Tag cabernet sauvignon

Capturing Variability as Capturing Opportunity: A Day with Tyler Thomas, Star Lane + Dierberg

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


Extreme Value on Varietal Wines: Chile’s Root: 1 Series

Traveling Chile

This trip through Chile’s wine countries has taught me something valuable. I could have learned it years ago from the melodic stylings of the early-90s rock band Extreme, but I was too young at the time to really *get* the notion.

Here is the simplest version of the point. Hopefully it is obvious once said. Whether you love a wine doesn’t show from saying again and again, you love a wine. It shows in whether or not you want to drink it. To put it another way, if a friend comes over for dinner with a bottle of wine, is it one you open right away?

(Full disclosure (and Kelly forgive me for confessing this publicly): having Kelly Magyarics bust out of no where with acapella stylings of Extreme lyrics at the end of a late night in Argentina forever changed my view of this song–it actually makes me tear up now in a way it never did when I still thought it was merely a romantic ballad.)

Root: 1 Wines

Root: 1 offers a small portfolio of varietally focused value wines that give three of the things I want in drinking wine: wonderful juiciness, clean fruit presentation, and good balance. They also give savory complexity, concentrated while light flavors….

The trick behind Root: 1 though is giving these characteristics at extreme value, without the Yellow Tail headache the next morning. Root: 1 retails around $12 in the United States. I enjoyed drinking each of these four wines and was blown away most especially by the quality of the Pinot Noir offered at such a low price.

On our trip through Chile we were able to spend time tasting with and interviewing Root: 1′s winemaker, Sergio Hormázabal.

Root: 1 Wines portfolioclick on image to enlarge

“The responsibility of Root: 1 for each bottle, each glass, is to express the soul and personality of the variety without any fireworks.” -Sergio Hormazábal

The Environment of Root: 1

The Root: 1 plantings occur in two major wine regions of the country. The Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grow North of Santiago in the cool climate area of Casablanca (more on the region in a future post), giving fruit tight focus, savory flavor, and a finish into tomorrow. Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon grow a few hours south of Santiago in the steep slope niche of the Colchagua Valley called Apalta.

Chile, as a country, has celebrated an absence of phylloxera to this day. Original cuttings were brought to the region prior to the phylloxera outbreak that devastated Europe, rooting many of its current day vines back in direct lineage to those earlier expressions of a variety. Additionally, today the country continues to plant primarily on own-root. Some wineries, however, plant portions grafted alongside ungrafted in order to track the quality differences.

The advantages of growing own-root varieties occurs in the direct route of transmission from soil to fruit for water, and nutrients. Without the thickening affect of grafting within the veins of the vine, fluids move more directly. According to Hormazábal, based on tracking the results from grafted versus ungrafted vines, “grafted vines always change the balance of the wine. Any planting done with grafting in Chile is to experiment and try changing the balance.”

One of advantages of having the technology to graft vines rests in being able to intentionally adapt a vineyard to its environment. Roots can be found to increase or decrease vigor and water usage, and to modify the relationship to soil, as examples.

The Winemaking and Growing of Root: 1

Asking Hormazábal to discuss his views on the growth of Chilean wine, he offers an example from his ideas of quality Pinot Noir. “One of the main problems at the beginning as a winemaker, or a country’s wine industry is to try and make a wine, a varietal wine, like another grape. To try and make a Pinot like a Cabernet.” Quality expression of the two grapes are not made in the same fashion. Hormazábal explains, “You must taste a lot of Pinot Noir” to understand how to make it.

Hormazábal, then, recommends the value of tasting a range of wines from all over the world. The tasting experience is like a winemaking class for the winemaker honing recognition of how best to express ones own fruit. “You need to be very careful with use of wood in Pinot Noir. We want to show the clean fruit side of Pinot Noir with a touch of spice.”

Tasting wines from around the world, however, also gives insight on where best to grow. Different varieties have different needs. Where some grape types give their best in impoverished conditions, according to Hormazábal, Carmenere acts differently. “Carmenere needs the deepest soils with more fertility and water retention versus Syrah, which can grow in shallow, very rocky soils.”

Within Chile, Carmenere holds a unique position. In one sense the grape stands as the Flagship of the country. Chile is the one place globally where the variety remains in any real quantity. At the same time, Cabernet Sauvignon arises as the country’s most important and widely planted variety, followed closely by Sauvignon Blanc. Both grapes do well in Chile, and sell well internationally too.

Carmenere, as a variety (more specifically on the character Carmenere in a future post), readily tends towards herbal, green, bell pepper and hot pepper expression. Such flavor components, however, are seen as unpopular for some consumers. Within the country, then, there is debate on whether or not allowing for or eradicating such personality is the best expression of the grape. That is, do the herbal-pepper notes occur as a fault of grape growing then shown through the wine, or as part of the fruit’s personality?

The Root: 1 expression of Carmenere is meant to showcase the best-at-value of the grape within the unique environs of the Colchagua Valley. It carries fresh dark and red fruit notes danced through with light jalapeno lift on the nose, and red bell pepper breadth on the palate.

We ask Hormazábal about the pepper accents on his Carmenere. He responds, “The spice is the soul of Carmenere. A Carmenere without it has no interest.”


post update: MW Mary Gorman-McAdams was a fellow write also on my recent trip to Chile. To read her write-up of the Root: 1 wines head on over to The Kitchn here: http://www.thekitchn.com/root1-delicious-varietal-wines-from-chile-for-just-12-196404


Thank you to Sergio Hormazábal.

To see photos of the incredible sub-zone of Apalta in the Colchagua Valley in which Hormazábal grows the Carmenere and Cabernet: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/10/18/the-steep-slopes-of-apalta-colchagua-valley/

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, David Greenberg, and Alfredo Bartholomaus.

WIth love to Marilyn, David, Kelly, Mary, Mary, Alyssa, and Alfredo. Miss you.


Extreme continues to make new music. According to their website, band member Pat Badger is currently recording a solo album in which he sings lead vocals for the first time. To read and hear more: http://extreme-band.com/site/pat-badger-is-recording-his-debut-solo-album/

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

A Life in Wine: Stu and Charles Smith, Smith-Madrone

Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this post in the Friday, June 21, 2013 edition of The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading.”


The History of Smith-Madrone

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, March 2013

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, April 2013

Smith-Madrone began on a Santa Monica beach at the end of the 1960s, where two brothers, Charles and Stu Smith, grew up. It was a time when an otherwise middle class family could afford vineyard land in Napa Valley, and start a winery fresh becoming owners that produce their own wine, a phenomenon rare in the region today.

Stu Smith worked as a summer lifeguard while completing a degree in Economics at SF State. His brother, Charles, earned his undergraduate at the same institution with a focus on English Literature, also taking a lot of Philosophy classes.

In the midst of his undergrad, Stu developed the idea of studying viticulture, and buying land in the Napa Valley to grow wine. While defending swimmers, he got to know a beach regular that expressed interest in the vineyard idea, offering to help with the purchase. Though the man ultimately had no connection to the future of Smith-Madrone, never paying for any property, the suggestion of a potential investor gave Smith the gumption to move north and begin looking.

In Fall of 1970, then, Stu Smith began the Masters program at UC Davis, while also seriously looking for land. Charles had an interest in wine as well, and so began commuting to Davis, sitting in on Stu’s courses. Though Charles was never enrolled in the program, he completed a portion of the training alongside his brother.

Spring Mountain was largely undeveloped in the early 1970s. As Stu describes it, the hillside was covered in trees, mainly Douglas Fir at least 2 1/2 feet in diameter. “The land was completely over grown, but it had lots of good aspects for sun, and obviously had good soils.” Stony Hill Winery had established itself a little down the mountain from what is now Smith-Madrone, so he had a sense the region could support vines. Then, while hiking the forested property he looked down and found old grape stakes there on the forest floor. The hill had once been planted to vineyard. Though the original investor fell through, in 1971, Stu gathered support from a small group of family and friends to purchase and start what would become 38 vineyard acres.

Cook's Flat Reserve, Smith-Madrone

2007 Cook’s Flat Reserve, Smith-Madrone’s inaugural reserve wine

The brothers now know their hillside property had been planted entirely in vines in the 1880s. The original deed, signed under then president Chester A. Arthur, establishes George Cook as owner on December 5, 1884. Prohibition would later end the life of the Cook Vineyard, but on December 5, 1933, the anniversary of Cook’s purchase, the Volstead Act would overturn Prohibition. In the midst of Prohibition, however, the property returned to forest until Smith-Madrone began. Though Stu instigated the project, thanks to its size and mutual interest, Charles became part of it within a year. Today, as the brothers describe, Stu manages everything outside, while Charles takes care of everything inside. The two are the sole full-time employees of their 5000 case winery.

Touring the 1200-2000 ft elevation site, the landscape reads as a history of Stu’s genuine curiosity and drive for experimentation. Its hillsides weave a range of planting styles, and rows at differing angles to sun. Asking Stu to talk me through the changes, we begin at one corner where own-rooted Chardonnay planted in 1972 has just been pulled. “In the early 1970s,” he explains, “heat treated, certified virus free plants were just coming out. We had the opportunity to get the certified vines, but we couldn’t get appropriate rootstock so we planted on own roots. We brought in non-vineyard equipment [to lessen the chance of phylloxera], and we got 40 years out of those vines.”

Moving across the different plots, Stu shares a history of viticultural knowledge. The age of the vines matches the viticultural insights of their birth year expressed through their planting style. Between plots, vines change spacing, and height, training styles, and angle to sun, all in an attempt to learn what best suits the needs of the site. After traveling the 40 years of site development, we go inside to Charles for lunch and wine.

Smith-Madrone’s Evolution in Wine

Charles Smith

Charles Smith tasting a 1983 Smith-Madrone Riesling

We turn to discussion of Smith-Madrone’s wine history from its first vintage in 1977. Today they are known for Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon but they have played with their winemaking. From 1977 to 1985 Smith-Madrone also produced Pinot Noir. “The best wines we ever made were Pinot Noir.” Charles tells me, “but the worst wines we ever made were too. Our 1980 was one of the best Pinots ever made in the United States. We just couldn’t do it again.” The grape is often referred to as a heart breaker for the challenges presented in vineyard. Finally, the brothers decided to pull their Pinot and focus on the other grapes instead.

Stu nods. “The reason we did it was to experiment. We wanted to try making Pinot Noir. If you only ever do the same thing, you get stuck in a rut, and don’t improve.” What is consistent in Smith-Madrone is the intention Stu calls “get the best of the vintage into bottle.” Their focus is less on style and more on responding to the conditions given that year.

In their view, it is Chardonnay that most readily shows the effects of such an approach. The structure and flavors shift year to year, from the ultra fresh, citrus and saline presence of the 2010, to the slightly more candied, chalky, lean-lined body of the 2011, as examples.

Charles clarifies further, “we do pay attention to style on Riesling because style in Riesling is largely determined by sugar level.” Smith-Madrone makes theirs dry. “You can’t bounce around on sugar level with Riesling or no one knows what you’re making.” Even within their dry Riesling, however, the brothers have explored the best approach. A particularly busy vintage in 1984 led to their Riesling getting left overnight on skins. “It was a blistering hot harvest,” Charles explains. “We just kept processing grapes like crazy, just the two of us. If we told our harvest guys to leave, we didn’t know when we’d get them back so we just kept going. We did 127 hours in one week, the entire harvest in one week.” As a result, they simply couldn’t process all the fruit fast enough, and some Riesling got left overnight in the bin. After vinification they liked the increased aromatics and mouthfeel of the wine, and stuck to the practice through the rest of the 1980s. However, after about 8 years they realized something.

Excited by the conversation Charles has run downstairs to grab a 1985 Smith-Madrone Riesling so we can see how it’s drinking. Stu continues to tell the story. “We did overnight skin contact on our Riesling from the mid-80s. The flavor held up well with age but the color changed after 8 years or so. The wine turned orange.” When Charles arrives again with the bottle I’m thrilled to see its darker color and can’t wait to taste it but Stu is unimpressed. The wine tastes wonderful, a fresh juicy palate with concentrated while clean flavors, drinking far younger than its 18 years. Charles and I are agreeing on the virtues of Riesling and its ability to go on forever while Stu is still facing his discomfort with the color. “If I close my eyes and pretend it isn’t orange than I agree it’s a good wine,” he finally tells us.

lunch with Charles and Stu

part of the aftermath of our lunch together

After 41 years of winemaking, to inaugurate the anniversary of the original Cook’s purchase, and the repeal of Prohibition, the Smith brothers released their first Reserve wine on December 5, 2012. We’re drinking the first Cook’s Flat Reserve vintage, the 2007, along side its sister 2009.

In 2008, smoke from wildfires in Mendocino settled into the valley North of Spring Mountain and covered the grapes in smoke taint. Going straight to press, the whites were unaffected, but fermenting on skins the reds never did lose the smoke flavor. The brothers decided, then, to sell the 2008 reds off in bulk and release only whites from that year.

Short of knowing it took 41 years before they launched the Cook’s Flat Reserve, the wine itself would answer the question of why make a reserve wine–both vintages offer the dignity and graceful presence genuinely deserving of the title. Where the 2007 offers lithe masculine presence, the 2009 flows in feminine exquisiteness. The ’07 gives impressive structure and darker earthier flavors, to the core of tension and mid-palate lushness of the 2009. Keeping to their best of vintage commitment, what changes the shape of the 2007 versus the 2009 on the palate is the success of the fruit each year. Both wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blends, but the proportions changed.

In an industry where reserve wines are common (made even within the first few years of a new winery’s inception), I ask the brothers both what made them wait so long, and why now. They explain that they started studying the reserve market and tasting through wines at different price points to make sure they understood what was available. They only wanted to make the wine if “we could do this and still give value,” Stu says.

After several years of consideration, Charles tells me, they were clear. “We resolved we could” make a wine truly distinct from their Estate Cabernet while still Smith-Madrone. To describe the intention behind their Reserve, the brothers compare it to their Estate. The Estate pays heed to old school, California mountain Cabernet relying entirely on American oak. The Reserve, on the other hand, is a nod to Bordeaux pulling only from a particular section of their property that they’ve always felt gave distinctive fruit, then aged in French oak.

The Romance of Wine

The romance of Smith-Madrone

a gift from a friend in the winery

The conversation turns finally to the change in the wine business from when Smith-Madrone began. The Smith brothers represent the last generation of winemakers in the region that could also own their own vines. Today, by contrast, getting into the industry, Stu explains, looks more like a sacrifice. “If you want to go into winemaking now and be pure, you have to give up something.” He says. Most people end up making wine for someone else because it’s such an expensive industry.

“Part of why I got into the wine business,” Stu continues, “was Hugh Johnson and his book talking about the romance and magic and business of wine.” Charles is quietly nodding. “And you know,” Stu continues, “Hugh Johnson would eat his heart out to be here today.” He’s referring to our conversation over wine with lunch. We’ve tasted through multiple vintages of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling at this point and fallen into as much discussion of my life in Alaska as their life in wine. The whole day all I’ve felt is happy.

We’re sitting at a table in the winery tasting wines with lunch and talking. Beside Charles hangs a placard that reads, “We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” He explains that a friend bought it off the wall of a bar in St. Louis then sent it to the brothers as a gift. Charles painted several coats of shellac over the saying written in chalk and hung it in the winery. The quotation reflects a feeling about wine that got the brothers into their profession. “As far as I’m concerned,” Charles remarks, “this is what wine is all about. It’s not all business. You sit down, enjoy conversation, and eat food.”

Thank you to Charles and Stu Smith for sharing so much time with me.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.

For Michael Alberty, Steven Morgan, and Fredric Koppel.

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

Tasting South Australia: 11 Wines of the Region

We were able to gather 11 wines total from South Australia for a tasting bringing together a few of the smaller boutique labels, with a few of the more established ones. The vintages also varied between 2003 and 2012.

This Monday several of us got together to taste, enjoy, and talk through the wines. I retasted everything again the next day, and then once more the day after. The wines were not tasted blind because part of the interest was talking through the different regions and age of the wines. Here are the tasting notes.

Tasting South Australia

Much of South Australia has warmer temperatures bringing wines with a softer structural presentation. However, Clare Valley is one exception represented in the tasting, offering a moderate continental climate with cool nights. It is also one of the oldest wine regions in the country, and with its cooler nights and elevation is known for its Riesling.

General insight states that South Australian wines age less long than those from cooler climate areas, such as Victoria or Tasmania. However, to give us some glimpse at exceptions, Torbreck sent two older vintage wines, both also made partially from older vines.

The whites presented strongest overall in the tasting with the Kilikanoon Riesling, and the Torbreck Semillon showing best to the group in the tasting overall. The Torbreck Steading, and Ochota Barrels Grenache Syrah blend were the most pleasing of the reds. Details follow.

Flight 1: The Whites

South Australian Whites

Kilikanoon Clare Valley 2009 Mort’s Reserve Watervale Riesling, Kanta Egon Muller 2010 Riesling, Torbreck Barossa Valley 2004 Woodcutter’s Semillon

* Kilikanoon Clare Valley 2009 Mort’s Reserve Watervale Riesling 12.5%
Opening with classic petrol in nose and palate, that lifts to some degree with air, the Kilakanoon gives green apple notes with gritty texture coming through on a distinct mineral tension through the throat, vibrant acidity, and a tang finish. The wine starts high and lifted in the mouth, with lots of juiciness, followed by a grabbing finish full of tension and length. I vote yes.

Kanta Egon Muller 2010 Riesling 13.5%
Where the Kilakanoon comes in fresh and lifted, the Kanta has more weight. The nose is floral, and more candied, moving into a tart opening on the palate with a driven apple tang rise that grips the mouth for a gritty tart close all with a polished sand texture. The acidity here is juicy. If you prefer more of a fruit focus and slightly wider palate to your Riesling, you’ll like the Kanta better. It’s a nicely made wine but not my style. The weight of the wine and breadth of the palate work against me.

* Torbreck Barossa Valley 2004 Woodcutter’s Semillon 14.5%
The Woodcutter’s Semillon was my favorite of the entire tasting. It gave delicacy with depth, drinking (interestingly enough) like a nicely aged Rhone white. The nose was pretty and light, balanced with both a floral-herbal lift and a mid-range breadth of light marzipan on the nose. The palate carried through without sweetness, offering clean delicate flavors adding in light beach grass notes and a long saline finish. This wine offered good presence, with a delicate presentation, and nice weight.

Flight 2: Grenache Reds

South Australia Grenache Reds

d’Arenberg the Derelict Vineyard 2009 McLaren Vale Grenache, Ochota Barrels 2012 the Green Room Grenache Noir Syrah

These two wines come from starkly different styles giving an interesting contrast on treatment of Grenache.

d’Arenberg the Derelict Vineyard 2009 McLaren Vale Grenache 14.5%
d’Arenberg offers a rich focused presentation that is comfortable using oak to integrate spice with the fruit. The Derelict Vineyard Grenache serves as a nice example of a wine committed to this style and doing a fine job of it. It gives a layered presentation of flavors including lightly sweet fruit, lightly sweet baking spice, primarily clove and ginger, and an earthy groundedness. The fruit is juicy without being overly extracted. The wine shows best on its first day as it showed its oak more than its fruit as it stayed open longer giving stronger pencil elements–both the wood and graphite–as it got more air. It did not drink well on day 3.

Ochota Barrels 2012 the Green Room Grenache Noir Syrah 13.8%
The Ochota is quaffable and fresh, all about lifted fresh drink-now fruit. It drinks like a cool climate grenache with those slightly under-ripe elements alongside fruity varietal expression. The wine is fun, and lively, meant to be enjoyed while cooking and laughing with friends. It gives pink flowers, strawberry, orange peel, cardamom, and fennel seed on the finish. There are stem chewing elements that provide interest on what would otherwise be an ultra light fruit driven wine. This wine is pleasing and very much about varietal character, rather than about showing off the soil or site in which it’s grown.

(I was joking with Amy during the tasting that where the Ochota is meant to be gulped with friends at the start of a bbq while the meat is cooking but not yet ready, the d’Arenberg is the wine a slightly old school man would pour for you in front of a fire at night when he’s getting up the guts to make his first move.)

Flight 3: Shiraz and blend

South Australia Shiraz and blend

Adelina 2010 Clare Valley Shiraz, John Duval Entity 2010 Barossa Valley Shiraz, Torbreck 2003 The Steading Barossa Valley GSM

Properly speaking the Torbreck should have been placed in the previous flight. The Shiraz didn’t impact the flavor of the Torbreck. It would simply have suited the Grenache flight better.

Unfortunately, both the Adelina and the John Duval Wines were not pleasing here. Based on the texture and flavor composition of the wines I believe the bottles had been heat effected. With that in mind I cannot provide proper notes here as I believe what we tasted does not represent how the wines were made.

* Torbreck 2003 The Steading Barossa Valley 14.5% Grenache 60% Shiraz 20% Mataro 20%
The wine opens with a bretty sense that blows off and becomes animal musk on forest floor. The nose carries into the palate layering in an enlivening iodine element alongside porcini and seaweed umami with a long tingling finish and polished tannin. The alcohol is lightly hot here but palatable. The wine holds strong on day 3 bringing in a smoked cherry element and a touch more of the alcohol heat. This wine may be a year or so past its prime but that said I enjoyed it and was impressed by how well it showed on day 3.

Flight 4: Other Reds

South Australian Reds

Alpha Box & Dice 2007 Blood of Jupiter, Samuel’s Gorge 2011 Tempranillo McLaren Vale

Alpha Box & Dice 2007 Blood of Jupiter 15.5% Sangiovese 85% Cabernet 15%
The label Alpha Box & Dice is known for their commitment to experimentation and trying new blends to see what works. That is the sort of interest I appreciate, and in trying such wines some levity has to be allowed in the risk. This is all by way of saying I appreciate the work done here while at the same time am not a fan of this particular blend. The wine is drinkable while singular. It focuses primarily on fruit and spice without enough layered flavor.

Samuel’s Gorge 2011 McLaren Vale Tempranillo 14.5%
This was one of the harder wines for me as it comes in with big fruit and collapses into leather. The structure is soft collapsing in quick stages on the palate with a semi-long finish. There is more fruit than this wine’s spine carries. The varietal character does not show.

Flight 5: Dessert

South Australian Pedro Ximenez

Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of the Barossa 30 year old Pedro Ximenez

Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of the Barossa 30 year old Pedro Ximenez 19%
The Pedro Ximenez enters with a fresh, delicate nose that is lightly nutty, turning into black walnut and baking spice on the palate with a long juicy finish. The flavors are pleasing but I’d prefer more acidity to help wash the palate. Without the higher acidity it gets heavy in the mouth. This wine demands cheese.


Thank you to each of the importers that provided these wines as samples.

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

The Release of a New Label: Goodland Wines

Tasting Goodland Wines

Goodland Wines

2011 Goodland Wines pre-bottling

“Goodland Wines is our thesis on Santa Barbara County.”

Considering History: Santa Barbara County Wine

At the end of the 1960s, the rolling hills of Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara County fed their golden grasses to cattle, the region largely focused on grazing and wide open spaces. Having graduated from UC Berkeley in 1965, Richard Sanford had a hunch that the cool climate of Santa Rosa Road, approaching the ocean, would serve grape vines. In 1970, along with Michael Benedict, he planted about a remote curve of Santa Rosa Road to establish what is now the oldest vineyard in the Santa Ynez AVA, an experiment that now gives insight to a still young wine valley. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from that planting still give fruit.

To the North, three years later two brothers moved into Santa Maria putting a mix of vines that would become some of the oldest plantings of Chardonnay for the region, also still producing fruit. Together these vineyards marked the start of a new turn for the area, a focus on wine that has helped reshape a still ranching focused County.

In the initial decades of planting vines through Santa Barbara County, the region was a wild experiment. Sanford & Benedict stands out as one example that hit the experiment right early, while others in the County placed Cabernet next to Pinot to see which would handle the climate and soils best, then tore out vines. It was a new region with little wine growing history to rely upon.

Forty years later, Santa Barbara County has reached what some describe as its second wave. Enough history holds to show insight into the regions’ best expressions in wine. Sta Rita Hills have proven apt for Chardonnay. Happy Canyon gives vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, as examples.

Enter Goodland Wines.

A Thesis on the Region: Goodland Wines

Together Matt Dees, Dave Potter, Chris Snowden, and Ruben Solorzano, each well established in the wine industry in varying ways, would revel in a philosophical debate–what is the best wine expression of Santa Barbara’s various AVAs?

What is unique about Santa Barbara County is its varied climate within a very small area. At the coast, in the Sta Rita Hills, for example, the weather remains relatively cool throughout the day, with fog hovering close to ground and winds prevailing. Here Burgundy varieties and cool climate Syrah have been planted. Mere miles inland, the heat spikes enough that Bordeaux varieties show well in Happy Canyon, the hottest area in the County, also carrying the biggest diurnal shift with still cool nights. A touch between the two, a small bowl in the mountains, named Ballard Canyon, has proven well for Rhone reds.

As Dees describes, the variation within such close proximity makes the region exciting to work with as a winemaker. The current moment in the region’s development makes it exciting again. Still, the wine industry here is young enough that what grapes grow best where is still, to some degree, at play. As Dees explains, this point in history with the County’s unique conditions “gives us the chance to think about what we see here. That’s the joy of it.”

The four friends, then, decided to put their debate in the glass, so to speak, and establish what is a sort of thesis of Santa Barbara County wine–wines to express each AVA. In doing so, they also draw on the French model–labels that showcase the AVA first. As Dees explains, such a focus is not about a winemaker, but about what the appellation has to offer. “It’s the vineyard that matters.”

Knowing the Vineyards: Ruben Solorzano


from left: Matt Dees, Chris Snowden, Ruben Solorzano (Dave Potter to the right of frame wrestling bear)

In talking to the group, Matt Dees and Chris Snowden both readily turn the focus to their friend Ruben Solorzano. The Goodland Wines project began as inspiration from the four of them together, but Dees and Snowden emphasize the important role Solorzano has played.

Solorzano has worked with vineyards throughout the County since the mid-1980s. In the region people call him “The Vine Whisper,” a title he laughs about but listening to him speak I begin to recognize why.

The four of us are standing next to Syrah planted through a limestone band in Ballard Canyon. It’s a vineyard that Solorzano knows well. I ask him to talk through how he works with the site. He walks up to the vine and touches his fingers to one of its arms. “The difficult thing about growing grapes,” he tells me, “is that there is no book you can follow. Every year you can learn, accumulate experience, but you have to start again every year.”

Dees compliments Solorzano’s intuition and knowledge of each of the vineyards the group works with. Solorzano responds that he’s been lucky to learn with lots of people, in lots of vineyards and get to know the area. Then he goes back to explain his work again. During the hardest part of the summer he visits each vineyard 3 or 4 times at different parts of the day. Each visit he simply walks up to the vines and touches them.

As he explains I feel my body slow down with his. “I walk through and touch the leaves, and touch the vines,” he says. He goes on to describe how he tries to imagine his way into what the vine is doing and what the vine needs. This is how he decides the best way to respond. “Somehow I just get to feel what the vines feel.”

Drinking the Wines

Ballard Canyon

the Syrah Vineyard in Ballard Canyon in January

Goodland Wines produces very small lots averaging only a barrel per wine, resulting in about 50 cases each. Together we were able to taste the 5 main 2011 wines, though they also have 2 entry level wines as well.

To be honest, I found the wines thrilling–lively, stimulating, and pretty, the cool nights throughout the County giving each wine vibrant acidity and an enlivening charge. As a portfolio too, I could read the thesis the foursome imagined writing, insight into the region presented by AVA.

Today Goodland Wines releases their label with three of the primary wines, and their two entry level wines available. In the Fall they will also release two additional reds.

The Individual Wines

The 2011 Sta Rita Hills White (a chardonnay) is full of “I love you” acidity, with a delicate nose, a citrus oil focus on the palate, and a long briny finish. It’s a fierce feather-weight fighter of a wine, and a bit of a trickster coming in with a delicate, pretty nose, that turns into a tiger on the palate.

Happy Canyon White from 2011 (Sauvignon Blanc) brings floral hints, and ultra light tropical fruit notes through the nose followed by a super clean and zippy lightly floral citrus bloom and tomato leaf palate. The acidity is a nice surprise with sea fresh touches and only hints of candy, followed by a long drying finish. This is a seafood wine with stimulating rich flavors and tight acidity.

2011s Sta Rita Hills Red (Pinot Noir) gives again a delicate nose followed by that tiger palate. It brings focused flavors with tons of acidity, red berry and rhubarb, lifted greenery, and a long brine finish.

The final two 2011 reds include a Happy Canyon Red (primarily Cabernet Sauvignon) and a Ballard Canyon Red (mainly Syrah) to be released in the Fall.

The team explains they have a passion for rugged mountain Cab and saw that style through Happy Canyon. They’ve been able to work with a high elevation site that gives tight little berries–concentrated flavors without over extraction. The wine is all dusty mountain fruit, with super fresh, pleasing green pepper, dried leather, tingling and drying tobacco, light menthol notes to keep it cool, and a long finish with great acidity.

The Ballard Canyon 2011 Red (primarily Syrah with a touch of Grenache) comes in biggest of all, a little more dominating on the palate with dark red and black berries, wrapped with black leather. It’s ultra tight with a juicy surface and a long tannic finish bringing in blueberry and a slight bitter grip at the end. It fills the mouth without heaviness.

In 2012 the gang was also able to work usher in a Santa Maria White offering the slightly more fruit focused give of that AVA accented with a lightly reductive style compared to the Sta Rita Hills presentation. They are also excited about the quality of their Grenache for 2012 for the Ballard Canyon Red.

To put it simply: Goodland Wines are recommended.


If you’re interested in purchasing Goodland Wines, they’re available online here: http://www.goodlandwines.com


Congratulations to the Goodland Boys!

Thank you to Matt Dees, Chris Snowden, Ruben Solorzano, Dave Potter, Sao Anash, and Lacey Fussel.

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

Bringing Victoria to California (It’s a little disorienting)

Hosting a Private Tasting

At the start of this week I hosted a small private tasting of 8 wines from Victoria. There are others I was lucky enough to bring back to the States as well but those are reserved for other tastings (and I’ll be honest, the Jamsheed 2011 Syrah is just mine ALL MINE MINE). The group was a mix of winemakers, sommeliers, and wine devotees curious about Australian wine, and wanting to hear about my trip.

The tasting was organized into three flights based on weight, and type. We did not taste blind because part of the point of the tasting was education. So, with each wine I gave some background on the label, and region–its climate, soil, and traditions.

The tasting turned out to be an interesting experience in wine psychology too, as the wines, I believe, were challenging for the group both in terms of going against Australian wine stereotypes, and in terms of being structurally distinct from what the tasting group is more used to drinking from outside Australia.

Partially because of my Jamsheed selfishness, and partially because I was unable to carry back bottles from that area, I was not able to bring a Yarra Valley representative, nor did I have any wine from the Mornington Peninsula. These oversights are significant in representing Victorian wine, however. Yarra Valley has the highest proportion of quality wines coming out of the Province, and Mornington Peninsula gets the most press.

The following notes represent the following tasting practice: wines were examined within the group tasting initially. Then I re-tasted the wines that same evening, and again the next day spending more time with each of the wines in follow up tastings than I was able to when with the tasting group.

Here are notes on the wines.

Flight 1: Whites

Victoria tasting whites flight

2012 Between Five Bells White Blend, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc, Semillon, Riesling, 12.5% alcohol

The Between Five Bells motto is “for no other reason than to be delicious.” However, the wines’ design is also to go against the more common Australian practice of bottling varietal wines by creating varietally ambiguous blends. The grape components of the label’s blends vary by vintage. Fruit for 2012 primarily from Geelong. The 2012 white is not yet released.

The 2012 white blend accomplishes the goals of both deliciousness and ambiguity. The nose rolls through a long range of various lighter colored fruits settling finally with guava, lemon, and lychee. This wine keeps rolling as its exposed to air, but the guava and lychee do show primarily when the wine has opened and relaxed into the glass. The palate follows also carrying dried grasses, touches of candle wax, and finally a long saline finish. Production allowed full malolactic fermentation offering a softening of still vibrant acidity. The waxy element marries into a kind of underbelly smoothness on this wine, that moves under the acidic lift and saline texture. In the end, the smoothness-plus-waxiness works against me. It’s a refreshing glass to start with, and very much a summer porch wine. I’d want it at the start of a bbq. But as it continues, the guava-lychee character weighs on my palate and I would be ready to transition into a light bodied red.

The 2011 blend used different grape types, and had a more fleshy texture to it that highly appeals to me. I will be writing about it next week as part of a Pinot Meunier tasting. Between Five Bells also makes an annual red blend, and a rosé.

* Byrne 2011 Chardonnay, 12.5% alcohol

Byrne creates very small production Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with fruit sourced from the Ballarat region, a cool climate area a bit inland from Geelong.

I am a fan of the Byrne Chardonnay. With such a cool vintage the 2011 screams with acidity, which will calm with some age. In technical aspects this wine is brilliantly made, and will be interesting to taste again with a little more time on the bottle (the 2010 is award winning and drinks well right now). For both quality and interest I would put it alongside Chardonnay from anywhere. The wine offers well integrated reductive elements showing through light matchstick upon opening that relaxes into flint with some air, and time open. The fruit is all citrus, rolling through a full range of lemon zest to juice to pith to blossom. In the palate the flavors are meaty, with both lemon and lime accents and reductive touches that hit with corn meal notes on a long, zesty finish. I also like the viscosity-with-tension of this wine on the palate.

Having tasted both the current release 2010 vintage (the first vintage for Byrne), and a bottle sample of the 2012 I am in support of this label’s Chardonnay and am excited to keep watching his work.

Bindi 2011 Composition Chardonnay, 13.0% alcohol

Bindi finds its home with older vines grown in quartz, alluvial, and volcanic soils of the Macedon Ranges, west of Melbourne. The family focus is on Chardonnay and Pinor Noir made with an incredibly light touch, relying on wild ferment in a cool climate.

The wine first opens with a predominately vegetal-matchstick reductive nose that softens with air. The reductive elements obscure the fruit initially, but dissipate enough to reveal lemon zest, and white grapefruit zest. The palate follows, with both the fruit and matchstick notes. As the wine opens, however, a refreshing stoniness shows giving a long stimulating finish. The acidity here is quite vibrant, (while more integrated than on the Byrne currently). I enjoy the Bindi Chardonnay once its had the chance to rest in the glass a bit. This bottle does well with opening in advance of drinking. When first opened the reductive elements quickly pile up on the palate.

Flight 2: Pinot Noir

Victoria Pinot Noir

Bindi 2011 Pinot Noir, 13.0%

The Bindi 2011 Pinot Noir is a very light presentation, delicate bodied wine with still concentrated notes ranging from Eucalyptus flavors, to chinotto-like herbal aromas. There is some dried raspberry, and light waxy touches, alongside dried orange peel. This wine was one of the more challenging ones for the group as its various characteristics are surprising to find together in one wine–lighter more delicate overall presentation, while still medicinal, rolling into a ferric-salt-tannin finish. The wine drank best soon after opening, with the medicinal aspects dominating the next day in a way I found unpleasing.

The 2011 vintage was incredibly challenging through the region, especially for red wines (many people were simply unable to make Pinot Noir, for example), so I am quite interested to taste other vintages.

* Lethbridge 2009 Mietta Pinot Noir, 13.5%

Mietta is Lethbridge‘s highest end Pinot, grown on their home estate in the basalt-over-limestone soils of Geelong. Structurally this wine consistently presents across vintages like an Arabian horse–all lithe wired, muscular tannins, and expressive mane swishing presentation. The wine is held for several years before release, with the 2009 expected to be available later this year.

The wine opens initially with a disjunct between the flavors of the wine, and the body. It’s as if they arrive separately and then work against each other on the palate. By the evening, however, the two had resolved and were working in good harmony with the tannin effect in the mouth having smoothed, and the flavors having become more knit. The wine drank even better on the second day with its texture and flavor profile becoming more lush. There are notes of smoked meat, with an integrated crunchy berry element, coming before a light herbal digestive note on the finish. The wine also carries a very light menthol up touch that shows more initially than later, but presents as refreshing. The ferric-salty tannin I find characteristic of Victoria reds lingers long in the palate, with touches of saffron. At first opening this finish is difficult, but integrates beautifully when opened in advance of drinking.

The Mietta wants to be opened and left open before drinking. It is challenging at first, and with air becomes a beautiful, complex wine. Drink with food.

Flight 3: Reds

Victoria Reds

Best’s Great Western Bin 0 2010 Shiraz, 13.5%

The Bin 0 Shiraz takes fruit from around Best’s Concongalla site in Great Western, a continental cool climate. The blend brings together juice from plantings established in 1867, 1966, and 1970. In that way it’s a historic treasure trove.

Bin 0 2010 shows best upon initial opening of the reds, being quite drinkable. That said, I felt it needed food more than any of the other wines, and even more so when tasting again the second day. The tannin became more pervasive with air. The flavors here include the light touches of the eucalyptus characteristic of the region, which build in the glass with exposure to air, also offering dried cherry, cocoa, smoked meat, and paprika, with some gaminess, and a long ferric-salty finish. The ferric-salty combo piles up in the mouth for me over time, again encouraging the need for food. This is another wine that I want a glass of, alongside a rib eye steak, and then want to move into a more tightly focused red with the second glass.

The Best’s wine was one of the favorites of other members of the group, however. For a point of comparison, Best’s Bin 1 Shiraz carries less complexity than the Bin 0 but is also, as a result, a more approachable option. Best’s is also well worth investigating for other tasting options. (Next week I’ll also be featuring their Pinot Meunier in a tasting.)

Between Five Bells 2012 Heathcote Red Blend, Nero d’ Avola, Nero Amaro, Riesling skins, Shiraz, guessing around 13% alcohol

Between Five Bells traditionally makes an annual red blend, white blend, and rosé all with fruit from Geelong. In 2012 they decided to add another red blend to the mix taking fruit from Heathcote, to the north of Melbourne. The blend brings together Italian varieties with a small portion of Shiraz, and Riesling skins during fermentation. This wine is not yet released.

The Heathcote red blend carries significant contrast between the nose and the palate, with the nose showcasing exotic red fruits and flowers elevated by a light carbonic element, and lifted spices, while the palate carries a richer, juicy, darker flavored presentation. The palate is yummy and pleasing showing smoke, rare steak, dried cherry, and bay leaf. The wine is designed to be drinkable immediately but did well with some air time with the flavors-to-structure becoming more resolved. There is a nice light traction finish here as well.

(For my fellow wine geeks that I know are curious: There is nothing in this wine that speaks to the Italian heritage of the grapes, but it does show a more polished expression of those grapes in Australia. To put it another way, I don’t count the non-Sicilian/non-Southern-Italian character of this wine as a bad thing. Though I have to admit I was fascinated to taste it initially because I love these grapes in Italy.)

Pyren Vineyards Broken Quartz 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 12.5%

The Pyren Vineyards site, on the slopes of the Warrenmang Valley of the Pyrenees region, are covered in quartz. The Cabernet is an insane value, sold by the winery for $240/case, that’s $20 a bottle.

The Broken Quartz Cab was one of the stranger wines of the tasting, with the Cabernet showing up varietally only through the tannin structure. The wine instead drinks with more lifted, bright fruit carbonic-like elements (unfortunately, I don’t have any information on how it was produced) that a couple of people commented were hard to wrap the mind around. There were flavors of blackberry and rhubarb, that deepen into darker fruit and smoke as the wine is left open for a few hours. The next day the wine had softened into red fruit and chocolate, complete with a cocoa-tannin texture. The overall presentation is light for a Cabernet, while still carrying its tannin, as mentioned. I am curious to hear more about how this wine ages. As mentioned, for $20 this wine is impressive value but should be approached as an ambiguous red, rather than a Cabernet.


These wines were all provided as samples.

Thank you to Ronnie Sanders, David Fesq, Alex Byrne, Ray Nadeson, Maree Collis, Jonathan Mogg.

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

Keeping it Simple: Love for Cathy Corison Cabernet

Both my sisters are visiting this week, though independently–one now, the other in the second half of this week.

My brother in law ran the Napa Valley Marathon yesterday (bad ass). Today I’m bringing the two of them on a wine tour of Napa Valley including a mix of their requests and my suggestions. Both my sisters get to visit and taste Corison, some of the best wine in Napa Valley.

It’s a Corison week, as Cathy hosted several of us for lunch and a library tasting a few days ago. In celebration of that meal, and of my sisters’ visits, here are notes from the library tasting.

Corison Cabernet

Corison Cabernet

click on comic to enlarge

Cathy Corison makes both Napa Valley Cabernet, using fruit from vineyards along the Rutherford Bench, and Kronos, fruit from her own Estate Vineyard. The Kronos site generates incredible low yield, concentrated flavors fruit. Both wines are full of elegance, dance, and lifted texture. The older of these vintages tasted drank as though they could have stayed in bottle for years longer.

Cathy explained that for the five wines we enjoyed with lunch she selected her favorite vintages to drink right now.

Thank you to Cathy Corison.

Lots of love to Lisa Shara Hall, and Amy Cleary–what a lovely day with you both.

Thank you to Hardy Wallace. Rachel had a great time too.

Tomorrow: a look at Victorian Syrah and Shiraz (including: what’s the difference?).

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

Santa Barbara Wine Country 5: Photos from Day 4

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Goodland Wines

Goodland Wines

unreleased Goodland Wines portfolio

Ballard Canyon

looking into Ballard Canyon AVA

Ruben Solorzano

Ruban Solorzano, Vineyard Manager, Goodland Wines partner

Limestone Soils, Harrison Clark Vineyard

Ballard Canyon Limestone Soils

Matt Dees

Matt Dees, Winemaker, Goodland Wines partner

Chris Snowden

Chris Snowden, Goodland Wines partner

Harrison Clark Vineyard

Harrison Clark Vineyard Syrah, Ballard Canyon AVA

Matt, Chris, Ruben, long term friends

Star Lane Vineyards & Wines, and Dierberg Wines

Star Lane Winery

Star Lane Winery, Happy Canyon AVA

1500 ft elevation Cabernet Vineyard, Happy Canyon

Star Lane Vineyard, 1500 ft elevation Cabernet Sauvignon

Andy Alba

Andy Alba, Winemaker Star Lane & Dierberg Winemaker

Star Lane Vineyards, looking into Happy Canyon

Looking over Star Lane Vineyards, the oldest Vineyards in Happy Canyon; Looking into Happy Canyon AVA from 1500 ft

Gravity Feed Winery, Star Lane


Star Lane Winery Gravity Flow Winery

Star Lane Wines

Star Lane Wines

Dierberg Wines

Dierberg Wines

Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir Cluster (full size, not a wing)

Sta Rita Hills high elevation Pinot Noir cluster (photo by Andy Alba): actual cluster size (not a wing)

Rusack Vineyards & Wines

Rusack Vineyard

Rusack Vineyard, Ballard Canyon AVA

Rusack Vineyards, Ballard Canyon

Looking into Ballard Canyon AVA, Rusack Vineyard

Rusack Winery

Rusack Winery

Rusack Wines

Rusack Wines

Rusack Wines, Catalina Vineyard Project

Rusack Wines Santa Catalina Island Vineyard Project

Terroir Selections, and Sandhi Wines

Terroir Selections Wines

Terroir Selections Wines by the glass, The Watering Hole Tasting Room

Sandhi Wines

Sandhi Wines


Thank you to Matt Dees, Chris Snowden, and Ruben Solorzano.

Thank you to Andy Alba, Sarah Hunt, and Jim Dierberg.

Thank you to Steve Gerbac.

Thank you to Nat Gunter.

Thank you to Sao Anash, and Lacey Fussel.

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

Tasting the Soil: Clay Mauritson’s Passion for Loam and Cabernet

Meeting Clay Mauritson

Clay Mauritson

Clay Mauritson began making wine under the Mauritson label, the first winemaker in six generations of vineyard farmers, in 1998. For the first years, Mauritson focused only on making Zinfandel with fruit from Dry Creek Valley. When the fruit from the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile overlap came online in 2001 he began making the family’s first Rockpile Zin. In 2002, he expanded to include Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2003, Petite Sirah. As a result, the Mauritson label focuses on doing their best single vineyard Zinfandel, and a wines from a range of Bordeaux varieties.

In talking to Mauritson about the foundations of his winemaking, he says, first and foremost it’s Zinfandel. The grape was the first to show him the intricacies, and challenges of winemaking. “It is such a difficult grape to grow, and such a difficult wine to make, I have such appreciation for it.” After the grape, his passion is inspired by Rockpile, his family’s homestead area, at the top of Dry Creek Valley. In 2012, the Mauritson label will include 6 to 7 single vineyard Zinfandels from the family property. As he explains, “when you have so many different soils, single vineyard wines had better taste different.” Appreciation for the quality of the soil enriches Mauritson’s passion for wine.

Though Mauritson’s primary focus in is the winemaking, he has a deep respect for the vineyard and the soils that offer its foundation. “We have this amazing piece of ground, and we’re just celebrating the diversity of our sites.” The Mauritson family grows vines in 17 different registered soil types. In discovering the rich soil variation of his family’s property, Mauritson became interested in exploring the effect of soil on the final wine. So, he developed the Loam series.

Tasting the Soil: Cabernet Sauvignon, Loam Single Soil Wines

The Loam series focuses entirely on Cabernet Sauvignon, all grown on identical rootstock, the same clone, and vinified the same way. The one variation occurs in soil type. In zeroing in on the plantings that fit the requirements, Clay identified five soil types–Suther, Clough, Positas, Josephine, and Cole. Three of the wines in the series–Suther, Clough, and Positas–are made from a few rows grown only in the one soil type. The fourth wine, Loam, is made from a blend of wine from each of the five soils.

click on comic to enlarge

The Loam series includes clean, well-integrated presentation, and a nice balance of grip and movement in each wine. There is also a distinctive offering between the soil types, that I was thrilled to try. We were able to taste three vintages of both the Suther and Positas, and the current release of 2009 for each of the four wines.

My personal favorite was the 2009 Clough, it presents a well-focused wine with great acidity. The Positas offers a bigger flavor presentation, and not quite as much juiciness in the mouth as the Clough, but the three vintages show a nice progression of age. Suther showed the greatest consistency across vintages, and the 2006 and 2007 were both impressively young, with the flavors still tightly centered. The 2009 Loam brings together a nice offering of the volcanic dust patina found on Suther, with the richness of Positas. The “bigger shoulders” of Positas and Loam were the most popular with the wine club members present.

More on Mauriston Zinfandel will appear later in the series on Dry Creek Valley when I look specifically at different Zins from the AVA.

Thank you to Clay and Carrie Mauritson for including me in the Loam tasting. I very much enjoyed the evening.

Thank you to Ashley Mauritson.


Part 1: The History of Dry Creek, Lake Sonoma, and Rockpile: Meeting the Mauritson Family: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/03/the-history-of-dry-creek-valley-lake-sonoma-and-rockpile-meeting-the-mauritson-family/

Part 2: Visiting the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/04/visiting-the-dry-creek-valley-rockpile-avas-overlap-the-mauritson-family-vineyards/

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



The History of Dry Creek Valley, Lake Sonoma, and Rockpile: Meeting the Mauritson Family

Honestly? This is part of why I follow the project of this blog–meeting the Mauritson family, and making contact, in a sense, with history, and regard for family, is a genuine honor for me. The Mauritson’s were generous enough to share some of their historic family photos for me to post here. I am deeply grateful. Thank you.


Meeting the Mauriston Family

The Hallengren-Mauritson Family Homestead, now under Lake Sonoma

The vitality of the Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley AVAs depend partially on the the creation of the Warm Springs dam, which controls the flow of Dry Creek, one of the tributaries of the Russian River. As described by the Army Corps of Engineers, the purpose for creating the creek containment was to reduce the flow into the Russian River, thereby reducing serious annual flooding along its drainage into the Pacific Ocean, and in less common instances further inland as well. The reservoir resulting from the dam also guaranteed a supply of water (needed for irrigation in an otherwise fairly dry area), and the production of electricity for portions of Sonoma county. Greater development and planting along the waterways then became possible.

Warm Springs dam proved controversial at its beginnings for a collection of reasons. To create the reservoir west of Healdsburg, the U.S. Army Corps reclaimed land that had been homesteaded through the area, paying as little 9 cents on the dollar for the lands’ value.The Pomo tribe, that had resided through the Dry Creek area also fought creation of the dam due to the loss of archaeological sites it would cause by flooding the valleys North of the containment. Additionally, the dam was built through an area of significant geological activity–it crosses a fault line–with the safety of the engineering feat regularly called into question.

The Mauritson family, reaching back through the Hallengren side, had settled significant portions of the land now under Lake Sonoma, with four generations establishing their livelihood on the family’s estate through sheep ranching, grape and prune growing. As recently as 1960, 3300 acres of the Hallengren-Mauritson estate were reclaimed under assertion of Eminent Domain to allow production of the dam. The family was able to retain smaller portions of their original land grants on what are now the hillsides above Lake Sonoma, at the overlap between Dry Creek Valley AVA and Rockpile AVA.

Tomorrow I’ll post photos of the Mauritson family site today. Today, I am so grateful to share photos from the Mauritson family’s archive. They have given me permission to share photos of their family estate from the early part of the 1900s, far prior to the creation of the county’s reservoir.

Clay Mauritson‘s grandfather, Edward, who lived much of his life on the family property, shares notes about life on the estate handwritten around the following two images.

Looking Under Lake Sonoma

Looking into the valley of the Hallengren-Mauritson Homestead, notes around the edges handwritten by late Grandfather, Edward Mauritson. Click on image to enlarge.

Reads: May 2, 1983 — This is the old Hallengren home area (as you can see by my mother’s penmanship below). This picture taken about 1912 or 1913 (pretty good camera those days). They had all the area in vineyard down in the middle and winery run by a steam engine, no electricity in those days. My uncle Lloyd used to go down to said winery and build up lots of steam in the steam engine on December 31 and at midnight tie the whistle down. Uncle Lloyd (red hair, everybody called him carrot top) was quite a boy. This vineyard in those days was taken care of by all Japanese people that lived right on the ranch, no Mexicans in those days. Later this vineyard was taken out and put into prunes. Next door neighbors, Rickards, took their vineyard out also (grapes only $4 or 5 a ton).”

The Mauritson family established their initial homestead in 1868, with progression of their estate occurring through homestead based land grants from 3 different presidents, culminating in a 4000 acre property.

Documentation shows the family establishing grape vines on the valley floor, and up some hillsides as early as 1884, with clear harvest records from as early as 1893. As a result, the Mauritson family has included six generations, over 140 years, of vineyard farmers.

The History of North Dry Creek Valley, and the Southern Rockpile AVAs

The Hallengren-Mauritson Homestead. The front portions of this photo are all currently under Lake Sonoma. Portions of the ridge along the back are not under water. Text handwritten by grandfather that lived most of his life on the Homestead property. Reads: May 2, 1983 — My Aunt Lily, sitting on the rock, a former school teacher (old maid, never married) and a super super cook as I can remember. Aunt Lettie, sitting on the horse, had all the financial brains. Everything she touched turned into money, and was Ed Thompson first wife. Eleven years older than Ed and could out talk Ronald Reagan. On the wagon is Ed Thompson (on the inside) and old “carrot top” Uncle Lloyd. Lloyd was quite a politician and even run for State Senator one year, didn’t get enough votes to even become the dog catcher, quote “Hay” [can't read]. Lloyd was always broke and borrowing from his sister.”

Though the land was reclaimed by the government in 1960, the family was given a few years to move from their property. In 1968, the title to the original land was pulled, and the family purchased a smaller parcel in Alexander Valley with the money given in exchange. Though the new property was originally planted in prunes, it was immediately turned to vineyards.

The remaining land in the Dry Creek Valley/Rockpile overlap, overlooking Lake Sonoma (and shown in the photo above), as well as newer parcels through Dry Creek Valley have since also been planted in vines by the Mauritsons.

In 1998, Clay Mauritson became the first winemaker in generations of vineyard owners. As Clay explained to me, growing up taking care of vineyards he wanted little to do with the activity. But, after leaving the area for college his view of the quality of life in Sonoma County improved. He wanted to return to the area, and live closer to his family, but shifted out of vines and into wine.

Clay began by first taking harvest internships in other Dry Creek Valley wineries, and then working full time for other winemakers. While helping other wineries crush, Clay developed his own label in a custom crush facility. After 5 years, showing that Mauritson wine could offer a viable business, the family built their winery located at the entrance of Dry Creek Valley, focusing on their own Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Bordeaux-style wines, alongside offering custom crush services.

Tomorrow, I’ll post notes from a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting I was lucky enough to attend with the Mauritson family. Clay is passionate about soils, with the family growing in 17 different registered soil types.

To show how great the difference of expression soil can offer, Clay has created his Loam series–4 Cabernet Sauvignon wines, each grown on the same root stock, the same clone, and vinified the same way, but from different soils.


Thank you to Kyrsa Dixon.

Thank you to Ashley Mauritson for taking time to meet with me, show me Rockpile and taste me on the family wines. Thank you to Carrie Mauritson for sharing the family photos with me.

Thank you especially to Clay Mauritson for taking time to talk with me.

Part 2: Visiting the Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile AVAs Overlap: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/04/visiting-the-dry-creek-valley-rockpile-avas-overlap-the-mauritson-family-vineyards/

Part 3: Tasting the Soil: Meeting Clay Mauritson’s Passion for Loam and Cabernet: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/12/05/tasting-the-soil-clay-mauritsons-passion-for-loam-and-cabernet/

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