Odonata Malbec 2019

Click here for tasting notes.

Odonata is a small boutique winery near Salinas, California.  It is owned and operated by Denis Hoey, who traveled a winding road from business management, to would-be firefighter, to brewery worker, and finally to winemaker.

Hoey is a native of Sacramento, and grew up in a family that enjoyed wines of all kinds.  In 2004 he graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz with a degree in Business Management.  But before he did any work in that field, he landed a job at Bison Organic Brewery in San Jose, where he learned sanitizing protocols and how to run a bottling line.

More profoundly, he soon met Jeff Emery, who had just taken over as owner and winemaker at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard.  SCMV was started in 1975 by Ken Burnap, who based his winemaking on Old World approaches such as moderate levels of alcohol and oak, with the goal that the true characteristics of the grape varieties are expressed.  Burnap passed that philosophy down to Emery, who in turn guided Hoey in that direction.  Once Hoey began his apprenticeship, his life course was permanently altered.  He became the production manager for SCMV before starting Odonata Wines in Santa Cruz in 2005. That year production was a mere 65 cases.  By 2008 that was up to a still modest 150 cases, mostly Petite Sirah.  Production is now about 6,000 cases, of which 1,000 are bubblies.

After 10 years of working with Emery, in 2014 Hoey decided to leave SCMV and devote himself exclusively to Odonata.  He and his wife, Claire, were able to buy the short-lived Marilyn Remark Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands, moving Odonata farther south of Santa Cruz, where they are raising their family and running the winery. Their property includes a two-acre vineyard, production facility, and tasting room.

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Blind Horse Winery

Established in 1846, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, sits on the western shore of Lake Michigan, about 50 miles north of Milwaukee. Although once a bustling Great Lakes shipping port, Sheboygan is now largely focused on manufacturing, including furniture, plastics, household equipment, automotive parts, metal products, air compressors, and wood and paper products. The city is also noted for its bratwurst and cheese; indeed, Sheboygan bills itself as “The Bratwurst Capital of the World.” Kohler, the village and company due west, is primarily known for the manufacture of plumbing fixtures, but also makes furniture, cabinetry, tile, engines, and generators.

Bob Moeller retired at age 56 after a lucrative career as a roofing contractor in Sheboygan.  As he was relaxing and ruminating on a beach in Clearwater, Florida, one afternoon, this thought came to mind, “If I continue to do this, I’m going to die.”

The Blind Horse

Once he returned to Wisconsin, he started making plans to open a restaurant, and if that proved successful, a winery as well.  In 2011 Moeller and his family purchased a seven-acre property that had been a small part of an 80-acre family farm in Kohler, started in September of 1862 by Anton and Josephine Dreps.  The Dreps family continued to farm this land for over 130 years, until 1996.  Like most farmers of that era, they used teams of horses to work the land. But, there was one, a Percheron draft horse in particular, that was the family favorite.  That horse’s name was Birdy, and Birdy was blind.   Many years later, Birdy was the naming inspiration for The Blind Horse restaurant, which opened in 2012.  A statue of Birdy stands in front of the restaurant.  Crafted by artist Carl Vanderheyden, it is made from old fuel oil tanks and stands seven feet tall and 10 feet long.


Birdy the blind horse.

The Dreps farmhouse, probably in the 19th century. 

The Blind Horse Restaurant is in the original farmhouse on the left.
The winery is the new gray building on the right,
which was built on the foundation of the old barn.
Photo courtesy of OnMilwaukee.com.

The Blind Horse Winery followed in 2014, becoming the Sheboygan area’s first commercial winery.   Like many ambitious producers in the midwest, the fruit is sourced from third-party growers in California and Washington.  (Shipping in grapes rather than juice is more expensive, but allows for greater control over the final wine.)  Once the grapes arrive, all other winemaking, including crushing, fermenting, barrel aging. and bottling happens on site.   There are plans to make wine from grapes grown by local Wisconsin farmers and to possibly start a vineyard to grow some of their own grapes.  To that end, a two-acre test parcel was recently planted with cold-climate varietals, including Marquette and St. Pepin.  At any one time, fifteen to twenty red and white selections are offered that cover the entire sweet to dry spectrum.  The property also includes the Granary that opened in 2018, a whiskey and bourbon bar housed in a renovated barn.


The Blind Horse Winery and Events Patio.

The tasting room.

The Winemaker

After working in the IT field in New Jersey, Thomas Nye started The Grape Escape winery there with his wife, Nancy, a Sheboygan native.  They sold The Grape Escape when Nye was presented with the opportunity to move to Wisconsin and become winemaker and general manager at The Blind Horse Winery.  A 12-year winemaking veteran. Nye follows a minimalist style of winemaking, believing that this enables the natural qualities of the fruit to dominate in the finished wine.  He strives to “make wine in the field,” a terroir-driven approach.  Nye’s winemaking team includes Winemaking Assistant Patrick Regenwether who has been at Blind Horse for four years.

“We wanted to start a winery making the types of wines we liked, which are drier wines,” Nye said. “When I came aboard, the idea was, ‘let’s create Napa Valley, right here in Kohler.’ That was the dream.”  Making dry wines in a state with wine drinkers who largely have a taste for sweet wines (not to mention beer!) was a bit of a risk. But it paid off. “That was really unusual in the state when we did that. There were 110 wineries in Wisconsin five years ago, and most of them were making all sweeter wines,” Nye continued.  Today, the Blind Horse’s top-selling wines are mostly red (four of the top six) and/or dry (seven of the top 10), Nye confirmed.

Nye uses a combination of French and American oak barrels that range from new to neutral (aka used).   Neutral barrels are typically four or more years old and no longer impart oak flavors but help with micro-oxygenation — the process that creates smoother wines.  “I don’t want to overwhelm [my wines] with oak,” Nye said. “That, to me, is hiding a lot of the fruit characteristics of the wine.”  Many of his wines age for at least a year, some longer.

The Blind Horse barrel room.

“Perfect food and wine pairings are what made me fall in love with wine,” he shared. “We want people to experience those on a daily basis.”

Nye’s long-term goal is to increase the operation’s current 4.200 annual case production up to as much as 10,000 cases

The Blind Horse offers a wine club with three shipments per year of their various selections, which currently include nine dry reds, five dry whites, one sweet red, three sweet whites, and one sweet rosé.

Two of the Wines

The Blind Horse Golden Bay White Blend NV

Packaged in an unusual high-shouldered bottle, this selection is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Viognier.  The first three varietals are sourced from a specific vineyard in Suisun Valley just east of Napa that Nye has relied on for ten years.  The Viognier comes from Lodi, California. The wine was barrel aged in two-year-old American oak. It was originally made as a separate 2018 and 2019, but after conducting extensive taste tests, Nye decided that the wine was even better when blended.

This wine pours a very pale yellow.  It is lightly aromatic, with subtle citrus and a suggestion of green apple on the nose.  That citrus blooms into lemon and grapefruit on the palate.  Since the barrels were essentially neutral, there is little or no detectable wood, “butteryness,” or vanilla.  (Nye claims to taste some vanilla; I didn’t.)  It offers just enough acidity, and ends in a short but crisp finish.  Nye made 134 cases.  ABV is 14.4%.

The Blind Horse Malbec NV

The fruit for this wine is sourced from the same Suisun Valley vineyard as the Golden Bay. It was aged in a combination of American and French barrels, some new and some three-years old for two to three years. This wine is also a blend of vintages.

It pours a transparent red, with a delicate nose.  It features flavors of cherry and blackberry, with a smooth mouthfeel.  There is moderate acidity, and subtle tannins, to be expected because of Nye’s penchant for used oak in his aging.  There were 394 cases produced.  ABV is 13.9%.

Here’s some nitpicking about the bottle labels: my wife is a horse person, and when she saw them exclaimed, “That’s not a drawing of a Percheron!  That’s more like a Thoroughbred!”  There is also a bit of Braille on the labels that spells out “The Blind Horse.”  However, it seems gratuitous to me, as the dots are so shallow I seriously doubt any blind person could read it.

Maison M. Chapoutier has included Braille on their wine labels since 1996, and it more usefully includes information on the producer, the vintage, the vineyard, the region, and the color of the wine.  But even there the embossing is quite shallow, so I am suspicious of how useful it really is.

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Handcraft Wines

Handcraft WinesCheryl Indelicato is part of the third generation of the family that owns Delicato Family Vineyards. Delicato offers wines under such brands as Black Stallion, Bota Box, Gnarly Head, La Merika, Massimo, and others.

Although born into the wine business, doing odd jobs at the winery as a little girl, her parents insisted that their children graduate from college and gather outside experience
by working elsewhere for at least three years before coming back to the family business, if they wished to do so.

Accordingly, Cheryl earned a Registered Nursing degree in 1985 and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business in 1989. However, the family wine-making enterprise kept its hold on her, and she returned to the fold in 1990, working in various facets of the business.

All the while, she dreamed of creating her own wine brand. “I have always wanted to create my own wine with a style and flavor profile that appealed directly to women,” says Cheryl.

Cheryl began the project, called HandCraft Artisan Collection, in early 2010 when she teamed up with veteran winemaker Alicia Ysais to develop a wine that would be fruit-forward, distinct, and easy to enjoy—similar to the field-blend wines that Cheryl recalled from her family’s dinner table. The line includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvingnon, and Petite Syrah, as well as the more rarely seen (for California, at least) Pinot Grigio and Malbec, featured below.

As part of her passion to make a positive difference in people’s lives, Cheryl created “HandCraft Cares” to support important causes with financial and in-kind donations. She is involved in a number of initiatives at the community level to increase awareness and early detection of breast cancer. Since 2012, HandCraft has contributed $235,000 to support breast cancer research, prevention, and awareness.

HandCraft Pinot Grigio 2014

This Pinot gGigio underwent a cold-temperature fermentation and was aged entirely in stainless steel, for those of you put off by any oak. It is nearly colorless in the glass. But, no worries. The nose offers aromas of peaches and tropical fruit, with a floral background. In the mouth, the wine is medium bodied, with flavors of melon and key lime. It offers a nicely balanced, crisp acidity, and the finish is relatively short.

Enjoy this easy-going wine with Swordfish with Tarraogn Beurre Blanc, Tomatoes, and Black Olives; Chicken Marsala Burgers; or Crab with Bok Choy and Egg Stir Fry.

HandCraft Malbec 2013

Deep purple in the glass, this Malbec delivers aromas of plums and blackberries on the nose. The ripe plum continues as you begin to taste, complemented by a hint of dusty cocoa. The wine has a medium body and a medium finish, accompanied by a fair amount of tannins, but nothing excessive. A good value for the price.

This wine would go nicely with Guiness Pub Burgers, Oaxacan Black Mole with Braised Chicken, or Slathered Mesquite-Smoked Ribs.


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Gnarly Head

Gnarly HeadThat’s Like, Gnarly, Dude

Hey, man, check out this gnarly wine. Gnarly Head wine, actually.

Starting from San Francisco, go about 100 miles east and a bit north and you’ll reach Lodi, California, home of Gnarly Head Winery.

And, where does that unusual name come from?

In 2005, the founders of Gnarly Head went in search of a vineyard suitable for making the Zinfandel they dreamed of. They found it in Lodi, when they came upon some of the oldest vines in California. Old vines are also known as heritage vines, old world vines, and most importantly gnarly vines. The 30- to 80-year-old vines have twisted, old trunks and branches sprouting in all directions—truly gnarly heads. The free- standing mop-topped ‘head trained’ vines found in these old vineyards were the nursery for Gnarly Head Old Zinfandel. Grapes from these old vines are small and few, but offer the big flavor the winemakers were looking for.

Since 2005, the winery has expanded to include a total of nine selections in the house style, including the original Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, a red blend and a white blend.

Gnarly Head Chardonnay 2012

If you are not a big fan of Chardonnay, especially in the oaky style, this could be the one for you. Gnarly Chard is almost colorless in the glass, it is so pale. The nose features suggestions of melon and pineapple.

These flavors continue on the palate, which also adds pear, plenty of citrus, and a touch of vanilla on the finish. It’s much like a Pinot Grigio, although Gnarly Head makes one of those, as well. The 2012 Gnarly Head Chardonnay is crafted using grapes from specially selected vineyards in Lodi and Monterey.

Spring may seem impossibly far away now, but it will be here before we know it. When it does arrive, have this wine ready to pair with Tuna au Poivre, Sea Bass with Olives and Roast Tomatoes, or Poached Chicken with Avgolemono Sauce.

Gnarly Head Malbec 2012

Although based in California, Gnarly Head isn’t afraid to travel the world in search of wines that match their product philosophy, in this case down Argentina way. Famous as the epicenter of Malbec, Mendoza abuts the eastern foothills of the Andes, 220 winding miles from Santiago, Chile.

The vineyards of Mendoza are some of the highest in the world. The difficult sandy soils there stress the vines, leading to concentrated juice.

This 2012 was Gnarly Head’s inaugural Malbec offering. The deep-purple color in the glass follows on with aromas of dark berry fruits. The fruit character was preserved by aging the wine for six months in split lots, some in oak and some in stainless steel to restrain the tannins (but not too much). Finishes with plenty of blueberry and blackberry.

Enjoy this value wine with Aegean Lamb Casserole with Pasta, Beef Tangine with Prunes, or Herb Braised Rabbit.


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Trapiche Broquel

Trapiche BroquelNo Llores Por Mi, Argentina

Come with us now to Argentina, famous for the tango, Che Guevara, gauchos, and, increasingly, wine. Like 85 percent of Argentina’s quality producers, Trapiche is located in Mendoza in the north-central part of the country near the eastern foothils of the Andes.

Trapiche was founded in 1883 by Tiburcio Benegas. The winery was privately held for nearly 120 years, and grew to 16,500 acres of vineyards. A consortium of investment bankers acquired the business in 2002, and reduced the area under cultivation to 3,100 acres. The winery also sources fruit from over 200 independent growers, enabling Trapiche to become the largest producer of wine in Argentina. It is a two-time winner of the International Wine and Spirit Competition Argentinian Wine Producer of the Year award.

The winery is committed to biodynamic viticultural practices, which are aimed at preserving the natural properties of crops by eliminating the use of chemicals, herbicides, and fungicides. Biodynamics also strives to sustain ecosystem balance, biological diversity, and to recover bacterial activity in the soil. Organic plant and animal fertilizers are sourced from a farm located at the the winery.

The extensive Trapiche portfolio includes Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot, Torrontes, Rosé, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, and Tempranillo, as well as a yearly set of single-vineyard Malbecs created by winemaker Daniel Pi as a way to show an appreciation for smaller, individual Mendoza growers.

Trapiche Broquel Chardonnay 2011

Trapiche’s Broquel (Spanish for shield) wines are sourced from high-altitude vineyards with the best terriors for each variety. This wine’s lemonade-yellow appearance is complemented by suggestions of grapefruit and ripe melon on the nose. That ripe melon continues in the taste, complemented by honey and spice. The mouthfeel has an unsalted butter roundness and a silky smoothness. The wine was aged for 15 months in 100% new French and American oak barrels.

Try this Chard with Seafood Ceviche, Braised Snapper and Mussels, or Chicken à la Chinita.

Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2011

Malbec is a black-skinned grape variety native to southern France, but now better known as the iconic wine grape of Argentina. Through its success in the vineyards of Mendoza, in a few short decades Malbec has shot from relative obscurity to international fame.

Although some Malbec producers are moving toward a more “international,” fruit-forward style, native Argentinian Daniel Pi prefers the expression of a more traditional approach.

And, yes, the fruit is somewhat recessive in this wine. It is dark garnet in the glass, with good legs (those little rivulets that drain back into the bowl). On the palate I tasted blueberry and black fruits, cocoa, and black-tea tannins. It ends with a moderate-length finish.

This wine will go nicely with Braised Rabbit in Unsweetened Chocolate Sauce, Flank Steak Filled with Spinach and Pistachios, or Grilled Venison.


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