Archive for Vineyards

Nov
15

Alto Piemonte–Day 1 Bramaterra

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Alto Piemonte can be subdivided into 7 main denominations–a cluster of Lessona, Bramaterra, Boca, Gattinara, Ghemme, Sizzano & Fara–roughly 2 hours drive northeast of Langhe.  (from there, thankfully each destination is only about 15 to 30 minutes or less from each other).

As our planned visit to a producer in Lessona fell through at the last moment, we started our first day in Bramaterra.

One of the serendipitous perks to our pre-trip planning was “hooking” up with Cristiano Garella, who happens to be the top winemaking consultant of the whole region (at least 21 projects).  I believe it was partly because of star winemaker/Tres Bicchieri awardee Gilberto Boniperti of Fara & partly because of Oliver McCrum, a prominent San Francisco based Italian wine importer.  How it really came to be, I am not sure, BUT, Cristiano paid so much attention to us & opened up so many doors & opportunities for us & we are forever thankful.

Looking back, I wonder if our trip would have been nearly as insightful & fulfilling without Cristiano & Gianluca?

Bramaterra is the largest denomination of the cluster with at least 7 municipalities/towns within.  The aspects, microclimates & soils therefore can differ greatly.  Our first stop was Colombera & Garella, located in Masserone, & a joint project between Giacomo Colombera & Cristiano Garella.   This estate has 2 hectares in Masserano, 1 hectare in Lessona & 5 hectares in Roasio.  What immediately caught our attention was the dark, reddish, iron rich soils of their Masserano vineyard–1 hectare of 70 year old vines & the other 1 hectare was more like 25 year old vines, at our first stop.  This is quite different from many of the other Bramaterra vineyards & their porphyry-sand mixed soils we saw & walked.  The Colombera & Garella 2016 Bramaterra (80% Nebbiolo, 10% each of Vespolina & Croatina) has more dark, base notes with a “blood” like nuance to its core & aroma.  Their wines were very impressive–more civil, balanced, well textured & sultry.  I would also say, this estate will be producing wines worth seeking out as they will only be getting better & better moving forward with the inclusion of Cristiano Garella’s expertise.  Their special soil is a GREAT start.   

Cristiano made a quick stop, still in Bramaterra to show us how different the soils can be in the DOC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our next stop was to Le Pianelle, yet another Cristiano Garella project.  There are actually 5 partners–Dieter Heuskel, Peter Dipoli, working partners–Fabio, Andrea & Cristiano.  They vineyards are mostly in Bramaterra, one in the town of Brusnengo–porphyry-sand soils, replanted in 2007 & one in Roasio–50 year old vines in the vertically remote hills (closer to the mountains & therefore much cooler) at 1600 feet in elevation & red porphyry & gravel soils.  Their 2016 Bramaterra red (80% Nebbiolo, 10% each of Vespolina & Croatina) was so intriguingly savory–more base notes of earth, roasted chestnuts, worn saddle leather, with a light touch of smoke & musk.  It was very masculine, virile yet still so well balanced & surprisingly polished.  This is certainly another estate on the rise & worth keeping an eye out for.  It was a terrific, memorable opportunity to be there at harvest, so we could try grapes still on the vine, different grape juice as they were fermenting & some from other vintages.

 

Our next stop, thanks again in kind, to Cristiano, was at Antoniotti, also in Bramaterra.  It was not originally on our pre-trip radar screen, but with HUGE endorsements from Cristiano Garella & Gianluca Zanetta at La Cappucina, we were so thankful Cristiano made a visit possible, eventhough it was harvest.  This truly iconic estate was founded in 1861 & is currently run by Odilio (father), & his son Mattia who has recently joined his father full time..  They own but 5.5 hectares of vines, including Martinazzi Cru” a breathtaking, steep, rocky (volcanic porphyry–low organic matter) Bramaterra hillside plus 1 hectare of another steep hillside of 70 year old vines across the way.  (His latest vineyard addition is 1 hectare planted above on the steepest, rockiest site.  The vines are only 2 years old & I am really anxious to taste what this parcel will produce).  Odilio, now 77 years young in age, is undeniably from the old school of the region–its grass roots thoughts, philosophies & traditional minded ways, both in the vineyard & the winery.  I was totally taken by this wise, very thoughtful wine “yoda” & his young, energetic, uplifting son Mattia.  (It thankfully seems, we always seem to run across such a wine maestro/vigneron like this in every Old World wine region we visit).  Although he prudently uses stainless steel in his winemaking, he seems to prefer old concrete (1901) totally underground & older, large oak (1250 liters, & 1700 liters) for his aging.  (His Bramaterra, for instance, is typically 70% Nebbiolo, 7% Vespolina, 20% Croatina & 3% Uva Rara, aged for 30 months in such vessels!).  Odilio Antoniotti produces glorious Bramaterra–something truly special, personal & soulful.  Stylistically, this wine reminds me of those from but a small handful of Barolo-meisters back in the 1960’s & 1970’s.  This is definitely a wine to search out!  I left Odilio with a most touching memory.  While I asked Mattia all of these questions about the vineyards, the vines, the winemaking, while we were in the vineyard, Odilio was off to the side, trying to break open one of the rocks in his vineyard.  He finally succeeded after 20 minutes or so of working it.  He then proudly showed us the core of the rock, which showed some kind of red quartz & smatterings of limestone, which was unlike anything else I saw in Alto Piemonte.  He beamed as a father would when showing his newborn baby.  I will always remember this special moment, as it will remind me how it was this soil, HIS soil, which this 77 year old true wine master treasured & proudly showed us.  Incredible!

Yes, what an incredible day this really was.

In the planning of our latest trip to Italy we set our sights on two specific & unique winegrowing niches of the country’s western coast–Dolceacqua on the northwestern extreme of Liguria & Alto Piemonte to the northeast of Alba.  Just a short time previously, I was really taken, bordering entranced with several of the Rossese di Dolceacqua wines I tasted from this DOC (officially recognized in 1972), including bottlings from Tenuta Anfosso single parcel designated–Poggio Pini & Luvaira and the single parcel bottlings–Beragna & Galeae–from Ka’ Manciné.  They were a far cry from Rossese based red wines I had had from other parts of Liguria AND VERY different from the Tibouren (supposedly the same grape variety or somehow related) from Provence, right around the corner in southern France.  In short, they were like NO other red wine I had previously encountered.

I then started researching more into this appellation & its wines.  Dolceacqua is located in the far reaches of northwest Liguria, only 10 to 15 kilometers or so away from Monaco & a bit farther from southern France.  It was tucked away in the hills & valleys 15 kilometers or so away from the coastline, but still greatly influenced by the cool ocean winds, because of the channeling running hills configuration.  I read once there were roughly 3000 hectares planted pre-phylloxera & today only 70 to 90 hectares remain.  The steep, labor intensive hillsides, the vertically remote locations, the imposing lack of water & the shocking, increasing plight of wild animal issues (eating of plants, vine leaves & grapes), bordering maniacal, have made many give up on their vineyards.  Who, after all, would want to work so hard with so little return in the end.  Still, pictures of the almost mythically steep vineyards, then convinced me that this is where we needed to go, in lieu of our originally thought of Bierzo & Ribera Sacre of northwestern Spain.

 

Off we went on our next wine adventure with my cousin Mike & my wife Cheryle. 

The first stop was to Ka’ Manciné & his Beragna vineyard.  We met down in one of the small towns below in a parking lot.  As we soon discovered, there was NO way, we would ever find these remote vineyards up in the mountains ourselves.  It was a pleasure to finally shake hands with Ka’ Manciné owner/winemaker Maurizio Anfosso.  Joining him, in an effort to make our Dolceacqua visit more convenient for us, was his cousin Alessandro Anfosso of Tenuta Anfosso, our next scheduled visit.

Maurizio is the 3rd generation of his family to run this small 3 hectare estate.  His 1.5 hectare, single parcel, Beragna was planted in 1864 & many of the vines still on their own roots.  Breathtaking steep, this venerable site is unusually north facing.   While so many of other sites we could see were south to southwest facing to capture a more full sun exposure, I think Beragna’s seems to be better suited for today’s increasing sun warming & allows a more necessary, longer hang time. Seeing the flysch/schist influenced soils & from the 400 meter elevation, feeling the continual cooling coastal breezes AND tasting the grapes as we walked the site gave us a much more complete understanding of the resulting wines AND what its takes to grow & produce these wines. 

The 1 1/2 hectare Galeae parcel, on the other hand, was planted in 1905, with significant replanting done in 1998.  Equally high in elevation, southeast facing & with some limestone to the flysch soil mix resulted in wines more ethereal in the nose & more structure & masculinity on the palate.

Here in Hawaii, I was really taken with the Ka’ Manciné wines, especially their Beragna & Galeae single parcel wines.  Each were so wonderfully & intoxicatingly savory in their core with a faintly similar kind of earthy pungency one experiences with porcini mushrooms & even truffle, at least to a certain degree.  On this visit, interestingly, I discovered that Ka’ Manciné, in comparison to the others, stylistically produces red wines (roughly 20% whole cluster) with more transparency, refinement & delicate nuance than the others we visited & tasted during the 2 days, as well as the wines we purchased at the local restaurants & town wine store.

We were also quite taken with Maurizio Anfosso.  He was jovial, good fun & had a very outgoing, welcoming charm & was very & seemingly unassuming passionate about his vineyards & his wines. One could also readily see the respect that both his cousin Alessandro Anfosso & later Erica of Perrino Testa Longa reverently had for him.  It was a great & truly memorable visit! 

The next stop was the at Tenuta Anfosso.  This 6 generation run estate is currently operated by Alessandro Anfosso.  Alessandro is much more reserved than Maurizio but quite charming & welcoming nonetheless.  He was the straight man & Maurizio the character of the duo.  He owns & farms 5.5 hectares of incredible, steep, hillside parcels–Luvaira–2.5 hectares planted in 1905 & some in 2004, Poggio Pini–2 hectares planted in 1888 & Fulavin–1 hectare planted in 1977 & 1998.  The vineyards also feature flysch soils (“flysch is a sedimentary rock consisting of alternating strata of marl and sandstone; proportions of clay and sand vary between each vineyard, and within each vineyard“).  The common practice here is roughly 50% whole cluster with fermentation & aging in stainless steel & bottle–Fulavin–12 to 13 months in stainless & 4 to 5 months in bottle & for Poggio Pini & Luvaira–more like 17 to 18 months in stainless steel & 7 to 8 months in bottle before release.   The wines in comparison to Ka’ Manciné are much more masculine with more “flesh on the bone” & more vehement structure.  The Poggio Pini was wonderfully savory & gloriously vinous–impressive to say the least.  The Luvaira bottling was much more showy–Burgundian/compost like funk, mega savory, rounder, fuller with a pillowy middle.  Alessandro also produces a small amount of Rossese Blanc (150 to 170 years old, own rooted, intermittently scattered throughout the Poggio Pini vineyard).  He insists that the Blanc is not directly related to the red Rossese–showing us how the leaves, stems & grapes differ in sight & taste. 

We were so thankful for all of the time these two generously gave us & patiently they explained & shared all of their knowledge.  It was so immediately evident they are entirely all about the vineyard & how they cultivate what these special, unique vineyards want to say.

 

Both of these vignerons highly recommended that we go to visit Perrino Testa Longa, another standout producer of the DOC founded in 1961.  Run by (uncle) Nino & (niece) Erica, this is a truly garagiste with 2 hectares of vineyards (60% Rossese & 40% Vermentino) & a typical production of 300 cases of wine.  The soils are also flysch with every small parcel having some slightly different.  The vines are grouped–70 to 75 years; 40 to 45 years; 20 years & the newest parcel, but 3 years in age.  They produce but 2 wines–a Rossese di Dolceacqua & a Vermentino–foot pressed, 100% whole clusters for the red, fermented & aged in 6 to 7 year old barrels using native yeasts, with NO temperature control & fermented dry.  There is a small amount of SO2 used from November to June to stabilize the wines AND none used at harvest or bottling.  Upon first whiff, one can immediately identify, these are done in the more natural minded genre, really growing in popularity amongst the world’s sommelier community. 

Their one white wine was quite “orange” in style–full of orange character but still quite standout in quality.  The 2018 Rossese di Dolceacqua red was quite macho/masculine, wild & wooly reminiscent in style of Giovanni Montisci of Sardegna (quite the compliment) though with more funk & VA.  We were really taken.  The 2011 was more about roasted/savory character with chocolate, humus & spice nuances.  At 8 years old, it was still so youthful in the core, along with the remarkable development in the nose.  The 1983 was quite the adventure–still VERY fresh & alive in the core with a resounding savory, stony base–lean in the fruit department ( as opposed to juicy in the younger versions), a firm acid structure & moderate, intricate tannins in the finish.  I loved the wine & was quite surprised it was 36 years in age.

During our 2 day visit to the area, we were able to taste several “other” wines from the area as well.  One, which we purchased from a small, very good wine store in the newer part of town, had a production was but roughly 360 bottles (30 cases) & yet another which we thought was quite delicious & charming Terre Bianche (at a restaurant in the old medieval, hillside town of Aprecale) was very delightful.  It was undeniable however, to me that Ka’ Manciné, Tenuta Anfosso & Perrino Testa Longa were the real standouts.

Our visit to Dolceacqua though brief, provided us with much more insight than I could have ever wished.  The wines were solid, so very unique, interesting, savory & truly unlike anything else I have experienced.  I was really taken with their grass roots authenticity & character. The vineyards & vertically remote countryside, as well as the people is something I will treasure remembering forever.

What a visit!!!!!!

Varigotti is a small town located in a niche of Liguria, not far from Finale Liguria.  It essentially has one main thoroughfare which runs through with narrow streets which turn off now & then & head towards the hills away from the picturesque beach which fronts the ocean there.  The sea air fills the air.

Punta Crena is a small family owned & operated winery just a few hundred feet off of the main road as one heads towards the hills.  This is where the family dwelling AND the winery is located.  Four siblings now run this venerable 500 year old estate–the eldest as winemaker ((Tommaso); one in charge of sales (Paolo), a sister in charge of admin (Anna) & one who helps all of the above (Nicola).  I found this family & their values as being seemingly timeless in how they go about their business.   It is truly a family run endeavor. 

We first took a short walk down the road fronting their winery complex.  Paolo showed us the 4 distinct soils which permeate their vineyards–quartzite, dolomitic limestone,a dark gray soil with a greenish edge & red clay.

Being they were harvesting & load after load of fruit continuously started rolling in, Paolo’s son, Filippo took us up into the hills to walk their vertically remote vineyards.  The vineyards were truly breathtaking & at high altitudes with some having incredible panoramic views of the coastline & others hidden in various nooks & crannies high up.  In each case, I felt like I was in a time warp & day dreamed of this family doing many of their tasks just as their forefathers had. 

I was also quite taken by the scents of the plethora of wild herbs & shrub which surround each of the small parcels of vines scattered here & there. 

The soils varied with each site as did the selected grape vines that were planted.  I was amazed at their plantings of different heritage grapes–Mataòssu, Lumassina (a cousin to Mataòssu); Vermentino & Pigato (which are somehow directly related to each other) for white wines.  On the red side, their focus on 3 indigenous grape varieties–Crovino, Rossese & a small amount of Barbarossa, each planted in various nooks & crannies scattered here & there in the hills directly above the winery & home.  During this family’s 500 year tenure here, they acquired various parcels as they became available, which at least partially explains how spread out their plantings are throughout the hillside.  I am & have been an avid fan of their Mataòssu bottlings, something they specialize in.  It combines the minerality from the soils with a perk of salinity, I imagine comes from the sea down below & merely 1200 meters away.

Visually, the Pigato grape variety is quite striking in its coloring.  They say the name derives from the word pighe, which means freckles in their dialect.  Tasting the ripen grape provided me with much insight into their finished wine.  The juice itself has very assertive flavors, a thicker viscosity & very pungent, piquant bitterness to the finish.  In comparison, Vermentino seems much rounder & juicy—somewhat more tame.  Lumassina seems almost neutral in comparison.  I find the finished wine to be the most pliable in terms of its affinity to foods, especially creating magic with the deep fried seafood fritti of the area. The spumante (sparkling) rendition is especially lively, completely refreshing for warm weather sipping & the lunch dining table.  Fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel, these wines are so tasty & vivacious right out of gates.  I would add to that, however, with 2 or 3 years of bottle age, the wines seem rounder & the terroir shines through more clearly.

On the red wine side, interestingly in the vineyards, the Crovino grape tasted the most structured, unyielding & tannic, in comparison to the Rossese & Barbarossa grapes.  Paolo was kind enough to open & share a magnum of his 2011 Cruvin “Colline Savonesi” (produced from the Corvino grape variety) at dinner on the first night.  I was quite taken with it, that’s for sure.  It was masculine,, earth laden, musky, with wild character of its wild birthplace  & so intriguingly savory in its core.   It certainly was a totally unexpected treat & gave me a completely new perspective on what this grape AND this wine could be.  Plus, I couldn’t believe this wine was fermented & aged in stainless (on its lees). 

This a great, truly memorable visit, one I had dreamed about for a long time.  Having said that, it turned out to be way more inspirational & invigorating than I could ever have imagined or hope for.  It really is about a family, their 500 year old home turf, their appreciation & respect for their land (we could readily see the disdain on Filippo’s face to bikers traversing the hills AND the homes of wealthier people starting to invade the area & build more elaborately) & how the family all jump in to do their “chores” in the running of this estate.  I love how they do so with such pride, appreciation & respect, even the young children.  It was something special to experience.  Thank you all.

Oct
05

Not all Italian Wines are Created Equal

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The other night a guest in VINO, asked if I would recommend and serve a bottle of Italian white wine for their dinner and I had to think about it for some time.   Italy offers very diverse soils, vineyard aspects and micro climates from the north down to Sicily AND with each region having their own selection of indigenous vines. As you can imagine, this can create quite a comprehensive matrix of potential selections to choose from. So, to start you down the road of discovering and better understanding the diversity of Italian white wines, we will serve TWO sets of white wines—one from an island in south Italy just above Sicily and the other set from the high altitudes of the mountainous northeast corner of Italy. Yes, this will be quite the contrast AND quite the learning opportunity. 

Salina is part of the Aeolian Islands, just north of Sicily. As with Sicily, the climate is warm, which is thankfully cooled by the strong sea breezes. The soils are volcanic in origin and the sea very nearby, which influence the smell and taste of each wine significantly.

2017 Virgona Salina Bianco–Mostly produced from the Inzolia and Cataratto grape varieties (indigenous to Sicily).  I would also say, there is a dollop of Malvasia, too.  This rendition is really about minerality, salinity & more delicate aromatics. 

2016 Caravaglio Malvasia Secco “Salina Bianco”–This Salina Bianco is produced mainly from the Malvasia grape variety & showcases a much more aromatic, uplifting character, alongside the innate stoniness and salinity with a bitter almond finish.

 

Alto Adige is located in the northeast mountains of Italy, bordered by Switzerland and Austria, with Germany just north. There are all kinds of vineyard aspects/altitudes to be found within this winegrowing region, but the finest white wines seem to come from the heart of Bolzano. The high altitudes and crazy collection of volcanic and glacieral soils, which is then compounded by the wide diversity of different vines planted, potentially create a myriad of very different, dazzling, riveting white wines. 

2017 Cantina Terlan Pinot BiancoAlto Adige–An absolutely riveting, uplifting white wine, which provides an unforgettable wine experience. Once you have a sip, you will remember it forever.

2017 Valle Isarco Kerner “Eisacktal Südtirol–Kerner is a more aromatic grape variety which is a much more aromatic white wine, uplifting because of its perfume/minerality collaboration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

looking from the top ridge of Radian Vineyard

The “Pinot Bowl” of Radian Vineyard

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

pretty extreme

fish fossil–part of the soils

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

Bentrock vineyard in the distance

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

 

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019.

The final morning of SOMM Camp Paso Robles 2019.

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

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

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

San Andreas Fault

 

Glen Rose Vineyard

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

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

 

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what we tasted–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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