By each podcast we grow a little more….around the world! Our followers are found in Thailand, Taiwan, Norway, Netherlands, South Korea, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Vietnam. Sweden, Philippines, New Zealand, China, Ukraine, Italy, Denmark (Yo Kenneth!), Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France and the good old USA! Cheers!!
Our newsletter features the brief ‘Ray’s Picks’ section pointing out wines well worth giving a try. From time to time we will blog here on the website to further that effort in turning our wine loving friends on to labels they should investigate. This week we offer a tip of the hat to three lovely reds, 2008 Chateau La Tour Carnet coming in around $40, 2007 Terlato Cardinal’s Peak which is closer to $50 and 2008 Rubicon (Inglenook-Francis Ford Coppola) Cask. All three of these wines were deep red with full body and an excellent finish. Watch for more wine picks in the coming weeks….cheers.
ANDERSON VALEY TRIP OCTOBER 2-7TH, 2011
On time flight out of Milwaukee, lands a few minutes early, luggage popped out on the carousel in the first three minutes, car rental was ready….I hardly knew what to do with myself. The immediate need was to get to Hopland, California for my first interview and a rare Sunday one at that. But this is harvest and harvest means there is no day of the week only the siren song of the fruit in the vineyard calling the winemaker to come and get it. This was another day of the siren for Mark & Donnis Topel of Topel Wines.
The Syrah grapes were in emergency need of harvesting and the crew were in full force crush mode. It was impressive to me that Mark was willing to take time out of the scramble to be interviewed and offer a simple (but exceptionally tasty) tasting.
Even in a rush, these folks living in Hopland, California extended full hospitality to me during my visit. They even allowed me to take a picture of their crew of full time employees for our Facebook page. You feel Mark’s pride in his crew and you see it in his face.
Mark makes a tasty, full bodied and very serious Cabernet Sauvignon that sells for the less than serious price range of $36 or so. Then there was the Pinot Noir….excellent as well. One of the more interesting Pinot’s I’ve tasted in a while. But this would be a weekend of new Pinot’s for me. Eye opening Pinot’s.
Mark doesn’t mince words….he’s hard working man (what winemaker isn’t?), strong with opinions, good sense of humor and very smart. The wine shows all the above.
Topel main tasting room on the square in downtown Healdsburg. This one is worth a visit. Great wine. Very serious.
The thing about wine, as most winery folk might tell you, is the more you learn about wine, the more you’ll want to learn about more. Or something like that.
What I’ve learned on this trip is simply worth it’s weight in gold. Or worth it’s weight in Goldeneye. But to the point, Anderson Valley should never, never be overlooked. Visit Napa, yes. Visit Sonoma, yes. Visit Santa Barbara County, yes. But make sure you visit Anderson Valley. No, I’m not a pitchman for the AV chamber of commerce…the fact is, I am here in the valley….it’s way out…a little bit of a drive, but not really….maybe three hours from San Francisco. But looks at it this way, it’s less than an hour away from the town of Mendocino.
My point is this. Wine. Lots of beautiful wineries open for anyone (21 and over, of course) to visit, taste, talk and learn. Learn about Anderson Valley. To me, a gem with wild mountains and giant redwoods covering the landscape. It gets dark at night….real dark….like can’t see your hand in front of your face dark. Which makes it that much easier to hang out at the Booneville Hotel or one of many B&B’s in Mendocino county to sip your golden finds of the day. It’s peace away from the maddening crowds. You get very personal attention and best of all, and you’ll make new discoveries.
On to the job at hand. My first day of work for Goldeneye and Migration.
Goldeneye Winery-October 3rd, 2011. Day one.
Rain. October rain. Rain that makes winemakers shudder. Harvest is already late for the 2011 season. Many folks are picking two or three weeks later than normal (whatever normal is!) Some may be picking too early. Mother Nature can be a cruel mother.
The morning after talking with the folks at Topel, I headed across the mountains from Ukiah to the town of Philo. Philo is a town of just over a thousand folks. Tiny, homey and a place with many people in common, farmers. Something people forget about is that in the wine biz, most winemakers are farmers or were farmers or studied farming or farmed something else before growing grapes. Or they made beer. As I was often reminded in this valley, ask the question to an average person “Where does your food come from?”. Answer: the grocery store. Nope. A farm. It started on a farm. Vegetable=dirt. Cow=grass. Fish=water.
I met pistachio growers while on this trip, what a treat that was! I didn’t know a damn thing about where my favorite snack comes from. I found out that when they harvest these tasty little nuts that they never even hit the ground. Amazing!
But if you look close you find apple orchards and Christmas tree farms too.
Farmers. Just like vineyard owners, managers, winemakers.
Wine comes from the earth, the French call it ‘terroir’ (pronounced tare-wah).
But I digress.
The rain was heavy from Monday through mid Wednesday. Goldeneye winemaker Zach Rasmuson led the crew while Migration winemaker Neil Bernardi did time here and at an office in Sonoma (meaning you could really find his desk in the vineyard) We had plenty to do at the winery under Zach and Neil’s direction but I was told just before my trip that rain would usually shut down a winery harvest operation. That puts the ever famous ‘cellar rats’ in stand-by mode. Hard to pay folks for doing nothing. They do come up with ideas to keep busy, to their credit. Always something needing cleaning. There’s always something to do.
Vineyard manager Nate Miller has had the picking crew working nights. Heat and sun can hamper a pick and with a few heavy duty portable lights moving in the vineyard, the process moves as quickly as it would during the day. This way the fruit hits the winery early and ready to go.
After morning crew stretch led by Zach, we all had our our assignments and headed to the work.
I worked with Darren Delmore and experienced the beauty of an air controlled automatic punch unit. Although many tanks were done by hand (in by the experienced hands of Darren, Casey Larkin and Jose Luis Mendoza) this device made things go faster with less physical energy tiring out the worker. Amazing.
From there I headed over to the sorting table. Freshly picked Syrah grapes passed from the huge bin to a conveyor to be hand sorted. This means we dumped bad or wilted grapes and got rid of leaves, sticks and bugs.
Even though the rain kept up all day, the place was a beehive of activity. Giant white bins being emptied, then washed and stacked. Barrels moved and readied for filling with Chardonnay. Constant samples being taken by Lisa Perez Mendoza for testing. Constant movement.
From that point I spent the next couple hours with Bo Felton who is assistant to Zach. Giant stainless steel tanks of Chardonnay were drained into wood barrels for ageing. Then more Chardonnay grapes were delivered by semi…..at this point the operation went into full clockwork mode. Hot and cold running fork lifts emptied the truck of its golden grapes. These grapes went directly to the press. The bins, once again cleaned and stacked. Before I knew it, the truck headed on its way to get another load. Clockwork.
I finished around 6pm while Casey and Bo stayed until things were done. 11pm.
Dinner was simple in Booneville at the Buckhorn.
October 3rd, 2011. Day two.
With an 8 o’clock start it was easy to get to the winery on time. The kind folks at Goldeneye put me up in their private guest cottage (surrounded by vineyards) called the Apple Dryer, which is on the same property as the Goldeneye tasting room. Without a doubt the most romantic home base I’ve ever had. Sadly, I traveled solo.
Goldeneye winery is just a couple of miles down the road past the town of Philo. Philo is a small town on the main route 128 headed west toward Mendocino and Ft. Bragg. The trip from the winery winds through a deep and dark redwood forest and ends up on the coast south of Mendocino. This part of the California coast is rugged with monster size boulders stabbing up from the ocean.
The morning began, once again with Zach leading the crew in stretching. Considering the amount of physical labor done in a winery this just makes good sense. Like a runner stretching, this readies the crew for the long day ahead.
Again we started with punch downs. In a attempt to be helpful I asked Jose Luis to set me up to do a manual punch down. First challenge, getting up on the tank (5×5 opening) and crossing the top on a 1x2x6 plank. Happy it held my weight. But unlike punching the cap in barrels at Alpha Omega a couple of years ago, this task was a bit harder. Much harder. The cap was a bit more stubborn and fresh. By the time Casey and Jose Luis finished four tanks, I was completing one.
After working with Bo filling more barrels with Chardonnay I headed out for a vineyard tour with vineyard Manager Nate Miller.
Nate is a fifth generation Californian. He takes his huge pickup truck over property that he knows like the back of his hand. This is when I get to see the vineyards in a totally different way. Nate talks extensively about night harvesting and prepping the vines before picking by removing the cover leaves to expose the fruit. They use small clippers designed to easily cut the vine, thus making fast work of each block.
The Anderson Valley vineyards are Confluence, The Narrows, Gowan Creek and Split Rail. If you catch the night pick video on our Facebook page you’ll see the Gowan Creek property.
It’s interesting to note that the vineyard where my accommodations are situated, (Confluence) are near a block that, from the air, is shaped like a ducks head. Goldeneye and Migration as you may have guessed are owned by the well know Duckhorn family of wines. I’ve interviewed the winemakers within this group including Bill Nancarrow of Duckhorn itself and David Marchesi of Paraduxx.
While giving me the lay of the land near the tasting room I was also introduced to four Peking ducks which are sort of mascots/family members of the winery. Appropriately enough they are names Zach, Zak, Zac and Zack, tho’ I can’t verify the spelling of each.
After this in depth tour we lunched at a Philo staple, Libby’s. After meeting a local couple who are in the business of growing pistachios, we headed back to the winery where I got back to the task of learning to be a cellar rat.
To take a moment to comment on becoming a cellar rat, the fact is it would take pages to describe accurately the efforts these hard workers put forth to create our favorite drink. They carry different levels of responsibility passed on from the winemaker or assistant winemaker. Their duties include expert operation of a forklift and pallet jack, cleaning in places most folks would never consider crawling into, mixing specific measurements of water and yeast to be added to barrels or tanks, punch downs both manual and assisted, crush, stacking, more cleaning…you get the idea. Without these crazy folks, our glasses would be empty and our hearts would be sad. A toast to the fine cellar rats of Goldneye.
Working with Bo, we readied barrels for more Chardonnay but you could feel things were slowing down. Most of the work was of the ‘busy’ variety as much of the crop has not been picked due to the crazy weather at harvest. After spray washing the innerds of the smaller bladder press, Bo took me inside of the cramped quarters of the larger press. To say it was claustrophobic would hardly be the truth.. Half of the cylindar are covered in small slits while the other side is the deflated bladder. You may have guessed that these guys spend a lot of time crawling around inside this and the smaller one spraying and cleaning.
Clean may be the most important word to understand in a winery. Bacteria can grow at the snap of a finger. It is said it takes 6-8 gallons to make a bottle wine. It may seem like a lot but the main thing to remember is wine is an agricultural product and like any food that comes from a farm, the environment must be kept clean to ensure our safety.
Since no newly picked fruit was ready to be crushed, I ended my day at 4:30.
I took a drive in the rain up to Mendocino (as mentioned earlier) to check out the coast line. Since the weather had been so bad it was hard to see as much as I would have liked. As I headed west out of Philo, the road entered about 20 miles of dense redwoods. Day turned to night and the road became a snake. It was beautiful. Then came the coast, the angry coast. The waves pounded the giant boulders that dotted the shoreline along the Pacific Ocean. Wind had also been a nuisance in the process of this rotten weather and the coastline reflected wind in angry giant waves. A very enjoyable drive which included a trip back through the redwoods in the dark….many, many deer on the side of the road.
The Apple Dryer Cottage
Peaceful, quiet, dark and likely the most romantic place I’ve ever stayed. The Apple Dryer Cottage is on the Goldeneye tasting room property just outside of Philo, California. Literally, you cannot see your had in front of your face at night. Surrounded on three sides by Goldeneye vineyard, the property is an old apple drier building with the cottage sitting on the second floor. All windows gaze over the vineyards. If you were a writer, you’d write here. If you were an artist, you’d paint here. Musician, you’d compose here. But best of all, to be here with someone special…..there is nothing more to be said. So for four days, this was my home.
October 5th, 2011. Day three.
Today I was able to sleep in as I was to meet Migration winemaker Neil Bernardi in the city of Santa Rosa, just south of Healdsburg. Duckhorn Wine Company operates a satellite office here just near the airport. A far contrast to the romance of a winery, this office offers a place near the Sonoma county vineyards that Migration and Goldeneye lease. From this point Neil and his co-workers have the ability to monitor the vineyards on a regular basis easily. Neil still spends a good amount of time at the winery and likely more in the vineyard.
We visited several vineyards leased by Goldeneye/Migration including Dutton Ranch where much of their fruit comes from. A big surprise to me was the many apple orchards plus a few Christmas tree farms in the area. But once again it’s important to remember that this is an agricultural area. Farmers. Grapes, apples, pine trees and more.
After lunch and a visit to the Russian River itself, Neil headed back to his office to get caught up but first setting up a couple of tastings for me in the area.
I visited Lynmar wines in Sebastapol. This was an excellent visit enjoying fantastic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and garden grown heirloom tomatoes.
By this time I had imbibed a fair amount and decided to head into the town of Healdsburg to ‘walk it off’. With an attempt to visit our friends at Hauck Cellars (closed today) I made it to Stephan & Walker to pick up a bottle of their excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. As the day wore on I finished my stroll with a stop for dinner at Willie’s Seafood & Raw Bar just off the square. The heirloom tomato salad was simply out of this world featuring both large and small tomatoes topped with a balsamic basil dressing. I finished with an ice tea, crabcakes and a smile. A perfect dinner. From there, headed ‘home’, back to Anderson Valley in 90 minutes.
The drive up valley pays it all off.
October 6th, 2011. Day four.
After being away I was ready to dive in to work back at Goldeneye. With that the group finished morning stretches and we headed in to punch downs. The rain had finally started to lay off so the days ahead would be at full force to make up for lost time. Tons of fruit still hang on the vines waiting for just a little more sun to get the brix up to a temperature suitable for picking. Bo and I headed to the cellar to top off the newest project for Goldeneye: sparkling wine. Bo took the time to explain in detail the process that they are all new to. With some help from the folks at Schramsburg this could be a great opportunity for the Duckhorn wines. This company has never shied away from taking chances as evidenced by Paraduxx in Napa as well as Goldeneye and Migration.
The basket press was busy crushing Syrah grapes while you could feel the oncoming tonnage of grapes just waiting to turn to juice. We filled more barrels with Chardonnay and it was time for lunch. The winery treats its crew to lunch during harvest thus keeping the wheels in motion as well as adding to the comradery.
From there I cleaned up and headed up valley to visit some of the ‘locals’ to try to learn more about this great Anderson Valley.
My first stop was recommended by Zach, Roederer Wines. To my surprise Roeder made mostly sparkling wine and they were quite good. They also made still wines featuring Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. With a gift purchase of Brut I was on my way up the road.
A quick visit to Handley Cellars showed an excellent Zinfandel. The tasting room was just like anything you’d find in Napa or Sonoma featuring friendly folks pouring tasty wines.
Husch Vineyards came next, billed as the oldest tasting room in the valley. A great area to picnic but the tasting room was small and uncomfortable. Very good wines with a large selection. Good visit.
I attempted to stop at Navarro Winery but it was simply too crowded. Considering I was in Anderson Valley on a Thursday afternoon that was a surprise. This could have been a typical Napa tasting room with folks competing to belly up to the bar. Turned around and headed to the neighbors, Standish.
This whole afternoon adventure was discovery after discovery. When visiting the young man at the tasting room I made a comment about the Standish name and discovered a declaration on the wall in regard to Miles Standish.
I made it back to Goldeneye to do my final interview at the winery. Zach had been so incredibly busy all week that this was likely my only chance to get him on ‘tape’. This guy is great to talk to…and a talented leader, simply put. Humor, concern and an optimistic attitude makes for easy, hard work. As Nate says, it’s good to go home dirty.
I took another drive up the coast to Mendocino and enjoyed dinner at the bar of the Little River Inn. The view was more like a painting….rocks with wash from the sea crashing high and splaying water everywhere. I figured a whale could show up any minute.
A brief stop in Ft. Bragg to shoot video of the ocean, then back to the Apple Dryer for my final night in Anderson Valley.
October 7th, 2011.
Leaving the Apple Dryer is like leaving the home you’ve loved for years. I’ve never been in such a noiseless and peaceful place in my life. A big thank you to Neil Bernardi (Migration winemaker), Zach Rasmuson (Goldeneye winemaker) and Paula Viehmann (Goldeneye tasting room supervisor) for making my visit very special.
Started the day by completing my time in the cellar at 5am with vineyard manger Nate Miller. Nate welcomed me into the vineyard to shoot still photos and video of the nighttime harvest. The pick was on the Gowan Creek property which is just behind the winery. As I approached the property you could see a strange unearthly white glow in the sky. Here I tried to follow the lightening fast crew as they picked the grapes with such speed and intensity I could barely keep up. They are a machine, finely tuned with a mission to complete the task at hand in a safe and efficient way.
After a brief nap (it was, after all 6am) I stopped over at the Goldeneye tasting room for my 10:30 sampling. As it was a slow start to the day I was entertained by Goldeneye hospitality person Cindi Lee who filled me in on her experiences with the Anderson Valley and the winery. In fact, Cindi served at surrogate mother to the ‘four Zachs’. Watch the video on our website, you’ll see.
With a sadness in my heart, I headed south and away from the wonderful Anderson Valley, back to Napa. If I’ve learned anything about this experience I would say a visit to Anderson Valley is a must. To learn about and appreciate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay this area tells the story at it’s best. It was nice to be around peace and quiet but still with the scents of harvest and all its flurry in the air. So it’s back to Napa…but first…
I made a quick stop at Ducther Crossing winery to say hi to Danny Glover, the winemaker I had met back in 2009. Unfortunately the staff did not know who he was and it was obvious he had left some time ago. None the less, I picked up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and headed to Napa.
Found my was up Sage Canyon Road home of Chappellet and Volker Eisle, to meet with Carissa Mondavi of Continuum Estate. Continuum shares part of the driveway with Chappellet but really the long drive is to the estate. One of those times you are happy to pass few people traveling toward you….there are not too many places to hide on these roads.
Carissa was delightful. Sincere and friendly, she exemplified the concept of Napa hospitality. We set up outside and enjoyed the complex taste of the estate wine. Carissa is Tim Mondavi’s daughter but to be sure she has her grandfathers eyes. To say that it was a unique experience to talk to her about Robert Mondavi would be a great understatement. With a tour of the mountain top vineyards and many photos to publish, I headed back down to the city with a promise to meet up with her again next trip.
After dinner at my favorite pizza stop in downtown Napa, I headed home to the hotel to catch up on sleep. Saturday is my day off and with luck, it will be just that.
Saturday, October 8th, 2011.
Meeting up with my niece Jeanette I had scheduled a get together with our friend Amy Aiken of Meander Wine at the site of her new shared tasting room and winery. Palisades will be the name with partner wines including Aiken, RareCat, Conspire, Amici and of course Meander.
Previous to that we made a quick stop at Chateau Montelena out of curiosity as I had never visited the winery before. It was over crowded and would have been a wait to taste. So we left to get in another quick stop before meeting Amy. Lava Vine is on Silverado Trail just near the Calistoga turn off. Small and friendly but also very crowed, we talked with people waiting to taste….had a taste…purchased and headed to Palisades.
Lunch/early dinner at Cindy’s Back Street Kitchen in St. Helena (after a second unsuccessful try at the Rutherford Grill) and then back to drop Jeanette off to head to SF.
Sunday, October 9th, 2011. Final day.
A good day to sleep late…and I did.
A little bit of sightseeing before catching lunch (finally!) at the Rutherford Grill. For those of you that have read my past blogs you already know just how magic is can be sitting at the bar at this place. You never know who’ll you meet.
The final interview of this trip is to be, oddly enough, in Oakland. Who’d have thunk there would be a winery in downtown Oakland. Keep reading…
One stop at the Velo Vino tasting room home to Clif Family wines. We met owners Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford back in June at an Auction Napa Valley dinner. Gary & Kit are known for their world famous Clif Bar products and have created an exceptional Napa Valley wine business as well. After a friendly chat with the tasting room ladies and a purchase or two (or three), I pointed my car south and headed back to the big city.
Having never been to Oakland (imagine that!) I was strange to think just how close to Napa it really was by car. Just over 45 minutes in ‘normal’ traffic. But of course this was not the case as everyone was on their way back from wine country after the weekend.
I made it to Dashe Cellars right on time…and yes, here it was, a winery on the outskirts of downtown Oakland. Cellar, crush, tasting and all the trimmings right here and in a nice space.
Michael Dashe has quite a pedigree having spent time in France and well as Napa. The fact is if you taste his wines you’d know he is right on the money, and at a great price.
Many of you may remember my talking up the great, long gone, Sonoma winery Belvedere. This winery comes closest that I’ve ever found. Excellent wine with a deep selection of varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Michael tells me there are around 28 wineries in the Oakland area….urban wineries…I’ve learned something new.
After an excellent crab cake slider dinner at the Marriott south of SF airport, I head off to catch the redeye home.
Each trip is more fantastic than the last. Thank you California wine country. See you again.
RUTHERFORD, CA (April 11, 2011) – Francis Ford Coppola announced today that he has acquired the iconic Inglenook trademark and that henceforth, his celebrated Rubicon Estate in Rutherford, Napa Valley will be known by its historic original name, Inglenook, which he has acquired from The Wine Group. In addition, beginning this summer renowned Bordeaux winemaker Philippe Bascaules will assume the position of Estate Manager and Winemaker at the newly renamed Inglenook.
Inglenook and its wines have played a prominent role in defining Napa Valley as one of the great wine regions of the world, with a legacy dating back nearly 150 years to the founding of the Inglenook Winery in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum. The 1941 Inglenook Cabernet, which is considered one of the greatest wines ever made, was produced from vineyards that are still part of Coppola’s estate in Rutherford
PREMIERE NAPA VALLEY TRIP-FEBRUARY 21ST, 2011
Day One-February 21st.
Escaping Wisconsin looked to be a trick after getting hit on Sunday night with a snow storm turned rain storm turned ice storm back to snow again. Mother Nature is not confused, she’s just angry.
Arriving in San Francisco to cloudy skies and 52 degrees I was pleased to be away from snow. Then I arrive in Napa to see snow on Mt. St. Helena. Of course, why not?
After checking in I head up to St. Helena for my interview with Land & Reed co owner John Skupny.
John’s office sits just a block away from the main drag in St. Helena. A cozy place with pics of John standing with Robert Mondavi among other wine greats. John also has an amazing collection of vintage wine labels including Inglenook from the John Daniel Jr. era.
We talked while sipping Pinot Noir from both the Central Coast as well as Napa Valley. Two bottles and a few hours later, the evening was complete. Likely, never a better first day!
Dinner at the Rutherford Grill and headed off to ready for a day in Healdsburg tomorrow.
Day Two-February 22nd
Taking the ‘scenic’ route to Sonoma I headed up-valley on 128 to Healdsburg to meet with Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves Winemaker Joe Healy. Still amazing to see snow on Mt. St. Helena. I was told the roads up topside were closed due to a heavy fall.
Joe Healy’s laid back nature and direct answers made for an easy interview. This being his 10th year with Bella he has seen an amazing amount of change from what was originally started by Scott and Lynn Adams.
After the interview, we headed further into the caves to taste the Zin. Being their focus, the Zinfandel is very good and stands on its own. These caves sit just below a vineyard which gives you more of an ‘earthy’ experience.
Joe also has his very own effort making Pinot Noir called Buena Vita. Of course, a winemaker making wine.
My next stop was second (belated) visit with Denise Gill, General Manager of Hop Kiln in Healdsburg. This time I met HK Winemaker Chuck Mansfield. Chuck is a young winemaker who has managed to carve out an excellent reputation for making Pinot Noir.
Hop Kiln has completely remodeled their tasting room and the improvement makes for better access to the bar plus more room in general to enjoy the rural atmosphere. I’ve always appreciated the space since it comes across more earthy and connected with the concept of wine being an agricultural product.
After a tour of the property courtesy of Chuck I headed into the town of Healdsburg for my final stop of the day….but before that, lunch at John Stewart’s Bovolo. Excellent food with a simple atmosphere.
Just around the corner from the square in Healdsburg is the new and yet unnamed tasting room of Alan Baker and Serena Laurie of Cartograph Wines. The couple signed the lease on this brand new shared space shortly before I arrived for the interview (two other wine labels will join them). With that, Cartograph officially has a home base.
The couple specializes in Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer with Serena putting time into her own Cabernet Sauvignon called “Seeds”.
Having met at Crush Pad, they combined their energies to create a label that reflects location specific to terroir.
I closed out the day back in Napa by dining at a ‘locals’ stop called La Strada, featuring simple Italian food visited by few tourists.
DAY THREE-February 23rd:
I originally met Janet Trefethen of Trefethen Family Vineyards back in 2008 at Auction Napa Valley when she was chair of the event. Shortly after I met Janet’s daughter, Hailey and saw the third generation taking the wine into the future.
I met up with Hailey at the winery to do the interview for the first of the day. I had never visited the Trefethen Winery and it was well worth seeing. Deep history and a beautiful space makes it a must for Napa History.
Hailey carries the same exceptional hospitality that is common to the Napa Valley. She spoke as we were friends for many years. I have to say getting to know the new generation in wine country is like a window to the future.
Off to a quick lunch at my favorite, Mustards…..sitting at the bar with a friendly and conversational bartender I was joined by a crowd within a few minutes. The usual pulled pork did the trick and I was out on the road again.
My next scheduled interview wasn’t until 3pm so I had the chance to check out a few wineries that have been on my list for some time. Some time ago, Charly at Alpha Omega has suggested that I stop at Robert Biale Vineyards. I had sampled their Zinfandel during dinner once before and it was exceptional. As Biale is by appointment only, the kindly phone voice managed to sneak me in on the tails of another small group tasting. Very good Petite Syarh, Syrah and Zinfandel made it worth the trip. I purchased a bottle of ‘Life Father Like Son’ and headed out to another winery of interest.
Robert Sinskey makes wine that I have enjoyed on more than one occasion but I had never visited their tasting room.
I learned that there was no point in trying that again.
This was a sort of very typical ‘mass tasting’ type of winery so the bar was somewhat crowded but not overly busy.
I bellied up to an area that had some snacks set up but was unattended. To make a long story short a group was just getting ready to taste so I was directed, without the lease bit of hospitality, to find another place at the bar.
I was not welcomed.
I was not made to feel welcome.
I tried to get a tasting room person’s attention.
I didn’t succeed.
I won’t go back.
From there I headed to another winery I’ve wanted to check out for quite some time. The William Harrison winery looked somewhat like an old west California type building with character written all over it.
A big and friendly dog waited in the parking lot….and on the porch, a friendly guy looked on, then headed back into the tasting room.
The ‘guy’ was winemaker Bruce Bradley who was filling in at the bar. I found Bruce to be warm and engaging. In fact I found him to be an excellent storyteller filling me in on the history of William Harrison which gave away his love of the place.
After tasting very good Cabs and a few more stories, I headed to St. Helena to meet with Sharon Harris of Wine Entre Femme (and also of RareCat and Common Dog wines).
Meander’s Amy Aiken had given me background on Wine Entre Femme and via email had introduced me to Sharon. This woman’s wine group consists of some of Napa’s brightest female winemakers joining with an international group to learn, share ideas and promote women talent in the wine business.
Sharon’s St. Helena home was fantastic and fully equipped with two silly and friendly dogs. Big barks with wagging tails. My purpose of this interview was to talk about the WEF, but she gave me a second interview talking about about her wine projects including RareCat and CommonDog.
We interviewed outside by the pool until it was simply too chilly to continue…..then we headed indoors where I met Amici Wine owners Bob Shepard Sharon’s husband John Harris.
Sharon is smart with both the American and European point of view on wine. She makes some very good wines and lives life with the passion common to people in the industry.
I made it back to my hotel to ready for a dinner gathering of friendly wine folks at the home of Tiera Roja owner Linda Neal.
Mouth watering leg of lamb, potatoes, beet salad, Waldorf salad and somewhere around 9 wines such as Tierra Roja, Volker Eisele, Robert Biale, Cade, Plumpjack and others including a ’79 William Hill.
An evening to remember.
DAY FOUR-February 24th:
Starting the day early by meeting Patz & Hall co owner Heather Patz at their tasting salon in the southern end of Napa Valley. This is the first tasting room that we’ve visited that is located in an industrial park.
They pull it off beautifully. The space is elegantly decorated and very comfy to the point of feeling like your very own living room.
From there we head up-vally to the amazing and slightly crazy Quixote winery in the Stag’s Leap District.
This winery was designed by the famous Austrian painter and architect Hundertwasser. No straight lines, every window different, wavy floors and crazy colors reflect the design that is a must see. During the tour you also see the extensive collection of artwork assembled by owner Carl Doumani. The wine is worth the trip featuring Syrah and Petite Syrah among others.
By now the rain was coming down heavy just another reason to stop for another tasting. This time it was Hartwell wines also located in the Stag’s Leap District.
We tasted five wines including two Sauvignon Blanc and three Cabernet. The winemaker Benoit Touquette knows his stuff and has created an excellent collection of wines to offer. This is another must see for any Napa visitor.
After a quick fast food lunch we headed off to the many events held by wineries around the valley to celebrate Premiere. Sadly we missed the Yountville tasting as I had entered it in my calendar at the wrong date.
We started at the Porter Family Caves where the Coombsville event was held.
Coombsville is an area directly east of the city of Napa has is deep in history. The area is hillier that it looks and has several hidden gem wineries. We even met a Milwaukee transplant who is now working with the Acien Wines. Curtis Strohl had worked in Milwaukee at a simple pizza place that that was well known for just about the best selection in the city.
Next we headed to St. Helena and the Farmstead Restaurant property for the NG (Next Generation) event where we crowded into a tent as the rain came down outside. Here, met up with Elizabeth Marson of Marston Family Vineyard and once again it was like catching up with an old friend.
And speaking of old friends, we ran into Dawn Dooley who was one of our very first interviews for LBTV and Mini Gatens who also helped us out in the beginning. We also saw Ray Signorello (SP) of Signorello Family Vineyards and Brette Bartolucci of Madonna wines plus made many new contacts with young winemakers.
Our final event for the evening was at Ma(i)sonary in Yountville. This was an overcrowded and somewhat uncomfortable gathering which we only stayed at for a short period of time as there was no where to relax let along set your glass.
Since we were in Yountville, we dined at Hurley’s Bar & Grill just down the street. We sat at the bar and were entertained by a very good bartender. Sadly the food was below par and that was a surprise considering we were in Yountville.
Rest for tomorrow.
DAY FIVE-February 24th:
Tasting wine at 9:30 in the morning….why not? We did.
Friday started with the Perspective Tasting at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) Rudd Center with 12 Cabernet Sauvignon with 3 vintages and 8 Pinot Noir also with 3 vintages. In the efforts to save my palate (last year I hit the wall by 3pm) I decided to taste only the Cabs and pass on the Pinot.
This is a perfect experience for anyone wanting to learn not only about wine but a bit about yourself and your palate. Sipping and spitting is a must to keep your wits about you but to really create a fair playing field and to spend time thinking about exactly what your tasting.
Afterward we met up with Amy Aiken of Meander Wine to grab lunch at Market in downtown St. Helena. An excellent meal for all and believe it or not, the absence of filled wine glasses on the table.
As part of Premiere Napa Valley several wineries sponsor events at wineries, tasting rooms and private spaces around the valley. As media we are invited to many of these events. The trick is to schedule the driving time around the scattered times of each event. The logistics can be a wee bit confusing and it’s important to remember that Napa’s finest are keeping an eye out for drunk driving.
We started with the Spring Mountain tasting at Spring Mountain Winery.
Next was a reception at Shafer Vineyards tasting room where they poured the many Shafer selections including older vintages of Hillside Select. Excellent!
Then we headed off to St. Helena Vintners, which was held at Charles Krug. Here we had a chance to meet up with Mimi Gatens again as well as Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr.
Off to the Oakville Vintners tasting in the caves of Far Niente. Tierra Roja, Opus One, Bond, Harlan, Groth were just some among the many amazing Oakville wines there to taste.
Back up valley to the Duckhorn reception to meet up with Migration winemaker Neal Bernardi and his cohorts David Marchesi of Paraduxx and Bill Nancarrow of Duckhorn. We also were introduced to Golden Eye winemaker Zach Rasmuson. The food was fantastic and the Dixieland band made the evening.
Our final visit was to the ‘Stag’s Leap Lounge’ at the Pine Ridge caves. Excellent décor and great wines along with a DJ in the caves made for a very good end to the long day.
DAY SIX, February 25th: Premiere Napa Valley.
The Culinary Institute of America at Greystoke hosted the barrel tasting and auction. We were greeted by Doug Shafer and many other association members. A lite breakfast, juices and coffee awaited us before the start of the day.
The best way to understand this event is to listen to the podcast. We met up with many old friends and made several new connections to winemakers we have never met but were aware of.
The barrel tastings were exceptional and even though it was very busy there was no problem negotiating the throng.
The CIA made a spectacular lunch for the attendees while bottle after bottle of wine was poured to pair with the food.
The auction itself started in the early afternoon and was standing room only.
Finances may be tight in our current world but the bidders showed a generosity not found in many places these days.
We joined our friends at Alpha Omega for the after party and dined on gourmet pizza with nothing less than the great wines made by Jean Hoefliger and AO.
For me I had to leave just after 7 to catch the red eye home.
A long week with many miles of travel, wine, fun, food and friends.
A splendid time, indeed.
PREMIERE PODCAST INTERVIEW LOG
Part One (online March 10th):
1-Shirley Roy & Aaron Bounchristiani/Bounchristiani Wine
2-Jean Hoefliger/Alpha Omega
3-Janet Trefethen & Zeke Neeley/Trefethen Family Vineyards
4-Sam Baxter/Terra Valentine
5-Bruce Cakebread/Cakebread Cellars
6-Elliot Stern/Oakville East Exposure
7-Janet Myers/Mt. Veeder Winery
8-Manuel Frias/ Frias Family Vineyard
9-Alex Eisele/Volker Eisele Family Estate
10-Taylor & Susan Bartolucci/Madonna Estatew
11-John Harris & Joel Aiken/Amici Wine
12-Debi Cali/Baldacci Wines
13-Fred Schweiger/Schweiger Family Vineyards
14-Andy Schweiger/Schweiger Family Vineyards
15-Diana Schweiger/Schweiger Family Vineyards
16-Curtis Strohl/Ancien Wines
17-Ken Bernards/Ancien Wines
Part Two (online March 20th):
1-Scott Shirley/The Hess Collection
2-Chelsea Bellows/Alpha Omega
3-Bill Hill/Terta Wine
4-Robin Lail/Lail Vineyards
6-Linda Neal/Tierra Roja
7-Katherine DeSante/Tierra Roja
8-Charles Sawyer/Sawyer Vineyards
10-Julie Johnson/Tres Saboris
11-Bridgett Raymond/Courtesan wines & Brigitte Wine
12-Benoit Touquette/Hartwell Wine & Jean Hoefliger/Alpha Omega.
13-Eric Rothchild/Tayson Pierce Estate
14-Marbue Marke/Caldwell Wine.