Archived entries for Pinot Noir

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.


White Pinot Noir? A Left Coast Cellars Experience

I had the chance to visit Left Coast Cellars during my #wbc12 pre-trip prior to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Salem, OR.  It was a day of visiting many wineries including Left Coast Cellars, but I remember being struck at how unique and delicious Left Coast’s White Pinot Noir was.  Fast forward three years, and I was provided with a sample of the 2014 Left Coast White Pinot Noir and the 2013 Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir to try side-by-side. 

It was #thirstyfriday at my office and this was the perfect educational opportunity to allow my colleagues to try a white pinot noir, which was different enough for a wine geek, but really fun to watch the reactions as people tasted the unexpected.  It had lots of stone fruit – peach and pear, floral notes and a great minerality.  This is going to become one of my “go to” wines that I take to a gathering of wine folks because it was so unique, but absolutely gorgeous.

The second wine – the traditional Oregon pinot noir – had plum, black cherry, earth, floral and spice.  It was a great version of Oregon Pinot based on several clone blends This blend was named after Cali, the daughter, and like the other one, both were estate grown.



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:


  • 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. 


  • 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. 


March Madness: A Wino’s Perspective

I’ve had so many great stories to tell lately that it has been a while since I’ve done a wine round-up.  We tried ten wines and five made the list of our #thirstythursday tasting group.  I love bringing this group together because it is such a diverse group of palates and it has been fun to see the evolution of several of them as their passion and knowledge of wine evolves.  It also keeps snobbery in check because it’s fun to watch them discover a Zinfandel that makes them want to drink Zinfandels for the first time.

2012 Loveblock Pinot Noir – this New Zealand-based pinot noir was full of red fruit with a funky layer of earthiness.  It was well balanced and a totally different take on pinot noir that I enjoyed.

2013 The Federalist Zinfandel – this was described as “the zinfandel that makes me want to drink zinfandel” by several of the members in our group.  This was loaded with spice, berry and had big notes of mocha.  It was very approachable and drinkable.

1999 Lazzarito Vigna La Delizia Barolo – for many in the room, this was the oldest wine that they had ever tried.  It had a big earthy quality with plum and almost a raisin taste.  It was very good but I wish I had given it some decanter time and had a food pairing to match.  I wasn’t fair to the wine in that aspect.

2012 Cornerstone Cabernet Franc Napa Valley– another great representation of what a cabernet franc should taste like to be bottled on its own accord.  It was full of a balance of green pepper, chocolate and deep berry. 

2012 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – it’s like receiving a gift from one of your favorite and elegant relatives.  You start with looking at the stylish packaging and follow by carefully unwrapping what is inside.  In this wine, I found layers of sophistication and tasted everything from blackberry to chocolate to mocha to licorice.  Intense and delicious.

January Wines Under $25

I was falling way behind on my wine reviews so I gathered the work folks together and it was time to celebrate Wine Wednesday.  This time, we were more successful with the wine selection.  We tried seven wines and I’m going to write about five of them.


  • Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling NV – this was a delicious sparkling that could be opened on any night.  It was full of tropical fruit, green apple, baked bread and minerality.  There was a little bit of sweetness, but a very nice balance.


  • 2013 Hanna Chardonnay – full of baked apple, tropical fruit, crème brulee and hazelnut.  This was another well balanced chardonnay that had a nice proportion of oak.
  • 2013 Hahn SLH Chardonnay – also with baked apple, citrus, toffee and lemongrass.  A nice chardonnay for the person who is not a fan of chardonnay.


  • 2012 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir – lots of deep cherry, black currant, vanilla, spice and cherry cola.  This was both fruity and herbal at the same time.
  • 2012 True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah — this was bold and immense with notes of blackberry, spice, chocolate, mocha, eucalyptus and caramel.  This was a fantastic find.

January Wine Favorites: Top Three that Knocked My Socks Off

Last week’s tasting acutely illustrated the expression that you have to kiss frogs to find a prince. We tried 12 wines.  I’m going to cover three.


  • 2013 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast White Rocks – this wine begs for a pairing with Asian food but is delicious on its own.  You’ll taste jasmine flowers, honeydew, peach and other tropical notes.  Note there is some sweetness, but the balance is countered with a nice acidity.  Definitely a group favorite of all the whites in the tasting and a top three of all wines tasted.


  • Santa Rita Triple C 2010 – what a lovely red wine!  This elegant blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere brings together black currant, tobacco, blackberry, violet, mocha and chocolate.  It was absolutely delicious and was the first bottle consumed.

  • 2012 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Stepping Stone Cuvée – full of juicy cherry fruit, herbs, earth and balance.  This was a delicious pinot noir and another shining star example of how Cornerstone continues to produce wines that are consistently on my list of favorite wines.

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.

The Art of Davis Bynum Blending: A Pinot Noir Clonal Lesson

Robert Larsen and Me

He just threw the question out, which might as well been rhetorical.  “Do you want to join the trade event or should we do a private one for a few of your wine club friends?”  That’s what Robert Larsen, director of communications for Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum Wines, asked me back in October.  Without hesitation, I gathered eight women and we began a journey led by Robert about Davis Bynum wines, the Russian River Valley and the art of deciphering clones of Pinot Noir.

First, a little about Davis Bynum.  Davis was the first to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in 1973.  I loved hearing about how Bynum, an aspiring winemaker and reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, purchased his first wine, a petit sirah, from Robert Mondavi in 1951.  Other key dates included 1965 when he purchased a warehouse and transformed it into a winery in Albany to his purchase of a 26-acre vineyard in Napa, which he was unable to build due to construction restrictions.  His journey continued taking him to Sonoma in 1973, where he established the winery in Russian River Valley, which became an AVA in 1983.  Here he began his focus on pinot noir and chardonnay wines.  In 2007, he sold the winery to Tom Klein, who has been making wine for four generations and is the owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards.  Forty years later, the focus is still the same and he continues his involvement with Davis Bynum and often has lunch with winemaker, Greg Morthole.

Pinot Noir, a widely known grape, has several sub-varieties, referred to as “clones.”  The seminar that Robert led for us detailed five different clones and what made them special as well as the final Pinot blend – the 2012 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, which shows the beauty of blending the right clones, at the right time and in the right wine.  Clones are described as a group of identical genes, cells or organisms derived from one ancestor.

Grapevine clones are those that have been grown from cuttings from one single “source,” and were found to have interesting or superior qualities.  Pinot Noir aka known as “I’m too sexy for my clone – at least after this tasting” is the grape with the most clones with a total of more than 400.

The clones found in Davis Bynum Pinot Noir are Pommard, Clone 777, Clone 667, Clone 115, Clone 114 and Wadenswil.  Here’s my assessment:

  • Clone 777 – dark, black cherry, earthy, fruit-forward, violet and licorice.
  • Clone 114 – earthy, cola , pomegranate, blueberry and some minerality.
  • Pommard – mushroom, cinnamon and cherry.  This was my favorite with lots of “sex appeal.”
  • Clone 115 – floral, cherry and raspberry. This was more Burgundian in nature than the others.
  • Wadenswil – cherry, rose, herbal with raspberry.  More tannins in this one due to the thicker skins due to climate.
  • Clone 667 – cherry, black tea and earthy. 

What I learned is that each clone has its own unique flavor and the finished blend was where the rubber meets the road and the grape meets the earth.  And, once again, Robert is truly the host with the most as he took us out for an amazing dinner at Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa after the seminar.

Cornerstone Cellars and J Vineyards Make a Vacation Better

Punta Mita, Mexico.  It’s become the home that I can’t afford away from home – at least on a sustained basis.  Of course there is always a story behind the story.  More than 10 years ago when I worked in a different position, I had to buy trip insurance because inevitably the company that I worked for would force me to cancel my vacations due to a crisis.  In their defense, the company was going through a SEC investigation and communication was very important.

One New Year’s Eve, my husband made me resolve that I wouldn’t cancel vacations anymore.  A few months later, we found ourselves at the Four Seasons Punta Mita.  This was the first time we had gotten away in ages and the first time we left our daughter who may have been 12 weeks old at the time.

We had an amazing trip and after several bottles of wine, we decided we were curious about the Residence Clubs the Four Seasons were building.  In the dark, we snuck under the fence, climbed into the unit and saw how amazing it was.  My childhood trips involved driving many miles in a station wagon, all of us sleeping in one room at the Radisson Inn and nothing that remotely resembled a Four Seasons experience.  Let’s just say that we made the decision to purchase and have not regretted it once.

But, wine is high on my Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and prior to this visit, I found the lack of selection along with the cost to buy imported wine in Mexico to be a hindrance.  I take a lot of care in selecting what we will take to dinner or drink watching the sun set.

Usually, I don’t take samples to Mexico, but in this case, I had great relationships with two wineries that I consider special and who happened to send wines that paired well with my happy experience.

The first is Cornerstone Cellars.  Managing Partner Craig Camp has been a long-time friend of all wine bloggers and I have been lucky enough to be included on Cornerstone’s media samples list.

We tried five wines from Cornerstone.  We began with three Sauvignon Blancs from 2009, 2010 and 2011 made in the Old World style that I love.  It was surprising to taste the changes from year to year.  This is a winery that highlights the terrior, the climate and the strengths of each vintage.  There is no size fits all blueprint for this winery.  Each wine tasted represents the spectrum from older to younger and what happens with a well-made wine with a little age.  Before I tell you how much I enjoyed each of these, the 2009 and 2010 wines are currently available as library wines, which command a premium price from the $30 2011 offering.  I loved each of them – from the complexity of the 2009 with notes of herbs, minerality and lemon peel to the freshness of the 2010 with pear, floral and oak notes.  And then there’s the younger 2012 which is also delicious with great minerality, citrus and melon notes.

My next bottle was the 2012 Cornerstone Chardonnay from Oregon.  This was a great mix of citrus, creamy textures and the steely notes of an Old World chardonnay.  The depth and textures of this wine was like unwrapping a beautiful package and the contents did not disappoint.

The last Cornerstone selection was the 2011 Pinot Noir from Oregon.  This was a great representation of Oregon Pinot with black cherry and herbal notes.

For those of you who have followed this blog, you know that I am a lover of sparkling wine and champagne.  We started with the J Vineyards Cuvee 20 NV Brut, which was delicious with lots of green apple, creaminess and lots of tropical fruit.  It was a perfect wine to sip on the patio while we watched the sun set.

Our final wine was the J Vineyards Brut Rose NV.  This is one of my favorite sparkling wines.  I love the strawberry and cherries, baked French pastry and a silky texture.

Cornerstone Cellars and J Vineyards thank you for making my vacation experience greater and sharing your wonderful wines with me.

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