Archived entries for California Wines

Everything is Coming Up Sojourn …

Craig Haserot and me at a Sojourn Dallas 2014 tasting event

Years ago on a trip to Sonoma, I was introduced to Sojourn Cellars, an up and coming winery located off the square in the Sonoma Plaza.  Our visit happened to coincide with Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV episode featuring Sojourn.  To make a long story short, Sojourn, who was unaware of the tasting, ranked number one in the blind tasting and arrived at their office the next morning to a full voicemail box or orders – completely selling them out of that particular pinot.  Our group sat down with Craig Haserot, co-founder and proprietor of Sojourn Cellars, and heard his great story. 

Sojourn is a boutique winery that specializes in pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.  The winery sources fruit from Napa and Sonoma and began as a collaboration between tennis buddies who loved wine. Craig and Ellen Haserot and Erich Bradley, who was an assistant winemaker at Arrowood Winery, developed a plan and Sojourn was born over the next 10 years.

Fast forward about six years where I had just assumed my new volunteer position as chairman of the wine committee for Lakewood Country Club.  One of our missions is to have more boutique winemaker dinners at the Club.  Sojourn was one of the first wineries who came to mind so I picked up the phone and they accepted. 

The dinner, which was spearheaded by Chef William Kovall, was amazing.  We had a five course meal matched the wines.  Sherrie Perkovich, director of marketing for Sojourn, told us all about the winery and the wines.  Highlights were as follows:

Seared Scallop with English Peas, Artichoke, Pancetta and Herb Butter Nage paired with the 2013 Sangiacomo Chardonnay.  With notes of crème brulee and citrus, the delicious scallops absolutely sang. I may have inhaled this prior to the picture being taken.

Bacon Wrapped Ring Neck Pheasant with Caramelized Pear, Morel Risotto and Roasted Pheasant Jus with the 2013 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir. This wine was earthy and had notes of deep cherry and mushrooms. 

Tellicherry Peppered Seared Venison with Crushed Sweet Potato, Pine Nut and Huckleberry with the 2013 Gaps Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir.  This had bigger fruit than the last and evolved in the glass with notes of herbs, chocolate, berry and Asian spice.

Prime New York Strip with Fiddle Head Ferns, Wild Ramp, Fennel Scallop, Potato and Blackberry Gastrique with the 2012 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was absolutely delicious with notes of cassis, cherry, berry and chocolate. 

The final course was smoked gouda, aged gouda and epoisse with the 2013 Beckstoffer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine embodies the “Rutherford Dust” concept with notes of chocolate, cherry, berry and mocha. 

Tim Loecker, Sojourn brand ambassador and party extraordinaire

The grand finale was an event at our friends, Justin Kettler’s and Tim Loecker’s, fantastic new home.  I have the honor to have introduced them to Sojourn and clearly they have taken that passion to a new height by throwing a great housewarming party featuring their great wines. 

It was fun to see Dallas’ reaction to Sojourn wines was exactly what I expected.  And, it reaffirmed my decision to buy another case.

 


May Wine Roundup

It’s time for the April and May recap of Maniac Monday, Wine Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday or whenever I could get the work gang together to taste the massive buildup of wine that is happening in my office this Spring.

We tried 15 wines and I’m going to mention 13 of those wines as the highlights – remember these are all price points ranging from $12-$60, so these aren’t apples to apples comparisons:

White:

  • 2013 Arrowood Chardonnay – I got notes of cinnamon baked apples, lemon curd and a nice minerality.  This was a very nice representation of chardonnay.
  • 2013 Atalon Sauvignon Blanc – pineapple, grapefruit, peach and lemongrass make this a very quaffable and perfect patio wine.
  • 2013 J Vineyards Chardonnay – this white had a little spice to it with pineapple, lemon, white stone fruit and a nice balance. 

Red:

  • 2012 Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, chocolate, currant, mocha, spice and a touch of smoke.
  • 2012 Atalon Pauline’s Cuvee – black cherry, cherry cola, spice and notes of tobacco. A very nice drinkable, approachable blend.
  • 2011 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of toffee, plum, Asian spice and cherry.  This was a very well balanced cabernet.

  • 2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir – red cherry, stone fruit, plum and notes of licorice.

  • 2012 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir – this was a party in a glass and one of the highlights of the tasting.  I loved the Burgundian style pinot with its notes of fig, red cherry, earth and layers of complexity.

  • 2013 Olema Pinot Noir – cherry cola, berry, minerality, earth and pepper. 
  • 2012 Olema Cabernet Sauvignon – mocha, cassis, vanilla, blackberry and herbal notes.
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon – a nice everyday red with notes blackberry, mocha, herbs, cassis and herbs.

  • 2011 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir – this was a nice earthy pinot with notes of black cherry, cranberry, raspberry and notes of mushroom.  Delicious.

  • 2010 Vina Pomal Reserva – earthy with notes of blackberry and raspberry with a nice balance. 

 


Two Lands Wine: California Craftsmanship with Australian Character

My love for Ehren Jordan’s wine began with a yellow balloon tied to a non-descript mailbox in Napa Valley.  We were tasting at another winery when I asked my paradoxical question – “if you weren’t working here, what is the first place that you’d stop and taste the wine.”  That brought us to his newly debuted Failla Winery, which was so new it was still unmarked except with that yellow balloon, where I had an amazing conversation with Jordan.  We talked about his vision, why he made the wines he made and the importance of boutique, small production wines.

Hickin and Jordan

Fast forward about seven years later and I was invited to an online digital tasting with Jordan and Bernard Hickin, Jacob’s Creek Chief Winemaker from Barossa to taste the newly debuted Two Lands label.  The two winemakers created a cross-collaboration combining the boutique wine experience at a price point not normally delivered under $14.

Jordan talked about combining, “California craftsmanship with Australian character to create a depth of experience.”  He also discussed how he was blown away when he visited Australia for the first time after having several members of his wine team talk about the great experience they had working on the region. 

We tried four wines in the line-up and I fell in love with two.  I am usually not a Pinot Grigio fan, but the 2013 Two Lands Pinot Grigio has notes of stone fruit, red apple and acid that gave it a nice balance.  The 2013 Two Lands Shiraz was delicious with notes of blueberries, cocoa, herbs, black cherry and chocolate. 

These two value wines bring together the best of both worlds at a price point that makes it easy to afford.

 

 


March Madness: A Wino’s Perspective

I’ve had so many great stories to tell lately that it has been a while since I’ve done a wine round-up.  We tried ten wines and five made the list of our #thirstythursday tasting group.  I love bringing this group together because it is such a diverse group of palates and it has been fun to see the evolution of several of them as their passion and knowledge of wine evolves.  It also keeps snobbery in check because it’s fun to watch them discover a Zinfandel that makes them want to drink Zinfandels for the first time.

2012 Loveblock Pinot Noir – this New Zealand-based pinot noir was full of red fruit with a funky layer of earthiness.  It was well balanced and a totally different take on pinot noir that I enjoyed.

2013 The Federalist Zinfandel – this was described as “the zinfandel that makes me want to drink zinfandel” by several of the members in our group.  This was loaded with spice, berry and had big notes of mocha.  It was very approachable and drinkable.

1999 Lazzarito Vigna La Delizia Barolo – for many in the room, this was the oldest wine that they had ever tried.  It had a big earthy quality with plum and almost a raisin taste.  It was very good but I wish I had given it some decanter time and had a food pairing to match.  I wasn’t fair to the wine in that aspect.

2012 Cornerstone Cabernet Franc Napa Valley– another great representation of what a cabernet franc should taste like to be bottled on its own accord.  It was full of a balance of green pepper, chocolate and deep berry. 

2012 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – it’s like receiving a gift from one of your favorite and elegant relatives.  You start with looking at the stylish packaging and follow by carefully unwrapping what is inside.  In this wine, I found layers of sophistication and tasted everything from blackberry to chocolate to mocha to licorice.  Intense and delicious.


Savor the Moment: Mark Your Calendars and Celebrate Dallas’ Food and Wine Scene

Courtesy of Savor Dallas

Somehow the stars have never aligned for me to attend Savor Dallas and I’ve regretted it.  Unfortunately it has always been sandwiched around the time that we take my daughter on holiday for Spring Break.  This year, I will get to attend one event before I leave for a blogger’s trip to Spain and I’m excited. 

If you are a wine lover based in Dallas, you’ve got to love the mission of Savor Dallas – showcase the best of Dallas – educate and entertain with the best wine, spirits and beer out there and show off culturally what Dallas has to offer.  Isn’t that why we live here, y’all?

In its 11 year history Savor Dallas has become a signature event and since CrowdSource, a Dallas Morning News events division, acquired it from Jim White and Vicki-Briely-White, there is some big momentum to take it to the next level.  And now that my favorite charity, Café Momentum is hosting a Community Brunch, complete with gospel music and food, I couldn’t be happier. 

Here’s the line up and details for the four-day festival. 

  • Arts District Stroll, March 19 from 5-7:30 pm
  • Savor the Arboretum, March 20 from 6:30-8:30 pm 
  • The Reserve Tasting, March 21 from 5:30-7:30 pm
  • The Grand Tasting, March 21 from 7-10 pm 
  • The Community Brunch, March 22 from 11 am-2 pm

There’s also The Toast of the Town Series that is scheduled in conjunction with the festival.

Tickets are available via the Savor Dallas website and they range in price from $40 to $150 per event.  Use the special code WINECHICK, which is good through the Friday of the festival and gets you 15 percent off the Arts District Wine Stroll and The Grand Tasting.  Anyone joining me at the Arts District Wine Stroll?  I’ll see you there.


Hawaii, Wine and Mixing Work with Pleasure

Aloha.  I had the opportunity last week to go on a sales incentive trip to Hawaii.  I left as the snow and traffic snares piled up in Dallas and landed in paradise.  As many of you know, I head marketing for a software company for the paying gig, so it’s fun when my passion for wine and job collide.

Because the sales team worked their collective butts off to get to Maui, this trip needed to be special.  I learned early about the sacrifices that spouses/significant others and families make for deals to get done.  And wine was going to be a significant part of the experience.

I needed to find the perfect balance of “off the beaten path” wines that would satisfy palates from around the globe at a cost that wasn’t too outlandish, but certainly didn’t taste that way.  Here’s what I chose – Iet me know how you think I did….

 I learned a few lessons along the way:

  • Avoid “porn star martinis” at all cost.  Trust me.
  • A 7:00 a.m. excursion will not attract the masses.  Three out of 14 actually showed for the ATV trip.
  • Speaking of ATV tours, do not try to overachieve or you may come dangerously close to tipping the vehicle.
  • Do not try to out dance a dance troupe, even if you were in one in your younger years.
  • Every party has a tipping point moment, try to identify that before it happens.

I hope my co-workers had as much of an amazing time as I did.

 

 


A Tale of Two Cities: A Chat with Margo Van Staaveren and Christophe Paubert

 

Margo Van Staaveren, Winemaker, Chateau St. Jean, and Christophe Paubert, Winemaker and General Manager, Stags’ Leap Winery

Usually it’s the tale of two cities – Napa and Sonoma.  But sometimes there is an exception and that’s where the best stories originate.  I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Margo Van Staaveren, winemaker for Chateau St Jean, and Christophe Paubert, winemaker and general manager for Stags’ Leap Winery.  I learned quickly that an apostrophe is worth a thousand words when you are waxing poetic about your experience with the wrong, but closely named winery.

Let’s start with the correct history of Stags’ Leap Vineyard, a vineyard with a 100+ year history and more than 240 acres, which was founded by Horace Chase and his wife, Minnie Mizner. The property was named “Stags’ Leap” after an old Indian legend, which talks about a lone stag taking a great leap over the palisades to escape hunters.  During the Chases ownership, a manor house and a winery were built and it became quite the social destination, known for great parties with prominent politicians, artists and writers in attendance.

Fast-forward to a fortune lost, and Mrs. Francis Grange acquired the property in 1913.  She transformed the property into a working ranch and Napa’s top resort.  Again, the property remained a destination for the fun and the famous.  After the Grange legacy ended, the property fell into disrepair until Carl Doumani restored the property in 1971.  Carl’s dream originally was to restore the hotel, but Napa zoning laws kept that from being a reality.  He planted grapes instead.  Today the 80-are vineyard is divided into 23 blocks.

Christope joined Stags’ Leap in 2011 and has worked at some of the world’s most pre-eminent vineyards including Chateau d’Yquem and Gruard-Larose as well as projects in Chile, Spain and Washington State.  He wanted to go to California, but also wanted to make sure he could still produce the wines in the style that he was passionate about creating.  He said he was the only winemaker to actually bring his own wines to the interview.  Once he was hired, first and foremost, he focused on the fruit, the soil and making sure “the transparency is evidence between the consumer.”

Chateau St. Jean was founded in the Sonoma Valley in 1973 and has long been a leader in showcasing vineyard-designated wines with a “small lot mentality.”  In the beginning of its history, the winery made single vineyard cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel as well as chardonnay.  But, the winery became known for producing award-winning chardonnay and Chateau St Jean stopped making red wine in the early 80s.  In the mid 80’s, the vineyard was replanted and the winery started again to produce red wines.

Margo’s husband, Don, was the assistant winemaker when Cinq Cepages Cabernet, a Bordeaux blend of five varieties of Chateau St Jean was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year.”  I asked Margo if she felt pressure about continuing the award-winning tradition, she said “Absolutely not.  I was part of this team from the beginning.”

The year 2015 will mark Margo’s 36th harvest at the winery, which becomes an even cooler story when she tells you how she started as a lab tech.  We talked a little about some of the women like Merry Edwards who helped to pave the way.  Her perception that she’ll validate in time for a spring keynote is that the percentage of women involved in the winemaking top roles probably remains the same today as it was 35 years ago.  I sure hope that isn’t the case.

In talking with Margo, she is all about capturing what makes each vintage special with the best the fruit can bring to the wine.  I tried the following wines from both winemakers during the tasting:

-       2011 Chateau St Jean, Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay,

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley Cabernet

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley “The Investor”

-       2012 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah

-       2010 Chateau St Jean, Cinq Cepages

The philosophies of both winemakers and vineyards are the same.  The wines sampled were all delicious and truly showed this guiding principles of showcasing terroir, blending Old World and New World techniques and making the best and most genuine wine possible.   Both winemakers told me they look to retain their own expressions, but they have the “keys” and the crews behind them who make the wine possible.

 


Mondavi Legacy Continues: My February #ThirstyThursday Wines

After the opportunity to chat with Peter Mondavi last week, I had the chance to experience the wine of another Mondavi – Michael Mondavi.  This was another lesson in heritage as Michael strives to recreate the style of cabernets that the Mondavi family were known for in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.  

I was sent a sample of the 2010 Michael Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100 percent Cabernet, which is a rarity in itself. This wine truly reflects timelessness and a family heritage.  “Animo” means spirit in Italian and Michael Mondavi’s grandfather taught him that all great winemakers respect the soil. It is velvet in texture, a deep purple in the glass and has a rich mouthfeel.  It has elements of Old World and New World with lots of earthy, blackberry, plum, minerality, vanilla, cinnamon and caramel.  It was stunning and as my colleagues noted, “I think your eyes just rolled back in your head when you tried it.”

We tried several other wines on this #thirstythursday that made the list including the following:

  • 2013 Amici Sauvignon Blanc – this 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Musque and Sauvignon Blanc was full of tropical fruit, citrus, orange blossom and notes of flowers and flint.  It was mineral and a great afternoon patio wine.
  • 2011 Chateau La Pointe Pomerol Bordeaux – this was a great entry level Bordeaux with truffle, chocolate, terroir and red fruit.

My Conversation with Peter Mondavi from Charles Krug: Family, Sustainability and Tradition

It’s not often I have the opportunity to sit down with one of the reigning members of one of the undisputable first families of wine in Napa.  But I got to do exactly that when Peter Mondavi Jr, co-proprietor of Charles Krug, came to Dallas.  By the way, he also happens to be one hell of a nice guy.

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 Sr family. Estate vineyards are located in St Helena, Yountville, Howell Mountain and Carneros.

Cesare Mondavi first came to Minnesota from Italy in 1906 and became a miner.  In 1908, he returned to Italy to marry Rosa Grassi and started a boarding house and saloon.  In 1922, as Prohibition hit, the Mondavi’s and their four children moved to California and started C. Mondavi and Sons, which was a grape shipping business. 

Cesare didn’t set out to be a winemaker – just an accidental entrepreneur who wanted to take care of his family.  After success in the grape shipping business, he decided to purchase the Charles Krug winery.  Cesare Mondavi was an innovator and introduced the cider press for winemaking and many other advanced winemaking techniques that were unheard of during that time.

His son, Peter Sr, attended Stanford and pursued graduate studies in enology.  He then served in the US Army in World War II and returned home to the winery.  Peter has carried on many innovations at Charles Krug including vintage dating varietal wines, cold fermentation of white wines and fermentation in French oak barrels, among others.  Peter Sr had two sons, Marc and Peter Jr, who followed in his footsteps, one attending UC Davis and one attending Stanford.

Fast forward a generation.  You can tell that both sons have the entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of how technology done well can improve key steps of a business and are very involved in the workings of Charles Krug.  Peter Mondavi Sr is still active, and comes to the winery to sign checks at age 100, but has handed the reins to his sons. 

Peter Jr told me about how his role at the winery evolved from working for 50 cents a day at age eight where he was assigned the task of unwrapping tasting glasses.  After returning to the winery with a BS in mechanical engineering and a MS in engineering management followed by a MBA, he handled everything from the capital expansion of the winery to designing the state-of-the-art temperature control system at the winery.

We tried a number of wines and I loved the pride that Peter had as he described each one, which were all delicious.  Here’s my assessment (please note that some of these wines will not be on the market for another few months).  I continued to drink them over a three day timeframe and the evolution was amazing:

  • 2014 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc – full of lots of citrus, grapefruit, peach and minerality.  It was the only wine with a twist top and meant to be enjoyed young.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Generations – this wine was designed to celebrate four generations of Mondavi family members.  Peter described it as a wine with “one foot in France, one foot in California.”  It was balanced with lots of cinnamon, All Spice and berry.  He discussed it being one of their cocktail wines that you drink before dinner as it stands alone without needing a food pairing.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – lots of black fruit, mocha and caramel flavors.  This is a wine that is roughly not produced three out of five years and it was incredible.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – this was the second vintage of this wine and I loved the cranberry, cassis and big black fruit.

During my conversation with Peter I never lost track of the fact that Charles Krug Winery is about family, sustainability and keeping a tradition strong.  The Mondavi’s continue to innovate and invest to bring the Charles Krug brand back to its heritage.  The result is a delicious one.


The Best Party that Almost Wasn’t: A Night with Lindsay Hoopes

Me and Lindsay Hoopes

I had the opportunity several years ago to sit down and meet Lindsay Hoopes, the second generation leader of Hoopes Vineyard and Liparita wines as well as a former homicide prosecutor in San Francisco.  Lindsay was scheduled to come back through town and had tentatively scheduled an informal party at our house, but had a pretty bad fall where she broke her leg.  I was impressed by Lindsay’s focus and drive when I first met her and should have known that she’d find a way to make it through a grueling week in Texas, wheelchair and all.

This was almost the party that wasn’t.  Lindsay had sent 20 plus bottles to our home and we kept getting UPS delivery slips while we were at work.  I had a long week at sales kickoff for my paying gig and had to stay a few nights at the hotel where we scheduled the event.  My Friday in the office was crazy with people from all over the world who wanted to meet, so I just made the judgment call that I’d pick up the wine from UPS on Saturday.  I called my husband and he said, “are you sure that UPS will be open Saturday?”  I answered of course they would.  Luckily he checked.  And they weren’t.  So the wild goose chase began against time to grab the wine before UPS closed for the weekend.

I grabbed a very small group of wine lovers, who were up for the task of consuming the 20 plus bottles, because that is the kind of friends I have.   Lindsay told the story about her entry into the wine business and the how she was severely underestimated by many of the distributors.  I loved her quote, “I had to sell prison sentences of 20 years to life – this was nothing.” 

She talked candidly about how she decided to enter the family business when her father, Spencer Hoopes, became ill (the good news is that he recovered).  Spencer originally was a grape grower and decided 15 years later to make his own wine.  The focus has been on classic cabernets that capture the best of old world techniques and the new world of Napa fruit.  “I built a career, but it was time to come home to my family business.” 

Anne Vawter, the former protegee of Heidi Barrett, took over as winemaker with the 2012 vintage.  I also learned that Hoopes Vineyard boasts the oldest surviving set of vines in Oakville.  We drank some amazing wines.  We started with the 2013 Hoopla Chardonnay, which was a lovely white full of citrus, tropical fruits and minerality.  We moved to the 2012 Liparita Cabernet Sauvignon, which boasts a great story and a storyline that dates back to 1900. The winery, which was purchased in 2006 by Hoopes, boasts winning the Judgment of Paris in 1900 until it disappeared due to Prohibition.  We then tried the 2006, 2010 and 2012 Hoopes Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, which was beyond amazing – each and every one of them.

Our night ended with a very special treat that Lindsay had in store for us.  We became the only consumers in America to try the 2012 Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that was especially bottled for the Napa Valley Premiere Auction (#164 to be exact).  Last year, HEB bought the lot for $1,000 a bottle.  Absolutely gorgeous and what a special experience for Lindsay to share with us.




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