Archived entries for California Wines

A Conversation with Remi Cohen About the History of Cliff Lede While Matching Cabernet with East Coast Oysters

Remi and Me

Remi Cohen, the general manager of Cliff Lede, and I didn’t start our lunch with the intention of pairing delicate oysters at Montlake Cut with a rich Stags Leap Cabernet, but we found ourselves at the mercy of the strict rules of Texas’ Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC).  That called for ordering a Cliff Lede wine from Montlake Cut’s list vs drinking the wines that Remi had brought to pair with our seafood lunch.  The sole wine was the 2013 Cliff Lede Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, the perfect match with our oysters and tuna poke, right?  And, surprisingly, while I’m not going to run out to pair oysters and cabernet, it went better than I ever would have imagined.

Once we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to roll with the punches, we clicked instantly and found ourselves laughing and storytelling.

 Shots from our Dallas friends winery visit

 More shots from our Dallas friends winery visit

And one last shot from the Dallas friends visit

Remi told me about Cliff Lede’s story, much of which was new to me even though I visited the winery with a group of friends back in 2015.  This was a friend trip vs a blog trip, so my coverage was a little more relaxed.  Cliff, a Canadian born wine lover, purchased family-owned S. Anderson Vineyards in 2002 when he decided that it was time to leave the successful family construction business that he ran with his brother, and follow his passion for wine.  Cliff was a big Bordeaux enthusiast, but he didn’t speak French, so he settled upon relocating to Napa.  He acquired a sixty-acre estate in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.  He loved wine and rock and roll.  He had a brainstorm about naming vineyard blocks after his favorite classic rock songs that made sense to him.  And that’s how Moondance, Truckin,’ Dark Side of the Moon, Symphony for the Devil and Hotel California were born, which are now known as “Rock Blocks,’ all made from Bordeaux varietals.

He brought in some big name consultants like Michel Rolland and David Abreu, as vineyard manager, as he built his team.  He also kept his eye on a hillside vineyard, the Richard Chambers Vineyard, which later became the site of the Poetry Vineyard and Inn, an architectural landmark in the valley.  Each of the Poetry Inn’s five suites/rooms is named after a writer and overlook the vineyard.  The “Backstage” is a separate building which features rotating art exhibits – tastings in here are available only via a reservation.  This is where we tasted my last visit with Jerry Garcia’s artwork as our backdrop.

One notable thing about David Abreu’s style is that he brings in budwood and clonal selections from other well-known and cultivated vineyards.  Chris Tynan, who was formerly the assistant winemaker at Colgin came on in 2012 as the winemaker.

We then talked about the wines we were originally going to try, which I ended up bringing to my neighborhood girl’s wine club later that night.

First, was the only white that bears the Cliff Lede name – the 2016 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc.  This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Musqué clone and Sémillon.  Remi described it as modern meets Old World.  Concrete eggs meet non-filtered.   It has a gorgeous minerality and was full of tropical fruit, Meyer lemon, crème brulee and honeysuckle.  I love this wine.

We then spent some time talking about the 2014 Scarlet Love, which was a mashup of two estate vineyard blocks named after Cliff’s favorite rock songs – the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” in the Twin Peaks vineyard and from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” in the Poetry vineyard.  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Verdot.  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, dark chocolate, cassis and candied fig.

We then talked about the FEL wines, named after Cliff’s mom, Florence Elsie Lede, who was a garage winemaker.  She inspired his love for wine and food.  FEL Wines produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris from the Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast.  Cliff enlisted Winemaker Ryan Hodgins, to help find the Savoy vineyard.  That’s where the production began with five pinot noirs, two chardonnays and one pinot gris using Anderson Valley grapes.

I  sampled two FEL wines:

2016 FEL Pinot Gris – this is a burst of tropical fruit, citrus and minerality.  It’s refreshing and a perfect patio wine.  It would have been the perfect wine for the oysters, but was not meant to be that day.

2014 FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir – this is how a pinot noir should express itself.  Notes of black currant, black cherry, earthiness and herbs.  It’s elegant and I had to make the wine club girls share this wine or it would have disappeared instantly.

We then shifted to Remi’s personal story of how she got to Cliff Lede.  In 2010, she was working as a vineyard consultant and Cliff became one of her clients.  He was in the mode of working with some great consultants, but wanted to lay the foundation for having his own people.  In 2011, a very challenging vintage, she led her first team from farming to harvest.  This success saw her grow in several different roles from the Director of Winemaking and Vineyards to today’s General Manager and Vice President Role.

Remi loves this family and is dedicated to evangelizing these wines.  She was in Dallas for the first ‘House of Cab Dallas’ tasting where Stags Leap District vintners and owners came together to debut cabernets and current releases from 13 different SLD vintners.  Unfortunately, she landed back home and the wildfires began in Northern California on Sunday night.  My story with Remi is not about the fire and the devastation, but I can tell you that our back and forth, fast and furious correspondence over the next few days on the state of the winery, Cliff Lede employees, her residence and her boyfriend’s residence, this is a woman that cares about this winery and this city.  Thankfully all employees were safe – although sadly one did lose their home, all but three percent of the harvest was in barrel (meaning these wines are fine – go buy them when you can) and the winery as well as the Poetry Inn were unscathed due to the very hard work of firefighters.  Remi knows how lucky they were and is dedicated to help Napa and her winery brethren in efforts to rebuild.


Another Edition of the Round Up of Wine: Six Countries, Twenty Four Wines

It’s time for another wine round up column filled with some of my favorite samples.  This time I tried 46 wines from six countries with 24 making the cut today.

Sparkling

NV Ferrari Rose Sparking – I’ve had the amazing opportunity of visiting Ferrari back in April.  To read more, click here.  Ferrari Trento was awarded the title of “Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year” in this year’s edition of The Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, the second time it has won this title.  I tasted wild strawberries, cassis, floral notes and fresh baked bread.

NV Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose — I had to chance to try this back in June at a lunch with Steven Urberg, the winemaker.  My notes at the time – stone fruit, apple, honey, vanilla, crème brulee and black cherry.  Still held true.  Here’s the conversation from that day here.

NV Torresella Prosecco DOC – very drinkable with notes of pear, apple, almond and almost a honey baked bread.

Whites

Sauvignon Blanc

2016 Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc – this is a tasty sauvignon blanc with lots of minerality, lime, grapefruit and herbal notes.

2015 Amici Sauvignon Blanc – zesty is a great way to describe this wine.  There was a burst of passion fruit, pear, flowers and lemongrass.  It also had a nice minerality.

2016 Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc – Hess is always dependable choice for Sauvignon Blanc. Notes of lemons, lime, green apple, grapefruit and white pepper.

Chardonnay

2015 Jon Nathaniel Lavender Hill Vineyard Chardonnay – this was one of the top chardonnays that I have tried all year.  I tasted a balanced wine with honey, vanilla, pear, apple, graham cracker and spice.  You got a little creaminess, you got a little oak, but most importantly, you received a great balance in this wine.

2016 Flora Springs Chardonnay – this was a very easy drinking chardonnay with notes of crème brulee, stone fruit, citrus, green apple, lemon, spice and vanilla.

2015 Feudo Zirtari Inzolia Chardonnay – this was a value-oriented chardonnay that had a nice balance of fruit and flowers with some nuttiness.

Other Varietals

2016 Tenuta Sassoregale Vermentino Maremma Toscana DOC – very easy drinking with lots of citrus, lemon, lime, yellow apple and lots of fruit.  A nice austerity.

2015 Kettmeir Pinot Bianco – green apple, pear, minerality and floral notes.

NV Locations by Dave Phinney CA-4 – this first white California blend features Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Roussanne grapes from Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino.  Lots of stone fruit with tropical, citrus and oak notes.  I could spot California instantly from my first sip.

NV Locations by Dave Phinney Corse – this 100 percent Vermentino was delicious and one of my favorite Locations wines to date.  I tasted Meyer lemon, pear, lime, a nuttiness, herbal notes and almost a honey texture.  This also had a nice minerality and I couldn’t stop sipping it.

Reds

Bordeaux

2012 Chateau Moulin De La Roquille Bourdeaux – this was definitely a value Bordeaux and it needed a little time to open in the glass.  I tasted red currant, cherry, cassis, Asian spice, cedar plank and dried flowers.

Merlot

 

2015 Rombauer Merlot (Carneros) – very juicy with blueberry, plum, cedar, cherry and fig newton.  It’s a big merlot, but it’s a Rombauer.

Cabernet Sauvignon

2014 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon – each year I smile when my Amici samples come in because they are consistently good.  I tasted blackberry, currant, chocolate, violets, herbs and licorice.

2013 Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Selection – Rombauer is known for its very big wines, which defines its wine making style.  This wine, however, I could only define as an elegant grab yourself a “chaise lounge, recline and take a sip” kinda of wine.  As I raised the inky black glass I tasted blackberry, cassis, licorice, cherries, blueberries, chocolate, vanilla, dried flowers and mocha.  Give this time in your cellar and it will reward you.

2015 Z Alexander Brown Uncaged Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine comes from Zac Brown, the musician. I tasted blackberry, plum, Asian spice, cherry, pepper and it had a nice balance.

Pinot Noir

2015 Diora La Petite Grace Pinot Noir – I had not had many Monterrey Pinot Noirs, but if Diora was any indication, I’ve been missing out.  This was an elegant and soft pinot that had earthy notes of dark cherry, mocha, spice and chocolate.

Other/Red Blend

 

2014 Troon Vineyard Estate Tannat – this is an example of why tannat can stand on its own and Troon does it well.  I tasted notes of blueberry, blackberry, graphite, pepper, herbs and a nice earthiness.

2014 Smith Hook Proprietary Red Blend – blackberry, blueberry, cassis, cherry, oak, smoke and vanilla.

2014 Trivento Amado Sur – black fruit, strawberries, cherries and a nice spice makes this an easy drinking red right in time for football season.

2014 Finca San Blas Lomalta Crianza – red fruit, balsamic and a little spice.  This is a well priced wine worth seeking out and a region in Spain worthy of attention.

2015 Messina Hof Sangiovese “Artist Series” – paired well with food.  I tasted black and red fruit, leather and spice.

Dessert/Port

Six Grapes is one of Graham’s Original Port blends.  This Reserve Porto is dessert in a glass with plum and chocolate covered cherries.


Danilo Di Nardo: Someone Changing the Millennial Wine Scene in Dallas Restaurant By Restaurant

Danilo Di Nardo and me

Over the Summer, I’ve had a chance to visit two separate events hosted by HARWOOD District – one at Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar and one at Dolce Rivera.  Both times, I’ve been impressed with the out of the box thinking that breaks the mold of traditional Dallas restaurants.  That led me to do a little research on the man behind it — Danilo A. Di Nardo, the Sommelier and General Manager.

I first had the chance to chat with Danilo at the debut of the new flight program at St Ann’s.  Let me say that Dallas is completely missing the art of flights.  Except for Bodega Wine Bar, which has a flight of specific wines featured, the city of Dallas completely lacks in what is standard beyond an airport wine bar (and to be clear, I love that airport wine bar) – especially at a restaurant.

Danilo changed that with the debut of several flights – The Overachiever (ZD Chardonnay, Belle Glos Pinot and Stag’s Leap Petite Sirah also featuring a flight of paired cheeses), The Prom Queen (A by Acacia Chardonnay, Tinto Negro Malbec and Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon), The Nerd (Impatience Rose, Nicolas Potel Burgundy and Freakshow Red Blend) and The Drop Out (Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc, Van Duzer Pinot Noir and Decoy by Duckhorn Cabernet).

It is an approachable way for folks to try new wines from five different countries and are priced according to flight.  I personally would like to see some “off the beaten path” or country-specific options, but I’m excited to see St Ann’s taking a plunge into flights.  St Ann’s also now has a Dean’s List reserve wine list as well.

Dolce Rivera’s Truffle Ravioli

I was also invited last week to Dolce Rivera’s celebration of winning the prestigious 2017 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.  You can tell that Danilo brings his love and passion for Italian food and wines with accomplishing this in in the year and a half since he joined Harwood and opened the restaurant.  He is going to be someone who helps to change the wine scene for a millennial crowd in Dallas.

 

 


Rosé: Rekindling a Love Affair with Small Boutique Wines

For a long time, rosé was my Rodney Dangerfield of wines.  As hard and as many as I tried, I just couldn’t find one that didn’t taste like the watermelon Jolly Ranchers that used to stick to my braces on the playground.  That might have been fine in seventh grade (well except from my dentist’s perspective) but not a characteristic of the wine I was hoping to drink.  A group of good friends, I’ll call them Team Rosé, went on a personal mission to show me what I had been missing and I’m happy to report that I saw the light several years ago.

So when #winestudio picked the theme of rosé , I knew that we’d have a combination of Old World and New World boutique wines that I was excited to try.

We started with the wines of Jean-Claude Mas from Mas Domaines in the Languedoc.

Domaines Paul Mas owns more than 600 hectares of vineyards and works in partnership with grape growers across an additional 1312 hectares of vines in the Languedoc.  They are known for having a range of grape varieties and for the diverseness of the terroir in those vineyards.  Jean-Claude Mas, the fourth-generation grower talked about how Langedoc has become a treasure for producing fine rosé  due to the variety of soils and amount of varietals used.  We tasted three of his rosés  — all priced under $16.  The NV Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé Brut St. Hilaire Languedoc (I loved this sparkling), the 2016 Coté Mas Rosé Aurore​ Sud de France and the 2016 Arrogant Frog Rosé.  All delicious and a complete find for the price.

I already wrote about the Arinzano rosé , so I won’t spend time other than to say this is where the wine officially fit into the program.


We then moved to the 2016 Bonterra Rosé from Mendocino, a blend of Grenache, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and priced around $16.  Bonterra is known for its organically farmed wines, its focus on the lands and the care and craftsmanship it puts into each wine.  This dry Provencal-style rosé was delightful and got rave reviews, but appears to be completely sold out.  Winemaker Sebastian Donosa talked in detail about the biodynamic approach and what makes Bonterra’s style different.

Our last wine was a 2016 Conn Creek Rosé of Malbec from Antica Vineyard, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley, which my husband billed as the “favorite rosé that he has ever had,” a big compliment from a man who has drank a lot of bottles of wine.

Conn Creek winery was founded nearly 40 years ago in Napa, focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varieties.  Mike McGrath has been Conn Creek since the 1980s and holds one of the titles for being the longest tenured Napa Valley winemakers working for just one winery.  I was familiar with Conn Creek, but I honestly did not understand the innovation and small lots of wine that happening.  Rest assured I will be paying more attention in the future.


Continue to Expect the Unexpected When It Comes to Paso Robles Wines

 

Art by Vino Mosaics, Wines by Paso Robles

I first discovered the beauty and uniqueness of Paso Robles in 2016 while on a press tour of Texas writers.  I didn’t know much about the region when I arrived, but left with a full understanding of the imprint this wine region has left on California as well as the number of diverse wines that are produced here.  According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, it is the largest wine region in California – 30 distinct soil series, many microclimates and varying topography within 612,000 total acres.

Zinfandel is the region’s heritage wine grape variety – first planted in the late 1880s.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Spanish and Rhone varieties are the most widely produced.  I love the ingenuity of some of the wineries – 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.

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.

If you want to know more about my journey, which included zip lining over a pinot vineyard, click here, here and here.

Me and Geri

A group of bloggers was called together for an online Twitter chat with my friend @1WineDude aka Joe Roberts as moderator.  Our focus was on four rosé and white wines.  This was fun for me because I had an online blogger friend @geriteaches who happened to be in town for the tasting.  She joined us along with some neighbors for dinner and we had a blast.

 Dinner is Served Thanks to the Husbands

2016 Justin Vineyard Rosé – notes of tart red cherry, peach, apple, guava, herbs, flowers and a lovely crisp, dry and refreshing taste.

2016 Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Blanc – a Rhône blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.  I tasted notes of pineapple, peach, citrus, wet stone, lime zest with a little spice.  It was a great wine.

2016 Vina Robles “White 4” Blend – notes of Bartlett pear, orange blossom, ginger, honey, peach, white pepper and tropical fruit.

2016 Adelaida Chardonnay – the crowd went wild for this one, but our bottle had cooked in the hot Texas sun and shipping heat.

All in all – these @pasorobleswines continue to reinforce my perceptions that you should expect the good things, hence the #unexpectedpaso when it comes to Paso wines.


Domaine Drouhin and Jordan Family Tasting & A Closer Look at Cameron Hughes

Art by Vino Mosaics

This week’s wine column focuses on multiple samples that came from two families that are considered to be stalwarts in wine – the Drouhin family and the Jordan family.  It also covers Cameron Hughes, a man who took a different approach by not having his own vineyards, but by finding interesting wines and negotiating even more interesting prices.

Drouhin Family

The Drouhin Family’s legacy began in Burgundy almost a century ago and is almost synonymous with the region.  Maison Joseph Drouhin became one of the region’s most notable négociants and acquired key vineyards in the Côte d’Or and Chablis.  Thirty years ago, he saw the power of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley and Domaine Drouhin Oregon began.  Their tagline states, “French soul, Oregon soil.”

I tried three wines:

2015 Cloudline Pinot Noir – made by consulting winemaker, Veronique Drouhin-Boss, this is a great expression of Oregon Pinot from the Eola-Amity Hills.  It has lots of cherry cola, black cherry, chocolate, cassis and a nice earthiness.

2014 Rose Rock Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir – another great expression of the sense of place.  Lots of red, blue and black fruit, earth, cherry cola, cedar wood and pepper.  Absolutely delicious.

2014 Pierre Dupond La Renjardiere Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2014 – earthy, well balanced with lots of red fruit and spice.

Jordan Winery

Tom and Sally Jordan made a promise to become vintners together when they were married in 1959. Avid lovers of French food, wine and cooking, they discovered the quality of California wine and realized that vision could become an immediate reality.

In the 70’s, they decided it was time to move from Colorado to California’s wine country and fulfill that dream.  They found a property (a prune orchard) in Alexander Valley and signed the deed the same day their son, John, was born.  They planted 200 acres of vineyards with a singular goal of producing wines modeled after first growth Bordeaux wines.  Construction of the winery began in 1974 and the mission was winemaking combined with hospitality, which still holds true today.  The first harvest was in 1976 and they’ve been making incredible wines ever since. My husband and I had the chance to stay at the chateau a few years ago and I cannot express what an amazing experience it was.

2013 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon – this is a lush Bordeaux blend with notes of black currants, blackberries, black cherries, violets and mocha.

2013 Chardonnay from Russian River Valley – notes of tropical fruit, lemon curd, crème brulee, citrus with great stone fruit.  It is made in a Burgundian style and is a classic wine to put on the table.

Cameron Hughes

Finally, I am profiling someone who took a different approach to bringing wines to the markets.  In 2001, Cameron Hughes decided to parlay his passion into producing and delivering the best wine deals in the business.  Cameron is a wine trader who meets with growers and producers all over the world and offers small lots of wine to consumers.  You may be drinking a well-known name, but you’ll never know the brand as Cameron keeps the producer or winery’s name a secret to keep the prices low.

The Cameron Hughes line-up is typically 30 wines per year, which changes constantly.  I was able to try six wines in their line-up.  I’m profiling my three favorites.

2014 Cameron Hughes Lot 575 Red Mountain Blend (Washington State) – dark fruit, chocolate, earth and flowers.  Very drinkable and very well priced under $20.

2014 Cameron Hughes Lot 601 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) – you immediately get “Rutherford dust” when drinking this Cabernet in terms of a sense of place.  Big notes of cassis, blackberry, plum, cherry, earthy, chocolate, graphite and cedar.

2014 Cameron Hughes Lot 607 Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla) –  This is a great Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has notes of blackberry, spice, graphite, coffee, red fruit and flowers.  Very elegant and nuanced.

 


Ninety Years of Pedroncelli Wines: A Toast to Family, Wisdom and Consistency

It’s been over three week since I embarked on my experience with the Pedroncelli family and I am no closer to being able to bring to life the amazing journey that I experienced.  In an over sanitized, over marketed, over messaged world; trying to use words to capture an experience that was real … and authentic … and uncensored … and completely humble – still escapes me.

Julie and Jim Pedroncelli share a 90th celebration moment

The Pedroncelli family – while in the middle of celebrating a 90-year milestone that should have been squarely about, well, about them – chose to share the credit with Sonoma County and the businesses that make up the fabric of the city.  As I quickly learned, this is a family that would rather share the spotlight than be in the middle of it.

In 1927, John Sr. (Giovanni) and Julia Pedroncelli purchased the vineyard and a small winery with a total of 90 acres in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley in Geyserville, California for $11,000.  Pedroncelli was one of the first wineries in Sonoma Country and the property originally consisted of a home, 25-acress of vineyards of mostly zinfandel and a winery – that was quickly closed when Prohibition struck.

During this time, like most Italian families, they sold grapes door to door in town.  The also conducted early “social media of the day”, was a the word of mouth that resulted on how they sold grapes in that door to door fashion. The family tells the story of Uncle John’s memory of his Father’s Model T breaking down in town.  The axel snapped and John was left to guard the grapes in the broken-down car while his grandfather trekked back to town to fix the situation.  They continued to tend the vines and sell grapes to home winemakers who had the ability to produce 200 gallons for sacramental or medicinal purposes.

When Prohibition ended, the Pedroncelli’s were ready and the first vintage was produced in 1934.  The original focus was on bulk wines, sold in barrels to stores and individuals.  In the 1940’s, they started their own label and the second generation joined their father with their son John becoming winemaker in 1948 followed by Jim becoming sales director in 1955.  The two sons later purchased the winery in 1963.

At this point, the strategy shifting from bulk wines to estate and single vintages as well as vineyard expansion and diversification.  The acreage doubled from 90 to more than 180 acres.  Over the next 20 years the significant changes continued — the third generation came on board, the Home Ranch Vineyard was replanted, a national sales and export team was established, a new barrel and tasting room was added.  In 2015, the family suffered a devastating loss with the death of John Pedroncelli, Senior Winemaker.  He still is very much a part of the family, but in 2015 the family named Montse Reece as the third winemaker in nearly 90 years and the first woman winemaker.  She is no stranger to the family as she joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007 serving alongside John Pedroncelli for seven harvests.

 

Gabe, Amy and me

It should be noted that much about Pedroncelli is old school and based in tradition.  For example, both Jim and Julie work out of offices that were once their childhood bedrooms.  I had a great and very honest conversation with Jim where he told me he really didn’t understand the whole blogger and social media thing.  Let me be clear that he said this in the most charming and candid way possible.  And, with Gabe Sasso and Amy Anderson Gross representing the blogger’s world along with me, he has a point (grin).

Me and Ed St. John, a Self-Described Innovator and Aggravator

However, the winery is making some key strides ahead of many other wineries in California.  They were the first to bottle Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek.  Pedroncelli not only has a women winemaker, but it is now a 70 percent woman owned company.  And Ed St John, Vice President, has used his 25 years of wine experience to introduce new practices to the winery and in marketing – especially social media with the help of PR pro Robert Larsen.  It appears to be working as the buzz for Pedroncelli’s 90th (even with its own hashtag #ped90th) continued to build.  I’m sure this is a continuous debate as the fourth generation comes up the ranks and it will continue to encourage more debate.

As changes press forth, I feel confident elements will remain unchanged:  The commitment this family has to the land; to growing their own grapes; and to making affordable delicious wine they are proud to have their name on with a focus on family legacy.

Now let’s talk a little about the Pedroncelli 90th celebration.  We were picked up on Thursday night from San Francisco and brought to the Dry Creek Inn, where I ironically was checked into the Rodney Strong Suite (you may remember that my dear friend, Robert Larsen, who helped with the strategy of the 90th celebration used to run communications for said winery – he assured me it was a coincidence).

 

 

We got to know the entire family over dinner at Catelli’s in Geyserville.  Catelli’s was originally opened in Geyserville around 1936 by Italian immigrants Santi and Virginia Catelli.  The restaurant was originally known as Catelli’s “The Rex” (“The King” as translated from Latin).  Third generation Catelli’s and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, are now co-owners.  I think the Pedroncelli’s were a little nervous when Richard, the second-generation patriarch, and myself got into a spirited conversation about politics and Texas and it appeared neither of us was going to back down.  Reinforcements were sent in (unnecessary as strong Italian opinions are part of my heritage and a debate is always fun in my book).

On Friday, we began our morning with breakfast at SHED, a market, café, and community gathering space with a mission is to celebrate and nurture the connection between good farming, good cooking, and good eating.

 Julie Pedroncelli

We moved to the winery with Julie to learn all about the family, it’s history, the wines and to tour the historic winery and walked through the Home Ranch vineyard tasting the wines made from the diverse soils including Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petite Syrah.  My biggest takeaway is that wine is part of the family’s culture and has been since day one.  We learned that Julie and Ed have known each other since they were in kindergarten when they took the same bus and took a long journey to come back together as they both ended up in the wine business and found each other again.

We then visited Dry Creek Peach & Produce where proprietor Gayle Sullivan allowed us to taste two of the juiciest most wonderful peaches I have ever been lucky enough to taste.  We toured the orchard where more than 30 varieties of peaches, nectarines, vegetables and even a few fig trees are planted.  We even started our day with a lovely Bellini that was bursting with ripe peach and delicious bubbles.

We had a picnic lunch at Lake Sonoma and learned all about the steelhead conservation that happens with a docent tour of the hatchery that included props to bring the story to life.

Our last stop before the hotel was Wisdom Vineyard, one of the first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Dry Creek as well as one that grows all five Bordeaux varieties.  This is an example of innovation as one block was machine picked for the first-time last year after 89 years of hand picking.  That night we ended our festivities with another small family gathering that included cocktails, wines, ribs, reds and fun.  We may or may not have had a late not stop at Duke’s but photos will be concealed to protect …well everyone…

We awoke on July 22 excited that it was the big day, the 90th anniversary of Pedroncelli.  This is the date the family originally signed papers to buy the original property and winery.  We started at the Sonoma Farmer’s Market with a goal of grabbing breakfast and food for an alfresco lunch at John’s Grove on the shore of Dry Creek.  Little did we know what an intimate family experience we were in for later.

We quickly stopped at the winery and we were in for such a fun surprise.  The winery had just received its certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).  As Ed joked, “We’ve been sustainable for 90 years and counting and it’s in our DNA.”   This is an arduous process that was handled by Mitch Blakeley, a fourth generation Pedroncelli, who worked for a month to answer the hundreds of questions.  He met with an expert, reviewed the self-assessment and in the spirit of good things happen to really good people, got to put up the signs the day of the big anniversary party.

We toured the Bushnell Vineyard, which has been associated with the Pedroncellis for over 50 years.  John Sr. purchased the land in the 1940s and it was passed to their son-in-law Al Pedroni in the 1950s.  Al’s daughter Carol Bushnell inherited the vineyard in 1990 and she and her husband Jim continue the extension of the family estate where they farm Bordeaux variety blends.

Altogether, two-thirds of all Pedroncelli wines produced are red, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel comprising nearly 50% of estate vineyards.

 

 

Courtesy of Gabe Sasso

We left the vineyard and headed to John’s Grove, where we immediately knew we were in for something special.  John’s Grove was built as a tribute for the family to go to remember the special family member they lost in 2015.  It is located around a lovely creek and is tree lined and picturesque.  We had a beautiful picnic and Gabe, Linda, Amy, Julie and I figured you had to get in the creek to experience Dry Creek.  It was amazing and I’m blessed to have been included on a milestone day in a blessed family place.  I know John must have been looking down and smiling at the legacy he helped to build.

Gia, Gabe, Amy, Linda, Dick and Julie

The big event began later that afternoon at the winery kicked off by one of the press attendees that I have yet to mention.  Author Dick Rosano (as well as esteemed wine writer) talked about the Italian influence on winemaking in America.  I knew about the influence of agriculture on these families, but Dick really brought to life the tenacity it took to sell grapes door to door in the middle of Prohibition just to keep the families financially afloat.  I got to know Dick and his lovely wife, Linda, pretty well over the trip and I loved getting to know them.  Dick’s friendship with the Pedroncelli’s, his knowledge of wine and his passion for learning made him one of the most interesting Renaissance men I’ve gotten to know in a long time.

 

Me and Pedroncelli Friend and Bill Smart, General Manager of Lambert Bridge Winery

Syndicated columnist Dan Berger led us through a Flights through the Decades event of Cabernet and Zinfandel wines beginning in the 1970s that I cannot image how hard it was to curate.   Here was our first flight line-up (reach out if you want my notes – I know this is getting long…):

1982 Magnum Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

1994 Mother Clone Zinfandel

1995 Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel

2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel

Our second flight line-up of Cabernets were as follows:

1977 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (still dreaming about this one)

1992 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

1996 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2000 Morris Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley)

2009 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

After the tasting, we joined the Pedroncelli family to dedicate the newest vineyard, the Noventa Vineyard, where Ed had arranged for a drone to take a picture of the entire crew as he, Jim and Julie toasted to “family, wisdom and consistency.”

A brief glimpse at our dinner, which was served by Ken Rochioli of KR Catering:

Braised Chicken over Creamy Polenta with Mother Clone Zinfandel

Filet Mignon with Bacon, Bourbon, Shallot and Mustard Sauce; Grilled Asparagus and Sweet Peppers; Pepper Jack Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro with Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon

Almond Bar with Caramel Drizzle and Fleur de Sel; Cappuccino Chocolate Mousse Cups in Mini Phyllo Cups and Peanut Butter Bars with Honey with Four Grapes Vintage Port

I want to share the video that was played where the family talked about the legacy that they built together.  It’s special as they will never willingly do this.

Finally, we drank from Big Bottles – we ate, we drank, we shared memories and I can’t remember laughing so much.  The room was filled with people who began the journey with the Pedroncelli’s and clearly will be around the next 90 years.  It had all the signs of a big family gathering of people who cared a great deal about each other.  And, it’s interesting – you can’t spend any time with any of the Pedroncelli family without feeling as if you are a part.  As I left, I felt a sense of sadness, as if I was leaving behind a group of near, but very dear friends.

Most of My Family Coming Together in La Jolla

And as I left a few weeks later for my family reunion, my Pedroncelli Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Mother Clone Zinfandel occupied 25 percent of my wine suitcase.  Because it was important for me that I bring the Pedroncelli experience to my family as they made me feel a part of theirs.


The Two Faces of Winemaker Steven Urberg: A Little Country and A Little Bit Rock and Roll

Winemaker Steven Urberg

When you are the winemaker for an iconic sparkling brand, and you have a vision for making a luxury still wine brand, that dream often doesn’t come to fruition.  Unless: i) the sparkling wines come from Gloria Ferrer (the original sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros):  ii) you have the backing of Freixenet USA: and (iii) you have a tremendous vision based on specific vineyard blocks in Carneros.

Not only did winemaker Steven Urberg do that, but he also produced two new brand new vintages this summer for Gloria Ferrer.  He made it clear that the Gloria Ferrer wines that we were trying were very separate in terms of identity of the new boutique still wines we would be sampling at the luncheon.

 

We tried the latest release of the non-vintage Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose and Urberg talked about the increasing adoption of sparkling wines in the United States of sparkling due to prosecco adoption.  It was a blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay.  I tasted notes of black cherry, crème brulee, ripe berry and citrus.  Fermented for 6 months before blending, the wine was in bottle for five and a half years before disgorgement.  This was delicious with stone fruit, apple, honey, vanilla, crème brulee and black cherry.

We then moved to the new luxury wine brand WineVane, a homage to the wine that contributes to the unique character of the wines of Western Carneros named from the wine patterns and microclimate of Carneros.   Their two vineyard sites are known for the steepest, rockiest and thinnest soils with diverse microclimates, allow for slower ripening, intense flavor development and high levels of acidity in the grapes.

Urberg was very pragmatic in his approach to balance, “No chef ever wants to beat a steak into submission.  Wine is the same – it’s all about texture and balance.”

We tried two estate wines with very different characteristics.  Our first was the 2015 Chardonnay, which tasted of buttered popcorn, lemon, pineapple, white stone fruit and had a little nuttiness and a lot of creaminess.

The second, my favorite, was the 2014 WindVane Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir, a blend of Pinot Noir from vineyard blocks from the east facing 335-acres of estate vineyards located in Carneros.   Only 100 cases of the WindVane Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir have been produced and Texas unfortunately will not be receiving the shipments.  This is an elegant, nuanced, black cherry, earthy, bottle of deliciousness.


Another Wine Round Up: Belated Edition

Once again, I am completely behind on my wine round ups.  I only have myself to blame.  I had the vision of doing a rosé roundup and found myself with about 75 roses to drink (as well as a dedicated #winestudio program), so this is going to a series of round ups or you’d be reading about 150 wines (with a total of 300 under review, so advance apologies to the PR folks who sent these my way).  Figured that would not be fun to read, let alone daunting to write, so we’ll take it by varietal and today I’ll cover 33 of them.

Rosé

 

2016 Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé – this is a fabulous expression of Provence rosé and is a critic favorite for a reason.  Grapefruit, minerality, peach and blood orange.  Absolutely delicious.

2016 Aridus Rosé – this Arizona wine was new to me and was a fun new find.  I tasted tangerine, peach, strawberry and spice.

2016 Alta Vista Rosé – made to be an everyday, easy drinking fruity rosé with notes of Bing cherry, roses and a nice minerality.

2016 Caposaldo Rosé – notes of strawberries, raspberries, cherries with floral and mineral notes.

2016 Louis Jadot Rosé – notes of flowers, raspberry and currant with spice.

2016 Maison Saleya Rosé – This was the first one to go at the tasting.  Notes of tangerine, raspberry, cherry, roses and a little spice on the end.  Definitely the crowd favorite.

2016 Masi Rosa dei Masi – juicy berry, cherry and almost a richness balanced with a nice minerality.

2016 Martin Ray Rosé of Pinot Noir – I tasted stone fruit, cherry, strawberry and citrus notes.  Small production and appears to be sold out, but definitely seek out if you can find it.

2016 Noble Vines Rosé – notes of raspberry, citrus, tangerine and roses.

2016 Ferraton Père & Fils, Samorëns Côtes du Rhône, Rosé – notes of flowers, peach, melon and citrus as well as stone fruit with a balanced minerality.

2016 Marqués de Riscal Rosado – strawberry, cherry, raspberry and rose with a nice mineralogy.

Sparkling

This was my first sparkling from Utiel-Requena, which is an appellation in Spain’s Bobal Valencia region.  I learned that while 95% of the 35,000 hectares of vines are planted to red grape varieties, the Bobal is the star of the show here.

2014 Pago de Tharsys Bobal Unico Blanc de Negre Brut – this was a sparkling wine made with the Bobal grape.  I got yeastiness, apples, almonds, pears and notes of citrus.   I loved the minerality and the freshness of this wine.

I also tasted (from another region) Vineyard SEROL Turbullent Sparkling Rosé – it was a berry explosion with notes of pear and white fruit.  A very refreshing and fun expression of sparkling wine.

Whites

2014 Troon Vermentino – let’s start out by saying that I love this wine and the fact that Craig Camp is involved, makes it even better.  I tasted cherry, citrus, hazelnut, ginger, lemon curd and floral notes along with a great acidity.

2014 Cecchi La Mora Vermentino – an easy drinking white wine with notes of papaya, pear, apple and a nice acidity.

2015 Marques Casa Concha Chardonnay – this smooth drinking Chardonnay was chock full of pear, quince, almonds, spice and candied citrus.

2015 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay – notes of tropical fruit, apples, vanilla, pears and stone fruit.  A well-balanced and elegant chardonnay.

2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc – notes of lime zest, citrus, grassiness and a nice minerality.

2016 Martin Ray Sauvignon Blanc – a refreshing wine with lemon, floral notes, tropical fruits and a nice minerality.

2015 Martin Ray The Tower – made from Rhone varietals, I tasted tropical fruit, melon, flowers, honeycomb, lemon and grapefruit and a minerality that kept it refreshing.

2015 A2O Albarino – this was a true expression of albarino with minerality and notes of peach, melon, honey and a little herbal note.

2015 Torresella Pinot Grigio – a balanced pinot grigio with pear, apple and mineral notes.

2014 Naia Verdejo — notes of citrus, apricot, tropical fruit and flowers.

Reds

2013 Tarantas Tempranillo – another wine from the Utiel-Requena region (see sparkling section above).  This wine had notes of cranberry, blackberry, spice, oregano, earth and cherry.  A very drinkable tempranillo from this new regional discovery.

 

2014 Bodegas Hispano Suizas Bassus Pinot Noir – from the Utiel-Requena region and who knew Pinot Noir would be part of this region?  Almost jammy it is so fruit forward.  Lots of currant, floral notes and a nice spiciness makes this a very easy drinking wine.

2014 Alder Fels Pinot Noir – this lush pinot has notes of red cherry, earth, herbs and licorice.  Definitely one of the favorites.

2014 Aridus Petite Sirah – this was a fun petite sirah to try and another surprise from Arizona.  Loads of berry, cassis, mocha and a touch of vanilla.

Mezzacorona Vigneti Cliffhanger Vineyards Proprietary Red (NV) – red and black fruit combined with spice, oak and vanilla make this a bigger wine that begs for food.

2007 Mezzacorona NOS Riserva – I really enjoyed this wine with notes of blackberry, black cherry, charcoal, pepper and spice.  Over the course, it kept opening nicely and was a great match with the appetizers we were snacking on.

2012 Praxis Lagrein – this was a new find for me and I was so glad for the discovery.  A mix of cherry and black fruit with coffee, chocolate and herbal notes.

2016 Farraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone Samorens – this solid red offered notes of raspberry, cherry, licorice and spice.  It was very approachable and drinkable.

Other – Wines/Spirits in a Can

Bushido Premium Sake — A sake in a can?  Yes, the convenience era has come to a head and now cans run prevalent – sometime with varying successes.  Bushido’s Way of the Warrior sake can, contains premium Ginjo Genshu sake.  I tasted red fruit, Asian pear along with floral notes and some spice.  I think this can will convert some newbies to sake as it as a refreshing and unique way to experience sake.

Backpack Rosé – boat wine in a box… these cans of rosé were very drinkable and I tasted strawberry, white stone fruit with some floral notes.


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.




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