Archive for Vineyards

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 & 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.

Jan
21

What Old World Grenache Can Be

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I am one of those wine people who believe the soils and growing conditions can greatly affect the resulting wine.  Fortunately, the Old World countries such as France and Italy, have had decades, even in some cases centuries to discover where the truly special vineyards are.  In many of these cases the wine is then named after the place, rather than the grape variety.

To better illustrate what can be, let’s, for instance, take a look at the Grenache red grape variety.

While there may be some real standouts made exclusively from Grenache, this grape variety has really made quite the niche for itself when blended with other grape varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, just to name three.

In France’s southern Rhone Valley, many top echelon wineries have created quite the reputation and legacy through their blends of these grape varieties grown in their estate vineyards.  Each vineyard offers different soils and growing conditions, which along with the skill of the winemaker, in my opinion result in a VERY different kind of wine!

Here are some which have stood out for me over the years.

2014 Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne–The hilltop village of Cairanne in France’s southern Rhone Valley is little known outside of the country.  Locally, it is generally considered the home of some of the finest Grenache based red wines among the 17 legally recognized Côtes du Rhône Villages.  It is also the home to wine wonder woman, Catherine Le Goeuil, who is and has been one of the champions of the organic and biodynamic farming in all of France for quite some time.  Her wines are rustic and earthy yet so charming and wonderfully delicious.  I recommend you serve it slightly chilled for afternoon sipping, outdoor barbecues or just to wet the whistle.  What a great value!

2012 Domaine Gallety “Côtes du Vivarais”–The Côtes du Vivarais runs along the western flank of the northern part of France’s southern Rhone Valley.  I only became acquainted with this newer wine appellation in roughly 2007 upon a visit.  I was so mesmerized by their tasty, interesting and unique red wine, we special ordered some for our VINO restaurant.  This bottling is 50% 50 to 60 year old vine Grenache and 50% 25 to 30 year old vine Syrah grown in a very different mix of soils.  A warmer, somewhat semiarid kind of spot, as the you will see in the picture.  We were so taken by this wine’s transparency, refinement, class, texture and balance.  I am so surprised this wine hasn’t really yet been discovered, so I suggest you take advantage of the fabulous pricing it still has, especially considering the superb quality in the bottle.

2014 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras–The village of Vacqueyras is yet another small, relatively low keyed discovery.  When I first visited, in 1991, I was taken back how many soils types I would see there during a 15 minute drive.  We enjoyed a filling lunch at a café before heading to meet owner/winemaker Serge Férigoule.  It was to be an introduction to a man, his vineyard and wine I will remember forever.  To this day, it is one of my favorites.  His vineyards are located on the Plateau des Garrigues, an elevated mishmash of rocks, rounded river stones, red clay and limestone, which gives this wine its strong, masculine, wildly rustic core, depth and soulfulness.  Typically, the blend is mostly Grenache with a slug of Syrah and small tidbits of Mourvedre and Cinsault.  This wine was also the partner of one of my all time food and wine pairings—Fire Roasted Ribeye Steak with a bay leaf chimichurri.

2014 Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau”–Undoubtedly, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is historically, the most famous wine appellation in France’s southern Rhone Valley.  It is also home to one of the world’s most famous red wines, which over the past 20 years, have been getting lots of press and high scores, which will, at least, explain some the much higher prices.  Like all areas, the are many nooks and crannies with different characteristics.  (Think about how different Nanakuli and Manoa are on O’ahu).  One of the most special and celebrated vineyards parcels of the appellation I have run across is La Crau, which is what I would characterize as a mound of rounded river stones (galets roulés) pushed together by ancient glaciers.  This gathering of stones with other earthen soils, minerals and the old vines of mainly Grenache and Syrah, can create a VERY different kind of wine—majestic in a very masculine manner, with a very earthen, rustic core and the ability to age into something utterly magical down the road when cellared properly.  Yes, $90 is pricey, but when one compares what you can get from Bordeaux, Napa Valley or Burgundy, this really is a deal.

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Dec
08

Sardinian Wine–Part 3–Mamoiada

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To be candid, the winery I was most anxious to visit during our 2 week trip was Giovanni Montisci of Mamoiada, Sardegna.  I had tasted 3 of his wines previously & was astounded at how “otherworldly” each was.  It was like when I first tasted the Luigi Clos Nicrosi from Corsica back in the 80’s.

Mamoiada is located “in the heart of Sardegna’s mountainous interior“, a roughly 2 1/2 hour drive through very winding, often narrow roads through the rugged countryside.  Because of the wines & the drive I had visions of visiting somewhere reminiscent of the old days, just like back in the 80’s visiting Clape, Verset & Gentaz in the Rhone Valley of France for the first time–old wood, very rustic, converted garage-like wineries with earthen floors handed down from the generations before each, & all stuck in time. 

Upon arrival to Mamoiada, I was instead very surprised at how settled & westernized it looked.  It still was small & very neighbor-ish, but much more modern than what we had experienced in Corsica.  Giovanni’s home (with his winery located below in his what would be for most, the 2 car garage & the small downstairs apartment) featured a modern fountain (seemingly from an upscale garden shop) with a small front yard of artificial turf AND a remote opened & closed gate.  This was WAY different from what I day dreamed about. 

His winery was meticulously clean & very well organized.  I was just amazed at how small it was & understood there can’t be too much wine available, especially for us out here in Hawaii.

Montisci ferments some wines in large plastic tubs which reminded me of Chris Whitcraft & his plastic bins back in the day.  Giovanni’s were just covered with plastic sheets. 

Giovanni owns & farms but 3.5 hectares of vines, most of it 60 year old vine Moscato & Cannonau up in the hills just above his town (2200 feet in elevation), all organically farmed. The chilly nights encourage slow, ripening times.  The soil is sandy, granitic clay & the vineyard somehow has a very special feel to it.  (I got similar vibes from Laurel Glen’s Sonoma Mountain estate vineyard back in the late 80’s/early 90’s on my first visit).  It is much more than just vines & soil & I could understand the wines much differently.  (This is really not just a romantic notion).  I tasted the grapes still on the vine & they were so different than any of our other stops on this trip.

The grapes are harvested by hand & sorted in the vineyard.  All of the fermentations are spontaneous (wild yeasts) & done in 1000 liter tanks.

Biancu “Modestu” (100% Moscato–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for 5 days, wild yeast fermented then aged in 225 liter OLD oak for roughly 6 months, vinified dry, 100% malolactic.  Every time I taste this bottling, now, 4 vintages worth, I scratch my head in wonderment, because it is so unique & interesting–lemon verbena, lemon, lime, star fruit nuances with a honey backdrop.  Full flavored with a unique lush, unctuality/thickness/viscosity–masculine, savory & stony, expansive.

Rosato “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for several hours, wild yeast fermented & then aged in 225 liter OLD barrels for 6 months, vinified dry & 100% malolactic.  This is a very heady, masculine, savory, stony, BIG rose with almost an earthy-oxidative-“orange” style & an old oak mouthfeel.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–I would say, this is a beast–masculine, rustic, surly, savory with much bravado & structure, but still very juicy, pliable (not hard) with lots of depth, layering, virility, vinosity & resounding character.  It certainly catches my attention every time I have tried it.  Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 1 year in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva “Franzisca” (100% Cannonau–90 year old vines–200 to 250 case production).  I believe 2010 was the first vintage the word “Franzisca” (in homage to Giovanni’s wife) appeared on the label.  It was previously labeled as Riserva.  This is something totally “otherworldly”–profoundly lavish, wildly rustic, vinous, totally about character & savoriness with a pine needle nuance intermittently present.  I have never had a wine like this before that’s for sure.   Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 2 years in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.   We tried the 2018, 2016, 2015 & the 2007 (labeled as Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva) which was the finest wine we had on this trip, by far! 

Afterwards, we had lunch together at his childhood friend’s restaurant, right in the center of town.  REALLY good Coriscan “country” styled foods.

Thank you Giovanni for a great visit.  I am a total believer!

Our next stop–Deperu Holler–was at least another 45 minute drive from Vigne Rada.  We made good time, but really got “lost” when we were in the general area, as again the GPS was NOT really too thorough on getting us to the winery door, compounded by the fact there were no signs to be seen anywhere.  Thankfully someone came to meet us & take us there.  I could not find this winery on my own if I were to go back.

Deperu Holler is a small, husband (Carlo Deperu) & wife (Tatiana Holler) wine project in “Carlo’s hometown of Perfugas, where they replanted the family vineyards AND added some new parcels (bringing up the estate vineyard to 6 hectares)The soils alternate between granite & limestone with clay, chalk & fossil rich stones, depending on where in the vineyard one digs”.  As we walked the vineyard, Carlo kept digging holes to show the varying soil mixtures in the different pockets of the rolling hill site.

I noticed the cooling wind (maestrale–continuously blowing in from the sea 10 miles away), which they said is very beneficial in supporting their organic regiment in the vineyard.  This was proudly another vigneron in every sense of the word.

The winery itself is small & very practically set up.  I surmised their production was quite small, given there were 2 hectares each of Vermentino & Cannonau, 1/2 hectare of Muristellu & the remaining 1/2 hectare to small quantities of other indigenous grape varieties–Moscato, Malvasia, Arvesiniadu & Nasco, just to name a few. 

Vermentino di Gallura “Fria” (100% Vermentino)–native yeast fermentation in stainless, 10 days lees contact, partial ML & then aged 7 months in stainless.  This was a tasty, frisky, pure white wine with lots of vitality & wonderful texture, despite the crisp refreshing acidity.  This wine typically comes from the iron rich parcel.

Isola dei Nuraghi Bianco “Prama Dorada” (typically 70% Vermentino, 20% Moscato, 5% Arvesiniadu & Nasco)–wild yeast fermentation in stainless & cement.  100% ML, aged in stainless for 9 months with regular lees stirring.  This wine typically comes from the top of the vineyard–clay/galestro soils & the middle section, which has some limestone to the clay.

Isola dei Nuraghi Rosso “Familia” (70% Cannonau & 30% Muristellu)–foot stomped, NO stems, wild yeast fermentation in stainless & cement & then aged for 12 months in stainless.  This Cannonau blend had much more mojo & savoriness than what we had tried previously from others, which I would say is at least partly because of 30% Muristellu (dark pigmented, ripe, round, & tannic).

Solid wines, which will only get more interesting I believe as the vines get older.  

On the phone, Tatiana had urged us to get there for lunch.  I assumed that she was having some kind of get together.  As it turned out, this adorable couple just wanted to have a typical, local lunch, in the vineyard, just to get to know us & us them, as a kind gesture of their warm, genuine hospitality.

The food was from their area & was so tasty, wonderful & hit the spot.  Thank you for sharing.

We brought out two white wines we had purchased during our travels–1 from Buzzo & 1 from Clos Canarelli–plus 2 red wines–one from Clos Canarelli & 1 from Pero Longo–Cuvee XX, just to share.  Carlo went especially crazy over the Pero Longo.  (He is such a wine passionate guy & wears his emotions on his sleeves). Their friend who came to help interpret, said Carlo was quite a respected taster in his area & island, so his appreciative antics over the Pero Longo really meant something.  He was so jazzed, he walked away & headed back to the winery.  He came back holding an unlabeled bottle for us to try.

He proudly said it was a Cabernet Sauvignon he grew, produced & wanted to share with us.  What a real surprise!  I really liked it.

Thank you both for such a wonderful, insightful visit & your gracious, true hospitality!

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Our wine & food adventure traveling up, down & traversing through Corsica sadly came to an end.  It was a great trip to say the least.

Our next adventure was explore the island of Sardegna just south.  We caught a ferry, leaving Bonifacio, Corisca & arriving to the port of Santa Teresa di Gallura in the north part of Sardegna.  After renting a car in Olbia, we drove to our hotel in Castelsardo, an hour & 40 minutes away.

It was immediately apparent Sardegna was very different–much flatter, warmer & we now drove on highways.

After a brief stay & a very good dinner in Castelsardo, we headed the next morning to see 2 wineries. 

The first was Vigne Rada.  Vigne Rada is located less than an hour outside the city of Alghero on the north end of the island. There really wasn’t a lot of road signs & GPS got us to the general area, but we eventually had to call for someone from Vigne Rada to meet us & take us to the winery.  As we followed, it became real apparent we would not have found the winery otherwise.  Even stops to stores in the area to ask for directions didn’t help.  We quickly learned this winery is just too small & even the immediate area locals were not familiar with it or its location.  The area was flat & each parcel seemed to be acres in size & so very different that what we saw in Corsica.  It reminded me of going out to Waimanalo & seeing all of the farms out there. 

Patriarch Luigi “Gino” Bardino started the winery with the support of his 2 sons & their first harvest was 2012.  They own vineyards in 2 distinctly different areas–“Monte Pedroso, where the winery is located & features sandy, clayey alluvial soils with lots of riverbed stones & quartz; & the sloping Cubalciada site & its clay, limestone & some chalk soils“.

Like Gino, the founder, the wines of Vigne Rada are honest, unpretentious & straightforward” AND are quite food friendly & really deliver quality for the dollar.

Vermentino de Sardegna “Stria” (100% Vermentino)–“fermented & aged for 3 to 4 months in stainless steel on the fine lees which are regularly stirred“.  2016–we really liked the stony undertones & its fresh, pure, liveliness & personality.  He also opened & shared a bottle of their favorite to date–2012–nutty, lanolin nuances with a seamless flow from beginning to end & still had a very vibrant core.  The edges were just seemingly rounder because of the additional bottle age.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Riviera” (100% Cannonau)–“destemmed & lightly crushed.  Fermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 10 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 3 to 4 months“.  2016–Grenache like fruit, graceful, elegant & suave.

Alghero Cagnulari “Arsenale” (100% Cagnulari)–“destemmed & lightly crushedFermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 12 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 4 to 6 months“.  2015–pungent, seemingly wild, savory & more masculine-more like Carignano.

Isola dei Nuraghi Passito “3 Nodi” (Vermentino)–botrytis infected grapes left to dry on the vine until mid October.  Fermentation in stainless for 40 to 50 days.  typically 210 g/l residual sugar.

Nov
28

Corsican Wine–Part 4–Sartène

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The visit with Jean-Charles Abbatucci in Ajaccio took 6 1/2 hours.  It was supposed to be only 20 minutes.  We were running late & I was especially anxious because I didn’t relish driving & navigating the narrow, harrowingly winding roads of Corsica at night.  After all, our next destination, the city of Bonifacio in the southern tip of Corsica, was still a considerable drive away.

When we told Jean-Charles we were headed down to Bonifacio, he said his trademark phrase–“NO problem!”  He then added that along the way, we should stop by to see his friend Pierre Richarme, a true vigneron in Sartène, located roughly halfway between Ajaccio & Bonifacio.  The look in his eyes was one of respect, so we thought how can we argue with a vigneron recommending another vigneron?  He, after all, only recommended ONE AND, he doesn’t do so lightly or casually.  It really is a statement of respect.  So, off we went.

I was quite thankful that the roads seem to widen as we headed south.  The hills also seemed more rounded with less height.   It also seemed warmer. 

Finding Pierre Richarme was another interesting mini adventure.  Following GPS, we drove to a winery in Sartène, but no one was there.  There really wasn’t an address anywhere to be found, so we weren’t sure if we were actually in the right place.  Up the hill, we could see a residence, but we didn’t want to barge into anyone’s private residence.  So, after a while, we headed back out.  We stopped to take a break.  Imagine our surprise when someone drove up.  It’s Pierre.  Thankfully Jean-Charles had called him to advise him of our possible visit.  We followed him to the tasting room/restaurant, which was just down the road, again with no signage.

Pierre seemed like a very warm, nice guy.  He watched us very intently & we communicated well, considering he spoke very broken English & we no French. 

His domaine is 24 hectares of vineyards (2HA-Vermentino; 8HA Sciaccarellu, 10HA Niellucciu & 4HA Grenache), all biodynamically farmed.

His wines, over all, were tasty, interesting & very pleasurable, in fact, some of the better wines we had during our trip.

He uses a lot of concrete during his winemaking, with some oak.

His 100% Vermentino (Serenite) is wild yeast fermented, 6 months on the lees–pure, fresh, lean, uplifting & quite lively.  I would buy it.

He produces another 100% Vermentino (Le Lion de Roccapina)–6 months in 50% new oak, 50% 600 liter demi-muids–modern, grander, clove, spice & FRAMED.

HarmonieRosé–100% Sciaccarellu, direct pressed rosé–masculine, hearty, savory, darker colored.

Le Lion de Roccapina Rosso–80% Niellucciu, 20% Sciaccarellu, NO stems, 10 months in oak, 40% new–masculine, structured & well framed.

Equilibre–interestingly Pierre chose to next serve us this lighter, more forward, fruity red wine–40% each Niellucciu & Sciaccarellu & 20% Grenache, all fermented in concrete.  Quite the change-up–lighter colored, more transparent & fruity though with a savory edge.

Espirit de la Terre–80% Sciaccarellu, 20% Niellucciu–10 months in oak, 40% new.  seemingly riper, more plump, lower acid. 

XX Cuvée–100% Sciaccarellu, 10 months in oak, 40% new.  Now, this was a wine to behold.  It totally rocked!  (In fact, when we tried this wine later with Carlo Deperu of Deperu Holler on Sardegna, Carlo was over the top thrilled at tasting this wine!).  It is masculine,  uber savory, vinous & quite soulful!

Thank you Pierre for a wonderful visit!

Nov
25

Corsican Wines–Part 2–Calvi

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Upon leaving St Florent, we then drove to Calvi, in the northwestern part of Corsica.  (If Corsica was a clock, Calvi would be at roughly 10:30 on the dial), roughly 1 1/2 hour drive through again a very mountainous, wild terrain on narrow, winding roads. 

Calvi is located right on the sea, a sleepy, surprisingly small town highlighted by a historic citadel overlooking the water.  We went there to visit Domaine Maestracci, a local winery, whose vineyards were roughly 1 1/4 hours outside of the city proper, because of their wines.

The domaine sits “on an ancient, sandy-clay moraine, located on the foothills of the Monte Grossu, surrounded on all 4 sides by high, granite mountains“.  The vineyard’s origins date back to 1893 & is now in a real groove, run by Camille-Anaïs Raoust, the one person our wine yoda Bruce Neyers insisted we just had to meet on our trip to Corsica.  She is a very integral part of the Island’s wine future.

Camille-Anais certainly lived up to Bruce’s billing.  It was really great to spend time with her & walk their vineyards.  It really solidified to us all what they stand for & we are honored to carry their wines at VINO.

Maestracci owns & farms roughly 30 hectares & mainly focus on their old vine Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu & Vermentino vines (roughly 25 to 60 years in age).  She has also more recently planted some Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre too.

I should also add that we had the opportunity to try other highly recommended wines from Calvi & even stopped by some.  We discovered that NOT all Calvi wines are created equal.  In short, Domaine Maestracci stood out.

We were definitely impressed with their wines, especially given how well priced they really are.  We currently carry their “E Prove” line–Vermentino, Rosé (these 2 by the glass) & the Rouge (soon be done by the glass) at our VINO Restaurant because of their quality, food friendliness & sensational value!

Thank you Camille-Anais for a wonderful, insightful visit.

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