Magazine Article

Acumen – the importance of the human factor

looking across Acumen’s Edcora Vineyard – photo used with permission from Acumen

The exceptionally heavy and much-appreciated rains seen in California this winter have people through the region feeling as though California’s recent drought is at least temporarily over. While vineyards throughout the lower-lying areas of California’s North Coast were under water in places, vines were dormant and there should be no negative effect during the growing season. On the positive side, water stores are refilled, and the aquifer is presumably at least partially replenished. Most of all, vines have access to natural groundwater in the soils again, which is a benefit as it serves overall vine health more readily than irrigation usually does. How the 2017 vintage goes will depend on the weather during the upcoming bloom and fruit set period, and then of course during ripening.

Because of the rains I had to postpone my scheduled visit to Acumen estate in the Atlas Peak AVA of the Vaca Range on the eastern side of Napa Valley. Though its high-elevation vineyards and well-draining volcanic soils meant flooding was of no concern on site, for some time roads throughout the region were underwater, and landslides were an issue in places as well. Travel through the valley was so difficult that I put off my meeting on the estate with Acumen president Steve Rea (pictured below) until a dry day in March by which time the roads had cleared and the vineyards were dry enough to walk.

Acumen may be a new project for the region – with its 2013 vintage their first and current release – but the wines are built from a much older site, the Attelas Vineyard, planted in 1992 by Dr Jan Krupp. Krupp is known throughout Napa Valley for having had a considerable influence on the Pritchard Hill and Atlas Peak subzones. Although Antica was the first to plant in Atlas Peak, Krupp established one of the region’s most famous sites, the Stagecoach Vineyard, sold just last month to Gallo. Krupp began planting Stagecoach in 1995 having already planted Attelas.

Part of what makes Atlas Peak unique as an appellation, besides its high elevation (reaching 2,663 feet at its highest), is its sizeable amount of…

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes on all of their 2014 wines, continue to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/acumen-the-importance-of-the-human-factor

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.

Terroir Translates to Tūrangawaewae at Pinot Noir NZ 2017
Elaine Chukan Brown

Maynard James Keenan speaking at Pinot Noir NZ

What do Tool front man, Maynard James Keenan, Hollywood actor of Jurassic Park fame Sam Neill, and the world’s most respected wine writer, Jancis Robinson MW, all have in common? They each offered keynote addresses to an audience of over 600 people from 20 countries at the recent three-day Pinot Noir NZ 2017 event. Wellington, at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island, played host. Considered one of the top wine events in the world, wine professionals flew in from across the planet to attend alongside devoted consumers and the best of New Zealand’s own winemakers.

Celebrated every four years, Pinot Noir NZ brings a different theme integral to quality for the variety to the fore. This year’s focus brought another dimension of discussion as it moved beyond technical questions of winemaking or chemistry to instead consider the place from which any of us gain our strength via the Māori concept, Tūrangawaewae. In brief, it means simply a place to stand, but as one of the most revered Māori terms, Tūrangawaewae refers to the place where we feel empowered – the place to which we belong, just as it belongs to us. In a wine context, Tūrangawaewae offers a new way of recognizing what it means to understand the power of a vineyard respectfully farmed and the wine it can produce for the responsive winemaker. For many of the winemakers of Pinot Noir NZ, discussion of Tūrangawaewae offered a means to translate the French notion of terroir into a New Zealand context where respect for multi-cultural life proves central.

Outside of France, terroir remains one of the most readily misunderstood and misused notions in the world of wine. Often taken in the United States to refer only to the soil itself, discussions of terroir often fail to take into account the holistic site of a vineyard that includes not only its literal earth with its particular mineral makeup and drainage, but also its slope and aspect to the sun, its dynamic microclimate, and especially too the history of its viticulture through cultivars chosen, planting styles established, and the ongoing farmers’ interactions with the vine. Terroir as a concept includes the multifaceted and dynamic interaction of the natural conditions of a vineyard with the very human choices that create the history and potential of that site. Part of the power of the word terroir in a French context comes from the comparative stability of a culture with thousands of years of viticultural history; but how do we understand our own viticultural potential in wine cultures only decades old?

To keep reading this article, click through to the free-for-all NZ Dirt email. The rest of the article explores how the Maori concept of Tūrangawaewae offers a way to bring notions of terroir into a new world context and how New Zealand in particular has advanced these ideas through their intensive sustainability efforts. 

Here’s the link: http://www.nzwine.com/assets/Terroir%20Translates%20to%20Turangawaewae%20at%20Pinot%20Noir%20NZ%202017%20(Elaine%20Chukan%20Brown).pdf

The rest of the NZ Dirt newsletter is worth a look as well. Check it out (free-for-all) here: http://pro.sumo.co.nz/t/ViewEmail/r/09EC442CB0E32AE42540EF23F30FEDED/8B1A56CC56573E889E794568BD214575

 

Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Redwoods & Isolated Ridges
Elaine Chukan Brown

that’s me in cartoon thanks to Wine & Spirits Magazine

A few years ago, a 2007 Anthill Farms pinot noir from Peters Vineyard in western Sonoma shocked me with its energetic combination of earthy depth and high-toned aromas. That, I think, is when I really caught the Sonoma Coast bug. Since then, I’ve visited Sonoma’s coastal vineyards again and again, hoping to better understand the intricacies of these mountains.

The west Sonoma coast fascinates me partially because of the unique growing conditions of every site. From the steep, redwood-dense slopes of the north, mere meters away from the Mendocino border, to the exposed high-elevation peaks of Fort Ross–Seaview, all the way south to the fog-dripped slopes near Freestone and Occidental, each vineyard feels like its own isolated sovereignty. Thanks to the ruggedness of the region, many vineyards grow in remote reaches of the mountains out of sight of any other. Most of all, my fascination stems from the way this region’s pinot noirs express that diversity.

Sonoma’s coastal range draws a line between the warmer inland temperatures of the county on one side and the cold Pacific air mass on the other. Canyons and low points in between allow fog and cool air to sneak into the inland side of the county. Those two forces—the warmth of the continent and the chill of the ocean—interact to create unique microclimates tucked into the folds of the mountains.

The San Andreas Fault also contributes to the region’s viticultural diversity. The mountains here formed over millennia as the Pacific and continental plates crashed against each other, creating a complicated mineral quilt: shale and sandstone sometimes reduced to a powdery topsoil, volcanic rocks, and incursions of serpentine, quartz, greenstone and chert.

It’s a complex region. The six wines below only begin to scratch the surface, but they’ve become some of my most reliable signposts.

The Cool Southlands

The Freestone Valley—a particularly cool spot in the coast range—sits just north of the low valley of the Petaluma Gap. Here, vineyards are often inundated with dense fog and cold temperatures even in…

To continue reading, head on over to Wine & Spirits Magazine’s website where the article is available to read for free. As it continues it gives an overview on the unique growing conditions of Sonoma’s coastal mountains and also describes six wines that help understand the region. 

Here’s the link to the article: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/news/entry/sonoma-coast-pinot-noir-redwoods-isolated-ridges

Wine & Spirits Editorial Feature: Eat | Drink : Flagstaff

Once a stop on the way to the Grand Canyon, this southwestern mountain town has become a destination in its own right, says Elaine Chukan-Brown, dishing on the best new bars and restaurants.

My reviews for five top restaurant food & drink programs in the charming mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona, set on both the famed Highway 66 and the cross-continental railroad, appear now on the front page of WineandSpiritsMagazine.com. Check them out there or in the current issue of the print magazine. Here are the direct links to the reviews online. 

Root Public House

Longtime local restaurant talents chef Dave Smith and bartender Jeremy Meyer have transformed what was a longtime dive bar south of the tracks into a destination for food and drink. Go early and head to the rooftop to enjoy a cocktail while watching one of Arizona’s big sky sunsets; then head down to the dining room for dinner. Arizona peppers star …

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/root-public-house

Check out the restaurant page here: http://www.rootpublichouse.com/

Pizzicletta

In a quirky, cozy space squeezed into the point of an odd-angled intersection, Caleb Schiff has gained a cult following for his pizzas. He starts with a wild-yeast dough that ferments for three days before he rolls it out, then tops it with house-made mozzarella or burrata and a select array of local and Italian ingredients. Cooked at 900˚F in a wood-fired oven he had custom built in Italy, the Neapolitan-style pies …

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/pizzicletta

Check out the restaurant page here: http://www.pizzicletta.com/

Shift Kitchen & Bar

After stints at Frasca in Colorado and Ubuntu in California, husband-and-wife team Dara and Joe Rodgers set out to redefine mountain-town cuisine at Shift. In a spare, airy space in a historic building in downtown Flagstaff, they find creative ways to present regional ingredients, from the sorrel …

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/shift-kitchen-bar

Check out the restaurant page here: http://www.shiftflg.com/

Coppa Cafe 

Brian Konefal and Paola Fioravanti helped spark Flagstaff’s modern food scene when they opened Coppa in 2012, converting a nondescript stripmall space into a little piece of Europe. Konefal, who met his future wife and restaurant partner at culinary school in Italy, presents Arizona ingredients in unexpected guises, like the state’s own heritage grain, Sonoran white wheat, served risotto-style with a clay-baked duck egg, or local …

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/coppa-cafe

Check out the restaurant page here: http://www.coppacafe.net/

FLG Terroir

Late last year, Fred Wojtkielewicz transformed local downtown favorite The Wine Lo into FLG Terroir, a conversation-friendly wine lover’s retreat. The space is warm and expansive, with stone-cut tile, an exposed beam ceiling and an open kitchen. The wine list, which centers around boutique wines from Europe and California, including unusual finds…

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/flg-terroir

Check out the restaurant page here: https://www.flgterroir.com/

Post Edit: This article will be available Tuesday, January 24, 2017, rather than Monday, January 23. Sorry for the confusion!

This autumn I was able to spend time with Antoine Donnedieu de Vabres, general manager of the Eisele Vineyard, previously known as the Araujo Estate, in Napa Valley. Together we walked the site, and discussed what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking ownership of the property from the Araujo family in 2013. We were also able to taste the current-release 2013 vintage Cabernets, the first made by the new team, alongside previous vintages of Araujo, and take a look at their new Sauvignon Blanc programme.

In the summer of 2013 the Araujo family sold their famed Calistoga estate to French business mogul François Pinault, who also, through his holding company Artemis Domaines, owns Château Latour, a property on Bordeaux’s left bank, Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée and Château-Grillet in the northern Rhône. The 160-acre (65-ha) property included 36 acres of vines, historically known as the Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu was made general manager with Hélène Mingot as winemaker. Steve Matthiasson, who began working with the vineyard under the Araujo family, stayed on as viticulturist. At the same time, previous vineyard foreman Victor Hernandez, who has been with the estate for years, was promoted to vineyard manager, working with Mingot and Matthiasson. Most of the vineyard crew, who have each been with the property for over a decade, also remained the same.

In 2016, Artemis Domaines decided to change the name back to its original, Eisele Vineyard, named for the family that established Cabernet Sauvignon on the property at the end of the 1960s. As a result, all wines from the estate bottled from 2016 onwards will be called Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu’s explanation is that the vineyard name emphasises the site as the focus and source of quality for the wines, rather than any particular owner. It is also a way of celebrating the history of the site, which in turn emphasises their long-term vision for the property.

The rest of the article gets into the details of what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking over the Eisele Vineyard, what their primary goals are for the wines, what made they decide to buy the estate, and how the wines from the new team compare to the previous Araujo wines. 

To keep reading, head 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/eisele-vineyard-pinaults-california-outpost

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.

Wine & Spirits Dec 2016The Northern Paradox: Refined Cabernet from Napa Valley’s Warmest Climates
by Elaine Chukan Brown

Calistoga Canyons

One of the earliest signs of up-valley Napa’s potential to grow great cabernet was Eisele Vineyard, a site planted back in a rugged Calistoga canyon created by a seasonal creek. The site has been continuously under vine since the 1880s, when it was primarily growing zinfandel and riesling. Cabernet arrived in 1964, when Napa was beginning to turn its attention to Bordeaux varieties.

The soils of the canyon’s alluvial fan (rare in mostly volcanic Calistoga) grew ample, silky cabernet that caught the eye of vintners like Paul Draper at Ridge, who bottled a single-vineyard wine from Eisele in 1971. The cabernet has been bottled as a vineyard designate ever since: Joseph Phelps claimed it from 1972 until 1990, when the Araujo family began bottling their own wines from the site. Such an ongoing library of site-specific cabernet is unusual anywhere in Napa Valley. Most of the current vines were planted in the 1990s and have reached a healthy maturity.

To keep reading check out the just released December 2016 issue of Wine & Spirits MagazineThe rest of the article digs in further to the growing conditions at Eisele Vineyard. The article then turns to Larkmead‘s new block-designate bottlings, also from Calistoga, and then moves south to St Helena to speak with Cathy Corison of her eponymous winery and Aron Weinkauf, winemaker at Spottswoode

Considering how very much there is to say about the two regions in North Napa, the look at the four producers is only a very quick dive into the good work people are doing in the area but it looks at some of the factors that have helped make that work possible. 

The current issue of the magazine also celebrates organic farming in Champagne, quality wines from Verduno, and the return of classical Kabinett, along with a look at this year’s top rated wines in each of those categories as well as Rioja, Port and Alsace. 

The editors even managed to sneak in a contributor photo of me with blond hair – I couldn’t believe it. They snapped the photo without my knowing at their recent Top-100 event. 

Cheers!

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/