Archived entries for General Wine Info

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

Remi and Me

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

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

 Shots from our Dallas friends winery visit

 More shots from our Dallas friends winery visit

And one last shot from the Dallas friends visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I  sampled two FEL wines:

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

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

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

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


District 30 Craft Bar and Kitchen: Bringing Together An Entire District with A Sense of Place Creating An Impact

Today I am completely throwing myself under the bus for reporting late about the opening of District 30 Craft Bar and Kitchen, a cool (newish) gastropub that opened late last Summer.  I attended the media soft opening in late August where we tried a variety of innovative cocktails, craft beers, wines, appetizers, entrees and desserts served by a great staff.

District 30 was named after its congressional district located in the heart of Oak Lawn.  The demographics of the district are diverse, yet is it known as being united.  That is the premise of the restaurant – bringing together people to dine, sip and gather.  You’ll find a meshing of American, Italian and even Tex Mex fused together and the premise to be a neighborhood place.

Our appetizers included the unique ahi tuna mini crisps that are served with wasabi spiced avocado and pickled ginger, tempura asparagus sticks, and stuffed Portobello mushroom caps filled with garlic, spinach, and cream cheese.

 

We then tried the chicken and jalapeno dumplings and the braised beef short ribs in a red wine sauce over mashed Yukon gold potatoes with green beans.  We were completely stuffed at that point but they brought spring lamb lollipops pan seared with a cashew and mini pesto crust with roasted fingerling potatoes and vegetables.  This was followed by the grilled Mahi Mahi served with a pineapple Pico de Gallo and the seared scallops with sautéed spinach, Portobello mushrooms with a roasted corn and vanilla bean cream sauce.

The desserts included a chocolate nut brownie and a bread pudding.

District 30 is owned by twin brothers Mark and Dirk Kelcher, of Kelcher Entertainment Group, which also includes The Cedars Social.  Well-known Chef Mike Smith, formerly the Sous Chef of The Green Room and who worked at Arcodoro/Pomodoro and The Common Table in the past, is leading the kitchen.

This is a place that will quickly become a neighborhood stop in for lunch, brunch, dinner and late night drinks, and one that has earned the right to put the gastropub title next to its drinks and food.

 


Coravin Aims to Change the Game for Screwtop Wines: My Taste Test of the Latest Coravin Innovation

Any serious wine lover will tell you that having a Coravin has changed their ability to open and taste wines.  Coravin allows a wine lover to truly sample by using a blast of argon which makes the cork essentially seal itself again.  Friends swear by the fact that they have used the Coravin to preserve bottles for over a year.  That doesn’t happen in our house (due to the fact that a bottle of wine does not have that type of shelf life).

And now Coravin has released a new accessory released by Coravin claiming to keep screw cap wines fresh for up to three months after breaking the seal.  They sent me the device to give it a shot.  The caps are said to be able to endure 50 punctures, making them reusable for around 10 bottles of wine.

 

So, how does it work?

  • Grab a bottle of screw cap wine. I choose the 2014 Schlid Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Barossa Valley.  Because it had been a bit since I last used my Coravin, I was out of Argon.  I immediately got on Amazon and ordered a new two pack of Coravin canisters.
  • Reload Coravin with new canister.
  • Remove and discard existing screwcap and replace with Coravin screw cap.
  • Push the hollow needle of the Coravin through Coravin screw cap.
  • Continue to use Coravin as usual.

After pouring, remove the needle, the Corvin screw cap will re-seal to protect the wine from oxidation.

This worked like a charm as it usually does for the cork bottles.  I adore my Coravin for my more expensive bottles.  It has changed my life as it has given me the ability to just open that special bottle and drink it over time.  I’d have to make sure my screw cap bottles were special to shell out $29.95 for a six pack of the canisters.  But with higher end wines like Plump Jack relying on screw tops, there is a need for the Coravin screw top.


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

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

Sparkling

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

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

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

Whites

Sauvignon Blanc

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

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

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

Chardonnay

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

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

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

Other Varietals

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

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

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

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

Reds

Bordeaux

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

Merlot

 

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

Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

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

Pinot Noir

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

Other/Red Blend

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dessert/Port

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


Sting’s Message In A Bottle Rings True 37 Years Later

Those were the days of playgrounds and Catholic school uniforms.  The days of tape recorders and hitting play on our favorite songs under the backdrop of a big oak tree at recess.  Those songs were mostly sung by our absolute favorite band, The Police.

It was right before the years of teenage angst, but enough where these words of “Message in a Bottle” still resonated the awkwardness of middle school:

“I’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle”

In those years, The Police and Sting were a major part of the backdrop of my childhood and I remained a fan as I grew older.  Fast forward almost 37 years and I found myself enjoying yet another passion of a singer that I admire – the tasting of Il Palacio Wines, the winery he now owns with his wife, Trudie Styler.  Ironically, I recently found he made one which I have not tasted but is named after that particular song.

Official Geek Moment of Realizing the Source of the Customs Paperwork

My friend and fellow blogger, Michelle Williams of Rockin Red Blog joined me to try these hard to get stateside wines from Il Palagio.

Il Palagio is located in Tuscany near the medieval town of Figline Valdarno, once known as the “barn of Florence” for its production of corn, grain, wine, oil, beets, peaches, apricots and cherries.  The estate is 350 hectares and has been farmed since the late 1700s beginning with the Martelli family.

In 1819, the Countess Carlotta Barbolani of Montauto bought the property and the family ran it for 150 years.  At the beginning of the twentieth century Duke Simone Vincenzo Velluti Zati di San Clemente expanded the estate with a grain store, oil mill and wine production area. However, it had fallen disrepair when Sting and Trudie found it in 1999 and they restored it to its former glory.

They hired Alan York, a well-known biodynamic consultant, Paolo Caciorgna, a highly-regarded oenologist, and Paolo Rossi, the estate manager, to oversee production of the estate.

We tried three red wines — Sister Moon, When We Dance, and Casino delle Vie.

2015 When We Dance – A drinkable red named after Sting’s song “When We Dance” that is blended with Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes.  It is soft, fruity, a little spicy and very drinkable red blend with notes of cherry and cranberry.

2014 Sister Moon — Named after Sting’s song “Sister Moon” this was the first IGT Toscano wine produced.  This was more complex with dark cherry, floral notes and cassis.  I also got some black pepper and black licorice.  It is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

2014 Casino Delle Vie 2014 — This wine is named after a property on the estate and when translated it means “little house by the roads”.  It also can be translated philosophically to talk about the different paths taking in life.  This was elegant with many of the same notes of Sister Moon, but with a little more depth and elegance.

 

 


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

Danilo Di Nardo and me

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

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

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

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

Dolce Rivera’s Truffle Ravioli

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

 

 


Rosé: Rekindling a Love Affair with Small Boutique Wines

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

 

Art by Vino Mosaics, Wines by Paso Robles

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

Zinfandel is the region’s heritage wine grape variety – first planted in the late 1880s.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, Spanish and Rhone varieties are the most widely produced.  I love the ingenuity of some of the wineries – when Tablas Creek couldn’t get the quality of vines it wanted back in the 1990’s, it imported cuttings directly from the Beaucastel vineyard and then shared them.  In fact, there are more than 400 wineries that have descendants of these cuttings today.

First, a little about Paso Robles, ‘The Pass of the Oaks,’ is located in San Luis Obispo County on the Salinas River.  It is known for its wineries, olive oil and almonds as well as its mineral hot springs.

Paso Robles has a storied history in wine.  Grapes were introduced in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries.  Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez had the vision this would be a great wine region and encouraged those in Mexico and California to come to the region.  In 1882, Andrew York, who came from Indiana, established a winery that still stands today under a different name as Epoch Winery.  Fast forward after Prohibition and growth continued.  Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 vineyard acres with Zinfandel as the heritage grape.  The real expansion occurred in 1990 when the winery count was 20 and today totals more than 200 wineries.

According to a study commissioned by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Paso Robles AVA accounts for 87% of San Luis Obispo County wine industry output and economic impact with 40,000 vineyard acres and more than 200 wineries, 95% of which are small production, family owned businesses.

In 2009, the Paso Robles AVA was split into 11 smaller viticultural areas and at this time the winemakers began to expand into a wider variety of grapes include Bordeaux and Rhone varieties.

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

Me and Geri

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

 Dinner is Served Thanks to the Husbands

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

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

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

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

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


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

Art by Vino Mosaics

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

Drouhin Family

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

I tried three wines:

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

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

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

Jordan Winery

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

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

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

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

Cameron Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

Julie and Jim Pedroncelli share a 90th celebration moment

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gabe, Amy and me

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 Julie Pedroncelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Courtesy of Gabe Sasso

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

Gia, Gabe, Amy, Linda, Dick and Julie

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

 

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

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

1982 Magnum Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

1994 Mother Clone Zinfandel

1995 Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel

2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel

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

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

1992 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

1996 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2000 Morris Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley)

2009 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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

Braised Chicken over Creamy Polenta with Mother Clone Zinfandel

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

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

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

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

Most of My Family Coming Together in La Jolla

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




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