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.

Top of page:

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.

Top of page:

Maxville Winery

Maxville Lake WineryMad Max(ville)

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

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

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

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

Maxville Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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

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

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

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

Maxville Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

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

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

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

Top of page:

Yao Family Wines

Yao Family Wines

In November 2011, then-recently retired NBA star Yao Ming established his new Napa Valley winery, Yao Family Wines. But the story really begins in 2004, when Yao Ming was still in the early stages of his basketball career. Yao’s Houston Rockets teammate Dikembe Mutombo introduced him to the institution of the Texas steakhouse. Over many steak dinners, Dikembe tutored Yao on the magic of a great steak and wine pairing, and Yao became an aspiring wine aficionado.

As he puts it, “A shared bottle of wine reminds me of Chinese meals at home, which are served on what Americans call a “Lazy Susan.” The food is placed in the middle of the table and shared. In the US, each person chooses their own meal, so the wine is what brings people together. It is shared and brings a common element to the meal.”

As Yao broadened his knowledge of wine, he began to learn about the process of winemaking, and grew to appreciate its artisan and natural origins. He visited Napa Valley for the first time in 2009,  where he met with numerous winemakers and industry experts, learning more about the generational and communal nature of Napa. This inspired him to one day establish a winery of his own there.

Yao specifically began to develop a rapport with industry veteran Tom Hinde, now President and Director of Winemaking. From 1997 to 2005, Hinde was General Manager for Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates and helped develop two Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon programs as part of the winemaking teams for Lokoya and Cardinale. Additionally, he supported the winemaking team at Stonestreet Winery and launched Vérité Estate. For seven years, Hinde was General Manager at La Crema and Hartford Family Winery where he helped build La Crema into one of Sonoma County’s most prominent wine producers. They discussed Yao’s passion for wine in general, for the flavor profile of classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in particular, and for Yao’s desire to form a true family project. Yao wanted to develop a winery where everyone involved had a hand in the company vision, the wines created, and the relationships with customers.

They were joined by Larry Bradley, Consulting Viticulturist. He has a strong background in both developing and managing vineyards throughout the world. His particular expertise lies in soils and conservation, and his extensive resume includes vineyard management and viticulture consulting experience with Clos du Val Winery, Clover Hill (Australia), Domaine de Nizas (Languedoc, France), Elyse Winery, Falcor Winery, Flowers Winery, Morisoli Vineyards, Taltarni Winery (Australia) and V. Sattui Winery among others.Yao Ming

The winery launched its first two offerings in December 2011: Yao Ming Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and Yao Ming Napa Valley Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. A second label, Napa Crest, was added in September 2013.

Now-retired wine authority Robert Parker wrote, “I am aware of all the arguments that major celebrities lending their names to wines is generally a formula for mediocrity, but that is not the case with Yao Ming. These are high class wines. The two Cabernets are actually brilliant, and the Reserve bottling ranks alongside just about anything made in Napa.

Yao Ming Napa Valley 2009

This is the winery’s signature wine. It was created to reflect classic Napa Valley winemaking as well as Yao’s personal preference for smooth and balanced Cabernet Sauvignon.

Grapes are sourced from prestigious Napa Valley vineyards with a reputation for top-quality fruit. Fermentation is done using artisanal winemaking techniques, and ageing is up to 18 months in 100% French oak barrels.

This people-pleasin’ potion has a deep ruby hue. It features flavors of cherry, blackberry, and cassis. The oak is well integrated and has a nice toast aroma, with hints of vanilla and wild sage. The wine has plenty of depth and concentration, with supple tannins and balanced acidity. It should still age nicely, but why wait?

Top of page:

Concannon Vineyard

Concannon VineyardIrish Eyes Are Smiling

The Concannon story began in 1865 when James, then an 18-year-old boy, courageously set sail from the rocky coast of Ireland’s Aran Islands to seek opportunity in America.

Even at such an early age, Concannon recognized that the terroir of the Livermore Valley in California’s central coast region was strikingly similar to the premier vineyards of Bordeaux. So, in 1883 he established Concannon Vineyard with a selection of high-quality vines which he imported directly from Bordeaux, including from renowned Château Margaux and Château d’Yquem.

Concannon worked closely with early California viticulture leaders Charles and Clarence Wetmore to determine if California could be a successful winegrowing region. Their efforts paid off at the 1889 International Paris Exposition when the Livermore Valley became the first American Wine Region to win international gold medal awards, including the Grand Prix.

Captain Joe Concannon (son of James) kept Concannon Vineyard continuously operating throughout the scourge of Prohibition by making and selling sacramental wine. This prevented the destruction of the winery’s 1893 Château Margaux Cabernet Sauvignon root stock and other historic Bordeaux vines.

In the early 1930s, Captain Joe became one of the first in the world to bottle Cabernet Sauvignon as a single varietal wine. During the 1950s, he hired one of the first formally-trained female winemakers, Katherine Vajda, to serve as Concannon’s lead winemaker.

In 1965, grandson Jim collaborated with UC Davis in selecting cuttings from one of Concannon’s Margaux ancient vines. These dynamic, high-quality cuttings became known as Concannon Cabernet Clones 7, 8, and 11. Today, an estimated 80% of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon is planted with Concannon Clones.

In 2008, John Concannon took over the leadership from his father as fourth-generation vintner. In 2009, Concannon Vineyard was one of the first wineries in California to become Certified Sustainable. During this time the estate winery also completed a 10-year revitalization project.

Concannon Chardonnay 2016

The nose of this wine features aromas of honeysuckle and grapefruit. It’s pale yellow color doesn’t prepare you for the unctuous, creamy mouthfeel. The grapefruit repeats on the palate, as well as lemon custard.
Serve this voluptuous and slightly sweet Chardonnay with lemon halibut almondine, salmon à la king, or raisin-turkey surprise.

Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

An excellent value, this Cabernet is rich garnet in the glass. It greets you with hints of leather and floral notes. Then come flavors of big dark fruit, red plum, and vanilla, supported by balanced acidity and bracing tannins. It ends with a nice long finish.

Try this Cab with Parisian ragout, broiled lamb chops, or veal parmigiano.

Top of page:

Grace Lane Wines

Grace Lane WinesGrace Notes

Grace Lane wines are sourced from a family-owned winery in Mattawa, Washington, population 4,467, nestled in a bend of the Columbia river and 152 miles southwest of Seattle. The family had been farming in the area since the mid-1950s, and believed that the region’s moderate temperatures, low rainfall, and sandy soils would be ideal for wine grapes, and planted their first grapevines in the area in 1997.

But winemaking in Washington has a much longer history, of course. It began in 1872, when a winery on Stretch Island crushed a native American grape called Island Belle. After a brief flourishing, the scourge of Prohibition and even some of the state’s own tariff laws crippled the industry until the mid-1960s. However, the state now boasts over 200 wineries, and is well on its way to regaining its place on the wine map. Indeed, it is second only to California in American wine production.

The Columbia Valley is the largest wine-growing region in the state. It is a designated AVA [American Viticultural Area], and includes 1,152,000 acres in south-central Washington, and part of northern Oregon as well. Only about 29,000 acres are under cultivation, but that is enough to include 99 percent of Washington’s vineyards. Within the very large Columbia Valley AVA, subdistricts of Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Walla Walla, and Puget Sound are also recognized.

To the west, the Cascade Mountain range protects the area from the cool weather coming in from the Pacific Ocean, making the Columbia Valley the warmest growing area in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike the western half of Washington, it also has the drier climate that quality winemaking requires. Because of the varying temperatures throughout the region, different grape varieties do well in its various locations, although white wines dominate.

Grace Lane Riesling 2013

If you like your wine sweet and easy, this could be the one for you. It shows light straw yellow in the glass. Next come the aromas of green apple and white peach. The flavor profile (officially “medium sweet” on the International Riesling Foundation’s sweetness scale) is soft and delicate, with suggestions of those same tree fruits and hints of spice box. The acidity is relatively low.

Enjoy this wine with Balsamic Glazed Salmon, Crab Cakes with Honey-Yogurt Salsa, or Sole with Grapes and Champagne.

Grace Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

With a color of dark garnet, this Cab begins with aromas of fresh-baked brioche and ripe plum. The flavors of dark fruit, prune, and black tea are fairly assertive at first, but soon settle down into a nicely balanced whole. Perhaps predictably, this wine is definitely different (in a good way) if you are used to California Cabs.

Pair this up with Smoked Salmon and Wild Rice Cakes with Paprika and Green Onion Aioli, Pork with Apples and Cider Cream Sauce, or Potato and Morel Mushroom Manicotti.

Update February 2021: recent research indicates Grace Lane is no longer in business.

Top of page:

Rabble Wine Company

 Rabble Wine CompanyRousing Rabble

If you are looking for affordable, approachable, easy-drinking wines, I suggest you seek out those from Paso Robles. This large but lesser-known appellation was established in 1983 (a mere toddler in wine years), and is located around the town of Paso Robles in the northern part of California’s San Luis Obispo County. Most of the growing area is classified as Region III, equivalent to France’s Rhône region. At last count, there were over 18,000 acres under vine.

Rabble Wine Company encompasses four labels: Rabble, Stasis, Amor Fati, and Tooth & Nail. Rabble’s estate winery and visitor center is regarded as one of the region’s leading destinations, featuring a somewhat kitschy castle-like building that includes an expansive tasting room.

Rabble was founded by Rob and Nancy Murray in 2011. In addition to becoming a vintner, Rob has been a grower and vineyard owner for over 20 years. He continues to own and manage properties from Paso Robles to Santa Maria, with his own brands utilizing roughly five percent of the grapes he farms. He’s obviously doing something right, as Rabble is one of Paso Robles’ fastest-growing labels.

Speaking of labels, I’m almost always more interested in what’s in a wine bottle than what’s on it. However, the iconoclastic labels for Rabble and its sister brands have attracted a lot of attention in the wine press. The Rabble labels are renditions of historical woodblock prints from the Nuremberg Chronicle, dating to the late 1400s. They have been faithfully reproduced, including a full-embossing rarely seen in this context. The images depict nature’s wrath, as a reminder to work in concert with her at all times.

Rabble Red Blend 2015

This disorderly mob member hails from Mossfire Ranch, about three miles southwest of Paso Robles. A mix of 90% merlot and 10% syrah, it greets you with its bright red-purple color and aromas of red cherry and cocoa on the nose, with just a hint of anise. The rich cherry continues on the palate, adding red berries and delicate spice notes. The flavors, lively acidity and firm but sweet tannins are remarkably balanced. An excellent value. The label illustrates the Apocalyptic Comet falling upon Florence with the Unicorn and Phoenix.

Try this wine with cranberry-cheddar brats with bell peppers, New Mexican rubbed pork tenderloin, or grilled chicken with Fresno chile/plum sauce.

Rabble Caberrnet Sauvignon 2016

Another Mossfire offering, on first approach currant, cocoa, and a hint of tobacco drift from the glass. Again, the taste of cherries, but this time of the tart variety, supported by vanilla, dried sage, blueberry, and cassis. These are complemented by woody notes from the French oak, which also supplies lively and supple tannins and a nice long finish. And the label? Mount Vesuvius Erupting over Pompeii.

Enjoy this wine with venison and black bean chili with toasted cumin crema, pan-roasted chicken with blackberry-ancho sauce, or red chile and honey-glazed salmon.

Top of page:

Jack’s House Wines

Jack’s House WinesThis Is the House
That Jack Built

Jack Nicklaus needs no introduction, of course. The Golden Bear is the winner of 18 major golf championships, a golf course designer, a tournament manager, a golf equipment manufacturer, a product endorser, an author, and a philanthropist.

Jack and Barbara Nicklaus founded the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation in 2004, which provides valuable programs and services to more than 4,000 hospitalized children and their families, free of charge, through Child Life programs, the Pediatric Oncology Support Team, and the Safe Kids program.

Collaborating with pediatric hospitals across the country, the Foundation has grown to support innovative programs focused on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of a host of childhood illnesses.

Expanding on that mission, the Nicklaus’s have partnered with the Terlato family, producer of Jack Nicklaus Wines, to create the Jack’s House Foundation. In addition to lending support to the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, the Jack’s House Foundation also helps fund Judi’s House, a Denver-area organization devoted solely to supporting grieving children and their families, and the Sepsis Alliance, helping to save lives by raising awareness of sepsis as a medical emergency.

“When Barbara and I started the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, we wanted to help provide world-class medical care to those who need it,” Jack Nicklaus said. “This newest partnership with Terlato Wines helps us expand that vision, reaching even more people, with great wines for a great cause.” Ten percent of the net sales from every bottle purchased is donated to the Jack’s House Foundation.

Both of this month’s wines are made by the somewhat mysterious 2Sons Winery of Sonoma, which is owned and managed by the Terlato Family wine empire. The vineyards and winery were founded in 1981. Three friends, John Grace, Mark Rafanelli, and Philip Staley (so why isn’t the winery named 3Sons? See? Mystery.), joined forces and purchased the site that was formerly the Alderbrook Estate. In 2000 the Terlatos were asked to develop a long-range plan to produce world-class wines and market 2Sons throughout the U. S. The Terlatos later purchased a majority share, and invested in both vineyard sources and winery to provide the winemaking team with the best grapes and equipment available. This has helped position the winery to produce single vineyard and estate wines with an on-going focus on Zinfandel.

Jack’s House Chardonnay 2014

This is a golden-hued, easy-drinking summer sipper. Made of 100% chardonnay, the wine was aged sur lie, which is to say, ‘on the lees,’ a common practice for chardonnay. Lees is the coarse sediment (mainly dead yeast cells and small grape particles) that accumulate during fermentation and aging, which in this case was entirely in stainless steel.

The wine has a delicate nose, is very dry, and features suggestions of green apple, peach, and lime pith on the tongue. The finish is quite short.

This would pair nicely with Salmon Pâté, Rolled Sole Fillets in Vermouth Sauce, or Spaghetti with Mussels, Sicilian Style.

Jack’s House Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

This ruby-colored wine is more transparent than most Cabernet Sauvignons. The nose reveals typical aromas of dark stone fruits, while the flavors are tart cherry, plum, cocoa, and a hint of coffee. The tannins and acid are there, but well-integrated and balanced. After fermentation, the wine was aged for 21 months in 50% new French oak barrels.

Enjoy this vino with Chicken Gumbo, Beef Rolls Stuffed with Pork and Dill Pickles, or Lamb Chops with Four Garlic Sauces.

Top of page:

Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Black Stallion WineryIn 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 by himself to the United States through Ellis Island, New York, as many European immigrants of the time did.

Eventually, Gaspare found his way to Manteca, California, about 75 miles east of San Francisco, in the agriculturally-rich San Joaquin Valley, where the climate reminded him of his homeland. There he met and married his wife Caterina Luppino. In 1924, Gaspare and his brother-in-law Sebastiano made a bold decision to purchase a 68-acre dilapidated dairy farm, planted grapes, and shipped them by train to home winemakers in Chicago and and the Northeast during Prohibition. (Although technically illegal under the Volstead Act that delineated Prohibition, home winemaking was very rarely prosecuted, since the law was vague about it, and the government had its hands full dealing with bootleggers and organized crime surrounding alcohol.)

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 monetize their grape crop was to make wine themselves. After purchasing some used winemaking equipment, 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 1,740 cases) of red wine which was sold to local farmers and friends for 50 cents a gallon. 

By 1940, the Delicato winery was making and selling about 15,000 gallons a year. As the business continued to grow, Gaspare’s three sons, Frank, Anthony, and Vincent, joined the winery in the 1950s. In 1955, production reached 74,107 gallons. By 1964, the winery increased its capacity to 403,000 gallons. This steady growth over the years is what makes Delicato Family Wines (as it is now known) today a Top 10 U.S. wine supplier. With total sales of more than 16 million cases per year and more than a decade of sustained double-digit growth, Delicato Family Wines is the sixth-largest winery in America and the sixth-largest exporter of branded wine from the USA, and employs more than 200 people.

Black Stallion Estate Winery in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll district is one of 28 labels now produced by Delicato. Before grapevines dominated the landscape there, the valley was a rich grazing land for horses and cattle. Indeed, the winery building itself was once home to the Silverado Western Center, which opened in September of 1963 with riding trails, stables, and the area’s only indoor riding arena.  Delicato acquired the facility in 2010, which is at the southern foot of the famous Silverado Trail in Oak Knoll.

Black Stallion harvests and sorts its fruit by hand. Once crushed at the winery, micro-lots may be fermented in small tanks made of wood, concrete, or steel. These choices of aging vessel give winemaker Ralf Holdenried the flexibility to match a batch of grapes with the material best suited to bring out its full potential.  After fermentation, wine is drained using gravity (not pumps) and aged in oak barrels.

Black Stallion Winery.  Photo: Sean McElroy.

Black Stallion Estate Vineyard.  Photo: Jordan LeMay.

Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Holdenried sources fruit for this wine from throughout the region, including Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in Oak Knoll, Atlas, Peak, Rutherford, Oakville, Coombsville, Diamond Mountain, and Mount Veeder, districts all familiar to wine aficianados. “Once you start working with grapes, you never get bored. There is always something new to explore. No one year is ever the same,” Holdenried says.

The 2013 vintage was one of Napa’s best, and this wine is no exception. After harvest, it was fermented in stainless steel, then transferred to oak barrels (35% new, 80% French, and 20% American) where it underwent malolactic fermentation and 16 months of aging. Each block was kept separate until the final blending.

This wine is composed of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Syrah.  It is very dark purple/red in color, and is characterized by cocoa, dried fig, mocha, black fruit, and black currant, with a balancing acidity, nicely integrated tannins, and a medium finish.  The ABV is 14.5%

Just like on the improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, I give this wine 1000 points, because the points don’t matter.

Note: I originally tasted this wine in August of 2016.  I did so again in October of 2021, and it is easily just as good five years later.   And, I have no special storage regimen, just an ordinary basement with a year-round temperature of about 70 degrees F.

Top of page:

HALL Wines

The Halls of PowerHall Wines

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 T Bar T Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012

The fruit for this wine hails from a vineyard Hall acquired from Iron Horse. It is made into this straw-colored and highly aromatic wine that features scents of cantaloupe, pineapple, and citrus on the nose. The flavors follow through on this, with the addition of mango and lemon, plus a hint of toast and nutmeg from the nicely integrated new French oak. Unusual for a Sauvignon Blanc, there is an unctuous mouthfeel and lengthy finish.

Pair this wine with Coq au Vin with Autumn Vegetables, Crispy Salmon with Spiced Lentils, or Turkey Sandwich with Tapenade and Fontina.

 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

This special-occasion wine is sourced from the Sacrashe and Bergfeld estate vineyards. A blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, it is dark and dense, concentrated but well integrated. On the nose, there are aromas of cola, plum, and black pepper. The rich, juicy flavor is built around blackberry, black currant, and cedary oak. The soft, round mouthfeel is complemented by a long finish. It will easily cellar for 10 or more years, but is expected to peak in 2020 or 2021.

This robust wine wants to go with Crown Roast of Pork with Baked Apples, Cassoulet (yes, please), or Lamb Chops with Prune Chutney.

Top of page:

Greystone Cellars

The CIA’s California Headquarters Greystone Cellars

Cresta Blanca. Inglenook. Roma. Italian Swiss Colony. Christian Brothers. These are just a few of the pioneering and once-popular twentieth-century California wineries that are now long gone.

From 1950 to 1989, the Christian Brothers produced their wines in the Greystone Cellars building, which was built in 1889 in St. Helena, California, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In 1993, an earthquake-damaged Greystone was sold to The Culinary Institute of America, an independent, not-for-profit college offering bachelor’s and associate degrees in culinary arts, baking, and pastry arts, as well as certificate programs in culinary arts and professional wine studies. After $15 million in upgrades and renovations, in 1995 the CIA reopened Greystone as their California branch campus; the primary campus is in Hyde Park, New York.

The Christian Brothers’ winemaker was Brother Timothy, who was instrumental in creating the California wine industry as we know it today, and had a career spanning more than 50 years. Among his many interests, he was an avid collector of corkscrews, and his collection is on permanent loan
to The CIA at Greystone, and the inspiration for the Greystone Cellars wine labels.

Greystone Cellars wines are actually produced by the neighboring Markham Vineyards under the direction of winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls, but that’s a story for another time. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Greystone Cellars wines benefit The CIA at Greystone.

Greystone Chardonnay 2011

With no ambition of being an estate wine, the grapes for this blend traveled west from Lodi and north from Santa Barbara. The trucks were filled with 77% Chardonnay and 23 % Chenin Blanc.

The wine presents itself in the glass with a light straw color. The nose features mango and lemon. These tropical markers continue in the taste, complemented with guava, lively acidity, and a somewhat contradictory creamy mouthfeel. The finish is short but smooth.

Try this summer sipper with Black Bean and Avocado Crostini, Prosciutto and
Summer Melon Salad, or Grilled Swordfish with Peppered Pasta.

Greystone Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

It starts out on the nose with understated aromas of vanilla and cream soda. The visual clues are a garnet color and delicate legs. The wine features flavors of tart cherry and blackberries, with a hint of pepper. On the palate, it is quite smooth, almost lush, but with a short, simple finish. Give this wine about 30 minutes in the frige before serving.

The technical details are: blend is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder Barbera, Malbec, Grenache, and Tempranillo. Aged in 26% new French and American oak. 30,000 cases were made.

Keep the food pairing simple: Reuben Sandwich, Satay of Beef with Peanut Sauce, or Grilled Chicken Burritos.

Top of page:

Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek VineyardCome Sail Away

Dry Creek Vineyard was the first winery established in the Dry Creek Valley after Prohibition. It was founded in 1972 by David Stare, who came with an early vision to plant Sauvignon Blanc. Before his arrival, the valley was little more than a few family farms and prune orchards, but Stare was determined to start a winery inspired by those in the Loire Valley, which led to a viticultural reawakening in northern Sonoma County.

Stare soon began taking winemaking classes at UC Davis. On the weekends, he looked for vineyard land and finally discovered an old prune orchard and began planting vines. Although Sauvignon Blanc beckoned to him, several vineyard specialists advised him against planting it. “They told me Sauvignon Blanc would never grow in the Dry Creek Valley, but I knew I had to stick to what I knew was right. I was going to plant this varietal come hell or high water.” It turned out to be one of his best decisions. Over the last 40 years, the winery has also developed an international reputation for its Fumé Blanc, Dry Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Bordeaux varietals.

During his long career, Stare has logged many firsts. For instance, he initiated the Dry Creek Valley appellation in 1983 and was the first to label a wine with it. He was the first to release a wine using the descriptor ‘Meritage’ (1985 vintage) on the label to classify his Bordeaux-style blend.

Dry Creek is committed to a healthy and diverse ecosystem for all plants, insects, and animal life, which in turn creates a better place for grapes, with the goal of producing high-quality wines. The winery has 185 acres of vineyards within Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley that are 100% Certified Sustainable. While employing many sustainable practices in the vineyard, top priorities include: growing cover crops to rebuild depleted soil; composting to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and improve the quality of the soil; beekeeping to enhance the eco-system of the vineyard; encouraging birds of prey to adopt the vineyards to control rodent populations; and improving the local fish and creek habitat for a healthy ecosystem.

Chardonnay 2016

This estate wine was partially whole-cluster pressed, and 90 percent was barrel fermented in French oak, one-quarter new. About half of the wine underwent malolactic. It starts with aromas of baked apple and apricot, cut by minerals and citrus oil. The palate features poached pear, meyer lemon and pineapple, with good balance between fruit, barrel oak, and acid.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This smooth and easy-sipping red is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. There are hints of bell pepper and sweet fruit on the nose. The palate showcases black currant, blackberry, and cranberry. The full body is fruit forward, with juicy chewy tannins and a peppery finish. The mouth feel is even and full with no harshness.

Here’s a look at Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc and Merlot:

Top of page:

Chateau Montelena

Chateau MontelenaCan’t Keep ‘em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Puhree

In 1976, an Englishman who owned a wine shop in Paris hit upon the idea of holding a blind tasting pitting ten of France’s and California’s best producers against one another. He enlisted nine French wine experts as judges; the French wines included the 1970 Haut-Brion, the 1970 Mouton Rothschild, and the 1973 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles.

The famous tasting has come to be known as The Judgement of Paris. No one expected the upstart Yanks to really put up a fight against the French heavyweights. However, when the votes were tallied, the judges were shocked to discover they had awarded the top prize for the red to the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, and top prize for the white to Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, both from Napa Valley. It was the shock heard ‘round the world, and legitimized California as a world-class wine-making region.

Chateau Montelena has seen three cycles of family stewardship. The winery was founded in 1882 by Alfred L. Tubbs, a European immigrant and entrepreneur. The original property was 254 acres of rugged, stony, and loose land just two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena. (Montelena is a contracted form of Mount Saint Helena.) By 1896 Tubbs’ winery was the seventh largest in the Napa Valley.

The Tubbs family sold the winery in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, who were looking for a peaceful spot to retire. The setting inspired Frank to excavate a lake and add landscaping to reflect the Chinese gardens of his homeland.

The modern renaissance of Chateau Montelena started under the leadership of Jim Barrett, who purchased the winery in 1972. The vineyard was cleared and replanted, and the chateau was renovated and outfitted with modern winemaking equipment, complemented by the highest-quality grapes from the Napa Valley. Shortly thereafter, Chateau Montelena stunned the wine world with its win at the 1976 Paris Tasting.

Montelena Chardonnay 2015

This wine is brilliantly clear with a golden-straw color. The nose suggests pineapple and stone fruit. On the palate, there are flavors of fresh orange zest and ginger which segues into a long and spicy finish. The wine was aged for 10 months in 100% French oak.

Serve this legendary wine with whitefish with filbert and lemon sauce, chicken Marsala, or duck with mustard and leeks.

Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Dark ruby in color, this wine offers rich, complex aromas of fresh raspberries, strawberry jam, vanilla and black pepper. In the mouth, this wine makes a full soft round entry, after which the acid builds nicely, supporting the dominant flavor of dark stone fruit. Plenty of fine-grain tannin completes the mouthfeel, followed by a tremendous long finish.

Pair this Cabernet with beef in wine on skewers, grilled pork New Orleans, or leg of lamb in balsamic vinegar.

For a review of two earlier vintages of these wines, see:

Top of page:

Bonterra Vineyards

Bonterra VineyardsBonterra Vineyards has been a pioneer in organic farming in California. The vines were planted in 1987, and the first wines were released in 1992, long before organic products were widely available in America. Bonterra believes that organic grapes produce the purest expressions of the varietals and land on which they are farmed.

Bonterra’s three estates (Blue Heron, McNab, and Butler) are certified Biodynamic® by Demeter, a not-for-profit with the mission of enabling successful farming in accordance with Biodynamic practices and principles.  These are simply to create and oversee a living organism which is self-contained, self-sustaining, and follows the cycles of nature. Biodynamic farming harkens back to how farms functioned centuries ago. It is a holistic view of agriculture with a high awareness of the interconnectivity among earth, plants, animals, humans, and even the moon.

There are nine Demeter-certified preparations made from herbs, minerals, and manures. These are applied to the soil and vineyards in very small doses to enhance soil fertility with increased micro-organism development and photosynthetic activity.

Yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion, and valerian each play a role in strengthening, and in some cases remedying, weaknesses in the vineyards. Teas and tinctures are made from fresh or dried plants, and are sprayed to increase active regeneration on the farm.

In addition, animal “partners” play an essential role in the ecosystem. The vineyards provide chemical-free sanctuaries for bees, supported by native plants which bloom throughout the seasons. Chickens roam the rows, eating weeds and insects that can harm the vines. Their scratching and pecking aerate the soil and provide additional nutrients to the vines. December through March, around 2,000 sheep snack on the cover crops and weeds as they “landscape” the vineyards, adding beneficial fertilizer to the soil as they graze.

Mendocino Chardonnay 2014

This wine opens with a hint of crème brulee, followed by aromas of pineapple and citrusy lemon. The palate features flavors of green apples, pears, and citrus, supported by a clean minerality. The wine underwent malolactic fermentation in previously-used or neutral oak in order for its fresh fruit characteristics to shine through. New oak was used for just 16% of the wine to provide a vanilla note.

Enjoy this best-buy wine with seared swordfish with avocado relish and roasted broccoli, or crunchy pecan chicken with lemon ginger sauce.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

This red is very much in the European style, with relatively subtle flavors of cherries and currants. Those are present on the nose as, well, with the addition of a bit of toasted oak. The wine finishes with astringent tannins and a lingering finish.

Serve this up with grilled chicken on rosemary skewers, lamb chops with juniper berry marinade, or sirloin tips Quasimodo.

Top of page:

Wines from La Merika

Wines from La MerikaI Took a Trip Down to
La Merika

There is a theory among some historians that America was discovered by Europeans decades, or even centuries, before Christopher Columbus by a little-known explorer named Henry Sinclair, who may have been a member of the Knights Templar. In Templar symbology ‘Merika’ is a western star toward which their ships would sail, or mounted knights would ride. It is suggested that the name La Merika (The Star) is what led to the naming of the continent America, rather than after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer who is credited with describing the New World.

The theory is based on old graveyards in Nova Scotia containing grave stones which incorporate Templar devices such as Crusader Crosses and other Masonic symbols. Although there is no surviving evidence, Sinclair may have traveled to Greenland, and perhaps as far south as present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Coincidentally, the sails of Columbus’ ships were emblazoned with the Templar Cross, which was then an emblem of Spain.

La Merika the wine is part of the extensive Delicato Family Vineyards portfolio. Family-owned and operated since the company’s founding in 1924, the third generation of the Indelicato family now control properties throughout California, but they are especially interested in the Central Coast.

I am a big fan of the Central Coast AVA, a huge viticultural area encompassing vineyards from Los Angeles to San Francisco. A wide variety of wines are produced there, and many of them are high quality and of exceptional value.

The Central Coast has one of the longest growing seasons in the world, and is influenced by proximity to the Pacific. Warm sunny days are tempered by cool, afternoon ocean breezes. The extended growing season allows for full fruit development, and, because ripening occurs at an easy pace, rich, full flavors balanced with bright acidity can emerge.

La Merika Chardonnay 2013

This wine pours nearly colorless, and then follows with aromas of citrus, honey, and green apple on the nose. Although it saw some oak, that’s barely in evidence. There are plenty of flavors of lemon/lime and grapefruit. The wine features a medium body, augmented by zippy acidity, recessive tannins, and a crisp finish. Nothing buttery or over-oaked here.

Consider matching this up with Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Trout with Green Onion Sauce, Southern Pan-Fried Chicken, or Salmon Croquettes.

La Merika Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

This Cab shows a classic inky purple in the glass. The nose features ripe plum and brown spices. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry and black cherry plus some dark chocolate or cocoa. The tannins rather than fruit are forward here. It ends with a medium-long finish. To get the full effect, plan on letting this breathe for an hour or so. This wine spent five months in French and American oak.

This big wine can stand up to robust foods like Country Captain with Crispy Thin Onion Rings, Baked Pork Chops with Cranberries, or Garlic Braised Shoulder Lamb Chops with Butter Beans and Tomatoes.

Top of page: