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The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.

***

Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Tasting Cowan Cellars

Over lunch a couple weeks ago I was able to taste through the current portfolio of Cowan Cellars’ wines with Jim Cowan, and his wife Diane Arthur. The couple spend harvest and Fall in Sonoma, then travel East in winter to be closer to family.

Jim Cowan’s route to winemaking began circuitously via online friendships with wine lovers. Then in 2006, in the midst of a visit in Sonoma, Cowan discovered Steve Edmunds needed help making wine at Edmunds St John winery and found himself working the cellar alongside an icon of California wine. The experience helped Cowan realize he could begin making his own wine. With surprise connections to vineyards and fruit along the way, and help from friends in finding harvest housing, Jim and Diane credit synchronicity and their friendships for finding their way into wine.

Following are notes via drawing and text on the current portfolio.

Cowan Cellars 2013 Portfolioclick on illustration to enlarge

Cowan Cellars portfolio of wines carries crisp, clean fruit with floral under currents expressed in taut structural focus. Where the saigneé of Pinot Noir softens the mouth feel, it focuses the fresh herbal lift, and keeps the juicy length. It’s a crisp, fun, tasty focus for rosé. As the Sauvignon Blanc dances in layers of tropical forest, white grapefruit with citrus blossom, and faint back hints of crisp quince without sweetness, it spins up the juicy tension, giving a clean, lean focus white.

The two skin contact wines — a Ribolla Gialla from Russian River Valley’s Tanya Vineyard, and a Sauvignon Blanc named Isa, heralding from Lake County fruit — are both beautifully balanced giving the textural interest and lengthening sapidity that can come with macerated ferments, while lightening the touch enough to make the style approachable and pleasing. The flavors and aromatics in both lend themselves to savory Fall foods, and invite Thanksgiving considerations (especially on the Isa).

Turning to the reds, the Pinot Noir takes a red currant herbal element alongside notes of feral forest floor and hints of bay leaf to give a clean wine with nice tension. The two Syrah vintages we tasted generate the most excitement in me. I’m a sucker for a good Syrah, and these give genuine vintage contrast not only arising from age differences that show in young Syrah. The 2010 is nicely open and ready to drink now with blue violet notes throughout, a pleasing spritz of feral musk, and the deepening aspects of cooler Syrah tension — tobacco, touches of tar, and a chocolate finish. The 2011 comes in tighter right now, opening with air in the glass to dark fruit way in the finish after more lifted aspects of tobacco flower, jalapeno spice hints, cocoa powder and red dust accents. I’m digging the length.

Each of these wines were tasted alongside food progressing through stages of a meal. These wines were a pleasure to enjoy with food.

***

Thank you to Jim and Diane.

Cowan Cellars wines are available here: http://cowancellars.com/wines/

To read more on Jim Cowan’s own account of how Cowan Cellars got started: http://blogs.gangofpour.com/cowan-cellars-beginnings

More on Jim and Diane in a future post.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Wine with Stéphane Vivier

Stephane Vivier

Stéphane and Dana Vivier started their Pinot Noir, and Rosé of Pinot Noir label, Vivier, in 2009 with credit cards, and 30 cases of wine. By 2011, they jumped to 150 cases. Their wines draw on small lots from vineyards in Sonoma County, each of which Stéphane works with hands on. Originally from Burgundy, Stéphane has also served as winemaker for HdV for 12 years. I fell in love with Vivier Pinots last summer, and was lucky enough to meet with Stéphane multiple times to discuss his winemaking philosophy, which he describes as “being a lazy winemaker.” Following is a transcript of his story from our conversations.

***

“My wine, Dana, and I married in 2009. I was already with HdV but my wife suggested I make Pinot Noir. She thought I was missing something. I grew up in Burgundy on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. She said to me, “to be complete, there is something else you need here. You need to make Pinot Noir.” I asked her, “where will the money come from.” She told me, “don’t worry. This is America.”

“I grew up with rosé of Pinot Noir in Burgundy. I would come home and sit outside with my parents. My mom would bring in things from the garden, and my dad wine from the cellar. We would talk about the day, and most everyday have a bottle of rosé.

“I grew up with wine of perfume. The nose is very important. But it is important too to focus on the texture of the wine, really important. I like restrained, elegant wine that changes in the glass. I want it to change in the glass, and go with food. I like it when people have trouble describing, or deconstructing a wine. It’s a sign that the wine is complex. Wine is about pairing with food, about pleasure and enjoyment. Alcohol is a form of enjoyment. Wine is for making and consuming.

“Being a lazy winemaker is all about being patient, letting the place talk, and being gentle with the grapes. Making it simple. I like a long [slow] press, and a long, slow fermentation, not too long but clean, and long enough so the perfume develops. The idea of balance in wine is an extensive subject. It is about what is best from the site, letting the wine speak the site. There is a lot of feeling in winemaking, a lot of following what you learn.

“I spent time listening to old men and how they compare wine to old vintages, wines that are 14 or 15 years old. It puts everything in perspective. That wine is about being patient, and building a strong foundation.

“Acidity is the foundation of every wine, of good wine, just like the pyramids that have a broad base and so they lasted. If you want wine you can drink early, perfume is important. If you also want wines that can age, acidity.

“I have been at HdV for more than 10 years. People asked me in the last decade what my next job would be. I want to grow with a vineyard, to start young and grow up with the vines. Wine is like life. You start young, and the older you get, the wiser as well. It is the same with vineyards. I have a young daughter, and I can see it’s exactly the same. Some things you have to train for to get in certain ways, to learn how to do. With growing a vineyard too, there is a lot of training, and you can train in a way that is best for the site, and also for types of wine. It is important to know vineyards very well.

Stephane walking in one of his sections of Sonoma vineyards

Stéphane walking in the vineyard, Sonoma, July 2012

“It is difficult to be simple, [to make something that is simple, while also rich, and not boring. When you are able to make something simple,] it is a work of experience. Winemaking is a work of experience, vineyards, and age.

“Balance is very difficult to define. So is stability in wine. It is hard to say stability is an energy, but it is in a way.

“Wine gives you this ability to grow on the same roots, and not necessarily make the same wine, always trying to make better wine every year from whatever it is you have. That is why we are looking to start with young vineyards and to get older with the vineyards. I couldn’t do this in Burgundy. You can feel this in Australia. You can feel the history of vineyards there from the 1880s being established. You don’t get that sense of history in the United States. Most vineyards here are young.

“Making wine with the same vineyard again and again, it is like Monet painting churches. He went back and painted the same church at different points in the day for different points of light over two weeks. Each vintage is the light. You capture that moment in the vintage. But Monet was also commenting on tradition, asking, what can I contribute to it? His work in paint was a recognition of tradition and the importance of time both. Monet could go back and paint that spot any time, winter even. But the winemaker can only go back once in the same year. Still, there is always something to discover while always working with the same vines.

“I want to give myself to time. These are the constraints in which I operate, and make choices. Pre-deciding in advance what the wine, grapes, vine health should be sounds cool and innovative, but is actually deciding in advance what the wine should be. It is adapting the grapes to himself, instead of adapting himself to the grapes. But you can adapt yourself to the place, and then make the wine of what you are. This way, like Monet, you can have innovation from within tradition. That is why you want knowledge of established vineyards, or vineyard practices, and to grow in age with the vineyard. Terroir needs to be farmed, and needs to be respected. If you respect it, you are in that top 15%.”

***
Thank you to Stéphane and Dana Vivier.

Thank you to Dan Petroski.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

The Iron Chef Morimoto, Ruinart Champagne Cooking Demonstration

This recent weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a cooking demonstration with Master Chef Morimoto including perfect pairings with Ruinart Champagne and the house’s Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaiotis held at Pebble Beach Food & Wine.

Morimoto preparing

Master Chef Morimoto on stage alone, selecting his perfect tools in preparation for the demonstration

I was grateful to be included, knowing he is held in high regard for his sushi, good nature, and cooking talents. What hadn’t registered, however, was that he is held in high regard partially because he is on television showing these things. He is, in fact, one of the original Iron Chefs, and for many the favorite. The truth is, I haven’t had a television hook-up since 1996 (except for one brief stretch in 2000, when Jr. was only a year old and I watched all 10-years of Beverly Hills, 90210 (the original series), skipping the trashy season 8, in 4 months). Some of the heights of fame, as a result, allude me.

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

Master Chef Morimoto and Ruinart Chef de Caves Panaiotis prior to the demonstration

What hadn’t alluded me is Morimoto’s positive reputation. The fame part hit when at the start of the demonstration the audience curtain was opened, and a beautiful, very small, older woman ran across the room ahead of everyone to ensure she got her seat with the best view.

The scene in the mirror

Morimoto’s cooking area set up in advance of the demonstration, as seen in the demonstration mirror

The event, as they explained, was a marriage of two cultures–Japanese and French. The demonstration, then, brought together an account of Japanese sushi tradition, with insights into French wine culture, and advice on how to enjoy the two together in a meal.

The team preparing

the team works on final preparations prior to inviting in the audience

Ruinart’s Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis opened the event explaining, he is happy to give us the chance to enjoy champagne sitting down, with a meal so that it may be more closely appreciated. Also, by drinking bubbles in a wine glass, rather than a flute, the aromas are more accessible. In describing his own history with sparkling wine, Panaiotis explained he’s been drinking champagne pretty much all his life. In the region it is common to place a finger dipped in the wine on a baby’s lips after birth, the first offering to a new life. He also joked, “Champagne is what my grandmother used to drink when she was not so happy.” He went on, “but it is also a beverage we know is not just for special moments. It is for anytime. Champagne makes the moment special.”

Ruinart and Sushi

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, and sushi pairing

In thinking about food and wine pairing, Morimoto offered insight in relation to how he also flavors the fish itself. When preparing sushi he has four different levels of tamari, four different densities of sauce. Seafood with no fat–octopus, shrimp, as examples–does well with lighter flavored sauce, lighter tamari. Fish with more fat, mackerel in winter, perhaps, take double the flavor needed as mackerel in summer when there is less fat in the meat. The more fat on the fish the more soy and wasabi you use. Similarly, when thinking about the wine, Panaiotis offers, a clear fish pairs with a really clear wine. The flavors accented on the fish, then, or added to a dish, can echo the flavors of the wine.

Morimoto explains fish quality

Chef Morimoto introduces the first course, explaining the differing cuts on a single fish

The Ruinart blanc de blanc is served to us alongside a Japanese white fish that is unique to the region but resembles an American Amber Jack. The Ruinart rosé, on the other hand, comes in a bit more savory, and is thus paired with preparations that have hardier flavors, such as fried dumpling in tomato, salmon, and uni. The team offers too that it would work with lighter meats, such as duck.

Big screen helps the audience see details

the demonstration included large screen close ups for the audience

Both wines, however, are delicate, all about subtle layers of rich flavor. It is here that Panaiotis gets excited about his wines with Japanese food. Morimoto’s preparations resemble a description of the wine–simple, clean food with rich flavors and freshness.

Panaiotis discusses the history of Ruinart w Morimoto's help

Morimoto and Panaiotis worked together. As Morimoto prepared more intricate cuts, Panaiotis was able to discuss the food and wine. Morimoto also offers insight on the champagne along with Panaiotis.

Chef Morimoto has been studying and developing his cooking techniques for well over 30-years, and offers tips to the audience on how to choose the best fish. First, he explains, his favorite knife is any knife that is sharp. The best cuts of fish have not been sitting directly on the ice–the cold damages the meat over time. When eating sushi, place the wasabi directly onto the fish, not into the soy, and put the fish side of a nigiri role down onto the tongue, with the rice side up. This gives the purest flavor.

the audience

a glimpse of the audience

The team explains that this demonstration is a proud moment. Chef Morimoto is honored to be included in a prestigious food & wine event. Wine is an established, and respected culture. Twenty years ago seeing an Asian chef on the itinerary for such a demonstration would have been unheard of or un-thought. Panaiotis, likewise, is pleased to see Ruinart alongside Japanese food, where he thinks it can pair so well.

Morimoto puts the final touches on Panaiotis's sushi

Morimoto puts final touches on Panaiotis’s sushi

In considering his Iron Chef reputation, Morimoto explains that even there he is not cooking for the judges, or cooking to beat the other competitor, but instead cooking to improve himself. With each ingredient challenge the approach is similar. “I cannot do same, same, same.” He says, “So, I have to create a new thing. Every single time, I’m shaking when I hold the knife, then I have to ask myself, what am I making? Each time, I’m challenged. I’m shaking.”

Chef Morimoto Sings

After the demonstration was complete, the audience was invited to propose questions. An audience member asked if Morimoto would sing. Bashful at first, he offered what he called “a fisherman song from Japan.”

***
Thank you to Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone and Nicolas Ricroque.

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

1

Gustafson Family Vineyards, Overlooking Dry Creek Valley from 1800 feet

Having spent time regularly visiting Sea Ranch, on the coast West of Healdsburg, Dan Gustafson began looking for property in the Dry Creek Valley area. He wanted to grow grapes. Having raised his kids on a working cattle ranch, in the midwest, he was used to work outside and was ready to invest long term in Sonoma County. Early in life he’d worked in restaurants, gaining exposure to food and wine. During the same period, he developed a taste for California wine because, he says, it was what he could afford at the time.

The point on the Mountain Range is St. Helena, photo taken looking East from the Gustafson house, located on the West side of Dry Creek Valley on Skaggs Spring Road, near Lake Sonoma

In the midst of a trip out to Sea Ranch, Dan Gustafson drove by a property on Skaggs Spring Road with a For Sale sign. He jumped the fence to look at it, and discovered a wealth of Madrone trees throughout. Viticultural folk knowledge says that where Madones grow, vines will too–they both need to keep their feet dry. The property also already had several clearings throughout that meant no dry grading was needed to start building, and clearing wasn’t required to plant vines.

So, Gustafson moved an Airstream to the top of the property to live in while he planted vines and started construction on the winery. In 2004, the Heritage Tree Block was planted with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah. Over time what was found was the site did best for Petite Sirah, and so that became the bulk of the property’s focus.

In 2006, construction on the winery began, close to the house site, with a barrel cellar built beneath. The layout arose naturally from the demands of the ground itself–it turned out to install a proper foundation, the crew had to dig 18 feet down to bedrock. The space between the foundation and the house floor, then, built into the hillside, became the winery’s barrel storage.

The reality of planting an entirely new vineyard site rests in a process of learning the soils. The vineyard manager and winemaker, Emmett Reed, likes to say the vineyard is young and still learning itself.

The site located at 1800 feet elevation on the Northwest side of Dry Creek Valley has no vineyard planted neighbors. As a result, there is no blueprint for what does best in the area, nor neighbors to ask for advice (there are other vineyards further up the road, but in uniquely different slope, aspect, etc than Gustafson Family Vineyard).

With vintage variation as well, Gustafson wine is also, in some ways, getting to know itself. Reed is happy with how the 2012 harvest has gone, and with how the quality has progressed through the last several vintages (including their weather challenges).

looking Southeast down Dry Creek Valley

The Gustafson site has 3 natural springs, and a wealth of both Redwood and Madrone. The winery is bonded for 4000 cases, and makes approximately 3400 currently. Much of the fruit from their site is sold, with two of the primary customers being Orin Swift Wines, and Eric Cohn’s Shoe Shine Wine. The Gustafson fruit is preferred for the cleanliness of the site that comes with its elevation, but especially for how precisely Reed is able to follow the clients’ vineyard protocol.

looking Northeast towards Lake Sonoma, and the Rockpile AVA

The elevation over Dry Creek Valley comes through with the inversion effect–Gustafson is warmer at night, and cooler during the day, offering a narrower overall temperature range. The site is also only 18 miles from the coast, located at one of the higher points between the coast and the valley.

steep slope vineyards at Gustafson

With elevation, the individual berries on a cluster tend to be smaller, offering more concentrated flavors. This proved true even in 2012 when the overall cluster size was larger. This recent vintage, then, offered a unique balance of the concentrated spice from small berries, with still greater volume from larger clusters. The ultimate goal is to establish dry farming throughout the Gustafson Estate. Currently minimal watering is done simply because of how young the vines are.

Sheep’s Barn Pasture

The lowest vineyard on Gustafson Estate offers cool enough overall temperatures to host Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. It is the one area that had to be entirely replanted when the original grapes didn’t handle the cooler area well. It is also the only area on the site that has suffered frost damage from cool air pooling down the hillside into this little flat.

The Heritage Madrone, Gustafson Estate

Gustafson Estate hosts the oldest Madrone in Sonoma County, and what is believed to be the oldest in California as well. The tree is 11.5 feet around its base, and so beautiful.

The Heritage Madrone, with Kaitlin Reed, Gustafson’s Hospitality Manager

The idea of affordability is at the core of Gustafson Wine label, with the wines being priced for genuine value between $20 and $28.

The 2009 Mountain Cuvee, 83% Zinfandel, with the remaining a blend of Petite Sirah, and Syrah, is the clearest value. It offers a nice texture with smooth polish, an interesting complexity, and super clean presentation. They describe the goal of the wine as “to get enough backbone to be recognized as Zin, while avoiding the steamroll.”

The 2007 Petite Sirah is a good example of the quality of their fruit, again offering good value at $28. The advantage of the Gustafson site has shown itself in its love for Petite Sirah–it’s become the most planted fruit, the vine proving to be easy to generate both good crop levels and complexity on the hillside. Thought of as “the poor man’s Cab”, the Gustafson’s Petite Sirah does well at offering the richness and potential weight of a Cab, without going into heaviness that can come in an overdone Petite Sirah. It offers a lot of complexity on the nose, following into the palate with a silky rich mouthfeel and stimulating finish.

***

Thank you to Kaitlin Reed for hosting me, and giving me a tour of the Gustafson site. It’s quite beautiful.

Thank you to Kyrsa Dixon.

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Touring Dry Creek Valley: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/11/28/touring-dry-creek-valley-sonoma-california/

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

Seth Long and Destiny Dudley Throw an Alaska Salmon, Moose Meat, Oregon Wine Wakawaka BBQ

Thank you to Seth Long and Destiny Dudley for inviting together in one place the five things everyone needs–a wealth of good wines, Salmon, Moose Meat, Oregon Hazelnuts, and the good people of Willamette Valley. We had a wonderful time, and tasted, as I said, a wealth of good wines. Thank you!

wide angle lens photos taken by Destiny Dudley-thank you for sharing them!

Thank you to Destiny Dudley, and Seth Long for being such lovely and generous hosts!

Thank you to my family for sending me down with fresh caught Bristol Bay Salmon, and Moose Meat.

Thank you to Anneka Miller, Jason Lett, Andrew Rich, Jim Maresh, Joseph Zumpeno, Amanda Evey, Timothy Wilson, Drew Voit, Mike Primo. I apologize if I’ve forgotten anyone.

Thank you, finally, to our philosophical belly buttons. And to the hazelnuts.

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

Eyrie Vineyards was the first to plant Pinot Noir in Willamette Valley, establishing their vines in 1965, with 1970 as their first vintage. In 1979 an event affectionately known as The Wine Olympics was staged with 330 wines from 33 countries were evaluated blind by experts from ten different countries. The 1975 vintage of Eyrie Vineyards Reserve finished in the top ten. With that, Oregon wine gained notice.

In 1980, Robert Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy organized a rematch, again with blind judges. There the same Eyrie 1975 Reserve placed second, losing to a 1959 Chambolle-Musigny Drouhin wine by only 2/10s of a point.

By 1980, Willamette Valley was already producing world class wine. Eyrie was the winery to garner this particular Olympics attention, but others in the area were established and producing good quality Pinot Noir, helping to establish the quality of the region as well.

After the results of the Wine Olympcs, and already familiar with Oregon from a tourist perspective, Robert Drouhin began visiting the wine regions of the state more readily, becoming friends with David Lett of Eyrie, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard, and others. In 1987, the Drouhin family purchased land at the top of the Dundee Hills, above the Original Willamette plantings established by the Letts, and near other already established vineyards as well. The land purchased by Drouhin, however, was not planted with vines at the time. The site became Domaine Drouhin.

Visiting Domaine Drouhin

the Domaine Drouhin winery was built into the hillside to take advantage of both the natural insulative qualities offered for helping to keep the cellars cool, but also to effectively design a four story (three winery stories plus fourth hosting level) gravity fed winery. In the late 1980s, when the facility was built, it was one of the first gravity fed wineries in the United States.

Filling barrels on the cellar level (third from the top)

aging Willamette Pinot

The Drouhin family emphasizes the quality of the wine that was already begun in the Willamette Valley before their arrival. Visiting Oregon, they appreciated the family owned and run business element of the valley, a perspective shared with Burgundy. In choosing to invest in the area, they wanted to continue to rely on the techniques they already understood from their wine making in Burgundy. One of the choices made in the vineyard as a result is to plant rows closer together (with special ‘over-row’ style tractors being required–I wish I’d gotten a picture, these things are ridiculously cool).

In purchasing undeveloped land, it’s impossible to know how well it will host vines. As Véronique Drouhin, the Domaine Drouhin head wine maker, describes it, only time will tell you what you have. But the site was so beautiful, she said they just had to try. The site was purchased in 1987, and planted in 1988. That first year the Drouhin’s purchased fruit to make wine and see what it was like. 1988 is known as a good vintage for Willamette. From a Burgundian perspective, the now-20 year old vines of Domaine Drouhin are still young.

There is a clear house style visible in both the Oregon and French wines of Drouhin with over arching viticulture and wine making decisions in both places being overseen by the same people

Domaine Drouhin offers side-by-side tastings with wines from the wineries in France.

The 2008 Chablis Premier Cru offers focused acidity, with an ultra clean presentation, touches of chalk, and citrus powder primarily offering lemon, with touches of white grapefruit. This wine has medium alcohol, medium+ acidity, and a medium+ finish. (for some reason I also noted “not funny” on this wine. I really wish I remembered WHY I wrote that there. I enjoyed this wine, so I’m not sure the reference but it made me laugh to find the comment later.)

The 2010 Arthur Dundee Hills Chardonnay carries a softer mouth feel, but with still persistent acidity carrying the more vibrant but still focused fruit flavors through to a medium+ finish. The tart flavor is softer here, white also paired with well-integrated white pepper, and touches of chalk.

The 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir offers a nose of dried rose and leaf, with touches of rose oil, a smooth mouth feel and palate of dried rose petal, and light grapefruit zest. This wine shows quenching acidity, and a medium+ finish.

The 2009 Savigny les Beaune Clos des Godeaux has a vibrant berry nose, with an ultra clean presentation of berry and cooked green and dried herbs. There is a nice balance of lifted aromatics with rich earth belly and fresh movement through the palate here.

The 2010 Pinot Noir from Domaine Drouhin stood out here as my favorite over the tasting, with a berry, and lightly dried berry nose, followed by a juicy dried berry, light bramble rose bush, and well integrated pepper palate. There is a pleasant combination of drying finish with juicy acidity, and a medium+ finish.

The Laurène blend is always aged 3 years, and made from barrels selected after fermentation. The 2008 offers nice high notes with a rounder aromatics than the Willamette Valley Pinot. There is an earthy undercurrent that carries hints of smoke and no heaviness. The palate offers a nice tannin traction, with plenty of berry and dried berry driven movement.

it’s been a good year in Willamette for bumble bees. They were dancing about with the lavender outside the winery.

Thank you very much to David Millman.

Thank you to Ashley Bell.

Thank you to Dan Fredman, and to Lisa Shara Hall.

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

My sister Melanie was able to travel from Alaska in order to attend IPNC 2012. We had time Monday, after the close of IPNC, to meet with Maggie Harrison at the Antica Terra winery to taste through the current vintage barrels, and the current portfolio as well.

Tasting Wines with Maggie Harrison, Antica Terra

“All I can do is look at what’s in front of me, and ask, what is the most beautiful thing I can do right now? Then, take the time in that moment to do it.” –Maggie Harrison

“Chardonnay is a bit of a monster. It has so much to give. When it doesn’t go well, it’s because it went over the top–that year was too warm, too ripe. People seem to look to that over the edge expression of the fruit and then focus on dialing it back. But in this climate, it’s more about any amount of richness we can get. So, [at Antica Terra] we allow the fruit to give what it wants to give. The year we’re able to get too much from the fruit… well, I hope I’m here to see that. I welcome it.” –Maggie Harrison

“Our site, Antica Terra, it is demented. It is intensely rocky, incredibly singular. Not better. Just very particular. It has a message to give every single year–a creature that comes from that place, that is completely distinct. I’ve never been able to work with fruit that has such a unique presentation. I’m not even sure I’m the one that best knows how to work with it. I just happen to be one of the first. It will be a multi-generational thing, hopefully, where someone’s children or grandchildren will make better fruit than I do.” –Maggie Harrison

“What we’re doing here is winning back the part of it that is just based on pleasure…. I want to make wines that are transparent, and wonderful, and clearly pleasurable, and emotional.” –Maggie Harrison

from left: 2009 California Syrah-Lillian, 2010 Botanica Pinot Noir, 2010 Erratica Pinot Noir Rosé, 2010 Aurata Chardonnay

There is a wonderful vibrancy in this chardonnay, with a lightly drying squeeze mouth feel and a body of juiciness. The wine carries an acid mouth pucker, with citrus fruit powder patina, through clean bright juiciness, all harmoniously presenting. This is the Chardonnay Harrison says she hoped she’d make.

The 2010 Aurata Chardonnay will be released in early November 2012.

The Erratica Rosé is made in a slightly unusual manner. Rather than Saignee, or press Rosé, Antica Terra Rosés begin their life in exactly the same manner their Pinot Noir sisters begin. In inspecting the fermenters to see how well they’re progressing, Harrison will select the barrels with a particular style of aromatics, then pull them right before they become red wines. The result is a richer mouth feel along with richer aromatics and flavors.

This 2010 offers a smooth, rich bodied mouth feel, with rose powder accents, herbal notes of dried thyme and sage, fruit of dried blackcap raspberry, and partially dried strawberry, alongside touches of pepper. The 2009 Erratica is mouth watering.

“The wine’s name Botanica relates to ideas of drippy fruit, generosity, depth, richness and texture, to finding those harmonies and where they exist in the bottle.” –Maggie Harrison

The 2010 Botanica offers a berry powder nose, with a fresh berry-earth opening, a berry-earth-herbal mid-palate, and a medium+ juice berry, with pepper finish. There are wonderfully lifted aromatics here above the rich flavors, with a graceful full arc of movement in the mouth.

What Antica Terra wines show throughout–the current releases, and the barrels tasted–is a sense of levity through the aromatics and the structure both, with rich body, and an easy rush of movement over the palate. There is no heaviness in these wines. They want to share their flavors.

The California Syrah, Lillian, was Maggie Harrison’s first wine, started during her tenure as Assistant Wine Maker to Manfred Krankl at Sine Qua Non. She continues to work directly with White Hawk fruit to produce the Lillian.

The 2009 Lillian California Syrah offers clean, rich red and black fruit, with lightly smoked fruit notes, touches of pepper. The fruit here is balanced with a delicate background of smoke and seitan, and elegant spice. The presentation is buoyant and decisive at the same time.

The 2009 Lillian will be released in early November 2012.

***

Thank you very much to Maggie Harrison for making time for us. It was lovely to meet you.

Thank you to Megan!

Thank you to Dan Fredman, and to Seth Long!

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2

Visiting Sun Chase and Gap’s Crown Vineyards with Stéphane and Dana Vivier, Sonoma Coast

view from the top-Sun Chase Vineyards sit at 1100 feet at the Northern end of the Petaluma Gap, thereby receiving a Marine influence. Vivier Wines produce a Sonoma Coast blend of Pinot Noir, but also are developing a close relationship with several vineyards through which they are producing Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs. Sun Chase is the first of these, Gap’s Crown the second, and third will be Spring Hill, it’s first harvest this year.

there is very little soil on this portion of the Sun Chase Vineyard site, and the vines are young, it’s first vintage in 2009.

the Pinot clusters have “hens and chicks”–both large and small berries. The effect is to provide a mix of concentrated flavors from the smaller fruit (more skin to juice) and the juice to make the wine from the larger clusters. On clone types that tend to have hens and chicks the goal is the right balance of these two elements so you have enough juice to make your wine, and with more interesting flavors. Stéphane Vivier’s goal is to make a Pinot with a good integration of spice with fruit.

veraison had started on the Pinot Noir fruit just before our arrival.

in tending to the plant, the goal is to make no clusters touching

Dana and Lucille (21 months) Vivier. Lucille likes eating the just-purple berries.

some of the clusters have sun burn. The canopy is used to minimize sun burn on the fruit, but high exposure vineyards also tend to have some, and, additionally, the fruit needs some direct sun for proper ripeness. Seriously burned berries will be removed. On red wines burned fruit present a distinct flavoral problem in the wine, which is more manageable in white wines. Additionally, severe sun burn can create cracks that allow pests access to the inside of the fruit. The sun burned fruit will be left until just before ripeness fully takes hold. By leaving the extra berries the vine is pushed harder. But if not removed before full ripeness the burn will be hard to see against the redness of the berries.

looking towards the Petaluma Gap–a lower stretch of the coastal ranges to the North of San Francisco Bay. Wind moves from the cooler Pacific, East into the warmer inland areas, cooling the surface temperatures, and drying the fruit. Sun Chase Vineyard is near the Northern most reaches of the Gap’s wind effect. Gap’s Crown Vineyard is at the Northern most end.

Stéphane Vivier

view from the top–Gap’s Crown Vineyard, at 840 feet elevation, the Northern end of the Petaluma Gap, and the Southern most portion of the Sonoma Coast AVA, an intersection zone.

again, very rocky ground

picking berries

Thank you to Stéphane, and Dana Vivier. Such a nice afternoon.

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Talking with Jim Moore

Ma(i)sonry in Yountville is a combined space–an art gallery and wine bar plus shop. The business features wine flights of quality local wines selected by the owner. He likes and so also pours Uvaggio.

Jim Moore has worked in Napa Valley, and California wine for three decades. After almost 20 years with Mondavi, he decided to focus on developing his own label, l’Uvaggio di Giacomo–Uvaggio. I admire the concept–the idea is to make the best quality wines possible while keeping the price under $20, all directed at enjoying with food. It works.

We taste through the entire 2010 portfolio, beginning with two whites–Vermentino, and Moscato [Giallo] secco. The Vermentino offers vibrant aromatics, and a crisp mouthfeel with good acidity. I enjoy drinking this wine. The Moscato is a Moscato Giallo with a combination of nutty and light tropical fruit and bloom. Both wines very clean.

To help keep costs down, Moore walks the vineyard sites doing the quality selections in advance of the harvest crew. Then they can move through picking what’s left quickly. Growing in Lodi allows a focus on Italian varieties that need warmer temperatures, and a lower land cost as well. The Rosato carries a blend of Primitivo, Barbera, and Vermentino offering rich aromatics, and good acidity with just enough weight to be a complement for food and refreshing. It’s lively in the mouth.

The perfect pizza wine. Going into the Uvaggio tasting I wasn’t sure what to expect–I wanted to taste Italian variety focused wines from California, and I was interested in Moore’s overall concept but didn’t know how well the quality would hold. The Primitivo was my surprise wine. It’s got a juicy (not at all jammy) core, with just enough heat and weight while being dance-y in the mouth. Of the portfolio the Primitivo was the one that most impressed me for hitting good value.

Another good value, for a little more texture with still well done flavor presentation–the Barbera. Good for meats. I love meats.

The best part of the project? The wines are good, good value, and Moore clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Moore shared two wines from an earlier face of the label as well–l’Uvaggio’s, Il Ponte fra due Terre. First, a 2000 Sangiovese,

then, a 3-vintage blend Vin Santo style wine, both part of the Chez Panisse wine list following their release.

Write-up to follow.

Thank you to Jim Moore for taking time to meet with me, and for selecting both the Uvaggio, and the Il Ponte wines for us to taste. I enjoyed talking with you.

Thank you to Dan Fredman.

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