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Dame Wine by Damewine - 1M ago

The opaque, sapphire sky was partially lit up in our little piece of nirvana. The bare branches on the trees slightly drooped down to help create a canopy of light that was shone from the Perigord-style building in the distance. As I slowly walked along the pebbled path, I was overwhelmed by the whole scene: little flowers highlighted in the ambient light combined with our divine natural awning; I felt how precious it was to experience their beauty in an amplified way. It made me think of all of those people, who were not necessarily religious, but who prayed to nature everyday, many of them winemakers, many of them lived in France.

Château RauzanSégla

I was finishing my evening at the Second Growth, Château Rauzan-Ségla, in Margaux, Bordeaux – a special wine growing area in France. A second growth that has always had the great terroir of clay-gravel, encompassing the much sought after 4th terrace with fine, deep gravel underlying a significant portion of their plots – near the legendary Palmer. In the past, Château Rauzan-Ségla sat in the shadow of its acclaimed neighbor Château Palmer, but since 1983 there has been an influx of investment from owners, such as the current proprietors, the Wertheimer brothers (owners of Chanel), that wanted to bring this estate to its original glory with the 2016 vintage already showing some outstanding characteristics out of the gate; and although I haven’t tried the 2015, many wine colleagues have been raving about that vintage as well. It is certainly impressive that their 2017 was a top wine as well since it is a vintage with varying quality levels, but Rauzan-Ségla is on the up side of that curve.

During a work trip to Bordeaux to mainly focus on the 2016 vintage, I was invited, along with other wine writers, to visit the Rauzan-Ségla estates with a tour of the cellars, tasting, and a gala dinner that was elegant yet relaxed as we lounged on big, comfortable couches (designed in fantastical patterns) sipping our 1986 Rauzan-Ségla.

Nicolas Audebert, the managing director, was our tour guide, who emphasized that their focus in the cellar was to enhance what was in the vineyards, and Rauzan-Ségla has some impressive soils that date back to 1661. They have around 185 acres (75 hectares) with 173 acres (70 hectares) in production. There are over 200 different plots that have been designed for various reasons: variety, clone of that variety, small change in composition of soil, and age of vines. Actually, they do over 200 individual vinfications and have that many pieces of any particular vintage orchestra to compose a symphony; hoping one day it will be talked about with cherished memories for decades to come.

The Miracle is in the Moment

I had one of those moments while the words of Nicolas Audebert landed deep within my consciousness as I tasted their 2016 and 2017 samples; the powerful silky textures, the beguiling aromas, the enticing flavors… the energy, the spirit, the life.

Before I knew it, I was outside walking away from the château and seeing the same picturesque setting as the one that I first encountered just a handful of hours earlier, but this time in a blanket of darkness with the few up lights helping to guide our way. I found myself lagging behind the group, kneeling on the ground, thinking about these winemakers and how they prayed everyday to their soil; I picked up a few pieces of dusty earth and thought about how so many living things are brought into this world, as well as taken, from what I was holding in my hand in that very moment. It is truly a miracle anytime we or anything else are living, such as the little flowers I could see around, thriving in the cold, damp air, or the leafless trees that would soon enough be covered with multicolored foliage; so many miracles that surround us everyday but we are just a prison to the grind of our life that often times we are not able to appreciate it… except for those few moments, such as walking away from a night of great wines, when we are grateful to still be alive.

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Disclosure: Millésima paid for my travel and first two nights stay in Bordeaux.

Château RauzanSégla Tasting in the Cellar on March 26th, 2018

2017: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. The wines in 2017 vary greatly and so one needs to do their homework and choose wisely. This Rauzan-Ségla is a rock star for the vintage and is already lush with ripe blackberry fruit and intoxicating smoky minerality and floral notes with a long, bright finish. It had already gone through MLF and Nicolas Audebert noted that their wines typically go through malolactic fermentation early.

2016: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. Blueberry pie, spice and fresh sage with finely knitted tannins. I was completely seduced by the generosity of juicy fruit and spice with this 2016 Rauzan-Ségla…. already singing at this stage; a winner out of the gates!

Château RauzanSégla Tasting during Dinner on March 26th, 2018

 2006: 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine was a pleasure, with well-integrated tannins (not all 2006s are overly tannic) and good amount of concentration with cassis, black plums and smoldering earth.

1996: This wine offered a lot on the nose with a bouquet of lilacs, rose water, orange blossom and raspberries. It was more restrained on the palate with etched tannins and an expressive finish.

 

1986: This was the wine of the night and a great example of one of those dangerous libations that can start an addictive habit of wanting to only drink older Bordeaux. It’s not so easy to still find wines from the 80s that are still performing this well. So Bravo! Enticing notes of truffle with forest floor, saline minerality and sweet tobacco with plenty of dried red cherries to flesh it all out. It has a graceful presence with finely-sculpted tannins along an extraordinarily long finish. I have a feeling it’s towards the end of its peak, but what a way to go out. I would like to leave this life with such grace.

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A lie that so many of us tell ourselves is that we are all alone, that our actions have little effect on the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has little effect on us. We take that idea even further thinking that somehow, the only way to succeed is to be in direct competition with other countries instead of realizing that all of us are affected by the same global tide that brings us up at times, and unfortunately, at others brings us down.

Ehlers Estate

Ehlers Estate is a 100% estate grown winery tucked away between Howell Mountains and the Mayacamas in Napa Valley; interestingly enough, this winery is an ideal example of bringing the French wine tradition together with the spirit of American entrepreneurship. Ehlers Estate was established during the times of the Wild West when Bernard Ehlers, a Sacramento grocer who made his fortune by selling prospecting tools to those in search of gold, built the stone barn winery in 1886 and replanted the vineyards surrounding it. Ehlers Estate would go through a few owners before they found their true custodians in Jean and Sylviane Leducq.

Jean and Sylviane were a French couple that married at the end of World War II whose love for food and wine was at the center of their mutual passion for life. Although they were proud of all things French, their lives were enhanced by expanding their various businesses into the US where Jean’s entrepreneurial spirit thrived.

Jean’s love for America was cemented in the mid-1970s when he suffered from a suspected heart attack and was later treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was the beneficiary of the then-revolutionary technology of coronary artery bypass surgery. His heart may have been born in France but it was saved in the US.

The Leducq’s love for Bordeaux wine and Jean’s feeling that anything was possible in America led them to buy Ehlers Estates in Saint Helena, Napa Valley. At first, in 1987, it started with few acres until they were able to purchase the stone winery, built in 1886, and reunite the original 42 acres (17 hectares) together. They only have the highest standards as they believed that their piece of Napa heaven could be as good as the top Bordeaux wines they had enjoyed throughout their life.

Kevin Morrisey

What better person to become the winemaker for Ehlers Estate, the Leducq’s baby, than someone like American Kevin Morrisey, with whom I was able to have lunch a little over a week ago. As a cameraman in his previous profession, he found himself many times in France, especially Paris, and was raised going on VW camper trips across Europe with his parents. At the age of 35, after a decade-long career in film, he would find his true destiny on the winemaker path. After studying at the top enology school in the US, UC Davis, he was determined to have an internship with one of the best producers in France, and some may argue the world, Château Pétrus, and yes, they finally accepted him after he bombarded them with calls, emails and faxes. Then, after working at a couple of the top wineries in California, he finally completed the circle by bringing his French and American sides together becoming the winemaker of Ehlers Estate in 2009.

Ehlers Estate was already 100% organic and farmed using biodynamic practices before Kevin arrived which made it that much more of the right fit since both of his daughters were raised in Waldorf schools – based on Rudolf Steiner’s educational philosophy (he was also the founder of biodynamic agriculture). In Ehlers Estate, Kevin had found a company that embraced the same values and high standards that he set for himself everyday with a holistic philosophy that brought everything together.

Holistic Remains

Jean Leducq passed away in 2002; his wife, Sylviane, led their Leducq Foundation for cardiovascular research, founded in 1996, until her death in 2013. The Leducqs had sold all of their companies so they could place them in a trust to support their Foundation, but it was their wish that Ehlers Estate still continue to make the finest wines. It is a unique ownership situation where the winemaker, Kevin Morrisey, is free to run the winery without compromising its original ethical intentions that are aligned with his own, that involves the holistic viewpoint that humans and the environment are a single system, and a deeper view that living in our isolated bubble on the globe so we may prosper is an illusion – the only way to truly thrive is to open ourselves up so we can gain knowledge and support from each other.

“There’s no better expression of who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in, my experience, passions and practice than what goes into our bottles.” –Kevin Morrisey

All of us wonder, more and more as time goes on, what will we leave this earth when we are gone? What will be our legacy? It fascinates me that the Leducqs wanted this winery to surpass them more than any other venture… it must have represented everything they found to be the best in the world. They were lucky enough to find the right person to pick up the baton to carry on the idea that we are only as good as the world that surrounds us.

Now what baton will each of us pick up and carry, and ultimately which one do we want to remain long after we are gone?

***Top cover photo and first two photos in post are credited to Ehlers Estate.

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Ehlers Estate Wines Tasted on April 17th, 2018

Kevin Morrisey’s goal is to make vineyard-driven wines with elegance and finesse that speaks of his values and high standards.

2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. No intense green notes but plenty of zesty citrus peel with mango and orange blossoms yet still a nice amount of weight on the mid-palate. Impressive richness in body considering no oak and no MLF.

2015 Cabernet Franc, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Franc. This Cabernet Franc is DANGEROUS! Complex, elegantly structured, generous and juicy, it is a wine that delivers on so many levels. The 2015 gives black raspberry fruit with toasted spices and fresh thyme on a fleshy body that has a nice backbone of acidity.

2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 1886, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. A great example of opulence and grace existing together with lush black cherry fruit and sculpted tannins that brought a stunning elegance to the feel of this wine with hints of espresso and smoky minerality that had a nice backbone of acidity carried through the long finish.

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If I had tasted the Bouchard Père & Fils 2016 preview wines before I knew about the vintage I would have never guessed that those vines went through such a tough time. The wines were singing… singing as if they had an easy and fun filled life as opposed to the catastrophic beginning that Mother Nature gave them. It really makes one reexamine the old way of thinking: if someone wasn’t given the ideal start in life then the rest of it was predestined to be a failure… one just surrendered to the very idea that their life was doomed; but these 2016s tell another story…

Broken Beings  

It seems that even to this day, people wonder why I came to NYC at 18 years old, back in 1993, with no prospects, knowing no one, with no resources, no family support (I didn’t have a family), and very little money in my pockets. At the time I didn’t completely understand it myself, except that I just wanted to find my home.

Many people come to New York City for a great education, or to make more money, or to find fame in a particular field, but obviously that was not the case for me. I felt that I was a broken, undesirable person that was rejected from the place where I was raised and so I just wanted to find where I belonged in the world. Quickly, I found immediate joy in connecting with lots of other broken young people living in the artsy and low income neighborhood of the East Village. During that time, it was an explosion of creativity, filled with people from all over trying to find their place as well. But it became apparent that many were on a dark path of resentment towards the “outside” world, and through time, I saw many of these broken beings who I cared for become twisted and hateful, and I was afraid that my fate would be the same.

One day, in my early 20s, I went to a meditation workshop at a yoga center I attended to try to get myself into better shape physically, but more importantly, mentally. There I sat in front of one of the most beautiful, bright beings I had ever experienced. Sharon Salzberg was that being, a teacher and author of a book called Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and I was overwhelmed with the deep desire that I wanted to be as bright as she was that day. But the beginning of her talk was unexpected as she discussed her troubled childhood. Her mother died when she was a child, her father was hospitalized for mental illness and so she lived with various different families throughout her childhood. In that moment I could not believe it… here she was, a being that was broken in every way you could imagine, but yet how could she radiate such joy?!

She had made a choice to not repress her past or pretend that she was someone she wasn’t, but to find the lesson, the continual lesson of finding true happiness in every moment, working hard for many years to find balance, and knowing that it would always be hard work to sustain it. My journey to find that brightness within myself was ignited that day.

2016 Bouchard Père & Fils

Tasting the 2016 Bouchard Père & Fils reminded me of that profound moment in my life. Despite it being an extraordinarily difficult vintage, it turned out to be a stunningly beautiful one. The damage was created around the time the vines were budding, April 26th and 27th, when the freezing temperatures in combination with humid conditions created ice over the buds, acting as a magnifying glass that amplified the sun, and consequently, many were burned. Bouchard Père & Fils lost 50% of their production because many of the buds did not survive; it is the largest loss in their history.

The Cellar Master of Bouchard Père & Fils, Frédéric Weber, told us that although they were helped by the sunny, warmer months of July, August and September, and a little rain right before the harvest that refreshed the vines, it was still a grueling vintage in regards to the amount of work that they had to put into the vineyards. But when Frédéric started to vinify the wines, he became very excited due to the clear expression of terroir, sense of place, that each wine was displaying. And tasting these wines, I must say that they were intensely compelling to a Burgundy nerd such as myself… years ago I used to be obsessed with Burgundy to the point where it was detrimental because it formed blinders for the rest of the wine world. But these wines… this vintage started to kindle those intense visceral feelings of why I was so bewitched by this one wine region.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ― Leonard Cohen

The 2016 Bouchard Père & Fils wines were not big and in your face, and generally Bouchard likes to keep their wines more towards elegance and finesse, but they had an energetic precision; a sense of grace and a lasting power that made my heart cry when I had to leave them.

It was surprising to everyone how open these wines were at such a young age, how expressive, how compelling, how bright. I started to think that perhaps part of the factors that made it such a disastrous vintage also made it a remarkable one for those vines that were able to survive. And I have to give it to Bouchard for embracing such a broken vintage so they could discover the beautiful light within these wines… for embracing every aspect of our journey is the only way to lead us to where we need to be.

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Vintage 2016 Preview Tasting of Bouchard Père & Fils on February 28th 2018

The Cellar Master of Bouchard Père & Fils, Frédéric Weber, said that he places the 2016 vintage between the 2014 and 2015 – ‘15 was high maturity (naturally 13 to 14% potential alcohol for the whites and reds) and the ’14 had high acidity and vivid fruit expression, and so the combination of high acidity and good concentration makes Frédéric think that the 2016 wines will have a great aging potential such as the 1991s. Side note: Bouchard Père & Fils changes corks on their bottles every 20 or so years.

Frédéric likes doing a small amount, only 15-20%, whole cluster fermentation as it adds aromatic complexity since the wines ferment longer and he is able to do more punch downs for aromas and flavors without too much extraction of tannin. He doesn’t like to use too much of whole cluster as he doesn’t want the winemaking to show but only the terroir to be highlighted.

Domaine noted at the end of a wine’s name indicates that all the grapes used were sourced from vineyards that Bouchard Père & Fils own.

Red Wines – Pinot Noir

Nuits-Saint-Georges Village (Côte de Nuits): A beautiful nose with brambly fruit and floral notes and fine tannins (unlike some of the more brawnily structured ones that are typical for NSG) and bright acidity.

Soils: Limestone and clay with stones

Harvest Date: September 29th, 2016

Vinification: 20% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 13 days

Aging: Matured for 11 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 20%

Racking Date: September 2017

Bottling Date: January 2018

Gevrey-Chambertin Village (Côte de Nuits): Black cherry flavors and hints of cocoa with structure yet none of the greenness or austerity that Gevrey can get.

Soils: Triassic limestone, marls, crumbled stone, clay potassium, phosphorus and iron

Harvest Date: October 1st, 2016

Vinification: 30% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 13 days

Aging: Matured for 12 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 20%

Racking Date: October 2017

Bottling Date: January 2018

Pommard Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Beaune): Plush, juicy, finely structured – not too burly, dark fruit – already nice nuances in this wine with hints of smoldering earth.

Soils: Limestone with some iron deposits

Harvest Date: September 27th and 28th, 2016

Vinification: 20% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 13 days

Aging: Matured for 12 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: January 2018

Bouchard Père & Fils uses three 1er Cru sites for their 1er Cru Pommard. They own Les Combes 1er Cru and Les Chanlins 1er Cru – and their Les Combes plot is rich in clay at the bottom of the 1er Cru sites and so it is a really powerful Pommard – full expression, a masculine wine; Les Chanlins is high in altitude and it is close to the village of Volnay and it is more elegant with beautiful fruit and the tannins are nicely round. The 3rd 1er Cru is purchased grapes from the Chaponnières 1er Cru which adds dark, concentrated fruit.

Beaune, Clos de la Mousse Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Beaune) –Monopole- Domaine : Pristine raspberry, lilacs, generosity with freshness – Frédéric said this 1er Cru (Clos de la Mousse Premier Cru) was known for the purity of the fruit that it displayed while we tasted it.

Soils: Limestone and clay on clayey sub-soils

Harvest Date: September 21st, 2016

Vinification: 15% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 14 days

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

This 1er Cru has been a monopole (a monopole is an area controlled by a single winery) of the Bouchard family since 1872. The large amount of clay in the soil makes sure this vineyard never suffers from drought so the wines are always vibrant. In 2016 the yields were 12 hectoliters (hl) per hectare (ha). Just to give you an idea, 35-37 hl/ha is the maximum for Grand Cru and 40-45 for Premium Cru for vineyards in the Côte d’Or in Burgundy – so yeah, that is some small a$$ yields!

Volnay, Les Caillerets Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Beaune) –Domaine: Complex aromas laced with clove spice, forest floor and chalky minerality – a compelling nose with a voluminous body – Caillerets is not like a Volnay on the nose (intense minerality) yet it does seem like one on the palate with juicy fruit.

Soils: Thin layers of limestone and clay on a cracked rock tabled-land

Harvest Date: September 28th, 2016

Vinification: 15% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 13 days

Aging: Matured for 13 days in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

“Caillerets” comes from an old French word that means “chalky soil” and there is a lot of limestone (chalk) in this 1er Cru and it produces elegant Pinot Noir. Also, it is a very sunny place and so the maturity arrives early.

Beaune Grèves Premier Cru (1er Cru) ‘Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus’ (Côte de Beaune) –Domaine – Exclusivity: This wine is nicknamed the “baby Jesus wine” and it has become a favorite for many a Burgundy lover. This 2016 has an incredible perfumed nose with layers of exciting notes of licorice, rainforest, and fresh and stewed fruits on the palate with a tangy cranberry finish all wrapped up in silky tannins. The ageability is insane with this wine – 3 years ago Frédéric Weber tasted a bottle of 1891 and said it was still alive and doing great – a benchmark Pinot Noir for him.

Soils: Limestone and clay, sandy and gravelly

Harvest Date: September 24th, 2016

Vinification: 10% whole clusters

Length of Vatting: 14 days

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

The name Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus (Vine of Baby Jesus) refers to an old story which said that a Carmelite nun predicted the birth of Louis XIV, although his mother, Anne of Austria, was sterile. On the birth of the future King, this exceptional vineyard was offered to the Carmelites as an expression of gratitude, taking on the name Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus.

In 1791, after the French Revolution, when the Church properties were sold, Bouchard Père & Fils won the bid for this vineyard of 9.68 acres (3.9 hectares), situated in the heart of the Beaune Grèves appellation. Bouchard Père & Fils still holds the exclusivity for this specific plot today.

Le Corton Grand Cru (Côte de Beaune) –Domaine: Graceful nose of truffles and rose garden with a broadly rich body and long, expressive finish.

Soils: Limestone and clay with stones

Harvest Date: September 29th 2016

Vinification: 15% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 14 days

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 35%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

Corton is the only red Grand Cru in the Côte de Beaune. Le Corton is the historic vineyard, which gave name to the Corton appellation. 820 feet (250 meters) above sea level with East orientation with low vigor soils, so it is naturally a very low yield plot.

Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Cailles Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Nuits) – Domaine:

Blueberry, crunchy black fruit, very, very expressive nose – pops and sings unlike any NSG I have had before with lots of energy, and well integrated tannins on the palate.

Soils: Oolite limestone

Harvest Date: September 26th, 2016

Vinification: 20% of whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 14 days

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

Situated on the South side of the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, this 1er Cru, Les Cailles, is different from its neighbors, producing an elegant, feminine wine. Cailles is another French word for chalky soil. Weber loves Cailles every year because it is a “true expression of Pinot Noir with a lot of energy”.

White Wines – Chardonnay

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Dame Wine by Damewine - 2M ago

It has been a tough winter for many of us in the continental climate areas – New York City is no exception. A mutant flu and cold season brought many people down for the count, allergies have been more prevalent this winter for some reason, and less sunlight than normal. I have known many who were taken down hard… I, myself, seemed to be constantly fighting a cold or allergies (I know, it’s weird to have allergies in winter) and finally had to break my rule of avoiding antibiotics when I realized I had developed a sinus infection. And all the while having to travel, running to various appointments, meeting deadlines and everything else we humans have to check off our daily list. It has been a rough December and January for myself, and from what I see on Facebook, it has been even more brutal for others. But in the middle of February – when I felt like I was ready to pass out and sleep for two days straight – I had my spirit recharged by a beautiful woman.

A Beautiful Woman

It is interesting to think of the idea of women and beauty. There have been countless books, poems, and certainly, advertisements devoted to it; billon dollar companies make their profits from the very idea of it; and every woman has had something thrown at her regarding beauty, and where she lies on that beauty scale, more times than anyone should be subjected to… but all of that has nothing to do with the beauty that I am talking about… the beauty that truly transcends the ills and hardships of life. The beauty I speak of is not so easily found, or bought, or even described.

That day in mid-February I was set to have a meeting with the chief winemaker of the innovative Chilean winery Viña LeydaViviana Navarrete. Mentally, I felt like I wasn’t in the best shape because I was beyond exhausted but I could not miss this opportunity. A couple years back, I had the opportunity to hear Viviana speak at the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium and I was taken by her beautiful mind and spirit that were reflected in her wines.

Viña Leyda

Viña Leyda, founded in 1998, takes its name from the coastal town Leyda since it is located in the center of its valley.  They are truly pioneers of this now much sought after cooler, tiny wine growing area in Chile that includes a total of 4940 acres of vineyards (2000 hectares), one of the closest vineyard areas to the Pacific ocean in Chile.

Credit: Viña Leyda

Viña Leyda not only helped establish the appellation (protected geographic quality area) with the new designation of origin, D.O. Leyda in 2001, but they also invested in infrastructure that would allow water to be brought from the Maipo River using an eight kilometer pipeline that was financed by a combination of themselves, the Chilean government, and a couple other private investors. Before that time there was no viticulture in Leyda since it was a dry area (only 250mm a year of rain), but as Viviana Navarrete said, “Despite being pioneers in this area we knew our work wasn’t done”. So they have put a significant investment into studying their soil, increasing the density of vines in their vineyards, decreasing the size of their trellising, canopy management of finding ideal balance for their vines, and working with the “terroir doctor” – Pedro Parra – a terroir specialist that has dug over 2000 pits around the world analyzing (electroconductivity and geo-mapping) a plethora of soils for the best research that will help wine producers match the right plants (variety/clone) with the right plots, as well as the best winemaking techniques to highlight each section of land. Right now Viviana said they have 13 clones of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc (7 clones for Pinot Noir and 6 clones for Sauvignon Blanc) and they are obsessed with Pinot Noir and its affinity for terroir, as well as work with a tiny amount of Sauvignon Gris, Riesling and Syrah.

Viviana Navarrete

Me (left) and Viviana (right)

Both of the times I have seen Viviana, she was generous, nurturing and really empowered those around her. She was one of those women who showed the power that women could have – by giving others wings to soar – and her beauty was reflected by the beauty that she saw in others. Everything else – her intelligence, her experience (11 years as chief winemaker at Viña Leyda), her attention to detail which was displayed while talking about every aspect of each of her wines, was nothing compared to her enormous capacity for compassion that fueled her passion for the Leyda Valley itself. She noted that there were only 10 vineyard owners in Leyda and every single one was driven by producing the best grapes in the vineyards they could get from an area that only gave them low-yielding, tiny grapes because of the cold fog that came in from the Pacific; only quality minded people would want to deal with such a low quantity of fruit.

Viviana proudly said, “Buy any bottle that has the D.O. Leyda on it and you know it will be very good wine.”

From the minute I met Viviana I felt relieved because it was as if her eyes gave me a warm hug and placed me immediately at ease; after we finished our 90 minute conversation, I felt like I could fly down the street… that is what a beautiful woman does to the world around her.

“No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and honesty are written across her face, she will be beautiful.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

There are so many times when I felt dragged around by life that a beautiful woman was sent to me like an angel… whether it was my next door neighbor when I was a child telling me how much I was loved, the woman on the subway who soothingly placed her hand on my shoulder when I was overwhelmed and crying during my first couple years in New York, or a co-worker telling me that I deserved better when I felt completely rejected and humiliated. These beautiful women seem to be the fabric that holds our society together.

Beautiful women come in many outward forms – they can be dressed to the nines or dressed like a nun, they can be conventionally picture perfect or alternative and edgy; but they are always open, honest and have surrendered to the truth that they are only as good as they make the people around them feel… and so they always see the truth of someone who is in need.

It just seemed fitting when I found out that the drawing on the Viña Leyda labels was of an old train station that used to exist in the town of Leyda; it was common for people to ask the way to the train since Leyda was a town that one used to get from one place to another. Travelers would ask the locals “la ida”, meaning “the way”, which turned into sounding like “leyda” in the local jargon, and so, the town was named after this common saying. It was fitting because when we are lost, beautiful women show us the way… the way into believing in ourselves.

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Viña Leyda Tasting with Chief Winemaker Viviana Navarrete on Feb 16th, 2018

2016 Classic Sauvignon Blanc: Citrus, green mango and dried thyme with a vivid, linear palate.

100% stainless steel tanks at low temperatures. Half of the vinification is macerated and half whole bunch press.  The more aromatic clones need maceration because many of the aromatics are in the skin, and they blend it with clones that have a purity of fruit that are whole bunch pressed.

2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Single Vineyard Garuma: Creamy texture with saline minerality and white flowers with a delicate yet powerful finish.

This wine is made from the best Sauvignon Blanc plot that has a cooler micro-climate and is limestone dominant. Clone Davis 1 is used and it is known to give a wine more weight on the body. The winemaking is the same so it is just the selection of this one clone (instead of a few clones) and the expression of this specific vineyard with even lower yields.

2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Lot 4: Spicy with white pepper, stony minerality, white peach, rich body yet plenty of verve and an extremely long, elegant length.

Made from a selected block of 3.7 acres (1.5 hectares) that faces East and so receives the morning sun. Clone 317, from Sancerre, is used – this clone does not exist anywhere else in Chile and it is known for its ability to age in the bottle. Also, they matched this clone to a plot that could produce an ageworthy wine with lots of concentration. 100% whole bunch press. 20% of this wine was fermented in 400 liters sized used barrels to build structure for the body and the rest, 80%, was fermented in stainless steel barrels. They are separated for 9 months for lees stirring (battonage) and then blended together after that time.

2016 Classic Chardonnay: Orange blossom with juicy tangerine, broad body and zing on the finish.

Viviana said she wanted an honest, pure expression of Chardonnay from Leyda with no oak and no MLF. They protect the clusters from sunburn with canopy management. Although Chardonnay is thought of as a neutral variety Viviana wanted to show the “nice face” of it with no oak and building a creamy texture with lees stirring giving a round texture but she was careful not to do too much so as to keep the vitality.

2016 Leyda Rosé, Pinot Noir: Freshly picked raspberry with freshly cut flowers and a round body.

This rosé was made from 3 different blocks using different clones. All of the grapes were whole cluster pressed, fermenting in 100% stainless steel at low temperatures.

2016 Classic Pinot Noir: A delectable mixture of smoke, sweet spice and wild lilies with a bright cherry finish.

Fermented in closed vats with very little movement, aka pump overs, for less extraction. Only 20% age in used French barrels and rest in stainless steel.  Viviana wanted the fruit to express itself with brightness and generosity on the palate.

2015 Pinot Noir, Single Vineyard Las Brisas: Intense minerality and stunning purity of fruit with a lovely perfume that wafted in one’s head  for several minutes as the marked acidity in this wine created a mouthwatering finish.

Called “Las Brisas” because it is near the ocean, facing South-West, and it is the last Pinot Noir that they harvest. Soil is mainly granite soil with iron and quartz, so they try to transmit those qualities within the wine. Strict selection of grapes, de-stemmed, everything placed in closed vats, little pump over (extraction), 30% in used French barrels and 70% stainless steel.

2014 Pinot Noir, Lot 21: This wine had that addictive hint of truffles and forest floor that was exquisitely balanced by flavors of ripe strawberries and anise cookies with gingerbread spice that finished with a crumbly, chalky prolonged flavorful finish.

Two small plots were chosen for Lot 21: One facing North with red clay on the top section and limestone on the lower section. The sections were fermented separately and punched down regularly; the second plot was granite dominant with iron and quartz which she fermented in a combination of closed vats and cement. The grape bunches had little berries and clusters from the clones selected. 15% of whole bunch pressed, and the tanks were filled with alternating layers of whole berries and then whole clusters and so on and so on … sort of like lasagna. Natural yeasts were used for this wine to enhance the natural qualities. Aged in a combination of used French oak barrels, egg shaped concrete and 2000 liter casks. Only 5000 bottles made.

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Dame Wine by Damewine - 2M ago

Like so many other boys and girls, when I was a child I thought that I would know my worth and value when I got older. Back then, I had very little self worth and it was a daily struggle functioning in the world feeling that I needed to change myself in order to fit in. Through time, as we go through adulthood, driven by the desperation of loneliness, we find ways to hide seemingly unflattering things about ourselves or subject ourselves to dysfunctional relationships because we feel that we are not special enough to be accepted by the world.  Many of us feel like we are forced to live a false life where we repress the best parts of ourselves so that we can be accepted.

Bulgarian Wines

These thoughts kept running through my head after a wine seminar discussing the wines of Bulgaria. I knew very little about Bulgarian wines except that their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines were supposed to be an incredible value for good quality. Back in my wine education days – around a decade ago – I sought out Bulgarian wines in New York City, which, believe it or not, were difficult to find in the city that has everything… and I have to say that the Cabernet Sauvignon over delivered for the price.

So it was interesting to find myself here, many years later, getting to know Bulgaria in a deeper, more detailed way in a master class, and my God, is there a lot to know about Bulgarian wine: the various types of climate, soil, grape varieties (local and international) and the up and down roller coaster they have been a part of since their wine revolution in 1878 – although vine growing and winemaking can be traced back 5000 years in that area. After tasting 25 wines that day, I not only realized the thrilling potential of Bulgarian wines but also how some of their wine regions specialized in aromatic white wines.

Complexity of Bulgaria

I think I can faintly remember a wine teacher once telling me that there was no point in drinking a Bulgarian wine unless it was Cabernet Sauvignon – not to be critical of someone else, because trust me I have made more mistakes than I would care to admit, but it was a statement that shaped my view of this country for many years. There was no other information about Bulgaria, that I knew of at the time, that could have given me a better idea of the reality of their wines, and so I thought they could only make good Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as only the large wineries could be found in the US. It was interesting to learn that part of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot push in export markets had to do with international acclaim being bestowed on a couple of Bulgarian wines made from those varieties that were heralded as “Good Wines At Giveaway Prices” in the Washington Post and that won a New York Wine competition in the early 1980s. Bulgarian wines’ initially slow acceptance into the US market was then brought to a screeching halt, and so, many wine professionals are now stuck in the early 1980s when thinking about Bulgaria.

Despite Bulgaria’s upward trajectory with its winemaking and vineyard practices starting in the early 1900s (after recovery from the devastation of phylloxera) that peaked in the 1980s, in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev carried out an anti-alcohol campaign with partial prohibition, known as the “dry law” until the fall of communism in 1990. After that, Bulgaria needed to spend the next couple of decades stabilizing their economy while their wine industry took on the long and arduous process of trying to find the rightful owners of vineyards that were abandoned once communism took effect in the 1940s. But in the meantime, its wine industry suffered with sub-par quality of under ripe, green wines. In 2005, things started to look up when Bulgaria was able to qualify for two protected geographic indications from the EU (joining the EU in 2007) that pertained to their wine region; since that time they have kicked it up into high gear with improvements to their vineyards and winemaking.

Since that time they’ve realized that they can’t be 100% reliant on the EU because they are added competition in a sense, and Bulgaria has assumed the mantle to further designate smaller quality areas amongst themselves; some agree on 5, 9, 11 or even more but everyone in the Bulgarian wine industry agrees that 2 general regions is not only insulting but is also misrepresentative as it is lumping the mass produced wines together with boutique, specialized producers from a specific area.

Muscat & Other Aromatic White Varieties

During the master class I tasted five aromatic white wines, and at home, one from samples that were sent to me (wine tasting notes below).  There was such a range of aromatics, flavors and overall qualities; a true experience of balanced, complex and simply enchanting whites. Bulgaria has so many unidentified aromatic white grapes that Bulgarian wine producers call many of them Muscat, even though they are probably a completely different biotype that is local to that area. But for now, they have been able to distinguish a few of these varieties that are rare to Bulgaria; Dimyat is a very old Balkan variety possibly originating in Bulgaria, and Misket originates from Bulgaria (with three biotypes – one having pink skin with the other two white varieties being a hybrid); as well as other exotically fun ones such as the Tamianka variety that is a mystery grape perhaps from the Middle East and Traminer thought to have been born in France and goes under many names, one of which being Savagnin –meaning “wild”.

Also, the flight of Pinot Noir wines, that expressed a sense of place from the different quality areas, as well as the flight of indigenous and hybrid reds really showed a colorful tapestry of wines that exists in this one country.

The World Won’t Work Around You

Of course there is still push back from US importers that want to keep with what the people know of Bulgaria, and so, they mainly value Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of the tiny wine producers, which I was lucky to be able to taste, don’t even harvest their whole vineyard, some leaving as much as 50% of their crop because they feel they will only be able to sell the half to their local market for a fair price and that no one else outside of Bulgaria would be interested in their smaller, artisanal wines. It is estimated that out of the 150,000 acres (60,000 hectares) of vineyards in Bulgaria that only 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) were harvested with the rest left behind in the 2015 vintage.

I believe that all of us should know the hardcore reality that the world won’t work around you, especially when it comes to paying bills, one has to work around the world… but not at the expense of losing that special treasure that may be unconventional, yet could be a game changer… such as opening our mind to the true potential of dry aromatic white wines.

Much More Than the World Thought You Were

Many of these small Bulgarian wine producers have other jobs in order to support themselves and these wines are passion projects for many of them; I truly feel like they are at a crossroads of how much longer they can continue. All of us have been there, where we were pursuing something on the side and we gave up because we thought there was no point because we didn’t really think we offered any value to the world.

That day of the Bulgarian master class, I knew I was witnessing a revelation of something very special as these small producers were showing me what their land and culture was capable of, and they would not allow the outside world to dictate their worth. Yes, Bulgaria will always have to have big wine companies that will help to support their industry, and the smaller producers will probably have to balance the reality of their lives with other jobs, but these struggling producers who are keeping their heads barely above water, trying to keep their true value as a winemaking country alive just need a little recognition, like all of us, to know that it is worth the struggle and the fight.

Bulgarian wines are so much more than the quick throwaway blurb in a wine book or the snarky comment. I hope they know that, I hope they continue to fight, and most importantly, I hope we listen.

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Tasting of Samples on March 15th, 2018

Bulgarian wine samples were sent to me on another occasion and so I thought it was an ideal post to talk about these wines as well. The master class wines are below these tasting notes.

2016 Domaine Boyar, Traminer, “Selection”, Thracian Valley: Traminer is a variety that has many biotypes that vary in aromatic intensity but this wine has a lovely moderately perfumed nose of lychee and spice with juicy stone fruit flavors that had a fun peach skin hint and a delicately floral finish.

2016 Vini, Chardonnay, Thracian Valley: A light and vibrant Chardonnay with apricot and zesty lemon that had a blanched almond finish.

2015 Vini, Pinot Noir, Danube River PlainsAn aromatic Pinot Noir with cherry blossoms and star anise with vivid fruit along the light bodied palate.

-2011 Domaine Boyar, Mavrud, “Reserve”, Thracian Valley: Layers of complex aromas of forest floor, leather and cinnamon with black cherry flavors on a medium, round body that had a mint-y lift.

 -2016 Vini, Merlot, Thracian Valley: A Merlot that has a good combination of New World fruit generosity and Old World rustic charm with delicious plums and blueberries laced with graphite and cocoa nibs that were carried by dusty tannins.

-2015 Domaine Boyar, Cabernet Sauvignon, “Reserve”, Thracian Valley: An easygoing Cabernet Sauvignon that has gentle tannins, fresh black berry fruit and a pencil lead finish.

Bulgaria Wine Master Class on February 27th, 2018

Many of the below wines are not on the US market yet but I hope they are able to find a place in our market soon.

As discussed above, there are only two EU wine protected geographic indications for Bulgaria, Danubian Plain PGI and Thracian Valley PGI, but within the parentheses written below, the location of the vineyards is more highly specialized.

Also, it is interesting to note that although we would think of moderately priced white wines as being released onto the market as quickly as possible, the small, quality-minded Bulgarian producers will sometimes hold them back because they feel their wines will need a few years to show their potential. Again, many of these wines are undervalued so you can’t gauge their aging potential by price alone.

Short Recent Vintage Overview

2017: Best vintage in recent years with balanced wines

2016: Ripe vintage where the wines are evolving quickly

2015: Okay vintage evolving more slowly than ‘16 yet some areas made very nice wines

 First Flight – White Wines made with International Grape Varieties

-2015 Tsarev Brod, Sauvignon Blanc, Danubian Plain PGI (North Black Sea Coast): The North Black Sea is one of the coolest wine regions in Bulgaria, located in the North-East. This Sauvignon Blanc has a pretty nose with flinty minerality, lemon confit and mango notes (zingy and tropical) with a richness on the body that balances the crisp acidity

-2017 Villa Melnik, Sauvignon Blanc (Orange Wine), Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): An exciting Sauvignon Blanc as an orange wine in one of the warmest wine regions in Struma Valley, in the South-West (although there are more moderate micro-climate vineyards where some producers will make white wines).This orange wine had around 20 days of skin contact and had fun aromas of ginger, bruised apple, roasted nuts and dried pineapple flavors that had some grip. They have no problems selling out of this wine in Bulgaria since the young people love it.

-2016 Burgozone Winery, Chardonnay, “Cote du Danube”, Danubian Plain PGI (North West): An elegantly nimble Chardonnay that had white flowers, wet stones and exotic kaffir lime with a long, expressive finish.

-2016 Tsarev Brod, Sepage, Danubian Plain (North Black Sea Coast): This is a white wine blend that is Sauvignon Blanc dominant with Chardonnay, Traminer and Riesling making up the rest of the blend. Although the North Black Sea is one of the coolest regions, these vineyards come from a warmer micro-climate that is known for its limestone soils – so much limestone that they had to change the regulations for the drinking water that passed through these soils. The rich body (45 days on the lees) balances the multiple layers of dried flowers, honey covered golden apples and lime blossom.

-2015 Villa Yustina, “4 Seasons”, Gewürztraminer, Thracian Valley PGI (West): This wine had such a lovely purity of Gewürztraminer varietal characteristics of pristine lychee flavors that reminded me of the quality Gewürztraminer that is coming out of Chile. Its purity was just a pleasure and the retained fresh acidity just added to the delightful experience. Only 7000 bottles (yes, bottles!) made.

Second Flight – Aromatic Whites (considered local specialties)

-2016 Karabunar Winery, Dimyat, “Bulgarian Heritage”, Thracian Valley PGI (West): Made from the Dimyat variety originating in Bulgaria. This wine had a lanolin nose with saline minerality and marked acidity.

-2015 Karabunar Winery, Misket, “Bulgarian Heritage”, Thracian Valley PGI (West): Misket is considered the best local white variety in Bulgaria. I really liked the richness of honey flavors combined with the fresh citrus and floral ones.

-2015 Via Verde, Misket & Muscat, “Expressions”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): I walked away really loving these “Expressions” wines from Via Verde, made by a young winemaking couple and has beautiful dragonflies on their labels that vary in their colors to express the qualities of the wine inside. This Misket and Muscat blend had intoxicating aromas of wildflowers with hints of licorice, despite them coming from vineyards in the warmer region of Struma, they have a lovely vitality of acidity due to the vineyards being high in altitude. Only 4000 bottles (yes, I said bottles again) are made.

-2016 Via Verda, Sandanski Misket, “Expressions”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): This Misket had zesty pink grapefruit flavors with a real tangy edge that was electric on the linear body with bright yellow flowers finish. Whimsical wine! Only 4000 bottles made.

-2015 Bratanov Winery, Tamianka, Thracian Valley PGI (Sakar): Tamianka is known as a mystery white grape that is possibly from the Middle East, yet it has found its home in Bulgaria. Exotic spice with rich orange marmalade and a lush finish that has an intense stoney minerality. Fascinating wine.

Third Flight – Pinot Noir

-2016 Vini, Pinot Noir, Danube River Plains: Pretty, floral, light Pinot Noir that had vivid cranberry with a spicy lift.

-2016 Tsarev Brod, Pinot Noir, Danubian Plain PGI (North Black Sea Coast): A Pinot Noir from the cooler North Black Sea region with lilacs, raspberry, sour cherry and chalky minerality.

-2014 Burgozone Winery, Pinot Noir, “Cote du Danube”, Danubian Plain PGI (North – West): It was nice to compare this Pinot Noir with the previous one as this comes from a warmer area. Smoky with hints of mushrooms and black cherries; it was rich and complex on the body.

-2015 Villa Yustina, Pinot Noir, “4 Seasons”, Thracian Valley PGI (West): Coming from vineyards 1640 feet (500 meters) above sea level. High-toned nose with candied cherry, pine and Thai basil.

-2014 Villa Melnik, Melnik & Pinot Noir, “Bergulé”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): A red blend of 75% Melnik (a thin skinned red variety) and 25% Pinot Noir. Melnik’s full name is Shiroka..

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Faint memories of small police tanks, officers in riot gear and helicopters in the sky circling my neighborhood constantly just seem like a gritty dream that was inspired by an urban apocalyptic movie… but it was real. My first few years in NYC from the age of 18 to 21 years old in the early 1990s in Alphabet City in the East Village were filled with images of squatters being kicked out of abandoned buildings, corporations buying up blocks of tenement apartments and storefronts; rents then went sky high for those that did not have rent stabilization to protect them, and a militant feeling that would transform my old neighborhood into a safer, more expensive area for better in some ways, and considering the latter, worse in other ways. One name would bring me back to those memories – César Chávez.

César Chávez was a man that was often quoted and worshiped as an iconic folk saint back in those days in Alphabet City. He was best known as a Latino American civil rights activist that started an important grass roots movement for the improvement of working conditions for American laborers, especially migrate workers. His name was evoked by Janet Trefethen and her son Lorenzo last month, during their Trefethen Family Vineyards vertical tasting.

Trefethen Family Vineyards

Janet Trefethen said that to her knowledge, Trefethen is the only winery in the United States that is over 25 years old (the Trefethen family has owned their vineyards for 50 years) that has grown every single grape that has gone into every single bottle. Also, the family: Janet, her husband John, and her son Lorenzo and daughter Hailey are owners that live nearby and get their “hands dirty” in the 600 acres of vineyard land that was originally purchased by John’s parents, Gene and Catherine in 1968 (there were fewer than 20 wineries in Napa Valley at the time). John’s wine loving parents intended to sell the grapes but John had other ideas, and once he married Janet, who had been raised on a Northern California rice farm, they became a dynamic duo in taking over the land by revamping the vineyards and building a winery. Janet said they bossed John’s parents around when it came to what they needed to do for quality wine and now their children boss them around taking the respect for land and expression of each plot of land to another level.

Sustainability

Before starting to taste the vertical of wines that ranged from 1977 to 2016 (tasting notes below), Janet and Lorenzo both wanted to emphasize how important sustainability was to their family. They use natural pest control (barn owl and bat boxes), compost the leftover grape skins, seeds and stems, recycled winery wastewater to irrigate vineyards and were influenced by the book One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (originally published in 1975 and known as the “Zen and the Art of Farming”). But one part of their sustainability is the most important to them: employing their vineyard workers year-round, providing them with living wages and comprehensive benefits (healthcare, 401K plan, vacation time, etc.). Janet said they were able to benefit from her father-in-law being the CEO of Kaiser Industries and were able to place all of their employees on the Kaiser Health Plan.

César Chávez

This is when the name César Chávez came up in their discussion. In the late 1960s, César Chávez led a boycott of table and wine grapes in America because of the poor pay and conditions for many of the workers in the fields. This created signs that were placed in stores, especially in NYC, to “Boycott Grapes” and drew great criticism from Robert Kennedy that was focused towards California wineries. Janet Trefethen said although they paid and treated their people well from the beginning, the protesters marched on them using trucks filled with baseball bats. Although it was an extremely painful time for the Trefethen family and their extended family of workers, she said that she applauded the attention the boycott gave to exploited migrant workers but she wished that they had not picked on them since they were, in essence, fighting the good fight with them.

And being a true pioneering woman who supports other women, Janet Trefethen pointed out that Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez and was just as vital a part of that revolution but her name is not as widely known as the charismatic César.

When Revolutions Lose Sight of Individual Businesses and People

It is interesting to think back during my time in the East Village in the 1990s and although it was way past the time of the “Boycott Grapes” movement, many of my neighbors were still wearing César Chávez t-shirts. And considering that he died the same year I came to NYC, in 1993, there were tons of tribute murals that were placed on buildings and sidewalks. His image was always around to remind us that the fight for true equality was a heroic one. At the time, I was young and naïve and so I did not realize the complications of life… many things are not simply black and white.

Lorenzo went on to talk about their employees, some involving multi-generational families such as the Baldini family. Tony Baldini was their first employee, his son Steve helped his father run the vineyards, and today, Tony’s other son Michael works in their tasting room. Janet chimed in, “There has been a Baldini on the payroll from day one.” When another writer in the room asked what they did with their full-time employees during the slow season, Lorenzo said that there was a break in December, which everyone needed after working 6 to 7 day weeks during and after harvest, and there was always winter work to do from rebuilding the hillside to fixing tractors. And a couple of Trefethen employees have their own farms, and so the Trefethen family works out a schedule for these couple of employees to be given time off when they need it. One of them owns an agave farm in Tequila, Mexico, and Lorenzo said that if one thinks wine vineyard owners were cash poor then it is even worse for agave farmers who can only harvest every 7 years.

Putting People First

The older I get and the more people I meet from various walks of life, I find that there are many exceptions on many sides when it comes to generalizations, almost so much so that generalizations no longer work. When we are fighting for the rights of those being marginalized, we can get carried away by emotions and well-intended words and actions gone wrong – sweeping those people who are implementing the positive changes that we are fighting for under the same dirty rug as those who are exploiting people, which is just fighting unjust actions with more unjust actions. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that these revolutions were important for real change and César Chávez and Dolores Huerta created change that improved conditions for over 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. But after each fight, when the smoke clears, we need to reexamine the facts of the multitude of businesses in each sector.

If we are battling for an open minded world then there needs to be a deeper understanding on both sides and a more measured approached when it comes to throwing around inflammatory accusations to whole industries or regions as there may be some very good people caught in the crossfire. I am very happy that the Trefethen family was able to survive those times and continued their philosophy that one cannot have a sustainability program if people don’t come first – a great reminder that one cannot lead a true revolution for people if all of them are not considered.

***Top Photo captures scene of one of the East Village, NYC, squatter evictions in 1996 Photo Credit: John Penley via the NYU Tamiment Library

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Trefethen Wines Tasted at Seminar on February 5th, 2018

100% of all grapes are sourced from Trefethen’s vineyards in Oak Knoll District AVA in Napa Valley.

Because Oak Knoll District AVA is in the lower part of Napa Valley, they get the same fog that San Francisco gets, creating a cooler climate. Their wines are known for the incredible vitality and bright acidity that makes them age-worthy as proven by this vertical.

The photo of these two maps of Main Ranch, 1968 on the left and 2018 on the right, shows the major progress that Trefethen has made through the years. Their Director of Viticulture, Jon Ruel, has segmented the vineyard into five dozen different ‘gardens’ delineated by variety, soil type, trellising system and irrigation regimen. As a result, Trefethen now farms 63 distinct vineyard blocks, encompassing nine different grape varieties (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Viognier), 10 different types of rootstock, and 49 different clones (genetic variations of a grape variety), including 13 of Chardonnay and 10 of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Many past vineyard owners in Napa Valley would plant walnut trees where a bunch of vines died, not having the knowledge about viticulture they have today, and so Trefethen has kept some of these walnut trees and shared a bag with each of us.

Riesling-

2016 Dry Riesling (tasted before the seminar began): Trefethen has been making Riesling since 1974 and although their cooler area in the Oak Knoll District AVA in Napa Valley retains the bright acidity, they still get enough ripeness to make it a dry style. The 2016 had zingy notes of lemon peel balanced with richer notes of pear drop that finished with chalky minerality.

Varietal: 100% Riesling

Harvest: August 25-September 8

Residual Sugar: 5.0 grams/L (Dry)

Alcohol: 12.5%

1988 Dry Riesling: This was the first wine of the seminar tasting. Janet Trefethen and her son Lorenzo wanted to show us how well their Riesling wines age with the 1988 which had more flinty minerality, white flowers and honey covered apple slice notes.

Varietal: 100% Riesling

Harvest: September 1-23

Residual Sugar: 5.5 grams/L (Dry)

Alcohol: 12%

-Chardonnay-

Trefethen has always gone light on the MLF and new oak treatment creating Chardonnay wines that are mainly vessels for expressing the vineyards.

1977 Chardonnay: Gold color with hints of caramel, wet stones and a touch of white pepper on the finish that offers lots of vitality and energy along the palate.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Oak: 64% for 3 months

Barrel Fermentation: 0%

MLF: 0%

Alcohol: 13.4%

1985 Chardonnay (Library Selection): More golden in color than the 1977 with rich flavors and body that gave lush sultanas and apple pie that lifts on the finish with cinnamon spice.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: August 28-September 25

Oak: 52% for 8 months in French

Barrel Fermentation: 0%

MLF: 0%

Alcohol: 13%

1991 Chardonnay (Library Selection): Exotically enticing with mango and pineapple with a quince-y kick that had an energetic, long finish.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: September 30-October 18

Oak: 72% for 5 months in French

Barrel Fermentation: 1%

MLF: 0%

Alcohol: 13%

2005 Chardonnay: Citrus tang with pretty orange blossoms on a lean body that evolved with dried flowers as time went on.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: September 8-October 7

Oak: 78% for 9 months in French

Barrel Fermentation: 78%

MLF: 21%

Alcohol: 13.8%

2011 Chardonnay: Grapefruit with lime zest and marked acidity that had an edgy tension.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: September 26-October 12

Oak: 9 months in (19% new) 85% French, 15% Hungarian

Barrel Fermentation: 89% & MLF: 17%

Alcohol: 13.5%

2016 Chardonnay (Released on 50th Anniversary): Lots of perfume with key lime pie flavors with a mouthwatering finish.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: August 17-September 17

Oak: 9 months in (19% new) French

Barrel Fermentation: 69%

MLF: 8%

Alcohol: 13.4%

-Cabernet Sauvignon-

1979 Cabernet Sauvignon (Library Selection): Fresh autumn leaves, dried thyme, violets with still a sense of fresh black fruit that was all wrapped up with fine tannins.

Varietal: 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot

Harvest: Mid October

Oak: 12 months in American

Alcohol: 13.3%

 1986 Cabernet Sauvignon: BBQ, grilled vegetables and black currant jam that had a broad body with a volcanic ash finish.

Varietal: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot

Harvest: September 4-October 1

Oak: 12 months in 59% American, 41% French

Alcohol: 13%

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon: Complex beauty with cumin seeds, sweet tobacco leaf and black raspberry that is harmonious with well-integrated tannins that gave a silky texture.

Varietal: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot

Harvest: October 12-23

Oak: 16 months in (55% new) 88% French, 12% American

Alcohol: 14%

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: Bright red cherries give this wine an immediate freshness and on the nose it was singing with baking spice and intense minerality. Although full-bodied and loaded with fruit, there was a graceful quality that was created by the aromatically pristine..

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If someone had told me that one of the events I was most grateful for was the one where my life came crumbling down around me, I would have thought they were crazy. When we are kids and think of a “successful adult life,” it usually include a person having all the boxes checked with a professional job, a nice house, pressed clothes and respect from one’s community; I knew that a “successful life” in the traditional sense was not possible for me, but one thing that always held a deep importance was to be in a monogamous relationship with someone to share my life. The house, kids, nice clothes and professional job meant very little to me as I was happy just getting by while pursuing my passions and tapping into my maternal feelings by taking care of those around me. But for some reason, I couldn’t feel completely fulfilled without experiencing the love of sharing my life with someone. Then, at the age of 23, I married someone I had only known for a couple months, believing in the power of love guiding us through our lives, but it ended only a few years later when he told me that he had had an affair.

The Pain of Revelation 

Since we barely knew each other to begin with, I understand that many would not consider my “first marriage” as a real one. But I took it very seriously and devoted myself to being the best wife/partner that I could be… perhaps going too far because I deeply felt within my heart that I was not worthy of love. I have to guess that that is one of the reasons why I chose someone who was obviously selfish, detached and only interested in his own satisfaction. Looking back, I remember him telling me such things about himself when we first met but, because of my issues that I was fully unaware of at the time, I did not want to believe him. The pain of having to face my mistakes and feeling like I was a broken human being was unbearable for a time… the only way I got through it was to focus on other people and try to think very little about myself.

2014 Amarone della Valpolicella

In many ways, my pain during that time in my life was based on the idea that I thought I was a failure and that I had very little hope for a happy future. But once I started to talk to kind-hearted, wise people about what had happened (which I didn’t do until many years later because I was so overcome with shame) I realized that I had an opportunity to learn and grow from that dark time in my life and gain skills that have helped me with many intense challenges since then.

It is the same with certain wine vintages, such as the 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella that caused a great deal of grief and stress for the producers in Valpolicella, Italy. It was an atypical season with ill-timed, heavy rain that caused problems with downy and powdery mildew, and Botrytis (rot) – some areas more affected than others. The lower temperatures and lack of sun caused a slowdown in ripening that created wines that are generally intensely aromatic, lighter on the palate, and have firmer tannins and higher acidity.

Amarone della Valpolicella wines are known for their lush body, ripe fruit and softer acidity, and so, this vintage has come as a shock to many and some were dooming the wines before they even tasted them. It is also difficult for producers to place tons of enthusiasm behind their 2014 Amarone wines since it was a vintage that took years off their life and forced many to make smaller quantities than normal since strict selection of the bunches was of paramount importance.

Vintages that make a Better Future

At Anteprima Amarone, also the celebration for the 50th Anniversary of the Valpolicella appellation, in Verona, Italy, my head was filled with so much negative gossip from others about the 2014 vintage, which would be showcased with a silent tasting of 43 different producers, that I felt these wines were doomed before anyone would give them a chance. And it made me think of that time when I thought I was worthless, broken, humiliated, and although some people were filled with kind words after finding out what I had been through, there were others who have been very judgmental of my past of being married once before, cheated on and divorced, even though I did not take a penny and I just wanted to be given the opportunity for another shot at a happy life, still the stigma is still there.

I know now that going through such a traumatic experience made me stronger, kinder and a much better person all around… I knew what I needed to do for the 2014 vintage, what those compassionate people did for me in my time of need… have an open mind.

Despite some of the wines still needing time to allow the tannins to mellow and the flavors to open, I was utterly surprised that there were many wines showing so well early in their development. It seemed that Amarone producers either decided to employ less days of drying the grape bunches (drying can range from 90 to 120 days), shorter maceration to create an ethereal Amarone that was aromatically enticing and leaner on the palate, or others added more weight, fruit and structure by allowing the grape bunches to dry longer and macerate longer, producing a rich wine that had firmer tannins, more body yet the aromatic complexity was still in many of these versions as well.

When I think back to that 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella tasting, sitting there tasting in silence from 9am-12pm, I could not believe how much I was enjoying those wines. There are a few that sent me to the moon because, although they were fragile and delicate, they were still powerfully aromatic and had a long, uplifting finish. These wines were like me at my darkest times… fragile with a bright heart… and these wines showed that Amarone is so much more than just the richness in its body and the overabundance of fruit. In a tough year, Amarone showed the depth of its soul and that there is so much more within its aromatic profile than many tasters could appreciate in riper years. It seems this vintage has informed the producers of how they can illustrate the pretty aspects of 2014 in warmer years.

I am happy that there were a few people who did not give up on me many years ago, and showed me that I was much more worthy than I had thought; and I am happy that the lesson of waiting to experience something first, before laying down judgment, has continually filled my life with joy and never ending excitement.

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Forty-Three Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG wines from 2014 Vintage Tasted February 3rd, 2018 at Anteprima Amarone 50° Palazzo della Gran Guardia in Verona, Italy:

The following two wines were really singing in the moment. The Bertani, Valpantena, showed that it was possible to add some body and flavor by either picking the ripest fruit and/or allowing the grapes to dry longer before fermentation; the Scriani, a producer I was unfamiliar with, was just breathtaking in its power of aromatics and elegance that showed how Amarone can still be intensely complex while being delicate. The Scriani seemed to have less ripeness and/or grapes that were less concentrated perhaps by a short drying period – I don’t know at this point, but it was a real pleasure and shows how Amarone della Valpolicella is so much more than its lush body and higher alcohol, it is a wine that has such complexity, that if you take the high alcohol and lush body away, it will still knock you off your feet when done well.

-Bertani, Valpantena: The nose was a knockout with cherry blossom, crumbly limestone and a juicy body with fine tannic structure and lots of flesh along the flavorful finish.

-Scriani, Classico: This wine simply blew me away with its incredible finesse and elegance. Cherry blossoms and sweet spice laced with limestone minerality; seamless integration of tannins, not so easy for the 2014 vintage, which had stunning precision on the long, expressive finish. It was exciting to see a small producer in the traditional “Classico” area of Valpolicella do so well in such a tough vintage. Honestly, I haven’t paid much attention to this producer in the past, but I will be on the lookout for Scriani wines in the future.

 These next producers were also singing and I was pleasantly surprised to see wines already giving so much pleasure.

-Bennati: Another beauty that showed great expression of floral bouquets – lots of floral notes in 2014s – and strawberry preserves with good mid-palate weight and sustained finish.

-Bottega (Il Vino degli Del): Chalky rocks on the nose with tart cranberry fruit on the palate that had an energetic yet warming quality.

-Ca’ Rugate (Punta Tolotti): A playful nose of toasted cardamom seeds, Madagascar vanilla, cocoa dusted cherries with a well balanced, full body with bright acidity.

-Giuseppe Campagnola (Vigneti Vallata di Marano), Classico: This wine had lots of structure but I thought those firm tannins were offset by juicy fruit and off the charts complexity, with cigar smoke and smoldering earth.

-F.lli Degani, Classico: Pretty, pretty nose with a bouquet of flowers, nice amount of flesh and fruit on the palate with delicious bbq spice hints on the finish.

 -I Tamasotti: Smoky, smoky wine… and I have to admit I have a weakness for smoky wines. Cigar box, sweet tobacco leaf with black raspberries and charred oak on the finish.

-Le Bignele – Aldrighetti Luigi Angelo e Nicola, Classic: Only a slightly high-toned quality with very lovely and lifted flavors of orange rind, wet stones and raspberry sorbet and had good length.

-Massimago (Conte Gastone): Fruitcake with cedar box, roasted cashews with a nice energy from the acidity and long length that had a smoky minerality.

-Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine (Villa Borghetti), Classico: Vanilla bean with candied cherries and cloves with a sustained length of flavor.

-Recchia (Masua di Jago), Classico: Chocolate dusted ripe strawberries with lemon confit and a long, impressive finish that was bright while still remaining juicy and concentrated.

-Sartori: Savory at first with Mediterranean herbs and wild scrub that evolved into sweeter herbs like tarragon and jam fruit flavors on the palate that had a flavorful, warming finish.

 -Vigneti di Ettore, Classico: This wine had an overall finesse and elegance that I immediately loved and it just seemed to be singing in that moment with cumin seeds, lily of the valley, rose water and raspberry scone. Its aromas wafted around my head for several minutes after my first taste.

-Zonin: Nose was enticing with espresso, mint and pristine fruit with a long floral finish. A wine that is lighter on the palate than typical Amarone yet it is aromatically powerful.

-Montresor, Capitel della Crosara,Classico: This wine was added to the roster at the last minute since one of the other producers pulled out. I’m happy this one had the opportunity because I really enjoyed it. This wine was just completely balanced, and at this youthful age, that is saying a lot… aromatically enticing nose with rose petals and cherry liqueur with a generously round palate that had fun hints of asphalt and rosemary oil.

The following wines I think either needed more time and/or decanting. But there was exciting promise when it came to the fascinating aromas and flavors some of these beauties were already showing.

-Accordini Stefano (Acinatico) Classico: A very savory nose with dusty earth, dried herbs, slight grip on palate, good acidity, light in mid-palate.

-Albino Armani, Classico: I really liked the mineral edge to this wine, fresh blackberries, still seemed tight and needed more time to evolve.

-Antiche Terre Venete: Round on the palate yet some extraction on the finish with an interesting nose of intermixed volcanic ash and wild flowers.

-Cantina di Soave (Rocca Sveva), Riserva: Intense chocolate and vanilla notes with stewed fruit and finished with fierce structure.

-Cantina Valpantena Verona (Torre del Falasco): Bright crunchy red fruit with fresh sage and lit cedar embers with lift of marked acidity at the end.

-Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, Classico: A heightened minty quality with grilled thyme and balsamic notes were intriguing on the nose but body needs more time.

-Cesari, Classico: A wild nose of forest floor and new leather but needs time for the grippy tannins to resolve themselves.

-Collis-Riondo (Castelforte): Sweet and savory, the overall quality had a moderate amount of weight, integrated tannins, and I felt would need more time to show its full potential.

-Collis-Riondo (Calesan): I really like the consistent floral and volcanic ash quality I was getting on many of these wines when I smelled them and this one was a good example… actually the body was juicy and I thought the structure was seamless as this young age but I feel it will give a lot more in time.

-Corte Archi, Classico: High-toned that is mainly giving bright red fruit and balsamic flavors that is still tight in its expression.

-Corte Lonardi, Classico: Peppermint and blackberry with chewy tannins.

 -Corte Sant’ Alda (Adalia): Adalia is the much more approachable wine from the certified biodynamic Corte Sant’ Alda which is still evident in this vintage. They did not make one under their Corte Sant’ Alda label since it is already a structured wine with savory qualities and so they thought its style would not do well this year. This 2014 Adalia has sweet lingonberry compote that has that great Corte Sant’ Alda vitality with fresh acidity on the palate. I still feel like it has so much more to give.

-Corte Scaletta: High-toned nose with spearmint and cilantro with a tight body that needs more time.

-Fasoli Gino (Alteo): High-toned nose that was balanced by cherry pie flavors.

-Gamba (Le Quare), Classico: This wine seemed a little closed on the nose with notes of tar and earth but was more open on the broad palate with rich blackberry fruit.

-Ilatium (Campo Leon): High-toned nose with sour cherries, tar, ash and black pepper with a lean body.

-Le Guaite di Noemi: High-toned nose with eucalyptus and mesquite with some firm tannins on a linear palate.

-Monteci, Classico: Wild brambly quality that I did like, that seemed to be still closed on the body and needs time. I did sense an underlying mineral quality but want more.

-Montezovo: Grilled figs and dried red currants with a clean finish.

-San Cassiano: High-toned with stewed red cherries and violets that had a nimble, light body with lots of energy.

-Santa Sofia (Antichello) Classico: High-toned nose with pine, moss and wild raspberry with a very firm palate that needs more time to open.

-Secondo Marco, Classico: High-toned nose with freshly picked white cherries, cinnamon spice and fennel seeds that were tight on the palate.

-Tenute Falezza: Slightly high-toned nose with black cherry, balsamic herbs and hint of licorice.

-Villa Canestrari (1888), Riserva: High-toned nose with basil and dried oregano that had big shoulders on the palate that still needed time to open.

-Villa San Carlo: Dried flowers, Morello cherry and warming alcohol.

-Villa Spinosa, Classico: Tightly wound with some blackberry, spice and textual complexity showing at this time but needs to evolve to show its full potential.

-Zanoni Pietro (Zovo): I could tell this wine had a nice freshness and energy yet it seemed closed at this stage… I could sense some black fruit, licorice, baking spice and feel the pop of energy on the palate, but I think it needs more time to really sing.

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Like anything else, the best and worse thing about the wine world is the people. I remember many years ago when I was in a meditation class… trying so hard to let go of the agitation in my mind… and then hearing the teacher say that the number one thing that causes discord in our thoughts are our past interactions with other people. It is a lesson that I still struggle with at times – some group dynamics take so much energy just to find a sense of peace.

Disunity

On its surface, the wine world is one where we see many pictures of people drinking together, laughing, smiling, having fun… and yes, that is definitely a big part of it. But there is another side… a darker, more competitive side where some have made it a beverage of the elite – a drink that differentiates the educated, sophisticated people from the “others.” Personally, this is something that I have never believed, and as time goes on, I can confirm that this is an illusion. As someone who has worked with wine for a long time, I have run into those who got into wine because it is a true passion and those who are into wine to prove something. I always find that the people, no matter their income, background or ancestry, who are constantly making things all about them, or use superficial, divisive labels, to be the kind of people who will drain your energy.

A while ago, a winemaker told me that he believed that one should pair wines with the quality of the people… when you are with nice, generous people you break out your favorite wines; when you don’t have a group such as the aforementioned, then you certainly don’t pour libations precious to you. It is easy to find a small group of people that you feel are truly cut from the same cloth in one’s personal life, but when you work with wine, such as I do, a business that requires a certain amount of social interaction, you can’t always pick who you share wines with. Sometimes I find I have to expend a lot of energy to not allow a negative presence to ruin a tasting of wines that deserve a better atmosphere.

Tyler Thomas

Luckily, my last wine lunch of 2017 was with an ideal group of wine people. They were people who were there to learn from each other, to share their experiences while being open to others, who were filled with gratitude, warmth and a zest for learning and growing. At the head of this table was the winemaker for Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards, Tyler Thomas, who had an inspiring curiosity and openness to life. Tyler loves to learn as his background, which includes doing graduate work for UC Davis in vine physiology, would indicate. His university work gave his wife and him a chance to travel around Europe where he took advantage of picking the brains of various winemakers, as well as tasted as much as he could. He would return back to California to Hyde de Villaine (HdV) where he held his first wine job and continued to learn from the winemaker there.

Since Tyler was a “plant guy,” his focus has been on vineyard driven wines. After his time spent at HdV as the assistant winemaker, he was able to become the winemaker at Donelan Family Wines, in Sonoma, helping to achieve more expression of the land with less winemaking intervention; evoking site became his trademark.

Throughout his time in California, Tyler has always had an affinity for the Central Coast as his first full-time harvest internship was there, and the desire to find the “sense of place” in this recently emerging wine area never left him. In 2013, he was given the opportunity to help create the legacy that Jim and Mary Dierberg wanted to start with their Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards, in Santa Barbara’s cool coastal valleys.

Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards

Jim and Mary Dierberg’s deep passion for wine was evident starting in 1974, when they purchased Missouri’s Hermannhof Winery, originally built in 1852, and began to restore it. This winery was important to them because they originally hail from Missouri (coincidentally, Tyler is from Missouri as well). Then they spent over a decade searching for wine regions around the world – from Napa Valley to Bordeaux – to find the dream property that could express a unique characteristic of place. Once they stepped onto the Star Lane estate in the Happy Canyon region of Santa Barbara County, they knew that they needed to be the stewards that would righteously protect and nourish that special land.

Jim and Mary’s commitment to investing in a site that they knew could convey greatness went beyond the vineyards… they bought state-of-the-art equipment that would be used to experiment with assorted lots to narrow down those techniques that hindered, or enhanced, a particular site. They have even designed a 250-year plan for the winery, which includes holding back a library where there are 250 different vintage slots already built for these future wines.

Learning about Tyler and spending some time with him made it clear why he was the ideal person to become their winemaker, and visa versa – why he was drawn to devote his work to this winery. At one point, he talked about Aubert de Villaine, co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (considered by some as the greatest wines in the world), who is also involved in HdV where Tyler use to work, and the continuing deep philosophical conversations he has with him. Sometimes when someone mentions a famous person in the wine world at a wine work function, there can be weirdness… there are those that will just be obsessed with jealousy that someone got the chance to meet someone that they are dying to meet… but not at this lunch. All of us were fascinated to deepen our own understanding about wine from his story because that was precisely the reason he was telling it; his teachings were beautifully illustrated in the Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards wines.

Harmony

It was such a nice experience to be at that lunch with Tyler and to taste his wines; not only because these beauties truly showed why everyone should be paying some serious attention to the Central Coast in California, but because it seemed that everyone felt welcomed and uplifted, and so the best came out in all of us. When I saw how enchanting the wines were, I said to myself that they were the perfect wines to have with such a group. This wine lunch, on the cusp of 2018, cemented in me the idea that I needed to try to make sure that I’m around more people in the wine world like I experienced that day… those who are there to share and learn while drinking the wines that pair so perfectly with such company.

**Photo Credit of above picture with Jim and Mary Dierberg: Star Lane Vineyard website

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Tasting of Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards on December 7th, 2017

 Side Notes: Santa Barbara County has east-west orientation of the coastal mountains that form valleys that open directly to the Pacific Ocean. This aspect of Santa Barbara helps the flow of fog and ocean breezes which creates cooler microclimates. There are six official appellations: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and the Sta. Rita Hills.

Dierberg Vineyard

2014 Dierberg Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley (SRP $32): 100% Chardonnay. 14 months in 15% new French oak (400L casks). Interestingly, the 2014 has 0% MLF (it did not go through any malolactic fermentation) since Tyler wanted to maintain the acidity since it was a warmer vintage. There is a zesty quality of citrus peel with fennel fronds on the nose with richer tropical fruits on the palate, and Tyler’s much wanted tension and minerality is displayed on the finish. 2,837 cases produced.

-2015 Dierberg Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley (SPR $35): 100% Chardonnay. 14 months in 20% new French oak (400L casks). 2014 and 2015 show an underlying similarity of sense of place with a character of lush fruit and a backbone of freshness and acidity. The 2015 went through 70% MLF because the acidity was so high that it distracted from the balance and expression of site. Juicy peach flavors with sweet spice.

2014 Dierberg Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley (SRP $44): 100% Pinot Noir. 14 months in 20% new French oak barrels. Tyler included 25% of the stems, and less new oak than normal, to give the wine more texture and bring out the dark cherry qualities which he is starting to associate with this property. The cherry definitely jumped out with spice and enticing floral notes… the structured body helps to carry the wine along its sustained finish. 1,998 cases produced.

2014 Dierberg Vineyard, Pinot Noir from the Drum Canyon Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills (SRP $52): 100% Pinot Noir. 14 months in 20% new French oak barrels. This is one of the rare properties where it redefines a grape for you, and I will not be forgetting about the Drum Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir, known for its steep hills, anytime soon. A complex body that had lush fruit and fantastic weight with noticeable tannins that were bold yet finely textured; sensational nose with perfume, truffles and lily of the valley wrapping themselves around me as if we were in a tango of aromatics. This wine requires a lot more decanting time than the Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. 772 cases produced.

Star Lane Vineyard

Planted to 200 acres (81 hectares) of Bordelaise varieties, the Star Lane vineyard (link) differentiates itself from other parts of Santa Barbara County by being able to retain more warmth. The vineyard elevation ranges from 750 to 1550 feet (229 to 472 meters) above sea level.

2014 Star Lane Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (SRP $50): 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petite Verdot and 1% Malbec. 22 months in 35% new oak barrels. A California Cab that has concentration and fleshy fruit on the palate yet it has a wonderful tension and structure from acidity and well-manicured tannins that give it energy and an overall uplifting quality. Sweet herbs such as sage and elegant dark fruit.

2013 Star Lane “Star”, Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (SRP $200): 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 34 months in 100% new French oak. This is a special block of their Cabernet in Happy Canyon known as the “home block” from their steepest slopes. This particular block jumped out at Tyler and so they have decided, starting with the 2013, to start bottling this wine separately to give it extra love and care in the cellar. I would have never guessed that this wine was made with 100% new French oak as it seamlessly presented itself in the wine, – Tyler saying that it “soaks it up” because it is an outstanding plot was certainly proven that day. This wine displayed a touch of opulence with cassis flavors that were kept in check with an intense energetic acidity and muscular body that included layers of bay leaves, lavender and smoldering cigar. Tyler said it will have a cellar life of between 18 and 25 years and that it has so much more to give … this wine is not Bordeaux, it is not Napa, it is its own wine, its own place. 60 cases produced.

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There has been a lot of social discussion with regards to the #MeToo movement involving women not only being sexually harassed, but also demeaned in the work place; in some cases, women aren’t given the same opportunities as their male counterparts since they have a lower perceived value. My friend and colleague Julia Coney took this issue to another level by addressing the difficulties of being an African-American woman in the wine appreciation world. It makes me think that perhaps we can never know some people’s full potential because society has never given them that chance.

Lesser Respected Grape Varieties

It is always fascinating to me how our own societal issues reflect themselves in wine. There is no doubt that those noble grape varieties known around the world, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, are capable of greatness, but there are so many that are under the radar. Some varieties have had the good fortune to be recognized by being at the right place at the right time creating a legendary status that others will never reach. As the costs of making wine, as well as the property taxes in certain wine areas, have dramatically increased, placing any serious focus on a variety that will not at least break even monetarily just doesn’t make sense. The fact that most wine consumers are only comfortable paying a high price for a “legitimately sanctioned” variety has already set the destiny for many of the unknown grapes that are capable of making fantastic wines.

A little over a year ago, Kathleen Heitz Myers, President and CEO of Heitz Cellars, said in a Napa Valley wine seminar that they had to decrease the plantings of their Grignolino; although it has a small cult following, they can only charge so much and the property taxes in Napa, as one can imagine, just keep getting higher and higher.

Cabernet Franc

This leads me to Cabernet Franc and the importance of a Cabernet Franc Day, created by Dracaena Wines. Cab Franc is a grape variety that is an important part of many great Bordeaux wines, especially from the Right Bank; for example, it makes up between 50-60% of the blend of Cheval Blanc. It is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, the other parent being Sauvignon Blanc. But, ironically, there are countless people who have never heard of Cabernet Franc, despite its famous child bearing its name Cabernet.

The Loire Valley, in France, has become one of the classic places for Cabernet Franc, but it was not an area that was able to gain prominence when “classic wine regions” for reds were being dictated. Also, the style, which is generally a lighter, less extracted, more aromatically packed, than palate filled one, doesn’t hit you over the head with power and there have been few champions of it that can reach a large audience.

But with social media frenzies like Cabernet Franc Day and struggling wine regions in New York State, such as Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley (yes, I actually said Hudson Valley!), and El Dorado County in California, the variety is starting to be respected by a small group of people, whose number grows each year… as I have researched Cabernet Franc wines globally, I realize that there are all these small pockets around the world growing it.

Potential

Figuring out the potential for an unfamiliar grape variety which has been historically given little investment or support can be extremely tricky, akin to when we think of our own potential, it becomes a question that, for some, never fully gets answered. If we imagine that we were born in a different set of circumstances, whether better off financially, emotionally or culturally, would we have become different people? And would one of those lives have had more opportunities for a successful life?

For me, I think every life has its ups and downs, unfortunately some have more downs than ups, and I don’t think success hits you one day and then you coast for the rest of your life in happiness. One can never take for granted that once their turn has come, it will be up, so as to make room for someone else. And as long as you are rooted in finding joy in doing the work itself as well as staying close to your loved ones and people who share the same ethics, then your path will always have joyful moments during the roller coaster times.

I just hope all of us have at least one fortuitous moment where our great potential is evident… every one deserves to have that chance… and every great Cabernet Franc wine deserves to have its day.

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Wines Tasted on Cabernet Franc Day, December 4th , 2017

2015 Benmarl Winery, Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes, New York: This wine displays everything I love about top quality Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes: a delicately beautiful nose of raspberry fruit, wildflowers and autumn leaves with mouthwatering acidity that gives nice vitality to the body. After being so impressed with this wine and the below Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc (made by the same winemaker Matt Spaccarelli) I looked them up and realized that they have been winning awards and knockin’ peoples’ socks off. Read more about them here on the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess website.

2015 Fjord Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Hudson River Region, New York: I HAD NO IDEA THAT HUDSON WINES COULD BE THIS AMAZING! An incredible concentration of aromas and flavors with sweet cherries, violets and cinnamon with supple tannins – MY GOODNESS IS THIS DELICIOUS!

2013 Vinum Cellars, “The Scrapper”, Cabernet Franc, El Dorado County, California: Kudos to Vinum Cellars, located in Napa, sourcing Cabernet Franc fruit from low yielding vines in the Mountains of El Dorado – only a few hours from Napa Valley. A big, bold wine with a deep ruby color and seductive cassis, hints of dark chocolate and lots of muscle that makes it a serious knockout! I recently discovered El Dorado County during the last Wine Bloggers conference.

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