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cabernet franc


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.


A Day with Tyler Thomas, Winemaker Star Lane + Dierberg

Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas, January 2014

Winemaker Tyler Thomas stepped into leadership of the wine program at Star Lane and Dierberg in Santa Barbara County during Summer 2013. Prior to his new position he headed winemaking at Donelan Wines in Santa Rosa, after having assisted winemaker Stéphane Vivier at HdV in Napa.

During his tenure at Donelan, Thomas and I were able to taste and interview on multiple occasions. I have been impressed by his thoughtfulness as a winemaker, and his attention to vine physiology as the root of his winemaking. His background in botany under girds his thinking. One of my interests, then, in visiting Santa Barbara County was in returning to Star Lane to see it under Thomas’s leadership, and to speak with Thomas about his work in the new-to-him vineyards and winery.

After tasting extensively through the cellar with Thomas and assistant winemaker, Jeff Connick, I am excited to keep following their development. Thomas spoke gratefully about his work with Connick. As Thomas explained, Connick’s knowledge of and attention to the wine program at Dierberg and Star Lane significantly advanced the process of getting to know the unique expression of the vineyards for Thomas as the new winemaker.

Thomas and I were also able to taste some older vintages of wines from the Dierberg and Star Lane vineyards. While the winemaking style was different from that expressed through the barrel tasting with Thomas and Connick, a distinctiveness and age-ability showed through. Thomas credits that sense of site expression with age worthiness as part of what convinced him there was something well-worth investing his time in at the Dierberg and Star Lane properties.

After touring the Dierberg Sta Rita Hills, and Star Lane Vineyard sites, we spent several hours in the cellar tasting through wines from both locations, as well as the Dierberg Santa Maria vineyard. Thomas and I spoke extensively about how he’s approaching his new position. Following is an excerpt from our conversation considering how Thomas thinks about and explores ideas of site expression in the context of various varieties, and also the controversial topic of ripeness levels.

Tyler Thomas

near the top of the mid-slope of Dierberg Sta Rita Hills, with Tyler Thomas discussing block expression, January 2014

“Part of our focus is on capturing opportunity by capturing variability. For example, how do we make a Cabernet Franc that is representative of Cabernet Franc of Star Lane, and then find a way to work with that. We work a little harder to capture variability in the vineyard so that we can add a little more nuance and complexity to the wine.” Thomas and Connick vinify small vineyard sections separately as a way of getting to know particular site expression. “We want to make Cabernet Franc as Cab Franc, rather than as the Cabernet Sauvignon version of Cab Franc so that we can see what Cab Franc from here is all about, while also recognizing it might later add to the complexity of our Cab Sauvignon. I don’t mind embracing ripe, rich flavors, but I don’t believe in doing it artificially by picking late and then adding water back.”

We taste through a wide range of Cabernet and Cab Franc from a range of picking times, and vineyard sections and then begin talking about what the unique character of Cabernet at Star Lane is about. “There are some ultra early picks on Cab from here that still don’t show pyrazines [green pepper notes], so I think the conversation, at least in this area, around Cab expression is on texture and mouthfeel rather than on pyrazine level.”

Thomas explains that we are tasting through the range of barrel samples around the cellar to show off the diversity of Star Lane that he is excited about. “This is all to show off the diversity of Star Lane. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a conversation you and I had before [referencing a conversation Thomas and I had previously about asking yourself what you want to love in your life through how you choose to spend your time].

“I’ve been thinking about how we can ask, what do you want to love in wine? There is a question of how elements play out in a wine, rather than if wines taste of terroir or not. There is a lot of conversation around how a wine best expresses terroir. The truth is, riper wines can still show terroir or site expression. Of course Chardonnay raisins and Cabernet raisins still taste like raisins so one must admit there is a limit. Conversely, underripe grapes all taste like green apples so you can pick too far that way too.

“I don’t know if I can elaborate on it more than that. Sometimes you’re standing in a site and you feel like trying something but you don’t know if it’s just because you think you can or if there is something about the site that asks you to. But other times you can taste something there in the wine that you can’t explain, but at the same time can’t deny.

“In thinking about overly ripe wine, just because something is veiled doesn’t mean you can’t know what it is. On a good site, a riper style winemaker can still show site expression, the winemaking won’t completely obscure the site, even if it veils it some. Sometimes things are more veiled in a wine than others. Sometimes our role as winemaker ends up being unveiling the terroir.

“To put it another way, if everyone was picking at the same level of ripeness shouldn’t site be the difference that shows? Ripeness doesn’t necessarily obscure site, it just changes our access to it. In the end, it becomes a matter of what we value, of what we want to love in wine.”


To read guest posts from Tyler Thomas that consider his winemaking philosophy, and views of wine further:

A Winemaking Philosophy: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/01/29/a-winemaking-philosophy-guest-post-by-tyler-thomas-donelan-wines/

The Humanness of Winemaking: Faith, Hope, and Love: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/01/28/the-humanness-of-winemaking-faith-hope-and-love-as-the-core-of-life-and-wine-guest-post-by-tyler-thomas-donelan-wines/


Thank you most especially to Tyler Thomas.

Thank you to Jeff Connick. Thank you to Sao Anash.

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



Meeting with Mike Roth

Mike Roth

Mike Roth and I are drinking wine at sunset. Behind him the hillsides are colored purple and ribbon clouds echo the color. We’re sitting outside though it’s January. The year has forgotten to turn cold and trees are already early-blooming in town.

Earlier this year, Roth changed directions. He stepped away from his role as winemaker at Martian Ranch. Under Roth’s direction, the label became a darling of the wine geek community, celebrated by Jon Bonné in both The San Francisco Chronicle, and his recent book The New California Wine. Roth’s style there revealed a focus on freshness, delicacy, lower alcohol levels, and the honesty of vintage variation.

The move has given Roth the opportunity for more time with his family, wife Karen, and boys Eli (11) and Oliver (8). It’s also pushed him into the chance to express his views of wine unhampered through his own singular project. Next month he will launch his own new label, Lo-Fi. The project brings Roth’s focus on freshness front and center, driven by his view that wine is what he calls “a proletariat drink,” a beverage meant for the masses.

Tasting Wine with Mike Roth

Mike Roth

My goal in meeting with Roth is less to talk about his history as a winemaker — that story has been told — and more to develop a clearer sense of his palate. I ask if he’ll choose at least three wines he really loves for us to taste together, and talk about. I want to see his new project, Lo-Fi, through a broader framework — Mike Roth’s views of wine — and recognize it there.

I ask Roth to tell me how he started in wine, winding eventually to the story of our particular bottles. “I wanted to be a chef originally, so wine was still that taste kind of idea. I’m from New Jersey, and my mom is from Finland, so not really a hot bed for wine. I found it through food.” Roth’s original connection to wine shows in how he wants to enjoy it now as well.

In telling me how he chose our bottles, Roth first sets up the context. It’s not enough to tell me about each bottle. He wants me to understand where he’s coming from. Roth admits too that the bottles were less an idea of life long favorites, and more about what was appropriate for the evening.

As we taste along, we’ll be snacking with food. “I think of everything as accompaniments. I don’t drink a lot of wine on its own. If I just want alcohol I make myself a cocktail. I think of wine in terms of food,” he says. “I think wine is the ultimate condiment. It makes the food you eat taste better, the conversation more interesting, and the people you’re with more attractive.”

The Question of Beauty in Wine

Tasting with Mike Roth

We begin our tasting with a Loire Valley white made from one of the unsung grapes of that region — Francois Cazin’s Le Petit Chambord made from the grape Romorantin. “I thought with cheese and everything, the rillettes, it would be fun.” The wine tastes to me like Spring sun — bright and full on the palate, a touch musky still from rains, with a hint of sweetness leaning towards summer. It’s meant to get you excited for what’s to come.

We’re both quiet for a minute. “It has a neat kind of honey mushroom thing.” Roth comments. “It’s got that flinty, musty kind of character. That is different. It’s not the standard.” Roth reveals he originally found the Cazin in the midst of a Chenin kick. He purchased the wine assuming it was Chenin, then discovered something else inside the bottle. “The thing I like about Chenin is the same almost oxidative, nutty, musty, waxy character.”

The conversation about Cazin’s Le Petit Chambord rolls into a discussion of Roth’s thoughts on beauty. He refers to the 1970s and the then-common idea of an actress like Bo Derek as a beautiful standard. The point, Roth says, was that she was naturally beautiful. It was something in her uniqueness that elevated her aesthetic.

Roth then reveals his frustration. “When did the idea of beauty go from a real, natural beauty as the perfect 10 to the idea of beauty as perfection through plastic surgery? Wine in some ways has gone through a similar change — with a focus on perfection, and being too polished.” The result becomes a sea of wines that taste almost the same.

The discussion leads to Roth considering the idea of benchmarks in wine. A lot of California winemakers reference analogs in known regions such as Burgundy as a claim to legitimacy in their own approach. Doing so keeps the attention always elsewhere, instead of looking at what California can do. Roth returns the focus to California’s own history. It leads to discussion of his time in Napa Valley.

“I worked at Grgich, and at Saddleback. I am proud I learned from Gus and Nils. Grgich had this real idea of consistency. He made that 1973 Montelena in the Paris tasting. We could say he made that same wine in terms of quality every year.”

Winemaker Gus Brambila worked alongside Mike Grgich first at Montelena, then moved with him to Grgich. Roth worked with Brambila at the Grgich facility, inheriting insights from both mentors. In discussing the work of Brambila, I feel Roth fill with a sense of calm confidence. “As a winemaker in California, we can hold that up as a benchmark. I learned a lot there.”

I ask Roth what he learned through the experience. He returns again to the point of consistency, naming too Nils Venge at Saddleback, and Grgich Oenologist Gary Ecklin, then keeps his answer simple. “If you keep your cellar clean, you don’t have to add a bunch of things to your wines. Everything they did was so clean.”

The Peasant’s Beverage

Mike Roth

We open the second wine, Cedric Chignard’s Fleurie Les MoriersWhile Roth pours I ask him again about his self-espoused proletariat ideals. “I always wanted to work in a trade. My dad instilled that idea in me. I always thought, if you weren’t tired at the end of the day, you hadn’t worked. Wine is a craft, a trade. It captures that idea.”

We taste as he talks. The wine is a little tight on the palate but it carries that carbonic floral lift through the nose, and an easy juiciness. “A wine like this is meant to be thirst quenching and delicious.” Roth says. “I am not knocking people that want to drink or make show stoppers. I love fresh wine. It’s lower alcohol, and just has a kind of freshness to it. The idea that its just simple, but it’s better than water or soda.”

He smells the wine again, then continues. “I think the perceived pretentiousness of wine in this country goes against it being enjoyed as a beverage.” Roth says. “I like the idea that wine is a peasant’s beverage.” Roth references the history of winemaking in Europe. People that worked the land were often paid with a portion of the crop. Wine, then, was made in a workers’ back yard as a portion of their food for the year. The rustic simplicity of that Roth admires.

Keeping Wine Lo-Fi

Mike Roth

Finally we open Roth’s own wine — an unlabeled bottle that’s been winking at me from across the table since we sat down. I tell Roth that the most thrilling thing to me is an unlabeled bottle of wine — who knows what treasure could be inside.

In venturing into his own project, Roth is beginning with a small production release to come out this winter under the name, Lo-Fi. The Lo-Fi wines he describes are classic to the aesthetic he’s revealed through his tasting — light touch winemaking, fresh focused, meant to be drunk young, affordable, for food. There is even a field blend, the ultimate expression of taking grapes as they are.

The Lo-Fi wine Roth has opened is his 2012 Carbonic Cabernet Franc from Coquelicut Vineyard, unsulfured, and made in neutral wood, then bottled by gravity. He makes sure the bottle is good then pours me some. As I taste I can feel Roth quietly smiling, that calm confidence glowing from him again. I nod about the wine, it still on my palate as I push it through with air. The wine is full of dark floral lift, and flowered herbs.

Roth nods back, “if you put it in a blind flight of Cab Franc, I don’t think you’d pick up that it’s a California wine.” It isn’t that Roth wants to deny the California piece. He celebrates benchmarks and possibilities of his state. It’s that he’s excited to have made something delicious that is also a bit surprising — Cab Franc, a grape of natural beauty.


Lo-Fi Wines will be releasing this winter in small quantities.


Thank you to Mike Roth for making time to share wines with me.

Thank you to Karen, Eli, Oliver, and Jason and Angela Osborne.

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

Meeting Gary Mills

Going further in

We arrive on a day Jamsheed is being labeled, waxed, and packaged. The wines going out to fill orders in Australia. Gary Mills greets us with a huge smile. I’m lucky. Mike Bennie, an Australian wine writer that has a good rapport with Mills, has brought me for the visit.

Gary Mills references me living in California almost immediately. But not until after nicknaming me Lady Hawke (which I appreciate). It turns out he worked for Paul Draper at Ridge Monte Bello first as an intern, and then for two years full-time from 1998 to 2001 and credits Draper as the man that taught Mills real wine. Mills knew winemaking already, and in fact has an impressive resume otherwise, having worked in both Oregon and other areas of Australia, among others. But it is Draper that Mills claims taught him most insightfully about indigenous yeast, whole cluster ferments, and other classic approaches to wine.

Now with his own label, Mills sources fruit from a few vineyards in different parts of Victoria. Doing so gives him the opportunity to get to know the character of multiple areas in the Province, and to offer varying types of fruit.

Gary Mills

When we get to tasting through the wines Mills explains his labels symbolism. His college education was in Literature. The story of Jamsheed relates the chance discovery of wine by a harem mistress of a Persian King. Jamsheed, the king, loved grapes so much he would store them all winter, leading to their spontaneous fermentation. At first thinking it was poison, the king kept the containers hidden. But suffering from migraines, one of his harem mistresses drank the poison in attempted suicide and awoke the next day to discover herself miraculously cured. After discovering the benefits of drinking such poison, Jamsheed would say he could see his kingdom in a cup of wine. Thus, Mills named his label for the mythic first maker of wine, and jokes that his wine label is all he got from his undergraduate Literature education.

Mills second tier label he names the Harem series in respect for the women that helped Jamsheed discover the grape elixir. The Harem Series intent is to offer quality wines at a more affordable price. By having both Jamsheed and the Harem series, Mills is also able to preserve the quality of the Jamsheed wines by having the opportunity to declassify fruit to make for the Harem series.

Though Jamsheed’s mythology inspires Mill’s label’s name, it’s Rumi’s writing that covers it–quotes from the poet showing on both the Jamsheed packaging and website. It is here I first get glimmers of Mills’ creative and spiritual inclinations, though they dance behind his more apparent joviality.

Starting with the whites

The Madame Chardonnay 2012 from the Harem Series shows example of Mills intent to keep quality with value. It sells for only $19.50 and offers a great bistro style option with juicy citrus blossom, impressive acidity, a zippy mid-palate followed by a pleasing saline and oyster shell finish. It also offers an example of the great quality Australia is producing in Chardonnay–even at the $20 range these wines are yummy.

Stepping up to a Jamsheed level white, Mills pours us his 2012 Beechworth Roussanne taken from the Warner Vineyard. It’s a nervy wine with a smooth wax feel and tons of lightness through the palate. The Warner Vineyard is loaded with pink granite, he tells us. The owners had to remove hundreds of tons of granite to put in vines. The nerviness comes with the granite influence. The acidity comes from the cool sub-alpine climate. The fruit is delicate and floral on the nose, carrying into a spiced floral, light palate both stimulating and peppered.

Great Western Riesling

As we move into the Great Western Riesling from the Garden Gully Vineyard, Mills explains that the Garden Gully Vineyard the fruit comes from is the oldest Riesling in Victoria, possibly in Australia, believed to be planted in 1892.

The 2012 comes in with concentrated flavors compared to the lightness of the 2011.The 2012 is fragrant with nasturtium, beeswax, and light prosciutto on the palate. It has a rolling, fresh, lush presentation that moves with a light glissé over the tongue. 2011 has a dryer dusty nose, and a super delicate palate. The wine offers a tightened sense of beeswax and honey comb without the sweetness, and a smooth mouthfeel.

2011 was a cold year with lots of rain throughout that made people work extra hard to get their fruit. ’12, by comparison, was a more normal year resembling the vintage received in both Oregon and California–lots of quality fruit that seems ready to drink early.

The Harem Series

The Harem series reds continue with the bistro level quality that showed in the Madame Chardonnay. Here we begin to see his use of whole cluster with 50% being used in the Pinot. Mills explains it was with Draper that Mills tasted his first 100% whole cluster wine, a Ridge York Creek Dynamite Hill Petite Sirah. It was from that wine Mills saw what whole cluster could do and he’s been committed to it ever since.

The 2012 pepé le pinot from Mornington is ultra light in its presentation, carrying stem spice, and light dark plum with plum blossom, as well as lifted green notes (not as in underripe, but as in greenery).

The 2012 ma petite francine Yarra Valley Cab Franc takes up 100% whole cluster giving a refreshing red floral and spice wine that hits a nice balance of being grounded and lifted both. The spice is characteristic Victoria to me, all dusty red earth, saffron, and long ferric notes. I like this wine.

2011 la syrah is a dirtier wine with barnyard showing at first that blows off into violets, red fruit and flower, and some carbonic up notes. The acidity and drive is intense, clenching the cheek bones and finishing with a tang. This is the wine that begins to show where some people may be challenged by Jamsheed. The la syrah is well made while also funky.  The 2011 Syrahs

Mills ease with whole cluster fermentation shows most apparently in the Jamsheed Syrahs–the approach drinking as seamlessly integrated into the overall presentation of the wine. Tasting through Mills’ portfolio I am struck by the same coupling that showed up in his personality–he has a jovial nature coupled with a creative seriousness that gives him grounding. The wines drink this way.

2011’s cooler vintage brings a lean focus to each of the Jamsheed Syrahs.

The Yarra Valley Healesville is the lightest of the three pictured giving a super fresh and juicy presentation peppered with hot chili spice flavors without the chili heat, a nutty greenery element with integrated carbonic lift, and hints of the entire southwest of the United States–cacti, agave sweetness, fresh from the kiln ceramics, red wax flower and a dusty texture that is just a little bit weedy.

The Beechworth Syrah 2011 comes from a sub-alpine district in granite vineyard. At first opening, the wine gives good mouth tension, with bubble gum, red fruit and flower lifted notes, coupled with integrated spice, red dusty earth, and a band of fresh stems and nut skin. I was able to drink it again in the states and thus take more time with this bottle. It showed rich and pleasing on the second day deepening into violet and dark berries with tart plum, chocolate, a tight long finish and good grip. The iron-saline mineral expression of the region is also there but well integrated.

Finally, the 2011 Great Western Garden Gully, Mills explains comes from a vineyard full of 119 year old vines. It’s an old style Syrah made for people that want a balance of juiciness with wine that’s there to chew on. Mills calls this his “old boys wine.” It comes in with purple flower, agave, and masa, all green chili and corn tamale with the rolling tannin characteristic of the region, and a nut wax, banana leaf finish. I’m in.

The Syrahs Mills makes showoff the geographical parallels between parts of Victoria with parts of the American Southwest. Drinking them in Victoria the wines are fully in line with their sense of place. Bringing them back to the United States it’s an interesting contrast that includes what for some people will be a recalibration of their palate. It’s a recalibration worth making, and perhaps even important.

Gary Mills

As Bennie described later, Mills’ approach is uncompromising. For some people that means wines that are a challenge. Where Mills’ doesn’t compromise is in allowing the site to express itself, even if that means bigger flavored wines. He is also committed to no acidity additions, and whole cluster fermentation, though he does vary the portion of whole cluster by vintage and site character.

The Mills challenge finally showed up for me at the end of barrel tasting through the 2012 Syrahs. 2012 was a ripe year and so even with keeping lower alcohol levels, the wines simply have bigger flavors. The 2012 Syrahs as a whole drink fresh and juicy, closer to a bottled wine even while still in barrel. But Garden Gully, that same vineyard the Riesling is sourced from, carries a distinctly ferric-plus-salty character in its red fruit, something found in a number of sites through Victoria. The combination of those big flavors plus the overtly mineral mouth-grab was almost overwhelming for me. That said, I’m fascinated to discover how the wine will show in a few years. Especially recognizing that it was the same wine that from the 2011 vintage pulled me in.

The Jamsheed Syrahs, I believe, offer an interesting lesson for California winemakers too. Where some California Syrahs drink like the winemakers behind them are experimenting with their techniques–not quite cohesive, Jamsheed drinks like wine already comfortable without being boring.


Thank you to Gary Mills, and to Mike Bennie.

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

We’re Moving!

I am in the middle of packing up our house in Flagstaff, Arizona, to then drive our things to Sonoma County, California, where we will root down and make our good life. The slow down in posts is largely due to my making the adjustment to living in, and planning for living in a new place. I still have a lot of posts from my time in Oregon to update.

Meeting with Paul Draper

Last week I was lucky enough to spend several hours with Paul Draper, of Ridge Vineyards, tasting from barrel (Paul Draper himself pulled me barrel samples–have I mentioned that? I was standing there in the historic cellar caves in awe (getting choked up, and trying to hide it) as this year’s Monte Bello and Geyserville assemblage were handed to me by Mister Draper himself), tasting through part of their current portfolio, and most importantly listening.

Mister Draper was kind enough to talk through with me his views of how to recognize balance in wine and what it means for long term aging, the importance of terroir and how it does (and doesn’t) show itself in wine–plus how it takes patience for us to recognize it, and the long term vision of Ridge. We also, finally, fell into a reflection of how philosophy got him, and Ridge Wine to where he is today. As some of you know, I recently left a career in philosophy, teaching at a university. As I listened to Mister Draper explain that subject to me, I was again and again impressed, and grateful, for how thoroughly integrated into his way of life, and way of business philosophy really is for him. Mister Draper’s vision of wine, and sustaining the Ridge project for generations, arises from his investment in long term moral commitment, with the subtlety of aesthetic judgment, and more importantly his ability to enact those ideas.

I have been reflecting and thinking through our conversation, and can’t wait to write it up, but I am also taking time to reflect. His insights require due diligence on my part. In the meantime, here are pictures from the visit. I’m deeply humbled, and so grateful.

Thank you so much to Paul Draper for taking the time to meeting with me.

Thank you to Amy, Sue, and Sam.

Thank you to Michelle McCue, Dan Fredman, and Kyrsa Dixon.

Happy too to meet Mister Draper’s fantastic dog.

Write up coming soon!


on top of Monte Bello Ridge–2500 feet in elevation

Original vines at Monte Bello are head trained Cabernet–very unusual today

Bordeaux varieties planted on Monte Bello Ridge–Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc.

The Monte Bello site is all fractured limestone, with green rock on top (it turns red when exposed to oxygen). The site is considered an exotic terrain, in that it is unlike any of the areas surrounding it. Monte Bello Ridge is one of the few places in California (perhaps the only one?) that grows Cabernet vines in limestone. (look how wonderfully huge that trunk is)

pulling the second assemblage of Monte Bello 2011–this is likely the final blend, but there will be one more final consideration before bottling later in the Fall

Chardonnay had come in that morning from Monte Bello Estate–Ridge Chardonnay is done entirely whole cluster (and it’s wonderful)

Pulling the current assemblage of Geyserville 2011

Proudly telling me about the history of the Monte Bello caves, dug out of limestone in the 1880s (I love this picture)

Mister Draper’s very friendly (and cute) dog.

What I consistently find in Ridge wines, whether they are just released, from barrel, or older vintages, is an incredible integration of multiple elements–the flavors, and structure consistently work together, even when young and wanting greater age for softening of tannins, or opening up of flavors. I mention this to Mister Draper and then we begin an hour long conversation on balance…

Thank you again to Paul Draper. I am deeply grateful.

Thank you again too to Michelle McCue and Dan Fredman for helping me make the connection.

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

Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson focus on sustainable agriculture in both vineyards, and farming more generally, while also making wine for their own Matthiasson label. We were lucky enough to taste with them, and hear more about their work in vineyards and with farmers. In the following photos the various plants shown are purposefully grown along grape vines for the support they provide to vineyard supporting insects, and birds. Write up to follow. In the meantime, here are some photos from the visit.

Matthiasson Wines

Thank you to Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson.

Thank you to Abe Schoener.

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


What a wonderful stretch of road. Visits with so much Friuli-influence spinning through Northern California.

Ryme Cellars

Massican Wines (at Bouchon)


Thank you to Ryan Glaab.

Thank you to Dan Petroski, and his lovely wife, Jessica.

Thank you to Abe Schoener.

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

Flashes of Heaven: Visit to Tribeca Grill’s Cellar, aka. Crazy Whoa Wine

the Chateauneuf du Pape Cellar underneath Tribeca Grill

one corner of the Riesling and Pinot Noir Cellar underneath Tribeca Grill

1998 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape

1990 Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru; 1949 Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru

1990 Petrus Pomerol Grand Vin; 1961 Grand Vin de Chateau Latour Premier Grand Cru; 1900 (certified) Chateau Margat Lillet-Witt; 1990 Grand Vin de Chateau Latour Premier Grand Cru

Steve Morgan, Tribeca Grill Sommelier, with Sacrisassi Schioppettino-Refosco

(to be clear: Tribeca Grill has a *57-page* wine book with a brilliant vertical, great price collection focusing in especially on Chateauneuf du Pape, Riesling, Burgundy, and quirky California and Italian gems, along with a lot of incredible other things–write-up to follow)

Around Tribeca

the freedom towers disappearing into fog

Visiting Tribeca Wine Merchants

estate bottles

Tribeca Wine Merchants’ Wine Tastings


Evening in Clinton Hill

a jazz trio practicing in their first floor Brooklyn apartment during a rain

Thank you to Levi Dalton.

Thank you to Steve Morgan for being so generous with his time showing me the wine program at Tribeca Grill, and for sharing the Schioppettino-Refosco blend by Sacrisassi with me in response to my “Hunting Schioppettino” write up.

Thank you to Tara Carille, Stu, and Nick for hosting me at Tribeca Wine Merchants and for sharing such fantastic wines with me.

Thank you to Birk O’Halloran, and to Dan Petroski.


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


Grapes of Colli Orientali del Friuli

The earth of appellation of Colli Orientali del Friuli, along the Slovenian border of Italy, hosts a mineral rich marl that is unique not only because of its blue color (all except in one part of the appellation where it is red), but also because of its high calcium content. The soil offers a rich minerality to the wines of the region that often shows as either a faintly salty quality, or a precise and dry slate.

Sitting along the intersection point of the Alps with the Balkans, just a few kilometers above the Adriatic, Colli Orientali del Friuli generally carries a mix of Mediterranean with Alpine climate–a cool, fairly mild and well-regulated temperature range with drying winds.

The combination of the soil and climate of the region intersect to produce unique characteristics for international grapes, and excellent growing conditions for grapes not seen any where else.

Indigenous Varieties

Tasting through Colli Orientali del Friuli hits all my love-for-obscure-grape buttons, as the region particularly celebrates its indigenous varieties. As Paolo Rapuzzi explained, the area once hosted over 150 grape types local to the region but after the phylloxera epidemic international varieties were planted instead replacing the original native plants.

In fact, Italian wine history includes the demand for focus on international varieties only into the 1970s when the Rapuzzi family helped fight the regulations to allow for grape farmers to grow indigenous vines without fine. Today, Colli Orientali has a huge focus on the local plants with a great pride in continuing to cultivate and bottle their wines.


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We were lucky enough to taste through a wealth of Schioppettino, one of the group’s favorites of the wine types explored during our week-long visit to the region. The grape is still today predominately grown only through Friuli, though some few wine makers have begun to experiment with growing the variety in California in small quantities.

The Colli Orientali Consortium celebrates an association of wine makers in Prepotto–the village where Schioppettino is believed to have originated–dedicated to cultivating the best in quality for the variety. The Association of Prepotto Schioppettino Producers hosted a dinner for us during our trip where we tasted at least 15 different presentations of the varietal, and one Schioppettino-Refosco blend. To read more on the evening and the variety check out Do Bianchi’s post here: http://dobianchi.com/2012/04/10/schioppettino-the-next-big-thing-history-of-its-revival-and-fortune/

At its best, Schioppettino is a beautifully balanced, and elegant wine carrying a mix of fresh red and wild berries, alongside peppery notes, and light herbaceousness. It tends towards pleasing tannins with a smooth texture and bright acidity that cleans the mouth as you drink.

Refosco dal peduncolo rosso

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As Paolo Rapuzzi explained to us, while Schioppettino really is only grown through the Friuli region, Refosco extends slightly into the surrounding areas as well. Part of the large Refosco family, Refosco dal peduncolo originates in Friuli, showcasing its best characteristics thanks to the conditions of the area.

Refosco is a grape of impressive strength with the characteristics for a stunning wine of good acidity and strong tannin both. It has all of the structure for excellent aging, and admittedly its strength can sometimes work against drinking it too young. However, several wine makers throughout Colli Orientali del Friuli showed us wines that took the balance of Refosco’s strength with a younger approachability. The fruit of this variety shows a mix of dark and red berries, alongside primary herbaceous notes.


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Pignolo is a wine uncommon outside the Friuli region (though there is another variety from Lombardy that shares the same name but that most wine experts believe is not related (See 169 Oz Clark’s Encyclopedia of Grapes 2001)). I fell in love with its elegant intensity and nice balance of acidity with tannin. The flavors here are both fresh and rich showing red berries mixed with spice. The spice on these wines is known to develop greater sophistication with age.


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Least common of the indigenous varieties of Colli Orientali del Friuli, we were able to taste only one Tazzelenghe. The grape is so rare it is barely mentioned in even the most comprehensive of wine books. I count myself lucky to have tried an offering, and though uncommonly, there are some varietals of this grape imported to the United States, if you’re interested in trying one.

The primary characteristics of this grape are its herbaceous notes, which soften with age, showing as dominate to its ripe red stone and berry fruit. The wine gains greater balance as it ages, showcasing good structure and distinct tannin characteristics.

International Varieties

As dedicated to Indigenous varieties as the wine makers of Colli Orientali del Friuli are, they also produce several international varieties that develop their own profile unique to the region.


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Most common of the red international varieties to the area, Merlot bottles here as its own varietal, or as the anchor point for a number of the area’s red blends.

Cabernet Franc

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Cabernet Franc holds a key role in the red international grapes for the region. It is produced both under its own full moniker, and as a local wine called simply, Cabernet (t is pronounced here). When presented as Cabernet, however, the wine may be either a full Cabernet Franc, or blended with its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon.

The variety carries a complicated history through the region, however. As has occurred with various grape varieties around the world, Cabernet Franc was  widely planted through the region decades ago and then discovered to actually be Carmenere. Some believe that the wines of Friuli named Cabernet Franc are almost entirely Carmenere, showing the more vegetal qualities of that grape than what Cabernet Franc would tend to offer. Because of the history of naming and the establishment of the wine regulations through the area, however, the wine still appears under its original-to-the-region name, Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon

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Cabernet Sauvignon only occasionally appears on its own in Colli Orientali as many wine makers choose to use it in blend with either Merlot, or Cabernet Franc instead of on its own. Though it produces a pleasing, full bodied red in the hills of this appellation, it is not commonly grown in Italy in general.

Pinot Noir

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The least common of the international varieties in Friuli, Pinot Noir is also the hardest to grow due to dampness hugging in amongst the grape clusters. Still, some producers are dedicated to the variety and develop it at low levels out of love for the flavor and style it produces.

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