It’s not very often you’re invited to a luncheon with a soap opera legend to drink wines unreleased to the public, made from grapes grown on a private property in Malibu. The luncheon, held at Napa Valley Grille, featured the wines of Mandeville Vineyards, a project from actress Donna Mills and partner, Larry Gilman.
These are handcrafted wines. Every step of the process is literally done by hand, from one set of hands to another. And we are talking about small scale. The grapes on their property were planted in 2013 on 12,000 sq ft of land. We are talking about less than an acre of vines here. 431 plants in total: 287 Malbec and 134 Cabernet. All fruit is hand-harvested (out of necessity because of the steep grades). And to continue with the hand-holding, when the vines were planted, Donna and Larry hosted a planting party and guests wrote notes to the vines and tied them to the plants!
The vineyard site started as an overgrown, hard to reach mess on a very steep grade. They had a crazy idea and brought in a geologist who did soil samples. The guy had a bad leg and Larry LITERALLY had to carry him. The geologist told him: you’re f*ing crazy. So what did Larry do? He started creating access to the site. They had to use a chainsaw to cut through rocks. The area is now terraced with extremely high grades (most is 20-30% but some areas it goes up to 45-50%). The area gets a lot of sunlight. In fact, they are toying with the idea of adding a shade structure to cover the plants. Speaking of pampered plants: classical music is played in the vineyard at times. These are some coddled Malibu vines!
The property is located in the Mandeville Canyon area of Malibu. Initially they named the project: Ethereal Wines, but after that didn’t work out, they landed on Mandeville Vineyards.
Larry himself had no wine experience, but he is learning. Winemaking has been outsourced to The Village Winery, a custom crush facility based out of Westlake Village. The 2016 harvest was tough as it was too hot. That year logged 30+ hours of 112-degree heat. They lost 70% of the Malbec and 25% of the Cabernet. The vintage only yielded 12 cases. In 2017 they grew to a whopping 60 cases.
It was a treat to taste the special wines of Mandeville Vineyards. The passion and excitement of Larry is palpable. He can’t wait to tell you more. Every little detail about the vines, the grapes, the wines, etc. As Larry said: watching this thing is extraordinary. This is something he and Donna birthed from literally nothing. It will be very exciting to see where things go from here.
We enjoyed Mandeville’s two fine wines with food courses impeccably paired from Napa Valley Grille. To round out the pairings, we were also served a couple wines from Tavistock, which are the private label wines for Napa Valley Grille and the restaurant group Tavistock Restaurant Collection (TRC). This is because Mandeville does not currently have any white wines.
A dry bubbly. Yellow apple, pear, white peach, apricot, and floral notes.
Sugar Snap Peas, Asparagus, White Balsamic Vinaigrette, Feta, Fried Prosciutto
A delicious fresh salad. Perfect for summer.
A light and easy drinker that works well with this simple salad. Light bodied, crisp, with balanced acidity. Citrus and tropical fruit notes.
Torched Carmelized Lemon, Herb Oil
Only three ingredients: simple, clean, delicious.
A nice pairing. Shrimp and Sauvignon Blanc is generally a winner. Green fruit, stone fruit, and tropical fruit.
Spinach, Goat Cheese, Walnuts, Truffle Oil
This pasta was insane. Out of this world.
Wow. I’m impressed. Clearly New World. I like when I wine tells me where it’s from. Extremely layered and complex. It was a gift to taste this wine. 10 months in bottle. 12 cases produced and only 4 cases left. The wine aged in a breathable container for 10 mos with oak sleeves. Not a super-premium treatment, but they’re just getting started. I have a feeling this will be refined as time goes by.
Red Bell Pepper Tomato Coulis, Fried Peewee Potatoes, Upland Crest, Pesto
Unbelievable. One of the most tender pieces of meat I’ve ever had.
Tight, but quite delicious. This wine will only get better. Aged for 20 mos in New French Oak. 24 cases. Blackberry, rose/violet, black pepper, vanilla, earth, tobacco.
The pricing for Mandeville Vineyards is yet to be determined, but it will fall in the super premium category.
In the 60s and 70s, there was an economic boom in Italy. Many people who lived in more rural areas moved to the cities to take advantage of new opportunities. In the 80s, the country then had to incentivize people to move back to those areas and take control of farms and vineyards. They did so with small business agricultural loans. Angela Velenosi took advantage of these economic incentives and started Velenosi Winery with her then husband, Ercole. Velenosi is located just outside the town of Ascoli Piceno in Marche, Italy.
The Marche region is on the central coast of Italy on the Adriatic side. Continental influences come from the west (from the Apeninne Range) and moderate maritime influence come from the east. Velenosi was founded in 1984 by Angela and Ercole with 9 hectares. They now own 148 hectares total and have grown to 2.5 million bottle annual case production!
Angela was our guest at the Velenosi Winery LA Wine Writers luncheon in March. She is a beautiful and smart Italian woman who started this venture when she was only 20 years old! Our intimate group enjoyed this time with Angela. We heard about her journey in the wine world and got to delve into her portfolio of wines, which were paired beautifully with fare from Cafe del Rey. As always, this lunch did not disappoint.
Herbed Goat Cheese on Marble Rye Toast
Pairing: Pecorino DOCG 2016
Pecorino is an indigenous grape to Marche. The wine is round and creamy with medium + body and a nice saltiness/brininess. The creaminess comes from 3 mos of lees contact and battonage. Fun fact: there are sheep on this vineyard that eat the grapes from the vine in the fall. These sheep then provide the milk for Pecorino cheese! I love both this wine and this pairing. Such a simple thing to whip up if you’re having friends over: toasted rye bread, a schmear of goat cheese (with herbs if you have ‘em), plus an EVOO drizzle and some fresh cracked black pepper.
Spinach & Stone Fruit Salad with Orange Vinaigrette and Sea Salt
Pairing: Verdicchio 2017
This wine had an almost pink color to it. Lots of stone fruit (both on the nose and palate) made this a great pairing with the stone fruit salad. This wine is creamy, structured, and has ageability.
Butternut Squash & Chocolate Bread Pudding with a Dried Plum Sauce
Pairing: Lacrima di Morro 2017
This dish was delicious and incredibly unique. I was inspired to try and recreate this, but I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to start. An inspiring pairing. One does not overpower the other. They dance with each other, though this wine sings on its own. A perfumed note of violet petals plus an earthiness/twigginess. A very dry and almost astringent wine. My favorite wine of the day.
Roasted Peppered Venison with Shaved Fennel & Cranberry Slaw, Pernod Dressing
Pairing: Ludi Offida DOCG 2014
This is one of Velenosi’s hallmark wines. 85% Montepulciano, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Merlot. Red and black fruit, meatiness, plus vanilla and other baking spices. Dried flower as well. Medium + mouth-drying tannins.
48 Day Dry Aged Beef in a Porcini Mushroom Sauce
Pairing: Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore 2013
Wow! To both the wine and this dish! The wine gives me: black fruit, spice (black pepper), leather, and black licorice. Also dried black cherries. Powerful, structured, and layered. You almost want to chew it. This wine was a “Tre Biccheri” at Gambero Rosso.
Almond Flour Cookies
Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG 2016
This wine was made in the “apassimento” method. 100% Vernaccia Nera is hand-picked. 50% is fermented right away and the other 50% is dried for 3 months and then fermented. The two parts are blended together and put through a 3rd fermentation for 9-10 months. Reminded me of a rustic, sparkling Amarone.
Early in 2017 I had the opportunity to attend an intimate lunch with Erica Crawford of Loveblock Wine at Wolf Restaurant in Los Angeles. There were 10 attendees in total, and it was one of the most well-executed wine lunches I have attended thus far.
Most everyone has heard of Kim Crawford wines, specifically of their ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc. Who, then, is Erica Crawford?
Kim and Erica Crawford started Kim Crawford Wines in 1996. They brought in grapes, rented winemaking facilities, and produced Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that can be sold in less than a year from harvest. It proved to be a good decision. Fast forward, in 2003 they sold their label first to a Canadian company and then negotiated with Constellation Brands in 2009. When all was said and done, the couple netted close to $50 million. Not bad for Kim who grew up on a rural farm in New Zealand.
What Erica found funny after the Constellation deal in 2009 is how they were referred to as an "overnight success". Yeah, sure. Overnight...to the tune of 13 years. With the sale of Kim Crawford, they had to sit on their hands for a bit, due to a non-compete clause.
Kim Crawford Wines was Kim Crawford Wines. Exactly what you'd expect out of a mass-produced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Zippy acidity and forward green aromas and flavors. THIS, says Erica (speaking of Loveblock), was their "love" block. Their passion project.
Erica shared with us that in New Zealand there is an oversupply of winemaking students and not enough viticultural students. You heard it here first....move to New Zealand and study viticulture! New Zealand is know for being a pioneer in organic and sustainable vineyard practices. What an opportunity for young agricultural students to come to New Zealand and express themselves through grapes!
Loveblock has one of the highest vineyards in Marlborough. The first vineyard was bought in 2002. The soils are withered and depleted and give wines with more minerality. Loveblock has a shared winery with their neighbors. The vineyards are certified organic with cattle onsite to eat grass and to reduce fire risk. Their manure is also composted. Those are the details on paper, but I can attest to the non-tangibles, the warm and fuzzies. It is evident in Erica's carriage, demeanor, and the amount that she smiles, that she is happy. That this is truly a labor of love. Truly, a Love-Block.
To Start: Warm Olives (Harissa, Preserved Lemon, Orange Peel, Chile de Arbol, Rosemary)
Holy moly. These are #slapyomama good!
Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $23.99
Paired with: Hamachi Crudo
Nuoc Cham, Radish, Herbs, Puffed Rice
The classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has the "Marlborough Lift" of big aromatics, big green flavors, and big acid. This is not that. This wine is more restrained on the nose and focuses on texture rather than big aromatics. Citrus peel (orange, lemon, lime), grapefruit, wet stone/salinity, stone fruit and a slight tropical note (passion fruit). It married lovely with the hamachi. A good combination of fat, acid, and punchiness.
Loveblock Pinot Gris 2013 $25.99
Paired with: Mushroom Risotto
Pine Nut, Sorrel, Peas, Pancetta
A beautifully delicate wine with notes of stone fruit (white peach), delicate citrus, minerality, and a slight smokiness characteristic of the Pinot Gris grape. Medium + body, medium + flavor intensity, along with dairy malo notes (the malo happens spontaneously with this wine). This wine is creamy and velvety, just like the risotto it is paired with. Fun fact, our chef, Marcel, foraged for the mushrooms in this dish.
Loveblock Pinot Noir 2013 $37
Paired with: Braised Beef Cheek
Jerusalem Artichoke, Endive, Turmeric Peppercorn Sauce
Classic Pinot Noir notes of: red fruit (sour cherry, raspberry, and plum), dried violets, and a pervasive earthiness. This wine has medium acid, medium + body, and medium flavor intensity. With food, this wine really warmed up and showed notes of cedar, cigar box, coffee, and chocolate. Also, spice box (cloves and cinnamon).
Dessert: Blueberry Soufflè with Quince Sorbet
A bit about Wolf Restaurant, our venue. This is a superb restaurant in Los Angeles serving "Seasonal Modern California Cuisine". I have since been back twice and cannot wait to return. Marcel Vigneron is chef/owner, and in my opinion, doing a fantastic job. In regards to wines, they have a "tight and right" list, as I say. Close to 30 wines with minimal variety duplication, making each choice thoughtful and stand alone. Another fun thing I learned was Wolf's "zero waste policy". They really believe in nose to tail dining, sustainability, and have a composting program. There even is a neighborhood pig!! I didn't get the full details on that, but how cool? There is a lovely food synergy, and as Marcel says, more nutrient absorption when you consume the whole product. Wolf is a treat. If you find yourself in LA, I highly recommend a visit.
A special thank you to Will Rogers and the team at Donna White Communications for putting this fabulous luncheon together.