Archive for Wine


A Quartet of Austrian Grüner Veltliner

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What is Grüner Veltliner? It is a top echelon grape variety that is capable of producing world-class white wine and most famously grown and produced in Austria.   We really don’t see too many on the local retail store shelves or on winelists of top restaurants here. Still, when one travels the world and big cities such as New York, top renditions are certainly included and often highlighted on their wine lists. As one top wine writer noted in her blog…

“Today, no self-respecting restaurant wine list, whether in New York or Hong Kong, can afford to be without at least one example of this, Austria’s signature white wine grape. I would submit that this is only partly because of Grüner Veltliner’s undoubted inherent character and quality. Another reason Grüner Veltliner has impinged on the consciousness of the wine world recently is that the quality of all Austrian wines has become so excitingly and consistently high that no fine wine enthusiast can afford to ignore them”.

This is your chance to taste and experience what all of the hoop-la is all about first hand.

In general Grüner Veltliner produces very refreshing, tangy wines with a certain white pepper, dill, even gherkin character. The wines are spicy and interesting and in general this is because of the grape’s own intrinsic qualities because the great majority of them, unlike Chardonnays, see no new oak. They are generally fermented in stainless steel and aged either in tanks or very old, large casks”.

Having said all of that, here are four really worth checking out. Their success certainly has something to do with soils, climate, terroir AND the respective, respectful champion who made it happen. Yes, wines like this just don’t happen. It really takes a champion.


2016 Nigl Grüner Veltliner “Freiheit”“Weingut Nigl is tucked deep in the Krems Valley. Martin Nigl’s Freheit is sourced from 4 different vineyards in the hills above the city of Krems. The soils here are primarily löss and the temperature is moderated by its steep elevation. The name Freiheit means “freedom” and is believed to be some of the first privately owned vineyard land in the valley not controlled by the Church or a feudal estate. Fermentation and elevage occur in stainless steel and is bottled at night when the cellars of the coolest has Martin feels this helps preserve the freshness of the wines”.


2017 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner “Kamptal Terrassen”–One of the most revered wineries out of Austria. “Wine & Spirits Magazine–“the best Austrian winemaker of the last 25 years—says it all. ,” Willi Bründlmayer farms 75 hectares of an impressive collection of grand cru vineyards around Langenlois. Some of the most geologically diverse terroirs in Europe are here, in the heart of the Kamptal. The Danube and Kamp rivers and the wooded hills of the Waldviertel forest create a climate with large diurnal temperature swings, essential to a long growing season. These rocky, terraced vineyards are not the steep, jagged terraces of the Kremstal or the Wachau; these are larger wider terraces, each creating its own micro climate”.




2010 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Federspiel–Another of the most revered wine houses in Austria and actually one of the oldest wine estates in Austria, whose history goes back almost 2000 years to the Roman empire. Their wines epitomize the steep, rocky hillsides of the Wachau. Biodynamically farmed and obsessively fawned over to produce. “In some ways this gentle wonder is the essence of Nikolaihof”. – Terry Theise


2013 Hirsch Grüner Veltliner “Niederösterreich“Among my Kamptal producers, ‘Hannes Hirsch is the one with the least fixed identity. Or perhaps his identity is not to have an identity, his wine style is not to have a “style” and he doesn’t wish to be pigeonholed. He falls somewhere in the nexus among Bründlmayer’s and Gobelsburg’s glossy gleam and Hiedler’s juicy sensuality, but there’s no point you can affix him to. I suspect he likes it that way, as my friend is the best kind of lone wolf and contrarian.” writes Terry Theise”.


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An Interview with Emmanuel Kemiji MS

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Here is an interview we did with long time Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kemiji for Wine Speak 2020.

Emmanuel Kemiji M.S. hits the trifecta when it comes to wine: master sommelier, winemaker and winery owner.

We are thrilled to welcome him to Wine Speak 2020, where he will co-host our panel discussion on “Crazy Red Blends.” You will also experience his wines at our Wines of The World and BYOB Dinner events.

Born in the United States and raised in Spain and England, Emmanuel is a graduate of the University of California at Davis. In addition to his Economics and Spanish Literature degrees, he studied Viticulture and Oenology, expanding his interest in wine and eventually leading to the formation of Miura Vineyards in 1995. Soon to follow were Almvs in 2000, Antiqv2s in 2001, and two projects in Spain – Arrels in 2003 and Clos Pissarra in 2005.

Emmanuel acted as The Ritz-Carlton Director of Wine & Spirits from 1988 to 1999, first at Laguna Niguel and then at the renowned The Dining Room in San Francisco. In 1989 Emmanuel became the twelfth American to pass the Master Sommelier exam in London, England and one of only 10 to date to pass on his first attempt.

Wine Speak co-founder and master sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Emmanuel to talk about his journey and about what wines have made their mark on him along the way:

 What made you get into the wine business?

It was my uncle in Madrid (who is like a second father) and a wine fan with a nice cellar who introduced me to wine during the summer of my sophomore year in college. When I got back to start junior year, by fortuitous coincidence, I happened to be going to U.C. Davis. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a fermentation science department previously!

How did life change for you after getting the MS pin?
It opened up a host of opportunities starting at the very place I worked—The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. I got a call from the corporate food & beverage director who wanted me to assist him in selecting the Ritz-Carlton house wines and embark on a host of other projects for the company. I became the go-to wine person for the Ritz-Carlton, which expanded into many other opportunities including starting up my own winery.

How are you able to find balance in managing everything?
Mostly because I have a lot of other interests that have nothing to do with wine: scuba diving, golf, stamp collecting, art, antique royal documents…

We are so excited and thankful that you will be sharing your wines and insights on your Clos Pissarra project in Spain.  What drove you to take that on, in addition to all that you do in California?
After I got Miura going in California, I wanted to do a project in Spain to honor my heritage and my uncle.

What is Priorat at its best?
A bold wine that speaks of a singular place.

What is Montsant at its best?
A more modern version of the above at a more reasonable price.

What California wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

Stony Hill Chardonnay for its incredible longevity. Louis Martini Cabernets from the 1960s for how well balanced they were.

Which Spanish wine and why?

Vega Sicilia for its complexity and uniqueness.

How about a few wines from throughout the world and why?

Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo because wines aren’t made like that anymore. The Burgundies of Henri Jayer for how beautiful and profound they are. The Pouilly Fumes of Didier Dagueneau for their sense of place.

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why?
Fred Dame for everything he has done for all master sommeliers. Rene Chazottes, because the old French guy taught me all about service.

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Here is an interview we did with Jordan Fiorentini for Wine Speak 2020.

Jordan Fiorentini is the winemaker extraordinaire for Epoch Estate Wines in Paso Robles —and she was also part of one of Wine Speak’s most defining moments, as you will see in the following interview.

Passionate, dedicated and not afraid to push the envelope, Jordan brings an enthusiastic and experienced spirit to Epoch Estate Wines. Her palate is the kind wine lovers dream of and one that speaks to Jordan through shapes—having an artistic side, Jordan now draws her tasting notes in addition to writing about each wine. Under her direction, Epoch Estate Wines has produced some of the most revered wines in Paso Robles.

Jordan holds an engineering degree from Dartmouth College and a masters degree in viticulture from UC Davis. Jordan earned her spurs working at her family’s winery in Georgia, Araujo Estate in Napa Valley, Antinori Winery in Italy, and as head winemaker at Chalk Hill in Sonoma.

Wine Speak co-founder and master sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Jordan to talk her experience at Wine Speak; her winemaking inspirations; and how she aims to keep it all in balance:

In 2019, Wine Speak featured a panel—“Wine from a different perspective”—featuring five top female wine professionals, and you were one of the panelists. Many, many participants have said it was so powerful and drew a lot of emotion out.  What made this happen?

It was a magical group of wine professionals – all with different panels. I think what made it so special was that Amanda, the moderator, started with a personal story about herself and her path in the wine industry, which made all the panelists feel like sharing about themselves. Amanda had asked us to share our stories. I also feel that the audience’s interested, smiling faces, and great engaged questions made the panel so meaningful. There was an energy that kept building with every question they had.

What was it like being a part of that?

I felt so humbled to be among a group of such accomplished, professional women in the wine industry. It showed me and hopefully everyone in the crowd that there’s not one recipe for success or becoming someone in the wine industry.

What will you take away from that experience?
I can still reflect on it now, and I am still wowed when I hear people mention the panel. I actually received several thank you notes from people in attendance who were moved by our stories. Now that doesn’t happen every day!

How do you keep it all managed/balanced—work, personal and family?

That’s a great question – do I keep a balance? It’s actually the eternal question, one I work on every day. Some days I feel I do and some days I feel I don’t. The key is having a great relationship with everyone at work so we all support each other and it’s the same at home.

Over the years who are some of the winemakers who have inspired you and why?

I gather inspiration from tasting people’s wines, hearing their stories and, most poignantly, from working or spending time with other winemakers. My first inspirations were the first winemakers I ever worked for, who continue to inspire me today: Michael Beaulac, Kim Nicholls and Franciose Pechon. They were the winemakers I worked for my first couple harvests I was in Napa. Then there is Steve Leveque from Hall (formerly Chalk Hill) who really taught me how to blend and make winemaking decisions in the vineyards and winery. More recently, I’ve traveled and been exposed to many Rhône winemakers, such as Ann Charlotte Bachas from Domaine della Font du Loup and Sara Perez from Mas Martinet, who are very different but leading the charge in their respective places.  Winemakers locally who help guide me through harvests, and who inspire and support me, are Vailia Esh of Desparada and Anthony Yount from Denner. There are others, too, but I talk to those two the most.

What were some “aha” moment wines for you and why?

In 2010, when visiting Paso to determine whether or not I wanted to move and work here, I tried L’Aventure’s 2007 Cote a Cote and thought it was so exciting with flavors I hadn’t experienced before. That wine helped me make the decision to move here. I have many other transcendent moments with wine, but the one described above actually helped me make a life decision!

What was an “aha” wine and food moment for you and why?

Randy Caparoso’s pairing of our 2017 Epoch White as the main course after several reds with an incredible duck pasta dish by Sean from the Range—this was at the last Wine Speak!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

That there isn’t one recipe to be successful in the wine industry. Now that I look back and see so many successful winemakers that came from different backgrounds, different approaches, I realize this industry is even more creative than I originally thought (and I got into it because I wanted a field that allowed creativity!).

What is it about Paso Robles that really intrigues you as a winemaker?

The community and sense that we’re in this together in winemaking and grape growing. Because you feel others have your back, you’re more willing to research, explore, take chances. And then you’ve got an audience to share those experiences with. It’s truly one of a kind.

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Here is an interview we did with legendary Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon for Wine Speak 2020.

Madeline Triffon is a legend in the world of Master Sommeliers and an icon in the field of skilled wine service.


We are blessed to have Madeline join Wine Speak 2020 and helm our seminar titled “Dream Big—Wine from A Different Perspective.”

Dream Big Darling is really about inspiring others.  We therefore spend quite a bit of time finding professionals who will inspire.  In the world of sommeliers, one of the truly inspirational “Hall of Fame” icons is Madeline Triffon of Southgate, Michigan.  She passed the rigorous Master Sommelier exam in 1987, becoming the first female American Master (and becoming only the second female Master Sommelier in the world).  She persevered through all of the challenges (especially in a then very male dominated fine dining industry) and rose to the very  top of the profession through her hard work, true graciousness and genuine hospitality.  She is and has been a TRUE inspiration & exemplary to the profession and I only hope you take the opportunity to hear the insights, wisdom and experiences from this legend which I believe will greatly inspire & help you moving forward.

Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with her to talk about her journey—and what inspires her most:

What was it about wine that first attracted you?  It didn’t!  I was hired as a sommelier in a French dining room because I had a good French accent, and I did the best I could to educate myself with the resources available to me so I could do a credible job.

Can you please name a couple of people in wine who truly inspired you over the years and why?

Zelma Long and Jean-Pierre Moueix. I heard both of them speak, Zelma to a small room of trade people and Mr. Moueix at an early Wine Experience, to hundreds. They both did an extraordinary thing:  they touched everyone in the room and covered their subject, using inclusive simple language. Wow.

Professionally what advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t worry so much! Do your very best, and let it go, sleep peacefully. Don’t be quite so hard on yourself.

What values are important in our industry that need to be discussed more?

The joy of hard work, and how fulfilling service is! A lot of people speak “service”, and yet how often do you experience active eye contact and a responsive (not reactive) culture in restaurants? I see it more in humble places.

What Californian wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

  • Ridge Monte Bello at a vertical blind tasting against/with Chateau Latour. The winemaker and Robert Parker couldn’t pick them out 100%
  • Ramey Chardonnay, and hearing David Ramey speak at length to the subject of making Chardonnay, in the early days of Ramey Cellars.
  • Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet, 1984, 85, 86, 87.  Stunning fruit.

What were a few wines from throughout the world and why?

  • Recently, Il Palazzino Chianti Classico Riserva – perfect balance. This wine hides in plain sight.
  • Mt. Etna Rosso and Bianco, various cuvees – thrilled at the prospect of watching Nerello Mascalese and Carricante flower in the years to come
  • Prager Riesling, more than one cuvee – the nose alone was a revelation of Austrian Riesling.
  • Dominique Lafon’s wine in the Maconnais – the mouthfeel is satin.

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why? 

The colleagues I grew up with in the business – at the risk of forgetting someone, Claudia Tyagi, Evan Goldstein, Fran Kysela, Nunzio Alioto, Chuck Furuya, Tim Gaiser, Wayne Belding, Peter Granoff, Sally Mohr, Larry Stone, Brian Julyan – all master sommeliers today. What touches me deeply is how very different we all were and are, and how honest we were with each other in serving the same purposes. They taught me how ego can be parked in the interest of the greater good.

And, great servers have always inspired me! I learned service working alongside terrific career service professionals, wine was just my specific specialty in the dining room. I love recognizing a great server, just experienced one at a new Detroit restaurant. Her decisions and actions were based on the pure intent of exceeding my expectations and making me happy and comfortable. Bliss.

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An Interview with Nunzio Alioto MS

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Here is an interview we did with legendary Master Sommelier Nunzio Alioto for Wine Speak 2020.

Nunzio has been like an older brother to me & by far, my biggest, most influential mentor.  I am so fortunate to have a life long friend like him.

Indeed, as a boy he helped out at his family’s Alioto’s Restaurant, a San Francisco landmark on Fisherman’s Wharf specializing in fresh seafood and Sicilian family recipes. Nunzio attended cooking schools both in the U.S. & in Lausanne, Switzerland and did apprenticeship stages in the kitchens of several esteemed restaurants including the Iron Horse, Ernie’s (both formerly top, fine dining restaurants in San Francisco) & Jacques Pic (a Michelin 3 star restaurant in Valence, France).   He then became the fourth generation of the Alioto family, to run Alioto’s, one of San Francisco’s oldest family-owned restaurant, until his retirement a couple of years ago.

But Nunzio’s fascination with food and wine did not stop with  his schooling & the family business. At an early age he was already traveling to Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Alsace, Italy & Germany & was therefore quite versed in each.  Furthermore, living in San Francisco, Nunzio was also very well informed & thoroughly first hand knowledgeable from his continuous visits to the blossoming Sonoma & Napa wine country back in the 1960’s/70’s until even today.

His curiosity, fascination and talent with wine led him to become a Master Sommelier in 1987.

In addition, Nunzio is a former, long time Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers–worldwide & was so very instrumental in bringing the program to the prominence it has today.

Nunzio has been a key contributor to Wine Speak since day one. Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with him to talk about his journey—and about the wines and people who have inspired him along the way.

What was it about wine which first attracted you?

As I was born into the restaurant business, it was a natural attraction.

What drew you to the wines of the Rhône Valley, Italy, Germany and California in the old days, before it all was fashionable?

Our family restaurant is located in Northern California, and Napa and Sonoma were areas our family visited regularly. Also, Larry Romano, a San Francisco-based wine importer, was a major influence on me. We purchased many of his wine selections which were from around the world.  Because of Larry Romano I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Alexis Lichine, as Mr. Romano imported wine selections from him. It was these two gentlemen who drew me to these winegrowing regions. Larry Romano also distributed the Robert Mondavi wines in the very early years.

Can you please name a couple of people in wine who truly inspired you over the years and why?

Mr. Lichine, owner of Chateaux Prieure-Lichine, Bordeaux France, and author of the iconic Encyclopedia of Wine)—his general knowledge of French wines, in particular Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Remi Krug, of Champagne Krug—Remi’s attention to quality.

Gunter Künstler, Owner of Franz Künstler wines of Germany—His thoughtfulness and his attention to his soils and how they translate into wine.

Dr. Becker of Geisenheim in the Rheingau—His research into clones and rootstock was unparalleled and invigorating.

Chuck Furuya—for his relentless pursuit of knowledge. Keeps the fire burning in me.

Professionally. what advice would you give your younger self?

To immerse myself in Old World wines. In my estimation, that is the basis of understanding wine.

What California wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

1951 BV PR Cabernet: beautiful bouquet and balance

1968 BV PR Cabernet: intense flavor and a long finish

1975 Ridge Montebello Cabernet: intensity and great balance

1972 Mayacamas Chardonnay: Burgundian in style, a wine that opened my eyes to how good Chardonnay can be from here

Ojai Bien Nacido Chardonnay: Balanced and excellent winemaking

ABC Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir: floral notes and great balance

What were a few memorable wines from throughout the world and why?

1978 Romanee-Conti: Perfume, silky, incredible balance, Breed and finesse

2000 Richebourg, DRC: outstanding finesse and balance incredible floral flavors

1990 Echezeaux, Henri Jayer: Explosive flavors of red fruits, perfume, balance of layers of complex flavors

1994 Domaine Tempier, “Cabassaou”: elegant, bouquet of flavors, balanced with a long finish, savory

1998 Hermitage, Chave “Cathelin”: power and explosive, spice, rustic, incredible bouquet and balanced

1989 Cote Rotie, Marius Gentaz-Dervieux “Cote Brune”: outstanding flavors of spice, earth, bouquet and balance, wow

1989 Montrachet, DRC: power and finesse, explosive

1968 Vega Sicilia UNICO: Tempranillo at its best, intense, rich, balanced with a great depth of complex flavors

1979 Brauneburger-Juffer Sonnenuhr, GK Auslese, Fritz Haag: bouquet, incredible spice, balance of fruit, sugar and acid

1983 Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese, Egon Muller: an incredible mind-boggling wine with intensity of mature flavors and a crisp acid balance for such an intense wine

Lastly, what sommeliers have been inspiring to you and why?

Brian Julyan (England): His dedication to wine service

Serge Dubs (Alsace, France): the ultimate sommelier, panache, style

Fred Dame (USA): his willingness to mentor

Gerard Basset (England, now deceased): A true gentleman of our profession

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Here is an interview we did with longtime sommelier/wine journalist Randy Caparoso for Wine Speak 2020.

Randy Caparoso is a multi-award winning wine journalist.  He was also named Santé’s first Wine & Spirits Professional of the Year and Restaurant Wine’s Wine Marketer of the Year.  Today, he is Wine Speak’s resident food-and-wine pairing expert.


Pairing wines & food is undoubtedly an art.  One of the big questions in the wine field is how do we nurture & provide insight for sommeliers & wine professionals on this art?  For Wine Speak 2019, we featured a Paso Robles paired luncheon with Caparoso, a local chef, Cheyne Jackson of The Range in Santa Margarita & superstar Master Sommelier Fred Dame color commentating.  This certainly featured some daring, “out of the box”, thought provoking pairings, which made participants think differently on what can be.  (for more information on that luncheon, please go to archives & browse through the Wine Speak 2019 posts).

To take the concept a step further we created this workshop, which will again be led by Randy Caparoso, Editor at Large of The SOMM Journal.  Earlier in his career Randy was one of the founding Managing Partners of Roy’s restaurants.   This group was an epicenter of some of the most progressive & imaginative wine and wine & food programs in the country, if not the world.  NO overstatement here.

We therefore asked Randy to help lead us through this much needed workshop & share his insights, knowledge & expertise at this art.  He truly has a gift & I really think he will inspire all those who attend, just as he has inspired me for all of these years.

Randy returns to Wine Speak 2020 with yet another extravaganza of wine-pairing insights, this time leading our “Wine & Food Workshop” featuring dishes by Chef Jeffery Scott paired with Paso Robles wines curated by Randy.

Wine Speak co-founder and Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Randy to talk about the art of wine pairings and what you can expect to experience at his workshop:

What is it about the art of food and wine pairing that makes you so excited?

Basically, yes, a nicely done wine and food match turns me on. That’s because I have a hospitality and food service background, while also being a garden variety wine geek. In fact, I first got “into” wine (back in 1975) as a result of a restaurant manager telling me I had to learn every wine on a wine list in order to become a waiter, which I did — only, I didn’t stop, I went way beyond that wine list, and later transitioned to a sommelier position. Consequently, as much as I love every aspect of wine, my perspective is colored by the belief that the ultimate purpose of any wine is to enjoy at the table, with food. Therefore, unlike many (probably most) other wine professionals, I’m just not concerned with cellaring, collecting, reading about what wines are “best,” and certainly not about numerical ratings. All I’m concerned about is two things — 1) how well a wine expresses its sense of place or terroir, and 2) how good a wine is in the context of food and the social contexts in which it might be enjoyed.

What is your favorite or a tried-and-true pairing? Why is it special?

I guess if I had to choose one, I’d choose Picpoul de Pinet with oysters, although I do love a light, zesty Pinot Noir with oysters, too. The reason, of course, is that I love oysters, although it’s not something I eat at home or every day, so it’s something I always look forward to when I go out. But it’s a sensory thing. I love the lemony taste of whites made from Picpoul, and anything lemony is amazing with oysters. But when I’m enjoying my all-time favorite wine, Pinot Noir, with oysters, I’m enjoying the amazing taste of umami found in both oysters and a lighter, zestier, balanced style of Pinot (I don’t go for big, oaky Pinots).

In a world of “fast paced living,” how can pairings help accentuate a meal, a wine and an experience?

The concept of enjoying wine with food is simple, elemental and timeless. It simply enhances many foods, and enhances our lives. As a wine professional, of course, I am able to experience wine at an elevated level — I always have a huge variety of wines at my disposal, and so invariably, whatever I’m eating, I’m enjoying a pretty darned good “match.” Lucky me.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to learn more?

Like many things, the subject of wine can be different things to many different people. I think I certainly understand the average consumer because, like most of them, I actually don’t drink like a fish. I enjoy wine in extreme moderation. But I always say that if you want to learn more, do what you do with all things — start to pay attention to what you are enjoying, and how you enjoy it, and then make a concerted effort to try different things, the same way we learn about foods by enjoying the process of discovering new dishes. For burgeoning professionals, I recommend the same thing, but bolstered by reading the basics (starting with Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Kermit Lynch). This is what I’ve always assigned to my staffs over the years. I also recommend learning the basic discipline of wine tasting and note taking, and, of course, taking wine courses and attending tastings (public tastings as well as your own private tastings) as much as possible.

You spoke at length about umami, can you explain what you mean?

Well, that short article on umami should summarize the basics. But if you want an even shorter explication, umami is a taste sensation, just like sweet, sour, tart, salty and bitter. Only, umami is the savory taste you get from components (basically glutamates) common to foods like a ripe tomato, parmesan, mushrooms, lots of seafoods, and even everyday stuff like ketchup and cheddar. When you understand or are conscious of umami, you have a better understanding of why we enjoy the taste of so many different foods, from a bag of corn chips to cheeseburgers, stews, oysters, ceviche or a nice, rich demiglace or sauce in a French restaurant. That’s why it also helps to understand how umami sensations are common to many wines (especially balanced red wines) and, even more importantly, how these wines taste great with foods or dishes with umami accents. The knowledge makes our life better simply because knowing about such things makes our culinary experiences, even in everyday situations, that much better.

In preparing for the upcoming Professional Development Day at Wine Speak, what do you think attendees will walk away learning?

I hope participants in the workshop will walk away with a better idea of how wines and foods go together by getting a better understanding the sensory reasons why things taste the way they do in combination with each other. Although wine and food matching may seem elusive to many people, even wine professionals, the concepts are really pretty simple once they’re pointed out. In other words, I hope people find an “aha” moment or two when they taste the wines and dishes we are putting together, which we’ll do to deliberately demonstrate different sensory interactions. Some of the interactions will be unsuspected or surprising (I hope), which is what an “aha” moment is all about.

Here is an interview with did with Bruce Neyers of Neyers Vineyards for Wine Speak 2020.

There is a reason why Bruce Neyers has become a fixture at Wine Speak—he not only has incredible global wine experience and untold wisdom, but he also has a heart for sharing.

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.  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.

Bruce has been a key contributor to Wine Speak since day one. Wine Speak co-founder and master sommelier Chuck Furuya recently caught up with Bruce to talk about his journey and what he has learned along the way.

 You and Barbara have lived in the Napa Valley for more than 40 years. What were some of the highlights for you over the years?

Buying our first house, and buying the piece of land in Conn Valley where we still live today.  Planting our first grape vines. Making our first wine released under the Neyers label, the 1992 Neyers Ranch Merlot.

You were with Mayacamas in the early 1970s and helped create their 1972 Chardonnay, which upon release was generally lukewarmly received. However, both Nunzio Alioto and I thought this was an eye-opening wine, showing the vast potential California had for this grape variety.  What were your thoughts on this wine and your stint at Mayacamas?

Mayacamas opened the world of wine to me. I learned how to cooper a barrel tight, change the gaskets in a wine pump, pump over red wine, operate a Willmes bladder press, top wine tanks and clean barrels. I learned how to do it from the bottom up, and I developed a great respect for the work ethic required to make good wine. At the time, Mayacamas wines were along with Ridge and and Heitz the best being made in California. The 1972 Chardonnay was made under the worst conditions I ever experienced making wine. It rained for almost a month and the grapes were black when they were harvested. Still, we were careful and didn’t get greedy, and we ended up making a decent wine that actually got a lot of positive press. I was astonished but learned a great lesson. It prepared me for 1992 in Burgundy.

The Napa Valley wine community was quite small back in the 70s. Who were some of the most memorable wine people you encountered back then and why?

Bob Travers (of Mayacamus) was a great teacher, Joe Phelps was a great mentor, and Joe Heitz was a great neighbor who often behaved like a second father to me, teaching me about fine wine and fine food. Carl Doumani (founder of Stags’ Leap Winery, which he later sold) was and remains my inspiration for how to live and enjoy life. I had dinner with him last Wednesday night and hope I can dine with and listen to him for ten more years. Joe Swan was my closest friend. I adored him.

While at Joseph Phelps you helped launch their 1974 Syrah.  What was that experience like?

This was a brand-new experience for me, as I had never launched anything. I worked with artists, lawyers, winemakers, historians, printers, designers, and sales people, trying to coordinate all of them for this one single effort. Then we finally bottled and labeled the wine in January/February 1996 and the glue system on the bottling line broke down and everything had to be re-done by hand. I learned more in three months with this wine than I had in four years of college or two years in the army.

 With the 1974 vintage you were also involved in the development and launching of Insignia.  What was that like?

Insignia came later, and both Joe and I were a lot smarter. Moreover, once he came up with the name the rest seemed easy. Originally it was ‘Insigne’ because Joe wanted something French, but Evelyne Deis — who was our secretary and is French — said that was a bad idea as no French word like that existed. Joe reluctantly agreed to Insignia. He used as a template for the label on the 1974 Insignia the label from an old bottle of Port that Joe Heitz had given him as a gift to celebrate the ‘Topping Out’ of the winery building. They poured it on the roof in the fall of 1974. I favored the idea because the 1974 Cabernet Phelps made was so bad I knew it would be hard to sell. The wine that eventually became 1974 Insignia was Cabernet from Dick Steltzner’s vineyard in Stag’s Leap, and it was dark, thick and lovely. I couldn’t bear to have it blended into the rather ordinary 1974 Cabernet that had been made from Yountville grapes.

In 1992, you decided to leave Joseph Phelps and became the National Sales Manager for Kermit Wine Merchants.  How big of change was that?

Actually I chose to leave JPV in January 1992 because we were going to harvest our first crop from our own vineyards. Joe insisted that I sell my grapes to the winery, and for a variety of reasons I didn’t want to. I decided to go it alone, and it was a huge decision. We had adopted three kids by then, and two were in diapers, one in training pants. I was scared beyond belief. Barbara always encouraged me though, and then she told Alice Waters about it, as she was going to be able to work more shifts at Chez Panisse. Alice told Kermit about it that night at dinner, and Kermit called me at home and proposed that we meet to discuss his plans. I was still anxious about being able to do the Kermit Lynch job, but I loved the wines — those I knew about in any event. The change was huge, but Kermit was patient and understanding.

What was it like traveling to Europe two to four times a year for 25 years, talking story, walking vineyards and tasting wines with all of these iconic vignerons like Gerard Chave, Marius Gentaz, Noel Verset, Raveneau, Jean-Francois Coche and Aubert de Villaine, just to name a few, especially after your many years in Napa Valley?

I learned about and appreciated French wines long before I moved to Napa Valley, so I was ready for the chance to meet these iconic figures. Keep in mind though that few of them were really wine industry icons in 1992. We had to aggressively sell all of those wines, even Coche and Raveneau. Kermit had a floor stack of 1989 Raveneau Chablis in the store in 1992 in order to move it, and you could always walk in and buy a bottle of Coche-Dury. Verset, Clape, Gentaz and Chave were also readily available, but things began to change dramatically in 1994 and 1995. Parker had something to do with it, but I think Kermit was tireless about promoting these producers, and eventually people began to realize who they were, and what their wines were like. Aubert deVillaine was one of the last to allocate his wines, and by all rights he should have been first, based on fame alone. But even DRC was pretty easy to buy back then, even though it was pricey. Now it’s just impossible. I saw a bottle of 1996 DRC Romanée-Conti this morning for sale for $11,000.

Who were some who truly inspired you amd made you think differently moving forward?

In no particular order, my winemaking life was most inspired by:

Joe Swan (now deceased)

Marcel Lapierre (now deceased)

Lulu Peyraud (Domaine Tempier)

Maxime Magnon (Maxime Magnon)

Daniel Brunier (Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe)

Aubert de Villaine (Domaine de Villaine)

Auguste Clape (Domaine Clape)

Jean Marc Roulot (Domaine Roulot)

Pierre Boillot (Domaine Lucien Boillot et Fils)

Roland Lavantureux (Domaine Roland Lavantureux)

Claude Geoffray (Chateau Thivin)

So many others I have left out here.

With the 1992 vintage, you and Barbara launched your first Neyers wine, a 1992 Merlot you made yourself.  What was that moment like?

It was a thrill to see that we could create a product, and then sell it at a profit. We bottled 282 cases of the 1992 Merlot, and after we sold it I made more money than I had made working for Joe Phelps the previous year. I felt so joyful at this success. Moreover, I really liked the wine. Barbara and I have never looked back.

And, over the years, can you sight some examples of how your trips and exposures in France (and Italy) affected your grape growing and winemaking for Neyers?

Barbara calculated for me recently that in the course of my life with Kermit, I went to France 81 times. I think it might be even more, as she didn’t count the trips when she and I went there alone, but the impact on my ideas about wine and grape farming were extraordinary. Equally, we had almost 40 children of French and Italian winegrowers live with us and work at the winery with me over the years. That too had an impact. I grew comfortable with native yeast fermentation, natural malolactic in Chardonnay, little to no filtration and fining, natural clarification, and no additives in wine. We make wine with SO2, but we use very little of it. We irrigate our vines, but fertilize only naturally with a cover crop. We do manual lateral removal, and more mowing in rows. I still don’t know as much about it as I’d like to know, but I’ve learned a lot from my French and Italian colleagues. I still see many of them regularly as they seem to love to visit California, and they know there is always a good meal and some nice wine if they stop by our house. More than that, though, I enjoy seeing the people we knew as children who are now running their family estates, like Olivier Clape, Jack Boutin’s daughter Sylvie, and Edouard Brunier, among others.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Work harder, spend as much time learning as doing, and buy more plantable land.

What Californian wines have you tasted over the years that were truly memorable and why?

There are far too many to name here, but in 1972 I was able to taste a wide range of old Cabernet bottlings from Inglenook and Beaulieu. They wowed me. These were wines from the 50s and 60s, with a couple from the 40s, and the wine store where I worked had bought a large private cellar. The wines were extraordinary, and all of my colleagues — who knew far more than me — insisted I try them. I’ve never forgotten that. I love the old Cabernet bottlings from Mayacamas, Heitz and Souverain in the Lee Stewart days. The old Chardonnays from Stony Hill and Hanzell were remarkable too. But those old Beaulieu and Inglenook — nothing ever prepared me for that. I was drinking them with my colleagues along with Lynch Bages, Calon Segur and Haut Brion, and couldn’t select a favorite. But don’t get me started on Joe Swan. He was California’s greatest winemaker ever.

What were a few memorable wines from throughout the world and why?

The most memorable wines I’ve tried from around the world are:

1929 Ch. Latour — it taught me what aroma was all about in wine

1945 Mouton — the best Cabernet I’ve ever had

1966 Lois Latour Corton Charlemagne – I had it the first time I ever tried Scampi, and food and wine marriages have never been the same

1969 Clos du Tart – I finally understood red Burgundy

1992 Morgon, Marcel Lapierre – We had it with pig cooked 12 ways, and at last I got what Gamay was all about

1961 Bandol ‘Classique’ Magnum, Domaine Tempier – this began my appreciation for Mourvèdre

1996 Châteauneuf du Pape, Dom. Vieux Télégraphe – My benchmark of great southern Rhône red wine

1989 Cornas, Noël Verset – thinking about enjoying this wine with Noël brings tears to my eyes, it was so moving

1989 Côte-Rôtie, Marius Gentaz – we shared a veal chop for two, and a bottle of this wine at Beau Rivage in Condrieu

1959 Kaseler Kehrnagel Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Weingut Fritz Patheiger Erben – Maybe the greatest TBA I’ve ever had

1990 Muscadet, Michel Brégeon – Served with a platter of fresh Bélons, in a little seafood place in Nantes, with Michel Brégeon

1995 Grange des Péres Rouge, Laurent Vaillé – sheer genius; I don’t know how he does this, nor does anyone else

2011 Abbatucci Vin de Corse Rosé ‘Cuvée Faustine’ – with Barbara at Park Ajaccio in Paris in June 2012, after she had recovered from brain encephalitis.

I know I’m leaving out some Italian masterpieces, but I don’t have them memorized.

Lastly, who are some of the most memorable sommeliers you have experienced over the years and why?

You are now and always were the best sommelier I’ve ever met, Chuck, but the track has clearly become increasingly crowded. I was impressed recently with Erik Johnson at the French Laundry, Zach Gossard at the Surf Club in Miami, Thomas Patuszak of the Nomad Hotel in NYC, Jill Gubesch of Frontera Grill, and Paul Botamer of Dean Fearing’s in Dallas, among many others. The emergence of the sommelier into the wine industry has given it legs that it would not have had otherwise, and it has made life far more enjoyable — and enormously more productive — for people like me. I think it might well be the most important thing that has happened to the wine business in my lifetime.

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Here is an interview we did with Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP of Operations-Ancient Peaks; Co-founder of Wine Speak & “40 under 40”–Wine Enthusiast) for Wine Speak 2020.

It’s hard not to dream big when you spend time with Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins.

Amanda is a fourth-generation San Luis Obispo County resident and has been with Ancient Peaks Winery since its inception. As VP of Operations at Ancient Peaks, Wittstrom-Higgins has helped forge annual double-digit sales growth while managing a variety of new initiatives, such as the creation of the winery’s Oyster Ridge event venue. She also created an innovative multidivisional internship program that has graduated numerous aspiring young professionals.

Amanda co-founded Wine Speak Paso Robles with master sommelier Chuck Furuya in 2017, and it has since become regarded as one of the top events of its kind. In 2018, she established Dream Big Darling, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering the success of women in the wine and spirits industry. An outgrowth of Wittstrom-Higgins’ passion for mentorship, Dream Big Darling is steered by a board of industry veterans dedicated to creating leadership opportunities for the next generation. In the summer of 2019, Amanda was featured on the cover of Wine Enthusiast’s “40 under 40” issue, showcasing “the trailblazers who are redefining the industry as we know it.”

Chuck recently caught up with Amanda to talk about Wine Speak 2020—and to learn more about her passionate outlook on work and life.

Has Wine Speak lived up to your dreams?

This event has been an incredible experience. In 2017, when we dreamt it up, I didn’t really have any idea what it might develop into. Our original goal was and still is to elevate the wine community through sharing, collaboration and camaraderie. What I didn’t realize was how much power there is in this concept. I’ve personally seen this event have a ripple effect that transforms trajectories and offers opportunity to so many people and regions.

Why are you so fully, all out vested in this event?  Don’t you already have too much to do?

When you love what you do and the people you partner with it doesn’t feel like work, it actually feeds your soul! Someone once told me, “Why should we stop learning when we get out of school?” Every day you need to learn and grow, for me this event challenges me to learn grow and look at things differently. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from amazingly talented people who have incredible drive and commitment to their craft. I was able to visit Adam Tolmach at his home ranch and walk his extraordinary kitchen garden and disease-resistant test vineyard; to experience his commitment to innovation, research and fostering those around him, and his legacy of quality was really inspiring. And, Shelly Lindgren of A16 & SPQR’s commitment to authentic Italian food and wine is remarkable. Through her work she’s been able to enhance the community she serves. Additionally, her passion has helped transform lives in Italy as the popularity of wines she’s curated for her list have spurred demand enormously, so much so that the country of Italy has chosen to honor her for her work.

The power of this event and the examples of success I’ve been exposed to have taught me that ALL individuals have the power to create change and a lasting impact on the world. This is probably the greatest gift I could receive.

In 2019, Wine Speak featured a panel—“Wine from a different perspective” —featuring five top female wine professionals, which you moderated. Many, many participants have said it was so powerful and drew lots of emotion out. What made this happen?

This was an incredible experience for a multitude of reasons. For one, it sold out faster than any other seminar, and it was the only session that didn’t serve wine! The concept was to share the journey of these individuals and their paths to success. At first, we were really nervous and unsure how a panel that didn’t serve wine or focus on technical procedures might be perceived.

We selected superstars from several facets of the industry to add dimension to the conversation: Meridith May, Somm Journal/Tasting Panel; Jordan Fiorentini, Epoch Wine Estates; Helen Keplinger, Keplinger Wines; and Shelly Lindgren, A16 & SPQR. What made this session so powerful were the attendees. This session was different, the room was bubbling with excitement of young wine professionals, many of whom were women. Before the event began a young woman in the audience raised her hand and professed to loving her career and had no idea how she would ever be able to have a family, a husband and a career all at the same time. She wanted to know how it could be possible. This sparked the discussion for the next 90 minutes as well as the conversation that was heavy on the hearts of so many.

The truth is that the top spots of our industry as well as many others aren’t occupied by many women. It isn’t because there aren’t any amazingly talented women who are capable of doing the work; it’s because they made a different choice for themselves or their families. Seeing this panel of accomplished women together sparked a sense of hope, courage, and confidence in the audience. If they can do it why can’t I? Hearing the group share how it’s not always easy but how they continue to push forward and make every day their best was truly inspiring. Our industry won’t evolve if we have the same type of people doing the same types of things, we need new ideas, new perspectives that appeal to all people and consumers.

The most impactful part of life is when you see others find their “light.” I believe that everyone has a special gift and a beautiful light to shine on the world. Many people have a hard time identifying their own special gifts and therefore don’t shine brightly. BUT, when you can help someone find their special gift and show them how to use it in a way that can provide for themselves and others, WOW!!! This will also have a HUGE impact on our industry and world. Just imagine if the world was filled with people who were using all their own talents and helping others, to make this industry and world a better place. I walked away from this session thinking that the future is really bright!

What would you then share with all of the young, aspiring professionals out there moving forward?

Travel, read, learn, ask questions and align yourself with people and projects that will help you grow. Don’t chase money. Be ready to work hard. Opportunities come in very strange packages.

“A lion doesn’t need to tell anyone he’s a lion, everyone already knows.”

For 2020, you will now be taking this thought and including a new speaker for her perspective—Madeline Triffon, MS. Why Madeline?

Madeline is a superstar and the ultimate professional. She has dedicated her life to her craft and creating memorable experiences for guests. She was one of the first Americans to pass the rigorous Master Sommelier exam and the first female. But what’s so impressive about Madeline is her love of sharing her knowledge and passion with others. She isn’t boastful or self serving and once said, “At any exchange you should only use 10% of your knowledge.” I love this as so many are quick to show how much they know and this is when, without knowing why, consumers are turned off. She truly believes that wine should be enjoyed at every meal and that there is a place for it at ALL tables. She is a big advocate of the industry and the promotion of the next generations. She said, “Sharing is our most powerful tool, we can’t take the information with us, so why not use it to make others better?” We could all learn from Madeline’s wisdom, work ethic and passion.

This panel seems to align with your mission of Dream Big Darling.  Why is this so important to you?

For many young people, the road map or definition of “success” is confusing. In school, we are taught 1+1=2, and when you graduate from school you should be a top earner. The real world doesn’t really work this way and young people today would greatly benefit from wisdom and guidance. Soft skills, work ethic, drive and passion are almost always at the core of “success.” In addition, there are very few females holding top positions in our industry. I know there are plenty that are certainly capable and it’s an interesting concept. What’s really interesting is that the majority or at least 50 percent of our consumers are female. I think the industry would benefit from considering a different perspective. Madeline is a shining example of someone who has made a mark on our industry, and by sharing her valuable experience I think we can inspire others to reach for greatness.

How do you keep it all managed/balanced—work, personal, family and now dealing with all of the attention/publicity because of Wine Speak, Dream Big Darling and the “40 under 40” recognition from Wine Enthusiast?

Ha! When I figure it out I’ll let you know. The truth is that this is something that I’m always working towards. My husband, Sam, is my rock and I’m so blessed that he is an incredible father and husband, and raising our family is really a partnership. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be able to do anything extra, I am thankful everyday. I am so thankful to have an AMAZING team that I trust and respect, this allows me some flexibility to focus my energies in different ways. Our ownership at Ancient Peaks Winery is deeply invested in our community, learning, and growing—I’ve always been encouraged to give back. Our company philosophy is “the rising tide lifts all boats.” Our community and my friends are absolutely amazing, and without everyone’s efforts, many of the initiatives we’ve put together simply wouldn’t be possible. And lastly, I’m thankful for you Chuck, in true sommelier fashion, you are always looking for talent and value—little did I know you look for these qualities in almost every aspect of life and others.

What would you say to all of the wine professionals out there who want to understand what makes your home turf of Paso Robles so special?

There are so many incredible regions in the world and I have been really inspired when traveling and seeing the energy within these places! I’ve spent a lot of time traveling the country and working with our national distribution and accounts. The world is full of amazing wines from both the old and new world.

Paso Robles is a somewhat undiscovered region bubbling with passion, value, innovation and character. It’s a place where the community is deeply involved and there is a true passion for the craft. The soil profiles and climate make the region a near perfect growing environment. The AVA was established in 1983 and the breadth of innovation, learning and community are really prevalent. The price of land in the area is approachable enough that we have attracted some of the most talented producers to spread their wings. I would encourage you to take a chance on Paso Robles wines.

For 2020, Wine Speak is inviting more perspectives from the Old World.  Why?

There is great value in history and learning from others. We really need to push ourselves and learn from others with incredible drive and dedication. The old world is so inspiring and many have been farming the same land for centuries. Their lives live and breathe the creation of wine. I can’t wait to hear their perspective!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Keep your chin up, if it was easy everyone would do it. Make everyone around you better.

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Until quite recently, the Malvasia grape variety was reputed as the most widely planted white grape in the world. That’s so interesting, as how many eye catching ones have you recalled ever running across? We, at VINO, are and have been intrigued at finding really good ones, as they can work such unique magic and dynamics when paired with the right kind of foods. Yes, it can be quite the experience, which is why we keep searching and will keep on. Here are four that will show you what this much maligned grape variety is capable of. I think these are wines you will remember for a long time, if you attend this tasting. They are that unique.

2014 Palmina Malvasia “Larner Vineyard”–This was one of the first compelling Malvasia driven white wine bottlings we have had out of California, although a much earlier vintage. The grapes come from the highly revered Larner Vineyard located in the Ballard Lane niche of the Santa Barbara wine country and if my memory serves me correctly, I recall there were only two or so rows of this vine planted there. We love this wine’s wonderfully exotic, mesmerizing perfume done with such purity, minerality, seamlessness and uplifting personality. It beckons Mediterranean inspired seafood and vegetable dishes.


2017 Birichino Malvasia Bianca “Pétulant Naturel”–As far as I know, this is only the 2nd commercial vintage of this wonderful discovery produced from Monterey grown Malvasia grapes and fermented dry. They add more unfermented juice to the wine causing a refermentation. This is a very unusual take off on an ancient sparkling wine method, which some say pre-dates Champagne. This wine is meant to be enjoyed, especially well chilled–a thirstquencher, completely refreshing fizzy, food friendly quaffer, not some serious trophy wine.



2016 Caravaglio Malvasia Secco “Salina”–We just wanted to show tasters a completely different slant on what this grape variety can be. This one is grown on the island of Salina, located just north of Sicily. The soils are mostly volcanic in origin, so the wine has a strong sense of stoniness. The vineyards gaze upon the sea, it is so close, which I would say is partially why the finished wine has salinity…..all with the lime blossom and crazy aromatic perfume of the Malvasia grape variety in its core. There are only eight or nine producers of wine on this small island. This family has been doing their thing for over 500 years.


2015 Vignai da Duline Malvasia Istriana “Chroma Integral–One of the most profound renditions of this grape variety and grown high up in the hills of Friuli, by an uber-naturally minded couple. Yes, they live au naturale as a lifestyle. This is the most intriguing of their highly sought after, though very limited wine portfolio. AND in 2015 they hit the sweet spot, I am a believer!   Here is your chance to try it.


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I wish I had a dollar for every time some said, “I just love Pinot Noir”. I would be a gazillionaire and happy as a lark. This grape variety is on fire in popularity and I have come to learn that not all Pinots are grown or created the same and thankfully so. Here are four from California that have something very unique to say. Don’t miss out! Opportunities like this don’t come around too often.

2016 Cambiata Pinot Noir “Santa Lucia Highlands”–I can’t even tell you which Pinot vine this is, as there are no records to be had on the subject. Winemaking prodigy Eric Laumann, had worked with these vines for over twelve years and REALLY liked them and he believes they are at least thirty something years old. There really is no other one like this being produced out of California today. It is transparent, sheer, earthy, stemmy and elusive without any sense of showiness or flamboyancy, like so many of the most acclaimed/fashionable renditions. Nothing tooty fruity here.

2014 Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir “Napa Valley”–Never heard of this Rossi Wallace before? This is a project of mega Cabernet icon/superstar Ric Forman & his wife Cheryl Emmolo. Yup, Pinot Noir grown high up on Atlas Peak. I didn’t even know there was still Pinot planted up there. I checked around and no one seems to know or care what clones/selections they are. They just say they were planted many years ago, like late 80’s, early 90’s. I suspect they are Dijon clones when smelling and tasting the wine. His 2014 received 91 & 92 points from Vinous & Parker.

2017 Neyers Pinot Noir “Placida Vineyard”–What is today referred to as the Swan heritage vine came to the U.S. in the 1940’s, they say by Martin Ray or perhaps in the second wave sometime later—1960’s by Joseph Swan. Regardless who actually brought the plant in, it is a vine, nonetheless that likes to be here and I love how masculine and savory it can be. Placida is predominately Gold Ridge soils and located a short distance from the Swan plantings in the Russian River and overseen by superstar vineyard-ist Chuy Ordaz. It is delicious & lovely in a masculine, savory way.  No one does Pinot like Tadeo Borchardt of Neyers.  No one.

2006 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Vineyard FI”–Chris Whitcraft was certainly one of the most “out of the box”, idiosyncratic, larger than life personalities of California’s wine scene in the late 80’s to the late mid 2000’s.   He also happened to fashion some of the most monumental, memorable Pinot Noirs of all time, especially from 1992 to 2006. Having been a winemaking disciple of Burt Williams, founding winemaker of Williams & Selyem (one of the very first Pinots out of the state that had an amazing cult like following), Chris followed with similar approaches in the vineyard and the winery. His Pinots were vehemently masculine, savory and surprisingly hearty, especially in their youth. They were continuously critiqued for having flaws and not characteristic of the grape variety. Let’s just say, they were not for everyone’s taste, that’s for sure. I, on the other hand, have had so many memorable bottles—young & old which were so amazing and for so many different reasons. He was the real deal with Pinot Noir. This morning I received an email from his son. It made me reminiscent of the days with Chris and his wines. It also inspired us to showcase some of the very last few bottles we still have from this specially gifted vigneron. Interestingly Morning Dew is a vineyard located up in Anderson Valley, which was owned and planted by Burt Williams (recently sold). In 2006, Whitcraft produced three different bottlings of this vineyard that vintage. Here is one of them., certainly not highly acclaimed or rated. Just plain good, especially now thirteen years old. We serve this wine in homage to our friend, Chris.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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