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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Maritana Vineyards

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

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

Patz shared, “Deep in my heart this is the best and most satisfying thing – making and sharing/selling wine. It’s been a centerpiece for my professional career for more than three decades and honestly, I could not imagine not being involved. I realized that working with the Patz & Hall model was not the end of all things for me. I wanted a chance to rethink, refocus, and renew my vision for wines under my control.

Since Maritana is a small, personal project, Patz needed to find a production partner.  A fortuitous lunch with Adam Lee of Siduri Winery, who specializes in Pinot Noir, led to Patz selecting Lee’s Sugarloaf Crush near Santa Rosa as the base for Maritana’s 2017 and 2018 selections.  A “crush” is minimally a mechanical device consisting of paddles and rollers that break grapes and extract the juice.   As a crush service provider, Sugarloaf goes beyond that to offer processing, fermentation, tank and barrel storage, bottling, and a tasting room.

Drawing on his long experience in the wine business, for his latest venture Patz was particularly attracted to the Russian River Valley, source of his favorite wines.  The Russian River Valley AVA accounts for about one-sixth of the total planted vineyard acreage in Sonoma County. The appellation was granted AVA status in 1983 and enlarged in 2005. The area lies between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa in the south, and Forestville and Healdsburg in the north. The valley has a characteristically cool climate, heavily affected by fog that drifts in through the Petaluma Gap from the Pacific Ocean.

The complex geography of the valley was shaped millions of years ago by collisions between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates and eruptions by volcanic vents that deposited volcanic ash over layers of eroded bedrock. This created a sandy loam known as “Goldridge soil.” Near Sebastopol, there is a different soil that is more clay based, known as “Sebastopol soil,” which retains less water than Goldridge soil does. Both types have been shown to work well with Pinot Noir plantings. A third soil type, found close to the river, is predominately alluvial sediment and makes up the benchland regions of the river.

Viticulture in the Russian River region dates back to the 19th century when immigrants from Mediterranean countries descended on the region and began planting vines. While most vineyards were “gardens” for personal family consumption, some commercial producers sprung up as well, and by the start of the 20th century there were nearly 200 wineries operating. Predictably, Prohibition induced a precipitous mid-century decline, but the region had largely rebounded by the time AVA status was conferred.

Patz created the name “Maritana” out of whole cloth;  since Sonoma is defined by an ocean on one side and mountains on the other, he came up with:
Ocean ~ MARItime
Mountains ~ MonTANA
MARI-TANA, ergo Maritana.
Easy, huh?

Maritana Chardonnay “La Rivière” 2018

Patz decided on a program of once-used barrels to make up the majority of the barrels used for all the Maritana Chardonnays.  Specifically for this La Rivière, the mix is 90% once-used barrels and 10% new barrels from Burgundy. According to Patz, “This blend of used [and] new barrels, retains the brighter, fresher notes of the Russian River Valley fruitiness and compliments the mineral, floral components of the grapes very precisely.”

The fruit came from three sources, with at least five clones of Chardonnay in the blend. The vineyards included Dutton Ranch, some fruit from Martinelli, and others from the Lynmar Estate.

La Rivière, aka “The River,” was entirely indigenous-yeast fermented in barrel, and aged on the primary fermentation lees throughout its time in barrel. It pours a pale yellow, with aromas of mango and honeysuckle.  The smooth, full palate features lemon, quince, lemon curd, and a touch of caramel. There is plenty of acidity, and those used barrels make for subtle tannins. The ABV is 14.5%, and 2000 cases were produced.

Maritana Pinot Noir “Le Russe” 2018

Le Russe, aka “The Russian,” is a blend of several sites and clones within the appellation, including Martaella Vineyard, one of the Martinelli sites called River Road Vineyard, Jenkins Ranch, Moonshine Ranch, and a little Pinot Noir from an old Russian Hill site. Fermentation was one-half whole cluster. Said Patz, “The purpose of using [some] whole cluster for the Pinot Noir wines was to bring out that beautiful aromatic side of Pinot Noir.” After primary fermentation, for aging the wine was placed into small French oak barrels, 50 to 80% new, depending on the vineyard source.

It has a transparent, medium-purple color. The nose offers juicy aromas of plums and strawberries. The full-bodied mouthfeel carries flavors of tart cherry, cola, and vanilla.  These are supported by forward tannins and very good acidity. The ABV is 14.5%, and 1400 cases were produced.

maritanavineyards.com

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Oregon’s Brooks Wines

The Brooks Winery of Amity, Oregon in the Willamette Valley was founded in 1998 by Jimi Brooks, a native of Portland and son of a pediatrician.  The winery’s production is focused on Pinot Noir and Riesling, and includes about 20 selections of each in any given year.  Brooks also dabbles in Tempranillo, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne (aka Muscadet),  Gewurztraminer, and Viognier, all sourced from nearby vineyards.

All of the Pinot Noirs are destemmed and cold soaked; all of the whites go straight to press. In the winery, small lot fermenters are used and the components are kept separate until right before blending. For all Pinot Noirs, all estate fruit, and most whites, fermentation is driven by only the yeasts naturally occurring on the grapes, and the coolest fermentation temperatures possible are adhered to. Finally, the reds are finished in French oak, while the whites are all made in stainless steel.

The free-spirited Jimi Brooks began his career by spending eight years throughout Europe, particularly Beaujolais, learning his craft in the vineyards and wineries there. After that sojourn, he returned to Oregon committed to a life in wine, based on his own intuition as well as holistic and biodynamic farming practices, still a relative novelty just over twenty years ago. He continued to hone his skills with winemaking stints at Maysara and WillaKenzie Estate wineries before establishing Brooks Wines.

In 2008 the winery purchased the estate vineyard it had been working since 2002.  Plantings include Pinot Noir and Riesling vines that are now over 35 years old, and contribute about 30% of Brooks’ fruit. Official biodynamic certification from Demeter was obtained in 2012.  This was followed by the opening of an entirely new winemaking facility and tasting room in 2014, which overlooks the Cascade Range and Willamette Valley.

Brooks Wines’ motto is Peace/Bread/Land/Wine.

Peace

It may seem rose-colored, but Brooks genuinely believes in kindness, inclusivity, caring, community, and social responsibility as guiding principles.

Bread

Brooks features a number of culinary experiences from cooking classes to wine and food pairing classes.. Their organic garden supplies herbs, vegetables, and cut flowers. Their eggs come from chickens on the property which are fed organically. Anything that doesn’t come directly from the grounds is sourced locally.

Land

Careful stewardship of the estate vineyard is achieved by
• Utilizing a rock garden to diffuse rain water.
• Encouraging botanical species diversity
• Protecting predator habitats
• Applying balanced crop nutrition
• Rotating cover crops
• Not using synthetic chemicals to control pests or diseases
• Utilizing mechanical weed control

Wine

Riesling is the bedrock at Brooks, and they claim to produce more of it than any other winery in America.

A bittersweet success

Behind all of this accomplishment lurks sadness and tragedy. Founder Jimi Brooks suddenly died in 2004 just before harvest at the age of 38 from the rupture of an aortic aneurysm (an abnormal bulge that occurs in the wall of the major blood vessel  that carries blood from the heart to the body). Winemakers from all over the Willamette Valley, many of them competitors, volunteered to help the Brooks family cope with his untimely death and keep the winery open. The following year the winery was bequeathed to Jimi’s son, Pascal, who was eight when his father died and became the youngest winery owner in the world.

Once the future of the operation was assured, two key figures emerged. Brooks’ friend and assistant winemaker Chris Williams ascended to full-time winemaker. Brooks’ sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, reluctantly became head of winery operations.  It’s quite the commitment; she lives in California with her husband and two children and is constantly commuting between the two states.  It is a commitment that has paid off, though.  Under her supervision the business has grown by 400%.

L to R: Pascal Brooks, Janie Brooks Heuck, and Chris Williams

Heuck had always had been close to her brother. “We were a year and a half a part. As adults and parents, our conversation centered around our children and his business,” Heuck said. “It’s not so much that the winery brings back memories for me, but I [continue to] learn about new stories and memories that would have been Jimi’s.”

She believes the wines are a vehicle for conveying an important message about life, about living in the moment and to the fullest, about keeping the big picture in mind. “I feel like through the wines and the experiences that people are having,” she said, “the connections and the conversations and the sharing of the Brooks story, and having it remind people of how important every day is and every moment is. I just don’t ever want that to stop. The more lives we can touch and the more times the story is told and the more it brings perspective to people, that’s the gift from this whole situation.”

If you have access to Amazon Video, the film American Wine Story profiles Jimi Brooks and a number of other winery owners drawn to the business based on sheer passion.

Brooks Wines’ distinctive logo is an ouroboros (or uroboros).  It is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail to assure its future existence. Originating in ancient Egyptian iconography, the ouroboros entered western tradition via Greek magic and mysticism. Heuck shared, “We like to talk about it symbolizing the circle of life, continuation. My brother got it as a tattoo on his left shoulder in the early ’90s. It meant so much to him that he decided to make it his wine label.”

Although Pascal remains emotionally invested in the winery and his father’s legacy, he is at the beginning of his life journey and feels the need to find his own way. Now 24 years old, Pascal is living in Paris after graduating from UC Santa Cruz in 2018 with a double major in creative writing and sustainable agriculture, an interesting pairing for sure. He has been working as a wine steward there and also doing urban rooftop farming. Following in his father’s footsteps, in 2019 he worked harvest at Domaine Dechamps, and currently is involved at Domaine Ostertag in Alsace. (Read more about a pivotal part of Jimi Brooks’ time in France here.)

Brooks Ara Riesling 2018

Brooks has staked their reputation on Riesling, so they better know what to do with it.  Happily, this expression doesn’t disappoint.  Indeed, it’s one of the most interesting Rieslings I’ve ever had.  Ara (the Altar), is a constellation. In ancient Greek mythology, Ara was the altar where the gods first made offerings and formed an alliance before defeating the Titans. This was one of the very first Rieslings Jimi Brooks made after starting his winery, and the name reflects his passion and interests in mythology and astrology.

The wine is 100% Riesling, half from the Brooks estate vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA and half from the Yamhill vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. It is a bright lemon yellow in the glass, with aromas of lemon curd and orange blossom.  The lemon theme continues on the palate, with the addition of nectarines, Sweetarts, and apples, but the wine is definitely dry.  The flavors are well-supported by tingly acidity.   ABV is 14% and just 325 cases were produced.

Brooks Janus Pinot Noir 2016

Brooks considers this their flagship Pinot Noir, and was Jimi Brooks’ first Pinot release.  Janus was the two-faced Roman god who looked both to the past and future, a reference now to the winery’s timeline being divided by Jimi Brooks’ premature death.

This 100% Pinot Noir was sourced from 60% Brooks Estate and the remainder from seven other sites around Willamette Valley. After fermentation, it saw 18 months in French oak barrels. It is a medium purple in the glass, with a nose of rich plum, vanilla, and rose.  The palate features tart cherry, ligonberry, and black tea on the medium finish, all supported by lively acidity and balanced tannins. The ABV is 13.8% and 1000 cases were made.

http://www.brookswine.com/

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Alquimista Cellars

La Follette Cellars

Some winemakers and winery proprietors are born into the business. Some buy into the business. And some evolve into it. Greg LaFollette of Alquimista evolved quite successfully. He has been called a “vine whisperer,” a “cellar magician,” and a “tireless coaxer and protector of handcrafted wines.” He is one of Sonoma’s most revered winemakers, and was honored as Winemaker of the Year in 2010. He has also been tagged “Prince of Pinot” by the website of the same name.

first, a career in science

La Follette’s early years were spent as a musician. At 17, he became the bagpiper for the Queen Mary berthed in Long Beach, California. (And he plays the bagpipes to this day.)  “I wanted to be a winemaker since my teens,” admitted La Follette. “But who in Los Angeles becomes a winemaker?” Eventually he decided that neither music nor wine offered a viable way forward, and after earning degrees in Plant Biology and Chemistry, La Follette started his professional career in 1984 at the University of California, San Francisco, as an Infectious Disease  researcher specializing in HIV suppression. While there, he co-authored over a dozen papers in the field. But, he was also still feeling the pull of his early interest in the wine industry.

While taking his masters degree in Food Science and Technology at U.C.Davis, he became fascinated with “mouth feel” and started dissecting wines to determine their components of taste and texture (especially of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).  His particular interest in the Burgundian techniques of sur lie aging and bâtonnage coincided with an interest in new production techniques in California.

And then, a career in wine

Leaving academia behind, in 1991 he joined Treasury Wine Estates and held various positions at Beaulieu Vineyard, beginning with late-shift Harvest Winemaker and ending with Research Viticulturist/Enologist. He worked closely with winemaker Joel Aiken and the legendary wine master Andre Tchelistcheff, who exhorted La Follette to “live the wine,” which is to say to become totally immersed in both the science and art of winemaking.  He began to  increase his knowledge of Bordeaux varietals and production techniques. He also started traveling throughout the U.S. and Australia to further broaden his skill set.

In 1994 he began toiling for the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates empire. Owner Jess Jackson enticed him to assist in lifting La Crema out of bankruptcy (that worked out well, for sure!) and starting the Hartford Court label. La Follette helped Hartford Court to win “Winery of the Year” and “Best Pinots of the Year” from Wine and Spirits magazine. His travels continued as he assisted in  establishing new wineries and vineyards in South America and the U.S. Drawing on his training as a researcher, he wrote numerous technical papers during this time, including “Designing Wineries for Maximum Quality Output with Minimum Cost Input,” which is still used by Napa Valley College in their winemaking syllabus.

In 1996, La Follette moved on to the Flowers Vineyard & Winery. His work there resulted in the establishment of a cult Pinot Noir (“massive” as he has characterized it; quite an unusual descriptor for Pinot Noir) and elevation of a previously little-known area that later became known as the Ft. Ross/Seaview AVA. The winery he built at Flowers during his tenure is still considered one of the best gravity-flow, gas-assist green wineries in the world. He reestablished 73 acres of Flowers’ vineyard using the best clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay he could find, while simultaneously reducing farming costs by over $4,000 per acre and increasing quality. He had just recently written an influential paper on that very subject, after all.

By 2001 he was partner and co-owner of Greg & Greg Inc., a custom crush facility which became an incubator for small, high-end brands such as McPhail, Londer, Holdredge, and Radio Coteau. That same year he launched the first winery of his own, Tandem Wine Co. These projects overlapped with his stint at Chile’s Viña Casa Marin as Consulting Winemaker, advising on viticulture, winemaking, and facility design. By 2004 he was also consulting with Boisset Collection, pulling yet another label, DeLoach, out of bankruptcy. And, he established La Follette Winegrowing Inc., his on-going wine consultancy that helps establish, resuscitate, or enhance new or struggling wineries.

Alquimista Cellars, perhaps the final stop on his wine journey

Today finds him as winemaker at Alquimista Cellars, in partnership with co-winemaker Patrick Dillon. Alquimista is Spanish for alchemist, a name selected for its history of fusing science, art, spirituality, mythology, the elements, and enlightenment. La Follette said, “Our passion in wine is to capture both magic and your imagination. Imagine winemaking built on science, spirituality, boundary-breaking artistry, and risk. Imagine experiencing wines that inform a new generation of discovery, while, at the same time, venerate old world tradition.”

Dillon also evolved into the world of wine, after wearing many hats: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writer, author, editor [Forbes], web content director, strategic consultant, vice president of a software firm, executive producer at a web-based data visualization design firm, and co-author of the Open Range cookbook.

In 2000 Dillon and his wife Anne bought a small farm in Sonoma County, where they met Eric Sussman, who had just launched his Radio Coteau label. Leveraging Dillon’s growing interest in winemaking, Sussman recruited him for helping with a variety of chores in the cellar. “He kept telling me how romantic winemaking was,” Dillon recalls. “And I kept reminding him of what a great sense of humor he had.” But the hard work and mentoring paid off, leaving Dillon with an understanding of the need of maintaining great grower relations and enforcing unwavering fastidiousness in both the vineyard and winery. He gained further experience with Marimar Estate in Sonoma County, and later ADAMVS, the high-end Cabernet Sauvignon producer on Napa County’s Howell Mountain. “I saw in Patrick a world of experience that really rubbed off in working with growers even during the toughest harvests and in our winemaking,” reminisced La Follette.

Always the iconoclast, La Follette believes that “balance” is more important than low yields in producing  higher-quality wines. “A broad generalization” he said, referring to the low yield maxim. “It is more likely that high-end wines from vines that are cropped too low are actually worse than if the vine has a balanced crop. This leads to runaway alcohols. If the vine isn’t balanced, it will pay no attention to ripening its grape tannins. Then you must pick the grapes at higher sugar percentages to produce flavor-ripeness and that leads to higher alcohols, lower acidity, and jammy flavors. Balanced vines mean balanced wines, it’s as simple as all that.”

Alquimista’s focus is on vineyard-designated cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnays. La Follette strives for minimal filtering and fining (so usually some cloudiness is to be expected), but all of the wines I was able to sample, at least, were crystal clear. To achieve that, the red wines are settled carefully and turbidity (cloudiness) is monitored before bottling. The white wines are cold-stabilized at 28° F for two weeks, and then racked cleanly off of the settling lees.

All of the wines are made from native yeasts carried from the vineyards on the grapes themselves. Sometimes this can lead to unpredictable results, but La Follette and Dillon fully embrace that possibility. The grapes are sourced from vineyards located in Lodi, the Russian River Valley, and Mendocino.

That little “4” or “A” like symbol on Alquimsta’s labels is the alchemy symbol for maceration, the time grape juice spends in contact with the skins and seeds.

The vineyards

Haiku VineyardThe 141-acre Haiku Vineyard lies at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains in the Sanel Valley of Mendocino County.  Centuries of floods have left a cobbled and stony soil, in which every block has been organically farmed since  being  planted more than 25 years ago. The Fetzer family has worked it since 2005, using canopy and water management, organic compost, and natural habitats that encourage raptors for rodent control and songbirds for insect control. Cover crops that attract beneficial insects are utilized instead of pesticides, and to  prevent erosion, retain moisture, and add organic matter to the soil. Weeds are mowed rather than killed by herbicides.

Chuck and Gail Jones  purchased a half-acre adjacent to what would become their nearly eight-acre Hawk’s Roost Ranch in west Sonoma County in 1968. “The place had an absentee owner. There were some unkempt zinfandel vines on that land but it appeared to be propagating more weeds and poison oak than wine vines,” Chuck recalled. Eventually building and living on their half acre, Gail grew weary of the eyesore next door. “I’m tired of looking at weeds. Let’s buy the place,” she declared in 1992.

Hawks Roost Ranch

After stripping out the existing vegetation, the first plantings were pumpkins and cut flowers.. “Neither of us knew anything about farming grapes, much less what rootstock was and what it should be for our particular growing area,” Chuck said.  Jim Pratt, one of the area’s most respected vineyard managers, analyzed the soil, finding it consisted of alluvial clay-loam with hardpan about 18 inches beneath the surface. Pratt suggested a hearty rootstock and an equally virulent clone, known for its strength and boldness.  By 1998, more than 5,000 vines had been installed.

The five-acre Jessie’s Grove vineyard near Lodi has endured for 128 years. Originally planted by pioneer Joseph Spenke, and named for his daughter Jessie, the property is now farmed by Greg Burns, Spenker’s great great grandson. The gnarly vines are 86 percent head-trained Zinfandel, with the remainder a motley crew of Black Prince, Flame Tokay, Mission, and  Carignane vines. Says La Follette, “Each contributes a distinct element for the alchemy we strive for. This is our first project [in Lodi] and we are honored to work with arguably the most cherished vineyard of a region already renown for its ancient vines.”

Lorenzo VineyardOwned and farmed by John and Phyllis Bazzano and named for John’s Italian grandfather, the 10-acre Lorenzo Vineyard might have become a golf fairway instead. “My father and some of his friends got wind that the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club was considering expanding. So, being pretty shrewd, they purchased land that would be in the way of the expansion, hoping for a nice sale,” recalls John. “Well, the expansion never came our way. We ended up with a bunch of oak trees and an old orchard.”

After some false starts in farming the property, the Bazzanos realized their ground possessed just the right amount of Russian River loamy clay to foster wine grapes.  They planted Chardonnay vines in 1974 and 1975; these are now some of the oldest in the appellation. La Follette has worked with the Bazzanos for more than 10 years.

Manchester RidgeManchester Ridge lies about one hour west of Boonville  on the Mendocino coast, 2000 feet above Point Arena and the Pacific.   The vineyard’s 30 acres of weathered soil are routinely subjected to wind, rain, and temperature swings. Since the late 1990s La Follette has partnered with vineyard manager Martin Mochizuki to coax the vines into producing the best grapes they can.

Mes FillesIn 1998, La Follette began working with the owners of the Mes Filles Vineyard  located in the Russian River Valley.  He supervises viticulture to his own specifications on the 10-acre site, which is perched above the fog line atop a hill southwest of Sebastopol. The area is made up of Goldridge soil, a fine sandy loam left from an inland sea that drained into the Pacific more than two million years ago. This soil is known for excellent drainage and good fertility. The sloping vineyard sees long hours of sunlight, and cool coastal evening temperatures are created by marine air moving through the Petaluma Gap.

The Oppenlander Vineyard occupies land cleared 160 years ago by Danish immigrant Charles Oppenlander near the hamlet of Comptche in northern Mendocino County. Bill and Norman Shandel, Oppenlander’s great grandsons, farm the land now along with their wives, Kitty and Wanda. The 20-acre vineyard, first planted more than 100 years ago, and replanted in 1998, is hosted in heavy, clay loam, surrounded by redwoods. Just eight miles from the coast, the property holds cool marine air that fosters long hang time and slow ripening.

a selection of the wines

Before I get to the wines, a note about the cork: for many of their wines, Alquimista is  using a new closure product. Called “UNiQ”, from Ganau,  It  is made from finely ground natural cork that has been put through a high-intensity steam-cleaning process at 180° C.  Although in my experience the overall risk is overstated, this eliminates any trace of TCA (the chemical compound that causes wine to be characterized as “corked”), and guards  against undesired aromas and flavors.  Because of the possibility of cork taint, as well as the increasing cost and scarcity of all-natural cork, we can expect to see more and more producers migrating to these types of products, as well as the useful screw-caps and far less desirable artificial plastic plugs.

Alquimista Chardonnay Manchester Ridge 2016

Because of the challenges Pinot Noir presents to even talented winemakers, La Follette likes to call his Chardonnays his “anti-crazy” wines.

This wine reflects Alquimista’s singleness of vision, and won’t be for everyone.  It is a bright, clear lemon yellow, with aromas of melon and honeysuckle. There is grapefruit and a distinct  grapefruit pith (albedo) bitterness on the tongue, underlain with lemon curd and a hint of white peaches, all supported by crisp acidity.  The ABV is 14.9%, and 100 cases were made.

The bottle art is by Sonoma artist Sandra Rubin.

Alquimista Confluence Pinot Noir 2016

This wine is sourced from three estates, Mes Filles Vineyard, Hawk’s Roost Ranch, and Lorenzo Vineyard, all in the Russian River Valley AVA. The juices from these vineyards were separately aged in French oak for 18 months before being blended.  This Pinot is a medium purple in the glass.  It has a big nose of ripe cherry and spices.  The palate features tart cherries and dark fruits, mainly blueberries.  There is a snappy acidity that may be too intense for younger or more sensitive drinkers.  It all wraps up with a long finish.  The ABV is 14.2%, and a mere 67cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by San Francisco Bay area artist Mandy Bankson.

Alquimista Convergence Pinot Noir 2016

The 2016 is the initial offering of “Convergence,” a blend of three different vineyards in Mendocino County: Manchester Ridge is the anchor, with support form the Oppenlander Vineyard and the Haiku Vineyard.  The Manchester Ridge juice fermented on Chardonnay lees in its two barrels of new oak. The 18 remaining vineyard-designate barrels were once- and twice-used French oak, and the juices were separately aged for 19 months before being converged.  Like the Confluence, this Pinot is a crystal-clear, medium purple in the glass, with a similar nose of ripe cherry and spices.  The soft palate features zippy tart cherries, cranberry, and cinnamon, with a hint of cocoa.  It too all wraps up with a long finish.  The ABV is 14.2%, and 168 cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by San Francisco Bay area artist Mandy Bankson.

Alquimista Hawk’s Roost Ranch Pinot Noir 2016

100% sourced from the Hawk’s Roost Ranch, this Pinot is a clear, red garnet.  You are greeted by aromas of sweet dark berries, plum, and strawberries.   Remarkably, there is also just the slightest hint of smokey bacon.  These are followed by flavors of sweet cherries, cranberry, and fruit compotes.  The mouthfeel is round and soft, and the pliable tannins and acid are in perfect balance.  Definitely not your average California Pinot Noir.  The ABV is 14.1%, and 125 cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by Santa Rosa artist Mary Blake.

Alquimista Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir 2016

This wine was barrel aged on the lees for 16 months in only 15% new oak plus 85% once-used wood.  It is is the palest of these four Pinot Noirs, but with no reduction in flavor.  It starts with aromas of violets and blueberries, which also flow onto the palate with additional flavors of dried fruit, bitter orange, and a bit of cocoa.  It ends with a medium-long finish.  The ABV is 14.6%, and 150 cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by Point Reyes Station artist Toni Littlejohn.

Alquimista Jessie’s Grove Ancient Vine Zinfandel 2016

This selection is primarily Zinfandel, but is blended with the Carignan, Flame Tokay, Black Prince, and Mission grapes that Jessie’s Grove offers.  The black cherry color continues on as aroma to the nose. Then comes the flavors of plum and tart cherry, with just a bit of Zinfandel’s characteristic black pepper spiciness.  It has a long finish.  The ABV is 15.1%, and 65 cases were produced.

The bottle art is  by Sebastopol artist Carol Rae Watanabe.

You can find these and other selections at Alquimista Cellars’ website: https://alquimistacellars.com.

Visitors are welcomed to Alquimista, but strictly by appointment only, Covid or not.  Contact Alquimista through the website for more information.

NOTE:  There is a La Follette Winery in Healdsburg, which grew out of Tandem Wine Co. (it’s complicated), and although Greg La Follette was a part of its establishment as the founding winemaker, he departed soon after over “creative differences,” and no longer has any involvement.

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Flanagan Wines

Flanagan Wines

 

Eric Flanagan did not come of age with a background in the wine business, or even farming. After graduating from college in 1985, he embarked on a banking career, which he pursued until 2013. His job during those years took him on journeys around the world. He had always had an interest in wine, and over the course of these trips Flanagan became fascinated by how grapes of the same variety expressed themselves in different places.

the siren call of wine

Seeing no need to wait for retirement to start a second career, at the age of 36 in 1999 he decided to act on his deep interest in the world of wine. He purchased 40 acres of open land on the side of Bennett Mountain in Sonoma, California, (in what would later become the Bennett Valley AVA). The site sits at 1200 feet on the south and southwest slopes of Bennett Ridge at the confluence of San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap. The soil is rocky, volcanic cobbles with excellent drainage. Having a warm micro-climate in a cool region means that bud break here is early, but harvest is late. The extra hang time for the grapes, along with the low yields and the hillside site, can deliver intense, complex fruit. Flanagan and his then very-young first daughter, Riley (who has gone on to become a vintner herself), planted his first vines there in 2001.

Flanagan

The original winery and Bennett vineyard.

Flanagan’s first wine was one barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon made in 2004 with winemaker Philippe Melka. In just the following year he grew production to 150 cases.

Cabell Coursey                                     Isabelle Mort

From 2014 to 2016,  Cabell Coursey was the winemaker at Flanagan. The energetic and peripatetic Coursey also makes the wine for Tony Lombardi, as well as his own label, Coursey Graves. Although he continues as consulting winemaker for Flanagan, the day-to-day winemaking operations are overseen by Isabelle Mort, who also makes the wines for Riley Flanagan’s label, Riley’s Rows.  (And while Eric Flanagan sources all of his grapes from Sonoma County, his daughter draws some of her fruit from ranches in Lake County and Mendocino.)

In 2015, Flanagan obtained a 27-acre Pinot Noir vineyard named Gap’s View in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast AVA. Cool afternoon winds from the Petaluma Gap keep the fruit “clean” and allow it to ripen slowly. The site is the source of some of Flanagan’s Pinot Noir grapes, a small amount of which are made into a vineyard-designated wine.

That same year, he purchased the iconic Sonoma Coast Platt Ranch. With over 300 acres of redwood and fir, it is home to one of the largest coastal redwood groves in the state. The vineyard itself is just 2.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and has 31 acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The soil is Goldridge fine sandy loam, and sits high above the regular morning fog. From the top of the property, you can see the tiny town of Bodega and the Pacific Ocean.

Platt Ranch

Platt Ranch vineyard, which Flanagan believes “may be the greatest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay site in California.”

Flanagan winery 2.0

With access to so much high-quality fruit, Flanagan quickly outgrew the original production facility. In 2016 he purchased a shuttered winery located just outside of Healdsburg. The operation is one of the oldest in Sonoma County, having been originally bonded in 1885. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to have found this special winery site and estate vineyards,” said Flanagan. “We realized [in 2014] that the winery I built in Bennett Valley wouldn’t meet our future needs. Acquiring an operating winery with a 25,000 case permit, ten acres of vineyard, and a public tasting room feels like a miracle.”

Flanagan

The current Flanagan winery.

FlanaganThe Flanagan production building. The three blue rivulets are the winery’s logo, symbolizing the Flanagans’ three children, all daughters.

The estate totals twenty acres, ten of which are planted to vines. Shortly after the purchase, Flanagan and then-winemaker Coursey replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon with modern spacing to make the most of the hillside site. Coursey said at the time, “I’m excited to replant the winery’s estate vineyards, and look forward to redesigning the winery and creating a world-class facility. The new winery will enhance our ability to craft wines with integrity from some of the most exceptional vineyard sites in Sonoma County.”

Flanagan

The view from the tasting room patio.  The rainbow does not appear every day.

In 2016, Flanagan bought the historic Brandt Ranch, which is located within the Kelsey Bench appellation in Lake County, north of Napa Valley. The 120-acre vineyard has 108 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

“Having a top Kelsey Bench Cabernet source was a thoughtful addition to the highly-acclaimed Pinot Noir vineyards at Platt Ranch and Gap’s View,” reminisced Flanagan. “Brandt Ranch is a site with great soils, aspect, and climate … my commitment is to help every vineyard we own to realize its potential.”

Other vineyards

In addition to the Bennett Valley, Platt, and Brandt Ranch already mentioned, Flanagan also sources fruit from these two properties (and a few others I won’t get in to).

Bacigalupi Vineyard is a few miles south of the Flanagan winery. The Bacigalupi family owns about 120 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here. This vineyard was the source of the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that beat the French competition at the famous “Judgement of Paris” tasting in 1976.

Ritchie Vineyard, a famous Chardonnay site in Sonoma County, was planted in the early ’70s with a Wente clone of Chardonnay. Owner Kent Ritchie was told shortly afterward he would have to eventually replant the vineyard because the vines were not phylloxera resistant, but some forty years later the Ritchie Vineyard is still producing world-class fruit.

Sustainability

Flanagan has an annual production of 4,300 cases, all made sustainably. As of this writing, they are in the process of having their vineyards certified sustainable by CSWA (California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance).

Beyond the formal certification, sustainability for Flanagan means, “that we farm with a long-term mindset. We do everything we can to ensure that this land will be as healthy, or healthier than, it was when we found it. We are committed to balanced, healthy vineyards, and to producing wines that reflect the integrity and distinctiveness of their site. Our mission is to make great wines from the best vineyards in Sonoma County.”

Flanagan clan

The Flanagan clan.

Flanagan Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2017

The wine was 100% barrel fermented with a blend of fruit sourced primarily from the Bacigalupi and Ritchie vineyards, and then aged for 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 45% were new. A bright gold in the glass, it features a nose of citrus and papaya aromas, with a hint of butterscotch. The lush mouthfeel is accompanied by flavors of tart grapefruit, pineapple, pear, and a suggestion of minerality.  It has bright acidity to balance the richness, and a long finish. ABV is 14.5%.  359 cases produced.  This is one of Flanagan’s four Chardonnays.

Flanagan Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2016

This Pinot Noir saw 11 months of ageing in  French oak, 46% new. Fermentation was done in open top fermenters for 10 days.  It exhibits a brilliant clear dark red color, and a nose dominated by dark plum accompanied by red cherry, floral notes, and spice. There are flavors of tart cherry and mixed red fruits on the palate.  The tannins are nicely integrated.  It ends in a medium finish, with a lingering suggestion of black tea. This vintage was sourced from the  Gap’s View and Platt vineyards, as well as two others. ABV is 14.3%, and 700 cases were made.  This is one of the five Pinot Noir’s Flanagan produces.

Flanagan The Beauty of Three Proprietary Red 2015

This is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, and 5% Merlot, drawn from the same barrels as their Flagship blend, but with a different composition.

It presents with a rich, dark purple color.  There are plenty of blackberry and dark stone fruit aromas, and these continue on as the primary flavors with the addition of some cassis.  It has an unctious mouthfeel, very smooth tannins, and a nice long finish. ABV is 14.8% and 640 cases were released.

www.flanaganwines.com

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Ser Winery

Ser Winery

 

In the tradition-bound world of wine, winemaking has, predictably, been dominated by men. For example, there are about 4,800 wineries in California, but only 10 percent have female lead winemakers. (When it comes to winery ownership, the number does jump up to about 19 percent, according to Woman Owned Wineries, a nationwide directory of female wine entrepreneurs.)

Encouragingly, however, greater educational opportunities (as opposed to the historically more usual inheriting a wine operation) have been opening the possibility of becoming a winemaker to more and more women. One of these is Nicole Walsh of Ser Winery in Aptos, California, due east of Santa Cruz.

The winemaker

Over the course of her 19-year career (so far), Walsh has held just about every position in the wine industry, including associate winemaker, winemaker, vineyard manager, grower-relations manager, and owner. She was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1975. An early interest in wine drew her to Michigan State University, graduating with honors in 1998. At the time, the undergraduate department of Viticulture and Enology there was, remarkably, comprised of just two students. This provided a highly unusual opportunity to be immersively mentored by Horticulture professors in grape growing and winemaking. As part of her last semester at MSU, she attended a sustainable agriculture university, EARTH, in Costa Rica. While there, Walsh became proficient in Spanish, and she solidified her commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Nicole Walsh

Nicole Walsh    Photo: www.wildu.co

After graduation, she worked for four years on the Leelanau peninsula in northern Michigan. This small AVA (one of five in Michigan) is home to 27 wineries, and has diverse microclimates uniquely suited to cool-climate wine grapes, particularly Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. During her time there, she managed vineyards and honed her winemakeing skills.

In early 2001, she married Kevin Walsh, and together they moved to Santa Cruz, California. Shortly thereafter, in February, she started working with Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard.

Walsh took a sabbatical from Bonny Doon in 2008, when she moved with her husband and young son to Marlborough, New Zealand. After a year, she returned to Santa Cruz to develop Bonny Doon’s newest property in San Juan Bautista. She continues to manage that property as well as make wine at Bonny Doon’s Santa Cruz winery.

In 2012, reflecting on her New Zealand experience, especially with Pinot Noir, Walsh decided to start her own wine brand as well, which she christened Ser, which is Spanish for “expressing identity or origin; having the intrinsic quality of.”

“I was inspired for the name after reading an article by Andrew Jefford, ‘Wine and Astonishment’. It was in that writing that the notion of the ‘being’ of wine truly resonated with me. Being is different than existing. It is true, wine exists; you can touch it, smell it, drink it. To quote Jefford, ‘Being, by contrast, is the ‘isness’ inside.’ In other words, the natural essence of the grapes unique to each specific growing area. I am dedicated to preserving the ‘isness’ of wine, to allow its true varietal expression and the place and time of its origins,” shared Walsh. Clearly, this thinking closely aligns with the traditional concept of terroir.

She continued, “Jefford also talks of that first moment of insight, that moment when some people decide to devote their professional life to wine. He says,’It gives the lucky few who choose to ‘grow wine’ the chance to use craft to embody, reflect, and echo nature itself.’ I am privileged to be one of those ‘lucky few.'”

Ser Winery Tasting Room

Ser Winery Tasting Room in Aptos, California

Once the winery was underway, she began working with local Santa Cruz Mountain growers to purchase fruit from a number of interesting vineyards with distinct microclimates in the appellation. In symbiotic partnership with those farmers, she started experimenting with several varieties, such as Riesling and Chardonnay (both of which she had worked with on Leelanau), Syrah, Mourvedre, and a much less-known variety, Cabernet Pfeffer. She is committed to preserving and enhancing the unique character of the varietals used in her wine.

Ser’s label, designed by local artist and teacher Jenny Angelacos, was inspired by an ocean wave and Walsh’s love of surfing. It is intended to convey the unifying thread that connects the diverse places from which she sources her grapes.

The wines

Nicole Walsh hard at work; winemaking doesn’t get more hands-on than this.
Photo: www.wildu.co

Ser Dry Riesling Wirz Vineyard 2017

OK, I’m going to be honest about this up-front: although Riesling is, by all accounts, one of the world’s greatest white-wine grapes, and makes classic food-friendly wines in a range of styles from quite dry to very sweet, I’ve never been much of a fan.  But I enjoyed this expression, so kudos to Ms Walsh.

The fruit came from the Wirz Vineyard, located in San Benito County’s Cienega Valley, in the foothills of the Gabilan Mountain Range at about 1100 feet above sea level and 25 miles or so from the Pacific Ocean. It is composed of granite and limestone soil. Owner Pat Wirz employs head training, dry farming and organic techniques on the over 90-year-old Cabernet Pfeffer and 60-year-old Riesling vines.

In “head training,” vines are tied to a wooden stake positioned at each one. The stake generally stands three to four feet above the soil surface. When used conservatively, this system is ideally suited to production of low to moderate quantities of high-quality grapes.

To make this wine, Walsh pressed whole grape clusters in stainless steel, which was also used for fermentation. She used an indigenous yeast, and the wine was bottled prior to malolactic fermentation to lend softness without stripping the acidity.  It is medium yellow in the glass, with a nose of olive oil and delicate floral notes.  These are followed by mostly tart citrus on the palate, particularly lime, with subtle hints of pear and apple. It’s balanced out by that good acidity, and wraps up with a medium finish. The ABV is 13% and 160 cases were made.

Ser Pinot Noir Tondre Grapefield 2016

This is the first time I have encountered a vineyard referred to as a “grapefield.”  It was planted in 1997 on six and half acres in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. It now has seven blocks in 104 acres, 81 of which are planted with  Pinot Noir. Tondre Grapefield is SIP Certified.

Composition is 100% Pinot Noir, all from the Tondre Grapefield, and harvested from 10-year-old Pommard clone vines. (The Pommard clone was originally sourced from the Château de Pommard in Burgundy by Dr. Harold Olmo of the UC Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology in the early 1970s.)

Walsh created this Pinot Noir by starting with five days of cold soak. Indigenous yeast was used for the eight days of primary fermentation. This was followed by four days of maceration before being pressed into neutral French puncheons (large oak barrels that usually hold 80 to 133 gallons) for 14 months of malolactic ageing.

This shows Pinot Noir’s classic clear, bright red in the glass. The nose offers aromas of cherry, blackberry, and roast plum.  The palate is dominated by tart cherry.  The wine has excellent balance, and it all wraps up with a long finish.  ABV is 13.5%. Just 80 cases were produced.

Ser Cabernet Pfeffer Central Coast 2016

Cabernet Pfeffer is an extremely rare variety with less than 12 acres grown in California, most of them located in San Benito, a wine region at the southern end of the Santa Cruz mountains. It was once thought to be a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and another, unknown variety, and to have been bred in Los Altos Hills, California, in the late 19th century by farmer and winemaker William Pfeffer. However, a recent ampelography ( the field of botany concerned with the identification and classification of grapevines) study by UC Davis on the Wirz vines discovered they are are in fact Mourtaou, a  French variety from the Bordeaux region. Whether the variety was named after the farmer or for its spicy characteristics (Pfeffer is German for pepper) is a mystery.

Ser’s Cabernet Pffefer began with five days of cold soak with a small addition of sulphur . Indigenous yeast was used for the ten days of fermentation. This was followed by ten days of maceration before being pressed into barrels, of which 50% were neutral and 50% were new French oak. After three months, the wine was transferred  to neutral oak for 14 months of barrel ageing. The blend is 76% Cabernet Pfeffer and 24% Cabernet Franc.

The wine starts with a bright, clear red cherry color in the glass, much like the Pinot Noir.  But then we move on.  The nose shows plenty of juicy fruit, like cherry Starburst candy (seriously) and hints of violets.  Then come flavors of those same juicy cherries.  Also, since  Cab Pffefer is known for its spice and pepper, I was surprised on first trying it that those were subtle, at best.  But after about two hours of air, it’s “Hello pepper!” settling on the back of the tongue.  It is supported by good acidity, fine tannins that resemble those of Cabernet Sauvignon, and a medium, slightly bitter finish. The alcohol is 13.3%, and  220 cases were produced.

Pair this with any food you would have with Zinfandel, particularly lamb.  I made a pan-seared lamb chops with a lemon and rosemary marinade.

Ser Rosé of Grenache Loma Del Rio Vineyard 2020

The Loma del Rio vineyard is located on the west side of the Salinas Valley at the foot of the Santa Lucia Highlands just south of King City. Walsh declares it, “one of my favorite sites for Grenache.”

This wine was whole-cluster pressed to stainless steel. The juice was clarified with a centrifuge to help mitigate smoke taint due to the wildfires in the region at time of harvest.  Happily, none is evident. It was bottled without malolactic fermentation after four months on the lees.

This wine is a delicate pink salmon, with an unassuming aroma to match, one that is primarily rose petal.  The palate offers strawberry and guava. There is plenty of juicy grapefruit-laced acidity, and a medium finish.  This is a wine that benefits from not being numbed.  After being on the counter for a while, and it came up from the refrigerator temperature of 36° F to about 50° F, the nose didn’t change much, but the flavors became much more apparent.  Walsh made 100 cases, and the ABV is 13%.

Graciano Bokisch Vineyard 2018

This wine is all Graciano (aka Morrestel in France), a red-wine grape traditionally hailing from the Rioja and Navarra regions of Spain.  The fruit was sourced from the Terra Alta vineyard farmed by Bokisch Vineyards, a winery and grape grower located in the Clement Hills subdistrict of the Lodi AVA.  Grown on Redding gravelly clay loam, the vines are roughly 19 years old.  Markus Bokisch named this property “Terra Alta” because it reminded him of  the wine region near his home town in the Catalunya region of Spain.  The vineyard is Certified Organic by CCOF and  Certified Green by the Lodi Rules Program

After fermentation  in one-ton bins, the wine was pressed to neutral French oak puncheons and aged for 16 months.  It pours a transparent purple, with mouth-watering aromas of red and black fruit.  On the palate, this is predominately cherries and red berries, with a bit of white pepper spice.  It has a medium body, not unlike a Pinot Noir.  It is supported by good tannins that offer up just a hint of bitterness.  Walsh made 70 cases, and the ABV is 13.4%.

 

Other Ser wines

Although I haven’t tried them, in addition to these selections Ser Winery also offers Rosé of Cinsaut (a red-wine grape from Languedoc-Roussillon, usually characterized by a light body, high acidity, and low tannins), Sparkling Riesling, a second Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a second (!) Cabernet Pfeffer sourced from the Wirz vineyard.  There is a wine club with three shipment options, the easiest and most reliable way to obtain these limited-production wines.

http://www.serwinery.com/

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WALT Clos Pepe Pinot Noir

WALTWALT Wines, owned by Kathryn Hall and Craig Hall, is dedicated to the production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Pacific Coast, spanning nearly 1000 miles and including Sta. Rita Hills, Sonoma County, Anderson Valley, Napa Valley, and the Willamette Valley. They strive to source top fruit from the most distinctive vineyards; practice precise, non-interventionist winemaking; and focus on limited production. The goal is to allow the wines to naturally and honestly express the character of the sites where the wines are grown.

WALT Wines are named after Kathryn Hall’s parents, Bob and Dolores Walt. They were dedicated wine-grape growers who produced six different varietals that were sold to several well-known wineries. For the Walts, growing grapes was the satisfaction of a hard day’s work and the feeling of peace walking through the vineyard before sunset. Kathryn Hall managed the vineyard operations herself from 1982 until 1992.

In 2010 WALT expanded from grape farming to wine production. Today, the winemaking team is led by Vice President, Winemaking Steve Leveque (who also crafts the HALL Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines), and Winemaker Megan Gunderson Paredes. who work in a state-of-the-art winemaking facility aided by a passionate winery staff, and strong vineyard partners.

WALT’s methodology includes: night harvesting; hand sorting every berry; whole cluster pressing of Chardonnay; native yeast fermentation; barrel aging on lees to create more texture, richness, and complexity; and weekly batonnage and topping during the decidedly long malolactic fermentation. The wines are neither fined nor filtered. This can result in a bit of haze, but it is in keeping with the idea that the wine was made with the least intervention and with the highest-quality intentions. By sourcing fruit from quality growers and by utilizing the state-of-the-art winemaking facilities at HALL Wines, they strive to make the best wine possible, while keeping extremely limited production levels.

WALT’s estate vineyard, Bob’s Ranch, was purchased by the Halls in 2014 and is located in the heart of the Petaluma Wind Gap on highway 116 just south of Sebastapol.

WALT Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2014

This Pinot Noir hails from Clos Pepe, an estate vineyard located in the Santa Rita Hills in the Central Coast region. This bottling is 100% Pinot Noir, and was barrel aged for 10 months. The dark red color is paired with a nose of strawberries, cherries, and cranberries. The smooth flavor features red berry, cocoa, and black pepper, with supporting warm oak and firm tannins. Although this wine is medium-bodied, it has a surprisingly long finish.

https://www.waltwines.com/

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Italo Cescon Pinot Noir

Italo CesconItaly’s Piave region covers a vast plain in the greater Veneto area. It is bordered on the south by the Adriatic Sea, to the northwest by the hills of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, is crossed by the river Piave, and to the northeast it borders on the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Wine has been made here for millenia, based on the archaeological discoveries that have been made. Moreover, the first Oenological School of Italy was founded there in 1876.

It was here In 1954 that Italo Cescon, after the end of his military service, decided to fulfill his dream of producing and selling his own wine, following in  the footsteps of his grandfather Domenico, a small producer of  wine for local families in his little village.

Enoteca [wine shop] Italo Cescon quickly gained a good reputation for their wines among the osterie [(taverns] and restaurants in Treviso, Italy, where it was located.  Building on that success, Cescon expanded the operation into a full-fledged wine company in 1957.

Dominico Cescon

In 1967, the Piave river flooded (as it often has over the centuries), prompting a move of operations to Roncadelle, where an old existing winery was renovated and enlarged.

Italo Cescon began to export their wines in the 1970s, especially into Germany, Switzerland, and France.

Work on rehabilitating the winery continued for 20 years, finally being completed in the late 1980s. At about the same time, the “La Cesura” vineyard was established for the growing of Piave DOC wines.

With the passing of Italo, going into the 1990s his heirs Gloria, Graziella, and Domenico started managing the winery, determined to continue to improve the quality of the wines and to expand brand awareness.

Italo Cescon

The Cescons shared, “Our goal today is the same as fifty years ago: careful and constant work aiming at excellence, research, and innovation, and communication of the culture and identity of our region. We are lead by traditions that teach us the value of time and respect for nature.”

Italo Cescon winery firmly embraces the concept of terroir, that a great wine starts in the vineyard. They state that their wines are strongly tied to the land and to the environment in which they are born. They are committed to safeguarding the vineyard’s well-being, protecting the soil, the animals, and the insects that live there. The winery relies on sustainable systems, and production uses mostly natural fertilizers and no pesticides.

The Piave region is characterized by the complex composition of its soils, which consist of alluvial sands due to the Piave river having frequently flooded the fields and their vineyards over the course of thousands of years. Enormous quantities of chalky calcium magnesium carbonate has been deposited, torn from the mountains by the violence of the waters and dragged along the river beds into the valleys.

Italo Cescon winery’s acreage consists of six estates, with 235 acres [95 hectares] in Marca Trevigiana and Friuli, and 37 acres [15 hectares] in the Valdobbiadene hills.

The climate there is mild, and generally warm and temperate. The rainfall is significant, with precipitation even during the driest month. This climate is classified as  humid subtropical. The average annual temperature is 56.2 °F. [13.4 °C].

Italo Cescon Pinot Noir 2018

This wine is joined by nine others to comprise Cescon’s “Il Tralcetto” line of wines.   Il Tralcetto translates as “The Little Grape Vine Cutting.”

Anna Cescon

All of the bottles in this line feature a knotty bit of vine twig, picked out from the pruning. (Although to put one on each and every bottle, I’m thinking Cescon must grow some acres of vines just for harvesting the twigs!) The tradition was born on a winter’s day in 1957 from an idea of Italo’s grandmother, Anna.

Anna Cescon

This 100% Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) saw four days of cold pre-fermentation maceration.  Then came another six to eight days of traditional malolactic fermentation.  The wine was aged for six months in cement vats, followed by three months in bottle before release.

It is a dark, translucent ruby red in the glass.  The drinker is greeted by aromas of red berries and citrus.  This is followed on the palate with those same ripe berry flavors, joined by a pleasant tartness, spice notes, and excellent tannins.  In Venice, this Pinot would traditionally be paired with gnocchi in Bolognese sauce.

https://www.cesconitalo.com/

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Lombardi Winery

Lombardi Wines

Tony Lombardi was born into a family of small business owners, and grew up in Sonoma County. He graduated from Saint Mary’s College with a degree in Business Management. His first job in the wine business came in 1998 when he joined the hospitality team at Clos Du Bois Winery, located in Geyserville, California.

From 2001 to 2013, Lombardi held senior leadership positions in marketing, public relations, and sales for such companies as Allied Domecq Wines, Beam Wine Estates, J Vineyards & Winery, Ascentia Wine Estates, and Kosta Browne Winery.

In partnership with his wife Christine, Lombardi founded Lombardi Wines in 2013 with a barrel of Chardonnay and a barrel of Pinot Noir.  He describes himself as a storyteller/connector at heart, and loves to tell the unique and interesting personal stories of Sonoma and Napa wineries and winemakers, and connect them and their wines to people across the country.  As part of that effort, he was encouraged to take the leap of faith in creating his own label from his former employers Dan Kosta and Michael Browne. They told him, “We did it, so should you!”

Lombardi hired Cabell Coursey in 2015 to be his winemaker and viticulturist/grower relations manager after he had held those jobs for three years at Kosta Browne.  Coursey also toils at his own winery, Coursey Graves. Prior to those efforts, he was the winemaker with Andy Smith at Dumol.  Well traveled, he has made wines all over the world, including Burgundy, New Zealand, Oregon, and California.

Coursey and Lombardi make small lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA.  However, the winery owns no acreage or vineyards itself.  Rather, the Pinot Noir fruit is sourced from growers in the greater Petaluma area, where the Lombardi family has been since 1947, and Lombardi himself has cultivated many close relationships. He says, “I’m most proud of the interconnections I have with grower families that provide access to incredible fruit and that I can make a style of wine that I love to drink. The greatest satisfaction is seeing that enjoyment from people who try the wines I love to make. I founded my winery to honor my Italian roots and immigration story.  Wine has always been a part of my family’s history, starting from my great-grandfather Nazzareno Lombardi and his childhood friend Cesare Mondavi and their story of coming to America together in 1914. Sunday night dinners with extended family where the lively and spirited conversation around the dinner table was religion, politics, but always family first.”

The winery is not open to the public and does not have a tasting room. The wines are sold through an allocated mailing list.  This limited production is by design, as Lombardi wants the winery to grow “organically.”  Newly active members are first offered the Appellation Series and a small allocation of limited production single vineyard designates. Consistent ordering gains members access to a wider selection of wines.

In addition to being a wine entrepreneur, in 2015 Lombardi started Lombardi Marketing, a boutique consulting company offering marketing, public relations, and wholesale services for the benefit of small to mid-size wine companies in need of this expertise.

Lombardi also actively participates in charity wine auctions across the country. He believes that connecting through wine helps raise much-needed awareness and funds for worthwhile causes.

Tony Lombardi

Tony Lombardi

Lombardi Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2018

The fruit was sourced from the Sangiacomo family of growers (and winemakers) in Petaluma.  Fermented in 100% French oak barrels, of which only 10% were new, this Chardonnay was aged for 14 months in custom barrels sourced from the Freres, Bousseau, Chassin, Mercurey, and Atelier cooperages of France.   It is a very pale yellow, with aromas of melon and honeysuckle, and just a hint of vanilla.   The dominant flavors are lemon and tangerine, backed up by peach.  Not surprisingly, with so little new oak during fermentation, there is just a whisper of wood.  The wine finishes with an ideal level of refreshing acidity.  The ABV is 13.5%.  Like all Lombardi selections, this is a limited-production wine, with 240 cases made.

Lombardi Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2018

This wine was fermented in 100% French oak barrels (25% new).  It then saw 14 months of aging in custom barrels sourced from the Boutes and Atelier cooperages of France.   It shows a very transparent ruby in the glass.  The nose features aromas of rich black cherry, currants, and a hint of marshmallow.  On the palate there is a silky mouthfeel, with flavors of tart cherry, blackberry, and a bit of cocoa.  The focused acidity is complemented by delicate tannins.  It all wraps up with a medium-long finish.  The ABV is 14.2%.   300 cases made.

Lombardi Pinot Noir Hill Justice Vineyard 2018

The Hill Justice vineyard is nearly 1,100 feet up the side of Sonoma Mountain, and was personally planted by winemaker Cabel Coursey and his team.  This wine was fermented in 100% French oak barrels (50% new).  It then saw 14 months of aging in barrels sourced from Boutes and Atelier.   It is a very crystal-clear deep purple.  The wine starts with aromas of dark stone fruit, blackberry, and chocolate.  In the mouth, it is super smooth, with flavors echoing the scents, plus some cola.  The delicate acidity is supported by fine tannins.  Things come to an end with a juicy finish.  The ABV is 14.%.   100 cases made.

Lombardi Pinot Noir Guisti Ranch 2018

The fruit for this wine was grown by the Giusti family, who came to Sonoma  from San Pelligrino, Italy in the 1870s.   They began by farming olives and grapes, then moved over the years to prunes, cherries, and apples, and have now returned to grapes and olives.  The first Pinot Noir planting was in 2000.

Giusti Ranch

Giusti Ranch and Vineyard  Photo: Kurt Giusti

Under the Giusti Ranch Vineyard designate, in addition to supplying Lombardi, the family also sells  grapes to Kosta Browne Winery, in another example of Tony Lombardi’s tightly-knit network.

This wine was fermented in 100% French oak barrels (50% new).  It then saw 14 months of aging in barrels sourced from Taransaud, Chassin, and Boutes.   Like the Hill Justice, it is a very crystal-clear deep purple.  It also has similar aromas of dark stone fruit, blackberry, and a bit of baked cherry pie.  It is super smooth as well, with flavors echoing the scents.  The acidity and tannins are well balanced, and the wine delivers a long finish.  The ABV is 14.8%.   100 cases made.

Although Oregon and Washington state are justifiably famous for their Pinot Noirs, Lombardi’s selections prove that with high-quality fruit and a skilled winemaker, Sonoma can do equally well.  Indeed, these are some of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve ever had.  Highly recommended.

https://www.lombardiwines.com/

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