Archived entries for Cabernet Franc

The Art of Wine: When Passion and a Business Plan Intersect

 

Ariane Garcia, Owner, The Art of Wine

She’s a philantropher. A health care executive.  And the owner of The Art of Wine, a neighborhood wine bar in Preston Hollow.  Ariane Garcia found herself with a business plan to write for her graduate studies at Southern Methodist University and The Art of Wine was born.

I had a chance to visit The Art of Wine and chat with Ariane about her vision for the business.  It’s a retail boutique, by-the-glass bar, and local artist display with a goal of providing off the beaten path as well as better known labels.   I found Billecart-Salmon to Hoopes Vineyards to Guidobono to Long Meadow Ranch as well as the better-known labels.

The wine bar also offers a mix of wine and painting classes as well as wine education.  It’s a great neighborhood gathering place to grab a glass of wine and toast to the week’s victories.


History, Heritage, Honor and Hard Work: A Conversation with Murrieta’s Well Winery

The latest Snooth tasting focused on the Livermore Valley, a pivotal region in shaping California’s wine industry back in the 1880s when it received America’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition.  Livermore Valley wineries were the first to label Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah and approximately 80 percent of California’s Chardonnay vines trace roots back to a Livermore valley clone.

It was great to taste with one of the iconic wineries from the region, Murrieta’s Well, which is affiliated with pioneer winemaker, C.H. Wente, who bought the vineyard from the original owner, Louis Mel in 1933.  Snooth’s Chief Taster Mark Angelillo and Murrieta’s Well’s Winemaker Robbie Meyer took us through a portfolio of six diverse wines.

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wineries and has been growing grapes since the vineyard was first planted with cuttings from Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards.  Talk about some aristocratic rootstalk.

The 500-acre vineyard features three different soil types, a range of elevations and microclimates and produces 21 different varietals.  Mark stated, “you can cherry pick based on the different characteristics and terroir to blend diverse and exceptional wines.”

Murrieta’s Well focuses on terroir-driven, limited production wine blends and the original gravity flow winery is the site of the tasting room today.  In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso renamed the winery and wine label, Murrieta’s Well.  The name pays homage to Joaquin Murrieta, a gold rush bandit, who discovered the estate in the 1800s.

Murrieta’s Well focuses on all estate, small-batch and small lot wines.  Michael talked about “the art of blending based on the best of the vintage.”  He spoke about being able to make the best blend that ties in with the best aromatics.  This happens by farming each acre by hand because it is unique.

We tried the following line-up:

2015 Murrieta’s Well The Whip – was first released in honor of the winery’s 20th anniversary in 2010 and is a white Bordeaux blend.   I tasted melon, peach and floral notes.

2014 Murrieta’s Well The Spur – this wine was also released in honor of the winery’s 20th anniversary in 2010 and is a red Bordeaux blend.  I tasted vanilla, tobacco, cranberry, spice and blue fruit.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rose – I tasted notes of strawberry, watermelon, berry and floral notes.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Muscat Canelli – this wine had a burst of citrus followed by white stone fruit and flowers.

2014 Murrieta’s Well Cabernet Franc – notes of both red and black fruit, herbs, spice, vanilla and toast.

2014 Murrieta’s Well Merlot – notes of mocha, cassis, red fruit, vanilla and blue fruit.

To follow along with the tasting, click here.

Murrieta’s Well is a winery with a place in history that is working grape by grape to make sure it has a legacy that continues into the next century.


More than Malbec in Mendoza – My #winestudio Journey With Achaval-Ferrer

Courtesy of Achaval-Ferrer

In May (yes, I know I’m behind on many great wines I’ve tasted since Vinitaly), the #winestudio folks brought together a three week virtual journey with Achaval-Ferrer from Mendoza.  There is a misnomer that Malbec is all that comes out of Mendoza, and the Malbec from this vineyard is fabulous, but this journey was about Bordeaux-style wines from the region.  Yes, you heard me right – Bordeaux style wines from Mendoza.  For the record, Torrontes, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Malbec and the aforementioned Bordeaux blends are definitely a force in Argentinian wines of today.

Courtesy of Achaval-Ferrer

Gustavo Rearte, the winemaker at Achaval-Ferrer, led us through a history of the winery, its exploration into Bordeaux varietals including a Cabernet Sauvignon and an out-of-this-world first vintage, Cabernet Franc.  Then we got to put our blind tasting skills to use as we received two bottles of different vintages of Quimera, a meritage with Malbec as the lead grape.  Due to my work travel, I missed one session, so my notes are a reflection of research and the Twitter feed for that particular session.

First a little about Achaval-Ferrer.  Achaval-Ferrer started in 1998 when a group of Italian and Argentine friends brought teamed up to fulfill their dream of making Argentian wine a force in wine culture.  These guys set out on a mission not only to modernize the Argentian wine making process, but also starting work on the image of these wines.  Even though Argentina has fantastic high altitude vineyards, amazing terrior, ideal weather conditions and established vineyards, the recognition for these wines has been pretty recent.

According to the website, the main pillars of production at Achaval-Ferrer focus on the smallest necessary intervention between the earth and what becomes a glass of wine.  Ancient plants that are historical monuments of vine-growing, of extremely low performance, located on hills that are excellently exposed to the sun on the edges of the Tupungato and Mendoza rivers, and of course, privileged natural sites that lead to the most pure and honest of messages that the earth can give to us.  I loved this quote, which was front and center, “When it comes time to describe the cellar´s seal, the analogy of an island between the Old and New Worlds come to mind.”

Achaval-Ferrer uses ungrafted vines, aggressively manages the yields of the vineyard and does not intervene by using sulfites, enzymes or filtration.

We tried several wines over the three-week period – two that were tasted blindly using the WSET Level 3 Wine-Lexicon and tasting sheets.

2015 Achaval- Ferrer Mendoza Malbec  

The grapes were sourced from three distinct parcels within Mendoza. I got notes of violet, blackberry, spice, cherry and lots of herbs.

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon  

This wine was first produced in 2012.  It was elegant with cassis, currant, red and black fruit, floral, spice and cedar.


2015 Achaval-Ferrer Mendoza Cabernet Franc  

This was the inaugural vintage for Achaval-Ferrer’s varietal Cabernet Franc and was absolutely a crowd favorite.  Lots of fig, blackberry, cherry, tar and green pepper (in and good way) and you could tell the volcanic ash of the vineyard made an impact.  In fact, Morton’s quickly snapped up most of the bottles of this fabulous wine, which is only 1,000 cases total.  These grapes grow in the Tupungato zone of Mendoza’s Uco Valley, with higher elevations and cooler climates. Definitely a wine that is meant to age.

Blind Tasting on World Malbec Day

Two packages came completely well wrapped (no peeking allowed) and we used the WSET Level 3 Wine-Lexicon and tasting sheets.  We only knew we had two vintages of Quimera, the Bordeaux blend wine, for 2012 and 2013, one wrapped in triangle packaging and one wrapped in striped packaging.

I guessed correctly on my blind tasting.  The triangle paper packaging was the 2012 vintage.  I tasted blackberry, cherry, spice and a bit of blueberry pie.  There was so greenness in this wine, but I think its evolution is going to be more interesting.

The striped packaging of the 2013 version was softer with vanilla, cherry, raspberry, licorice, pencil lead and herbal notes.  This was more drinkable than the other immediately, but I preferred the 2012 on day two and beyond.

This was an awesome Argentinian exploration and learning for me.  Bordeaux blends from Argentina are currently having their day and will only continue to get better for the taste, quality and value that they yield today.


A #winestudio Family Discussion with Meeker Vineyards and a Flashback to My Wine Journey

My experience with #winestudio, to date, has been discovering new winemakers and small production wines.  The latest shipment contained Meeker Vineyard wines, which brought back fond memories of the beginning of my journey with wine when I would take classes (as many as I could afford) at the now defunct Marty’s just to learn.  I remember sitting in one of those classes and the Meeker Merlot (I cannot recall which vintage) was brought out and I remember being struck how visually appealing the packaging was.  This was followed up by a one-two punch when I tasted the contents in my glass and loved the wine.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I had the opportunity to revisit my Meeker experience, but with Lucas and Kelly Meeker at the helm.  It felt like a conversation with old friends combined with the comradery that comes with bloggers that have become friends long ago discussing a subject we all love.

Meeker is truly a family operation.  Charlie and Molly Meeker purchased their first vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley in 1977 with the understanding it was easy to grow different varietals effectively.  It was a labor of love as Charlie was still employed full time at MGM Studios and would travel from Los Angeles to make wine and work the vineyard.  Charlie handled the wine and Molly everything else.  In 1984, Meeker Wines was born.  This was followed by the tasting room, a historic bank in Healdsburg that was even robbed back in the day to add to the story.

They talked about their philosophy – we don’t take anything seriously but the wine itself.  Lucas talked about each wine having a unique personality and the need to express that personality through packaging.  “We’re not trying to look fancy,” Lucas said.  “We’re trying to look like us.”

The first Tuesday of #winestudio, we tried the 2013 Hoskins Ranch Grenache, which is 100 percent Grenache and delicious.  I tasted cherry, cranberry and strawberry.  It was an elegant wine that was very food friendly, but easily drinkable on its own.

The 2013 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc came from Bob Pedroni’s vineyard that was described as “red dusty earth on Russian River.”  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, green pepper, herbs and violets.

We then revisited the wine that introduced me to Meeker wines many years ago.  This time it was the 2013 Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, which is a gorgeous bottle.  This time I was on a Spring Break trip with my family in Punta Mita and we enjoyed this at Casa Teresa, a fantastic Italian family restaurant that is outdoors with food to die for.  It was then that I learned that the gorgeous bottle begins to melt when you combine a cellar temperature bottle and outdoor weather – lesson learned.  Now back to the wine.  It had notes of blueberry pie, plum, cassis, mocha and a touch of vanilla.  It was as nuanced, elegant and stunning as it was the first time I tried it.

Lucas and Kelly summed it up for us, “what you have tried the last two weeks reflects our family, who we are and what we stand for.”  Wine is more than a product – every wine has a story and deserves a unique presentation reflecting that personality.  The Meeker family has figured out how each wine is part of the family’s mosaic and reflects authenticity and artistry in every bottle made.


A Dallas Wineaux Journey into Pennsylvania Wines

When my Dallas soul sista, top blogger and general partner in crime, asked a few of us to come to her house to try some Pennsylvania wines, I was immediately intrigued.  The Keystone State is named for its role in early America where it credited in helping hold together the states of the newly formed Union.

Even with Pennsylvania’s designation as the fifth top grape grower (also includes grape juice) and the seventh largest wine producer, I just haven’t had the exposure to their wines.  That all changed on a Thursday afternoon.  Eight wineries including Allegro Winery (Brogue), Karamoor Estate Winery (Fort Washington), Blair Vineyards (Kutz Town — Berks County), Galen Glen (Andreas – Lehigh Valley) Waltz Vineyard (Manheim – Lancaster), Va La (Avondale – Brandywine Valley), Penns Woods (Chadds Ford – Brandywine Valley) and Galer Estate (Chester County – Brandywine Valley) sent over 50 bottles.  Unfortunately, with not a lot of background, so the four of us were left to make some assumptions about blends, types of wines, etc.

The varietals in Pennsylvania are diverse according to the Pennsylvania Wine Association — Cabernet Sauvignon, Catawba, Cayuga, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles are all planted here on a dozen wine trails.

With more than 50 wines, we had our favorites that were pretty consistent across the board. You’ll see our favorites by producer.  We do feel like one very well regarded winery that we were all excited about trying had something off with the bottles we tried and we missed the experience that had enchanted others we admired.   Thanks to Michelle for all the great photos as a few of us ran out of time with work meetings and other life commitments.

It was a fun day for several of the Dallas Wineaux to experience the diversity of Pennsylvania.

 


The Montes Family Tour: Like Father, Like Son – A Tale of Two South American Cities

Aurelio Montes Jr, me and Aurelio Montes, Sr – taken by Michelle Williams

One of the most iconic families in South American wine rolled through Dallas during a several city tour this week for a side-by-side tasting of their finest wines.  I was lucky enough to meet Aurelio Montes Sr., a pioneer in making fine wines in Chile and the president of Montes Winery, and his son, Aurelio Montes, Jr., who is the former leader of the Argentinian Kaiken project and now tours international markets to promote his family’s winery.

It was a discussion about place, people, passion and a pedigree for wine making passed from father to son.  It was a very honest discussion and dynamic between an iconic father and a son who clearly continues to carry on the company’s tradition with pride, but with his own approach.

The senior Montes talked as a man who had the benefit of years of perspective.  He discussed the energy of the land – the stones, water and wood – combined with the importance of taking care of people (everything from scholarships to taking care of the schools where the workers children attend) and the land.

He jokingly told us that we needed to buy wine to support his family of 28.  He had a master plan to take his son, Aurelio Jr., to Napa knowing that would a great opportunity to make him love the business.

Per the junior Montes, his first experience of wine was documented in a cradle made from a wine barrel.  He talked about looking at his father as a hero and wanting to just love what he did as much as his dad did.  When he was 13, he worked in France during a harvest so he could understand how to make wine from the roots.

I love that the Montes family tackled both sides of the Andes – bringing in new methods that were once considered to be completely against all wine making wisdom at the time in each region – from the places they planted (steep slopes), to how they planted, to how the wines were harvested.  The common theme is believing in the grapes and terroir over winemaking.   He credits Robert Mondavi for teaching him a great lesson – make the best.

We tried several wines from Montes and Kaiken side by side and I was struck by the different nuances that clearly came from the land.  I laughed at the banter between the two men as Montes Sr talked about how Argentina has everything like the tango, for example, and he just wanted to push the limits in Chile in wine making especially with Malbec while his son wanted to push the limits beyond Malbec in Argentina.

Here were the wines that we tried in our tasting.

 

- 2014 Montes Alpha Chardonnay and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Chardonnay

- 2014 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon

- 2014 Montes Alpha Malbec and 2014 Kaiken Ultra Malbec

- 2015 Montes Outer Limits (a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Mouvedre – who knew) and 2014 Kaiken Obertura Cabernet France (again, who knew?)

- 2012 Montes Alpha M (Bordeaux blend) and 2013 Kaiken Mai Malbec

Then we were treated to an amazing vertical of Taita Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007, 2009 and 2010.  Taita is the family’s hallmark wine from the best vineyards with a quest from perfection and was meant to go head to head with French top quality wines.  Taita loosely translated means the knowledge that a father or grandfather passes down with devotion, respect and love.  Tasting these, I was honored to be part of this special family legacy.

 

 

 

 

 


February: The Month of Just Opening That Bottle(s)

We have all done it.  Spent a ton of time cultivating some great wines in our cellars (or even holding on to a special bottle or two) and then let it sit … and sit … and sit.  Occasionally, when we finally get to that special bottle, it is past its prime and so frustrating to experience.

Chef Mike Smith Explains the Third Course

For me, it’s been an epic month of finally getting to break into the cellar and enjoy some wines that needed to be consumed.  We had a few great opportunities.  First, we had an amazing dinner that we purchased at a North Texas Food Bank auction, an organization that does amazing things to help feed the hungry in DFW.  It was a dinner with well-known chef, Mike Smith, who has a storied career at The Green Room, Arcodoro/Pomodoro and The Common Table before he joined Utopia Food and Fitness, the group who donated the dinner.  They have a great fundraising campaign going right now  – click here to help.

Zach Coffey, Musician

We all brought amazing wines and I’m not going to admit how much wine we consumed, but it was an incredible time with friends who are like the family you would choose, if you could.  We even had a private concert from Zach Coffey, a well-known Texas musician.

For me, it was time to break out a magnum of Reserva Barolo that was off the charts delicious and opened at the perfect moment.   Pol Roger, Gary Farrell, Paul Hobbs and Domaine du Pre Semele were the dinner wines and several were opened after the fact.  It may have been a foggy Sunday, but well worth it.

 

My husband took our daughter on her first ski trip to Vail and I had an opportunity for a girl’s overnight at a friend’s lake house.  She is an amazing cook and consummate entertainer, so we knew we had to bring wines that live up to her culinary skills.  And, well, we did.  There were several of us (I am not going to disclose how many) and work has been a little crazy for all of us.  This was about 30 hours of great food, amazing wine (I got to open another magnum – this time of Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas).  I also brought Ehlers, Foresight, Naia, Fel, Cartograph, Veuve Clicquot and my friend, Julie, may have brought a few more.  In terms of left overs … well, not so much.  It was Cards Against Humanity (kinda), lots of discussions about life in general, amazing food, Saturday Night Live and old movies.  I even met a person who followed me on Instagram who happened to know Jennifer and came down for a glass of wine.

And, I got to bring our new rescue pup who did well except for his walkabout when we were cleaning up on Sunday morning.

After all, what good is keeping great wines in the cellar if you don’t share them with good friends?

 


A Refresher on My Lessons Learned at WBC: Frank Morgan Will Always Get in the Car

Frank Morgan ” Gets in the Car”

I thought I’d recap one of my most fun #wbc15 Wine Blogger Conference columns where I compared the lessons that I learned at the conference to a Cards Against Humanity game.  I can single-handedly say that was one of the most fun evenings where we piled twenty or so of us in one hotel room and I laughed so hard tears came down my face.

I’ve also thrown in a few of my favorite photos of conference and people throughout the years.  So looking forward to exploring Lodi, launching Masthead and catching up with people who I’ve mostly met on social media who quickly became dear, dear friends during my times at #wbc events over the years.

Here’s a small photo gallery of some of my favorite moments at past conferences.  (I did have a laptop failure and photos of my early conferences were completely wiped).

 There Ain’t No Sabre Like A Jeff Kralik Saber…

You have not attended a Wine Bloggers Conference without experiencing a good, bad and ugly Jeff Kralik saber experience.  Any item can be used as a weapon…

                   Joe Power (dressed up!) and Amy Corron Power at the Rodney Strong Event

         This Always Reminded Me of a Vanity Fair Shot .. in a Cheesy Heart-Shaped Bathtub?

                   Me and Karen MacNeil on the Bus to the Winery

                   Joe Herrig and I “Nose Off”

                    I Love This Tasting Crew

                      My Michael Jackson Dance Partner, Mary Cressler

The thing about this conference is that so many people make the experience and each year I get to hang out with amazing bloggers and writers who teach me how to be better.  I am so excited to hang with all of you this year and make new memories.


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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