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Wines That Stand Up to Scorching Texas Temperatures

It’s July in Texas.  The temperature is scorching, the lake parties are plentiful and the wine is flowing.  This wine round-up features wines from seven different regions and unique countries. It was also my first experience with Albariño from Uruguay.  I reviewed 20 wines and here are the ones that made the cut.

Rose

California

2015 Matchbook Rosé – we were at a friend’s lake house when we tried this Syrah-based rosé.  It was an awesome complement to a hot day.  Notes of ripe melon, strawberry and a nice creaminess.  It was gone in a matter of minutes…

Whites

California

2013 Balletto Cedar Ridge Chardonnay – Rich and elegant, with citrus, guava honey and floral notes make this an easy drinking, yet nuanced Chardonnay.

New Zealand

2015 Chasing Venue New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – tropical, grapefruit, lime and passion fruit made this a well-balanced representation of this region.

Uruguay

2015 Bodega Garzon Albariño – ever tried an Albariño from Uruguay?  I hadn’t either.  Really nice stone fruit, citrus and flowers with notes of minerality and a rich mouthfeel.

Reds

California

2014 Balletto BCD Vineyard Pinot Noir – black cherry, mocha, mushroom and spice make this a nuanced and elegant pinot noir.

2012 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this Bordeaux blend is delicious. Notes of blackberries and black cherries with cedar and chocolate.  This wine is elegant, silky and drinks beautifully.

2013 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, cassis, herbs, mocha and dark cherry make this a smooth and very drinkable wine.

Italy

2014 Tenuta Sassoregale Sangiovese Maremma Toscana – this is a wine with a personality. Big notes of black cherry and berries, licorice, herbs and spice.

Oregon

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – cherry, herbs, white pepper and cassis make this a fabulous representation of Oregon Pinot Noir.

Spain

2010 Marques de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserve Rioja – this wine was absolutely delicious.  Big notes of blackberry, stewed prunes, vanilla, smoke and spice made this an elegant and big Rioja that just got better and better as you sipped it.


2016: A Personal Journey and Year of Discovery

A journey is defined as the passage or progress from one stage to another.  That has certainly been part of my #seewhatsnext experience.  In December, I left my job as Chief Marketing Officer for a software company. If you followed along, you may remember my conversation with Cyril Chappellet, the CEO of Chappellet Wine, where I promised him that I would use this time to do some amazing things.   My goal was to finally exhale, spend time with the family and enjoy the ability to have some funded time to decide what I want to be when I grew up.  Little did I know where that journey would take me.

Barton Creek #goingrogue

Our Group Adventure at Chappellet Winery

Paso Robles with the Texas Writers

Fast forward seven months and I feel like I did just that.  I traveled to Austin to experience the Omni Barton Creek’s new wine and food program and rediscovered Texas wines in the process.  I went to Sonoma and Napa with a group of dear friends and had the trip of a lifetime.  I was invited on a Paso Robles media tour with a group of Texas journalists and actually zip lined over a winery.  And, I made my own wine with a small group of bloggers and a legendary winemaker (more on that next week).

Lego Table and Eurocaves: A Shared Existence

One of the Two Eurocaves

The Bad Ass Center Drawer

Personally, we had some family changes (and compromises) too.  After living in the same 1927 Tudor house for 15 years, we made the tough family decision to move to a newer house closer to my kiddo’s school.  While there are lots of bells and whistles we’ve never had before, the new casa does not include my dream cellar or any cellar at all.  From the photos, you’ll see the Eurocaves now exist as part of the family TV and Lego playroom.  And after being incredibly sporadic about my wine reviews the first half of the year, it forced me to set a process, which makes me methodical about the reviews.

And, finally, I made the decision to branch out on my own and start my own consulting business.  I’m completely flattered that two of my former bosses and good friends made this decision for me by telling me that they needed my help.  I even turned down a great full-time position with an amazing company and I still get to work with them as a consultant.  I’m still focusing on technology marketing, but having the decision of who I want to work with is life-changing.

I am sharing this all with you because you have become an important part of my community – you are my friends, you are my readers and have made this blog last much longer than I ever anticipated.  I just want to thank you.


July Wine Round-Up: Includes A Grape’s Valiant Return to Prominence in Greece

Today’s July wine-up includes wines from Greece, Spain, Oregon, Washington State and California.  I tried 20 wines and six made this month’s round-up.

Whites

My first wine was from a grape that can trace its history back 6,500 years.  The grape was saved from extinction by a group of winemakers in the 1970s.  Winemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou brought together several winemakers to save his native Greek grape Malagousia.  Fast forward more than 20 years and this grape is now the fastest growing number of new plantings of any grape in Greece.

2014 Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia – I loved the aromatics in this glass – lots of notes of pear, jasmine, tropical fruit and citrus with a nice minerality.  Very drinkable on its own, but would be great paired with a grilled fish dish.

2014 Legaris Verdejo – lots of depth in this glass.  The touch of Sauvignon Blanc in this wine gives it a hint of grassiness with notes of citrus and melon with the right minerality.

 

Reds

2012 Murphy Goode All In Claret – this blend combines Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  It was a nice wine with notes of black cherry, raspberry, cassis, blackberry and nice herbal notes.

2012 Double Canyon Horse Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – Wow.  This cabernet sauvignon was a complex, in-depth, multi-layered wine.  I tasted coffee, graphite, vanilla, blueberry, wild cherry and nice herbal notes.

2013 Double Canyon Horse Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – the 2013 vintage was much more floral.  I got the same cherry, but with more blackberry, plum and cassis.  I really adored this one too, but they were very different.

2014 Adelsheim Chehalem Mountain Pinot Noir – this is Adelsheim’s first new wine release since 2005 and it is made from fruit from the Chehalem Mountains (88 percent from estate vineyards and 12 percent from growers).  The diverse soil (three types) makes this a layered wine.  I tasted spice, floral notes, blackberry, red fruit and mocha.  It’s an elegant and appropriate tribute to Adelsheim’s presence in the Chehalem area.


Day Three Paso Robles: From Zip Liner to Winer to Niner (Estates)

Feeling pretty certain this is a day that I will not be able to replicate … in any other wine region.  And how cool is that?

We arrived at Ancient Peaks Winery, which was the vision of three local winegrowing and ranching families, who dreamed of producing great wines from the Margarita Ranch region.  Fun fact – Robert Mondavi planted the Margarita Vineyard under a lease agreement until 2005 (when the Constellation acquisition happened) when the families decided to make the wines from their vineyard.  Ancient Peaks was chosen as the name due to the mountains that border Margarita Vineyard.  Santa Margarita Ranch first had grapes planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780 and today is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.  With five distinct soil types and over 50 vineyard blocks, this is a winery that happens to have a town located in the middle of the ranch property.

We started our day with VP of Operations, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, and Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor, with a safety lesson, a release form, tons of equipment ranging from a helmet to a harness to gloves and we set up the mountain to begin our adventure.  It was time to go zip lining across the pinot vineyards … and how cool is that?  Click here for my Paso Robles Zipline experience. We had a few folks on the team that opted out, but the rest of us were ready to go and seek adventure.  And what an adrenaline high!

Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor

After our zip line experience, we adjourned to the tasting room to learn more about the vineyard and the wines.  I loved the story about evolving from a corporate relationship to a small family-owned business based on wine quality and a focus on a sense of place.  Sinor said, “we want to let the vineyard speak and make wines that express the vintage for a price that over delivers.”

Our next stop was my favorite food experience (with fantastic wine) of the entire trip.  Niner Wine Estates is a LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard, a vineyard that has a natural heart-shaped growth.  We were hosted by Andy Niner, General Manager, and Molly Bohlman, Winemaker, who talked candidly about the struggles of pulling off a big estate vision – planting and harvesting three wineries, launching one restaurant with well-known chef Maegan Loring and making the decision to focus on estate wines – mostly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.

 

 

Our lunch was amazing (I am still dreaming about the carrot soup which shockingly was fantastic with the Sangiovese) and we had the chance to visit the chef garden, which was an exercise in frenetic harvesting, in motion.  The experience was an artistic vison of how each wine should go with the food.

We briefly visited Tin City, a business park of small production wineries.  We toured Field Recordings, where we saw some innovative wine canning and packaging, and Broadside Wines, which had some off the beaten path Italian varietals.  The next stop was ONX Wines, which was one of my favorite wineries of the trip.  ONX only makes 4,000 cases and is the only estate vineyard in the Tin City complex.  I loved these wines and would have shipped them home, but many of them were sold out due to the small production quantity.

Our next stop was Eberle Winery, the oldest continuously owned winery in Paso.  Gary Eberle is often referred to as the “godfather of Paso Robles” and was instrumental in establishing the AVA in 1983.  After graduating from Penn State with a football scholarship, he joined the SEC with a graduate focus on cellular genetics.  After developing an appreciation for wine due to a professor who introduced him to great French wines, he headed to U.C. Davis for his enology degree and moved to Paso Robles in the early 1970s.  This led him to a decision in the late 70’s to produce his own wine and he founded Eberle (German name for small boar).

He also asked the Steinbeck Family, who has evolved from growers to vintner ten years ago, to show their small production wines.  These wines are fantastic but a gift to those who visit Paso and Eberle.

Gary Eberle

Eberle built the first wine caves in Paso Robles, which now total 16,000 square feet of underground caves.  He decided to create a community – tastings are free and the vibe is “family reunion.”  Gary personally cooked his world-famous BBQ paired with Eberle and Steinbeck wines as we watched the sunset over the vineyards.  Such an iconic ending with a Paso pioneer.

So let me end with the only caveat of the trip – the San Luis Obispo airport.  Be afraid – you will hear how easy, how fast, how simple your check-in will be.  This is false.  You need to allow for the 90 minutes you hear about and frequently ignore.  We didn’t do that.  Four out of six (unable to give up the wine because we couldn’t check luggage) did not make our original flight.  I made my connection (18 minutes in between) from Phoenix to Dallas doing a quintessential OJ Simpson (pre-murder) and I still feel bad for my poor seatmates.

 

 


Paso Robles: History in the Glass

Our second day in Paso Robles was billed as a “vineyard to glass” experience.  We started with our chariot bus from Breakaway Tours where Owner Jill Tweedie helped start our journey in style.  We arrived at the train-themed Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, where Matt Merrill, the general manager, and Jim Shumate, the winemaker, greeted us with a tour.

 

The Merrill family has been growing grapes for eight generations and the business is still family owned.  After 30 years of growing for others, they decided to produce and farm their own wines five years ago.  The Merrill’s great grandfather was a railroad engineer and the tribute to him is an integral part of the winery experience.

 

 

Also joining us was Steve Martell, the winemaker for Sextant Wines and Ashley Leslie, portfolio manager.  Sextant is located right around the corner and Steve talked about how he uses fruit from the Pomar Junction as well as his own 100-acre vineyard.  This is when we started to hear about the Templeton Gap influence and how the diverse number of climates in the region along with the calcareous rock allow for so many different wines to be produced.  Jim Gerakaris, Winery Sommelier of Justin Wine, also talked about how Paso Robles has all of the qualities of any great global wine region.  Jim Shumate also talked about the lack of fear in trying new things that pushes the winemakers to do things that are different.

 

Our next stop was Adelaida Cellars, another family-owner vineyard located in the mountainous Adelaida District.  The winery focuses on Rhône, pinot noir, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.  The winery has 157 acres of vineyards in three different locations.  We hiked up to a spectacular view of the entire AVA and were greeted by Jeremy Weintraub, winemaker, and Paul Sowerby, national sales manager.  Also joining us was Jason Joyce, winemaker from Calcareous Vineyard, and Jordan Fiorentini, winemaker of Epoch Wines.  We took in the palate of colors from the mountain, drinking a Adelaida Rose, life was good.  Jason talked about the diversity of the region, “You throw a rock and find a new soil type.”

 

Jason Joyce, winemaker from Calcareous Vineyard

We came back to the tasting room that was remodeled about two years ago where we tried a line-up of great wines from these producers and had lunch.  The Rhone influence was really fun to see (and try) and the wines that are being produced out of the region were top notch.  It’s an influence of Old World vs New World with a special blend of Paso uniqueness thrown into the mix.

 

Our next stop was a first for me – Pasolivo Olive Oil.  We experienced the process of tasting five different oils, adding spices (habanero, lemon pepper, Italian mix, etc) and determining our perfect blend.  It was fun to go into the orchard and see the olive trees in bloom.

 

 

 

We then traveled to one of the pioneers in the region, Tablas Creek Vineyard.  Tablas Creek is a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, a long-time importer and founder of Vineyard Brands.  In 1985, the families formally partnered and purchased the 120-acre property in 1989.  The vineyard is all about the limestone and chalky soils and temperatures that allows the sun to ripen the grapes, the rain to dry farm the vineyard and for biodynamic farming.  When Tablas Creek couldn’t get the quality of vines it wanted back in the 1990’s, it imported cuttings directly from the Beaucastel vineyard and then shared them.  In fact, there are more than 400 wineries that have descendants of these cuttings today.  Our host, Manager John Morris, talked about how making better Rhone wines helps the quality and acceptance of these wines on a global scale.  We toured the vineyards, met alpacas and sheep, learned how to graft a grapevine and saw the sustainability measures in place firsthand.

We finished in the tasting room where we tasting 12 Rhone-style wines – a diverse range from red to white to rose.  After a day at Tablas, one proudly sports the badge of a “Rhone Ranger.”

We then had about 47 seconds to get back to the hotel and change for our dinner at Thomas Hill Organics, a restaurant that started as a CSA and then evolved into a well-known restaurant that focuses on local ingredients.  We had pairings for each course and four winemakers joined us – Kevin Willenborg from Vina Robles; Molly Lonborg (assistant winemaker) from Halter Ranch; Tom Lane from Bianchi Winery and JC Diefenderfer from Treana.


Tom from Bianchi has been the head winemaker for the past 11 years and bought the property 16 years ago.  He was born in Kansas and had “an illogical, romantic vision of what winemaking would be,” he said.  This was also his second career – he has three other degrees in biology, chemistry and botany.  Tom is the quintessential Renaissance man.  He actually brought the shocker wine of the meal – a Gewürztraminer that was an awesome dry white wine.

I didn’t get to spend much time with Molly from Halter Ranch Vineyard, which originally started as a grower’s vineyard.  The winery does 15 varietals – 60 percent Bordeaux and 40 percent Rhone-based.  Molly was generous enough to give us a bottle of wine to take and it was absolutely delicious.

Kevin from Vina Robles was also on the other side of the table.  He talked about the importance of having the vines do the work.  “You express the fruit, you never mask the fruit,” he said.

JC from Treana originally wanted to be a circuit board engineer until analog geometry got in the way.  But he knew he still wanted to develop, build and create.  His long-time friend, Austin Hope asked him to design and build their crush facility in Paso Robles.  This led to JC being on the winemaking team at Hope Family Wines starting in 1998 where he apprenticed under then-winemaker Chris Phelps.  When Austin asked him what he wanted to do, winemaking was the obvious choice.  “There are many of us that make Paso special by doing things differently,” he said.

My sense of community being alive and well in the region was reinforced.  The growers and winemaker look at making this one of the greatest regions in the world as a team effort.  The fact that Tablas Creek gave away cuttings from a highly-regarded vineyard to improve Rhone wines is only one proof point.  Winemaker Jordan Fiorentini from Epoch Estate Wines summed it up perfectly, “Make the best wines that you can and help those around you do the same.”


Five Texas Writers, Three Days of Paso Robles … The Adventure Starts Here

 Texas Media In Action

It felt a little like a Real World episode from the late 80’s.  Five writers, all from Texas, most who didn’t know the others, were brought together on a media trip.  At first glance, we were a diverse group – different ages, different religions and different ethnicities.  We ranged from career journalists to social media mavens to luxury publications to an occasional blogger like me.  And our interests were different – food, lifestyle and wine, but we shared a love for storytelling.

The View From My Room

Christopher Taranto, Communications Director, Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance brought us all together to experience the Paso Robles region.  The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance is the collective voice of what makes Paso special.  The organization focuses on both growers and vintners and has approximately 500 members.  As we sat in the majestic lobby of the Allegretto Vineyard Resort, we knew we were in for some life moments ahead.

First, a little about Paso Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks,’ is located in San Luis Obispo County on the Salinas River.  It is known for its wineries, olive oil and almonds as well as its mineral hot springs.

Paso Robles has a storied history in wine.  Grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries.  Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez had the vision this would be a great wine region and encouraged those in Mexico and California to come to the region.  In 1882, Andrew York, who came from Indiana, established a winery that still stands today under a different name as Epoch Winery.  Fast forward after Prohibition and growth continued.  Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres with Zinfandel as the heritage grape.  The real expansion occurred in 1990 when the winery count was 20 and today totals more than 200 wineries.

According to a study commissioned by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Paso Robles AVA accounts for 87% of San Luis Obispo County wine industry output and economic impact with 40,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, 95% of which are small production, family owned businesses.

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest and most diverse wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.

 

We started our trip with dinner at Cello Ristorante and Bar, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a focus on the gardens, farms and vineyards of the region.  A group of legendary winemakers joined us and shared what makes Paso Robles special.  Don Brady, Winemaker of Robert Hall, talked about the dramatic growth of the region and how he decided to make his career there.  He was a splendid dinner companion and I had a blast talking about every subject under the sun.

Doug Beckett, Peachy Canyon Winemaker

Doug Beckett, Founder of Peachy Canyon Winery, kept us rolling with laughter and shared an inspiring story about his evolution from a home winemaker in San Diego, to one of the industry’s gurus.

Ben Mayo, the newly-named Winemaker for San Antonio Winery, which is known as the oldest winery in California, talked about his journey to taking his new position.

Steve Peck, the Winemaker for J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, talked about coming to the region because “it was the place where everything was happening and it represented the opportunity to realize the American dream.”

I found that like many regions, I could instantly decipher the Paso personality.  It’s a serious place for winemaking but with a collegial, family and a place willing to take a chance on grapes, varietals and the process of making wine.


A Wine Blogger’s Mea Culpa: A Long-Delayed Wine Roundup

The winemakers came marching into Dallas.  Five of them in four-week period.  Then I had two fabulous wine country trips to California providing tons of content.  There were numerous Twitter online tastings with three other winemakers to debut new wines coming to Texas.  Snooth came a-calling and asked me to be part of a French wine region seminar.  The Australians came to town for an in-depth wine seminar and educational session on the region.  Then I looked up and realized that it has been about well, uh, er … five months since I did a wine round-up.  I still have a closet of wine to taste and lots of enquiring PR folks, but now I’m only a month behind on coverage, so here’s my latest line-up of favorites.

I tasted 20 wines from Spain, France and California and 12 made today’s round-up story.  Here are some great bottles to seek out.

Whites and Roses

2015 Tank Garage Winery “Stars Like Ours” Rose – whoa – this personifies Summer in a glass and I can’t wait to get more.  I tasted fresh, juicy strawberries, mango, raspberries, flowers and notes of honey.  It only comes in a three-pack and you can order it directly from the winery.

2012 Tricó Albariño Rías Baixas – I really liked this aged wine.  It had great notes of peach, apricot and flowers with a nice stony minerality.  As you swirled the wine in the glass, it continued to evolve.

2014 La Caña Albariño – notes of peach, apple and tropical fruits with the minerality and stone fruit that is typical for this wine.

2014 Vionta Albariño – juicy peach, apricot, green apple, melon, tropical fruit and a nice minerality makes this a zingy, tangy and delicious wine.

2014 Grassini Sauvignon Blanc – a great expression of a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc.  Notes of citrus, pear and granite with just the right amount of minerality and balance.

2014 Paramus Verdejo – a blend of flowers, tropical fruit, green apple, pear and herbal notes make this an easy drinking wine that drinks well with food.

Champagnes

Nicolas Feuillatte D’Luscious Rose Champagne – this champagne is blended with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, the classic blends for Champagne.  I tasted red and black cherry and a burst of raspberry.  I loved the elegance and layers of this sparkler.

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose Champagne – another great expression of Champagne in this bottle.  I tasted raspberry, currant, fresh bread and blackberry.  This had a great acidity, ripe fruit and a great minerality.

Reds

2013 Grassini Equipo – “Equipo” is the Spanish word for team and this wine was made to pay tribute to the team that has been with the winery since the vines were planted.  It’s a nice tribute with raspberry, cherry, currant, cassis and notes of chocolate.

2013 Grassini Articondo – named as another tribute to Larry Grassini’s grandfather, this well-made wine is drinkable today with notes of blackberry, chocolate, spice, mocha, black fruit and caramel.

2014 La Crema Virtuoso Pinot Noir – definitely not your grocery store La Crema, I made sure my group tasted this blindly and it received rave reviews.  I tasted raspberry, cherry, black licorice, plum, cherry cola and black tea.  This was a great wine and the decisions were made by 25,000 participants of La Crema’s Virtual Vintner crowd sourcing program.  Pretty cool.

2013 50 Harvests Meritage – this wine is absolutely delicious with notes of chocolate, coffee, red fruit, blackberry and is a fantastic Bordeaux blend.  This was made by the Scotto Family to mark the family’s 50 years in the wine business.

 


Checkered Past Blind Tasting: The Day I Became A “Celebrity” Judge

The smack down was on.  A side-by-side blind tasting of Messina Hof Texas wines vs. a line-up of global wines.  Add three celebrity judges (term used loosely as I was on that panel), wines wrapped in brown bags so the label can’t be seen, a bar full of tasters and let the games begin.

The panel consisted of me; Barrett Tillman of BlackMan Brewing, who manages the Barrel Aged Beer and Sour Program at Deep Ellum Brewing in Dallas; and Hathor Hendrix, a musician and vocalist who performs at Checkered Past Winery.

Tom Cortez, Messina Hof Winery, Sandro DiSanto, Checkered Past, and Mandy Graham, Messina Hof

I visited Checkered Past Winery a few months ago and loved the vibe.  When Sandro asked me if I’d like to participate in the tasting, I jumped at the chance.  It has been a long time since I tried Messina Hof wines and I was excited to have a chance to taste them again.  First some background, Messina Hof has been making wine for seven generations and is the largest producer of Texas wines.  It was the fourth winery founded in Texas.  Messina Hof produces 30 plus varieties of grapes, has more than 90 wine labels and produces more than 60,000 cases annually.

Our line-up was as follows.  The year was not provided on our tasting sheet, so it is omitted here, but if you look closely at the labels, you can find them.

Messina Hof Father and Son Cuvee Riesling

Bex Riesling (Germany)

Messina Hof Cabernet Franc

Raffault Cabernet Franc (Chinon, France)

Messina Hof GSM

Guicharde, Cotes du Rhone (France)

Messina Hof DRZ

Renwood Zinfandel (Dry Creek, CA)

The other judges and the wine bar attendees chose all the Texas wines.  I chose the international ones for three out of four choices. I think the important thing here is that for two of the choices, it was a tough back-and-forth for me.  My two experiences with Texas wines this year have been solid and I’m excited to continue to see the evolution of these wines.


A Trip Back to the 1800’s: A Stop Through Some of the Oldest Vineyards in Napa

Joshua Arroyo, our fantastic host at Chappellet Winery 

This leads me to day three of our wine country excursion and another one of my favorite all-time stops.  As you may recall, in November, I had the chance to sit down with the CEO of Chappellet Winery, Cyril Chappellet and had such a fun lunch that I knew this had to be a must stop during our trip.  Unfortunately Cyril and his wife, Molly, were out of town that weekend, but they set us up with Joshua Arroyo, a fabulous host that easily kept up with the group’s sarcasm and spirit of fun.

We started out with a tour of the new hospitality areas and the original winemaking facility that started producing wine in 1969.  Joshua told us how he had been with the Chappellet family for the last two years (72 hours after he unpacked his moving truck to be exact) after falling in love with wine.

We began with a 2015 Molly’s Chenin Blanc, which showcased Molly Chappellet’s sense of style with the super unique bottle.  Chappellet is one of four producers in the area that still make Chenin Blanc and it was delicious with a pretty floral nose and crisp minerality.

A little about how the Chappellet family came to Pritchard Hill.  It started more than 40 years ago when Donn and Molly Chappellet took a first look at the stunning mountain views.  Because they believed that Bacchus, the god of wine, loves the hills, combined with renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff’s advice to do so, they became the first to plant on Prichard Hill and these high-elevation hillsides.  The wines are known for being intense and elegant.

We toured the barn where it was fun to see the handprints of the six Chappellet children who are now adults and working with the winery.  Cyril and Carissa Chappellet oversee the day-to-day operations of the winery and Jon-Mark, Dominic, Lygia and Alexa Chappellet serve on the board.  Today there are nine grandchildren who play in the vineyards, just like their parents did.

We even brought Joshua in on the joke that my husband – much to his bemusement – is often mistaken for Mark Cuban.  As Joshua continued to give my husband a hard time about that, my husband retorted at the end with a funny come back.  And P.S. the little animal friends are something that we do on a trip for our ten-year-old daughter.

 

 

 

As we walked through the property, from the solar panels to the organic farming methods used, it was evident that this is a family who believes and cultivates in the land.  We laughed, we walked the grounds, we took pictures (thanks Joshua for making the photos at this site so much better than usual), we tasted wine in their amazing facility and we even visited the gorgeous picnic grounds on our way out.  And the wines – oh the wines – other than the Chenin Blanc, we tasted the 2013 Signature Chardonnay, the 2012 Napa Valley Las Piedras, the 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, the 2008 Signature Cabernet and the 2009 Signature Cabernet.  I am pretty certain that I ordered everything we tried.   Most importantly, we experienced what it felt like to be a part of Chappellet’s extended family.

 

We had two other stops that day as well.  One was a long overdue visit to Bremer Family Winery at Deer Creek on Howell Mountain. I first tasted these wines on a Napa trip when I was much younger and was eager to come back and revisit the stone winery and cellar first built in 1891.  The wines were as good as I remembered.

 

The last stop of the trip was Larkmead, another historic stop that is one of the oldest, family-owned grape growing estates in Napa.  Originally established in 1895, the 150-acre estate is known for its diverse soils and well-made, small-lot wines.


A Wine Country Journey: From Valley to Valley, Day Two

I heard a quote that came to life during my recent visit to the Maurtison Family Winery — “without history there is no future” – author, unknown.  The Mauritson family has been growing grapes and making wine for six generations and been in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 150 years.  During a Taste of Sonoma event in Dallas last year, I had the opportunity to meet Winemaker Clay Maurtison.  When I realized we would be staying about five miles from his family’s vineyard, I reached out.  I immediately received a response from Carrie Maurtison, who leads marketing and sales.  The next thing we knew we were four-wheeling it to the Rockpile Vineyard where we got up close and personal with the terroir that makes Maurtison Wines so special.

Carrie Mauritson

First a little background on the winery and the family.  S.P. Hallengren, the great-great-great grandfather of the family and pioneer of the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884 and was also a sheep rancher.  This land has quite the history.  The Rockpile land and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960 when the Army Corps of Engineers decided the land was needed to build Lake Sonoma.  The government paid 48 cents on the dollar and the family found most of its original ranch was now under water.  The family moved to Alexander Valley where it purchased 110 acres and then to Dry Creek Valley.  Maurtison has 310 vineyards across Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and and the Rockpile AVAs.

To continue the four wheeling story, we arrived at the vineyard and learned that the fruit has to be grown over 800 feet above sea level to be called “Rockpile”.  Carrie summed it up perfectly, ”If it wasn’t for love, there would be no Rockpile AVA”.  What I loved (other than the amazing Zins) were the stories.  The vineyards had interesting stories behind their names from Buck’s Pasture where deer liked to congregate to Jack’s Cabin (a tree girdler with a colorful history and a love of the drink lived there many decades ago) to Independence (the grandfather killed four pigs there on July 4th), the sense of history and fun of this family shone through.

 

Our line-up included the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, three different 2013 Zinfandels – Jack’s Cabin, Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin as well as the Madrone Spring Vineyard Syrah and the 2012 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Cabernet along with an amazing picnic lunch.

Gee and Barber

Our next stop was the chance to experience the caves of Freeman Vineyard and Winery.  You may recall my visit with Ken and Akiko Freeman during a Freeman dinner at Lakewood Country Club.  This was my chance to experience the caves and winery while introducing my friends to these incredible wines.  I wanted to see the Keystone of September 28, 1985 firsthand above the wine cave.  This stone captures a special moment of time where happenstance brought Ken to a party in New York where they met that involves a hurricane, a Chanel dress and the beginning of a great love story. And this proved that you never know who you are going to run into as we collided paths with former Dallas Sommelier Scott Barber and Heather Gee from La Tache De Vin.

At this point, I have to give a huge shout out to Chris and Janette, from My Napa Valley Driver.  I would not consider coming to Napa and not using these incredible folks.  They are funny, knowledgeable, hospitable, wine country natives and some of the greatest folks in the Valley.  They come to where you stay, drive your rental car (bringing along snacks/water) and have tons of knowledge on great places to go.  They kept us on schedule, even picked up Bouchon goodies when we didn’t have time to stop, ordered lunch for us one day and then picked out the perfect lunch stop for us when we had time between stops.  Oh, and they figured out how to get us from our Napa to Sonoma accommodations and only charge $45 an hour.

 

 Mary Ann Turrentine, Paradigm

The next day we started at Paradigm, a 50-acre winery, which is owned and managed by Ren and Marilyn Harris, two winegrowers (who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary).  The Harris have Napa roots with grandparents who came in 1769 and 1890.  They moved to Napa in the 1960’s and decided to purchase land in Oakville in the 1970s and sell the grapes.  Paradigm’s first wine was in 1991 and Icon Heidi Barrett, was the first winemaker and continues to consult on the wines there today.  Mary Ann Turrentine, the director of sales and hospitality, tasted us through a line-up starting with the rose’ and we had the chance to try the 2012 merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon as well as the 2011 cabernet sauvignon. The 2011 to the 2012 cabernet side-by-side tasting was an expression of Old World vs the more fruit-forward New World styles.

 

Our next stop was Cliff Lede Vineyards, which was established in 2002 when Cliff Lede, a Canadian, successful construction company owner and music enthusiastic purchased the 60-estate vineyard.  He promptly hired David Abreu, a well-known viticulturist and winemaker, to replant the vineyards.  Lede was whimsical in naming the vineyard blocks after his favorite rock songs and albums.  We experienced that firsthand in the VIP tasting room where we saw signed guitars and the art from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.  We tried several of the wines from Cliff Lede and FEL – ranging from $25 to $130.  This was a cool melding of great wine, music and whimsy.

My Napa Valley Drivers set up an awesome picnic for us in Healdsburg with food from Café R&D where we had a chance to drink a little water (and maybe some Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc) and ate some great food.

 

We then swung by Cornerstone Cellars – I’m a long-time fan.  The winery was founded in 1991 by Mike Dragutsky who wanted to make great wine.  Craig Camp, who recently left his Cornerstone position for his dream to make wine in Oregon, was the person who introduced me to these wines.  The mantra has always been about vineyard and variety.  Cornerstone also has a collaboration in Oregon to make pinot noir and chardonnay.  We tasted through the Corallina rose,’ which is also known as the artist series, as well as a number of the other full-bodied reds.  My favorites included the 2012 Cabernet France, Merlot and Michael’s Cuvee.

Me and Elizabeth Smith 

Our final stop was at Ehlers Estate where my friend and tasting room manager, Elizabeth Smith, was an incredible host.  I love the story – Bernard Ehlers bought a vineyard in the late 1800s that wasn’t in great shape.  He started a quest to replant the vineyard and completed construction of the stone barn that now hosts the tasting room.  He built quite the legacy – his original Bale Mill Winery operated under his wife until the 1920’s (and during Prohibition).

There were other owners until French Entrepreneurs (owners of a large laundry and linen business who also founded a cardiac foundation bearing the same last name — hence the heart logo) Jean and Syviane Leducq acquired the winery and understood how well the Bordeaux wines they loved would do at this vineyard.  They brought in Jacques Boissenot, a renowned enologist, and acquired local vineyards that fit the Bordeaux vision.  About 16 years ago, they brought the Ehlers history back with the original stone barn and the Ehlers name on labels.  They hired Kevin Morrisey as the winemaker and Francisco Vega, the vineyard manager, who share the passion for creating Old World, estate-only wines that express the uniqueness of the terroir and are farmed organically.  The wines are sold mostly direct to consumers at the winery.

Kevin Morrisey and me

We had a great chance to visit with Kevin who talked about going to college to study art.  He did a graduate program in enology with an interest in science.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, he had friends that started making films and he fell into a junior camera man role.  That role brought him to Paris and he fell in love with French wines and cooking.  After two years he returned to Los Angeles where it was a tough market.  At age 35, he returned to school at UC Davis knowing that he wanted to make wine.  He wanted an internship in Paris and stalked Chateau Petrus until they gave up and took him as a harvest intern.  He was at Stag’s Leap twice (first working his way up to associate winemaker and then as head winemaker and general manager) as well as Etude before coming to Ehlers.

“I loved data and science,” he said.  “Chemistry is meaningful – I love data and science because there is a natural reaction.”  He talked about how making wine and blending is much more fun than baking because of the ability to improvise.

“I want the wines to be distinctive and to be true to the grapes,” he continued.  Ehlers is laser focused on building upon Bernard Ehler’s legacy and staying true to the land, what is in the glass and the people who work the vineyards and enjoy the wines.  It’s truly a special place.

 




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