Archived entries for Over $50

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

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

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

 

David Long and me

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

 

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

 

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

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

Our food and wine line up was as follows:


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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

 

 

 

 

 


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

 

Our Motley Crew Photo Taken After All Arrived

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

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

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

 

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

Kelly Comstock Ferris, General Manager

Some Ideas Are Better Than Others

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

 

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

Bill Smart, General Manager (left)

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

Smart (top right) and Higgins (bottom right)

 

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

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

Damn, that is all….

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

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

Me and Lisa

 

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


The Passion, The Paycheck and What’s Pending?

In my last blog post where I had the chance to talk to Cyril Chappellet, we ended our conversation talking about loving what you do and doing what you love. 

Many of you know that by day I’m the Chief Marketing Officer for a software company.  For three years I’ve had a great run, but it’s time for me to see what’s next.  I leave so proud of my legacy and what my team has accomplished.  Recently my management and marketing teams pulled together to give me an incredible send off at Abacus, a place that has been one of my top special occasion restaurants for years.  When I had my daughter ten years ago, and keep in mind she came suddenly and a month early, Abacus sent the first flower arrangement to the hospital.  To this date, I have no idea how they knew.  It was a night where I felt appreciated and my company did an amazing job sending me off in style.

I’ve been asked if I plan to do something full time with wine.  While I adore the blog and you guys rock, I love having the separation of the paying gig and the passion.  That way it never, ever feels like a job and having some time off to figure out what is next is freeing.  

My Awesome Sister-In-Law, Caitie, and the Adorable Max

For Thanksgiving I flew to Rhode Island to visit my brother and his family, including my new nephew, Max.  With great food and wine, we celebrated family, we celebrated being together, we celebrated new beginnings and we celebrated Max’s Baptism.  I actually had some special samples from Elyse and Paul Mas that traveled with me to Providence.    

Paul Mas ‘Cote Mas’ Cremant de Limoux Rose Brut – peach, apricot, oranges and hints of macadamia nut.  A really nice rose sparking to top off your holiday celebrations.

Paul Mas ‘Cote Mas’ Cremant de Limoux Blanc Brut – notes of baked bread, honey, citrus, lemon curd with a balanced minerality.  Both of these sparkling wines were perfect with Thanksgiving and priced under $15.

It was fun to take my mom through the Elyse and Jacob Franklin wines and find out which wines she favored and which ones were less of her preference.  She is not a huge fan of licorice and sage and that impacted the wines that tasted best to her. I, however, love those flavors.

2011 Elyse Howell Mountain Zinfandel – smoked meat, blackberry, spice, cola and cedar.  This wine never disappoints to deliver on what makes Zinfandel great.

2009 Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – a great blend of cassis, red fruit, spices, chocolate, sage and chocolate.  This is a great option for your holiday table.

2010 Jacob Franklin Cabernet Sauvignon – a very small production wine that I adored.  I tasted chocolate, raspberry liquor, mint, spice and mocha.

2011 Jacob Franklin Haynes Vineyard Petite Syrah – this needed a little more time to open, but it showed how great it will taste with age. I tasted licorice, caramel, mocha, pepper and blueberry.

What will the future bring for me?  I’m uncertain, but blessed enough to have some paid time off to hang with family, ponder the future, spend some time on the blog and drink some amazing wines.  Cheers to a great 2016!


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.


Everything is Coming Up Sojourn …

Craig Haserot and me at a Sojourn Dallas 2014 tasting event

Years ago on a trip to Sonoma, I was introduced to Sojourn Cellars, an up and coming winery located off the square in the Sonoma Plaza.  Our visit happened to coincide with Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV episode featuring Sojourn.  To make a long story short, Sojourn, who was unaware of the tasting, ranked number one in the blind tasting and arrived at their office the next morning to a full voicemail box or orders – completely selling them out of that particular pinot.  Our group sat down with Craig Haserot, co-founder and proprietor of Sojourn Cellars, and heard his great story. 

Sojourn is a boutique winery that specializes in pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.  The winery sources fruit from Napa and Sonoma and began as a collaboration between tennis buddies who loved wine. Craig and Ellen Haserot and Erich Bradley, who was an assistant winemaker at Arrowood Winery, developed a plan and Sojourn was born over the next 10 years.

Fast forward about six years where I had just assumed my new volunteer position as chairman of the wine committee for Lakewood Country Club.  One of our missions is to have more boutique winemaker dinners at the Club.  Sojourn was one of the first wineries who came to mind so I picked up the phone and they accepted. 

The dinner, which was spearheaded by Chef William Kovall, was amazing.  We had a five course meal matched the wines.  Sherrie Perkovich, director of marketing for Sojourn, told us all about the winery and the wines.  Highlights were as follows:

Seared Scallop with English Peas, Artichoke, Pancetta and Herb Butter Nage paired with the 2013 Sangiacomo Chardonnay.  With notes of crème brulee and citrus, the delicious scallops absolutely sang. I may have inhaled this prior to the picture being taken.

Bacon Wrapped Ring Neck Pheasant with Caramelized Pear, Morel Risotto and Roasted Pheasant Jus with the 2013 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir. This wine was earthy and had notes of deep cherry and mushrooms. 

Tellicherry Peppered Seared Venison with Crushed Sweet Potato, Pine Nut and Huckleberry with the 2013 Gaps Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir.  This had bigger fruit than the last and evolved in the glass with notes of herbs, chocolate, berry and Asian spice.

Prime New York Strip with Fiddle Head Ferns, Wild Ramp, Fennel Scallop, Potato and Blackberry Gastrique with the 2012 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was absolutely delicious with notes of cassis, cherry, berry and chocolate. 

The final course was smoked gouda, aged gouda and epoisse with the 2013 Beckstoffer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine embodies the “Rutherford Dust” concept with notes of chocolate, cherry, berry and mocha. 

Tim Loecker, Sojourn brand ambassador and party extraordinaire

The grand finale was an event at our friends, Justin Kettler’s and Tim Loecker’s, fantastic new home.  I have the honor to have introduced them to Sojourn and clearly they have taken that passion to a new height by throwing a great housewarming party featuring their great wines. 

It was fun to see Dallas’ reaction to Sojourn wines was exactly what I expected.  And, it reaffirmed my decision to buy another case.

 


May Wine Roundup

It’s time for the April and May recap of Maniac Monday, Wine Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday or whenever I could get the work gang together to taste the massive buildup of wine that is happening in my office this Spring.

We tried 15 wines and I’m going to mention 13 of those wines as the highlights – remember these are all price points ranging from $12-$60, so these aren’t apples to apples comparisons:

White:

  • 2013 Arrowood Chardonnay – I got notes of cinnamon baked apples, lemon curd and a nice minerality.  This was a very nice representation of chardonnay.
  • 2013 Atalon Sauvignon Blanc – pineapple, grapefruit, peach and lemongrass make this a very quaffable and perfect patio wine.
  • 2013 J Vineyards Chardonnay – this white had a little spice to it with pineapple, lemon, white stone fruit and a nice balance. 

Red:

  • 2012 Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, chocolate, currant, mocha, spice and a touch of smoke.
  • 2012 Atalon Pauline’s Cuvee – black cherry, cherry cola, spice and notes of tobacco. A very nice drinkable, approachable blend.
  • 2011 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of toffee, plum, Asian spice and cherry.  This was a very well balanced cabernet.

  • 2013 J Vineyards Pinot Noir – red cherry, stone fruit, plum and notes of licorice.

  • 2012 La Pitchoune Pinot Noir – this was a party in a glass and one of the highlights of the tasting.  I loved the Burgundian style pinot with its notes of fig, red cherry, earth and layers of complexity.

  • 2013 Olema Pinot Noir – cherry cola, berry, minerality, earth and pepper. 
  • 2012 Olema Cabernet Sauvignon – mocha, cassis, vanilla, blackberry and herbal notes.
  • 2012 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon – a nice everyday red with notes blackberry, mocha, herbs, cassis and herbs.

  • 2011 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir – this was a nice earthy pinot with notes of black cherry, cranberry, raspberry and notes of mushroom.  Delicious.

  • 2010 Vina Pomal Reserva – earthy with notes of blackberry and raspberry with a nice balance. 

 


The Best Party that Almost Wasn’t: A Night with Lindsay Hoopes

Me and Lindsay Hoopes

I had the opportunity several years ago to sit down and meet Lindsay Hoopes, the second generation leader of Hoopes Vineyard and Liparita wines as well as a former homicide prosecutor in San Francisco.  Lindsay was scheduled to come back through town and had tentatively scheduled an informal party at our house, but had a pretty bad fall where she broke her leg.  I was impressed by Lindsay’s focus and drive when I first met her and should have known that she’d find a way to make it through a grueling week in Texas, wheelchair and all.

This was almost the party that wasn’t.  Lindsay had sent 20 plus bottles to our home and we kept getting UPS delivery slips while we were at work.  I had a long week at sales kickoff for my paying gig and had to stay a few nights at the hotel where we scheduled the event.  My Friday in the office was crazy with people from all over the world who wanted to meet, so I just made the judgment call that I’d pick up the wine from UPS on Saturday.  I called my husband and he said, “are you sure that UPS will be open Saturday?”  I answered of course they would.  Luckily he checked.  And they weren’t.  So the wild goose chase began against time to grab the wine before UPS closed for the weekend.

I grabbed a very small group of wine lovers, who were up for the task of consuming the 20 plus bottles, because that is the kind of friends I have.   Lindsay told the story about her entry into the wine business and the how she was severely underestimated by many of the distributors.  I loved her quote, “I had to sell prison sentences of 20 years to life – this was nothing.” 

She talked candidly about how she decided to enter the family business when her father, Spencer Hoopes, became ill (the good news is that he recovered).  Spencer originally was a grape grower and decided 15 years later to make his own wine.  The focus has been on classic cabernets that capture the best of old world techniques and the new world of Napa fruit.  “I built a career, but it was time to come home to my family business.” 

Anne Vawter, the former protegee of Heidi Barrett, took over as winemaker with the 2012 vintage.  I also learned that Hoopes Vineyard boasts the oldest surviving set of vines in Oakville.  We drank some amazing wines.  We started with the 2013 Hoopla Chardonnay, which was a lovely white full of citrus, tropical fruits and minerality.  We moved to the 2012 Liparita Cabernet Sauvignon, which boasts a great story and a storyline that dates back to 1900. The winery, which was purchased in 2006 by Hoopes, boasts winning the Judgment of Paris in 1900 until it disappeared due to Prohibition.  We then tried the 2006, 2010 and 2012 Hoopes Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, which was beyond amazing – each and every one of them.

Our night ended with a very special treat that Lindsay had in store for us.  We became the only consumers in America to try the 2012 Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that was especially bottled for the Napa Valley Premiere Auction (#164 to be exact).  Last year, HEB bought the lot for $1,000 a bottle.  Absolutely gorgeous and what a special experience for Lindsay to share with us.


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.


It’s the Holidays: Live a Little

I recently sampled two high-end wines that deserved their own write up.  First, let me say in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not on the Cornerstone Cellars payroll.  I just really like the style and structure of their wines – up and down the value chain.  They are consistently well made, represent the terroir where they are grown and vary from year to year depending on nature.

  • 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – we tried this over a two day period and it really needs a chance for the layers to unravel.  At first sip, it was big and powerful with notes of chassis, mocha and blackberry.  On day two, it was elegant, nuanced and the floral and spice notes really came through.  It was everything a Howell Mountain Cabernet should be.

  • 2010 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon – a blend of six different Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and one Cabernet Franc vineyard from the renowned Puente Alto Vineyard in Maipo.  The wine had the juiciness of ripe red fruit, balanced minerality, notes of Asian Spice, plum and chocolate.  Since this was recently named number nine on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list, finding the Don Melchor might become a treasure hunt.  But well worth it. 



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