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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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From Seashells to Vines with Mike Officer

Mike Officer taking a look at Peloursin     Mike Officer examining old vine Zinfandel from Carlisle Vineyard, June 2014

The beaches of the Southern Philippines, I discover, offer some of the finest seashell hunting in the world. Mike Officer is telling me about his early desire to be a Conchologist, that is a seashell collector with a scientific basis.

Soon after my Sunday morning arrival at Carlisle Vineyards in the Russian River Valley, a mutual friend of Mike and myself has mentioned I grew up a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska. Discussion of what it means to do that sort of work launches our conversation. It winds into talk of childhood pursuits.

It turns out at the age of twelve, Officer was able to fulfill an early dream. He traveled to South Philippines and roamed those Southern beaches with a family friend, seeking unusual seashells. To make the trip Officer worked from the age of ten at odd jobs, saving all the money for his trip.

The Philippines, at the time, were under Martial law. Officer’s stories of the experience include at least one escaped car heist, and an account of a rogue sea captain taking the young but deceptively tall Officer under his wing.

The image I gain of Officer through these stories, however, proves not that of young adventurer but a man driven to collect and catalog in the midst of serious study. For a budding conchologist such study meant travel to the South Seas. At its root, Officer’s early love for seashells carries the same dedication now behind his work with old vine vineyards. For the vine lover, old vine preservation and study means life in the North Coast of California.

Launching Carlisle

Mike Officer in Carlisle VineyardMike Officer standing in Carlisle Vineyard, June 2014 (I love this photo of Mike — you can see the genuine enthusiasm, and kind approachability he has here)

Officer’s love for wine showed early. He kept a wine cellar in his college dorm room.

In 1986, Officer started home winemaking. It would serve as a side project through his career as a software developer. Then, in his thirties, when Officer would suddenly realize his time was spent staring at a computer screen, it would also serve as the path away from his career and into life with vineyards.

By 1998, still working in the city full-time, Officer and his wife, Kendall Carlisle Officer, would launch their first commercial vintage of Carlisle Wines. All of Officer’s vacation, and weekends were channeled into the work it took to manage harvest and winemaking over the year.

By 2000, Carlisle Wines was producing a 1000 cases per year, the most they could manage with Officer’s day job.”We needed the money from my day job to afford the winery, but couldn’t make enough at that point to quit the day job.” Officer explains. Such an approach included five hours commute by bus between their house in Santa Rosa, and his work in the city.

In 2001, the Officers would bring in college friend Jay Maddox to help with winemaking and viticulture. The day job-winery combo otherwise proved too much. The addition of Maddox would allow Carlisle wines to slowly increase production until finally Officer was able to move full-time to wine.

Spending years on the commute, Officer describes what would be a sort of final epiphany with his day job. In the midst of a long bus ride, Officer came up with the design for what could be called, The Commuter’s Sleep, a kind of velcro head board for sleeping upright.

The idea was the commuter would wear a sort of board that extended above their back, a velcro strap would then wrap the forehead, thus holding the commuter’s head upright so he or she could sleep without suffering the problematic head-roll of sleep sitting up. The design humorously reveals the desperation that accompanies doing whatever it takes to follow life’s passion.

In 2004, soon after his design concept, however, instead of going ahead to make his own Commuter’s Sleep, Mike’s wife ran the numbers. Carlisle was finally making just enough wine for him to leave his day job.

Stepping into Old Vine Vineyards

Mike Officer next to old vine ZinfandelMike Officer next to old vine Zinfandel, Carlisle Vineyard, June 2014

In 1997, having started making home wine, but not yet stepping into commercial release, Officer was biking down a private lane in Russian River Valley. He had the sense he’d like to own a vineyard someday but recognized he didn’t yet have the experience tending vines.

In the midst of the bike ride he happened upon an over grown two-acre vineyard. The site had vines grown through with blackberries, poison oak, and big trees. Big trees were the best indication of how long it had laid in rest. The site barely resembled a vineyard.

Officer decided to take a leap. He tracked down the owners and offered to renovate the vineyard for free. It was his chance to gain experience. In the midst of that first meeting, Officer explains, “I asked, by the way, what kind of vines are they? They told me old vine Zinfandel. The next spring I realized, it’s not all Zinfandel.” By 1998, Officer would discover that Two Acres proves instead to be a mixed-black Mourvedre-based planting, something not quite common in the Russian River Valley.

In 1998, the site Officer now calls Two Acres would become the first plot he would map vine-by-vine through the region. Eventually it would lead to he and Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Vineyards mapping other old vine sites together as well. Today, vineyard mapping seems almost second nature for Officer. Walking a site with him he points out and names vine types as we go.

Using a simple graph paper, Officer would chart each vine by type and location. To begin, the work would depend on him researching scientific drawings of grape varieties there vineyard side. On unusual types he would send cuttings to UC Davis for identification. Officer’s work, then, would also turn out to support the work of UC Davis to build DNA-mapping for all surviving grape varieties around the globe. In this way, Officer’s early training in conchology would become his current work in ampelography, the identification and study of grapevines.

Officer’s work with Two Acres would eventually expand to work with old vine sites throughout the Piner-Olivet section of Russian River Valley. It would connect him too to others in the North Coast passionate for old vine sites.

The Historic Vineyard Society

Peloursin and Petite Sirah leavesMike Officer demonstrating Peloursin (left) and Petite Sirah differences in Carlisle Vineyard, June 2014

In discussing the vineyards he works with, Officer describes the sense of peace he feels from it. “All vine work for me is like doing bonzai. It’s almost meditative, and stress relief,” he says.

With the success of Two Acres, Officer began connecting to other old vine sites through Russian River Valley. He would catalog vines, develop the viticulture, then produce single vineyard mixed-black bottlings, most sites predominately Zinfandel. Officer’s work with the sites, however, would include personal connection to the vines survival and health.

I ask him to describe the intricacies of working specifically with old vines. “Old vine vineyards are like geriatric wards. Every vine is a patient with a unique character, and its own needs.” He tells me. “You try to sort out what the vine needs, and respond to it.”

His early work with Two Acres meant revitalizing what would otherwise be a lost vineyard, an investment into not only making wine currently, but retaining an irreplaceable link to the history of a region through vines that lived it. (The wine itself, too, proves delicious — a sleek, long lined wine with perfumed aromatics, elegant tannins, and nice cardamom spiced, rose petal fruit.)

Attachment to old vines, however, in today’s wine society proves risky. The real estate of the famed Russian River carries high value for people that can pull out lower production older vines, to plant high dollar young Pinot Noir.

Officer began losing sites to developers. Immediately after losing one of his favorite sites, Carlisle finally was talking with Twain-Peterson. The two of them, as well as Tegan Passalacqua, winemaker and vineyard scout for Turley Wine Cellars, as well as his own newer label, Sandlands, kept seeing old vine sites being lost too easily. Few people knew they existed, and even fewer understood their value in relation to the history or recognition of terroir in California. Out of frustration, and a desire to change the problem, Historic Vineyard Society was born.

Along with David Gates of Ridge Vineyards, Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards, Larry Piggins for vineyard photography, and Mike Dildine, who helps keep the Society functioning, the Historic Vineyard Society works to catalog and register old vine sites, as well as raise awareness of their value for the sake of preserving more of them. The group also works as a sort of support group and hunting party — always on the look out for undiscovered sites, and advising each other on the best care for peculiar vines.

Carlisle Wines

Carlisle WinesFor many, of course, the ultimate point is the wine itself. For those passionate about vines, the wine simply describes an end point for a process that is the actual passion alongside the wine. Still, the love for vines means too a love for their varieties, and the wine each produces.

After tasting through a portion of Officer’s portfolio, I ask him to describe how he sees his development in wine. “I used to think let’s go for maximum flavor and aromatic presence,” he responds. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s all about texture, and how the wine feels on the palate.” We’ve tasted through a mixed-white, and a series of mixed-blacks including Two Acres’s beautiful Mourvedre.

Carlisle wines almost entirely focus on the fruit of Officer’s old vine sites, both mixed whites, and mixed blacks. It’s a discipline from vineyard to bottle that defines Carlisle. The wines offer seamless length, juicy movement with texture it makes my mouth water to write about, and ample while elegant flavor and aromatics. There is a purity to the wines that pleases.

We’re almost done with our visit. Then, in the midst of tasting, Officer mentions in passing what he calls his “one self-indulgence,” the only Gruner Veltliner planted in Sonoma County, and a small bit of younger vines he turns into wine.

The Gruner is planted at 1000-ft elevation on a site he convinced the vineyard owner to put into Gruner. They make only 100-cases, and most of it goes to Farmhouse, a restaurant in the Russian River Valley. Immediately, I am crawling out of my skin wanting to taste it. We have no bottle to try. Still, it’s another glimpse of the passion for cataloging, and work with the many varieties of grapevines that motivates Officer.

“I’m such a grape junky,” Mike tells me smiling, “I would make forty wines, if we could.” He wants to work with all of them.

***

For Carlisle Winery & Vineyards: http://www.carlislewinery.com/

For Historic Vineyard Society: http://www.historicvineyardsociety.org

Tim Fish on Carlisle Zinfandels: http://www.winespectator.com/blogs/show/id/48317

***

Thank you to Mike Officer.

Thank you to Marty LaPlante.

If anyone gets their hands on a bottle of Carlisle Gruner Veltliner, please write me and tell me how it was.

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

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Heritage Wines of California at Pebble Beach Food and Wine

Pebble Beach Food + Wine Heritage Wines of California panelfrom left: Morgan Twain-Peterson, Gillian Balance, Ray Isle, Tegan Passalacqua

Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor for Food & Wine Magazine celebrated heritage wines of California on a panel at this year’s Pebble Beach Food and Wine. Bringing together Morgan Twain-Peterson and Tegan Passalacqua of the Historic Vineyard Society, with Master Sommelier and wine educator, Gillian Balance, the discussion offered an introduction to terroir specific vineyards of California through ten wines of Northern California.

Attending the Heritage Vineyard Society panel was a lucky treat. The event was one of the first to sell out for Pebble Beach Food & Wine this year, and the crowd waiting to get into the panel was not only early but pushed against the door waiting for it to open. It was a fantastic panel discussion bringing out not only the value of the ten individual wines (shown below) featured, but also of the importance of historic vineyards more broadly. Following is a look at the discussion and the wines.

The Value of Older Vineyards

To open the conversation, Isle highlighted the point that older vineyards are not just old vines, but plots of land that offer cultural value beyond their simple economic value. Twain-Peterson and Passalacqua have worked with vineyards throughout the Northern part of the state for decades.

Twain-Peterson grew up with the interest through work in wine with his father, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood. However, he began his own passion for the work at a young age making his first wine thanks to grapes from a family friend at the age of 5. Though he must have had assistance at such a young age, he selected the type of fruit he wanted himself–Pinot Noir. He now has his own label, Bedrock Wine Co.

After work with wine in South Africa, Passalacqua has spent the last decade with Turley Wine Cellars driving between vineyards throughout Northern California and into the Central Coast, scouting new sites, and managing vine health to then make wine for the label. More recently he has also launched his own already celebrated label, Sandlands.

The depth of experience with older vineyard sites shared by Passalacqua and Twain-Peterson is some of the deepest in the state. Again and again, however, the duo witnessed brilliant older vineyards being ripped out for merely economic reasons. The experience was repeatedly devastating.

Older sites offer more direct insight into any sense of California terroir. As vines age they adapt to the conditions of their site. The adaptation means that their growth and fruit production are unique to the place in which they are grown, not replaceable by simply getting fruit from another site. Younger vines can offer abundant fruit but tend to be more expressive of their variety and clone. As vines age, however, clonal distinctions fade to the backdrop and site expression steps to the fore.

As Isle pointed out, however, older vineyards don’t just contain older vines. Sites in California planted prior to Prohibition still produce beautiful fruit, offering a link through the state’s otherwise broken viticultural history. Many of these vineyards are also still owned and farmed by the families that planted them. Grandchildren that first walked the rows with their now deceased relatives thus maintain a connection with their own history. As the panel emphasized, agriculture reflects culture, rather than just being agri-business.

Many of the older sites that Twain-Peterson and Passalacqua valued were unknown, however. So, when faced with the destruction of one of these vineyards few people even realized what had been lost. Frustrated with the trend, the pair got together with several others, including Mike Officer, of Carlisle Winery, and David Gates of Ridge, to found the Historic Vineyard Society, a non-profit that registers, maps, and raises awareness of older vine sites in an effort to preserve them.

Heritage Wines of California

Heritage Wines of California panelthe ten wines of the Heritage Wines of California, PBFW panel
from top left: Hanzell Ambassador 1953-planting 2007 Pinot Noir; Bedrock Wine Co Gibson Ranch 120-yr old 2013 Grenache; Idlewild Testa Vineyard 2012 Carignane; Neyers Evangelho Vineyard 2012 Mourvedre; Turley 1880s-planted Library VIneyard 2012 Petite Sirah; Turley Kirchenmann Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel; Limerick Lane 1910-planted 2011 Zinfandel; Carlisle Winery Carlisle Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel; Ridge 2012 Geyserville

In choosing the ten wines for the panel discussion, the group selected examples made from vineyards legally established more than 50 years ago, with more than 33% of the planting still containing original vines. Farmers of older sites will individually replace vines with cuttings of the originals as issues develop in particular vines. As a result, older vineyards often reflect a patchwork of ages but with a predominance of original vines, and a root in original vine material.

The first challenge for older vineyards existing today rests in surviving the fancy of economic trends. However, being established at a time with less potential intervention means such sites were also, by luck or intention, established in locations that can genuinely support healthy vines. As Passalacqua pointed out, because of the lack of technological intervention previously possible, older sites represent land genuinely good for grapes. If it was too hard to grow healthy grapes there, the site was going to be pulled out for farming an easier, more lucrative crop.

As the panel explained, vineyards older than 50 years represent access to an older paradigm “before a more recent intellectual and technical shift in vineyard technology.” More than 50 years, ago sites were planted dry farmed with older (pre-trellising) techniques. Such sites, as a result, reflect not only older vines but sites brilliant for vineyards.

The Wines of the Panel

The wines as a whole were impressively vibrant, with complex expression and flavor concentration. The ten panel selections showed a predominance of elegance, with just a few examples of winemaker experimentation or a touch of vineyard funk. Following are notes on the individual vineyards and wines.

Hanzell, Ambassador Block, 2007 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Valley
In the 1953-planted Ambassador block, Hanzell grows what is believed to be the oldest continuously producing Pinot Noir vineyard in North America. As Gillian Balance explained, the site is “one of the most spectacular vineyards ever seen” offering incredibly low yields and “a benchmark for what great California Pinot Noir should be.” The 2007 carries a beautiful, easy purity of expression offering layers of fruit, earthy-herbal elements with stimulating while delicate tannin, built around a graceful backbone.

Bedrock Wine Co, Gibson Ranch, 2013 Grenache, McDowell Valley
Bedrock sources fruit from the historic Gibson Ranch McDowell Vineyard, featuring Grenache trees more than 120 years old. The vines on the site are head trained but having been largely left to their own devices over the years, vine height is often taller than people. Harvesting the fruit includes ladders, or standing inside the body of the vine itself. As Twain-Peterson explains, he loves the wines of Gramenon, and from Beaujolais, and so chose to use some whole cluster fermentation to call on the characteristics of those wines. The Bedrock Gibson Grenache carries lots of fresh red fruit lift, moving into a purple and violet palate with tons of mineral crunch and pleasing texture.

Idlewild, Testa Vineyard, 2012 Carignane, Redwood Valley
Though Zinfandel often takes credit as California’s historic grape, Carignan established itself through the same regions as its spicy cousin. The two varieties complement each other in the glass with Carignan bringing a meaty earthiness to Zinfandels fruit spice. Examples of Carignan can be found on its own as well. The Idlewild Testa Carignane brings elegant richness to juicy dark fruit integrated with a deeper spice and ginger accents. Isle laughingly described it as “bright, zingy, like tap dancer wine.”

Neyers, Evangelho Vineyard, 2012 Mourvedre, Contra Costa County
As Passalacqua explains, the Evangelho stands as a rolling vineyard of blow sand — decomposed granite literally blown down from the Sierra Nevadas. It can be a challenge moving through the site to sample fruit, like walking long distances on a beach. One of the advantages of growing vines in sand, however, rests in phylloxera’s inability to prosper in such an environment. As a result, vines can grow on their own roots giving more direct expression, and greater balance in the final wine. The Neyers Evangelho Mourvedre gives dark fruit, dried maple (no sweetness), and natural spice concentration lifted with clean, fresh fruit and melting tannin.

Turley, Library Vineyard, 2012 Petite Sirah, Napa Valley
The Library Vineyard grows in the heart of St Helena wrapping the back sides of the town library. Planted in the late 1880s, more than 24 different varieties, including some unidentified, grow in the site. In this way, the Library Vineyard is not only adjacent to the town library, but is in itself a library of historic cuttings from around the Napa Valley. The Turley Library Petite Sirah wine is full of concentrated complexity beginning with opaque aromatics and violet perfume, then carrying the perfume into the palate with layers of sarsaparilla, mandarin zest, dark fruit, and natural (not barrel) coffee accents.

Turley, Kirschenmann Vineyard, 2012 Zinfandel, Lodi
Growing in what is known as the Peninsula section of the historic Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi, the Kirschenmann Vineyard showcases the lighter fresh fruit profile offered by the sands of the Lodi region. Passalacqua himself now owns the Kirschenmann Vineyard, having purchased it with his wife directly from the family that farmed it for generations. The Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel carries perfumed red aromatics, rolling into a fresh palate of white and red cherry accented by pink grapefruit spice, white pepper midpalate accents, and suave melting tannin.

Limerick Lane, 1910 Zinfandel Block, 2011 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
In the Northeastern section of the Russian River Valley, Limerick Lane owns their historic Estate vineyard, originally homesteaded and planted in 1910. From the site some of the most respected names in California wine history have made wine, including Davis Bynum, and Ravenswood. Maintaining a block of the original vines, Limerick Lane produces a field blend Zinfandel. The 2011 carries redwood, earthy, and savory black olive notes through a drying midpalate and long finish. Note: though the panel papers named this the 2012 vintage, the wine poured was actually the 2011.

Carlisle Winery, Carlisle Vineyard, 2012 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley
Growing on the Eastern Bench of the historic river floodplain in the Russian River Valley, the Carlisle Vineyard proves one of the most varietally diverse sites in Northern California. Thirty-eight different varieties prosper in the site. Carlisle Winery produces a field blend Zinfandel featuring the mix. Carlisle Vineyard is owned by Mike Officer, one of the board members and founders of the Historic Vineyard Society. The Carlisle field blend Zinfandel gives red fruit lift and refreshing pink grapefruit accents carrying forward into a creamy palate with layers of rich maple (no sweetness), cocoa powder, cracked pepper, and touches of loam.

Bedrock Wine Co., Bedrock Vineyard Heritage Wine, 2012 Sonoma Valley
Founded in 1854, Bedrock Vineyard carries rich heritage including the attention of U.S. Generals, a state Senator, survival through Prohibition, and now ownership by what Twain-Peterson refers to as the The Peterson-Deininger-Kenworthy-Burney Braintrust. The Bedrock Wine Co Bedrock Vineyard blend brings together Carignan and Zinfandel with 20% mixed field blend from the property’s historic vines. The wine gives lifted fresh purple fruit integrated with fresh herbal, earthy elements and light pine through creamy flavors on a lean, drying palate.

Ridge 2012 Geyserville, Alexander Valley
Another historic field blend site, Ridge’s Geyserville wine brings fruit from the Geyserville vineyard featuring vines more than 130 years old. The field blend includes Carignan, Zinfandel, and Mataro (aka Mourvedre), a combination classic to the warmer areas of Northern California. Ridge has been making wine from the site since 1966. The Ridge Geyserville spins with perfumed floral notes of cherry blossom, dried rose petal, and forest violet, moving into a touch of forest floor, cocoa, and savory soy elements through the ultra long finish.

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For more on Heritage Vineyards in California, read Ray Isle’s excellent article: http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/the-battle-for-americas-oldest-vines

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Thank you to Ray Isle, Gillian Balance, Tegan Passalacqua, and Morgan Twain-Peterson.

Thank you to Sarah Logan.

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

2

The Lodi Native Zinfandel Project

The Lodi Native Winemakers

Lodi Native Winemakers (clockwise from left): Layne Montgomery, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, Michael McCay, Tim Holdener, Chad Joseph. Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso.

Propelled by an idea of Randy Caparoso, six Lodi winemakers have produced and released the Lodi Native Project, a collection of six different Zinfandel wines made from six separate heritage vineyards of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA. The winemakers include Chad Joseph of Maley Brothers Vineyards, Layne Montgomery of m2 wines, Michael McCay of McCay Cellars, Stuart Spencer of St Amant Winery, Ryan Sherman of Fields Family Vineyards & Winery, and Tim Holdener of Macchia Wines.

What defines the collection rests in technique. The wines are individually made using only ambient yeast fermentations, in neutral vessels, without the addition of anything beyond sulfur, without alcohol reductive techniques, and avoiding fining, or filtering. The wines, in other words, are produced with minimal intervention. The goal is to offer the best expression of the vineyards themselves.

The Wealth of Lodi Vineyards

Weget Vineyard w Chad Joseph and Layne Montgomery

Standing in Weget Vineyard, Zinfandel planted in 1958, Mokelumne River AVA Westside, with Chad Joseph (left) and Layne Montgomery, July 2013. Photo courtesy Randy Caparoso.

Lodi offers some of the highest concentration of quality old vine material in the state of California. As vines age through vintages, they adapt their growing patterns to the conditions of their site, becoming more responsive to the intersection of factors–soil type, water availability, drainage, mineral content, sun, wind, and humidity exposure, etc–unique to their environment. The result yields fruit expressive through aroma, flavor, structure (and even color and size) of its peculiar vineyard.

Younger vines, on the other hand, grow instead with the vigor of their variety. Not yet adapted to the demands of their vineyard location, younger vines produce grapes with resounding fruit flavor, but not necessarily showcasing the elements unique to their growing location. For wine lovers hoping for the taste of a place, then, such potential rests in older vineyards. In a state dominated by vineyards twenty years of age and younger, Lodi’s older vineyards could be understood as viticultural wealth.

However, Lodi commonly gets underestimated by wine media who take the region to produce only overripe mass market wines. Misperceptions of ripeness depend partially on misunderstandings about Lodi climate. As part of the central valley of California, Lodi is taken to be far warmer than it actually is, perceived to match temperatures of growing areas south like Modesto. In actuality, Lodi benefits from the Sacramento-San Joaquin RIver system, or California Delta. The Delta forms a gap in the coastal mountains that pulls cool air from San Francisco Bay over the growing regions of Lodi keeping the area cooler than the rest of the Central Valley. As a result, Lodi day time highs average similarly to mid-to-St. Helena Napa Valley with a cooling breeze hitting daily by mid afternoon.

Wanting to find a way to help improve awareness of Lodi’s quality vineyards, Caparoso brought together the six winemakers to develop a project that would become Lodi Native. Together the group focused in on the question of how to best express the wealth of Lodi vineyards. Towards such ends they agreed upon working with older sites utilizing minimal intervention winemaking techniques. The result is a collection of six distinctive Zinfandels offering juicy while crystalline focus on the character that is Mokelumne River.

The Lodi Natives Project: the taste of Mokelumne River

Marians Vineyard Mohr Fry Ranch

Marian’s Vineyard, planted 1901, Mohr-Fry Ranch. Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso.

The Mokelumne River appellation of Lodi gives a distinctive disposition to its wines. The fine grained soils of the river valley bring a suave character to the tannin ranging from the texture of a voluptuous slippery silk to melt away shantung. The cooling influence of the afternoon breeze offers ample juiciness. Together its a structure that is definitively Lodi.

Moving from East to West along the river appellation the flavors markedly shift. The Eastern half of the AVA showcases ultra fine sand to silt soils that give lifted, pretty red fruit and flower character brushed through with a natural baking spice and light musk element I taste as a range from clove to ginger.

Moving West, the appellation approaches the Delta, with water tables coming closer to the surface as a result, and soils shifting to just a touch more fertile sandy loam. The result is an earthier component to the wines, often giving a loamy essence throughout, sometimes verging on a loamy funk. The fruit tends darker in comparison cut on the edges with a hint of celery salt thanks to the Delta influence.

The Lodi Native Wines

Lodi Native Zinfandel 2012

click on image to enlarge

These are six nicely crafted wines that each give focused expression of their site. The minimalist approach is new to many of these winemakers but in each case they executed the methodology to positive effect. These are clean wines. Together the collection offer crystalline insight into the character of Lodi’s Mokelumne River appellation giving pure expression to the vineyards. Separately they each carry the juiciness of wines to drink with food, and the medium to medium-light body that allows them to work on their own.

Westside Mokelumne

The three wines from Westside Mokelumne–Weget, Soucie, and Trulux Vineyards–offer the celery salt edge with loam elements ranging from mere accents to integrated loaminess characteristic of the Delta influence.

Of the three, the Weget Vineyard farmed by the Maley Brothers and vinified by Chad Joseph gives the most singular focus on fruit with a definitively red lift to the aromatics and palate characteristic of carbonic notes. The red fruit aromatics and palate are touched through by blood orange peel, and faint savory spice. I’m super curious to see how this wine will continue to develop. As it is now, the Weget carries the strongest focus on freshness of the collection with those carbonic elements rising from the glass. There are edges through the wine, however, that hint it will deepen in character and develop further complexity with time.

The collection’s Soucie Vineyard, made by Layne Montgomery and farmed by Kevin Soucie, shows the strongest influence of the Westside funk with the loam elements deepening into loamy musk. At first sniff the funk can be surprising but with air it dissipates and integrates into the overall wine. The wine, however, shows up too with lots of juicy lift and pure fruit expression so that the dark earthy elements are paired alongside red juiciness. This wine likes air as the pairing of elements can then open and swirl together.

Michael McCay makes the Trulux Vineyard bottling of the collection giving a wine focused on earthiness accented by floral aromatics and fruit flavors. The fruit and flower show up deepened by evergreen forest and loamy touches throughout and accented on the finish by dried beach grass and celery salt. This is a nicely focused, nicely balanced wine with lots of juiciness and a shantung textured tannin melting into juicy length.

Eastside Mokelumne

The Eastside wines of the collection–Marian’s, Century Block, and Noma Vineyards–showcase the lighter presentation, pretty fruit elements characteristic of that portion of Mokelumne River vineyards.

Marian’s Vineyard, farmed by Jerry and Bruce Fry and vinified by Stuart Spencer, rests on what would be the center line between East and Westside Mokelumne. However, the site showcases the soils more typical of Eastside plantings. The wine offers perfumed, concentrated fruit of an old vine planting with lots of juiciness balanced by light tannin grip. Light clay notes and musk lift appear in the wine and the fruit characteristics mix blackberry pie (without sweetness or jammy character) and red cherry with clove. This wine shows off the naturally concentrated while still lively flavor of old vine fruit.

The Century Block Vineyard bottling, made by Ryan Sherman, offers lots of red and dark cherry with light plum (no sweetness) fruit concentration spun through with natural (not oak) dark cocoa, touches of red currant, and perfumed musk leading into a talcum finish. Though this wine carries lots of red fruit, the fruit is not the focus. Instead those fresh red elements come in clothed with evergreen and dry cocoa bringing a sense of rusticity to the wine.

The miniaturized vines of the Noma Ranch bottling, vinified by Tim Holdener and farmed by Leland Noma, offer lifted fresh red cherry with black cap and sour dark Morello integrated with natural fruit spice and touched by perfumed musk. The brilliance of older vines shows here as the Noma bottling turns out to have the highest alcohol level of the collection but carries it in good balance with lovely juiciness, concentrated flavor, and easy lightly drying tannin.

***

The Lodi Native Wines are available as a complete 6-pack collection sold in wooden box. For the Lodi Native website: http://www.lodinative.com

For Reed Fujii’s write-up on Lodi Natives: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140309/A_BIZ/403070305/-1/A_BIZ04

For Fred Swan’s write-up on Lodi Natives: http://norcalwine.com/blog/51-general-interest/871-lodi-zinfandel-goes-native

***

Thank you very much to Randy Caparoso, Chad Joseph, Layne Montgomery, Michael McCay, Stuart Spencer, Ryan Sherman, and Tim Holdener. The Lodi Natives group invited me to taste these wines with them through early stages beginning in July 2013, as well as to join in discussion of the project. I very much appreciate being able to see the development of the project, as well as the wines. Thank you.

Thank you to Alex Fondren, and Rebecca Robinson.

Thank you to Wine & Roses.

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

 

1

The Lizzie James Vineyard in Mokelumne River, Lodi

In 1904, what was then known as the grape Black Prince (now more commonly called Cinsault) was planted on an uneven site full of fine sand in the Mokelumne River area of Lodi. Eventually the vines were grafted over to Zinfandel. The vineyard named Lizzie James.

This weekend we were able to visit the Lizzie James harvest as the sun came up. Here are pictures of the pick, and more on the history of the vineyard, and its fruit.

Harvesting Lizzie James

The George Mettler family was able to preserve Lizzie James vineyard through purchase, after discovering it was set to be pulled to make way for a new neighborhood development. It is now made into a vineyard designate Zinfandel for their Harney Lane Winery. Kyle and Jorja Lerner manage the vineyards and winery, named for the area Jorja’s family has lived for five generations.

Harvesting Lizzie James

Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA is known for generating distinct style differences between fruit grown on the West versus the Eastern sides of the appellation. The Lizzie James Vineyard sits on the Eastern side, and offers classic Eastside character with clean red fruit focus and just a touch of dusty spice with faint Eucalyptus accents.

Harvesting Lizzie James

Head trained vines of this sort, also offer fruit at various levels of doppled sun exposure and height. The result is variation in fruit character and flavor intensity, but also a lot of up-down hand harvesting at differing heights, which means more work for the vineyard crew.

Harvesting Lizzie James

Over the decades individual vines in the site have been replaced, though the vineyard still predominately features the original age vines. As a result, vine age differences give further complexity to the vineyard.

Harvesting Lizzie James

As older vines are thoroughly adapted to the unique growing conditions of their site, they offer important access to the true potential of a region’s wine quality. Preserving older vines helps to showcase the heritage and character of Mokelumne River fruit, and give insight into the terroir of California in a way younger vines are not yet able.

Harvesting Lizzie James

As part of the Mettler family, Jorja Lerner celebrates 5 generations of grape growers in Lodi. They farm 250 acres of head trained Zinfandel in addition to their extensive plantings of other grape types. In starting the Harney Lane winery, Jorja and Kyle Lerner are part of the movement of Lodi natives shifting from only farming grapes to also making wine. When the couple approached Jorja’s mother with the winery idea she agreed under two conditions — all of the wine had to be from only Estate grown fruit, and they had to plant Albarino. She’d discovered the grape while traveling and fell in love with its wine. As promised, Harney Lane offers a juicy, textural focus Albarino aged on lees for layers of creamy flavor on a clean zing backbone.

Harvesting Lizzie James

Kyle Lerner, also from the Lodi region, originates from a family in law enforcement, and began farming with the Mettler family in order to help his father in law as he recovered from surgery. Today, Kyle manages all of the family’s extensive vineyard farming.

Harvesting Lizzie James

For the Lizzy James fruit, winemaker Chad Joseph and Kyle Lerner work together to keep the focus on the vineyard. They ferment 2/3 of the harvest wild in small open bins, with (due to winery logistics) the rest inoculated in tank. Joseph explains he likes the variation and interest offered through the wild ferments, while appreciating the reliable core given by the tank ferment. The wine is then aged in older French oak barrels.

We were able to taste the current release, 2010, and barrel sample the 2012. Later, we also checked back in on the 2013 fruit. Lerner and Joseph see the 2013 Lizzie James harvest as similar in size to the 2012 but with better quality fruit.

The Harney Lane 2010 bottling of Lizzie James Zinfandel gives lifted red flower and juicy red fruit touched with eucalyptus accents, cocoa hints, and rose cream all on a body of smooth tannin, velvety texture, and a long finish.

Harvesting Lizzie James

***

Thank you to Kyle Lerner and Chad Joseph. Thank you to Randy Caparoso.

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

7

Tasting at ZAP: The Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel Panel

Zinfandel

click on comic to enlarge

Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, aka. ZAP, hosted a Heritage Vineyards Panel, sponsored by the Historic Vineyard Society. The goal of the group is to help raise awareness about the incredible quality offered by genuinely older vines in order to encourage their preservation and maintanence, as well as appreciation for their resulting wine. The panel on Friday included tasting with vineyard and vine information. It was organized into four tasting groups of four wines each, separated by region in California–Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, and Lodi. Each region was represented by an expert winemaker and vineyard scout from that area.

Following are notes on the wines. They were generally organized from lowest to highest alcohol, and overall coolest to hotter regions. It should be noted, however, that there are cooler and warmer zones in each, so for example while Lodi appeared last, portions of Lodi are much cooler than might be expected.

In general, Mendocino offered the prettiest iterations of the wine, with the Sonoma group the most varied (that county is HUGE). Napa wines showed the narrowest range of presentation between wines, but with the most layered flavors throughout. Finally, Lodi offered the most distinctive bunch with images of bear, lamb, and wrestling ferret trombling through my head from so much musk.

Mendocino

Mendocino county zinfandel is characterized by its more condensed growing season with frost often occurring into May, and harvest hitting in the third week of October. The diurnal difference is also significant, with temperatures dropping significantly at night preserving higher acidity levels in the grapes.

Interestingly, much of the zinfandel industry in Mendocino was instigated by plantings established to aid the efforts of World War II. The wine produced left tartaric acid condensation on the insides of the large redwood tanks. The tartaric was then scraped off and used in gunpowder needed to fight the war.

* 2010 Graziano Family of Wines, Kazmet Vineyards

I enjoyed this wine most in the flight. It offered a pretty red floral combined with earthy nose, and a refreshing dance-y palate clean and full of finesse. The presentation was long and juicy, with crunchy berry and light mint touches alongside hints of cocoa. It’s only been in bottle for two weeks so watch for it to really open up.

2009 Golden Winery, Coro Mendocino

Including a mix of Syrah and Petit Sirah, this wine carries more weight than the Graziano, without heaviness. More tannic grip hits the palate as a result. Expect light red fruit undercurrent flowing under a very cocoa and prune driven wine with light menthol on both the nose and palate. The long prune finish, with a bit of weight, has a drying effect also showing forest floor.

* 2011 Carlisle Winery & Vineyards, Du Pratt Vineyards

I appreciated this wine. It offers prettiness and depth. Red and pink floral elements bring the nose into a zippy zippy palate of red flowers and cracked pepper, swirling with porcini mushroom and a dark chalky texture. It is not as heavy as the Golden while offering more weight than the Kazmet.

2010 Claudia Springs Winery, Rhodes Vineyard

Herbal, floral, and vanilla swirl and open into menthol here, uncurling into pine and bark on the palate. Again zippy zippy palate stimulation prickling through with cracked pepper, chocolate, followed by cocoa powder on the finish. The vanilla aspects weigh down the herbal aromatics for me.

**

Thank you to Dennis Patton for his selection of the wines, and discussion of Mendocino Zinfandel.

**

Sonoma

The greatest number of Zinfandel plantings occur in Sonoma. However, the various appellations and regions of Sonoma County are incredibly varied in soil type, temperature range, proximity to water, and elevation, generating a great range between various wines.

Sonoma Valley is predominately alluvial wash coming from the backside of Mt Veeder, with some cooler influence coming up the Bennett Gap from San Pablo Bay. Russian River Valley occurs in three sections differing temperature zones reaching from mountain to ocean. Dry Creek Valley has a high concentration of old vine Zin planted–beautifully gnarled head trained vines that can be viewed on a drive through the area. It is generally considered warmer than Russian River Valley. To the East and North of Dry Creek Valley is Alexander Valley. It is the largest and has the most concentrated plantings of the AVAs in Sonoma.

* 2011 Bedrock Wine Co, Papera Vineyard (Sonoma Valley)

Both the nose and palate offer cocoa and fresh mint with blue and black fruit integrated with spice and cracked pepper. The palate is fresh and juicy, with a clean and focused overall presentation. The oak elements here are integrated into the wine as a whole. I enjoyed this wine.

2008 Ridge, Mazzoni Home Ranch (Alexander Valley)

This is a big wine that fills the entire palate, and comes in full on the nose as well. It carries about 50% Zinfandel with slightly smaller portion of Carignan, and some mixed fruit from a field blend aspect of the vineyard. It is one of the oldest vineyards in the region, planted in the 1890s. This is a well made wine showing good proportions on the elements throughout. Still, it is bigger than I prefer, and has more weight on the palate than I like. This is not a wine I can readily drink. The flavors here include vanilla and menthol integrated with red cherry, prune, and pepper. There is a nice dance of juiciness with a soft tannin grip and light dusty accents throughout.

* 2009 Dashe Cellars, Louvau Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley)

Candied prune and menthol come in alongside light black cherry and blackberry. This wine came in the most closed initially but opened to offer meaty aromatics, pleasing high notes, and a good lift on the palate. I enjoyed this wine and expect it will continue to uncurl in the bottle to offer even more complexity and interest.

2009 Ravenswood, Old Hill Ranch (Sonoma Valley)

An immediate offering of chocolate mint followed by dark fruit and rosemary here. The finish comes in with a chocolate covered prune finish. There is more weight on the palate and in the finish than I prefer on this wine. It will be interesting to taste again with more age. The wine includes some Carignan and Mourvedre.

**

Thank you to Morgan Twain Peterson for selecting the wines and discussing Sonoma County.

**

Napa

Napa County comes in as California’s first AVA. Though it is widely associated with Cabernet now, it’s history is dominated first by Zinfandel. George Yount took cuttings from General Vallejo to plant vines near what is now Yountville (a one mile long party town dominated by tourists. Yee haw!) Petit Sirah also showed up with an important historical presence by the 1960s. Cabernet didn’t begin taking over until the 1970s. The AVA includes 16 sub appellations though it is only 30 miles long and 5 miles wide. It also has a significant diurnal swing throughout the appellation. According to Bob Biale, who moderated the Napa section, the valley also carries over half of the world’s soil types.

2010 Mike and Molly Hendry, R.W. Moore Vineyard (Combsville)

Cocoa and cinnamon layer beside rose petal, red berry, menthol, and dried black cherry. There is light leather, portabello mushroom, and spice throughout this wine. The tannin is soft here giving a smooth, light texture, coming in beside a zippy, juicy acidity. 40% of the plantings are original or very old vine zinfandel field blended with Gamay, Mourvedre, and Petit Sirah.

2010 Robert Biale Vineyards, Aldo’s Vineyard (Oak Knoll)

Sauteed mushrooms, with lanolin, chocolate, black cherry and black berry roll through with black pepper and passionfruit into a chocolate and cracked pepper finish. The tannin here is smooth, with a lightly hot and zippy palate. There is a lot of layer in this wine. 69% of the vines in Aldo’s Vineyard are original or very old. The site is named after Bob Biale’s father, Aldo, who preserved the plantings from the vicious Suburbia louse, a virus-carrying pest we have not yet found cure for.

2009 Chase Cellars, Hayne Vineyard Reserve (St. Helena)

Dried purple flowers, prune and berry, appear with purple fruit, forest floor and floral spice. There is light meat fat here breathing into a prune and cocoa finish. These are smooth tannins. Found in the warmest appellation of Napa, this wine still carries enough acidity for quaffing.

2010 T-Vine, Frediani Vineyard

I did not like this wine. The residual sugar overwhelms other flavors so that it was hard for me to retain more than black cherry with plum pungent jam surprise spread (it was even chunky in the mouth). Working at it I was able to get bacon fat, clove and nutmeg as well, with hints of pastry. This wine was a shocker.

**

Thank you to Bob Biale for selecting the wines and sharing information about Napa Valley.

**

Lodi

An old growing region, Lodi started in the 1860s, with it offering Zinfandel and 40 other varieties by 1883. The region survived through Prohibition sending lots of fruit back to the East Coast where it was made into wine for small family production. The area is dominated by a heavy sand content, keeping phylloxera at bay. As a result, the region hosts a lot of own rooted vines. The largest concentration of historic vineyards per overall acreage occurs in Lodi. It is only just starting to produce small scale local wineries, thus just beginning to show what is possible with Lodi fruit.

* 2010 McCay Cellars, Contention, Train Wreck Vineyard

I liked this wine. Has 5% Carignan. A distinct wild musk with wild mixed berries hits with integrated spice and purple floral notes, wet leather and lanolin. There is some rainstorm hillside mud wrestling happening behind this wine, as well as notes of wolf and lamb musk. My my. The vineyard was originally planted in 1935. In 1954 a train crashed alongside it spilling 100s of thousands of obsidian pieces into the sand of the vineyard. They remain today. Thus the name, Train Wreck Vineyard.

2011 St Amant Winery, Marian’s Vineyard, Mohr-Fry Ranch

Black berry and black cherry are integrated with violet-spice and bear musk on the nose. The palate carries forward with well-integrated vanilla elements, and a wet leather finish. Chaps on a cowboy walking rain-washed ground we get here. That is, the chaps are wet. There is a nice tannic grip without roughness on this wine. Mohr-Fry is the most famous vineyard in Lodi, planted in 1901 by the Mettler Brothers.

* 2010 Turley Wine Cellars, Dogtown Vineyard

Fresh blackberry bramble, sage and mint lighten the nose, bringing blackberry, black plum, and spicy leather chaps (again with the chaps, this time they’re dry but after a long ride through the dusty hillsides at the edge of the region). Clove comes in with a light dust bowl scent. The vineyard was planted in 1944 on own root, in the Northeast of Lodi’s Clement Hills.

2010 Macchia, Outrageous, Noma Ranch

Black fruit, primarily plum, and also cherry, carry wood bark and forest floor into the palate showing fruit stamen spice, floral and dried fruit skin, dried orange zest, light leather, and the musk of wrestling ferrets (I’m not making this up. The ferrets are totally wrestling.) The flavors here are softened, and the tannin smooth.

***
Post-edit: The Historic Vineyard Society was inadvertently named as the Heritage Vineyard Society in the original version of this post.

**
Thank you to Tegan Passalacqua for selecting the wines and coordinating the Lodi discussion.

***

Thank you to Joel Peterson for moderating the panel, and Rebecca Robinson for representing ZAP.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.

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

 

1

Meeting Doug and Andrew Nalle

from left: Doug Nalle, Andrew Nalle

The Nalle label began in 1984, with Doug Nalle starting to make wine under his own name after over ten years in the industry already. Son Andrew Nalle grew up tasting wine with the family, working with the Henderlong Vineyard (which the Nalle family now owns), and seeing the work his dad did with winemaking. Since 2002, Andrew has been slowly taking over the winemaking in the family after earning an undergraduate degree in philosophy (my favorite), studying abroad in Sydney, and working harvest in South Africa.

I was able to spend several hours each with both Doug and Andrew talking with them about their work in wine. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about Doug’s wealth of experience in the industry (Nalle makes some of the finest Zinfandel), as well as their view on old vines. Today, I’ll post what I learned from listening to Andrew.

Listening to Andrew Nalle

After spending time talking about old vines, and his experience studying philosophy, Andrew begins to tell me what made him turn from the style of life found in university, to what he does now–make wine.

“I like the creativity of making wine most of all, and the self discipline of it seems to work for me.

“I like to travel and see how others do their wine. But I can’t be away too long, now that I’m more involved in the winery. So, on vacation, I always go to a wine area.

“But, we definitely have a system down here. Dad is adamant about how wine should be made. But, the truth is, I agree with him. It matters where the grapes are grown, and the person making it has to really pay attention. You have to know when to rack it, fermentation… pressing… you don’t want to press it too heavy. Someone has to have skill–it matters in fine wine. To start, you need great fruit. Right now people like to talk about less manipulation or intervention, but it’s the wrong word.” Andrew pauses here. He agrees with the idea of not manipulating the wine, but disagrees with the implication that that means you don’t do anything. He starts again, “you need to pay attention”

outside the Nalle winery

“It’s fun. It’s a challenge. If you like to get things just right, and then people come in later and taste with you, and recognize it… it’s really nice.

“Sometimes I feel like, why are you trying so hard? I guess, I want a little more refinement. The kinds of wine we’re making are for people that know their palate. It’s about making a good product that people can enjoy. For me, it’s like cooking. It’s nice when the chef is right out there, and you can see him cooking. But, really, people just want to know it’s a good meal, and then enjoy and talk to each other. It’s about making a good bottle of wine that can be really special to somebody. I worked in restaurants in college. That helped a lot to making me want to come back here. Growing up in it [in winemaking, and the Dry Creek Valley area], you’re used to it. But seeing people in a restaurant get so excited about a good wine with the food…

old vine Zinfandel planted in 1932, Henderlong Vineyard

“Food, it’s everyday. Wine, you have to be way more patient. It’s a slow process of waiting on flavors, to see how it all integrates. In restaurants, there are recipes, but there is also the feel. I enjoy that. How personal it can be. It’s like there is a recipe, but the winemaker does have a huge stamp on it. Like in the Old World, a father does give his recipe to his son [like Doug to Andrew], but everything keeps going, maybe the vineyard changes, but there is also this consistency to it. People can count on that. It’s comforting to people.

“People say all the time, you’re really lucky to be doing this. I am. But I want to keep improving, to keep making the wine better. It’s fun to hear that, but you can’t get too caught up in that. You’ve got to stay hungry. Ultimately, it’s fun to create.

old vine Carignan planted in 1932, Henderlong Vineyard

“If I didn’t grow up in a winery, I’d probably be working in a restaurant, and making wine on the side.

“It’s nice to have put in my apprenticeship now. Because, in the beginning, you have to put in so much patience. It’s not like cooking, in a way, because if you mess up, you can’t just start over. It takes years. You need time underneath you. Older winemakers have time beneath them. Maybe something you make, you put five years into, and then five years later, it’s still good. It takes time to get that. To not worry as much and trust it. You can’t just teach that. You have to put the wine and the time in. It’s always been fun for me, but it’s nice now to have more experience to enjoy it in a new way now, to have more confidence.

Andrew’s dogs (they’re oh my gaw awesome)

“We always say it is about the wine. The wine has got to be good. We’re doing this for people to have a great glass of wine. But it’s clear there is all this other stuff that goes into it too.

“When I’m cooking, every little flavor detail, what kind of rice I’m using, where I harvested the veggies, what spices, and how much… I just want to spend all my time in that. I want to do it again and again. I’m not okay with eating hot pockets every night. It’s like that here [at the winery]. Still, you can recognize that it’s Nalle wine. A lot of why I’m winemaking is really about cooking.

outside Nalle Winery

“I was doing philosophy, and then I realized, why am I looking so hard for what I want to do when it is right here, and I really wanted to work for my family. It is the best. They supported me so much, and so it just seems natural to want to do this for my family. Family is another layer of why I came back. I like being near them.

“Studying philosophy made me acknowledge more how special this is. Not everyone grew up like this. For me, this is how I grew up, so it’s really normal. You know, doesn’t everyone just taste wines at dinner, and travel to all these wine countries? Growing up like this got me into traveling. We’d see all these different wine shops, and restaurants. Then, you see all these people, and places. I realized from that, we’re all so different, and all human. It does have an effect on people–seeing it, the vines, where they grow. They’re taking that with them in the bottle. It’s pretty amazing seeing how excited people get.

“With philosophy, it is so hard. You have to start from the beginning, and there are so many questions. You need a whole life to do it. Wine, this seemed natural for me. But studying philosophy, I realized there are so many questions. And from that I started to think it isn’t about asking why but about how we live our lives. And that made me think about what I can contribute to things. For me, living an authentic, a good life was in making wine. This was more natural for me, and I think maybe I am good at it. I want to make my life better, and I want to make my family’s life better.”

***
Thank you to Andrew Nalle for taking the time to talk with me. I very much appreciate hearing your story. You make a wonderfully vibrant while focused zinfandel.

Thank you to Doug Nalle.

Thank you to Michelle McCue, Anne Alderete, and Dan Fredman.

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

1

Meeting Clay Mauritson

Clay Mauritson

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

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

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

Tasting the Soil: Cabernet Sauvignon, Loam Single Soil Wines

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

click on comic to enlarge

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Ashley Mauritson.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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Meeting the Mauriston Family

The Hallengren-Mauritson Family Homestead, now under Lake Sonoma

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Under Lake Sonoma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank you to Kyrsa Dixon.

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

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

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

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

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