Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winemakerMonica Belavic

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

Paso Robles AVA: Keyes Canyon Vineyard

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

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

Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

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

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Adega Northwest Winery

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

It doesn’t get much more urban than this.

THE WINEMAKER

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE VINEYARDS

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

Destiny Ridge Vineyard Columbia Valley, Paterson, Washington

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

Delfino Vineyard, Umpqua Valley, Roseburg. Oregon 

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

Double Canyon Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, Prosser, Washington

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

dutchman vineyard, yakima valley, Grandview, Washington

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

Firethorn Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Echo, Oregon

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

french creek Vineyard, yakima valley, prosser, Washington

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

Gamache Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Basin City, Washington

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

Kamiak Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Pasco, Washington

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

Red heaven Vineyard, red mountain, Benton city, Washington

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

Two Blonds, Yakima Valley, Zillah, Washington

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

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

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

Weinbau Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, Washington

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

[SOME OF] THE WINES

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

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

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

Adega Northwest Double Canyon Vineyard Syrah 2016

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

Adega Northwest Tempranillo 2015

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

Adega Northwest Weinbau Vineyard | Block 10 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

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

Adega Northwest Eremita White Blend 2018

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

Adega Northwest Alvarinho 2018

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

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

Adega Northwest Chardonnay 2018

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

https://www.adeganorthwest.com/

Secret Door Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

THE VINEYARDS

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

Hirondelle Vineyard, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

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

Sage Ridge Vineyard, Napa Valley

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

J-M-L Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

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

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

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

secretdoorwines.com

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Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

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

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

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

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

The Winery

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

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

 

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

Photo: Francisco Vidal Mora

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

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

The winemaker

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

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

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

The Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Michael S. Herzog

Clos Pegase Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

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

https://www.clospegase.com/

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7 Deadly Wines

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

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

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

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

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

7 Deadly Zins Old Vine Zinfandel 2017

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

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

7 Deadly Cab Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

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

www.7deadlywines.com

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Coursey Graves Winery

Coursey Graves

 

Cabell Coursey

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

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

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

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

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

Bennett Valley AVA

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

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

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

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

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

The Coursey Graves Vineyards

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

 

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

The wines

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

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

Coursey Graves Chardonnay 2018

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

Coursey Graves West Slope Syrah 2016

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

Coursey Graves Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

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

Coursey Graves Bennett Mountain Estate Red Blend 2016

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

https://www.courseygraves.com/

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HALL Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon

HALL Jack's MasterpieceJackson Pollock
Reincarnated

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

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

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

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

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

HALL Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

hallwines.com

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Imagery Estate Winery

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

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

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

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

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

Imagery Sauvignon Blanc 2019

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

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

Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

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

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

www.imagerywinery.com/

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Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Jeremy Baines

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

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

Photo: Darcy K.

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

Martha's Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

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

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

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

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

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Justin Cabernet Sauvignon

Justin Cabernet SauvignonJustin Baldwin founded his eponymous winery in Paso Robles, California, in 1981 on 160 acres.  His vision was to make world-class Bordeaux-style blends.   Befitting such ambition, The winery is invested in the French idea of terroir, that a wine must reflect its place, especially soil and climate.

Justin’s soil is largely fossilized limestone from eons of marine deposit. The limestone stresses the vines, producing grapes that, ideally, completely express their varietal character.

Paso Robles’ distinctive microclimate offers the widest day to night temperature swings of any grape-growing region in California. The hot days allow the grapes to develop intense flavor, while the cool nights create structure and balance.

Justin combines traditional Old World methods—like hand-harvesting and small-barrel aging in French oak—with New World technology.

Justin’s offerings include Bordeaux-style blends, of course, and other red blends.  These are joined by single varietal (or nearly so) Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Viognier.   At the top of the range is the famous Isosceles, their flagship wine (and a registered trademark).  Reflecting Isosceles’ prominence, much of Justin’s branding, marketing, and naming play off the right-angle triangle theme.

The Founder’s Vineyard

In addition to the Founder’s Vineyard, Justin also farms the Adelaida Road Vineyard, one of the highest in the Paso Robles AVA; the Creston Road Vineyard, located in the Templeton Gap that enjoys cooling breezes from the Pacific; and the steeply-sloped DeBro Vineyard that sits on a variety of soil types.

There is also an inn and restaurant on the property.

Billionaire Stewart Resnick bought Justin Vineyards and Winery in late 2010.  Resnick also controls Fiji Water, Pom Wonderful, and Teleflora.  Resnick also owns the Sonoma County wineries Landmark and Hop Kiln.

Justin Baldwin is still casually involved with the winery, but the winemaking falls to Napa Valley veteran Scott Shirley, who has maintained and even expanded Justin’s quality and reputation.  Justin was named the 2015 American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is purple-ruby in the glass.  It features aromas of ripe black and red cherry.  Flavors of black currant abound on the palate, with cocoa and a hint of dust.  The wine is full-bodied and dry, with a moderately long finish. There is a mild acidity and balanced tannins. It was barrel aged for 13 months in American oak (25% new) and has an ABV of 14.5%.

Enjoy this wine with Spencer Steaks with Red-wine Shiitake Sauce, Pork Chops in Balsamic Cherry Sauce, or East-West Barbecued Chicken.

Three Finger Jack Cabernet Sauvignon

Three Finger JackIn 1894, Gaspare Indelicato was born in the small village of Campobello di Mazara in the province of Trapani, Sicily. In 1911, at the tender age of 16, he emigrated to the United States through Ellis Island, New York.

Eventually, Gaspare and his wife Caterina settled in the agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley, east of San Francisco.  In 1924, Gaspare and his brother-in-law Sebastiano made a bold decision to purchase an old dairy farm, planted grapes, and shipped them by train to home winemakers in the Chicago area during Prohibittion.

When “The Noble Experiment” was repealed in 1933, selling grapes to home winemakers was no longer profitable.  Sebastiano and Gaspare decided the only way to salvage their grape crop was to make wine.  In May of 1935, they  opened their winery in a converted hay barn and called it Sam-Jasper Winery after the Americanized versions of their first names.  Production began with 3,451 gallons (about 100 cases) of red wine which was sold to local farmers and friends.

As the business grew, Gaspare’s three sons, Frank, Anthony, and Vincent, joined the family winery in the 1950s. At that time, Frank was cellarmaster, Tony was winemaker, and Vince was the entire sales department.

Today, Delicato Family Wines is still family-owned by the heirs of Gaspare and Caterina’s three sons. The third and fourth generations of the Indelicato family are actively involved in the wine business and continue the tradition of producing and importing fine wines.

The Indelicato family is devoted to its California winemaking heritage of family farming, environmentally sensitive winegrowing practices, and economically sustainable principles.

 

“‘Family farmed’ encompasses the firmly-held belief that we are responsible for tending the earth and protecting its inhabitants,” explains Jay Indelicato. “This responsibility not only includes using environmentally sensitive farming practices, but also maintaining the highest ethical standards in our business dealings. My family has relationships with growers, banks, employees, and consumers that span decades. By thinking of ourselves as a “family farmed” company, it is a reminder that we have a responsibility to preserve and sustain the things that matter most.”

In addition to Three Finger Jack, Delicato Family Vineyards offers wines under such brands as Black Stallion, Bota Box, Gnarly Head, La Merika, and others.

Three Finger Jack Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Here’s the legend of Three Finger Jack. Make of it what you will: He was a notorious desperado who roamed the Sierras and the land east of Sacramento in the closing days of the Old West. Nobody knows where he came from, how he lost two fingers, or where he died. But his legend still lives on today in Lodi, California.

Lodi sits at the foothills of California Gold Country, 75 miles east of San Francisco. Pioneers knew that Lodi made superb wine country; so they planted vines there more than a century ago.  Its hot days are cooled by breezes from a vast river delta, and it’s home to soils that force vines to dig deep into the ground. Most of the Lodi region has deep, loamy soil. However, up on the east side, the soil is more rocky, with cobblestones and soil low in nutrients.

Three Finger Jack is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 8% Malbec, 6% Merlot, and 1% other red varieties.  Part of the wine is aged in American and French oak with the rest in stainless steel.

Pouring from a unique squat bottle, TFJ is a transparent dark red in the glass. It features a robust 15% ABV, with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, and vanilla..  These and tastes of leather and cocoa follow, supported by good tannins and mild acidity.  It ends in a relatively short finish.

Pair this substantial wine with Lemon-Pepper Barbeque Ribs, Lamb Kabobs with Mustard Marinade, or Double Peanut-Crusted Pork Chops.

Benziger Family Winery

Benziger Family WineryBall of Confusion

Let’s clear up some confusion right away. This column is about the Benziger Family Winery of Sonoma, not the Beringer winery of Napa. But people often make this mistake, as Chris Benziger can attest to.

In the early 1980s, the Benziger family migrated west from White Plains, N.Y. to start a winery in Sonoma. Winemaker Joe Benziger learned his craft by making large production wines for the Glen Ellen brand, but eventually decided that his future lay with a series of small, artisan wines, sustainably produced.


Photo: Shannon Kelly

Photo: Sean Cuevas

Depending on location, every Benziger vineyard is certified sustainable, organic, or biodynamic, using the most up-to-date green farming practices. But, just what does that mean? Green, sustainable, and organic are words that are often used rather casually. At Benziger, they try to be more precise. Their third-party certified-sustainable vineyard program emphasizes environmentally-sound growing methods, such as biodiversity, soil revitalization, and integrated pest management. Their growers are required to participate in sustainable farming. Organic grape growing avoids the use of synthetic chemicals and uses natural methods like crop rotation, tillage, and natural composts to maintain soil health, as well as natural methods to control weeds, insects, and other pests. The winery itself is certified organic, too.

Photo: Etienne van Gorp

Organic is an evolutionary step up from sustainable. After that, many Benziger growers move on from certified organic to certified biodynamic. Animals and beneficial gardens play an important part in biodynamic farming techniques. Benziger relies on sheep for the removal of overgrown cover crop, and they replace the need for mowing, disking, and spraying herbicides; they aerate the soil while continuously depositing nutrient-rich fertilizer throughout the vineyard. Olive trees also support the health of the estate.

Benziger Pinot Noir 2017

Even thought deceptively transparent in the glass and light bodied, this Pinot packs plenty of flavor. The immediate sensation is that of cola, followed by juicy fruits, especially strawberry, and subtle spices. The acidity and tannins are in nice harmony.

Invite some friends over and serve this with roast chicken with endive and potatoes, baked fish with sorrel béarnaise (Pinot Noir often works with fish), or lentils with vinaigrette.

Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This dark-ruby colored wine is very much in a Eurorpean, rather than California, style. It is quite dry, with zippy acidity. There are flavors of rich berry, cocoa, and mocha, with a hint of cinnamon. Seamless tannins play a supporting role.

This hearty red will go nicely with paté with herbs, steak with shallot sauce, or braised short ribs with carrots.

https://www.benziger.com/

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Viader Proprietary Red Blend

Viader Vineyards and WineryAlthough I’ve never met Delia Viader, founder of Viader Vineyards and Winery, she is by all accounts quite a remarkable woman.

She was born in 1958, the first child of a wealthy Argentinian engineer, Walter Viader. In addition to his expertise in aerodynamics and telecommunications, he also traveled the world as a diplomatic attaché. As soon as Delia could read, her parents encouraged her to pursue her innate curiosity, recommending a number of books which they could discuss together.

When Delia was five years old, she was sent to a German girl’s boarding school, where she would receive the beginning of her formal education over the next twelve years. It was a thoroughly classical curriculum, including learning ancient Greek and Latin for Mass. She also gained a fluency in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portugese. And she remained very inquisitive. As she has said about her never-ending questioning, “I guess I had no fear. I always asked, politely, ‘And why is it this way, and not that way?’ I wasn’t being rude; I just had questions, because the nuns only provided beginnings, which led to my many more questions about everything.”

In Latin American cultures, a young girl’s fifteenth birthday is marked by a quinceañera, the traditional celebration (usually a Mass followed by a big party) which symbolizes her transition from childhood to adulthood. Already the shrewd investor, Delia told her father that she had no interest in something so fleeting as a party, but rather wanted to use the money to buy land. “I want to get a piece of dune by the beach with a view of the ocean,” she announced. He was at first taken aback, but her father agreed. When they went to visit the property Delia had in mind, Walter paid for her lot, and purchased the one next to it for himself as well.

After boarding school, Delia was off to Paris. There at the Sorbonne, she took a Ph .D. in philosophy, with a concentration in logic. While still at university, she married her sweetheart of four years. At just 19-years-old, she bore a son, Paul, who was born with Down syndrome. “When Paul was born, that definitely made me realize that there is a purpose in life,” she emphasizes. By the time she graduated, she had two additional children and the marriage had ended.

Casting about for her next act, she asked her father to pay for three more years of education at MIT, where one of her younger brothers, Walter Jr., was already enrolled. Always the doting father, Walter agreed, and Delia was accepted into the Executive Financial program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

After MIT, she and Walter Jr. decided to move to California. She immediately fell in love with Napa Valley, but just for the beauty of the area, rather than any winemaking ambition. However, in 1985 Walter Sr. was approached by a local he had met about forming a partnership to develop a parcel of land on Howell Mountain by planting a vineyard and creating a winery. But Delia had another idea. She said, “Dad, if you put up the money, I think I can make this work by myself.” When her father replied, “After all the money I poured into your education, all you want is to become a farmer?” she assured him, “Yes, Dad.”

And so Viader Vineyards and Winery was launched. Delia drew up a comprehensive business plan, as her father’s money was an investment rather than a gift.

Delia soon discovered that preparing the property to become a vineyard was going to be a big challenge. The place was nothing but mottled rock and poison oak, on a steep hillside. Knowing she would need expert help, she quickly assembled a top-notch team. The first task was preparing the soil itself. To make it suitable for planting, “low to the ground” explosives, followed by jackhammers, were used to break up the most stubborn rock outcroppings.

Next came vineyard layout. At that time, most vines grew on the Napa Valley floor. The few hillside vineyards were terraced, running in a north to south orientation. Because of cost, the fear of erosion, and her instinct for the vines from her years in France, Delia rejected terracing. Instead, the rows were planted up and down the mountain, with an east to west orientation, which allows for more even distribution of sunlight. Although quite innovative at the time, this sort of layout has become commonplace for hillside sites in Napa today.

In addition, Delia and her team opted for a high-density planting of 2,200 vines per acre. 1,800 or less is more the norm. There are cover crops between rows. As is done in Burgundy rather than California, the hanging fruit zone is much closer to the ground. Because of this, the grapes have to be hand harvested, with the workers toiling on their knees. This is always done at night, further increasing the effort. But low-hanging grape clusters also mean that the fruit benefits from heat radiated from the volcanic rock in the soil right after sunset. The cumulative effect is that the grapes mature seven to fourteen days ahead of neighboring properties, and well before the late-autumn rains that can ruin a harvest.

As the vineyard was being established, the next task was to build a home for her family, a higher priority than the winery itself. (For her company’s first 11 years, production was at rented space at Rombauer Vineyards.) During the winter of 1989, the house was built just above the vineyard, with views of the vines, the valley, and the lake below. That same year, Delia brought in the first vintage of “Viader,” her signature wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Production was a mere 1,200 cases.

 

 

Interestingly, Delia opted to concentrate selling the wine not in the U.S., but in Europe, where she felt more comfortable. Being a polyglot didn’t hurt, either. Every other week throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Delia was on the road, traveling to more than thirty countries and opening accounts in every market by herself. “I wanted to present my wines in the bigger pond of the world rather than what I considered the smaller pond of the United States. It keeps you honest and humble to work side by side with brand owners who have over two hundred years of history over you,” she says. During this time, the winery itself was constructed, as well as a system of interconnected tunnel cellars.

All of the effort paid off at the end of 2000, when Wine Spectator named the 1997 Viader the #2 of their annual Top 100 Wines. The following year, the Spectator ranked the 1998 Viader as the #3 Top 100 wine of 2001. Success seemed assured as people started clamoring for Viader’s products.

As almost all of us eventually learn, life dispenses struggle as well as triumph. In 2005, because of ongoing construction at the winery, Delia was obligated to transfer the entire stock of bottled 2003 vintage wines to an off-site warehouse. This facility was a major storage and distribution center for many other wine and food products vendors as well. It was later learned that a warehouse employee was engaged in fraud and embezzlement. On October 12, 2005, he was in the warehouse attempting to destroy evidence against himself with a propane torch. The fire got out of control, leading to an eight-hour-long five-alarm fire. Viader’s 2003 wines, worth $4.5 million, were totally destroyed. Other companies suffered major losses as well, including a number of other small wineries that were subsequently forced out of business.

Delia rallied the family, and the decision was made to press ahead, almost starting over, really. There was insurance money, but it was slow in coming. Delia began to sell off the winery’s reserve library of wines, going direct to customers instead of through distribution to maximize profit. She continued to travel to restaurants and wine shows, determined to keep Viader in people’s minds. The hard work paid off, and Viader survived to release the 2004 vintage a year later.

The entire family has been actively involved in the business. First, Alan, Delia’s second son. After working the land during summers and completing internships, in 2002 he graduated from UC Davis with a degree in viticulture and became vineyard manager. Next came responsibility as winemaker, with the 2006 his first vintage. He became brand ambassador as well, and in that capacity he followed in his mother’s footsteps by traveling the world to promote the family’s wines. In 2007, daughter Janet joined the company full time, taking over the sales role. She also served as one of the youngest elected members on the Board of Directors of the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

Today, Viader’s estate vineyard is planted to 28 acres of vines and includes Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Malbec, as well as many of the original Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc vines. “We’re not 100 percent organic, but we are mostly organic,” stated Alan. He noted that organic is not always a “silver bullet,” because of potentially nasty organic chemicals. He also finds that strictly following the guidelines of biodynamic certification doesn’t result in quality in line with costs, so he abandoned that after a six-year flirtation. Sustainable practices do include the use of beneficial insects to help eliminate the need for pesticides; raptor roosts and falcon kites to help patrol the property for rodent, snake, and pest bird infestations; and solar paneling to power sensors in the vineyard. The property is carbon negative also, and the soils are never tilled.

Continuing to stay in their separate lots, the unblended wines age in concrete tanks or French oak barrels for 14 to 24 months. During this time, the wine goes through secondary, malolactic fermentation and is racked once, at most, during the aging process. Once final blending occurs, the wine continues to rest in barrel until bottling, which takes place in-house. The wine sees further bottle age for about a year before being released.

Viader Proprietary Red Blend 2014

With just 1811 cases produced, and at the upper end of Napa prices, this is the cult wine you’re looking for. The flagship wine from Viader put this unique mountainside winery on the map as one of the first in Napa to tackle and successfully showcase Cabernet Franc as a deserving companion with Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend has been referred to as “liquid cashmere.”

It is 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon provides the backbone, structure, character, and aging potential, while Cabernet Franc instills a balance and early approachability. The wine was aged for two years in 70% new French oak. It shows firm structure influenced by the rocky volcanic soils of the eastern slopes of Howell Mountain, and an elegant yet intensely rich profile. Big, hearty tannins wrap around flavors of succulent dark fruit, clove, and sage, with hints of floral notes. Cellar for up to 12 years.

https://viader.com/

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Simon Creek Vineyards

Simon Creek VineyardsWisconsin native Thomas J. (Tim) Lawrie had a 26-year career in the U.S. Army, including two tours in Vietnam as a combat officer, and was awarded the Purple Heart. He served as an Army Infantry Airborne soldier before finally retiring with the rank of Colonel. After which, he was almost universally referred to as, “The Colonel,” a somewhat surprising affectation for a Northerner, I think. As with most military personnel, he had assignments throughout the country, including California, where he acquired an interest in wine and wine production.

After a second vocation in the Texas energy business, in 2002 he was presented with the opportunity to buy 120 acres in central Door County, 20 miles northeast of Sturgeon Bay where he had grown up as a boy. He decided this would be the perfect place for a winery, and bought it sight unseen.

 

Simon Creek Vineyards opened in May of 2003, and The Colonel operated it until his unexpected death at the age of 73 in August, 2017. The winery manager now and winemaker is the late Colonel’s son-in-law, Lance Nelson, a veteran of the packaged foods industry. He gets encouragement and support from consulting winemaker Tom Payette. With over 30 years of experience, Virginia-based Payette set the stage for the winery’s startup, and continues to work as Nelson’s teacher and mentor.

Early on, there were ambitions to grow grapes on the estate, but northern Wisconsin’s harsh winters soon put a stop to that, particularly for the varietals Nelson was interested in working with. Consequently, the winery imports juice for all of their production from California, particularly growers in Monterey county. With over 40,000 acres under vine in Salinas Valley, there is plenty to choose from.

The back labels of the wine bottles do rather disingenuously state, “Simon Creek Vineyard lies directly astride the 45° North Parallel; you couldn’t ask for a better winery site. Simon Creek’s location places it exactly midway between the equator and the North Pole.”  Well, yes, but it hardly matters with juice from another location.

There is an interesting legend associated with the winery’s site. The land was homesteaded by Chris and Martha Simon in the early 20th century.  During Prohibition, Al Capone was scouting around for a remote location suitable as a hideout.  His attorney, Herbert Humpkie, had a brother in Sturgeon Bay who was working as a veterinarian there.  He told Humpkie about the Simon place, who passed the information along to Capone. Thinking their farm would be ideal for his needs, Capone paid the Simons a little friendly visit to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.  But refuse they did. To honor their courage and integrity, the winery produces an Untouchable Red and an Untouchable White, but those are reviews for another day.

Simon Creek Cabernet Sauvignon NV

This wine shows transparent garnet in the glass, with a nose of bright fruit, especially blackberry and cherry and a slight hint of oak. Blackberry flavor continues on the palate, paired with notes of spice and tart cherry.  Appropriately, as Door County is famous for this fruit, although none is in this wine. (But, Simon Creek does make a sweet wine from the local cherries.) There are understated but balanced acid and tannins, with a little bitterness in the relatively short finish. Interestingly, this Cab drinks more like a Pinot Noir.

I suggest pairing this casual red with Grilled Lamb Burgers with Tomato Mint Chutney and Roasted Bell Pepper, Oven Baked Pasta with Classic Bolognese Sauce, or Roasted Chicken Mediterranean.

Simon Creek Merlot NV

This Merlot is rather more substantial than the Cabernet. It is a darker, transparent ruby, and features plum and blueberry aromas. On tasting, the blueberry is joined by raspberry and strawberry, with subtle hints of vanilla and oak. It ends with a moderately long finish.

Enjoy this Merlot with Polish Sausage with Sauerkraut and Skillet-fried Potatoes, Chicago-style Stuffed Spinach Pizza, or Roast Chicken with Shallots and Tarragon.

www.simoncreekvineyard.com/

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Imagery Estate Winery

Imagery Estate WineryEvocative Imagery

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

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

At any given time, as many as 35 artists are working on pieces that will appear on future Imagery wine labels. The artists are not limited by size, medium, or content – the only exception is that the work must include a likeness of the Parthenon replica on the Benziger Estate, which serves as the winery’s signature image.

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

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

Imagery Chardonnay 2016

This offering presents initial subtle aromas of ripe apple, pear, and lime. It is pale-straw colored in the glass. It greets the palate with flavors of further apple and lemon, plus a touch of steeliness from the cold fermentation and minimal oak. The wine is enlivened with the addition of 5% Chenin Blanc, and the finish is bright and fresh.

This wine would work well with Vietnamese turkey and glass noodle salad, sea bass with golden mash, or kedgeree risotto.

Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This Cab starts out with a nose of dark fruit, vanilla, and toasted oak. Then come the flavors of blackberries, plum, and cherries. The blend is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petite Syrah, the latter lending unusual spice and pepper notes. The wine is fruit forward and velvety soft, with moderate tannins and medium acidity. The winery is targeting this wine at the hotel trade, so it might take a bit of effort to locate.

Serve this easy-going red with pancetta-wrapped sausages, finger-lickin’ ribs, or saffron roast lamb with sticky garlic potatoes.

www.imagerywinery.com/

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