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Spending the Day at Frog’s Leap with John Williams

John Williams was kind enough to meet photographer Stephen Smith and myself to spend the day sharing and showing us the Frog’s Leap story.

The three of us met first thing in the morning to walk the vineyard and winery in the heart of the Rutherford Bench, then drove north through Napa Valley to see Frog’s Leaps other estate vineyards. Frog’s Leap is known for its Bordeaux varietal wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc – and Chardonnay and also makes a succulent, fresh Zinfandel inspired by California’s old field blend style. At the vineyard near his home, Frog’s Leap recently planted an experimental block testing to see what new varieties respond well to the specific conditions of Rutherford. In a different block of the same site they also farms a collection of mixed-black old vines that go into the Frog’s Leap Heritage blend.

Frog’s Leap doesn’t just grow vineyards though. John has brought his focus to sustainability in farming practices such as dry farming while also focusing on sustainability of overall estate management. To preserve the economic health of the Frog’s Leap team, the winery established year round food gardens that are used on-site for winery meals and by winery employees. The gardens are also maintained by the winery and vineyard staff so that in the months when vines need less tending the garden keeps them busy and employed.

John’s inspiration for California’s old style can also be found in his restoration of the historic winery building from the 1880s that serves as part of the structure for his own contemporary winery, as well as his love for old trucks and cars.

We drove up the valley together in his 1969 Chevy. It was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had to cruise Napa Valley backroads in John’s iconic pick-up truck. That truck is an important part of Napa Valley history, full of Frog’s Leap stories. Incredibly, the three of us had so much fun that the day culminated finally in this…


Over the course of the day, while I interviewed John, Stephen documented our time together in photographs. He’s been generous enough to let me share his photos from the day here. I love the way they tell the story on their own.

Visiting Frog’s Leap in Photographs by Stephen Smith

Frog's Leap Winery

Frog's Leap Winery

Flowers at Frog's Leap

Starting the Garden at Frog's Leap

The Orchard

The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Bottling Frog's Leap

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

Inside the Winery

Entering the Winery

John Williams

Discussing Winemaking

Inside the Winery

Driving in the 1969 Chevy Pick-up Truck

The Old Vines

Inside the Old Winery

Dinner with John

Thank you to John for the great day and to Stephen for the fantastic photos.

Check out more of Smith’s photography at his own site: http://www.iamstephensmith.com/ and follow him on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iamstephensmith/. I really enjoy following his photographic travelogs online.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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I’ll be writing more here on my trip to Okanagan and Semilkameen Valleys, as well as judging the finals for the National Wine Awards of Canada. It really was a fantastic week. There are some really good wines coming out of BC. The professionalism of the National Wine Awards really impressed me too – it’s a smartly run wine competition.

In the meantime though I wanted to share this video from Jr.

Wei Chi Semillon

Erin Pooley started making Wei Chi Semillon in 2012. The next year a bunch of us were able to taste the early bottlings at our Semageddon celebration (it broke the internet: here, here, here, and here) and I was immediately impressed. The 2012 is a delicious wine but the 2014 vintage (yet to be released) is my favorite – nervy, fresh and nutty both, with the vivacity to age.

To share some of what I love about Wei Chi wine, and Erin’s philosophy behind it, I asked Jr, aka Rachel, and Erin if they’d get together and make a video.

Erin invited us to her home for dinner and the two of them discussed Erin’s appreciation of the meal, her love of Semillon and her winemaking approach for Wei Chi wines.

Dinner with Erin Pooley

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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The Judgment of BC

View from the Judges Seat, Judgment of BC

This week I’ve been touring wine country of the Okanagan Valley with Jamie Goode and our trusty (and patient) tour pilot, Laura Kittmer. We’re hosted by the BC Wine Institute and welcomed by WineAlign to help judge the annual National Wine Awards of Canada looking at wines from across Canada at the close of our visit.

One of the highlights of the trip so far was participating in the 2nd Annual Judgement of BC. The tasting brought 29 top tasters from across Canada, as well as Jamie and myself, to blind taste and rank 12 wines from BC against 12 wines of the world. It was arranged in two flights, one pinot noir, the other riesling, both evenly split between BC and International wines. The event was sponsored by the BC Wine Institute and organized by Canadian wine educator DJ Kearney.

The inaugural event last year celebrated Steven Spurrier visiting British Columbia wine country for the first time and looked at Syrah and Chardonnay. As DJ Kearney explained, the goal for the Judgment of BC is not to ask who is best in the world but rather to investigate how BC wines rank against standard bearers from around the world. It’s an opportunity to investigate how well a relatively young wine region is doing on the world stage in terms of quality.

It was an honor to become part of the group present for the tasting. It’s a group that includes top writers, sommeliers, and buyers from across the country. Jamie also served as a judge last year. This year they decided to include a second international judge as well and kindly invited me.

DJ did a masterful job selecting wines. The international wines were all chosen purposefully to offer wines known as standards from their region meant to both push the local industry towards quality and give the judges insight into how local wines are actually doing currently. Wines were also selected to be in a relatively comparable price range.

As a taster one of the things I found most insightful was that when it came to quality the wines of BC were on par with the international selection. It was profoundly difficult for judges across the board to accurately select the BC contingent from their international counterparts.

Here are the final rankings. Judges were asked to taste each of the two flights and rank wines 1 to 12. Judges’ results were then added together and averaged to determine the final rank for the wines.

Pinot Noir

1. Bouchard Pere Premier Cru Beaune Clos de la Mousse Monopole 2012 Burgundy, France 13%
2. Bachelder Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 Willamette Valley AVA Oregon USA 14%
3. Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand 14%
4. Haywire Canyonview Pinot Noir 2014 Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 12.5%
5. Meyer Family Reimer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Okanagan Valley, BC 13%
6. Quail’s Gate Richard’s Block Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Falls, BC 12.5%
7. Blue Mountain Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 Okanagan Falls, BC 12.5%

Two wines tied for 8th place:

Thibault Liger-Belair Bourgogne Les Grands Chaillots 2012 Burgundy, France 13%
JoieFarm Reserve En Famille Pinot Noir 2012 Naramata, Okanagan Valley, BC 13.6%

10. BK Wines Skin n’ Bones Pinot Noir 2013 Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, South Australia 12.5%
11. Moraine Pinot Noir 2013 Naramata, Okanagan Valley, BC 13.1%
12. Meomi Pinot Noir 2014 California, USA 13.7%

Though I was disappointed to see Meomi in the tasting (yes, I did score it 12 as well in my personal ranking of the wines), DJ was smart in her explanation of why it was included. Meomi is the number one selling Pinot Noir in all of British Columbia by a large margin and she felt it was important for judges to be aware of what that market share looks and tastes like in the context of global wine. Not all judges ranked it in last place.

Riesling

1. Max Gerd Richter Grazer Himmelreich Riesling Kabinette 2013 Mosel Valley, Germany 9%
2. Cedar Creek Platinum Block 3 Riesling 2014 Okanagan Valley BC 12.2%
3. Wild Goose Stoney Slope Riesling 2013 Okanagan Falls BC 13.3%
4. Chateau Ste Michelle & Dr Loosen Eroica Riesling 2013 Columbia Valley AVA Washington 12%
5. Leeuwin Art Series Riesling 2012 Margaret River, Australia 12%
6. Synchromesh Storm Haven Vineyard Riesling 2015 Okanagan Falls BC 8.9%
7. Culmina Decora Riesling 2015 Okanagan Valley BC 13.5%
8. Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2014 South Australia 12%
9. Robert Weil Kiedricher Riesling Trocken 2012 Rheingau, Germany 11.5%
10. Tantalus Old Vines Riesling 2013 Okanagan Valley BC 13.1%
11. Orofino Hendsbee Vineyard Riesling 2013 Similkameen Valley BC 12%
12. Trimbach Riesling 2012 Alsace, France 12.5%

It was interesting to judge both flights blind partially because of the mix of styles and sugar levels for both sets of wines. Ranking them was very much an exercise in looking for harmony and quality regardless of style.

Before results were announced judges had the opportunity to judge amongst themselves and beyond the judging, just in terms of personal interest, some expressed a strong preference against the sweet styles while others notes that the RS in some cases brought the balance to the wine.

In my own case I noticed I was more willing to allow RS in the Rieslings than the Pinots and did feel that in the case of the Rieslings the high acidity levels sometimes benefited from a bit of sweetness. In other words, my views here remained consistent with how I’d viewed tasting Riesling previously.

It’s been a ton of fun to investigate BC wines and get to know the people of the region. I’m looking forward to tasting wines from across Canada when Jamie and I join the final rounds of the National Wine Awards.

If you want to read more about the event, this article offers some additional information from one of the other judges:

http://myvancity.ca/2016/06/22/the-wines-of-british-columbia-stand-up-to-the-world-at-the-second-annual-judgment-of-bc-wine-tasting/

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Paso Robles: Wine versus Water

Paso Robles Eastside Vineyard

While El Niño this year brought ample rains to northern California, overall rainfall was less than originally predicted (see Alder’s recent report) and southern California saw far fewer winter storms. Of wine regions in the state, hardest hit by lack of rain has been Paso Robles. Paso’s challenges with weather are not insignificant. It has become one of the best-known wine regions of the Central Coast, as well as a leader in California’s Rhône movement. Most famously, the Perrin family of Château du Beaucastel has affirmed the value of Paso Robles by investing with the Haas family in the Tablas Creek project. The work Tablas Creek has done to import Rhône varieties and clones to their site in Paso’s Adelaida district has been of benefit to Rhône producers throughout the United States.

During California’s winter rainy season this year, northern storms failed to reach as far south as Paso Robles, and the few warmer storms from the south did not reach over the mountains separating Paso’s county of San Luis Obispo from its southern neighbor Santa Barbara County (see the brown hilltops in this picture of an East Paso vineyard). The Central Coast region received so little rain this winter, reservoirs are only 30% full. The reservoirs are primarily for the townships of San Luis Obispo such as Paso Robles, Templeton and Atascadero. Land within the county but outside town centres has to depend for water on residential and commercial wells in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

Lack of rainfall these last several years has failed to replenish the Basin’s water level. Water issues in the area, however, are only partially due to the recent California drought. There has been a sizeable increase in overall water use from a significant rise in county residences as well as from the expansion of irrigated agriculture. This surge in demand for water has led to wells throughout the county being severely depleted. In the most affected areas, wells are down as much as 80 to 100 ft (24-30 m) from their original levels. As a result, small home-ranch owners (generally single-dwelling one-acre properties) face the possibility of losing homes they can no longer keep hydrated. Many have resorted to trucking in water. Even so, water use in the region continues to be unregulated although it is one of the very few in the state where well use is unmonitored and uncontrolled.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 24 vintages of the Mondavi Cabernet Reserve rather evenly spread from 1966 to 2013. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/paso-robles-wine-v-water

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

Mondavi Retrospective

The Robert Mondavi 1966 Cabernet Unfiltered

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Robert Mondavi Winery on the Oakville bench of Napa Valley. To celebrate, the winery put together a two-day event for 25 journalists from throughout North America, offering us the opportunity to taste 24 vintages of Mondavi’s flagship Cabernet Reserve, as well as spending time with many of the key winemakers and viticulturists of the winery’s history.

It is difficult to think of any other Napa Valley Cabernet of which such a historic vertical would be possible. Wineries with a longer history such as Beaulieu and Inglenook have nothing like the continuity evident at Mondavi. There have been subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle changes of direction in winemaking here but in essence the team and intentions have remained the same, and the ownership has changed only once when in 2004 the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to the giant Constellation. Its founder died four years later at the age of 94 (see Jancis’s appreciation of Robert Mondavi).

When Mondavi started his eponymous winery in 1966 the goal was to show that California could make wines to compete with the very best in the world. A mere 10 years later two of Mondavi’s original winemakers – Warren Winiarski, who helped start the wine programme at Mondavi, and Mike Grgich, who soon took over – would go on to win the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris in red and white categories respectively that did so much to establish the region’s reputation for world-class wines.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 24 vintages of the Mondavi Cabernet Reserve rather evenly spread from 1966 to 2013. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/mondavi-retrospective-a-napa-history-lesson

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

 

Michael Mara Chardonnay

The Michael Mara Vineyard Tasting

from left: Jill and Steve Klein Matthiasson, Richard and Susan Idell, Birk O’Halloran, Abe Schoener, Chris Brockaway in the Michael Mara Vineyard, Sonoma, April 2016

Last week Richard and Susan Idell hosted a producer tasting at their vineyard along with Steve Matthiasson, who farms the site. The Idell’s Michael Mara Vineyard hosts six acres of Chardonnay, clone 4 grafted to de-vigorating rootstock in an already de-vigorating site. The rocky soils, with their high drainage, not only keep vines from over-producing but minimize growth to such a degree as to create intense concentration in the fruit. Wines from the site consistently offer a glimpse of that stony character.

Planting the Michael Mara in 2006, Matthiasson helped design the vineyard, and continues to farm it, adjusting rootstock and techniques over time as characteristics reveal themselves through the vines. Within a vintage or two of first fruit, Matthiasson believed it to be a special site offering the kind of density through the palate and mineral expression, in his view, usually characteristic of older vine sites.

The concentrating power of the site can be glimpsed through surrounding foliage.

Michael Mara stands in the midst of a mini-plateau elevated by four feet when compared to surrounding properties. Throughout the earthen-swell trees reach almost half-size compared to those growing on lower grounds. Matthiasson believes the minimizing effect on plants comes from the low water retention of the soils, coupled with their mix of closely-packed rocks and volcanic earth.

Vines too grow smaller through Michael Mara, with not only less size increase year-to-year, but also less canopy compared to other vineyards. The combination of reduced growth and lessened natural shade again lead to concentration of the fruit. At the same time the juice-to-skin ratio is changed. Smaller clusters and smaller berries mean more skin to less pulp in the fruit. With the heightened phenolics from the skins, even wines put straight to press from the site carry a stimulating sapidity that washes the mouth with mineral freshness.

Flavors of the Vines

Growing up in Alaska, friends and I would sometimes spend an entire day just running through the mountains. A parent would drop us off an hour or so down the road on the Seward Peninsula at the entrance to a high elevation valley, then we would take the next several hours to simply run North through the belly of the Chugach mountains. Eventually we’d arrive near the edge of Anchorage, where another parent would pick us up. Along the way, if we grew thirsty, we learned to throw a rock in our mouths. The pebble would stimulate our palate making it water as we ran through the still snow-soaked summer range. The experience always tasted just a touch earthy, not quite salty but almost, with the flavor of fog lifting from the wet upland valley. In portions the resin scent of pine or evergreen blended in with the fog.

The stoniness of Michael Mara wines across producers and vintages reminds me of those runs through the mountains with a rock in my mouth – a mouthwatering wash of stones through the midpalate with a bit of earth and a flavor that’s almost salty but not – coupled with a bit of fog, a profound density of fruit, the flavor of which varies by picking time and cellar technique, and hints of forest resin.

The Idell family’s Michael Mara serves as source fruit for a range of producers making wine across a diversity of styles. Still that fruit density and stony wash remain consistent.

Following are tasting notes on the wines tasted at the event last week presented in the order tasted.

* Broc Cellars 2011 Michael Mara Chardonnay 12% $42

With delicate aromatics and a stimulating texture, the broc 2014 showcases a midpalate burst of fresh, clean fruit washed through with a mineral stimulating rush of acidity, and a savory finish. Refreshing, a hint funky, delicious.

* Matthiasson 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 12.9% $55

Offering a fresh fruit lift of pear and clementine touched by hints of honey and amber, the Matthiasson 2013 spins simultaneously with fresh and rich accents. Pleasing acidity carries almost lacy flavors married to a sense of lushness. Nice length and complexity. Delicious.

YoungInglewood 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.7% $60

Floral spiced aromatics followed by a palate of spiced wax, pear, and citrus rind with hints of savory forest-resin, the mid palate weight of the Younginglewood 2013 carries through a long finish. I would prefer a little less oak spice and a little less ripeness here but the wine offers a coherent expression of its style.

Idell Family Vineyard 2013 Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.2% $35

Tight aromatics and a subtle flavor profile with accents of oak spice throughout, the Idell Family Vineyards 2013 is not overly expressive currently but carries the promise of more. Showing light notes of pear and orange rind with a savory finish and persistent acidity, this wine would be worth checking-in on again in a year or two.

* Scholium Project 2014 Michael Faraday Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.49% $80

Savory aromatics and palate with a distinctive, animalistic energy brought into focus, the Michael Faraday from 2014 carries lacy flavors with a savory strength. With an almost implacable core, this wine will age through the apocalypse. It might be the only wine left standing after the Resurrection. (Does that make it heathen wine? If it is, I don’t want to be right.)

Scholium Project 2015 barrel sample Michael Faraday Michael Mara Chardonnay

Still in the fresh-wine phase, the 2015 Michael Faraday shows flavors still in evolution but carries nice energy and persistence worth investigating again later in bottle.

Iconic 2014 Heroine Michael Mara Chardonnay 12.8% $TBD

Subtle and savory aromatics with a fleshier mid palate and a softer finish (that is not to call it either soft or unfocused) than the other vineyard examples, the 2014 Heroine appears to have a little more influence of malolactic fermentation than some of the other wines poured. Carrying a subtle palate of flavor with still good density and a punch of zestiness spun through the finish. Hints of verve, pith, and savor.

Kesner 2013 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 13.72% $55

My favorite of the three Kesner vintages poured, the 2013 feels the most cohesive with potential to age. Showing notes of wax-nut burnished by spice the flavors here are rich though nuanced with density and length carrying into a long savory finish. Allow plenty of air upon opening.

Kesner 2012 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 14.3% $55

With subtle aromatics and palate, the 2012 is currently showing less complexity than the 2013 or 2011, as well as a softer finish.

Kesner 2011 Rockbreak Michael Mara Chardonnay 14.2% $55

While the 2011 feels more disjointed than the other vintages – simultaneously offering fresh fruit notes with a bit of ripe heat through the close – it also carries a burst of fresh flavor at the front of the palate that is pleasing, before falling into a softer finish.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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The Walla Walla Harvest Report

Anna Schafer

Like many wine regions around the world, Walla Walla in Washington state had its earliest harvest on record in 2015. Even so, producers throughout the Valley are happy with wine quality and most especially with the region’s three most-planted varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Early reports indicate that the vintage’s wines are already showing well overall.

While both 2014 and 2015 were hot years, 2015 avoided the excessive heat spikes of the earlier vintage and allowed vines to adjust to high temperatures and continue a more normal daily respiration cycle. Additionally, cooler temperatures towards the end of the growing season allowed both adequate ripening, and acidity preservation. As Anna Schafer (pictured), winemaker of aMaurice reports, ‘It was just a consistent heat throughout the summer and didn’t spike like it did in 2014. Also it consistently cooled off quite a bit in late August, which was a lifesaver for the vines as during the ripening they didn’t have to shut down and could continue respiration. Bottom line, I am surprised at how balanced the wines were and continue to be.’ While aMaurice farms in the Mill Creek District on the eastern side of Walla Walla, they also source fruit from throughout the region. Schafer has seen positive quality in all of their wines for 2015.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 61 Washington wines. Both of these articles appear behind a paywall. 

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

The links are below. 

The Harvest Report: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/walla-walla-2015-early-hot-but-good

The Tasting Notes with regional overview: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/walla-walla-the-tasting-notes

You might also be interested in reading this free access photo (with captions) collection I posted from my intensive week in Walla Walla this summer:

http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2016/03/16/a-week-in-walla-walla-an-instagram-photo-collection/

Cheers!

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Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the vineyards of Adelaida estate

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the Adelaida Cellars vineyards, July 2015

Last year I fell in love with the wines of Jeremy Weintraub. Though I’d enjoyed his wines from Seavey before, I’d done so unwittingly, drinking them simply for pleasure without knowledge of the winemaker. Then last summer I had the good fortune of touring Adelaida Cellars in the historic Adelaida District on the western side of Paso Robles, enjoying vintages early in its history, then forward again to the first of Weintraub’s. After the visit I continued tasting newer releases of Adelaida wines, and discovered too his own Site Wines label.

Last month Weintraub hosted me again for a unique opportunity to discuss his work across labels, tasting current releases of Site, Adelaida, and an older vintage of Seavey (2009) side by side. What proves central to Weintraub’s approach to winemaking is a quest for intimacy with the vineyard rooted in an eye towards refinement.

Weintraub began consulting with Adelaida’s Cabernet program in 2012 and became winemaker in 2013, moving from his winemaking position at Seavey in Napa Valley that he’d started in 2008. As he began at Adelaida he also started his own small production Site Wines label, focused on vineyards of Santa Barbara County. Weintraub’s experience is extensive. Prior to his work at Seavey he had already worked in both Paso and Santa Barbara County, interned in Tuscany, Central Otago, Martinborough, and Long Island, and earned an MS in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.

Seavey 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

It is Weintraub’s previous position as winemaker that makes the sense of refinement central to his approach most obviously visible. Prior to Adelaida, Weintraub led the winemaking team at Seavey, one of the most under appreciated estates of Napa Valley. It’s one of those vineyards that reminds us of the very specific value of site, showcasing a quality that surpasses that of its neighbors.

The Seavey’s dry-farmed, hillside vineyards, in the heart of Napa’s Conn Valley, are well-placed to absorb ample sun, delivering dark flavor characteristics and abundant tannin. Yet it sits close enough to the cooling and mineral influences of Conn Creek and Lake Hennessey to also intimate notes of rose, violet, iron and spice, a complexity infused with dusty elegance. Picked to celebrate the wash of acidity possible with the site, vinified for judicious tannin management, and clothed by just a sheer chiffon of oak spice, Weintraub’s 2009 Seavey Cabernet reminds us what Napa Valley does at its best is seamlessness. It’s one of those rare wines that brings a pinching sting to remember, the thought that I might not drink it again.

But, while Weintraub’s time at Seavey clearly showcases the refinement of his approach, it is perhaps in his current work at Adelaida that his talent for it becomes most apparent. When a winemaker is lucky enough to work with a site like Seavey it can be easy to mistake the important synchronicity of winemaker to vineyard as either based all in site quality or all in winemaking. Through his work at Adelaida, a more complicated and varied site than his prior home in Napa, the skill of his craft becomes more apparent.

Established in 1981, Adelaida began farming and planting its own vines in the early 1990s, having sourced fruit prior to then. The site now includes a unique range of varieties from the high elevation Cabernet of their Viking Vineyard, to the steep, rolling knoll of Michael’s dry-farmed, head-trained Zinfandel; the limestone established Rhone varieties that sweep the property, and the swailed chute of historic Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay in the 1960s-planted HMR Vineyard. All together Adelaida’s estate vineyards include 145 planted acres, one-third of which is dry-farmed while the rest is being weened over to dry farming, a shift made in response to the recent California drought and in conjunction with hiring Weintraub.

Adelaida HMR Pinot

Adelaida HMR Pinot from 2013, 2009, 2002, 1995; HMR was planted in 1964 in a distinctly cooler microclimate on the western side of the Adelaida estate

Tasting through vintage verticals of Adelaida wines, most particularly the famous HMR pinot, Weintraub’s shift in quality becomes apparent. Established in the mid-1960s, then purchased by Adelaida in 1991, the earliest vintages of Adelaida’s HMR Pinots have aged beautifully, picked for freshness and woven through with accents of American oak. By the early 2000s, the winemaking has shifted entirely to French oak but also to greater extraction and apparently less age-ability. Then in 2013, like an optometrist flipping the lens in an eye exam, the wine moves into clear focus and the vineyard character reads distinctly, a wine fine-boned and persistent with creamy cherry blossom, and spicy crunch, nice tension and length.

The HMR also offers another revelation.

Adelaida 2014 Gamay

Part of the uniqueness of the HMR Pinot rested in its inter-planting of 51-year old Gamay vines, by far the oldest Gamay in California and an unheard of gold mine hidden in the hills of western Paso Robles. Prior to Weintraub’s arrival, the Gamay had been vinified into the HMR Pinot. By 2014, Weintraub convinced the Adelaida team it was time to uncover their treasure and take the Gamay seriously as its own wine. Borrowing a guiding insight from Cru Beaujolais, they foot stomped their Gamay with 50% whole cluster inclusion. The result is an energetic, pleasantly structured, earthy wine with hints of spice, a wash of minerality, and just enough fruit, with the lifted aromatics of a pretty Brouilly.

Current Release Site Wines

Site Wines 2013 Roussanne, 2012 Grenache, 2012 Syrah, 2012 Red blend

Weintraub’s work in his own project, his small production Site wines, makes clear his ability to read a vineyard. The quality of winemaking for his own label thus confirms the promise of his on going work with the Adelaida estate. In sourcing fruit from a range of sites in a region in a committed fashion, a winemaker is given the best opportunity to get to know the distinct overall characteristics of that region, but also to express most clearly his or her own winemaking aims.  Here, Weintraub has chosen to focus on Santa Barbara County. The result is a collection of five distinct Rhone wines, two varietal whites and two varietal reds and a red blend.

My favorite of the Site wines proves to be one of the prettiest Roussannes in California in both the 2012, and especially the 2013 vintage, sourced from the Stolpman Vineyard of Ballard Canyon. He also produces a Viognier that, in both 2012 and 2013 by avoiding the exuberant aromatics commonly found in California Viognier, masquerades as delicate until its persistent, while still subtle, expression across the palate becomes apparent.  And finally also two concentrated while still mouthwatering Rhone reds, a Grenache from Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon, and a Syrah from Bien Nacido of Santa Maria Valley, plus a Rhone red blend from Larner, each with the promise to age.

The Site wines are delicious and freshly energetic but it is also in speaking with Weintraub about each of these vineyards that his perspective shines. The intimacy Weintraub shows with the sites is impressive and detailed, the insights of a winegrower with as much a love for biology as beauty. The same balance shows in his on going familiarity with Adelaida’s vast vineyard holdings.

Adelaida Current Release Wines

Adelaida Cellars new look: 2014 Picpoul, 2014 Gamay, 2013 Viking Bordeaux blend, 2013 Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet

Weintraub’s winemaking at Adelaida produces a broad range of delicious and drinkable wines, but it is also an enormous estate with a vast range of plantings. In practical terms, such a large site also takes time for any winemaker to know, whatever their depth of talent. It can also mean some of the vineyards’ wines seem to have greater synchronicity from vine to wine through winemaker than others.

While each of the wines of Adelaida today is far more than drinkable, I find that synchronicity most elegantly through Weintraub’s 2014 Adelaida Gamay and Picpoul. While the 2013 Picpoul was a lovely wine, the balance of mouthwatering acidity to pretty fleshiness in the 2014 is inspiring. As paradoxical as it can seem when considering Paso Robles heat, it is the Adelaida whites, especially the Rhone varieties, and lighter reds I find most thrilling. In these I eagerly await seeing how they develop with on going vintages.

Turning to the more robust wines, the recent release of the Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet, the 2013, is not yet showing what it has to offer – currently feeling sweet and simple on the palate as it finds its way through its first years of baby fat while also promising to become more lithe and agile with age. The Viking Bordeaux blend from 2013, on the other hand, delivers an earthy grace that by the third day open is singing, an early indication of where it will get with age.

Speaking with Weintraub about his ongoing intimacy with the estate, I am excited to continue following the development of the Adelaida Rhone wine and Cabernet program. While the Adelaida Estate will never deliver a wine like Seavey that is also its gift. Paso Robles carries vastly different character than Napa Valley. In the respectful hands of a winemaker like Weintraub its a character he’ll continue to hone with refinement.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Walla Walla Retrospective

Norm McKibben

Standing at the top of Les Collines Vineyard, one of the valued fruit sources in Walla Walla, with Norm McKibben, one of the important founders and developing forces of Walla Walla wine

As I’ve mentioned here before, some readers asked if I would compile some of the Instagram photos collections from intensive wine trips made on my @Hawk_Wakawaka account there, and share them here on my site to make the information more readily accessible. With that in mind, this week I’m sharing images from my trip this last summer to Walla Walla. (In the next few weeks reviews from the trip will also be appearing over at JancisRobinson.com.)

The first few days I spent with a group of journalists in preparation for the annual Celebrate Walla Walla event, last year focusing on Merlot. After the festivities were complete, I turned to four days of intensive wine visits digging into the particularities and history of the region. The following photos are a compilation of a few pics from the group travels and then more from the final four days. Together they show some of my activities from the trip and give a glimpse of the region.

Walla Walla Wine

Let’s do this…

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Myles Anderson

Myles Anderson helped found the Walla Walla Community College Center for Enology + Viticulture in 2000 after serving as part of the local wine industry since the 1970s + making home wine since 1978. “The first release of Merlot from Walla Walla was in 1981 by Leonetti Cellars. The first significant planting of Merlot was made in 1980. That was Seven Hills Vineyard. They call it the Old Block now. Leonetti + Seven Hills still make wine from it. […] In 2001, the Wine & Spirits Guide identified 12 Merlots from the United States that were the best of the best. Four came from Walla Walla. Each of them the fruit came from Seven Hills. […] Merlot from Walla Walla has had astonishing recognition and it’s been one you can count on.”

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Tero Estates

Seven Hills Winery

“We are standing here in the original Cabernet block in the area [Walla Walla]. The old Cab block was planted in 1980. The old Merlot block in 1982. 4 acres of each. This was the first commercial sized grower, the first intentional commercial size vineyard in the area. It was two farming families that had been out here for generations, mostly farming wheat. That took a lot of guts + vision because it wasn’t obvious back then putting in Bordeaux reds. It was quirky. Now here we are 20 years later + it works. There is a lot of knowledge now but back then there were only a few wineries but we have continued by relying on that same original cooperative nature.” – Casey McCellan owner-winemaker of Seven Hills Winery on the Oregon side of Walla Walla

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L’Ecole Ferguson Vineyard

Marty Clubb of L’Ecole stands in front of a wall of fractured basalt on the western edge of his 1500 ft elevation Ferguson Vineyard in the Oregon portion of Walla Walla. At the top right of this photo you can see a peek of where the vineyard starts + how shallow the wind blown Loess soils are on top of the basalt bedrock – a few inches to 2 ft in depth. “I was really nervous about planting here because these are very thin soils on top of fractured basalt. It is a rough growing environment but also extremely windy here. We planted those first rows to Syrah to help. Syrah can take the wind. Many of the wine regions of Washington are built on this series of ridges. They are the lifted buckles of compressed basalt from 15 million years ago. The younger soils are mostly worn off. If magma cools quickly the rock fractures. That is why we always say this is fractured basalt. If you look at this wall it is like a wall of tightly fit puzzle pieces. But what does basalt become when it breaks down? Oxidized red iron dirt. The vine roots can push inside because the basalt is fractured but also the movement from plate tectonics over millennia has created red dirt between the seams of the fractures. So the roots are digging between the fractures + accessing the soils from between the seams.” – Marty Clubb

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Woodward Canyon

Rick Small established Woodward Canyon, the 2nd winery in Walla Walla, in 1981. In the last 6 yrs he has planted the North Ridge blocks relying entirely on organic farming. He will make the 1st wines from the site this year. Thanks to the wind blown Loess + silty soils plus cold winters phylloxera has not come to the region. Less than 1% of vineyards are planted to rootstock. “If someone would have said 10 yrs ago that I could grow grapes organically out here I maybe would have argued with them a little bit. But now having done it for 10 yrs I think it’s possible. […] All of this Wente Chardonnay is own root but all of my Bordeaux reds are on rootstock. I think I need at least 10 yrs before I know anything [about how the rootstock is working]. I think climate change is going to be a bigger problem for any of us farmers than phylloxera or leaf role virus or anything like that.” – Rick Small

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Leonetti Cellars

Loess Soils

Walla Walla: the Loess is real (and all over my feet).

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Walla Walla Community College Culinary Program

Walla Walla Merlot

Walla Walla Merlot? Here’s a tip: find the best in a cool year, wait 15 to 22 years + enjoy.

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Heading Out on my Own

I found my Walla Walla rental car wrapped inside a Cracker Jack box.

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Serra Padacci Vineyard

Cayuse Vineyard

Gramercy Cellars

Norm McKibben

Norm McKibben of Amavi + Pepperbridge wineries started working w + establishing vineyards in Walla Walla at the start of the 1990s. He quickly became one of the largest suppliers of grapes in the region also serving on the board of the region’s Wine Commission + as a founding member of the Oregon Wine Board. “I planted the first grapes at Pepperbridge in 1991. There were 40 acres [of grapevines] in the [Walla Walla] Valley at that time, including Pepperbridge. I was growing apples + decided to plant grapes. I planted on Whiskey Ridge [up in the hills outside of Walla Walla]. It didn’t work. Then I started planting grapes in the Valley at Pepperbridge. I sold grapes to a few wineries – Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole + Andrew Will on Vashon Island. There weren’t that many wineries here at the time. When their wines came out + said, Pepperbridge Vineyard, more people started calling asking for grapes + it grew from there. I didn’t plan it. It probably sounds silly but I learned the most from the vineyard [on Whiskey Ridge] I tore out because I called every expert I could. Everyone said, tear it out, but I got a lot of advice.”

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Seven Hills Wines

aMaurice 

Model A Gathering

Somehow I happened into the middle a Walla Walla Model A show. Cool!

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Waters 

Geeking out on site specificity vs blending w Waters Syrahs, Rhone white + red blends.

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The Famous Camel

The Walla Walla Notebook

The Walla Walla Notebook: it’s every page full, folks. I’m pooped. Thank you to everyone for such an informative week!

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

For the Love of Wine

Alice Feiring For the Love of Wine

My great grandfather died in the Spring. He was buried in remote Alaska. At his request, we clothed him in the gilded robe he wore as reader for the Russian Orthodox Church, a role he prided himself in, assisting the Priest during service.

His funeral was held in the Orthodox tradition. Incense burned during prayer and filled the air with the scent of amber and smokey beeswax with blossoms. At the graveside, Aleut and Yupik women from the oldest generation sang prayers in a language whose words I couldn’t understand. The tones of grief, and spiritual hope were familiar to me. We lowered his coffin and threw clumps of dirt on top. The first handfuls from the family hit the lidded metal box with echoing thumps.

My grandfather’s part of remote Alaska has long been an intersection of Alaska Native and Orthodox traditions. By now the two are so intertwined I have a hard time telling them apart. Some of my stories of Alaska Native life I cannot distinguish between traditions of the Church or traditions of the people. For my family the two were the same.

This is the way with older ethnic cultures, an inter-braiding of traditions that is the texture and life breath of every day. It’s a layering and complexity that differs from newer cultures like the mainstream United States. In a global economy we are greeted by flavors and imports from around the world. It’s a dynamic process that means our culture can seem complex, but the difference is a matter of what we hold onto and live through daily life, versus what we greet as yet another flash of another something new.

Alice Feiring‘s new book, For the Love of Wine: My odyssey through the world’s most ancient wine culture, offers us intimacy, albeit in the temporary way of a well-invested traveler, with a long-standing culture. Through her writing she shares an intricately inter-braided world, the culture of Georgia in which food, wine, farming, friendship, Orthodox religion, mysticism, a turbulent long-term and recent history, economic struggle, the effect of totalitarian politics, resilience, its grief and its stamina all weave as the textural richness of everyday life. In this way, her writing in this book is brilliant. At the same time, it also feels new.

Feiring brings to her writing on Georgia a simultaneous freshness and refinement that surpasses that of her previous books. Through it she has not lost the self-certainty and sense of righteousness that can flare in her other writing when she stomps against the homogenizing force of industrialized winemaking or the dumbing influence of globalization. It is that here the love that fuels her willingness to fight has deepened and we are seeing Feiring even more honestly than before. It is through her judicious use of memoir to deliver the story that we discover our intimacy with the place of which she writes.

For the Love of Wine follows Feiring through a series of visits in Georgia. Chapters, loosely speaking, showcase a different producer and a different region of her discovery. Each installment, then, becomes a kind of character study of the producers of Georgia, as well as Feiring’s travelogue, at the same time that she delivers facts on the country’s history and winemaking. Finally, each chapter ends with a recipe.

The recipe: it’s a move that in most cases, when used as a chapter endnote like this, becomes the marker of a less serious book. A moment when we find the writing is charming, and leave it at that. But Feiring pulls off the risk. Here in the recipe chapter-close the stories she tells us become tangible. We as readers peer through the distance into the meals she shares with winemakers and their families, and then are invited into the experience by seeing how to make the food they ate. In most cases wines to pair are also suggested, either by implication via the chapter’s content or directly. Whether we choose to execute the dishes or not, Feiring has, in a sense, offered us a way to bridge the gap of distance. The winemakers have not just poured her their wine, and shared their stories, they have given us the warmth of their own traditional recipes. And here I find an implicit tension in Feiring’s writing.

By sharing the culture of Georgia, Feiring seeks to help preserve it. In this way, she mobilizes a kind of cultural jujutsu using the force of globalization — writing a book that will be read internationally, encouraging international distribution of artisanal wines, inspiring international tourism by sharing insights of a unique place — to help make the winemakers’ economy strong enough to support its own local aims and afford its long-standing traditions. Where her writing before has rallied against the homogenizing force of globalization, here she has found a means to use that power for the sake of what she believes in.

Feiring is not naive to the gamble.

Integral to the tone of the entire book is the intricacy of grief. For the Love of Wine is dedicated to her brother, who we discover early in the text has been diagnosed with cancer. Through the course of Feiring’s travels we come to know the story of their relationship, and follow the progression of his illness as she comes to know it herself. At its first introduction, the inclusion of such a private matter comes as a starkly personal incursion in the midst of a book apparently written about wine. But as the story continues, the feeling of Feiring’s grief begins to echo the bass note harmonic that thrums in the background of any such long-standing culture.

A people that have survived wars, famines, epidemics, and colonization by an outside power forever hum in their song the chord of grief. It becomes not a mere burden but an even inspiring part of the culture’s life force. Inspiration — the sixth stage of grief after acceptance, when that bass note harmonic thrums us, not loose, but back into living. Feiring’s willingness to let us grieve with her, then, actually helps us more readily recognize the feeling of Georgia.

Ultimately, it is here in the thrum we find Feiring drinking in her love of wine. For it is the thrum that makes wine more than merely part of a meal. We see this in the Christian tradition where communal wine becomes the blood of Christ thus offering us new life through the forgiveness of sins. Or, as Feiring points out, in Jewish tradition, where wine serves as the blessing in a meal “from weddings to births” (43). Or for Georgians, where “the strength of the Georgian wine” rises from “the blood of […] ancestors” (21). In each case as we raise the cup, or in the case of Feiring and her friends, the Georgian horn, we enjoy not merely wine, but a drink that contains tradition, friendship, forgiveness, blessing, food, history, elixir.

***

For the Love of Wine
My Odyssey through the World’s Most Ancient Wine Culture
Alice Feiring
Hardcover
2016
208 pp
19 recipes, 22 illustrations, 1 map
978-1-61234-764-6
$24.95

This book was received for the purpose of review from the University of Nebraska Press. 

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.