Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2019

One fine spring day in 1972, attorney, private pilot, and wine aficionado Fred Fruth was piloting his plane over the Russian River Valley area.  Down below, he saw a natural amphitheater carved into the hills of eastern Sonoma. In addition to this other interests, he had been thinking of starting a winery, and it seemed as if this might just be the place to do it.

Fred Furth

Soon after, a tour of the extensive property confirmed that the site indeed had the climate and soils to grow first-class wine grapes.  Furth and his second wife Peggy purchased the land, named the estate Chalk Hill, and started producing wine about a decade later.  They gradually planted more than 270 acres of vines.  Years later, Furth said, “I have always been interested in wine because my grandfather had vineyards. I’m actually more interested in the working-the-soil aspect, but I have many very talented people in the winery who know how to produce a world-class wine. When I bought this property, I was told it was too hilly to be a vineyard, but I simply planted the grapes in rows going uphill. People said you can’t do that, but I’d seen it done in Germany so I knew it would work.”  After a rich and varied life, Furth died in 2018 at the age of 84.

Bill Foley

Lawyer Bill Foley acquired Chalk Hill in 2010.  Although Foley is titled as “vintner,” I doubt he sees the interior of the winery very often.  He is a vintner in the broader sense of “someone who sells wine.”  He also owns the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights,  is the Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors for Fidelity National Financial Inc., is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for Fidelity National Information Services, Inc., and owns fifteen other wineries.

The Estate

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The Chalk Hill AVA is one of 13 in Sonoma County and is distinguished from the neighboring appellations of the cooler Russian River Valley to the west and the warmer Alexander Valley to the northeast. Elevations are higher and soil fertility is lower. The soils include gravel, rock, and heavy clay. Under the topsoil is a distinctive layer of chalk-colored volcanic ash which inspired the name of Chalk Hill.

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Each vineyard block has been planted based on criteria that include: soil profile and chemistry, slope, orientation to the sun, and climate. Under Fred Furth’s direction, Chalk Hill was an early leader in planting its hillside vineyards “vertically,” following the rise of the terrain, rather than across it. Because of this, the topsoil must be protected with a diverse cover crop serving many purposes. It anchors and protects the soil, preventing erosion; captures and affixes nitrogen; and harbors a varied community of beneficial insects that aid in pest management. Water conservation is addressed through a precisely-controlled drip-irrigation system. Air movement through these vertical channels of the vineyard reduces mildew. All of the grapevines are a grafted combination of plants: a specific wine-grape variety above ground, and a complementary rootstock below.

Photo: devonwayne.com

More than two-thirds of Chalk Hill’s 1300 acres remain uncultivated.  In addition to the vineyards, the property features wilderness areas, the winery, a hospitality center, a culinary garden, a  residence, stables, and an equestrian pavilion.

The Winemakers
Michael Beaulac, Senior Winemaker
Michael Beaulac

Beaulac, a Vermont native, has as of this writing just become senior winemaker, bringing with him over thirty years of experience. He began his winemaking career when Tim Murphy of Murphy-Goode offered him a job as a harvest intern in 1989. Immediately after and through 1991 he worked as a cellar master with long-time Russian River winemaker Merry Edwards. Beginning in 1997, he spent four years as winemaker for Markham Vineyards in St. Helena. He became Vice President of St. Supéry Vineyards in Rutherford in 2001, working closely with Michel Roland and Denis Dubourdieu.  Beaulac was general manager and winemaker at Napa’s Pine Ridge Vineyards from 2009 until coming to Chalk Hill this year.

Michael shared, “Be proactive in the vineyards. Let the fruit find its balance. Do not force the wine to be anything it’s not. Let it express [itself]. Once in the winery, the wine should be touched as little as possible. In a perfect vintage, we really shouldn’t have to do anything.”

Darrell Holbrook, Winemaker
Darrell Holbrook

A Sonoma County native, Holbrook spent his childhood among the vineyards there. By age 12, he often accompanied his father to his job at Lytton Springs Winery, [now Ridge Vineyards] driving tractors and helping where he could. In 1994, after working at Lytton Springs in the vineyards, he began an apprenticeship under David Ramey, Chalk Hill’s winemaker at the time. He worked his way up from a cellar intern (aka cellar rat) to enologist and production manager, and then assistant winemaker in 2009. Ten years later he was promoted to winemaker.

Courtney Foley, Vintner
Courtney Foley

The youngest daughter of Chalk Hill Estate proprietors Bill and Carol Foley, she studied enology and viticulture at both Napa Valley College and Fresno State University. Her practical experience began under winemaker Leslie Renaud at Lincourt Vineyards and Foley Estates (surprise!) in Santa Barbara County.  Once back in Sonoma, she again found herself working with Renaud at Roth Estate Winery in Healdsburg. Just in case the wine thing doesn’t work out, she also has a J.D. degree with a focus on Environmental and Ocean Law from the University of Oregon School of Law.

Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2019

The grapes for this wine arrived at the winery in small individual picking containers to protect the bunches from damage. After inspection and sorting, the whole bunches were taken directly to the press and gently extracted. A protective blanket of carbon dioxide was added, since Sauvignon Blanc can be damaged by contact with oxygen.

The juice was 100% estate grown, a mix of 92% Sauvignon Blanc and 8% Sauvignon Gris.  It was fermented for seven months using cultured yeasts in a combination of 59% French oak (13% new) and 41% stainless steel.  There was no malolactic fermentation. Bâtonnage, the periodic stirring of the lees in the barrel, served to add texture and mouthfeel.

It is so pale that it is nearly colorless in the glass.  The nose is also quite delicate, with just a hint of flowers and vegetation.  Then, it bursts on the palate, with plenty of lemon, grapefruit, and mango, plus a rich, full mouthfeel.   ABV is 14.6%.

https://www.chalkhill.com/

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Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle

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

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

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

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

David and Kathleen Grieve

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

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

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

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

Photo: Sofia Englund / Sonoma Magazine

Philippe Melka

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

Grieve Family Estate Vineyard

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

Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle Sauvignon Blanc 2018

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


Photo: Wilson Daniels

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

Grieve Family Winery Double Eagle Red Wine 2018**

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

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

grievewinery.com/

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

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

**A note about wine marketing:  These Grieves are high-end wines, especially the Double Eagle Red.  In keeping with that, it features that hard-to-open wax seal and leather label.  And, this selection is guilty of Bloated Bottle Syndrome, which I’m calling out for bottles that weigh more than the wine they contain. The web site of nearly every winery will usually include a mention of the operation’s dedication to “sustainability” and “stewardship.”  Unfortunately, this often seems only to extend to the property itself.  Many “premium” wines like this one come in heavier bottles to allegedly denote quality.  This one weighs in at a hefty 1007 grams. (As an example of a more typical bottle, Estancia Cabernet’s comes in at 494 grams.) That’s a lot of extra weight to be shipping around the country.  By comparison, the wine inside, as always, only weighs 750 grams.   Even sparkling wine bottles often weigh less than this one, and those are made to withstand high internal pressure.  Unfortunately, this sort of “bottle-weight marketing” is becoming more common, especially at higher price points. But there are other ways to denote quality without weight: unusual label designs, foils, wax dipping, etc.

Plastic bottles have a lower environmental impact than glass, 20% to 40% less, in fact. And, bag-in-box packages are even less than plastic bottles. (Unfortunately, current bag technology will only keep unopened wine fresh for about a year, so they are only suitable for wines to be consumed upon release from the winery; that’s about 90% of all wine sold though.)

The carbon footprint of global winemaking and global wine consumption is nothing to scoff at. The latter, which requires cases of wine be shipped around the world, imprints a deep carbon footprint. Because wine is so region-specific, and only so many regions can create drinkable bottles, ground and air transportation is responsible for nearly all of the wine industry’s CO2 emissions.

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Rescue Dog Wines

Founded in 2017 by Blair and Laura Lott, Rescue Dog Wines has an unusual and commendable mission: a generous 50% of their profits go to rescue dog organizations across the country. The Lotts explained that they started planning a new life in wine country around 2015. “We knew that we wanted to embrace sustainable growing practices and create a new, more rewarding lifestyle for ourselves. In addition, we knew that we wanted enough land to grow wine grapes and foster dogs. In addition, we knew that we wanted to create high quality, premium wines. During this period of exploration throughout many of California’s wine regions it dawned on us that we could combine our two passions and Rescue Dog Wines was born,” they reminisced.

As Rescue Dog Wines have been presented at rescue dog charity events around the country, the Lotts have felt an enormous wave of enthusiasm and interest. “The feedback we receive is phenomenal and heart-warming. We love meeting our customers and future customers and discussing our combined love of dogs and wine,” Blair explained. “People are initially drawn in by our mission, but end up leaving impressed with the wines,” he added. Blair and Laura also are ardent supporters of the Lodi growing region.

Laura Lott was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and she grew up across the U.S. as part of an Air Force family. In the summers she visited her family in Brittany, on the northwest coast of France. Her grandfather was a pastry chef in St. Malo, and Laura has fond memories of spending time in the bakery. She would also visit cousins who were farmers; she remembers dinners being interrupted by having to run outside to take care of squealing pigs. She’d garden with her grandmother, and she would help her make jam from the raspberries she grew. She graduated from Trinity University in Texas with a degree in French literature, and also completed a master’s degree from the Thunderbird  School of Global Management, a part of Arizona State. Her first career path was as an HR specialist for large organizations, including Motorola, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sears.

As a young adult, Laura adopted her first rescue dog, a boxer, Daisy, from an animal rescue operation in Atlanta. The experience of visiting the animal shelter made an enormous impression on her; she determined after that visit to make rescue dogs a cause in her life.

Georgia native Blair Lott worked with his father on their 20-acre farm during his upbringing, continuing a tradition passed down by several generations. The family grew vegetables and raised livestock. There were lots of dogs in his life, mostly boxers and Boston terriers. At 17, Lott embarked on a musical career when he formed an alternative rock band. He continued working in the music world, writing and performing in Athens, Georgia, Nashville, and as far afield as Melbourne, Australia. Eventually he transitioned into working as a digital media consultant. During his three years in Australia, he became immersed in the wine and food scene there, and became intrigued with the idea of making wine his vocation. After returning to the U.S. and marrying Laura, they moved to northern California with the intention of pursuing a life in wine.

The couple traveled to wine regions regularly, including a trip they took for a landmark birthday. They spent three weeks traveling through vineyards in France and Spain, further cementing the idea of owning their own vineyard and producing wine.

“We looked everywhere from Paso Robles to Napa Valley for vineyard and winery properties to buy,” said Blair, “and someone suggested, have you considered Lodi?  Check it out, it’s fantastic.” That tip lead them to buy a 19.5-acre property in 2016, complete with a house and old vines (since pulled out and replaced with new, trellised vines planted to to Grenache, Sangiovese, and Mourvedre) on Acampo Road. The winery also sources grapes from around the Lodi growing region which are grown according to Lodi Rules and California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance sustainability protocols.

The Winemakers

Susana Vasquez
The winemakers are Susana Rodriguez Vasquez and Eric Donaldson. “We started with about a barrel of red wine (adding up to just 25 cases),” Blair recalled, “and then we had 10,000 people asking for it. So we asked Susy (Peltier Winery winemaker Susana Vasquez) to help us duplicate the quality with two pallets (over 100 cases), which also flew out the window.” Vasquez next created Rescue Dog Sauvignon Blanc, and then added a dry rosé made from Pinot Noir.  Vasquez got her wine education at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Bolivia and UC Davis.   This was followed by about five years each at beverage giants E&J Gallo and Constellation Brands,

Eric Donaldson
“Laura likes sparkling rosé,” said Blair, “and we got Eric (LVVR Sparkling Cellars owner/winemaker Eric Donaldson) to produce a demi-sec [sweet] style sparkler for people who don’t like dry.”  After graduting from Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio. Eric began his wine career in Cincinnati and Cleveland.  Next came jobs in Sonoma County and for Gruet in New Mexico.  He worked on a lot of sparkling wine there, and the experience offered insight into warmer climates and how they impact sparkling wines.  Unfortunately, none of Donaldson’s wines were available for this review.  Maybe next time.

“Both Susy and Eric are great to work with,” continued Blair. “Susy especially will spend any amount of time with you, making sure you get exactly what you want. When she says, ‘I’m your winemaker,’ she really means that.”

Rescue Dog Wines is still very much a boutique operation. “We sold over 200 cases last year [2019],” noted Blair, “and we’ll double that this year. If our roll-out in markets in other states goes according to plan, I’m projecting 8,000 cases in a few more years. Truth be told, we’re not yet profitable, but we’re still keeping our commitment by donating half our revenue to several animal organizations. We’re doing it by not paying ourselves. Someday, though, I hope we’ll be able to donate 100%.”  There are plans for a tasting room in Lodi sometime in the future.

Rescue Dog Predominantly Poodle Lodi Sauvignon Blanc NV

This “”Poodle” pours a very pale, indeed nearly colorless, yellow into the glass.  The nose greets you with aromas of mangoes and coconut.  These flavors continue on the dry palate, aided by green apple, brioche, a good mouthfeel, and well-structured acidity. There is only a touch of grassiness, which is fine with me because I think it mars too many Sauvignon Blancs. Adds winemaker Susana Vasquez, “Stainless steel fermented, skin contact before fermentation, blended with Vermentino.”  ABV is 12.50%.

Rescue Dog Lodi Rosé 2018

This pretty pale pink Rosé features aromas of rose petals and melons.  There is zippy citrus on the palate, especially lemon. and a suggestion of mango, all supported by good acidity.  According to Vasquez, this wine was made entirely from Pinot Noir, and pressed specifically to become a Rosé.  There was no saignée [say-NAY], i.e., it was not made by a partial draw-off of pigmented juice from the ferment, but rather allowed to complete fermentation on its own.  ABV is an approachable 11%.

Rescue Dog Beloved Mixed Red Wine Blend NV

This easy-drinking red is a surprisingly inky, dark purple.  It displays a delicate nose of cherry and strawberry, followed by flavors of blueberry, sweet plum,  and a hint of pepper, The tannins are nicely supportive, paired with well-balanced acidity on the medium body.  From Susana Vasquez’s notes: “Jammy fruit qualities with not too much oak (10% of the blend saw no oak), blending Zinfandel, Teroldego, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.”  ABV is 14.3%.

https://rescuedogwines.com/

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Riley’s Rows

Riley's Rows

 

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

Riley Flanagan

Riley Flanagan literally grew up in the vineyard. She was born in 1999, the year that her father bought his first piece of land, which at the time had not yet seen any cultivation. At the age of three, she helped plant their first vines in that first family vineyard, located in Bennett Valley. The site sits at 1200 feet up on the south and southwest slopes of Bennett Ridge at the confluence of San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap. The soil is rocky, volcanic cobbles with excellent drainage. Having a warm micro-climate in a cool region means that bud break here is early, but harvest is late. The extra hang time for the grapes, along with the low yields and the hillside site, can deliver intense, complex fruit.

Isabelle MortIsabelle Mort

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

Riley Flanagan

 

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

Flanagan clan

The Flanagan clan.

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

4Cs Sonoma

 

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

Riley’s Rows Sauvignon Blanc. 2019

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

Riley’s Rows Rosé of Syrah 2019

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

Riley’s Rows 3×3 Red Blend 2017

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

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

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Sauvignon Republic Sauvignon Blanc

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

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

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

Sauvignon Republic Sauvignon Blanc 2006

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

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

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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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Casa Silva

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

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

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

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

Casa Silva Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2009

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

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

Casa Silva Microterroir de Los Lingues Carmenère 2005

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

www.casasilva.cl

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Maxville Winery

Maxville Lake WineryMad Max(ville)

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

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

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

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

Maxville Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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

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

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

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

Maxville Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

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

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

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

www.maxvillelakewines.com/

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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.

https://www.hallwines.com/

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Justin Vineyards and Winery

Justin Vineyards and WineryJustin Time

Justin Vineyards and Winery is located in Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast region. William Randolph Hearst’s famous “castle,” San Simeon, is due west over the Sierra Madre mountains.

Justin was founded in 1981 by Justin Baldwin when he planted the 160-acre property with the major grapes of Bordeaux, and the emphasis on Bordeaux-style blends and single varietals remains to this day. In addition to the estate vineyard, Justin sources grapes from thirteen affiliated growers in the area.

The winery’s three prime areas of focus are: a “left bank” Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, named Isosceles, Justin’s flagship and most well-known offering; Justification, its “right bank” Merlot and Cabernet Franc cousin; and varietal bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. They also produce limited amounts of Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Port, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier.

For these varietals, each year Justin commissions a different artist to execute the art portion of the label. The winery buildings and their surrounding vineyards are always the subject matter, the idea being that the artists’ interpretation of the winery is like the winemaker’s interpretation of the vineyard’s grapes.

In addition to the tasting room, there is also an inn and restaurant on the property.

Sauvignon Blanc 2010

This unoaked wine spent five and a half months in stainless steel before bottling. It is almost colorless, with hints of pale straw and delicate green.
The nose offers aromas of fresh peach, citrus notes dominated by ruby grapefruit, and a hint of coconut.

On the palate the wine is dry, with bright acidity, and some of the peach flavor carries over from the nose. The body has very good structure for a sauvignon blanc.

Pair this wine with Rosemary-Lemon Chicken, Crab and Shrimp Etouffee, or Broiled Scallops.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

After a balanced growing season and unchallenging harvest, Justin’s ‘09 Cabernet was matured for 16 months in French and American oak, 33% of it new.

In the glass, this wine is a not-quite opaque ruby red. It features aromas of black fruits, with a vanilla note from the oak. Surprisingly, there were almost no legs.

Its taste offers up red and black cherries and red currents, although the fruit is somewhat recessive, and is reflective of Justin’s preference for an old-world style, rather than what one might usually expect from the Central Coast. The wine is nicely tannic, with a medium finish.

This food-friendly wine would work well with Yankee Pot Roast, Creole Pork Chops, or Chicken Cacciatore.

https://justinwine.com/

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Two from Down Under

Linchpin McLaren Vale ShirazLinchpin McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004

This award-winning Shiraz hails from McLaren Vale on Australia’s southern coast. The complex soil types here combine with the St. Vincent’s Gulf breezes to make for ideal vineyard conditions.

Winemaker Matt Rechner believes the best way to make excellent wine is through simple processes and minimal handling for maximum flavor extraction. Here the grapes were harvested from low-yield vineyards, then spent 20 months in French and American oak. The concentrated fruit, supported by notes of chocolate and blackberry, certainly comes through in this relatively high-alcohol (15.2%) Shiraz. It has a lush, velvet-like mouth feel and well-balanced oak tannins.

Serve with lamb stew accented by eggplant, saffron, and raisins, or shepherd’s pie.

https://ekhidnawines.com.au/product/linchpin-shiraz-2016/

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Kim Crawford is perhaps New Zealand’s most famous wine maker. After 20 years as an independent, three years ago he sold out to an American holding company. However, he was allowed to pursue boutique bottlings, and we have one of those here.

This Sauvignon Blanc dodges the grassiness which so often mars this varietal when it originates in New Zealand. Instead there is a tart, refreshing, distinct grapefruit nose and taste. Completely dry, with a bit of flint on the finish. Delicious.

Pair this wine with lobster tacos, seafood paella, or parmesan-dijon chicken drumsticks.

https://www.kimcrawfordwines.com/us/products/sauvignon-blanc/

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Bink Wines

Bink WinesCalifornia Girls

The unusually-named Bink Wines is owned and operated by two women, which is also rather unusual (but becoming less so).

Fourth-generation-Californian Cindy Paulson grows the grapes, while also maintaining her day job as an environmental engineer (she earned a doctorate in environmental engineering at Colorado University at Boulder). Her farming philosophy is deeply rooted in sustainable practices, coming from her environmental background and love of the outdoors.

Deb Schatzlein makes the wines. This Connecticut native is known as a fun-loving free spirit; her grandparents set the mold early, making gin in their bathtub during Prohibition. She has degrees in chemistry (with an early career as a chemical engineer) and biology, and has taken extensive coursework in viticulture and enology.

And that name? It’s a contraction of ‘black ink,’ the color characteristic of their red wines.

Bink Randle Hill Vineyard Sauvingon Blanc 2008

This all-stainless-steel 100% Sauvignon Blanc is unfiltered. Consequently, this pale-yellow wine can pour out cloudy, without the crystal-clear appearance most consumers expect. To avoid this, let the bottle rest upright for an hour or so, and decant carefully. Or, if you insist on transparency, you could pour it through a paper coffee filter; unorthodox, and it may strip out some of the flavor nuance, but it works.

This wine’s birthplace, the 13-acre Randle Hill Vineyard, is certified organic, and yielded a small production of 350 cases.

The wine opens with delicately sweet honeysuckle and mango flavors, which then lead to a body featuring grapefruit notes and a supportive minerality.

Serve with Red Chile-Honey Glazed Salmon, BBQ Marlin with Avocado Vinaigrette, or Rum-Brown Sugar-Glazed Shrimp with Lime and Cilantro.

Bink Hawks Butte Merlot 2006

The Hawks Butte vineyard is part of the Yorkville Highlands Appellation, and is located mid-way between the small California towns of Yorkville and Boonville. It is 1200 feet above sea level and 35 miles inland from the Pacific coast. The rocky soils and southern exposure of the vineyard make for high-quality but low-yield vines, providing only enough juice to make 150 cases of this wine.

It was aged for 22 months in 30%-new and 70%-old oak barrels.
As is to be expected of Bink, the color is deep garnet in the glass. The nicely full palate features black currant and stone fruits, supported by somewhat forward tannins and some spice. This Merlot is an excellent value.

Enjoy this substantial wine with Balsamic-Marinated Flank Steak, Asian-Spice Rubbed Pork Chops, or Burgers with Cheddar Cheese and Horseradish Mustard.

Bink Wine closed permanently in 2017.

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Chimney Rock Winery

Chimney Rock
Like a Rock

The Stags Leap District AVA is in the very heart of Napa Valley. It runs from north to south for about three miles along the Silverado Trail, and its 1,350 [very prized] acres were first planted with Cabernet Sauvignon in 1961, for which it would soon become renowned. The name comes from an outcropping of red rocks at the area’s eastern boundary, where a stag supposedly escaped his pursuers by leaping across the treacherous gap.

The Stags Leap District’s reputation was assured in 1976, when the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar’s S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon won the famous (some would say infamous) “Judgement of Paris” International Wine Competition, besting the likes of First Growths Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. This now-legendary growing region received AVA [American Viticultural Area] status in 1989.

Situated at the far southern end of Stags Leap, the Chimney Rock estate was started on a 180-acre parcel (which originally included a golf course, but that was turned over to vines long ago). Initially, 59 acres were planted with a combination of red and white grapes, and the first vintage of Chimney Rock estate wines was produced in 1989. In the mid-1990s, after a phylloxera infestation necessitated the replanting of the entire property, only red Bordeaux-variety grapes were used in recognition of the unique characteristics and potential of the Stags Leap District.

In 2004, the Terlato Family empire acquired sole ownership of Chimney Rock, and they have diligently worked to steadily improve this already excellent winery.

Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc 2008

Seeing the very pale straw color of this wine in the glass you might think, “well, this is a lightweight.” But, you would be wrong. There is much to like in this unusual blend of Sauvignon Blanc [70%] and the rarely used Sauvignon Gris [30%]. The nose shows aromas of mango, pineapple, and vanilla, and there is a hint of coconut on the finish. Even so, this wine is strictly dry, with a full, rich mouthfeel. The fruit is nicely balanced with the proper amount of acidity.

Pair Elevage Blanc with Quail Stuffed with Ricotta, Bacon, and Greens, or Soft-Shell Crabs with Vegetable Slaw.

Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

I strive to be coolly unbiased in this blog, but I have to be honest: this is one of my all-time favorite wines. The color is deep garnet red. The bouquet features black currant and vanilla. Although a classic Big Cab (with support from Merlot and Cabernet Franc), this wine is completely approachable. The dark fruit flavors are supported by smooth tannins and just the right amount of acidity for balance and liveliness. Aging was 18 months in 50/50 new/used French oak. 100% sourced from the Stags Leap District, this wine will easily cellar for ten years; ten days is more like it in mine. And although expensive, this Chimney Rock will easily compete with Cabernet Sauvignons costing twice as much.

Serve with Filets of Beef Stuffed with Roast Garlic and Herbs, or Goat Cheese-Stuffed Roasted Chicken.

https://www.chimneyrock.com/

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