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Pinot Noir

Alta Maria Vineyards: Stop in and stay a while in Los Olivos

And now, on to something completely different!  This year marked the 7th edition of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, which I will heretofore call the Wine Whatever Conference to avoid any confusion about who attends, what we do and what happens during it.

 

Arriving in the area several days prior to the conference to take care of some family obligations, and a general need to run away and hide, I arrived in Los Olivos before my #QPB (more on that later) and found myself with some time to wander before the pre-pre-conference got under way.  Not knowing where I should taste, I texted my friend, Tercero winemaker Larry Schaeffer, who told me (warned them?) to head over to Alta Maria, on main street in Los Olivos.  Little did I know that this would be a very popular stop on this day!

 

As I walked in, I noticed the info sign welcoming the Wine Bloggers.  I wasn’t quite sure how to break it to them, that they were in for a wild and crazy weekend, but Stephanie was excited to share the wines, and tell me a bit more about their methodology.  As luck would have it, winemaker Paul Wilkins was in the house, and I was able to spend some time learning about his philosophy on winemaking for both Alta Maria, and his own label, Autonom.  I was also able to taste through the Native9 wines, a special project of viticulturist James Ontiveros.  But more on that later!

 

Alta Maria specializes in small production, artisan wines, with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the cool climate of Santa Maria Valley.  Alta Maria also focuses on making wines in the most environmentally friendly way possible, with organic and sustainable practices, including making the place and the people who are part of the process, sustainable.

 

Winemaker Paul Wikins as a third generation farmer, who fell in love with wine when he attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  Vitculturist James Ontiveros has deep roots in California, with a long hitsory of farming in California – his ancestors were Mexican land grant recipients, and while Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard is not part of the original family holdings, it does represent the long history in the area.  Together, Paul & James focus on the unique Burgundian style of Alta Maria, along with personal (and collaborative) projeccts of Autonom and Native9.  Together, they strive to make appellation specific and terroir driven wines.  It was hard to pick out my favorites, but here are some of my highlights:

 

  • 2012 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay - 80% stainless steel, 20% neural oak.  Aged sur lie, this high acid bright white wine had lush lemons, fresh lemonade, and a hint of fresh cream.  The intense mineral finish had a touch of kumquat.  This is what California chardonnay should be!  Somewhat of a comeback kid, with the 2011 and 2010 harvests being botriyticized, this wine is primarily made from Block W in Bien Nacido Vineyard.  These 40 year old vines are still going strong.
  • 2011 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir - 40 year Pommard vineyard, 100% whole cluster fermentation lends itself to the best kind of funk possible.  Luscious, with savory meat and bacon fat but a zingy finish.
  • 2010 Native9 Pinot Noir - a classic in the making, made from a blend of 8 clones planted in the Rancho Ontiveros vineyard.  This property is high on a ridge in Santa Maria Valley, and this dark, juicy baby opens up to baking spice, dried cherry and black pepper.  The 8 clones in the field give it a very savory and herbal edge, while maintaining the core of Pinot Noir flavors.
  • 2010 Autonom Red Rhône Cuvee - Knowing that I am a Rhone Head, I was very excited to taste these wines.  While I had enjoyed all of the Burgundian varietals, the Red Cuvee, made of 80% Syrah, and 20% Grenache.  While each vintage is unique, this bottle had the inky depth of a Syrah with the juicy pop of cherry that Grenache brings.
  • 2010 Autonom Grenache – yes, I admit it.  I love Grenache.  I might even run away with it.  This is no exception to why I love this grape so much.  Planted in 1964, the Nielson vineyard in a warm corner of Santa Maria Valley, and the more recently planted Thompson Vineyard makes up the balance of the blend.  Bing cherry, green fig, hibiscus, tobacco leaf.  A sweet and savory treat in your mouth.
  • 2010 Autonom Syrah - Speaking of fun, come meet the Syrah.  As the name indicates, the Law of Proportions Syrah blends two vineyards (63% Thompson, 37% Laetitia) from very different terroirs.  The resulting blend is mostly warmer climate (Thompson) but with the depth and richness of the cool climate fruit.  Dark purple plums, cigar box, blackberry jam.

Suffice it to say, I bought more than a little wine while visiting Stephanie & Paul!  I am looking forward to revisitng them soon, and seeing how the wines develop in my glass…and my cellar.If you are heading down to Los Olivos, be sure to stop in and say hello!

 

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HALL Wines: An Art Treasure steeped in Cabernet

It was a bright and warm late spring day when I ventured up to St. Helena to see the new Hall Wines facility and tasting room.  While I had visited before, in 2009, it was shortly after the LEED Certified production facility had opened, and what a difference 4 years can make!

With a focus on sustainability and responsibility, along with diverse culture, Hall has gone to new heights with the new Wine and Art Exploration tasting & tour which gives visitors to the winery a peek in to the passion for art & design that Former Ambassador Kathryn Hall has always expressed.

Hall WinesArriving at the St. Helena property, the first thing you see is “Little Bunny Foo Foo” – a large metal sculpture in the circular drive.  This imposing and  imipressive piece welcomes you in to the parking lot and sets the tone for the day to come.  This is just one of the many stunning pieces of visual art that are on permanent display at Hall.

As we we were welcomed in to the visitors center by a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, we were surrounded by the textural art in the tasting room that screams reach out and touch me.  Alas, we were not allowed to do so, but that type of art work that intrigues and inspires imagination is what draws you in and leaves you wanting more.

Wandering around the property, you will see several examples of these large pieces of art work that you can spend your time gazing at and just relaxing.

Completing your tour in the tasting room, your palate is delighted by the focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, which is what Hall focuses on, as well as the WALT Pinot Noirs.  A visit to HALL is a must on any stop in Napa, and you may never want to leave!

The winery also has special programs throughout the year, including the Friday Sunset Cruise – where guests can linger outside after hours, and taste through the wines open from the day, while sitting in the Adirondack chairs by the reflecting pool, eating some delicious appetizers.

Another program is Demystifying Wine & Food, where guests can expand their tasting experience with a guided food and wine experience.

There are many more experiences to choose from, so you should check them all out here.

I can’t possibly pick my favorite wine, since all of the Cabernets are silky, beautiful and luscious, but if you are a Cabernet Lover, you could opt for the  Ultimate Cabernet Collector experience, where guests can enjoy history in a glass, one Cab at a time.

These experiences range from $30 to $100 and reservations are required.

If you are a wine lover, an art lover, and a Cabernet Sauvignon lover, take some time out of your day to stop and relax at HALL WInes in St. Helena.

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Roses of Summer: Ousterhout Wines Russian River Valley

Ousterhout Wine & VineyardIt isn’t often that I find a new winery, that I haven’t at least heard of.  Recently, when I received the invitation to the Ousterhout Wine & Vineyard Release party here in San Francisco, I was excited to be able to go and try new wines without having to go very far from home.  Leave it to me and my city dwelling blogging friends to be able to go wine tasting on a Tuesday night in the Marina!

Owners Douglas and Nancy Ousterhout create delicious Pinot Noir Rose and Zinfandel from a small vineyards in Sonoma County, as well as thier estate vineyard in Alexander Valley.  With strong agricultural roots, the Ousterhouts are wine naturals. With a thriving medical practice in San Francisco, the vineyard property is a weekend retreat where they can build their brand in the tranquility of this quiet corner of Sonoma.

Winemaker Michah Wirth cut his baby teeth in Oregon, working with cult producers like Raptor Ridge before moving back to Healdsburg.  Here, he started working with Gary Farrel Winery, where he spent 7 years learning how to create stellar Pinot Noir.  Like most young winemakers, he wanted to create his own wines, which he did in 2007 with Joseph Jewell in 2006.  Today, he makes the wines at Ousterhout in a refreshingly different style.  While the zins are bold, they are not overpowering.  The roses are distinctive and not sweet.

 With three roses and two Zinfandels, along with a Sauvignon Blanc for added measure, Ousterhout is tightly focused on their wines.  In particular, the three roses really caught my attention.

This week, my rose of the week is the porch pounder summer loving Russian River Valley Rose of Pinot Noir.  Along with two vineyard designate roses, the Russian River is a delightfully crisp refreshing Rose.  With bright red fruit, Tuscan melon, strawberries and mineral note, this is a great rose for grilled chicken, salads, and turkey burgers.  At only $22, it’s an afforable summer wine, that is brest served well chilled on the deck with friends.

Check out Ousterhout’s other wines here!  Enjoy a great dry rose of Zinfandel, or a classic Zinfandel from Dry Creek!

Jack Steffan, Director of Sales & Marketing graciously provided me with a bottle of wine for further inspection, but all options and expression of joy are my own. 

 

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Bucher Vineyards – a step back in time

When I first came to know the wines of Bucher Vineyards, it was through my love of all things Pinot.  A very specific spot in the Russian River AVA, with a true sense of terroir, I had been drinking the wines of Holdredge Winee for years before I came to know the people behind the amazing fruit from Bucher Vineyards.

As I tasted more wines from producers that were lucky enough to get a share of these babies, like Thralls Family Cellars and Siduri, I was excited to be able to taste the Bucher Vineyards wines at Pinot on the River last year.

Once I tasted them, I knew I was hooked and I had to go see the property for myself.  Fortunately, I was able to get to know John & Diane Bucher a bit, and they happily welcomed a small group of bloggers to their property for a history lesson and tasting.

Bucher Vineyards was born out of the family diary farm next door, which John’s parents, Joe & Annmarie, founded as immigrants from Switzerland int he 1950s.  Starting out in San Francisco, they elder Buchers fell in love with the farming communities of the Russian River Valley and found the property that the dairy currently sits on.

Selling to local milk processors like Clover Stornetta, the dairy was the focal point of the 11,000 White-O Ranch, dating back tot he 1930s.  With the purchase of a small 360 acre property, and a few dairy cows, the Buchers built up the herd to a prosperous 650 head. Joe & Annemarie’s son John grew up on the diary and learned the family business.

Attending UC Davis in the early 1980s, John returned after graduation to manage the operation.  His goal at that time was to make it 100% organic, which he did successfully – all while looking for ways to diversify the family business operations. In 1997, after two years of researching varietals, analyzing soils, and talking to neighboring grape growers, John planted the first Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir blocks. starting with Pinot Noir, the plantings have grown to include Chardonnay, and now include 38 acres of planted grapes in 15 unique vineyard blocks.  Being next to an organic dairy farm has it’s benefits, and the Bucher’s practice sustainable viticulture in the vineyard. After successfully selling grapes for a number of years, John & Diane decided to start their own label.  In 2013, the first vintage of Bucher Vineyards was released and became Diane’s full time job.  I have to say, her passion and dedication pays off! The wines we tasted truly show a sense of place, and as I like to call it “The Bucher Dirt”.


2013 Russian River Chardonnay
This was a richer style Chardonnay but not at all like a classic California wine.  With beautiful balance, and bright citrus based acid, this was a creamy lemon custard, green apple, and stone fruit. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in neutral barrels, except for a single new barrel, there is just a kiss of oak.  $28

2013 Rosè of Pinot
Beautiful rose petals and floral aromas break in to blood orange and pink grapefruit, with nectarines.  Dry, with explosive fruit, this is a luscious rose.  The 667 clones of Pinot in this block are intensely floral, and created a delectable wine.  $18 (sold out)

 

2012 RRV Pinot Noir – Is classically Russian River, with pungent, beautiful blackberry flavors bursting out of the glass, followed by a hint of rose petals.  Cola and cracked black pepper follow the burst of fruit, with a nice finish of tangerine and baking spices.  A blend of three vineyard blocks, the backbone comes from a primarily Swan clone block, with Pommard and 667 making up the balance and adding complexity.  A hint of oak from 40% new French barrels rounds out this luscious Pinot Noir.  At $40, it’s well worth more, and I look forward to adding it to my collection soon!

 

If you’d like to visit Bucher Vineyards for yourself, join their mailing list here.  Tours & Tastings are available by appointment only, and Diane would love to see you!

Mumm’s the word

Mumm Oak Terrace

Mother’s Day is coming up, and hopefully you are able to spend some time with your mom to celebrate her.  What better way to celebrate mom putting up with your crazy than some bubbly?

Recently, I visited Mumm Napawith Vindulge’s Mary Cressler, my partner in crime and bubble buddy who was visiting the Bay Area.  While there, we took the tour through the production facility, which includes a taste of the still wines that will become the magical sparkling wonder – made in the traditional way, Méthode Traditionnelle.

On the way to the winery, we stopped by the demonstration vineyard and heard more about the varietals Mumm uses in their sparkling program.  While many producers focus only on the classic chardonnay and pinot noir grapes for their bubbles, Mumm adds in Pinot Muenier (“Little Miller”), a grape that I think is underused in both still wine and sparkling wines in the US.

pinot meunierPinot Meunier tends to have less sugar and a higher acidity, and is harvested earlier ,which lends a brightness and cleaness to the wines made from it.  Mumm has between 40-60 unique growers that they work with, including their own vineyards, which allows them to select from the best grapes to make the best sparkling wine.  

As we toured through the facility, we stopped to taste the still component wine, and play wit the blends.  This has to be the best part of being a sparkling winemaker.  As we had two glasses of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (white juice, no skin contact), we played with the blends that make up the largest percentage of Mumm’s production.  using the component wine, which is not at all like a finished still wine, we created our own blends and began to see how the flavor profiles develop in the sparkling.
After our blending fun, we walked through the now famous permanent collection of Ansel Adams works.  This is the largest single collection and is truly breathtaking.  In addition to the permanent collection, currently Mumm is showcasing The Golden Decade Photography at the California School of Fine Art, 1945-1955.  These works capture the post war boom and growth in California and is a wonderful way to enjoy a glass of sparkling wine.
As we emerged in to the bright sun, we were escorted to the Oak Terrace by our wonderful guide Charles.  Waiting for us was a beautiful table, ready to taste through the sparkling lineup.  We also had the artisan cheese plate to pair with our wines ($25) which I highly recommend.  Tastings on the Oak Terrace are $40 per person, and include two glasses of your favorite library wine – which is a wonderful value.  With some library selections going back several years, this is a great opportunity to taste older sparkling wines, magnums, and rare production wines which aren’t generally available.Mumm Oak Terrace
As there were three of us, we were able to taste and share just about everything.  This is also a great way to do Mumm – bring a few friends, and order something different.  The generous tasting pours make it easy to share your favorites.  There are so many options to taste, I am going to highly my favorites:
  • 2001 DVX – this library selection of the flagship tête de cuvée honors the work of Guy Devaux, who founded Mumm Napa in 1979.  This rich golden oldie is full of brioche, yellow peaches, vanilla custard and baking spice.  Made with only 11 select lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this special selection had 15% barrel fermented to add richness and depth.  Sitting quietly for 13 years, this was a special treat.  $85
  • 2007 Santana – yes, it’s that Santana.  Carlos Santana and Mumm Napa have had a partnership going back several years, and every year the legendary local musician creates a new blend.  The 2007 was soft and lush, with deep red fruit and figs.  With a hint of Syrah added to the mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this is a fun wine that benefits the Milagro Foundation.  $56
  • Brut Reserve Rose Magnum - there is something special about wines in large format bottles.  This non vintage bottling of a classic Pinot Noir & Chardonnay blend was my favorite, with bright cranberry, raspberry, and cherry flavors.  It was completely different than the 750 bottling, which we also tasted and was a great way to show off how wine ages differently in different size bottles.  $68
  • Sparking Pinot Noir – a rare sparkling red, this dry red wine created in the traditionally champagne style is something totally different and fun.  Ripe plums, baking spice, blackberry pie and chocolate all in one, this unique wine leaves you thinking and wanting more.  $34

Mumm Napa is open 7 days a week, and is located on the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, just north of the city of Napa.  Treat your mom to a special Mother’s Day and stop by next Sunday!  Mumm is also widely available in your favorite wine shop or retail outlet and offers excellent value in sparkling wines.

A special thank you to Charles, our tour host and conversationalist, and Kate Regan at Folsom & Associates for arranging this visit!

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From Blogger to wine maker – Thralls scores a home run

Thralls Family Wine - Luscious LushesIt’s enough to make a make for TV movie, or at least – a great article in the Sunday food section.  You know the story, small town boy, goes to the big city to live a dream and makes it big.

In this case, this is the story of a little blogger who could.  When I first met Ed Thralls, he was part of the first handfull of bloggers that were a group, around wine country, figuring out what this social media thing was all about.  Ed was also one of the finalists for the now infamous Murphy-Goode lifestyle (which is another story – for another blogger – who also makes wine.  But more on that later).

Interning at Holdredge Wine (who, as it happens, is someone I have known for over 10 years, and also makes world class Pinot Noir) as cellar rat, Ed sucked up as much knowledge about winemaking as he could.  Realizing that he couldn’t possibly leave this wonderful world of delicious Pinot Noir and juice, he made the leap and moved to wine country full time.  While working a full time job in the wine business, he tested, crafted, experimented, and made wine.  Thus, the Thralls Family Wine label was born.

These days, Ed has created a line of four distinct, terroir driven Pinot Noirs from around Sonoma and Mendocino counties.  Each wine expresses a different piece of personality that makes Pinot Noir such an amazing wine.

Thralls Wine

Ed Thralls – Photo by Thea Dwelle

First up, the so called entry level 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir.  This juicy, balanced, and bold example is everything I love about Russian River Valley.  Not overblown like so many Russian River Pinots can be these days, the bright cherry, cranberry adn red fruit sing out with bold flavor and juicy fruit.  Using 1/3 new French oak gives this wine those beautiful hints of baking spice, without overwhelming it.  This is a fantastic everyday drinker for $32.

Next, moving in to a single vineyard showcase, the 2012 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir is one of my favorites.   With a deeper cherry flavor base, Bucher shows more black cherry, dark raspberry, and forest floor than the brighter Russian River.  The nuances of cedar and white pepper on the finish leave you guessing for more after the first sip.  This is a wine that gets better with time, so try it over a couple of days, and see what develops!  $40

Moving further west, the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir takes a step away from the bolder 667 and 777 clones of the Russian River bottlings.  Bringing in some bright 115 and 114 froim the cool, foggy Sonoma Coast, this Pinot Noir has alpine strawberries, cranberry, bergamot smokiness and amazing acid.  This wine goes native, using all wild yeast with 10% whole cluster fermentation to give it a bit of a wild thing note.  Yum!  $36

Finally, for the Pinot Noir geeks in the group, the 2012 Roma’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley is one for the ages.  100% Pommard clone goes in to this unfined and unfiltered gem, which looks a bit like cloudy cherry Kool-Aid but tastes like a dream.  Roma’s Vineyard sits at about 1800 feet in elevation, high above the valley floor, which creates a sunbelt in a cool climate.  This beauty is popping with mushroom, pine needles, bright cherry cider and rhubarb pie.  It’s bright and has brilliant acidity, and will pop with any mushroom dish or creamy cheese.  $42  (Editor’s Note:  Another fabulous Roma’s Pinot, make in an entirely different style, can be found in Cartograph’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.)

The 2012′s are Thralls’ third time out of the gate, with the 2008 Syrah being his first attempt at going it on his own.  Beginning with the 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Ed fed a passion for pinot, and intends on continuing this tradition of small lot, hand crafted premium pinot noirs while also sourcing chardonnay for his next release.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for the Navy Brat from Atlanta, who came to  Sonoma County to pursue a dream!

Hats off to you Wine Tonight, and cheers!

 

Running up that hill – Cardiac Hill

Kramer VineyardsWe interrupt this armchair travel series on Rioja with a short trip to the Willamette Valley for two different Oregon Pinot Noirs, brought to you by Kramer Vineyards.

First up, the 2010 Cardiac Hill Pinot Noir, which is from the steepest part of the estate vineyards that Kramer sources fruit from.  Planted in 1995, with rich red soils and ribbons of clay running through the slopes.

Hand harvested blocks due to the steep slopes were treated to a 25% new French oak treatment, and slept for 18 months, where it was then bottled unfined and unfiltered.  The resulting wine is bright and slightly cloudy, with tangering, cranberry, wild strawberry and brilliant acid.  I love the woodsy note on the nose, and the earthy violets in the glass that opens up to tart cherries and cinnamon spice on the finish.  I loved having the comparison to the next wine, but the Cardiac Hill can go on for days, and belies the more traditionally bolder, bigger style of many 2010 wines from the region.  $40

In contract, the 2010 Rebecca’s Reserve comes from just over the field from the Cardiac Hill, but was planted with a higher density.  The grape clusters here are smaller, and tighter, creating wines with more depth and complexity.

Also harvested by hand, the fruit is given the same oak treatment as Cardiac Hill but had an extra month on oak before bottling.  The result is bright red fruit on the nose, with strawberry, crushed raspberry, berry jam, and rich brown sugar.  It is more lush and rounded, with a burst of lemon zest and blood orange on the finish.  I love the baking spice on the palate along with vanilla and cola, with a long lingering finish.  $35

Check out Kramer’s Wines for great examples of Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton region.  Small and mighty, winemaker Kimberly Kramer continue to impress with each passing vintage, be it still or sparkling.

Cheers!

These wines were provided by the winery for a live twitter tasting, always a raucous good time.  Check out #drinkkramerwine and #tastekramerwine for off the cuff commentary!

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Masut Estate Pinot Noir – those Fetzer boys strike again!

Jake and Ben Fetzer have a big name to live up to.  Third generation wine royalty, they grew up as members of the Mendocino powerhouse Fetzer family.  Now, they are making their own name with some great Mendocino pinot noir.

The winery is located in the tranquil hills of Mendocino, in a barn that their father, Bobby Fetzer, build from recycled redwood.  Now, this barn serves as a rustic backdrop full of family memories, for their winery.

Clinging to winemaking’s past, Masut makes small production pinot noir with all the benefits of the modern world.  Hand punch downs and the use of a fair bit of native yeast give the wines a different flavor profile than one might expect.

Founded in 2009, the property was planted in 1997 by Jake, Ben and Bobby and has 23 acres in 13 blocks, of 777,115, and 113 clones.  With the cool coastal weather

Masút Vineyard and Winery produces estate Pinot Noir from grapes grown on a hillside vineyard in Mendocino County’s coastal mountains. Brothers Ben and Jake Fetzer are the owners, growers and winemakers.

The 2011 Estate Pinot Noir is a blend of all 13 blocks.  2011 was another cool growing season for

masut block map

pinot noir, something that I love, because I think it produces a clearer, crisper, acid laced product.  Hand sorted and destemmed, the Estate spent 11  months sleeping in 35% new French oak.  One of the signatures of Masut, the wine sat sur lie for an extended time, and was bottled unfined and filtered.  A gorgeous deep ruby, the nose is jumping out of the glass with sour cherry and spice.  Rich, but full of bright red fruit, there is an underlying note of root beer and forest floor, covered with green peppercorn and baking spice.  A baby, this wine has huge potential and I can’t wait to taste it again in 6 months.  Well balanced and integrated.

I will admit, I was not the biggest fan of the first two vintages – The 2009 was full of oak (at 55% new French I am not surprised) that totally killed the fruit.  The 2010 was more integrated but just wasn’t…there yet.  I am going to go wine spelunking to see if I can find the vertical, to see how they are developing!

Block 1 – is dense, bold, and full of dark cherries.  Touches of rhubarb and cherry pie filling round out this workhorse.  All clone 115, red fruit and aromatic floral delight.

Block 7 - The Block 7 bright, with zesty cranberry and bright red fruit.  I love this wine!  The 115 adds complexity and acid to the bold cherry notes, and hints of root beer and white pepper are showing through, and even though it’s aged in 100% new oak, it’s well integrated and I don’t find it overpowering (which is surprising given my adversity to oak).  While you can sense the heavy oak on the nose, the palate is full of spice and orange pekoe tea.  This will only get better.

The Block 11 comes out bold and rich, with Bing cherry and cola.  It reminds me of Santa Lucia Highlands, wearing acid wash jeans.  The tiny 1.75 acre block is planted with 100% 113, and this is another 100% new oak treatment.  It’s a bruiser at 14.3% ABV, and shows brambley dark red and purple fruit.  This wine is a good base for the Estate, but it’s not my favorite on it’s own.

2011 Block 13 is all earth, spice and mushrooms.  All 777, it’s all oak, all the time (100% new oak for 11 months, like the Block 7 & Block 11).  This wine grew on me; when I first opened her up, she was a bit quiet, and full of blackberry coulis.  Tannic and bold, she mellowed out and became a velvety painting that was a beautiful companion to Downton Abbey.

All in all, I love where these wines are going.  I’m impressed at the single block offerings, and while surprised at the use of a large oak tree in each barrel, Jake & Ben know how to make good use of that wood.  The flavors are well integrated and will only get better.  The Estate blend takes the best part of each block and creates a single masterpiece, where each block can sing her praises in harmony.

Happy drinking!

These wines were provided for review by the winery.  I thank you and cant’ wait for more!  Oh wait, I mean the next release.

Stepping over Stones to Oregon

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Cornerstone wines.  I’ve visited the tasting room in Yountville several times, and every new release is something to be savored.  Now, Craig Camp and Tony Rynders, a well known Oregon wine making star, have teamed up to create something new:  Cornerstone Oregon.  It’s also probably no secret that I am in love with Oregon wines, particularly pinot noir.  Cornerstone Oregon is a new baby and boy is she tasty.

After my whirlwind 10 days in Portland for the Wine Bloggers Conference and wine tasting, I was missing the Oregon terroir a bit.  Luckily for me, the Cornerstone Oregon wines showed up just as fall was rearing her ugly head.

A collaboration between former Oregon resident Camp and Rynders, Craig’s passion for pinot was ignited when he was meandering around the wilds of Burgundy.  Rynders has been the winemaker at Domaine Serene for 10 years, a well known Oregon powerhouse of pinot.  With Craig playing Batman, and Tony as trusty sidekick Robin (who usually does the heavy lifting anyway),these wines are sure to be amazing.

First off, I tasted the 2010 Chardonnay.  No really!  Normally, this is not my first pick for white wine, as I’d rather go for the delicious Oregon Pinot Gris that dapples the Willamette, but this was a departure from the expected.  Similar in style to a French Chablis, this chardonnay was full of bright citrus, nutmeg and nectarines   2010 was a cooler growing season, which created lively, bright wines.  This was a wonderful wine for a warm late summer evening and I look forward to future bottles.

Next up, the 2010 Cornerstone Willamette Valley Pinot Noir – this is the second vintage of this wine, and I have to say I prefer the 10 to the 09.  It was a cool year, which gives these wines a great acid profile and wonderful bright red fruit without being heavy.  Tons of classic cherry and raspberry flavors, with tell tale Willamette earth, spice, and smoke.  with 68% Yamhill-Carlton fruit, and bits from 5 other sub AVAs, it blends together perfectly.  62% new French oak meshes perfectly with the fruit without overpowering it.  This is an absolutely beautiful Oregon Pinot Noir that shows the best of the region.  It is soft and supple with a piquant wild strawberry finish that just makes my taste buds so happy.  At $50 it’s a bit pricey  but on par with most higher quality Willamette Valley pinot noirs.  Considering the dynamic duo behind this project, it’s priced perfectly to fit with both the Cornerstone line, as well as the product.

Finally, the second label, 2010 Stepping Stone Pinot Noir – while the Stepping Stone label was created to be fun, creative, and affordable, more every day wine.  This pinot noir however, is nowhere close to everyday.  Very much a departure from the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the Stepping Stone is big, ripe, and red.  The bulk of the fruit is Yamhill-Carlton and Eola-Amity, which can sometimes producer bigger fruit flavors.  Lots of big strawberry and raspberry flavors in there with cherry fruit roll up.  A delicious wine, it is definitely a bolder style but is still full of Willamette leather, spice and earthy notes.  Spicy figs and macerated berries pop through with some lovely rose petal aromas.  $30 is a steal for this baby!

Bottom line, you really can’t go wrong with Cornerstone!  I am a lucky blogger to have received these wines as samples, and unlike some of my blogger brethren I am hard pressed to hold these wines for very long.  Go out and buy some for yourself!   you will not be sorry.

It's the pinot stupid!

While attending Carlton’s Walk in the Park, I was lucky enough to meet Ken Morrison of K&M Wines.  Clearly passionate about Oregon wine, he began his winemaking career 15 years ago with the grapes on the vineyard property he lives on.  With 6 acres planted  and 3 more in process, K&M produces about 500 cases annually.

Initially Ken’s hobby, he and his partner Mauro Hernandez (the M) have grown this hobby in to a small business, pursuing their dream of food, wine, and entertaining.  I was excited by Ken’s 2007 Pinot at the Walk in the Park, and little did I know that I would be seeing quite a bit of him over the next day and a half!

As the Blitz Carlton Crew split up in to two smaller groups on Monday morning, you’ve already heard about my adventure up the hill to Luminous Hills.  Later that afternoon, after we rolled out of Cuvee’s delicious lunch, we walked around Carlton and did speed tastings in several tasting rooms.  The first was K&M.

I was delighted to see that I would get the opportunity to taste more of Ken’s wine in a more focused (but fast) environment, and it confirmed that I did indeed like the wine very much.

First up, the 2010 Chardonnay, 50% Alchemy Vineyard Estate fruit and bursting with sandlewood, hazlenuts, and smoke.  Fermented sur lie, in 100% neutral oak, this is gorgeous example of an Oregon chardonnay.

The 2009 Alchemy Cuvee Pinot Noir is the a blend of the estate vineyard and Dundee Hills fruit, and is a classic, bursting with cherries and red fruit.  Dense and smoky, it is full of dark raspberry with soft, silky tannins.  With only 25% new oak, it has a subtle finish that is much appreciated.

My favorite of the tasting was the 2007 Alchemy Vineyard Pinoit Noir, a special treat Ken was pouring at A Walk in the Park.  Panned by critics, loved by pinotphiles, this is a very good example of the Oregon Pinot Noirs from this year.  Raspberry, pomegranate  strawberry and creamy vanilla, it is a classically elegant Pinot that K&M held back for a few extra months in oak to give it a long silky finish.  Yum!

K&M Wines keeps prices affordable, and you can afford to splurge on these little luxuries.  With the Reserve Pinot Noir topping the charts at $35, even the most budget minded wine lover can taste the Oregon terroir.

Thanks again Ken for the great wines and the entertaining ride back to Portland!

K&M Wines is located in Carlton, Oregon.  Make sure you say hi if you make the trip!