Vale do Bomfim Red Blend 2017

In the 1970s, Portugese rosés such as Lancers and Mateus were the height of sophistication to many young wine drinkers: “It’s imported, and comes in a fun bottle!” With age comes wisdom however, and these wines were largely abandoned for the justifiably famous fortified wines of Portugal, Port and Madeira, produced by many ancient and famous houses.

Much less well-known is Portugal’s status as a producer of both red and white table wine, ranking in the world’s top ten in production.  With a population of just 10 million, but #2 in per capita consumption as of 2019 , much of that wine is sipped by the thirsty Portuguese.  (The U.S. is 44th out of a total of 167 countries.)

Winemaking in Portugal has a long and storied history. It was the first country to implement an appellation system, the Denominação de Origem Controlada, in 1756, almost 180 years before the French established their own similar system. The DOC established early quality-control standards, but because it has been in place for over 350 years much Portuguese winemaking is tightly bound by tradition; even calcified, some would say. However, this has been steadily changing, and many producers are updating their winemaking equipment and methods and are producing good high-quality wines.

The Vineyard

This wine comes from the Douro [DOO-roh], a wild mountainous region located along the Douro river starting at the Spanish border and extending west into northern Portugal. The grapes for many Ports originate here also, but the vineyards for the table wines are at higher altitudes, where the grapes don’t ripen as fully or produce the higher sugar levels desirable for fortified wines.

The Douro

In the 19th century, the area around the village of Pinhão was known as Vale do Bomfim, which translates as ‘the well-placed valley.’  The specific vineyard from which this wine comes was acquired by George Warre for Dow’s in 1896 (his family had been involved in the Port trade since its earliest years).  In 1912, Andrew James Symington became a partner in Dow’s and made Quinta do Bomfim his family home in Douro.  (Quinta is Portuguese for farm, estate, or villa.)

The Vale do Bomfim vineyard.

Quinta do Bomfim sits in the upper Douro Valley, located in an area of transition between temperate and Mediterranean climates. Predominantly south-facing with ample solar exposure, the terraced vineyards sit on schist, a medium-grade metamorphic rock formed from mudstone or shale.  The total property is 247 acres (100 hectares) with 185 acres (75 hectares) planted to vine.  The elevation varies from 262 to 1,260 feet (80 to 384 meters).

The Lagare Method

Historically, Portuguese wine was pressed by foot in granite treading tanks called lagares on the upper level of a winery, and then gravity sent the juice from the lagar to oak or chestnut vats for fermentation on another floor below.  The original winery at Quinta do Bomfim was modernized beginning in 1964 with the introduction of automated lagars to increase winemaking capacity, as increasing labor shortages made treading in stone lagares impractical and too expensive.   The automated lagar is an open stainless steel vinification tank in which mechanical treaders, powered by compressed air, replace the human foot in treading the grapes. It was designed to replicate the gentle treading action of feet and the configuration of the tank itself recreates the shape and the capacity of the traditional stone lagar.

The Quinta do Bomfim winery.

Vale do Bomfim Red Blend 2017

This wine is made by Dow, one of the premier Port producers in the Douro Valley for over two centuries.   For many years it was only available to the family and their guests.  It is made from a blend of 50% Touriga Franca, 20% Touriga Nacional, and the remaining 30% is a field blend of indigenous varietals.  It was aged in an equal mixture of stainless steel and French oak (30% new for the half of the wine in wood) for six months.

The wine is a medium dark purple in the glass.  It is quite aromatic, wafting of dark fruits.  These continue on the palate, particularly black cherry.  But, it is perhaps predictably lean in the European style, so the fruit is complemented by slate, sage, and a bit of earth.  It is all bound together with racy acidity and moderate tanninsABV is 14%.

Blind Horse Winery

Established in 1846, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, sits on the western shore of Lake Michigan, about 50 miles north of Milwaukee. Although once a bustling Great Lakes shipping port, Sheboygan is now largely focused on manufacturing, including furniture, plastics, household equipment, automotive parts, metal products, air compressors, and wood and paper products. The city is also noted for its bratwurst and cheese; indeed, Sheboygan bills itself as “The Bratwurst Capital of the World.” Kohler, the village and company due west, is primarily known for the manufacture of plumbing fixtures, but also makes furniture, cabinetry, tile, engines, and generators.

Bob Moeller retired at age 56 after a lucrative career as a roofing contractor in Sheboygan.  As he was relaxing and ruminating on a beach in Clearwater, Florida, one afternoon, this thought came to mind, “If I continue to do this, I’m going to die.”

The Blind Horse

Once he returned to Wisconsin, he started making plans to open a restaurant, and if that proved successful, a winery as well.  In 2011 Moeller and his family purchased a seven-acre property that had been a small part of an 80-acre family farm in Kohler, started in September of 1862 by Anton and Josephine Dreps.  The Dreps family continued to farm this land for over 130 years, until 1996.  Like most farmers of that era, they used teams of horses to work the land. But, there was one, a Percheron draft horse in particular, that was the family favorite.  That horse’s name was Birdy, and Birdy was blind.   Many years later, Birdy was the naming inspiration for The Blind Horse restaurant, which opened in 2012.  A statue of Birdy stands in front of the restaurant.  Crafted by artist Carl Vanderheyden, it is made from old fuel oil tanks and stands seven feet tall and 10 feet long.

 

Birdy the blind horse.

The Dreps farmhouse, probably in the 19th century. 

The Blind Horse Restaurant is in the original farmhouse on the left.
The winery is the new gray building on the right,
which was built on the foundation of the old barn.
Photo courtesy of OnMilwaukee.com.

The Blind Horse Winery followed in 2014, becoming the Sheboygan area’s first commercial winery.   Like many ambitious producers in the midwest, the fruit is sourced from third-party growers in California and Washington.  (Shipping in grapes rather than juice is more expensive, but allows for greater control over the final wine.)  Once the grapes arrive, all other winemaking, including crushing, fermenting, barrel aging. and bottling happens on site.   There are plans to make wine from grapes grown by local Wisconsin farmers and to possibly start a vineyard to grow some of their own grapes.  To that end, a two-acre test parcel was recently planted with cold-climate varietals, including Marquette and St. Pepin.  At any one time, fifteen to twenty red and white selections are offered that cover the entire sweet to dry spectrum.  The property also includes the Granary that opened in 2018, a whiskey and bourbon bar housed in a renovated barn.

 

The Blind Horse Winery and Events Patio.

The tasting room.

The Winemaker

After working in the IT field in New Jersey, Thomas Nye started The Grape Escape winery there with his wife, Nancy, a Sheboygan native.  They sold The Grape Escape when Nye was presented with the opportunity to move to Wisconsin and become winemaker and general manager at The Blind Horse Winery.  A 12-year winemaking veteran. Nye follows a minimalist style of winemaking, believing that this enables the natural qualities of the fruit to dominate in the finished wine.  He strives to “make wine in the field,” a terroir-driven approach.  Nye’s winemaking team includes Winemaking Assistant Patrick Regenwether who has been at Blind Horse for four years.

“We wanted to start a winery making the types of wines we liked, which are drier wines,” Nye said. “When I came aboard, the idea was, ‘let’s create Napa Valley, right here in Kohler.’ That was the dream.”  Making dry wines in a state with wine drinkers who largely have a taste for sweet wines (not to mention beer!) was a bit of a risk. But it paid off. “That was really unusual in the state when we did that. There were 110 wineries in Wisconsin five years ago, and most of them were making all sweeter wines,” Nye continued.  Today, the Blind Horse’s top-selling wines are mostly red (four of the top six) and/or dry (seven of the top 10), Nye confirmed.

Nye uses a combination of French and American oak barrels that range from new to neutral (aka used).   Neutral barrels are typically four or more years old and no longer impart oak flavors but help with micro-oxygenation — the process that creates smoother wines.  “I don’t want to overwhelm [my wines] with oak,” Nye said. “That, to me, is hiding a lot of the fruit characteristics of the wine.”  Many of his wines age for at least a year, some longer.

The Blind Horse barrel room.

“Perfect food and wine pairings are what made me fall in love with wine,” he shared. “We want people to experience those on a daily basis.”

Nye’s long-term goal is to increase the operation’s current 4.200 annual case production up to as much as 10,000 cases

The Blind Horse offers a wine club with three shipments per year of their various selections, which currently include nine dry reds, five dry whites, one sweet red, three sweet whites, and one sweet rosé.

Two of the Wines

The Blind Horse Golden Bay White Blend NV

Packaged in an unusual high-shouldered bottle, this selection is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Viognier.  The first three varietals are sourced from a specific vineyard in Suisun Valley just east of Napa that Nye has relied on for ten years.  The Viognier comes from Lodi, California. The wine was barrel aged in two-year-old American oak. It was originally made as a separate 2018 and 2019, but after conducting extensive taste tests, Nye decided that the wine was even better when blended.

This wine pours a very pale yellow.  It is lightly aromatic, with subtle citrus and a suggestion of green apple on the nose.  That citrus blooms into lemon and grapefruit on the palate.  Since the barrels were essentially neutral, there is little or no detectable wood, “butteryness,” or vanilla.  (Nye claims to taste some vanilla; I didn’t.)  It offers just enough acidity, and ends in a short but crisp finish.  Nye made 134 cases.  ABV is 14.4%.

The Blind Horse Malbec NV

The fruit for this wine is sourced from the same Suisun Valley vineyard as the Golden Bay. It was aged in a combination of American and French barrels, some new and some three-years old for two to three years. This wine is also a blend of vintages.

It pours a transparent red, with a delicate nose.  It features flavors of cherry and blackberry, with a smooth mouthfeel.  There is moderate acidity, and subtle tannins, to be expected because of Nye’s penchant for used oak in his aging.  There were 394 cases produced.  ABV is 13.9%.

Here’s some nitpicking about the bottle labels: my wife is a horse person, and when she saw them exclaimed, “That’s not a drawing of a Percheron!  That’s more like a Thoroughbred!”  There is also a bit of Braille on the labels that spells out “The Blind Horse.”  However, it seems gratuitous to me, as the dots are so shallow I seriously doubt any blind person could read it.

Maison M. Chapoutier has included Braille on their wine labels since 1996, and it more usefully includes information on the producer, the vintage, the vineyard, the region, and the color of the wine.  But even there the embossing is quite shallow, so I am suspicious of how useful it really is.

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Barr Hill Gin

When it comes to a martini, I roll hard-core old style.  Pimento stuffed olive.  Just a few drops of vermouth.  Shaken, not stirred.  Gin and glass straight out of the freezer.  And, that gin is almost always Bombay Sapphire.

But I will sometimes wander, on the gin itself at least.  I recently got an email from liquor.com touting “The 14 Best Gins to Drink in 2021.”  Who doesn’t like The Best?  One of their recommendations was Barr Hill Gin, and they had this to say about it:

And on the bottle, Caledonia proclaims, “Ryan and Todd perfected the use of raw honey in their distillery, capturing the countless botanicals a honey bee forages into their spirits.”

Todd Hardie, left, and Ryan Christiansen, right

Barr Hill  was founded in 2011 by a beekeeper, Todd Hardie, and a distiller, Ryan Christiansen, in Vermont.  Hardie is a lifelong beekeeper who had been caring for bee hives across the state.  Christiansen had previously operated a home-brewing supply store in his hometown of Plainfield, Vermont.  Their partnership began with a single 15-gallon direct-fire copper still inside of a 6,000 square foot distillery located in Hardwick, near the town of Greensboro and the Barr Hill Nature Preserve.

The original distillery, top and the current one, bottom.

Quickly finding success, by the end of 2012 production increased from one to three distillations per day.  In June 2019 a new, larger distillery was opened in Montpelier.  In addition to Barr Hill Gin, Caledonia also produces Barr Hill Vodka and Tom Cat Gin.


The original still, left, and the current one, right.

Barr Hill Gin

This gin technically falls under the Old Tom category, and with apologies (barely) to Hardie and Christiansen, it is ghastly.  There are plenty of rave reviews on the interwebs about this horrible potion, and all of those, including the one on  liquor.com, baffle me.  The very last thing to do with this gin is to drink it neat.  From the producers, “It is distilled with juniper in a custom-built botanical extraction still and is finished with raw honey – the delivery vessel for countless other botanicals and a hint of sweetness – to perfectly balance the juniper.”  O … M … G.  There is more than a “hint” of sweetness, and I don’t want any sweetness in my martini.  Plus, the juniper is way out of balance.  I like a strong juniper presence in my gin, but with nothing but the honey to offset it, this is JUNIPER, with a taste much more like needles than berries.  (And to be clear, I’m not afraid of pine notes.  I’m the only person I know that enjoys Retsina.)  My wife and I got through two sips, and down the drain our martinis went.  The following day, it did make a barely serviceable Negroni, but hell, Campari will mask just about anything.  Unfortunately, that weird pine flavor still came through.  Finally, this gin ain’t cheap, coming in at about $40 per bottle.  Buy one at your own risk.

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Scheid Family Wines

Today is Earth Day, first held on April 22, 1970.  An ideal moment to examine Scheid Family Wines, a producer deeply committed to earth-friendly practices (an enthusiasm shared by more and more winemakers every year, fortunately).

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

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

Scheid brought his eldest son, Scott, who had been working on Wall Street as an options trader, into the expanding business in 1986.  (He is now CEO.)  In 1988, Kurt Gollnick, an admired viticulturist who had previously farmed for Bien Nacido Vineyards, was brought on as General Manager of Vineyard Operations.  A few years later, Scheid’s daughter Heidi, who had been working as a business valuation consultant after earning her MBA, also joined the operation.

Initial plantings were heavy on Colombard, Chenin Blanc, and Ruby Cabernet, but by the early ’90s the market was calling for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and, due to the 60 Minutes broadcast of The French Paradox, Merlot.  In addition, during these first 20 years or so, quite a bit of knowledge about farming wine grapes in Monterey County had been accumulated. Countering these positive developments, the vineyard scourge called phylloxera was killing vines in a large portion of the Scheid vineyards.  Other challenges, such as improvements to the irrigation system, were also involved.

A businessman first and foremost, Scheid bought out all of the initial outside investors so that operations could be streamlined and decisions made more expeditiously.  In short order, almost every single vineyard acre was redeveloped;  a new vineyard was acquired and planted to Pinot Noir; the number of customers was expanded from two to 20; and the company was rechristened Scheid Family Wines.

The operation now includes eight brands: Scheid Vineyards, Sunny with a Chance of Flowers, Ryder Estate, District 7, Ranch 32, Metz Road, VDR, and Stokes’ Ghost. Scheid Family Wines also produces many regionally distributed brands for individual clients and distributors.

Sustainability

100% drip irrigation is used in the vineyards, with technology that senses soil moisture and monitors plant stress to minimize water usage. A variety of cover crops between vineyard rows improves soil health , prevents erosion, controls vine vigor, discourages weeds, and promotes the sustainable health of the vineyard.  Beneficial insects control pests whenever possible.   Herbal-based preparations are applied to the soil to promote soil vitality through increased microbiologic activity and diversity. Over 250 owl boxes among the vineyards host barn owls to control rodents that prey on grapevines, such as gophers and field mice.  1500 acres of the estate vineyards are currently being farmed organically, with a goal of 100% organic practices in all of the vineyards by 2025.

Certifications

Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) is a statewide certification program that provides third-party verification of a winery’s commitment to continuous improvement in the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices. Scheid achieved certification of their estate vineyards in 2014.

Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified helps farmers and winemakers demonstrate their dedication to preserving and protecting natural and human resources.  Scheid Family Wines began working with SIP in 2017 and now has five certified vineyards.

Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) Certification is an internationally recognized system that sets standards to ensure safe and sustainable agriculture and ensure product safety, environmental responsibility and the health, safety, and welfare of workers. Scheid became the first Global G.A.P. certified vineyards in the USA in 2015.

The Vineyards

Nestled between the Gabilan mountain range to the east and the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west, the Salinas Valley enjoys a cool coastal climate due to the influence of Monterey Bay.  Here, grapes can ripen more slowly and evenly, resulting in a growing season which can be up to two months longer than other wine growing regions in California.  Scheid currently farms about 4,000 acres spread over 12 estate vineyards located along a 70-mile stretch of the Salinas Valley.

The first property Scheid acquired was a 10-acre parcel located on the edge of the town of Greenfield.  He was guided by Professor A.J. Winkler, a viticultural authority at the University of California at Davis, who had published a report in 1960 classifying grape growing regions by climate. He equated Monterey County to Napa, Sonoma, Burgundy, and Bordeaux, with the potential to be one of the most climatically suitable regions in the state for growing high-quality wine grapes.

He soon bought other unplanted parcels in the area – land that turned into the present-day Elm, Hacienda, Viento, and Baja Viento Vineyards.  These were followed by other estate properties, all in the Monterey AVA, culminating in the current 12.

The Winery

Looming over the Scheid estate vineyard is a wind turbine, installed in July 2017.  It generates 4.65 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy every year, enough to provide 100% of the power needed to run the winery and bottling operations, plus power for an additional 125 local homes.  Just this one turbine offsets over 3,600 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The winery itself was designed to reduce energy usage and cut waste. for instance by the extensive use of skylights.  Artificial lighting is controlled by automatic sensors that turn on and off as needed.  Fermentation tanks feature insulating jackets that reduce heating and cooling energy needs.  100% of the grape pomace, stems, and seeds are composted and spread back into the vineyards.  100% of the wastewater the winery generates is cycled through irrigation ponds and eventually finds its way back to the vineyards.


The rather daunting winery in Greenfield.

The more welcoming tasting room in Carmel.

A Few of the Wines

District 7 Chardonnay 2017

The name refers to Scheid’s official regional designation within California.  The fruit was sourced from their cooler estate vineyards in Monterey.  The juice was fermented for 14 months in 75% stainless steel and 25% new French oak.

The wine is a medium-gold color.  There are moderate aromas of grapefruit, apple, and melon on the nose.  That grapefruit explodes on the palate, with plenty of bracing acidity and a medium body.   The vanilla and oak notes are subtle, at best, which is predictable with so much of the wine having been made in stainless steel.  ABV is 13.5%.

http://district7wines.com/

Scheid Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

After harvest, the juice was fermented in 100% stainless steel, followed by four more months in cold stainless for aging.  This wine is nearly colorless in the glass, a very pale yellow.  It is moderately aromatic, smelling of honeydew and a hint of grass, so typical of Sauvignon Blanc but nicely restrained here.  The honeydew continues on the palate, with cascading flavors of just a bit o’ honey sweetness, followed by zippy acidity, and it all wraps up with some pleasant lime bitterness.  ABV is 13.5%.

https://www.scheidfamilywines.com/

Ryder Estate Pinot Noir Rosé 2020

The fruit for this wine is grown in Scheid’s Ryder Estate vineyard in California’s Central Coast.  It saw eight hours of skin contact to extract the very pale salmon color, followed by cool fermentation in stainless steel.  This easy-drinking Rosé is quite aromatic, predominately of strawberries with a bit of melon.  That flavor continues on the palate, abetted by tart cherry and a hint of grapefruit.  The acidity is just right for a refreshing quaff.  ABV is 13%.

https://www.ryderestatewines.com/

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Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2019

One fine spring day in 1972, attorney, private pilot, and wine aficionado Fred Fruth was piloting his plane over the Russian River Valley area.  Down below, he saw a natural amphitheater carved into the hills of eastern Sonoma. In addition to this other interests, he had been thinking of starting a winery, and it seemed as if this might just be the place to do it.

Fred Furth

Soon after, a tour of the extensive property confirmed that the site indeed had the climate and soils to grow first-class wine grapes.  Furth and his second wife Peggy purchased the land, named the estate Chalk Hill, and started producing wine about a decade later.  They gradually planted more than 270 acres of vines.  Years later, Furth said, “I have always been interested in wine because my grandfather had vineyards. I’m actually more interested in the working-the-soil aspect, but I have many very talented people in the winery who know how to produce a world-class wine. When I bought this property, I was told it was too hilly to be a vineyard, but I simply planted the grapes in rows going uphill. People said you can’t do that, but I’d seen it done in Germany so I knew it would work.”  After a rich and varied life, Furth died in 2018 at the age of 84.

Bill Foley

Lawyer Bill Foley acquired Chalk Hill in 2010.  Although Foley is titled as “vintner,” I doubt he sees the interior of the winery very often.  He is a vintner in the broader sense of “someone who sells wine.”  He also owns the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights,  is the Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors for Fidelity National Financial Inc., is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., and owns fifteen other wineries.

The Estate

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The Chalk Hill AVA is one of 13 in Sonoma County and is distinguished from the neighboring appellations of the cooler Russian River Valley to the west and the warmer Alexander Valley to the northeast. Elevations are higher and soil fertility is lower. The soils include gravel, rock, and heavy clay. Under the topsoil is a distinctive layer of chalk-colored volcanic ash which inspired the name of Chalk Hill.

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Each vineyard block has been planted based on criteria that include: soil profile and chemistry, slope, orientation to the sun, and climate. Under Fred Furth’s direction, Chalk Hill was an early leader in planting its hillside vineyards “vertically,” following the rise of the terrain, rather than across it. Because of this, the topsoil must be protected with a diverse cover crop serving many purposes. It anchors and protects the soil, preventing erosion; captures and affixes nitrogen; and harbors a varied community of beneficial insects that aid in pest management. Water conservation is addressed through a precisely-controlled drip-irrigation system. Air movement through these vertical channels of the vineyard reduces mildew. All of the grapevines are a grafted combination of plants: a specific wine-grape variety above ground, and a complementary rootstock below.

Photo: devonwayne.com

More than two-thirds of Chalk Hill’s 1300 acres remain uncultivated.  In addition to the vineyards, the property features wilderness areas, the winery, a hospitality center, a culinary garden, a  residence, stables, and an equestrian pavilion.

The Winemakers
Michael Beaulac, Senior Winemaker
Michael Beaulac

Beaulac, a Vermont native, has as of this writing just become senior winemaker, bringing with him over thirty years of experience. He began his winemaking career when Tim Murphy of Murphy-Goode offered him a job as a harvest intern in 1989. Immediately after and through 1991 he worked as a cellar master with long-time Russian River winemaker Merry Edwards. Beginning in 1997, he spent four years as winemaker for Markham Vineyards in St. Helena. He became Vice President of St. Supéry Vineyards in Rutherford in 2001, working closely with Michel Roland and Denis Dubourdieu.  Beaulac was general manager and winemaker at Napa’s Pine Ridge Vineyards from 2009 until coming to Chalk Hill this year.

Michael shared, “Be proactive in the vineyards. Let the fruit find its balance. Do not force the wine to be anything it’s not. Let it express [itself]. Once in the winery, the wine should be touched as little as possible. In a perfect vintage, we really shouldn’t have to do anything.”

Darrell Holbrook, Winemaker
Darrell Holbrook

A Sonoma County native, Holbrook spent his childhood among the vineyards there. By age 12, he often accompanied his father to his job at Lytton Springs Winery, [now Ridge Vineyards] driving tractors and helping where he could. In 1994, after working at Lytton Springs in the vineyards, he began an apprenticeship under David Ramey, Chalk Hill’s winemaker at the time. He worked his way up from a cellar intern (aka cellar rat) to enologist and production manager, and then assistant winemaker in 2009. Ten years later he was promoted to winemaker.

Courtney Foley, Vintner
Courtney Foley

The youngest daughter of Chalk Hill Estate proprietors Bill and Carol Foley, she studied enology and viticulture at both Napa Valley College and Fresno State University. Her practical experience began under winemaker Leslie Renaud at Lincourt Vineyards and Foley Estates (surprise!) in Santa Barbara County.  Once back in Sonoma, she again found herself working with Renaud at Roth Estate Winery in Healdsburg. Just in case the wine thing doesn’t work out, she also has a J.D. degree with a focus on Environmental and Ocean Law from the University of Oregon School of Law.

Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2019

The grapes for this wine arrived at the winery in small individual picking containers to protect the bunches from damage. After inspection and sorting, the whole bunches were taken directly to the press and gently extracted. A protective blanket of carbon dioxide was added, since Sauvignon Blanc can be damaged by contact with oxygen.

The juice was 100% estate grown, a mix of 92% Sauvignon Blanc and 8% Sauvignon Gris.  It was fermented for seven months using cultured yeasts in a combination of 59% French oak (13% new) and 41% stainless steel.  There was no malolactic fermentation. Bâtonnage, the periodic stirring of the lees in the barrel, served to add texture and mouthfeel.

It is so pale that it is nearly colorless in the glass.  The nose is also quite delicate, with just a hint of flowers and vegetation.  Then, it bursts on the palate, with plenty of lemon, grapefruit, and mango, plus a rich, full mouthfeel.   ABV is 14.6%.

https://www.chalkhill.com/

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Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle

The Grieve Family Winery is located in a secure and undisclosed location in Napa Valley.  It is not open to the public, and tastings are offered exclusively to wine club members by appointment only. Remarkably, there is no access from Napa Valley itself; the rare visitor must navigate a long, winding dead-end road that begins in Sonoma Valley. The following dossier is the information that agents Mulder and Scully have been able to assemble so far about the operation.

Sonoma / Napa County line in Lovall Valley
Photo: Kelly Mitchell

“Although the exact location of Grieve Family Winery remains a mystery, we have determined that it is located north of Carneros in the Mayacama Mountains in a unique hilltop bowl-like depression called Lovall Valley. An area rich in history and steeped in myth, local lore has it that the name “Lovall” (pronounced “love-all”) originates from a high-class brothel that once existed in this secluded part of the wine country. And during Prohibition, valley bootleggers are said to have run their contraband from here to San Francisco.

“Lovall hosts one of the coldest growing areas in Napa, much like the Sonoma Coast. The cold air and fog from nearby San Pablo Bay settle in from early evening through midday, remaining longer than in any other area in Napa. The soils are a mix of volcanic and sedentary.  A shallow but nutrient-rich top layer is predominately Perkins gravelly loam, with compacted volcanic discharge beneath which causes the vines to struggle.

David and Kathleen Grieve

“As is often the case with the current generation of Northern California winery owners and winemakers, David Grieve first had a different, successful career; in this instance, he was a commercial real estate developer in San Francisco (and still maintains a similar business in Sonoma). But, in 2002 Grieve and his wife Kathleen decided to leave city life behind to settle in the bucolic Wine Country of Napa, and purchased a home on 10 acres in Lovall Valley, next door to a small Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.  In 2004, they purchased the adjacent vineyard property as well.

“Both David and Kathleen were long-time avid wine enthusiasts, but neither had much experience with Sauvignon Blanc.  Once they owned property plated to the grape however, they studied up on the varietal and sampled Sauvignon Blancs from different producers to determine the kinds they liked best. Grieve began touring the surrounding countryside to explore the vines growing nearby, and soon discovered that the Lovall Valley offered unique circumstances for growing these grapes.

“Soon, the Grieves took an even deeper dive and started producing a small quantity of wine from each year’s harvest.  They sold the remainder of the crop to select, high-quality wine producers in the area.  But all of this changed in 2008, when Grieve was introduced to wine-industry veteran and chef Vance Rose at a pop-up 12-course “underground” dinner that Rose would occasionally host. Not long after meeting, the two began making wine under the Grieve Family label, completing a total of eight vintages together, and in the process turning what had been a hobby into a genuine boutique winery.

““In addition to producing wine, David is also an avid golfer.  In fact, the Grieves had a fairway and putting green installed right next to the vineyard.    They christened their inaugural releases as “Double Eagle.”  In golf, the double eagle shot, also known as an albatross, is as rare as a hole-in-one, and the idea was to imply that the wine was just as exclusive.

Photo: Sofia Englund / Sonoma Magazine

Philippe Melka

“The current winemaker at Grieve is  Bordeaux native Philippe Melka.  He is a self-described “soil nerd,” who has always been intrigued by the intricacies and demands of the land. He originally pursued a degree in geology at the University of Bordeaux. However, a winemaking class during his final year pivoted him into a life in the wine world. He learned the craft of winemaking at such prestigious estates as Château Haut Brion, Petrus, Dominus, Silver Oak, and his own Melka Wines. The Grieves were interested in pursuing the potential of their remote vineyard and Melka was interested in working for the first time with Lovall Valley fruit. In 2018,  Melka, along with his Atelier Melka partner, Maayan Koschitzky, took over winemaking for Grieve Family Winery

Grieve Family Estate Vineyard

“The Grieve’s Lovall Valley estate vineyard is organically and sustainably farmed. Due to the site’s unusually cool climate, harvests run at least two weeks behind other Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc vineyards, intensifying flavors by virtue of the prolonged hang-time. Harvest is done block by block, with the goal of  ensuring recognizable sense-of-place flavors in the final wine.”

Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle Sauvignon Blanc 2018

When it’s time to select a white wine for dinner, I usually first search for a Chardonnay in the basement refrigerator.  If none is available, I’ll go for a Savignon Blanc, and failing that, a Pinot Grigio/Gris.   Both of the latter are often reliable but unassuming options.


Photo: Wilson Daniels

The Grieve Double Eagle Sauvignon Blanc demands attention though.   The bottle features a front label made from rather extravagant foil-stamped genuine leather, I assume to invoke an association with old-school leather golf bags. The fruit was sourced from the Grieve estate vineyard, and saw fermentation in a concrete egg* and sur lie aging.  It pours a pale yellow, opening with mild aromas of tropical fruit.  There is also an expected vegetal undernote, in this case green bell peppers rather than grass, which I’m not a fan of in any Sauvignon Blanc.  The tropical fruit and a bit of lemon zest continue on the palate, which also features a soft, round mouthfeel.  There is snappy acidity at the lingering end.  Grieve produced 442 cases.   ABV is 14.2%.

Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle Red Wine 2018**

This blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Merlot was sourced from vineyards in Oakville and St. Helena. Like the Sauvingon Blanc, the front label is leather. The bottle is sealed with black wax. Although this makes for a nice presentation, the wax was quite hard. So much so that trying to get it off broke the foil cutter on my admittedly cheap waiter’s corkscrew. I had to use my kitchen torch to melt off enough of the wax to get at the cork so I could pull it. Ahem.

Once open, it pours an opaque dark purple in the glass. The nose is mostly dark stone fruit, with vanilla and spice from the 18 months it saw in French oak, of which 67% was new. This carries on to the palate, especially plum, plus a lush mouthfeel and a hint of earth. It’s all supported by nicely balanced acidity and grippy tannins.  The whole show wraps up with a long finish.  661 cases were made.  ABV is 14.6%.

grievewinery.com/

*  Concrete is very good for controlling the amount of oxygen a fermenting wine sees, without adding vanilla oak flavors like a barrel would.  It can also give the acidity in the wine a polished feel, from the minerals present in the concrete.  Finally, some believe that stirring the lees in a vortex during fermentation results in richness and a full mouthfeel.  It certainly did in this selection.

The Grieve Sauvignon Blanc derives from two vine varieties: a French clone vine and a California “clone 3” vine, sometimes known as “the lost clone.”  (97% of California Sauvignon Blancs derive from clone 2; clone 3 vines are rare.)

**A note about wine marketing:  These Grieves are high-end wines, especially the Double Eagle Red.  In keeping with that, it features that hard-to-open wax seal and leather label.  And, consider the bottle.  A 750ml bottle of wine contains 750 grams of liquid.  The glass alone in the Double Eagle Red weighs 924 grams, or 33 ounces, more than the wine itself.  Compare that to a more usual Estancia bottle, as an example, which weighs in at 482 grams or 17 ounces. 

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Lightning Ridge Cellars

Can you make wine in Arizona, of all places?  You sure can.  In fact, wine is made in every single one of these United States, but that’s a story for another day.

In the 1600s, missionaries brought grapevines to the deserts south of Tucson to make communion wine (surprise!). Henry Schuerman established the state’s first known commercial winery near Sedona in the late 1880s.

A draft dodger avoiding the Kaiser’s army, Schuerman had made his way to Arizona during its earliest days, where he opened the first hotel in the newly created territorial capital of Prescott.

Although he had never been a farmer, he eventually planted an orchard on 160 acres that he had acquired. In addition to apples, peaches, apricots, pears, and quinces, in recognition of his Germanic roots he planted a vineyard.  76 acres of Zinfandel to be exact.

The Schuerman Winery was located near to what is now Red Rock State Park in Sedona. Photo courtesy of Sedona Historical Society.

For 25 years, the Schuerman Winery sold Zinfandel throughout Arizona.  Then came New Year’s Day 1915, when, by popular vote, the good citizens of the infant state of Arizona instituted a total ban on alcohol (predating national Prohibition by five years).  And that was the end of that.

At least for a while.  In the 1970s, as Americans’ interest in wine was beginning to grow, a soil scientist named Gordon Dutt got a grant to study water retention in southern Arizona, and happened to learn that grapes might grow well in the Sonoita area. Dutt founded Vina Sonoita Vineyards, then advocated to change state laws to allow vintners to sell on a large scale once again.  Today, Arizona’s 110 licensed wineries gross over $56 million per year.

One of those wineries is Lightning Ridge Cellars, founded by husband-and-wife team Ann and Ron Roncone in 2004.  Both began with engineering careers in San Francisco in the early 1980s; optical for Ron, and mechanical for Ann.  At the time, it was quite unusual for a woman to be in such a male-dominated field.  It’s not all that common even today.

They also both shared an Italian heritage, and growing up in Italian families there was always wine on the table as a matter of course.   Even during her work as an engineer, Ann was drawn to winemaking as a hobby.  “Wine was just a drive, and I wanted to try my hand at making some,” she said. “So, I got a kit. A five-gallon bucket, a can of concentrate, and parts.”

Rather than relying on that concentrate, an easy intro for novices, she bought 200 pounds of Zinfandel grapes and handcrafted her first wine from that fruit. She soon planted vines on the property that she owned with Ron, and continued to make wine while working as an engineer. Her growing thirst for knowledge led her to the  University of California – Davis, the renowned college for viticulture. “I took every single course that I could,” said Ann.

For two weeks every September for the next four years, Ann took a “vacation” and worked as a cellar rat at various wineries in the Bay area. “I would show up for work and semi flatbeds filled with grapes that needed processing would show up,” she recalled. “It was a rag-tag little group but it was really fun, and it was amazing to get that hands-on experience.”

By 2002, Ann told her husband that that she wanted to be a winemaker full time.  He was cautious about the decision, but agreeable.  The idea of doing so in northern California was quickly squashed, due to the high prices they encountered for land .  But, at the beginning of his career Ron had completed his graduate work at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and knew the area well. They learned that the Sonoita-Elgin region was designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) which gave it credibility, although at the time there were just three wineries in the area.

In 2004, Ron was able to secure a job at Raytheon in Tucson.  Once relocated, Ann and Ron purchased a 20-acre property at 5,100 ft. elevation in Sonoita. They spent a year drilling wells (six tries until getting one right), installing electricity, building a fence, creating irrigation infrastructure, and building trellises.  They then planted their first grapes: Montepulciano, Primitivo (aka Zinfandel), Malvasia Bianca, Muscat Cannelli, and Aglianico. “It was a little unnerving because no one in Sonoita-Elgin had these grapes growing at the time,” said Ann.

The Lightning Ridge winery and estate vineyard.

Rather than beginning production immediately, Ann wanted to open Lightning Ridge Cellars with estate wines (not a particularly cost-effective plan). So, they patiently waited. On Halloween 2009, they finally opened their tasting room. “And, it just was so fun!,” said Ann. “It took time to find us, but once people did, they really enjoyed our wines.”

The very-Italian bocce ball court.

One of the first varietals Ann had planted in her vineyard was Primitivo, but it didn’t thrive.  After seven years, just half of the original vines remained.  In 2012 they were removed entirely.  The 9-1/2 acre estate vineyard is now composed of:
2-1/2 acres of Montepulciano
1 acre of Sagrantino
2 acres of Aglianico
1/2 acre of Muscat Cannelli
1 acre of Malvasia Bianca
1 acre of Cabernet Sauvignon (specifically for blending with Sangiovese to make a Super Tuscan)
1/2 acre of Nebbiolo
1 acre of Sangiovese

The vineyard only sees about 18 inches of rain each year, most of which falls from July to August during Arizona’s monsoon season, so the need to draw water from a well is imperative.

The banquet hall and barrel room.

Ann’s preference is for single varietal wines, such as the following two. “Because you can then taste and experience specifically what the varietal can do,” said Ann. “It’s fun to have people try a varietal they wouldn’t otherwise try or know.”

Lightning Ridge Cellars Montepulciano 2018

Montepulciano is widely planted throughout Italy, especially in the southeastern regions. This 100% Montpulciano was sourced from the Lightning Ridge estate vineyard in Sonoita, and is Lightning Ridge’s flagship varietal.  “A lot of Italian [grapes] are warm-weather varietals, and man, they love it here,” Ann shared.  She added that Sonoita’s 5,000-foot elevation can bring April frosts, so late-budding Montepulciano fares well in  the area.

This wine was aged for 30 months in 50% new European and American oak barrels.  A dark opaque brick red, it is moderately aromatic, featuring bright red fruit and cola notes. The smooth palate offers raspberry, red plum, cranberry, and spice, especially white pepper.  There is a little bit of Madiera-like raisin flavor as well.  There is good supporting acidity.  Because the tannins are quite moderate, drink this young, as its aging potential is limited.  Production was 190 cases.  ABV is 14.4%.

Lightning Ridge Cellars Graciano 2018

Graciano [grah-see-YAH-no  Sp. grah-THYAH-no] hails from the Rioja and Navarra regions of Spain.  This selection is an outlier in the Lightning Ridge portfolio, as the varietal is not Italian, and, although sourced from Sonoita, the fruit comes from a third-party grower.  (Ann did do some research to see if Graciano is produced in Italy.  As it turns out, it is, where it is pronounced grah-CHI-ah-no.  That’s how she decided to go for a non-Italian varietal.)

It follows Ann’s 100% varietal credo, however.  The wine spent two years in 30% new European and 60% neutral oak barrels.  It is a semi-transparent garnet, and is lightly aromatic.  Those aromas include boysenberries and leather.  The palate features rather recessive fruit, some cocoa, zippy acidity, and well-balanced tannins.  Ann made 90 cases.  ABV is 14.9%.

(In keeping with the Italian theme, Ann thought the vines would like to be joined by some olive trees, from which Lightning Ridge now produces a line of olive oils.)

http://lightningridgecellars.com/

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Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2015

Sauternes is the famous French appellation that is home to some of the greatest sweet wines in the world, and to which it is largely dedicated.  It lies within the Graves district of the Bordeaux region.

The wine of the same name is made primarily of Sémillon, but smaller amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle are often included.  The unique characteristic of Sauternes is that in years with just the right conditions, including cool, foggy mornings and dry, sunny afternoons, the grapes are plagued with Botrytis Cinerea, or Noble Rot.  This beneficial mold causes the grapes to shrivel, driving out water and leaving the fruit rich and loaded with sugar.   Winemakers must have a clear understanding of this phenomenon, as only the grapes that have been perfectly concentrated by the Botrytis will be picked, one by one.  It is very much a risky, hit-or-miss proposition, subject to many variables of weather and harvest.  Because of this, Sauternes’ are not made every year and are expensive.

 

 

This house originated as La Maison Noble du Bayle, but was purchased by the Bordeaux négociant Pierre Guiraud in 1766. They intentionally built up an atmosphere of mystery around the operation.  The domain remained in the Guiraud family until 1837, and, during this time they constructed the Protestant chapel that still stands today on the grounds of the estate.  The property was awarded the Premiers Cru [First Growth] Classé in 1855 in the classification system established by Emperor Napoleon III.

Château Guiraud

Over the years Guiraud has changed hands several times.  It was sold to the Bernard family in 1837; they eventually sold to the Maxell family; and the next owner was Paul César Rival.  In 1981, the estate was sold to the Narby family,  Canadians of Egyptian origin, and Xavier Planty was retained as manager in 1988.  The Narbys and Planty restored the business to its previous esteem  after standards slipped in the 1970s.  It changed hands again in 2006 when it was purchased by a four-man partnership of Planty, Robert Peugeot, Olivier Bernard, and Stephan von Neipperg. The partners removed the red wine grape varietals that had been planed in the 1930s, and modernized the cellars and winemaking equipment. A new drainage system was installed, and extensive replanting was conducted also.

 L to R: Olivier Bernard,  Stephan von Neipperg, Robert Peugeot, and Xavier Planty

The co-owners of Guiraud have other interests as well.  Planty is president of the Organisation for the Defence and Management of the Sauternes and Barsac appellations, and he represents the territory and its wines at the CIVB, the interprofessional council for Bordeaux wines. Peugeot is president and general manager of the company FFP. He is an influential gourmet and is also a member of the prestigious Club des 100 in Paris. Bernard is president of the Union des Grands Crus and is also manager of Domaine de Chevalier, the well-known first-classified growth in the Graves appellation. Von Neipperg runs, among others, Château Canon La Gaffelière and Château La Mondotte, both Premier Grand Cru Classé in Saint-Emilion.

In 2001, Guiraud established a conservatory of white-wine grape varieties, the only one of its kind in the world. This reserve contains 135 original strains of Sémillion and of Sauvignon Blanc. The mission is to maintain the diversity of the vines and ensure the sustainability of the vineyard.

Guiraud registered the term BioViticulture in 2010, a name reflecting their focus on organic farming and sustainable viticulture (they began farming organically in 1996).  The following year, the estate earned the status of full Agenace Bio (AB) organic certification.  Nature and a respect for biodiversity were driving factors (planting hedgerows, wild grass in between the vine rows, bird houses, and ‘insect hotels’) even before that. The whole running of the domain is ecologically minded, from the choice of energy and water supplies to the recovery of carbon dioxide during vinifcation.

“A study undertaken in the summer of 2010 revealed 635 species of insects and spiders in our vineyards. This illustrates the harmony that reigns in a well-balanced environment. The vine thus concentrates on the quality of its fruit.”
–Luc Planty, technical director de Château Guiraud

The Château Guiraud estate vineyard is 210 acres [85 hectares] planted to 65% Semillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc. These two varietals are vinified separately before blending. The soil is a mix of sand, gravel, clay, and limestone on sloping hillsides which rise to 240 feet [73 meters] at their peak. At the bottom of the slopes the presence of natural springs ensures perfect drainage of the vineyard.  The vines average age is 25 to 30 years.

Any discussion of Sauternes is incomplete without mentioning the legendary Château d’Yquem, the most famous Saurternes of them all, and the only one granted the highest Premier Grand Cru Classé.  It is one of the longest-lasting (and expensive) wines in the world.   For example, “The 1811 Château d’Yquem is prized as one of the greatest wines in the history of Bordeaux, and one of the most supreme vintages ever produced. It was rated the ultimate ‘100 points’ by critic Robert Parker, and again 100 points by The Wine Spectator‘s Per-Henric Mansson in 1999.”  Although I tend to avoid pricing here on Winervana, as a point of reference the 2015 Guiraud Sauternes in a 375 mL half bottle sells for about $30.   The d’Yquem averages 10 times that at $300 for a half bottle.

Château Guiraud Sauternes 2015

A blend of 65% Sémillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc, this 2015 is the fifth vintage to be certified as organic.  Vinification occurred in new French oak barrels.  The wine was aged for approximately 21 months in 90% new oak and 10% used.

This rich elixer is very deep gold in the glass.  The nose features dried apricots and citrus.  The apricots continue on the palate, backed up by pineapple, honey, an unctious mouthfeel, and nicely balanced acidity. Spendy but worth it.  Case production was about 5,800, and ABV is 13.5%

Note: Chaptalization, or sugaring, is the procedure of adding sugar to grape juice or must prior to or during fermentation.  This is done when natural grape sugars aren’t high enough to produce reasonable alcohol levels.  The process is legal in France and Germany, but not in California and Italy.  Planty is committed to using the least possible amount of chaptalization in his winemaking.

https://www.chateauguiraud.com

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Brutocao Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical

Here at Winervana, I use this disclaimer, “Although you will see vintage dates throughout Winervana, I don’t put too much importance on them. Major producers these days strive for a consistent style, year after year, and largely succeed. For instance, when shopping for a particular wine, if you have a choice between a current release and one that’s a few years old, there will certainly be differences in price and the character of the wine. But upon release, those two examples of the same wine are likely to be quite similar.”

To test that position, I acquired a “vertical” of three Brutocao Cabernet Sauvignons.  A vertical tasting is simply the same wine from different vintages.  These three selections were indeed quite similar.  Sourced from Brutocoa’s estate vineyards in Mendocino county, they all were aged 18 months in oak, 50% French and 50% American, and all have an ABV of 14.5% and .69% acidity.

These wines are a deep garnet in the glass.  Surprising for Cabernet Sauvignon, they are semi-transparent rather than opaque.  They start, predictably, with aromas of dark fruit, particularly blackberry, with hints of cedar.  Those dark fruits continue on the palate, but these wines are restrained instead of fruit-forward, perhaps to be expected from a producer with a strong Italian heritage.  They have a medium-long finish that features black-tea tannins.

There were subtle differences, however.  Nothing that you would notice tasting the wines weeks or even days apart, but they were there.  The 2015 had the highest levels of perceived acidity (all three were bottled at .69%) and tannins.  Very unforeseen, because the common wisdom is that as a wine ages in the bottle both acidity and tannins become softer, rounder, and more balanced.  Go figure.  The 2016 was the most integrated of these selections, with well-balanced acidity and tannins, both less demanding of attention than in the 2015.  Finally, the 2017 fell between the other two, with slightly more acidity but softer tannins than the 2016.

You can read more about Brutocao here: https://winervana.com/brutocao-cellars/

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Three Interesting Sakés

L. to R.: Nanbu Bijin Southern Beauty, Tozai Snow Maiden, Dassai 45

Let’s be clear about this right away: Saké, the national alcoholic beverage of Japan, is often called rice wine, but this is a misnomer.  While it is a beverage made by fermentation, the production process more closely resembles that of beer, and it is made from grain (rice, of course), not fruit.  To make saké, the starch of freshly steamed glutinous rice is converted to sugar and then fermented to alcohol.  Once fermented, the liquid is filtered and usually pasteurized.  Sakés can range from dry to sweet, but even the driest retain a hint of sweetness.

Here are three interesting sakés to try.  All should be served chilled, or at room temperature.  Although the cheap sake you may encounter in sushi restaurants will usually be heated, often too much so, such treatment will destroy the subtleties of these selections.

Nanbu Bijin “Southern Beauty” Tokubetsu Junmai

Tokubetsu translates to “special,” indicating that a special element was incorporated into the brewing process at the discretion of the brew master.  In the case of this sake, that element is the use of the local Ginginga rice which took over eight years to develop and perfect, according to the brewery. The water, yeast, and brewing team are also all from Iwate prefectureJunmai is pure rice wine, with no added alcohol.  Until recently, at least 30% of the rice used for junmai sake had to be milled away, but Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.

Junmai is historically considered the “way saké was” and means “rice and water only,”  These brews can have their rice milled to many different levels, from 80% with 20% removal to 55% with 45% removal, as long as the milling percentages are on the label.  The result is that some Junmai can drink very rich and full-bodied, and some drink lighter and more elegant.  They can be served chilled, at room temperature, or warmed (but I suggest avoiding warming this one).

Southern Beauty has been milled to 55%, with 45% removal of rice, as high as it gets.  It is Kosher certified, unusual among sakés.  It has a soft, round character, with a flavor reminiscent of mandarin oranges.  ABV is 15.3%.

Tozai “Snow Maiden” Nigori Junmai

Snow Maiden, also known as Hanako, was a koi fish that lived to the age of 226 years in pure mountain water at the base of Japan’s Mt. Ontake.   Nigori, or nigorizake, translates roughly to “cloudy” because of its appearance, and is the oldest style of saké.  The cloudiness is produced when a brewer leaves in some of the rice lees, or sediment. Nigori is not an unfiltered saké however, as the sake is filtered to some degree.  I’m not a big fan of nigori saké because of the rice grit that it always contains.  It is quite delicate here, however, and I found it acceptable.

This expression is relatively dry for a nigori saké, as they always tend toward sweetness.  It has been milled to 70%, and has a soft, floral palate, with flavors of cantaloupe and a suggestion of daikon.  ABV is 14.9%.

Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo

Daiginjo is the highest grade of saké.  Junmai Daiginjo has the highest milling rates in saké production, with a minimum of 50% rice polished away and 50% remaining.  But that standard is often surpassed by brewers looking to push the rice milling envelope, resulting in sakés that can be milled down to 35%, down to 23%, and even 7% remaining!  These sakés are always served chilled.

Dassai translates to ‘Otter Festival.’ The name comes from a local Yamaguchi legend that involves a bunch of happy-go-lucky otters showing off their fishing skills and showing us humans how it’s done properly.  Back in 1981, the Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band released an album called Tanuki’s Night Out, which tells the story, in music, of Tanuki, another hard-partying otter.

Like Southern Beauty, Dassai 45 has been polished to 45% rice remaining, hence the name.   The nose features a banana aroma, with lychee, green apple, and “acidic bubble gum” on the palate.  AVB is 16%.

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Lachini Vineyards

Proprietor Ron Lachini’s family hails from the Tuscan town of Lucca.  At some point, his grandfather immigrated to the United States, settling in the large Italian community of San Francisco’s North Beach.  He started making wine with his father and grandfather in their garages as a child.

He and his wife Marianne both attended U.C. Davis, where they were exposed to the world of viticulture and enology.  Travels to some of the world’s esteemed wine regions and wineries cemented their love and collection of fine wines.  After college, Ron began a career in the financial industry in 1997, which he pursued until 2008.  Nearly simultaneously, in 1998, he and Marianne purchased a 45-acre property in Newberg, Oregon, approximately 30 miles southwest of Portland, with the intention of eventually owning a winery.  After clearing and natural site preparation, in June of 1999 they planted their first five acres of Pinot Noir. In the following seven years, additional blocks were planted that now entail just over 30.5 acres of Pinot Noir plus an additional one and a half acres of Chardonnay.  This land is now the Lachini Estate Vineyard.

In 2001, the dream of a winery was finally realized when Lachini Vineyards began producing limited single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.  They do not believe in recipes, and believe that true artisanal winemaking is based on intuition, sensitivity, and passion. They use ‘old world’ methods in concert with small yields, gentle handling, attentive sorting, native yeasts, and fastidious blending.

Sustainability and Biodynamics

The Lachinis are committed to a caring stewardship of the land, believing that great wine is born in the vineyard.  Their philosophy is “Respect the land and treat it well for generations to come.” Farming is done by hand using sustainable agriculture and organic practices. Sustainable viticulture not only protects and renews soil fertility,  but also minimizes adverse impacts on natural biological cycles. Prior to transitioning to Biodynamic farming practices in 2008, the vineyard was L.I.V.E. certified annually.  Farming activities are aligned with the Stella Natura biodynamic planting calendar.  The grape vines are joined by lavender, olive trees, and native plants for diversity. A local beekeeper, Ryan Bringal, maintains up to ten hives on the property. Lachini shared, “Our emphasis is on the meticulous management of each vine through biodynamic farming, while combining state of the art winemaking and old world technique to handcraft wines of complexity, grace, and profoundness – each one, we believe, a reflection of its soul and unique place.”

The Vineyards

Lachini Estate Vineyard

The south-facing gently-sloped estate vineyard is located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA in Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley.   It is in a transition zone between the forests above to the ravines and open plains of the valley below.  On summer and fall evenings, the Coastal range funnels in its cool marine air, which settles along the valley floor as a dense fog.  The  vineyard is comprised of Willakenzie series soils-ranging from 18 to 48 inches in depth. Shallow, fine-silt loam sits over sedimentary rock. This soil’s lower water capacity forces each vine to compete and develop deep root systems.  The vineyard is treated as a unified entity, emphasizing the interrelationship of soils, plants, and animals as integrated self-nourishing systems.

La Cruz Vineyard

Keller Estates began planting the La Cruz (The Cross) Vineyard in 1989. Lachini began sourcing fruit from La Cruz in 2010 with the goal of  producing a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  The vineyard is located  on a knoll overlooking the Petaluma Gap in northern California. It receives cool morning air from the nearby San Francisco Bay to the south, and from the coastal range bordering Bodega Bay directly to the West.  The soils are multi-layered, mineral-ladened clays with a volcanic subsoil that were once San Pablo Bay sea beds.

The Winemakers

Matthieu Gille: Consulting Winemaker

Gille was born in Burgundy’s Nuits St Georges, where his family has been making wine at their estate since the 16th century.  After completing his degree in Estate Management in Beaune, Gille’s love of Pinot Noir, biodynamic viticulture practices, and regional differences motivated him to explore other wine-making regions.  He arrived at  the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon in 2013, where he fell in love with the area.  He began partnering with Lachini in 2014, and he still supervises the winemaking of his family’s estate as well.

Liz Kelly-Campanale: Winemaker

Santa Barbara native Liz Kelly-Campanale joined Lachini as winemaker in 2019.  She has a winemaking degree from the Northwest Wine Studies Center and a BA from Whitman College, followed by nearly a decade of winemaking experience in the Willamette Valley; her most recent previous position was  assistant winemaker for Edgefield Winery.

Ernesto Mendoza: Vineyard Manager

Mendoza came on board in 2018, and brings a wealth of experience spanning over 18 growing seasons in the Willamette Valley. Prior to Lachini, he was with Advanced Vineyard Systems vineyard management company.  He is committed to biodynamic farming practices, and continues to strive for a deeper understanding of long-term stewardship of farmlands and all facets of farm management.

The Wines

Lachini Family Estate Pinot Noir 2018

This wine was sourced from three blocs of the Lachini’s estate vineyard.  Fermentation  was primarily with native yeasts.  It saw 18 months in French oak, 25% new.   It is dark purple, transparent on the edges but nearly opaque in the center.  The nose offers up blackberry and cherry.  These continue as you taste, plus some racy acidity expressed as cranberry.  There are plenty of big, black-tea tannins, and the round, full mouthfeel lingers for quite a while.  1543 cases were made.  ABV is 14%.

Lachini Vineyards La Cruz Pinot Noir 2019

The fruit this wine traveled all the way from the La Cruz Vineyard in a refrigerated truck.  Lachini’s seventh vintage of this 100% Pinot, it saw 14 months in French oak, 50% of which was new.  It is a medium-transparent purple, with just a hint of cloudiness as it was neither fined nor filtered.  My bottle had a bit of sediment, so I recommend decanting.  There is a full aromatic nose, primarily dark cherries.  These continue on the finely textured palate, aided and abetted by raspberries and red currants.  The nice acidity and soft tannins are in excellent balance.   A mere 96 cases were made.  ABV is 14.2%.

Lachini Vineyards Cuvée Giselle 2018

The fruit for Giselle was drawn from three blocks in Lachini’s estate vineyard. It was aged for fourteen months in roughly 50% new French oak prior to bottling.  It is transparent dark purple in the glass.  This wine features a nose of cherry, raspberry, and vanilla.  It is brooding on the rich palate, with flavors of dark fruit, especially sour cherry and more raspberry. (I know. “Brooding” is the kind of adjective you might expect to see in a pretentious wine review, but it is truly an apt descriptor here.)  The energetic acidity and structured tannins are in very good balance.   Lachini made 147 cases.  ABV is 14.3%.

The Grape Republic Pinot Noir 2017

The Grape Republic is Lachini’s relatively new “value” label, with higher production quantities and lower per-bottle costs.  2017 is the fourth vintage of this wine.   The fruit is sourced from the estate vineyard and other selected vineyards within the Willamette Valley.

A worthy addition to the Lachini lineup, this 100% Pinot Noir is a transparent brick red.  It starts with full aromas of plum and cherry.  The bright palate is reminiscent of cherry cola, with hints of raspberry as well.  Although it is completely still, with no effervescence, it has a tingly acidity backed up by silky tannins.   1247 cases were made.  ABV is 13.9%.

Lachini Vineyards Al di La Chardonnay 2018

Al di La translates as “beyond the beyond.”  It was also sourced from Lachini’s estate vineyard.  It was fermented with natural yeast for 11 months in French oak puncheons, a concrete egg, and just a bit in stainless steel.  (A puncheon is equivalent to three regular barrels.  Egg-shaped fermenters, also known as kvevri” or “qvevri, have been around for thousands of years, but are enjoying a renewed popularity among winemakers.)  Bâtonnage and sur lie aging was employed.

This 100% Chardonnay pours a pale yellow with an hint of pink on the edges.  I have no idea where that would come from in a white grape.  The aroma on the delicate nose is predominantly peach with a bit of honey.  Peaches continue on the palate, backed up by pears, honeydew, and a sneaky grapefruit-like acidity.  136 6-bottle cases were produced.  ABV is 13.8%.

Lachini Vineyards La Bestia Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

La Bestia is Italian for “The Beast.”  A blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc, this wine saw 22 months in barrel, 75% new and 25% once-used French and American oak.  It is dark purple, and opens with subtle aromas of mint and cassis, plus plenty of jammy dark fruits.  These continue on the rich mouthfeel, especially figs, black plums, dates, and raspberries.  It is all supported by grippy tannins and good acidity.  296 cases were produced.  ABV is 14.9%

www.lachinivineyards.com/

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LaRue Wines

March is Women’s History Month, and an apt time to feature  winemaker Katy Wilson, one of the few but growing number of women in the wine industry.

Wilson founded  LaRue Wines in 2009 when she was just 26, but already had years of experience.

For Wilson, there was never a “Plan B” career path.  She grew up on a walnut orchard in California’s Central Valley and felt an affinity for the land from a young age.  True to the cliché, she learned to drive a tractor before she could drive a car.  Following high school, she pursued her higher education in the Agricultural Business program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  During her first semester there, she was exposed to the possibility of a life in wine, and the die was cast.  After graduating with degrees in Wine and Viticulture and Agricultural Business, her odyssey began.

The first stop was Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos, California, where she scrubbed the facility and discovered the possibilities of Pinot Noir.  Next, a big move to Torbreck Vintners in Australia’s Barossa Valley, where she was given the chance to work with some of the oldest vines in the world.  Then it was back to California, specifically Napa Valley, where she spent a year making Cabernet Sauvignon at the famous Joseph Phelps Vineyards.  The peripatetic Wilson then went half-way around the world once again, to work  at Craggy Range in Hawkes Bay, New  Zealand.

Finally, she landed on the Sonoma Coast at Flowers Vineyards & Winery, famous for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  While there, Wilson worked her way up from harvest enologist to assistant winemaker, and realized the Sonoma Coast would be where her wandering would end, but not before a stint at Kamen Estate Wines in 2009 as the associate winemaker, making big, bold Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrahs there for five years.

That same year, 2009, Wilson launched her own winery, LaRue Wines, as well.   It  is named in honor of her great-grandmother, Veona LaRue Newell, who Wilson has described as inspirational and unique; others have used the adjectives bold, independent, and feisty.  Regardless, there was a strong bond between the two.  The winery is very much a boutique operation, focusing on small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with total production limited to just 500 cases.   Drawing on the cool conditions and remote coastal vineyards of the Sonoma Coast, Wilson strives for wines that are complex and vibrant with elegant acidity, and that drink well when young but also age gracefully.  She is guided by a steadfast, non-interventionist winemaking philosophy that champions the land from which the grapes come.

Still young and with energy to spare, Wilson also works as a consulting winemaker, partnering with Banshee Wines from 2012 to 2018, Claypool Cellars from 2012 to 2020, Anaba Wines since 2014, Reeve Wines, and Smith Story Wine Cellars all, predictably, in the Sonoma region.  “There are so many different types of consultants and reasons why you would hire a consultant, from winemaking knowledge to vineyard connections to marketing,” says Wilson. “Some wineries already have a full-time winemaker but are in need of advice or guidance in a particular area or to address an issue. Others hire a consultant to work as the winery’s sole winemaker.”

Wilson operates in both capacities. “My path to where I am today has been almost like a ‘choose your own adventure book!’ ” exclaims Wilson.  “As I worked my way up in the winemaking world, I learned very quickly that in addition to maintaining a ‘never-stop-learning’ work ethic, relationships are everything in this surprisingly small industry.”

Wilson has her signature style for LaRue (which she calls “very hands-off”), but she tailors her approach to fit the  the vision of the other winery owners she works with through lots of conversation, side-by-side work, and tasting. “As a consultant, I look at what I do as a collaboration. The wines that I make for my own winery, LaRue, are different than any wines that I am making for my clients,” says Wilson.

She was touted as a “Winemaker to Watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2013.

The Vineyards from which these wines were drawn

“For more than a decade, I have been devoted to showcasing small lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay exclusively from a particular sliver of the Sonoma Coast that lies 7 to 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and is heavily influenced by the coastal marine weather.  Each site has a special fingerprint that I try to capture and express,” shared Wilson.

Charles Heintz Vineyard


Since 1912, the Heintz family has owned and operated this site just east of the town of Occidental. It is a highly sought-after vineyard for premium wine producers for its quintessential expression of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.  Wilson has been producing a Chardonnay from this property since 2014.  Her 2018 product is reviewed below.

Thorn Ridge Vineyard

Ted Klopp and his daughter, Lauren Klopp-Williams, farm Thorn Ridge Vineyard. Wilson started working with this vineyard in 2014.  The east-facing orientation of Thorn Ridge enjoys ample morning sun, resulting in fruit that is more rustic and has a darker character than that of the other Pinot Noir vineyards LaRue sources from.  It is planted on Goldridge sandy loam soils. Thorn Ridge is located just west of the town of Sebastopol, which features a heavy marine influence.

Rice-Spivak Vineyard

Planted in 1999 and owned by Russell Rice and Helene Spivak, Wilson has been working with this vineyard since LaRue was founded. Wilson first met Russell and Helene in 2007 during her time as the assistant winemaker at Flowers Winery.   This six-acre, cool, north-facing site lies south of the town of Sebastopol.  Its Goldridge sandy loam soils are, unusually for this area, mixed with volcanic ash.

Emmaline Ann Vineyard

Emmaline Ann is a three-acre vineyard planted in 2001 by owners Wayne and Nancy Hunnicutt, and is named after Nancy’s grandmother. Like the Spivaks, Wilson first met the Hunnicutts in 2007 during her time at Flowers Winery.  All of LaRue’s tastings are staged here, as well as the annual LaRue Wines Summer BBQ.  This small  vineyard faces southwest toward the Pacific Ocean and is frequently enveloped in fog.

LaRue Wines Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

The fruit for this Chard was sourced entirely from the Charles Heintz Vineyard and then aged for 17 months in once-used French oak.  It pours a clear bright yellow, and the nose offers up aromas of mango and grapefruit,  with a touch of lemon meringue. The palate features a full, smooth mouthfeel and flavors of lemon and creme brûlée, all supported with mouthwatering acidity and a hint of vanilla. Production was 75 cases.  ABV is  13.1%.

LaRue Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2018

Wilson drew on three vineyards for this selection:  46% from the Thorn Ridge Vineyard, 38% from the Rice-Spivak Vineyard, and 16% from the Emmaline Ann Vineyard.  The wine saw 20 months in French oak barrels, 20% of which were new.  It is a quite pale cherry red, but looks can be deceiving.  It starts with aromas of dark stone fruit, particularly plum, followed by predominantly strawberry on the palate, with some cranberry.  Hints of violets and vanilla lead to a medium finish. It all wraps up with zippy acidity and delicate tannins.  Wilson made 125 cases.  ABV is 13.3%.

www.laruewines.com

Photography by Courtney Dawn Photography

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Rescue Dog Wines

Founded in 2017 by Blair and Laura Lott, Rescue Dog Wines has an unusual and commendable mission: a generous 50% of their profits go to rescue dog organizations across the country. The Lotts explained that they started planning a new life in wine country around 2015. “We knew that we wanted to embrace sustainable growing practices and create a new, more rewarding lifestyle for ourselves. In addition, we knew that we wanted enough land to grow wine grapes and foster dogs. In addition, we knew that we wanted to create high quality, premium wines. During this period of exploration throughout many of California’s wine regions it dawned on us that we could combine our two passions and Rescue Dog Wines was born,” they reminisced.

As Rescue Dog Wines have been presented at rescue dog charity events around the country, the Lotts have felt an enormous wave of enthusiasm and interest. “The feedback we receive is phenomenal and heart-warming. We love meeting our customers and future customers and discussing our combined love of dogs and wine,” Blair explained. “People are initially drawn in by our mission, but end up leaving impressed with the wines,” he added. Blair and Laura also are ardent supporters of the Lodi growing region.

Laura Lott was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and she grew up across the U.S. as part of an Air Force family. In the summers she visited her family in Brittany, on the northwest coast of France. Her grandfather was a pastry chef in St. Malo, and Laura has fond memories of spending time in the bakery. She would also visit cousins who were farmers; she remembers dinners being interrupted by having to run outside to take care of squealing pigs. She’d garden with her grandmother, and she would help her make jam from the raspberries she grew. She graduated from Trinity University in Texas with a degree in French literature, and also completed a master’s degree from the Thunderbird  School of Global Management, a part of Arizona State. Her first career path was as an HR specialist for large organizations, including Motorola, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sears.

As a young adult, Laura adopted her first rescue dog, a boxer, Daisy, from an animal rescue operation in Atlanta. The experience of visiting the animal shelter made an enormous impression on her; she determined after that visit to make rescue dogs a cause in her life.

Georgia native Blair Lott worked with his father on their 20-acre farm during his upbringing, continuing a tradition passed down by several generations. The family grew vegetables and raised livestock. There were lots of dogs in his life, mostly boxers and Boston terriers. At 17, Lott embarked on a musical career when he formed an alternative rock band. He continued working in the music world, writing and performing in Athens, Georgia, Nashville, and as far afield as Melbourne, Australia. Eventually he transitioned into working as a digital media consultant. During his three years in Australia, he became immersed in the wine and food scene there, and became intrigued with the idea of making wine his vocation. After returning to the U.S. and marrying Laura, they moved to northern California with the intention of pursuing a life in wine.

The couple traveled to wine regions regularly, including a trip they took for a landmark birthday. They spent three weeks traveling through vineyards in France and Spain, further cementing the idea of owning their own vineyard and producing wine.

“We looked everywhere from Paso Robles to Napa Valley for vineyard and winery properties to buy,” said Blair, “and someone suggested, have you considered Lodi?  Check it out, it’s fantastic.” That tip lead them to buy a 19.5-acre property in 2016, complete with a house and old vines (since pulled out and replaced with new, trellised vines planted to to Grenache, Sangiovese, and Mourvedre) on Acampo Road. The winery also sources grapes from around the Lodi growing region which are grown according to Lodi Rules and California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance sustainability protocols.

The Winemakers

Susana Vasquez
The winemakers are Susana Rodriguez Vasquez and Eric Donaldson. “We started with about a barrel of red wine (adding up to just 25 cases),” Blair recalled, “and then we had 10,000 people asking for it. So we asked Susy (Peltier Winery winemaker Susana Vasquez) to help us duplicate the quality with two pallets (over 100 cases), which also flew out the window.” Vasquez next created Rescue Dog Sauvignon Blanc, and then added a dry rosé made from Pinot Noir.  Vasquez got her wine education at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Bolivia and UC Davis.   This was followed by about five years each at beverage giants E&J Gallo and Constellation Brands,

Eric Donaldson
“Laura likes sparkling rosé,” said Blair, “and we got Eric (LVVR Sparkling Cellars owner/winemaker Eric Donaldson) to produce a demi-sec [sweet] style sparkler for people who don’t like dry.”  After graduting from Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio. Eric began his wine career in Cincinnati and Cleveland.  Next came jobs in Sonoma County and for Gruet in New Mexico.  He worked on a lot of sparkling wine there, and the experience offered insight into warmer climates and how they impact sparkling wines.  Unfortunately, none of Donaldson’s wines were available for this review.  Maybe next time.

“Both Susy and Eric are great to work with,” continued Blair. “Susy especially will spend any amount of time with you, making sure you get exactly what you want. When she says, ‘I’m your winemaker,’ she really means that.”

Rescue Dog Wines is still very much a boutique operation. “We sold over 200 cases last year [2019],” noted Blair, “and we’ll double that this year. If our roll-out in markets in other states goes according to plan, I’m projecting 8,000 cases in a few more years. Truth be told, we’re not yet profitable, but we’re still keeping our commitment by donating half our revenue to several animal organizations. We’re doing it by not paying ourselves. Someday, though, I hope we’ll be able to donate 100%.”  There are plans for a tasting room in Lodi sometime in the future.

Rescue Dog Predominantly Poodle Lodi Sauvignon Blanc NV

This “”Poodle” pours a very pale, indeed nearly colorless, yellow into the glass.  The nose greets you with aromas of mangoes and coconut.  These flavors continue on the dry palate, aided by green apple, brioche, a good mouthfeel, and well-structured acidity. There is only a touch of grassiness, which is fine with me because I think it mars too many Sauvignon Blancs. Adds winemaker Susana Vasquez, “Stainless steel fermented, skin contact before fermentation, blended with Vermentino.”  ABV is 12.50%.

Rescue Dog Lodi Rosé 2018

This pretty pale pink Rosé features aromas of rose petals and melons.  There is zippy citrus on the palate, especially lemon. and a suggestion of mango, all supported by good acidity.  According to Vasquez, this wine was made entirely from Pinot Noir, and pressed specifically to become a Rosé.  There was no saignée [say-NAY], i.e., it was not made by a partial draw-off of pigmented juice from the ferment, but rather allowed to complete fermentation on its own.  ABV is an approachable 11%.

Rescue Dog Beloved Mixed Red Wine Blend NV

This easy-drinking red is a surprisingly inky, dark purple.  It displays a delicate nose of cherry and strawberry, followed by flavors of blueberry, sweet plum,  and a hint of pepper, The tannins are nicely supportive, paired with well-balanced acidity on the medium body.  From Susana Vasquez’s notes: “Jammy fruit qualities with not too much oak (10% of the blend saw no oak), blending Zinfandel, Teroldego, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.”  ABV is 14.3%.

https://rescuedogwines.com/

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Austin Hope GSM 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 GSM 2017

This wine is a blend of 43% Grenache, 35% Syrah, and 22% Mourvedre.  These are three important grapes grown in the Côtes du Rhône region of France, but this popular blend is produced throughout the world.  The fruit for this selection was hand-picked from the Hope estate vineyards in the Templeton Gap district of Paso Robles, and then fermented in five-ton, open-top tanks. After extended maceration for up to 60 days, the wine was aged for 25 months in 72% new French oak barrels.

This GSM is ruby-black in the glass, with big aromas of rich, dark fruit.  The subtly sweet palate showcases jammy blackberries, blueberries, currants, a hint of pencil shavings, grippy but balanced tannins, and a long finish.

The label art, by Austin Hope’s youngest daughter Avery, is a linocut titled The Magic Sun.  And the wax seal, although certainly attractive, made opening the bottle rather tricky.  ABV is 15%.

https://www.hopefamilywines.com/

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Italics Winegrowers Sixteen Appellations Red Wine 2013

In 1870 the Carbone family purchased a large parcel on Coombsville Road in Napa, California. They opened a winery, which is long gone, and that was about it for winemaking in the area for the next hundred years.

Around 1970, dozens of wineries started  appearing along Highway 29 in Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena, but Coombsville remained largely uninvolved in the burgeoning wine scene. By the 1990s, however, a number of up-valley wineries, looking to expand their production, came looking for additional sources of fruit. They were impressed by the rolling benchlands, moderate temperatures, and volcanic soils of Coombsville.

In 1995, the winery that would eventually become Italics was founded in Coombsville by commercial pilot turned vintner Bill Frazier. Frazier sold the winery in 2011 to a China-based company that renamed it Zhang Winery. The Chinese owners expanded the existing small cave system into what is now 16,000 square feet carved into a hill, and made a number of practical and visual improvements. In 2014, the operation was purchased by Mike Martin of Texas, who once again renamed it, this time to Italics. (The name Italics was chosen because “words in italics are used to emphasize something or to make something stand out.”) He was president of Rio Queen Citrus, Inc., his family produce business, until selling it in 2012. Rio Queen began with a small 20-acre grapefruit orchard in the south part of the state, but grew to become one of the largest distributors of produce in Texas (including citrus, onions, and melons).

Italics’ founding winemaker was Steve Reynolds, who Martin met by chance at a wine dinner in McAllen, Texas.  Martin was particularly interested in one of Reynold’s many ongoing projects, Thirteen Appellations, which began in 2002 when 100 cases were made.  The idea behind the label was to create a wine with fruit from all of Napa’s then extant sub-appellations. The thinking was that, “each wine taken individually has its own unique colors, aromas, and flavors, and blending them results in an arguably richer, perhaps more complex wine.” The wines from each sub-appellation are fermented and aged separately – all coming together when the final blend is made.  Ultimately Martin acquired Thirteen Appellations, a brand that evolved into Sixteen Appellations. As additional sub-appellations were approved in Napa, further vintages were called Fourteen and then Fifteen Appellations. With the Coombsville sub-appellation finally being added in 2011, the wine is now Sixteen Appellations

In 2019, Marbue Marke became Italics’ winemaker. He was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and originally studied to become a doctor, enrolling in UC Davis’ Pre-Med program at just 15 years old.  However,  he soon realized that he tended to get woozy at the sight of blood, a definite handicap for a doctor.  Abandoning that career path, he transferred to the UC Davis wine program, and graduated with a degree in Viticulture and Enology. He later earned an M.B.A. from Sonoma State University.  Prior to Italics, he toiled at Caldwell Vineyard, Marston Family Vineyard, J Winery, Cosentino, Benziger Family Winery, and industry giant EJ Gallo Winery. In 2018 he was named U.S. Winemaker of the Year by Bonfort’s Wine and Spirits Journal.

The entire Italics operation resides in caves carved into the hillside.

In addition to the Sixteen Appellations offering, Italics Winegrowers focuses on wines made from traditional red Bordeaux varietals, with a total current production of about 5,000 cases annually.  The fruit for these wines thrives in vineyards not far from the San Pablo Bay.  Breezes that blow in from the bay bring fog by day and cool air at night, moderating extreme temperatures.  Coombsville is surrounded by a partially collapsed caldera, the remnant of a fractured volcanic vent. The caldera’s half-bowl reaches some 1,800 feet in elevation, and acts as a collector for the cool marine air from the Bay.  The grapes grown here can hang longer without dehydrating while retaining their natural acidity.

The film Decanted premiered at the 2016 Napa Valley Film Festival. It depicts what it takes to open a winery in the Napa Valley, and it follows Italics Winegrowers from the inception. Winemaker Steve Reynolds and owner Mike Martin were included in the cast.

Italics Winegrowers Sixteen Appellations Red Wine 2013

This red is composed of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot.  Some of the vineyards sourced are owned by Robert Keenan, Blackbird, Annapurna, and Constant, as well as Italics’ estate vineyard (these change every vintage).  After fermentation in 25% new French oak and 75% stainless steel, it was aged for 22 months in French oak barrels, 60% new and 40% used.

This quite dry, dark garnet wine greets you with a heady nose of mouthwatering rich dark fruits.  These are most evident on the palate as somewhat restrained blueberry and blackberry, plus dust and a hint of clove.  The flavors tend to fade as the bottom of the bottle approaches.  The acid and tannins are in excellent balance, complemented by a medium-long finish.  ABV is 14.5% and 1,337 cases were made.

https://www.italicswinegrowers.com

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