Onward Wines

When I was first introduced to Onward Wines, I was intrigued by the thought of three wines made from Malvasia Blanca, as I thought of how to approach a piece on unique wines for weekend brunching.  I love Malvasia, and there is really none to speak of in the US – save this little patch of land in Contra Costa County.

Further investigation in to Faith Armstrong Foster’s wines, however, revealed wines that are expressive of terroir in its purist form, quality, uniqueness, and a sense of place in every glass.

 

Onward 2015 Pétillant Naturel, Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley

Beginning with the beguiling Pétillant Naturel, made from Malvasia Bianca, the Onward selections express freshness that can often get lost in the shuffle.  Pet-Nat, a fun, rustic take on sparkling wine, captures bubbles the old fashioned way.  Bottling these wines before primary fermentation occurs, without the addition of a dosage or yeast, Malvasia Blanca makes a natural muse for this style.

With nutty Marzipan, hazlenut and lychee notes, complemented with Asian pear and honey, the Pet Nat holds peaches and brioche, with ah hint of ripe tuscan melon.  There is a natural salinity coming fro the Malvasia, and a pinch of citrus zest to keep it fresh.

This Pét-Nat is floral and fruity, but refreshingly bone-dry. The opening aromatics are like sticking your nose in a fermentation vat, with yeasty brioche notes and lively youthful freshness. To follow are notes of night blooming jasmine, citrus blossom, melon rind, warm Kaffir lime scones with preserved lemon…and a refreshing hint of sea air….and did I mention soft tiny delicate bubbles!

 

Onward 2014 Malvasia Bianca, Capp Inn Ranch, Suisun Valley

Like a summer day in a bottle, Malvasia Blanca jumps out of the glass with stone fruit, fresh and floral notes and a searing acidity to refresh your hot and dusty taste buds.  The grapes were whole cluster pressed, adding much needed texture and tannin, the wine was finished in stainless steel while the lees were stirred every two weeks.  Oh so very fresh and happy, kumquats and pears dance around golden delicious apples with a splash of fresh cream.

 

The often forgotten Redwood Valley, deep in the forests of Mendocino County, is an interesting growing region.  With cooler than average temperatures, dense Redwood groves and chilly damp fog, it’s a challenging place to grow any wine – let alone pinot noir.  But grow it does, and this example is a beautiful expression of cool climate pinot noir.

Pale and clear, wild strawberries are front and center with bright hibiscus and Queen Anne cherries.  Juicy pomegranate and rhubarb are rounded out with lingering methol and forest floor notes.

 

Onward 2014 Carignane, Casa Roja Vineyard, Contra Costa County

i love Carignane.  It is one of those lost grapes of California, and was, at one point, a huge part of the old Italian field blends that helped to solidify the commercial wine industry in the state.  Often overlooked, Contra Costa is a prime growing area for Carignane as well as Zinfandel.

This inky dark wine jumps out of the glass with acid and spice notes, with rich blackberry notes.  The palate is juicy plum flesh, boysenberries, zesty hibiscus and fresh cranberry over a layer of black berry cobbler.  The rich blue and black fruit and tempered by brilliant acidity that keeps you wanting more.  You can just see the sneak attack by the field blend friends Mourvedre and Malvasia Nero hiding in there.

Onward doesn’t have a tasting room, but you can usually find Faith cruising around Napa or parts north seeking exceptional fruit.  The wines are available online and and select retailers and are priced beween $20 (Malvasia) and $40 (Pinot Noir) roughly.

A very special thank yuo to Charles Communications and Onward Wines for a wonder lives tasting, and these amazing wines!  I will definitely be adding these to my regular rotation of enjoyment.

For more of Faith’s wines, check out Farmstrong, hand crafted blends.

 

 




How Green was my Valley

Driving along highway 116 in western Sonoma County, you may have driven by the former River Road Vineyards, now the Rubin Family Wines complex – a sprawling, aging wood complex including a restaurant and bar patio, as you head towards Forestville.

This area of the Russian River Valley has been home to some of the world’s best pint Nor producers for decades, and while River Road Vineyards had been experiencing somewhat of an identify crisis in the mid 2000s,  in 2011, the Rubin Family of Wines tok over the property.

A particularly ideal place to grow Pinot Noir, the fog often lingers here beyond other area of Russian River, cooling down the vineyards and adding an earthy, acid driven profile to the wines.

The Rubin Family of Wines is committed to producing exceptional wines. Sourced from both the River Road estate and other local sources, the Ron Rubin brand includes a Pinot Blanc and two Pinot Noirs, as well as a Chardonnay and Syrah.

With specific attention paid to the vineyards and resulting wine, the dedicated winemaking team focuses on passion and precision.

2015 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Pinot Blanc

Stainless steel fermented with a touch of neutral barrel blended in, this is a classic Pinot Blanc in style and weight.  Ripe pear, juicy peach, crisp golden apples bathing in honeysuckle fields.  Finishes with tart lime and bright acidity.  A refreshingly low alcohol wine, it comes in at only 13.5% abv.  The early harvest of 2015 came from Dutton Ranch’s Shop Block a mere 1.5 miles from the Rubin Estate, and since Pinot Blanc is unusual for Sonoma County, this was a rare treat (only 3.5 acres are planted in Green Valley).

$30
2013 Ron Rubin Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

A bold Russian River Pinot Noir with brown sugar, black cherry, and Dr. Pepper notes layering on top of chocolate mocha.  Rich but still fresh with earth and wet leaves.  I really wanted this wine to have more acid, but this is a crowd pleaser to be sure and would be popular at any gathering.  Also low in alcohol, and unusually so given the region and the flavors, this clocks in at 13.7%.  With a long and slow ripening season in Green Valley, the estate Pinot Noir is a mix of hand harvested clone 667, 115, 777 and Pommard.  The Pommard adds a richness to the wine, with a soft and round body with the 9 months of French Oak give it the spice and vanilla backbone.

$40

Special thanks to Jo Diaz of Diaz Communications for the hookup!




On the Left Coast, we do things a little differently

 left_coast_logo-black+w-+Font Here on the Left Coast, we do things a little differently.  We may lean a little left, we may be innovative.  And we certainly approach wine with a creative verve.

Left Coast Cellars has been making world class wines in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon since 2003.  I was first introduced to Left Coast when I attended a conference in Oregon, and me Ivy Hover, DTC Manager and all around great gal.

Committed to sustainability, Left Coast Cellars is certified.Salmon Safe, as well as LIVE and several other sustainably responsible certifications.

 With a wide variety of both Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and other Oregon classics, the estate sits in the Van Duzer corridor, making it an idea place to grow these grapes.  The cooler fog and breezes from the Pacific Ocean cool down the 9 vineyards and make it a magical spot.
The Field of Dreams vineyard was planted in 2007, with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.  Here, the rebel Pinot Meunier that I tasted was born.

image courtesy of Left Coast Cellars

Left Coast Cellars Pinot Meunier is typically used in their sparkling wine, which is also common in Champagne, but they make a small amount of still Pinot Meunier and I was lucky enough taste it.  Intensely earthy, with violets and cigar box flavors, this mutation of the Pinot Noir grape is simply stunning.  For those wine lovers who don’t like Pinot Noir, seek out still Pinot Meunier.  The richness and complex earthy spice will make your tongue dance with joy.

One of the crowd pleasers is the budget friendly 2014 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Left Coast CalisPNPinot Noir.  Bottled under screw cap, this 100% Pinot Noir is bright, youthful and fun – and is a drink now style that will please even the pickiest pinot drinker.  With tell tale Oregon brightness, the fuller boded blackberry, plum and bing cherry flavors float above the forest floor and spruce flavors that are so often a part of the Wädenswil clone that makes up part of the blend.  $24

Stay tuned for more Left Coast Cellars reviews!  Special thanks to Ivy for sending this yummy juice.

 

 

 

 

 

Make the Holidays Sparkle with Franciacorta

logo-franciacortaNothing says festive like a bottle of sparkling wine.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus, or any other holiday, we all love to ring in the new year with a sparkling libation.

Sparking wines are made all over the world.  From the world famous Champagne region in France, to surprising sparkling Shiraz from Australia, there are delicious options everywhere.  But none of my favorite classic sparklers comes from Italy.  No, it’s not Prosecco, or even Asti Spumante, but rather something that is made in the Methode Classico (or champagnoise), from the Lombardy region in the north:  Franciacorta.

I have been fortunate to experience the many colors and flavors of Franaciacorta with Franciacorta USA’s partnership with Balzac Communications.  We have been treated to an annual tasting of several different examples of this iconic Italian bubbly; recently, I was able to attend an informal and delicious tasting of three very special wines at A16 in San Francisco.

contadicastaldi_roseFrst up, one of my favorite producers from previous tastings, the Contadi Castalidi Franciacorta Brut Rosé NV, which is a blend of 35% Pinot Noir and 65% Chardonnay.  This budget friendly pink is a great example of why you should pay attention to this region.  With light fruity flavors, brioche notes, and velvety plum notes, you will love the holiday wallet friend price point of under $25.

 

 

 

 

 

img_2207The next selection was a gorgeous 2012 Le Marchesine Saten, which in the DOGCG of Franciacorta, must be a Blanc de Blanc from Chardonnay and or Pinot Bianco (Blanc). Slightly more expensive than the the other two at $30, it’s still a very friendly price point for sparkling of this quality.  With spicy white flowers and bright notes of citrus layered over fresh cream, this is the perfect mid point in this lovely trio of wines.

 

img_2204Finally, the all-star of the evening was the Biondelli Franciacorta Brut, an elegant 100% Chardonnay start hat is bottled aged no less than 2 years.  Officially certified organic since 2014, the 8 hectare vineyard is hand harvested and gently pressed and fermented in stainless steel barrels.  The gorgeous floral notes of this sexy sipper give way to peach blossom, toasted almonds, hazelnuts, and just a hint of citrus.  This is my top pick and even at an average price of $20 (if you can find it) you should be buying it by the case.

Franciacorta is not the poor man’s Champange.  Despite the user friendly price points on many of these fine wines, the quality and flavor profiles are world class.  Franciacorta wines are widely available at better wine shops as well as online.  Experiment, try a few, and enjoy this holiday season!

Special thanks to Franciacorta USA for sharing these delights!

 

 

 

Oregon Pinot: Stoller Family Estate

Stoller Family Estates sits on a piece of Dundee Hills history, founded in the 1940s as a working farm.  Growing a small family farm to a larger enterprise through 50 years, the Stoller Family passed on the land to Bill Stolller, who founded the vineyard in 1993.

Today, Stoller owns the largest single contiguous vineyard in the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley.  With an eye towards sustainability, innovations include pest management, research, and modern techniques.  Planted almost entirely to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Stoller is also experimenting with Tempranillo, Syrah, and other Alsatian varietals.

Dundee Hills Chardonnay 2014 this fresh and fun entry level Chardonnay was fermted entirely in stainless steel, resulting in a fruit forward, vibrant wine full of pineapple, tropical mango and peach, and bright citrus.  $25

Stoller 2013 Dundee Hills Pinot NoirBursting with rhubarb and rose petals on the nose, the palate reinforces this classic Oregon Pinot Noir with Bing cherry, hibiscus, cinnamon, leather and cola syrup, with a hint of bacon fat.  This elegant but approachable wine is a great introduction to the region.  $30

The beautiful all season tasting room opens on to majestic views of the Dundee Hills, and is also the source of 100% of it’s electrical needs, through the solar panels on the roof.  Driving your Tesla?  Feel free to charge up at the EV station

Stoller Family Estate is located in the Dundee Hills region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  They are open daily, and invite you to sti down and stay a while as you taste through some of the reserve selections.  Want to experience the vineyard after visiting hours?  Stoller offers various guest house accommodation for an inside view.

Thank you to Stoller Estate and Trellis Growth Partners for sharing these lovely wines.

 

Pierson Meyer — from a mountain grows pinot

wine bottle labelPeirson Meyer Wines were born from a friendship that was formed in early 2001, when Lesley Warner-Peirson, her husband Alan Peirson, and Robbie & Shannon Meyer met at Peter Michael Winery.  With a shared passion, their first wine, the L’Angevin Russian River Chardonnay, was produced in 2001.

Today, Peirson Meyer crafts small lot wines sourced from Sonoma and Napa, and made to reflect the land.

Starting with the 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir, with only 50 cases (2 barrels) produced, winemaker Robbie Meyer really enjoys the use of native yeast.  In this wine, Pinot Noir clones 777 and 828 from two Sonoma County vineyards create this pale pink princess with rose petals, ripe peaches and berry coulis.  An elegant and restrained rosé that deserves to be the centerpiece of a summer day.  $32

While Peirson Meyer is known for Pinot Noir, the 2013 Ritchie Sauvignon Blanc comes from a cooler site where the grapes ripen more slowly.  Using the native yeast and a gente pressing of whole clusters, this wine is aged in neutral oak.  Bursting with tropical melon and juicy pears, the minerality shines through with a chalky, floral finish. $30

In contrast, the 2013 Ryan’s Sauvignon Blanc comes from a much warmer site in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll district, and produces a bolder, more tropical style of wine.  Native yeast fermentation reveals dense apricots and honey, with slight banana notes.  $30

One of the highlights of our tasting experience was the ability to taste three chardonnays side by side.  Doing so allows us to really see the differences each site makes, as well as the nuances of wine making such as barrel selection or yeast selection.

First, the 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  Aged in 45% new French Oak, and fermented with native yeast (are you starting to see the pattern here?), it is a blend of three vineyards.  Robbie allows malolactic to complete naturally, and uses the native yeast to his advantage, creating a natural, and rich wine.  Viscous and replete with baked apples and nutmeg.  $38

The 2012 Sophia’s Chardonnay comes from a site in the Russian River formerly known as the Sullivan Vineyard.  With 40 year old vines located near Graton, in the west of Sonoma County, this wine is nutty and cirrus driven, with preserved lemons, caramel, vanilla and fresh cream.  $44

The 2012 Heinz Vineyard Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast appellation is physically near the Sullivan Vineyard, yet worlds apart.  Restrained and clean, with Asian pears and graphite.  This wine is clean and focused.  $55

Finally ,we were treated to a trio of Pinot Noirs, each one unique, but with some wonderful similarities.

2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is classic Russian River, with dark forest floor, cola, and cherry notes.  Holiday baking spices dance on the tongue in this rich Pinot Noir.  $44
In the small town of Graton, the Miller Vineyard turns Russian River on it’s head by offering a lighter style of Pinot Noir.  The 2012 Miller Vineyard Pinot Noir has bursting black cherry, root beer, and raspberry flavors with cracked pink peppercorn aromas.  The savory aspect of this wine with mushrooms and cedar flavors give it an enchanting profile that is sure to please.  $50
In contrast, the 2012 Bateman Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir comes from the Sonoma Coast region north of Miller Vineyard, and gives this wine brighter acid, and a more masculine, defined structure.  Savory, earthy funk in all the best ways, the Bateman wafts bergamot and tangerine, with a hint of tomato leaf from it’s cool hillside foggy lair.  This elegant wine is an instant classic.  $60
Pierson Myer also producers a lovely Merlot and and Cab Sav, but for these purposes, I’d stick to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs.  These are perfect for your holiday table, and gift giving!
Thank you to the good folks at Peirson Meyer for hosting us in their gorgeous vineyard house, high on top of Howell Mountain, as well as Relish Communications and Michelle Yoshinaka.  Make a point of seeking out these wines for your table, you won’t be sorry!

Spell Estate – Diversity in Pinot Noir

Wandering the aisles of the annual Pinot Days in San Francisco is a combination of old friends, new discoveries, and random skee ball shooting.  This year, there was a new venue, new wineries, and new tastes abounding, of which a few really stood out.

I fully admit that I stopped by the Spell Estate table, simple for the reason that I had never tried them.  When approaching events of this size, I often target those “new to me” folks, of which I am unfamiliar.  I was happy that I had the opportunity to do so, because Spell Estate really is a special find that I have on my “must buy” list for Pinot Noir now.  After chatting with winemaker Andrew Berge, I knew that I was excited to taste the full line up.  Thanks to
General Manager Allisun Groat, I was able to taste the large variety that Spell Estate offers and here are some of my notes.

Founded in 2006, Spell Estate was inspired by Bill & Tiki Spell’s love of Pinot Noir.  Committed to delivering the best expression of Pinot Noir possible, they focus on the vineyards to create world class Pinot Noir.

Engaging winemaker Andrew Berge, who grew up in Europe and is deeply indoctrinated with the wine & food lifestyle, was a smart move for the Spells.  With a depth of experience in winemaking, Andrew is passionate about his wines.  With Spell, as well as his other label La Poutchine , Andrew can extract the expression of each microclimate and terroir as detailed as small patch of vineyard on a steep slope. With each winery comes a unique style, both created and ever evolving by Andrew Berge.

 2013 Alder Springs Pinot Noir – Located just 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the fruit comes from three blocks planted between 1700 and 1900 feet.  The volcanic soils here lend themselves to the earthyly old world character of this wine, will tea leaves, dried herbs, and leather, with a bright garget color.  With the earthy underlying notes, the bright red berry and cherry notes are calling attention to this age worthy example of Mendocino Pinot.
2013 Weir Vineyards – Yorkvile Highlands Pinot Noir – just southeast of Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands is the gateway to Pinot country.  The Weir Vineyard is planted between 850 and 1000 feet, with the cooling influences of the coastal fog, giving this wine a brilliant cherry base with macerated strawberries.  A hint of graphite and smoked meat round out the finish.  With just 43% new oak, the wine is balanced and calm with the remaining 50% one year or older.

2014 Umino Vineyard Pinot Noir – a classically bold Pinot, with strong cherry flavors and a rich and sultry mouthfeel.  With the vineyard located in the far western reaches of Sebastapol, in western Sonoma County, the foggy influence moderates the hot summer days creating beautiful acid and structure.

2011 Marimar Estate Pinot Noir – from a vineyard on the true Sonoma Coast, in Freestone, this luxurious wine is bursting with tangerine and bright berry, while the forest floor mingles with honeycomb and graham crackers in the deeper layers.  Delicious for those of us who enjoy acid.

The flagship of Spell Estates Pinot Noir lineup is the 2013 Terra de Promissio.  Just east of Petaluma, the maritime influence in the Petaluma Gap helps to maintain cooler temperatures and slows ripening.  Planted in 2002 to 777 and 115, the Terra de Promissio has a plethora of flavors, from strawberry and raspberry paired with tart cranberry, to classic cherry.  The spicy notes of star anise and cinnamon flow through the edge of toasty oak and coffee, with a finish of dark chocolate.  A truly memorable Pinot to hold on to as long as you can resist!

All wines are $48, except the Terra de Promissio, which is $58.

Make sure you stop by and taste these wines when the opportunity strikes!  Tastings can be arranged by special appointment.

Stay tuned for more on Andrew Berge’s other project, La Poutchine!

K is for Knez

Knez WineryWhen I was first introduced to Knez Winery, I knew they would be something special.  It was no special occasion, or anything memoriable, it was just a bottle of fantastic pinot noir on the table one night at dinner.  Sometimes, it’s the little things.

I re-introduced to the label at a weekly tasting event at Arlequin Wine Merchant, where I had the chance to talk with the winemaker while I tasted the ones.  Once again, I loved not just the Pinot Noir, but the Chardonnay as well.

Fast forward to earlier this Spring, when I was meandering through Anderson Valley with my friend, we were working our way back south after a delightful day at Roederer, I stopped by The Madrones in Philo, a small collection of tasting rooms.  Here, I was able to taste through the then current releases of the Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir, as well as a historical look back at two other vintages.

Knez focuses on hand crafted, single vineyard wines influenced by the extreme climate of Anderson Valley, and the combination of marine influences, damn, cold, fog, and the soils of the area.  With particular attention paid in the vineyard, winemaker Anthony Filiberti practices a more hands off winemaking approach, preferring to do as little intervention as possible.  This old world philosophy encourages a sense of place to be developed in the wine, carrying the terroir over from vineyard to bottle.

The Cerise Vineyard, where the Knez Pinot Noir is born, was planted in 1995 to ten clones.  This mixture of clones, in 15 blocks, allows for careful selection and characteristics to be hand picked for each wine.

2009 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir

A brilliant cranberry color with a mountain strawberry nose, and bold, bright red fruit.  Strong acids with piquant notes of cranberry melt in to lightly scented vanilla flowers.  As the palate opens, Bing cherry, ripe raspberries and rose petals appear.  The mid palate reveals crushed minerals, cedar, and cardamon, cinnamon and anise, with a hint of violets.

2010 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir

Dark and brooding, with a kiss of brown sugar, the 2010 is a deep garnet color with forest floor aromas and earthy, cedar notes.  A touch of mint and wild berries blend with black cherry, deep raspberry and bergamot while dried lavender and white pepper dot the finish.

Currently the 2013 is $34 in the tasting room.  As these are library wines, I am unable to provide current pricing.  Please contact the winery for more details.

If you find yourself in Philo, be sure to stop in an taste the terroir at Knez!

 

 

Horizontal Tasting: Mariah Vineyards Pinot Noir from Cartograph and Waits Mast

Cartograph & Waits Mast Mariah PinotI love it when a plan comes together!  One of my favorite things about wine, is tasting the expression of the winemaker in the bottle.  Every touch, every decision, every nuance in his or her mind ends up in your glass.  Pinot Noir particularly responds to a gentle hand, and there is no better way to taste that than by tasting wine crafted by two winemakers, with fruit from the same vineyard.

In this case, I am lucky enough to know two fabulous wine makers who are using Pinot Noir fruit from Mendocino County’s Mariah Vineyard.  As a long time fan of the delicacy and brightness of Pinots from Mendocino County, I fell in love with these two wines at first sip – but each on it’s own merits.  Now, having the opportunity to taste them side by side, I can key in on the specific attributes of each wine that make my taste buds smile.

The Mariah Vineyard is located in the extreme reaches of Mendocino, and is part of the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  This is one of the most fascinating AVAs for wine, as it’s a non-contiguous region that is specifically drafted from “Islands in the Sky” – all vineyards that fit in the Mendocino Ridge AVA must be above 1,200 feet in elevation, and exist entirely within the coastal zone of Mendocino County.  The vineyards in this magical plane are blanketed in a thick layer of morning fog, helping maintain the zingy acids, and sit in small patches of usable space on the ridgeline that is often covered in heavy Douglass Fir forest.  Here in the Islands in the Sky, some of the state’s best Pinot Noir is grown.

First, the 2012 Cartograph Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48). Rich strawberry and cherry mingle with wild mint and wood smoke.  Fresh cream is present, with a slight cola note on the background.  Bright cranberry acidity plays with an herbal finish of forest floor and pine needles, with Bing cherries threading through the entire palate.  The finish is coated in ground baking spices, reminding me of a gingerbread house and Thanksgiving’s cranberry sauce.

In contrast, the 2012 Waits Mast Cellars Mariah VIneyards Pinot Noir ($42) is slightly wilder, with more black cherry and bramble berry pie.  The cedar woods are more pronounced, and the mint is hiding in the background.  A slightly richer wine, brown sugar dances on my palate.  The Waits Mast is Little Red Riding Hood, meandering the forest, darting in and out of black raspberry bushes, hinting at black cherry and voluptuous bramble berries, while enjoying a softer, more velvety mouth feel.  The finish is dusted with a pleasant pinch of white pepper.

The primary difference in these wines comes from the clonal selection of the specific blocks in the vineyard.   While the Cartograph block uses clone 115 and 777, the Waits Mast is block is 667 and Pommard.  Pommard is known to be a richer style Pinot Noir, with dark fruit and depth of flavor, while the 777 has that eartly, forest floor and herbal character that I found in the Cartograph.  The 667 in the Waits Mast brings out that dark cherry and plush tannin.   Another key difference is the use of commercial yeast (Cartograph) vs native yeast (Waits Mast).  Does yeast make a huge impact?  Sometimes.  Ocassionally.  Maybe.  These subtle but clear differences can showcase the stylistic features that each winemaker wants,  while still representing the fruit in a clear and present way.

In the end, these wines are so similar, that the primary different is so subtle, it can be hard to pick up.  Stylistically, they are on the same page; flavor wise, there are ever so subtle differences, that make them both sisters, and yet, unique.  So, vivre le difference!  Now, go forth and make your own vertical.  See what is different, and what is the same.  You won’t be sorry!

 

Truchard Vineyards – a step back in time

_MG_0087

 

When you step out of your car, in the small makeshift parking lot that is really the vineyard, you are immediately transported to a rural setting a scant 10 minutes from downtown Napa.  The iconic redwood barn and farmhouse stand proudly as sirens to Truchard Vineyards, straddling the Carneros region close to San Pablo Bay.

Arriving in California in the late 1960s, Jo Ann and Tony Truchard were Texas transplants that were enchanted by wine country as they went on a road trip exploring their newly adopted state.  Ever the adventurer, Tony thought it would be fun to plant a vineyard in the then relatively unknown Napa Valley, paying homage to his family roots from Lyon, France.  There had always been wine in Tony’s blood, including a pre-Prohibition winery in South Texas.  On one of these meandering road trips through Northern California, the Truchards came across the abandoned orchard in Carneros that would become Truchard Vineyards.

Today, Truchard is known for it’s pioneering creativity, fighting back the brackish waters in Carneros to produce some delicious wines, but it started out as a labor of love.  Serving as a doctor in the army, Tony soon started practicing in nearby Reno.  But every weekend, they would drive down to Carneros to work the vineyard and camp out in the orchards.  Slowly, the estate was expanded to include 400 adjacent acres, with plenty of open space and unplanted hillsides to maintain the bucolic feel of southern Napa.  The estate also prides itself on being environmentally responsible, with approximately 80% sustainably grown and  20% organically grown grapes.

While we were there, the memory of the Napa earthquake of 2014 was still fresh.  With the epicenter being less than 5 miles away, one might expect cracks in the caves, broken bottles, and ore of a mess.  But aside from some cracks in the dried earth of the vineyards on top of the cave, and a few cracks that were structurally insignificant, Truchard was amazingly lucky; the farmhouse where the Truchards live was not as lucky as most of the contents were smashed, but the house itself?  Looks like a Queen sitting in state.  Nature really is amazing.

_MG_0096

Well known for Pinot Noir, given the ideal grown area in Carneros, Truchard also produces some lovely Chardonnay, but my personal favorite is the Syrah.  The smokey funk on the end of this medium bodied Syrah, made as an homage to Cote Rotie and the Truchard family legacy, compliments the dark blackberry and plum notes perfectly.  The finish of cracked pepper and spices leaves you wanting another sip, and while funky, it’s funk in the best possible way.

Truchard is open by appointment only, and a visit includes a tour as well as a tasting.  This is a must do for any visit to Napa Valley!  For another take on Truchard, please visit my blogging buddy Tom Riley’s post on American Winery Guide.

_MG_0109

 

A special thank you to Toby at Fineman PR for arranging this visit, and to Anthony Truchard, II for leading us on the tour & tasting.  We were lucky enough to have Jo Ann visit with us after the tour, and if you want a day full of stories, see if she’s around! 

Holman Ranch: A step back in time

     

Holman RanchHolman Ranch was established in 1928, well before the rush of wineries started to populate the rural and bucolic Carmel Valley.  When one thinks of Carmel Valley, you might well think Carmel (by-the-Sea), but in teh short 10 miles up the narrow valley, Carmel by the Sea dissolves away in to Carmel Valley, where horse ranches and vineyards dot the rugged hillsides that once housed cattle and horse ranches.

The family owned Holman Ranch is at the northeastern end of the valley, and while only a few miles from the ocean, is a world – and a century away.  The Ranch itself sits above a small subdivision on a hillside in Carmel Valley Village, but once you enter the gates – you are transported a world away.

IMG_8404Of the original 6500 acre Spanish Land Grant, the 600 acre property that would eventually become Holman Ranch was purchased by a wealth businessman from San Francisco for use as a “gentleman’s retreat”.  With an historic Spanish Hacienda style main house built from local stone, the guest rooms were added later when the property changed hands in the mid 1940s.  The addition of the guest quarters made it an ideal retreat for Hollywood luminaries, and it quickly became the hot spot for stars from Joan Crawford to Charlie Chaplin to escape to.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, and the property was converted back to a private estate to preserve the history and tranquility. This is when the original vineyards were planted, and the stables were added.  In 2006, the Lowder family purchased the Ranch and began a restoration project that included adding 17 acres of vineyards as well as wine IMG_8412caves and event spaces.

Waking up in the peaceful mountains above the valley, it’s easy to see why the stars would want to retreat here.  The early morning hours are silent and golden, and a walk through the property reveals the rugged hillsides and steep slops of vineyard that undulate down the hillsides.  You can certainly see why the Hollywood elite escaped here.

Even though Carmel Valley is only 12 miles from the Paciifc Ocean, the temperature is much warmer; the early morning fog cools down the vineyards, and for this reason, is ideal for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonay.  Holman Ranch specializes in Estate Pinot Noir, and offers four versions, plus 2 Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  I loved the Pinot Gris, and the Hunter’s Hill Pinot Noir really hit the spot while admiring the rustic cowboy theme in the tasting room.

    IMG_8419 IMG_8422         IMG_8416  

 

While the Ranch itslef isn’t open to the public, it does host special events for the wine club as well as weddings, meetings and corporate retreats.  I think I might start planning my 25th birthday party!  Ok well maybe 40th.  (shush you.).

If you find yourself in the Monterey Bay region, be sure to take the detour to the narrow little valley that time forgot.  Knowing that Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel by the Sea, I would expect to see him riding the range above Holman Ranch from time to time.  Stop your horse at the hitching post outside the tasting room, pull up a cowhide and sip a while.  Or have dinnner at the newly acquired historical diner Will Fargo across the street.  You won’t be sorry!

A special thanks to Holman Ranch for hosting us at the Ranch and allowing me to go back to summer camp for one night!  I’ll be back…

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!

 

Google

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.

Google

 

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. 

 

Google

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!
1 2 3