Archived entries for

Prichard Hill: Life, Legacy and a Conversation with David Long from David Arthur Vineyards

Unless you have done some extensive time in Napa Valley, you may have never personally discovered Pritchard Hill.  But, you probably have heard the names Colgin, Chappelett, Ovid and David Long and if you have tasted the Cabernet or Bordeaux varieties, you quickly find this is an unforgettable region.

It is not an easy place to just drop in … It is a long and windy drive that takes you to wineries that rise to almost 2,000 feet above sea level.  By happenstance, in the last 11 months, I have had the opportunity to meet two very special people whose families helped shape Pritchard Hill into the special place that it is today.  Last November, I sat down with Cyril Chappellet in a conversation that ranged from wine and family, then veered to the big life choices that I was on the verge of making earlier in 2016.

 

David Long and me

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for a wine dinner at Lakewood Country Club with David Long from David Arthur Vineyards.  David Arthur Vineyards and the Long Family Ranch began when Don Long, a butcher who went from carving meat to owning a small grocery store with a focus on personalization near Stanford University, decided to begin acquiring land on top of Pritchard Hill.  At that time, there was no access to roads or utilities and Don would hike to picnic with his wife, Annie.

 

David started the dinner, as we were drinking the 2013 Chardonnay, by telling us, “You are drinking my college education.”  He wasn’t the best student, but he made it to University of Denver where he pursued a degree in fine arts with a focus on ceramics and pottery.  That didn’t seem like a sustainable career for him, so he dropped out of school and was wished well by his father (which essentially meant he was off the payroll).  He worked his way from busing tables to managing dinner houses and went on to open a fondue restaurant with a selection of 25 wines in Boulder.

 

He vividly remembers drinking a Chappellet Chenin Blanc when he got a call from his father.  His future arrived on one snowy night when he had to shut down the restaurant due to bad weather.   His dad asked if he had an interest in running the 970-acre property, cultivate the land and grow the grapes.  The answer was a resounding yes and his dad disclosed that he would invest the money for him to plant the first ten acres of grapes.  The first grape planted was Chardonnay until his visionary dad saw the future and the future was a Bordeaux style wine.

The time that David had to taste wine after working the vineyard was 4 a.m. and during that process, he opened a bottle of Sangiovese that was sent by his importer, Louis Langdon, formerly of Langdon Shiverick Imports.  He describes it as being rustic with an amazing finish.  At 6 a.m., he had to go to work and poured the Sangiovese in his existing test Bordeaux blend.  Magic was made and he began looking for a name that described the French and Italian blend.  Originally named red table wine, he promised his brother 24 hours for a new name and Meritaggio Red Blend was born.

Our food and wine line up was as follows:


Course one – Steamed wild Hawaiian caught manchong with king crab, matsutake farro risotto, preserved lemon, brown butter, lemon, red ribbon sorrel with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Chardonnay.

Course two – Smoke salt seared quail with golden raisin, foie gras, sweet potato and red curry cream sauce with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Meritaggio Red Wine Blend.

Course three – Slow cooked beef tenderloin with olive oil, roasted cauliflower, porcini, bacon, sage, short rib ragout, anson mills polenta, veal reduction and 2013 David Arthur Vineyards Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Course four – A cheese course of Humboldt Fog Cypress goat cheese, Oregon Rouge smokey blue and Prairie Breeze with honey, marcona almonds, apple butter and grilled French bread with the 2013 David Arthur Vineyards “Three Acre” Cabernet Sauvignon.

To say David is larger than life is an understatement.  From his stories about experimenting with apple juice to make alcohol at age 14 to walking the aisles of Sunshine Foods to sell his chardonnay and then, once the sale was made, had his then wife immediately come through the front door looking for the bottles of wine that he just sold saying, “I can’t believe they are carrying these wines”.  David has a menagerie of stories (half of which I can’t repeat), life experiences, history and amazing wines.

I am so excited about Prichard Hill, the rich history and the families that I have met that have pioneered an area that is making some of the best wines in the Valley.


Del Frisco’s Throws Down the Gauntlet with Top Female Somm Competition

As a sommelier, you are expected to use theory to ideally pair the right wine with the right food.  But, usually you have the opportunity to taste the food first.  Del Frisco’s – banking on the skills of its talented women sommeliers – turned that premise on its head by not allowing them to taste the food prior to Somm Wars., a three city competition between three talented female sommeliers in Dallas, New York and Chicago.

The finale was in Dallas.  I was lucky enough to be part of a panel of five local wine experts and enthusiasts, including: Paula Lambert, a world renowned American cheesemaker, cookbook author and entrepreneur; Neal Caldwell, Manager and Buyer for Pogo’s Wine and Spirits and wine judge for TEXSOM and The Dallas Morning News Food and Wine Competition; Leigh Ann Adam, weekdays on-air personality from KVIL 103.7 FM; John DeMers, author, food and wine writer, host of Delicious Mischief Food and Wine radio show and director of culinary hospitality and host instructor at Fischer and Wieser Culinary Adventure Cooking School and Brooks Anderson, co-founder of Veritas Wine Room, Rapscallion and Boulevardier.

It is clear that Del Frisco’s takes its wine program and the advancement of women seriously.  I spoke with Jessica Novar, the director of wine education who was a true innovator in bringing the program to fruition.  “We had these amazing women, many who pioneered being the first women somms in their restaurants and we wanted to bring them together to celebrate wine, food and progress.”

And these were some bad ass women who clearly brought passion for food, wine and the customer to their job every day.  I had the chance to speak to the three ladies the day of the competition and they talked about their backgrounds.

Chantel, Crystal and Amy

Dallas’ own Wine Director Chantel Daves holds a Sommelier Certification specializing in wine and food pairings.  She started her career at the Del Frisco’s in Boston in 2011 and moved to Dallas with the recent store opening.  New York’s Crystal Horton has been with Del Frisco’s for more than 15 years and has been a sommelier for 14 of them.  Her passion began early and ignited when she was first a bartender and quickly moved into the wine program, where she became a trailblazer sommelier.  Chicago’s Wine Director Amy Lutchen, has built an all-female sommelier team, which made me want to give her the world’s biggest high five as that is not the norm in the world of wine.

I asked them what surprised them the most about Somm Wars.  Because the tasting is completely blind and they don’t get to taste the food first (only the main course is the same from restaurant to restaurant), everyone starts equally.  They also wanted to spotlight at least one female winemaker in the pairings.  They loved the guest interaction and excitement.  Somm Wars also created this face-to-face bond that was elevated over lots of champagne.

I asked if they took a risk with their selections and the answers varied.  Overall they went with a classic approach.  Amy said, ”what grows together, goes together.”

And now for the experience.  Executive Chef Tony Schwappach prepared an amazing four-course dinner at the newly opened Dallas Del Frisco’s, an awesome new see-and-be-seen steak mecca.

The wines ran the gamut – from California Chards to a Mosel Riesling with the first course.   Pinots from France and Sonoma to a Syrah blend with the second course.  A variety of red blends and cabernet based wines for the third.  And finally, two ports and an ice wine with the dessert.  After this election, I am not going to “armchair” quarterback any of them, but our judging group appeared to have a clear path of preferences.

We began with Marinated Texas Sterling Lamb Lollipops with Citrus Bleu du Bocage and Red Jalapeño Glaze.

The next course featured an Olive Oil Poached Dover Sole and Sweet and Sour Eggplant, paired with Tandoori Marsala Yogurt Sauce and Crispy Prosciutto, which it appears that I ate before I took a photo….

Third Course was a Crispy Duck Confit with Golden Chantrelles and Wilted Dandelion Risotto, with Peppered Bacon, Charred Kumato Tomato and Buttered Broth.

The main course featured a Simply Seared A-7 Wagyu Beef paired with Foie Gras-Charred Leek Ravioli, Rissole Potatoes, and Mission Fig & Black Garlic Reduction.

The dessert course was a Del Frisco’s Style Banana Split, which includes Caramelized Banana, Godiva Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Candied Pecans.

There were some amazing matches and some misses, but overall the takeaway was that you were part of this amazing process for bragging rights as Sommelier of the Year.  As for the winner, Chantel came in first in Dallas and Amy from Chicago clinched the entire “world series,” which appears to be spot on based on this year’s Cubs World Series clincher.

 


October Wine Round Up: Favorite Samples Over the Past Months

Today I’m going to talk about some of my favorite recent samples, which include wine and for the first time, spirits.  I tried 28 wines and 12 of them made the list along with one gin and one vodka.

Reds:

2013 Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec – this was a great expression of Malbec.  Lots of berry, plum, herbs, mocha and chocolate notes.  I brought this to a girl’s wine group and it disappeared quickly.

2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir – this had a nice earthiness and notes of black cherry, strawberry and a nice touch of herbs.

2014 Flora Springs Merlot – this was a well-balanced merlot with plum, chocolate, berry and a bit of cherry.

Locations by Dave Phinney E and F – Dave Phinney has always had a personal mission to make the best wines possible.  Now he is taking his concept that he can get great grapes from vineyards (taking out the appellation rules) across the world and use his winemaking skills to make great wines.  It works.  I tried several of his wines and was impressed with the result.  The E blend from Spain had lots of cherry, plum, berry and spice.  The F blend from France was delicious with Grenache (Roussillon), Syrah (Rhone) and Bordeaux Blend Varieties.

2012 Northstar Merlot – this merlot was velvet on the tongue with notes of raspberry, cherry and chocolate and a hint of vanilla.

2013 True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon — rich berry, dark cherry, mocha, a touch cedar.  Very easy drinking.

Rosé:

Jolie Folle Rosé – this embodies everything that a good rosé should be.  Notes of strawberry, watermelon and a great minerality.

Whites:

2013 Ramey Chardonnay – orange blossom, stone fruit, buttered popcorn and floral notes make this a wonderful entry level chardonnay that keeps its balance.

2015 Martin Ray Chardonnay – this old world chardonnay had notes of white stone fruit, flowers, vanilla and was delicious.

2014 Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio – this was a nice representation of a pinot grigio.  Fruity, crisp and a nice minerality makes it a great porch Summer wine.

2014 Grillo Cavallo delle Fate Sicilia DOC – this was my first experience with Grillo from Sicily and not my last.  It is a very easy drinking wine with lots of white stone fruit.

Spirits:

For the first time, I had the chance to try the Azzurre gin and vodka.  They are both made from apples, grapes and sugar cane with no added ingredients.  I served these both at a dinner party and to rave reviews.  I enjoyed both of them, but found myself going back to the gin as it truly was a sipping gin with lots of fruit-forward notes that also sung with specialty tonics.


No Sleep ‘Til Lodi: The Region, The Experience, The Myth and the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference

Historically I jump right on my posts after leaving the Wine Bloggers Conference, but Lodi was such a nuanced experience for me I needed some time to sit back and digest everything.  Lodi is well-known for its Old Vine Zinfandels and long-time grower families.

First a little about Lodi, which is located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  With the recent designation by Wine Enthusiast as Wine Region of the Year, it has become glaring that the diverse soils and delta breezes allow an incredible diversity of wines, actually more than 100 of them – Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Southern Rhone and even German wines are made … and made well in Lodi.  At the end of the day, Lodi has two-thirds of its acreage dedicated to red wines.

The climate is Mediterranean and is known for its warm days and cool nights.  The soils are very diverse due to the two rivers in the Sierra Nevada mountain range – the Mokelumne and Cosumnes Rivers.

The Wine Bloggers Conference opened with Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson as the keynote speaker.  Other than being one of the most kind, open and humble people you will even meet, this world-renowned Master Sommelier (one of 23 females in the world) demystifies wine and writing in less than 50 minutes.  She had some great insights:

  • Writers have taken a wine experience that we love, to something that we commit to and aspire to grow.
  • Drink Lodi and be cooler than you really are.
  • She really was the first Dallas Wine Chick when she learned about wine while drinking it with Rebecca Murphy and at The Grape restaurant while at SMU.  She’d come back to her roommates and “teach” them the class she had just attended.  She hoped they’d just go with it and not ask questions she couldn’t answer.
  • Know your stuff – and when you don’t, say you don’t know and find out the answer
  • She had some great advice on taking things to the next level for bloggers:
    • Make it pay (pay can be more than money … my recent press trips make me agree completely).
    • Be better – better SEO, images and video.  That will be my commitment to you guys over the next few months.  I will be redoing Dallas Wine Chick – let me know what you want to see when I do.
    • Build value – whether that is personal wine certifications, writing for other publications, working with mentors or celebrating others … just do it.
    • Quality of content begets credibility – clearly after almost seven years, you guys have proven that to be the case.
    • Be authentic and always be who you are.

We then moved into a History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi.  Mark Chandler, the Mayor of Lodi, vineyardist and former executive director of Lodi Wine Commission joined Aaron Lange, Vineyard Manager of Langetwins Winery and Vice Chair of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG); Kevin Phillips, Vice President of Operations at Michael-David Winery and Phillips Farms and Markus Bokisch, Owner of Bokisch Vineyards talked about the growth of Lodi.

Today there are 700 growers in Lodi with an effort that started with a couple of dozen families with vision in late 80s/early 90s who chipped in a few thousand dollars to research what grows best in the region.  The region has drastically evolved with varieties once popular during Prohibition including many sweet wines (and sacramental wines) that are no longer produced.  Mark attributed Morley Safer, a veteran CBS journalist who did a report about red wine being good for the heart in 1993, as a catalyst for the region.  Over the next five years, the acreage grew from 40,000 acres to 100,000 acres.  In 1986, the Lodi AVA was formed, scientists were hired and a steering committee was created.  This lead to the creation of seven sub-AVAs.

As we sat in the same room that was once the site of East Side High School where Robert Mondavi started his education, it was clear that this was a region that was deep in heritage, authenticity, tradition, family and wine making.  Aaron described the region as the “heart of wine.”

We then moved to the Truth About Viticulture session which was an honest session about wine with Moderator Stuart Spencer, Program Manager at the Lodi Grape Commission and Owner/Winemaker of St Amant Winery.  The panelists were Tegan Passalacqua, director of winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars; Stan Grant, Viticulturist, Progressive Viticulture; and Chris Storm, Viticulturist of Vino Farms.

They spent some time covering the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, which is California’s original sustainable viticulture certification program designed to increase positive impact on the environment.  It’s a pretty rigorous certification process that is based in science, voluntary, and was the first to be audited by a third-party.  Lodi Rules certified growers balance environmental, social, and economic goals with a focus on sustainable agriculture.  More to come in another column on my personal Lodi Rules experience while we developed Masthead.

My favorite part is when they talked about the reality of the wine business and how people don’t truly tell the truth.  From sitting stuck in a truck in the mud for hours to the injuries sustained in the vineyard, it was a reality check in an often romanticized profession that is told through a marketing lens.

Chris had a very interesting perspective about how winemakers too often taste with their eyes instead of their mouths.  That does a disservice to the grape as balance is key; not the idea of what a vineyard should look like.  A good winemaker produces the maximum while maintaining what is right for vineyard.  It’s the right clone for the right area and the right rootstock with the right soil.

Tegan ended with a discussion about today’s labor shortage and how building strong relationships with producers and vintners pays off in the long run.  He also echoed a sentiment close to my heart – American palates need to drink more refreshing wines and therefore Lodi should concentrate more on white grapes.

The Winning Wine Blogger Award Winners

Me and Julien

From Passion to Pro Panel

Mary and Sean Celebrate Success!

A few other highlights of the conference:

  • Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong worked in conjunction with Consorzio Italia di Vini & Sapori to present a wine education session featuring wines from Italy’s Veneto.  I missed the first wine as I was in another session and realized I made the wrong choice, but the line-up of under $20 wines (unfortunately not available widely or at all in the United States) showed the differences in grams of sugar, terroir and style.
  • We attended a private lunch debuting Velv.  It was an interesting experience in showing ageability and what happens with giving mid-priced wines some surface area and time with this new device.
  • This year I attended the Live Red Wine Blogging session and was pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps the session has grown on me, but the quality of the wines that we tried this year was unsurpassed.
  • Sujinder Juneja from Town Hall brands needs a stage.  He moderated the Panel of Wine Blogger Winners with Sophie Thorpe from Berry Bros & Rudd; Mary Cressler from Vindulge; Jill Barth from L’occasion; Susan Manfull from Province Wine Zine and Jerry Clark who received the best wine blog post of the year with panache, humor and absolute class.
  • The Passion to Pro – Getting Paid to Write About Wine session was honest, open and showed the hard work of Jameson Fink, Debra Meiburg MW and Deborah Parker Wong with the funny Randy Caparoso running the show.  The anecdotes showed one needs to approach wine writing as a full time job vs just a hobby like I do today.
  • Ethnifacts continued its second annual diversity scholarship and this year what a deserving recipient received it.  Julien Miquel who won last year’s Best New Blog for Social Vignerons was finally able to make it.
  • My favorite panel was co-presented by my good friends, Sean Martin and Mary Cressler from Vindulge.  They brought to life the marketing campaign, hard work, non-traditional themes like Star Wars and the love for photography that makes their blogs and Embers and Vine BBQ business successful.  They are also two of my most favorite people and they kept the packed room on the edge of their seats.

Next up … the launch of Masthead and how did people respond, going rogue and my Bella Grace Vineyard experience….

 

 

 


August Wine Round Up: Martin Ray and Gloria Ferrer Wines and a Peek into Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

The themes of this month’s sample round-up include bubbles from Gloria Ferrer, Martin Ray Portfolio Wines and a look at Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which features several wines previewed for the Taste of Sonoma scheduled for Labor Day Weekend.

Martin Ray Wines

For the first time, I had the opportunity to be introduced to the Martin Ray portfolio.  Martin Ray was established in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1943.  The winery was purchased by Courtney Benham in 1991 and moved to Russian River Valley in 2002 to the former Martini & Pratt winery.

Martin Ray’s model is to handpick growers from different regions in California expressing different versions of terroir.  We tried a variety of wines and I found them all to be solid.  There is also a very funny story that I will soon tell about the rosé … and rafting … but that will be another story out of the context of a wine round-up.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Rosé of Pinot Noir – this rosé was delicious and perfect.  It was well balanced with tropical fruit, watermelon and a wonderful minerality.  It was one of the best rosés that I have had recently.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Chardonnay – an Old World expression of chardonnay with notes of nectarine, ginger, crème brulee, vanilla, Meyer lemon and floral notes.  Several non-chardonnay tasters were very complimentary.  Also included in the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend package.

2015 Martin Ray Russian River Sauvignon Blanc – this was a great expression of sauvignon blanc with pear, lime and floral notes that made for easy drinking.  A very nice expression of the grape.

2014 Martin Ray Russian River Pinot Noir – notes of cherry cola, dark cherry, mushroom and earthiness.  This was a nice representation of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

2014 Martin Ray Sonoma Country Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of blackberry, black currant, herbs, chocolate and tobacco make up this elegant cabernet.

2013 Synthesis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – whoa … this wine features “the best of the best” from the top vineyards and it shows.  This is a big, bad, juicy cabernet with blueberry, blackberry, fig, cassis and notes of herb.  It was definitely a group favorite.

Gloria Ferrer Wines

We also tried several of the sparkling wines from Gloria Ferrer, which was the first sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros, and also the first to plant Champagne clones as well as the first to plant in Carneros.  The winery has been around for more than 30 years

Almost thirty years later, with 335 acres under vine, the estate vineyards at Gloria Ferrer produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that will be reviewed in a later column.  I had the chance to try four of the sparkling wines:

NV Blanc de Blancs – apple, pear, orange, baked bread, lemon zest and notes of citrus.  This was an easy drinking sparkler that was well crafted.

NV Blanc de Noirs – this had notes of strawberry, raspberry, citrus and vanilla.  It was juicy, refreshing and delicious.

NV Sonoma Brut – pear, ginger and notes of citrus make this a great sparkling option.

07 Royal Cuvee – notes of citrus, apple, honey and freshly baked bread.  This was a great sparkling wine that was the crowd favorite.  Just delicious!

These wines were well priced, delicious and had a great quality making them all a great sparkling choice for your table.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Since Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is coming up over Labor Day weekend at MacMurray Ranch Estate Vineyards featuring more than 200 wineries, I wanted to highlight one of the samples that I received as a part of this tasting.  This event has, to date, raised more than $20 million for local organizations.  I’ll be tasting through them in the next few weeks, but wanted to give the winery and organization that has done so much for the area, a big shout out.

And that winery is Jordan.  I tried the 2014 Chardonnay from Russian River Valley and got a burst 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.

 

 


Wines That Stand Up to Scorching Texas Temperatures

It’s July in Texas.  The temperature is scorching, the lake parties are plentiful and the wine is flowing.  This wine round-up features wines from seven different regions and unique countries. It was also my first experience with Albariño from Uruguay.  I reviewed 20 wines and here are the ones that made the cut.

Rose

California

2015 Matchbook Rosé – we were at a friend’s lake house when we tried this Syrah-based rosé.  It was an awesome complement to a hot day.  Notes of ripe melon, strawberry and a nice creaminess.  It was gone in a matter of minutes…

Whites

California

2013 Balletto Cedar Ridge Chardonnay – Rich and elegant, with citrus, guava honey and floral notes make this an easy drinking, yet nuanced Chardonnay.

New Zealand

2015 Chasing Venue New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – tropical, grapefruit, lime and passion fruit made this a well-balanced representation of this region.

Uruguay

2015 Bodega Garzon Albariño – ever tried an Albariño from Uruguay?  I hadn’t either.  Really nice stone fruit, citrus and flowers with notes of minerality and a rich mouthfeel.

Reds

California

2014 Balletto BCD Vineyard Pinot Noir – black cherry, mocha, mushroom and spice make this a nuanced and elegant pinot noir.

2012 Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this Bordeaux blend is delicious. Notes of blackberries and black cherries with cedar and chocolate.  This wine is elegant, silky and drinks beautifully.

2013 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, cassis, herbs, mocha and dark cherry make this a smooth and very drinkable wine.

Italy

2014 Tenuta Sassoregale Sangiovese Maremma Toscana – this is a wine with a personality. Big notes of black cherry and berries, licorice, herbs and spice.

Oregon

2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – cherry, herbs, white pepper and cassis make this a fabulous representation of Oregon Pinot Noir.

Spain

2010 Marques de Riscal Baron de Chirel Reserve Rioja – this wine was absolutely delicious.  Big notes of blackberry, stewed prunes, vanilla, smoke and spice made this an elegant and big Rioja that just got better and better as you sipped it.


Day Three Paso Robles: From Zip Liner to Winer to Niner (Estates)

Feeling pretty certain this is a day that I will not be able to replicate … in any other wine region.  And how cool is that?

We arrived at Ancient Peaks Winery, which was the vision of three local winegrowing and ranching families, who dreamed of producing great wines from the Margarita Ranch region.  Fun fact – Robert Mondavi planted the Margarita Vineyard under a lease agreement until 2005 (when the Constellation acquisition happened) when the families decided to make the wines from their vineyard.  Ancient Peaks was chosen as the name due to the mountains that border Margarita Vineyard.  Santa Margarita Ranch first had grapes planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780 and today is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.  With five distinct soil types and over 50 vineyard blocks, this is a winery that happens to have a town located in the middle of the ranch property.

We started our day with VP of Operations, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, and Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor, with a safety lesson, a release form, tons of equipment ranging from a helmet to a harness to gloves and we set up the mountain to begin our adventure.  It was time to go zip lining across the pinot vineyards … and how cool is that?  Click here for my Paso Robles Zipline experience. We had a few folks on the team that opted out, but the rest of us were ready to go and seek adventure.  And what an adrenaline high!

Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor

After our zip line experience, we adjourned to the tasting room to learn more about the vineyard and the wines.  I loved the story about evolving from a corporate relationship to a small family-owned business based on wine quality and a focus on a sense of place.  Sinor said, “we want to let the vineyard speak and make wines that express the vintage for a price that over delivers.”

Our next stop was my favorite food experience (with fantastic wine) of the entire trip.  Niner Wine Estates is a LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard, a vineyard that has a natural heart-shaped growth.  We were hosted by Andy Niner, General Manager, and Molly Bohlman, Winemaker, who talked candidly about the struggles of pulling off a big estate vision – planting and harvesting three wineries, launching one restaurant with well-known chef Maegan Loring and making the decision to focus on estate wines – mostly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.

 

 

Our lunch was amazing (I am still dreaming about the carrot soup which shockingly was fantastic with the Sangiovese) and we had the chance to visit the chef garden, which was an exercise in frenetic harvesting, in motion.  The experience was an artistic vison of how each wine should go with the food.

We briefly visited Tin City, a business park of small production wineries.  We toured Field Recordings, where we saw some innovative wine canning and packaging, and Broadside Wines, which had some off the beaten path Italian varietals.  The next stop was ONX Wines, which was one of my favorite wineries of the trip.  ONX only makes 4,000 cases and is the only estate vineyard in the Tin City complex.  I loved these wines and would have shipped them home, but many of them were sold out due to the small production quantity.

Our next stop was Eberle Winery, the oldest continuously owned winery in Paso.  Gary Eberle is often referred to as the “godfather of Paso Robles” and was instrumental in establishing the AVA in 1983.  After graduating from Penn State with a football scholarship, he joined the SEC with a graduate focus on cellular genetics.  After developing an appreciation for wine due to a professor who introduced him to great French wines, he headed to U.C. Davis for his enology degree and moved to Paso Robles in the early 1970s.  This led him to a decision in the late 70’s to produce his own wine and he founded Eberle (German name for small boar).

He also asked the Steinbeck Family, who has evolved from growers to vintner ten years ago, to show their small production wines.  These wines are fantastic but a gift to those who visit Paso and Eberle.

Gary Eberle

Eberle built the first wine caves in Paso Robles, which now total 16,000 square feet of underground caves.  He decided to create a community – tastings are free and the vibe is “family reunion.”  Gary personally cooked his world-famous BBQ paired with Eberle and Steinbeck wines as we watched the sunset over the vineyards.  Such an iconic ending with a Paso pioneer.

So let me end with the only caveat of the trip – the San Luis Obispo airport.  Be afraid – you will hear how easy, how fast, how simple your check-in will be.  This is false.  You need to allow for the 90 minutes you hear about and frequently ignore.  We didn’t do that.  Four out of six (unable to give up the wine because we couldn’t check luggage) did not make our original flight.  I made my connection (18 minutes in between) from Phoenix to Dallas doing a quintessential OJ Simpson (pre-murder) and I still feel bad for my poor seatmates.

 

 


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.




twitter dallaswinechick
facebook Dallas Wine Chick
Email
RSS Feed
© 2010 www.DallasWineChick.com