Archive for Vineyards

Sep
12

A Trio of Old World Syrah 09-11-14

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Syrah is undoubtedly one of the true “noble” grape varieties of the world & has been for a long, long time.  Unfortunately, Syrah is not in fashion right now & I am not sure exactly why.  I, in fact, wish I had a dollar for every time a wine professional/wine buyer/server has told me in the past 5 years, how Syrah based wines, (especially New World versions) do not sell so well for them.  I would be rich!

I am saddened to hear of this plight.

Well grown & crafted Syrah deserves a niche in the wine world.  Not only does this grape variety have world class potential, it also can fill the big puka between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of weight, drama & profoundness.  The very best can have intricacy, pedigree, UN-heaviness & texture a notch or 2 away from Pinot Noir, with the depth, masculinity & regality a notch or 2 away from Cabernet Sauvignon.  Syrah can be an ideal “tweener”.

Here are 3 examples which reminded me of this thought.

0aa11Cote Rotie2001 Michel & Stephane Ogier Cote Rotie

The Ogier family had been farming their vineyards & selling off to their grapes for many years (more recently to prominent producers such as Chapoutier & Guigal), until 1987 when they decided to grow & produce their own wine under their own label.  At that time, they owned roughly 6 acres in Cote Rotie.  Son, Stephane, started working alongside his father in 1998 & took over the domaine in 2000.  Where previously, the winemaking was much more traditional with NO stems & NO new oak, Stephane changed his style to 100% Syrah, 80% de-stalked, 3 to 4 week stainless steel fermentation & 18 month barrel aging (30% new).  In addition to their Cote Rotie, Ogier also began producing special bottlings–Embruns (2001) from purchased fruit & 50% new barrels; Lancement “Terroir de Blonde” & Belle Helene (a cask selection from their Cote Rozier parcel–30 months in 100% new oak).  This is a producer of northern Rhone Valley Syrah well worth checking out.  This 2001 Cote Rotie (13 years old), for example, was elegant, classy, refined, masculine, majestic with a surprising velvety texture.  It had a gamey, rustic core with garrigue character & a sandalwood edge.  I can imagine all kinds of meats & rustic meat preparations which one can have a field day with!

1995 Noel Verset Cornas  0aa16

Noel Verset, for me, was one of the iconic stalwarths of the tiny Cornas appellation, who not only helped define an appellation, but shed a very different light on what the Syrah grape variety could be.  His vines were old, his highly revered Sabarottes parcel yielded grapes like no other on the hillside & his winemaking was very traditional.  I have to say, the resulting wines were truly one of a kind.  They had a wild-ness–green & black peppercorns, true andouille sausage, raw meat, lots of red fruit, crushed rocks, garrigue  with lots of herbal notes.  His was a small winery, perhaps 800 case production in any given year.  Rumors started circulating around the 2000 vintage, that he was retiring.  (He even mentioned his thoughts on retirement on a visit I made in 1991).  Subsequent vintages would pop up every now & then–I saw a smidgeon fo the 2003 & a tiny bit of 2006….& then quiet.  It was the end of an era.  Yes, there are other Cornas (Thierry Allemand & August Clape) which deftly carry on the appellation on the world class stage, BUT there was only 1 Noel Verset.  I was completely enthralled with the 1995.  It was quintessential Verset Cornas–wildly rustic, rock, peppercorns, wild herbs, with the rank smells of real French andouille sausage.  It really sang out & was a thrill to savor.

AAA1Hermitage rocksHermitage white stones2000 Chave Hermitage

For many, the Chave Hermitage is the pinnacle of northern Rhone Syrah.  The family has been growing grapes & making wines on Hermitage hill since 1481.  The vines today are organically & biodynamically farmed.  “Every year, we start from zero in assembling the wine.”  The core & backbone comes from the Bessards parcel, their largest parcel, located furthest west.  Tasting out of barrel once with Gerard Chave, I found the Bessards to have a smokiness, a strong minerality  with a certain elegance, velvety middle & lots of tannins in the finish.  His parcels have very old vines.  I found Le Meal was also smokey, but had distinct floral (violets, jasmine), ripe, jammy black  cherry, green olive, spice & pepper with more of a middle, a riper, higher glycerine mouthfeel.  Rocoules was fresher fruit, yet not as showy, with licorice, smoke, cassis, green notes & much more tannic.  Peleat–more acid/structure with green olive, smoke & even an apple nuance.  Diognieres had ripe cherries, jammy, bordering cassis like qualities with a funky/earthy edge.  Baume–licorice, cherry, more austere, structured & refinement.  L’Ermite–smokey, earthy, barnyard funk, green peppercrons, jammy–the most outgoing right out of the gates.  The Chaves are master blenders, using all of the pieces to create a complete Hermitage–or as I used to say about the old Barolo masters—create an orchestra sound rather than just the horn section.  Chave is the best at that!  and HAS BEEN SINCE 1481!

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The Bien Nacido Vineyard is located midway in the Santa Maria Valley.

The vineyard traces its roots back to the year 1837 when a Spanish land grant of some two square leagues was made to Tomas Olivera by Juan Bautista Alvarado, then Gobernador of Alta California. This grant covered nearly 9,000 acres ranging upward to the San Rafael Mountains from the Santa Maria Mesa, which bordered the Sisquoc and Cuyama Rivers. The ranch was generously watered by Tepusquet Creek, so called by the Chumash Indians to whom it meant “fishing for trout.” Thomas Olivera sold Rancho Tepusquet in 1855 to his son-in-law Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and daughter Martina. Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros started construction on an adobe in 1857 and moved to the ranch the following year. He and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep, several grain crops, and grapes for the production of wine“.

The current owners, Miller family, purchased this tract in 1969 & soon thereafter renamed the vineyard “Bien Nacido”.

Today, Bien Nacido covers roughly 800 acres of vines & is still quite breathtaking in scope.  There is a myriad of designated blocks & soils, each “farmed to order” to the leaser.  A good portion is sandy loam with tiny bits of seashells & sees morning fog & is cooled by afternoon sea breezes.

What is most tantalizing to winemakers is that several of the blocks still have the vines, which were planted in 1973 AND on their own roots.  Of course, there is a pecking order to who gets what grapes.  First in line for the prime parcels, includes those who worked with the grapes since nearly the beginning such as Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Adam Tolmach of Ojai & Bob Lindquist of Qupe.  We are also seeing a transition, as some of the Old Guard who helped bring this vineyard to the forefront, such as Chris Whitcraft & Bryan Babcock, no longer work with the fruit.  In their place, we today see a whole slew of young bucks such as Justin Willett of Tyler & Gavin Chanin of Chanin wines just to name 2.

Just the other night, two of our really good wine friends, Gail & Vern Isono, put together a BYOB tasting themed “Bien Nacido Vineyard wines” at our VINO restaurant.  It really turned out to be a VERY memorable tasting, to say the least, as the participants brought an interesting selection of true standouts from this iconic vineyard to share with the gang.

0bb110bb31995 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “La Bouge”

There is no doubt that Jim Clendenen has over the years crafted some of the most compelling Bien Nacido Vineyard wines.  I also would say, he was one of the biggest believers/advocates who helped bring the Santa Barbara appellation onto the world stage of quality wines.  This specific bottling, which was previous named simply “Bien nacido Vineyard” was his signature wine.  The grapes came from “K” Block (Chardonnay planted in 1973 on its own roots in sandy loam soils). I have always been amazed at how Au Bon Climat’s Bien Nacido” Chardonnay always showcased real physiological ripeness, innate compelxities & class with remarkably lightness, 13 plus alcohol, well integrated oak (despite being barrel fermented & with roughly 25% or so new oak) AND ageworthiness.  Here is the living proof!!!!!!!  The wine was all about mineral out of the gates…high toned, highly refined with fresh peach skin & layers of marzipan, which acvhnged to more of a creamsicle note with more air.  This 1995 was so pure, seamless & complete with fabulous texture & balance (2 of Clendenen’s signature winemaking traits) with a long, citrusy finish.  AND, it was so surprisingly youthful still!  Crazy good!

1998 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Nuits-Blanches–Why Not

Though Au Bon Climat’s more ethereal, highly refined, higher acid, lower alcohol Chardonnays had quite a following with the wine professionals, the wines were only lukewarmly received by the major media.  BIG, oaky, lavish Chardonnays were in style & the emerging new age of wine drinkers readily jumped on the band wagon.  Where there was once a waiting list of customers, times were changing.  With the 1997 vintage, Clendenen decided to add another Chardonnay to his portfolio, one which tasters later would playfully say was more of a homage to the newer, IN style of wine.  The “White Knight” was also produced from Bien Nacido’s “K” Block, but was picked a week or 2 later AND aged in a considerable amount of new oak.  The bottle was more fancy & heavy in weight with a newly designed “look”, with the designation “Nuits-Blanches”…& his statement–“Why?”…front & center.  This wine, of course, was ABC’s highest scoring wine in quite some time.  Depressing?????  Maybe for an artist, but Clendenen followed that wave of success in 1998 with his third “Nuits-Blanches”, this time with his simple statement–“Why Not“.  Even though this Chardonnay comes from the same “K” Block, the resulting wineis so VERY different!  The wine is more stony than minerally, with marzipan, orange blossom, fennel, creamsicle, apricot pit nuances.  Dry, still quite oaky up front & quite youthful & resoundingly structured in its core with a long, grandiose finish.  0bb40bb

2006 Foxen Pinot Noir “Block 8-Bien Nacido Vineyard”

2006 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “this is the “n” my only friend the “n””

The Foxen gang are really good people who helped bring Santa Barbara along wine wise.  Bill Wathen studied under the legendary Pinot maestro, Dick Graff, at Chalone & along with his partner Dick Dore founded Foxen in the 1980’s.  Their wine, unfortunately, did not show so well on this night.  We’re not sure if it was shipping, storage or what.  The 2006 Whitcraft was also in a dumb stage….but showed MUCH better than the Foxen & was so much more vinous, balanced  & complete.  As the night wore on, one could readily tell this wine has the stuffing & all the right fixings….just needs time.  Chris Whitcraft, for me, was one of the “larger than life”, REAL characters of the wine industry.  His wines were like him, in that one never knew what to expect, not only with each vintage, but when opening any of his wines at any given time.  In short, they were all idiosyncractic & I have found over the years, either people really liked them or they really hated them.  Chris was a protege/friend to the iconic Burt Williams, the namesake, founding winemaker of the old Williams & Selyem.   He defined his winemaking as artisan & done without electricity.  From early on, his 3 prized parcels were “Q” & “N” Blocks from the Bien Nacido Vineyard….as well as the Hirsch Vineyard of the true Sonoma Coast.  When he hit it, he hit a home run.  In 2006, Chris produced a terrific “N” Block Pinot Noir.  He felt, however, after tasting through the barrels with Burt, there was one barrel, which had to be singled out & bottled on its own.  This is that wine!!!  ONE barrel.  Sadly, either the 2006 or perhaps 2007 vintage , Whitcraft decided to say aloha to Bien Nacido.  It really was the end of an era.  On this night, the wine had a surinam cherry kind of pungency, with much earth, spice–rustic, totaly vinous, great core, mineral, showy….much more showy than his normal “N” Block bottlings (Martini selection–planted in 1973 & own rooted).  I remembered how proud Chris was of this wine, when I first tasted it with him.  I too agreed this was one of his finest, which is saying alot, considering all of the giants he made during his career.  I was sad to hear of Chris’ passing earlier this year.  He & his wines were like no other.  Aloha, my friend.  RIP.

0bb12001 Ojai Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”

Adam Tolmach is another one of Santa Barbara’s (if not all of California) REAL superstar winemakers!  His wines are THAT GOOD!  He was once co-founding winemaker at Au Bon Climat, but eventually packed up his bags to found his own winery, which he named Ojai.  His wines thankfully also have Old World sensibility.   Where his Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, & especially his Syrahs used to get HUGE scores from the major publications, especially Robert Parker, one could see over the years his decision to trim the oak usage appealed to the scorers less.  How crazy is that?  For me these same wines are better than ever.  In fact, let me just say, when touring Californian wine country, our last visit is typically Ojai.  It really is hard to follow his wines with any others.  His top Bien Nacido Pinot parcel is “N” Block (planted in 1973, on its own roots).  Unfortunately, on this night, the 2001’s nose was completely & utterly shutdown….despite us trying to agressively decant it back & forth for 25 minutes.  On the palate, the wine, however,  showed hard mineral, immense structure, HUGE vinosity, intensity with great texture & flow…..just so damned tight.  I think this will be quite a wine, though, once it comes out of hibernation.

IN REPLY (from Fabien Castel of Ojai Vineyard)–“Incidentally I read the note about your recent tasting of the 2001 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido.The wine does need a lot more time and I can give some background as to why it tasted the way it did. It was my first year working with Adam. The 2001-2002 vintages ended being the densest and most angular for  Pinot Noir. Part was extraction levels (punch downs), inclusion of a new cooper, occasional saignee and other finer details in the cellar. Ultimately it prompted Adam to rethink the way he was dealing with those wines and not repeat that level of texture that was drawing praises but not satisfying his sense of what the varietal had to offer. The wines had been softer in prior years (1996 to 2000) and would return to gentler textures in 2005, 2006. By 2007 Bien Nacido was less extracted with grapes picked earlier, now showing on an ideal course, 7 years later. Today he is adding again some extraction since he moved in a different realm of physiological maturation of the grapes. He has found delicacy and is ready to reintroduce power“.

1991 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”0bb60bb10

1993 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”

Chris Whitcraft excelled at producing real provocative, HUGELY vinous, masculine, savory, rustic Pinot Noir from both the “Q” & “N” blocks of the Bien Nacido Vineyard.  He was lucky to be there in the early days & was therefore able to garner getting the Old Vine fruit from each, which came from the vines planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Sometime in the 90’s, since the rows between the vines were so wide, they went through & planted another row in between (referred to as interplantings).  In the case of “Q” Block, I believe it was clone 667.  & for “N” Block I believe they planted clone 115.  So, every now & then, when Chris felt some of the juice did not reflect a “Q” or “N” Block designation, he would produce a “Bien Nacido Vineyard” designated bottling.  AND, in some of the cases, he would also add some interplanting grapes in as well, just to add dimension.  In any case, the Bien Nacido designated wines were VERY different from either Q or N Block & spoke of the vineyard rather than either parcel.  On this night, the 1991 showed more of that pungent, rustic surinam cherry fruit, a peach tang in the middle with sandalwood, sap, funk/shoe polish/leather.  It definitely had more vinosity than the 1993 poured along side.  The 1993, on the other hand, seemed much more Californian.  It was lighter in color, much more perfumed–light funk, peach/apricot middle, roasted coffee grinds, a more ethereal middle with a more fruity finish.  We were all so surprised how youthful these 2 wines were.

0bb91993 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “La Bauge Au-dessus”

What an intriguing contrast to the any of the other wines, that’s for sure!  Much more elegant, feminine, refined….so seamless, impeccably balanced & so wonderfully textured.  The fruit is sweet, ripe & surprisingly forward, but I believe that is part of the intention of this bottling.  I also loved the vinosity & surprising vigor of this 19 year old wine!!!

1996 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”  0bb50bb8

1997 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”

I have been an avid fan of Chris Whitcraft’s Pinot Noirs for many years.  I would be hard pressed to think of too many Pinots in the 90’s which had as much character & vinosity (old vine-ness) than his Q & N Block bottlings. ( Certainly nothing tooty fruity there!)  Where his Hirsch single vineyard designated Pinots (1994 being the first) were much more masculine, sultry, darker, intriguing & harder edged, his Q & N were so much more vinous, rounder & more open.  Chris worked with a Pommard selection in Q Block (planted in 1973 & own rooted).  The resulting wine was typically the most open upon release.  His N Block was Martini selection & was typically more earthy, reticent & shy upon release.    The 1996 had a strong roasted coffee grinds/cocoa quality, with a very earthy tone.  It was totally vinous on the palate, seamless, complete & long. The 1997, on the other hand, had a stemmy, spiced edge with a more ethereal middle & a long finish.  It was much more refined & elegant than the 1996.  Interestingly, I found this to be opposite when they were released.  Both are still surprisingly youthful.

0bb72000 Jomani Pinot Noir “Q Block”

In 2000, my best friend, Nunzio Alioto, & I bought some Q Block grapes at a charity auction. ( He & I in those days typically bought small amounts of grapes from some storybook vineyards like Pisoni, Savoy, Mt Carmel & Eaglepoint Ranch & asked some friends to make it for us.)  So, for the 2000, we asked Chris Whitcraft to make this wine.  I believe it was 1 barrel’s worth.  On this night, this seemed to be grandest of the night!  Or, maybe because it was biggest, a beast with lots of hutzpah, chocolate, coffee & oak nuances.  It also had, by far, the most vigor in the core.  I found it way more interesting than a 2000 Whitcraft Q Block & a 2000 Hirsch I recently had tasted.   Sorry, my last bottle.  Thank you Chris!!!!!

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Sep
24

A Quick Jaunt to the Napa Valley–Part 3

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Napa--Marciano3Napa-Marciano4We were fortunate to meet up superstar winemaker, Andy Erickson, on our last day in the Napa Valley at a new wine project he is consulting for, owned by Maurice Marciano. 

The estate property is 100 acres, of which roughly 10 acres are currently planted (& meticulously farmed by David Abreu).  Napa--Marciano6Napa-marciano5Napa--Marciano1

The winery is state of the art & I would say….truly a dream come true for most winemakers.  These vessels can be programmed to do pump overs by themselves & as many times & when you want.  No more late nights?  Napa-Dalla Valle

We then head back east across the Valley & up.  This is the Maya parcel of Dalle Valle (left), another one of Andy’s projects.  Directly above & what used to be Showket has recently been purchased by Peter Michael.  We continued upwards as we head for Oakville Ranch, Napa--Summit Ranch& specifically the Summit Block (right picture), which is located roughly 1000 feet in elevation.  The soils is comprised of Aken soils, which in this case are rich in iron-clay & decomposing volcanic rock. Oakville1

The next ridge over, one can see Ovid (on Pritchard Hill), which is yet another project for Andy.  We were surprised to see that Pritchard Hill & Stagecoach seem to be on a contiguous ridge top.  Mayacamas1a

On our next visit (as there just was not enough time on this trip), I hope to visit Andy’s latest project–Mayacamas–a, iconic, historic vineyard & place, where Andy Erickson & his wife/viticulturist Annie Favia now oversee.  I know it seems like Andy has lots of projects, but in comparison to the other top echelon, he really doesn’t have that many.  But the ones he does have are truly special. 

andyThanks Andy & Annie.  What a great visit.!

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Sep
23

A Quick Jaunt to the Napa Valley–Part 2

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In the afternoon, we decided to stop by & see Neyers Vineyards located on Sage Canyon Road.  Because things were so hectic, as the looming harvest meant cleaning all of the equipment, bottling wine to make room for the new harvest & visiting vineyards, we did not ask to see any vineyards with winemaker Tadeo on this visit.  Just, way too much going on & we were appreciative for any time he & they could spend with us.  Napa Neyers1

We were graciously received by Barbara Neyers & her team.  She is an incredible person with a BIG heart & old soul.  There is very few people around like her, believe me!  She worked at Chez Panisse for 20+ years, along side Chef/owner Alice Waters.  She & Bruce’s strongly believe in comprehensive sustainability. to the point I never have to ask.  Neyers TadeoNeyers

We were then thankful to taste through a formidable line up of Neyers’ upcoming releases.  We walked away as impressed as ever.  As I have stated frequently in the past months, winemaker Tadeo Borchardt is totally in the groove & crafting a bevy of sensational wines…..which display character &  interesting-ness….AND are seamless, well textured & wonderfully balanced.  One should try the Neyers Syrah “Old Lakeville Road”, for example, just to see what we mean. 

Our next stop–Robert Biale.Napa-BialeNapa-Dave  We met with Dave Pramuk, someone we had met a LONG time ago at ZAP.  Dave was kind enough to walk some of the vineyards with us.  Napa--ChickenNapa Aldo

The vineyard on the left is “Black Chicken”. Interestingly, Black Chicken is a single vineyard….AND is also a proprietary name for one of their Zinfandels…(whose core is the Black Chicken vineyard).  The vineyard on the right is Aldo, which was planted in 1937. 

Napa BerryNapa-Bunch

The grapes, in each case were close to ripening.  They also had lots of character…& were not just tooty fruity like some of the other grapes we tasted in Paso Robles & other parcels of Napa Valley.

Robert Biale has a true passion for Zinfandel & their wines clearly show that.  FYI–they now use Burgundian barrels to age the Zins & handle the grapes more gently.  We were really impressed with what we saw & tasted.

Napa--Jones Family2The Napa Valley was truly bustling with energy as people scurried about to get ready for the looming harvests.  AND, winemakers were making their rounds to check out their grape sources.  Napa--Kenefick                      Kenefick Ranch

Napa--Screaming Eagle   Screaming Eagle

Categories : General, Vineyards, Wine
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Sep
22

A Quick Jaunt to the Napa Valley–Part 1

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We recently had an opportunity to visit and spend two days in the Napa Valley of California. We were fortunate that this year the harvest look to start early because of some severe heat spikes which happened in May & June. As is normally the case whenever we go to a winegrowing region we endeavor to walk vineyards with some of our favorite winemakers. In this case because of the early harvest, were also able to taste nearly ripe grapes as well.

Our first day we met with Napa Valley winemaking phenom Thomas Brown. Napa--Tournahu2Thomas, although very busy, was kind enough to meet us at my best friends’ family ranch just above St. Helena.. Even though I had been going to and staying at this ranch for 30+ years up until this visit I really had no idea of the true quality of the grapes grown on this 6 1/2 acre ranch. I was certainly in for an eye-opening discovery walking the vineyard with Thomas Brown. Napa--PanekNapa-ShibumiNapa-Panek3

The small dirt road lane has 4 vineyards (Schoenstein, Tournahu, Shibumi Knoll & Panek) on one side and one larger vineyard (Aida) on the opposite side. Schoenstein at one time was farmed by viticultural superstar David Abreu. Thomas Brown is a consulting winemaker for Shibumi Knoll & and I believe he also works with Panek.  Aida vineyard was made famous by Turley Wine Cellars. Needless to say I was absolutely blown away by the reputation of all of these vineyards. To think for 30 years I had no idea.

While walking the vineyards I was really surprised at how many stones there were in each of these vineyards.Napa--Tournahu  It seems like a little small pocket of interesting soil on the valley floor. 

Napa--Larkmead3Napa-Larkmead2We then went down the road a short while to visit Larkmead Estate, which is an iconic vineyard heralded back in 1961 by Napa Valley winemaking legend Andre Tchelistcheff, as being one of the four top vineyard sites in all of Napa Valley at that time.

We then did a walk through Michael Chiarello’s vineyard, which Thomas also consults for.  Napa--Thomas Brown2Napa--Thomas BrownSome of the Petite Sirah vines are over 100 years old.  The nearly ripe fruit oozed vinosity & lots of character, eventhough the vines looked exhausted.  This is really a vineyard which needs tender loving care.

Napa--Jones FamilyNapa-Jones family6Napa--Jones7Another vineyard & winery Thomas Brown consults for is Jones Family.  The 10 acre estate vineyard is located on between St Helena & Calistoga between 600 & 900 feet & is farmed by superstar vineyard-ist David Abreu.  This vineyard was originally planted by the Araujo’s who sold it off in 1992 when they purchased the Eislese vineyard. 

We also learned that Thomas Brown is currently building 2 new wineries–one for Pinot Noir (located on a corner off of the Silverado Trail) & part of a custom crush facility near Calistoga, where he will make some of his Cabernets.  This winemaking phenom certainly has alot going on, besides the high profile projects he consults for such as Schrader, Outpost, Maybach, Casa Piena (Carmen Policy’s winery) & GTS (the project of Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Tom Seaver)……AND his own label, Rivers Marie.

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Sep
13

Paso Robles 08-26 & 27-2013

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A quick 2 day visit to the Paso Robles appellation.  In addition to spending time with Linne Calodo & Saxum (which was documented on separate blog entries), here is a recap of our other visits.

Paso-Margarita1Margarita Vineyard is a roughly 900 acre vineyard located at about 1000 feet elevation, 14 miles from the ocean in southern Paso Robles.  It is a vineyard I have been trying to walk for many years, but did not find the right contact, until very recently, to do so.  I never realized this vineyard was so big.  I also wonder how this is still Paso Robles appellation, since it is located on the “other” side of Templeton.    Paso-margarita8paso-margarita9Paso-Margatita2

The vineyard has 6 main soil types.  The most compelling is rich in fossilized oyster shells…..BUT the shale & gravel also produce some very interesting flavors/character.

Paso-margarita7The owners also have their own wine label–Ancient Peaks, which features a very talented winemaker, Michael Sinor which is soon to be available here in Hawaii.  Paso-Luna Matta3Paso--Luna Matta2

Luna Matta is another interesting Paso Robles vineyard.  The parcel is 242 total acres, of which 36 are planted & organically farmed since 2001.

Paso--Luna Matta8Paso--Luna matta5There are alot of interesting grape varieties being grown here, including the bigger plantings (Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre), as well as smaller parcels of Grenache Blanc, Moscato Giallo, Aglianico, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo & Carignane.  We will definitely be seeing more & more Luna Matta designated wines in the near future, especially with Stephy Terrizzi involved as a vineyard consultant.  Paso--Villa Creek1Paso--Villa Creek2

 Yet, another interesting vineyard which has been planted is the Villa Creek Estate.  Owner/winemaker Cris Cherry, in addition to owning one of the best restaurants in the town of Paso Robles, also produces some terrific wines under his Villa Creek label.  What started as a side project….supplying his contemporary styled eaterie with some very interesting, locally grown wine, has over the years blossomed into him building his own winery & now planting his own vineyards.  Yes, these wines are certainly worth searching out for.

Paso--Denner4Our next visit was with Anthony Yount, winemaker at Denner Vineyard.  We had toured the Denner Estate vineyard the day before with Matt Trevisan.  Anthony was then kind enough to take us out to walk the 10 1/2 acre Basetti Vineyard, which lies outside of the Paso Robles appellation, closer to the ocean.  Paso--Basetti Paso-Bsetti2paso-basetti3

To the naked eye, Basetti doesn’t look like much.  The most compelling influences of this vineyard, I was told, is the serpentine rock undersoils, the clay topsoil & the close proximity to the ocean (& its cool growing conditions).  The 2 wineries sourcing the fruit is Denner (which produced a single vineyard 50% whole cluster, 100% Syrah in 2010, yet to be rated) & Villa Creek (92 point rated, single vineyard Syrah).  I believe Denner also uses Basetti Grenache as well.Paso-basetti4Paso-basetti5 

Basetti vineyard may be the beginning of a whole, new grape growing region for the future, despite its extreme growing conditions, just as we have previously seen with the Sonoma Coast appellation further north.  I would also say, Anthony Yount is a young turk you should keep an eye out on, whether at Denner or Kinero, his very own label.

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Sep
12

Linne Calodo 08-26-13

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My wife Cheryle (& a friend) & I had the chance to walk some vineyards in Paso Robles recently.  It was a good time, as there was “taste”  to the grapes & it was therefore an incredibly learning  opportunity.

paso-linne5Our first stop was at Linne Calodo & superstar winemaker Matt Trevisan.  It had been years since I last visited Matt at the winery.  We were excited & anxious to visit eventhough we were not sure how much time Matt would actually have with us, given the looming harvest, the fact that both noted wine writers–Robert Parker & Josh Reynolds were in town around the same time.

paso-new planting 4Our first stop….we had to go check out the newly acquired/planted 47 acre vineyard.  Paso-new planting2

Lots of rock to deal with.  There is only 18 inches to 3 feet of top soil.

Matt planted all kinds of interesting plant material. He had learned alot from planting & operating his other estate vineyard which surrounds the winery itself.

 

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  We then went to Heaton vineyard (roughly 1300 feet elevation), a dry farmed vineyard, which has TWO distinct different parcels–paso-heaton8 

Whalebone (pictured in the background).  I was amazed at how the big oak on the right side GREATLY affected such a wide area of vines…..which only a few were able to survive.  The Poppy parcel is pictured in the foreground & the grapes tasted firmer, with way more acid (which Matt uses for his Problem Child bottling).

Paso-heaton6I was truly amazed how the fruit  from the 2 parcels tasted SO different.

We also loved meeting the growers.  Just so “salt of the earth” & genuine. 

Paso-Cushman

The Cushman vineyard was essentially right across the street….& one got a completely different vibe from this site.  Matt gets 1 1/2 acres of the 10 planted (in 1978)  It is also a cooler spot, & therefore results in higher acid fruit eventhough the fruit typically ripens 2 to 3 weeks later than Heaton.  For me the fruit doesn’t have the same vinosity & character as the Poppy parcel across the way. 

Paso--Cherry7

The Cherry vineyard was planted in 1977….only about 2 1/2 acres amid 400 acres of land.  The vines are head trained with south to southwest facing.  Paso--Cherry4I though the fruit from this vineyard tasted the best of day, at least for Zinfandel.  There was alot of character & vinosity.  It really is a special site.

Paso--denner20Denner Vineyard has truly blossomed to become one of the standout sites in all of Paso Robles.  Located directly across the James Berry vineyard, it too is truly something to behold.  Furthermore, each parcel offers something unique.

Paso-denner21one can readily tell, for instance, which is the Mourvedre plantings (as seen by the “airstrip” looking parcel in the middle.  Lots of vines here just don’t make it.  It is also one of the last grape varieties to ripen.paso-linne4 

Tasting through some of the various barrels of 2012’s convinced us, this is going to be one heck’uv vintage for Linne Calodo.  Save some room in your cellars, people.  AND work hard to get some!

Paso-linne2Paso-Linne1paso-linne3

 

 

 

 Yes…the winemaking has changed…or a better way of putting it….evolved.  The wines therefore are not as forward & have much more layering, intricacies & better balance.  The minerality is thankfully much more showcased.  In short, Matt Trevisan is totally in the “zone” right now.

This was a GREAT, major insightful visit!!!!!  Thank you Matt.

Categories : Vineyards, Wine, Wine Friends
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Nov
25

Some interesting vineyards in California

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The Old World (France, Italy, Germany, etc) have had centuries to find out which vineyards are the special ones.  California, on the other hand is really just getting started.

It is exciting to see, nonetheless, many of the sites now being planted in search of interesting terroir.

Monte Bello Vineyard

In the right forefront is parcel of Mount Eden’s planting.  Near the top of the mountain is Monte Bello, which is the home of some of the most compelling Cabernets ever produced out of California.

Stagecoach Vineyard

I distinctly remember being BLOWN away from my first view of this hilltop vineyard.  Years back I went to visit Adolf Krupp at his home located at the top of Soda Canyon Road in the Napa Valley.  I thought the 40 or so acre vineyard surrounding his house was Stagecoach & was surprised when he kindly noted, “no, this is the Krupp Vineyard“.  Adolf then took us to his kitchen where we looked out the window to see this view.  “That is Stagecoach Vineyard“.  This breathtaking, panoramic vineyard is just under 1,000 acres…..which they essentially blew up the top of the mountain to plant.  I marveled at all of the huge boulders & rocks they stacked here & there to make room for the vines.  It truly is something to behold.

Paderewski Vineyard

Down in Paso Robles on the westside, is this amazing silaceous clay (limestome-ish) series of rolling hills which was developed & planted under the watchful eye of superstar winemaker Justin Smith (of Saxum fame) for owner Bill Armstrong.  It is amazing how this soil, altitude & cool nights create such buoyancy in their BIG, thick, dramatic red wines.

Tempest Vineyard

This is yet another extreme vineyard planted past the western edge of the Santa Rita Hills appellation.  In addition to the silaceous clay soils & the gusting cold winds which just pound the site, this vineyard is very densely planted…..7000 vines per acre towards the top of the hill!!!!!

Hirsch Vineyard

is located way out on the true Sonoma Coast….BUT 3 miles from the cold Pacific Ocean.  I remember his ranch was roughly 1000 acres, but only a few hundred were actually  plantable.  Extreme!! 

 

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

While this site doesn’t look as dramatic as some of the others, it is nonetheless one of the TOP California vineyards for Chardonnay & Pinot Noir.  It really is about the rocks that permeate the soil.

Categories : Vineyards, Wine
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Sep
28

Paul Fuerst of Franconia, Germany

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Without a doubt, winemaker extraordinaire Paul Fuerst is producing some of the finest DRY wines out of Germany.  His wines deftly showcase amazing purity, class, terroir, nuance with breathtaking elegance, precision, refinement & balance whether he is working with Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Muller Thurgau or Pinot Noir.

My wife Cheryle & I recently went to visit Paul at his home & winery on the western most edge of Franconia, Germany. 

 

 

 

It was an added bonus that they had started harvesting grapes.

 

with son & heir apparent, Sebastian. 

 

 

Their label–Rudolf Fuerst is centered in the town of Burgstadt….where they own roughly 20 hectares in the highly revered Centgrafenberg vineyard with its red sandstone soils, which showcase a very unique character in the resulting wines.

 

 

 

 

In addition, Fuerst has roughly 3 hectares of Pinot Noir in what he calls a “Grand Cru” parcel named “Hundsrueck”,

We were fortunate to taste the 2010 Hundsrueck “Grosse Gewachs”.  It was surprisingly deeper, richer with more viscosity & vinosity than any German Pinot Noir we had previously tasted.                     

 

 

Paul also took us out to see his other spectacular vineyard site (Schlossberg) in the town of Klingenberg where he owns but 1 1/2 hectares of Pinot Noir.  It was truly breathtaking.

This vineyard is one of the oldest Pinot Noir sites in all of Germany (over 100 years).  It is slightly warmer than Centgrafenberg & is therefore normally harvested 1 week earlier. Because it is so stony, it can also handle hotter years like 2011 better than most others.

Paul produces 2 Pinot Noirs from this very special site–

 1 labeled as Klingenberg (Village quality in his mind)

 

 

& the other–Klingenberg Schlossberg Grosse Gewachs (GG)….which is Grand Cru in his mind.

 In Centgrafenberg, Fuerst has, in addition to his Pinot Noir plantings, roughly 3 1/2 hectares of Riesling, 2 1/2 hectares of Pinot Blanc, 1 1/2 hectares of Silvaner & but 3/4 of a hectare of Muller Thurgau, (from which he makes a special wine for us, labeled as CF Muller Thurgau “Eurasia” .  As the nickname suggests, this wine is really idea for many of the Asian inspired foods we have here in the Islands). 

Regarding the Rudolf Fuerst portfolio of wines, the first level of quality wines they typically produce is labeled “Tradition”  for Pinot Noir……AND….. “Pur Mineral” for white wines.

Depending on what the vintage gives, then some of the truly standout cuvees are labeled as Burgstadter Centgrafenberg (which for Paul is “Village” quality in a Burgundian model). 

When conditions are right they will produce what they feel is equivalent to “Grand Cru” in quality & status.  The initials GG (which stands for Grosse Gewachs) can be seen on either the label or bottle, as well as the approved vineyard designate, which for Paul is either Centgrafenberg…..or Schlossberg.

Fuerst also has roughly 1 1/2 hectares of Fruhburgunder, which Paul says is a mutation (not a clone) of Pinot Noir, which he reverently notes was nearly extinct just a short time ago.  It is obvious this grape variety is dear to his heart…& he says for the region. 

Because it naturally has low yields & ripens much earlier, it creates a fuller, richer red which has more impact on the attack (blueberry, plummy, dark fruit) in comparison to his more ethereal, refined Pinot Noirs.

Without a doubt, this is a true STANDOUT winery, well worth searching out for their wines, especially if you love purity, precision, class, finesse, balance & food friendliness.

 

 

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photograph by Kalei Nuuhiwa, Makakolu Photography

 

 

The Pacific Ocean of California is VERY different from the same body of water we experience here in Hawaii.  Where our water is warm & inviting, it is real cold & gnarly there.  The winds that come of the ocean there are therefore quite chilling….& it follows the cut in the mountains by the various rivers such as this one to create very different climatic conditions, especially during the respective growing seasons.

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