Cuvaison – a hidden treasure in Carneros

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Just off of Highway 121, in Carneros’ rolling hills, Cuvaison sits, hidden away from traffic on top of a hill.  Here, the team at Cuvaison uses green methods and old farming techniques to produce world class wines for over 30 years.

The first time I visited Cuvaison was in the early 2000s, and I had always enjoyed the experience.  Things have changed a bit, and on my return at the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference, we learned how sustainable practices were being employed and new techniques were being developed to have a minimal impact on the nature around them.

Today, the vineyards are certified sustainable, and they are dedicated to a philosophy of producing vineyard-driven wines, that express the unique terroir of Carneros.

With the cooling influence of the fog blowing off of San Pablo Bay, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are right at home here.  Selecting fruit block by block, and vinified these separately, winemaker Steven Rogstad can maintain the vineyard’s terroir, and express the uniqueness of this region.download (3)

On this visit, we explored the newest addition to the tasting room hospitality:  the Wine & Cheese Experience.  This experience explores three classic Cuvaison wines, each paired with cheeses specifically selected for their own terroir, set to match the wines.

First, the whole cluster fermented 2012 Estate Chardonnay was paired with Redwood Hill Farm Bucharet.  The wine, which underwent partial malolactic fermentation, had rich lemon curd and vanilla notes, bright citrus and a flinty undertone.  Paired with the goat’s milk Bucheret, which ripens from tthe outside in, it was a gorgeous creamy wonder!

Next, the 2013 Estate Pinot Noir.  Carneros is known for it’s Pinot Noir, and there is a distinct terroir in this wine.  With hibiscus, bright red fruit, fresh cherries, baking spices and an herbaceous finish, this wine did not disappoint.  A hint of green peppercorn and cured meats played off of the Matos Cheese Factory St. George, a personal favorite.  This savory, nearly cream cheese like wonder also went very well with the Chardonnay.

Finally, the 2012 Brandlin Mouunt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, which was paired with Vella Cheesedownload (2) Comapny’s Dry Jack.  The pungency of the Dry Jack was perfect with the rich plum notes of the Cab, which was a rich cup of coffee, full of cocoa, black berries and dried spices.

download (8)If you are in the region, the Wine & Cheese Experience is by reservation, and is $35.  That’ sa pretty great deal considering that many tastings alone can run that much in the Napa valley.  With a total case production of just under 50,000 cases, this mid size winery is still a hidden gem, just slightly off the beaten path.  With two estates and 20 wines to choose from, it’s an expereicne not to be missed!

 

 

Truchard Vineyards – a step back in time

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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.

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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.

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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! 

Viva Espana!

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Summer is in full swing, and so is Spain!  Do you like paella?  Dancing?  Wine?

Join Gloria Ferrer at the Catalan Festival on Saturday & Sunday, July 19th & 20th for a party benefiting Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.

Honoring the spirit of the Ferrer family, each day guests can stroll Las Ramblas, recreating Barcelona’s popular main street with the colors, smells and sounds of Spain. Along the way they will sample savory tapas, enjoy paella and cooking demonstrations, and participate in educational seminars, cocktail demonstrations,food & wine pairings and a festive grape stomp.

Along Las Ramblas, stop and state the Gloria Ferrer Carneros sparkling and estate varietal wines, as well as select wines from the Ferrer family’s Spanish wineries.

Live Flaminco music will be playing and you can learn to dance, and admire the artist replica of the Gegants de Mataró made specifically for Gloria Ferrer!

The festival runs each day from noon to 4:00 p.m. and tickets can be purchased HERE for this fabulous benefit event!

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Red, ruby, Garnet!

Garnet: -A semi precious mineral gemstone, often mistaken for a ruby.
-A middle English word meaning dark red.
-A wine producer that specializes in Pinot Nor from Carneros.
Recently, I was tretaed to a dinner featuring the wines of Garnet, hosted by winemaker Alison Crowe.
Once a lower brow brand of large California fighting varietal house Saintsbury, Garnet was sold to the grape supplier Silverado Winegrowers in 2011.
With over 11,000 acres of California vineyards, Silverado has been a longtime supplier of premium grapes to several brands. With the purchase of Garnet, they now focus on production of higher-end wines.
Creating wines that retail between $11 – $30, you can bet there is something in there for everyone. I was delighted by the quality of the lower price point Monterey Pinot Noir, which typically can be a bit off putting to me.  I just don’t personally care for the Monterey terroir in my pinot.
While most Garnet wines are sold at restaurants, they recently announced a partnership with Safeway to sell the Monterey pinot in stores, which means you can get a inexpensive wine for a steal.  The Garnet label has been around since 1983; in the mid nineties, the production swelled to 15,000 cases, which, while I don’t know for sure, probably lead to some degredation in quality.
Alison cut her winemaking teeth at Chalone, one one of the great family houses in Central California (ok that’s another story). From there, she move don to work with Randall Graham, and really honed her style with some of the world’s best renegade wine makers.  Now, she has the opportunity to build a brand in to one of Carneros’ finest.  It is her goal to ensure that each wine is a true expression of the terroir, and by selecting specific sights in the vineyard portfolio for each bottle, she can do this.
Before dinner, we were greeted by the 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonany.  Now, you know that I’m not the world’s biggest chard lover but this was a nice departure from the overly cloying, butter bombs that are typical of the region.  Filled with bright lemon and citrus, there was a lemon curd sprinkled with nutmeg hiding in there.  I loved the brightness with a hidden agenda.  The fruit is 75% Carneros and 25% Green Valley (Russian River).  It’s my personal opinion that the Green Valley fog brings an acidity and zip to this wine that you wouldn’t otherwise find in a Carneros chard.  The other quality that has promise in this is that it is 100% stainless steel fermented and is just kissed by oak barrels when the wine is finished, so you get very little of the oaky  butter bomb effect.  For $15, this is a great wine for your white wine sipping ladies on the porch.  A-

The 2009 Monterey Pinot was a sleeper hit.  As I mentioned, I don’t care for the flavor profiles I often find in Monterey Pinot.  There is an oddness in there, and something that doesn’t sit well with me, in the form of green sticks and odd leaves.  But this example has dusty dried cherries and strawberries, and while it was a bit tight at first, opened up to white pepper with a lot of floral influence.  Again for $15 it’s a crowd pleaser.  Solid B.

The 2010 Carneros Pinot was, as is expected, big and jammy with bright raspberry.  I personally thought it was a little hot, and bold but silky.  Even though it was big and jammy, the body was lighter, which was somewhat surprising for a Carneros wine.  There was a lot of darker fruit hiding in there.  Not my fave.  C+

My personal favorite glass was the 2010 Rodgers Creek Pinot.  This single vineyard designate is the only wine that is finished with cork and showed Earthy mellow mushroom, bark, sarsaparilla and spicy gingerbread.  In a way it reminded me of a Coca Cola cake (it’s a southern thing).  The foggy terrain of Rodgers Creek gives this a stunning baking spice palate that I just love.  I couldn’t quite believe that this was only $30, and it definitely gets n A in my book.

The moral of this story is that it pays to dig a bit under those big brands.  They often hide premium wines under their hats that you might not otherwise approach.  Since I prefer to dig under the vines for smaller, less well known wines, I am appreciative to find a larger production winery that is focusing on quality, even when quantity makes the bankers happy.

Thanks to Alison and Laura from The Barn Group for a lovely evening!

Drinking for a cause!

It’s that time of the year again!  Yep, Holiday in Carneros is this weekend, when 20 wineries throw thier doors open and celebrate the season with wine and food pairings!

Featured wineries this weekend include:

  • Tin Barn
  • Adastra,
  • Anaba Wines
  • Bonneau Wines
  • Ceja Vineyards
  • Cline Cellars
  • Enkidu Wine
  • Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
  •  Homewood Winery
  • Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
  • Keating Wines
  • Larson Family Winery
  • McKenzie-Mueller Vineyards & Winery
  • Meadowcroft Wines
  • Parmelee-Hill Wines & Vineyards
  • Robledo Family Winery
  • Schug Carneros Estate
  • Talisman Wines
  • Tin Barn Vineyards
  • Ty Caton Vineyards

Tickets are $39 for the weekend, and include a souvineer glass.  You can purchase them in advance HERE or on the spot.  Proceeds from this event benefit scholarships for both Santa Rosa Jr. College, as well as Napa Valley College.

This year, there is a special additoin to this event.  Tin Barn Vineyards, which is located in the Eighth Street East wine garage district, will be hosting an art exhibition to benefit a local veteran’s recovery program.

Thanks Any / Way: A Photographic Exploration of Gratitude will be on display during the Holiday in Carneros weekend, Saturday and Sunday, November 19th & 20th from 10am – 4pm.  On Saturday, a Thanksgiving Feast will be served as you gaze at 25 images from both professional and emerging photogrphaers.  Proceeds from art sales will go to The Pathway HOme, a local facility that assits veterans with Post Tramatic Stress Syndrome.

There is also a section of the exhibit featuring work by the veterans who have been helped by The Pathway Home, which offers therapeutic photography as a part of it’s treatment program.

 Can’t make it to the event?  Don’t worry!  The images will be on display and up for auction at Bidding for Good, as well as on and on display at Tin Barn Vineyards during tasting room hours  through the end of the year.  

Happy 4th of July!

Normally, I refrain from posting anything that is particular patriotic, political, or US centric because hey – you never know who is reading my blog these days.  Today however, I feel like I have a lot to celebrate:

  1. It’s over 60 degrees in San Francisco and there is no fog on the 4th, which has happened maybe 3 times in the 36 years that I have lived here
  2. I don’t have to work today horray!  Any time I get an extra day off to drink, eat, and play is fine by me!
  3. There are great tunes playing on KFOG, my local passion radio station.  You can listen online too – and I highly recommend it!

So, here I am, making cookies for home made Its Its (if you don’t know what an Its It is, I feel sorry for you!  A Bay Area institution, this ice cream sandwich concoction is heaven in a freezer) and I popped open the Domaine Carneros Brut Rose.  Domaine Carneros makes some of my favorite domestic bubbly, and I never say no when there is some in the fridge

 

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A pale salmon copper color, this bubbly is 58% pinot noir and 42% chardonnay, where traditionally blanc de noir is all pinot.   Crisp and  refreshing, there are dry wild strawberries and white peaches.  A touch of shale and mineral gives this a nice refreshing body with hints of orange juice (no i did NOT make a mimosa first!) and spicy back notes on the finish.  It really is the perfect brunch beverage and I am enjoying it on my lazy summer day.

For $35, this is a MUST BUY if you love bubbly!

Happy drinking!

Thank you Tattinger (parent of Domaine Carneros) for providing me this yummy treat for today!

 

 

 

 

A Plethora of Pinot

 

Early in September, my friend and fellow blogger, Chris Oggenfuss of Vintuba and also Benziger Family Winery tweeted something about a day of pinot up at the farm (winery).  Far be it for me to miss a pinot party, so off I went to Glen Ellen to visit Benziger, something I hadn’t done in many year  s.I must say, in the past I had been somewhat disappointed in their winemaking efforts, being one of the stops I’d always take out of town visitors.  Sure, the tram tour was cool adn the garden was delightful, but there was something just off about the wine.  Fast forward 10 years and WOW!  I had NO idea that they were up to some awfully good tricks up on that hill past Jack London State Park!

The Spotlighton Pinot Event focused on 5 premier offerings of pinot from Benziger, paired with some simply divine cheeses.  Chris generously comped me my tasting tickets, and the staff were gracious and welcoming and poured and poured and poured!

The star of the event was Signaterra, Benziger’s new project headed by Rodrigo Soto, a Chilean import who is working wonders. Signaterra wines are the next step for Benziger’s farming philosophy (more on that in another post) and new journeys in wine from premier Sonoma-appellation vineyards.  Signaterra’s magna carta is about integrating the right resources of the Earth, the inescapable forces of Nature, and the attentiveness of Man into a distinctive wine.

2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – The cool climate of the Sonoma Coast and Carneros vineyards kept sugars low and complexity high, while a long growing season stretched the harvest over three months.  The net yields were lower, with more concentrated flavors of bright juicy raspberry, dark spicy notes of cola bark and spicy earth with stewed figs.  There were also lovely flavors of deep dark cherry.  I also felt a slight spritz that needs to mellow slightly, and it looked like it was unfiltered.  I really enjoyed this wine and for $26 it has fabulous QPR and is an absolute BUY.


2007 Signaterra Giusti Ranch Pinot Noir
– is from the Russian River Valley, and earned my #1 spot in this tasting.  It was rich and luxurious, with dark figs and black fruit, followed by black cherries, black raspberries and cola syrup.  The rich fruit had a back note of cinnamon, and a hint of mushroominess forest floor.  It was $49, but wroth every penny and is a STRONG BUY.

2007 San Remo Vineyard Pinot Noir – is another Russian River example.  This vineyard is in the heart of the Russian River region, and this area is known for it’s bold and elegant pinots, and the cool climate is perfect for Pinot.  The granite soils offer excellent drainage, and is currently practicing sustainable farming techniques.  The winds that sweep through the valley reduce the vigor of the vines, and keep the yield low, producing intense clusters.  This wine had a lot of bright cherry, earthy mushrooms, bright red fruit, and nutmeg, with a tinge of rhubarb and cranberries.  It was a big pinot but still delicate, and a slightly bitter finish of nutmeg.  This wine was completely different than the Sonoma Coast Pinot, and it was my 3rd place wine.  If you are feeling a splurge, go BUY this at $49.

2007 Bella luna Vineyard Pinot Noir – is a classically cool climate pinot.  It had bright raspberry fruit, a dusty layer of spice, and an earthy finish.  Bella Luna is in the redwoods, and is a cool region.  It’s on the extreme Sonoma Coast, less than 10 miles from the pacific, which keeps the acids in check adn guards against the high temperature swings inland.  This wasn’t my favorite, but you should try it for your self.

2007 De Coelo Terra Neuma Pinot Noir – more of a classically Burgundian wine, this was the last of the pinots I tasted.  It was quite a departure from the bold cherry juice of the Signaterra, and the bright raspberry spice fo the Sonoma Coast, and is Benziger’s flagship reserve wine.  The rocky soils that are spitting distance from Bodega Bay are idea for Pinot Noir, which loves the cool foggy temperatures.  in the Terra Neuma, i tasted sweet Bing cherries, a touch of rosemary, nutmeg and bright red fruit all with a subtle earthiness and mroe restrained flavors.  this wine is a splurge, but if you’re upf rot eh $69, it would be a great wine with cranberry sauce at your Thanksgiving Table.  BUY

The lesson here of course, is have an open mind – go back and visit a winery you haven’t been to in a while.  Try the wines again.  Things change, things mature.  The focus on the Benziger efforts after the sale of the Glen Ellen label, have produced outstanding results.  I can’t wait to go try some of the other wines and this will be a regular stop (avoiding the busses of course!)

Thanks again to Chris and Benziger for a fun filled Pinotlicious day!  For more on Benziger, Signaterra, and thier wines, stay tuned for The Benziger Blogger Follies!

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Bring on the BACON! Yes I said bacon.

When the box first arrived in my mail room at the office, I was slightly scared that someone was playing a bad joke on me.  Or just didn’t like me very much.  Or I had really made it big in the wine blogging world.

Why you ask?  Well, the box that I received was stamped, in large size letters, “Trinchero Family Estates”.  Now, for me, when I hear Trinchero, I either think of my friends parents and their dinner parties with Vera, or I think with shock and horror of the Sutter Home domination of the white zinfandel market.  To say I’m not a fan of the pink stuff is being too kind.  I hate it!  I abhor it!  It’s worse than Sunny Delight, a product that though is made of juice, tastes nothing like it.  So goes my thoughts of the wines of the Home.

That said, the history of Sutter Home and therefore White Zinfandel, is a good one.  At a time when most vineyards were ripping out Zinfandel, which has now become American’s Hertiage Grape, Sutter Home and a handful of other wineries, kept hte vineyards by making sweet pink wine for the masses.  For that I give them kudos, as I really like a good RED (yes there really is only one) Zinfandel.

Now, back to the story.  When I got the dreaded box back to my desk, I knew I couldn’t wait until I got home, and ripped it open right away.  WOW!  Was I happily surprised!  Inside, came a 4-pack of samples from the new Napa Valley winery, Napa Cellars.  Now, when I was asked if I wanted to try these wines, having never heard of them, I said of course.  I’d love to try a new winery.  This goes to show you, even this jaded fool can be swayed by good marketing efforts.

So the first wine I opened from this lot was the 2006 Napa Cellars Napa Valley Syrah.  This is a winery exclusive, but you can find the tasting room int he same building as Foie a Deux, in Oakville.  The fruit was sourced from Carneros, which is a cooler climate for syrah and the first thing I noticed when I sipped the dark deep brooding wine was that it was classically cool climate.  This was not a hot Dry Creek fruit forward syrah.  A cool climate syrah takes longer to ripe, which gives it a longer hangtime, which producers a more intense wine.

I found this a very rich and dark syrah, and was a bit difficult to drink at first.  I definitely suggest decanting this beast.  At first it had bittersweet chocolate notes, with currents and dried plums.  I also tasted smoked meats, which is why this is being posted on my Bacon Friday post!  There was a tasty bit of anise, and soy sauce – which normally your wouldn’t like in a wine, but here it fit in well.  There was a nice finish of black pepper and blackberries.

After enjoying a glass on the first night, I decided that I would let it air out over night.  Normally, i would decant such a wine, but sometimes being a single girl has it’s downfalls.  It’s easier for me to leave a bottle open sans VacUVin than it is to decant, since I can store it more readily for further consumption.  On night 2, even having enjoyed the meaty wine on night 1, I enjoyed it more.  I tasted more espresso and molasses, along with minerally black pepper and cedar.  I also tasted a lovely black cheery note, with hints of leather and campfire smoke.

I really enjoyed this wine, and it’s a great big giant meaty syrah.  I would pair this with steak if I ate steak, but I enjoyed it with a BAPT (Bacon Alvacado Provolone Turkey) sandwich.  This wine retails for $34, and is available at the winery.  Why not go by and check it out?

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A Folio of wines!

There is something so alluring about a tasting room that offers several different wineries tasting in one convenient location.  Folio Winemakers Studio is one such place, and I popped int here one afternoon to do some tasting, since I happened to be stopping by.

First, a little history on Folio.  Folio Winemakers Studio pours many brands, and is home to I’M (Isabel Mondavi), Oberon, Hangtime, Medusa, Spellbound and Mayro-Murdick wines.  It was founded by the Michael Mondavi family in 2004.  If you’re not sure which branch of the family tree Michael is on, it is the Robert Mondavi tree that sprouts these roots.  Michael is Robert’s oldest son, and it was together that they founded the Napa Valley dynasty known as Robert Mondavi Winery.  Now, five years after the sale of that winery, Michael has this new venture.  Folio houses the Michael Mondavi home brands, but they are

I have been to Folio on a couple of occasions, but none of them compare to this trip.  My Twitter friend, Lessley VanHoutan (@foliowinemakers) kept asking me when I would get up there to visit, so I finally took advantage of her offer and was treated like royalty!  I arrived with Russ the Winehiker and The Brix Chicks in tow, and proceed to spend the better part of an afternoon relaxing and chatting away as we tasting through most of the reds.

I started with a flight of pinots, being my passion, but then couldn’t stop and kept moving down the list.  It just got better and better, so without further ado, here are my highlights:

2005 Mayro Murdick Santa Lucia Highlands – Rich, cloves & spice.  Bright cherries and cola.

2004 Trinitas Mataro – blending with Petite Sirah, and a touch of Black Malbesie (I’m sure I spelled that wrong since I can’t find it on Able Grape!)  This was one of my faves.  Blueberries, blackberries, dark bark.  Dark chocolate.  I had to take one home.

2005 Hangtime Mounts Vineyard Syrah – Because it came from one of my favorite small vineyards in Sonoma, I just HAD to try this syrah.  Of course, I was not disappointed.  Inky rich, cocoa deliciousness.  Also came home with me.

2005 Oberon Oso Vineyard Pope Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – aged in 100% new French Oak, this was not my favorite cab, but it was a good value and tasty.

2006 Embelem Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon – Rutherford cabs are my weakness!  This is a new label, and was generously poured pre-release.  WOW!  Chocolate, deep rich sipping wine.  Classic Napa Cab but not overpowering.  Very appellation specific and clearly showed the Rutherford dust.  I will be back to buy this baby.

2005 Medusa Old Vine Zinfandel – easy drinking, smokey, food friendly zin.  This was not a fruit bomb but was simply lovely.

With over 30 wines to pour, I highly recommend you stop by and try a few for yourself!  I am headed back up there this weekend, and plan to try some of the whites, which I just skipped over since I couldn’t taste them all.

Thanks again to Lessley for a great time and see you soon!

Folio Winemakers Studio is located in Carneros, at 1285 Dealy Lane.  This is just past Domaine Carneros, and a short drive from both Sonoma Valley and Napa.

 

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