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Napa Valley

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Truchard Vineyards & Winery

Truchard Vineyardslooking towards the fault line that runs through Truchard Vineyards
— each hill contains a different soil type, and grows a different grape variety

One of the first to plant in North Carneros, Tony Truchard began establishing his Truchard Vineyards in 1974 at a time when others thought growing vines in Carneros might be crazy. Even more unusual, his thirst was for Cabernet. He remains to today one of the few people growing the variety in the area. Consistently 10 degrees cooler than the heart of Napa Valley where Cabernet thrives, people at the time believed Carneros wasn’t warm enough to ripen grapes.

Planting his first vines on his own by hand, Truchard persisted thanks partially to the inspiration of his neighbor, Frank Mahoney, who had already established Carneros Creek Vineyards near by. Mahoney was among the first to bring drip irrigation to the area, a technology developed for reclaiming the deserts of Israel, and today used through California wine country.

Beginning first on a 20-acre parcel, the disadvantages seen by others in Carneros would become an advantage for the Truchards. With the lack of agricultural promise, neighbors offered their parcels to Truchard for purchase. Buying land as he could afford it, today Trucard Vineyards grow over 200 planted acres on 400 contiguous acres all north of the Carneros Highway.

While South Carneros proves flat and entirely clay pan, North Carneros rolls with hills and fault lines. The fault line that cut through Truchard Vineyard has pushed such a range of soil types that along the retaining pond each hill includes a different soil type, and thus also a different grape variety. In volcanic ash they’ve planted Syrah, in clay Merlot, clay with limestone a mix of both Bordeaux and Burgundian varieties, in sandstone they also grow a mix of grape types.

Today Truchard is considered one of the premium growers of Carneros, with 12 different planted varieties including Zinfandel, Tempranillo, and Roussanne most unusually, but also each of the 5 Bordeaux reds, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. Most of their fruit sells to quality producers, but they also produce their own wines under the Truchard label.

Truchard Wines

Truchard WinesMost incredibly, Truchard has avoided raising wine prices. Today, Truchard offers some of the best quality for cost in Napa Valley. While the label does include two reserve level wines (available to wine club) coming in around $75, the remainder of their portfolio ranges between $25-38. Finding a quality North Coast Pinot Noir, or a Napa Valley Cabernet at those prices is almost unheard of.

Truchard wines offer nice mouth watering acidity, vibrant flavor, and pleasant clean fruit throughout. They are wines with easy presence — nicely balanced, well integrated, stimulating and never forceful. The standouts in yesterday’s tasting include the 2013 Roussanne, 2010 Tempranillo, and 2011 Zinfandel. That said, any of these wines would do well at the table. Following are notes on the current portfolio.

* Truchard 2013 Roussanne, Carneros Napa Valley $25
Pretty, lifted aromatics are followed with vibrant acidity through a creamy palate of light (not sweet or heavy) almond paste, citrus blossom and curd with a delicate white pepper finish. The 2013 Roussanne will age nicely, but is beautiful and yummy now.

Truchard 2012 Pinot Noir, Carneros Napa Valley $35
Offering pretty, bright red aromatics the 2012 Pinot Noir carries forward with a nicely focused, mouth watering palate of raspberry bush and cranberry. This is a nicely balanced wine with a taut, lean, and pleasing palate.

* Truchard 2010 Tempranillo, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Both nose and palate here carry red, and red violet fruit alongside pretty rose and violet elements, and a hint of molasses throughout. The palate is wonderfully mouthwatering and fresh, with polished tannin, and an ultra long finish.

* Truchard 2011 Zinfandel, Carneros Napa Valley $30
A unique Zinfandel offering high tone red fruit and mixed exotic spices, the Truchard Zinfandel offers wonderfully mouth watering acidity, easy tannin, and an ultra long finish. This is a yummy pizza and pasta wine.

Truchard 2010 Merlot, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Keep an eye out for the 2011 Merlot as the 2010 is already almost sold out. The Truchard Merlot carries the recognizable blue fruit and flower midpalate of Merlot filled out and lengthened with nicely the integrated herbal traction of Cabernet Franc. It’s a nicely balanced, and surprising combination for California Merlot.

Truchard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Carneros Napa Valley $38
Giving screaming good value, the Truchard Cabernet hits that balance of doing well with age on it and drinking well now. Carrying black currant, a touch of pine, and refreshing red and green bell pepper this wine has tons of flavor without over extraction on a nicely structured frame.

Truchard 2012 Syrah, Carneros Napa Valley $30
Wanting the most time in bottle, and the most air upon opening, the Truchard Syrah brings inky dark aromas and flavors through a perfumed musk and pine lift. The same carries into the palate touched throughout by an ashen patina carrying through an ultra long taut finish.

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Want to read more on Truchard Vineyards?

Check out Tom Riley‘s article for the San Jose Mercury News here: http://www.mercurynews.com/eat-drink-play/ci_26078260/napas-truchard-caves-goats-winning-chardonnay

Thank you to Mathew Fitch. CHEEEESSSSE!!!

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

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Visiting School House Vineyard

John Gantner, JrJohn M Gantner at School House, July 2014

It’s a hint of old Napa — a vineyard far up Spring Mountain set down a slope behind an old house. There are no signs inviting visitors, or announcing the name. It’s the site of School House Vineyards.

What is now School House Vineyards began as an 1800s 160-acre homestead, the School House just at the top, including tens of acres of vineyards. By the late 1930s, the last generation of the original homestead was ready to be closer to healthcare in town. Electricity didn’t reach the site until the late 1950s.

“My father purchased this in 1940. He wanted land in the Mayacamas Range.” Owner John M Gantner explains of his father. “It took him three years to find this place. He believed to make good red wine you should be in the mountains of the Mayacamas, not on the valley floor. At the time, acreage up here wasn’t worth anything. No one could afford to keep hillside vineyards in operation so it went to forest.”

Some of the original vines would be recovered on the property after establishing deer fencing, and clearing extra growth. The vines would prove to be an old vine mixed-blacks Zinfandel planting that has since served as the School House Mescolanza Red Blend.

Nancy Walker and John M GantnerNancy Walker and John M Gantner

School House Pinot began thanks to the experimental history of the Valley floor. Friends of Gantner, the story goes, had established Pinot vines with cuttings brought back from Romani-Conti in Burgundy. Valley floor temperatures proved too high for the fruit, however, so the vines were pulled out. John’s father believed, however, the mountain’s cooler temperatures would do well hosting the variety. In 1953, John’s father took cuttings before the vines were removed to plant on Spring Mountain.

“I dug many of the holes,” John explains. “My dad put me to work.” He laughs quietly. “I didn’t have much to say in it.” The Pinot remains to this day dry farmed.

IMG_1504“He made the first wine in 1957,” John says of his father. “We’ve made a Pinot Noir every year since.”

School House Pinots age beautifully. Earlier this year over dinner with friends we enjoyed a 1974 with still-vibrant, focused red fruit and forest. Over lunch this summer, Gantner and his wife Nancy Walker shared both a 1998, and 2002, both expressive of vintage with pure mountain fruit.

Chardonnay would be established in 1968 with cuttings from Stony Hill, though it wouldn’t be labeled and sold as a School House wine until 1991 when Gantner and Walker would take over the property from his father. Before that the family would make the white only for themselves.

Nancy laughs briefly as we discuss the Chardonnay. “The thing you learn from making wine,” Nancy tells me, “is you don’t place blame. Everybody makes mistakes.” The couple decide to share an example.

Gantner had traveled previously in China, but in the early 1980s decided he needed to return to the region. He wanted to see Tibet. Harvest had finished but Chardonnay was still finishing in barrel for home wine. Living in San Francisco at the time, Walker drove up the mountain to check on the wine only to discover the bungs had been pounded in too tight, and the wine had exploded over the entire garage.

IMG_1503In 2006, they would also establish Syrah, these vines in partnership with Pride Mountain who takes half the fruit. Gantner would break the rules, establishing the vines with irrigation, but then returning to dry farming once the roots were established. School House keeps the few rows of Grenache and Mourvedre mixed in to bottle as a Syrah blend.

Gantner hands me a bottle to take home and sample. It’s a beautiful, lean while expressive, fresh and savory Syrah, lightly grippy, and mouth watering with the long finish of pure mountain fruit.

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

 

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Olives in Napa

The Matthiassons harvesting olives in Napathe Matthiasson crew harvesting olives for milling, Napa, Oct 2014

Olives are ripe in Napa Valley. Their harvest has begun. Yesterday, the Matthiassons harvested olives and brought them to the mill to press into oil. They use the oil for personal consumption, and also make it available to their wine club members as an option to add to club shipments.

I’ve always wondered how olives were harvested — surely they weren’t hand-picked one at a time from every tree. For the small-scale farmer, hand rakes are brushed repeatedly through the tree pulling the fruit off its branches onto a waiting tarp below. Then the tarp is gathered and its contents dumped into a bin.

After loading the bin, Steve took a quick break to offer each of us a bit of burrata on baguette topped with their previous years oil, and a touch of smoked sea salt as a toast to their days work, and the olives heading off to the mill. Yum.

Olive Oil Quality Designations: Extra-Virgin versus Virgin (vs Refined, or Pomace oil)

The term Virgin in olive oil refers to the means of production. When oil is extracted through only mechanical means the oil classifies as Virgin oil. An olive mill essentially presses the fruit causing it to release its oil without heat, and so is considered mechanical production. What is important here is that no chemical, or heat has been applied to oils classified as Virgin. In that sense, Virgin oil production preserves the purity and freshness of the fruit.

There are two types of Virgin olive oil — the basic Virgin classification, and a higher quality of the style. When an oil has been made mechanically, and is of the highest quality it is considered Extra-Virgin.

It is also possible to produce Refined olive oil through chemical means, or Olive Pomace Oil through heat extraction. These are both considered food grade, but are of far lower quality than Virgin style oils. Additionally, there is lamp grade olive oil, which is made through methods considered unsafe for consumption.

In Portugal last month I was lucky enough to learn more about olive oil blending, and how oils are assessed for quality. Harvest there will begin late this month, likely extending into January. Because olive harvest occurs over two calendar years, what would be called vintages in wine is instead referred to as the campaign in olive oil. For example, the upcoming olive harvest in Portugal would count as the 2014-5 campaign.

Olives in Portugal

Ana CarrilhoMaster Blender, Ana Carrilho, Alentejo, Portugal, Sept 2014

Portugal is unique in its oil production in that its regulatory system has chosen to keep the focus on small production, high quality oils, rather than allowing bulk oil production, or multi-country blending as occurs in much of the rest of the Mediterranean. For Portugal, the origin remains important. One of the impressive elements of all of this is how affordable Portuguese olive oil remains internationally. The quality-to-cost ratio for Portuguese oils is some of the best on the market.

Upon arrival in Alentejo last month, we were invited to meet the Master olive oil Blender, Ana Carrilho, who leads the team for Esporão. Carrilho studied, and taught olive growing and quality in Portugal, Spain, and Italy before then returning to Portugal to help develop the industry in her home country.

Many of the regions in Portugal that support viticulture also grow quality olives. As a result, many estates host both plant species, and when large enough also produce both. Esporão was able to reach a sizeable enough production level of olive oil to begin releasing their own oils in 1997.

Portuguese DOPs for Olive Oil

Olive oil in Portugal originally included much smaller production than today. Historically the oil from the region was produced and exported as lamp oil. However, after the phylloxera decimation of the 19th century, the country replanted many of the former vineyard sites to olive trees in order to supplement lost income. A shift to olive oil as a quality food product began as a result.

Today, the country has 6 controlled regions for olive oil production, also known as DOPs. Oil within the DOPs must originate within its area, and also be tested for quality designation between Virgin and Extra-Virgin.

As Carrilho explained, unlike wine, olive oil is not meant to be aged. How long it keeps freshness in bottle depends partially on olive variety, with heartier varieties lasting up to two years, and more delicate ones being ideally consumed within six months of bottling.

In tasting oils, like wine, aroma, palate, and finish are all considered. It is actually possible to do varietal identification tasting for oils like doing blind tasting in wine (how fricking cool is that?). As Carrilho explained, in tasting for quality, and varietal or blend expression what is being looked for is fresh fruit character.

Because most consumers in the United States are actually used to consuming old olive oil, many of the characteristics we are used to expecting are actually the notes of expired oil. Still fresh oil offers the kinds of floral and fruit notes that lift from the glass with a sense of lightness and life, rather than carrying the heavier and darker notes of mustiness, wet paper, or biscuit of oil that’s gone bad.

Esporão Olive Oils

Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting w Ana CarrilhoCarrilho guided us through a tasting of four Esporão olive oils, each of which is available in the United States, as well as one specialty oil only available in from the best campaigns within Portugal.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Galega, Ageite-Portugal $16 500mL
(the green band on the far right of the photo above)

The Portuguese olive variety Galega produces one of the more stable, as well as fruitiest of olive oils. It keeps well up to two years after bottling. In Portugal, consumers tend to like sweet (that is fruit focused) olive oils, and are less used to bitter or pepper flavors of some varieties. As such, Galega serves as a great base for Portuguese olive oils offering a clear fruit focus, and a lot of longevity in the bottle.

The Esporão Galega olive oil offers subtle while pure fruit notes with green apple lift, almond accents, and a lightly spicy, pepper finish. This bottling is made entirely of Galega. Good for all around use, and can hold up to stronger flavors without being over powering itself.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Organic, Ageite-Portugal $18 500mL
(2nd bottle from right)

The Organic olive oil from Esporão offers a blend of the varieties Cobrançosa and Arbequina. (Arbequina is one of my favorites, and as a side note goes great with chocolate.) Varieties are milled separately and blended after. Cobrançosa forms the majority of this campaign, with accents of the floral Arbequina for delicacy and lift.

The Esporão Organic offers a softer, slightly sweeter presentation than the Galega giving notes of fresh banana, mixed nut accents, a creamy palate, and long light pepper finish. This oil good for use on vegetables or fish after cooking for an accent of creamy fresh flavor.

Azeite de Moura DOP, Ageite-Portugal $16 750mL
(2nd bottle from left with the black band)

The Moura blend is an official DOP designate olive oil made to offer taste consistency from year to year. While the other oils vary in presentation to some degree by campaign, the Moura blend strives to offer a product recognizable by consumers with each bottling. As such the blend proportions shift from campaign to campaign. However, the varieties include Galega, Cordovil, and Verdeal. This is also the most widely available of the Esporão oils within the United States.

The Esporão Moura gives stronger aromatics with distinct herbal elements, green fruits, and green almond. The palate follows with a smooth presentation followed by a slightly sharp, bitter-spicy finish. As this oil has more intensity it works well on simple foods for additional flavor, and can hold up to spice as well.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Seleçção, Ageite-Portugal $18 500mL
(bottle on the far left with the gray band)

The Seleçção olive oil is made from a blend of the best, most mature varieties of each campaign. As such it is a special bottling that changes from year to year, and is the first of the blends made for bottling.  We tasted from the last campaign, that of 2013-4. For that bottling the varietal make-up included Cobrançosa, Picual, Galega, and Frontoio.

The Esporão Seleçção carries the greatest intensity, and also purity of precision of these four bottlings tasted. There is a greater sense of freshness, and persistence to this oil from aromatics through long finish. Look for grassy freshness, green almond, and a lightly buttery mid-palate, with a beautifully focused finish carrying bitter spice. Use as accent on dishes with otherwise simple flavors to allow the flavors of the oil to show, or enjoy simply with bread.

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A Look at Napa Valley

Visit Napa ValleyRachel and I walked downtown Napa yesterday taking pictures. A room from the second floor of the building that held Carpe Diem, a restaurant that hosted a bitching locals’ night making wine bottles half-off on Tuesdays, now sits on the sidewalk below. The roof dangles over it. Around the corner the County building is closed, unable to issue permits to people needing to do home repairs after the earthquake, because the County building itself suffered too much damage.

Mixed between such scenes are long stretches of businesses already open. Owners of restaurants and wine bars in downtown Napa after the earthquake discovered red wine streams rushing their hallways, and cellars feet deep in glass. In merely three days they’ve already cleaned. Losing days for a small business isn’t an option.

Along 1st, Oenotri opened two days ago with its seasonal menu, and a full bar. Their food is excellent. They’re known for their cocktails. One block over, the brand new Cadet Beer & Wine Bar re-launched last night. The hand-crank prosciutto slicer is turning. Most of the wine list (awesome wines from all over the state) are still represented.  Two blocks down, Backroom Wines shop already has its bottles shelved and ready for sale. Wines by the glass are also resuming.

As much damage as has happened in Napa Valley, and it is significant, the biggest cost and long-term damage could come from loss of tourism. Harvest in the Valley proves the most important time of year not only for the wine it produces, but also the tourism revenue it generates. Numerous businesses are reporting reservation cancellations for weeks from now. Images seen in the news and online have convinced some the Valley as a whole is a demolition zone.

But, structural damage to the Valley has occurred in pockets centered primarily in South and Western Napa. With only few exceptions, wineries are still operating and open for business. Even wineries that have gotten ample coverage from damage to infrastructure, like Trefethen, and Hess Collection are ready for tasting room appointments. They’ve simply changed the building they’ll be pouring and hosting in.

Napa Valley does need help. Speaking with businesses hit hardest by the earthquake several things are obvious. It is small businesses, and everyone’s employees that have suffered the most devastating losses. Many larger wineries are providing time off, and assistance to employees who lost homes. Small businesses, as mentioned, can’t afford to close. They need the transformative strength of consumer buying power.

Here’s how to help.

1. Buy, and drink Napa Valley If you can afford it, don’t just pop open bottles of Napa wine you already have in cellar. Order bottles of Napa wine from your local wine lists, wine shops, and through online stores. Winery business models depend on bottles being sold through multiple channels. That means, every purchase you make of a Napa wine, even when not directly from the winery itself, will help keep that winery operating.

2. Eat, and drink Napa Valley If you are anywhere within proximity of Napa Valley, find a day you can drive up and enjoy a meal at any of the restaurants in the area. Everyone in the Valley suffers from loss of tourism revenue. Your visit to the Valley, anywhere in the Valley, makes a difference. As mentioned, downtown businesses in particular need your help. Restaurants along 1st, and also along Main are open. Oxbow Market is also open.

3. Stay Napa Valley If you had a trip planned for Napa, keep those reservations. Everything you need as a tourist is still here. The wine industry is still cranking through harvest. The harvest experience is yours to be had. The truth? Everyone in hospitality is going to be happy to see you. You can expect service friendliness to be up a notch. Driving through the Valley there are few visible signs of earthquake damage. The Valley is beautiful.

4. Community Contributions As mentioned, it’s employees, and individuals in the Valley that have been hit hardest. Many people have lost homes. Some are in homes without water. The Red Cross has provided temporary housing. The Food Bank is feeding people. Aldea Children & Family Services is providing counseling, and crisis relief for people affected by the earthquake. All of these groups can use your donations. Following are links for how to donate.

Aldea Children & Family Services http://www.aldeainc.org/get-involved/donors

Napa Valley Food Bank http://www.canv.org/donate.html

Red Cross Napa Valley Chapter https://www.redcross.org/quickdonate/index.jsp

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Considering Changes at Mayacamas

Mayacamas WIneryMayacamas Winery, June 2014

In 2013, Charles and Ali Banks, in partnership with Jay and Joey Schottenstein, purchased Mayacamas Vineyards and Winery from Bob Travers, the man who had shepherded the wines since the late 1960s. Though vine growing had been established on the Mt Veeder site in the late 1800s, Travers work there brought the label to iconic status, a representative of pioneering Napa Valley, and the rustic purity possible in a wine region that had become known for blousy red wines.

After the purchase of Mayacamas was announced, worry immediately whispered through the wine community. Would we lose Mayacamas? But any complete change in ownership ushers in a new era for a winery — new ownership, new Mayacamas. Now that the site has been sold and a year been given to the new team, the question is to what degree will it alter the icon?

Travers’s wines of the site, from 1968 to 2012, offer a signature of rustic elegance, with juiciness and sense of concentration that demands time in bottle. In Cabernet, for example, five years before release was standard, aging it three years in neutral wood, two in bottle.

The distance between vintage and release sheds light on the meaning of the recent change. We won’t see Travers’s last vintage, 2012, for another three years. Nor will we be offered the new winemaker, Andy Erickson’s first, 2013, until 2018. There is no way to know, then, what the change from Travers to the new team will taste like for at least four years. In reality, it will be more than a decade before a multi-vintage picture starts to form of the new Mayacamas.

There is already, however, a lot that can be known. Interviews with Banks, and Erickson, when compared to the actual updates already put into the winery, and vineyards shed light on where we can glimpse the new Mayacamas.

The Move from Travers to Banks, Erickson, and Favia

Looking South from the top of Mayacamasfrom the top of Mayacamas looking due South into Carneros and Hudson Vineyard below, June 2014

The change in ownership struck a painful note for many lovers of the site, who have been attached to the distinctively mountain expression of Mayacamas. As recently as four years ago, Travers’s sons and extended family involvement in the winery gave wine lovers confidence the style would carry forward with a sense of continuity. With the realization the site would not remain in family ownership, the break in continuity appeared.

The wine community has carried a persistent skepticism of the new team leading the site, and what it means for the long-term style of the wines. Banks earlier partnership in the cult Napa Cabernet, Screaming Eagle, is often raised as illustration of the concern. As Eric Asimov pointed out in his 2013 look at the change in ownership, Screaming Eagle is “the cult cabernet that seems in so many ways the antithesis of Mayacamas.

Banks’s involvement in Screaming Eagle, however, might prove a red herring. His ownership there, after all, was comparatively early in his move into wine investments. Its easy to imagine a person new to the wine world assuming more expensive wines must be better, whether for their assumed quality or cachet. Banks himself describes it as a change in his knowledge as well as his palate. His investment practices prove consistent with the statement as what he’s partnered in since are labels known for a lighter, more affordable style — Sandhi, Wind Gap, and Qupe, as lead examples from California.

The Screaming Eagle worries though seem more justifiable in Banks’s choice for leadership in the new Mayacamas wine team. With Banks choosing Andy Erickson and Annie Favia as directors of the winery, and vineyard respectively, the skepticism grew stronger, thanks largely to the seeming disjunct in style between their winegrowing history and that of Travers.

Banks has repeatedly stated in interviews that he respects Travers’s work at Mayacamas, and intends to maintain its style. Erickson’s and Favia’s success, however, has come through production of wines known as both riper, and more interested in new oak than Mayacamas has ever been.

For a person interested in maintaining the Mayacamas style, selection of a management team known for wines that run counter to the mountain winery’s, then, seems a contradiction. Why not hire a winemaker known for mountain fruit? Looking at Banks’s history as an investor might give insight into the choice.

In a 2013 interview with Alder Yarrow, Banks highlights the importance of who he works with over simply choosing based on style. “[W]hat I’m doing now in the wine world is influenced by the people I want to be in business with and like working with.” Banks said. “I like these people, what they’re doing, and their vision.” From that perspective, Banks’s choice of a winemaker starts to find a context. Banks and Erickson have a long-standing history of working well together.

For many, though, the concern remains. As said, Erickson’s vision has always coincided with the execution of a different style than that known for Mayacamas. Asked about the issue, Banks defends against this worry. To Yarrow he said, “That’s what Andy’s done [before] but that’s not what he’s about. We are absolutely not going to change the style of the wines.”

Banks, and Erickson have both given numerous interviews discussing their intentions for the site. Interviews can give insight into intention, but don’t always show how ideas will be executed, whether because of the relevance of a larger context, or change in need. This week, Fred Swan and I were able to visit Mayacamas, tasting the 2013 Cabernet from barrel with Andy Erickson, and touring the site as it looks now with Estate Director, Jimmie Hayes. With that in mind, a look at the winery today, the teams views of Mayacamas wine, and the vineyards themselves can shed light on what is changing at Mayacamas.

A Look at the Winery

Andy Erickson checking the progress on Mayacamas winesAndy Erickson checking the progress of 2011-2013 vintages of Mayacamas, June 2014

Without doubt Mayacamas is a special and moving site. The basic construction of the 1880s winery has remained, with fermentation occurring in open top cinder-block fermenters, and aging starting in large decades-old wood casks, before then moving into smaller older barrels. At the back of the winery a small cave was dug decades ago until it struck a stream. After rains, the winery floor now flows with water.

Erickson himself admits, its a winery style that pushes against what he’s used to. In 2013 when it came time to move wine into the 70-year old wooden casks, he says, he had to call Travers to get reassurance the wood would really hold. “Travers said, Andy, you just have to go for it.” Erickson laughs.

In 2013, Erickson tested aging some wine from the site in new wood, and discovered the practice simply didn’t work at Mayacamas. In interviews, Travers account of the role of new oak in his wines moved between 2% and 10%. It wasn’t an approach he relied on. New wood appeared as it was needed. In Erickson’s experiment, the fruit hated new barrels. The team cancelled their 2014 order for new barrels, and plan to bring them in only as replacements are needed.

Within the fermentation room, Travers had rigged a high-maintenance cooling system. During harvest, ice had to be brought daily to the winery, then held in a handmade tank at the side of the room. Tubes with water cooled by the ice then ran from the tank to each of the fermenters to act as temperature modifier. The practice was an economical choice for Travers, as well as one likely kept by habit. In an interview for the June 2014 issue of Wine & Spirits by David Darlington, Travers explained. “I didn’t even think about modernizing. It would have been very expensive, and I thought what we were doing was satisfactory.” Before the 2013 harvest Erickson had internal cooling installed in each of the fermenters. It’s an update that seems reasonable from the perspective of both work load and ease.

Bottling for Travers was another technological hold over. It occurred over several months. As Banks explains, bottling now will occur over hours. Such a change, again, seems reasonable. Bottle variation proves a real concern when bottling occurs over such an extended time. The wine going into glass at the start of the cycle simply isn’t the same as the wine at the end. Fine tuning bottling time, then, means getting a handle on a detail that can help capture quality at Mayacamas.

The Pillars of Mayacamas Style

Jimmie Hayestouring Mayacamas with Jimmie Hayes, June 2014

The new team has spent extensive time discussing the hallmarks of Mayacamas style in an attempt to hone in on their role carrying it forward. “We’ve had a lot of big conversations about what it means to keep the style here, and what can change or not,” Hayes says.

As Hayes explains, these discussions led them to identifying pillars of Mayacamas style that prove so definitive as to not be changed. “We decided there are some pillars to the style you have to keep to keep from changing it.” He names some of them. “Short macerations for the reds is an example, and you don’t start picking later. The age-ability is another one.”

Honing in on these mainstays, the team can then also test through the details to see what can be adjusted for the sake of improving quality. As Erickson discovered, incorporating new wood was not a reasonable detail to change. But shortening bottling time is an easy way to eliminate bottle variation, for example. In reality, issues like early oxidation on whites, and a bit of funk on reds, show up on some vintages of Mayacamas. Hayes points out that is the sort of thing that can be improved upon. “That slight funk that shows up in some vintages we can tend to. We can clean it up by watching the details.” He says.

Looking at the tools present in the winery, it’s clear many of Travers’s choices came from simple pragmatism, rather than a pre-conceived romantic ideal of wine. If Travers needed fermentation space, he wasn’t going to be able to let the wines soak. At the same time, he also kept extensive notebooks, which he then gave to the new team. Picking around 23-24 brix proved consistent through the years.

Part of people’s worry in Erickson acting as winemaker rests in his consistent history of making riper wines rather than the ultra juicy, higher acid style of Mayacamas. Arriving at the site, Erickson admits he was skeptical of what he thought of as earlier picking numbers. He picked fruit from the Valley floor at higher brix levels. Through the extensive team conversations, however, as well as talks with Travers, Erickson realized he had to trust the notebooks, and pick according to site history. At Pebble Beach Food & Wine in April 2014, Erickson said the experience with Mt Veeder fruit has made him rethink some of his ideas on ripeness. He’s picking Mayacamas fruit consistent with Mayacamas history. Tasting the 2013 Cabernet, it carries all the mountain minerality and structure of a classic Mayacamas.

The Relationship of Vineyard to Winery

The remaining parcels, Merlot and Cabernetlooking from the top of Golden Hill towards blocks Fletch and Coyote, which grow Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

A view of Mayacamas Vineyards today brings the greatest shock of change. In interviews over the last year, Banks has repeated the point that they will replant slowly. In an article by Elin McCoy in July 2014 for Bloomberg, for example, Banks explained, “We’ll need to spend millions slowly replanting. It’s not a crazy redo.

It’s also been clear all along such replanting would be necessary. In her tour of the vineyards, McCoy mentions the sight of dying vines around the property. The Mayacamas plantings averaged in age between 30 to 60 years old, a condition uncommon for Cabernet Sauvignon in particular. In addition, many of the blocks were planted on AXR rootstock, which proved vulnerable to phylloxera. The reduction of productivity found in older vines, then, was in many cases exacerbated by disease. As Hayes explained, the worst of the blocks on the site gave only 1/4-Ton per acre.

Travers himself admitted that the average volume on Mayacamas as a whole was less than 1-Ton per acre. At the same time, it was a reality he didn’t seem to have issue with. In a 2006 interview with Alan Goldfarb for AppellationAmerica.com, Travers described his affection for the reduced production. “There’s no question that the higher you get on the mountain, the rockier, the shallower, and the less fertile the soils become. We average less than a ton per acre. That’s why I’m up here. That’s why I picked this spot.

As Travers continues, he emphasizes that the quality and condition of the vineyard is what gave Mayacamas its style of wine. “Producers realize that if they’ve got a good vineyard, the vineyard can do all the talking. If you don’t do too many winery techniques, you can let the grapes be the master. These [winery] techniques reduce the vineyard effect.” Travers’s reticence in updating the winery, then, begins to make sense. For Travers, the vineyards themselves appear to be a hallmark of Mayacamas style. He valued what he had in the vines.

It’s also simply expensive to invest in replanting when your focus is on a family operation of a winery where what you’re already doing seems to work. For a new owner, however, to purchase a site and maintain less than 1-Ton per acre seems unreasonable.

As Favia explained to Jon Bonné in an article looking at the change of hands last summer, the replants at Mayacamas were necessary but a long-term process. After vines are pulled, the ground is left to rest to allow phylloxera to die out. Once the replants are initiated, at such high elevation vines take closer to five years to establish. The team’s plan is to follow Travers’s previous example. They’ll use irrigation to establish vines in the first five years, then dry farm. (They’ve also moved entirely to organic farming.) After vines are established, it’s another decade before plants are more adjusted to their site. In the meantime, clusters offer something like the distinctively fruit focused character of young vines.

It’s shocking, then, to discover that the slow replant Banks promised actually amounts to all but two blocks of Mayacamas being pulled. Viewing the site Monday, the replanting project amounts to what looks like between 80% and 85% of the vines at Mayacamas removed. Do older vines not prove to be a pillar of style? One Merlot, and one Cabernet block at the far Western side of the property remain. (At the time of this posting, I do not yet have confirmation on the acreage of the two remaining blocks.) The empty blocks will rest this year. Replantings will begin in 2015, and continue into 2017. Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir will not be reestablished on the site.

Considering the level of disease, and age of the vines, perhaps it was necessary, or easier, to remove all of the vine issues together, rather than block by block. The situation still means it will be decades before Mayacamas returns to being predominately estate fruit.

Looking at the history of Mayacamas, Travers relied heavily on sourced fruit from the beginning, and throughout his tenure. The previous Mayacamas vineyards were about 50% Chardonnay, with the remainder split between Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc (for blending), Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. The site’s famous Cabernet Sauvignon, then, has always relied on a large portion of sourced fruit. Keeping with Travers’s seeming pragmatism, these sources varied. He did not always rely solely on Mt Veeder either. The new team has maintained Travers’s long-term Mt. Veeder fruit contracts, and added two more. In 2014, all of the fruit for Mayacamas will come from Mt Veeder.

***

Thank you to Jimmie Hayes, and Andy Erickson.

Thank you to Fred Swan.

***

To read more on Mayacamas (All articles in order by publication date):

* For a glimpse into Bob Travers, check out these older articles.

An interview with Alan Goldfarb, 2006: http://wine.appellationamerica.com/wine-review/272/Mayacamas-Vineyards-Interview.html

A visit from Evan Dawson: http://www.drvino.com/2010/01/27/visiting-mayacamas-vineyards-napa-valley/

Eric Asimov considering old school Napa Cabs: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/20/dining/20pour.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1404328112-sjc6VC03CfJ6P6TsMtsljQ

* For a look at the new ownership:

Alder Yarrow talks with Charles Banks: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2013/05/charles_banks_the_new_man_behi.html

Elin McCoy visits Mayacamas: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-15/private-equity-wake-up-kiss-for-mayacamas-elin-mccoy.html

Eric Asimov talks with Banks and Erickson: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/dining/calming-words-from-a-vineyards-unlikely-new-owner.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Jon Bonné looks at the change, including viticulture with Favia: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/thirst/article/An-improbable-guardian-takes-over-at-Mayacamas-4703491.php#page-1

David Darlington considers Old Napa turned New Napa: http://wineandspiritsmagazine.com/pages/2014/0514/0514_oldnapa.html

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

4

Five Decades of Mayacamas, PBFW

Mayacamas Panel, PBFW

from left: Kim Beto, Andy Erickson, Antonio Galloni, D’Lynn Proctor, Brian McClintic

At Pebble Beach Food & Wine, Antonio Galloni moderated a panel celebration of Bob Travers’s tenure at Mayacamas presenting a five decade vertical of the famed Cabernet beginning with Travers first vintage on the estate, 1968, and closing with his last, 2012.

New Mayacamas winemaker, Andy Erickson, included Travers’s own notes on the vintages tasted, and discussed the history of the property along with the recent shift in ownership. To comment on the individual wines presented through the panel were also Kim Beto, D’Lynn Proctor, and Brian McClintic. From the audience, Joel Peterson, winemaker of Ravenswood, also offered valuable insight to the discussion.

At the end of April 2013, it was announced that Charles and Ali Banks had purchased the property through their investment group, Terroir Capital. The purchase arrived after years of discussion over the possibility between Banks and Travers. Banks’s long term respect for the property, and Travers’s work there drew Banks’s interest in the purchase.

Since the change in ownership, Erickson has spent extensive time speaking with Travers, reading his notes, and studying previous vintages to smooth the change in winemaking.

In fielding questions from the audience, Erickson was pushed to consider the contrast in style between the winemaking he’s shown through other labels, such as his own Favia, and that historically housed at Mayacamas. It was clear from the tenor in the audience that there is trepidation over whether the new team can maintain Travers’s style of site expression. Most revealing of Erickson’s responses, he closed the panel by admitting his work with Mayacamas in 2013 has pushed him to rethink his previous understandings of ripeness. Mayacamas Cabernet picks at lower brix levels than other sites, and ages beautifully.

Attending the Mayacamas tasting and panel discussion was a genuine honor. Receiving a vertical that carved the complete arc of Travers’s tenure from first to final vintage at the site gave an extra sense of elegance and respectfulness to the experience. To say the wines are special is an understatement.

The Cabernet of Mayacamas, 1968 to 2012

Mayacamas Cabernet Vertical 1968-2012click on image to enlarge

Travers’s iterations of Mayacamas Cabernet give a beautifully organic sense of seamlessness. The vintages I’ve been lucky enough to taste celebrate sophisticated rusticity — the dustiness of mountain fruit with tobacco and earth components carried through sometimes rugged, while well-executed, tannin balanced by juicy length. Even the riper vintages aren’t afraid of earth components, refreshing green pepper accents, or tannin born of a view. They’re wines that come with a real sense of life in the bottle.

Joel Peterson commented on the Cabernets of Mayacamas pointing out that with their greater acidity, structural tannin, and rose/floral aromatic line they can readily be compared to Barolo, and perhaps even more appropriately than the stereotypical Napa Cabernet. He continued by noting that Mt Veeder, with its unique environment and expression, really needs to be considered on its own, rather than encapsulated simply as part of the Napa Valley.

In describing the winemaking, Erickson laughed, describing it as “wilderness winemaking.” Travers accomplished his purity of expression with decades old wooden vessels housed in an even older rock building, a road that was sometimes impassable, and very little electrical technology.

Tasting through the Vertical

The vertical began with 1968, Travers first vintage, and a wine made of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Though Traver’s notes expected that the wine “should age until the late 1980s” the wine was still drinking beautifully with energetic structural integrity, and beautiful mineral length. The wine had aged into a delicate flavor presentation with lovely floral aromatics and lift, well integrated with leather and earth components. Erickson shared with us that Travers’s notes stated “suggestion retail $4.50.” The 1968 vintage was primarily Mt Veeder Cabernet from the Mayacamas site, but included some fruit from the Alexander Valley.

The 1973 offered impressive structural integrity, and youthful strength. In a single word, this was a wine of purity. Aromatics of lavender and tobacco flower are joined by light cigar and rose petal, freshly opened green pepper and hints of jalapeno. The palate carries elegant juiciness with a focus on smooth tannic brawn.

The 1981 vintage offered the only wine that showed a sleeping phase, wanting time in bottle to show itself. Still, it carried recognizable kinship to its brethren giving lavender, cherry blossom, and light jalapeno aromatics rolling into an especially tannic focus on an earthy (though not fully showing) palate with a light menthol edge.

By the late 1980s, Travers was incorporating Cabernet Franc and Merlot into his Cabernet Sauvignon. The aromatics of the 1989 offered leather and light cigar accents coupled with creamy, delicate earthiness and light rose. Through the palate, the wine brought a vibrant, lifting red with silky, strong tannin, and a juicy crunch. This is a wine with lots of power that fills the palate giving a pert and vibrant lift.

With 1992, the wines began to shift from the fully integrated, while lively earth and leaf, flower and mineral elements of the first half of the tasting, into more apparent youthfulness of fruit still coupled with earth and flower accents. The red fruit focus of the 1992 married itself to the grounding elements of white truffle and oregano oil accented by evergreen carried through silken tannin, and a pleasing plush mouthfeel.

Beginning with light aromatics, the 1999 gave incredible juiciness on still such a young wine. The wine carried beautiful balance, long long lines, red fruit and redwood forest with less apparent flavor differentiation. The wine showed as less varied in that sense than earlier vintages but with the structural verve that will keep it developing well beyond Bob’s typical predictions.

With 2007 youthful red cherry perfume, red plum, and rose potpourri began to carry too the darker berry elements of young Cabernet. The vintage showed a beautiful purity of fruit expression on a body of fresh, juicy elegance and silken tannin. It’s a yummy, luscious wine with a bit riper fruit and a lot of structural focus.

The Mayacamas vertical was completed with a barrel sample of Travers’s last vintage, 2012. The dark berry focus of young Cabernet swirled through aromatics and palate here alongside fresh smashed cherries married to the lift of licorice blossom, redwood forest, and wet gravel on a body of plush tannin focus.

***

To read more on Mayacamas in the last year:

From Eric Asimov: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/dining/calming-words-from-a-vineyards-unlikely-new-owner.html?_r=0

From Jon Bonné: http://www.sfgate.com/wine/thirst/article/An-improbable-guardian-takes-over-at-Mayacamas-4703491.php

***

With enormous thanks to Bob Travers for his dedication to Mayacamas.

Thank you to Antonio Galloni, Andy Erickson, D’Lynn Proctor, Kim Beto, and Brian McClintic.

Thank you to Charles and Ali Banks.

Thank you to Sarah Logan.

***

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

 

2

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

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.

0

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 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

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

Sam Bilbro, Idlewild Wines

Stark

Stark Viognier

Matthiasson

Matthiasson Refosco (one of the unicorns)

Raj, RPM

Raj Parr, RPM

Raj and Duncan

Raj Parr and Duncan Arnot Meyers, RPM

Scott

Scott Schultz, Jolie-Laide

***

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

Thank you to Kevin, Sarah, and Sam.

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