Authors Posts by Hawk Wakawaka

Hawk Wakawaka

A wine drawing philosopher with a heart of gold. aka. #firekitten

Illustrating Sonoma Cabernet

The editors of Wine & Spirits asked me this Fall to take on a rather unusual project. They wanted me to get to know the shape of Sonoma Cabernet. As Joshua Greene, W&S Editor, presented it to me, as a group they could readily articulate the shape of Napa Valley Cabernet. That is, there’s a recognizable character to the famed Valley’s Bordeaux reds but that of those same grapes grown one county West is less well-known. 

Sonoma County stands as the largest of the North Coast counties. With its reach all the way from the Pacific, across several river valleys and into the Mayacamas that separates it from Napa Valley, Sonoma’s growing conditions vary widely. A few pockets in the region capture the ideal warmth-light-and-drainage combination needed for Cabernet. Greene asked if I would focus in on four of these sites, dig into what makes them unique, and articulate how those conditions show in the wine. Through illustration. My task was to draw the sites and wines, not how they taste, but their shape on the palate. 

To be honest, this was one of the hardest projects I’ve done so far in wine. It was an incredible amount of fun at the exact same time that I felt like I was having to change fundamental aspects of my thinking to make it work. Illustrating the shape of a wine and its relation to its site isn’t anywhere near as straightforward as illustrating tasting notes as I usually do here. The resulting illustrations bare imagistic relation to the sites from which they arise but really are meant to show what you’ll find in the bottle. Have you ever had a wine that tastes like a mountain? I drew two. (They taste like very different mountains.)

Having put so much into the project it was a wonderful bonus to then have the editors select my work for the December cover. The illustrations themselves appear flat inside the magazine coupled with text about the project and each of the sites. The editors also printed the illustrations and placed them, as if labels, on bottles for what turned out to be the cover. Here’s a preview… 

Wine & Spirits Dec 2015

The Shape of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon
text and illustrations by Elaine Chukan Brown

The Pacific coast, the Russian River and the Mayacamas Mountains shape Sonoma County. Vines fill the region, reaching up the ridge lines and blanketing the valleys.

The Coastal Range protects much of Sonoma County from the direct effects of the Pacific Ocean. But thanks to the Petaluma Gap and canyon folds within those coastal mountains, cool maritime air reaches vines throughout the county. It’s a Pacific chill that might only tickle Sonoma’s eastern side, but when I drink finely grown Sonoma County cabernet, I can taste that maritime breeze.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Sonoma vineyards. I’ve begun to form associations between the conditions of the site and the experience of the wine, to associate angular tannins with mountain vineyards, and fuller, rounder wines with warmer temperatures or more generous soils. The place a wine is grown begins to take shape on the palate. It’s an experience that differs from that communicated in a typical tasting note.

Tasting notes describe a wine’s …

To continue reading pick up a print or electronic copy of the December issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine, available now. The issue includes an in-depth look at five regions from Australia via the recent Sommelier Scavenger Hunt; the year’s best Champagne, Barolo & Barbaresco, US Cabernets, Porto, and others; a dining guide to Montreal (my favorite); a look at pairing food with sweet wines, and more. Here’s a peek inside the December issue:

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The OUP Blog & The Oxford Companion to Wine

The Oxford Companion to Wine

The Oxford University Press (OUP) officially released the 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine in mid-September. In celebration of the new edition, the OUP asked some of the contributors to write an article that relates to important new entries in the 4th edition. The articles touch on ideas found in the Companion while exploring them in a way distinct from actual Companion entries, and are shared weekly on the OUP blog.

In the 4th edition, I wrote a new entry on the impact social media has had in the world of wine (as well as two others – a new one on “Sustainability,” and a complete update on “Information Technology”). As a result, the OUP editors asked if I would write an article on Social Media for their site. It posted today. Here’s a look…

Wine & Social Media

Social Media

Can Instagram really sell wine? The answer is, yes, though perhaps indirectly.

In recent years the advent of social media, considered to be the second stage of the Internet’s evolution – the Web 2.0, has not only created an explosion of user-generated content but also the decline of expert run media. It’s a change that has led to the near demise of print media, the decline of the publishing industry more broadly, and a revolution in what it means to sell wine.

Social media has dramatically changed how information is shared. Wine experts and consumers alike now more often share information about wine via social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and wine blogsNielsen studies show that Internet users spend more time on social media sites than any other type of Internet site. This has changed the way news is shared, and even what consumers see as relevant information. As a result, consumers today are swayed far more by the influence of their online peers rather than expert authority. It’s led (among other things) to fewer permanent wine critic positions.

Prior to social media, readers and consumers turned to industrial media sources, and established wine critics for expert opinion. There was no access to the mass of information freely available today online. Expert opinion, then, was communicated via…

To read the rest of this article, head on over to the OUP site, where it appears free. Here’s the link:

California 2015 – early, small and distinctive

Sonoma Mountain CabernetAs I travelled across California this summer and autumn a few things proved consistent. Most vineyards – whether hillside or valley floor, North Coast, southern portions of the state or further inland – exhibited reduced yields via either smaller clusters, berry shatter or millerandage, and harvest came early. A warm winter followed by a chilly spring meant fruit set suffered. Reduced fruit set (this picture shows Cabernet clusters on Sonoma Mountain) and smaller berry size led to significantly smaller yields than usual, as well as greater concentration of colour, acidity, tannin and flavour. Weather conditions across the state, as well as California’s fourth successive drought year, created these common themes for America’s largest wine-producing state.

However, wine quality in a year such as 2015 will be highly dependent on the health of the vineyard. In regions with higher portions of shatter and shot berries, producer’s propensity to sort to avoid sharp acidity and bitter flavours will also be an important factor. When it comes to the release of California’s 2015 wines, we can expect to see a significant drop in single-vineyard bottlings, and in the boutique rosés from California that have been so popular these last three years. While we should expect much smaller volume in fine-wine sales specifically for the 2015 vintage, there will be little impact on the number of bottles of California wine available overall since before 2015 California experienced three good-quality, high-volume years in a row. As a result, many producers are still loaded with stock from 2012, 2013 and 2014. While fine-wine enthusiasts will have to work harder to secure their favourite producer’s cuvées from 2015, most consumers are unlikely to notice a drop in availability for wines from the state in general.

The role of drought in the quality of 2015 wines

As the drought continues, farming decisions have become progressively more important to wine quality, even in vineyards reliant on irrigation. The 2015 growing season was marked by temperature variability throughout. That combined with the drought meant that continual attention to the vineyard proved especially important. Along with increased vineyard attention has come a need for farming decisions made increasingly vine-by-vine. Brook Williams owns and farms Duvarita Vineyard just west of the Sta Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Valley appellations in Santa Barbara County. As Williams explains, ‘We were more aggressive with pruning in February since it had already been a very dry winter. …

Curious about California’s 2015 harvest? To continue reading news + insights from producers throughout the state in this article, you’ll need to sign into

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World of Fine Wine Feature: Strange Synchronicity

Look! That’s me there featured on the cover! 

World of Fine Wine Issue 49

A peculiar thing happens for those of us who spend all our time tasting with winemakers: The wines begin to taste like the personality of the man or woman in front of us. It’s a strange moment to find synchronicity between the character of the wine and that of the winemaker, but there it is. More often than not, they match. “That’s why I love Burlotto wines,” Ceri Smith tells me. Together we are drinking, and talking, Italian wine. She’s begun to tell me about the work of winemaker Fabio Alessandria of Piedmont’s GB Burlotto, and to compare his wines to his personality.

Ceri Smith owns the respected Italian-focused wine shop Biondivino in San Francisco and she created the wine list at the reboot for famed Italian restaurant Tosca, in the same city. In her decades of work with Italian wine, Smith has gotten to know a range of Italy’s best winemakers.

She continues describing Alessandria’s character, and his work in wine. “Fabio is quiet, shy, and introverted, and his wines are these beautiful floral expressions. They feel just like Fabio: quiet, delicate, and strong.”

Later, viticulturist and winemaker Steve Matthiasson describes a similar experience. Matthiasson manages esteemed sites throughout Napa Valley such as Araujo, Chappellet, and Trefethen, while also making wine for his own eponymous label.

As Matthiasson explains, several years ago a group of Napa Valley winemakers were able to taste a range of wines from Burgundy with the Domain de la Romanée-Conti co-gérant and winemaker Aubert de Villaine. The group had gathered a series of paired wines. Each pair was made from the same vineyard but by two different winemakers. De Villaine knew the sites and the winemakers well. Throughout the tasting, Matthiasson relates, the wines from each vineyard set would share some core flavor commonalities but have a starkly different sense of character. One wine would seem flamboyant and lush compared to its sibling’s reserved austerity. One wine would feel edgy and intellectual, while the other was more immediately pleasurable. Tasting through all the wines, Matthiasson says, de Villaine consistently explained the contrast between the paired wines with reference to the personality of the winemakers. The flamboyant wine always matched the effusive winemaker; the reserved wine, the more reticent one.

This experience occurs with American wines as well. In one of my strangest tasting experiences, I tasted a California Tempranillo from a winemaker I’d never met and knew nothing about and discussed the wine with her assistant. While tasting the wine, I described aloud what I saw as the character of the wine. It drank with a sense of sophistication and rusticity simultaneously. I said, “as if she’d been raised in a fine family with all the lessons of etiquette but in adulthood went on to become a rancher.” In describing the wine, I was speaking of if like a person. I went on, “She still carries herself well in a dress but works hard in the dusty outside.” Looking up from the glass, I realized the assistant had fallen quiet. He explained that the winemaker had been raised in an upper-class family in the southern United States and then moved to California to grow grapes in the Sierra Foothills. Though the winemaker wasn’t a rancher, she did spend all her time farming grapes in the dusty mountains. The similarity of my description of the wine with the winemaker’s life stunned both of us.

It seems unlikely that a science of personality in winemaking could ever develop. Go too far, and it starts to sound like blind tasting winemaker personalities, or the vague generalities of horoscopes. Even so, such strange synchronicity often occurs. So, let us begin to explore the phenomenon. And to start, let’s consider how personality develops. …

To continue reading this article you’ll need to pick up a print or electronic copy of Issue 49, September 2015, of World of Fine Wine.

I couldn’t be more thrilled than by being the cover feature for an issue of this magazine. My admiration for it runs deep. It’s a must have subscription for any passionate wine lover, regularly showcasing writing from the finest wine writers in the world including Andrew Jeffords, Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Jasper Morris and others. The magazine also strives to seek out and find fresh new voices. Additionally, the magazine reviews fine wine from around the world via a multi-taster panel. The advantage of this rests in its multiple perspectives. The tasting panels print reviews from each of the (usually three or four) tasters so that you can get a more in-depth view of each wine from three differing, respected palates. If you’re interested in high quality long-form wine writing taking in-depth profiles of region’s and producers, plus regular reflections on wine like mine on personality and craft in winemaking, look into subscribing. Here’s the info. 

The cost of subscription is not inexpensive, but the mass of writing you get, the independent reporting and tasting, is comparable to none.

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Chateau de Fontenille, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux

Stephane Defraine, Chateau de Fontenille

Stéphane Defraine owner-winemaker of Château de Fontenille

Since 1989, Stéphane Defraine has led the Château de Fontenille in Bordeaux’s Entre Deux Mers. Prior to turning his attention to Château de Fontenille, Defraine established and farmed vineyards for other Chateaus in the region. His viticultural knowledge of the area is significant.

The Château de Fontenille grows 52 hectares with 50 currently in production, the majority planted to red varieties – 35 hectares red, 15 white. Like much of the region, 90% of the wine produced is exported, in this case, primarily to the United States and Japan. His rosé of Cabernet Franc in particular is a stand out.

The Entre Deux Mers region of Bordeaux has a celebrated history for white wine. With an increased focus on red wines since the 1960s, however, whites of the region have mostly been regarded as good oyster wines meant to be enjoyed fresh and racy in their youth. Many current examples are perfect for that, but the history of the region was established in a greater range of styles.

The moderate temperatures and unique soils of the area support white wines with incredible aging potential. (We enjoyed a 1988 Bordeaux Blanc from the Entre Deux Mers on our trip, for example, that was still in beautiful shape with mouthwashing acidity.) At the center of the difference rests not only vinification choices but also clonal selection. As the attention for entry-level Bordeaux shifted to bulk wine production, interest in high production clonal types also increased. While Defraine grows a greater portion of red varieties currently, he has kept a steady focus on the farming quality of his whites and has helped to reestablish quality clones for white varieties.

In late September, Adam Lechmere, Richard Hemming, Emma Roberts and I visited Defraine to taste his wines and learn more of his perspective on the region.

Following is some of what Defraine had to share with us beginning with his thoughts on the 2015 vintage and his approach to viticulture. He discusses his views of sustainable farming and the role of economic sustainability. Eventually he speaks about the changes in winemaking style in Bordeaux and his work with clonal selection as well.

Stéphane Defraine of Château de Fontenille

Stephane Defraine

“We don’t need to make a lot of intervention on the grapes because it is very good [weather this year]. It is a bit like 2000, ’89 too.

“What is very strange this year is July, it was very hot. We were not in hydric stress [in the vines] but I think 10 more days of hot weather [and it would have been a problem]… but we had a bit of rain in August. The plants restart then. June, it was not hot but it was very dry.

We are standing with him in the vineyard. He points to the grass he has under the vines as an example.

“When you have grass under vines you have competition and make hydric stress. When you have no grass you have no competition and no stress. All that means is that a year like this year, all of Bordeaux will be good. In a humid year though, the best terroir has good wine but when you try to affect the hydric stress of that vine [because of too much water] some places have to try harder. … Human intervention plays a role.”

We ask about how long he has been in the area. 

“In fact, I am Belgian. I arrived in this area 40 years ago. Chateau Bauduc, I planted all the vineyards.”

We had visited Chateau Bauduc the evening before and walked the vineyards established by Defraine.

Determining Vineyard Density

We ask him about how he decided to establish the vine spacing he has here at Château de Fontenille, which is closely spaced.

“Here, the Sauvignon Blanc, we have 5000 vines per hectare. Each vine produces around 1 liter. It is better in terms of concentration. It is better to have that type of vines [planting density]. When you have less vines [per hectare] you have less concentration.”

We ask him about his canopy management, which appears well balanced for the vine spacing. 

“We calculate the coefficient between the leaves and the distance [between vines] and it is 0.7. You want 0.7 [coefficient]. So, we have 2 meters distance here, and you calculate with 0.7. So, you must have 1.4 meters of leaves.” Defraine has 2 meters between vines and 1.4 meter canopy height. “It means if you have 3 meters distance you must have 2 meters leaves and you cannot [so we must plant closer. The vine will not support a higher canopy.]” Defraine’s calculations are based partially in the soil drainage of his site. 

We ask about his vineyard maintenance practices and how they appear by site and by vintage. 

“We don’t have a systematic way of work. It depends on the vineyard but we plant the grass or we work the soil or we plant the seeds.”

Sustainable versus Organic Viticulture

We ask him if he farms organically, or biodynamically, and what his views of selecting such farming practices are. His response is interesting. It could at first sound as though he is against sustainable farming practices but by the end it is clear that is not what Defraine means. 

“It is not because [your farming approach] is organic that it is good. Today there is a big confusion between ecology and health. [People think if it is organic it is good as if organic equals health. That is too simple.] It is not because it is organic that it is good. [Good farming depends on more than that.] If your body is sick, and you go to the doctor. If you have an infection, you take antibiotics. [If you don’t you get more sick.] That is part of health.

“But [here in our farming] we are responsible. You make every decision to be ecologically correct. We are members of SME [a sustainable farming program in Bordeaux]. It is a unique way for producers to make decisions to do things for the environment.

“I have a lot of respect for people that make biodynamic farming decisions. It is very hard. One of the problems is the economics too. The price of a wine from Bordeaux in a supermarket in France is 1.5 € to 3 € and at that price you cannot make ecological growing because it is difficult. You have to have the economic first for it to be sustainable. A few people use [certified] organic or biodynamic around here but very few. It is very difficult. If you do biodynamic or organic wine you have to do 1.5 less yield and at that price it is very difficult to do it that way [with less yield]. [In terms of the environment] I prefer that all the producers of Bordeaux use less product that that a few producers use almost no product.

“We do not use fertilizer in the vineyard. [Healthy farming] is a vision.

“People think when you use organic product you use less product. It is not true. When you use organic you use more. Last year, I used 8 treatments but my neighbor, he is organic, and he used 17 treatments because he is obliged [to be certified].”

Typicity and Winemaking in the Entre Deux Mers

We ask him about what makes the zone of the Entre Deux Mers in which he farms unique in terms of the wine. 

“In this part of the Entre Deux Mers we have a soil with a lot of gravel and sand. We have a soil that naturally gives a lot of aromatics. We try to keep that identity.

“When I started in Bordeaux, we were picking wine at 11.5 potential alcohol and it had acidity. Everyone had the habit of more acidity and it worked because the food at that time too, it had less sugar. And people kept the wine. But it is different today because the wine, it is made to drink right now. We do not in Bordeaux make the wine at all anymore like we used to. The problem in a year like this is the risk to wait too much before you pick in white and in red.

“[Picking decisions] are just like when you eat an apple. If you eat the apple when it is fresh, you can taste the fruit. If you pick too early, the fruit all tastes the same. If you wait too long you lose the typicity.

“Generality is the worst thing in wine. We must have our own regard for our own situation in where we are [versus making wine according to a formula or based on advice like that of a consultant from outside the region meant to apply to wine generally rather than specifically to that region and vineyard].”

Direct Engagement with the Consumer and Winemaking Choices

“More and more people are in direct contact with the consumer. In the old Bordeaux system you had the producer and the negotiant. And the producer had no idea what the consumer wanted [because the producer had no contact with the consumer]. It was very difficult for the producer to adapt his vinification to the market.

“Today, when you go to Belgium or Japan with your wine and people say, ah, I don’t want that. you are obliged to change your wine [if you want to be able to sell it]. You cannot stay in an arrogant position, this is what I make you have to take it. You have to listen. Though not too much. [You must maintain the typicity of your site.] If you make all your choices through vinification you will lose the specificity of your terroir. [You must let your vineyard decisions show through not just intervene in the cellar.]

Looking at Clonal Selection in White Varieties

We taste through a range of white wine tank samples from the 2015 vintage. They offer a sense of distinctiveness and energy with clear varietal contrast between Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and blends of the varieties.

“We keep the wine on lees to protect the wines. We will use sulfites later but [for now] we keep it on the lees instead. In a year like this year, you do not need any sulfites in the beginning. [Defraine was able to pick before any rains so there was no rot or disease coming in on the fruit.]

“I like wine with a sense of tension.

We taste the Muscadelle last of all. It is distinctive – earthy, with a mix of treble and bass tones and vibrant acidity. It seems distinctive compared to some of the Muscadelle we’ve tasted elsewhere. 

“What I want to do is arrive at 30% of Muscadelle in my blend. We replant Muscadelle. What was very difficult was to arrive at a good selection of Muscadelle from the plants. But we never talk about that in Bordeaux. White was very disregarded in Bordeaux for a long time with the focus put on reds. [For a while whites were only for high production wines and so clones were selected for high production not for quality.] The only clone you can find of Muscadelle is a high producer. So, 15 years ago we decided to go to all the producers to ask if they had old plants of Muscadelle from before the selection [for high production] of the 1960s and now we have new clones of Muscadelle that are higher acidity and lower production. We grow those here.”

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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.

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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: