Tag Napa Valley

An Early Tasting of Matthiasson 2011 Vermouth

Matthiasson 2011 Napa Valley Vermouth

It isn’t everyday you get to sip a vineyard designate Vermouth. The Matthiassons are getting ready to release their first–a 2011 Flora based Vermouth from the Yount Mill Vineyard.

Flora stands as one of California’s unique varieties, designed in 1938 at a California based agricultural research facility as a cross between Semillon and Gewurtztraminer. The result gives a heady earth-spice to a lushly slick-bodied grape.

The Matthiassons chose Flora as the base for their dry Vermouth, generating the floral spice component on the nose followed by a savory (hinting at exotic) earth spice on the palate. The contrast between aroma and flavor on this Vermouth is part of its interest.

Matthiasson 2011 Vermouthclick on illustration to enlarge

The Matthiasson 2011 Napa Valley Yount Mill Vineyard Vermouth opens with a pretty nose of orchard fruit verging into erotic edges of floral spice and lift. The palate turns to show a savory spice and curved back of flavor with a medium long finish.

The Vermouth gives a rich caramel color in the glass generated from fermenting Flora on skins. This Matthiasson Vermouth is a celebration of Autumn as it rolls into cooler evenings. Enjoy it as a sipping drink on your own or even better with friends.


The Matthiassons are getting ready to release their 2011 Vermouth in the next few weeks. Keep an eye out for it on their website here: http://www.matthiasson.com/Purchase-Wine/Current-Offerings

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.

Forlorn Hope 2012 St Laurent: A preview

Tasting an early bottle of Forlorn Hope’s 2012 St Laurent

Forlorn Hope St Laurent 2012

click on comic to enlarge

Last September 2012, I was lucky enough to witness the harvest of 90 St Laurent vines from a vineyard in Carneros. Several years ago, Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines had convinced the vineyard owner to keep the few clusters intact to be made as one of Rorick’s unusual creatures. He has since managed to expand the collection to include a few more vines in the same location. I’m excited to see how the 2013 harvest goes as a result.

In the meantime, Rorick’s 2012 St Laurent is still in the aging process before release. However, he recently pulled a bottle and shared a preview with a few of us. I was able to take the bottle home and enjoy it over the two days following.

Forlorn Hope’s 2012 St Laurent (aka. Ost-Intrigen) begins all plush sheered-velvet across the palate, a textural pleasure bringing pert red fruit and flower-spice integrated with dried herbs and orange zest. The acidity pulses vibrancy ushering in a long finish. As the wine uncurls with air, the flavors deepen. The fruit stays primarily red with back beats of blackberry seed spice, accents of saffron and smoke, and a move from orange zest to mandarin. By the end, the wine takes on all the appeal of fresh picked cherries pitted and served in fresh baked pie. The crust is crisp. The fruit is tart but deepened from the baking. To make the pie, the cherry has been squeezed over with lemon juice first–the lemon itself does not show in the final flavor, but brightens the cherry in the final pie. The finish is long on this wine with a stimulating zing, full of igneous rock minerality.

To put it simply, 2012 turned out lovely plush fruit for Rorick’s rare creature. I’m excited to drink this wine again. I love pie. It’s my favorite.

Thank you to Matthew Rorick for sharing the early bottle of his St Laurent.

Forlorn Hope Wines: http://forlornhopewines.com

To see photos of the 2012 St Laurent harvest: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/09/17/harvesting-california-st-laurent-matthew-rorick-and-forlorn-hope-wine/

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

The 7 Percent Solution: Celebrating Rare Grapes & Quality Winemakers of California

The Seven Percent Solution: 17 Wineries, Crazy Grapes

Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg did a bang up job hosting a media and trade portion of the upcoming 7 Percent Solution wine tasting (Sarah even created a fantastic book listing wineries, wines, providing note space, and a clever business card holder). The public tasting occurs Saturday.

The event celebrates wines from 17 wineries in California developing their portfolios with lesser known, lesser planted varieties. As the story goes, approximately 93% of the vines in California rest in only 7 grape types. The 7% Solution brought together wines with a focus on the remaining few.

There wasn’t a bad wine poured, and there were a few excellent wines too. It’s hard to choose favorites in a group like that. Some wineries shared unreleased wines, others older vintages and first tries, and a fair number of unicorn wines appeared–wines of such small production they’re spoken of but seen only by the pure of heart that truly believe in their existence. I believe.

RPM’s 2012 Gamay was one of my genuine favorites. Grown in pink granite, there is a nerviness to this wine that accents its flavors beautifully. The RPM Gamay is all about subtle complexity pulsing through beautiful tension. It gives a richness that washes over the mouth with just a pinch of traction through the finish, and beautiful aromatics.

The 2012 Abrente Albarino from Bedrock and Michael Havens remains a favorite (I had enjoyed it too last weekend). Where previous vintages were perhaps softer in the mouth, the 2012 brings in 40% fruit grown in limestone to balance the rich flavors of the Stewart Vineyard with the tension and zing of the Watson. It’s a gorgeous, stimulating combination.

Ryme Cellars woos me with their 2010 Aglianico, a wine others commented may be their best vintage of that grape. The dark fruit comes through with a light bodied presentation and well integrated spice to offer complex freshness.

The Forlorn Hope 2011 “Que Saudade” Verdelho really sings with a fresh, feminine, musk I can’t get enough of–all outdoorsy, pert, and interested, with great viscosity and range of flavor.

The just released Dirty & Rowdy’s 2012 Semillon with focused earthiness and pleasing texture was being poured on Wednesday out of magnum. It’s a treat.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find the Stark 2011 Viognier, a wine that absolutely fights its fruit’s stereotypes to give great concentration and texture on the palate with a long nervy finish. Two Shepherds’ 2011s are drinking perfectly right now so drink while you can (I think they’re about sold out but he’s pouring them). broc cellars 2012 Picpoul still has that surprisingly fresh-complexity of the 2011 but with a richer flourish.

Scott Schultz is pouring his new whites for Jolie-Laide. They’re a nice pair of Gris wines giving fresh spice in the Pinot Gris, and textural focus in the Trousseau Gris. But you’ll have to keep an eye for an opening as he pours. (All the girls were deservedly loving his table.) The Idlewild 2012 Arneis was all seering, pretty, and textural with layers of flavor. They’re one of the labels that helped get the event started too, so be sure to thank them.

Best of all, the 7% Solution was just full to the brim with good, and super fun people.

Here are some photos from the event.

Ryan, Hardy, Pax

Ryan Glaab, Ryme Cellars; Hardy Wallace, Dirty & Rowdy; Pax Mahle, Wind Gap

Hardy, Chris, Nathan, Megan

Hardy Wallace, Dirty & Rowdy; Nathan Roberts, Arnot-Roberts and RPM; Megan Glaab, Ryme Cellars; Chris Cottrell, Bedrock Wine

Forlorn Hope, Dirty & Rowdy

Forlorn Hope Wines, Dirty and Rowdy Family Wines


William Allen, Two Shepherds

Pax, Mick, Nathan

Pax Mahle, Wind Gap; Mick Unti, Unti Wines; Nathan Roberts, Arnot Roberts, RPM

Broc Cellars

broc cellars Picpoul


Sam Bilbro, Idlewild Wines


Stark Viognier


Matthiasson Refosco (one of the unicorns)

Raj, RPM

Raj Parr, RPM

Raj and Duncan

Raj Parr and Duncan Arnot Meyers, RPM


Scott Schultz, Jolie-Laide


Thank you to Pax Mahle. Thank you to Dan Petroski.

Thank you to Kevin, Sarah, and Sam.

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

Semageddon 2013: the party

Attending Semillon University, Part 1

Presenting the egg

presenting the egg

Natural Selection Theory 2010 Quartz

Natural Selection Theory 2010 “Quartz” Hunter Valley Semillon

John, Renee, Kate, Hardy

John, Renee, Kate, Hardy listening to the egg

Stevie, Josiah

Stevie, Josiah viewing the egg

Okay, look, I’m totally joking about that “Attending Semillon University” bit. The truth is, most of us really do take wine THAT seriously, but this was just a super devoted Semillon party. Although at one point John, one of the hosts, did comment, “Dude. We’re making Ribolla jealous.”

We opened the occasion a touch early, before the big group arrived with a very special wine brought back from Australia. A small group of playful, and talented winemakers labeled the Natural Selection Theory (NST) made very small experimental lots of Hunter Valley Semillon in ceramic eggs. The story (which I’ve been slowly getting ready to write on in a few weeks, so I’ll leave many of the details for then) is full of brilliance, hilarity, and ultimately also sadness. Sam Hughes, one of the winemakers, died this recent December.

To be carrying one of NST’s ceramic eggs back then from Victoria, as a gift from David Fesq to be shared with friends here in California, was overwhelming. It’s hard to express how grateful I am.

Hardy Wallace, of Dirty & Rowdy Family Wines, knew of the NST project, and had considered NST’s Semillon a dream wine that he hoped, but didn’t quite expect to one day drink. Without knowing Wallace’s wish to drink the NST, when Fesq first gifted me the egg, I knew Hardy, and his wife Kate were the two people I would wait to open the wine with. We decided the party was the perfect occasion.

In recognition of Hughes’s work, in gratefulness for friendship, and in high regard for the true treasures of rarity that fill the world, a few of us opened Natural Selection Theory’s 2010 “Quartz” to open a Semillon party, that hosts Hardy Wallace, Matthew Rorick (of Forlorn Hope Wines), and John Trinidad (of Just-Plain-Awesome) all affectionately named “Semageddon 2013.” Dude, we even had t-shirts.

The wine in the egg turned out to be beautiful to drink, fascinating in its ever turning presentation, and rich in flavor with a truly juicy-vibrant finish. It could have aged for years more. It was one of my top favorites of the wines tasted. Coupling the loveliness of the wine itself, with the gratefulness of sharing the egg with such a group of friends… let me say, such moments are why I do everything I do. Thank you.

Jr. was kind enough to take pictures. The photos of the egg opening ceremony were taken by Jr. The rest were taken throughout the party by me. Following are notes too on a few of the stand out wines.

Photos from Semageddon 2013

Hardy and I with the egg

Hardy and I with the egg

Hardy and I

Having discovered that the Natural Selection Theory was one of Hardy’s dream wines, I asked if he would please do the honor of opening it for all of us.

Hardy and the egg

Hardy and the egg

Opening the egg

the egg holds the answer to a question.

Opening the egg

opening the egg

Joyfully pouring the egg

first pour

Cheers to friendship


the answer is sharing in friendship


A Few Wines from the Party

* Australia

Three vintage vertical of Brokenwood Semillon

Old Bridge Cellars sent along a three vintage vertical of Brokenwood’s Hunter Valley Semillon. The 2012 was a great example of how outrageously pert and nervy young Hunter Valley truly is. It was full of searingly focused lemon and white grapefruit with beach grass touches and a rich round mouthfeel. The 2008 hit decidedly between the two vintages, sliding closer to the 2012 in presentation than one would expect after tasting the earthiness of the 2007. The 2008 kept the citrus elements of the 2012 while dialing them in with a bit of a closed phase in comparison. The 2007 gave a nice insight into how rich, and earthy the Hunter Valley Semillon’s get with age, though the wine could have aged for years more. It complemented citrus elements with dried herbal aspects, richer on the palate than the nose. Pretty all around though. I recommend older vintages of Brokenwood.

Erin and Tyrrell 1997

Erin holding Tyrrell 1997

Sticking with the Hunter Valley, Tegan and Matthew brought some older vintages of Tyrrell’s Wines, one from 2007 and 1997. Both were great examples at the rich earthiness, dark dried beach grasses, and dried herbal aspects of aged Hunter Valley with still juicy juicy acidity. Both vintages were yummy, but the 1997 showed-up its brother giving a grounded richness that the 2007 seemed to be sleeping through before getting ready to show.

Amy and Renee with Torbreck 2010

Amy and Renee with the Torbreck 2010 Woodcutter’s Semillon

Staying with Australia, but moving over to Barossa Valley, Torbreck sent their 2010 Woodcutter’s Semillon. The Barossa’s style gives wines with a lighter focus, and more rounded acidity compared to the high-nervy youth of the Hunter. Torbreck’s Semillon ages beautifully into herbal notes on a delicate frame. The 2010 shows an almost rustic focus right now as though the wine is rooting down to prepare for sleep before a big journey. It’s a tasty wine with more traction and less scream than its Hunter Valley cousins.

* California

Josiah with Dirty and Rowdy

Josiah getting Dirty & Rowdy

Dirty & Rowdy debuted their newly bottled 2012 Semillon, showing what a blend of skin contact lots with a straight-to-press fermented in concrete lot can do. The result is a richly flavored, pleasurably textured focus on lightly salty beach grass, dried wild farmed herbs, and stone. The fruit is hiding right now, an indication, I believe, of even more to come from this wine. Where the 2011 D&R Semillon was feral and jive-talking, the 2012 carries sophistication and still hometown attitude. The jive talker has upgraded into a new suit and hat still coupled with b-boy shoes.

5 vintage vertical Forlorn Hope Nacre

One of the real treats of the party included a five vintage vertical of Forlorn Hope‘s “Nacre” Semillon. The 2006 and 2007 were shared from magnum, with 2008-2010 offered in 750s. The 2006 gave a pretty, citrus blossom with smoky and sandy beach grass presentation followed by a long shivering, super juicy finish. The 2010, on the far other end, came in with zippy jalapeno notes, nut paper, and lemon plus white grapefruit zestiness. This vintage is not yet released and drinks like its pinching itself to wake up and get ready–not quite there yet but full of rich dreaming to share in the near future. In the middle, the 2008 was my favorite of the five vintages giving a lovely balance of earthy, grassy, herbalness, with refreshing citrus juiciness and dance. Yum.

Bedrock 2009 Late Harvest Semillon

In the dessert wine category, Bedrock‘s 2009 Late Harvest Semillon from the gorgeous Monte Rosso site picks fruit from late 1800s vines, planted at high elevation. The wine has great richness and concentration with a sneaking core of vibrant juiciness that washes the palate again and again. Lovely.

A Few More Photos

With so many wines to taste eventually the notes stopping being taken, and the moments were captured simply with pictures of standouts. Here are a few.


not yet released Weichi 2012 California (this wine is good-keep an eye out for it-it’s got a great round, lightly weighted mouthfeel with light beach grass, beeswax with hints of honey, touches of gooseberry and citrus)

John and Matthiasson Semillon

John with Matthiasson‘s 2011 Semillon from Napa (this is an ultra small production wine that is refreshing, delicate, pretty, and clean. It’s a lovely combination of citrus, and tomato leaf that I really enjoy but also wouldn’t have blinded as Semillon.)

Moose Pie and Corn

moose pie and corn


in love with wine

eventually we all fell into Burgundy


Hardy reaches to touch the Burgundy


(I love how Matthew gets progressively more excited as Hardy gets ever closer)

Some of the party

only some of the bottles


Thank you to Matthew Rorick, Hardy Wallace, and John Trinidad.

Check out this great write up on Semageddon 2013 by Tom Wark over on his blog, Fermentation: http://fermentationwineblog.com/2013/05/napa-come-for-the-wine-stay-for-the-people/

A few thoughts from Mister Hardy Wallace himself on it: http://dirtyandrowdy.tumblr.com/post/49784399237/the-day-after-semegeddon

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

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa

The Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla Vineyard

Steve Matthiasson

Steve Matthiasson standing in the Vare Vineyard, harvest day 2012

In early 2002, Steve Matthiasson began doing vineyard consulting in Napa Valley with Premier Viticulture Services, connecting, as a result, almost immediately with George Vare, as well as Vare’s home vineyard of Ribolla Gialla and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2.5 acres of Ribolla promised new insights for Matthiasson into the care of whites, as the grape’s vine needs differ from those of other varieties.

Vare had connected already with winegrower’s through Friuli and Slovenia that worked with Ribolla, having brought his suitcase clone from Italy at the start of the new century. Sharing their advice with Matthiasson, Vare and Matthiasson explored the European guidance, and some trial and error on what the grape needed in the vineyard. In the mid-2000s, the pair, along with winemaker Abe Schoener, and Vare’s wife, Elsa, traveled to Friuli, and met too with winemakers in Slovenia.

It was Alek Simcic, Matthiasson explains, that brought he and Vare out into the vines to show them directly how to thin the grape. Ribolla Gialla offers a unique blend of fussy in its early season vine care, but hearty there after. Unlike other varieties, the leaves of Ribolla must be pulled to expose the newly formed clusters to sunlight immediately. As Matthiasson explains, if leaf pull is done early, the clusters form their true yellow color without sunburn. Without sun exposure, the clusters can burn later, or stay green, never adequately ripening and never reaching their enjoyable flavor. The vine also regularly shows extra clusters, with two or three smaller ones on top that never fully ripen, and thus should be removed early to allow the larger, true-ripening formations to grow properly.

Ribolla Gialla's unusual cluster formation

Matthiasson showing me the unusual cluster formation of Ribolla Gialla. The two lower formations, near his hands at the base of the photo are properly ripening clusters. The two upper ones are dummies that detract from fruit quality, and never fully ripen.

With Vare’s support, and small winery space, Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson began their own Matthiasson label, starting their wine business with only 120 cases in 2003. The Matthiasson’s red blend has relied on a truly classic approach to a Bordeaux blend, using the same vineyard too from its inception. Vare also encouraged Matthiasson to use the Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla. The suggestion led to the Matthiasson’s establishing their white blend, based always in a combination of four grapes–Sauvignon, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Friulano–brought together in an utterly clean, straight-to-press style for the sake of freshness.

With the label’s foundation in such an uncommon grape as Ribolla Gialla, Matthiasson realized he needed to secure his label’s future by planting more. With Vare’s permission, then, Matthiasson took cuttings from Vare Vineyard and established about an acre of Ribolla Gialla on the family’s then newly purchased home property. The Matthiasson’s had just moved onto the land in 2007, and the first thing they did was establish the new Ribolla vines. The intention for the Matthiasson Ribolla plantings includes becoming the backbone of the Matthiasson white blend should the label ever need a new source for Ribolla Gialla.

Looking over the Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla

looking over the Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla

The Ribolla at Matthiasson Vineyard was grafted onto roots originally planted in 1997, allowing harvest to be taken as quickly as 2008. With the Vare Vineyard secured for the Matthiasson white blend at the time, Steve chose to keep his own home vineyard fruit for another purpose. That year, Matthiasson made his first single varietal Ribolla Gialla from the Matthiasson fruit. His method was to simply pick, and ferment the wine directly in the vineyard using whole clusters, then pressed at about dryness and aged in barrel in the family barn at vineyard side. The 2008 through 2011 vintages of Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla varietal were each made this way, though the family did not keep the results of the 2009 vintage.

In 2012, however, Matthiasson decided to change his approach. There he chose instead to ferment and age the fruit in winery, striving to make a truly non-reductive, non-oxidative wine of white grapes in a red wine style. For ’12, then, he fermented whole clusters in tank, then pressing it at dryness to age in continuously topped-up barrels. In Matthiasson’s view, the new approach allows for a better focus on site and variety, which he wants. The 2012 will age for at least 20 months in barrel.

Looking over the Matthiasson garden, towards the family barn

looking across the Matthiasson garden, towards the barn

Comparison of the Vare to the Matthiasson fruit depends on examining both the flavoral differences, and the site contrasts. Where the Vare fruit consistently offers baking spice notes (it shows up regularly to me as fermented yellow raisins), the Matthiasson site instead gives a saline expression of celery–Ribolla’s version of herbalness. There is also a more intense concentration of flavors in Vare fruit compared to a more high tone element in the Matthiasson’s,

Differences in concentration are due partially to vineyard planting. Where Vare utilized a traditional Guyot style, 1 cane per vine approach, Matthiasson’s site relies on a Lyre arrangement. To put it simply, one vine at Matthiasson’s Vineyard is doing 4 times the work a vine at Vare’s has to do.

Steve and Koda examining the Ribolla at Matthiasson Vineyard

Steve and Koda examining the Ribolla vines at Matthiasson Vineyard

Site specifics also differ in soil and temperature. Vare Vineyard rests at the base of Mt Veeder, pooling with cool air and fog at night, while heating more during the day. Matthiasson’s, on the other hand, sits in more open valley floor, thus staying a touch cooler in day time, a touch warmer at night. Where Vare soils are truly rocky and volcanic challenging the vines through ample drainage, Matthiasson’s are a mixed loam.

Finally, Matthiasson explains he also manages the Vare Vineyard site differently than he does his own. The reason is simply because of Vare’s own style preferences. At the Vare site the fruit is more thoroughly thinned, a practice Matthiasson tends more to avoid at home.

Tasting the Matthiasson 2010 Ribolla at Friuli Fest 2012

tasting the Matthiasson Ribolla at Friuli Fest 2012

The current release of the Matthiasson Vineyard Ribolla is the 2010. It comes in at outrageously low alcohol of 10.9% with a bit of pleasing funk on the nose alongside fresh greenery and citrus salt. The palate is dance-y showing ground almond cake, with yeast bread elements and a bit of tang on the finish. The wine has viscosity but smooth slippery, ultra light tannin, and a long glow-bright finish.


George and Elsa had long intended to sell their Napa home and vineyard property. Though Matthiasson currently manages the care of the Vare vineyard, there is no lease agreement. As a result, when Elsa succeeds at selling their home, the new owners will determine the future of the Vare Vineyard fruit.


Thank you to Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson.

Pets to Koda.

Thank you to George and Elsa Vare. Blessings to the Vare family.


For previous posts in this series:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-1-meeting-george-vare/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-2-a-life-in-wine-george-vare-friuli-and-slovenia/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-3-friuli-fest-2012-ribolla-gialla-tasting-and-discussion/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/09/14/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-4-harvest-of-the-george-vare-vineyard-with-steve-matthiasson/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/09/29/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-5-russian-river-valley-ribolla-gialla/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant: Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant

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

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting, Arlequin Wine Merchant

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 6: The Vare Vineyard Tasting

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla vineyard, July 2012

George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla Vineyard, July 2012

This post is part of an ongoing series titled “Attending Ribolla Gialla University” that I began last summer as a tracing of the grape in California. The title was originally, to be honest, a sort of joke–there is no such thing as R.G. Uni, I made it up–while simultaneously meant to take seriously the work started here in California by George Vare. He studied the potentials of the grape through on going conversations with winemakers in Slovenia and Friuli, tastings of their wines, and then experimentation with picking times, and winemaking techniques on his own fruit. The name is also a reflection of my own following Ribolla Gialla around, having fallen in love with it (and at least one of its winemakers) in Friuli, later also finding myself within it’s few acres in California.

George Vare examining his Ribolla clusters, July 2012

George Vare examining his Ribolla Gialla clusters, July 2012

I was lucky enough to spend time talking with George about how he fell in love with the grape, as well as what he hoped for it, and to taste multiple examples and vintages of the wine under his own label, Vare. I don’t want to overstate my connection to George, he is someone I was lucky enough to meet and spend time with several times, as well as to email with on occasion. I can only say that, even with this small connection, George was someone that meant a lot to me. His generosity of spirit, and his encouragement to follow one’s own enthusiasm are irreplaceable. Somehow in the midst of everything, George was an ongoing source of encouragement for me. I say this because I know he played such a role for very many people. It is truly a gift.

George Vare and Steve Matthiasson discussing the Vare Vineyard

George Vare and Steve Matthiasson discussing Vare Vineyard fruit, July 2012

The following post is a write-up of a recent tasting held at Arlequin Wine Merchants focused on the wines made from Ribolla Gialla of the Vare Vineyard. Besides a recent barrel sample brought by Forlorn Hope of his 2012 version, the wines I had tasted and enjoyed before. In gratefulness for George’s sense of community, and in recognition of the work these winemakers were able to do, I am happy to have attended. It is a gift to be with friends. Thank you to Arlequin for hosting.

Following are notes on each of the Vare Vineyard wines from the tasting (other wines were also poured. Those notes are not included here). One of the things I understood about George’s love for Ribolla was the range of possible styles it had to offer, its unique history, and its place as a bit of an underdog. With that in mind I have chosen to write up the wines of the Arlequin tasting within a frame considering the grape’s history and various styles. The tasting notes are shown in drawing, with any additional information about vinification in italics following. Each of the vinification comments is also summarized with a comment on when each particular style is most appropriate, or for what sort of palate.

The diversity of styles represented below is something George celebrated about the work done with his vineyard–the wines give example to the great range possible with this noble grape as well as expression of what’s possible with thirsty curiosity.


The Arlequin Tasting of Vare Vineyard

Arnot-Roberts 2010 and 2011 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Arnot-Roberts Ribolla Gialla: Nathan and Duncan have chosen to play with their approach to vinification of RIbolla each year, while maintaining earlier picking times, and thus also up acidity. In the 2010 vintage the wine was made going immediately to press, thus offering a linear ultra clean version of the fruit. The 2011, on the other hand, was kept intentionally on skins, after foot treading, for six hours, gaining a bit of the textural richness, and some slightly medicinal elements typical of the grape with skin contact. Both 2010 and 2011 were fermented in steel, and aged in neutral oak. In 2012 (not tasted at Arlequin), the pair have also chosen to age the Ribolla in tinajas, Spanish clay vessel (aka. anfora, in the Italian). If your interest is in a juicy, linear expression of Ribolla Gialla, both the 2010 and 2011 Arnot-Roberts offers that wine.

Arlequin Wine Merchants hosted a tasting of the wines made from fruit of Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla this last week, with six producers present, all in honor of George Vare himself, who died a little over a week ago.

A fellow attendee asked me which wine I thought had “the greatest varietal typicity of the tasting.” It’s a common view to take–that there must be some core of type to any particular grape, and, as such, one of the questions we can or should ask is which wine comes closest to that standard of measure. I believe in the case of Vare Ribolla Gialla, however, such a view is misleading. To put it simply, making a claim of a grape’s typicity based on wines made from only 2.5 acres in an area on the other side of the planet from the grape’s primary region seems out of place. But further, even in its homeland Ribolla Gialla has never been a grape with only one style.

One of the beautiful aspects of the wines made from Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla is that they represent a true expression of range for the grape, moving from ultra clear, vibrantly acidic examples on the one hand, all the way through to darkly colored, textural tannin-focused versions on the other, with a full arc of picking variation, and oak influence in between. This fan of expression–Arbe Garbe, and Vare himself previously as well–celebrates the variety’s true typicity–the ability to offer a wide band of possible structural expressions.

Considering History

Grassi 2011 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Grassi 2011 Ribolla Gialla: to keep the lightness of a white wine while gaining some of the aromatic and textural advantages of Ribolla Gialla, the Grassi is whole cluster pressed, then the juice is poured back over the skins. George Vare said that in blind trials he and Grassi winemaker, Robbie Meyer, agreed that such a practice gave a similar effect as leaving the juice to soak on skins for 48 hours before pressing. The juice is then put into neutral barrels for aging. Mark Grassi explained that they choose to pick when the fruit has reached a full yellow color, giving a richer weight and presentation of flavors in the final wine, without heaviness. Grassi’s 2011 offers richer flavor with a deft touch. This is the wine when you want a full palate presentation without heaviness.

Ribolla Gialla grows almost exclusively along the borderland of Friuli and Slovenia, with only very small plantings found outside this zone. Though its origins reach back to Greece, documentation of the grape in Friuli begins as early as the 13th century with it quickly found almost exclusively in Fruili-Slovenia’s intersection zone. History shows it as the definitive white of Friuli for centuries, with royal decree demanding payment through Ribolla during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and laws established prohibiting the blending of Ribolla with wines from outside the region in the 15th century. The grape, then, has a long narrative of respect and adoration. With the timing of phylloxera, however, many growers chose to ignore Indigenous varieties in their replantings, turning instead to established International red grapes with the hope of economic boon. The noble grape of Friuli, then, suffered a massive decrease in attention, and acreage in the last hundred plus years.

The historical reality of white grapes through Northeast Italy, and the Balkans is rooted in a technique now thought of as fringe–skin contact fermentations. Technology until the last several decades simply did not allow for the cleaner straight-to-press style seen as typical for white wines today. Part of what this means, then, is that the Ribolla wine celebrated in historical texts would often be closer to the murky, textural style of what we now call orange wines, than it would be to the beautifully clear straight-to-press examples also made with the grape.

Considering Recent Origins

Forlorn Hope Sihaya, 2011 and 2012

click on comic to enlarge; notes on Forlorn Hope’s Sihaya Ribolla Gialla: Forlorn Hope’s Sihaya offers a balance of heightened aromatics and texture generated by skin contact, coupled with a lighter body achieved through shorter maceration duration (14 days). While the 2011 was filtered, giving a lighter, cleaner presentation compared to the 2012, both offer a pleasing touch of funk that comes alongside the nuttier aspects of the wine smoothly. The 2011 vintage is also a more focused linear year compared to the breadth of 2012. The tannin on both wines is still young and textural, and will continue smoothing out in bottle. Forlorn Hopes Sihaya brings prettiness and dance-y feet to the orange wine style, a choice for an introduction to skin contact wines, or when you simply want a lighter version.

In Friuli and Slovenia today, a current of interest in Indigenous varieties helps ground a wine industry still also focused on International grapes. The quality of land through the area, with its unique soil type, known there as ponca, along with the high acidity driving climate, gives even non-native grapes a form of expression unusual for their type.

In a recent interview with Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey he explained his view of the terroir of the region. As he describes it, whether macerated ferments, or straight to press wines, “The wines of Friuli have their own vibe.” As he puts it, they have an edge to them that differs from wines in other parts of Italy. “You can taste the ponca. It has a little more bitterness, a little more edge to it.” The wines of Alto Adige, as a counter example, also give the linear focus of the region’s cooler climate, but do not show the slightly bitter-saline bite of the calcareous marl characteristic to Friuli. Stuckey also emphasizes Friuli’s climate, however, pointing out that thanks to the cool nights their wines can marry both ripeness of flavors, and still high acidity.

One of the unique gifts of Ribolla Gialla is what Talia Baiocchi describes as its ability “to transport the minerality of its ground.” The grape acts as a direct conduit between the flavors of the soil in which it’s grown and your palate, as though all the mineral ions of the earth are pouring over your tongue in the wine (whether that is ever literally true or not, as is so oft argued over these days).

In Friuli, then, Ribolla carries the edge Stuckey refers to, ushering in the seabed salinity and freshness of sedimentary rock. At Vare Vineyard, however, the plants rest at the base of Mt Veeder, in a cool zone of Napa Valley, giving vines root within gravelly loam full of volcanic soils. Where the fruit at harvest in Friuli tastes briny and bright off the vine, at Vare it gives a fresh slurry of wet rocks followed by hot wet concrete and steel. Aspects of these flavors follow from fruit through fermentation.

The Choice of Harvest Differences

Ryme 2010 Ribolla Gialla

click on comic to enlarge; notes on the Ryme 2010 Ribolla Gialla: Ryme offers a full quality example of Ribolla Gialla from a macerated ferment, leaving the fruit on skins a full month, thus extending skin contact beyond fermentation. Such a practice demands giving the wine time for the tannin to resolve. Ribolla is a highly tannic white, but is also known to offer smooth polished tannin when given time to barrel and bottle age. The 2010 Ryme wine has arrived at these polished tannin and well integrated flavors. It also shows the positive aspect of a medicinal note that Ribolla carries from skin contact, with it integrated into the overall presentation as a refreshing light spearmint lift. The tannin, acid balance here is also well struck, making this a wine to pair with food (I want brown rice and salmon here). For the full orange wine presentation, Ryme is the wine.

Winemakers of Vare Ribolla also represent a wide span of picking decisions, with two weeks to a month separating harvest dates between the earliest and latest of picks depending on vintage.

Vare preferred to judge his pick based on the grape color, as in his view the grape’s best arrived when the fruit was a full round yellow (as reflected by its name “Gialla” meaning “yellow”). Mark Grassi, of Grassi wine chooses his picking times in a way that resembles George’s practice. George claimed to have learned this from his friends in Italy and Slovenia. Stuckey too explains that Stanko Radikon, a friend of Vare’s and someone he relied on for insights into the grape, also gives the fruit longer hang time, allowing it to fully ripen before picking. In Stuckey’s view, the longer hang time is partially possible thanks to the cooler nights of the region (which keep acidity up even with sugar gains), and are also more desirable for the macerated ferments Radikon is now known for. The location of Vare Vineyard rests in a cooler zone of Napa Valley, supporting the fruit with cooler nights as well. To play with the advantages of the developed skin, Vare explained that once harvested he preferred at least 48 hours of skin contact on his Ribolla, even as he also played with making the grape in a wealth of other styles.

Dan Petroski, winemaker of Massican, on the other hand, selects his picking time for Ribolla based on aromatics, wanting to find a balance point on the earlier side of the ripeness window when aromatics are perfumed and lifted and acidity is higher, while still reaching physiological readiness for harvest. Along with Petroski, Steve Matthaisson, manager of the Vare Vineyard, and winemaker of Matthiasson Wines, as well as Nathan Roberts, and Duncan Arnot Meyers of Arnot-Roberts, have traditionally picked earliest of the winemakers drawing from Vare Ribolla. The result in their wines is a focus on acidity drive that brings freshness and verve to a wine.

The Election of Vinification

Massican Annia 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge; notes from the Massican Annia white blend: Inspired by the textural, aromatic white blends of Friuli and Campania, Massican plays with the ideal blend of Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, and Chardonnay from each vintage. The 2012 brings 46% Ribolla Gialla with fruit from both the Vare Vineyard, and the Bowland Vineyard. Bowland Vineyard is a younger, virus free planting of Ribolla that gives ultra clean juice, and a lighter wash of flavors. The 2011 Annia relies on only Vare Ribolla, though a smaller portion, also showing a bit more texture when compared to the 2012. 2012 is also simply a rounder palate vintage than 2011, giving more open flavors, and a slightly softer structure in general. The Massican Annia is the wine to choose for textural focus, and perfumed aromatics, with refreshing acidity.

Ribolla Gialla is known as one of the most tannic of white grape varieties, offering unique opportunities for shifts in mouthfeel, and food pairing as a result. By playing with skin contact techniques, the tannin influence shifts in the wine. Robbie Meyer, winemaker of Grassi, and George both utilized a technique of pressing the fruit, then pouring the juice back through the skins to draw more tannin into the wine without having to let it sit directly on skins. Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines brings up the tannin elements of the grape by giving it some extended skin contact time–two weeks in both 2011 and 2012 (about the duration of his Sihaya’s (the name of his Ribolla bottling) fermentation). Megan and Ryan Glaab, of Ryme Cellars, on the other hand commit to not only macerated fermentation, but also extended maceration keeping their Ribolla on skins for a month followed by two years in barrel to allow the tannins to resolve.

Other attentions brought to the grape through vessel selection show through previous and not yet released vintages, not presented at the Arlequin tasting. In the two harvests that Enrico Bertoz of Arbe Garbe worked with Vare Ribolla (2009 and 2010), he brought some small oak influence, a practice known in Friuli and that those wines plus Bertoz’s has shown the fruit can readily carry by offering greater breadth of body and some spiced flavor. Incorporating an entirely new direction for California, Arnot-Roberts vinified their Ribolla Gialla in tinjas, a Spanish clay vessel for the 2012 vintage, not yet released.

George had tasted me too on a macerated ferment project of his in which he’d left the Ribolla for an entire year on skins, a design he’d taken from some early experiments by Josko Gravner the winemaker showed George during a visit in Italy. On George’s version, the tannin when we tasted it was both wonderfully present and utterly smooth–giving the wine a polished textural weight. He also played with a less discussed approach of making sparkling wine with the grape. In Friuli, it is more common to blend Ribolla with Chardonnay, while in Slovenia winemakers do a straight Ribolla sparkling, so George bottled it both ways.

Ribolla Gialla is more commonly seen as a blending grape through its home region. It gives a sense of body to a wine without overly impacting the blend’s flavor. Such examples from Friuli celebrate white wine with a sense of freshness and lift. From Vare fruit both Massican and Matthaisson offer the fresh white blend expression. In 2011, Petroski offered his white blend with 33% Vare Ribolla, shifting in 2012 to a higher portion of Ribolla also including juice from the newer Ribolla planting at Chris Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard in Russian River Valley.

Re-Considering Typicity

Matthiasson White Blend, 2010 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge; notes on the Matthiasson white blend: Inspired by the fresh juiciness of white blends from Friuli, Matthiasson focuses on making clean, light, almost delicate ferments consistently bringing together Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Friulano for the white blend. Both vintages offer light aromatics, pleasing lightly-viscous palate presence, with juicy flavors, and a long finish. The 2010 shows lightly deepened character with a slightly more open presentation to the 2011, which also gives a very light tang in the finish. Matthiasson white blend is the wine to choose for freshness and refreshing-ness.

What is common through the wines of Vare Ribolla is a kind of flavoral family resemblence, and liveliness. They each show themselves as RIbolla Gialla but the range of styles present expresses what I believe to be the grape’s true type–it is not a vine that reduces to one single best expression, but instead gives itself in generosity to the curiosity of the winemaker.


George Vare in his Ribolla Gialla Vineyard

With thanks, most especially, to George.

Thank you to Steve Matthiasson, Matthew Rorick, Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts, Mark Grassi, Robbie Meyers, Dan Petroski, Ryan and Megan Glaab.

Thank you to the good folks of Arlequin Wine Merchants.


For previous posts in this series:

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 1: Meeting George Vare: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-1-meeting-george-vare/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 2: (A Life in Wine) George Vare, Friuli and Slovenia: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-2-a-life-in-wine-george-vare-friuli-and-slovenia/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 3: Friuli Fest 2012, Ribolla Gialla Tasting and Discussion: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/07/19/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-3-friuli-fest-2012-ribolla-gialla-tasting-and-discussion/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 4: Harvest of the George Vare Vineyard with Steve Matthiasson: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/09/14/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-4-harvest-of-the-george-vare-vineyard-with-steve-matthiasson/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 5: Russian River Valley Ribolla Gialla, The Bowland’s Tanya Vineyard: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/09/29/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-5-russian-river-valley-ribolla-gialla/

Attending Ribolla Gialla University, Part 7: The Matthiasson Vineyard, Napa: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/05/01/attending-ribolla-gialla-university-part-7-the-matthiasson-vineyard-napa/

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

An Early Tasting of Massican 2012 portfolio (alongside 2011)

Tasting the Massican Portfolio — 2012 and 2011

Yesterday we were lucky enough to taste the newly bottled Massican 2012 portfolio.

Dan Petroski’s Massican is characterized by texture and subtlety with a perfumed lift. His signature gives a consistent frame through which to taste distinctive variety and vintage character.

2012 as a vintage for Napa and Sonoma offers a vibrancy of flavor, with a softer structural profile than previous years (not just compared to the last two cold ones). In many cases, the flavors are far broader across the palate, while the acidity is softer.

This vintage effect shows on the Massican ’12s bringing a slightly rounder character to Petroski’s wines compared to the 2011′s linear drive. His distinctive texture, and chalky notes, however, still show throughout.

The 2012s were tasted yesterday afternoon at the winery, then again in the evening, and this morning. (Again, this is a very early tasting on the 2012 Massican portfolio, so there will be some evolution in bottle prior to release.) The 2011s were tasted at the winery, and have been enjoyed multiple times since release last year.

Here are drawings that offer side by side vintage comparisons.

Massican Gemina (100% Chardonnay)

Massican Gemina 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

The acidity is still vibrant throughout the 2012 portfolio, but where acid lines screamed through the ’11 Chardonnay, they merely drive on the ’12 (that is, they’re still strong, just rounder).

The 2012 Chardonnay opens up beautifully with air. It has similar flavoral elements to the 2011 with a more accentuated yum factor. It’s a wine I want to sit down with and just enjoy (in fact, I will later tonight. Praise the Lord).

Massican Sauvignon (100% Sauvignon Blanc)

Massican Sauvignon 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

Where the flavors are lean and vibrant on the 2011 Sauvignon, they’re pregnant and pulsing on the ’12. The biggest flavoral surprise, I believe, occurs here with the Sauvignon, as the presentation comes in broad across the palate in a way none of the ’11s did. Still, there is a lift to the flavors that means while they fill they mouth, they also have movement going through.

The flavoral finish is also softest here, but the acidity keeps the mouth watering for a long long time after. This wine will continue to evolve significantly in bottle, I believe. The 2012 Sauvignon will be a change for many, but it will not weigh down the palate.

Massican Annia White Blend

Massican Annia 2012 and 2011

click on comic to enlarge

The 2012 vintage brought a shift in production levels on Petroski’s Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano leading to a difference in proportion on the Massican Annia, his white blend.

Where the 2011 carried a Friulano base, the 2012 relies more on Ribolla. Character-elements remain consistent between the wines but with a change in emphasis from one year to the next. The 2011 offers a lifted citrus blossom carriage with base notes of almond flower. In 2012 the presentation flips, bringing more of that bitter almond gravitas–but the more time spent with this wine, the more it lifts its profile with the floral elements showing more of Petroski’s signature perfume. Give this wine time to open up.

These are all excellent food wines.

Thank you to Dan Petroski for taking time, and for opening his wines for us.

Thank you to Carla Rzewszewski.

To read more about the Massican story, check out Talia Baiocchi’s article in Eater: http://eater.com/archives/2012/06/14/california-wines-pendulum-swing-isnt-just-about-style-alcohol-levels.php

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

A Life in Wine: Stephen Lagier and Carole Meredith of Lagier-Meredith Wines

Visiting Lagier-Meredith: Driving to the top of Mt. Veeder

Carole and Stephen

Carole Meredith and Stephen Lagier at their home on top of Mt Veeder

It’s mid-December on a clouded day, the first of several visits to Lagier-Meredith Vineyards over a couple of months. At the top of Mt Veeder, the fog has shielded our view from the other side of the valley. We can still make out the general direction towards the house in which Robert Mondavi once lived, and the nearby (rather flat) peak of Mt Veeder itself, but the Bay, and mountains in every direction hide behind the cold weather. I’ve driven to the house of Stephen Lagier and Carole Meredith after getting the guts to write and ask for an interview a couple weeks before.

The story of Lagier-Meredith fascinates me for multiple reasons. The pair were among the very first to plant Syrah in Napa Valley at a time it was even more defined by Cabernet Sauvignon. When they purchased the land that would become their home and vineyard, Mt Veeder was not yet an appellation (the area still today not burgeoning with development as the creased and rolling tree covered mountain AVA makes too much growth difficult). Before realizing they had fruit good enough to sell wine from they were a two career couple.

Stephen Lagier made wine for Robert Mondavi, after first managing the company’s lab. But prior to that he’d also helped perform research at UC Davis on the chemical effects of vineyard practices before significant knowledge was to be had on the subject. Carole Meredith’s career at the same university focused on the genetic relationships between grape types, leading to the landmark discovery that Cabernet Sauvignon was the off-spring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, information now almost taken for granted.

Talking with Lagier and Meredith

Lagier-Meredith art

art display outside the entrance to Lagier’s and Meredith’s home–Stephen made the frogs, Carole the telephone

Talking with the twosome proves both entertaining and insightful. The couple enjoy not only bragging about each other’s successes, but sharing in the fun of how they met.

In Fall 1980, both began work at UC Davis in the Viticulture and Oenology department. Lagier had done his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and recognized most graduate students spent their study years broke, often also going into debt. Unwilling to follow suit, he started his Master’s degree in Winemaking (before the program shifted to a single Viticulture and Oenology Master’s degree) with a full-time job. Over five years, Lagier ran the research program for a professor doing chemical analysis of the effects of training vines on grape composition. At the same time, Lagier purchased his own home, then rented rooms out to other students to help with expenses.

The same Fall brought Meredith to the University as a Professor. She’d applied her PhD in Genetics in the private sector, until realizing she didn’t like having a daily boss. At the time Davis accepted Meredith’s application, she was actually a finalist in two different positions in plant genetics–lettuce and grapes. There had also been a third position in beans Meredith didn’t get. The time period marked the start of retirement for men that had returned from World War II, completed advanced science training, and then effectively reshaped American education. Meredith was hired as the start of a new generation of educators. With multiple plants up for research, the hiring committees negotiated to decide who would get which candidate, thus securing Meredith’s future in genetic research history.

Her beginning with the parentage of Cabernet was rooted in first developing the technology and toolkit to do so. She fostered the work of brilliant research students that helped solve how to apply insights from the use of DNA markers in human genetics to grape vines. But she also helped establish a multi-national genetics cooperative through which researchers from all over the world pooled their findings on those same DNA markers in grape vines. Doing so allowed an explosion in both identifying individual grapes genetic identity, and then afterwards the relationships between grape types.

Discussion of their UC Davis years quickly leads to the two of them smiling, telling me about how they met. Meredith was often working weekends to get ahead on some of the lab projects she had operating, and Lagier would be in his office having negotiated to switch his work day schedule so he could downhill ski during the week. Those days the mountain was quieter. He’d often come in showing signs of sun from the slopes, which gave the pair reason to talk. As Meredith explained, she wanted to have fun and go skiing too. So, Lagier invited her to join a group that often went downhilling together. Then, one outing, it turned out the two of them were the only ones able to go. “We had to spend the whole day together,” Meredith laughs. “I wanted to have fun, and Stephen is fun.”

Lagier smiles. “I crack Carole up everyday. I feel like it’s my job.”

Lagier-Meredith's young Mondeuse Vineyards

looking into the young Mondeuse vineyard at Lagier-Meredith

Lagier’s support of Meredith isn’t limited to his good humor, however. Meredith and I take at least an hour to talk through the work she accomplished in genetic relationships–how she helped find the parentage of Syrah (sire: Dureza, mother: Mondeuse Blanc; thus leading to Lagier-Meredith planting Mondeuse Noir, “Syrah’s crazy uncle,” as the couple call it), how she helped successfully find the original vine and homeland of America’s pride, Zinfandel (it’s the Croatian variety Crljenak Kaštelanski). But when Lagier comes back inside from clearing a tree that’s collapsed from a winter storm, he brings up an accomplishment Meredith hasn’t discussed yet. “Did she tell you about her paper in SCIENCE?”

“We were talking about ZInfandel.” Meredith responds. The Zinfandel discovery was significant for how it brought together people in the United States, in Italy (Primitivo is also of the same original grape vine), with researchers in Crotia. But also because the discovery that Zinfandel comes from the motherland of Croatia actually helped improve tourism to the region, showing that wines and their history from there could deserve respect for higher quality than previously expected internationally. The Zinfandel discovery also stands as significant, however, because it was Meredith’s final large project before retiring to focus on the Lagier-Meredith wine label.

The grape Zinfandel had long been suspected of having International origins. It’s a plant with visible characteristics unlike those native to North America, so it must have been brought in from elsewhere. But at the same time it’s wine history so shaped California it had become the adopted champion of a country’s pride. After completing the research that led to Zinfandel’s proper naming, Meredith had also reached the early cutoff for potential retirement. Ready to shift to their wine label, she stopped her commute from Mt Veeder to Davis, making Crjenak Kaštelanski her genetic’s career swan song, effectively leaving at the top of her genetics game.

Lagier agrees the Zinfandel discovery was significant, but it’s the paper in SCIENCE he wants to make sure I know before we finish our first interview. Meredith’s work on grape relationships led to the discovery that Pinot Noir and Goulaise Blanc together parent at least 16 grape varieties, including Chardonnay, Aligote, Gamay, and Melon. The conclusion was celebrated not only because of its scientific importance, but also because with such popular varieties considered, the discovery becomes relevant beyond the walls of science to other disciplines as well. Lagier looks at me directly and explains, “It was one of the proudest moments for me that my wife got a paper in that magazine. It’s like the Grand Slam of science. It brought tears to my eyes.” Doing a little bit of research, it appears Meredith is the only professor in the history of Davis’s Viticulture & Oenology program to have gotten a paper in the prestigious magazine.

The Beginning of a Wine Label

They make wine and olives

By Meredith’s retirement, Lagier was already working full-time on their label, having retired from Mondavi in 1999. His time at the company was significant, as he managed the Mondavi winery lab, established their first program to track and determine projected fruit availability from the vineyards, and then served as one of the Mondavi Coastal brand winemakers.

Though Lagier and Meredith had intended all along to plant vines on their hilltop, it took years before they realized they could turn that fruit into a bonded winery. Upon purchasing the property, it had to be thoroughly cleaned and cleared to rid the soils of Oak root fungus that would impact Vitis Vinifera. Once the seven years to accomplish that were up, the twosome placed their first vines in 1994. The year before, one of Meredith’s students, Jean-Louis Chave, the 15th, of Hermitage fame, had agreed the property would be perfect for planting Syrah as “Syrah loves a view.”

The grape was unheard of in Napa Valley at the time, with the pinnacles of the industry almost completely focused on the success of Cabernet Sauvignon. But the pair love Rhone wine and decided to plant what suited the slope and cooler climate of the site, as well as their palate interest. 1996 was their first press. By 1998 friends were commenting enthusiastically on the quality of wine, and the couple realized it was good enough they could consider selling it publicly. In 2000 they released it, inciting quick response that would herald them as one of the first labels in the region to showcase a marriage of French Aesthetic with California fruit.

I ask Lagier about this critical history of their wine, and if they’d intended to make wines that allude to the Northern Rhone. “There are hints of a Northern Rhone character in some of our vintages.” he responds. “To say more than that is just complete speculation.” He continues. “That was not our goal. Our goal was to reduce our influence on the wine, to capture the character of the fruit from here and get it into bottle. We’re just pleased this place makes this wine, and people enjoy it, which allows us to make a living. So pleased.” He pauses, then continues. “I do enjoy the hell out of the wine. Both of us feel incredibly blessed we found this land, and managed to pull this off.”

Thank you to Stephen Lagier and Carole Meredith for taking so much time to meet with me. I have plenty more moose meat whenever you’re ready.


To read more on Zinfandel, Carole’s work on its genetic history, and Lagier-Meredith’s foray into making it, read the recent article by Jon Bonné: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/thirst/article/History-underscores-Zinfandel-s-new-tack-4321826.php#page-4

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.