My name is Melanie Ofenloch and I have a philosophy – no wine snobs allowed. While my profession is marketing communications, my passion is drinking wine. I don’t consider myself a wine expert – just an everyday person with a love for the grape, a few annual Pilgrimages to wine regions and at the end of each year, an ugly Visa summary to prove it.
There has been a lot said about the differences between natural wine and conventionally made wine. A google search of natural wine yields 1,640,000,000 results and several “opportunities” of multi-level marketing companies you can “join” to acquire several of these wines (guys, you have other options). Wine Folly has a great description of what natural wine is — the unfiltered, untamed, un-photoshopped version of what we know to be wine. The un-Instagram version that is.
Seth and Julie
In the past, Dallas has not been a hotbed for cutting-edge wine trends, including natural wines. Seth Brammer, a beverage instructor at El Centro College, and Julie Buckner Lane, managing partner and wine buyer for Bar & Garden, a natural wine shop in Dallas, worked together to change this single-handedly. First, they held a focused trade and media tasting and discussion showing three wines side by side. We tasted three wines produced conventionally with three natural wines. Jeffrey Gregory, most recently the sommelier at The French Room; led a panel discussion with Julie Ga Young King, managing sales consultant for Rootstock Wines; and Cameron Cronin, the service and bar director for Homewood Restaurant.
A little background before the discussion and tasting …. Natural wine—from the vineyard to the barrel to bottling and cellaring—is made without chemical intervention and with the bare minimum of manipulation. As the panel members stated, “it’s fermented grape juice.” How basic is that and why is this such a polarizing topic? Part of it is the lack of U.S. standards – there is no legal classification or regulated standard or overall process.
But here’s where it gets tricky. “Non-intervention” doesn’t mean nothing touches the wine. And this is where the misunderstanding occurs.
Julie said, “To me, natural wine is honest. It is an expression of time, place and atmosphere.”
Julie Ga Young King agreed with her adding, “To me, there are no additions in the winery. It’s a purity of the wine and place. It must be organic at a minimum.”
Think about natural wine like truly natural produce. It’s not going to be flawless. These wines are unmanipulated. They may be cloudy and unfiltered.
And then there are some wines that are on the other end of the spectrum. Before I begin, there are wonderful wines that are made conventionally that do not contain any of these substances – do not lump them into this category. However, there are others that have added preservatives; engineered yeast strains; or super-concentrates that are used to correct a wine’s color, mouthfeel and flavor. If your wine tastes exactly the same year after year after year and you buy it on a grocery shelf, there’s a probability it contains additive and treating materials. And these wines don’t have to label the chemicals that they use as long as they are on the two-page long approved FDA list.
I really liked the three natural wines that we tried, and you could taste the vibrancy, expression, aromas and flavors as compared to the conventional wines. They were almost “wild” in flavor as opposed to the muted wines next to them.
Cameron said it best, “These wines have complexity and versatility that work with the experimental pairings that chefs are bringing to the table. These dishes need unconventional wines to bring out a true Unami experience to match acidity and intensity.”
Part two of this event was Dallas’ first natural wine pop-up event, Skin Contact: A Pop-Up Natural Wine Bar, held in the Bishop Arts district on the patio at The Wild Detectives bookstore, over three days.
Me and Penny Sadler, Adventures of a Carry On
Elle from The Modern Pour (all the way from LA) and me
In addition to the natural wine, which featured 12 natural wines by the glass, Seth partnered with Chef Josh Sutcliff, formerly of Mirador, and a number of local farms to pair special dishes to accompany the wine. Profound Microfarms, Cartermere Farms, and Texas Fungus supplied ingredients for the menu. We had the chicken, but heard great things about the lamb tacos that weren’t quite ready during our visit.
If you missed the pop-up event, Bar & Garden is your place to find natural wines and has free Saturday tastings. I’ve found they have the best selection in town. Seth told me he’s excited about the success of this event and is definitely ready to plan more of these in the future.
Dan Panella, Oak Farm Vineyards, Rodney Schatz of Peltier Winery and Vineyards and Sue Tipton of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards
Lodi is the self-proclaimed Zinfandel capital of the world, producing more than 32 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel. It is known for diversity – there is a greater variety of wine grapes grown in Lodi than any other region of California with more than 125 in production. What I love about the region is that every time I sit down with winemakers, I get another angle to what makes this region unique. During my recent Lodi lunch in Dallas, at Gemma Restaurant, it was about family.
It’s the multi-generation of families that grow the grapes and still do business on a handshake. Many of these families, over time, have decided that they wanted to shift from grape growers to wine makers. It’s the sons and daughters still working side by side their fathers and grandfathers to make the best wine that they can. And then, it’s about the succession plan of turning over the business when it’s time. You don’t hear about the big conglomerates buying wineries in Lodi. They don’t appear to be for sale.
If you haven’t visited Lodi yet, it’s an easy trip. Lodi wine country is located about 90 miles east of San Francisco, just beyond the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta. It lies 40 miles south of Sacramento and borders the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range with 110,000 acres of grapes planted and 750 growers. Top varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Merlot but don’t be surprised to find Albariño, Tempranillo, Verdelho, Sangiovese, Viognier, Carignan and Syrah. In 1986, the federal government recognized the Lodi American Viticultural Area and in 2005, the seven sub-AVAs in Lodi. Those sub-AVAs are: Cosumnes River, Alta Mesa, Sloughhouse, Borden Ranch, Jahant, Mokelumne River and Hills and they include more than 85 wineries.
I’ve written a lot about Lodi in the past when I’ve visited the region and then attended a few seminars in Dallas. This April, LoCA, the Lodi Winegrape Commission, brought together six wineries for a press lunch to celebrate the diversity, history and multi-generational winegrowing of the region. We met with several pioneers of the industry including Brad Lange, Owner of LangeTwins; Steve Felten, Owner of Klinker Brick; Owner David Phillips of Michael David Winery; Winemaker Dan Panella of Oak Farm Vineyards; Rodney Schatz of Peltier Winery and Vineyards and Sue Tipton of Acquiesce Winery and Vineyards. The wineries were here for the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival, but met with us at Gemma Restaurant to tell their unique stories and showcase the diverse offerings of Lodi.
I was excited to be seated next to Sue Tipton, who only makes small production premium white and rosé Rhône varietals. Her wines are gorgeous, and she makes Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc, Belle Blanc (a white blend) and Grenache Rosé that are sourced directly from Château de Beaucastel of Châteauneuf du Pape and they are stunning. Sue planted the Belle Blanc because she fell in love with white Châteauneuf du Pape and couldn’t find it in California. Why not plant it herself so she could actually find and drink more of it? That’s an attitude you find in Lodi!
I also sat next to Rodney Schatz of Peltier Winery and we talked about everything under the sun including what makes Lodi unique. He’s third generation along with his wife, Gayla, and clearly has been an ambassador for the region for a long time.
As we tasted through a diverse portfolio of wines that showcased so many different grapes from families that helped to make Lodi what it is today, passion and perseverance continued to shine through in every story. These families all take care of the people, land and water. There are 23,850 acres that are certified green in the Lodi AVA under The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. The mix of pioneers in the room who made Lodi what it is today, along with the new winemakers like Sue who are taking a completely different approach make me adore Lodi. With Lodi, you can stake your unique position and be embraced for doing so.
San Diego Wine Country – It’s a juxtaposition of the first wine region in America. It’s a bit Wild West. A bit mad scientist lab. A bit of a pioneering community. It’s exciting and unexpected. It’s underrated and in desperate need of branding. Finally, it’s one of the most interesting regions that I’ve explored in the United States in recent years.
I scratched the surface the end of last year when Tina Morey, the founder of Wine Studio, introduced us to the region and several winemakers. Read more here. I was really impressed with the wines from the three wineries we tried, and I wanted to meet the winemakers.
The gang, our driver, Robert, Wine Xplorer, Peter Clark, Altipiano
Each year, I have a girl’s trip and this year we happened to choose San Diego. I asked my friends to trust me (after a few side looks they did) and let me plan a day of wine. This is a region full of boutique wineries where you are likely to encounter the owner during your stop. It is a people helping people type of culture where the passionate winemakers are laser focused on making the best wine they can and putting San Diego on the national stage.
Today there are 115 wineries in San Diego County and three AVAs, which are the size of the combined states of Rhode Island and Delaware. The largest of these AVAs – South Coast, stretches from Malibu down to the Mexican border which includes San Diego. There is also the San Pasqual Valley AVA, established in 1981 and one of the oldest in the nation, which covers 9,000 acres on the banks of the San Dieguito River near Escondido. The final is the Ramona Valley AVA, established in 2006, covering 89,000 acres surrounding the town of Ramona.
And the varietals are not what you expect to see – more than 60 different ones due to the varied topography of the regions with coastlines and canyons, mesas and mountains, and different microclimates. Grapes grow at sea level up to 4,200 feet and the climate is Mediterranean. France’s Rhone varietals (Syrah, Petite Sirah, Marsanne, Roussanne) as well as Southern Italian varieties (Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Barbera) are likely to be found. But you’ll also find Chardonnay, Viognier, Rosés and Sauvignon Blanc.
Peter and Denise Clarke, Altipiano Vineyard and Winery
We started at Altipiano Vineyard and Winery where we met with Owners Peter and Denise Clarke. The property originally started out as an avocado grove, but a wildfire gave them the chance to reevaluate its second chapter. At that time, they took a vineyard management course.
The winery was established in 1997, after years of talking about how the grapevines would go perfectly with the architecture they had envisioned. They had always dreamed of having a vineyard and had a love for Italian wines after touring Venice and Southern Tuscany.
While they hired a professional winemaker in the early days, I loved the story about how Denise decided that she was going to take early retirement to learn the business and become the winemaker. “Wine doesn’t wait, she said. I was in a suit and stilettos after work trying to work on punch downs.”
Fast forward and Denise starting winning awards at wine competitions, and the Clarke’s knew they were on the right path. Also hearing how proud Peter is of his wife and her winemaking skills was so fun to watch as he just gushed about her talent.
Denise also talked about how the winemakers in the community, too many to name, banded together to help her when she was learning the business. It illustrated the entrepreneurial spirit and passion evident in the region. “I am not classically trained. I just had to take advice, I didn’t have the luxury of making errors,” she said.
She also talked about why they choose mostly Italian varietals. Peter had never enjoyed reds until they took a trip to Italy and he fell in love with Brunello wines. He is also instrumental of the song pairings you’ll find for each wine. Both Denise and Peter believe music is important to the “rhythm of wine.” She listens to music when making wine – from classical to Bruno Mars. Clearly this is also reflected in the name – literally translated to The Music of Wine.
We tried a variety of the Altipiano wines and every one of us went home with a shipment. These are delicious wines with a great backstory about a woman who gave up corporate America and reinvented herself as a successful winemaker.
We had a brief stop at Domaine Artefact, which was established in 2007 after owners Lynn LaChapelle and Mark Robinson took a trip to Provence and fell in love with wine. Mark had a dream of becoming a winemaker and they found a 30-acre parcel in the Highland Valley area, near the San Pasqual Agricultural Preserve. They planted in 2010 and decided to focus on Rhone varietals. The first harvest was in 2013 and the winery was opened in 2015.
We sat outside on a gorgeous sunny day and watched the winery dogs greet the guests and learned about the hospitality center, kitchen and guest suites that were under construction.
We then went to the Sans V Tasting room, which has the Stehleon and Vesper wines. We met Stehleon Winemaker Alysha Stehly and Vesper Winemaker Chris Broomell, a husband and wife team and their adorable son, Cole. Chris is the winemaker for Vesper and Alysa, who went through her formal education at UC Davis, is the enologist, and they work together to express the individual vineyard in each wine.
While they grew up a half a mile away, they had alter egos in high school. She was the good girl, he was the bad one. After he went into winemaking in Santa Barbara and a teacher asked if he knew her because she was going to UC Davis, he shot her a note on Facebook and a relationship was born.
As one of the classically trained female winemakers in the region, Alysha’s name kept surfacing as I went to the different wineries. Even though she has quite a full plate with several wineries, a husband and a toddler, she is dedicated to mentoring and helping the community around her thrive. In fact, the two make wines for four wineries and don’t seem to miss a beat.
Vesper Vineyards started in 2008 with a simple goal of putting San Diego on the map in California as a great wine region. The founders both grew up in a family of farmers and decided to make the journey into wine. Stehleon Vineyards wines come from fruit from small, custom vineyards that are pruned and harvested by hand.
The Sans V Tasting Room is in an industrial district and considered an urban winery and tasting room, but it needs to be on your list. Five wineries share this 10,000 square-foot space and you can taste a wide variety of wines, pick up a keg of wine or fill up a growler of wine. The wines are really good, and we were bummed to find out we couldn’t ship to Texas. Hoping that will be rectified soon as I have some orders I’d like filled.
Alysha talked about the climate of San Diego. “It’s a crazy place. The microclimates vary and there is no neighbor to go to,” she said. She talked about how Vesper was the 54th winery to be licensed and today there are 120 wineries licensed.
Our final stop was Charlie & Echo Winery, an urban winery in San Diego producing unique, craft sparkling, red, white and rosé wine from local vineyards. They use natural fermentation and minimal intervention. I had the chance to meet with Owner Clara Van Drunen and Owner and Winemaker Eric Van Drunen and taste through a line-up that I’d describe as experimental, innovative, risk taking, a little Mad Scientist and a whole lot of fun. Everything from fizzy hopped rose to Pet Nat to “Project X,” a monthly release using one ingredient that the winery, 4 breweries and the sake brewer that reside in the same complex all participate and brainstorm what’s next.
The name Charlie & Echo comes from Clara’s former 21-year career of working in defense roles in embassies around the globe for the Air Force. The winery is the only certified organic winery and is focused on making great wines while breaking the mold of tradition.
Eric’s first career was in academic physics and he knew he liked experimentation. He knew he could bridge that curiosity to wine and Charlie & Echo was born. Looking at the description on the tasting sheet, this winery definitely lives up to making “unique craft wine.”
While there were many things about San Diego that I loved, finding transportation was a challenge. Luckily, Denise gave me the name of the most amazing transportation company and I want to make sure you have this recommendation for your next trip.
Roberto Avila the owner of Wine Xplorer picked us up and served as the consummate host. In his former career, he served as General Manager for some of the best restaurants in San Diego and knows the city like the back of his hand. Just check out the lunch that he brought for us – he’s amazing! Find him here.
After my #winestudio session, I wrote this quote. And after visiting, it still holds true. “I love the region’s exploration, innovation and the willingness to experiment. It’s a burgeoning culture, a bit of the Wild West with the confidence of being America’s first wine region with an understanding there is a freedom to take a chance.”
The winemakers in the room had a combined 100 years of experience. All with different perspectives on how to farm, manage their vineyards and on their winemaking techniques. But they shared a bond and passion for Santa Barbara and a common owner – Jackson Family Wines.
This was the third Jackson Family Winemaker education session that I’ve attended, and I’m always struck by the comradery. When Jackson Family Wines acquires these vineyards, they actually infuse resources and let them keep on keeping on. That is a quality I respect especially after reading the news this week about Gallo shutting down the Ravenswood tasting room and the worst case implications of what could happen when a conglomerate acquires a boutique winery.
Randy Ullom from Kendall-Jackson and Julia Jackson from Jackson Family Wines
Our panel included Winemakers and Owners – Greg Brewer, of Brewer-Clifton: Jonathan Nagy of Byron; Jill Russell from Cambria; Randy Ullom from Kendall-Jackson; Ryan Pace of Nielson Winery; Adam Lee from Siduri Wines; Julia Jackson from Jackson Family Wines. Gilian Handelman, Jackson Family Wines Vice President of Wine Education, was our moderator. The seminar was entitled “Santa Barbara County, A Marine Derived Paradise for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”
Like all other sessions, the panel started with a beverage that represents the region – this time a toast with Shinerbock. You gotta love localization.
Randy Ullom talked about planting what is right and what is wrong over his 44 years at Kendall Jackson (hint: cab is not good in this region.) He talked about when Jess Jackson entered the wine business more than three decades ago, he wanted to create a family enterprise specializing in handmade wines. When Randy was recruited from the Russian River Valley, he thought Jess was crazy to want to go to Santa Barbara. But “lawyers can be very persuasive.”
As Randy started to make the Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, it was nothing like the Russian River style he was used to. It took time, in fact six months to truly come around, but when it did, it was a ‘holy Toledo’ moment.”
Cambria’s Julia’s Vineyard Rose Wine Served When We Arrived
All of the winemakers talked about common themes. How the relationship between the vineyards and man is an ancient and vibrant one. How important land stewardship, cultural preservation, adherence to artisan farming and winemaking is in this region.
The region of Santa Barbara county came about because of a tectonic collision between 15 and 25 million years ago during the Oligocene Epoch, which drove the north-south mountain ranges into an east-west orientation. Santa Barbara is one of the oldest wine producing regions in California. The first grapes were planted in the 1700s by Spanish missionaries and the first commercial vineyard was planted by Uriel Nielson on Santa Maria Bench in 1964, and these grapes are used today in the Bryon Chardonnay.
Santa Barbara County consists of 2,737 square miles with more than 200 wineries ranging in production from 600 to 400,000 cases. Santa Barbara has five approved AVAs and one under consideration. Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills (changed from Santa Rita Hills upon objections from a Chilean producer with the same name), Happy Canyon, Ballard Canyon and Los Olivos District (not yet formally approved).
The different varieties are Chardonnay (36 percent), Pinot Noir (26 percent), Syrah (9 percent), Sauvignon Blanc (4 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (3.5 percent), Grenache (2.5 percent) and other varieties (19 percent). The soils change based on the AVAs – from calcareous to pure sand/sand dominated loams to gravels.
Santa Barbara reached the nation’s consciousness with the movie Sideways, which catapulted Pinot Noir in terms of sales and awareness.
Jackson Family Wineries lie exclusively in coastal regions, the “Burgundy belt” of Santa Barbara. We tasted through a number of diverse wines showcasing the style of different AVAs of the region.
The AVAs are very different and therefore, the wines and profiles of the wines can be night and day if tasted side by side, which made this tasting so much fun. We focused on two AVAs in our tasting:
The Santa Maria Valley AVA is 98,790 acres in size with 3,500 planted. The majority of vines are planted between 300 and 800 feet on the slopes of hillsides and you often hear references to “the Santa Maria Bench.” The climate is cool and dry with mixed sandy soils. The Chardonnay is known for its profile of tropical and orange bordering on “exotic” and pinots are described as earth with Asian spice and red fruit. Notable producers are Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Bryon, Cambria, Foxen, Native 9, Presqu’ile, Qupe, Riverbench and Scar of the Sea.
The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is 30,000 acres with 3,500 planted. The region has a close proximity to the Pacific funneling cold air with the Purisima, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Mountains framing the area to the North and South. The climate is cool and dry with sand, sandy clay loam and diatomaceous earth. The Chardonnay is known for citrus and saline notes and Pinot Noir is known for blue and black fruit and tea. Notable producers are Ampelos, Babcock, Brewer-Clifton, Foley, Hilliard Bruce, Loring, Sandhi, Sea Smoke and Tyler (to name a few).
2017 Kendall Jackson Estate Camelot Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley
2016 Brewer Clifton Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
2016 Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir
2016 Byron Vineyards & Winery Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
2016 Nielson Winery Santa Maria Pinot Noir
2017 Siduri Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
2016 Brewer Clifton Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
The most fun was hearing how the winemakers described the wines and the regions. It was clear that these winemakers work together well, share best practices and have a banter and appreciation for different styles and winemaking methods.
This was my absolute favorite quote. “This Brewer Clifton Chardonnay reminds me of the ocean … unbridled, yet calm and tranquil,” said Greg Brewer, founder and winemaker. It’s a juxtaposition of circumstance – elusive, yet emotive. “
Julia Jackson, Jackson Family Wines and Founder of Grounded
The coolest part of the event was a side conversation with Julia where she talked about her passion about helping to make an impact with climate change. In fact, she feels so strongly about preserving our ecosystems that she’s started a non-profit organization, Grounded. Grounded held a two-day summit the end of March convening the world’s foremost climate change experts: scientists, activists, world leaders, artists, and business people to educate and share solutions to our climate crisis. Talk about making a difference and inspiring change.
I found myself behind (even more so than usual) on another sample column for a few reasons. The first is that my paying gig exploded a bit – I transitioned from project consulting work to three acting Chief Marketing Officer positions, which have been a blast and allowed me to really immerse myself in these businesses and make a difference.
The second is that I got even more unsolicited samples than usual. As a former PR person, I have a mantra that I will try every wine that I receive (even if it takes me six months). Only one fourth of the wines made the cut today. If you are counting, you can calculate how many came through the doors that I reviewed. A personal plea to PR people …. please don’t send me any bourbon barrel-aged red wines, I know there is an audience and I appreciate bourbon and barrels, just not together. And, please don’t judge some of the holiday settings, we can all use a little sparkle in the Spring.
Let’s talk about the highlights.
2017 Castello di Ama ‘Purple Rosé’ Toscana IGT – a dry rosé with notes of cherry, strawberry, watermelon with a nice minerality and a little spice. This was a great match with our cheese plate.
2017 Ferraton Père et Fils Samorëns Rosé – this dry rosé has a great minerality with notes of cherry, strawberry, rose petals and rosemary. It’s lovely and was the first wine to go at the party that I brought it to.
2017 Prophecy Rosé Vin De France – a very easy drinking rosé with strawberries, citrus, hibiscus and herbal notes.
2018 Rocca di Montemassi Renaissance Rosé IGT – dry with notes of strawberries, rose petals, red fruit and white pepper. Stands up to a meal or can be enjoyed alone.
NV Jolie Folle Rosé – this rosé is sourced from vineyards in the IGP Mediterranee and Cotes de Provence in France. It’s presented in a 1L bottle and is dry with notes of strawberry, raspberry, white stone fruit and rose petals. It’s a crowd pleaser and great for Summer parties.
NV J Vineyards & Winery California Cuvee Brut Sparkling – this is a fabulous sparkling wine with lots of nuances. I tasted tropical fruit, orange blossom, pear, honeysuckle, citrus and baked bread. J is always a great choice for a sparkling for me and I highly recommend it!
NV Scotto Brut Rose Sparkling – It was fun to see the Scotto Family branch out into sparkling and I enjoyed the Brut Rosé version. I tasted red apple, cranberry, stone fruit, raspberry and rose petals. It was an easy to drink, aromatic sparkler.
2016 Chehalem Inox Unoaked Chardonnay – this was a delicious wine and bursting with notes of tropical fruit and flowers. I loved the minerality and Old-World style of this wine. It’s in small production wine, but if you see it, grab it.
2017 Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley – creamy is a good word to describe this Chardonnay. I tasted apple, lemon, honeydew, tropical fruit, oak, vanilla, butterscotch candy and almond.
2017 Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc – this wine was unique, and I really enjoyed it. Notes of stone fruit, lemon, oranges, honeysucker, tropical, apple and flowers. It was refreshing and reminded me of a Loire Valley French wine.
2017 Ferraton Père et Fils Côtes du Rhône Samorëns Blanc – -notes of white fruits, flowers, peaches, pears, green apple and citrus. This is a blend of 35% Rousanne, 30% Viognier, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Clairette, 5% Marsanne with a nice minerality.
2016 Panther Creek Pinot Creek Willamette Valley – this was a crisp wine that had a nice minerality with notes of apple, pear, citrus, melon and flowers. It was a perfect Spring sipper.
2017 Fragrant Snare by Tooth & Nail – this blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Albarino and Muscat kept you sipping to find the next flavor you tasted. The answer is that it probably will differ with each sip. I tasted mango, melon, citrus and this wine was very aromatic.
2017 Famiglia Pasqua Passione e Sentimento Bianco Veneto IGT – notes of stone fruit, almonds, dried apricot, citrus and tropical fruit. This wine is meant to tell the love story of Romeo and Juliet as Veneto is the home of both the love story and the winery. It’s a more intense wine.
2017 Ferzo Cococciola Terre di Chieti – this refreshing white has notes of lemongrass, mint, citrus, herbs and a nice minerality. It was a match made in heaven with grilled salmon.
2016 Talbott Vineyards Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir – this rich Pinot Noir was complex and nuanced. I tasted notes of cranberry, cherry cola, mushrooms, cinnamon, herbs, baking spices and cassis. A delicious wine from the Central Coast.
2016 Edna Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir – a lighter Pinot Noir with notes of blackberry, violet, black cherry and spice.
2017 Toad Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir – I tasted lots of red fruit, violets, black tea, black cherry, earth, dried fruit and cassis. It was a nice expression of Pinot at a great price point.
2016 Wairau River Pinot Noir Marlborough – lots of earthiness with notes of cherry cola, spice, raspberry and cassis. I had not delved too far into New Zealand Pinot Noirs, but this one was impressive.
2017 Benziger Monterey Pinot Noir – this organically farmed, biodynamic wine has notes of blueberry, blackberry, earth, spice and violet. This is a winery dedicated to making the planet a better place while making wines that deserve a spot on your table.
2016 Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir – I tasted notes of ripe red fruit, tea, vanilla, earth and violets. This wine was not in my SIP certified shipment that I discuss below but is a wine that meets those criteria.
2014 Arrowood Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine, which showcases the Knights Valley AVA, has notes of cherry, currant, blackberry, black cherry, tobacco, mocha, spice and herbs. It’s a nice Cabernet at an even nicer price point.
2015 Justin Isosceles – this is one of the quintessential wines of Paso Robles. It’s a complex wine with notes of black currant, black cherry, cassis, licorice, cedar, baking spice, mocha, vanilla and herbs.
2013 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa – Freemark Abbey is one of Napa’s original producers of Cabernet Sauvignon dating back to 1886 and Winemaker Ted Williams has had one of the longest tenures. This rock star wine was intense and needed some time in the bottle. I tasted blackberry, black currant, baking spice, tobacco, leather, black pepper, chocolate and plum.
2015 Feudi di San Gregorio “Rubrato” Aglianico Irpinia – notes of blackberry, licorice, lavender, spice, earth and herbs. I have always enjoyed every wine I’ve tried from this producer. I loved how the wine alternated between fruit, flowers and earth with each sip.
2015 Franz Haas Lagrein – notes of blueberries, cranberries, raspberry, chocolate, leather, earth, tobacco and herbs. It’s a fun and sassy red.
2015 M. Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine – how much fun is it to get a bottle of fabulous French wine along with The French Brasserie Cookbook, that Winemaker Michel Chapoutier regularly prepares for his family over the course of the year. And while my husband is the cook in our family, this is truly a special wine. I tasted raspberry, Asian spice, black cherry, strawberry, licorice, mocha and cassis. It’s a gorgeous wine that showcases the region.
2013 Pasqua Famiglia Pasqua Amarone Della Valpolicella – notes of cherry, blackberry, cedar, plum, tobacco, orange peel and leather. This wine displays all the characteristics you want in your Amarone – delicious!
2016 Scheid Vineyards Stokes’ Ghost Monterey Petite Sirah – this is a rich wine with notes of blackberry jam, plum, chocolate and oak. It needed some time to open, but it was complex and layered when it did.
2016 Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Vines Zinfandel – notes of raspberries, cherry, mocha, black pepper, chocolate and cassis. It’s a balanced and tasty Zinfandel.
2015 Dry Creek Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel – notes of blackberry, cranberry, cherry cola, herbs, chocolate, Asian spice, cardamom and spice. This would be an awesome wine to pair with your Thanksgiving dinner.
2014 Dry Creek Vineyards The Mariner – the Bordeaux blend has notes of blueberry, cherry, licorice, mocha, black pepper, vanilla, herbs and oak. It’s a wine that you want to put down as you know it will age beautifully.
NV Dave Phinney Locations TX6 – this collaboration with McPherson Cellars focuses on Rhone varietals from the Texas High Plains AVA. It is a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan and other Bordeaux varietals. I tasted lots of red fruit, herbs, earth, dried fruit and spice.
2017 Ventisquero Grey (Glacier) GCM – this was my first experience with Ventisquero wines and it will not be my last. It was a mesmerizing wine with notes of cherries, cassis, raspberry, strawberry, spice, cinnamon and vanilla.
In its own marketing brochure, Wines of Alentejo describes the region and the wines as having “a long and turbulent history which alternated between periods of calm and storm, vigor and decline; where extensive periods of uncertainty were followed by cycles of enlightenment and vanguardism.” That’s the context in which I began our All About Alentejo master class, hosted by Evan Goldstein MS and presented by the Comissao Vitivinicola Regional Alentejo (CVRA), to learn about the region, subzones, leading varietals, and wines from classic producers.
To understand the region of Alentejo, we had to start with the country of Portugal. This 575-mile long by 138-mile wide span is known for being the largest per capita in wine consumption and has long been lauded for the large number (upwards of 500) of indigenous grape varietals, more than any other country. Cuisine is also paramount to the region and is known for its creativity because of the limited natural resources of this isolated region. Long story short – the Portuguese love their wine and food and it has long been a part of this country with a rich cultural history.
Provided by the Wines of Alentejo
Alentejo lies in the southern part of Portugal east of Lisboa along the border with Spain. The region covers one-third of Portugal, but this includes wheat fields, cork-oak trees and only about 51,000 acres of grapes – a little less than the size of Napa Valley. The region is divided into three districts – Beja, Évora and Portalegre that make up the Vinho Regional Alentejano. Within that area, which has been producing wine for more than 4,000 years, Alentejo has eight sub regions with differing soils – from clay to granite to limestone to schist, but it is a relatively flat landscape.
The Alentejo first attained a sub-region in 1989 and when Portugal became a part of the EU, and investment in vineyards and cellars started to occur. DOC Alentejo wines can only be attained in specific sub regions. The eight regions are Borba, Évora, Granja-Amareleja, Moura, Portalegre, Redondo, Reguengos and Vidigueira. While the lion’s share of wine produced is red, white consists of about 25 percent and rosato about 2 percent.
The area is dedicated to sustainability and the Alentejo Regional Wine Growing Commission pioneered the Aletenjo Wines Sustainability Plan (WASP) to promote the best sustainable practices with viticulture and winemaking. Approximately 97 percent of the region’s wines are certified.
The red varietals, several which were new to me, include Alfrocherio, Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon, Castelao, Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira.
The white varieties include Arinto, Antão Vaz, Fernão Pires, Gouveio and Roupeiro.
Several Member of the Dallas Wineaux (Shelly Wilfong, me, Terry Hill and Michelle Williams) Enjoying the Tasting and Catching Up
During our tasting, we tried ten wines and tasted a variety of the grapes described above.
2016 Herdade Do Esporao Verdelho – notes of tropical, passion fruit and honey. It had a nice acidity and was easy to drink.
2015 Fitapreta Branco de Talha – lots of minerality in this one with green apple, lemon, flint and stone fruit. This is a wine where the terroir shines through.
2017 Paulo Laureano Vinhas Velhas Private Selection Antão Vaz – notes of lemon curd, tropical fruit including banana and flowers.
2017 Herdade do Esporao ‘Esporao’ Reserva Branco – notes of lychee, tropical fruit, citrus, spice and herbs.
2016 Adega do Monte Branco ‘Alento’ Tinto — notes of blackberry, raspberry, cassis, herbs, nutmeg and cherries.
2015 Joao Portugal Ramos Ramos Reserva – notes of black raspberry, menthol, plum, spice and herbs.
2017 Herdade de São Miguel Art.Terra Amphora Tinto Red – notes of blackberries, violet, tar and with a very aromatic nose. 2016 Jose Maria Da Fonseca Jose de Sousa – notes of barnyard with plums, black fruit, cloves, vanilla, mocha and Fig Newton.
2015 Herdade de São Miguel, Alicante Bouschet – notes of black fruit, pine, spice and earth.
2017 Herdade do Peso ‘Trinca Bolotas’ – notes of blackberry, vanilla, oak, smoke and meat.
2015 Paulo Laureano Selectio Grossa – notes of blackberry, baking spice, cigar, flowers, oak and vanilla. Very elegant and unique.
Lots of diversity in varietals, lots of learning for me to still undertake and clearly a region with lots for me to still discover. I’m excited to begin my journey.
Tom Parmeson, Owner and Winemaker of Parmesan Wines
Tom Parmeson, Owner and Winemaker of Parmeson Wines, never aspired to be a Sonoma winemaker. He successfully worked for 15 years in software development for Halliburton Company, an oil and gas exploration service company based in Houston. But in 2005, he had an epiphany after visiting a tasting room and walked out into the vineyard. As he looked around, he realized he wanted to shift his life and legacy and “go live” in Sonoma.
At that point, he was a home beer brewer. That vineyard moment started his hard-working quest to become a winemaker. He went home to Houston, started arduous research and began taking classes. Because he still held his job, he used all of his vacation days to work California harvests – four of them – until he decided the fifth harvest was the charm. That is when he moved his wife, Katie, who he credits with introducing him to fine wine, and his three children to Healdsburg.
Today, he uses the facilities at Mauritson Wine, where Clay Mauritson and Emma Kudritzki Hall serve as consulting winemakers. He credits Bill and Betsy Nachbaur at ACORN winery as key to his learning and where he worked his first harvests. Tom has completed his Winemaking Certificate from UC Davis and has taken viticulture and enology courses at Washington State and Grayson College in Texas.
Courtesy of Parmesan Wines
Tom’s philosophy is to source fruit from Sonoma’s top growers and winemakers. And for a guy who moved here from Houston without connections, the list is impressive — Lee Martinelli Jr; Steve MacRostie; Bill Nachbaur; Bret Munselle and John Macleod. The fact that these winemakers and growers are good stewards of the land is important. It’s about the reputation of the site, the reputation of the grower and involvement in the growing process – down to the specific rows used in Parmeson’s single vineyard wines.
Tom told me his winemaking philosophy focuses on the basics. Producing handcrafted wines in small lots with attention to detail. Having a handful of trusted and exceptional growers who are dedicated to their land. And, most importantly, making wines that customers are proud to serve to their friends.
We tried a variety of these small production wines and they were delicious:
2018 Parmeson Sauvignon Blanc – green apple, bright citrus, melon, herbal notes and a balanced minerality that kept you wanting another sip. And, I loved that he initially made this wine because his wife wanted a Sauvignon Blanc in their portfolio.
2017 Parmeson Rosé – this Provencal-style, dry rosé had notes of juicy strawberry, watermelon, citrus, apple and a nice dryness. It would be a good rosé to match with food as it had enough structure and balance to stand up nicely.
2015 Parmeson Chardonnay – this was an Old-World style of Chardonnay with notes of lemon tart, stone fruit and almond tart.
2016 Parmeson Pinot Noir – notes of cherry pie, earth, leather, spice, cedar, cassis and herbs. Very aromatic and delicious.
2015 Parmeson Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine was made in a Bordeaux style. I tasted notes of blackberry, black cherry, cocoa, chocolate, eucalyptus, spice, vanilla and herbal notes. It’s elegant and most importantly, drinkable today, but easily ageable.
2015 Parmeson Zinfandel – this wine screamed to be paired with a Thanksgiving dinner. But it was a refined Zinfandel that didn’t require food and easily could be enjoyed alone. I tasted cranberry, cherry preserves, pepper, spice, earthiness and herbal notes.
The story of Parmeson Wines is a story of a man who had the guts to follow his dream and based on the wines that I tasted, will do great things in Sonoma as he executes that vision.
Anne Bousquet, Managing Partner of Domaine Bousquet
Lunch with Anne Bousquet, Managing Partner of Domaine Bousquet, is like sitting down with your accomplished friend who seems they can do just about anything, but is so incredibly down to earth you can’t help but adore her. Anne was a renowned economist for ten years in the pulp and paper industry where she spoke all over the world about the state of the market. After the birth of her daughter and with the family business of Domaine Bousquet in hyper-growth mode, she decided to join the family business.
In 1990, the Bousquet Family arrived in Mendoza to research the vineyards and wineries. Her dad, Jean, first went and found the ideal location and moved from France in 1997. He planted the vines, dug a well and started Domaine Bousquet. The 110 hectares vineyard is located in the Gualtallary valley in Tupungato, Mendoza.
The winery is the most awarded organic winery in the world. The Bousquet Family comes from Carcassonne in France and has a history of making wine. The goal was to bring together European wine making using the ideal conditions of Mendoza climate.
Anne toggled between her career as an Economist and helping with the family business for several years in the 2000’s while the winery was experiencing explosive growth. In 2004, she presented the family wines at a wine fair in Miami and was surprised to see the Malbec was a top winner in a blind wine tasting competition. This was the point where her husband, Labid, joined Domaine Bousquet, leaving his career of stock trading at Fidelity to sell wine.
Another key turning point for the company was in 2006 when Sweden decided it wanted to expand its Argentinian portfolio but needed to fill a percentage quota for organic wines. Domaine Bouquet wines were a perfect solution and the country placed an order for 250,000 liters.
Anne talked about how she lived in Tupungato for several years, an experience she called “one of the best of her life”, but in 2015, she moved to Miami to build US sales and create an importing company for the winery. It was a pivotal move for the business, making it the only Argentinian winery with its own importing company while helping with distribution channels and costs.
She talked about the land and how important being certified organic was to the family. “We bought the land in 1997 and it was virgin land, she said. “We were one of the first to settle there and we have a duty to leave it in pristine condition.” She described the approach to organic as the difference between being “engaged and married.”
Viticulture and winemaking are certified organic by ARGENCERT in Argentina, which is recognized in the U.S. by USDA NOP (National Organic Program) and in the European Union by ECOSERT.
We tried a lineup of diverse wines, all well priced and all tasted like they were much more expensive than the price tag attached:
NV Domaine Bousquet Sparkling Charmat Rose Brut — 25% Chardonnay, 75% Pinot Noir. Notes of strawberry, citrus and a nice minerality. This was a lovely sparkling with a $13 price.
2016 Domaine Bousquet Gaia White – This blend of 50 percent Chardonnay, 35 percent Pinot Gris and 15 percent Chardonnay has notes of stone fruit, apple, minerality and citrus. It was great with our lunch.
2018 Domaine Bousquet Virgen Organic Red Blend – we were the first in Dallas to try this wine with no added sulfites, which was a blend of 35% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc. It was very fruit forward and fresh.
2017 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Red — This blend of 50 percent Malbec, 45 percent Syrah and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon had notes of blackberries, currant, spice and vanilla. Domaine Bousquet has the most vines dedicated to Syrah than anyone else in Mendoza and Anne wouldn’t have it any other way.
2017 Domaine Bousquet Gran Cabernet Sauvignon – Notes of blackberry, plum, floral notes, blueberries, tobacco, dried herbs and red fruit. A well-priced and elegant expressed of Cabernet.
2015 Domaine Bousquet Ameri – This wine uses Labid’s last name and is the top blend of the vineyard with a blend of 65 percent Malbec, 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Syrah and 5 percent Merlot. It is a deep, pronounced and elegant wine with notes of blackberry, fig, cassis, black cherry, tobacco, mocha, earth and spice. A very special and enchanting wine.
The family had an original vision to make elegant and restrained grand cru wines of Argentina at a price point that consumers could afford. Throw in the fact that these wines are organic at the same price and that is astounding…. It is lovely to meet a family with a vision that keeps in mind the earth and the consumers with wines that are so delicious.
I had the opportunity to sit down again with a Winemaking Legend Christophe Paubert, the senior winemaker for Stags’ Leap Winery, during his recent stop in Dallas this month. We first had the opportunity to sit down in 2015. It always surprises me how unassuming he is as he spent the entire time talking about how fruit and terroir solely drive the quality of his wines.
For a man who has Chateau d’Yquem and Gruard-Larose on his resume, he seems to almost downplay the role he has in the cellar noting, “the wines you taste are because of the fruit, not because of anything that I do differently.”
Stags’ Leap Vineyard Taken at WWET Conference
First, let’s start with the history of Stags’ Leap Vineyard, a vineyard with a 100+ year history and more than 85 acres, which was founded by Horace Chase in partnership with his uncle, W.W. Thompson, on land where grapes were already planted by T.L. Grigsby. The property was named “Stags’ Leap” after an old Indian legend, which talks about a lone stag taking a great leap over the palisades to escape hunters.
During the Chase’s ownership, a manor house and a winery were constructed, and it became quite the social destination, known for great parties with prominent politicians, artists and writers in attendance. The first vintage was in 1893, and by 1895, production on the estate was up to 40,000 gallons of wine. For 145 years grapes were grown at this property.
Unfortunately, the fortune was lost, and Francis Grange acquired the property in 1913. She transformed the property into a working ranch and Napa’s top resort. Again, the property remained a destination for the fun and the famous. After the Grange legacy ended, the property fell into disrepair until Carl Doumani restored the property in 1971. Carl’s dream was originally to restore the hotel, but Napa zoning laws kept that from being a reality. He planted grapes instead. Today the 85-acre vineyard is divided into 23 blocks.
Christophe Touring the Writers at the WWET Through the Vineyard
Christophe joined Stags’ Leap in 2011 and has worked at some of the world’s most pre-eminent vineyards as well as on projects in Chile, Spain and Washington State. When recruited, he was very clear that he wanted to produce wines in the style that he was passionate about creating.
For the past eight years he has done just that – focusing on the land, the fruit and the terroir. He brings a mix of Old World and New World techniques together with a hands-on style of winemaking focusing on the balance in wines. Hand-picked and hand sorted, he focuses on authenticity.
The fruit is a mix of estate and partnerships with growers in Napa Valley and Carneros. Stags’ Leap focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Syrah—are enhanced by plantings of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Grenache, and Syrah.
We tried the following wines:
2017 Stags’ Leap Chardonnay – this is an Old-World style Chardonnay that I really enjoyed. I tasted notes of apple, citrus, peach, cedar, almond and caramel. It had a great minerality.
2016 Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) – notes of black cherry, truffle, currant, vanilla, nutmeg and tobacco.
2015 Stags’ Leap “The Leap” – this blend of 92 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 percent Petite Sirah and 2 percent Petit Verdot is intensely delicious. It needs some cellar time, but I got notes of tea, black cherry, chocolate, cigar, blackberry, mocha and spice.
2016 Stags’ Leap “The Investor” – this red blend is 42 percent Merlot, 30 percent Petite Sirah, 19 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 9 percent Malbec. I tasted black cherry, chocolate, herbs, pepper, licorice, tobacco and cedar.
2016 Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah (Napa Valley) – this is a blend of 79 percent Petite Sirah, 8 percent mixed Rhône varieties, 7 percent Grenache and 6 percent Syrah. I tasted notes of baking spice, black cherry, blackberry preserves and black pepper.
2015 Stags’ Leap Ne Cede Malis – this one block dates back to 1929 and is primarily made of Petite Sirah and other Rhône varietals. This wine is 75 percent Petite Sirah and then is a blend of 17 other varietals that are harvested and fermented together. It’s a really cool wine and the name comes from the Latin phrase, “don’t give in to misfortune,” the family motto of Stags’ Leap founder Horace Chase. I tasted black cherry, herbs, earth, pepper, cinnamon spice, mocha, blue fruit and chocolate.
As we wrapped the lunch, Christophe left us with a summation of his philosophy,” my job is not to drive the fruit in any direction – it is only to express the best of what it has to offer.” With Christophe at the helm, Stags’ Leap is clearly on a path to continued stewardship of viticulture, land use and winemaking.
Sitting down with Weston Eidson, founder of Silver Ghost Cellars and Montagu Wines, is a fascinating tale of the intersection of his family’s history in the early automobile industry, their tie into British royalty and how he kept that legacy alive in his vineyards.
Silver Ghost Cellars was named for his great-grandfather, John Montagu, who was a British Lord in Parliament, (the second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu) and instrumental in early automotive legislation. He was known as the first to drive a car to Parliament. He was good friends with Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, and his secretary was the model for the Rolls-Royce hood ornament, the Spirit of Ecstasy, still present on Rolls-Royce cars today. The name comes from his grandfather’s favorite car, the 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.
John Montagu‘s son, and Weston’s great-uncle Edward, the third Lord of Montagu, founded Britain’s National Motor Museum. Here’s where the wine gene kicked in as Edward was a wine lover and planted a vineyard in Southern England.
Weston’s love and appreciation for wine has continued his entire life. During graduate school, he visited several wine regions including Chile, South Africa, Bordeaux, Alsace and Veneto. He worked the 2012 harvest in Napa under Jason Moore of Modus Operandi and then was mentored by Russell Bevan.
With Silver Ghost, he focuses on wines that are elegant, layered, complex and balanced. He believes in making wine with minimal intervention. And, they have a much wider distribution, so you are likely to find them.
Montagu Wines is a boutique winery making wine from world-class terroir sourced from great vineyards in Napa Valley and Sonoma. These wines are all about expressing the terroir and are also made with minimum intervention. These wines are very limited and usually they produce about 100-150 cases per varietal.
Weston unveiled four wines during a Twitter chat and I loved finding out that he also has a residence in Fort Worth, a city close to me where I live in Dallas. Looking forward to sitting down live and chatting more. Here was our lineup:
· 2017 Montagu Ritchie Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay – notes of lemon curd, tropical, caramel, peach and toast. Delicious!
· 2017 Montagu Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – very Burgundian in style. Notes of black cherry, cherry cola, truffle and spice.
· 2016 Silver Ghost Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – notes of black cherry, plum, cassis, vanilla, mocha, herbs and spice. A Napa cab of this caliber for $35 is the deal of the century!
· 2016 Montagu Rutherford, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – black currant, raspberry, chocolate cherry, plum, licorice, spice and herbs. Such a silky, nuanced and elegant wine.