Orin Swift Cellars Palermo 2018

I have been aware of Orin Swift wines for some time, especially The Prisoner, but had never had the chance to try any of them, so I was intrigued when a friend brought over this selection.  He is adamant that “all wines from California are inferior to any wine from Europe, especially Spain!” so I looked forward to his evaluation of this one, as well as my own.

Orin Swift Cellars is a relative newcomer on the California wine scene, having been established in 1998, but not by “Orin Swift,” as I had long assumed. Rather, it was by the now iconic, and iconoclastic, winemaker David Phinney. Orin is Phinney’s father’s middle name and Swift is his mother’s maiden name.

Phinney, a native Californian, was born in Gilroy, the son of a botanist and a college professor. However, within a week he was in Los Angeles, where he spent his childhood, and finally an adolescence in Squaw Valley. He enrolled in the Political Science program at the University of Arizona, with an eye towards a law degree, but before long became disillusioned with both. At this juncture, a friend invited him on a trip to Italy, and while in Florence he was introduced to the joys of wine, and soon became obsessed.

Back in the States, he began his career by working the night-shift harvest at Robert Mondavi in 1997. Encouraged by Mondavi, remarkably he started his own Napa Valley brand the very next year with the purchase two tons of some Zinfandel, though he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with it. Predictably, there were some false starts. Orin Swift’s first vintage was okay but not noteworthy, with Phinney confessing that he made an error in sourcing average fruit from the ‘wrong part’ of a great vineyard. Eventually he figured it out though, creating a rich, seductive, runaway best-selling wine called, surprise!, The Prisoner (an unusual blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Charbono).

Since making his first wine in 1998, Phinney has bee guided by two  criteria; “find the best fruit from the best vineyards and don’t screw it up” and if you do screw it up “experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

David Phinney.  Photo: Margaret Pattillo.

In a controversial move in 2016, Phinney sold Orin Swift to E&J Gallo (yes, that Gallo) for nearly 300 million dollars, but he shrewdly negotiated to remain in charge of production and winemaking for them. “I have access to their amazing vineyards; after the harvest in 2016 – the first year – I threw a barbeque for all the rest of the [Gallo] winemakers, some of who I knew, some I didn’t, to apologize for stealing their grapes because I knew we were getting access to stuff we probably shouldn’t have!”

While some observers saw it as a canny and natural business move, there were also whispers of criticism about Phinney ‘selling out.’ He is sensitive to the complaint, but stands by his decision. “It was a very natural, organic coming together, I’ve known and worked with the Gallos since 2005 and it was just kind of a conversation that was spurned because our growth curve was like a hockey stick, and that’s when you become attractive to bigger wineries,” he says.

Such financial independence has allowed Phinney to also produce wines from vineyards he owns in California and four European countries (France, Italy, Spain, Greece).

Many of the wines Phinney makes are blends. This is by design and not circumstance, so having access to a huge number of vineyards and parcels in sought-after areas of Napa Valley and beyond makes his job more interesting, and his quest for producing great wines arguably easier, as he is always striving for balance in his products. “For me the easiest way to achieve complexity is through geographic diversification, and that can be county-wise, valley-wise, country-wise,” he says. “I was told many years ago, and I believe it, that if you put a lot of good red wine together you often make a great red wine, so having that – and I hate this phrase – ‘spice rack’ of different things to play with can really work. You still have to be a custodian of each wine so that when you add them together the finished wine is better than the sum of its parts, that’s where I think blending really works.” And although he admits it’s a cliché, he believes that 90% of a wine is made in the field, so vineyard selection is the key to success.

Phinney also creates all the of the wine labels, and he is always looking for inspiration, much of which comes from his extensive travels around the world. “They all start and end with me, whether I like it or not. I grew up in LA in the 1980s very much in the punk/skateboarding/surfing scene, so there’s definitely a street art aspect to it. The flipside of that is that my parents were both professors, so we basically travelled the world and wherever we went we always had to go to a fine art museum. so there’s always been this relationship with art either by proxy or by design.”

Orin Swift Palermo Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Instead of a blend, for which Phinney is better known, Palermo is the entry-level Orin Swift Cab (still about 50 bucks, though).  It was aged for 12 months in French and  American Oak, of which 33% was new.

It is a rich, inky purple, with plenty of dark stone fruit and raspberry on the nose.  This is accentuated by cassis, blackberry, and vanilla on the palate.   The presentation is in excellent balance, a Phinney hallmark.  The ABV is a robust 15.5%.

Even my European-leaning friend grudgingly enjoyed it.  Perhaps predictably, since Phinney confesses that although his prestige wines come from California, his heart is in Spain.  As for me, I really liked it.

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Hedges Family Estate

A winemaker, Nicole Walsh of Ser Winery, recently recommended a wine to me. And I thought, “If a winemaker recommends someone else’s product, it must be worth seeking out.” That wine? Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain Syrah.

In June of 1976, Tom Hedges and Anne-Marie Liégeois married in a 12th century church in Champagne, France, the area where Liégeois was born and raised. This melding of New World and Old World experiences and sensibilities would directly inform them once they entered the world of wine years later.

Liégeois was born near the medieval town of Troyes. Her upbringing was “maison bourgeoise,” where three generations of the family lived and worked together. The family was prosperous, and could afford to enjoy traditional home-cooked meals and the best of the local wines.

Hedges was raised as a “traditional” American, in a home of strong work ethics guided by his father, who had a background in apple growing and dairy farming before becoming an engineer. The younger Hedges was born in Richland, Washington, located at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers. It was established in 1906 as a small farming community, but in 1943 the U.S. Army turned much of it into a bedroom community for the workers on its Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb at the nearby Hanford Engineering Works (now the Hanford site).  The B Reactor, the first full-scale plutonium production reactor in the world, was built here. Plutonium manufactured at the site was used in the first nuclear bomb, which was tested at the Trinity site in New Mexico, and in Fat Man, the atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. Nuclear weapons development continued here throughout the Cold War. Now now-decommissioned, Hanford leaves behind a grim legacy of 60% of the high-level radioactive waste managed by the US Department of Energy, including 53 million US gallons (200,000 m3) of high-level radioactive waste stored within 177 storage tanks, 25 million cubic feet (710,000 m3) of solid radioactive waste, and areas of heavy technetium-99 and uranium contaminated groundwater

Tom Hedges spent the first ten years of the marriage working for large multinational agricultural firms. He was employed by Castle & Cooke foods from 1976 to 1982 where he headed up four international offices. Next, he worked for Pandol Bros., a small Dutch trading company in Seattle, which at the time was importing Chilean produce and exporting fruit to the Far East and India. In 1984 he served as President and CEO of McCain Produce Co. in New Brunswick, Canada, farming potatoes for export. Then, in 1986, the Hedges created an export company called American Wine Trade, Inc., based in Kirkland, Washington (which is also the home of Costco), and began selling wine to foreign importers, primarily in Taiwan. As the company grew, it began to source Washington wines for a larger clientele, leading to the establishment of a negociant-inspired Cabernet/Merlot blend called Hedges Cellars in 1987. This wine was sold to the Swedish government’s wine and spirit monopoly, Vin & Sprit Centralen, which was the company’s first major client.

During this time, the Hedges discovered the developing wine region called Red Mountain, three hours southeast of Seattle. After buying fifty acres here in 1989, they planted forty acres to Bordeaux grape varieties and transformed American Wine Trade from a negociant and wine trader into the classic model of a wine estate. Today, this Biodynimacally-farmed Red Mountain property continues to be the core of the Hedges family wine enterprise. In 1995, they began construction of the Hedges Chateau.

Hedges Chateau. Photo: Jacob Hughey

The Hedges ‘children, Sarah and Christophe, are now involved in the business, and each has a special set of skills for understanding the terroir.

Sarah attended the University of San Diego and graduated with a degree in business and philosophy. She later attended UC Santa Barbara to study chemistry, and at the same time worked for a Santa Barbara winery managing the tasting room and helping with harvest. From 2003 to 2005 she worked for Preston Vineyards in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, doing wine production work. She became assistant winemaker for Hedges in 2006 under the tutelage of her uncle, Pete Hedges (younger brother of Tom). Pete Hedges schooled Sarah in both terroir and chemistry, believing that each works to show a wine the path to exhibit the truth of its place. Sarah ascended to head winemaker in 2015 after her uncle retired.

The elder of the two, Christophe, is a graduate of the University of San Diego with a Business Degree and minor in Theatre Arts.  In addition to being the general manager at Hedges, he farms his own property using modern Biodynamic techniques, executed by John Gomez, the Hedges Family Estate vineyard manager.  He has been long opposed to the numerical point scores used by several wine critics, and he urges consumers to rely on their own knowledge about a specific varietal or the region from which it came. (I’m with you there, Christophe!)  Ten years ago he created scorevolution.com, an online petition promoting the elimination of 100-point rating scales from wine reviews altogether. “The final decision about a wine is personal, and it belongs to the wine drinker alone,” he explained. (As of this writing, the site is still online, but seems to be closed to any further activity.  I.E. you can’t even read the manifesto, much less endorse it, which I would have been happy to do.  Regardless of where you stand,  you can read a criticism and defense of the point-score system here.)  Christophe is also responsible for the very European-style Hedges bottle labels.

Hedges Cellars eventually transitioned to Hedges Family Estate, and farming practices have become more focused towards being organic and vegan.  Rather than commercial strains, only wild yeast is used, and the wines are neither fined nor filtered.  They are also gluten free.  The Hedges estate vineyard is certified organic by CCOF, nonprofit organization that advances organic agriculture for a healthy world through organic certification, education, advocacy, and promotion. It is certified Biodynamic by Demeter, the only certifier for Biodynamic farms and products in America. While all of the organic requirements for certification under the National Organic Program are required for Biodynamic certification, the Demeter standard is much more extensive.  The vineyard is also rated by Salmon Safe, which works with West Coast farmers, developers, and other environmentally innovative landowners to reduce watershed impacts through rigorous third-party verified certification.

Hedges estate vineyard.  Photo: Jacob Hughey

Hedges Family Estates Red Mountain Hedges Vineyard Syrah 2017

The grapes are from the Hedges Estate Biodynamic vineyard.  After being harvested they were crushed into bins where they underwent indigenous yeast fermentation. After pressing, the wine was aged in barrel where it underwent indigenous malolactic fermentation. The wine was aged in 56% new oak (65% French and 35% American) for 22 months before bottling.

This Syrah pours a nearly opaque dark purple into the glass.  There are full aromas of dark stone fruits accompanied by earth.  On the palate, those flavors are rather recessive, in the European style, but primarily pomegranate, and  blueberry.  Or it might just be that they are being masked by the big, black-tea tannins.  These come with good supportive acidity.  259 cases were made, and the ABV is 13.5%.

Hedges Family Estates C.M.S Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

The grapes were sourced from the Sagemoor, Wooded Island, and Bacchus vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA and Hedges Estate, Jolet and Les Gosses vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA. The must was pumped-over for eight days and pressed to tank, where it underwent malolactic fermentation. The Columbia Valley portion of this wine (59%) was fermented to dryness in 100% American oak and aged in 100% French oak. It was then barrel aged for five months in 100% neutral oak. The Red Mountain AVA wines (41%)were barrel aged in 100% neutral American and French oak for 11 months.

C.M.S (named for its blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 16% Syrah) is a semi-transparent but deep red.  The rich aromatics feature blueberry, blackberry, and black cherry, with support from dark cocoa and vanilla.  These deploy in the mouth as the same flavors.  Both the acidity and tannins are excellent and harmoniously balanced.  5976 cases were produced, and the ABV comes in at 14.0%.

Descendants Liegeois Dupont 2011

This Syrah is an homage to both sides of Anne-Marie Hedges’ French families.  the Liegeoises and Duponts.  The fruit was sourced from the Les Gosses vineyard in the center of the Red Mountain AVA. The juice was pumped over on skins for eight days before pressing to barrel and undergoing malolactic fermentation. The wine was  barrel aged for an average of  12 months in 52% new oak and 48% older oak( 62% American, 31% French, and 7% Hungarian).

The wine pours a semi-transparent dark purple color. It shows full aromas of dark stone fruit, especially plum, bordering on prunes, with hints of maple bacon. leather, and smoked cedar.  The plums plus blueberry are revealed on the palate.  The ABV is 14%, but seems higher due to the wine’s richness.  It’s all supported by strapping tannins and plenty of tart acidity.  1202 cases were made.

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Kokonor Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

There are many ways to buy wine: at a wine shop or liquor store, at a grocery store, or through a winery’s wine club, among others.  There is another option that I use on occasion.  These are online “flash sites” that offer one or even a few different bottles for sale per day, at discounts of around 15 to 70%, often with free shipping if you place a minimum order, which tends to be three to six bottles and varies with the price.  How do they do this?

  1. The winery approaches the site (or vice versa), looking to sell some wine that the winery has not been able to sell as quickly as they would like.  The winery may be stressed by lack of cash flow, not enough storage space, or some other unknown.
  2. They agree on a price that enables the site to sell the wine at well below retail.
  3. The site buys all (or most) of the available stock.
  4. The site then offers the wine at a discounted price, often substantially so.

Here are a three such sites you might want to try:
www.invino.com
www.lastbottlewines.com
www.wtso.com

This Kokonor came from wtso.com.  It had a listed retail price of $135 (true retail prices are sometimes difficult to verify, but on Kokonor’s web site the 2016 was selling for $125 before the allocation window closed.  The 2017 and 2018 were not available there.)  WTSO sold this bottle for $33, with free shipping on three bottles.  Quite a deal, almost too good to be true, so I contacted the winery for clarification.   This is what their representative had to say, “Due to Covid-19 and wildfires in 2020 all but shutting all of our sales channels down (tasting room, on-premise sales) we released our 2017 and 2018 vintages on Wines Til Sold Out [at] well below our cost.”  So, sometimes when it’s gotta go, it’s gotta go.

Kokonor is owned by a Chinese company, Qinghua Huzhu Barley Wine,* under the subsidiary Koko Nor Corp., which purchased Sundown Ranch LLC in late  2013 for $15 million. Sundown’s main asset was a 1000-acre property in St. Helena at the north end of Napa Valley, of which 100 acres were under vine. Kokonor makes the wine from fruit sourced from this vineyard at the  Maxville Winery in the Chiles Valley AVA east of Napa Valley.  (The CEO of Maxville, Anthony Hsu, was born in Taiwan and spent time there off and on before adulthood.  Coincidental that a Chinese company should make wine at Maxville?  I leave that up to you to decide.)

The Winemaker

George Bursick grew up in Sonoma County, where many of his friends’ families were grape growers and he was exposed to vineyards and winemaking early on. After attending UC Santa Barbara for a while, he was hired part-time at Beringer Winery in St. Helena. His first duty was assembling Christmas gift packs for the tasting room. Soon after however, he graduated to the cellar where in 1970 he was, “…dragging hoses for $5.26 an hour. I was glad to be making such good money.”

“Myron Nightingale [Beringer’s winemaker at the time] was my first mentor, my first serious inspiration to become a winemaker,” said Bursick. “He encouraged me to return to college and finish my undergrad work in plant physiology and to get a Master’s Degree in enology from UC Davis. In the meantime I was learning the winery business from the ground up working in the cellars at Beringer.”

Upon graduation from UC Davis, Bursick began his first solo winemaking job at the now-closed McDowell Valley Vineyards in Mendocino County on the recommendation of John Parducci. One of his most significant accomplishments there was the first varietal release of Syrah in California. This was produced in 1980 from the 1978 vintage of 100-year-old vines, which had long been misidentified as Petit Sirah, at least in this vineyard. George suspected the mistake and brought in ampelographists to verify his opinion that the vines were in fact Syrah and more than worthy of a special bottling.

After nine years at McDowell, old friend Justin Meyer recommended him to Rhonda and Don Carano. They were in the early stages of their plans for a new winery in Sonoma County called Ferrari-Carano and Bursick joined the team as Director of Winemaking.

“From the beginning, I think we were all what you might call progressive; maybe aggressive,” he said of the early days at Ferrari-Carano. “We wanted to make really great wine and we explored all possibilities. We were among the first to bring in ENTAV clones from the France’s viticultural authority. We experimented with barrels, fermentation, yeasts, we researched everything and we’d try anything, in the winery and in the vineyard. And for the most part, the results were worth it.”

Bursick left Ferrari-Carano in 2006 in order to focus on his expanding consulting business, and later through that work become Vice President of Winemaking at J Winery. He agreed to the take the position with the stipulation that his existing consulting clients would not be affected. Bursick ushered J Vineyards into a new era of wine production focused on cool-climate, site-specific Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

He produced the Kokonor as a consultant at Maxville.

Kokonor Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

The fruit for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was hand-picked from select blocks, hand-sorted, and then whole-berry fermented in micro-fermentation batches.  It was aged for 22 months in 100% French oak.

A predicable dark opaque purple, Kokonor serves up classic aromas of blackberry and cassis, which continue on the palate.  However, the wine is fruit-recessive, in the Old World style.  It is supported by notes of tobacco and cedar, as well as zippy acidity and grippy tannins.  336 cases were produced, and the ABV is 14.5%.

Would I pay $135 for this wine?  Well, no.   Would I pay $33?  Hell yes.  As indeed I did.

* Barley wine isn’t wine at all, but rather a strong ale with between 6 to 12% alcohol by volume.  The beer writer Michael Jackson referred to a barley wine by Smithwick’s as, “This is very distinctive, with an earthy hoppiness, a wineyness, lots of fruit and toffee flavours.” 

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Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle

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

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

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

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

David and Kathleen Grieve

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

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

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

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

Photo: Sofia Englund / Sonoma Magazine

Philippe Melka

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

Grieve Family Estate Vineyard

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

Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle Sauvignon Blanc 2018

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


Photo: Wilson Daniels

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

Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle Red Wine 2018**

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

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

grievewinery.com/

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

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

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

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Brutocao Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Lobo Wines

Yet another white-collar professional turned winery owner, Randy Wulff was an attorney for 20 years. After graduating from the Honors College at the University of Oregon and Hastings College of the Law, he worked as a successful trial lawyer and mediator at a law firm in  San Francisco. “Even when I was one of the chief mediators during the World Trade Center property damage claims hearings arising from the tragedy of 9/11 that lasted for more than two and a half years, my wife Krys and I had always dreamed of being in the wine business,” Wulff reminisced.

Krys Wulff got her undergraduate degree at the University of San Francisco, and a Masters at Mills College in Oakland, California. She worked as an optical industry consultant for over 25 years while also raising two sons. She has devoted her energies to several philanthropic, educational, and advocacy organizations, including the Piedmont League of Women Voters, the East Bay Junior League, and EdSource, an independent, non-partisan organization that works to engage Californians on key education challenges with the goal of enhancing learning success.

Randy grew up with Krys in California’s Central Valley. “We were high school sweethearts and have been married for over 48 years,” shared Randy. “She is the heart and soul of Lobo Wines, and our success is directly related to her efforts. I can’t think of anything better than sharing our success with the person I love the most.”

As is not unusual for well-heeled San Francisco residents, the Wulffs eventually purchased a second home, in Napa Valley. “We were living in the East Bay and Napa Valley was only an hour’s drive away. Whenever we arrived there, it was like living in another world,” Randy recalled. They soon planted Chardonnay on the property, which is located in the Oak Knoll district. “When the first usable fruit came in, we sold the grapes to Randy Lewis, and he produced a wine that notched incredibly high scores. I thought to myself, this is easy, and we decided to really delve into the wine industry.”

Continuing to expand their efforts as grape growers, a few years later the Wulffs acquired a much larger vineyard about a mile from the first one, where they made substantial improvements to drainage and vine care. In 2007, they acquired a 42-acre property on Atlas Peak, on the eastern ridge of the Napa Valley. With that commitment, the couple established a winery of their own that same year, naming it Lobo Wines. Lobo is Spanish for ‘wolf,’ a play on their last name, of course. The first vintage yielded just 25 cases, but production has gradually increased to around 1,500 cases.

“We want to grow Lobo Wines carefully,” Randy explained. “Our goal is probably around 5,000 cases, and we want everything to be home grown. At this point, we crush some 100 tons of fruit, but we sell around 70 percent to other wineries. Over time, we will sell less and produce more.”

Sadly, the horrendous Atlas Peak fire of 2017 devastated the Lobo winery and the Wulffs’ home site. Undeterred, they immediately set about to rebuild the winery and residence, a project that is ongoing.

The Winemakers

Victoria Coleman
Coleman, a Seattle native, began her winemaking apprenticeship at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars as a production assistant in 1998. While there, she enrolled in a winemaking class at Napa Valley College. As part of that course, she crushed a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in a drum with her feet in the time-honored manner. The experience of hands-on winemaking fueled her desire to learn everything she could about it.

She began working with Mario Bazán at Bazán Cellars in 2004 as the winery’s founding winemaker. To further her formal education, she enrolled at the University of California, Davis, (incubator for thousands of winemakers) in the fall of 2006 and graduated in June 2008. She was exposed to classic, Old World winemaking immediately thereafter while working alongside Erick Tourbier at Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux. Starting in January 2010, she gained further international experience as winemaker at Jade Valley Winery near Xian, China. She returned to Napa Valley in 2015 and began work at Lobo Wines, where her products include both the Napa Valley and Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah named “Howl.”

Randy Lewis
Lewis came to winemaking via a circuitous route. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, he was a race car driver for more than two decades, first as a Formula Three driver in Europe, where he discovered the wines there and what life as a winemaker could be like. He then raced in America in Formula 5000, Can Am, and finally Indy Cars from 1983 to 1991, competing in five Indy 500s. After retiring as a driver, he helped a friend set up a winery in Napa Valley, and then,
with his wife Debbie, he established his own winery in Napa in 1992.

Lobo Chardonnay 2017

Made by Randy Lewis at Lewis Cellars, this 100% Chardonnay is sourced from fruit grown at  the Lobo Wulff estate vineyard in Oak Knoll.   It is lemon yellow in the glass, and features aromas of lemon, honeysuckle, and melon. The mouthfeel is rich and smooth, and offers flavors of lemon, grapefruit, and more melon.  There is good acidity, restrained oak, and a bit of vanilla on the medium finish.  ABV is 14.7% and 150 cases were produced.

Lobo Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

This wine, made by Victoria Coleman, was chosen by Great Britain’s Decanter magazine in 2019 as the Top Cabernet Sauvignon in California over 197 other competitors.  It was made from 100% estate grown fruit in the Atlas Peak appellation of Napa Valley, on a rocky, volcanic hillside at 1,350 feet elevation. This is a blend of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Merlot,  and 1% Petit Verdot (allegedly for “balance and complexity,” although I can’t imagine how much of that such a small percentage could contribute.)  On the nose, this Cabernet Sauvignon offers aromas of dark fruit and hints of vanilla. There are ripe plum, black currant, and blackberry on the palate.  These harmonize with medium, satiny tannins, nicely integrated acidity, and hint of black tea at the end.  ABV is 14.4%.

lobowines.com

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Maroon Wines Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Like not a few winery owners of his generation, Paul Maroon came to the industry after a long successful career elsewhere.  Of Lebanese descent, he was born in 1947 in Pennsylvania, where his father owned a produce business.  His first exposure to wine came when he started as a teenager helping his uncle make wine. “It was terrible,” Maroon laughed years later.

Maroon graduated from college back east, and then migrated to California to pursue his MBA.  After that, he started selling medical supplies, including pacemakers. He worked closely with hospitals and doctors, and ultimately started his own company, specializing in new types of medical devices.

In the late 1990s, he felt wine and his ancestral agricultural roots pulling him more strongly than ever, and he moved up from the San Jose Bay area to the Napa Valley.  There he purchased the 37 acres that would become Maroon’s permanent home, in what is now part of the prestigious Coombsville Appellation in the Napa Valley AVA. Today, about 17 acres of this land is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, which produce Maroon’s estate wines.

For the first ten years, Maroon was a grower only.  He sold his Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to Joseph Phelps, among others, for their famous (and now quite expensive) Insignia blend. During that time, he became friends with Chris Corley, who is the second-generation winemaker for Monticello Winery.  With assistance from Corley, Maroon made about two barrels of wine for himself, and eventually realized the quality that the fruit of his vineyard could achieve as a single-varietal, single-vineyard wine.  He ended the Phelps contract, and the first commercial vintage of 500 cases of Maroon wines was produced in 2009 with Corley as winemaker. His philosophy is to introduce as little winemaking manipulation or intervention as possible from the vineyard to the bottle, and to focus on 100% varietal wines (no blending).

A staunch advocate of the wine industry, Maroon helped form the Save the Family Farms initiative, which aims to preserve Napa Valley’s small family vineyards so they can continue to thrive and be passed on to future generations.  He was also active in the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Knights of the Vine.   Paul Maroon died in late 2019, but his widow Renée is committed to continuing the operation of the winery.

Maroon was a firm believer in terroir-driven wines. “Everyone in the business knows that it is the earth and the combination of drainage and minerals that make the difference,” he was once quoted as saying. “We at Maroon Vineyard are blessed to have everything we need in one particular place.”

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Planted at an altitude of between 200 and 600 feet, Maroon’s estate vineyard in Coombsville is located in a bowl-shaped depression topped by Mt George, an extinct volcano. The grapes benefit from slower and more even ripening due to the location in the southern end of Napa Valley. Here, the fog burns off later in the day and frosts are less likely to occur.  The land is composed of rocky volcanic soil and rich gravely loams, which provide both easy drainage and water access for the vines.  A next-door neighbor was Robert Craig of Robert Craig Winery.  Craig was Maroon’s friend and mentor, and he always insisted that Craig be given a great deal of credit for the successes of Maroon Wines.

Maroon’s total current production hovers around 10,000 cases of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, with small lots of Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec, and Sauvignon Blanc.  “This level is perfect for us, for here we can control all aspects of the wine from the beginning to the end,” Maroon often said. “If we were much bigger, this probably wouldn’t be the case.”

Maroon Napa Valley Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Fruit for this Special Reserve 100% Cabernet Sauvignon originated in Maroon’s estate vineyard in the Coombsville Appellation of the Napa Valley AVA. It was aged for 24 months in all new French oak.

This wine is violet/black in color. Aromas of leather and blackberry join with dark chocolate, vanilla and a hint of espresso on the palate. The lingering finish features creamy oak tones and bracing tannins.  ABV is 14.4% and 476 cases were produced.

www.maroonwines.com

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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Born in San Francisco and raised in Santa Rosa, Richard Arrowood started his winemaking career in 1965 at Korbel Champagne Cellars, after earning a degree in organic chemistry at California State University, Sacramento, and completing graduate work in enology at California State University, Fresno.

From Korbel he moved on, first to United Vintners, then Sonoma Vineyards, and in 1974 was chosen by the founders of Chateau St. Jean Winery to become their first employee and winemaker.

In 1981 Arrowood met Alis Demers at the first California Wine Experience in San Francisco. They started dating and were married in 1985. They soon began plans for building Arrowood Vineyards & Winery, which opened later that same year.  For the first three years, Alis ran the winery while Arrowood fulfilled his ongoing obligations as executive vice president/winemaster at Chateau St. Jean. In April 1990 he joined Alis to devote himself full-time to Arrowood Winery.

Robert Mondavi Corp. purchased Arrowood in 2000.  Constellation Brands purchased Mondavi in 2004 and subsequently sold Arrowood in 2005 to the Legacy Estate Group, which filed for bankruptcy just a year later, in 2006.  At that point, Arrowood Vineyards, along with Legacy’s two other operations, Freemark Abbey and Byron Vineyard and Winery, were sold to Kendall Jackson.

The peripatetic Arrowood moved on in 2010; he opened his newest winery, Amapola Creek, in June of that year. The 120-acre ranch (purchased in 2001) that is home to Amapola Creek is situated on the western slope of the Mayacamas Mountains, which rise between and separate the Sonoma and Napa valleys. Although Alis envisioned the site as the place for a peaceful retirement, Richard had other ideas, and immediately set about selecting the best 20 acres of the property for use as the foundation for Amapola Creek Winery.

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Arrowood claims he’s “saved the best for last.” Perhaps he’s right; after making quality wine for over 45 years, he says his quest now is to make his greatest wines ever.

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In early December 2019, Richard Arrowood announced his retirement.

https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/10427340-181/richard-arrowood-sonoma-wine-business

Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

The organically-farmed estate vineyard for this Cabernet is a high-elevation site featuring mineral-rich volcanic soils and cooling breezes from San Pablo Bay. The grapes were hand-picked and pressed.  After fermentation the wine was aged for 24 months in new and seasoned French and American oak. It is neither fined nor filtered.

This release marks Arrowood’s 50th vintage.  It is composed of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot.  The wine is is classic deep garnet-purple in color, and gives up somewhat closed notes of blackberries, black plums, and cassis with touches of pencil shavings, and cedar chest. The palate is full-bodied, and continues with blackberries and  black cherry.  It has a solid frame of firm, grippy tannins, and finishes long with a minted lift.

https://www.amapolacreek.com/

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Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

HISTORY

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

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

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

The Modern Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philosophy

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

The Vineyards

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

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

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

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

https://www.mtveeder.com/

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Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

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

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

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

In 1995, the Hopes acquired Liberty School from the Wagners. In 1996, they launched Treana Winery with Chris Phelps serving as winemaker.

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

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

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

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

The winery.

The tasting room.

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

Austin Hope Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

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

https://www.hopefamilywines.com/

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Kenwood Vineyards

Kenwood

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

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

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

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

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

Kenwood Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

The Winemaker

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

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

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

The Jack London Estate Vineyards

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

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

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

The Jack London Wines

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

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Red Blend 2016

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

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

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

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Dry Farmed** Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

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

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

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

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https://kenwoodvineyards.com/

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

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

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

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Raymond Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

History

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

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

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

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

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

The Winemakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raymond Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

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

https://raymondvineyards.com/

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Trefethen Family Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

The Vineyards and Environmental Commitment

The Main Ranch Vineyard.   Photo: Arturo Pardavila

The Vineyards

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

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

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

Biodiversity

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

Soil Health

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

Water Conservation

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

Energy Usage

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

Certifications

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

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

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

Trefethen Family Vineyards Oak Knoll District Estate Chardonnay 2018

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

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

Trefethen Family Vineyards Oak Knoll District Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

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

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

https://www.trefethen.com/

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

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Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winemakerMonica Belavic

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

Paso Robles AVA: Keyes Canyon Vineyard

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

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

Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

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

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