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A Trip Back to the 1800’s: A Stop Through Some of the Oldest Vineyards in Napa

Joshua Arroyo, our fantastic host at Chappellet Winery 

This leads me to day three of our wine country excursion and another one of my favorite all-time stops.  As you may recall, in November, I had the chance to sit down with the CEO of Chappellet Winery, Cyril Chappellet and had such a fun lunch that I knew this had to be a must stop during our trip.  Unfortunately Cyril and his wife, Molly, were out of town that weekend, but they set us up with Joshua Arroyo, a fabulous host that easily kept up with the group’s sarcasm and spirit of fun.

We started out with a tour of the new hospitality areas and the original winemaking facility that started producing wine in 1969.  Joshua told us how he had been with the Chappellet family for the last two years (72 hours after he unpacked his moving truck to be exact) after falling in love with wine.

We began with a 2015 Molly’s Chenin Blanc, which showcased Molly Chappellet’s sense of style with the super unique bottle.  Chappellet is one of four producers in the area that still make Chenin Blanc and it was delicious with a pretty floral nose and crisp minerality.

A little about how the Chappellet family came to Pritchard Hill.  It started more than 40 years ago when Donn and Molly Chappellet took a first look at the stunning mountain views.  Because they believed that Bacchus, the god of wine, loves the hills, combined with renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff’s advice to do so, they became the first to plant on Prichard Hill and these high-elevation hillsides.  The wines are known for being intense and elegant.

We toured the barn where it was fun to see the handprints of the six Chappellet children who are now adults and working with the winery.  Cyril and Carissa Chappellet oversee the day-to-day operations of the winery and Jon-Mark, Dominic, Lygia and Alexa Chappellet serve on the board.  Today there are nine grandchildren who play in the vineyards, just like their parents did.

We even brought Joshua in on the joke that my husband – much to his bemusement – is often mistaken for Mark Cuban.  As Joshua continued to give my husband a hard time about that, my husband retorted at the end with a funny come back.  And P.S. the little animal friends are something that we do on a trip for our ten-year-old daughter.

 

 

 

As we walked through the property, from the solar panels to the organic farming methods used, it was evident that this is a family who believes and cultivates in the land.  We laughed, we walked the grounds, we took pictures (thanks Joshua for making the photos at this site so much better than usual), we tasted wine in their amazing facility and we even visited the gorgeous picnic grounds on our way out.  And the wines – oh the wines – other than the Chenin Blanc, we tasted the 2013 Signature Chardonnay, the 2012 Napa Valley Las Piedras, the 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, the 2008 Signature Cabernet and the 2009 Signature Cabernet.  I am pretty certain that I ordered everything we tried.   Most importantly, we experienced what it felt like to be a part of Chappellet’s extended family.

 

We had two other stops that day as well.  One was a long overdue visit to Bremer Family Winery at Deer Creek on Howell Mountain. I first tasted these wines on a Napa trip when I was much younger and was eager to come back and revisit the stone winery and cellar first built in 1891.  The wines were as good as I remembered.

 

The last stop of the trip was Larkmead, another historic stop that is one of the oldest, family-owned grape growing estates in Napa.  Originally established in 1895, the 150-acre estate is known for its diverse soils and well-made, small-lot wines.


A Wine Country Journey: From Valley to Valley, Day Two

I heard a quote that came to life during my recent visit to the Maurtison Family Winery — “without history there is no future” – author, unknown.  The Mauritson family has been growing grapes and making wine for six generations and been in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 150 years.  During a Taste of Sonoma event in Dallas last year, I had the opportunity to meet Winemaker Clay Maurtison.  When I realized we would be staying about five miles from his family’s vineyard, I reached out.  I immediately received a response from Carrie Maurtison, who leads marketing and sales.  The next thing we knew we were four-wheeling it to the Rockpile Vineyard where we got up close and personal with the terroir that makes Maurtison Wines so special.

Carrie Mauritson

First a little background on the winery and the family.  S.P. Hallengren, the great-great-great grandfather of the family and pioneer of the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884 and was also a sheep rancher.  This land has quite the history.  The Rockpile land and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960 when the Army Corps of Engineers decided the land was needed to build Lake Sonoma.  The government paid 48 cents on the dollar and the family found most of its original ranch was now under water.  The family moved to Alexander Valley where it purchased 110 acres and then to Dry Creek Valley.  Maurtison has 310 vineyards across Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and and the Rockpile AVAs.

To continue the four wheeling story, we arrived at the vineyard and learned that the fruit has to be grown over 800 feet above sea level to be called “Rockpile”.  Carrie summed it up perfectly, ”If it wasn’t for love, there would be no Rockpile AVA”.  What I loved (other than the amazing Zins) were the stories.  The vineyards had interesting stories behind their names from Buck’s Pasture where deer liked to congregate to Jack’s Cabin (a tree girdler with a colorful history and a love of the drink lived there many decades ago) to Independence (the grandfather killed four pigs there on July 4th), the sense of history and fun of this family shone through.

 

Our line-up included the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, three different 2013 Zinfandels – Jack’s Cabin, Cemetery and Jack’s Cabin as well as the Madrone Spring Vineyard Syrah and the 2012 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Cabernet along with an amazing picnic lunch.

Gee and Barber

Our next stop was the chance to experience the caves of Freeman Vineyard and Winery.  You may recall my visit with Ken and Akiko Freeman during a Freeman dinner at Lakewood Country Club.  This was my chance to experience the caves and winery while introducing my friends to these incredible wines.  I wanted to see the Keystone of September 28, 1985 firsthand above the wine cave.  This stone captures a special moment of time where happenstance brought Ken to a party in New York where they met that involves a hurricane, a Chanel dress and the beginning of a great love story. And this proved that you never know who you are going to run into as we collided paths with former Dallas Sommelier Scott Barber and Heather Gee from La Tache De Vin.

At this point, I have to give a huge shout out to Chris and Janette, from My Napa Valley Driver.  I would not consider coming to Napa and not using these incredible folks.  They are funny, knowledgeable, hospitable, wine country natives and some of the greatest folks in the Valley.  They come to where you stay, drive your rental car (bringing along snacks/water) and have tons of knowledge on great places to go.  They kept us on schedule, even picked up Bouchon goodies when we didn’t have time to stop, ordered lunch for us one day and then picked out the perfect lunch stop for us when we had time between stops.  Oh, and they figured out how to get us from our Napa to Sonoma accommodations and only charge $45 an hour.

 

 Mary Ann Turrentine, Paradigm

The next day we started at Paradigm, a 50-acre winery, which is owned and managed by Ren and Marilyn Harris, two winegrowers (who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary).  The Harris have Napa roots with grandparents who came in 1769 and 1890.  They moved to Napa in the 1960’s and decided to purchase land in Oakville in the 1970s and sell the grapes.  Paradigm’s first wine was in 1991 and Icon Heidi Barrett, was the first winemaker and continues to consult on the wines there today.  Mary Ann Turrentine, the director of sales and hospitality, tasted us through a line-up starting with the rose’ and we had the chance to try the 2012 merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon as well as the 2011 cabernet sauvignon. The 2011 to the 2012 cabernet side-by-side tasting was an expression of Old World vs the more fruit-forward New World styles.

 

Our next stop was Cliff Lede Vineyards, which was established in 2002 when Cliff Lede, a Canadian, successful construction company owner and music enthusiastic purchased the 60-estate vineyard.  He promptly hired David Abreu, a well-known viticulturist and winemaker, to replant the vineyards.  Lede was whimsical in naming the vineyard blocks after his favorite rock songs and albums.  We experienced that firsthand in the VIP tasting room where we saw signed guitars and the art from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.  We tried several of the wines from Cliff Lede and FEL – ranging from $25 to $130.  This was a cool melding of great wine, music and whimsy.

My Napa Valley Drivers set up an awesome picnic for us in Healdsburg with food from Café R&D where we had a chance to drink a little water (and maybe some Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc) and ate some great food.

 

We then swung by Cornerstone Cellars – I’m a long-time fan.  The winery was founded in 1991 by Mike Dragutsky who wanted to make great wine.  Craig Camp, who recently left his Cornerstone position for his dream to make wine in Oregon, was the person who introduced me to these wines.  The mantra has always been about vineyard and variety.  Cornerstone also has a collaboration in Oregon to make pinot noir and chardonnay.  We tasted through the Corallina rose,’ which is also known as the artist series, as well as a number of the other full-bodied reds.  My favorites included the 2012 Cabernet France, Merlot and Michael’s Cuvee.

Me and Elizabeth Smith 

Our final stop was at Ehlers Estate where my friend and tasting room manager, Elizabeth Smith, was an incredible host.  I love the story – Bernard Ehlers bought a vineyard in the late 1800s that wasn’t in great shape.  He started a quest to replant the vineyard and completed construction of the stone barn that now hosts the tasting room.  He built quite the legacy – his original Bale Mill Winery operated under his wife until the 1920’s (and during Prohibition).

There were other owners until French Entrepreneurs (owners of a large laundry and linen business who also founded a cardiac foundation bearing the same last name — hence the heart logo) Jean and Syviane Leducq acquired the winery and understood how well the Bordeaux wines they loved would do at this vineyard.  They brought in Jacques Boissenot, a renowned enologist, and acquired local vineyards that fit the Bordeaux vision.  About 16 years ago, they brought the Ehlers history back with the original stone barn and the Ehlers name on labels.  They hired Kevin Morrisey as the winemaker and Francisco Vega, the vineyard manager, who share the passion for creating Old World, estate-only wines that express the uniqueness of the terroir and are farmed organically.  The wines are sold mostly direct to consumers at the winery.

Kevin Morrisey and me

We had a great chance to visit with Kevin who talked about going to college to study art.  He did a graduate program in enology with an interest in science.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, he had friends that started making films and he fell into a junior camera man role.  That role brought him to Paris and he fell in love with French wines and cooking.  After two years he returned to Los Angeles where it was a tough market.  At age 35, he returned to school at UC Davis knowing that he wanted to make wine.  He wanted an internship in Paris and stalked Chateau Petrus until they gave up and took him as a harvest intern.  He was at Stag’s Leap twice (first working his way up to associate winemaker and then as head winemaker and general manager) as well as Etude before coming to Ehlers.

“I loved data and science,” he said.  “Chemistry is meaningful – I love data and science because there is a natural reaction.”  He talked about how making wine and blending is much more fun than baking because of the ability to improvise.

“I want the wines to be distinctive and to be true to the grapes,” he continued.  Ehlers is laser focused on building upon Bernard Ehler’s legacy and staying true to the land, what is in the glass and the people who work the vineyards and enjoy the wines.  It’s truly a special place.

 


Sonoma Journey: Day One, The People Who Made This Trip Epic

 

Our Motley Crew Photo Taken After All Arrived

It only took about 500 days to plan it.  Eight of us sat around a dinner table in Dallas drinking great wine and, once again, the concept of taking a trip to wine country was broached.  This time, however, the calendars came out.  And we found ourselves about a year and a half later on a plane to Sacramento with a full agenda of wineries and food in Sonoma and Napa.

To be in the middle of story – part of the action writing about my own experience – is always a different plotline.  Aside from a media trip or two (or three) and the annual Wine Blogger’s Conference, usually I am telling another’s story vs. being part of it.  I rarely also use the blog as an entry to wineries, but I have found that after more than six years, these folks have become friends and it’s nearly impossible to decide who to visit.

We started our journey in stages as work and travel dictated our friends arrive on different days and times.  Four of us had a rocky start as our American Airlines flight was delayed … and delayed … and delayed.  I knew we had a couple hour drive ahead of us before our two appointments and a dinner reservations.  Throw in some crazy Sacramento traffic and we were in panic mode calling the wineries.  You never, ever want to be late for an appointment – especially when arranged by good friends.

 

Fast forward through the planes and automobiles scenario and we finally reached Comstock Wines.  The winery was established with a vision to grow and source the best Sonoma County has to offer.  It truly is a family affair.  Bob and Sandy Comstock began growing grapes in Dry Creek Valley in 2002 and over time decided they wanted to start a winery, which opened in 2015.

Kelly Comstock Ferris, General Manager

Some Ideas Are Better Than Others

Their daughter, Kelly Comstock Ferris, who was our host and is the General Manager, told us about the 18-acre vineyard that yields Zinfandel (some of their Zinfandel vines are 115 years old), Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay.  Winemaker Chris Russi took us through the winery and into the vineyards where I may have gotten a little too zealous about checking out the soil when he mentioned dry farming.  One hose off later and we were back on the tour.  Chris talked about helping to build the winery from the ground up as “a winemaker’s dream.”

 

The winery truly is a place where the Comstock’s want wine lovers to gather.  From the pizza ovens on the patio to the annual Easter egg hunt to bocce ball on the lawn, it is a place that encourages gathering over a great glass of wine (and I tried and took home many of these wines).  They served us an amazing lunch and we got to live the motto — “We are All Comstock Wines.”

Bill Smart, General Manager (left)

Our next stop brought us to Lambert Bridge Winery, which absolutely was an undiscovered gem to me.  Lambert Bridge is located west of Dry Creek near its namesake bridge.  Ironically the C.L. Lambert family settled at this property a century ago.  And 60 years later, Jerry Lambert, who was not related, decided this was an amazing site to make wine in 1975.  Fast forward to 1993 and Ray and Patti Chambers fell in love with the property.

Smart (top right) and Higgins (bottom right)

 

We met with Lambert Bridge’s Bill Smart, general manager, and Jennifer Higgins, winemaker.  Jennifer talked about the story telling that goes into a bottle of wine.  We talked, we drank amazing wine, we told stories and we were made to feel like family.  On top of that we sat outside and had the most amazing view.  Jennifer talked about quality, the investment of the current owners, limited production (the winery went from 25,000 cases to 7,000 cases) and how involved she is in every step of the farming and winemaking.

Jennifer, a Sonoma County resident, had a master plan of taking her biochemistry degree and going to medicine school.  She moved to Italy for two years and took a tasting room job as she studied for her exam.  In just a small amount of time, Zelma Long of Simi Winery, one of the iconic women winemakers, changed Jennifer’s mind about wine and a passion was born.  She talked about the “who’s who” in female wine makers that she’s worked with and it’s an impressive list from Helen Turley to Jill Davis.  She now has become the mentor to other women and believes in the importance of paying it forward.

Damn, that is all….

Lambert Bridge sorts every berry on every individual cluster and is very straightforward in its approach – “we make wine for passionate wine drinkers,” Bill said.  The winery sells direct to consumers and doesn’t submit for wine ratings.  I tried twelve different wines and was absolutely blown away by every wine that I tasted.  Our two-hour timeframe passed in the blink of an eye.  The winery talks about family, milestones, passion and the importance of keeping a sense of place.  It is a group of people that have never met a stranger that have a mission of sharing great wine with great people.

We left Lambert Bridge wishing we didn’t have another appointment so soon and went to unpack and change clothes at my uncle’s amazing chateau for the evening.  No detail was spared and I’m so blessed we were able to stay at this amazing property.  Watch this blog in the future as I will be writing about some of the Tanzbear wines that will come out of his vineyard.

Me and Lisa

 

Our last stop of the night was at Valette to meet the amazing Lisa Mattson, the head of marketing for Jordan Wines.  Lisa has always been a soul sister of mine and is one of the most talented marketing minds that I know.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but this is a dinner spot in Sonoma that should not be missed.


A Chat With Pat: Kenwood Vineyards Winemaker’s Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Steve Rogstad, Winemaker of Cuvaison

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

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

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

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

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

Our line-up was full of amazing wines:

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

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

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

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

We tried the following:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Night with Danielle Cyrot from CADE Winery at Rapscallion

Cyrot and me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ken and Akiko Freeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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


January Wine Round-Up: The Work Chapter Closes as Does the Wine Fridge

It was the last week of my former position and I found myself with more than 30 bottles left in the wine fridge in my office.  I thought a fitting tribute to end the company #hashtagged (i.e. Dallas Wine Chick provided) happy hours would be to open them all.  We took the bottles out and let the tasting and celebration begin.  The bottles were from all regions, price points, varietals and truly could be categorized as one extreme to the other (superhero good or downright evil).

Here were the notable half that we tasted.  For this last tasting, and because many of these folks have been part of my Wine Wednesdays/Thirsty Thursdays over the last three years, I captured the crowd favorites (often with a special shout out for my own personal favorites):

 

Rose

2014 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila Haut Pays D’Oc – such a nice balanced minerality with watermelon, raspberry, strawberry, herbs and plum.

2014 A Rose Alpha – another great balanced rose with floral notes, strawberry and black cherry.

Whites

2014 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Chardonnay —a nice budget-oriented, poolside chardonnay with tropical and vanilla notes.

2013 Olema Chardonnay – notes of apple, citrus and toast.  This is a chardonnay that might convert non-chardonnay drinkers.  Balanced and delicious.

2014 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages – lemongrass, grapefruit and a saline minerality that makes this a balanced and delicious everyday drinking wine.

2013 Kir-Yianni Paranga — Grapefruit and peaches with a hint of sweetness but a nice crispness.

 

Reds

2012 Matchbook Tinto Rey — a very well balanced Tempranillo with notes of blueberry pie, leather, currant, chocolate and pepper.

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist Red Blend — chocolate, caramel, blackberry, smoke and mocha notes make this wine beg for a meat pairing.

2011 Bodegas Cepa 21 Ribera del Duera — blackberry, currant, earth and candied fruits.  This was a delicious wine.

2014 Bodegas Cepa 21 Hito — notes of black cherry cola, licorice, flowers and balsamic vinegar.  This was another one of my overall favorites.

2011 Emilio Moro Malleolus — a delicious and powerful red wine.  Another favorite.  Big notes of licorice, mocha, chocolate, blackberry pie and cassis with a fantastic balance and complexity.

2012 Cecchi Chianti Classico – big notes of earth, dried flowers, leather, black cherry, cinnamon and a delicious match to great antipasto.

2013 Cecchi Sangiovese di Toscana — earthy, red fruit and smoke.  This is a perfect match to any hearty Italian food.

2013 HandCraft Pinot Noir — raspberry, black cherry, mocha, cherry cola, vanilla and oak.  This was a nicely structured wine at a great price.

2012 Parducci True Grit Reserve Red — plum, dark cherry, leather, spice and blueberry  This was a great everyday drinking wine.

And a special shout out to the 2011 Concha y Toro “Don Melchior” Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto which was the perfect special occasion wine.  It was elegant and rich with notes of raspberry, mocha, dark chocolate, cassis, pepper and licorice.  I adored every drop of this wine.

 




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