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/

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/

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

x
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.

x
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/

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/

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. 

Top of page: winervana.com/blog/

 

 

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/

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/

Riley’s Rows

Riley's Rows

 

There’s an old witticism in the wine business that goes, “If you want to make a million dollars by producing wine, the first thing you need to do is spend a million dollars.” For a young and ambitious vintner to be able to skip that first step would be quite a blessing. Such is the case with Riley Flanagan. She is the eldest daughter of Eric Flanagan, a boutique winemaker and grape supplier in Sonoma, California. Through his Flanagan Wines operation, her father shares the tasting room, winemaking facility, and some of the fruit for his daughter’s own wine label.

Riley Flanagan

Riley Flanagan literally grew up in the vineyard. She was born in 1999, the year that her father bought his first piece of land, which at the time had not yet seen any cultivation. At the age of three, she helped plant their first vines in that first family vineyard, located in Bennett Valley. The site sits at 1200 feet up 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.

Isabelle MortIsabelle Mort

She helped bring in the harvest of Flanagan’s first wine (it was just one barrel, released in 2004). As she grew older, she began to work in the cellar of the winery, being mentored by Flanagan’s winemaker, Isabelle Mort (among others along the way), and who is now her winemaker as well. With this kind of background, Riley, although as of this writing just twenty-years-old, is way ahead of the game. (I find it’s rather ironically amusing that Riley is old enough to legally oversee a wine operation in California, but not to drink its products.) Her stated goal is to “create a wine for everyone; great wines, made with integrity, at an accessible price. I want [people] to experience all of the beauty [wine] has to offer.”  To fill her idle hours, Riley is currently a full-time student in chemistry, a field she has also been interested in since childhood, at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Riley Flanagan

 

The name “Riley’s Rows” refers to the vines she planted with her father twenty years ago, and her current releases are bottlings made from those very same plants. About that early beginning, Riley shared, “From that day on, I was in love. I gave up my aspirations of being a princess and committed to becoming a wine maker.” The drawings of grape vines on the labels are by Riley herself, made when she was four years old.

Flanagan clan

The Flanagan clan.

4CsA portion of Riley’s Rows retail sales are donated to 4Cs, a nonprofit organization that operates 11 state-funded preschools, and provides affordable, quality childcare in the Sonoma area.

4Cs Sonoma

 

The neck of the bottle of this and all of the Riley’s Rows selections have no foil capsule, by intent.  Riley shared, “I don’t use foils because I don’t like them. I just prefer the look of not having them and I can’t stand cutting them!”

Riley’s Rows Sauvignon Blanc. 2019

This wine was made from just the second crop harvested from the Redwood Valley Grape Ranch in Mendocino County, way up north.  It was fermented in 60% stainless steel and 40% barrels.  It is nearly colorless, with merely a suggestion of yellow.  It has a delicate nose of papaya and honeydew, and a nice smooth mouthfeel.  The subtle flavors are lemon and grapefruit, with absolutely no grassiness.  Although relatively common in this varietal,  I prefer my Sauvignon Blancs without it.  The finish is clean but somewhat short.  ABV is 12.8%, and 1,024 cases were released.

Riley’s Rows Rosé of Syrah 2019

This super refreshing rose began life in a small Syrah vineyard in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley.  The goal was to mimic the pink wines of Provence.  It is a lovely light salmon color in the glass.  You are greeted with aromas of mouthwatering ripe fruits, particularly nectarines and strawberries.  The soft plush mouthfeel and medium body is paired with flavors of grapefruit, blood orange, and stone fruits.  The delicate tannins and vibrant acidity lead to a medium finish.  The dry fermentation was in 60% stainless steel and 40% neutral barrels (hence those subtle tannins).  ABV is 12.8%, and 540 cases were produced.

Riley’s Rows 3×3 Red Blend 2017

Made from 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, and 29% Merlot from a number of north-coast Sonoma vineyards, including the Flanagan’s Brandt Ranch. It was in French oak barrels, 20% new and the remainder once-used, for 14 months.  This blend opens with a nose full of dark fruits and a hint of cocoa.  Next come flavors of plums, blackberry, and more cocoa, complemented by good acidity.  But what really stands out here are the big, grippy tannins.  Now, this is fine with me, but may not be for everyone.  It ends in a long finish with, predictably, plenty of black tea notes.   The ABV is 14.2% and 355 cases were made.

https://www.flanaganwines.com/Riley-s-Rows-Wines

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/

Sauvignon Republic Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon RepublicIn 2003, Sonoma chef John Ash, Mendocino-based winemaker and educator John Buechsenstein, and restaurateur Tom Meyer joined together with former Fetzer Vineyards president and winemaker Paul Dolan to establish Sauvignon Republic.  The goal was to make classic Sauvignon Blanc from grapes sourced from around the world. “I like the dynamics of partnerships,” Dolan said. “It is not about running my own show and allows me to use my creative side.”

The first Sauvignon Republic release was from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma, northeasat of Santa Rosa. A wine from Marlborough, New Zealand, was added to the portfolio in 2004, and a Stellenbosch, South Africa, Sauvignon Blanc joined the lineup in 2005. In 2007 came a Potter Valley wine from Mendocino.

Somewhere along the line, the partners seem to have lost interest in the project.  Whether they simply abandoned the name or sold it, Sauvignon Republic is now only available at Trader Joe’s, and only comes from Marlborough, New Zealand.  Perhaps this value wine will find a broader audience in its current home.

Sauvignon Republic Sauvignon Blanc 2006

This one of the best-structured Savignon Blancs I’ve had in recent memory, and a bargain at the price. It shows a very pale straw color, and tastes of grapefruit, passion fruit, and guava. The grassiness and green herbs typical of Sauvignon Blanc is only hinted at here, and that’s a good thing. Its surprising richness and medium body is balanced with just the right amount of acidity.  (This wine is the original Russian River Valley effort, not the current one from New Zealand.)

Pair this up with any food that would go with a bright citrusy wine, like a chicken stir fry with plenty of basil, pad thai, or swordfish steaks in a light cream sauce.

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/

Imagery Estate Winery

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

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

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

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

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

Imagery Sauvignon Blanc 2019

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

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

Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

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

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

www.imagerywinery.com/

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/

Casa Silva

Casa SilvaCasa Silva traces its roots back to 1892, when Emile Bouchon immigrated from Bordeaux to Chile’s Colchagua Valley.

After decades of producing wines for others, in 1997 Bouchon’s great-great-grandson Mario Silva established Casa Silva to produce estate wines under the family’s own name. He had already  dedicated much of his life to recovering the old vineyards and wine cellar, and had acquired a unique understanding of the terroir in the Colchagua Valley, which is divided into the Andean sector,  influenced by the mountains, a central sector on the flatlands, and a coastal sector with significant influence from the Pacific Ocean.

Silva’s sons Mario Pablo, Francisco, Gonzalo, and Raimundo soon joined the winery operations and further contributed to growth and development.

Casa Silva is one of three pioneering wineries that have achieved certification of 100% of its vineyards under the new Wines of Chile Sustainability Code (www.sustentavid.org). It also has a large area under organic management and is constantly improving its processes in the cellar and its relationship with its community.

Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009

This wine hails from the hills along the Colchagua Valley’s cool seacoast. The terroir combines the freshness of the South Pacific and the vibrant minerality of the valley’s coastal soils.

It  features pineapple, citrus, minerals, and a refreshing acidity. The clean flavor is free of the grassiness that can mar this varietal.

Casa Silva Microterroir de Los Lingues Carmenère 2005

The fruit for this wine was grown in the Los Lingues Vineyard at the foot of the Andes Mountains. This Carmenère (“the lost grape of Bordeaux”) has a nose of black fruits and coffee. The flavor reveals ripe red fruits, supported by spices, soft tannins, and a hint of pepper.

www.casasilva.cl

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/

Maxville Winery

Maxville Lake WineryMad Max(ville)

The 1000-acre Maxville  Winery’s Napa Valley estate is located in the Chiles Valley AVA, in the Vaca Mountains, running parallel to and northeast of the Silverado Trail. The property was first planted to grape vines in 1974; today Maxville has over 100 acres of vineyard located at elevations between 900 and 1,200 feet. The volcanic soils provide a prime growing condition for wines, and Maxville practices sustainable dry farming methods in order to preserve the integrity of the property.

With a cooler microclimate than the main Napa Valley floor, afternoons are still sunny and warm, but nighttime temperatures plunge. This encourages full phenolic maturity, giving the grapes the potential of tremendous complexity.

In 1996, a new tasting room and barrel ageing facility was built, and it was extensively remodeled in 2016.

Under the owners that acquired the property in 2014, Executive Winemaker Camille Benitah began an extensive redevelopment and restoration of both the vineyards and the riparian corridors. “The Chiles Valley is real and rural and absolutely awe-inspiring,” says Benitah. “This is really an undiscovered part of the Napa Valley – it has so much history, but it’s also still pristine.”

Maxville Sauvignon Blanc 2014

This pale straw-colored wine is made from 100% estate-grown Musqué clone grapes. The nose expresses aromas of lemon cream and guava. The lemon notes continue on the palate, supported by by citrus and pear flavors. The acidity is well-integrated, and the finish is full-bodied and long.

Unusually, the wine was then aged three ways using a concrete egg, stainless steel, and barrels. The components were aged sur lies for eight-months before blending and bottling.

Although delicious now, this Sauvignon Blanc could last up to 10 years in the cellar, if you can wait that long. Not me.

Pair this selection with shellfish and potatoes à la Marinière, butter-poached lobster with tarragon and champagne, or grilled scallops with Rémoulade sauce.

Maxville Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

This Cabernet presents with a deep garnet hue and aromas of cedar and dark fruit. The flavor is fruit-forward, dominated by blackberry, cassis, and currant, supported by hints of chocolate, spice, and toasted oak. It’s all wrapped up with tightly wound tannins, zippy acidity and a long full finish. Decant (for at least two hours) now to make the aromatics more accessible, or let it rest for up to 15 years if you like a softer character.

This Cab underwent a seven-day cold-soak followed by a warm fermentation. The wine was left on skins for one week after primary fermentation finished. Malolactic fermentation was done in barrel; spending 18 months in 60% new French oak barrels.

This wine yearns for robust dishes like Bistecca alla Fiorentina; Provençal rack of lamb; or spit-roasted piri-piri chicken.

www.maxvillelakewines.com/

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/

Benziger Family Winery

Benziger Family WineryBeyond the Pale

In the early 1980s, the Benziger family (not to be confused with Beringer, although they often are) migrated west from White Plains, N.Y., and started a winery on Sonoma Mountain. Winemaker Joe Benziger learned his craft by making large production wines for the Glen Ellen brand, but eventually decided that his future lay with a series of small, artisan wines, sustainably produced.

Depending on location, every Benziger vineyard is certified sustainable, organic, or biodynamic, using the most up-to-date green farming practices. But, just what does that mean? Green, sustainable, and organic are words that are often used rather casually. At Benziger, they try to be more precise.

Their third-party certified-sustainable vineyard program emphasizes environmentally-sound growing methods, such as biodiversity, soil revitalization, and integrated pest management. Their growers are required to participate in sustainable farming.

Organic grape growing avoids the use of synthetic chemicals and uses natural methods like crop rotation, tillage, and natural composts to maintain soil health, as well as natural methods to control weeds, insects, and other pests. The winery itself is certified organic, too. Organic is an evolutionary step up from sustainable. After that, many Benziger growers move on from certified organic to certified biodynamic.

Animals and beneficial gardens play an important part in biodynamic farming techniques. Benziger relies on sheep for the removal of overgrown cover crop, and they replace the need for mowing, disking, and spraying herbicides; they aerate the soil while continuously depositing nutrient-rich fertilizer throughout the vineyard.

Olive trees also support the health of the estate. Olives often grow well in the same climates and soils as wine grapes, and Benziger has been offering an Estate Biodynamic Olive Oil for a number of years.

Benziger North Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2014

This very pale-yellow sipper is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes harvested from the North Coast appellation of Sonoma County. It opens with hints of melon on the nose. There is a subtle sweetness in the taste, suggesting peaches. The acidity comes on reminiscent of Key lime. It ends with a bit of bubbly on the finish.

Pair this easy-going wine with tabbouleh, braised swordfish in white wine, or grilled shrimp in a Catalan almond sauce.

Benziger Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2014

This selection looks more like cherry Kool-Aid than wine, but it’s wine, for sure. The understated nose features raspberry and sweet earth. The taste is cherry, alright, but this time of the tart variety. There is a medium finish with restrained tannins.

This easy-to-drink Pinot would go nicely with steam-poached salmon, Spanish chicken with sweet peppers, or Andalusian braised lamb shanks with honey.

https://www.benziger.com/

Top of page: https://winervana.com/blog/