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Jr Films Paul Sloan of Small Vines

Jr films bud break with Paul Sloan of Small Vines

Jr films bud break with Paul Sloan of Small Vines

In Sonoma County, Paul and Kathryn Sloan have been practicing high density viticulture since the late 1990s. Thus, the name of their company, Small Vines.

Devoted to honing their ability to grow healthy, well balanced vineyards, they have studied the viticultural practices of some of the best vineyards in the world, and worked to translate those practices to the unique conditions of Sonoma.

In 2005, they launched their own label (also named Small Vines) selling Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay primarily from the Green Valley subzone of the Russian River Valley.

Walking a Small Vines vineyard with the pair has repeatedly proven to be one of the most fascinating, educative experiences I’ve had in my visits with producers.

I asked if they’d be willing to let me follow them through a full year in the vineyard and winery covering each major stage of a vintage. They agreed.

For the first stage, I asked Jr to accompany me to create her own interpretation of the visit. First filming Paul and I through the vineyard, she then interviewed him on her own to edit and produce the video below. (I’m pretty psyched with the work she did.)

Bud Break and Green Pruning

With an early vintage in 2015, bud break is well under way throughout Sonoma County. As a result, vignerons are starting to look to the next step, shoot thinning, also known as green pruning or suckering.

The process of shoot thinning proves to be one of the most crucial steps of the vintage. When done well, it establishes balanced vine growth, determining how many clusters the vine can support for the year, and setting up the vine’s production for the following vintage as well.

I’ll let Paul, via Jr’s video, explain the rest.

Here’s the direct link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pniINtYL9Qg

Please feel free to share the video with interested friends and family. Jr would also be thrilled to read your comments on it below.

For more on Small Vines: https://smallvines.com

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

Tips from Celebrated Bartender, Christopher Longoria

Christopher Longoria

Christopher Longoria, photo courtesy of 1760

“It depends on what you want from a cocktail.” Christopher Longoria, celebrated Bar Program Manager at the ingredient-driven restaurant 1760 in San Francisco, tells me. “Are you trying to showcase the aperitif, or using a characteristic of it to make something else?”

Known for his creative approach, Longoria relies less on recipes for cocktail classics when behind the bar, and more on a culinary style, thinking first in terms of aromas and textures, to mix drinks. He is advising me on the art of mixing cocktails made from aperitif wines.

Recent years have brought a small boon in California artisanal aperitifs made by small-scale wineries. Longoria has found that these fortified wines, such as vermouth and chinato, offer an advantage behind the bar. Cocktails made from spirits tend to be less aromatic while also higher in alcohol but aperitif wines are able to offer a lot of character at lower proof.

A California Product

Matthiasson 2011 Flora Vermouth

Vermouth in particular has garnered recent attention. Vya and Sutton Cellars hold the spot as two of the most significant examples of American vermouth. Vya makes a range of styles from sweet, to dry, and extra dry, while Sutton Cellars gives a sweet version carrying both citrus and bitter elements.

More recently other small-scale examples have come out of Napa. Last year, Matthiasson released a sweet vermouth tasting of blood orange and coriander, while Massican has now released several vintages of dry vermouth offering a lighter body with citrus and floral notes.

“I use vermouth for different characteristics,” Longoria explains. “It tends to be good for aromatics, and depending on the vermouth, I will use it to make a silky texture.” The type of vermouth makes a difference in how to approach it, Longoria explains. The style – sweet to dry – also relates to the aperitifs weight on the palate.

“A sweet vermouth,” Longoria explains, “acts as the foundation of a drink. It gives it body, earthiness and sweetness.” When mixing with sweet vermouth you want your other ingredients to be lighter bodied, while also complementing the vermouth aroma and flavor. A bit of dry vermouth mixed with sweet can help focus the character of the final beverage.

“Dry vermouth is good for finishing a drink, tightening it up without drying it out,” Longoria tells me. “I use just a touch of dry vermouth to pull the body back in if I use something that would be too rich on its own.” As a result, the drink finishes clean in the mouth, leaving your palate ready for a different experience with the next cocktail.

More unusual aperitifs perfect for mixing have also cropped up in California.

Palmina Chinato

In Santa Barbara County, Palmina delivers a small production chinato made with the winery‘s Nebbiolo, and flavored with locally grown ingredients.

In Sonoma, Vivier Wines has created what might be the only Pineau des Charentes in the United States under the name Sexton-Vivier – made in honor of both the winemaker’s grandmother and his wife. By fortifying pressed juice, rather than already fermented wine, the drink retains a sense of freshness along with a sweet, herbal element.

Cocktails at Home

Sexton Vivier 2012 Pineau des Charentes

How to use artisanal aperitifs at home? Start simple, and play, Longoria says.

“You can take a classic cocktail, and switch up a key ingredient.” Longoria suggests. “Chinato can be used to make a black Manhattan. It works in mixed drinks like a darker, more herbaceous amaro.”

Similarly, Matthiasson vermouth works well in a negroni bringing out a blood orange element that gives the drink a new twist. The Massican or Sexton-Vivier, on the other hand, offer each a decidedly different take on a martini.

“When it comes to gin and vermouth,” or other mid-weight aperitifs, like the Pineau, Longoria explains, “consider the aroma. Gins tend to be really aromatic. If you want to play that up, go with an apertif with complementary aromatics. Or if you want the gin to be the focus, go with a milder one.”

The viscosity also comes into play. In the case of the Sexton-Vivier, its fuller body brings a sweet note to a gin martini, while the Massican keeps a lighter bodied focus on lifted aromatics.

“Making mixed drinks at home,” Longoria says, “it’s all about playing with the ingredients, and getting the palate attuned to it. Start with small portions, and get familiar with your components before you mix them. Figure out what you like, and mix from there.”

Christopher Longoria offered the following tips to get started making mixed drinks from artisanal aperitifs at home, and a recipe for Massican, an off-dry vermouth with a focus on delicate citrus and floral elements.

Massican 2012 Vermouth

Tips for Mixing Aperitif Cocktails at Home

  • Get Familiar with your aperitif on its own – it’s aroma, viscosity, and level of sweetness
  • Mix small portions first
  • Think of a sweet aperitif as the body of your cocktail, then mix with lighter bodied aperitifs or spirits with complementary aromas to accent it
  • Think of a dry aperitif as a way to tighten the body and finish of other ingredients
  • Don’t be afraid to mix different aperitifs together for a low-proof cocktail

Here’s a recipe from Christopher Longoria using the Massican Vermouth.

Aperitivo

Apertivo by Christopher Longoria

Apertivo without ice, photo courtesy of Christopher Longoria

.75 oz Massican Vermouth
.75 oz Bertina Elderflower
2 dashes orange bitters

Add ice, if desired. Stir.

Top with 1 oz. Marotti Campi Brut Rosé.
May also be topped with a Blanc Brut Cava for slightly less fruit flavor.

Enjoy!

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

W20Group.com Acquires VinTank 

W20 Group has acquired VinTank, the wine tech leader in social media analysis and communication. The purchase was just announced this morning.

“W2O is known for their analytics work. They can take a brand, look at all the social media data, identify that brand’s audience, and identify what they like so you can advertise smarter, and even predict future sales.” Paul Mabray, CEO and co-founder of VinTank, explains. “VinTank lets you communicate with them in real time. It completes the circle.”

Working with major brands such as Verizon, Intel, Red Bull, and Warner Bros., W20 Group has won multiple innovation awards for their work.

In purchasing VinTank, W20 Group gains unique technology that allows them to incorporate the next step in brand building. With VinTank software, W20 Group customers will be able to not only better understand their audience, but now also connect directly across social media platforms.

The acquisition proves significant for multiple reasons – This type of sale of a wine technology company is unprecedented. By combining the resources of W2O Group with the data of VinTank the insights into the wine industry to be gained should be monumental. The ability to communicate directly with customers that VinTank offers W2O Group will have reverberations far beyond wine.

Successful Wine Technology

This is the first time a company from completely outside the wine industry has purchased a wine technology company. VinTank effectively created software for the wine industry that can scale beyond the wine industry.

VinTank’s success in wine technology is unique. The wine industry proves to be one of the most difficult industries within which to successfully advance social media technologies due to the industry’s own resistance to such change, and most winery’s limited financial resources.

“I’m really grateful for the challenge of building this kind of technology within the wine industry.” Mabray says. “There was this sense of banging my head against the wall but that eventually gave insight into what we needed to do.”

Wine tech success stories are few. While many such companies have launched, very few have succeeded. Successful examples include Ship Compliant, Wine Direct, and VinTank itself.

Gary Vaynerchuck stands as another clear leader in wine technology, thanks to his early success with the Wine Library video series. However, it is significant to point out that Vaynerchuck’s current success is largely thanks to his quickly stepping outside the confines of wine itself.

What makes VinTank significant beyond the wine industry? 

“We’d already made software to work beyond wine,” Mabray explains. “But as a self funded company we needed to stay focused on wine so our attention wasn’t divided. Now the development conversation can expand and prove what the software can do both in and outside of wine.”

VinTank’s power beyond the wine industry rests first in how brands can communicate directly with customers. It also depends on VinTanks ease of use.

Currently, VinTank software pinpoints social media mentions for specific wine brands giving their customers the ability to identify who is talking about them, as well as the opportunity to communicate with those customers directly. Even more importantly, it allows you to communicate with those customers in real time.

If someone mentions a wine brand on Instagram, via the VinTank app that winery can respond in Instagram. Same with Twitter, Facebook, Delectable, blog platforms, and more.

Part of what makes VinTank so easy is that to have these conversations, wine brands don’t have to be logged into every social media platform. Instead, they can communicate across any of them from within the VinTank app.

Now imagine that same capability for any brand in any industry, not just wine.

In an age where customers more than ever want to feel directly connected, VinTank technology makes communicating directly with those customers possible. It also makes the noisy chaos of social media understandable.

As significant as the VinTank acquisition is for industry in general, it promises to change the wine industry as well.

The Next Step: Analysis

“We have the largest set of data on wine consumers in the industry,” Mabray points out. VinTank analyzes one million social media conversations about wine per day and has now for years. “I’ve always wanted to dig into that data but haven’t had the money to hire analysts. W2O already has data analysts in house.”

The insights into the wine industry made possible by this merger are unprecedented.

“We will be able to do things like predict variety popularity before a boom,” Mabray explains. “We will be able to predict leading regions, varieties, and brands based on social media interaction.”

Such analysis will also give insight into key influencers – the people that impact wine sales and increase interest in particular wines just by talking about them.

VinTank already has the ability to identify who the influencers are, and the impact of their message through how it spreads online. With W20 analysis, VinTank will also be able to predict new influencers before they happen.

Imagine companies being able to use such insight to connect with those influencers directly.

The Power of Influence

Part of what VinTank technology has already helped make clear is how influence in social media operates.

“We look at people that might not have a huge audience,” Mabray explains, “but whose audience listens tightly to what that person says.”

An individual with a small number of followers on social media could have more impact than someone with a much higher number of followers when at least two elements are in place – followers trust and act based on what the individual says, and the followers also influence others.

The point is simple – “Who influences the influencers?” Mabray points out. “We can identify not only who the key influencers are, but also who influences the influencers in microwaves from the side. Someone might be a key influencer, but who has direct lines to him or her” and influences his or her decisions?

The importance of such insight is crucial in the world of social media where key influencers might not even be known critics, but instead simply people that speak up about certain subjects like wine.

The Future of VinTank: A Commitment to the Wine Industry 

“W2O is committed to the wine industry, and we’re committed to staying,” Mabray explains. “James and I both live here [in Napa] with our families. We’re not going anywhere.”

While W2O Group is not a wine company, their purchase of VinTank includes a commitment to the wine industry. Indeed, VinTank has been looked at by other companies but part of what convinced VinTank to accept an offer from the W2O Group is its ongoing commitment to the wine industry.

What W2O offers the wine industry is greater resources. “They’re a company with resources, and they’re dedicating those to the wine industry.” Mabray explains. “We can now expand our work for the wine industry.”

VinTank’s Napa office will remain open.

VinTank CEO Paul Mabray will lead the business side of W2O Group’s software division for data driven engagement. VinTank CTO James Jory will lead the technology side of the same division.

“We’re essentially two sides of the same coin,” Mabray says. “We come together.”

***

To read more on the VinTank acquisition:

The official press release: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20150330005194/en/W2O-Group-Acquires-VinTank-Social-Engagement-CRM#.VRlDRVz4vFK

VinTank’s own blog post about it: http://www.vintank.com/2015/03/the-next-chapter/

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

I Rosati di deGusto Salento a Lazise per l’anteprima Chiaretto Bardolino

Earlier this month I traveled to Garda Lake in Italy’s Veneto to attend the Bardolino Anteprima. My main focus for the event, however, was in tasting the current releases of Rosati.

This year’s Anteprima brought a celebration of rosé made from Indigenous Italian varietals. With this in mind Chiaretto, from the Bardolino region’s grape Corvina, was poured. The Bardolino Consortium also invited the winemakers of Salento Rosato, rosé from Puglia’s Negroamaro. We were lucky enough to taste all of the current releases of both Salento Rosato and Chiaretto.

Italian media, I Move Puglia.TV, attended the Bardolino Anteprima and interviewed journalists on their impression of the wines. After finishing the comprehensive rosati tastings, they asked me to describe both wines — first the Salento, and then Chiaretto.

Here’s the interview.

Thank you to Francesca Angelozzi and Gianluca Lubelli for including me.

For more from I Move Puglia.TV check out their over view video here, with links to the other interviews: http://www.imovepuglia.tv/video/308-i-rosati-di-degusto-salento-a-lazise-per-l-anteprima-chiaretto-bardolino

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Visiting Gist Ranch Vineyard

Nathan Kandler and Tommy Fogarty at the top of Gist Ranch VineyardNathan Kandler and Tommy Fogarty standing at the top of Gist Ranch Vineyard, Oct 2014

Spin the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA on your finger like a basketball, and the spot where it balances is Gist Ranch Vineyard, owned and farmed by Lexington Wines. The site sits on the Pacific plate in the Skyline subzone of the appellation. Gist Ranch grows Bordeaux varieties.

“There are not a lot of Bordeaux varieties on the Pacific plate,” Lexington winemaker Nathan Kandler explains. We’re standing at the top of the vineyard looking west. Through a low point in the mountains you can see the ocean. “David Bruce is just over the next ridge to the south. Big Basin is due west. We’re 13 miles from the ocean.” David Bruce and Big Basin are two wineries known for their Pinot Noir.

Risking a Site

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA proves one of the most geographically varied in California. From above it appears like folds of cloth undulating in a series of north to south ridges, vineyards all aspects and slopes of varying degree and elevation.

One of the first truly mountain-based appellations in the state, the region rests between two moderating influences — the Pacific at its west, San Francisco Bay to its east. As a result, its lowest points are defined by the reach of fog — 800 ft on the eastern side, 400 ft on the west. The highest peaks climbing over 3000 ft.

The region rises from a conjunction of tectonic plates. Soils vary widely from ridge to ridge, and slope side to ridge top, thanks to the persistent activity of the plates. Gist Ranch stands atop the Pacific plate, an unusual spot for Cabernet.

“We started planting [Thomas] Fogarty [Vineyard] in 1980,” Tommy Fogarty, GM and son of the winery founder Thomas Fogarty, explains. Thomas Fogarty Vineyard and Winery rests in the Skyline subzone of the Santa Cruz Mountains, known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while also making quality Gewürztraminer, and Nebbiolo.

“The site clearly wanted to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” Fogarty continues, “but dad and Michael [Martella, founding winemaker of Fogarty] love and knew Cabernet so always wanted to work towards that. Then they found the Gist site, and Michael thought it could grow Cab.”

The idea proved controversial.

“Even fourteen years ago,” Kandler points out, “it was hard to get temperature and atmospheric info.” No one knew for sure the growing conditions for the site. At the time it was planted as a Christmas tree farm with no need for temperature monitors. Neighbors Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards, and David Bruce of his eponymous winery weighed in. “Draper agreed it could grow Cab. David Bruce said it would never ripen.”

“We bought the property,” Fogarty adds. “We put in temperature monitors. Two years later we started planting. We have real time weather reporting here on the site now, and have for a couple years, so it’s interesting to see the impact storms have here compared to up there [at Fogarty.]” Though the two locations are only a few miles apart they host markedly different meso climates.

Seeking Cabernet

“Dad always wanted to do Cabernet.” Tommy explains. “His reference to start was Napa until he found Ridge.”

Michael Martella, and Thomas Fogarty, the co-founders of the winery, loved Cabernet. In the 1980s it was generally understood that California Cabernet’s natural home was in Napa. Ridge would bring attention to Bordeaux varieties in the Mountains, but even so, it was too hard to source Cabernet from Santa Cruz.

As such, Thomas Fogarty Winery would purchase fruit from the Stag’s Leap district of Napa Valley beginning in 1981, then turning to Yountville from 1986 to 2006. It was an unusual choice for a Santa Cruz winery known for Pinot Noir to make Napa Cab but it was a matter of affection.

Tasting one of the mid-1980 Cabernets with Kandler and Fogarty it’s a lovely, quaffable wine with the giving complexity of an older Napa Cab, but it also feels stylistically distinct from the other Fogarty wines of the same time period.

“We bought Napa Cabernet until 2006,” Kandler says. “Then it didn’t make sense anymore to make Napa Cabernet as a Santa Cruz Mountain winery.” By then the Gist Ranch Cabernet was also available.

The Fogarty team could turn their attention to local fruit but Santa Cruz Cabernet turned out to need a total rethink in approach from Napa Valley fruit.

Getting to Know Gist

Lexington Wines

“Gist is its own project.” Fogarty explains. “We realized it’s not just Fogarty Cabernet, so we started a different label, Lexington.”

Getting to know the Gist Vineyard over several years allowed a new sense of exploration for the Fogarty team. Though Gist Ranch sits mere miles from the Fogarty site, and in the same subzone as well, the Gist vineyard has its own style and perspective. Over time, then, the Fogarty team realized Gist was thoroughly distinct from Fogarty wines.

“We have done a few vintages of vineyard designate Cabernet from Gist for Fogarty but it’s not just Fogarty Cabernet.” Kandler says. “This fruit gives me a whole new energy in the cellar.”

A few years of getting to know Gist Ranch fruit after having worked with Napa Valley Cabernet gave Kandler the advantage of perspective.

“I’ve learned a lot in ten years or so of making wine from Gist Ranch. What my friends do with Napa Cabernet doesn’t translate.” Santa Cruz Mountains offer a distinctive structure and fruit expression from its North Coast cousin.

“When I made wine from Gist like I would with fruit from Napa, Cabs from the site would end up seeming more tannic.” Kandler describes. But Gist Ranch Cabernet turns out to be a great lesson in perception versus actual composition.

“Actually though it’s the acid levels more than that it’s more tannic.” Kandler continues. “The wines taste more tannic than Napa Cab, but if you do analysis the numbers tell you the opposite. It’s more about tannin management. It’s about tannin-acid balance.” To find that proper balance, the Fogarty team went deeper into the vineyard.

Farming Gist

Julio Deras, Vineyard Manager

Julio Deras, Gist Ranch, and Fogarty Vineyard Manager, August 2013

“I don’t know if it is just my Pinot Noir background,” Kandler says, describing his work with the Gist Ranch Vineyard. “But I am really trying to wrap my head around these blocks to understand them. So we micro farm, and micro ferment, and try to learn from the vineyard. As a winemaker you only have limited time and energy. Spend your time thinking about the vineyard, and the vines. The more time you spend thinking about the site, rather than thinking about barrels and yeast in the cellar, the better.”

In recognizing the contrast between different blocks, Kandler’s most important guide rests in Julio Deras, vineyard manager for both the Gist Ranch, and Fogarty sites.

“That’s one of the things that is so great about working with Julio as vineyard manager.” Kandler explains. “He really understands about variability of ripening in one vineyard, and picking based on that. He walks the vineyard and tastes looking for that. Julio has farmed here from the beginning. He has been with Fogarty for 20 years.”

As he continues, Kandler speaks with a deep intimacy of the various vineyard blocks. “We have four Cabernet blocks,” Kandler says. There are four and a half acres of Cabernet planted in the midst of thirteen total planted acres. “Thinking about the two southern blocks, they are more about power and strength. The two northern blocks give more the cassis and the fruit. The thing about these Bordeaux varieties, is it is so much more about blending.”

Tasting through previous vintages of Gist Ranch Cabernet bottled under the Thomas Fogerty label shows Kandler and Deras’s increase in understanding. The wines are delicious but show a more seamless focus, greater structural balance, and a greater sense of easy integrity as they progress. It’s a mastery that comes from greater health in the vineyard, and also a stronger understanding of its peculiarities.

Growing Bordeaux Varieties

By the 2011 vintage, Fogarty and Kandler felt they’d found their clarity with Gist Ranch, and were ready to release them as their own Lexington wines. The first, current release includes three varietal wines — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot — as well as a tête de cuvée, the Apex. (Though in 2011 the Apex turns out to be predominately Cabernet Sauvignon.)

The other Bordeaux varieties of Gist Ranch prove unique as well. “The top portion where the Cab Franc, and Merlot are planted are a little less vigor, and a little more challenged.” Kandler says.

“We have this Merlot growing in sand,” Kandler continues. “It’s really all about structure, so I think it’s pretty unique for Merlot.” Tasting the Lexington Merlot gives pretty red fruit and flower, with loads of structural integrity coupled with a lifting freshness.

The Cabernet Franc too pours unique. “The Cab Franc here actually ripens after the Cabernet,” Kandler says. “We had a stagiaire this year from Bordeaux, and he said, ‘that’s impossible! You pick Merlot, then Cab Franc, then you pick Cabernet.'” The Gist Cab Franc gives just a hint of bell pepper mixed through a melange of dried herbs, hints of chocolate, and electric purity.

Though we couldn’t taste it on its own, Kandler and Fogarty report they’re happy enough with the Malbec that they hope to bottle some on its own eventually too.

I ask Kandler to describe the process of finding his footing with such a unique vineyard site after having worked with the same variety from other locations.

“It’s interesting, in making Cabernet, letting go of Napa as a benchmark,” he responds. “It’s completely different making Cabernet here than in Napa. Then you turn to Ridge because that’s your neighbor, but that is such a specific site, and again really different from here. At some point you have to just turn to your site, and have faith in what you’re doing. That takes some time. I didn’t just come with it.”

***

Tasting Lexington Wines

Lexington 2011 Wines

Lexington 2011 Cabernet Franc Gist Ranch Estate 14.4% 173 cases. Wonderful purity, with an electric hum. Flavors of mixed dried herbs, ground cacao, and just a hint of bell pepper and earthiness. This wine has easy tannin presence, and nice balancing acidity with an ultra long finish. Great for food. Delicious.

Lexington 2011 Merlot Gist Ranch Estate 14.5% 98 cases. Nice brightness, and a sense of brawn without aggressiveness. Concentrated red fruit with an exotic red floral lift and conifer forest accents. Easy, persistent tannin, nice balancing acidity, a saline crunch throughout with graphite accents lingering into a long finish. Intriguing and delicious.

Lexington 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Gist Ranch Estate 14.1% 1223 cases. Lots of freshness, and layers of complexity. Nice concentration, and purity. Light herbal amaro notes mixed through fresh berry, and hints of cassis. Creamy mid palate, nice balance, with a long drying finish.

Lexington 2011 Apex Gist Ranch Estate 14.1% 193 cases. Seamless with a sense of lightness. Mixed herbal lift, with cocoa accents, and fresh cherry with cassis. Nicely done acid to tannin balance on a long drying finish. Will develop beautifully with age, and age a long time.

***

Lexington Wines: http://www.lexingtonwineco.com

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

Di Costanzo Wines

Jr and Massimo Di Costanzo getting ready to film an interview

Jr + Massimo Di Costanzo getting ready to film their interview

Massimo Di Costanzo has been making delicious Cabernet from Farella Vineyards in Coombsville since 2010.

This past weekend, Jr and I met with Massimo, and his wife, Erin Sullivan, to discuss his winemaking, and taste a vertical of his work. I asked Jr to accompany me to interview Massimo herself and create a video from her perspective.

I’m pleased to share it with you here. 

Massimo Di Costanzo, Di Costanzo Wines

The video url: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cGCN7sqhuM

Keep an eye out for more work from Jr in the future. 

***

Coombsville Cabernet

Looking up Napa Valley from Farella Vineyards in Coombsville

looking up Napa Valley from the top of Farella Vineyards

“Coombsville is so distinct,” Massimo Di Constanzo tells me. We’re standing at the top of the Western facing slope of Farella Vineyard in Coombsville looking North up Napa Valley. “Coombsville definitely has a signature. That is kind of what drew me to it. People can tell [when they taste the wine].”

Di Costanzo has been making his eponymous Cabernet Sauvignon from Farella Vineyard since 2010, having fallen in love with the site through older vintages of the Farella label.

“The age-ability of the older Merlots, and the other [Farella] wines,” Di Costanzo tells me drifting off for a moment as if remembering the taste of the wines. Then he continues. “I loved that style. It inspired me to want to make wine here.”

Since the late 1970s Napa Valley has steadily built an international reputation on its quality Cabernet. Soil variation, and microclimates of the region offer a range of styles for the grape’s strong frame giving consumers a choice of interest, and winemakers the opportunity to hone their signature through distinct subzones.

In the southern reach of the Valley, Coombsville offers a cooler zone compared to the steady warmth of the Rutherford bench, or the day time highs of Calistoga. The shift impacts the fruit presentation.

“In Coombsville,” Di Costanzo explains, “the wines are more finesse driven. There is good acidity because we are closer to the Bay.”

Though Carneros is regarded as the coolest part of Napa Valley, Coombsville steps just slightly inland from that San Pablo-to-San Francisco-Bays-and-Ocean influence. In Coombsville, the fog still makes its mark but to less degree, allowing enough warmth to ripen Cabernet, enough shift to keep acidity. The difference also impacts soils.

“What’s interesting about Coombsville,” Di Costanzo says, “is a lot of volcanic ash deposits. That’s pretty unique to this area.” The resulting rock serves Cabernet well, giving not only a pleasing ash and mineral cut to the wines, but supporting its viticulture. “Cabernet wants well drained soils.”

So, in 2010, when some Farella Cabernet became available, Di Costanzo took the chance.

“In 2009, I was trying out fruit from a few different vineyards,” he explains. “Then, in 2010, an opportunity for Farella fruit came up. It meant I could do a vineyard designate, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to do before, and I had fallen in love with Coombsville. It meant I could pick the grapes, and do less to it to make the wine I wanted to make, which is very cool.”

So, in 2010 Di Costanzo started making Di Costanzo Farella Vineyard Cabernet, able too to launch his wine in the first vintage approved for designation with the then-new Coombsville AVA.

Making Cabernet

Di Costanzo Cabernet

tasting a four vintage vertical of Di Costanzo Cabernet, 2010, 2012-2014

“The only path I saw was to make my own wine,” Di Costanzo explains. “I saved money. I felt inspired to make my own brand. The brands I really loved [and wanted to work with] were too small [to be able to hire someone]. Being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs though,” he continues, “and Cabernet is a slow process.”

More tannin driven red wines, like Cabernet, demand time in barrel to age and resolve, but, even with necessary wait, fruit bills still arrive after harvest. Barrels have to be purchased to store multiple vintages, and storage space must be secured. The cost is high, and it takes years before you have wine to release a first vintage.

“You look at the big picture,” Di Costanzo says. “You learn patience. It takes a few years but then once you get there it’s great. You have wine every year.”

The wine Di Costanzo has proves simultaneously prudent and giving, delicious and elegant. His Cabernet shows Coombsville to its advantage offering ample cool fruit flavors, with mouthwatering generosity – perfect for food while still about pleasure.

* Di Costanzo 2010 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 14.3% $85 Wonderfully fresh, and savory, full of mouthwatering length, and supple tannin. This wine offers vibrant aromatics and plush flavor with a focus on acidity. Notes of ash and anise, fresh red fruit, and a dark plum finish. Good structure for aging.

* Di Costanzo 2012 Farella Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 14.2% $85 Showing darker fruit expression with fresh floral and herbal accents, the 2012 Di Constanzo Cabernet gives a creamy mid palate with just a bit richer expression than the 2010 ushered forth in a frame of great acidity, movement, and lift. Delicious.

***

Di Costanzo Wines: http://www.mdcwines.com

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

3

The Frank Prial Fellowship

Two weeks ago I attended the 11th annual Napa Valley Wine Writer Symposium. During dinner on the last night each of the Symposium fellowship winners were named, and I discovered I won the Frank G. Prial Fellowship, an award given to the writer whose application submissions scored top honors from the judges.

Frank Prial Fellowship, with Linda Reiff + Jim Gordonwith Linda Reiff and Jim Gordon at the end of the Napa Valley Wine Writer Symposium

My submission pieces included an in depth profile in World of Fine Wine on Varner and Neely wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains, and a cover story for Wine & Spirits on intentionally growing rosé in California. Following is an interview of me by Luke Sykora for Wine & Spirits Magazine online asking me to talk more in depth about writing about wine, what led me to wine, my wine drawings and more.

To read the interview, check it out here at Wine & Spirits: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/S=0/news/entry/elaine-chukan-brown-wins-frank-prial-fellowship

 

0

Billy Collins on Writing

Last week Billy Collins addressed the Napa Valley Wine Writer Symposium in a key note address with his thoughts on writing. Following are some ideas he shared.

What it Means to Write

In considering various forms of writing, Collins admitted to differences in his level of comfort versus insecurity. “The prose writer in me is riddled with insecurity. The poet is not.”

In explaining the practice of writing, Collins hit home with a reference to Thomas Mann. He gave the entire room a good laugh with this one. It is far too true. “As Thomas Mann said, a writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than for other people.”

Collins used a point from W.H. Auden on how to recognize when your writing is complete. “W.H. Auden compared writing to cabinet making – the just rightness about the words.”

Considering Poetry

Later Collins continued the comparison of forms of writing. “Poetry and prose, for me, are like two different musical instruments.”

As a poet, he explored that approach further, using it to give insight to writing in general. “Poetry offers the highest level of imaginative freedom of any writing. It doesn’t have to stick to its topic.” And, “The poet seeks to get lost in the woods of his own imagination.”

He considered, finally, how the means of concluding a piece gives insight to the method of the whole. “All poems are about one thing – how do you get out of there? That can be extended to all writing, I think. The conclusion is about reaching that point where you have nothing else to say, and the reader doesn’t want to read anymore.”

Part of Collins point in exploring poetry was to encourage us as writers to pull inspiration from beyond the walls of wine writing. How? Collins suggested that the conventions of wine writing could be improved, or undone, by interjecting the conventions of other writing forms. He offered several tips, and examples, some drawing too from other styles of writing.

Wine As Discovery

“Start out writing about something other than wine so then wine comes in as a sort of discovery.”

“If you get the reader to accept something simple at the beginning of the piece, they’ll be more willing to accept something more complex later. […] Once you’ve established something human at the beginning of the piece, you’ve established absolute authority.”

“Be an interesting speaker.”

The Love of Strangers

Collins considered for a moment writers’ relation to others first by referencing American Essayist Roger Angell. “Roger Angell said, that’s what writing is all about, the love of strangers.”

Collins continued the idea by taking a look into why writers write. “We have people all around us that love us but their love is often incomplete. So, we seek out the love of others – strangers.”

He used the idea of seeking attention from others to drive home a fundamental point about what makes some writing work – we are all in a sense alienated. Writing, when it works, becomes a site to connect with others. How?

“We can always assume the indifference of readers. To get over that indifference, move off into other topics. Have some drift in your writing.” The drift becomes what Collins called our “something human” that gives us authority in the piece. Not in the sense of dominating the reader, but in the sense of pulling them in.

Building a Scene

Collins considered other ways to pull the reader in by again turning to other forms of writing. “Writers of novels do not proceed by explanation. They proceed by scene-by-scene construction. It is certainly good to begin with a scene. All sorts of things can happen in a scene. Is it raining? Put some rain in there.”

Collins considered advice from Nelson Algren. “Make them laugh. Make them cry. But most of all make them wait.”

Collins then riffed on Algren’s point by considering again conventions from other forms of writing. “Plant a suspense scene or clue in the beginning, then go to describing the weather, or the scenery outside the window.”

The Writer’s Ego and Interest

As he continued, he referenced Joan Didion and her technique of borrowing stylistically from fiction to deliver her non-fiction prose. He also pointed to a more extreme example, Hunter S. Thompson, in which “the reporter replaces the subject of the story. They inject their ego into the story.”

In describing that generation’s styles of reporting where the journalist suddenly became (overtly) integral to the reporting, he joked, “Everyone wrote like an only child.”

Finally, Collins turned the attention back to the state of the writer while writing. “Keep yourself interested. If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep anyone else up at night. You have to make yourself a stranger to your own writing. Step back from each paragraph, and ask, would a stranger be interested in this?”

***

For Amy and Meg.

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

 

 

Writing as Writers

selfishly stolen from Michael Alberty who no doubt selfishly thieved it from someone elseLast week wine writers and editors from around the world flew to Napa Valley for the Napa Valley Wine Writer Symposium to learn together how to better our work as writers.

We were urged by Dave McIntrye, wine writer of the The Washington Post, to remember that wine is the adjective that modifies the noun writer. Our job first is to write well.

Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal urged, “If you want to keep your writing fresh, you need to read widely.” Then, continuing, he chided lightly, “keep your writing fresh, enthusiastic, and bright, but that will only get you so far. You also have to research.”

Writing About Wine

Turning specifically to our work as writers of wine, S. Irene Virbila, food critic and wine reviewer of The Los Angeles Times, pushed into the personal, advising us, “find a way to go back to that emotional core when you first discovered wine. Give people that experience somehow.”

For Virbila, one way to accomplish that is to consider that we “have a relationship with wine. It is not the same with every sip.” (Cathy Huyghe explores this idea in her review of a fictitious good wine below.)

As lovers of wine, that relationship is no small piece. Our love of wine pulls us back again and again, elongating those moments of our nose in the glass. We can deliver that intimacy to our readers but go too far and our work becomes too precious.

Considering her work writing for a general audience in a daily newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, Virbila reminded us to “never forget how many people never think about wine.” In a position like that of a newspaper wine writer, she explained that we are asked to “convince a wider audience why they should even be interested in wine.”

Remembering Relevance

Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, reminded us at the end of his keynote speech that for writing about wine to be accessible to that broader audience we must remove it from its privileged lifestyle.

Wine becomes relevant when we take it out of the wealth and comfort of the finest wine country, and return it to the tables of any home.

To explicate, Collins (half joking) pointed to the most relevant of writing, the obituary. “I know obituaries very well,” he said, “better than wine.” His point, ultimately, “break that circle. Reach a non specialist audience.”

The Billy Collins Writing Challenge

Finally, Collins presented the Napa Valley Wine Writer Symposium with a writing challenge. The point was to generate quality writing while also making fun of our own conventions.

The assignment? He invited every attendee (there were 50 of us, along with 20 or so speakers and coaches) to write an over-the-top wine review for an imaginary wine in one or both of two categories.

(1) A good review for a wine that gives “spiritual transcendence,” is “orgasmic,” and “life transforming.”

(2) A bad review for “an absolutely damning” wine “demeaning to your spirit”

At the end of the week he selected both a 1st and 2nd place winner for each category. Here they are.

Over the Top Wine Reviews

Billy Collins Writing Challenge Bad Asseswinners of the Billy Collins Writing Challenge
from left: me, Fred Swan, Billy Collins, Kort van Bronkhorst, Cathy Huyghe

Second Place: the Good Wine, Cathy Huyghe

In the glass, there is a nuance of color. On the nose, it evolves as time passes. It’s meant to. It’s meant to breathe, and expand and contract, and stretch its legs. There is something on the nose that rings a bell in my memory. In the mouth, it has something to say. It takes a stand. It has an opinion, and it is not afraid to say it. Sometimes it wants the spotlight — it earns it, and deserves it. But, over time, it takes a step back too, to self-deprecate, to tease, to hide, to beguile, to make me want to come back for more. And every time I do come back, every sip, is different. That too is how it’s meant to be. It leaves me with a taste in my mouth of, “Oh.” And “Oh. Yes, I get it.”

Second Place: the Bad Wine, Elaine Chukan Brown

Reeper Vineyards 2013 “Chariot” Sauvignon Blanc – pungent presentation of sea cucumber, grandma’s feet, and the dust from Shakespeare’s first edition. 14.5% $120

First Place: the Bad Wine, Fred Swan

It starts with a cringe-inducing, sphincter-puckering screech of rusty iron on rusty iron. Then comes impact: a sudden, heavy blow to the mouth. There’s the taste of blood and gravel, the feel of shattered glass on the tongue. Burning diesel, overturned soil and the pungent earthiness of one hundred pairs of pants filled by panic assault the nose. One’s throat burns and, eye’s watering, victims drag themselves along the floor looking for safety and water. The 2009 Chateau de Plonk is a a Bordelaise train wreck. 65 points.

First Place: the Good Wine, Kort van Bronkhorst

Toasted Head Cannabis Sauvignon

Oh Em Gee. This is a mind-blowing wine! Wooooooo! In the glass, it’s like a magenta kaleidoscope of shimmering, uh, wineness. On the nose, it reeks (and I mean that in a good way) of stoned fruits and wet earth. And if ever a wine was herbaceous, it’s this one. In the mouth, it turned my tongue into Playland at the Beach. Especially the Fun House. Yeah. Wow. Look at my head in that mirror! And Dudes, you really must pair this wine with food. Lots and lots of food. Like especially Taquitos, and Cheese Puffs, and that Munchie Pack that Jack in the Box serves after 11pm. Awright awright awright! Best of all, it’s only $4.20 a bottle, but I highly recommend getting a magnum so you can pass it around at your next party.

***

Thank you to Cathy, Fred, and Kort for letting me share their pieces here.

Funny thing. It occurs to me only now that Kort and I both wrote about Sauvignon though with entirely opposite reactions. Cheers!

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

1

Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

Grimm's Bluff olives + vines looking into Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard & olive grove from the hilltop above, Nov 2014

Before he and his wife Aurora planted it, “this was all native grasses,” Rick Grimm tells me as I step onto their ranch, Grimm’s Bluff. Grimm’s Bluff stands at the southern most boundary of the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA in Santa Ynez Valley. At 859 ft, the property lifts above the Santa Ynez River to the south, the rest cupped by the rolling hills of Happy Canyon.

We pass a large-ish personal garden as we head towards the vineyard. It looks to be a mix of flowers, and vegetables — aesthetic and produce plantings. A comical mix of spotted hens cluck after us briefly as we walk but stop before we reach the vines.

Establishing a New Vineyard

“We knew what type of wine we liked,” Rick Grimm explains, “but not how to grow it.” Happy Canyon itself proves one of the younger zones for vines in the county and includes an array of aspects, and elevations thanks to the varied hills and peaks that surround the canyon. Prior to establishing their site, the Grimm’s subzone of Happy Canyon had no vineyards.

Even vineyard companies through the region “didn’t know what would grow best,” Grimm explains, “since they hadn’t grown in this area.”

The Grimm’s reached out to celebrated winemaker Paul Lato for winemaking. His own label, Paul Lato Wines, has earned him regard from critics and wine lovers alike. Then they also connected with Philippe Coderey to help establish the vineyard. Coderey’s well-respected work in biodynamics includes tenure at sites ranging from Domaine M. Chapoutier in France, to Grgich Hills Estate in Napa, Tablas Creek in Paso, and Bien Nacido in Santa Maria Valley, among others.

Together, the team discussed their goals for style and expression while studying the property. They chose Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon as their varieties — two grapes that have done well in the appellation — then researched to best match clones and rootstock to site and intention.

“Paul had been tasting different clones,” Grimm says. “We researched what rootstocks would do well here. Then, it was, head trained, or, VSP? We chose both with some clones of each, and both rootstocks on both sides.” By diversifying planting within the property vintners mitigate their risk while also increasing knowledge of the site over time.

Biodynamic Farming 

Wishing to create the highest potential for quality through the health of the vines, the team established Grimm’s Bluff using biodynamics. While other vineyards in the region are farmed biodynamically, Grimm’s Bluff remains one of the few done so from the start. Integral to biodynamic principles is biological diversity.

“We have chickens.” Grimm says, referencing the hens that greeted us when I first arrived. “They’re part of our biodiversity element, but then Aurora turned them into pets so we’ve been considering other birds,” Grimm laughs. “Birds are like a walking insecticide.”

Besides vineyard, the Grimm’s have also planted olives, a personal garden, and wild flower insectariums. “Aurora does a lot of gardening,” Rick tells me. “She is good at seeing every part, and how it will fit into the big picture.” Her vision has helped guide the overall design for the property and their family home.

They’ve also kept both untouched and pasture land. By leaving uncultivated, and wild plant zones including forest, and natural transitions of scrub brush and grasslands, greater insect, and animal stability is held through greater plant diversity. The increased health of insect and animal populations helps balance the health of the vines as well. It’s a focus on the biology of not just the vine but its surrounding environment.

Pasture land with cattle helps the team’s need for organic compost. “We make all our own compost.” Grimm explains. “We started from day one making our own. It is difficult to make sure [purchased] manure is all organic with no antibiotics.”

The Stages of Light

RickGrimmsBlufflooking north into Happy Canyon from the top, with Rick Grimm, Nov 2014

Exploring the property with Rick Grimm, gives glimpse into intimacy with a special site. We stand now on the highest point of the site on a hill looking over the vineyard to our east, and the rest of Happy Canyon to our north. The view leaves us dumb for a time. Then, reflecting, Grimm slowly names four stages of the Bluff’s day.

“There is early morning mist on the lake, animals and birds everywhere,” he says, describing the ranch as the sun comes up. “Then, low morning light. The animals have left. There is still a lower, clear light but no mist.”

Finally we come to afternoon when the direction of everything switches in the Santa Ynez Valley. Thanks to the transverse mountain range that defines the valley with an open mouth to the ocean, the region’s wind moves in and out in regular daily rhythm. You can almost set a clock by when the coastal influence reaches your portion of the valley.

“Around 1 PM,” he says, “it’s the heat of the day, and the wind picks up. Then, there is evening. It’s totally clear. There are tons of stars. At night we’ll build a bonfire and just see the clear sky.”

The Wine the Site Gives

Rick and Aurora’s time with Grimm’s Bluff has begun to give fruit. The Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc marks the first release for the project. They have also harvested and vinified their first Cabernet Sauvignon in 2014, yet to be released.

Descending the hillside back towards the vineyard, I ask Rick how he enjoyed bringing in the Cabernet for its first fruit.

“I’d never tasted Cabernet right after it’s been pressed, before it goes into barrel. Is it supposed to taste good?” He responds smiling. “When Paul offered me a taste, I thought he was joking. Then I tasted it and I thought, you know what? I could drink this.”

Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc


Grimms Bluff 2013 Sauvignon click on image to enlarge

Grimm’s Bluff
Sauvignon Blanc
Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

13.8%
3.27 pH
0.696 TA

all organic & biodynamic farming
clone 1 & musque clone, first fruit

$40
90 cases

Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc delivers lifted aromatics, and a palate of mixed citrus — kefir lime, grapefruit, and hints of mandarin — in both fresh fruit and blossom all carried on a nice backbone of mouthwatering acidity, crushed oyster shell, and saline accents. Winemaker Paul Lato weds crisp focus with a creamy midpalate for a beautifully balanced wine — both refreshing and giving, lithe and supple. Ultra-long finish. Nicely flexible with food. Recommended.

***

To read more about Paul Lato, check out my previous interview with him: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/01/15/living-courage-paul-lato-wines/

I had the most striking photos of Grimm’s Bluff — it is a beautiful site — and of Rick and Aurora. Then my computer crashed and I lost them. Remember to back-up, dear ones.

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