syrah

I adore the wines from Carlisle. Aside from my delight with the name (see previous Carlisle post here for more info on that) I like how their wines taste—and I have to admit that I’m a bit tickled to finally be on their purchasing list after waiting what seemed like, well, a while. I’m sure that there’s a story there somewhere. Perhaps more to come on that…

2010 Carlisle Sierra Mar Vnd Syrah

2010 Carlisle Sierra Mar Vnd Syrah

The mailing list pick-up event is held in Santa Rosa at the facility where Mike Officer creates these luscious wines. So it’s not exactly easy-on-the-eyes. Think industrial park here, but not one of those downtown Manhattan-style places with tons of glitz. Mainly this place is functional. Even so, and this is only our second visit so it’s hard to generalize, the event is an extremely nice experience. We went in sometimes heavy rain last Saturday, so the crowds that we noticed the first time were largely absent. I suppose that they’re hoping that next Saturday will be sunnier. Already that was pleasant for us, as we didn’t get jostled around that much by the many other also-excited Carlisle patrons.

a cold and rainy day at the Carlisle winemaking facility in Santa Rosa

a cold and rainy day at the Carlisle winemaking facility in Santa Rosa

the less-than-optimal weather seemed to keep people at home

the less-than-optimal weather seemed to keep people at home: we liked it

We’re always greeted in a very friendly way by the folks who run the event. They offer gourmet pizza gratis as part of it, also nibbles of dark chocolate. These go well with the lovely syrah and zinfandels that we were able to taste on the premises. Two were in bottle and two were barrel samples. The latter were both extremely exciting though not nearly as polished as the bottled wines, much as you’d expect.

2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Sierra Mar Vineyard Syrah: This was a purple black color with aromas of blue fruit that carried over to the rich taste with mineral, some spice with a long finish and very refined tannins.

2010 Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel: Deep red with cherry and moss on the nose, this had ample red fruit and full body. It seemed more accessible now compared to the syrah, but that’s no surprise.

daffodils and chocolate surely mean springtime at Carlisle

daffodils and chocolate surely mean springtime at Carlisle

2011 Russian River Valley Montafi Ranch Zinfandel barrel sample: This was purple black in color. Hegui thought it had “an astringent smell of a barrel” but he was quick to add “the taste is good.” I liked it too. Certainly there’s a lot happening here: loads of fruit, spice, some lovely acidic sourness and some chalky flavors makes us think that this is a wine to look forward to sometime down the road.

2011 Napa Valley Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel barrel sample: If I understood right, this is a new source of grapes for the winemaker. I looked just now on their web site but it does not seem to have been updated yet.

Similar color to the Montafi Ranch, it had a more “twizzler” nose and could this one be even more rich? It was loaded with red and black fruit, and almost fizzed in our glass. Very exciting!

We can’t wait to come back this fall for more!

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welcome to David Bruce Winery

welcome to David Bruce Winery

David Bruce is sort of a mystery winery, nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains between San Jose and, you guessed it, Santa Cruz. I write “mystery” even though the WC tasting crew recently enjoyed a lovely afternoon there simply because I’m struggling to learn more about the winery and its practices for this post. For some reason, my browser won’t open their official site page, which is how I usually cobble together all the random facts that I throw into stories like this. Wikipedia is back and says fairly tersely that the place was founded by a dermatologist, David Bruce MD, in 1961, that they were one of the wineries to have a bottle of their chardonnay selected for the now famous French v. California wine tasting event in Paris in 1975 (it finished last), and that these days, they’re mostly known for pinot noir.

Well, that’s a bit dry, don’t you think?

David Bruce vineyard in winter

David Bruce vineyard in winter

We dared the treacherous mountain roads to visit David Bruce because we’ve had and enjoyed numerous bottles in the past. I’ve seen the wine at local grocery stores and our great friend, John, has even been given some as corporate gifts. (That’s fabulous, isn’t it?) So we like the stuff. Plus we’re fairly unfamiliar with the Santa Cruz Mountain winery scene, so starting with something familiar sounded like a good way to go.

The winery tasting room itself was pleasant if a bit non-descript. We arrived towards the end of the day, so had the place virtually to ourselves. Two very enjoyable staff, Blake Upton and Michael Beck (I wrote their names down when we were there) helped us. What seemed particularly unusual were the wines that got poured. These were old. I mean “old” in quotations I should clarify. None of them were from the latest vintages—usually 2009s at most places right now, with some 2010s and 2011s, especially whites, making an early showing.

David Bruce tasting room

David Bruce tasting room

The 2004 Estate Chardonnay was particularly surprising, and delightful. In fact, they were having a promotion on their older wines. Should you buy a half case of mixed pinot noirs or their syrah/petite sirah blends from three older vintages, they’d give it away at half price and throw in a matching half case of 2003 chardonnay. Many of the other wines were half off per case. That’s quite a sale and we were perplexed. It almost made me think that they wanted to dump the wine because it was junk, though when we tasted, we liked it a lot. Blake, or maybe Michael, told us that the winery was in the process of refocusing and wanted to reduce inventory and in future produce smaller volumes. Something like that.

So it’s a good time to visit David Bruce for their super deals on unusual and exciting wines. I’m constantly hearing about the pleasures of aged California wine, and here’s your opportunity to try it without the pain of cellaring the stuff yourselves for years on end.

some really aged David Bruce

some really aged David Bruce

2004 Estate Chardonnay: a golden yellow with a powerful nose of peach and apricot jam, the ample and rich yellow fruit were balanced with some mineral notes, a hint of butter and a long finish. This was an amazing wine.

2007 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: a beautiful ruby with strawberry notes, red fruit, particularly cherry, with hints of earth and tobacco, this was medium to full body.

2007 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley: A deep red, almost purple color, we detected Spanish moss and forest floor with some red fruit. Fuller than the RRV with lots of red and purple stone fruit—think plum and cherry—it was a bit spicier with lots of mineral. Good.

2005 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyard: A rusty red with truffle, barnyard and mocha notes leading to strawberries, sour cherries, and caramel, this had brisk acidity and a long finish.

2002 Estate Syrah/Petite Sirah: Opaque purple with a cherry and leathery nose, this wine was nice and dense. Full bodied with red and purple stone fruit and graphite, it had a good finish and an almost creamy texture.

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It seems quite appropriate to be writing about Carlisle the day after an eight-hour Twilight marathon with my BFF, Jasmine. We met at a local movie theatre to see Breaking Dawn Part 1 (for her, the second time; for me, the fourth) then walked to my place where we happily sat through Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse on DVD. I served some wine and between flicks made penne in vodka sauce and roasted cauliflower. What a great time!

welcome to Carlisle Winery and Vineyards

welcome to Carlisle Winery and Vineyards

Of course, not everyone is as Twilight-obsessed as I am, so if you don’t get the Carlisle reference, let me fill you in: that’s the name of Edward Cullen’s adoptive vampire father in the Twilight series. (And if you’re über-obsessed like I, then perhaps you’re already familiar with Bella Winery in Dry Creek Valley, Twilight Cellars in Paso Robles and I’ve recently learned that there’s a Jasper Hill winery somewhere in Australia. Wouldn’t it be super-fun to have a Twilight themed wine tasting party where all the labels come from names of characters in the series?)

Of course, the winery, Carlisle, has nothing whatsoever to do with the series on vampires, werewolves and the teen girl that loves them. The web site says that the name comes from owner/winemaker, Mike Officer’s wife’s name, Kendall Carlisle. Nevertheless, excellent choice!

Carlisle is popular. This is one of those small-ish production boutique wineries with a long waiting list. I think that I signed up a couple of years ago and would periodically get these charming e-mails thanking me so much for waiting on the list, but that I’d have to please continue to wait. Very frustrating, and no, I don’t like it. But then a miracle, I was contacted a couple months back and asked to buy some of the wine. If I did, then my name was to be moved from the wait list to the active list. Yippie!!!

So of course I bought the wine ASAP.

I think that these stainless steel vats are really awesome

I think that these stainless steel vats are really awesome

the barrel racks are like abstract art

the barrel racks are like abstract art

Carlisle produces zinfandels and Rhône style wines: syrah, Grenache, mourvèdre, and petite sirah. It sounds like they pretty much sell out to the list members, though I’ve seen bottles in shops occasionally. I often hear high praise for Carlisle wines in the pages of Wine Spectator and this year, maybe it was the edition on zinfandels, one of their bottles was on the cover.

After I ordered some wine, I received another charming note that invited us to visit the winery for their pick-up weekend. I love those, so immediately agreed. Looking back on it now, I had this complicated fantasy about what the Carlisle facility might be like: sort of a combination Williams Selyem meets the smooth modernism of the Cullens’ home as depicted in the movies. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. If anything, you might characterize the place as the opposite. This was coolly industrial and functional, though not without charm. The Copain Custom Crush facility is the same as where Eric Kent wines are made. Small world.

Hegui wasn’t thirsty the day of our visit, so I tasted alone. We couldn’t help but notice that many of the other clients visiting seemed to know one-another. It was quite intimate really. A catering company served slices of gourmet pizza as we wandered around a bit and I sampled.

admiring the intimate setting and company at Carlisle

admiring the intimate setting and company at Carlisle

2002 Dry Creek Zinfandel: A black purple color with a mossy nose, it was full bodied and smooth, sort of like a good cabernet, with rich fruit and depth that still retained some pepper at the end. I liked it a lot.

2009 Russian River Valley Zinfandel: The gentleman pouring the wine said it was from the “home ranch” though I didn’t think to ask what he meant. A ruby red with lots of red fruit and pepper on the long finish it had a wonderful texture. This seemed fresher than the 2002.

2010 Sonoma Valley Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel from barrel: I really enjoyed tasting this and the next barrel samples, in part because they were both delicious, but also because they were presented in Erlenmeyer flasks. The science-geek in me was tickled.

A ruby red with a faint nose that led to lots of fruit and pepper throughout, this had supple tannins and seems somewhat fizzy.

2010 Russian River Valley Paba’s Block Syrah from barrel: Looking at my sloppy handwriting now, I feel sure that I’ve mis-spelled the name of this excellent syrah. If you know the correct one, please contact me!

A ruby purple color, I detected lots of eucalyptus on the nose that led to red fruit, licorice with a long finish. I wrote “very exciting” in my notes.

Carlisle is amazing. Look for it, or better yet, get on the list.

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Dutton-Goldfield, Sonoma County

by Stevie on November 2, 2011

welcome to Dutton-Goldfield

welcome to Dutton-Goldfield

Well, truth be told, I didn’t know a thing about Dutton-Goldfield before we went for a wine-tasting visit the other day. I simply wanted to go because I liked the name of the place. Is that so wrong?

Located in the Russian River Valley in Sebastopol, they’ve a smart tasting room in front of their winery. Dan Goldfield is wine maker. Steve Dutton, the first part of Dutton-Goldfield, is one of the two sons of the late Warren Dutton, who with wife Gail purchased numerous plots throughout the region and developed them into vineyards. Both Dutton heirs, Steve and Joe, have their own wineries. It is a bit hard to pull it all together but it sounds like all the grapes for Dutton-Goldfield are sourced from Dutton Ranch. So blah, blah, blah…

pondering the wine list at Dutton-Goldfield

pondering the wine list at Dutton-Goldfield

winebarrels in the sun

winebarrels in the sun

Dutton-Goldfield Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir

Dutton-Goldfield Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir

The enduring question, of course, is how’s the wine?

Well, I thought it very good.

We were alone at Dutton-Goldfield about 30 minutes before closing on a Friday evening. I liked that a lot, since we got the undivided attention of the helpful staff. D-G produces a wide selection of wines, though Veronica and I were especially interested in the single vineyard designate pinot noirs. So we tried only reds.

2009 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: This was an opaque red to purple with aromas of stone fruits, leading to the classic RRV sour cherry with cranberry notes at the end. Full bodied, we detected some pepper. This was a nice wine.

2009 Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: This, too, was an opaque purple red color with a lovely nose of herbs, particularly thyme, cinnamon and clove. More lush than the first, it was full bodied with some pepper notes on the long finish. Really good.

2009 Fox Den Vineyard Pinot Noir, Green Valley of RRV: This was a red purple color and more fruit forward with good depth, a long finish filled with jammy plum and caramel notes.

2008 Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah, Green Valley of RRV: An opaque purple black, this cool-climate syrah exhibited rich fruit, some sour cherry and sandalwood notes with a medium to full body.

2009 Stoetz Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel, Russian River Valley: This cool-climate zin was a cloudy red to purple with a fruity aroma with hints of rising bread. Grenache like in taste, it was supple with medium body, and red fruit. This was not the powerful over-the-top zinfandel one typically finds.

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Matanzas Creek was the last winery that we visited with my friends, Karen and Veronica from Reno, NV, on our recent three-day Sonoma wine tasting weekend. I’m starting with this one first for the blog simply because to me it was the most lovely and serene of the seven that we visited, and has a vague Halloween appeal, which I’ll explain below.

the magnificent Lavender Garden at Matanzas Creek Winery

the magnificent Lavender Garden at Matanzas Creek Winery

Located a bit off the beaten track in the Bennett Valley east of Santa Rosa, the drive to Matanzas Creek was magnificent: full of rolling hills, breathtaking views and sunshine. The estate is large and full of gorgeous manicured gardens esp. lavender, all snugly surrounded by mountains.

The winery was first established in 1977 and the celebrated lavender gardens in 1991. We were all transfixed by the sheer beauty.

welcome to Matanzas Creek Winery

welcome to Matanzas Creek Winery

here you can see two kinds of lavender

here you can see two kinds of lavender

baby lavender field

baby lavender field

The name “Matanzas” is a curious one. I had assumed that is was a sort of citrus fruit from Spain for some odd reason. Hegui, who knows a lot of Spanish, thought that it meant “massacre” or “slaughter.” I tried learning more on the internet.

Apparently there is a port city in Cuba called Matanzas, which was a home to pirates in the sixteenth century. There’s a Matanzas River near St. Augustine, Florida, thought to mean “river of blood.” It was named following a massacre of a French boat crew by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Finally a definition for “matanza” was “a place where animals are slaughtered for hides and tallow.” Strange.

a purple parade

a purple parade

a basket of Matanzas Creek merlot

a basket of Matanzas Creek merlot

it almost feels like Provence here at Matanzas Creek

it almost feels like Provence here at Matanzas Creek

We asked about the name in the tasting room and were told in hushed tones that apparently the Native Americans who lived in Bennett Valley around the time of the Spanish colonization of California used to scalp their human victims in the creek, thus turning the water bloody red. The official Matanzas Creek Winery web site doesn’t give the origin of the name so far as I can tell, though this creepiness seems totally perfect for Halloween, don’t you think? I wonder if ghosts roam the stunning grounds and sip the luscious red Journey Cabernet at night to pass the time? Oooooo! Scary.

Of course, no blood was shed on our visit to the winery. And as I’ve already written, we were all taken by the loveliness everywhere.

The wine that we tasted was lovely, too. We tried the regular tasting without an appointment, which was no problem. Our Reno friends liked it so well, that they joined the Matanzas Creek wine club (their fourth this visit). Our charming wine barrista let us try some off the menu library wines and the premiere Journey Red, which aren’t usually offered. That was fun.

2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County: This was a very pale yellow that almost looked like clear water. The nose was full of pear and grapefruit, which carried over to the crisp mineral-rich quaffer. It was quite refreshing.

2008 Chardonnay, Sonoma County: Also a very pale yellow, this had a nose of pear and mineral. It was smooth, had a spicy finish with refreshing yellow fruit.

beautiful!

beautiful!

some Matanzas Creek pinot noir

some Matanzas Creek pinot noir

view of Bennett Valley from the Matanzas Creek Winery lavender garden

view of Bennett Valley from the Matanzas Creek Winery lavender garden

2009 Chardonnay, Bennett Valley: A translucent pale yellow with a subtle aroma with honeysuckle, yellow stone fruit with a creamy mouthfeel and long finish.

2008 Journey Chardonnay, Sonoma County: This golden transparent yellow gem had a surprisingly pleasing aroma of nail polish with a rich flavor with yellow stone fruit leading the way to mineral, hot white pepper and a long, delightful finish.

2008 Pinot Noir, Bennett Valley: Translucent red to purple with a nose of tomato, caramel and paraffin, this was rich with a lot of caramel notes, red fruit and full body.

2007 Merlot, Bennett Valley: Purple black in color, this had an herbal nose accented with oak and sassafras, with supple tannins and ample red stone fruit with a decent finish.

2007 Merlot, Jackson Park Vineyard: This 100% merlot (the last has 14% cabernet) was a deep red to purple color with a cola aroma leading to a more full-bodied texture rich with red and purple stone fruit and a good finish.

2001 Merlot, Sonoma County: This off-the-menu merlot was red to purple with some lovely brown colors at the edges. An intense nose of over-ripe tomatoes, V-8 juice led to an incredibly smooth, mineral and metallic taste with a bit of spice with some noticeable tannin at the end.

1997 Estate Merlot, Sonoma Valley: I liked this wine a lot—I even got two bottles that day. A rusted purple with a lovely V-8 juice nose, it was full bodied with rich red fruit, a long finish. Wow! I wrote “jackpot!” on my notes. It had some rich tannins making me think that this beauty had more life in it still.

2006 Syrah, Sonoma County: Purple in color with a nose of blackberry, plum and tar, which carried over to red fruit and a tarry finish.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Helena Montana Vineyard, Knights Valley: This was red to purple in color with eucalyptus and dried cherries with smooth tannin, lots of red fruit and cherries.

2008 Journey Red, Sonoma County: Red to purple with mineral notes, red fruit, fuller in body than the Helena Montana, with a richer, more luscious taste. We noticed some pepper in the long finish. Good wine!

2009 Denouement, White Dessert Wine: This was a transparent pale gold color with a nose of over ripe yellow stone fruit and grapefruit. It tasted of peach, pineapple and grapefruit. Karen and Veronica were especially charmed by this lovely sweet drink.

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Les Secrets de Pignan is the first Châteauneuf-du-Pape that Hegui and I tried and really noticed, if you know what I mean. It was the 2004. We were with these lovely friends who grew up in a French speaking part of Africa, so to show off a bit, we went to a little French bistro near our house, and randomly ordered off the wine menu. I don’t quite know how we settled on the 2004 Pignan, but I do know that I didn’t like it one bit; yet Hegui was in raptures. The waiter exclaimed that we made a good choice, though have you ever heard a waiter say otherwise? Me, neither.

2007 La Bastide Saint-Dominique Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Secrets de Pignan

2007 La Bastide Saint-Dominique Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Secrets de Pignan

To me then, it was way to tannic and drying. Hegui seemed to perceive something else. I was just getting excited about wine then, so looked around and bought three or four bottles, which I cellared for a year or so. Wow! What a difference a day makes! When we brought out the next one it literally blew both of us away: loaded with fruit, elegantly textured and with that curious Secrets de Pignan terroir, for lack of a better word, we were floored.

So we’ve become fans of the wine.

I’ve been wondering a lot about wine quality lately, ever since I read that Robert Parker biography. He’s the famous American wine critic who put the 100-point wine rating scale on the map and is so looked to for wine reviews that supposedly Bordeaux producers are reluctant to release their wines until he’s had a chance to taste and score them. Apparently the price changes so much with a favorable number that his comments are worth their weight in gold.

The book has this one anecdote in which Manfred Krankl sent his first ever bottle of what became the cult-winery Sine Qua Non to Parker in Maryland. The critic liked the wine. Allegedly he called Krankl to praise it and recommended that he get a business number and address before the next edition of the Wine Advocate was released, as he suspected that he’d be bombarded by requests and telephone calls. Krankl did, and was, and now is famous. He even appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator, that other wine magazine, last year.

Beyond the idea that people are influenced by numbers and famous critics, is another part of the wine-lovers story. Parker liked Krankl’s and in effect promoted it. He did this with modern styled Bordeaux, especially certain winemakers from St. Emilion, the so-called garagistes. He’s a huge fan of Northern Rhône, particularly the fairly-obscure-until-Parker-started-writing-about-it-like-crazy Guigal Côte Rôtie wines, like La Mouline, La Landonne and La Turque. Never produced in large volumes, the prices of these wines sky-rocketed once Americans listened to Parker’s advice. But my point here is that according to the book, Parker likes the Guigals, buys them for his own cellar and drinks them with pleasure year after year. So these wines are good, but also seem to have an emotional resonance with him.

And that is how we feel about Secrets de Pignan. We’ve learned with the 2004, been dismayed by the 2005, and have begun to enjoy the voluptuous 2007. The wine is good. But in addition to that, it seems to play a role in our vinous emotional lives.

We had a bottle of the 2007 last Saturday as a celebration for the completion of the semi-annual “heavy cleaning.” Hegui and I take the beds apart, move all the furniture out of the way and he steam-cleans all the carpets. We’ve wall-to-wall in most rooms plus about five medium to largish oriental rugs. It is a real ordeal deserving of a medal and a night on the town, though we’re always too tired for anything more than a simple meal and some wine.

This bottle opened with a funky aroma that, thankfully, dissipated. It was slightly fizzy right form the bottle but settled down with decanting. It had a good aroma of ripe berry, cherry. These carried over to the taste, with the addition of some juicy pomegranate notes. I read on Cellartracker some commentator describing the end of the mid-palate taste like ruby red grapefruit—which I sort of get. This wine consistently has an unusual taste that is hard to pin down. Full bodied, and almost thick, with a good finish, I’m glad that we ordered a case of this to watch it develop.

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2010 Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône

by Stevie on September 7, 2011

The 2010 Saint Cosme has arrived! Hurrah!

This wine is always such a delightful crowd pleaser. We finished all of our 2009 a few months back, so you can imagine how excited I was to spy the 2010 at K and L recently. I bought a test-bottle which we drank that very night. And you know what? I think this one could be better than the amazing Oh-nine. I immediately ordered two cases the next day.

2010 Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône

2010 Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône

Still 100% syrah, this is an every-day red that’s easy in the glass and on the wallet. An opaque purple black with a rich nose of cherry, leather and wet rusted metal, it is lip-smacking good; full of chocolate, cherry, metal/mineral notes with medium to full body and a lovely finish. Hegui exclaimed, “It tastes like something I like!” Well, there you go.

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Nicholas Miller in Bien Nacido Vineyard

Nicholas Miller in Bien Nacido Vineyard

We had the distinct pleasure of meeting Nicholas Miller from Bien Nacido Vineyards while attending PinotDays in San Francisco a few weeks ago. BNV is a family owned and operated fine wine vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. The Miller family purchased the land in 1969 and began growing grapes by the early seventies. Famous for their pinot noir, cool climate syrah and chardonnay, the Millers work with numerous well established wine makers in California and Oregon. Clients include: Au Bon Climat, Longoria, Ojai Vineyards, Quipé, Sine Qua Non, Steele Wines, Twopmey Cellars and Landmark Vineyards, to list just some.

Nicholas Miller poured wine from several producers, all made from BNV grapes at PinotDays. He also offered a pinot that his family has begun bottling themselves under their own label. Afterward, we were able to catch up with Nicholas for a brief Q and A:

What do you think makes Bien Nacido distinct? What sets it apart?

From the beginning my family has been dedicated to quality. When the vineyard was first planted back in the early ‘70’s, most growers were planting for quantity, but every step my uncle and father took was one with an eye on the highest quality possible. We have always tried to stay on the forefront of innovation and experimentation.

At PinotDays, you poured several wines produced with Bien Nacido fruit, including your own bottling. Congratulations, by the way, on your own label. We thought that the wines represented a large variety of styles of pinot noir. Yet, these all come from Bien Nacido. What do you think accounts for these wide-ranging differences?

The original Pinot Noir plantings were all Pommard and Martini. Since then, we have added a variety of other clones including 22, Swan, Jackson 16, Mt. Eden, 2a, 113, 114, 115, 667, 777.

However, I always say site trumps clone and BNV is blessed with a wide variety of micro climates and soil types. After almost 40 years of growing Pinot Noir on the ranch we feel we have learned more about the different areas of the ranch. Instead of trying to over-manipulate the vineyard through farming practices, we try to place customers in areas that best match their wine programs. For example, customers looking for lower yielding vines, we try to place in areas of the ranch that naturally throw small yields as opposed to dropping fruit.

Also, we feel blessed to have the diversity of customers that we believe are some of the best winemakers in California and Oregon. Each one of them brings their own unique approach that makes it so fun to taste through the variety of wines made from our one vineyard.

Pinot noir has the reputation for being tricky to handle in the vineyard. Do you agree? What has been your experience at Bien Nacido?

A low yielding, thinned skinned grape that is hard to ripen is not a farmer’s ideal crop. However, I believe Bien Nacido’s vineyard manager, Chris Hammell, is the most talented vineyard manager in the state. No other vineyard manager in the state deals with as many high end wine producers and consistently delivers year after year. Many of our customer’s don’t bother sorting their fruit because Chris is able to deliver it so clean.

Now that you’ve been making your own wine for a while, do you think that it changes the way you operate in the vineyard? If so, how?

We are still growers first and foremost. Making (and more challengingly – selling) wine has given me a better understanding of our customer’s businesses. However, we are committed growers through and through. Making wine is a very small portion of what we do.

What is your philosophy of wine?

It’s a consumable product meant to be enjoyed. It brings a lot of joy to a lot of people around the world.

I want my family’s wines to be pure examples of our vineyards. They are 100% single vineyard and 100% varietal (except a small amount of Viognier co-ferment in the Syrah).

No funny business in the cellar, just make what the vineyards and that vintage give us.
Basically the opposite philosophy of NV Champagne.

These days, many California wines are criticized for too much alcohol and being so powerful that they overwhelm the palate and really can only be drunk alone, rather than with food. What do you think about this controversy?

See previous answer.

It’s a consumable product meant to be enjoyed. It brings a lot of joy to a lot of people around the world. For some people that debate / controversy is part of the enjoyment, so for them – let them have it.

I’ll drink the wine in my glass without reading #’s on the bottle. If it taste’s hot, there probably isn’t a second glass in my future. However, I feel the same way about wines that are too lean / astringent. I do not have a quest to make a 11.5% wine.

I’ve read about Bien Nacido cool climate syrah but haven’t had the good fortune to try it yet. How would you compare it to other California syrahs?

We were the first vineyard in California to plant cool climate Syrah.

Unlike other areas in the viticultural world that either get too hot (fruit dehydrates) or other weather events (hail, rain) end their harvests, we are very blessed at BNV to have the longest growing season in the state that provides a slow/steady march towards ripening. The reason we can grow Chard/Pinot/Syrah in the same spot, is that we harvest Pinot/Chard starting August/September and let the Syrah continue to ripen through October/November.

What I love about cool climate Syrah is the white pepper. A few years ago around the Syrah harvest I realized I starting putting a lot more pepper on my food at dinner after spending days in the vineyard trying the BNV Syrah. There is a place for Shiraz (as it’s called Australia), but I think cool climate Syrah is what really excels in CA

It seems like a natural that you’d end up working in your family business at Bien Nacido, but did you ever consider another line of work? What was that?

It was certainly never presented as a job that was waiting for us. My family said we had to go work elsewhere and develop experience before working for the family business. I went to Bowdoin College in Maine, then worked for a marketing consulting company in Boston before returning to work with my Dad.

How do you envision the future of Bien Nacido?

Every year we learn more and more about how our vineyard works.

We are in the process of redeveloping some of the older acreage that is no longer productive.
Some of our hillside fruit is starting to come online, which should be some of the more exciting fruit on the ranch.

One of the largest changes we are going through is taking a more holistic approach to farming at Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills. For decades we just farmed grapes, but over the past decade we have planted blueberries, lemons, and avocados and well as integrating goats and sheep into our biodynamic and organic growing practices.

Do you have any advice for wanna-be wine makers?

Stay focused. Through my family’s custom crush facilities I have seen many ambitious winemakers make so many different wines that they lose the story of who they are or with a little success, expand beyond what their cash flow can support. The wine business is a tortoise business. If you want to be a hare, make Vodka where you can just turn on the spout or splash in a fruit “infusion.”

Where can people find your wine?

All of my wine goes through the three tiered system: American Wines in CA and Lauber Imports in NYC. With the exception of a few key retailers it goes to restaurants throughout New York and California. As the production expands, I’d like to open other states as well.

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Clos Pegase, Napa County

June 15, 2011

I’ve been agonizing for weeks over what to write about Clos Pegase. Finally, I realized my struggle derives from the most obvious of things: there really isn’t much to criticize about this remarkable winery. Located in the northern end of Napa Valley, right across from Sterling, it makes a wine country excursion with sex-appeal. The […]

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Martinelli Winery, Sonoma County

May 25, 2011

I picked Martinelli as a wine tasting destination after stumbling across their web site. When I saw the beautiful picture of their large red hop kiln, I was sold. You see, we were traveling to Sonoma County with our friend, Chris S, who has entertained us several times with fascinating aged zinfandels from nearby Hop […]

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