Archive for September, 2019

Sep
27

Gang of Four Revisited

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Today, there are so many controversies & discussions on the topic of au naturale wines.  And for some wine professionals, the more naturale the venue, the better the appreciation.  I intend to stay out of all of the discussions.  There is, after all, never just one answer to any topic or discussion.

I bring the subject up because, I am seeing more & more references how the main modern day instigator of the natural minded movement is said to be Jules Chauvet.

This is the same Jules Chauvet, who back in the late 1980’s inspired a band of four like minded winemakers in the Morgon Cru of Beaujolais.  It was his principles & teachings which prompted the later dubbed “Gang of Four”–leader-Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Jean-Paul Thévenet & Guy Breton–to forge an upstart, soon to be “revolution” & approach to more sustainable practices in both the vineyard & the winery, which essentially started the ball rolling & subsequently spread throughout their region, then throughout France & then throughout the world.  Yes, game changers.

Just to be clear, they were not the only ones heading in that direction & approach.  The timing for them was right on.  World renowned chefs & farmers were forging down the path of organic more & more.  A growing number of diners thought organic was much more healthy & of better quality.  The concept would just keep snowballing & gaining in momentum.

Certainly one of the U.S. culinary epicenters  which championed this “quiet” movement was Berkeley, California, which was also the home for superstar chef Alice Waters & her Chez Panisse restaurant.  She vehemently sought after heirloom varieties, whether it was tomatoes, greens or fruit AND sustainable/organic farming & championed many of the small farmers of her area.  Her contemporary, though on the wine side was Kermit Lynch, also working out of Berkeley, who sought after & imported small, artisan wineries from France (& later from Italy).

He was a champion of the “little” guys–those who did not have large marketing dollars & resources or fancy packaging.  He gave the small, true artisan wineries a voice & a growing presence in the U.S. market.

In doing so, he too was championing family owned, indigenous, heirloom/heirloom vines & the concept of sustainable farming.

We were quite taken with his selections from the northern Rhone Valley (August Clape & Noel Verset of Cornas; Jean Louis Chave of Hermitage; Gentaz Dervieux & Robert Jasmin of Cote Rotie; Raymond Trollat of St Joseph).  The wines from these iconic estates were also supported with high praise & scores from the wine media, most notably Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate.  Kermit’s portfolio also included other artisan producers from Burgundy (Robert Chevillon, Maume, Raveneau, Coche Dury, Michel Colin, Francois Jobard & of course Henri Jayer)….& continued with the first inkling of “grower” Champagnes imported to the U.S,  with the likes of J. Lassalle, Paul Bara & Batiste-Pertois.  And, these were just the tip of the iceberg.

Early on Kermit also had a real liking to similar minded wineries from the Beaujolais region & started importing producers such as Michel Chignard, Bernard Diochon & Damien Dupeuble.  Lynch would add to the stable of superb artisan producers with four vignerons from the Cru of Morgon, who would later become known as “The Gang of Four”.  The rest is history.

Recently I had a chance to taste 2 wines from the “Gang” at a tasting–2017 Jean Foillard Beaujolais Villages & the 2016 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”.  While the 2017 Foillard was wonderfully delicious, mesmerizingly textured & so intriguing, it really was the 2016 Morgon from Jean-Paul Thévenet that really caught our attention.  I loved how naked & pure it really was–NO make up–& therefore all about vinosity (old vine-ness) & stony character–done in a very handcrafted, timeless, minimal sulfur use style.  It vividly reminded me of the old days, when I first had their wines.  While Foillard was the king of hill then, I have to say Jean-Paul Thévenet is certainly there alongside.  I thought his 2015 & 2016 Morgon “Vieilles Vignes were the best I tasted from the whole group in recent times.  Wow!

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After a quick lunch at El Palmar restaurant in Lompoc (highly recommended by several winemakers), we jumped in our cars & headed back north to the Santa Maria Valley.  I just wanted to make sure the Hawaii gang had a chance to see first hand & walk the iconic Bien Nacido Vineyard.

We met long time Au Bon Climat associate winemaker Jim Adelman at their winemaking facility, which is located in the Bien Nacido vineyard.   (By the way, I was happy to hear that Frank Ostini & Gray Hartley of Hitching Post have moved their winemaking operation back to this winemaking facility).  Who better to show us?  I believe this can give a very & different perspective on the hows & whys of a wine, especially if you do so with the right kind of winemaker.

After tasting a few wines just to whet the palate (note: their wines truly are some of the very finest out of California AND the winemaking has never been better.  They are in the zone!), we jumped in the cars & headed to different parts of this nearly 900 acre vineyard. 

The first stop was the iconic K Block, which has been the source to Au Bon Climat’s Bien Nacido Chardonnay for decades.  The vines were planted in 1973 & are still on their own roots.  The resulting wine has mesmerizing minerality & dazzling dynamics in its youth with incredible, though seemingly effortlessly focused intensity, concentration & vivid, riveting acidity.  I am not sure how many people really understand what an outstanding a wine this bottling typically is, especially since it is frequently only rated 88 to 92 points by the wine media.  I would however say to that, we had a bottle of the 1991 BLIND recently & most of the tasters thought it to be French white Burgundy of Cru quality.  While many Californian wines may age, this one definitely gets better with age & is truly worth the wait.  (I should mention here that the Au Bon Climat Chardonnay from the Sanford Benedict vineyard is also one of the very top Chardonnays out of California too & well worth seeking out!)

We jumped back in the car to check out the world renown Q & N Pinot Noir Blocks (mostly planted in 1973 & own rooted; although the inter-row plantings were planted in the mid 90’s with Dijon clones).  Slightly & gradually ascending from the floor vineyards reminiscent to the Crus of Burgundy, there is a VERY long waiting list of winemakers who can only up to this point dream of getting grapes from these two parcels.  I was absolutely shocked to see that roughly 5 acres of each parcel had been uprooted & now lay fallow.  What?  How can this be?  My questions were answered when seeing the large amounts of red/orange colored vine leaves, caused by the malady known as Red Blotch, spreading in the blocks below.  Sadly, in the next few years these 2 truly historic, iconic parcels & its old, own rooted, noteworthy vines, will all have to be replanted.  I was totally shocked at this thought & greatly saddened.  I have had many REALLY terrific wines from these old vines & I felt like I was saying goodbye to them for the last time.  Tragic to say the least.  (sorry, my pictures for these didn’t turn out so good).

Lying right above Q & N Blocks across the dirt vineyard road is Block 2, a parcel planted for Au Bon Climat in the mid-1990’s.  Slightly more elevated & more naked to the coastal winds, this parcel has a bunch of different Pinot vines planted, including a small amount of Pinot Meunier.  The wines I have tasted from Au Bon Climat using these grapes are also very intriguing & even more beguiling than those from Q & N Block, though certainly not as rich & vinous.  With the fading of N & Q, however, I am sure there will be a long waiting list for these grapes too.

Off in the distance, we could see W Block, another one of the very noteworthy vineyard sources of California for Chardonnay.  In fact, many more winemakers today are clamoring for this fruit over all of the others to produce Chardonnay.  The vines were also planted in 1973 on its own roots, in soils that once was a river bed–therefore much more gravelly/shale than the sandy loam commonly found in the other renown Chardonnay parcels of Bien Nacido. 

We then took a trek to the newer (late 90’s early to mid 2000’s) plantings on top of the hill–most notably X & Z Blocks, the Nebbiolo block & Block 11.  This is a really different grape growing zone & it normally shows in the quality of the fruit they bear.  Quite dramatic to say the least.  Tasting the ripening grapes was a terrific learning opportunity, especially in contrast to what we tasted up in Paso Robles.

In ALL cases, the ambient temperatures were MUCH cooler (higher 70’s to mid 80’s, not considering the wind chill factor) during the day than what we experienced anywhere else during this trip.  Coupled with the various soils, this made for a lot of insight into what can be in the wines.

Thank you Jim Adelman for a terrific visit & vineyard tour. 

Before driving back to our hotel in Buellton (45 minutes south), on the way out & back to catch the highway, I just had to show the Hawaii gang, the Gold Coast Vineyard, a 5 minute drive from Bien Nacido & closer to the ocean.  (one can clearly see Bien Nacido Vineyard in the distance in the picture to the right).  This is the home vineyard for the Costa de Oro wines AND the CF Pinot Noir.  The soils are also quite sandy loam there.  The main core of vines (old California heritage clone 4 for Chardonnay & the Martini heritage vine for Pinot Noir), were planted in 1989, 90 & 91.  Located up on a mesa, the vines get continually pounded by the cool ocean winds which, along with the more meager soils, greatly affects the vigor of the vines.  I really love how transparent, elegant, well textured, pretty AND personal the resulting wines can be.  I also wanted to reiterate what truly remarkable values they are given their reasonable pricing.

 

We then made a dinner stop at Industrial Eats in Buellton, a restaurant highly recommended to us by many people.

 

 

After dinner, since it was still light outside, I took the gang for a drive to see the other side of the Santa Rita Hills “horseshoe configuration”, which included driving by Melville, Babcock, Clos Pepe, Huber, Hapgood (we had seen wine renown winemaker Greg Brewer earlier as we were leaving lunch.  Wish we had the time to stop by for a quick taste.), Zotovich, Ampelos & Hilliard Bruce in the distance.  We stopped a couple of times, so everyone could see the soils & feel the gusting wind, both integral influences to the vine of this area. 

We then took a drive out so everyone could see Happy Canyon farther east just to get a feel of that region too.

The next morning, as we headed down to LA, we made one last stop down in Ojai, home to winemaking maestro Adam Tolmach & his Ojai wines.  Here was a chance for all to spend some time listening to one of the legendary wine “yodas” of all time, while tasting some of his wines out of barrel.  Adam was one of the 2 founding winemakers/owners of Au Bon Climat, whom both Gary Burk of Costa de Oro & Jim Adelman worked for, along with equally legendary Jim Clendenen.  When they decided to split up, Clendenen kept Au Bon Climat & Tolmach concentrated on his Ojai label.  How often does one get to talk story with an icon like this?  Plus, to view our Santa Barbara trip from another perspective, we tasted a bunch of barrel samples, including wines from the Puerta del Mar AND various blocks of Bien Nacido, Adam has been working with since the early to mid 1990’s–I Block for Chardonnay (planted in 1973 & own rooted); Q Block for Pinot Noir (also planted in 1973 & own rooted) & the Syrah from Z Block (planted in the mid 90’s) up on the top of the hill, which we had walked & tasted the grapes off the vine.  Amazing wines!!!!!!!  I really would say it was very clear to me that Adam Tolmach is making better wines than ever before AND they are still some of the very best out of California .  Kudos young man & thank you!  Also much mahalo to Fabien Castel too!

A group of us from Hawaii were in Paso Robles attending the 4 day, SOMM Camp, put on by The SOMM Journal.  This truly was some kind of event.

On our way south, eventually headed to Los Angeles to catch a plane back to Hawaii, we made a one day stop down in the Santa Barbara appellation, so I could show the visiting Hawaii based younger wine turks some of what I consider to be standout vineyards.  For at least a couple of them, it was their first trip to both Paso Robles & now Santa Barbara.  Because I believe the old adage a picture is worth a 1,000 words, I am hoping each will remember these vineyard sites, the differing climate & their soils well into the future.  It was a start. 

We actually left Paso Robles the night before after having a wonderful dinner with Karl Wittstrom, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, Stewart Cameron (all from Ancient Peaks winery) & visiting Neyers/Camino winemaker Tadeo Borchardt at The Range, a very well known restaurant down in the town of Santa Margarita.  (FYI–We had asked this chef, Cheyne Jackson, to do a “Taste of Paso Robles” luncheon at the January 2019 Wine Speak event along with noted wine journalist/long time,  highly respected wine professional Randy Caparoso & legendary Master Sommelier Fred Dame.  We were therefore somewhat familiar with his style of cooking which peaked our interest plus we just wanted to stop by to say hello).  It was a wonderful evening with some really cool wines, which Tadeo & Amanda had brought along, PLUS some steaks Karl had brought from his own ranch.  Amazing!

We travel at night to our next destination like this so we don’t have to fight any traffic or encounter any unforeseen circumstances, which might make us late.  So, we spent the night in Buellton, right in the core of the Santa Barbara appellation.  When we got there, it was like 65 to 68 degrees.  And this is still August!  It had been a long 4 days, so we planned to get a really good night’s sleep, as the next day would also be long & arduous.

After a quick breakfast at the hotel, which included a young man pouring his hamburger gravy into the waffle maker–I didn’t know what that was about–but it sure created some fervor, we headed out to the Ballard Canyon, to meet up with winemaking phenom Matt Dees (Jonata/The Hilt/The Paring).  Even though they were already harvesting some grapes & at the same time building a new winery, he graciously still made the time for us.  I asked Matt because he has the knowledge/insights of the Jonata, Sanford & Benedict, Radian, Bentrock & Puerta del Mar vineyards.  PLUS, he is undoubtedly one of the top winemakers out of California.

Our first stop was Jonata, which is located in the Ballard Canyon with neighboring sites–Beckman & Stolpman on 2 sides. 

Ballard Canyon is generally warmer than either the Santa Rita Hills to the west AND the Santa Maria Valley to the north (& slightly west).  To date, it has been very hospitable to grape varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet (both Franc & Sauvignon) & surprisingly Sangiovese.  Sadly, it has inexplicably been surprisingly slow to gain the full media attention & notoriety it so deserves. 

While touring the area back in perhaps the late 90’s, I remember seeing them clearing the land which was to be Jonata.  What I found intriguing was in contrast to the limestone one sees at the neighboring Stolpman, Jonata is really inundated with sand.  Lots of sand.

With the interest perked, I started contacting everyone I knew in the Santa Barbara region, to see if they could open the door to this project.  I just wanted to see who was behind it & what the vision was.  NO answers.  I soon found out, Jonata was the sister project of Screaming Eagle of the Napa Valley up north.  So, I started blindly writing to Screaming Eagle.  NO luck.  Dead silence.

Then one year when I was a speaker at the Hospice de Rhone festival in Paso Robles, the person helping the event with their PR, Dan Friedman, stopped by our table at the pre-event shindig for media & winemakers with some bottles in hand.  They were all from Jonata.  I was shell shocked.  After all of the efforts on trying to contact someone on these wines, they were now serendipitously sitting in front of me.  I asked Dan how he got them.  He said Robert Parker had been there earlier in the morning to taste them.  OMG.  After tasting through them, I knew they would receive favorable, high scores.  I then thought now that Parker had tasted them, I had a 6 to 8 week window to try & get them before he published his reviews.

As it turned out, I recall, Parker actually wrote about them & published his review in only a 3 or 4 week turn around.  While I had had a little bit of success with someone connected with Screaming Eagle in the Napa Valley (sister project to Jonata), once the reviews & high praise was published, I thought there was no way, we would get some of the miniscule amounts of wines they produced in 2004.

Well, as it turned out we in fact were able to a couple of cases of this & a couple more cases of that & were so thankful.

After, we were also able to get some 2006 wines too, albeit miniscule amounts.  It was years in between before we were able to get any more to the islands.  Because of the awards & accolades just kept rolling in, I figured the demand far exceeded the supply.

Interestingly, along the way, they also started producing Pinot Noir (& I believe some Chardonnay), from grapes they purchased from the Fiddlestix vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills, located just below the iconic Sanford & Benedict vineyard, closer to the river.  I thought the wines were good, BUT not on the same level of quality as those from Jonata.

Subsequently, they  created 2 other labels–The Hilt for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir AND The Paring (a more value oriented label, whose core was essentially declassified juice from Jonata & later The Hilt & their top notch vineyard sources).  I was so interested in BOTH.  The quality of The Hilt wines was so much more interesting & intriguing than what I had tasted before.  AND, the inaugural vintage of The Paring Red offered exceptional quality (all 200 cases worth) given the price.   I knew I had to check out this project on my next visit to California. 

As it turned out, after 7 to 9 days touring vineyards & tasting wines up & down California, we stopped by Jonata on the tail end of a trip, specifically to learn more about The Hilt project.  In short, they were some of the most compelling, memorable wines we had encountered on the entire trip.  Amazing!!!!!

A great part of their success I would say starts in the vineyards.  And, what a line up of sources they had–old vine Bien Nacido, Dijon clones from Solomon Hills AND, they leased the front 30 acres on the right side of Sanford & Benedict (planted in 1971/1973, still own rooted), which they now organically farm.  To that bevy of iconic, top notch  grape sources, they also had purchased the Salsipuedes parcel out on the extreme western Santa Rita Hills appellation.  Of this large holding, there are currently 3 planted parcels–Radian (roughly 96 acres, planted in 2007); Bentrock (roughly 100 acres, planted in 2007) & Puerta del Mar (roughly 5 1/2 acres, planted in 2007).  I must say, Radian & Bentrock were as extreme of a vineyard site as I can recall seeing–remote, powdery marine soils & desolate, semi arid surrounding countryside with a relentless pounding ocean wind.  (Whether that translates into noteworthy wine is yet to be seen).

In any regards, I walked away from visiting BOTH Jonata (Ballard Canyon) AND their Santa Rita Hills plantings of Chardonnay & Pinot Noir in awe, especially after tasting through their line up of respective wines.  Wow!  I was jazzed.

So that being the background, we now headed to meet Matt Dees at the entrance to Ballard Canyon.  We were elated to see Matt once again & most thankful that he made the time, given the new winery construction & them already starting to harvest grapes. 

We started off at Jonata.  The gang included–from HAWAII–Ivy Nagayama (DK Restaurants); Micah Suderman (Royal Hawaiian Hotel); Justin Sugita (Lucky Belly/Livestock Tavern/ Tchin Tchin), Michael Winterbottom (SENIA) & my wife Cheryle.  Also joining us were Amanda Wittstrom Higgins & Stewart Cameron (Ancient Peaks) & Tadeo Borchardt (Neyers/Camino).

The first thing I would say is their animal populations has greatly increased over the years–the goats, chickens, pigs, sheep,–OMG.  Can’t talk about that too much though, as they are part of the working team that farm & keep the vineyard in shape.

The Jonata estate is roughly 600 acres in size, of which the vineyards actually are only a small part.  Located 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is so remarkable that the vineyard is really all about sand.  This is one of the obvious & discerning differences that separates it from the neighboring Stolpman & Beckman estates.  The vineyard was planted in 2000 & their first release was the 2004. 

While showing us the soils, Matt popped open a few bottles for us to try–2013 Flor (70% Sauvignon Blanc & 30% Semillon–1 year in 1/3 old oak, 1/3 new, 1/3 stainless steel).  It was definitely noteworthy with lots of mojo & structure without gaudiness or any ostentatious attitude.  He then served his 2006 Sangre (100% Syrah)–done with NO stems & 22 months in oak, 30% new.  I was really taken by how this wine has greatly opened up & was strutting its grandeur in comparison to the last time I had tasted it.  It was really starting to resolve its “baby fat” & show its peacock tail  of gloriousness.  VERY impressive.  WOWZA!

There is also a new planting–all own rooted (reminder–sand), which I look forward to seeing what becomes of that. 

We then head off to the Santa Rita Hills.  First stop–Sanford & Benedict vineyard.  Not to sound repetitive, but from my point of view over the years this is the consistently finest single vineyard for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir out of California.  It has something extra to its mojo.  AND, it has quite a long history (first planted in 1971 or 1973, depends on who you speak to) at being at the top.

 

Our next stop was the Radian Vineyard out on the western border of the Santa Rita Hills appellation.  It truly is breathtaking in its remote, semi arid,

looking from the top ridge of Radian Vineyard

The “Pinot Bowl” of Radian Vineyard

the remote, semi arid, wild countryside surrounding Radian vineyard (on the western side of the bordering fence (hence officially Santa Barbara designated)

pretty extreme

fish fossil–part of the soils

rugged terrain & location, as is their Bentrock Vineyard right next door.  I can’t wait to see what the future holds for these two extreme sites.  Tasting a couple of soon to be releases shows there is tremendous potential starting to surface, that’s for sure.  The 2017’s tasted spot on & excitingly good!

Bentrock vineyard in the distance

By the way, while in the Radian Vineyard, Matt also popped open The Hilt “Pet Nat”–100% Bentrock Pinot Noir done in the ancestrale method.  We loved it!.  I just hope we can get some. 

 

Finally, I was really taken back by seeing Puerta del Mar again, having sampled some of the Ojai bottlings from this vineyard over the past 5 or so years.  I wonder if it is the vineyard and/or the intuitive winemaking genius of Ojai’s Adam Tolmach which makes it so interesting.

The BIG news is, The Hilt team is right in the midst of building an incredibly well thought out, state of the art winery there for their wines.  Should be interesting.

Thank you Matt Dees for a wonderful visit, vineyard tours & tasting some wine.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019.

The final morning of SOMM Camp Paso Robles 2019.

For the Finale, there were 9 different activities to choose from, each offered by one of the 9 different wineries.

  • Alta Colina Vineyard: “Four Wineries/One Vineyard” tasting at brunch at the Trailer Pond (Alta Colina’s vintage trailer campbround). Join Alta Colina owner/growers Bob and Maggie Tillman, Booker’s Glenn Mitton, Caliza’s Carl Bowker, and Paix Sur Terre’s Ryan Pease as they present their wines sourced from the high elevation (1,800-ft.) Alta Colina estate blocks, with brunch prepared by Chef Julie Simon
  • Booker Wines: Owner/Grower/Winemakers Eric and Lisa Jensen (alumnus of both Saxum Vineyards and L’Aventure Winery) are offering an “ultimate geek-out” experience examining Biodynamic farming and their process of harvest decision-making based upon science driven data of everything from color to Brix
  • Brecon Estate Winery – Walk through three vineyards to do “call the pick” grape harvest samplings and field tastings with master winemaker/owner Damian Grindley and Brecon viticulture manager Hilary Graves
  • Cass Winery: Horseback ride in the vineyard, followed by a charcuterie board and Cass wine flight (limited to 4 participants)
  • Epoch Estate: Drop in on multiple vineyards (including Epoch’s York Mountain Vineyard in the cold climate York Mountain AVA, west of the Paso Robles AVA) for harvest grape samplings and sugar readings, followed by lab analyses/tasting with winemaker Jordan Fiorentini and vineyard manager Kyle Gingras
  • Law Estate: Join winemaker Philipp Pfunder in this elaborate tasting experience examining the impact of barrels on grapes and clones – an exploration of multiple coopers, aging vessels and oak age (from new to neutral), broke down by variety/clone and vintage blocks
  • Linne Calodo: Private plane aerial tour of Paso Robles flown by owner/grower/winemaker Matt Trevisan (limited to 3 passengers)
  • Tablas Creek Vineyard: Study of use of sheep, alpaca, llama, donkey, herding dogs and guard mastiffs in Biodynamic winegrowing, led by estate shepherd Nathan Stuart
  • Villa Creek Cellars: Study of combination Demeter certified Biodynamic/CCOF certified organic viticulture with vineyard walk and field tastings with owner/winemaker Cris Cherry

Our brave, fellow Hawaii representative, Michael Winterbottom of Senia Restaurant, chose to fly in a 4 seater plane with pilot, Matt Trevisan of Linne Calodo.  Yes, he chose the plain (plane) route.  Here are a couple of pictures he forwarded to me from his experience.

San Andreas Fault

 

Glen Rose Vineyard

As one can readily see, it must have been a truly unforgettable experience!

Several of us chose to instead visit the Alta Colina Vineyard, of the Adelaida District.  It was one I wanted to know more about. What a spectacular looking vineyard this truly is!  Amazing, to say the least.  Plus, I saw Glen Mitton, Carl Bowker & Ryan Pease would also be there.  In addition to the wonderful banter, we tasted through a series of wines from different winemakers–Bob & Maggie Tillman (Alta Colina, our host); Glen Mitton (Booker); Carl Bowker (Caliza) & Ryan Pease (Paix sur Terre).  We also had a most enjoyable brunch at the Estate’s trailer pond with REALLY good foods prepared by Chef Julie Simon.  What a great way to end out 4 day journey.  Thank YOU all very much.  It was a most enjoyable morning.

 

SOMM Camp was a great way to meet & talk story with so many people.  I absolutely loved the new friendships that were developed, the camaraderie, the sights, the smells, the tastes & the wealth of insights, experiences & information openly offered.  AND, I am always most thankful to the open arms, welcoming & graciousness of the Paso Robles community.  Also, again, thanks to Meredith May, Randy Caparoso, Ryan Pease, the winemakers, the vineyard-ists & the whole team for making this all happen.  Much Mahalo to all.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019.

We again got an early start, as we leave the hotel at 7:30am to go & visit Syrah pioneer/legend, Gary Eberle out in the Geneseo District of eastern Paso Robles.  We actually meet Gary out in the Steinbeck Vineyard, where he shares his insights into the beginning of his journey into grape growing, winemaking & spearheading the Syrah grape variety in California.  As was duly noted while the vine he made famous is today referred to as the Estrella clone (after the winery he was working at), it rightfully should have been named the Eberle vine, because of all of his efforts bringing it to the forefront, even to this day.  Joining Gary was iconic owner/grower Howie Steinbeck.  The stories & insights were amazing & broadened all’s knowledge of how it all came to be.  How often do opportunities like this come around?

After kicking around the dirt & tasting nearly ripened Syrah grapes for a while, we then headed to the Eberle winery & specifically down to the cellar underneath, to taste more wines & attend a panel of top Syrah meisters from various parts of the Paso Robles appellation.  The Syrah panel, moderated by Randy Caparoso, included Austin Hope (Austin Hope); Jeremy Weintraub (Adelaida); Bob Tillman (Alta Colina); Damian Grindley (Brecon); Gary Eberle (Eberle); Neil Collins (Lone Madrone) & Justin Smith (Saxum).  The discussions were focused & full of insight.  We also had the opportunity to taste a Syrah from each of them, while they provided color commentary–2016 Adelaida Syrah “Viking Vineyard”; 2016 Alta Collina Syrah “Old 900 Estate”; 2015 Austin Hope Syrah; 2017 Brecon Syrah “Reserve”; 1997 Eberle Syrah “Library selection” (yup, you read that right–1997); 2016 Lone Madrone Syrah “Willow Creek” & 2016 Saxum “Booker Vineyard”.  As a side note, I thought Randy did a really excellent job moderating the panel.

We then adjourned back upstairs to the deck/patio for a walk around tasting to taste even more Syrah reds–2017 Booker “Fracture”; 2017 Brecon Syrah “Haggis Basher”; 2015 Cass Syrah “Backbone”; 2016 Clos Solène “Hommage a Nos Pairs”; 2016 Denner Syrah “Estate”‘ 2016 Denner “Dirt Worshipper”; 2017 Eberle Syrah “Steinbeck Vineyard”;  2016 Epoch “Authencitiy; 2017 Jada “Jersey Girl”; 2017 Law “Intrepid”; 2016 Saxum “Broken Stones”; 2015 Torrin “Akasha” & 2016 Vina Robles “Terra Bella Vineyard”.  My palate was stained & colored, BUT, it was well worth it.  Thank you all. 

We had but a short time afterwards to say good bye & pay our respects to all who made this special opportunity happen before we had to again board the vans & head off to our next stop–Denner Vineyards.  We had a 25 minute ride, just long enough for a quick power nap, before we pulled into the back gate heading towards the top of their vineyards blocks.  It was dusty & quite hot, as we jumped out to see & hear Anthony Yount of Denner Vineyards, who along with their vineyard manager gave us much insight into what Denner is all about in their vineyards.  At one point, they even showed TWO sets of 3 grape bunches each.  One set, were grapes from the lower…..the middle…& the top of that specific hill.  They couldn’t have been more different in sight–from green to ripening/colored–& taste.  The other set was yet another hill–the same grape, but each grown on a different root stock.  Amazing!!!!!   Yes, on this trip, I was definitely tasting as many different grapes from all of the sites & varieties I could.  It really is amazing how different acids, tannins, grit & taste can be.  How often do opportunities like this come around? 

We then broke for lunch & a much needed break from all of the information/insight deluge.  The food really hit the spot (thank you Denner) & the casual conversations with everyone was kind of a relief.  Then the headlining winemakers for the next seminar–A Grenache Panel– started trickling in & the greetings & conversations changed back to the focus of why we were all there.  It all certainly started to ramp up, as it should considering the all star panel coming up next on the schedule.

Which brings us to the next seminar/tasting–A Grenache Panel–with a time limit of 1 hour, featuring 8 winemakers & 8 wines to taste.  Joining in for this one included–Eric Jensen (Booker); Carl Bowker (Caliza); Anthony Yount (Denner); Jordan Fiorentini (Epoch); Philipp Pfunder (Law); Justin Smith (Saxum); Scott Hawley (Torrin) & Cris Cherry (Villa Creek)–moderated by yours truly.  The question I was asked by a long time wine friend a short time ago–“when are we going to start speaking & sharing about terroir, rather than being so grape variety centric”.  While the seminar was named Grenache, we asked each of these top winemakers of the Paso Robles that same question.  Thankfully many of the insights shared were really insightful & most were engaging.  The bottom line, is Paso Robles has come a long way, not only with the Rhone styled grape varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre & in this case Grenache, but also identifying where it could excel & why.  The wines presented clearly showcased how special & individual they can be.  We also wanted to remind attendees, that these kinds of red wines can fill a much needed opportunity on the restaurant floor, which lies somewhere between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon, in terms of weight, density, structure & drama.  And, to grow that opportunity, we need wine professionals who understand the hows & whys & to then champion the thought.

To further the insights we tasted 8 Grenache based wines–2017 Booker “Ripper”; 2016 Caliza Grenache “Willow Creek”; 2017 Denner Grenache “Estate”; 2016 Epoch “Sensibility”; 2016 Law Grenache “Nines”; 2015 Saxum “Rocket Block”; 2015 Torrin Grenache “Willow Creek”; & 2017 Villa Creek Garnacha.  Yes, quite a line-up & quite the tasting!  WOW!  Thank you to all. 

The vans then took us to our next stop–the iconic Glen Rose Vineyard in the Adelaida district.  I clearly remember my first visit to this vineyard when only the bottom section had just been planted.  I was astounded at the meager soils, the high elevation & the breadth of what was happening in this spot.  A few years later, I remember a tasting at Hospice de Rhone, a line up of Paso Robles Syrah, BLIND.  I was really taken by glass number 15.  It was a Syrah from Glen Rose Vineyard.  I was back on the road the next day to go & again see the vineyard because of the character the wine displayed in the glass.  What I saw on this later visit has stuck in my mind since.  Glen Rose Vineyard is really something to marvel.  No pictures I have seen ever does it justice.  Furthermore, pictures certainly don’t capture the feeling of awe I get standing there & feeling the relentless winds & the smells of the desolate, remote, untamed surrounding countryside.  So, it was with great anticipation for me to go back & again visit on this trip.

Joining & actually hosting this visit was Ryan Pease (Paix sur Terre)/ Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, a major sponsor & organizer of this SOMM Camp.  (Our Hawaii gang had made it a point to visit his winery/tasting room, when we arrived a few days before, since we had been hearing so much about Ryan & his wines recently.  I just wanted to better understand his wines & his winemaking genius, before SOMM Camp actually started). Let’s just say, he is one you should keep an eye on moving forward.  After a talk about the vineyard & its various parcels, Ryan poured us 3 of his Paix sur Terre Mourvedre wines to sample–2016 Paix sur Terre “The Other One–Glen Rose Vineyard; 2016 Paix sur Terre “Comes a Time–Alta Colina Vineyard” & the 2017 “Been Away Too Long–Denner Vineyard“.”  The differences were astounding & memorable.  Thank you Ryan Pease & Don Rose for another memorable stop.

I should also take this moment to thank Ryan Pease for helping put together & organize this event, the vineyard tours & corralling all of the mega-talent who joined in to make this event so special.  While it takes an army to detail the logistics & scheduling, it also takes a well respected insider to huddle the team together to put their best forward.  Kudos to you.

Okay, it was time to load up the vans again….& head to Saxum.

There is no doubt that Saxum & winemaker/owner Justin Smith is the most ballyhoo-ed out of the Paso Robles appellation.  AND, deservedly so.  The wines perennially get such high, world-class acclaim & accolades.  Quite remarkable when you meet Justin & see how humble & down to earth he still is.  Furthermore, he is truly a man of the vineyard.  Completely. 

I also have found it so incredibly remarkable how his father, Pebble, chose to purchase & plant his James Berry Vineyard where it is still located & farmed today.  It is Grand Cru, if there was such a thing in Paso Robles.  It is also the benchmark others look to replicate.  It just has something extra.

After a vineyard walk up to the Bone Rock parcel from their cave down below (I told him I needed an elevator installed if he wants me up there) we tasted 2 barrel samples–2017 “Bone Rock” (Syrah blend) & 2017 Hexe (Grenache blend), each from his oldest & most unique parcels of the estate as the base.  (I wanted to add to all, now try & see if you can get some.  LOL).

Rather than make that climb up to the top of Bone Rock with the entourage, I instead sat outside, off to side, smoked my stogie & talked story with a couple of winemakers who had trickled in.  From my vantage point, I soon saw more & more winemakers intermittently arriving & parking their cars before walking by me & saying hello.  I thought it so interesting that each knew the code to enter the gate, where to park & unload & each knew the passcode to get into the cave.  It was like this was their home or hangout.  Yup, it was very apparent, this was kind of like a frat house–Paso Central.

The walk around tasting was all set up & ready to go when the event attendees came back down off the reverent hilltop.

Here is what we tasted–

2014 Austin Hope GSM; 2015 Austin Hope Grenache; 2015 Austin Hope Mourvedre/Syrah blend; 2017 Booker Oublie (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah); 2017 Booker Vertigo (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache); 2017 Brecon “Forty Two” (Mourvedre, Syrah & Petite Syrah); 2016 Clos Solène “Harmonie” (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah)’ 2016 Clos Solène “Fleur de Solene” (Syrah, Grenache & Cabernet Sauvignon); NV Clos Solène “Sweet Clementine (Grenache & Syrah); 2017 Denner “Ditch Digger” (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Graciano & Cinsaut); 2016 Jada “Hell’s Kitchen” (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre); 2017 Jada Hell’s Kitchen” (Syrah, Grenache, Graciano, Viognier & Tannat);  2017 Jada “S+GT” (Syrah, Graciano & Tannat); 2016 Law “Audacious” (Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan & Syrah); 2016 Law “Sagacious” (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre)’ 2016 Law “Beguiling” (Grenache & Syrah); 2017 Linne Calodo “Sticks & Stones” (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre); 2017 Linne Calodo “Rising Tides (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah)’ 2016 Linne Calodo “Overthinker (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Carignan); 2016 Paix sur Terre “Songs of Its Own” (Grenache, Mourvedre & Cinsaut); 2017 Saxum “G2 Vineyard”; 2017 Saxum “Heart Stone Vineyard”; 2016 Torrin “The Banshee” (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache); 2016 Villa Creek “Avenger” (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache)’ 2015 Villa Creek “High Road” (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache) & the 2015 Vina Robles “Syree” (Syrah & Petite Sirah).  WOW!  –power packed, teeth staining, but all well worth it!  Thank you all for sharing.  Yet another incredible opportunity & one I will remember forever!

I would also like to add a side note here.  During our travels in the vans & at the various meals throughout the 4 days, one of the queries/opinions I shared whenever asked was–“while many wines may age, the question for me always is, does it get better with age.”  And, specifically with very ripe, opulent, lavish red wines, the question looms larger in my opinion.  I remember having a 2002 Australian 99 point rated Shiraz again 5 to 6 years after it was released.  The wine had greatly changed with the additional, though relatively short bottle age, from BIG, black, decadent & powerful to a dull shoe polish sheen & highly distracting nuances of prune juice.  I wondered what had happened.  I experienced similar awkward changes over the years time & time again & always found it perplexing & questioning.  I know, for sure, it doesn’t happen all of the time & might be in fact a very infrequent occurrence.  A couple of years back, because of my lack of experience with aged Paso Robles born “trophy” wines, Justin Smith of Saxum popped open several of his “library” wines, just to show our group what is possible, at least with his wines.  The wines were so WOW-inspiring, I will remember this experience forever.  It clearly showed what could be.

With this thought in mind, on this day & this tasting, Justin then opened a 2005 Saxum “Heart Stone Vineyard” bottle just to show attending sommeliers a very different perspective on what his wines can be.  Crazy good!!!!  Thank you again Justin for sharing.

What a day so far!  So much to see & experience AND so much to taste.  OMG.  Wearily, we all boarded the vans to head back to the hotel to freshen up before the night’s dinner.  I thought it would be a power nap opportunity, but my mind was still racing too much from all of the information, sensory intake, so it ended up gratefully being a “take a shower” opportunity & some quiet time instead.  I thought, what the heck, we are in the down stretch for this golden learning opportunity.

The vans departed again at 7:00pm.  We were off to revisit Cass Winery in the Geneseo District for another walk around tasting with dinner to follow.   What a difference night time is in this neck of the woods.  The stars were out & it was so peaceful & quiet with a light cooling breeze.  The walk around tasting was held in the foyer of the stylish Cass Winery, which was way larger than I had imagined.

The wines we tasted–2016 Adelaida “Anna’s Signature” Red (Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre); 2016 Alta Colina GSM; 2015 Caliza “Azimuth” (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah); 2015 Caliza “Cohort” (Petite Sirah, Grenache & Syrah); 2015 Cass GSM; 2016 Cass “Rockin’ One” Red (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah & Petite Sirah); 2016 Cass “Rockin’ Ted” Red (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah & Petite Sirah); 2017 Cass Grenache; 2017 Cass Mourvedre; 2015 Cass Syrah “Estate”; 2017 Eberle Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah); 2015 Epoch “Ingenuity” (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Petite Sirah); 2015 Epoch Estate Blend (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache & Tempranillo); 2016 Epoch “Veracity” (Mourvedre, Grenache & Syrah); 2016 Epoch Mourvedre; 2016 Lone Madrone “Oveja Negra” (Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah & Counoise); 2016 Thacher “Constant Variable” (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & Counoise); 2016 Thacher “Oddly Natural” (Grenache, syrah, Counoise–Glen Rose Vineyard); 2017 Thacher Grenache; 2016 Thacher Cinsault & 2017 Thacher Valdiguie.  Wow!  So many wines & so many styles.

The dinner was casual & the food & wine really tasty & hitting the spot.  It was surprisingly sedate.  It had been a long 2 days & it was therefore so wonderful to eat & hang out in such a wonderful, calm setting.  It was truly a night dining with friends rather than peers, ones you got to know over the past 3 days.  Thank you to Cass Winery for a wonderful evening & being such gracious hosts.

Monday, August 26, 2019.

We were up early & off to our first stop at Tablas Creek, also located in the Adelaida district.  After a very informative & insightful walk through their estate vineyard by General Manager/Managing Partner Jason Haas, we retired to one of the barrel rooms where Jason led us through a comprehensive tasting of what they thought Paso Robles could be.  It was very enlightening & I must add to that, Jason is a marvelous, engaging, very articulate speaker/presenter & his presentation was truly eye opening.  The tasting consisted of 11 of the Rhone grape varietals they pioneered & grew in the area– WHITE–2018 Picardin; 2018 Clairette, 2018 Picpoul, 2017 Grenache Blanc, 2018 Viognier, 2017 Marsanne, 2015 Roussanne; RED— 2015 Terret Noir, 2017 Counoise, 2017 Grenache, 2017 Mourvedre & 2017 Syrah, PLUS FIVE of their blends–2018 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne & Clairette Blanc), 2016 Espirit de Tablas Blanc (Roussanne, Grenache Blanc), 2017 Patelin de Tablas Rouge (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Counoise);  2016 Espirit de Tablas Rouge ( (Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah & Counoise) & the 2002 Espirit de Beaucstel Rouge (Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache & Counosie), just to show us what can happen with some bottle age.  What a truly memorable experience!  Much Mahalo.

Off we were then whisked to Epoch‘s Paderewski Vineyard & a vineyard walk with winemaker Jordan Fiorentini.  Standing at the top, it truly was a breathtaking, panoramic view of the stark, whitish/gray limestone/siliceous undulating hills they call home.  We ended up in their Block 13 (nicknamed Block B), the home turf of one of their single parcel designated wines.  There, we sampled the 2015 Sensibility (96% Grenache & 4% Syrah)–534 case production–95pts-Jeb Dunnuck & 96pts by Vinous & The Wine Advocate………& their 2015 Block B (100% Syrah)–315 case production–96pts by Vinous, 97pts by Wine Advocate & 98pts by Jeb Dunnuck.  Yup, we got to taste & experience a sense of place in the vineyard, tasting two wines born out of its vines.

Continuing with our very brisk pace in an effort to see & experience all that we could, off we went to Linne Calodo, in the Willow Creek AVA.  After a daunting walk up the center hillside of the estate Trevi Ranch, we were treated to taste a whole slew of their wines with color commentary from winemaker/owner Matt Trevisan–2018 Pale Flowers Rosé (100% Grenache); 2018 Contrarian (Grenache Blanc, Picpoul & Viognier); 2017 Sticks & Stones (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre);   2016 Overthinker (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Carignan); 2016 Perfectionist (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache); 2017 Rising Tides (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah); 2017 Problem Child (Zinfandel, Syrah, Graciano & Carignan); 2017 Outsider (Zinfandel, Syrah, Mourvedre, Graciano) & 2017 Cherry Red (Zinfandel, Graciano, Syrah, Carignan).  It really was quite evident these were each TOP Shelf wine.  WOW!

After a wonderful lunch at Linne Calodo (thanks Matt & Maureen), we then boarded the vans & headed out to Cass Vineyard in the Geneseo District on the east side of Highway 101.  It was a Paso Robles winegrowing area I had visited only once prior.  I watched the temperature gauge on the van dashboard, as we drove, rise from 97 degrees in the Willow Creek district to 103 by the time we hit the town of Paso Robles to 108 a few miles from Cass Vineyards, back down to 101 degrees when we arrived there.  Keep in mind, this is at 2:00pm in the afternoon.  While it may have read 101 degrees, when we stepped out of the van, it was not blazingly hot.  There was in fact a cooling breeze that mitigated the heat somewhat.  It also helped that we were strategically all standing under a large tree & its shade during our talk & tasting with Steve Cass.  The 2 wines we tasted were the 2018 Cass Rosé (Mourvedre & Grenache) & their 2017 Cass Grenache.  One could readily sense the genuine passion Steve had for the region AND especially for his vineyard.  As my wife duly noted while we drove off, “all of these Paso Robles wine families really try hard at what they do & give it their all“.  Thank you Steve & to your team.

 

After a really brief stop back at the hotel to freshen up some, we again boarded the vans & headed to Epoch Winery up on York Mountain to the south.  I have been an avid fan since early on of this winery & its vineyards.  I, in fact, went to visit the land as they were clearing it. It also helps greatly that Paso Robles superstar Justin Smith was the founding consultant & one could see things were being set up well thought out.  I found it so interesting, for instance, that as I was shown, the slant of limestone/siliceous layers is much more diagonal & therefore is much easier for the vines’ roots to burrow down in search of water & nutrients.    We were met at the door & escorted down to the barrel/winemaking cellar, where winemaker Jordan Fiorentini led us through a tasting of THREE vintages of their Epoch white wine (typically a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier & Roussanne).  What an incredibly eye opening opportunity.  It certainly shed light on what can be in Paso Robles AND from avery different perspective.  Thank you VERY much to Jordan & her team.

After that, we were then led to yet another room, where we tasted wines at a “White Rhone Mixer” with other guest winemakers.  The wines poured–2018 Adelaida Picpoul Blanc; 2017 Alta Colina Viognier “12 O’Clock High”; 2017 Booker White; 2017 Brecon Conviction (Grenache Blanc & Viognier); 2018 Brecon Viognier;  2018 Caliza “Kissin’ Cousins” (Viognier, Roussanne & Grenache Blanc); 2018 Cass “Mr Blanc” (Roussanne, Marsanne & Viognier); 2017 Cass “Rockin’ One” Blanc (Viognier, Roussanne & Marsanne); 2018 Cass Marsanne; 2018 Cass Roussanne; 2018 Cass Viognier; 2018 Clos Solène Hommage Blanc (Roussanne & Viognier); 2017 Denner “Theresa” (Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul & Vermentino); 2018 Eberle Viognier “Mill Road Vineyard”; 2018 Eberle Côtes-du-Rôbles Blanc (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne & Viognier); 2018 Epoch White (Grenache Blanc, Viognier & Roussanne); 2018 Jada “88” (Grenache Blanc & Viognier); 2017 Law “Soph” (Roussanne, Marsanne & Clairette Blanc); 2017 Lone Madrone “Oveja” (Picpoul & Grenache Blanc);  2018 Paix sur Terre Clairette Blanc; 2018 Paix sur Terre Picpoul Blanc; 2017 Tablas Creek Côte de Tablas Blanc (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne & Marsanne);  2017 Thacher Viognier; 2016 Villa Creek “Bone White” (Clairette & Fiano); 2018 Vina Robles Viognier “Huerhuero Vineyard”.

Then dinner was a very lovely evening out on the patio of their new building–really good food, a bevy of wines & great conversations.  Thank you to all.

The SOMM Journal is a publication specifically created for wine professionals.  The articles, specifically written by Randy Caparoso & Jessie “Jabs” Birschbach are very informative & quite illuminating.  I find myself waiting for the next issue to see what new topics/perspectives will be featured.

Owner/publisher, Meredith May & her team also create a SOMM Camp once or twice a year, which brings together an impressive list of wine professionals from throughout the country to take a comprehensive “field trip” to a selected winegrowing region.  For August 2019, the selected region was Paso Robles, California.

Having never been to one of these Camps before, I tagged along for this one in support.  (Since The SOMM Journal is such a big supporter of our Wine Speak event in January, also in Paso Robles, I thought to support their efforts & hopefully color commentate some along the way).

Yes, Paso Robles is meteorically growing in popularity, especially over the last 5 years.  The timing for SOMM Camp was right, as these attending wine professionals from all around the U.S., could see, walk vineyards, taste wines & talk story with a noteworthy selection of the region’s finest winemakers…..all BEFORE the mounting wave in popularity actually breaks.

I should also mention here, that host/editor at large Randy Caparoso did a superb job on selecting vineyards, people & wines to be showcased, as only he can.  I also hope all of the visiting somms & wine professionals understand how detailed & organized the 4 days were AND how much depth of knowledge Caparoso has.  It was all so amazing.  Kudos to you, young man!

Randy Caparoso

Paso Robles has recently been split into 11 different AVA’s.  This trip showed all, there is good wines to be had from each.

While the region has been historically thought of as hot (it is!  106 to 108 on some of the days we were there), the night time temperatures were often in the 50’s & 60’s.

The most compelling aspect however, touring the region for 5 days this go around, is the soils.  Yes, there is so much marine based soils seemingly everywhere, which can innately create minerality in the finished wine AND buoyancy (where the wine though ripe, opulent & lavish, seemed lighter than it actually was).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also must add that this event nurtured tremendous camaraderie–between sommeliers from around the country, many whom may have known each other by reputation, but these 4 days created a much stronger bond with each other.  This memorable time also created the sharing of knowledge, insights & experiences, which is not common normally, simply because of how busy each are in their life & their real jobs.

Furthermore, we as a group were able to discuss & better understand all of the incredible amount of information & insights presented by the winemakers & the walking of vineyards.  Wow!  For this, a BIG mahalo to Meredith May (of the host–The SOMM Journal),  Randy Caparoso, Ryan Pease, the winemakers, the vineyard-ists, the Paso Robles community & the whole team who made this happen.  This truly was a very special opportunity.

 

Opening Night was Sunday, August 25, 2019.  We left the hotel & headed to Law Estate.  We jumped out of the vans, after what seemed like an eternity of perversely winding, narrow roads & walked the breathtaking high elevation (1400 ascending to 1900 feet), steep hillside estate vineyard in the Adelaida district with winemaker Philipp Pfunder.  To bring what we saw in the vineyard to what’s in the bottle, Philipp tasted us on a 2018 Roussanne from their estate.  We found it to be a classy, mineral driven, elegant, suave & refined belle, & at least one of the true standouts we have had of this grape grown & produced in California.   Philipp then popped a bottle (or 2) of the Law Estate Sagacious, a very classy red wine blend of Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre, again all from the estate we had just walked.  As one of the attendees noted, “there is GOLD (as in Gold Medal) to be found in them hills”.

After being officially welcomed by Paso Robles RHÔNE Camp organizers Randy Caparoso (The SOMM Journal) and Ryan Pease (Paix Sur Terre), Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, Paso Robles Rhône Rangers & Travel Paso, we then moved inside to partake in a walk around rosé wine tasting featuring a who’s who list of region’s top winemakers.  Here is what was poured–

2018 Adelaida (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignan/Cinsaut/Counoise); 2018 Booker, Pink (Grenache blend); 2018 Caliza, Pink (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Syrah); 2018 Cass, Oasis Rosé; (Mourvèdre/Grenache); 2018 Clos Solène, La Rosé (Grenache/Cinsaut/Mourvèdre); 2018 Denner (Cinsaut/Grenache/Carignan/Mourvèdre); 2018 Eberle, Côtes-du-Rôbles; Grenache/Syrah/Viognier); 2018 Epoch (Mourvèdre/Grenache/Syrah); 2018 Jada, 1149 (Grenache/Graciano); 2018 Law (Grenache/Graciano/Syrah); 2018 Lone Madrone, Paso Robles Willow Creek District (Mourvèdre); 2018 Tablas Creek, Patelin de Tablas Rosé (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Counoise); 2018 Tablas Creek, Dianthus (Mourvèdre/Grenache/Counoise); 2018 Thacher, Cinsaut Rosé & 2018 Vina Robles, Huerhuero Vineyard (68% Syrah/Grenache/Viognier).

Then a sit down dinner was served.  Yes, an opportunity to talk story & create more camaraderie.  Thank you all for making this happen.

Sep
06

Duroc Pork Tomahawk 09-05-19

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One of tonight’s VINO specials was a Duroc Pork Tomahawk, which everyone seemed to really love.

Earlier this afternoon, he & I were speaking about an upcoming dinner we will be doing in early November with Greek wines.   We spoke of flavor components that would pair with the selected wines.  He then tried a glass of Skouras Moschofilero & quietly went to work on creating a marinate for the pork tomahawk he intended to feature this evening.

VINO Chef Keith marinated the pork in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onions, dried oregano, fresh parsley, salt & pepper……& then grilled it with a dash of freshly squeezed lemon.  He then plated it with vegetable-harissa couscous, Kalamata olives, pepperoncinis & baby arugula lightly tossed with a lemon vinaigrette & fresh cracked pepper.  I thought it was excellent & exactly what we were looking for.

Along with this creation, we also offered the 2017 Skouras Moschofilero as a wine special tonight as well.  The wine’s innate, exotic aromatics totally connected with the oregano & harissa, the innate, elevated viscosity held its own to the pork & the very upbeat acidity blended in well & actually synergized with the fresh squeezed lemon & lemon vinaigrette.  All modesty aside, this really was a VERY interesting, quite memorable pairing.  Plus, it was a combination that most would not even consider.

For me, this is really a fun part of working in a restaurant.

Thanks Keith for the evening’s magical moment.

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Sep
05

A Quartet from Loire Valley, France

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The Loire Valley has a long history as a wine growing region. The prestige of the area was greatly uplifted because for centuries, French royalty vacationed in their chateaux along the the river and took their favorite wine discoveries back to Paris to share with the social scene there. Fast forward to today, there are now a growing number of true vignerons who have thankfully emerged along the way. Winemakers who changed the game through the worldwide reverence which their wines have received. Here are four of them—featuring different grape varieties and masterful winemaking skills which will shed a whole different light on what Loire Valley wines can offer. How often do opportunities like this come along?

2018 Catherine & Pierre Breton Vin de Pays du Val de Loire Grolleau 

Catherine and Pierre Breton have really made quite a name for themselves through their wines and reverence to organic and biodynamic practices. Many would say, after the Gang of Four in Beaujolais, this couple were among the second wave of naturalists helping to change the game in their country. This particular wine is produced from an eight hectare parcel of clay and limestone with 60+ year old vines of a not too often seen, indigenous Grolleau grape variety. The wine is made via a three week carbonic fermentation in open top wood vats with NO puchdowns or pumpovers and bottled in April, fresh as can be.   It is truly something very unique–fresh, pretty, wonderfully transparent and jovial with a wildly rustic, prominent forest floor/earthy core. What a treat!

 

2016 Denis Jamain Reuilly Rouge 

Denis Jamain is a real life character who seems to live life with gusto. He is at the same time committed to his vineyards, its resulting wines and approaches both with great respect. This wine is one of two Pinot Noir bottlings which he produces from his clay limestone soil parcels. Pure, mesmerizing and all about the mineral of his vineyards, rather than just another Pinot Noir. It is quite amazing how this is masterfully captured in the bottle. Please also know it was just a couple of decades ago, when this grape variety would ripen here only two vintages out of ten, at least enough to produce such a wine.

 

2014 Charles Joguet Chinon “Clos du Chêne Vert”

It wasn’t that long ago, when very few in the U.S. even heard or considered a red wine from the Loire Valley with any kind of seriousness. There are after all so many other options to consider, especially at the various price points. For me that changed with the 1976 vintage and a wine I had from a then small, unknown, artist turned artisan wine producer named Charles Joguet. His wines definitively showed another perspective on what Cabernet Franc could be and so differently than what Bordeaux had to offer. Today, this estate is one of the true icons of the region and deservedly so. When the historic, most revered Chêne Vert parcel came up for sale, Joguet somehow scraped together the monies to purchase it, gambling everything at the same time. This roughly two hectare vineyard is for me the center piece of Joguet’s portfolio AND one of the unique, standout red wines from all of France. Here is your chance to try the 2014.

 

2014 Brégeon Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine

Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine used to be a light, rather neutral, crisp white wine, which was favored for raw oysters on the half shell. The wine’s slight salinity would join in with the oysters innate brininess and the crisp edge would act as a squeezed lemon would. That all changed when Michel Brégeon came on the scene, a true vigneron.

Michel Brégeon is part renegade, part crusader, and full-blown terroirist. Over the years, he has become an ardent defender of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine terroir, the most highly regarded of the four appellations in the Pays Nantais. Thanks to his deep understanding of the nuances of the land, he plays the game much differently than the region’s caves cooperatives and negociants, who produce en masse and lose the subtlety of the appellation. Tthe domaine comprises 10 hectares of vineyards in clay, silica, and gabbro soils. Gabbro is old, blue-green, volcanic rock, rarely found in vineyard land. Formed by magma eruptions under the ocean floor, it is said to impart intense complexity to the domaine’s wines. His corner of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine, Gorges, is particularly known for this rock, and all of Michel’s vines are planted in it. Though Muscadet (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape) has been commonly known to produce young, fresh wines, (even those that spend a few months sur lie), Michel has broken the mold, keeping some of his wines on the lees for as much as seven years! He ages these wines in subterranean glass-lined cuves. In his mind, ­the longer they stay there, the better. The unexpected freshness and depth of these older wines has silenced many a skeptic”.

We poured this wine last, because of it profound minerality.

Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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