Institute of Masters of Wine Prestige Champagne Tasting

MW Champagne Panel

The Institute of Masters of Wine (MW) hosted their annual Champagne Tasting event this week featuring over 100 cuvées from top Champagne houses. Prior to the walk-around tasting, three Masters of Wine led a panel discussion of 24 Prestige Cuvées tasted in three flights. Prestige Cuvées are considered the tête de cuvée, or best wine produced from a particular terroir of a producer. They are often smaller production than their other bottlings, though not necessarily.

The 24 wines were selected by the MW panelists – Charles Curtis, Joel Butler, and Tim Marson – around 3 themes each presented in a single flight. The first flight selected 8 of the best examples of Blanc de blancs prestige cuvées; the second side-by-side top cuvées from a single house; and the third sought to discuss the cacophony of factors that go into flavor development looking specifically at vintage versus time en tirage. In the final flight it was difficult to come to conclusions, but part of the point was considering which houses hold wine for aging on lees versus aging after disgorgement, with emphasis on the point that really the question of time in bottle on or off lees is only one powerful though small element in the quality of the final wine alongside terroir, ripeness, vintage conditions, technique, etc.

Following are notes are each of the wines poured during the panel.

Flight 1: Blanc de blancs

Blanc de blancs Champagnes

* 2009 Non-dosé Blanc de blancs Premier Cru “Terre de Vertus” Champagne Larmandier Bernier $65 The “Terre de Vertus” presents a beautiful floral lift and freshness that balances the giving fruit of the vintage. With a more generous year, Larmandier Bernier chose not to use dosage finding the balance intrinsic to the wine already. The result is a sense of delicacy and purity. This wine carries a fine mousse, fresh blossom, a kiss of citrus, just a hint of caramel, and a long persistent mineral finish. Delicious.

2009 Brut Blanc de blancs Millésime Premier Cru “Clos de l’Abbaye” Champagne Doyard $95 Showing some of the richness of its vintage, the “Clos de l’Abbaye” offers a giving, round palate with nuance and no heaviness. Notes of light caramel, a fine mousse, and a persistent crushed sea-salt minerality carrying through to a long finish.

* 2002 Brut Blanc de blancs “Le Mesnil” Champagne Salon $433 Nuanced and giving, the 2002 Salon offers a floral and seaside-brine lift carried on a body of spiced baked apple dusted by chalk. Juicy and full flavored with ample acidity and a long finish, the 2002 is just beginning to open and will surely give a long fulfilling life.

2006 Brut Blanc de blancs “Fleur de Passion” Champagne Diebolt-Vallois $143 With a floral lift of apple and lemon blossom, cascading into baked apple and pear, the “Fleur de Passion” is both soft, elegant and at the same time finessed with a giving mid palate, silky mousse, rich flavor, and a long finish.

NV Brut Blanc de blancs Grand Cru “Les Aventures” Champagne A.R. Lenoble $97 Dynamic, structural and racy. Showcasing white blossoms, mixed citrus and herbal-oil notes of apple leaf with baking spice accents, the “Les Aventures” is finessed, nuanced and intriguing, with a fine while firm mousse, and a persistent finish.

2004 Brut Blanc de blancs Champagne Dom Ruinart $152 With an emphasis on both fruit and structure, the 2004 Dom Ruinart remains taut currently while promising both nuance and complexity – notes of lush fruit, dusty earthiness, and metallic zing wound through racy acidity, and a finessed, textural palate. Give it a bit of time in bottle.

2005 Brut Blanc de blancs “Comtes de Champagne” Champagne Tattinger $ 163 Clean. Finessed with real density. Spiced orchard fruit aromatics with metallic accents leading into a palate with notes of crisp, golden delicious apple, a kiss of peach and an accent of grapefruit pith. A creamy, round mid palate followed by a crisp ultra long finish.

1995 Blanc de blancs “Blanc des Millénaires” Champagne Charles Heidsieck $178 Showing notes of toffee and coffee grounds, with a hint of truffle and spice. Rich aromatics and a full mid palate with a soft mousse and persistent, delicate, long finish. Delicious and giving.

Flight 2: Side-by-side Prestige Cuvées

Side-by-side Champagne Prestige Cuvee

2007 Brut “Belle Epoque” Champagne Perrier-Jouët $160 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier. Dusty, orchard fruit aromatics carry into a full, rich fruit mid palate and a long finish. Persistent, racy acidity wound through a full palate.

2006 Brut Rosé “Belle Epoque” Champagne Perrier-Jouet $353 Unfortunately this wine did not arrive in time for the tasting.

2005 Brut Vintage Champagne Dom Perignon $172 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Spiced, orchard fruit aromatics carry into a crisp, full-flavored mid palate followed by a long, crisp finish. Lots of concentration and a sense of density through the palate. The 2005 hosts a fuller mid palate and less drive than its accompanying 2004 rosé.

2004 Brut Rosé Champagne Dom Perignon $324 A sense of delicacy throughout. Fresh floral with berry accents lifting over baked orchard fruit and dried berry with a buttered croissant accent. Metallic zing throughout. More vinous while also less concentrated than the accompanying 2005 blanc. Elegant.

2005 Brut “La Grande Année” Champagne Bollinger $128 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. Fresh orchard fruit coupled with spiced, baked apple and pear, and orange cream accents. Ample, nuanced aromatics followed by a full palate of flavor and finessed structure. Oxidative accents throughout carrying into a long finish.

2002 Extra-Brut “R.D.” Champagne Bollinger $321 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Perfumed and nutty with notes of ground coffee, toasted almond brioche, and perfumed apple blossom. A softer mousse than its 2005 counterpart. Oxidative accents throughout leading into a persistent metallic finish. Focused while also giving. Intriguing.

NV Brut “Grande Cuvée” Champagne Krug $175 Blend unclear. Includes Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and 15-20% Pinot Meunier. Notes of bruised and spiced mixed fruit, and brioche with toffee and coffee grounds. Nuanced and complex palate and aromatics with a full mid palate, firm mousse, and racy long finish.

2003 Brut Vintage Champagne Krug $255 46% Pinot Noir, 29% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier. Dried blossom and light spice. Pert, fresh pear and apple opening through the round mid palate followed by a crisp, focused finish. Fresher and more focused through the finish than the Grand Cuvée.

Flight 3: Vintage & en tirage

Vintage and en triage flight of Champagne

* NV Extra-Brut Grand Cru “V.P.” Champagne Egly-Ouriet $119 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. Aged 7 years on lees. Fresh and secondary notes throughout. Lively and energetic while lean palate. Notes of blossom lift over toffee and ground coffee. Rich mid palate with lean structure and long finish. Nice complexity and nuance. Beautiful.

2000 Brut “Cuvée des Enchanteleurs” Champagne Henriot $199 Aged 12 years on lees. Bold and risky. Notes of oyster liqueur, toffee and apple with toasted nut. Ripe and supple with a long, drying finish. Funky. The aromatics linger into hints of amontillado sherry with air.

2002 Brut Cuvée “Sir Winston Churchill” Champagne Pol Roger $263 Only from older vines. 10 years on lees. Subtle aromatics. Soft mousse. Persistent, firm acidity. Deliciously vinous with a nice crispness. Notes of bruised fruit, croissant and metallic zing – somehow both oxidative and fresh with a focused, long, drying finish. Powerful with nice density of flavor. Delicious.

2004 Brut Grand Cru Millésime “Bouzy” Champagne Pierre Paillard $70 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay. 9 years on lees. Notes of ground oyster shell, cocoa, and fresh apple with light berry accents and a metallic zing. Vibrant, youthful acidity. Focused, crisp and long finish. Delicious and unique.

2004 Brut “La Grande Dame” Champagne Veuve Cliquot $146 6 years on lees. Oyster liqueur, mixed fruit – crushed berry, bruised orchard fruit, and orange cream – on brioche. A rich, lush, giving wine with a persistent finish.

2005 Brut Grand Cru Millésime “Cuvée Perle d’Ayala” Champagne Ayala $144 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir. Both fresh floral and perfumed aromatics follow through a palate of orchard fruit and cocoa with a confected apple finish. A rich palate with firm and persistent acidity.

2005 Brut “Clos des Goisses” Champagne Philipponnat $195 2/3 Pinot Noir. 1/3 Chardonnay. 8-10 years on lees. Fresh orchard fruit and perfumed aromatics. Fresh and bruised apple with toasted nut and light coffee accents through the palate. Crisp acidity cut through a rich palate and a metallic, spiced finish. Distinctive.

2005 Brut Rosé “Comtes de Champagne” Champagne Tattinger $213 70% Pinot Noir (15% red), 30% Chardonnay. 5-6 years on lees. Notes of crisp pear, metallic berry, cocoa, toasted nut and spice. Subtle aromatics need air upon opening. Full mid palate and full, giving mousse lead into an ultra long finish with firm structure.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Willamette Valley Rediscovers Chardonnay

Jason Lett

While Chardonnay was established among the very first vines of Willamette Valley in the 1960s, it has spent most of the region’s history relegated to underachiever status. With Pinot Noir as Willamette Valley’s signature grape, Chardonnay was long regarded as a side project. But recently winemakers throughout the Valley have turned their attention to the white burgundy grape, working together to better understand its distinctiveness in their region. Changes in the overall consumer climate have helped smooth the path.

As consumer interest has shifted towards lighter wines, room for distinctively Willamette Valley Chardonnay has expanded. As Jason Lett of Eyrie explains, ‘Wines with minerality, structure, and healthy acidity are much more widely accepted now than 10 to 15 years ago.’ Willamette Valley’s extended growing season and longer days offer a subtlety to the fruit that was less apparent with excessive new oak. Jason, pictured above right, has lived with a unique perspective on the wines of the region and its relation to the global market. His father David established the first vines in Willamette Valley in the mid 1960s in the original Dundee Hills vineyard shown below, bringing with him a mix of cultivars inspired by the wines of Alsace. Among them were Chardonnay cuttings hand-selected from the best vines of a cool mountain site in California. The drive for riper styles with more oak influence that dominated the wine industry 20 years ago worked against Oregon Chardonnay.

To continue reading this article head on over to where the article appears in full. You will need to have a subscription to read the article as it appears behind a paywall. Here’s a link to the article in full:

The article is accompanied by tasting notes on 44 examples of Willamette Valley Chardonnay. To read the tasting notes:

Subscription is £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and 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.

A Search for Radiance

Bob Varner

It’s evening in March. We’ve just finished barrel-tasting 2011 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with Jim Varner. The conversation has focused on a calm but passionate exploration of the principles expressed behind the wine. Listening to Jim’s account, what becomes clear is that the focus is one of supreme gentleness. The subtle power of such an approach echoes through the wines as we taste them. Twins Jim and Bob Varner have now celebrated 18 vintages making wine from their Spring Ridge site, though they began planting it 34 years ago. From it they produce wines under the Varner and Neely labels, Bob managing the vineyard and winemaking, and Jim running the office and business. Spring Ridge rides the rim of Portola Valley, on undulating slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Valley had not been cultivated to vines when the brothers began their project.

Through much of the Santa Cruz Mountains, vineyards grow out of sight from each other, giving winemakers a sense of isolation from outside influence that is rare to most wine country. The region still echoes today with solitude, though it also carries in it some of the deepest, most respected heritage of California wine.

In the 1870s, Paul Masson, a Burgundian winemaker, found his way on to the elevated slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains and established vineyards for sparkling wine. The fog and cooling influence of two bodies of water-the San Francisco Bay to the east, and Pacific Ocean to the west -combined to offer the structural assets of a cooler climate needed for sparkling wine. In the 1940s, Masson’s enterprise led local entrepreneur Martin Ray to establish even higher vineyards and to begin making varietally specific wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and later Cabernet Sauvignon, an enterprise essentially untried in the state before. The site would come to be known as the historic Mount Eden.

To continue reading this article continue over to the World of Fine Wine website where the article appears in full for free online. Here’s the link:


California Wild Fires

As some of you know, California has been hit again and again this year with wild fires. Lake County alone is currently suffering its fifth this summer.

The current Valley Fire, as its come to be known, has been particularly devastating. It started midday Saturday (this weekend) and escalated to 40,000 acres in only 24 hrs, and has continued to spread to 61,000 acres with only 5% containment.

Even harder, the fire has forced substantial evacuations as it has moved through towns and residential communities in Southern Lake County, North Napa Valley, and Eastern Sonoma County. Thousands of people and their pets are displaced, many having lost everything to the fire.

How to Help

Evacuation centers have been established in both Lake County and Napa Valley.

There are also numerous sites accepting donations of goods, toiletries, clothing and shoes (of all sizes and ages), and personal items. Please call ahead if you want to make a drop off.

There are several animal care facilities accepting donations of pet food, bedding, collars and leashes, etc for everything from dogs and cats, to chickens or rabbits, and horses and livestock.

Following is the information I have been able to gather.

As always, monetary donations are most helpful.


Provident Credit Union’s Fire Relief Fund UPDATED
100% of the proceeds will be distributed to nonprofit agencies in the Lake County community to assist in the recovery effort. Additionally, Provident will match proceeds up to $5,000.
Donate in branch.
Donate by Phone: 
Phone: (800) 632-4600, opt. 0
Donate by mail: mail a check payable to Lake County Fire Victims Fund c/o Provident Credit Union to this address:
ATTN: Lake County Fire Victim’s Fund
Provident Credit Union
303 Twin Dolphin Drive
Redwood Shores, CA 94065

Redwood Credit Union
has started a fund in partnership with The Press Democrat and Senator Mike McGuire to assist those affected by the Lake County fires.

Mendo Lake County Credit Union

they have set up a fund specifically for fire relief and guaranteed all funds will be used for those impacted by the fires.

Wine Country Animal Lovers
are doing tons of work to help pet evacuees and coordinating efforts through shelters and pet hospitals throughout the region. They are also accepting monetary donations, which are being dedicated to those affected by the fire.

Red Cross donation site. Indicate disaster relief.
If you donate via Paypal you can add a note designating #ValleyFire

To register for Red Cross Assistance American Red Cross “Safe and Well” website
call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to let families know you are safe.

Middletown Mustangs High School Football Team UPDATED
The Valley Fire started the weekend prior to Middletown High School’s Homecoming week. At least 1/3 of the football team lost everything, including their gear. Emergency funds don’t typically cover the cost of replacing athletic equipment. The team from El Molino High School, which the Mustangs were scheduled to play this week for homecoming, have started a fund to replace athletic gear for the Middletown team. Sports are a great way for young people to move forward productively. The Mustang’s team have expressed their desire to get back to practice.


Two primary evacuation centers both being led by the Red Cross:

Kelseyville High School
5480 Main Street, Kelseyville, CA

Napa County Fairgrounds
1435 N Oak St, Calistoga, CA.
Petaluma Animal Services and Wine Country Animal Lovers are available for evacuated pets and animals.


Big Valley Rancheria Gymnasium
1002 Osprey Court (off Soda Bay Road), Lakeport, CA.
There is space for parking of self-contained RV’s outside the shelter.

Clearlake Senior Center
3245 Bowers Avenue, Clearlake, CA

Cole Creek Equestrian Center
4965 Steelhead Drive, Kelseyville, CA
With or without livestock.
Space for self-contained RV’s, trailers and tents.

Kelseyville Presbyterian Church
5340 Church Street, Kelseyville, CA

Redwood Empire Fairgrounds, Fine Arts Building
1055 North State Street, Ukiah, CA
They have facilities for shelter of small animals and can also house some large animals.
Directions: Coming from Lake County, take N State St exit and head south. Go through two stop lights and take a left past KFC.

Seventh Day Adventist Church of Lakeport
1111 Park Way, Lakeport, CA
Space for self-contained RV’s.

Lakeport Auto Movies
52 Soda Bay Rd, Lakeport, CA 95453
Space for self-contained RVs, trailers, and campers only.
Please check in at movie theater office.
Dump station available in Library Park near launch at 5th St in Lakeport, No potable water to fill tanks.


Moose Lodge in Clear Lake
15900 E Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423
(707) 998-3740

Methodist Church in Clear Lake
call Cindy at 1 (408) 821-2443

List of donation centers. You can add to the list as well.

Napa County Fairgrounds
1435 N Oak St, Calistoga, CA.


Lake County Horse Rescue is taking large animal evacuees.
4949 Hellbush Drive in Lakeport. 707-263-0278

Lake County Horse Council has additional equestrian rescue information:

People wanting to offer help housing / transporting horses should follow and post the following pages:
Sunrise Horse Rescue
Cole Creek Equestrian Center
Sonoma County CHANGE Program

Petaluma Animal Shelter is helping to coordinate pet care at the Napa Fair Grounds

Wine Country Animal Lovers is helping to coordinate pet care at the Napa Fair Grounds
and with shelters throughout the North Coast

Emergency Boarding Assistance is available at animal hospitals throughout the North Coast. Animals must be up with current vaccinations but at hospitals where there is still room doctors are offering free shots to get animals current. Here is a list of hospitals. Please call ahead.

If you want to foster dogs/cats, please complete an application with our rescue partners at Sonoma Humane Society ~ they are also accepting donations!

Pet Food, supplies and donations can be accepted by our rescue partners who are also working with us at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga:
Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch
Petaluma Animal Services

How to volunteer: You are welcome to visit the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga and check in with a coordinator to see what you can do to help. It might be cooking in the kitchens, refilling water bowls for pets, organizing piles of incoming donations, etc. and these needs will be ongoing as long as the evacuation center is up and running.

Pet Lost and Found Pages:
Valley Fire – Lake County Lost or Found Pets
PET Lost and Found for Lake County Fires
Napa Valley Equine
Lake County Animal Care & Control


If you or someone you know needs help handling distress from the wildfire please call the following Distress Hotline for assistance. They have access to a range of resources that can help.
Call: 1-800-985-5990 (they have Spanish language speakers available as well)



Mail for the evacuated areas has been re-routed and is available for pick up at the following locations:

For Cobb and Clearlake Riviera:
Kelseyville Post Office
5500 Gaddy Lane
Kelseyville, CA 95451

For Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake:
Clearlake Post Office
14500 Olympic Drive
Clearlake, CA 95422


Lake County Tribal Health and St. Helena Clearlake Clinic have same day appointments available to evacuees: Call 263-8382 or 995-4500


Sonoma’s Far Coast: A haven for pinot noir

Wine & Spirits pinot noir

We step out of the forest into a glade where light pours through. Ted Lemon has guided me to the top of a hill at 1,200 feet of elevation in The Haven. He has been farming half of this tenacre property since 2001, using biodynamic methods, and he left half of the land wild.

“This is why it’s called The Haven,” he says of Littorai’s estate vineyard. The surrounding forest and coastal scrub provides animal habitat to foster biodiversity. Behind us, pinot noir, chardonnay and chenin blanc grow from a mix of shale, iron sands, compressed clay and serpentine.

These hills are part of Sonoma’s coastal mountains, most of which remain covered in conifers, too steep for cultivation. Vineyards have only arrived in the last 30 years, almost all planted in the 1990s or later on the gentler slopes and hilltops. (Until 1994, when Williams Selyem, Kistler and Littorai came knocking, even David Hirsch’s now sought-after fruit was going to Kendall-Jackson for blending.)

To read the rest of this article click on over to the Wine & Spirits Magazine website. It’s currently free-for-all there. Here’s the link:


Langmeil The Freedom 1843 Shiraz

Langmeil The Freedom 1843 Vertical Tasting

click on image to enlarge

The world’s oldest still-producing Shiraz vineyard, The Freedom 1843, grows in Barossa near the North Para River. Planted in 1843, with a bit added in 1886, the vines root into alluvial loam and red clay over limestone mixed through with ironstone. Today, 3.5 acres remain of the site.

The old vines survive today thanks to the attention of the Lindner family of Langmeil winery who purchased and resuscitated the site in the mid-1990s. Entirely dry farmed, with deep roots, the vines naturally produce fruit with concentration, firm while supple tannin and mouthwatering acidity.

Langmeil winemakers, Paul Lindner and Tyson Bitter choose to take a hands on, rather minimalist approach to producing wine from The Freedom 1843 vineyard. As such, they also only bottle it as a vineyard designate wine in good vintages (the first bottled in 1997) in order to preserve a sense of site integrity. With only 3.5 acres of the old vines remaining, when produced The Freedom 1843 remains a small production bottling.

The Freedom 1843 wine is made to age, ideally kept in bottle for several years before opening.

Recently I was able to enjoy a four vintage vertical of The Freedom 1843 Shiraz (unfortunately, the 2010 was corked). Following are notes on the four vintages, as illustrated above.

The Freedom 1843 – generally kept 24 months in all-French oak (of varying sizes) before bottling then kept around two years in bottle before release.

2002 – Delicious and sophisticated with nice movement through the palate, the 2002 offers richness housed in a supple mouthfeel with nice focus and a good frame. There is lovely poise here – a strong wine with the balance to stand on point. Showing notes of black and red fruit nose to finish with accents of spiced leather and tobacco leaf, and a band of cedar throughout. The 2002 carries slightly dry fruit currently. Drink soon.

2004 – Showing nuance and complexity with a depth of concentration, the 2004 offers the combination of poise in richness possible from old vines. Offering savory elements throughout a body of dark, earthy fruit and a through-line of cedar, this wine carries notes of tobacco and mint with chocolate and pepper through the finish. Rich and supple with firm tannin and an ultra long finish.

2006 – With a sense of freshness and a stimulating mineral element of wet river rock rolled through saline, the 2006 offers nuance in the midst of richness. The 2004 revels in dark tones – dark while fresh, juicy fruit, deep forest accents, and deep bass notes – carried by mouth clenching acidity through an ultra long finish.

2012 – Under screwcap. Full of energy, pretty and poised, the 2012 brings freshness and exotic perfume to a bright palate of red fruit. With notes of mixed blossom, cedar and a wash of wet river rocks, the 2012 looks to develop its richness in the bottle. This is a vintage meant to age with a nice structural focus and mouthwatering acidity.


Thank you to Penelope Goodsall.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Torbreck RunRig: An icon of the Barossa Valley

Australia‘s Barossa Valley rose to prominence in the mid 1990s. Primarily known for its Shiraz, the region was celebrated for a combination of flavor concentration, supple tannin and mouthwatering acidity. Robert Parker‘s attention on the wines of the region ushered in a new era for the Barossa complete with a rush of new plantings and the advent of exports to the United States. The changes included too the possibility for more hands on attention to wine quality and a rise of boutique level wine producers and iconic wines.

Iconic among them stands Torbreck‘s flagship wine, the RunRig.

Like many of the Barossa’s top wines, the RunRig is an assemblage, blending from multiple sites across the Valley. Torbreck roots its winemaking primarily in the assemblage approach, offering only four single vineyard wines, with the belief that blending across microclimates allows them to showcase the best of the Barossa Valley through the production of more complete wines. In the case of the four single vineyard wines — The Descendent; The Laird (delicious); The Pict (my favorite); and Les Amis — the Torbreck team found that completeness in the site itself.

With the goal of showcasing the range of the Barossa Valley while exploring how we experience a sense of place in assemblage style wines, Torbreck decided to offer RunRig components’ tastings for the first time with their 2012 vintage. The tasting included the 2012 RunRig itself alongside six vineyard specific wines included in the final RunRig blend but also bottled in small quantities on their own only for the components’ tasting.

Torbreck RunRig Components Tasting

Torbreck 2012 RunRig Components Tasting

click on image to enlarge

The Barossa Valley as a region stands similar in size to the Napa Valley, with 11 subregions within regarded each as a unique microclimate. Sites from six of those microclimates are brought together to produce the RunRig assemblage.

Torbreck bottles RunRig only in the best of vintages, wishing to preserve its role as their flagship wine in terms of quality as well as prominence. In the year 2000, for example, the weather proved both too hot and too cold for even ripening; 2008, too hot; 2011 too wet. 2012, however, was regarded as a normal vintage in terms of temperatures with a dry growing season coming after a wealth of rain before it. The conditions, then, proved an advantage with vines having ample water while fruit remained relatively disease free.

The 2012 RunRig includes a blend of six vineyard sites each grown in a different microclimate of the Barossa Valley, as well as 2% Viognier from the 2014 vintage to lift the aromatics and stabilize the color. It spent 13 months in 55% new French oak. Following are descriptions on the wine and its individual components (named by microclimate), as illustrated in the drawing above.

RunRig – With notes of dark fruit carried by a bright lift and hints of dried blossom, the RunRig offers accents of molasses, sweet baking spice and a nip of ruby red grapefruit. This is a young wine enveloped by structure and a bit of baby fat. The 2012 offers supple tannin with mouthwatering acidity, a long finish and the stuffing to age.

The Components:

Lyndoch – Lyndoch’s Hillside Vineyard serves as 35-40% of the RunRig blend. Originally planted in the 1890s, the site grows from rich red clay over limestone mixed through with ironstone and quartz. Torbreck has been shifting the site to biodynamic farming.

Offering concentrated red and black fruit with a floral lift, the Lyndoch carries fine while dense tannin and high tone acidity with drive. Of the components, the Lyndoch seems the most complete on its own and could serve as an individually bottled wine.

Rowland Flat – The Phillipou Vineyard in Rowland Flat composes 15% of the RunRig blend. Planted in the late 1800s, the site gently slopes, grown in sand over yellow clay.

With herbal accents and a mix of cigar, smoke, and salt the Rowland Flat carries concentrated and lush black fruit and molasses. This component is all about concentration, with less backbone than the Lyndoch while still showing ample length.

Seppeltsfield – The Renshaw Vineyard in Seppelsfield offers the youngest vine component of RunRig carrying 10% of the final blend. With its natural richness and concentration, the Seppeltsfield fruit is housed entirely in new French oak. Planted in the 1960s, the Renshaw soils are red clay loam over sandstone with a sprinkle of ironstone mixed through.

With the darkest, richest notes of the components, the Seppeltsfield offers notes of coffee, blackened toast, bloody meat and olive brine accented through by sweet spice. This wine includes ample tannin and an ultra long finish.

Greenock – Planted in the 1860s, the Materne Vineyard of Greenock proves the oldest vineyard component of the RunRig. It is also one of the highest altitude sites of the components. The Materne soils are a shallow, sandy loam over yellow clay. RunRig includes 8-9% of the Greenock.

Carrying black fruit and notes of squid ink with graphite, the Greenock carriess vibrant intensity with fruit sweetness, dense tannin and a lot of persistence.

Moppa – The Moppa Vineyard was one of Torbreck’s first at its start in the mid-1990s. It was also one of the first selected to be part of the RunRig blend. Planted at the start of the 1900s, Moppa is grown in sandy loam over terrarossa red earth with bands of ironstone.

Full of sweet, dark fruit, terra-cotta dustiness, and iron accents, the Moppa includes lots of concentration with powdery, dense tannin, and tons of mouth stimulation. The acidity here is moderate but a mineral-sapidity throughout waters the palate into a medium-long finish.

Ebenezer – The Dimchurch Vineyard of Ebenezer composes 25% of the final blend and is the most Northerly of Torbreck’s sites. Planted at the start of the 1900s, the Dimchurch site grows in red and brown earth over dark red clays with a layer of chalky limestone.

With sweet fruit in a mix of frozen raspberries and fig, the Ebenezer includes salty brine accents and pepper hints throughout its robust and spicy frame. There is a lot of complexity to this component with a touch of caramel and ruby red grapefruit accents on strong tannin with good density.


With thanks to Dan Fredman.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Corison Cabernet 25-year Anniversary Prints

Cathy Corison 25 Year Anniversary Prints

with Cathy Corison after signing 150 art prints at her winery

With the release of her 2011 vintage, Cathy Corison celebrated the 25-year anniversary of her Napa Valley Cabernet. Earlier this year she hosted a 25-vintage vertical tasting of the wine. Lucky enough to be part of the tasting, I illustrated the experience as a 19″ x 24″ art piece representing the relationship of the wine across vintages and delineating notes on each vintage as well.

After multiple requests, the piece has now been printed as a limited edition release. 150 prints were made. 45 are available for sale via my Etsy shop. No additional prints will be made and the image will not be sold in any other form (no t-shirts or posters).

The print has been done on archival quality paper worthy of framing with the detail of the hand drawn original. Each print is hand signed and numbered by both myself, the artist, and Cathy Corison, the winemaker.

Cathy Corison signing prints of her 25-vintage vertical tasting

Cathy Corison signing 150 prints

To order an art print, please visit my Etsy shop here.

Details for shipping are listed there.

This Corison vertical drawing was not commissioned by Corison winery, nor have I been paid in any way by Cathy Corison or her winery for this piece. 

In Gratitude, For Tom, with thanks to Karen

“The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.” – Ray Wylie Hubbard

Paul and Anna Chukan, my great grandparents

Paul and Anna Chukan, my maternal great grandparents. Photo by my sister, Melanie Brown

I’ve spoken before about my life change. In 2010 I won a year long research fellowship at Dartmouth College. I’d done doctoral work at McGill University in Montreal and had a professor position in philosophy at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Dartmouth paid me to work in residence on the projects I already had in place. My presence there was meant to support my own work as much as it was to enlarge the already vibrant conversation occurring at Dartmouth through outside influence. While there I contracted pneumonia. At its worst I couldn’t stand and speak at the same time. I visited the emergency room three times, and went through three rounds of antibiotics before recovering two months later. In the midst of it I realized it was time for me to leave academia. I’d devoted my entire adult life and a doctoral program to that career but recognizing the need to leave, I gave myself a year to get out gracefully. I assumed I’d have a new career in place by the end of the year. I returned to Northern Arizona University to do one more year teaching in a town I loved.

The day I turned in the keys to my office and my final grades, thus closing my contract at Northern Arizona University, my daughter, Rachel, was in Alaska visiting our family. The house was empty. I returned home having left academia for the last time and sat on the couch. The house was silent. It was winter so the light was low. And I was alone with no plans before me. I had begun drawing my wine illustrations but did not yet know that would become the basis of a strange new career. At Dartmouth I recognized a path of academic life blazing before me clear and bright. I’d established myself in that profession in a way that delivered clear options before me. Now, it was as if I stood in an open field. No path or trail cut of direction reaching to the horizon. Nothing leading before me. No others standing beside me. No guidance. The terror of that moment was profound. I felt there was nothing to do but let the terror come. Everything in me felt still and quiet while the immeasurable mass of the unknown crashed over me and then crashed over me again. I had walked away from a career I’d devoted myself to and done well in, given up something I was good at simply because my intuition said it was time. It was clear the best thing for me to do was sleep. So I went to bed and slept 14 hour nights for a month.

Tom Wark posted yesterday about Karen MacNeil‘s recent keynote address at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in the Finger Lakes. Karen spoke at the Wine Writers’ Symposium here in Napa Valley in February. There she shared a story about the challenges of beginning her writing career – how long it took to have even one article accepted; how little money she had in the meantime. The contrast between her clear success now and the starkness of her writing roots then was inspiring. There is power in such perseverance. In telling the story of her path it was as if she shared that power with all of us.

In Tom’s article on Karen, he admires her resilience and then also considers a conundrum. How do we invest in a job that seems so unimportant as writing about wine? How do we find our inspiration?

Stephan and Malquay Ivanoff, my great grandparents

Stephan and Malquay Ivanoff, my paternal great grandparents. Photographer unknown

My work as a philosophy professor was something I believed in utterly. My doctoral dissertation investigated the question of what it means to be indigenous. The inspiration came entirely from my own family. I am an Aleut and Inupiat woman from Alaska that was lucky enough to be raised with extended family, our traditional foods, and a multi-generational blanket of family stories. During my doctoral program I discovered I was likely the first Aleut to pursue a doctorate in philosophy. The relevance of that was clear. In doing any of my work I felt my great grandparents, my grandparents, my late uncles, my distant cousins, and generations of ancestors I’d never met standing quiet and strong behind me. Their spirit was there to help push my work forward because I was there, in a sense, doing it for all of us. Any time I sat at my desk to write they were there. If I spoke in front of groups or when I was teaching they were there. Their presence gave me a power to do my work. The most difficult aspect of leaving my career rested there. I had, without meaning to, become a metaphorical conduit for my people. Whether I wrote about my family or not, my family in some way saw my work as about them. For me too, it was. They were a reason for me to invest completely in what I was doing. In leaving my career I was also choosing to leave that role as a sort of intellectual elder, and to risk losing that sense of all my ancestors beside me. When I closed my contract I walked away from work that was for all of them and for the first time stood in that open field alone.

It took time for me to recognize I’d begun a career in wine. In the meantime, it was simply something I was doing because I am a person built for projects, and wine gave me one. I poured all of my energy into building that project. For two years I visited as many vintners as possible for intensive one-on-one tastings and conversations at least five days a week without a break or pay, sharing much of what I was doing online. Posting my project online via this blog and social media was in its origin simply a means for me to circumscribe my own work. I wasn’t attempting to build an audience. Instead, I needed a way to recognize progress. In graduate school I’d developed a process of researching a subject then writing an in depth summary for my supervisors as a way of maintaining a conversation. Without a supervisor in wine, sharing an account of my vintner visits online gave me a way to imagine something like that conversation and see an accumulation of work. It was a way to hold myself accountable. Eventually I looked up and realized I’d built the start of a new profession. My blog writing eventually spread into writing for magazines both online and in print, as well as giving talks or leading panels. In a sense those aspects of the work I do look very much like what I’d done before in academia. My new career has depended very much on the online sharing I’d been doing initially only for a sense of perspective.

In responding to Karen’s key note address, Tom considered the idea of family and how they can serve as an inspiration for our work. In leaving my career one of the things I left behind was the weighty sense of obligation I’d carried for my extended family. I didn’t lose the dedication I have for them, and in a sense the drive I have for excellence (in whatever form) rests deeply in that dedication to them. What I let go of was the expectation that I could ever do something that would fulfill the path of my ancestors. I would no longer be the only Aleut in philosophy. I couldn’t carry my ancestors with me there. It’s hard for me to explain the sorrow of that for me except through that image of for the first time standing alone.

5 generations of my family, photo by my sister

Five generations of my family five days after the birth of my niece, photo by my sister Melanie Brown

Unexpectedly, it is precisely there, in the starkness of that change that I now find my inspiration. Leaving a career I’d invested everything into, including my imagined ancestors, was a moment of erasing all expectations. I could no longer rely on a prescribed path of a recognizable career, nor on the sense of feeling generations beside me. I had no promise of the future. Though my perspective on such change has continuously shifted, in a way that sense of standing in an open field without a promised future hasn’t. The gift of such bareness has been that every wine visit, every written article, every magazine connection has arrived as an unforeseen bonus, an unexpected delight found in an open field. For me, it is there I find a source of immeasurable gratitude. Still with most visits I count myself profoundly lucky to simply listen to their stories, as if they are sharing their ancestors with me and I can see those ancestors standing strong and quiet beside the person I am listening to. Sometimes their ancestors have as much to tell through what the person doesn’t quite say as the person through what they do.

Over time, I have also found a different source of power, one much like I felt in Karen sharing her story. Her being willing to share so honestly the challenges of her upbringing in wine stands as a way of sharing a new form of freedom. New because her path of challenge and success is one different than our own but reveals through its details new insights any of us might choose to continue forward ourselves. Freeing too because of the humanity witnessed through storytelling. In admitting to her own difficulties, Karen offers us a way to see we are like her. That someone we admire has challenges too, so our challenges perhaps are not so unusual or so insuperable.

In writing about Karen’s keynote, Tom concludes with the point that he found the story of her path inspiring, that it makes him want to do better work. I would say that what I find in Tom’s post is the sense that through Karen’s speech he has found a new strength. Ultimately, it is there too that I find my inspiration, the discovery that in persistence and vulnerability we have the opportunity to share strength with each other.


Karen MacNeil has just completed the 2nd edition of her groundbreaking book, The Wine Bible. The new edition will be available October, 2015. It reflects over five years of work traveling major regions throughout the world, tasting over 10,000 wines, and doing thorough research to then write a fully updated book. The new edition is an invaluable reference for any wine lover.

For more information on the new edition you can visit Karen’s site here

To read Tom Wark’s blog post on Karen’s talk:

With thanks to Tom Wark.

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In Praise of Discomfort

I’m at my best uncomfortable. I blame my parents though it isn’t really their fault. They raised me commercial fishing for salmon from the age of 9, till I retired in my early 20s, and it’s shaped my life ever since. I’ve spent my adulthood retraining simple habits I picked up fishing like going without food, water, or the bathroom as some faulty testament of fortitude and strength. Even so, summers still I schedule myself for work past the point of fatigue and revel along the way in pulling it off semi-gracefully. Part of me still admires the capacity to work beyond apparent human limits, as if it isn’t really me that pulls it off. I just get to be part of it. This July, for example, I completed the first half day of a visit with a migraine and the producers never found out. The man that drove me that day graciously helped track questions during the interview, for which I am endlessly grateful. I could keep up with the conversation. I just needed help connecting a few of the dots. My notebook is still full with notes of their wines, the vineyard, and their story. It’s good fortune that gives me the opportunity to meet with so many producers and I want to give them that time when I travel. Had I cancelled  to recover I would have missed the chance for that meeting. It’s hard to explain how much joy I find in simply listening to other’s stories (though I don’t always just listen).

This summer I’ve posted little here because I’ve been so busy elsewhere. For those of you that don’t know, when I’m traveling I’ve taken to telling the story of the people and regions I visit via Instagram, where it also routes to Facebook. There you will find photos of some of the people I meet along the way along with insightful quotations from our visit, or a factual dig into their story. For example, Phillip Hart walked me through his Ambythe Vineyard in Paso Robles where we discussed his work as well as the effects of the drought. Ambythe began harvesting this week.

Phillip Hart in his Ambythe Vineyard, Paso Robles

from Instagram: Phillip Hart walking his Ambythe Vineyard, Paso Robles

Paso Robles is just one of the regions I was lucky enough to visit. May began in Long Island, and then Chicago; June took me to Walla Walla as well as the West Sonoma Coast (again); July dug into Paso and Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County as well as parts of Napa. This month I’m catching up on articles and illustrations.

I’ll be writing more from these travels here through the rest of the year, as well as at, and elsewhere. I’m excited about work I’m doing for World of Fine Wine especially, as there I get to bring together my training in philosophy with my work in wine. It’s nice to recombine my professional worlds. In the meantime, here are a couple favorite photos from my travels looking at subjects I’ll be writing about more here.

Long Island

Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughter in The Hamptons, Long Island

Christopher Tracy, winemaker of Channing Daughters on the South Fork of Long Island, has some of the greatest creative latitude of any winemaker I’ve met. The winery sells the range of wines to prove it. He works too with soil scientist and viticulturist, Larry Perrine. Larry now directs Channing Daughters, but he arrived in Long Island at the start of the 1980s as a viticultural and winemaking consultant helping to solve nutritional problems suffered by the region’s vineyards. Together they offer a range of wines from classic chardonnays to Friuli-inspired white blends, to field blends made from the vines of Cornell’s Extension and Research Vineyard on Long Island’s North Fork.

Walla Walla

Norm McKibbenNorm McKibben led vineyard plantings in Walla Walla (W2) helping to expand quality vineyards through the region as well as inspire and support the work of others. His dedication to the W2 industry has been pivotal in so quickly establishing it as a celebrated region in the world. He is the founder of Pepperbridge and Amavi Cellars in W2 and helped maintain and expand the Seven Hills Vineyard – Sevein planting into one of the most sought after in the state.

Paso Robles

Mark Adams, Ledge Vineyard

Ledge Vineyards founder Mark Adams returned to Paso Robles and wine growing after a life in music and sound effects editing for major producers in Los Angeles. Today he makes some of the most delicious and drinkable Rhone wines of Paso Robles while farming his home vineyard in one of the few sandy soil sites of the county. In the last few weeks he expanded his family’s Ledge Vineyard planting to grow more Rhone whites and reds. Mark also makes wine just across the street with one of his long time friends, Justin Smith at Saxum.

Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County

At the top of Tierra Alta with Sonja Magdevski, John Belfy and Greg BrewerJohn Belfy (shown here center) has helped lead vineyard development and farming in Santa Barbara County‘s distinctive Ballard Canyon from its inception. His work established Jonata Vineyard and he planted and continues to farm Tierra Alta Vineyards as well, among others. Winemaker Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz (shown here left) is just one of the winemakers that sources fruit from his Ballard Canyon site and counts him as an inspiration. Greg Brewer of Brewer Clifton and Melville (shown here right) makes wine from Sta Rita Hills but credits John for support and encouragement received earlier in Greg’s career.

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