Archived entries for Meritage

A Conversation with Cyril Chappellet: Life, Legacy and the Art of Making Good Wine

Sometimes time stops and you wish for just another hour to capture the many stories that you know are passing you by because you just don’t have enough time.  That happens a lot, but there are a couple of times that stick out to me in the almost six years that I’ve been writing this blog.  The first was in 2011 when I had the chance to sit down with Sparky Marquis from Mollydooker when he told me stories that he admitted he had never shared with the media about his family and his winery.  The second happened this month when I sat down with Cyril Chappellet, the Chairman of the Board of Chappellet Vineyards.  As with many great storytellers (and I hate to admit it), I think I ended up learning more about myself than I did about Cyril and his story.

We met at John Tesar’s Knife Restaurant, where I learned about the long friendship between Cyril and John that began when he decided to feature Chappellet Wines at the Sun Valley Wine Auction.  Cyril told me the pairings were unexpected and amazing. 

This brought us into a long discussion of wine and how it fosters great relationships because the wine passion is shared by so many people.  Wine brings about conversation, wine brings about sharing experiences and wine brings about stories that never would have happened without that one glass.

Cyril talked about how his parents set the tone of the winery and its mission.  His father, Donn Chappellet, who was instrumental in pioneering high-elevation vineyard planting, he describes as an introvert.  Prior to the winery, Donn co-founded Interstate United Corporation, a food service business that distributed the first vending machines to make coffee from grounds, and became a publicly-traded company.  Donn first traveled to Napa with his wife, Molly, from Los Angeles and decided to start a new life there with the winery as the center of the family business. 

He described his mother, Molly, as the extrovert – an artist, a published author, a mom of six and the aesthetic “czarina” of all things Pritchard Hill, the site of the winery.   From his description, she moves 1,000 miles a minute, knows every inch of vineyard topography and is currently masterminding a number of projects from writing the book for the winery’s 50-year anniversary, which debuts in 2017.

They chose Pritchard Hill where they fell in love with the view and had the notion that the God Bacchus would be generous to the hills.  This was further validated by Andre Tchelistcheff, one of the valley’s early wine pioneers.  The love affair with Cabernet Sauvignon was born, which had led to the second generation of family members dedicated to growing the best grapes, sustaining the land and continuing the legacy started by their parents.  I was also struck by the extended family of long-time employees, Winemaker Phillip Carallo-Titus and Vineyard Manager Dave Pirio, who have solid relationships with growers in the business and have secured legendary grapes from some of the best names in the industry based on those relationships.  In fact, Phillip was instrumental in Cyril’s decision to acquire Sonoma-Loeb.  In 1973, Ambassador John Loeb Jr began growing grapes and hired Titus to also make the wines.  After two centuries, the Ambassador approached the Chappellet family and they jumped at the opportunity to buy the property thanks to Titus’ amazing work with some of Sonoma county’s top growers including the Dutton and Sangiacomo families.

We then tasted through the wines which many are attributed to many family members by name.  Before I go into the details, I want to comment on the unique view of collaboration within Chappellet and how forward thinking it is.  Cyril told me about how a close knit group of winemakers work together to double blind taste wines that can cost three times the price of the Chappellet wines.  Cyril believes that understanding the nuances of the regions, wines, terroir and flavor profile makes their wines better. 

2013 Signature Chenin Blanc – Cyril referred to this as “mom’s wine.”  It includes her signature, label and bottle choice.  It was very crisp and delicious – with notes of peach, orange blossom, lemongrass, floral notes and minerality.

2013 Chappellet Napa Valley Chardonnay —  sourced by grapes outside of the family vineyard, this Old World style wine had notes of lemon, tropical fruits with spice, caramel and orange blossom.  This was a great Chardonnay.

2013 Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Chardonnay – this was more of a traditional California chardonnay with butterscotch, nectarine, almond and cinnamon. 

2013 Sonoma-Loeb Russian River Pinot Noir – this was an awesome iteration of a Russian River Valley Pinot at a fraction of the price – especially for the quality of the block that it originates.  It had notes of black cherry, earth, chocolate and spice.

2013 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – this is the flagship wine and the wine that put the family on the map showing the beautiful fruit and bounty for the Hillside vineyards.  This was a fantastic, elegant and a wine made for aging, yet drinkable today.  Big notes of chocolate, cassis, spice, mocha, spice, blackberry and sandalwood.  The quality and price ratio of as this wine as compared to those sold for three times the cost on the same hill is amazing. 

Recently a marketing consultant gave the winery the sage advice that they are charging too little.  Cyril didn’t jump to raise prices.  He talked about over delivering on quality and the legacy that he wants to leave to the next generation – turn over a better business; and the coolest thing, turn over the land in better shape than he found it meaning sustainability, farming and improving the quality of the vineyard operation.  And of course, the wines – they need to continue to be worthy of the Chappellet legacy.

We ended on the subject of passion – loving what you do and doing what you love. I’m at a turning point in my life and Cyril’s advice to me about taking that next jump and not settling was exactly what I needed to hear to solidify my choice.  More to come on that…

Oak Celebrates Four Years While Kathyrn Hall Throws a Texas-Style Party to Celebrate the Next Vintage

The past seven days in Dallas have showcased that fact that our city has become competitive with other traditionally known “foodie cities.”  After attending last weekend’s Chefs for Farmers Event, I was invited to two milestone events for chefs, and a winemaker who helped put Dallas on the map.

Chef Partner John Tesar and Tiffanee and Richard Ellman hosted about a hundred people at a four-year anniversary celebration for Oak Restaurant.  The wine was flowing and there were some amazing hors d’oeuvres passed to the hip crowd — many of those coming from the surrounding showrooms in the design district.

The other big event was the Kathryn Hall release party debuting the new releases of the Hall Cabernets and the Walt Pinot Noirs.  Kathryn Walt Hall and her husband, Craig, the proprietors of Hall and Walt Wines have deep ties to Dallas.  Kathryn was very active in politics and was a top runner in the Dallas Mayoral Race and then was the United States Ambassador to Austria.  She’s been a successful business owner, attorney and is very active in the Arts community.  Craig Hall is chairman and founder of Dallas-based Hall Financial Group, a former owner of the Dallas Cowboys and is active in Dallas real estate and philanthropy.

So it wasn’t surprising that the attire called for a mix of Texas cocktail attire and was held at the newly established Hall Arts Building.  An attendee told me that they attended a dinner a few months back at the building and there was a wine cellar that was amazing.  However, I wasn’t able to confirm that as the party was in full swing.

The party was packed with several hundred people, the wines were flowing (love that red label Cabernet Sauvignon) and the food stations were prepared with foods that would go well with the wine.

The party was a true combination of the passions of the Hall Family, wine, art and real estate.  I love that their business story started in Dallas.

Auburn Football, College Friends and Legendary Wine

My family and Jay Jacobs, Auburn’s Athletic Director

The day started out with sunshine and a perfect 65 degrees.  It was time for some Auburn football. If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I am an Auburn fan.  I was brought to the prettiest campus in the SEC for a day of steering committee meetings – one for the Auburn Athletics Department and one for the School of Communications.  My family joined me after the meetings on Friday night and our host, Auburn Athletic Director, Jay Jacobs, completely rolled out the “orange and blue” carpet.

The Daniels and Ofenloch Families

We met up with some dear friends – a college roommate and her husband, who along with my husband, might have well have lived alongside us in our college days – and our families.  It’s always an interesting experience to pretend to be an adult with friends that you’ve known since the early days…

My family, including my ten-year-old daughter who has never known what it means to sit in the student section, was led down to the field and we experienced the joy and energy of watching people file into the stadium.  We watched Tiger, the eagle, fly onto the field while being mere feet away from the players.  Awe inspiring…. Then we had another experience – an Auburn suite, which was beneficial as it began raining during the game and the temperature started to plummet.

It was a good game but much closer than I had hoped.  Friends from the Athletic Council, Nancy and Randy Campbell, who happened to be the senior quarterback from the 1983 Auburn National Championship team, invited us back to their place.  The Campbell’s – other than being one of the most fun couples to hang out with, have impeccable taste in wine and the bottles started to open and the glasses were flowing.

It was a day that wine, football, family and friends intersected perfectly.

Miner Wines: 2011 The Oracle Virtual Release Tasting


On Saturday, I was invited to take part in a very special virtual tasting – the debut of the 2011 The Oracle from Miner Wines.  Those of us who were lucky enough to be included were delivered a black box.  Inside was the bottle of new vintage, two Riedel glasses and even Riedel stem cloths to make the glasses sparkle after the tasting ended.  Miner has always known how to make great wine and throw a memorable event.


The Oracle is Miner’s flagship, single-vineyard offering.  It is a Bordeaux blend labeled as 49 percent Merlot, 38 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 percent Cabernet Franc and the rest is Petit Verdot.  The Oracle is grown in the hills of Eastern Napa at Stagecoach Vineyards, which has a high elevation and a mountain-fruit experience.

And, as a software marketer by day, I do like the shout out that Dave Miner gave to his uncle, Bob Miner, one of the co-founders of Oracle Software, who introduced him to the wine business.

I’ll sum it up with my tweet after my first sip.  “This has elegance with dark cherry, chocolate and herbs.  Silk in a glass. #theoraclehasspoken (hashtag for the tasting). 

The Pre-Conference Journey to Fingers Lakes Begins: The 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference Pre-Trip, Day One

I met blogger extraordinaire Thea Dwelle at the Philadelphia International Airport and we geared up for a road trip.  The night prior to our journey to Corning, The Drunken Cyclist was nice enough to open up his home and invite us to his family birthday dinner.  The food was amazing.  The wines were ones that you only open for very good friends.  Jeff, I am honored you shared those last precious birthday moments, your family and those wines with us.

The next morning we began our journey of planes, buses and automobiles while traveling on badly marked and tollways that all seemed to be under construction.  For about five hours, it felt like we were on a journey to nowhere – the signage was cloaked, the exits were few, but the laughter was continual.

We arrived at the Radisson to begin our pre-trip tour and spent some time on the Seneca Lake Trail, which is home to 30 wineries, a distillery, cider producers and several breweries.  It is geographically located in the center of the Fingers Lakes.  Seneca Lake is the largest lake, covers 43,343 acres and spans 38 miles through the center of the Finger Lakes region.

The blogger bus took us to Villa Bellangelo.  The view was gorgeous and what a display of hospitality.   The winery was founded by Christopher Missick and his family, who left the corporate world in California, to focus on terroir and making cool climate wine.  Bellangelo is a boutique wine producer, crafting only 6,000 cases of wine each vintage.  We learned a lot about the soil – originally formed by “Ice Age” glaciers. 

We then had a chance to mingle and experience four tasting and education stages with several wineries – King’s Garden 20 Year Vertical Tasting of Finger Lakes Cabernet Sauvignon; the Bellangelo Riesling experience featuring a dozen different Rieslings; Side Acre Hills and Schtayburne cheese samplings, which produce local cow and goat cheeses; and “Others,” a portfolio of experimental and alternative wines made by Villa Bellangelo.

The theme of our evening venture, which was scheduled at Ventosa Vineyards, was all about Finger Lakes Women in Wine.  There was a bit of irony that the Wine Bloggers Conference (#wbc15) was hosted in Corning, NY, the home of the Corning Glass Museum, where one of the common themes became how women are breaking through the glass ceiling in the wine industry.

The stats are sobering – according to an article by Adrienne Vogt in the Daily Beast, half of the graduates at UC-Davis’ oenology program are female, but women lead only 10 percent of California’s wineries.  I couldn’t find any definitive research outside of California.

The discussions mirrored one that I had several years ago with Merry Edwards, the winemaker of Merry Edwards Vintners.  In 1984, she left Matanzas Creek to devote herself full time to consulting and her winery.  She told me over dinner about the difficulty in getting her first winemaker job and that she had to work harder.  I loved her ingenuity.  She would go to the Farmer’s Market weekly and gather the throwaway fruits and veggies to make wine.  Hint: rutabaga wine is not tasty.

Our panel of women winemakers, farmers, scientists and chefs were awe-inspiring.  They all shared the fact that they have made significant contributions to the sustainable food and farming movement across the Finger Lakes.  Marti Macinski, the Winemaker and Owner of Standing Stone Vineyards, candidly talked about the point when she and her husband decided she must transition from the “traditional hospitality role” to serving as the operator of the winery – without any training.  And while her first reaction was to put her head on the table and cry, it turns out she was damn good at it.  While she talked about her fear, it was clear that Marti is fearless.

Another amazing woman was Jenna LaVita, the winemaker of Ventosa Vineyards.  She was originally a law student who decided over a glass of Pinot that she wanted to be a winemaker.  She hit the road in her Saab and began her journey.  It took her from cleaning tanks to teaching over harvest break to even selling (unsuccessfully) bottle cap earrings in Etsy.  At 23, she was asked to become the full-time winemaker and inherited vineyard responsibility at age 25 when her vineyard manager was deported.  Jenna took us through the vineyard and we had an opportunity to pick grapes on different blocks in order to experience how a winemaker gauges ripeness.

And then we met our showstopper – Liz Leidenfrost, the winemaker, grape grower and activist of Leidenfrost Vineyards. What a cool and well-rounded women.  She talked about how she became interested in winemaking after she failed the image of being a classical musician.  With her tattoos, piercings and dyed hair, she thought she could make a difference in the family business and her father put her to the test.  She passed with flying colors and the fact that she’s also a burlesque dancer on the side makes her even cooler.

Kas Deys, a biochemist and grape geneticist from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, talked about the research that Cornell is doing on the grapes and the region.  She had an amazing background and clearly is making a big difference in her research in mining grape genes.

Our meal was prepared by Heather  Tompkins, the chef and owner of Opus Espresso and Wine Bar.  Here was our line-up:

Candy beet melon arugula salad with Red Jacket cheribundi-curry vinaigrette with Stony Brook pumpkin oil, First Light goat cheese and Stony Brook pumpkin seeds paired with 2014 Three Brothers Pinot Noir Rose and Leidenfrost Vineyards Blanc de Blancs.

Sweet corn muranda cheese, cheddar studded risotto cake, summer tomato-fennel coulis and jalapeno orange mascarpone with 2012 Ventosa Vineyards Pinot Noir and 2013 Standing Stone Vineyards Gewurztraminer.

Grilled Petit Finger Lakes Farms Filet Mignon and Scallop with wilted baby kale, Piggery Bacon vinaigrette with Cayuga Blue and pickled red onion with Three Brothers Wineries and Estates Degree of Riesling and 2011 Ventosa Vineyards Cabernet Franc.

Red Jacket peaches – ginger galette with Seneca salted caramel and shaved Seneca salt bark dark chocolate with Leidenfrost Vineyards Cabernet Port and 2014 Standing Stone Vineyards Gewurztraminer Ice.

On the menu was the wording – bold, fearless and original.  Absolutely a great descriptor of the women we met and the experience that we had.


Wine, Women, Food and Seattle: The Perfect Storm

When my work life and wine life intersect, I always bask in the glow.  I have been incredibly lucky to be accepted into the Executive Women’s Roundtable, an exclusive C-level women’s leadership organization that is run through the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.  The women are amazing – it’s a who’s who of women who leave me in awe every time that I am in a room with them.

The Executive Women’s Roundtable Group at JM Cellars

Annually, we have a weekend leadership retreat designed to be a time of learning, city exploration, laughter and networking.  This year we headed to Seattle.  Yes, the land of Washington Wine, which I fell in love with about five years ago at #wbc10.

Ian and Laura MacNeil

This trip allowed me to explore (briefly) a wine region that I did not have a chance to visit the last time I was there – Woodinville.  But first, we needed to explore vodka.  Ian MacNeil launched the Glass Distillery in 2012 to introduce his flagship spirit, Glass Vodka, to the public.  The shop includes a gorgeous exhibition of glass and on our visit was coupled with a tasting of four types of vodka.  Three were flavored, but the pure Glass Vodka was delicious, smooth and all about style.  This made a girl that wasn’t necessarily a vodka fan, a vodka fan.

Luly Wang Creation for the Vogel Alcove Gala

After a series of meetings and networking events, (if you want the outfit of the year, check out Luly Yang, one of the most fun designers I’ve seen in a long time), we headed to a morning tour of Pike Place Market. 

We had a private tour at the Dale Chihuly Boathouse.  It was awesome to see Chihuly’s glass vision come to life from an aquarium to his private pool to the best dining room ever.  It was a blast from the past to see what inspired the gorgeous designs that have become the standard of glass couture.

John Bigelow

Then the games begin.  I’m never a tour bus winery kind of gal, so I’m going to focus on the two “off the beaten path” wineries that I really enjoyed out of the three we toured.  Our first was JM Cellars, which is considered a private arboretum located on a hill named “Bramble Bump.”  John Bigelow, the incredibly charismatic and passionate winemaker, who had such an infectious excitement for his wines and the story of his family, made us all fall in love with his story and the property.  These guys make 500 cases a year – small and boutique in style.  The 2012 Vineyard Estate red and the 2012 Syrah were my favorite wines that I tried.

Brian Cade

Our next stop was Sparkman Cellars where we spent time with Brian Cade, the general manager.  I loved the vision, “work with the finest ingredients known to man, craft it from something truly real and share it with people that want to drink it.”  Sir, may I have another… I really liked everything that I tried.  The fact that the wine club is named after Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” resonated.  But sadly, to refrain a sad yet often stated theme, the wines are not yet available in Texas.  I hate you three-tier ridiculous legal system.  We are all missing out.

Anytime I can combine time with a group of awe inspiring women combined with the amazing city of Seattle paired with a region of wines that I just want to spend time exploring, that means one of the best weekend’s ever.


One Night In Bierzo: The Spanish Trip Finale

And just like that – we were on our last region and the trip had almost come to an end.  We explored Bierzo, a Spanish Denominación de Origen (“DO”) for wines located in the northwest of the province of Leon.  In getting there, we went actually drove through snow flurries.  The DO covers 23 municipalities, has 72 wineries and dates back to Roman times where wine and gold were the two thriving businesses. 

Due to phylloxera in the 19th century, production almost came to a screeching halt.  In 1989, Bierzo Denominación de Origen was established.  The climate in this region is unique with lots of humidity and rainfall, but there is also a hot and dry climate.  Water conservation is not an issue here.  The soil is dark and chock full of quartz and slate.

The region is known for mencia, alicante bouschet and godella although tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, dona blanca, palomino, malvasia, chardonnay and gewürztraminer are also grown.

The Bodegas Estefanía started in 1999 when the family decided to restore an old dairy located in the village of Dehesas. 

At this time they planted vineyards and began to develop the techniques that were developed in other parts of Europe.  The wine Tilenus gets its name from the god of war named “Teleno” combined with the Roman name “Mars”.  The Tilenus Mars label shows a Roman coin that was found in the vineyards.

Bodegas Estefanía focuses primarily on the Mencia grape, but it makes a fine Godella as well.  About 15 to 20 percent of the grapes are sourced from the same grower.  The vines are older – in general between 60-90 years – and the soil used to be glacial, so you can find sand and stones.  The production is around 200,000 to 250,000 bottles using the same gravity techniques, French wine barrels and regulated temperature, humidity and light as the other MGW wineries we visited.

Pablo Frias, General Manager

We had a chance to sit down the Carlos Garcia, the winemaker, and Pablo Frias, the general manager of the winery where we started with a four-wheel drive journey to parts only accessible with a truck and a jeep.  Our little Mercedes bus caravan had no chance making it up to the vineyards that we visited.  The weather wasn’t cooperating so we spent time at the oldest vineyard, La Florida.

After our tour, we went to the winery to tour and drink wine.  We tried the following wines:

2013 Tilenus Godello – lots of floral, minerality, pear, stone fruit, lemon curd and a nice nuttiness. I really enjoyed this wine and absolutely would buy it in masse at $15 when it comes to Dallas.

2014 Tilenus Vendimia – nice structure, earthiness, raspberry, lavender and notes of bay leaf.  This wine is an awesome deal at under $14.

2011 Tilenus Encreicida en Rolle – this was more earthy with notes of cinnamon and spice, herbs, raspberry and a touch of mocha.  Another great deal at $10.

2010 Tilenus Encreicida en Rolle – this wine was a totally different comparison.  It was more fruit-forward, less herbal and had more minerality.

2008 Tilenus Encreicida en Rolle – this tasted like blackberry pie with notes of molasses. 

2008 Tilenus La Florida – I tasted gingerbread, all spice and it had a meatiness that I didn’t find in the others. 

2006 Tilenus Pagos de Posada – this was a very concentrated wine that tasted of bramble pie, dried plum, peppercorns and earth.  There was a lot of complexity in the glass that opened up over time.

2007 Tilenus Pagos de Posada – this was almost port-like with notes of menthol, chocolate, fig, sage and molasses.  This wine reflected “100 years of wine with sand and soil.”

Our grand finale at lunch was the 2002 Tilenus Pieros, appropriately named “the phantom” because there is so little left in the market with only 220 bottles made. 

What I ate (allergic to pork)

We lunched at Casa Coscolo and enjoyed a variety of local specialties.

We drove back to Madrid that night and discovered the joy of a really good gin and tonic followed by lots of wine and a late night game of Cards Against Humanity.  At that point, it was time to say goodbye to my friends and the closure of an incredible Spanish wine experience.    


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-       2011 Chateau St Jean, Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay,

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley Cabernet

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

-       2012 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah

-       2010 Chateau St Jean, Cinq Cepages

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


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

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

Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa Valley and was founded in 1861 by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug.  Since 1943 and over four generations, the winery has been overseen by the Peter Mondavi Sr family. Estate vineyards are located in St Helena, Yountville, Howell Mountain and Carneros.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twas the Night Before …. A December to Remember? Maybe?

‘Twas the Christmas season and all through the abode, my liver was working overtime to keep up with the load.  Much to my delighted eye did appear, some of the best wines that I’ve seen all year. 

Come Dom, Come Schramsberg, Come Pierre Peters. Come Charles Heidsieck.  As far as the eye can see, there are full tables of delicious bubbly. 

Come Clos Pegase.  Come 24 Vineyards.  Come Terra Valentine.  Come Coquerel. Come Barnett.  Come Caymus Select.  Come Quilceda Creek.  Come Larkmead. Come Tercero.  But I’m not done yet.

The bubbles have sparkled, the magnums shone bright.  The posts have been many – each and every night.  Merry Christmas to all, and in the next year, the added bulge I will fight.

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