Tags Posts tagged with "cabernet sauvignon"

cabernet sauvignon

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

Calistoga Canyons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

View from Howell Mountain

Elaine’s review last week of Cabernets with the general Napa Valley appellation stirred up some strong reactions, including on our members’ forum. She addresses some of the issues raised by the first of her two articles on Napa Cabernets in this introduction to the second one, a report on a total of 90 Cabernets with one of the many Napa Valley sub-appellations described below. A report on Napa Merlots will follow. Elaine’s picture was taken on Howell Mountain.

The over-arching region and AVA of Napa Valley includes 16 sub-appellations ranging in their combination of growing conditions – elevation, soil types, drainage, mesoclimate – to create unique subzones that offer their own stylistic range and expression.

Producers within Napa Valley can chose to label their wines with the Napa Valley appellation as long as 85% or more of the fruit going into their wine is from the region. Labelling requirements for the sub-AVAs of Napa Valley are similar. For a wine to be labelled with one of the 16 sub-appellations the wine must be made predominantly from fruit grown in that subzone. Additionally, any of the sub-AVAs fully within Napa County must include reference to Napa on the label. For example, a wine from the Rutherford AVA has to be labelled with both Rutherford and Napa Valley. The two exceptions are Carneros, which stretches across both Napa and Sonoma Counties, and Wild Horse Valley, which includes land in Solano as well as Napa County. (See the online World Atlas of Wine map of Napa Valleyfor many of the sub-AVAs.)

Many of the most delicious wines of the region come from producers focused intently on specific subzones who label their wine with their relevant sub-appellation. In many cases, the growing conditions of a specific sub-AVA are expressed in the bottle.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-subappellations-heartening

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

From the Mayacamas looking into Napa Valley

In the first of two major reports on current releases of Napa Valley appellation Cabernets, her first for JancisRobinson.com, Elaine Chukan Brown reviews 57 wines, but finds frustratingly few to get excited about. A report on Cabernets labelled with one of Napa Valley’s 16 sub-appellations will follow. Elaine’s picture looking east over fog in the Napa Valley was taken from 1,800 feet up in the Mayacamas Mountains.

With its dry Mediterranean climate, Napa Valley offers ideal growing conditions for vines and, with good farming, the potential for abundant flavour with resolved tannins and plenty of natural acidity. Even so, economic pressures from land prices and labour shortages currently dominate the region, making Napa Valley Cabernet one of the most expensive wines in the world to farm. So, while vintners in the region benefit from propitious weather and overall growing conditions, they need to produce wines at high prices in order to afford production costs.

The result, unfortunately, means the average price for a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet is substantial. Retail prices per bottle are generally well over $100, easily reaching upwards of $200 and more. Exceptions occasionally appear from producers who have owned their property for decades. Among Cabernets carrying the all-encompassing Napa Valley appellation, Stony Hill Cabernet at $60 is one of the most affordable quality examples, with lovely purity throughout. The Galerie Plein Air at $50 was another nice surprise offering the firm structure and ageing potential of the 2013 vintage with varietal character married to judicious oak presence. (Other examples can also be found in wines labelled with one of the 16 Napa Valley sub-appellations to be described in my next instalment).

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-cabernets-depressing

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

 

3

Spending the Day at Frog’s Leap with John Williams

John Williams was kind enough to meet photographer Stephen Smith and myself to spend the day sharing and showing us the Frog’s Leap story.

The three of us met first thing in the morning to walk the vineyard and winery in the heart of the Rutherford Bench, then drove north through Napa Valley to see Frog’s Leaps other estate vineyards. Frog’s Leap is known for its Bordeaux varietal wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc – and Chardonnay and also makes a succulent, fresh Zinfandel inspired by California’s old field blend style. At the vineyard near his home, Frog’s Leap recently planted an experimental block testing to see what new varieties respond well to the specific conditions of Rutherford. In a different block of the same site they also farms a collection of mixed-black old vines that go into the Frog’s Leap Heritage blend.

Frog’s Leap doesn’t just grow vineyards though. John has brought his focus to sustainability in farming practices such as dry farming while also focusing on sustainability of overall estate management. To preserve the economic health of the Frog’s Leap team, the winery established year round food gardens that are used on-site for winery meals and by winery employees. The gardens are also maintained by the winery and vineyard staff so that in the months when vines need less tending the garden keeps them busy and employed.

John’s inspiration for California’s old style can also be found in his restoration of the historic winery building from the 1880s that serves as part of the structure for his own contemporary winery, as well as his love for old trucks and cars.

We drove up the valley together in his 1969 Chevy. It was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had to cruise Napa Valley backroads in John’s iconic pick-up truck. That truck is an important part of Napa Valley history, full of Frog’s Leap stories. Incredibly, the three of us had so much fun that the day culminated finally in this…


Over the course of the day, while I interviewed John, Stephen documented our time together in photographs. He’s been generous enough to let me share his photos from the day here. I love the way they tell the story on their own.

Visiting Frog’s Leap in Photographs by Stephen Smith

Frog's Leap Winery

Frog's Leap Winery

Flowers at Frog's Leap

Starting the Garden at Frog's Leap

The Orchard

The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Bottling Frog's Leap

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

Inside the Winery

Entering the Winery

John Williams

Discussing Winemaking

Inside the Winery

Driving in the 1969 Chevy Pick-up Truck

The Old Vines

Inside the Old Winery

Dinner with John

Thank you to John for the great day and to Stephen for the fantastic photos.

Check out more of Smith’s photography at his own site: http://www.iamstephensmith.com/ and follow him on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iamstephensmith/. I really enjoy following his photographic travelogs online.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Mondavi Retrospective

The Robert Mondavi 1966 Cabernet Unfiltered

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Robert Mondavi Winery on the Oakville bench of Napa Valley. To celebrate, the winery put together a two-day event for 25 journalists from throughout North America, offering us the opportunity to taste 24 vintages of Mondavi’s flagship Cabernet Reserve, as well as spending time with many of the key winemakers and viticulturists of the winery’s history.

It is difficult to think of any other Napa Valley Cabernet of which such a historic vertical would be possible. Wineries with a longer history such as Beaulieu and Inglenook have nothing like the continuity evident at Mondavi. There have been subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle changes of direction in winemaking here but in essence the team and intentions have remained the same, and the ownership has changed only once when in 2004 the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to the giant Constellation. Its founder died four years later at the age of 94 (see Jancis’s appreciation of Robert Mondavi).

When Mondavi started his eponymous winery in 1966 the goal was to show that California could make wines to compete with the very best in the world. A mere 10 years later two of Mondavi’s original winemakers – Warren Winiarski, who helped start the wine programme at Mondavi, and Mike Grgich, who soon took over – would go on to win the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris in red and white categories respectively that did so much to establish the region’s reputation for world-class wines.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 24 vintages of the Mondavi Cabernet Reserve rather evenly spread from 1966 to 2013. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/mondavi-retrospective-a-napa-history-lesson

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

 

0

Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the vineyards of Adelaida estate

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the Adelaida Cellars vineyards, July 2015

Last year I fell in love with the wines of Jeremy Weintraub. Though I’d enjoyed his wines from Seavey before, I’d done so unwittingly, drinking them simply for pleasure without knowledge of the winemaker. Then last summer I had the good fortune of touring Adelaida Cellars in the historic Adelaida District on the western side of Paso Robles, enjoying vintages early in its history, then forward again to the first of Weintraub’s. After the visit I continued tasting newer releases of Adelaida wines, and discovered too his own Site Wines label.

Last month Weintraub hosted me again for a unique opportunity to discuss his work across labels, tasting current releases of Site, Adelaida, and an older vintage of Seavey (2009) side by side. What proves central to Weintraub’s approach to winemaking is a quest for intimacy with the vineyard rooted in an eye towards refinement.

Weintraub began consulting with Adelaida’s Cabernet program in 2012 and became winemaker in 2013, moving from his winemaking position at Seavey in Napa Valley that he’d started in 2008. As he began at Adelaida he also started his own small production Site Wines label, focused on vineyards of Santa Barbara County. Weintraub’s experience is extensive. Prior to his work at Seavey he had already worked in both Paso and Santa Barbara County, interned in Tuscany, Central Otago, Martinborough, and Long Island, and earned an MS in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.

Seavey 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

It is Weintraub’s previous position as winemaker that makes the sense of refinement central to his approach most obviously visible. Prior to Adelaida, Weintraub led the winemaking team at Seavey, one of the most under appreciated estates of Napa Valley. It’s one of those vineyards that reminds us of the very specific value of site, showcasing a quality that surpasses that of its neighbors.

The Seavey’s dry-farmed, hillside vineyards, in the heart of Napa’s Conn Valley, are well-placed to absorb ample sun, delivering dark flavor characteristics and abundant tannin. Yet it sits close enough to the cooling and mineral influences of Conn Creek and Lake Hennessey to also intimate notes of rose, violet, iron and spice, a complexity infused with dusty elegance. Picked to celebrate the wash of acidity possible with the site, vinified for judicious tannin management, and clothed by just a sheer chiffon of oak spice, Weintraub’s 2009 Seavey Cabernet reminds us what Napa Valley does at its best is seamlessness. It’s one of those rare wines that brings a pinching sting to remember, the thought that I might not drink it again.

But, while Weintraub’s time at Seavey clearly showcases the refinement of his approach, it is perhaps in his current work at Adelaida that his talent for it becomes most apparent. When a winemaker is lucky enough to work with a site like Seavey it can be easy to mistake the important synchronicity of winemaker to vineyard as either based all in site quality or all in winemaking. Through his work at Adelaida, a more complicated and varied site than his prior home in Napa, the skill of his craft becomes more apparent.

Established in 1981, Adelaida began farming and planting its own vines in the early 1990s, having sourced fruit prior to then. The site now includes a unique range of varieties from the high elevation Cabernet of their Viking Vineyard, to the steep, rolling knoll of Michael’s dry-farmed, head-trained Zinfandel; the limestone established Rhone varieties that sweep the property, and the swailed chute of historic Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay in the 1960s-planted HMR Vineyard. All together Adelaida’s estate vineyards include 145 planted acres, one-third of which is dry-farmed while the rest is being weened over to dry farming, a shift made in response to the recent California drought and in conjunction with hiring Weintraub.

Adelaida HMR Pinot

Adelaida HMR Pinot from 2013, 2009, 2002, 1995; HMR was planted in 1964 in a distinctly cooler microclimate on the western side of the Adelaida estate

Tasting through vintage verticals of Adelaida wines, most particularly the famous HMR pinot, Weintraub’s shift in quality becomes apparent. Established in the mid-1960s, then purchased by Adelaida in 1991, the earliest vintages of Adelaida’s HMR Pinots have aged beautifully, picked for freshness and woven through with accents of American oak. By the early 2000s, the winemaking has shifted entirely to French oak but also to greater extraction and apparently less age-ability. Then in 2013, like an optometrist flipping the lens in an eye exam, the wine moves into clear focus and the vineyard character reads distinctly, a wine fine-boned and persistent with creamy cherry blossom, and spicy crunch, nice tension and length.

The HMR also offers another revelation.

Adelaida 2014 Gamay

Part of the uniqueness of the HMR Pinot rested in its inter-planting of 51-year old Gamay vines, by far the oldest Gamay in California and an unheard of gold mine hidden in the hills of western Paso Robles. Prior to Weintraub’s arrival, the Gamay had been vinified into the HMR Pinot. By 2014, Weintraub convinced the Adelaida team it was time to uncover their treasure and take the Gamay seriously as its own wine. Borrowing a guiding insight from Cru Beaujolais, they foot stomped their Gamay with 50% whole cluster inclusion. The result is an energetic, pleasantly structured, earthy wine with hints of spice, a wash of minerality, and just enough fruit, with the lifted aromatics of a pretty Brouilly.

Current Release Site Wines

Site Wines 2013 Roussanne, 2012 Grenache, 2012 Syrah, 2012 Red blend

Weintraub’s work in his own project, his small production Site wines, makes clear his ability to read a vineyard. The quality of winemaking for his own label thus confirms the promise of his on going work with the Adelaida estate. In sourcing fruit from a range of sites in a region in a committed fashion, a winemaker is given the best opportunity to get to know the distinct overall characteristics of that region, but also to express most clearly his or her own winemaking aims.  Here, Weintraub has chosen to focus on Santa Barbara County. The result is a collection of five distinct Rhone wines, two varietal whites and two varietal reds and a red blend.

My favorite of the Site wines proves to be one of the prettiest Roussannes in California in both the 2012, and especially the 2013 vintage, sourced from the Stolpman Vineyard of Ballard Canyon. He also produces a Viognier that, in both 2012 and 2013 by avoiding the exuberant aromatics commonly found in California Viognier, masquerades as delicate until its persistent, while still subtle, expression across the palate becomes apparent.  And finally also two concentrated while still mouthwatering Rhone reds, a Grenache from Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon, and a Syrah from Bien Nacido of Santa Maria Valley, plus a Rhone red blend from Larner, each with the promise to age.

The Site wines are delicious and freshly energetic but it is also in speaking with Weintraub about each of these vineyards that his perspective shines. The intimacy Weintraub shows with the sites is impressive and detailed, the insights of a winegrower with as much a love for biology as beauty. The same balance shows in his on going familiarity with Adelaida’s vast vineyard holdings.

Adelaida Current Release Wines

Adelaida Cellars new look: 2014 Picpoul, 2014 Gamay, 2013 Viking Bordeaux blend, 2013 Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet

Weintraub’s winemaking at Adelaida produces a broad range of delicious and drinkable wines, but it is also an enormous estate with a vast range of plantings. In practical terms, such a large site also takes time for any winemaker to know, whatever their depth of talent. It can also mean some of the vineyards’ wines seem to have greater synchronicity from vine to wine through winemaker than others.

While each of the wines of Adelaida today is far more than drinkable, I find that synchronicity most elegantly through Weintraub’s 2014 Adelaida Gamay and Picpoul. While the 2013 Picpoul was a lovely wine, the balance of mouthwatering acidity to pretty fleshiness in the 2014 is inspiring. As paradoxical as it can seem when considering Paso Robles heat, it is the Adelaida whites, especially the Rhone varieties, and lighter reds I find most thrilling. In these I eagerly await seeing how they develop with on going vintages.

Turning to the more robust wines, the recent release of the Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet, the 2013, is not yet showing what it has to offer – currently feeling sweet and simple on the palate as it finds its way through its first years of baby fat while also promising to become more lithe and agile with age. The Viking Bordeaux blend from 2013, on the other hand, delivers an earthy grace that by the third day open is singing, an early indication of where it will get with age.

Speaking with Weintraub about his ongoing intimacy with the estate, I am excited to continue following the development of the Adelaida Rhone wine and Cabernet program. While the Adelaida Estate will never deliver a wine like Seavey that is also its gift. Paso Robles carries vastly different character than Napa Valley. In the respectful hands of a winemaker like Weintraub its a character he’ll continue to hone with refinement.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Why I Love Smith-Madrone

Charles Smith

I have a horrible big crush on Charlie Smith (shown above). He and his brother, Stu (shown below), express pretty much all of the desirable aspects of masculinity a girl born-and-raised in Alaska now living in California (and in love with wine) could possibly want.

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, March 2013

The affection I feel for them parallels the qualities I enjoy in their Smith-Madrone wines – decidedly California flavor bred through a farmer’s tenacity, beautiful fruit wed to wry minerality with herbal deftness. Layer in the poetry Charles hangs in the winery (shown below), and I’m done for.

The romance of Smith-Madrone

Smith-Madrone Vineyards – farmed by Stu while Charles mans the winery – sit near the top of the Spring Mountain District between 1400 and 1900 ft in elevation, in a mix of volcanic soils and sedimentary rock. The site’s knit through by a forest of deciduous and evergreen with a single, historic alley of olive trees. In 1970, when Stu launched what would become the brothers’ project, Spring Mountain held few vineyards.

A small outcrop community from the Swiss-Italian Colony had previously settled the hillsides, dotting the landscape with vines. Others would follow. The Beringer family expanded its holdings to the Eastern slopes of Spring Mountain in the 1880s. The Gold Rush brought new investors to the region. But with the onset of first phylloxera and then Prohibition, the vines of Spring Mountain vastly diminished. Stony Hill and School House Vineyards were among the first to plant again in the region in the 1950s. Then at the start of the 1970s, Smith-Madrone served as part of the lead pack of young winemakers along with Keenan, Yverdon, Spring Mountain Vineyard and Ritchie Creek, planting the Spring Mountain District hillsides before the value of Napa Valley was widely known.

Today, Smith-Madrone celebrates 44 years, one of the treasures of Napa Valley. Their wines are entirely estate made, the fruit grown in blocks spotted about the site’s steep slopes and hillsides in 34 acres of vines. The property is dry-farmed. They have recently released their 2013 Chardonnay, and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes below.

Smith-Madrone 2013 Chardonnay

Smith Madrone 2013 Chardonnay

Simultaneously racy and succulent, friendly and focused, the Smith-Madrone 2013 Chardonnay offers fresh aromatics with notes of lemon curd and crisp melon set on a toasted oat cracker. Delicious and pretty with a long finish.

Smith-Madrone 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

Beautiful aromatics of cedar and herbs carry into a palate of iron and spice with mixed dark fruit. The Smith-Madrone 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon carries a surprising composure – ample flavor on a moderate body with a supple-while-snappy backbone of tannin. Mouthwatering acidity balances through a long finish. This is a young, taut wine today that would benefit from a few years in cellar.

Alternatively, it opens significantly on the second and third day with the fruit that sits behind the herbal elements on the first day stepping decidedly to the fore. For those familiar with Smith-Madrone’s green and lean 2011 Cabernet, the 2012 is a completely different animal. The brothers tout the by-vintage character of their winemaking and the Cabernet serves as a perfect illustration of that truth.

***

Happy New Year!

To read more about Smith-Madrone, you can see one of my previous write-ups from a lunch I shared with them in 2013 that was recommended by Eric Asimov for NYTimes.com: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/06/19/a-life-in-wine-stu-and-charles-smith-smith-madrone/

For more recent looks at the Smith brothers’ work, Eric Asimov asks them how Smith-Madrone has handled the drought here http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/dining/wine-california-drought.html?emc=eta1 and Esther Mobley of the San Francisco Chronicle considers Cabernet from beyond the hillsides of Napa Valley here http://www.sfchronicle.com/travel/article/Venture-beyond-the-valley-floor-in-Napa-6584745.php. Both articles have paywall restrictions.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Illustrating Sonoma Cabernet

The editors of Wine & Spirits asked me this Fall to take on a rather unusual project. They wanted me to get to know the shape of Sonoma Cabernet. As Joshua Greene, W&S Editor, presented it to me, as a group they could readily articulate the shape of Napa Valley Cabernet. That is, there’s a recognizable character to the famed Valley’s Bordeaux reds but that of those same grapes grown one county West is less well-known. 

Sonoma County stands as the largest of the North Coast counties. With its reach all the way from the Pacific, across several river valleys and into the Mayacamas that separates it from Napa Valley, Sonoma’s growing conditions vary widely. A few pockets in the region capture the ideal warmth-light-and-drainage combination needed for Cabernet. Greene asked if I would focus in on four of these sites, dig into what makes them unique, and articulate how those conditions show in the wine. Through illustration. My task was to draw the sites and wines, not how they taste, but their shape on the palate. 

To be honest, this was one of the hardest projects I’ve done so far in wine. It was an incredible amount of fun at the exact same time that I felt like I was having to change fundamental aspects of my thinking to make it work. Illustrating the shape of a wine and its relation to its site isn’t anywhere near as straightforward as illustrating tasting notes as I usually do here. The resulting illustrations bare imagistic relation to the sites from which they arise but really are meant to show what you’ll find in the bottle. Have you ever had a wine that tastes like a mountain? I drew two. (They taste like very different mountains.)

Having put so much into the project it was a wonderful bonus to then have the editors select my work for the December cover. The illustrations themselves appear flat inside the magazine coupled with text about the project and each of the sites. The editors also printed the illustrations and placed them, as if labels, on bottles for what turned out to be the cover. Here’s a preview… 

Wine & Spirits Dec 2015

The Shape of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon
text and illustrations by Elaine Chukan Brown

The Pacific coast, the Russian River and the Mayacamas Mountains shape Sonoma County. Vines fill the region, reaching up the ridge lines and blanketing the valleys.

The Coastal Range protects much of Sonoma County from the direct effects of the Pacific Ocean. But thanks to the Petaluma Gap and canyon folds within those coastal mountains, cool maritime air reaches vines throughout the county. It’s a Pacific chill that might only tickle Sonoma’s eastern side, but when I drink finely grown Sonoma County cabernet, I can taste that maritime breeze.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Sonoma vineyards. I’ve begun to form associations between the conditions of the site and the experience of the wine, to associate angular tannins with mountain vineyards, and fuller, rounder wines with warmer temperatures or more generous soils. The place a wine is grown begins to take shape on the palate. It’s an experience that differs from that communicated in a typical tasting note.

Tasting notes describe a wine’s …

To continue reading pick up a print or electronic copy of the December issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine, available now. The issue includes an in-depth look at five regions from Australia via the recent Sommelier Scavenger Hunt; the year’s best Champagne, Barolo & Barbaresco, US Cabernets, Porto, and others; a dining guide to Montreal (my favorite); a look at pairing food with sweet wines, and more. Here’s a peek inside the December issue: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/S=0/subscriptions/entry/december-2015

For more information on how to subscribe: https://members.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/Subscribe/Select

1

Portraits of Bardolino

At the end of the 1970s, Sergio and Franca Nerozzi decided to move their family from the city to the countryside between Lake Garda and Verona. In 1980, they moved into the home on the moranic hill of San Pietro that would become Le Vigne di San Pietro.

Though the family originally had no intention of making wine – both father Sergio, and son Carlo were architects – the property included an old field blend vineyard. Carlo would begin making wine.

Over time, the family would replant the vineyards. Today they produce classic wines of Bardolino – Custova, Chiaretto, and Bardolino – as well as a Cabernet-Merlot blend called Refola that is made by partially drying the Cabernet, and keeping the Merlot grapes fresh.

Following is a portion of the story that Carlo Nerozzi shared with us on our visit. He now owns Le Vigne di San Pietro. He spoke to us in English.

Carlo Nerozzi, Le Vigne di San Pietro

Carlo Nerozzi, Le Vigne di San Pietro

Carlo Nerozzi, Le Vigne di San Pietro, March 2015

We are on a moranic hill. There is a mix of stones, clay, sand, everything. Some stones from the Dolomites are in the ground here. They are all well draining soils. The area used to be a field blend, white and red.

We use no herbicide. We use cover crop – oat, peas – to feed nutrients to the soil. Our vines are all hand tend, and harvest.

If you think I am a producer, you are wrong because I am an architect. Making wine, it is a little different, but they say the wine is not bad. [smiling]

I don’t like to buy, only grow, so I make wine with only my grapes.

I am not a wine producer, as I told you. But it is not a joke. I am making wine. I come from another skill [architecture] but I have been doing it [making wine] for 35 years.

The style of San Pietro, from the beginning, is to be elegant, to age quite a long time, and with a good relation with the food. So, I am not looking for muscles, or sweet wine.

I prefer wine that can express itself slowly and deeply. I don’t know if I can do it but it is what I try to do for all the wines.

We ask him what type of architecture he used to do. 

My architecture was to restore old buildings, and also I started a group with the young people to do this skill.

Carlo has served as a mentor to many young people interested in architecture, and working in architecture, to help retain the skills of restoration in the extended community. 

Le Vigne di San Pietro Refola

He pours us his Chiaretto.

Of course Chiaretto is the most delicate wine, but we make it to have this mineral salty character. I think it is good to pair wine with food.

We begin tasting the Bardolino. 

With age, Corvina deepens in tone. It takes on treble notes, while keeping its light frame, and freshness.

He pours us the Refola. We ask him to discuss the wine. He decides to also pour us an early vintage, so we can better understand the wine, then he responds. 

It is special. When you dry the grapes, you need perfect grapes. We do not make it every year.

We begin tasting the wines with food. Carlo brings out a bottle of olive oil, and a bottle of vinegar for the salads. Then he explains that he made the vinegar. 

Some years ago, I made Pinot Noir. I don’t anymore. The last year, it was so good, I put all of it into vinegar. Good vinegar was better than bad vinegar was my idea.

The Pinot Noir vinegar is delicious. We all comment on it. 

We are enjoying the food, and spend time discussing where the ingredients are from, and how the food was made.

Wine writer, Paul Balke, comments, “In Italy, the most important cooking school is at home.” 

***

To read all five portraits of Bardolino:

1. Gianni Piccoli of Corte Gardonihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/23/portraits-of-bardolino-1-gianni-piccoli-corte-gardoni/

2. Matilde Poggi of Le Fraghehttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/27/portraits-of-bardolino-2-matilde-poggi-le-fraghe/

3. Carlo Nerozzi of Le Vigne di San Pietrohttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/04/30/portraits-of-bardolino-3-carlo-nerozzi-le-vigne-di-san-pietro/

4. Contessa Maria Cristina Rizzardi of Guerrieri Rizzardihttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/04/portraits-of-bardolino-4-contessa-maria-cristina-loredan-rizzardi-guerrieri-rizzardi/

5. Angelo Peretti, Director of the Bardolino DOC, and The Internet Gourmethttp://wakawakawinereviews.com/2015/05/07/portraits-of-bardolino-5-angelo-perreti-the-internet-gourmet/

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

1

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.