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A Chat With Pat: Kenwood Vineyards Winemaker’s Perspective

Kenwood Vineyards has a storied history – one that began in 1970 in the former Pagani Brothers Winery, a winery that dates back to 1906 that was once known for its production of jug wines.  Kenwood changed that heritage when John Sheela and his brothers-in-laws, Mike Lee and Marty Lee renamed the facility Kenwood and were among the first to start making premium wine in Sonoma Valley.

We were invited for an intimate blogger chat with Kenwood Vineyards’ Winemaker Pat Henderson.  His love for wine began more than 30 years ago.  In 1983, Pat was a 20-year-old attending winemaking school at the University of California Davis.  He needed a job and worked as a harvest intern in Napa and Sonoma.  When it was time for a full-time gig, he started calling and ended up with a full-time job at Kenwood after his original cellar internship.  When Senior Winemaker Mike Lee retired in 2003, Pat stepped up to that position.

“Sonoma and Kenwood just seem like home,” he said.  “Sonoma has a great diversity of terroirs in the vineyards.  We go to the best places to find the best grapes and we make those wines in small lots.”  Kenwood has a 23-acre vineyard and sources grapes from dozens of producers including Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Mountain.   We tried four wines which arrived in a beautifully packaged wooden crate.  The labels had been completely redone and had a fresh, modern look.

2014 Kenwood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc – a value-oriented, crisp Summer white with notes of lemon, lime, tropical fruit with a nice minerality.

2014 Kenwood Vineyards Six Ridges Russian River Chardonnay – made in a small lot, reserve style wine, the Six Ridges label is a tribute to the mountains and ridges that border the diverse Sonoma appellations in the vineyards.  I tasted notes of apple, vanilla, pear, peach and a note of spice.

2013 Jack London Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon – named for Jack London, the well-known author of Call of the Wild and adventurer, has quite the story.  Jack was too restless for his one semester at the University of California and decided to become a hobo with a goal of writing 1,000 words a day about his life.  He was jailed for vagrancy, built roads in New York and later became a foreign correspondent before writing his well-known books.  He bought the ranch in Sonoma County in 1977 and every dime he made is invested back in the ranch.  Since 1976, Kenwood Vineyards has been the exclusive producer of wines from his ranch.   I tasted notes of black cherry, herbs, currant, vanilla, mocha and mint.

2013 Kenwood Six Ridges Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel – I tasted fig, red fruit, pepper, Asian spice and mocha in this well balanced Zinfandel.

“The vineyards are like my kids – I can’t treat them all the same,” Henderson said.  “Kenwood is investing more to make better wine, not more wine.”  And this is a trend I personally love seeing especially with a large wine conglomerate like Pernod Ricard at the helm.


Steve Rogstad: Cuvaison Winemaking and the Makings of a David Allen Coe Song

Steve Rogstad, Winemaker of Cuvaison

When I agreed to meet Cuvaison Estate Winemaker Steve Rogstad, little did I know that the ending of our meeting could easily be included as a verse in a country/western song that included Wrestlemania, an airstream trailer, Andy Warhol and a pen of chickens.  But I digress…

We met at Steven Pyles Restaurant and Steve told me the history of Cuvaison.  The winery was established in 1969 and known for the pinot noir and chardonnay sustainably produced at its Carneros vineyard in Napa.

In 1979, the matriarch of the Schmidheiny family of Switzerland visited the region and saw the vineyard’s potential.  She brought a soil sample home to the family and a year later her son, Thomas, purchased the winery.  The profits are re-invested in the winery and vineyards which allows cutting-edge things like block-by-block farming methods and a hand-crafted approach. Cuvaison has evolved some of the wines that it once produced like merlot into varietals like syrah and sauvignon blanc.

When the Schmidheiny family first purchased Cuvaison, Thomas showed his dear friend, Artist Andy Warhol, the wine label.  Warhol remarked that the label was ugly.  It was changed shortly afterward.

Steve grew up in North Dakota and went to The University of Washington to become a literary major.  He landed in Paris after graduation and lived above a wine shop.  That’s where he fell in love with the culture of wine and started learning.  After doing a bunch of biochemistry requisites, which originally terrified him, he attended grad school as a part of UC Davis’ viticulture and enology program.  He completed an internship at Beaujolais and then worked at Saintsbury, Spring Mountain Vineyard, La Crema and Clos Pegase as well as at custom crush clients like Viader, Dominus, Duckhorn and Spottswoode.  He joined Cuvaison in 2002 where he got to build the winery from the ground up.  “We custom built it to best handle the estate fruit when it is ready”, said Steve.  He employed tactics like block-by-block farming methods, green initiatives and certified sustainable farming.

Our line-up was full of amazing wines:

2014 Cuvaison Sauvignon Blanc – this was a fresh and tropical sauvignon blanc and a perfect expression of the grape.

2013 Cuvaison Chardonnay – notes of caramel apple, pear and nectarine make this well balanced wine a crowd pleaser.  There is good reason why the winery is known for this varietal.

2013 Cuvaison Pinot Noir – lots of black cherry, black fruit, cardamom, clove, roses, truffles and earthy notes make this a fantastic representation of pinot noir.  Delicious.

Then we moved to the Brandlin wines.  In 1998, Cuvaison purchased the R Brandlin Vineyard from the Brandlin family.  R Brandlin is a Napa Valley estate that produces wine in the Mount Veeder appellation.   The wines pay homage to the Brandlin family.   The winery was established in the 1870’s when the Brandlins were pioneers in the Mount Veeder region.  It filled the need for an estate cabernet for the Cuvaison portfolio and the Brandlin’s knew Steven would take great care with their legacy.

We tried the following:

2012 Brandlin Henry’s Keep Proprietary Red – this was soft and silky and made with the best grapes on the vineyard.  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, violets, mocha and spice.  The composition is 78 percent cabernet, 9 percent malbec, 7 percent petit verdot and 6 percent cabernet franc.

2012 Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, herbs, coffee, mocha and chocolate made this a wonderful, aromatic and silky cabernet.

So it appears that I didn’t completely pay off the headline … yet.  Well, Steve was here during Dallas’ WrestleMania event and there were no hotels to be found for miles near Dallas.  He went to this  listing on Air B&B and hark there was the coolest, hippest Airstream trailer complete with chicken coop and within walking distance of Henderson Avenue.  All we need now is mama, getting drunk and prison and we’ve got ourselves a David Allen Coe anthem.


A Virtual Chat with Kunde Winery’s Fourth-Generation Winegrower Jeff Kunde, and Winemaker Zach Long

In six years of blogging, no winery owner ever opened a conversation saying that they walked away from revenue because they made the decision to refocus on quality.  In 2009, Jeff Kunde, fourth generation winegrower for Kunde, told me the family did exactly that.  It started a vineyard redevelopment program where it replanted varietals and rootstocks best fit for the vineyard blocks.  It also revamped and modernized its vineyard practices.  Kunde became a sustainable vineyard.  It refreshed its brand.  And, in 2011, it brought in a well-known winemaker Zach Long to revolutionize the program.

Kunde Winery is considered the oldest piece of property in Sonoma County and for more than 100 years, five generations of the Kunde family have been making wine on the 1,850-acre estate.  Zach told me he joined because of the diversity of the 700 acres of vineyards and the ability to work seven microclimates.  “The family had already started the process to modernize the vineyards.  I focused on the latest vineyard management techniques like canopy management, lower yields and letting the fruit hang longer to enhance the wines.”

Jeff and Zach told me that the way that they are farming limits the control and allows the wines to reflect a sense of place.  The result is 100 percent estate produced wines that are driven by the terroir friendly winemaking approach.  “All wines showcase the best varietals we are able to grow with a diversity of flavor,” said Zach.

It had been a long time since I had tried the wines and if you haven’t tried them lately, I urge you to take another look.  Here was our line-up:

2014 Kunde Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc – this was zingy with grapefruit, tropical fruit, lemon peel and was the perfect expression of a good sauvignon blanc.

2014 Kunde Wildwood Vineyard Chardonnay – Described by Zach as “a thinker,” this had a nice structure with notes of pear, apple, tropical fruit, butter and oak.

2013 Kunde Cabernet Sauvignon – this elegant cabernet had notes of raspberry, chocolate, anise, spice, white pepper, black currant and cinnamon.

2012 Kunde Dunfillan Cuvee – this was named after the original winery built on the Kunde Estate in the late 1800’s  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with blackberry, beef jerky and spices.  Fun fact is that James Drummond built this winery and is the first guy in America to put the Cabernet Sauvignon grape on his label.

Kunde has a storied history of five generations and a great story to tell about continuing to strive for excellence.  It has made the quality improvements in the wines, the winemaking process and the vineyards.  It is clear that Jeff and Zach have a passion for producing the best wine possible and making them affordable for consumers.  As the well known ad slogan goes, “it’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.”  Taste the new Kunde wines for yourself.


Wines of Roussillon: A Chat with Sommelier Caleb Ganzer and Snooth’s Mark Angelillo

Caleb and Mark, Co-Hosts for the Session

The Roussillon wine region is all about passing along wisdom, the culmination of thousands of years of history and a place with a personality exemplifying character and honesty.  Before I attended Snooth’s Wines of Roussillon media event, hosted by Caleb Ganzer, a sommelier and Wines of Roussillon expert, and Mark Angelillo, co-founder/CEO of Snooth, I didn’t know the extent of the important story housed in this region and in these wines.

There is a misperception about the region that needs to be changed.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region spans the Mediterranean coastline from the French border of Spain to the region of Provence.  It has 700,000 acres under vines and is the single largest wine producing region in the world – eclipsing other wine regions.

The Roussillon wine region is a different and a smaller piece of the Languedoc-Roussillon located near narrow valleys around the Pyrenees.  It is open to the Mediterranean Sea to the East and three rivers, the Agly, the Tet and the Tech, define the topology of the region.  Why is this important?  Think of the differences of a boutique winery – smaller production, greater concentration on the terroir and more focus on what is in the bottle – vs. a winery that ships 2,000,000 cases of mass produced wine.  Caleb categorized it as a “gem in the rough” in a region that is known for wines for a larger mass market.

The Roussillon region, which was acquired by the French from Spain in the mid seventeenth century, was once known as a producer of sweet wines.  However, with the Old Vines of the region and more than 20 soil types in the mountainous region ranging from chalk, limestone, gravel and alluvial soils, some vineyards decided to make the pivotal shift to making dry table wines.  I would characterize most of these having concentration, extracted flavor and intensity and is one heck of a value as compared to many other Old World wines.

Here was our line-up: 

2014 Côtes du Roussillon Blanc: Michel Chapoutier, Les Vignes de Bila Haut – this is the only wine with Texas distribution and I had the opportunity to try it prior to this tasting. I absolutely adored the fact that Michel Chapoutier was one of the pioneers of providing Braille on the label – making wine accessible to all as it should be.  It was a combination of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu with a mix of tropical, citrus and floral notes and a nice minerality.

2011 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel: Gérard Bertrand, Tautavel Grand Terroir – this wine was a combination of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan.  Bertrand is known for owning some of the most premium wine estates in the South of France and is known for wines expressing the unique terroirs of the region.  The soil is chalky and I tasted black cherry, plum, boysenberry, mocha, cocoa powder and the nose was almost port-like.  Wine Writer Meg Houston Maker likened it to the French version of Malbec with its concentration, acidity and balance.  This wine would stand up well to Texas BBQ.

2013 Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres: Château Planères, La Romanie – also grown in mountainous terroir with clay and gravel soil, this wine was made of Syrah, Mourvedre and Black Grenache.  It was a rustic Old World wine with notes of menthol, spice, black fruit and I think will be spectacular with some more time in the cellar or the right food pairing.

2013 Maury Sec: Domaine Cabirau, Cuvée Serge et Nicolas – described as the prototypical most picturesque and beautiful village that postcards are made of, this wine was nuanced, earthy and delicious.  Definitely one of my favorites from the tasting.

We then moved to the sweet wines of the region – including one made from Muscat and then to a red fortified wine of the Banyuls.  The 2011 Muscat de Rivesaltes : Domaine Cazes had notes of honeysuckle and flowers made from two different muscat grapes.  The 2014 Banyuls Rimage: Domaine La Tour Vieille, which was made of grenache, had notes of raspberry, godiva chocolate and plum.

My big takeaway was the diversity of the region, the range of styles and an increased focus on quality.


Savour South Australia Wines: Old Vines, Classic Wines, Family Lines

Terry, Michelle and Ryan Representing the Texas Wineauxs

Savour South Australia Wines came to Cafe Momentum in Dallas recently and it reiterated for me how much wine is a journey and how much I still have to learn.  When I thought about Australia, Shiraz was the grape that naturally came to mind.  But there is so, so much more.

Adelaide is the wine capital of Australia and South Australia has 18 unique wine regions including Barossa, Clare Valley, Coonawarra and McLaren Vale.  The State of South Australia consists of six regions and two territories with 1.3 million residents.  What I also didn’t know is that Australia is home to some of the oldest living vines in the world.  Even more surprising because Phylloxera has never hit the Barossa and McLaren Vale Regions, the vineyards have been producing fruit for hundreds of years.

Jennifer Lynch, the General Manager of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association, kicked off the session with an overview on the geology of the region and a discussion on the changing weather patterns and soils.  The first Colony in Australia was founded in 1836 and McLaren Vale was founded by John McLaren in 1938. The first wineries were in operation by 1850.  Today there are more than 100 wineries and 250 grape growers in Australia.  It is one of the most diverse geologies in the world with diverse temperatures, different topographies and unique soils.

The McLaren Vale has four traditional seasons and is well known for reds like Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre, but also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  Whites include Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling (and that is good Riesling!)

Then we moved to Barossa.  The first settlers came to Barossa in 1842 from England, Germany and Scotland.  They brought an attitude of preserving the land and a love for farming and agriculture.  Barossa is one of the custodians of the oldest continuous producers.

James March, CEO, of the Barossa Wine and Grape Association, called it “tasting history in a glass.”  He talked about growing up on a vineyard and how the topography of the Barossa Valley and Eden Valley are completely different, likening Barossa to Napa Valley and Eden Valley to Sonoma.  From warmer and drier in Barossa to wetter and cooler in the Eden Valley.  From the deep and rich soil of Barossa to the rockier soil of the Eden Valley.  The different climates make very different wines.  You can find whites like Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Reds include Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (Syrah), and Mourvedre.

Chuck Hayward, an Australian Wine Educator, led us in a tasting of 12 unique wines from the regions.  Many were typical for what I thought of the Australian wines that I had prior.  However, there were a few surprises – especially the 2012 Torbreck Woodcutters Semillion (Barossa) that had lots of lime, acidity, green melon and a nutty texture.  It was my first tasting of Australian Semillion and it was a great, refreshing wine.

 

I also really enjoyed the Shiraz’s – the 2013 Langmeil Freedom 1843 Shiraz, 2012 Kaesler Old Bastard and the 2012 Torbreck Run Rig – all from Barossa.   Lots of black fruit, plum, raspberry, herbs and other different styles and expressions of the shiraz grape.  Another shining star with the 2010 Angove the Medhyk Shiraz (McLaren Vale) with lots of red fruit, flowers and mocha as well as getting to try older wine in the 2006 Elderton Ode de Lorraine (Barossa).  The Elderton had notes of juicy fruit, dark berry and was a great expression of the oldest soils on the planet.

Who knew that Australia had sparkling wines?  I tried the 2012 Singleback Black Bubbles (McLaren Vale) made from sparkling shiraz using the champagne region “Methode Traditionelle.”  They told us it is often served during Christmas morning and it was a fun, unexpected twist.

It was a great seminar that really showed the families, the heritage, the history, the region and the unique wines of South Australia.

 


A Night with Danielle Cyrot from CADE Winery at Rapscallion

Cyrot and me

March was an unbelievable month for me as a blogger.  Almost daily, I had the opportunity to break bread and hear the stories of California’s top winemakers.  One of the highlights included my dinner with Danielle Cyrot, winemaker for CADE Estate Winery, at Rapscallion.com, one of Dallas’ hottest restaurant.

CADE has two sister properties, PlumpJack and Odette, that are focused on making powerful Cabernet Sauvignons – all with a Shakespearian name play.  PlumpJack was the first winery among the group to be established in 1995 with a muse of Sir John “PlumpJack Falstaff,” a jolly, fun-loving, round bellied gentlemen with a love for wine.  The name was also the name of a wine shop in San Francisco with a goal of demystifying wine.  PlumpJack was the first high-end winery that gave screw caps credibility by putting them on reserve wines.  It is also a LEED certified winery.  Odette is known as a princess, a mistress to the king, a judge and a heroine and the winery was founded in 2012.

In 2005, Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty and John Conover established CADE Estate Winery on Howell Mountain.  CADE is also a Shakespearian name that refers to the wine casks (cades) that were shipped from Bordeaux to England.  The volcanic soil of Howell Mountain makes deep, rich and elegant wines.  The winery is 50 acres.

Danielle Cyrot is the winemaker.  She is passionate, smart as a whip and a great dinner companion with style.  She grew up with a wine loving French dad who took her to France to discover her wine heritage.  Her great grandfather was the last of her ancestors to own the Cyrot vineyard in Burgundy.  Wine was not in her original plan, but her love of viniculture and technology was inspired when she took an introductory winemaking class.

After two internship stints at Schramsberg and Artesa, she worked abroad in Alsace, France and South Australia.   She moved back to California and worked as an enologist, as assistant winemaker for Stag’s Leap and then became the winemaker for St. Clement.  In 2012, she joined CADE.

She talked about being a purist.  “I take what the fruit gives me and make it the best that it can be.  I don’t try to make an apple pie a lemon meringue pie.  It’s all about elevating great fruit and making it the best it can be.”

Danielle talked about the techniques she learned in Australia and France and how they taught her the chemistry and technology behind making good wines.  “I find the terroir and use science and technology to make my decisions.”

And now for the wine pairings with the dinner.  We started with Oysters, Jumbo Lump Crab Toasts and House Pimento Cheese and Benne Wafers paired with the 2014 Cade Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley.

Our first course was Herb-Ricotta Cavatelli with Little Neck Clams, Smoked Pork Cracklins, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Pickled Celery with the 2013 Adaptation by Odette Chardonnay, Napa Valley.

The next course was a Wood-Grilled Texas Quail with Huckleberries, “Curry Q” Duck Hearts, Coal-Roasted Beets, Green Goddess, Popped Sorghumpaired with the 2013 PlumpJack Syrah, Napa Valley.

We moved to A Bar N Ranch “Rotisserized” Texas Wagyu Tri-Tip Roast with Wood-Roasted Baby Carrots, Robuchon Pommes Purée, Dry-Aged Beef Spuma, Coal-Fired Onion Juswith a 2012 Cade Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain.

Our final course was a cheese selection with the 2014 PlumpJack Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley.

It was a night to remember of Shakespearian proportion…. and I don’t even have to tell you how great every single wine was that evening.

And, on an insiders note, Randall Grahm, the first ballot hall of famer in the world of wine, Bonny Doon Wine Maker and someone who changed the wine world will be at a Rapscallion wine dinner on April 11 beginning at 6:45 pm.  The cost is $105 plus tax and tip.


A Conversation with Akiko Freeman: The Story of An Almost Accidental Winemaker

Ken and Akiko Freeman

I recently spent the evening at Lakewood Country Club with Ken and Akiko Freeman, the founders of Freeman Vineyard & Winery based in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.  In the spirt of full disclosure, I serve as the wine committee chairman and was an invited guest.  Akiko, who serves as the winemaker, was my dining companion and she told me the story of how Freeman began and how she started to make wine.

It all began with Ken’s passion for wine and his desire to buy a winery.  Ken and Akiko were enthralled with Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and believed CaIifornia was able to produce that style of wine.  They looked at over 300 vineyards in search of a place that had the temperatures and coastal breezes to produce these wines.  The final chosen property had a winery that was started in 1978, but closed in 1981.  The first step was to buy fruit.

Well-known winemaker Ed Kurtzman served as the consulting winemaker starting in 2001 and Akiko became an accidental winemaker.  She originally served as an apprentice to Ed when she realized that they didn’t have the budget to hire an assistant winemaker and they were all in on making this dream a reality.  As Akiko stated, “Eighty percent of winemaking is cleaning up and that is how I learned.  But I fell in love with science and the art of fermentation along the way.”

After seven years as an assistant and ‘a million questions later,’ Ed told her she was ready to take the reins.  I could tell this is a woman who loves her job and based on the critic accolades and the fact that you can only buy these wines off the mailing list, she has come a long way from a wine collector to a wine maker.  While Ed still is deeply involved with the sales and marketing side of Freeman, Akiko drives the process.

Akiko grew up in Tokyo and her grandfather’s love for wine, literature and art was her inspiration.  She visited New York to study abroad and met Ken, who became her husband.  They visited California wineries and decided that owning one was a long-term goal.  Later, she received her Master’s degree in Italian Renaissance art history from Stanford where she traveled around the world.  After earning his M.B.A. from Kellogg, Ken established the Discovery Channel in Asia.  A position at CNET moved the Freeman’s to California and the winery plan was established.

Four years after they purchased the property in Sebastopol, they acquired an adjacent property, now the site of their Gloria Estate Vineyard; and in 2007 they purchased the Freeman Ranch further west in the Sonoma Coast appellation, where they planted their second vineyard, named ‘Yu-ki’.  The Freeman’s work with a variety of vineyard partners.  The winery makes less than 5,000 cases per year of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Our line up of the wines and dinner that was prepared by Lakewood Country Club’s talented Executive Chef William Koval (who happened to be the youngest executive chef for the Ritz Carlton and the chef who received a Mobil star during his tenure at the French Room in Dallas) was perfect.  Here’s the overview:

2013 Freeman Ryo-Chardonnay with seared sea scallop, sweet potato pine nut sage, ravioli and ver jus.

2013 Freeman Russian River Valley Pinot with seared ahi, herbs, foie gras with apple raisin compote and red wine butter

2012 Freeman Sonoma Coast Pinot with bacon seared pheasant, farro parmesan style risotto, pear salad and green peppercorn pheasant jus.

2013 Freeman Keefer Ranch Pinot with peppered Colorado lamb medallions, pancetta, fava bean, sweet carrot Brussel sprout with a huckleberry sauce.

Our dessert was a warm lemon soufflé cake with chocolate ice cream.

Elegance is what Akiko is serving for in her wines.  “It’s completely a philosophy of using the best fruit, handling it with care and making the best wine possible,” she said.


A Night In Dallas with Greg Morthole, Winemaker of Davis Bynum

Me, Andrew Chalk (wine author/writer); Robert Larsen (president, The Larsen Projekt);  Terry Hill (editor, Texas Wineaux); and Greg Morthole (Winemaker, Davis Bynum)

My favorite posts on Dallas Wine Chick have always been ones that tell a great story about wine, a winemaker or a region.  As a blogger, research goes into every post.  Living in Dallas, not necessarily next to acres of vineyards, much of this research is done online, while drinking the wine or during wine trips.  Davis Bynum is a winery that has figured out not only how to tell its story but how to truly teach complex lessons in a very easy to understand format.

In December 2014, Robert brought a group of us together to learn about Pinot clones; what goes into each clone and why; and we had a chance to sample the stand-alone clones and a resulting blend.  Here was my last experience with the clones of Davis Bynum.

So what is a clone?  Basically, a cut is made from a “mother” vine with the assumption that the cut will be genetically identical to the first.  Usually the winemaker is trying to find certain characteristics in the mother vine that they want to replicate.

This trip, Robert brought Greg Morthole, winemaker of Davis Bynum, to pour the latest round-up of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and four of its pinots.  Greg started working for the winery as a lab director before he was promoted to his current position.  His grasp of the intersection of science and earth was apparent as he discussed the wines.

First a little background about the winery. Davis Bynum was the first to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in 1973 from Joe Rochioli’s vineyard.  Bynum was a newspaper man working at the San Francisco Chronicle, but inherited his love of wine from his father, who was a wine judge at both the Los Angeles and California State Fairs. He originally experimented with petite sirah from Robert Mondavi, which he deemed a success.  After several years, he decided to make wine his career and did it in Albany, California.  In 1973, he bought a property in Sonoma and found his group of dedicated grape growers.  The rest is history.  In 2007, he sold the winery to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong, but the goal of producing single vineyard wines has not wavered.

 

 

We tasted through the 2014 Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc and then tried the 2013 Chardonnay.  We moved to four different pinot noirs – two that were Sonoma blends from 2013 and 2014, one from the Russian River Valley and one from a single clone – all from Jane’s Vineyard.  The pinots had such different characteristics and I remain astonished on the range and deliciousness of each of these wines based on the block, the clone and the elevation.


The Oscar Goes to … Piper Heidsieck

 

 

When one gets an invitation to a party by the official champagne host of the Academy Awards, the answer is a resounding yes.  From the moment we walked the red carpet at the terrace of the Joule Hotel – naturally in our black tie attire – this was a dress to impress party that was absolutely a special occasion.  Aside from the Oscars in Los Angeles, other parties were held in other major markets in the US including New York.

First, the champagne was free flowing starting with the Piper Heidsieck Brut NV and the Piper Heidsieck Rose Sauvage.  As the evening continued, we had a chance to sample both the 1999 and 2002 Piper Heidsieck Millesime Champagne, which were poured at the Oscars and the bottles had a detachable Tierra (of course I had to wear it).  Naturally it was opened by sabering the bottle.  The guests had a chance to fill out Oscar ballots and win prizes so the spirit of competition kicked into gear.   There were great prizes from customized gear to magnums of champagne.

Terri Burney, Owner of Winetastic and Oscar Trivia Pro

I started off strongly with my ballot, but sadly ended up pretty middle of the road at the end with some of the big upsets like best picture.  Thankfully, the owner of Winetastic, a great wine bar in Dallas, took home the special magnum, so I was glad to see that it found a good home.


Checkered Past Winery: A Dallas Wine Bar Where Someone Always Knows Your Name

If you are looking for a wine bar that takes itself incredibly seriously and is full of folks discussing the esoteric qualities of wines, Checkered Past Winery is not for you.  If you are looking for your next neighborhood “Cheers experience,” but with a mix of Texas and international wines (and beer too), belly on up to the bar and let Sandro DiSanto , co-founder, owner and winemaker and Carolynne Chancellor, manager and vineyard owner, change your mind about wine snobbery and Texas wines.

So I’ve told you what Checkered Past Winery isn’t.  So what is it?  It’s an urban wine pub in the South Side neighborhood which features quality Texas wines, locally brewed beer, and great wines from around the world with really great folks running the show.  Checkered Past actually has its own wines made in Texas.  We tried several of the wines – the albarino, the viognier and the syrah.  I liked them all, but really enjoyed the two whites.

The winery, which opened in early December of last year on Prohibition Day, is themed around Mods and Rockers, two different British youth subcultures of the early to mid 60’s and 70’s.  The rocker subculture was based upon motorcycles, leather jackets and 50’s rock and roll.  The mod subculture was based around fashion (think Mad Men), music and many rode scooters.

There are a lot of things that make Checkered Past Winery unique including the fact that Sandro is a winemaker making his owned branded wines that you can try at the winery.  His philosophy is to make “balanced wines without faults and pair well with food and friends.”  Carolynne is also growing grapes that will eventually be used in the branded wines.  There is a list of fellow Texas winemakers (higher end) that are considered “friends” as well as seven tap wines as well as local beers and ciders in addition to the international wine list.

Sandro wanted to build an urban winery after commuting more than 80 miles each way to work and wanted to change the traditional model of having to travel to a winery.  The Cedars neighborhood was chosen because it was creative and artistic.  Walking into the building, you see that influence.  The staff at Checkered Past Winery designed the entire space themselves except for the paint you see on the walls.  You see old metal, scooter and motorcycle parts that showcase the theme.  The music also is a mix of reggae, ska, jazz and punk – depending on the night and live bands are prevalent.

Wines are available by the glass, bottle and through the wine club.  It’s free to join and you are only committed to one month for two bottles – usually around $40.  You won’t find wines on the center shelf of the grocery store – it’s a cool and eclectic selection.

And, the food.  A picture says one thousand words and I’m positing all the delicious things that we ate.  This is a wine bar that is meant to be a place to demystify wine and become your next neighborhood destination.




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