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After much anticipation, The Studio by Feast It Forward is opening in downtown Napa. Bringing together food, wine, design, art, music and philanthropy under one roof, The Studio is a live studio experiential showroom and wine collective. The wine collective includes 16 producers, most of whom are from Napa Valley. But one of these producers is Inman Family Wines from Sonoma whose roots are in Napa.
Inman Family Wines is owned by Kathleen Inman, née McGowan, who was born at the St. Helena Sanitarium, as was her mother. Her father was also born in Napa, as well as some of her great-grandparents. Kathleen attended Napa High and was the editor of the high school page that used to run in the Napa Valley Register. As a featured vintner at the wine collective at The Studio by Feast It Forward, Kathleen is “excited to have my wine be in Napa because it is my hometown.”
Kathleen grew up in a family that did not drink wine. Her grandmother, a Seventh-Day Adventist, never understood when walnut and prune trees were replaced with grape vines in the 1970s.
But when Kathleen left Napa to go to college at UC Santa Barbara in the early 1980s, she started going to weekly wine classes led by Doug Margerum who had just purchased the Wine Cask. Margerum rented a room on campus in the engineering building and a dozen people, both students and local people, would pay a fee for the tastings. Each week, they would blind taste wines by variety, or by the same vineyard with wine made by different winemakers.
Kathleen was fascinated by how different the same grape could taste when it was grown in different places. She was intrigued and wanted to learn more and decided to get a job in wine during the summer. She moved home to Napa and tried to get a job at a winery but her first job was giving bus tours to wineries in Napa.
Neighbors across from her parents’ home had just opened Napa Creek Winery on Silverado Trail, and that winery later became the Kent Rasmussen Winery. Kathleen got a job helping with production and tastings. On her first day of work, her future husband, Simon, visited the tasting room with his sister and her husband. As Simon was British, Kathleen mentioned to him that she was planning to study in the UK for her junior year. Simon and his family bought some wine and left but two weeks later, a letter arrived with no street number or ZIP code but there was a note to pass it on to the “young assistant.” Kathleen and Simon became pen pals for one year. She moved to London to study and they began dating and have been married for 33 years.
Kathleen and Simon lived in Yorkshire, England for 16 years. With 11 acres of formal gardens and a conservation meadow, Kathleen’s love for growing plants and vegetables was nurtured. It was during a family holiday in 1997 to Napa that they “had a hair-brained idea to give up our jobs and move here.”
It took Kathleen and Simon one year to plan their move. They moved back to the U.S. on Memorial Day weekend in 1998. Knowing that she wanted to grow Pinot Noir, they looked at Carneros, the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino. They found the property in 1999 and established Inman Family Winery in 2000 with the planting of their 10.5-acre Certified Organic Olivet Grange Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.
More than 15 years later, Kathleen’s Inman Wines will be featured for one year, at least, in the winery collective tasting bar at Feast It Forward. “One of the things that attracted me to this new venture, in addition to being a native of Napa, is that they are also a music venue,” Kathleen said. An aficionado of contemporary indie-rock, Kathleen loves music and goes to a lot of music festivals, including BottleRock in Napa.
Kathleen will be able to share her love of music at The Studio’s Vintner to Vinyl events. Taking place the second and last Thursday of each month, the winery collective vintners will select vinyl records that best represent their wines. “Pairing music chosen by the vintners with their wines if right up my alley,” Kathleen said. Inman Family Wine’s Vintner to Vinyl date is not until July 2018, but, Kathleen gave me a little taste of what music she would pair with some of her wines.
As the glasses sat in front of me, I looked at them and all I could think of was how sexy they looked. Transparent garnet in color, it is the lack of color intensity that drew me in. There was something so inviting about the wines and hence Grignolino is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Grignolino is an indigenous variety from the Monferrato Hills in Piemonte, Italy. It has been a noble grape since the 8th century. In fact, a document from the year 1243 mentioned Grignolino which may make it one of the most historic of grapes. Grignolino was one of the primary grapes in Asti, in northern Italy, for more than 1000 years but much was replaced with the easier-to-grow Barbera and for 50 years, Grignolino was close to abandonment. But Grignolino is being revived and it is a wine to look out for.
Grignolino produces a pale red wine that has naturally high levels of tannin and acidity. It is a food-friendly wine and has great aging potential. It may seem strange that it does not have intense color, like other red wines, but that is because the skins of the Grignolino grape do not have a lot of phenolic compounds. The color of the wine does not determine the quality of the wine.
One of the standouts was the Tenuta Santa Catarina Arlandino 2010 Grignolino d’Asti, a light red wine with an orange tint and aromas of wild strawberry and raspberry and savory notes. A medium-bodied wine, this wine is produced in stainless steel and has medium tannins and medium plus acidity.
I also enjoyed the Tenuta Santa Catarina M2012 Grignolino d’Asti DOC. This Grignolino has a longer maceration period and spends two years in tonneau barrel (900 liters). The resulting wine has aromas of stewed fruit and soft tannins and, after six years, still has high acidity.
Grignolino is sexy to look at and to drink and that is why it is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Adam Lee has worked in all aspects of the wine industry. He has worked at a wine store, on the floor of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, for a distributor and wrote about wine before starting his first winery, Siduri. Experience working in all facets of the wine business has provided Lee with an advantage; he knows all of the benefits and challenges the industry poses.
The biggest challenge a winery faces is selling the wine. When Lee started Siduri in 1994, he focused primarily on direct sales, with most of the sales sold on futures. Times were different then. “Pinot Noir was still in its infancy in the wine drinkers consciousness and growing a mailing list was easier than it is today,” Lee explained. Wine reviews, mailing lists, and direct sales helped his brand grow until they were large enough to work with a distributor. Thanks to a couple fortuitous events, Siduri followed this path. After a few bottles of wine, Lee was very relaxed and generously confident and left a bottle of his wine for Robert Parker, which resulted in a good review. Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant Owner Debbie Zachareas was at EOS Wine Bar at the time and began selling the wine. By 1996, Siduri grew to almost 900 cases and entered the three-tier market. “It was a lot about getting to a certain size about where you needed a distributor.”
By 2015, Lee sold Siduri to Kendall Jackson. While he remains the winemaker, the new ownership freed Lee from the business side of things. As a result, Lee gets to spend more time in the vineyard. “The growing and picking is the most important part,” according to Lee and he was thrilled to spend more time there.
With the time in the vineyard, Lee began thinking about the legacy he would leave for his children. He and his wife Dianna liked the idea of leaving them something small that would not be a burden but rather something they could choose whether or not they wanted to grow. In 2017, named after Lee’s grandmother, Clarice Wine Company was born.
Producing exclusively Pinot Noir, the fruit comes from four acres in the Santa Lucia Highlands – two acres of Garys’ Vineyard and two-acres from Rosella’s Vineyard. Working closely with vineyard owners Gary Pisoni and Gary Francioni, Lee manages his acres, determining when to pick the grapes. The result is 650 cases of wine – 220 cases of Garys’ Vineyard, 220 cases of Rosella’s Vineyard and 220 cases of a Santa Lucia blend of the two vineyards.
With Clarice Wine Company, Lee was once again faced with the challenge of selling wine. However, much has changed in the past 25 years. “I am not certain there is any clear path for any small wineries to sell their wines,” Lee explained. “Critical ratings do not carry the same weight. Tasting rooms do not carry the same weight today. There are just so many, and they are spread out so how is a consumer supposed to decide where to go. Distributor networks are also harder to get into as a small producer.” Lee also noticed many wineries offering “new” things such as food and wine pairing in their tasting rooms. But is that really a new thing? Is it unique? Will it set you apart?
Lee thought about different experiences and decided to come up with an entirely different concept, the Clarice Family Program. “Selling wine” isn’t what Lee likes to do. “What I truly enjoy is the friendship, camaraderie, and sharing of knowledge and experiences that wine helps engender.” Clarice Family Program is not a mailing list; it is not a wine club; it is a completely new experience. Think of it as being part of Lee’s extended wine family.
As a member of the Clarice Family Program, you receive one case of wine each year. This case will include four bottles of each of the three wines Lee makes. The wines will not be available in retail shops, so this is the only way the wine can be purchased. A one-year membership cost is 6 payments of $160. Shipping and tax on the wine are included. In addition, members become a part of a private online group where you can talk to other members. Pictures can be posted, recommendations can be made on what wine to buy or what to pair with a particular dish and travel advice can be shared. Exclusive invitations to wine parties are also included.
Another great benefit of being a member is exclusive access to people in the wine industry. Each month, Clarice Wine Club will have a special guest who will share interesting insights and happily answer questions and engage in conversation. Winemakers, wine writers, wine sales, winery accountants, label designers, vineyard managers and winery financiers are all scheduled to be special guests in the first year. In addition, guest winemakers will offer specials on their wines that will not be available to the general public.
Clarice Family Program is redefining the DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) model. Lee is building a community. Launched February 2018, Clarice Family Program already has 450 members and the maximum is 650 members. Lee has been surprised by the geographic diversity with members joining from across the country and the wine will not even be released until Fall 2018.
Not every small winery can replicate this new model Lee has created. Much of his success has been due to the relationships he has established over the years and the reputation he has developed. But Lee is not trying to exclude anyone. With so many small wineries trying to get the attention of the consumer, it is time to try something new. He wants other small wineries to understand that they are not competitors. “If you can help your customers get access to other wines, they become more loyal to you, rather than less. It is a spirit of comradery. We are in it together.”
Lee is not looking to grow Clarice Wine Company any larger than it is. Lee wants to concentrate on what he is doing in the vineyard and how he is doing it and is not growing another Siduri brand. As a small winery, there is a sweet spot where you can make a living but “you need to offer more than a couple of decent 90-point ratings and join my mailing list.” Lee clarified, “a great asset is that we can offer access to other friends making great wines. We are not worried about losing customers. It is not a competition.” Lee is creating a personal connection with the goal of selling his own wine while giving the customer access to the entire world of wine.
As I sat down for a seminar at the 2018 Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival titled “The Future is Female: The Next Generation of American Wine,” I was excited to listen to a panel of women discuss taking the reins of their family wineries. As I looked at the panel of women sitting in front of me, I sat up a little straighter as I was so proud and inspired to see only women sitting there.
On one end of the table was Esther Mobley, the wine, beer and spirits writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. After graduating from Smith College, Esther worked harvests at two wineries, worked in retail and at a restaurant and then followed the path of a writer, working at Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and now the San Francisco Chronicle. On the other end of the table was Christie Dufault, a former sommelier at top restaurants who today is the associate professor of wine and beverage studies at The Culinary Institute of America. In between these two formidable presences were four women who are taking over their family wineries.
Ponzi Vineyards was started in the late 1960s when Dick and Nancy Ponzi moved to the Willamette Valley. Luisa was 2 years old at the time and grew up on the vineyard. As she grew up in the industry with her family winery, the industry also developed around her. They were one of only three wineries when they started, and today there are more than 700 in the Willamette Valley.
Luisa worked alongside her parents for her first 20 years. She moved to Burgundy to get her degree in the early 1990s. In 1993, she took over the winemaking at Ponzi, along with her sister Anna Maria who is president. As a young winemaker, Luisa returned from Burgundy and, like many young winemakers, aspired to make big, extracted wines that garnered high scores. Over time she went back to father’s style and today makes more restrained wines that profile the soils and climate. As Luisa explained, “I enjoy my wines more.” As much as she loved Pinot Noir, she was more infatuated with white Burgundy. Oregon was not making great Chardonnay at the time, but Luisa got the right plant materials and 20 years later, Ponzi is making world-class Chardonnay.
Noting that she had never been on a panel with all women before, Luisa was asked about the women who have inspired her. Naturally, her mother is number one, as well as her older sister. She also learned from winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash who taught Luisa to speak her mind. “You have to speak your mind and be present and you have to know your industry and be better than men.” Luisa also noted that there are so many unsung female heroes in the wine business. Many women worked tirelessly by their husbands’ sides, while raising kids, without getting due credit.
Pahlmeyer was started in 1986 by Cleo’s father, Jayson Pahlmeyer, whose first love was Bordeaux wines. Aspiring to make a “California Mouton,” Pahlmeyer made its name with high scores on the 1986 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red. In 1998, at the urging of Helen Turley who was the winemaker at the time, Jayson purchased the Wayfarer estate on the Sonoma Coast where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were planted.
Cleo joined the team in 2008, adding new energy to the family winery. Recognizing the uniqueness of the Wayfarer Estate, which is located less than five miles from the coast and protected by two ridgelines, Cleo created the Wayfarer Estate label in 2012. As part of the team, Cleo says that the goal is “to stay true to our roots, to a sense of place and balance.” But she also noted that “the future is about putting my taste on the wine, making sure the wine is fully developed but balanced overall.”
The women who have inspired Cleo are her mother, as well as other women winemakers, such as Helen Turley and Ann Colgin. “I look at examples of women in other industries, knowing they have succeeded and what they have done provides inspiration.” As for future generations, Cleo said, “it is about having examples. Seeing more and more women will continue to inspire others to follow and do the same things.”
Shannon Staglin’s parents, Garen and Shari, met on a blind date in the 1960s while students at UCLA. Business school at Stanford took them to Northern California where they discovered Napa Valley and began dreaming about owning property in the area. Their dream was realized in 1985 when they purchased 60 acres at the base of Mount St. John in the Mayacamas Range, on the Rutherford Bench, and started Staglin Family Vineyard.
Shannon and her brother, Brandon, grew up on the property. After graduating from UCLA, she worked as a harvest intern and then in the office before receiving her MBA from UC Davis. After gaining experience working outside of the wine industry, Shannon returned to Staglin Family Vineyard in 2011 and today oversees all aspects of the business.
“We are trying to make site-driven wines from our estate. Each year is different, it is a reflection of the climate, not the people,” Shannon said. The Staglin’s began sustainable practices in the 1990s and became Certified Organic in 2005 all with the idea of investing in the future.
Shannon has been inspired by her mom, Shari, who has been both a professional and personal mentor. Shari has historically run the day-to-day of the winery and is tireless. She loves everything about the business — the wine, the people, the travel, and working in the market keeps her young. Shannon also notes all of the role models in the Napa Valley, including Cathy Corison, who worked at Staglin in the late 1980s, Celia Welch, who worked at Staglin in the 1990s, and Beth Novak of Spottswoode Winery.
Carissa was born into a wine-making family that has not missed a harvest since 1919. Her father, Tim, gained a global perspective on wine after winemaking experiences in Italy, Chile, Australia and France. After the Robert Mondavi name was sold, Tim, at the age of 53, started over. With his family, Tim created Continuum, a wine that focuses on one estate, one family and one purpose. Carissa, a fourth-generation family member, is a spokesperson for the Continuum Estate. She is proud to share her family’s story. As she explained, “I am not taking over; we are starting over.” Continuum is now on its 10th vintage and the focus is to make terroir-driven wines.
Carissa’s inspirations were the women in her family who were always ready to entertain guests, whether expected or unexpected. Carissa also admires the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild who she described as a woman with so much energy and little care for decorum.
For each of these women, family is first. But, it was not lost on me that this second generation is all women. More and more women are running wineries, making wine, selling wine, educating about wine and more. As Christie best explained, “it does not take much to look around to find women in the wine industry.”
But no matter how many women are in the business, it is a rare sight to see an exclusively female panel, and it was an inspiration to see one at this seminar at Pebble Beach Food & Wine.
A cruise up the Adriatic Sea, visiting various towns along the Croatian coast, I had the opportunity to drink a lot of Croatian wines. It is a new world to me, as to many, as Croatia is home to more than 100 indigenous grapes that are relatively unfamiliar to us in the US and among those grapes are a number of crisp, elegant white wines that stole my heart. GRK, Pošip and Malvasija are three white wines from Croatia to look out for and they are the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Korčula, located in the Dalmatian region, is a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea. The Greeks first brought grapes and olives to the island as far back as the 4th Century BC. Known for its white wines, there are two indigenous varieties from there – Grk and Pošip.
Grk, which means Greek, is only grown on Korčula and there are only eight official producers of this grape. Grk was saved from extinction from winemakers like Branimir Cebalo, one of the first private winemakers in Croatia after Communism ended. I met Branimir on my trip who explained that Grk is only grown on Korčula and thrives in the deep, flat, sandy soils near the sea. He only produces 5,000 bottles of Grk each year and the total production of the grape is around 30,000 bottles. That makes Grk very limited and very hard to find but you can find it in some restaurants and stores in Croatia (sadly, not in the US).
We were able to find the Bire Grk 2016, Korčula in a few locations and enjoyed the wine, with its floral, stone fruit and citrus notes, each time!
Pošip is another indigenous white wine grape that is primarily grown in the Dalmatian region of Croatia on the island of Korčula. The story behind the name Pošip (poship) is that a couple hundred years ago, a farmer had a vine growing on a pomegranate tree. Pomegranate is called a “shipak” so the grape was named “par shipak” to mean “from the pomegranate. Over time, “par shipak” became “pošip”. It is generally a light bodied wine that we enjoyed with many fish dishes.
Intrada Pošip Krajančič 2016 has aromas of white flowers, citrus and tropical melon with bright full-mouth acidity,
Istria is largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, located in the northern part of Croatia, near Italy. The grape Malvasija (or Malvazija) [pronounced “mal-va-ZEE-ah”] can be found in Istria. Perhaps you have had a Malvasia from Italy, Portugal, or elsewhere.
Malvasija is an intensely fragrant wine with stone fruits and mineral notes and was also a lovely accompaniment with fresh seafood and rich fish dishes. I had three beautiful examples.
Rossi Malvazija Istarska
Benvenuti Malvazija 2017 Istria
Fakin Malvasija Istriana 2017 Istria
Crisp, aromatic, fresh and bright, what else can you want from a white wine. GRK, Pošip and Malvasija from Croatia are the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Champagne Billecart-Salmon
From the moment I pulled up to the doors of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, I knew that a night of elegance and celebration was ahead. Guests had already started to gather and walk towards the opulent and spacious floor-level of Jean-Georges and one by one we were escorted to our tables. As we took our seats, we were about to embark on a magical meal in celebration of Champagne Billecart-Salmon’s 200th Anniversary. Champagne Billecart-Salmon is the oldest continuously family-owned and operated house in Champagne, France. Founded in 1818 by Nicolas François Billecart and his wife Elisabeth Salmon, Billecart-Salmon is currently managed by the family’s seventh generation, brothers François and Antoine Roland-Billecart.
To honor its 200th anniversary, Billecart-Salmon has embarked on a six-city gastronomic tour around the world. Hosting intimate luxurious dinners in Singapore, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and London, the celebration will conclude with an elegant garden party in June at the Billecart-Salmon family’s estate in Mareuil-sur-Ay.
I had the honor to be seated next to François Roland-Billecart, the current president of Billecart-Salmon, as well as his wife and daughter.
M. Roland-Billecart, with his heavy French accent, welcomed everyone to the dinner, and expressed how at Billecart-Salmon, ‘we aim to produce better and better [wine] every year.’
Billecart-Salmon is known for finesse and elegance. The wines are not heavy or powerful. They are balanced wines that will give pleasure to all who drink them. Perhaps that it why Billecart-Salmon is somewhat of a cult darling among sommeliers.
We began the evening with the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV. After a few toasts, our glasses were refilled, and we began our exquisite six-course culinary excursion. For each course, we were served one dish from Chef Alain Passard and one dish from Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Chef Passard, famous for his celebration of vegetables, served the most delicate dishes that made us just want to sit and revel silently in the subtle flavors. Chef Vongerichten, on the other hand, served dishes with more intense flavors and spices and for these plates, they became a discussion at the table about what we were tasting. No matter the difference in the dishes, the elegance of the Champagnes paired with each dish were superb!
Course 1: Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV
François Roland-Billecart told me that this wine is his wife Edith’s favorite wine and I can understand why. A wine made from 100% Chardonnay from five grand cru vineyards of the Côte des Blanc, it has notes of peaches, apples, chalk and almond. The wine is fresh and graceful with racy acidity that complimented both dishes.
Spring Peas with Strawberries, Mint Sauce – A combination of ingredients that might not come to mind, the dish was fresh and light with a touch of sweetness from the strawberries.
Meyer Lemon Gelée, Caviar and Crème Fraîche – Served in the shell of the meyer lemon, the gelée had just a hint of citrus but the start of the dish was the caviar and crème fraiche, which always pairs well with Champagne.
Course 2: Cuvee Elisabeth Rosé 2006
Created in 1998 as a tribute to Elisabeth Salmon, co-founder of Billecart-Salmon, this vintage Rosé Champagne is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is rich and elegant with notes of citrus, red berries and dried flowers. On the palate, it is crisp with dry acidity that paired well with both the delicate consommé and the flavorful fresh tuna.
Vegetarian Ravioli, Consommé “Belle Saveur” – Three handmade ravioli filled with beets and greens floated elegantly in one of the most exquisitely subtle broths I have ever had.
Yellowfin Tuna Ribbons, Avocado, Radish and Ginger Emulsion – The yellowfin tuna absorbed the flavors of the ginger emulsion and while the fish melted in the mouth, the flavors lingered.
Course 3: Cuvee Elisabeth Rosé 2006
The vintage 2006 Rosé Champagne was paired with the third course as well and the crispness and acidity match well with vegetables.
Vegetable Arlequin, Sweet and Sour Sauce – Savory, sweet and tender, the beets in this colorful plate of fresh vegetables and fruit and topped with edible flowers might be the best beets I have eaten in my life.
As we look back at history, we can always find markers where something shifted and altered the future. Each of these significant markers have changed paradigms in life. These are game-changers, such as the invention of the car, the smart phone and every technology we use today.
We can also find markers in the wine industry that have transformed the industry. Breakthroughs in winemaking technique, heralded births of new regions and cultural moments have resulted in wines that have changed the world of wine as we know it.
“Over time, there are wines that changed our perspective in one way or another. These wines transcend their flavor. These are wines with history and they conjure memories. Each in their own way has changed the world of wine,” explained Ray Isle, executive editor of Food and Wine Magazine, as he moderated a panel at the 11th Annual Pebble Beach Food and Wine.
Along with four sommeliers — Eugenio Jardim, Shelley Lindgren, Kelli White and Master Sommelier Fred Dame — we tasted through eight wines that have changed the world of wine.
— Louis Roederer Cristal 2009
Dating to 1876, Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal was the first tete du cuvee Champagne ever created. Cristal was created by Roederer for Tzar Alexander II who desired a special Champagne. He requested that it be in a clear glass bottle because he was afraid of bombs and wanted to see what was in the bottle. Ironically, Alexander II was killed by a bomb, but not from one in his Champagne.
Regardless, 140 years later, Cristal is still served in a clear glass bottle. Eugenio Jardim described Cristal as a “Champagne that defies definitions. It has a feminine quality as well as the assertiveness of a masculine-style Champagne.”
Shelley Lindgren added that Cristal is a wine of “precision and finesse and will always be in the top class of Champagne.”
— Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Pinot Noir 2014
Today when we think of Oregon, we naturally think of Pinot Noir. But 50 years ago, Oregon was unknown for wine until David Lett planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the Willamette Valley in 1966. Today, there are more than 700 wineries in Oregon. Lett also set the tone for Oregon wine grapegrowing, letting the wine express where it is from.
The original vines Lett planted in 1966 are still there today and are what make up the Original Vines Pinot Noir 2014. Tasting a wine made from the original vines is a window into the history of the region and the winery.
At the 1976 Judgment of Paris, the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon bested four top-ranked Bordeaux wines to win the top award. With American wines taking home top marks for both red and white wines, they proved that American wines could compete with French wines.
After the Judgment, there was an influx of investments into California, specifically in Napa. Today, Napa has more than 1,000 brands and it is one-eighth the size of the region of Bordeaux.
Forty-one years later, the 2014 vintage of the award-winning wine shows the consistency and quality of Napa Cabernet. To understand how much of a game-changer the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon is, the Smithsonian honored a bottle of the wine as “one of the 101 objects that made America”, alongside Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and other iconic objects.
— Williams Selyem Winery West Road Neighbors Pinot Noir 2014
In the 1980s, Pinot Noir was not popular, nor did it taste very good, in California. According to Eugenio Jardim, “Williams Selyem set the bar for California production of Pinot Noir. It is the shining light.”
Pre-dating the movie “Sideways,” Williams Selyem was the beginning of “cult” Pinot Noir that people were rabid to get. Master Sommelier Fred Dame was their first restaurant customer in 1984, after they changed the name from Hacienda del Rio. By 1990, Williams Selyem had 5,000 people on their mailing list. The 2014 West Road Neighbors Pinot Noir incorporates some of the original vineyard sites.
— Egly-Ouriet Vignes de Vrigny Brut 1er Cru NV
The late 1980s started to see single estate, grower Champagnes grow in popularity. As Eugenio Jardim explained, “Champagne had initially changed the world of wine upside down. What became important was the brand, not the vintage.”
But an antagonistic relationship developed between the growers and producers. Egly-Ouriet was a leader in the Grower Champagne movement. Grower Champagne, Jardim continued, “shows us the beauty of imperfections. The wine does not have to be polished or flawless to be charming.”
Another unique thing about the Egly-Ouriet is that while many Champagne houses will tout Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as the two main grapes and pooh-pooh Pinot Meunier, the Egly-Ouriet Vignes de Vrigny Brut 1er Cru NV is 100 percent Pinot Meunier with a low dosage.
— Domaines Ott Chateau de Selle Cotes de Provence Rosé 2016
Provence was the first wine grapegrowing regions in France and Domaine Ott has been making wine since 1913. But for decades, you could not sell dry rosé in the United States. Then, in 2006, the New York Times called Domaines Ott Rosé the “wine of the Hamptons.” The growth rate of rosé wines has been extraordinary, and according to Nielsen data, “while rosé only represents 1.5 percent of the total table wine category, it is growing at a rate unheard of in other categories.” Beautiful estate-driven high-quality wines and a memorable amphora-shaped bottle, Domaines Ott set the bar for Provence rosé.
— Scholium Project Prince in His Caves Farina Vineyards 2006
Abe Schoener is a leader in a maverick movement of California winemakers that started in the late-2000s. Schoener had been working Napa at a highly conservative and traditional winery, a place he described as the “Acme of the wine world.” He noted that the “key was to stay within the lines. Everything seemed to b the same recipe per grape.” So, Schoener wondered, what would happen if you work with the best people, the best vineyards and excellent terroir and if you are precise and intuitive about your harvest decisions, but you vary in every other way? Scholium Project was born. It looked at California wine and asked why we did it that way.
The Scholium Project Prince in His Caves Farina Vineyards 2006 is a Sauvignon Blanc that was skin-fermented for 30 days. The wine takes a different look at Sauvignon Blanc and is a different flavor profile than typically in Napa. It is new, different and a change to what we know, but it references winemaking styles in old world, in places like Northern Italy and Slovenia. As Ray Isle said, “You may like the wine, you may not like it, but it makes you think.”
We finished the tasting with the Warre’s Vintage Port 1980. Although the wine was tasted last, it made its mark on history many centuries ago. Portugal has been making wine for thousands of years and began exporting it in 1174. By 1386, a treaty was signed between Portugal and England, establishing a political and commercial alliance. The most well-known producers of Port houses are of British origin. Warre’s, founded in 1670, was the first British-owned quinta in Portugal. Warre’s was also the first Port company to build a lodge in Gaia for the proper ageing of its Ports.
Our tasting was just a small sample of wines that have shifted the paradigm. For a longer list, read Ray Isle’s recent article in Food and Wine titled “40 Wines That Changed the Way We Drink.” From old wines to wines yet to come, it is fun to taste wines that have altered the world of wine as we know it.
Visiting a city for a first time, a city tour may be on one’s agenda. Perhaps it is self-guided, perhaps it is with a tour guide. Perhaps you will focus on architecture or perhaps you will focus on historical monuments. For me, I like food tours. I want to explore a city and learn about the cuisine(s), what were its influences and what is both traditional and contemporary to eat (and drink). With Dubrovnik Food Story, it is a food tour and more! It is also a history lesson, a cultural tour and it is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
Dubrovnik Food Story is a family-run business owned by two sisters, Marija & Ana. Marija, who graduated from Management in Tourism and worked in travel agencies and hotels, started offering food tours as a side business and started Dubrovvnik Food Story in 2013. Ana, who graduated with a degree in Aquaculture where she studied Mariculture, got her tour guide license and joined her sister in 2016. Both share passion for food, tradition and hometown and the food tours are a fusion of local history and gastronomy.
We met Ana near the 15th century Onofrio Fountain, across from the 14th century Pharmacy in the Old Town of Dubrovnik. She greeted us with a plate in her hand and we met the others in our group. All tours are generally two to eight people (10 max).
As we began walking through the Old Town, Ana told us about the history of Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is a UNESCO protected site. The beautiful, small city dates back to the 7th century, as far as they know. In 1667 the great earthquake, followed by fires, destroyed most of the city. The city was rebuilt and thrived until the war in 1991 which lasted until 1995. Ana was three when the war started and recalled having to flee with family to islands in the north on two occasions. Prior to the war, 5,000-6,000 people lived in the Old Town and today only 1150 people live within the city center, with most living outside the city walls.
First stop: Taj Mahal Bosnian Cuisine
As Croatia and Bosnia were once part of Yugoslavia, a Bosnian restaurant is not a surprise to find. And Bosnian cuisine has influences from Turkey so many dishes were familiar from my travels to Turkey. We started with an aperitif of sweet cherry liqueur, typical in Croatia.
We then had a platter with a few items on it. The big round pinchas are like doughnuts but not sweet and we topped them with the most delicious Kajmak cheese, a fresh local cow’s milk cheese that is like butter. We also had porec, cheese, spinach and meat pies and cured beef.
Second Stop: Kopun Restaurant
At the top of the Jesuit Steps is Kopun Restaurant. A kopun, or capon in English, is a castrated rooster. At Kopun Restaurant, they are reviving some of the old Croatian recipes handed down through centuries. We had a small tasting of six dishes which included mackerel salad with raisins, prosciutto with smoked pork sausage, smoked young cow’s cheese, shrimp pate with black truffles, rooster pate with paprika and rooster salad with tomato and Dubrovnik bitter orange.
We also enjoyed a glass of Negromant Merlot 2015.
Third Stop: Restaurant Marco Polo
Named after the explorer Marco Polo, who Croatians say was born in Korcula, Croatia, the restaurant features seafood and we enjoyed a European flat oyster from the island of Ston, smoked tuna that tasted like prosciutto, fresh anchovies, marinated anchovies with vinegar and fresh young cow cheese.
We washed down these bites with Matusko Rukatac, a light bodied, crisp white wine.
Fourth Stop: Pupica
Our fourth and final stop was at Pupica, a pastry shop that has a regular restaurant in town called Pupo. Here we tried traditional Croatian cakes – carob cake and almond & orange cake.
More than 35 years ago, Don and Rhonda Carano founded Ferrari-Carano and broke ground in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. Second generation Italian-Americans, Don and Rhonda were introduced to the beauty of Northern Sonoma County in 1979. They purchased a 60-acre parcel lot in the Alexander Valley which led to an interest in winemaking. Don, a lawyer, and Rhonda owned a hotel in Reno but began taking classes on enology and viticulture at UC Davis. They made “Carano Cellars” in their barn, which they gave away to friends. They also realized the potential of the area. In 1981, the Carano’s purchased additional vineyard land and founded Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery. Today they own 1900 acres of vineyards across 24 ranches.
In addition to celebrating their 35th anniversary in 2017, Ferrari-Carano also lost its founder Don Carano who passed away in October. “Don had a natural affinity to land,” Rhonda explained. “I believe that Don was most proud of Ferrari-Carano’s vineyards, in particular, the mountain vineyards. He would walk each area, look at the soils, taking in the majestic views and appreciating the beauty of the sites.”
Looking back at the past 35 years, if there was one wine that Don considered his favorite, it would be Siena. Ferrari-Carano is one of the largest producers of Sangiovese fruit in Sonoma County and Siena is their Sangiovese-based red wine blend. “Being Italian-American, it was only natural for us to make a Sangiovese-based red wine,” explained Rhonda. “I think it was his Italian roots of having an easy drinking red wine that can be appreciated by all and Siena is a wine that can be enjoyed all the time.” The 2015 Ferrai-Carano Siena Red Wine marked the 25th anniversary of this wine.
Don Carano is missed by all at Ferrari-Carano but not forgotten. As Ferrari-Carano looks to the future, Rhonda Carano has assumed the role of CEO of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery. Rhonda has co-managed the company since its inception in 1981 and is dedicated to maintaining the Ferrari-Carano “best-of-class” positions. She brings her 40 years of experience in business management, marketing, advertising and creative design. “We will continue to honor Don’s memory through our dedication to quality and consistency without compromise. The trademark of Ferrari-Carano is our people, our vineyards and the positive family team spirit we all share,” Rhonda expressed. There are many people who have worked at Ferrari-Carano since the day they opened. “It’s really not a company, per se, but a large family who have grown together for over 35 years and understand the philosophy and direction in what makes Ferrari-Carano Vineyard and Winery world-class,” Rhonda shared.
There are only three family-owned wineries remaining in the Napa Valley that have been owned continuously by the same family since World War II. One of these wineries is Charles Krug Winery, celebrating their 75th anniversary this year. (The other two wineries are Sutter Home and Nichelini Family Winery.)
The Mondavi family bought the Charles Krug Winery in 1943, but the winery pre-dates them. Charles Krug, born in Prussia, was educated as a journalist who first came to the United States to give a talk at the Philadelphia University of Free Thinkers. He later returned to the U.S., moving to San Francisco where he published a radical newspaper, as well as worked at the U.S. Mint.
Wine became a hobby after Krug was introduced to it by friends who were making wine. In December 1860, Krug married Carolina Bale who came from a prominent family. As part of her dowry, he was given 600 acres in what is today St. Helena. Due to his love of wine, Charles Krug established a winery in the heart of the 600 acres in 1860, making it the oldest winery in the Napa Valley.
Cesare and Rosa Mondavi emigrated from Italy in 1908. First established in Minnesota, Cesare started a wine grape shipping venture in 1919 and saw the potential of wine. By 1922, Cesare and Rosa moved the family to Lodi and built a business, shipping wine to the northeast where there was a concentration of wine-drinking immigrants. In the middle of World War II, Cesare and Rosa Mondavi purchased the Charles Krug Winery, and the Mondavi legacy was born.
Peter Mondavi Sr., the fourth child of Cesare and Rosa, graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics in 1938. With an interest in wine, he took graduate classes in chemistry at UC Berkeley. Peter Sr. loved wine and experimenting with trials. He was fascinated by the effect of water temperature on still wine during fermentation and conducted revolutionary research on cold fermentation.
His findings enabled the production of crisp, fruity white wines and rose wines, which became the industry standard. Peter Sr. introduced French oak barrels for aging wine in 1963, citing their superior quality to American oak. For more control over the winemaking process, he introduced glass-lined tanks.
Peter Sr. believed in single-varietal wines and Charles Krug was one of the first California producers to label wines by varietal. He also believes in low-alcohol wines and used to say that too much alcohol in wine meant that you could not enjoy the wine with dinner, nor could you drive home afterwards.
Today, Charles Krug Winery is run by third-generation brothers Peter Mondavi Jr. and Marc Mondavi, as well as fourth-generation members of the Mondavi family. Angelina, Alycia, Riana and Giovanna (Marc’s children) and Lucio and Lia (Peter Jr.’s children) are all involved in carrying-on the traditions and legacy established by Peter Sr., while also shaping the future of the winery. Angelina, a winemaker, and Lucio are both winery board members. Riana handles national restaurant chain relationships. Giovanna, who works in finance, and Lia, who is still at college, both serve as brand ambassadors in the Boston area. Alycia is a marketing consultant and brand ambassador and represents the winery onsite and at events.
In honor of the anniversary, the Mondavi family opened their coveted collection of Vintage Selection offerings, crafted from the best blocks of the family’s best vineyards. Dating back to 1944, the year after the Mondavi family acquired Charles Krug, it may be the oldest near-continuous library of Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley.
The library tasting showcased the following vintages: 1964, 1966, 1974, 1983, 1991, 1998, 2003, 2015 and a barrel sample of 2016. The stand-outs for me were the older wines that have aged gracefully. The 1964 is a brick red color that reminded me of walking into an attic. There are aromas of cedarwood, sandalwood, orange skin, a touch of cherry and dried spice. 1966 is also a brick red color with notes of spice, coffee and caramelized burnt orange and still vibrant acidity. The 1974 with bright floral, coffee and wood notes is elegant and a fresh despite its 45-year age. The 1983 is a deep red color with notes of wild raspberry, blackberry, violet and dried herbs and still-present tannins.
The influence of Peter Mondavi Sr. is evident in the wines pre-dating 2000. A big proponent of single varietal wines, until 2003 the Vintage Select Cabernet Sauvignon are 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. However, after many years, and after Marc Mondavi created the Reserve Generations Red, a Bordeaux blend, Peter Sr. agreed to blending and 2003 marked when additional varieties were added.
Another noticeable difference is in the alcohol in the wines, which has progressively increased over the years. The 1964 is only 11.4 percent whereas the 2015 is 15.8 percent. Peter Sr. believed in low-alcohol wines, but the increase is partially a result of healthier vines that reach their flavor profiles, naturally resulting in higher alcohol. Regardless of the alcohol level, the intention in Charles Krug wines is to find balance.
Tasting old vintages of wine is a special treat that not everyone gets to experience. But Charles Krug is making it possible. They are releasing the first commercial library release in honor of the 75th anniversary, which will include bottles from 1974, 1991 and 2003. The 1991 has notes of lavender and black fruit and fills the mouth with soft acid and tannins. The 2003, which has five percent Petit Verdot, four percent Merlot, two percent Cabernet Franc and one percent Syrah, has deep red and black fruit and fresh olive notes, as well as integrated acid and tannins.
Seventy-five years later, one of the most important values of the Mondavi family is family, and they are proud to still be family-owned and -operated. Fourth-generation Alycia Mondavi, daughter of Marc Mondavi, was born and raised on the property and explained that in the family that somehow, they all end up in wine. “It is hard to deviate,” Alycia explained. “It is in our blood.”