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A #winestudio Family Discussion with Meeker Vineyards and a Flashback to My Wine Journey

My experience with #winestudio, to date, has been discovering new winemakers and small production wines.  The latest shipment contained Meeker Vineyard wines, which brought back fond memories of the beginning of my journey with wine when I would take classes (as many as I could afford) at the now defunct Marty’s just to learn.  I remember sitting in one of those classes and the Meeker Merlot (I cannot recall which vintage) was brought out and I remember being struck how visually appealing the packaging was.  This was followed up by a one-two punch when I tasted the contents in my glass and loved the wine.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I had the opportunity to revisit my Meeker experience, but with Lucas and Kelly Meeker at the helm.  It felt like a conversation with old friends combined with the comradery that comes with bloggers that have become friends long ago discussing a subject we all love.

Meeker is truly a family operation.  Charlie and Molly Meeker purchased their first vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley in 1977 with the understanding it was easy to grow different varietals effectively.  It was a labor of love as Charlie was still employed full time at MGM Studios and would travel from Los Angeles to make wine and work the vineyard.  Charlie handled the wine and Molly everything else.  In 1984, Meeker Wines was born.  This was followed by the tasting room, a historic bank in Healdsburg that was even robbed back in the day to add to the story.

They talked about their philosophy – we don’t take anything seriously but the wine itself.  Lucas talked about each wine having a unique personality and the need to express that personality through packaging.  “We’re not trying to look fancy,” Lucas said.  “We’re trying to look like us.”

The first Tuesday of #winestudio, we tried the 2013 Hoskins Ranch Grenache, which is 100 percent Grenache and delicious.  I tasted cherry, cranberry and strawberry.  It was an elegant wine that was very food friendly, but easily drinkable on its own.

The 2013 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc came from Bob Pedroni’s vineyard that was described as “red dusty earth on Russian River.”  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, green pepper, herbs and violets.

We then revisited the wine that introduced me to Meeker wines many years ago.  This time it was the 2013 Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, which is a gorgeous bottle.  This time I was on a Spring Break trip with my family in Punta Mita and we enjoyed this at Casa Teresa, a fantastic Italian family restaurant that is outdoors with food to die for.  It was then that I learned that the gorgeous bottle begins to melt when you combine a cellar temperature bottle and outdoor weather – lesson learned.  Now back to the wine.  It had notes of blueberry pie, plum, cassis, mocha and a touch of vanilla.  It was as nuanced, elegant and stunning as it was the first time I tried it.

Lucas and Kelly summed it up for us, “what you have tried the last two weeks reflects our family, who we are and what we stand for.”  Wine is more than a product – every wine has a story and deserves a unique presentation reflecting that personality.  The Meeker family has figured out how each wine is part of the family’s mosaic and reflects authenticity and artistry in every bottle made.


A Dallas Wineaux Journey into Pennsylvania Wines

When my Dallas soul sista, top blogger and general partner in crime, asked a few of us to come to her house to try some Pennsylvania wines, I was immediately intrigued.  The Keystone State is named for its role in early America where it credited in helping hold together the states of the newly formed Union.

Even with Pennsylvania’s designation as the fifth top grape grower (also includes grape juice) and the seventh largest wine producer, I just haven’t had the exposure to their wines.  That all changed on a Thursday afternoon.  Eight wineries including Allegro Winery (Brogue), Karamoor Estate Winery (Fort Washington), Blair Vineyards (Kutz Town — Berks County), Galen Glen (Andreas – Lehigh Valley) Waltz Vineyard (Manheim – Lancaster), Va La (Avondale – Brandywine Valley), Penns Woods (Chadds Ford – Brandywine Valley) and Galer Estate (Chester County – Brandywine Valley) sent over 50 bottles.  Unfortunately, with not a lot of background, so the four of us were left to make some assumptions about blends, types of wines, etc.

The varietals in Pennsylvania are diverse according to the Pennsylvania Wine Association — Cabernet Sauvignon, Catawba, Cayuga, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles are all planted here on a dozen wine trails.

With more than 50 wines, we had our favorites that were pretty consistent across the board. You’ll see our favorites by producer.  We do feel like one very well regarded winery that we were all excited about trying had something off with the bottles we tried and we missed the experience that had enchanted others we admired.   Thanks to Michelle for all the great photos as a few of us ran out of time with work meetings and other life commitments.

It was a fun day for several of the Dallas Wineaux to experience the diversity of Pennsylvania.

 


100 Wines, 30 Days and Wine Loving Ways

Since I left the corporate gig, which gave me ample opportunity to open a multitude of sample wines on a weekly basis, I’ve come to a point where I was completely swimming in fourth quarter samples.  I rectified this by hosting the Southern Methodist University MBA wine club, with Michelle Williams, where we conducted a brown bag blind tasting of more than 40 wines.  I  was the guest speaker of an executive Women Who Wine Group where I brought a variety of wines, talked about balancing my blog and a fulltime career with family.  And, of course the usual hosting of a variety of friends over the holiday season.

Of the nearly 100 wines we sampled, these are the favorites of the tastings.  They are diverse – several regions around the globe, different varietals and different price points.  I’ll be brief with descriptions since there are so many.

Whites

2014 Ferrari Carano Tre Terre Chardonnay – this traditional Russian River Valley Chardonnay was full of citrus, apple, melon and vanilla flavors. The word I would use to describe it is creamy.

2012 Duchman Trebbiano – this has always been one of Texas’ award-winning wines (provided by Texas Fine Wines) at a fair price point.  The wine is full of tropical and citrus fruits and is best enjoyed on a patio.

2014 Martin Ray Chardonnay – another Russian River Valley beauty with a balanced acidity with green apple, white stone fruit and vanilla.


2013 Brennan Vineyards Lily – another selection from Texas Fine Wines – it’s a dry wine with apricot, fleshy nectarine, citrus and notes of honeysuckle.

2014 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay – this is tropical in a glass – it’s full of stone and citrus fruit with nice acidity.

2013 La Scola Gavi Bianco Secco – it’s fruity, yet dry and refreshing. When Spring rolls around (or December in Texas), this is a great patio wine.

Reds

2014 Martin Ray The Tower Red Wine – this Bordeaux-style wine was full of black fruit, berries and cherries, herbs and spice.  It was surprisingly easy to drink with its rich, dark color.

2013 Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvee – this was a great Tuesday pizza wine with an attitude.  It was a Bordeaux blend that had notes of blackberry, blueberry, chocolate and herbs.

2013 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Red – Artist Wes Freed designed the label depicting a zombie picnic watched by two diligent crows.  I tasted herbs, spice, cinnamon, black and red fruits along with licorice.

2013 Antigal Uno Malbec – deep berry, cassis, plum, spice and flowers.  This was a great representation of a Malbec.

2014 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Malbec – since Flora Springs is one of Napa’s original “ghost wineries,” they have fun with the designation (and are one of the few that have restored the winery back to its original form).  Notes of mocha, black cherry, cassis and spice.

2010 Agly Brothers B Cotes-du Roussillon Villages – this well-balanced Rhone blend was full of chocolate, cassis, Fig Newton, blackberry and herbs. This is a great example of why people should drink more Rhone style wines.

2014 Garzon Tannat – big ripe red fruit with notes of pepper, mocha and spice.  This was a very nice version of a wine that shows its fruit while keeping its power.

2013 Chateau Ksara Reserve Du Couvent- cassis, chocolate and herbs.  It was balanced, but had some depth to it.

2013 Odfiell Orzada Cabernet Sauvignon – this cabernet begged for beef.  It had red and black berry, chocolate, vanilla and herbs. It evolved with time in the glass.

2014 Angeline Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of red cherry pie, black fruit, savory spices and mocha.

2015 Angeline Reserve Pinot Noir – this was a perfect Thanksgiving wine with notes of cranberry, cherry, herbs and spice.

2014 Carmel Road Pinot Noir – a very nice drinking Pinot with cherry, spice and some herbs.

2014 Martin Ray Puccioni Vineyard Zinfandel – rich red fruits, spice and jammy, yet with a balance.

I also received samples for #merlotmonth #merlotme (more than 20 in total), so I’m playing catch up here with a few great ones that didn’t make the Merlot-focused round-up a few months ago.

2014 Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot – this wine was full of black fruit, red fruit, vanilla and cassis.  It was approachable and was a crowd favorite.

2013 Rutherford Hill Merlot – this was elegant and had notes of blackberry, cherry, minerality, blueberry pie and herbs.

2013 Rombauer Carneros Merlot – notes of red stone fruit, flowers, mocha and spice.

2013 Duckhorn Merlot – notes of orange, raspberry, plum, mocha and cedar.  This had a great structure.

Texas Fine Wines provided samples of reds from Bending Branch, Brennan, Duchman and Pedernales.  These were my favorites.

NV Brennan Vineyards “W” Winemakers Choice – notes of stewed plum, blackberry and cherry as well as spice, Twizzlers and chocolate.

2013 Pedernales Tempranillo Reserve – notes of cherry, terroir, herbs and spice.

2012 Bending Branch Tannat – this is the signature red for Bending Branch winery and it had lots of red fruit, plum, mocha and caramel notes.

2011 Duchman Montepulciano – another nice every day wine from Duchman with red and black fruit, spice and herbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.

 


A Tale of Two Vineyards: Chris Carpenter’s Merlot Experience

If you read any of my earlier columns this month, October is the month that a group of global social media folks have united to laud the Merlot varietal using the hashtag #merlotme.  Merlot is an often misunderstood grape and since the movie Sideways debuted a few years ago, it suffered a lot of brand damage.  Some of it was merited as many merlots were in a state of decline, but there were many wine producers that continued to fight the good fight to showcase the beauty of this grape.  You’ll continue to hear about Merlot after October as I was sent about 30 samples of this varietal.

One was the well packaged box that I received from La Jota and Mt. Brave with the 2013 La Jota Howell Mountain Merlot and the Mt. Brave Mt. Veeder Merlot from Winemaker Chris Carpenter.  Chris’ passion for Merlot and his ability with this grape shows the depth, complexity and elegance that can be created using the same grape in two very distinct vineyards – each with very different soil types and climates.  These are special occasion wines – the La Jota averages $85 and the Mt. Brave is $75.  But whoa these are delicious wines.



I opened them over the weekend and completely flip flopped over my favorite in a three-day time period. The Howell Mountain had tons of fruit – black and blue berries, mocha, cedar, earthy and powerful with lots of depth.   The Mt Veeder wine had notes of blueberry, red fruit, licorice, herbs and minerality.  I never actually picked a winner, but realized that the crew tasting these wines over two days completely won.

 

 

 

 

 


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.


College Football, A SEC Game Changer and the Merlots that Brought it to Life

It’s Fall (well technically it is still 90 degrees in Dallas), but in most places that means cooler weather, changing leaves and college football. Cindy Rynning from Grape Experiences had the brilliant idea to ask women in wine to select a grape variety that described their college football team. Here is the post.

I likened Auburn to Merlot with the following description:

“The perfect wine to describe Auburn is Merlot.  It is subtle and gracious, yet can pack a punch.  It demonstrates an elegance with notes of berry and represents its terroir well. Auburn was Alabama’s first public land-grant university with a focus on agriculture.  Merlot is believed to be named after a French black bird (called Merlau) who liked eating the ripe grapes on the vine.  Auburn football fans also have a bird (the eagle) as the focus of our “War Eagle” rallying cry.”

Auburn University Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, me and my husband, John

 I happened to be on my way to Auburn University that weekend.  I am lucky enough to be a member of Auburn’s Athletic Advisory Council, which means that at least twice a year for the past five years I go to Auburn to meet with Athletic Director Jay Jacobs and his very talented communications team.  For the second year, it coincided with the Auburn/LSU game.

After our dinner on Friday, we went to the home of some dear friends, Randy and Nancy Campbell, who have broken out some amazing wines in the past and I finally had the foresight to check a few great bottles on our fight.  That was a good thing as Randy had billed me as a wine expert in a room of wine experts, so I was glad to have packed some special vino.

 

 

 

 

On Saturday we arrived at the game with 87,451 fans.  This was a big one for both teams with a strong undercurrent that each team needed this win to keep their current structure intact.  After all of the tailgating activities and socializing, we arrived at our seats in the stands.  And that is the point I stopped breathing for about three hours.  I’m sure by now you’ve seen the highlights.  LSU, 7, and Auburn, 3.  Then LSU, 7 and Auburn, 9.  Then LSU, 13, and Auburn, 18. You could feel the collective gasp when the crowd realized the time clock had expired on Danny Etling’s scoring pass and it wasn’t valid.  And then the celebration began.

Naturally we had to open Merlots to celebrate.  In honor of #merlotmonth #merlotme, I was sent a 2013 Pahlmeyer Merlot.  This wine is going to evolve drastically over time – it was complete velvet and so smooth on the palate. I tasted blackberry, chocolate, herbs, blueberry and floral notes.  This wine was worthy of this win.

We also had the treat to find a bottle of 2008 Paloma Merlot.  When the Wine Spectator named Paloma the wine of the year in 2003, the winery was completely out of wine.  But Barbara Richards, the proprietor, took the time to chat on her porch where we watched the hummingbirds together.  Barbara passed away a few months ago, but to be able to enjoy her wine and remember that moment of time was special.


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.

 


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

Steve Rogstad, Winemaker of Cuvaison

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

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

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

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

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

Our line-up was full of amazing wines:

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

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

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

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

We tried the following:

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

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

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




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