-yield, high-concentration fruit.

Reflecting Kathryn Hall’s long record of progressive activism, the winery is dedicated to environmental responsibility. Only natural products are used for weed and pest control, and the vineyards are certified organic. The farming operations use 50% bio-diesel fuel to reduce carbon emissions.

The St. Helena winery qualified for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System, and was the the first in California to earn LEED Gold Certification.™

Finally, A portion of all business profits is donated to charity via the Craig and Kathryn Hall Foundation.

HALL Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon

Each year, Hall’s former winemaker and current president, Mike Reynolds, returns to his first love and blends a signature Cabernet Sauvignon known as “Jack’s Masterpiece.” The wine is named for the label artwork created by Mike’s then 18-month-old son Jack as a Father’s Day gift.

This well-structured Cabernet is a blend from various vineyards across the valley. It features savory black cherry, cassis, cranberry, and spices, plus roasted herbs, cocoa, and mocha. There is toasted oak on the lengthy finish. The firm but supple tannins are built for long-term aging; it could cellar for up to 14 years. Those who love big, tannic Napa reds will enjoy this wine.

hallwines.com

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Imagery Estate Winery

In 1973, newlyweds Mike and Mary Benziger drove west and permanently settled in Northern California. Seven years later, Mike and and his brother Bruno Benziger purchased the historic Wegener Ranch on Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen, California. Hearing the Sirens’ call of the Golden State, over the next six years the four remaining siblings — Bob, Joe, Jerry, and Patsy, with their spouses — made their way to California.

In 1986, winemaker Joe Benziger first partnered with artist Bob Nugent to launch the Imagery Series of wines. This pairing of wine and art continues to this day, and permeates every aspect of Imagery Winery, including unique artwork replicated on every label. (Except for the wines shown here.  More on that below.) The dedicated on-site art gallery features label artwork commissioned from some of the world’s most notable contemporary artists, and includes over 500 works by over 300 artists. Currently, around 60 pieces are on view in the gallery.

At any given time, as many as 35 artists are working on pieces that will appear on future Imagery wine labels. The artists are not limited by size, medium, or content.

Joe Benziger has dedicated his career to crafting rare wines from uncommon varietals such as Malbec, Tempranillo, and Lagrein. These limited-production wines are available to wine club members only.

However, that doesn’t mean Imagery is inaccessible. Following in her father Joe’s footsteps, middle-daughter Jamie Benziger is the winemaker in charge of Imagery’s relatively new and more popularly-priced collection of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. The label is characterized with a “drip” motif, suggestive of both wine and paint.

Imagery Sauvignon Blanc 2019

This is quite pale yellow in the glass.  It presents initial aromas of citrus, lemon zest, and honeysuckle. It . It greets the palate with those flavors and adds a nice dose of cantaloupe and a bit of apricot.  There is none of the grassiness  or cat pee that often characterize (or even mar) this varietal.  Good acidity balances a surprisingly full mouthfeel.  A hint of dry Muscat lends refinement and softness.  The finish is bright and fresh, but short.

This wine would work well with Stir Fry Pork Cubes with Mushrooms and Corn, Sea Scallops Marinated in Citronette (a lemon and oil vinaigrette), or Indonesian-style Grilled Pompano.

Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

This Cab starts out with a nose of plums, prunes, and  vanilla. Then come the flavors of blackberries and tart cherries, and cocoa.  The wine is dry, but there is some of bing cherry sweetness.  The blend is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petite Sirah, the latter lending a hint of spice and pepper. The wine is fruit forward and velvety soft, with moderate tannins and medium acidity.

Serve this easy-going red with Pancetta-wrapped Sausages, Finger-lickin’ Ribs, or Saffron Roast Lamb with StickyGarlic Potatoes.

www.imagerywinery.com/

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Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Heitz CellersIn my over forty years of drinking wine, I’ve had excellent bottles, bottles I’ve poured down the drain after drinking half a glass, and, mostly, everything in between.  But over all of those years and thousands of wines, two have eluded me, my so-called “unicorn” wines.

I first learned of the Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in the mid-’70s when a normally generous acquaintance was showing off an unopened bottle, with obviously no intention of sharing.  Martha’s Vineyard was selling for about $30 at release then, far more than I could afford, so I wasn’t going to be enjoying it any time soon.  But the desire was established.

On a winery tour through Napa valley in the mid-1990s, I stopped at Heitz’s “tasting room,” at least on that visit  literally a windowless construction trailer parked by the side of the road.  I was about halfway through the tasting when I heard a car grind to a halt outside on the gravel.  The door burst open, and the driver demanded, “I want to try the Martha’s Vineyard!”  The bartender calmly responded, “We don’t pour the Martha’s Vineyard here.”  (A fact I, sadly, already knew.)  The door slammed shut, and he was off.  Denied.

Many of the wines here on Winervana are graciously supplied by producers in exchange for the review (although I am always free to write what I want without constraint).   But, sometimes I buy the wine myself, which was the case here.  Martha’s Vineyard is now selling for $250 on release, and, really, I still can’t afford it.  And it is certainly not a “wine for the casual wine drinker.”  But during these uncertain times, I thought, “What the hell.  I may never get a chance to drink this wine I’ve been lusting after for so long.” So here it is.

Born in Princeton, Illinois, Joe Heitz served in the Army Air Force during World War II, and moonlighted during off hours at a winery near Fresno.  After the war ended, Heitz began taking classes at UC Davis, achieving a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in viticulture and enology in 1951. in the first graduating class of just seven people.  Heitz found employment at two wine industry extremes, first at Gallo, and then with the famous André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyard as an assistant winemaker, where he worked for nearly ten years.

Heitz Cellar was established in 1961, when, after serving his “apprenticeship,” in 1961 Heitz and his wife Alice bought a small 8.5 acre (3.4 ha) vineyard from Leon Brendel in St. Helena, California, named “The One & Only,” for $5,000, and went into business for himself.  At the time, there were only about two dozen Napa Valley wineries, the lowest number since Prohibition.  (Today there are over 1,700 registered wineries in Napa, but “only” about 500 have tasting rooms.)  This pioneering winery even preceeded Robert Mondavi‘s 1966 start in nearby Oakville.

Photo: Jeremy Baines

In 1963, Heitz bought several barrels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma, the last vintages of James D. Zellerbach’s pursuit of Burgundian excellence and auctioned off by his widow. Heitz blended and sold the wines to lucrative acclaim.

One of his stated strategies for ongoing success was to pay growers, “what their grapes were worth,” in turn increasing the standard of the product he was receiving. In 1964, Heitz acquired an 1898 stone winery with its 160 acre (65 ha) ranch property, which became the Heitz winery and home.

Photo: Darcy K.

Since 1965, Heitz has held an exclusive agreement with Tom and Martha May, owners of the 34 acre (14 ha) Martha’s Vineyard in the Oakville AVA.  He immediately recognized the quality of the grapes, and the very next year Heitz vinified the fruit separately from his other production, and designated the vineyard on the label.  (Rather subtly, though.  Many of Heitz’s red-wine labels, unchanged for decades, look almost identical.  “Martha’s Vineyard” only appears in a small oval in the lower left corner.)

Martha's Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard

“Standing in Martha’s Vineyard, you quickly realize why this site consistently produces a remarkable Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard receives gentle morning and early afternoon sunlight and is sheltered from the heat of the late afternoon sun by the mountains. This allows for longer hang time and Martha’s Vineyard is, historically, one of the last vineyards we pick. This ability to leave the fruit on the vine longer than other sites allows for concentration of flavor and softening of tannin to produce a wine so pure in its expression of place. The consistency in showcasing Martha’s Vineyard’s unique mint, bay leaf, dark berry and chocolate notes year after year is a reminder of why this vineyard has commanded a faithful following since the 1966 vintage.”
–Brittany Sherwood, Winemaker

Heitz is considered the first to champion the single vineyard designation in the U.S.  The 1968 vintage received attention for its quality, widely considered the greatest wine made in America up to that time. It was fermented in 1,000-US-gallon (38 hL) American oak vats, and then transferred to Limousin oak barrels where it aged for an additional two years.  Frank J. Prial, the wine columnist for The New York Times from 1972 until 2004, contended the wine remained “the benchmark by which California Cabernets were judged” for more than two decades.  (The 1970 vintage placed seventh at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, also known as the Judgment of Paris.)

Following a review by Robert Parker where he wrote that Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon “lacked aroma, ” Heitz sent Parker a box of linen handkerchiefs, insinuating to the critic that he ought to clear his nose.

Joe Heitz suffered a stroke in 1996 which left him frail though lucid.  He died on December 16, 2000, aged 81. He was described by Warren Winiarski, founder and former proprietor of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, as the first of the Napa Valley artisans and the first to grasp the single vineyard concept.

David Heitz succeeded his father as winemaker in the late 1970s, having worked at the estate for many years. In 1984, the estate purchased the Trailside Vineyard in Rutherford, having previously purchased fruit from the site, and introduced a single vineyard bottling in 1989.

In the early ’90s, phylloxera afflicted Martha’s Vineyard, and no vintages were made in the mid-1990s.

Heitz Cellar annually produces approximately 40,000 cases (3,600 hL) of wine.  The estate’s vines are grown certified CCOF organic, with a move towards biodynamic farming planned eventually.  In addition to several vineyard-designated Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings that are often aged in oak for three and half years, Heitz also produces varietal-labeled wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Grignolino.  (This is a rare variety in California, but was  the dominant planting of the original estate vineyard.  Heitz is still considered the premier producer.)

In April, 2018, Heitz Cellar was sold to Gaylon Lawrence Jr., whose Arkansas-based family owns one of the country’s largest agricultural businesses.

Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

This aged wine spent three years in 100% new French oak, one in neutral oak, and an additional year in bottle.  It is medium ruby to purple in the glass.  While I disagree that it “lacks aroma,” the nose is subtle, and predominantly of cherries.  It is incredibly smooth on the palate, with flavors of classic black currant, cocoa, tart cherry, and a hint of dust.  The tannins and acid are in perfect balance, and it al ends in a medium-long finish.  One thing I didn’t get: Heitz Martha’s Vineyard is famous for a minty overlay, especially when it’s this young.  While I wouldn’t find that a problem, I just wasn’t tasting it.  Regardless, Joe Heitz went to great pains to consistently deny that the minty notes had anything to do with the eucalyptus tress planted on the edge of the vineyard.

So, was the forty-five year wait worth it?  Well … yes … but.  This is an excellent wine, worthy of its iconic status.  But for me, it was simply too elegant, especially for the price.  At this stratosphere, I’m looking for something more boisterous,  like a Louis Martini Monte Rosso, a Palmaz, or a Kathryn Hall.

And the other wine of my fantasy?  That would be Penfold’s Grange, the legendary Australian Shiraz.  That one is selling for about $850 on release these days, so it may elude me forever.

https://www.heitzcellar.com/#1961

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