Archived entries for California 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.


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.


Pedroncelli Celebrates 90 Years: A Legacy of Farming, Fun and Flagships

Ninety years ago, it all started with a goal of three pillars – farming, fun and flagships – with flagships being the Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon wines Pedroncelli is known for producing.  That was recently reinforced on a Twitter virtual tasting.  However, I think one additional pillar needs to be added to the mix – and that is family.

This has been a family business since 1927 when Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli Sr. purchased a vineyard and shuttered winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.  In the beginning, due to Prohibition, they had to sell grapes to home winemakers to stay afloat.  There’s some heritage here.  The Pedroncelli family was the first to put Sonoma County on a wine label when the area was designated in the late 1940s.  The name Pedroncelli is Italian for Summer.

The family has been making wine since 1934, starting with bulk wines and evolving into the legacy wines that continue to get great wine scores from the critics.  Now, the fourth generation of family members continue the family legacy.  With the expansion of the generations, came the decision to expand varietals, replant the vineyards and now the winery has 70 percent female ownership.  And, that’s a trend that I love to see.

The Pedroncelli’s farm more than 100 acres of vineyards in Dry Creek and source grapes from those who have the same farming vision.  We (okay, my husband since I don’t cook) were asked to create the family’s special recipe for Feta and Kalamata Chicken and were given a gift card to cover the cost of the ingredients.  I loved the recipe and as someone that is the last to order a big beef dish on a menu, it was a nice change of pace for a wine pairing.

We tasted three wines, which were fantastic, and I got a glimpse prior to my invitation to the big 90th celebration blowout in July in Sonoma (watch for #Ped90th).

2016 Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc – notes of Meyer lemon, lychee and a nice minerality made this a crowd favorite and a great match with the chicken.

2016 Pedroncelli Rosé of Zinfandel – notes of candied violets and just plucked off the vine berries.  So refreshing.

2015 Pedroncelli Sangiovese – notes of cherry, cranberry, pepper and spice made this incredibly drinkable and food friendly wine disappear quickly.

Ninety years — nine decades strong in a tough business.  The pillars remain true and the family remains focused on tradition, heritage and making amazing wines that reflect a sense of place.  So, looking forward to my celebration at Pedroncelli in late July and I plan to be wearing this amazing hat.


Two Years Later: A Catch Up with Peter Mondavi Jr from Charles Krug

Peter Mondavi Junior, Charles Krug Co-Proprietor

Over two years ago, I had the chance to sit down with Peter Mondavi Junior, the co-proprietor of Charles Krug.  Our conversation focused on family, history, heritage, sustainability, good wine and hard work.  We talked about the strides that his father, Peter Mondavi Senior, and his innovations at Charles Krug ranging from vintage dating varietal wines, cold fermentation of white wines and fermentation in French oak barrels, and many more.

Last month while Peter was en route to the Austin Food and Wine Festival, we had the chance to sit down and visit again.

A lot has changed in two years.  Peter Mondavi Senior passed away the end of last year, but in talking with his son, his legacy will continue.  “All of Peter’s siblings lived until the 90’s and he lived until he was in his 100’s,” Peter said.  “Mark and I have worked underneath him for decades.  He taught us to be meticulous.  We will continue to carry on his philosophy and our foundation as we move the winery forward.”

Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa Valley and was founded in 1861 by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug.  Since 1943, and over four generations, the winery has been overseen by the Peter Mondavi Senior family.

Since the subject of women and wine and the lack of parity has been such a prevalent subject with the women winemakers I have talked to lately, I asked him about the opportunity for women and wine.  He talked about Stacy Clark, Charles Krug’s winemaker, and how he wanted to hire the best winemaker, who happened to be a women winemaker.  “It was all about carrying on the Peter Mondavi Family vision, but giving a talented winemaker the leeway needed to make great wines while still keeping alive the essence of the vineyards.”

He gave me an overview of the success of the hospitality center that was just opening during our last conversation.  The center was the final element of a $9.5 million restoration and beautification of the Redwood Cellar Building designed by noted architect Howard Backen.  It was named after the winery’s matriarch, Rosa Mondavi, and launched to celebrate Peter Senior’s 100th birthday.   They are working on putting together a culinary program as the next step as well as a vertical program to bring the extensive wine library to consumers.

There has also been an evolution in narrowing the portfolio to focus on the single vineyard, upscale, estate wines from eight vineyards over 850 acres located in St. Helena, Howell Mountain, Yountville and Carneros.

We tried several wines and Peter was still as passionate as ever in describing them and the stories associated with each one.  Each of these was delicious, but the Howell Mountain Cabernet is off the charts.

2015 Charles Krug Chardonnay – had an old-world style full of lots of citrus, tropical fruit and minerality.  This is the only wine made from non-estate vineyards from Los Carneros since they are replanting the chardonnay vineyards.

2013 Charles Krug Generations – this wine was designed to celebrate four generations of the Mondavi family.  Peter described it as a wine with “one foot in France, one foot in California.”  It was balanced with lots of licorice, anise, blueberry, blackberry and spice.   The first vintage of this was in 1991 and came about when Duckhorn had extra grapes that Mark used as an experiment when Mondavi Senior was on a sales trip.  It was their first Bordeaux blend and has evolved ever since.

2014 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – lots of black fruit, red fruit, mocha and cassis flavors.

2013 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – this was the third vintage of this wine and I loved the cranberry, cassis, spice, chocolate and black fruit.

The winery has a quote that seems to still bear true from its founder, Cesare Mondavi – “Treat the land with respect, and it will show in the wine.”  It is clear the tradition, heritage and commitment to family are still important tenants at Charles Krug Winery.


A Conversation with Merry Edwards: Icon, Trailblazer, Philanthropist and Winemaker

Merry and Ken, Courtesy of Merry Edwards Winery 

This week, I had the pleasure of talking with Merry Edwards, an icon, a trailblazer, a philanthropist and a winemaker who has single-handedly shattered the glass ceiling for women in wine in California and at UC Davis in the 70s.  Merry is being honored next weekend in Dallas with the Tête du Cuvée award, the highest award given at the Côtes du Coeur, the annual fine wine auction and celebrity chef dinner benefitting the American Heart Association (AHA).

Merry’s passion for cardiovascular research was first related to love.  Her husband, Ken Coopersmith, had a history of heart disease in the family, but wasn’t aware of how serious his condition was.  Shortly after they were married, his heart started to fail and he had a heart valve replacement.  Ten years later, he kept putting off the doctor because he knew he had gained some weight with the Sonoma food and wine lifestyle.  That decision literally almost killed him.  He went into congestive heart failure and was a two of 100 statistic that lived through the operation. At that point, Merry knew that this was a cause that has a direct meaning and impact for her and millions of others.

“The AHA has a hard-core benefit.  This is a cause that I am passionate about, I believe in this charity and I will continue to be supportive.” she said.  “I believe in giving more.  It’s my job to do my day job, but to be a leader and inspire others to give.”  Merry focuses on charities that have directly impacted her family, which also include the disabled and children’s health.  Merry lives her life facing challenges head on – from raising a disabled child to becoming an advocate for women in any industry.

Several years ago, I attended a wine dinner at Lakewood Country Club where Merry told her story.  After a storied career in wine working for others it was time for Merry to do her own thing, to found Merry Edwards Winery.  She did that in 1997 with a focus on producing Pinot Noirs with a true sense of place from Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast.

We spent some time talking about her breaking ground and being one of the first women winemakers and the work to be done to recruit more women to the industry.  After 44 harvests, she told me that very little progress has been made.

“If you look at the current studies done on the subject by UC Davis, the statistics are not that encouraging as female winemakers have increased to ten percent today from six percent in the 70’s,” she said.  We talked about the rampant problem in science, in technology and in farming.

“Even my own father thought I should be in a supportive role so I went to Berkeley to be an RN.  Then my career morphed to nutrition and then to food science and finally to wine making,” she said.

She talked about approaching life to try to fix what wasn’t right – not only as a woman, but as a human.  When she was first at UC Davis, affirmative action had just been implemented.  She wasn’t invited to interview on recruiting day because she was a women and marched to the chancellor’s office to help reverse that decision.

She still feels that way today.  “Most people respect me for being here.  I am a role model to prove this can be done,” she said.  “I’m not just talking about women in wine, but for other women in other professions that love wine.”

She left me with the words – “Be an inspiration to others.”  And through her commitment to helping prevent cardiovascular disease in a place where one of every three deaths in the US are from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, she continues to live those words.

My personal affiliation with the American Heart Association is also due to family.  When my younger brother was 17, we discovered a heart condition that took way to long to diagnose that resulted in an emergency open heart surgery.  Because of the life-saving research that was conducted by the AHA, his life was saved.  My husband and I were chairing the Dallas Heart Ball at the time and found out later that the surgeon who saved his life was in the audience.

Proceeds from Côtes du Coeur go directly to the AHA for cardiovascular research and heart health educational programs both locally and nationwide. During its 25-year history, Côtes du Coeur has attracted more than 22,000 attendees and has raised more than $30 million.  The event is scheduled this Saturday, April 22 at the Omni Hotel Dallas.  For more information, click here.


Jesse Rodriguez: Sommelier and Renaissance Man Committed to Change the Lives of Others

The Women of EWR

The story of wine is often unpredictable.  This weekend I attended a Leadership Retreat with 40 plus women who are a part of the Dallas Chamber’s Executive Women’s Roundtable.  This is a group of C-level women who are usually the only females sitting in a leadership role in some of the biggest companies in the world.  We come together for this retreat once a year to learn, laugh, network and reconnect with the other women in the room and ourselves.  This year it was at the Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina.

Naturally, wine is a part of this process.  On Friday, we gathered at the River House in the private wine cellar for an amazing dinner.  There I met a true Renaissance man.  Jesse Rodriguez is the Director of Wine and took me for a tour of the cellar, which was amazing and full of hand-selected bottles of boutique and very special wines from around the world.

Because this is a leadership retreat, one of the women asked him a very pointed question about legacy that we had been discussing during the conference.  At that point, we found out the many nuances of Jesse.  He builds the best wine lists in America with a list of coveted awards from the Wine Spectator Grand Award as well as Forbes.com’s “America’s Best Spots for Wine” as well as the first ever nomination for the James Beard Awards Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Wine Service and one of Wine Enthusiast’s “100 Best Wine Restaurants” for two years and the list goes on. He was the Head Sommelier at Napa Valley’s The French Laundry, helping the restaurant become the only dining venue in California to receive a Three Michelin Star rating.

The Menu and Wines from the Dinner

He is relentless in his own learning.  Jesse is an Advanced Sommelier by the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, is credentialed as a Certified Wine Educator by the Society of Wine Educators, and has completed the Diploma level through The Wine and Spirits Educational Trust (WSET) and is in his second year of his Masters of Wine certification. Rodriguez was named one of “America’s Best New Sommeliers” by Wine & Spirits magazine in 2007 and one of StarChefs.com’s 2010 “Los Angeles-San Diego Rising Stars.”  He was also named “Best Sommelier” by the readers, editors and critics of San Diego Magazine and Ranch & Coast: San Diego’s luxury lifestyle magazine for four consecutive years.

He’s a teacher – he holds a Master’s in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University, where he also received his undergraduate degree.

And most importantly, he is a kind family man with a passion to give back to the community.  He grew up in Beaumont, California, a Southern California blue collar desert town, the grandson of a Mexican farm worker.  He discovered his passion for wine when waiting tables at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.  Jesse launched a six-month campaign to get a job on the wine team and quickly rose through the ranks.

Once he was making “real money,” he created Figueroa Family Scholarship as a tribute to his grandfather 11 years ago for Mexican American students at Beaumont High.  “I was able to put aside $1,000 and that’s where it all began,” he said.  He personally goes back to Beaumont every year to award the grant.  He also serves as a career-long mentor to those recipients.

He’s a wine maker.  He and his good friend and fellow sommelier, Michael Scafiddi, make pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon under the label Kaizen.

And most importantly, he’s one heck of a nice man with a passion for lifelong learning, the artistry of wine and making the customer feel special.




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