California

View from Howell Mountain

Elaine’s review last week of Cabernets with the general Napa Valley appellation stirred up some strong reactions, including on our members’ forum. She addresses some of the issues raised by the first of her two articles on Napa Cabernets in this introduction to the second one, a report on a total of 90 Cabernets with one of the many Napa Valley sub-appellations described below. A report on Napa Merlots will follow. Elaine’s picture was taken on Howell Mountain.

The over-arching region and AVA of Napa Valley includes 16 sub-appellations ranging in their combination of growing conditions – elevation, soil types, drainage, mesoclimate – to create unique subzones that offer their own stylistic range and expression.

Producers within Napa Valley can chose to label their wines with the Napa Valley appellation as long as 85% or more of the fruit going into their wine is from the region. Labelling requirements for the sub-AVAs of Napa Valley are similar. For a wine to be labelled with one of the 16 sub-appellations the wine must be made predominantly from fruit grown in that subzone. Additionally, any of the sub-AVAs fully within Napa County must include reference to Napa on the label. For example, a wine from the Rutherford AVA has to be labelled with both Rutherford and Napa Valley. The two exceptions are Carneros, which stretches across both Napa and Sonoma Counties, and Wild Horse Valley, which includes land in Solano as well as Napa County. (See the online World Atlas of Wine map of Napa Valleyfor many of the sub-AVAs.)

Many of the most delicious wines of the region come from producers focused intently on specific subzones who label their wine with their relevant sub-appellation. In many cases, the growing conditions of a specific sub-AVA are expressed in the bottle.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-subappellations-heartening

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

From the Mayacamas looking into Napa Valley

In the first of two major reports on current releases of Napa Valley appellation Cabernets, her first for JancisRobinson.com, Elaine Chukan Brown reviews 57 wines, but finds frustratingly few to get excited about. A report on Cabernets labelled with one of Napa Valley’s 16 sub-appellations will follow. Elaine’s picture looking east over fog in the Napa Valley was taken from 1,800 feet up in the Mayacamas Mountains.

With its dry Mediterranean climate, Napa Valley offers ideal growing conditions for vines and, with good farming, the potential for abundant flavour with resolved tannins and plenty of natural acidity. Even so, economic pressures from land prices and labour shortages currently dominate the region, making Napa Valley Cabernet one of the most expensive wines in the world to farm. So, while vintners in the region benefit from propitious weather and overall growing conditions, they need to produce wines at high prices in order to afford production costs.

The result, unfortunately, means the average price for a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet is substantial. Retail prices per bottle are generally well over $100, easily reaching upwards of $200 and more. Exceptions occasionally appear from producers who have owned their property for decades. Among Cabernets carrying the all-encompassing Napa Valley appellation, Stony Hill Cabernet at $60 is one of the most affordable quality examples, with lovely purity throughout. The Galerie Plein Air at $50 was another nice surprise offering the firm structure and ageing potential of the 2013 vintage with varietal character married to judicious oak presence. (Other examples can also be found in wines labelled with one of the 16 Napa Valley sub-appellations to be described in my next instalment).

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-cabernets-depressing

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

 

Winemaker Trials: Finding Consistency from Vintage to Vintage

 

The commitment Sonoma-Cutrer brings to researching and testing in its oak program has allowed the winery to offer a consistent style year to year
Sep 2016 Issue of Wine Business Monthly

Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards was founded in 1973 on the idea of quality Chardonnay. The winery has since added Pinot Noir to its portfolio, but its production remains primarily with the white variety. Integral to the success of Sonoma-Cutrer has been its ability to deliver a consistent style vintage to vintage while also clearly distinguishing between each of its individual cuvées.

The winery produces five distinct Chardonnays annually. The Russian River Ranches and Sonoma Coast labels serve as its widely available appellation blends. At the reserve level, Sonoma-Cutrer also produces two vineyard designates, Les Pierres and The Cutrer. For the wine club, The Founder’s Reserve Chardonnay includes the winemaking team’s favorite small lot cuvée from that vintage, which changes year to year. Across all five brands, 85 percent of the Chardonnay is fermented in standard-size oak barrels. As a result, the barrel program is integral to winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer.

Sonoma-Cutrer Barrel Trials

Sonoma-Cutrer winemaker Cara Morrison leads extensive annual barrel testing. The trials allow the winery team to taste test different coopers and wood sources as well as different toast levels and styles—every year, 60 individual barrel types are chosen, and two of each selection are ordered. All 120 barrels are kept in the barrel trial over a three-year period, and refilled each vintage to check the flavor profile after fermentation, for each of the three years. They have been doing the yearly barrel trials in this way for more than a decade.

To keep reading this article head on over the WineBusiness.com where the article appears free-for-all. It is also published in their September 2016 edition of Wine Business Monthly. You can find it there on page 60. 

Here’s the link to the article online: 

http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getArticle&dataId=173071

View from the top of Pence Ranch

The TTB, the American wine regulatory body, today announces the official expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA by 2,296 acres. The controversial ruling will become effective on 21 September.

The expansion of this highly successful appellation comes as a result of a petition filed by geographer Patrick Shabram in March 2013 on behalf of the owners of Pence Ranch and John Sebastiano Vineyards, both of which will be fully included within the newly expanded area. Sebastiano Vineyard sits largely within the original AVA boundaries but a small portion of the property, currently planted largely to Rhône varieties, is currently outside the eastern border. Sebastiano Pinot Noir is planted entirely within the already established appellation. Sebastiano Vineyard has been a fruit source for numerous vintners from throughout Santa Barbara County. Pence Ranch, to the east of Sebastiano Vineyards, sits entirely outside the current appellation and will now be included in the newly expanded Sta Rita Hills AVA. Seen above is the view from the top of Pence Ranch which operates its own Pence winery and also sells fruit to vintners throughout the extended region. As a result of the approved expansion, any vintners who bottle wine on or after 21 September 2016 from vineyards within the expanded area will now be able to label those wines with the Sta Rita Hills AVA. Previously they would have been labeled Santa Ynez Valley.

The request for expansion was met with intense opposition within the Santa Barbara winemaking community.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. This article appears there free for all. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/sta-rita-hills-expansion-approved

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

To read more on the Sta Rita Hills expansion and the arguments both for and against: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/08/06/an-in-depth-look-at-the-proposed-sta-rita-hills-ava-expansion/

Understanding California Nebbiolo in Wine Business Monthly, August 2016

Wine Business Monthly

California Winemakers Trying to Make Sense of the Variety in Differing Conditions

In California, a small cadre of producers have been striving to understand the particular needs of Nebbiolo in their home state. Among them are Jim Clendenen of Clendenen Family Vineyards and Palmina owner/ winemaker Steve Clifton, who have worked with the variety the longest.

Nebbiolo’s potential quality is celebrated in the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Along with aging requirements in cellar, the cultivar’s response to very particular soil types and climate conditions legally define quality desig- nations for Nebbiolo in Italy, differentiating from the highest designations like Barolo or Barbaresco, to the broader regional designation of Langhe. Vine age also proves relevant. The variety’s combination of high tannin and elevated acidity tends to be unruly in young vines, showing finer balance as the vineyard ages.

“The most important thing I ever did was learn from the guys in Piedmont,” Jim Clendenen said. He’s referring to his time spent in Piedmont to hone his Clendenen Family Vineyards Nebbiolo, which is based in Santa Barbara County. “You don’t have to copy them when you learn from them,” he said. Copying Italian techniques to Nebbiolo has its natural limits with the differing conditions found in California.

While Clendenen made his first Nebbiolo in 1986, planting his own site in 1994 to better control the farming, Clifton began making Nebbiolo in 1997, farming multiple sites in Santa Barbara County for the cultivar. Palmina focuses entirely on Italian varieties, and, like Clendenen, Clifton has spent time learning techniques directly from producers in Piedmont. He also emphasizes that the techniques he relies upon for Nebbiolo differ from those suited to any other variety with which he’s worked, including other Italian cultivars.

California Nebbiolo in the Vineyard

Though the variety arrived in California in the late 1800s, today 162 acres of Nebbiolo are established, according to the latest Grape Acreage Report compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Vineyards growing the grape are dotted throughout California but few existing today were planted before the 1990s.

To continue reading this article check out the August 2016 issue of Wine Business Monthly. The article is available beginning on page 32 of the print edition. Or, if you’re interested in reading the magazine electronically you can find it as a downloadable PDF or in a scrollable format.

You can check out the online edition here: http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getDigitalIssue&issueId=8599

Cheers!

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Throwback Thursday

In honor of Ribolla Fest 2016, which just happened last night, I’m re-posting the start of a series I did on Ribolla Gialla in California starting back in 2012. The end of the post offers links to the entire series. Ribolla Fest originally began as Friuli-fest by the late George Vare, though the focus from its inception was on Ribolla. George fell in love with the variety at the start of the millennium and saw bringing (read: sneaking) it into the United States and fine-tuning its growing conditions here in California not only as a passion project but also a spiritual one. He believed it was some of the most important work he’d done in wine.

Meeting George in 2012 and receiving his encouragement in my writing, my interest and views of wine, and sharing with him a passion for Friuli and Ribolla, as well as acquaintance with the vintners that took up his torch in working with the Vare Vineyard, was a primary source of inspiration for me. It helped build my personal investment in my work in wine and served as part of the groundwork for venturing forth as a wine writer. He and several others in that first year I credit for my doing what I do now. 

Due to family and travel demands I missed this year’s Ribolla Fest but here’s a look back at some of the early work I did on the event, beginning with meeting George Vare. By this first meeting I’d already traveled Friuli, fallen in love with Ribolla, and met with numerous vintners there in Italy working with the variety. Seeing its translation in California gave me a way to imagine that even with a love for Italian wine myself perhaps I could find a home in wine here in the United States. 

At the bottom of the post links to the rest of the series are included. Subsequent installments in the series include George’s story as he told it to me, in-depth look at the growing demands for the variety, and other sites that it has since been planted. Having just left my academic career but treating wine with the seriousness I had as a graduate student I named the series, tongue in cheek, Attending Ribolla Gialla University.

I also wrote about George in the context of another series found here on the rise of skin-contact whites in California

Attending Ribolla Gialla University: Part 1: Meeting George Vare

Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this post in the July 20, 2012 edition of The New York Times, Diner’s Journal What We’re Reading.”

The following was originally published here on July 19, 2012.

Meeting George Vare

“Go make Ribolla Gialla popular.” –George Vare

the berries turn a full rich yellow at ripeness.

the first vintage with consistent berries.

the plant carries a virus that causes the leaves to yellow under stress.

barrel with a window

Ribolla Gialla left on skins for 1-year, then barrel aged for 3

a gift to take home, hand labeled and capped by George Vare

Ribolla Gialla with 48 hour skin contact

sparkling Ribolla Gialla that has not been disgorged

we’ll drink it at the Ribolla Gialla party

an earlier vintage

Friuli style white: Sauvignon Blanc, Tocai Friulano, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla

This is why I came back to Napa Valley so quickly.

Because in doing so I could talk to more people about George Vare. I’ve made my visit about so much more than just this one lucky meeting, so much more I love to do. But I came back now so I could meet more people that had worked with Vare, never presuming to ask if I could meet him too. Then, it turned out a meeting was arranged, and I got to hear his story, walk through his 2.5 acre Ribolla Gialla vineyard (the only one producing fruit in California, there are other plantings–more on that to follow), and taste his wines too. Here are photos from the visit. Write up to follow, along with photos from a grand Ribolla Gialla tasting here in Napa Valley.

***

Thank you to George Vare.

Thank you to Dan Petroski.

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-2-a-life-in-wine-george-vare-friuli-and-slovenia/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-3-friuli-fest-2012-ribolla-gialla-tasting-and-discussion/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/09/14/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-4-harvest-of-the-george-vare-vineyard-with-steve-matthiasson/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/09/29/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-5-russian-river-valley-ribolla-gialla/

Attending Ribollat Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/04/23/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-6-the-vare-vineyard-tasting-arlequin-wine-merchant/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/05/01/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-7-the-matthiasson-vineyard-napa/

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Coombsville 

Looking southwest from Farella Vineyard in Coombsville

Coombsville just south east of the town of Napa (see this map) became an official appellation in 2011 and since then has received steadily increasing attention. Even so, this subzone of Napa Valley is still one of the sleepier, less developed parts of the valley. Being well off the main arteries of Highway 29 and Silverado Trail means that Coombsville continues to be somewhere primarily for those in-the-know. Its relatively low-key status is consistent with its winemaking history.

Contemporary vineyards in the subzone reach back to the mid 1960s and the planting of the Haynes Vineyard. While the winery Ancien now farms the property and makes wine there as well, the site has also been a fruit source for wineries such as Failla and Enfield Wine Co who seek its cooler-climate Syrah and older-vine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Ancien has been able to preserve some of the Burgundian varieties planted at the site’s inception. The rise at the centre of Haynes offers a central perspective on the region. Just up the hill stands the warmer Caldwell Vineyard, planted just over 10 years later when Farella Park Vineyard was planted just north east of Haynes. Around the corner, Tulocay winery was also founded in the mid 1970s.

Nearby, well-known Meteor Vineyard was established in the late 1990s. Such sites helped establish the insider view of Coombsville as a source for good-quality grapes. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that vineyard-designated wines from Coombsville sites began appearing occasionally. Producers as well known as Paul Hobbs, Phelps Insignia, Vineyard 29, Quintessa, Pahlmeyer, Far Niente and Dunn, to name just a few, have all relied on fruit from the subzone to bring a unique blending component to their wines. This is thanks to a combination of soils and unique microclimate.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes from the region. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/coombsville-napas-southeastern-extremity

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

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Spending the Day at Frog’s Leap with John Williams

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

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

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

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

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


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

Visiting Frog’s Leap in Photographs by Stephen Smith

Frog's Leap Winery

Frog's Leap Winery

Flowers at Frog's Leap

Starting the Garden at Frog's Leap

The Orchard

The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Bottling Frog's Leap

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

Inside the Winery

Entering the Winery

John Williams

Discussing Winemaking

Inside the Winery

Driving in the 1969 Chevy Pick-up Truck

The Old Vines

Inside the Old Winery

Dinner with John

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

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

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

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

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

Wei Chi Semillon

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

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

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

Dinner with Erin Pooley

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

Paso Robles: Wine versus Water

Paso Robles Eastside Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

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