Home Blog Page 2

Screaming Eagle

It’s one of the most famous – and famously inaccessible – wineries in the world. Elaine Chukan Brown pays a call



It’s a wet Friday morning in January. Driving through Napa Valley, I’ve had to adjust my route to avoid the flooding. The Napa River has burst its banks after record winter rainfall, and vineyards across Rutherford and Oakville are underwater. 

As advised, I’m wearing rubber boots. I’ve also donned my thickest work trousers and layered on the winter clothes. It’s an incongruous look given that I’m on my way to one of the most exclusive, revered wineries in all of California – indeed, the world. But today there will be none of the chic drinks receptions and hobnobbing on the expansive winery terrace that are so prevalent in Napa society, not least because this particular winery doesn’t really have a winery terrace. In fact, from the road, there’s barely any indication of a winery at all: no grand gates, no flashy flags, no showy signage – just a gatepost displaying the number. 

I’m here to get a look inside Screaming Eagle, discreetly set off the Silverado Trail on the eastern side of Oakville. It’s one of the most difficult wineries in the world at which to secure an appointment. (Jay-Z was famously rebuffed when he made an approach.) Many of the world’s top sommeliers have been turned away, along with several of the wine world’s top publications. They haven’t given an in-depth, on-site media interview in several years. 

Nick Gislason, the winemaker here – and the man behind the rubber-footwear counsel – greets me holding his daily mug of chicken broth, looking like a 1970s beatnik, with his oversized jacket and unruly, curly hair. Unassuming and quietly spoken, Gislason is dressed in the dark workpants and wool layers more typical of life in the Pacific Northwest than one of the most prestigious wineries in the world. We slowly begin walking the ….

To keep reading, head on over to the Club Oenologique website where the article is available free-for-all to read. Here’s the direct link to the article … https://cluboenologique.com/story/screaming-eagle/ 

Popelouchum Revisited

Elaine Chukan Brown visits Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon’s cradle of dreams, his new vineyard well off the beaten track in San Juan Bautista. 

The last time I visited Randall Grahm’s new Popelouchum vineyard more than three years ago there was little planted. There was a small nursery full of young Grenache vines planted close together and waiting to be replanted in another location. There was a wide swathe of experimental rootstock just getting started that was developed with UC Davis plant geneticist and rootstock specialist Andy Walker. And there was a clandestine block of head-trained Pinot Noir planted on an unbelievably steep slope tucked into the folds of the mountain and surrounded by forest.

In June this year, I drove several hours to San Juan Bautista, south of and inland from Bonny Doon’s base in Santa Cruz, to meet Grahm and see how his Popelouchum site has progressed over the last few years. I also had a chance to taste the first wines made from this site, all in tiny quantities. Even the one and only commercially bottled wine constituted a mere 27 cases.

Popelouchum itself is 415 acres (168 ha) total with around 80 plantable acres. The site was divided from a larger parcel once owned by a religious group as a private retreat. It’s geologically complex as it sits directly beside the San Andreas fault, with the ridge of a mountain rising from the centre of the property, and a smaller geological fault line just a mile or two away from the backside of the mountain. As a result, the site includes a mix of soils derived from volcanics, granite, limestone, and aliphatic clay, which helps brings some water-holding capacity, increasing the potential for dry farming. Importantly for Grahm, the site had also never been planted before he bought it. Few other vineyards can be …

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com. Here’s the direct link to the article: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/popelouchum-revisited. You’ll have to sign in with a subscription to keep reading it.

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

Cambie’s American Adventures

Connections with the Grateful Dead, Priorat, Macedonia and the southern Rhône drawn on the West Coast by the king of Grenache. 

He’s best known for his work in the Southern Rhône, most especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape. His admirers call him the king of Grenache. Philippe Cambie was raised in southern France, born to a family with vineyards in the Languedoc. Even so, he didn’t expect to end up in wine himself. After playing rugby for France, then studying food science and microbiology, Cambie turned finally to wine and became a consulting oenologist, or winemaker, in 1998. He has since become one of the most influential consultants of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where he has worked with more than 25 wineries, including Clos St-Jean, and his own Les Halos de Jupiter.

But Cambie’s influence has extended beyond southern France. This spring a series of new wines are being released in very small quantities from collaboration projects Cambie has with several producers in the United States. I was able to meet with him this month to discuss his collaboration and consultation projects here on the West Coast.

Cambie’s influence has been steadily building in the United States for more than a decade. In 2006 he first attended the Hospice du Rhône get-together in California. In 1993, producer John Alban founded the Hospice du Rhône (HdR). At the time, Alban was the only producer in the United States committed exclusively to making wine from Rhône varieties, having just founded Alban Vineyards in 1989. The event was designed as a way to bring together Rhône producers from around the world with other passionate lovers of the category. Since then, HdR has occurred almost every year, usually in California’s Central Coast, and has become one of the most instrumental Rhône events in the New World. Top producers of the category regularly attend and share their wines.

In 2008, Cambie presented his Bodegas Mas Alta wines from ….

To continue reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full here: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/cambies-american-adventures You will need a subscription to continue reading it.

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

Laurel Glen, Sonoma 1981-2017

Patrick Campbell’s iconic Sonoma estate is now under new management. Has it changed? 

Sonoma County receives far less attention for its Cabernet Sauvignon than for its Pinot Noir but the county includes several sites that produce distinctive examples worthy of attention. One of the earliest examples, Laurel Glen Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain (pictured here, overlooked by Mayacamas mountain, by Patrick Campbell), was established in the 1960s at a time when relatively few acres of the variety existed in the state. The site has since become one of the state’s heritage Cabernet sites.

German immigrants settled much of the south-eastern portion of Sonoma County near the town of Sonoma in the late 1800s. Relying on mixed farming to make their living, these settlers planted field blends of vines through the area. A small portion of the Laurel Glen site still has these old vines which today are used to make rosé.

The eastern face of Sonoma Mountain is one of the coolest parts of the North Coast where Cabernet will ripen reliably. The AVA is partially defined by its elevation. Sitting between 400 and 1,200 ft (122–366 m), it experiences less-dramatic temperature swings over the course of the day than much of the county. The result is that the vines are protected from the most extreme heat of summer that can affect neighbouring Sonoma Valley. But night-time temperatures are slightly higher, allowing fruit to slowly develop overnight while away from direct sun exposure. The combination allows for varieties such as Cabernet to ripen adequately but in a generally cooler climate.

Soils on Sonoma Mountain are an iron-rich, reddish-brown, rocky volcanic loam. Cabernet from the area often carries a sort of ferric element characterised …

To continue reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full here: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/laurel-glen-sonoma-19812017 You will need a subscription to continue reading it.

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

Chardonnay Finds its Perfect Balance

California Chardonnay has swung from lush to skinny and back again in the past two decades, and finally the pendulum has come to rest

Chardonnay’s reputation has morphed repeatedly in recent decades. It’s been as subject to fashion as clothing choices on the high street, swinging between bold and ripe styles in the early 2000s to the lean and racy wines of the past decade. With such swiftly changing style trends, many began to believe the variety couldn’t be taken seriously. But more recently, winemakers have begun to find a happy middle ground, balancing mouthwatering flavour with respect for what the vineyard gives them. This polarity of Chardonnay styles is an evolution that has taken place not only in California but in New Zealand and Australia, and wherever the variety is found in the New World. But its journey has not been smooth.

In California, Chardonnay became white wine royalty in the 1980s; drinkers couldn’t get enough of the state’s bright, ripe fruit flavours. But as its popularity grew, so did its style, with wines by the end of the 1990s and early 2000s becoming not only riper but also richer, almost always with a signature buttery and oak-spice flavour. ‘Bigger flavours were the taste of the day,’ says Andy Smith, viticulturist and wine­maker at DuMOL in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. ‘In the late 1990s and early 2000s, chefs were cooking with lots of pork fat and richness. The wines reflected that.’

As the wines became larger, so did the backlash: the Anything But Chardonnay (ABC) movement formed, and two California vintners, Jasmine Hirsch and Rajat Parr, decided they’d had enough. In 2011, the pair created a countermovement promoting a different option for California wine. In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) lasted only five years and had just 36 members at its close, but in that short time it gave rise to more controversy and discussion than an event its size seemed to merit. The impact of the annual IPOB programme in California – and its counterpart events all over the world – was greater than….

To keep reading this article, click through to the Club Oenologique website where it can be read in full free-for-all. The article was originally published in the 1st edition of their print magazine, released in October 2018. Here’s the direct link to the article on their website: https://cluboenologique.com/story/chardonnay-finds-its-perfect-balance/


Batonnage Forum Resources listed online!

Batonnage Forum Resources

During the Departing Dysfunction session that opened the Batonnage Forum earlier this month we shared some resources for employers, employees, and the community. Those are all available online now on the Batonnage website. Based on the questions that arose during discussion we added additional resources for small business owners, women-owned businesses, and helping farmworkers. We have also included the PDF for a pamphlet specifically looking at sexual harassment.

Here’s the direct link to the list of resources: https://www.batonnageforum.com/resources

Post edit: Link corrected

Listen to the Batonnage Forum! Audio now available online

Batonnage Forum 2019

The Batonnage Forum this year covered a range of challenging topics including the role of sex and appearance in selling wine, how to present yourself professionally in a work situation, the differences and needs for building not only inclusion and diversity but belonging in our communities, and departing dysfunction.

The Batonnage team has made all of the audio available online so that anyone can listen to the seminars and talks in full.

Vinny Eng, Laura Judson, and myself opened the day’s discussions with a panel seminar on Departing Dysfunction. We looked at the conditions in the wine, food and beverage, and hospitality industry that make inappropriate work situations possible, ways to recognize when you are in a dysfunctional, harmful, or abusive situation, and how we can shift to fostering respectful work situations as a community. The direct link to the audio for our session can be found here: https://www.batonnageforum.com/panel1

Rebecca Hopkins gave a key note address talking through practical tips on how to be taken more seriously in our work environments, discussing simple ways to shift body language and tone to get stronger response, while also exploring the challenges women often face in work communication. The direct link to her session’s audio is here: https://www.batonnageforum.com/womentalk-wholistens

After a lunch break two more sessions happened in the afternoon.

In the first, a panel of people from across the country and industry considered what it takes to foster not only inclusion but belonging for more a more diverse work force. The session was moderated by Nicole Ruiz and included Rebecca Duecy, June Rodil, Akilah Cadet, Bibiana Gonzalez Rave, and Jehan Hakimia as speakers. Here’s the link to that audio: https://www.batonnageforum.com/panel2

The final session of the day considered the role of attire and appearance, as well as behavior in women selling wine asking to what extent women’s sexual attractiveness and general interactions with men inform wine sales and women’s careers. The session was moderated by Sarah Bray and included speakers Jennifer Reichardt, Melissa Sutherland, Monica Samuels, and Karen Williams. The audio for that session is here: https://www.batonnageforum.com/panel3

If you’d like to listen to each session in order, as well as the opening address from Stevie Stacionis, then head straight to this page where all of the audio appears side by side near the bottom of the page: https://www.batonnageforum.com/2019-forum


The Wine Makers podcast interview me!

The Wine Makers

Sonoma County has its own wine podcast with local wine experts Sam Coturri, Bart Hansen, Brian Casey, and John Myers. They asked if I could join the show and we had a hilarious, and ranging hour long conversation about my life before wine, how I got started in wine, and how my previous career in philosophy informs what I do now. We cover everything from how smart camels are to my work as a 1-900 psychic, what it’s like to grow up in Alaska then end up living in California, among many other things.

Be sure to check out other episodes of The Wine Makers too via the Radio Misfits website. They’ve interviewed tons of North Coast California wine personalities and always with a bit of a raucous attitude.

Have a listen!

Here’s the direct link to the podcast with me: https://radiomisfits.com/twm100/

Huge thank you to Sam, Brian, and Bart for hosting me – looking forward to seeing you next time, John!

Ridge Vineyards almost before they had any

Elaine goes to the mountain.

In California wine circles we sometimes entertain ourselves with questions like, what would you argue is the most American wine? Or, which wine do you think most successfully placed California wine on the world stage? Or, what do you think is the most respected winery in the United States? Inevitably, one winery – Ridge – is an answer, if not the answer, to each of these questions.

Ridge Monte Bello is considered by many to be among the best wines in the world, and certainly among the most, if not the most famous, from California. Through its Monte Bello Cabernet-based bottling, Ridge helped show that California wine could compete with the most respected wines in the world (check out our Judgment of Paris tag). At the same time, no other winery in California has done so much to elevate Zinfandel from its early reputation as jug wine to fine wine respectability.

Ridge Vineyards began working with old-vine, field blend sites planted primarily to Zinfandel (otherwise known here in California as a Mixed Blacks vineyard) in the mid-1960s. The producer’s treatment of Zinfandel was unique at the time. Instead of treating the wine as an after thought, they made Zinfandel essentially the same way they did their top wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon that would come to be known as Monte Bello. Since then, no other winery has worked with as many Mixed Blacks vineyards in the state. As an additional stamp of respectability, Ridge also bottled them specifically as single-vineyard wines. The winery has worked with such sites the entire length and breadth of California, including many vineyards that no longer exist, and some in parts of southern California where few remember that such vineyards ever existed.

Most of these wines are limited to bottlings made available only to members of the winery’s Advance Tasting Program (effectively their wine club). The Geyserville and Lytton Springs wines, both Mixed Blacks vineyards from Sonoma County, however, are released to a broader market. Thanks to their history and status, both of these can also arguably be included alongside Monte Bello for consideration as examples of the most iconic American wine.

In the last few months I have been able to do a series of in-depth tastings and all-day interviews with the Ridge team. The first of these was in October when 50 MWs from 16 countries descended upon California for a 10-day tour of the state’s wine country. I was lucky enough to be the only non-MW to join the entire trip and its tastings. After several days on the road we arrived at Monte Bello for a special visit with the entire Ridge team. Though he retired in 2016 at the age of 80, Paul Draper helped lead the visit. (Draper remains chairman of Ridge’s board.) He guided us through….

To continue reading this article, and see my illustration of the twenty-vintage vertical of Corison Kronos, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article appears in full here: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/ridge-vineyards-almost-before-they-had-any You will need a subscription to continue reading it.

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

‘Overstuffed’ wines analysed

A Purple Pager asked Elaine a question after her recent account of a vertical of Corison Kronos and the answer is surely interesting enough to share. 

Peggy Baudon wrote:

I absolutely loved the article about your vertical tasting of Corison’s wines. The tasting visual (see right) is a beautiful representation of the evolution of the wines.

I have a question about your paragraph describing some wines coming out of California as having a sense of ‘compression and compaction’ despite being picked early but not having the overt ripeness and alcohol of many other wines. I have been contemplating this type of character in wines I’ve been tasting from right bank Bordeaux and have been trying to:

a. accurately express the character of the wine and

b. determine what vinification processes are being used to achieve such results.

As a description of this type of ‘stuffed’ wine I certainly appreciated your analogy of stuffing as much as possible into a rucksack. When I taste such a wine, I often feel a bit claustrophobic, as though I am also being stuffed into the glass with no air to breathe. It was a relief to read such an astute description of this type of wine style.

As a wine student though, I have not ascertained the vinification process/es that have contributed to this style. I wonder if you might have some information or feedback about vinification processes that may be used in California to achieve this effect in wine (or even in France). Thus far, I have narrowed down my guesses to reverse osmosis and vacuum distillation as ways to reduce water content in the must/wine and therefore leaving more ‘stuff’ in the wine (and therefore less ‘space’ and making it ‘feel oppressive on the palate’ as you eloquently described). However, I am also wondering if flash détenteor thermovinification might have an additional hand in the process/es. It has been difficult to find information on the vinification of these types of wines – not surprisingly since they can be described as a ‘trick’ to adjust the wine unnaturally. Not many winemakers would wish to be called out in such a way.

Any feedback or guidance about vinification methods to achieve these effects in wine would be so greatly appreciated!

Elaine Chukan Brown replied:

Thank you so much for your kind email. I am so happy to read that you appreciated the article and that that description of the wine style made sense to you. I’ve been confronted by that sort of ‘overstuffed’ wine repeatedly and had spent time thinking through how to explain the experience of tasting them. It is good to know that the description of the overstuffed rucksack I used obviously made sense to you with your own tasting experience.

In terms of how such wines are made, I can offer explanations on a few possible cellar choices that might help give some perspective. Of course there would be variations on which techniques are used depending on particular wines but here are some thoughts that could help with the overall picture. More technical information ….

To keep reading this article, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where it appears free-for-all to read. Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/overstuffed-wines-analysed