Archive for Wine Friends

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

looking from the top ridge of Radian Vineyard

The “Pinot Bowl” of Radian Vineyard

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

pretty extreme

fish fossil–part of the soils

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

Bentrock vineyard in the distance

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

 

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2019.

The final morning of SOMM Camp Paso Robles 2019.

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

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

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

San Andreas Fault

 

Glen Rose Vineyard

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

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

 

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what we tasted–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 26, 2019.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Talking Story with My Wine “Yoda

I first met Bruce Neyers back in the 1970’s when he was running the then promising, upstart Joseph Phelps winery in the Napa Valley.  (In this picture, you can readily see how thrilled he is to see & speak with me.  OH, happy day!!!!).  Unlike many of their peers, Phelps continually challenged the norm.   While their Johannisberg Riesling bottlings created quite the revelation back then, it was their 1974 Syrah that was my first experience with a commercial California born Syrah.  In the same vintage they also conceptualized and launched “Insignia”, a premier, soon to be “game changing” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordelaise type grape varieties.  That would be quite a career for most.

In 1992, however, Bruce then took over the National Sales for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants and helped them build one of the real noteworthy, quality driven, iconic wine importers of our time, featuring true artisan, game changers from France and later Italy.  He visited with each of the wine families 2 to 4 times a year, talking story, walking vineyards & tasting their wines with them.  Who better to talk story with to learn from than my wine yoda, Bruce Neyers.

Also with the 1992 vintage, Bruce made his first Neyers red wine—1992 Merlot. At a tasting at the Halekulani Hotel with 20 other winemakers, Bruce approached me and asked if I would taste his wine. I did and was absolutely blown away. In short it was without a doubt the finest Californian Merlot I had tasted up to that point and the rest is history. I have been a huge fan of the Neyers wines since. As they grew their stable of wines with subsequent vintages, several of their beliefs became clearer & clearer for me—avid use of heirloom/heritage vines, of very unique, special vineyards, farmed sustainably and made with a similar simplicity as many of the vignerons he visited in France.

Neyers has now completely hit their “zone” and are undoubtedly producing some of the top wines out of California. Crazy good! AND unassumingly so. It is almost like a way of life for them, along the lines of what I find in some of my favorite wine producers from the Old World.

We will be featuring four of their standout red wines, just to show tasters why we are all in with this couple and their wines. This should be a most interesting tasting with great conversation from one of the all time wine maestros.

2017 Carignan “Evangelho Vineyard”A celebration of the 139 year old vines (grown in sand dominated soils & therefore own rooted)! harvested at roughly only 1 ton per acre.  Foot stomped, wild yeast fermented and bottled unfiltered. A homage to the great Maxime Magnon of Southern France.  We love the character, the innate vinosity & savoriness AND the superb texture, balance & completeness this wine deftly offers.

2015 Mourvèdre “Evangelho Vineyard”Bruce worked with the legendary Mourvèdre mogul Domaine Tempier for well over twenty five years. Imagine walking their vineyards and tasting their wines—in their youth and with different kinds of bottle age, three to four times a year. I would say, he is an expert on the subject.  Our Mourvèdre vineyards are all very old — more than 120 years old to be precise — and they have taken a beating with the five consecutive years of drought here in California. We’ve been able to make a wonderful wine every year, but in 2015 — probably our best ever Mourvèdre — we had less than half of what was the normal tiny harvest. From that vintage, we now have only 30 cases of wine remaining, and it promises to be a Mourvèdre for the ages”.

2017 Pinot Noir “Placida Vineyard”Placida is a vineyard in California’s Russian River Valley and farmed by iconic vineyard-ist superstar Chuy Ordaz. The Neyers prefer to work with maestros who sniff out a special vineyard, especially planted with heritage vines (Swan in this case) and farm it to the umpteenth degree, in search of what the site wants to say. This is a stellar, masculine, savory rendition, one more and more professionals need to pay attention to. We wanted to make sure you had a chance to taste this beaute.

2015 Chardonnay “Il Novillero”Since my first introduction to this single vineyard bottling back in the 1990’s, I have always said, I feel this is one of the finest Chardonnays grown and produced in California. It has that something extra. It can remind me of the stony and nutty quality one finds in Burgundy’s Grand Cru Corton Charlemagne. BIG statement. I hope this grabs your attention and intention, because this is really an absolutely stellar Chardonnay and deserves to be recognized as such.  Il Novillero was planted sometime in either 1984 or 85 on the Sonoma side of Carneros & is farmed by the iconic Sangiacomo family.  It is subdivided into 5 parcels, the 5th one being at the top of the hill, which Neyers starting using in 1992.  Because of the low nitrogen in the harvested Shot Wente grapes, the wine takes a long time to ferment, sometimes as much as 12 to 14 months.  Yes, it needs to be nurtured as a parent would a child.  I believe their production lies somewhere 200 to 250 cases.

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Meet California’s Iconic Winemakers-

Bruce and Barbara Neyers

of Neyers Winery in Napa Valley

Thursday, August 15, 2019

at Seafood, Steak & Sushi Bar @ Waikoloa

Teenage sweethearts Bruce and Barbara Neyers – who’ve been married for more than FIFTY years! – have been making their stellar Napa Valley wines since 1983. Bruce’s depth of experience working in California and Europe contributes to the quality and the “soulfulness” of his high quality, artisanal wines. Both Bruce and Barbara passionately believe in sustainable practices in the vineyard and at the winery, a passion that shows in the finished product they create with their masterful winemaker Tadeo Borchardt.  Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya has ALWAYS referred to Bruce as the “Wine Yoda” and is constantly amazed at his depth of knowledge.  On this evening, you will have the opportunity to meet Bruce and Barbara and enjoy their wines paired with a contemporary menu created by our d.k Steak House Executive Chef Albert Balbas, Corporate Sushi Chef Masa Hattori & Sansei Waikoloa Executive Chef Moses Tavares, with dessert created & done by Corporate Pastry Chef, Cherie Pascua.  Kudos & much thanks to GM Patrick Almarza & his team for a wonderful, very memorable evening.

 

APPETIZER

NATURE’S NATURAL BEEF WELLINGTON–with caramelized Maui onions and Small Kine Farms cremini mushroom duxelle, crispy prosciutto, Ewa sweet corn relish, thyme jus

wine:  2017 Neyers “Sage Canyon” Reda delicious, juicy, wild, collaborative combination of Carignane, Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre, done ala Maxime Magnon of southern France.  The core is the Carignane 139 year old vines) foot stomped, wild yeast fermented & bottled unfiltered & unfined.  We are HUGE fans of this wine & this wine worked its magic with Corporate Sushi Chef Masa’s more subtle, nuanced style of cooking.

 

INTERMEZZO

TRUFFLE CAJUN SEARED HAWAIIAN AHI– with cilantro pesto, ponzu, crispy garlic chips, and lemon garlic aioli

 

 SECOND COURSE

FENNEL POLLEN CRUSTED “BRISTOL BAY SCALLOP” —marinated fennel polenta, Mari’s Garden micro sorrel & creamy chive aioli

wine:  2017 Neyers Chardonnay “304”as we have noted on many occasions in the past, Neyers is perennially producing some of the finest, mesmerizing, intriguingly mineral driven Chardonnays out of California today.  This particular bottling was inspired by a trip to the Chablis region of France by winemaker Tadeo Borchardt.  It apparently was an aha moment when you have mineral, food friendly Chardonnays like those grown there, which are so contrastingly different from those one readily samples from California.  Yes, how does one bridge the gap between those from  grown & produced in Burgundy & those from California?  Well, this wine is certainly moving in that direction.  Furthermore, who else really champions the heritage/heirloom Shot Wente vine today?  It is such an uneven ripener & has a very characteristic, unique, musque-ish aromatic core.  Its intense concentration & stony notes works well with the richness of the Bristol Bay scallop & the marinated fennel polenta.  Its crisp, lemon edge freshens the palate very resoundingly between bites.

INTERMEZZO

IL GELATO LOCAL CALAMANSI SORBET

 

DEMI ENTRÉE

RAGOUT OF RED WINE BRAISED MARY’S ORGANIC CHICKEN–summer truffle gnocchi, natural jus, Swiss Chard, Parmesan-whipped Burrata 

wine:  2017 Neyers “Placida Vineyard” Pinot NoirYes, we love the core values of this winery.  We spoke earlier of the 139 year old vine Cariganne & of the heirloom/heritage shot Wente Chardonnay vine…….well, here is yet another–the Swan Pinot Noir vine.  While the Placida vineyard is planted to mainly Dijon Pinot clones, there is 1 acre of Swan vine, planted in 1999 which vineyard-ist Chuy Ordaz singled out for the Neyers gang.   The resulting wine is very masculine, earthy & savory, while still being lovely, superbly textured & balanced.  For me, this is the finest Pinot I have had from Neyers to date.  and, that is saying quite a lot, given all of the previous, stellar bottlings they have produced.

 

MAIN ENTRÉE

21-DAY DRY AGED NATURE’S NATURAL RIB EYEwith Mari’s Garden baby arugula, twice cooked fingerling potatoes, bone marrow butter, Bordelaise sauce 

wine:  2015 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon “AME”with all of the truly incredible wines Bruce & Barbara Neyers produce, their AME bottling has to be their crown jewel.  I don’t say that lightly, otherwise I would be diminishing the light & respect I have for them all.  The difference for me, is that AME comes from their own vineyard.  It is a dream come true for this iconic couple after 40 plus years living, working & dreaming in the Napa Valley.  It took their savings, a risk, a superstar vineyard consultant & lots of dynamite & hard work to finally plant their vines on the highest elevation–nearly 1000 feet in elevation.  AME is an embodiment of what Napa Valley truly can be–full of earth driven complexity, layering & savoriness–full of power, structure & fortitude, but done with civility, respect & homage to what their vineyard, their dream wants to say.  And, the 2015 has a lot to say!

 

DESSERT 

DK Restaurants Pastry Chef Cherie Pascua 

LEMON CAKE WITH BANANA BRULEE —candied walnuts, brown butter salted caramel, vanilla-rum ice cream

 

Meet California Star Winemaker

Tadeo Borchardt

Friday, June 26, 2019

At Sansei Kihei

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From our point of view, Tadeo Borchardt is one of today’s most gifted winemakers out of California.  He sources grapes from special vineyards & crafts them using Old World sensibilities.  We love how elegant, suave, well textured & balanced they really are.  He is also a really good guy on top of it all.  We are thrilled that he joining us at our Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar at out Kihei location.  Joining us to create a very special dining experience will be our Corporate Sushi Chef, Masa Hattori, Kihei Executive Chef Carl Yeh, Corporate Dessert Sushi Chef Cherie Pascal & the mastermind behind this dinner–Managing Partner/Corporate Director of Operations, Ivy Nagayama.   The team has worked really hard on the pairings  in an effort to make this a most memorable evening.

APPETIZER by Sansei Corporate Head Sushi Chef Masa Hattori

SCALLOP, LOBSTER AND SHRIMP MOUSSE WELLINGTONwith sautéed spinach, local asparagus, and Hamakua mushrooms & truffle butter sauce

WINE:–2013 Camino Chardonnay “Soberanes Vineyard“–a rich, lush, well textured, small production Chardonnay.  “Soberanes is a top vineyard in the eastern foothills of the Santa Lucia Highlands.   Planted in 2006, the vineyard is adjacent to Garys’ Vineyard, owned and farmed by the Pisoni and Francsioni families.  The soil is decomposed granite, sandy in appearance with larger granitic stones and some clay. The selections of Chardonnay are a diverse selection of Wente: Hyde, Hudson and Old Wente along with a Montrachet selection. The Wente selections all have the hallmark composition of hens and chicks: the shot berries give the wine distinctiveness with rich yet juicy texture, and interesting aromatics bordering on exotic and some muscat-y notes. The Montrachet selection is a larger berry, more even cluster. The berries have thicker skins giving the juice and wine texture akin to some tannin. The Santa Lucia AVA is a cool growing region yet is sun kissed, keeping the acidity even through malolactic while giving great texture and length. barrel fermented in all French oak, 25% new, Sirugue cooperage from Nuits St Georges is used. They are low impact barrels providing nice texture, breadth, and don’t interfere with aromatics. Fermentation and 100% malolactic fermentation is native. The wine is racked once for bottling . The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered after 16 months in barrel and on fine lees“.

 

 

DEMI ENTRÉE by Kīhei Sansei Executive Chef Carl Yeh

PEKING DUCK “PORCHETTA”Maple Leaf duck breast stuffed with house made Portuguese sausage and then roasted Peking duck style; served over Yukon Gold Potato galette with torched Shishido Farms red radishes and drizzled with red peppercorn sauce

WINES–2016 Camino Pinot Noir “Umino Vineyard” –“planted in 1996 by Dave Umino in the Sebastopol Hills area of the Sonoma Coast in the town of Sebastopol at 1000 feet in elevation.  Dave does most of the farming of the 11 acres with a small crew. The soil is composed of soft sandstone and sandy loam of the Goldridge series. I get clones 115 and 777. This vineyard is a very cool site, having foggy and wet mornings, sunny days giving to windy, cool afternoons and evenings. The grape clusters are small and loose having many shot berries with thick, dark skins.  The grapes are fermented 50% whole clusters at the bottom of the small tank. I love whole cluster. The whole cluster gives a fineness to the tannins and length. The aromas of whole cluster are unique: spicy, floral, of the earth character. The fermentation is native and warm. It starts on its own after a 5 day cold soak. We use pumpovers only to extract gently, pressing when the free run wine is dry blending some of the first press with the free run to retain the whole cluster character. The wine finished fermenting in barrel and goes through a natural malolactic fermentation. The oak is one-third new using Damy cooperage, Troncais forest for the oak. The wine is aged on fine lees for 11 months, racked once for bottling. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered. I chose Umino vineyard because it lends itself to savory Pinot noir, less fruity and juicy, with wild, earthy aromatics“.

2017 Neyers Pinot Noir “Placida Vineyard”–we absolutely love how masculine & savory this wine really is with complete, wonderful transparency & purity.  It is one of the best we have had from Neyers to date & a stellar example of what Californian Pinot Noir can be. Planted in the cool confines near Petaluma, this vineyard, farmed by iconic vineyard-ist Chuy Ordaz, was planted in 1999.  Although planted to mostly Dijon clones, there is 1 acre. sandier soils, which is planted to heritage Swan vine, which Neyers gets.  50% stems & roughly 30% new oak.

 

 

INTERMEZZO Sansei Corporate Head Sushi Chef Masa Hattori

CONTEMPORARY SUSHI

Torched Kaua‘i Shrimp with Fresno jam and Maui onion yuzu kosho

Hawaiian Ono nigiri sushi with truffle ginger scallion sauce

Hawaiian Kampachi nigari sushi with pickled wasabi leaf jelly

 

MAIN ENTRÉE by Kīhei Sansei Executive Chef Carl Yeh

BRAISED BEEF CHEEKS–three-hour, slow braised beef cheeks, served with buttery parsnip puree, roasted fingerling potatoes, sautéed Kumu Farms Swiss chard and finished with mint gremolata

WINE: 2014 Camino Cabernet Sauvignon “Montecillo Vineyard”–“Montecillo Vineyard was planted in 1964 on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas along one of the highest peaks of Moon Mountain–head-trained, established without irrigation, and still dry-farmed on St. George rootstock using old plant material dating back to late the 19th century Cresta Blanca in Livermore, whose cuttings came directly from Bordeaux – no clones. The clusters are small-berried, open, and loose.  This is the Sonoma side of Mt. Veeder, northwest of Monte Rosso. Terraces were carved just below the Sonoma & Napa county line. The vineyard faces South and Southwest. The soils are basaltic volcanic rock and iron rich giving them a red appearance; hence the name of neighbor Monte Rosso. This old block of Cabernet Sauvignon is 15 acres and averages a yield of 1.5 tons per acre. The grapes are hand-picked and sorted. No sulpher is added until malo is finished. After a cold maceration, the fermentation and malolactic is completed with native yeasts and cultures. Production is 100 cases, 4 barrels. 2 barrels are new, Taransaud cooperage. The wine spends 20 months in barrels with few rackings, trying to keep the wine a touch reductive through a slow evolution enabling me to use less sulpher through its elevage and ultimately in bottle. No fining or filtration.  The vineyards chose me; I didn’t choose them.  100% Cabernet Sauvignon, same vineyard – Montecillo, 20 months in oak, 50% new, Taransaud cooperage, 105 cases produced“.

 

 

DESSERT by DK Restaurants Pastry Chef Cherie Pascua

SALTED CARAMEL CHEESECAKEwith fresh fruit, meringue drops and house made chocolate and strawberry ice creams 

Our comrade in wine, maestro Keith, kindly hosted another BYOB winetasting at his home.  This tasting’s theme was Gamay Noir.  It was a Sunday night.  The tasting started around 8:30pm & the line-up was quite diverse & so interesting.

The first thing I would say tasters soon discovered was that not all Beaujolais are created the same.  Seems obvious, right?  But, I often hear people note, “yes, I would pair that dish with a Beaujolais“.  Tasting this line up, however, clearly showed how a wine produced from the same grape variety can differ, whether from site, soil, vintage growing conditions, harvest times, winemaker’s preference & execution & so many other factors.

Wines tasted–2015 Evening Land Gamay Noir “Seven Springs”; 2017 Dupeuble Beaujolais Rosé; 2017 Nicole Chanrion “”Perle de Gamay”; Jean Foillard Beaujolais Villages; 2016 Robert-Denogent Beaujolais Villages “Cuvée Jules Chauvet”; 2015 Julien Sunier “Wild Soul”; 2015 Anne Sophie Dubois Fleurie “Clepsydre”; 2015 Chignard Juliénas “Beauvernay”; 2016 Mommessin St Amour; 2015 Jean-Paul Brun “Domaine de Terres Dorées” St Amour; Ganevat “Cuvée Madelon Nature”; 2017 Nicole Chanrion Côte de Brouilly “Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes”; 2006 Nicole Chanrion Côte de Brouilly “Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes”; 2014 Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly; 2017 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”; 2015 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”; 2009 Jean Foillard Morgon “3.14”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlights for me included–

2017 Dupeuble Beaujolais Rosé–a very tasty, mineral laden, vivacious, perky roséBoy, has this estate greatly improved their pink wine over the past decade or so!  Quite the turnaround.  This family run estate has doing their thing for over 500 years.  Today, the vines are farmed organically & biodynamically.  Really ideal for the fast approaching Summer months.  Thank you Ann for sharing.  2017 Nicole Chanrion “”Perle de Gamay”–My first taste of this particular white wine.  Produced from .27HA of Gamay Noir (planted in the 1970’s)–fermented in stainless steel & aged for 10 months.  Tasters loved its wonderful purity, deliciousness & softness.  Its a very pretty, lighter, easy drinking white wine.  Thank you Chris for sharing.  2016 Robert-Denogent Beaujolais Villages “Cuvée Jules Chauvet”–Jean-Jacques Robert was the first of his family to create such a fanfare for their wines.  His, are many stellar, white wine bottlings from very special & unique, old vine parcels in the Mâconnais.  I would say, these old vine white wines are more in quality company with the Côte de Beaune Crus rather than with his neighbors.  A few years back, Robert leased a 1.14 hectare parcel (20 & 70 year old vines) from Benedicte Chauvet, niece of iconic, wine game changing Jules Chauvet.  This 2016 was delicious, intriguing, vinous, savory & really good.  One of the more popular wines of the evening among the tasters.  Thank you Ann for sharing.  Ganevat Vin de France “Cuvée Madelon Nature”–This was one of the wine highlights of the night.  Because of the extreme challenges they have recently been experiencing, Jean-François teamed up his sister Anne to create some very interesting Vin de France designated wines.  Cuvée Madelon Nature is 50 to 60% old vine, organically grown Gamay Noir from the Morgon cru & the remainder produced from indigenous vines from Jura.  This bottle was very compelling–vinous, savory, full of character with mojo & structure in its core.  Quite a group favorite.  Thank you Jacob for sharing.  Both the 2017 AND the 2006  Nicole Chanrion Côte de Brouilly “Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes” were served.  (Unfortunately, the 2006 was off.  It would have been nice to taste a set of wines, 11 years apart).  Chanrion owns & farms 6.5 hectares of vineyards in the lower part of the Côte de Brouilly.  She is a very driven, visionary, totally committed, true vigneron.  Her 2017 Côte de Brouilly has a dark, sinister, very savory nature which is nonetheless done with style, refinement & balance.  Although the 2006 bottle was corked, I fortunately had a different bottle a couple of weeks or so ago.  Tasting that bottle, I was amazed how the gunflinty, savory, musky, dead leaves character moved in the forefront & the fruit smells nearly non-existent.   Furthermore, on the palate the 2006 was way more rounded, seamless & harmonious.  I wondered, who says Beaujolais doesn’t get better with some age?  The 2014 Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly comes from vineyards higher in elevation up the Côte.  The granite is very black in color & one gets a more dark shade in the wine with spice, gunflint, a real savoriness & therefore a much more masculine wine style in comparison to the Chanrion bottlings.  Thank you Brent for sharing.  One of the other standout (pair) were the  2017 & 2015 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”.  I thought BOTH wines were REALLY good.  Both had a wonderful transparency, a very compelling vinous, earth laden character with superb texture, seamlessness & class.  I was really quite surprised because previously I had found this domaine’s wines good, but normally underwhelming in comparison to the other “Gang of Four’s” wines.  2009 Jean Foillard Morgon “3.14”–I was so thankful someone brought this bottling AND one that had some bottle age at that.  Jean Foillard, over the years, has produced some of the real standout wines from the Beaujolais appellation.  His “3.14” is his crown jewel, produced from his 100 year old vines.  The 2009 is what I would refer to as a “suped up” version–a supercharger, complete with mag wheels.  It is gorgeous & quite decadent for a Beaujolais with real vinosity, generous amplitude & depth.  Thank you Keith for sharing.

As a side note, sadly, the 2015 Jean-Paul Brun “Domaine de Terres Dorées” St Amour for this night’s tasting was oxidized, probably heat stressed.  Thankfully a few days later, Matt allowed me to try some of his 2016 Jean-Paul Brun “Domaine de Terres Dorées” Côte de Brouilly.  I thought this wine was MUCH better & quite an interesting drink.  The wine was actually brought & tasted with a candidate in preparation for an upcoming blind tasting examination he will be doing.  Jean-Paul is not typically a proponent of carbonic maceration in his Beaujolais.  The taster continued– “this wine had class, vinosity & was really good winemaking“.  That’s a really fair assessment.  I think that was, after all, the point of the wine.

I would also like to add, that we also tasted on that day a 2017 Chignard Fleurie “Les Moriers”.  I thought this wine was wonderful–gorgeous fruit, vinosity, a savory core & absolutely delicious.  For me this is a Beaujolais “banker”.  Old vines of Fleurie designated vines which actually juts into the Moulin-a-Vent appellation, done carbonic & aged in old oak.  Just for fun, we then opened a bottle of the 2011 Chignard Fleurie “Les Moriers” to compare.  The obvious fruit had changed with bottle age.  The 2011 was now vehemently about savoriness, stones & vinosity.  The edges were rounded & the wine was so very harmonious & I thought superb.  It was like comparing a caterpillar & a butterfly, the difference was so incredible.  Who says Beaujolais doesn’t blossom with age?

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