Last summer, I took a lovely trip to explore Willamette Valley wine on the Wine Writers Educational Tour (WWET), which was organized by Fred Swan. The trip was 3 days long and consisted of multiple vineyard and winery visits with about 20 other wine writers. Oh, how I miss trips like this. The trip was a wine geeks dream. We delved into many aspects of Willamette Valley wine. MOST of what we talked about would not be of interest to a “regular” (non-industry person). Above all, my goal here is to distill what I learned on that trip and take you on a journey through the sub-AVAs of Willamette Valley wine country. Basically, how to help you break down what’s in the bottle of a Willamette Valley wine.
As an aside, the Willamette Valley is an amazing place to visit for wine. That is to say, for someone coming from Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest is stunningly beautiful and rustic. As you likely know, the wine is stellar, and there are eateries that would rival those in any big city. One particular stellar experience with Willamette Valley wine was at Youngberg Hill. Above all, the hospitality, wine, views, and food were all top-notch.
Back to the wine! Let’s start with some numbers and facts to give you context before we look at each sub-AVA. Firstly, the Willamette Valley wine region is the largest wine region in Oregon. 71% of Oregon wine is produced here. Secondly, the region lies between the lower Coast Range and the higher elevation Cascade Range. Aside from Napa, I’d say that the Willamette Valley is the most prestigious wine making area in the US. Jason Lett, whose father David Lett planted the first Pinot Noir vines in the region (in 1965) said that the Willamette Valley is the New World wine region that is taken with the highest degree of seriousness. Here in the Willamette, they make good wine and they care about it. Thirdly, the Willamette Valley is a large region over 150 miles long and 60 miles wide. There are over 23,000 acres planted, 756 vineyards, and 564 wineries. Moreover, Pinot Noir dominates with over 65% of plantings.
This quick breakdown of the 7 AVAs of the Willamette Valley is meant to help you navigate bottles on a shelf. What might a wine from the Chehalem Mountains or Yamhill-Carlton taste like? Read below!
I would be remiss if I did not mention Elaine Brown, who led the group through a seminar comparing Willamette Valley AVAs through Pinot Noir. Elaine has spent significant time researching and studying Willamette Valley wine. Certainly, her attention to detail and relatability makes her one of my favorite speakers and educators on the topic of wine.
Let's move onto the AVAs!
Willamette Valley wines from the Chehalem Mountains are rich and full. Certainly bigger wines than any of the other sub-AVAs.
Willamette Valley wines from Yamhill-Carlton have fine-grained tannins and darker fruit character (blue and black fruit). The wines are fleshier and richer.
Willamette Valley wines from Ribbon Ridge express elegance and structure. There is an intensity to the fruit and concentration.
Willamette Valley wines from the Dundee Hills showcase red fruit predominantly. These wines are not heavy. They’re finer and more delicate; leaner.
Willamette Valley wines from McMinnville have deep flavor concentration. Darker flavors and more apparent tannins.
Willamette Valley wines from the Eola-Amity Hills are bright and have high acid. Clean, distinct aromas and flavors.
Willamette Valley wines from the Van Duzer Corridor have rustic tannins. This the newest sub-AVA in the Willamette Valley and is less than a year old.
Bookmark this page to help you navigate the shelves of Willamette Valley wine!
Did you know Brianne can lead you through a virtual wine tasting, from the comfort of your own home? For example, we can focus on and explore Willamette Valley wine. Please contact Brianne to book your virtual vino class.
On March 6th, I hopped on a San Francisco-bound plane to work with a client on an upcoming event. That weekend I spent some time with friends in Marin, and our visit to Chalk Hill Estate was my last public outing before COVID got serious in California. I flew home on March 8th and woke up on Monday, March 9th to an entirely changed world. For a moment, let me go back to that time BC (before Corona). We took a jaunt to Sonoma and enjoyed the Culinary Tour at Chalk Hill Estate. And WHAT an experience that wine and food pairing was.
Chalk Hill Estate, in the Chalk Hill sub AVA of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma is a GORGEOUS 1300-acre sustainable property. There are 300 acres planted under vine and while there, vineyards are in your line of vision as far as the eye can see. This bountiful property gives us 26,000 cases of wine annually, and 90% of the produce served onsite comes directly from the property. Talk about farm to table. Truly.
Below are the fabulous wine and food pairing courses we enjoyed as a part of the Culinary Tour.
Lemongrass Custard | Root Vegetable Granola | Tomato Powder
A weighty and full-bodied Chardonnay. Super-duper creamy, and I’m here for it. This wine and food pairing really worked. The custard really brightened up the wine and showcased the fruit: both citrus and green fruit.
Carrot & Parsnip Sofrito Blue Corn Tortilla | Avocado Mousseline | Pickled Cippolini
Bright red fruit plus cracked black pepper (both on the nose and palate). This pairing sings. The pepper from the wine plays well with the spice on the dish.
Roasted Pork Belly | Vegetable Dashi | Charred Broccoli & Romanesco
Dark fruit plays with medium plus tannins and a full body. Super smoky on the backend. This smoke danced with the charred vegetables and the roasted pork notes. Divine.
Angus Ribeye | Estate Sunchokes | Bok Choy | Onion Soubise | Sherry Vinegar
There is no question that Cabernet Sauvignon is in your glass. Distinct pyrazines (jalapeño) on the nose, moving into dark black fruit. Well-integrated tannins that cut right through the fat in the rib eye. Ab fab.
When life gets back to normal, I’d HIGHLY recommend you consider the Culinary Tour at Chalk Hill Estate. Your day begins with a brief excursion through the estate vineyards. Following the vineyard tour, guests are led through the new culinary garden where organically-farmed produce is the inspiration for the Estate Chef’s culinary artistry. You will then arrive at the Pavilion – a conservatory overlooking the equestrian center with panoramic views of the Chalk Hill valley. There, you will enjoy a sit-down tasting of Chalk Hill wines paired with small plates prepared by their Estate Chef.
By Appointment | $120 per person | 2.5 hours
For appointments visit ChalkHill.com or contact Chalk Hill at (707) 657-4837.
The first full day of our Temecula Wine Country press trip began with a precarious drive up to the Wild Horse Peak Vineyard. Of course, I was sitting on the side of the bus with the mountain drop off views. Deep breaths. I kept my head down and prayed for a safe ascent. Mind you, I have climbed Machu Picchu in Peru, and that bus ride up is much more precarious. As I get older, more things bother me that never did before. Alas, we reached the top and enjoyed fresh air and sunshine, surrounded by vines and trees.
Temecula isn’t resting on her laurels, as other California wine regions do. Jim Hart of Hart Winery tells us that “Temecula struggles with recognition” and that “their identity has not truly been honed”. Part of this is because Temecula is a destination wine country and not a distribution wine country. Most Temecula wine is consumed locally, versus distributed across the country to restaurants and wine shops. Another identifier of Temecula is that all wineries in Temecula are family-owned. In fact, none are corporate-owned.
When you think of Temecula you think of warm temps, hot air balloons, and wine tasting. Yes, it does get warm here. Especially in the summer. But, Temecula actually has a Mediterranean climate. It leans more arid and benefits from good diurnal shifts (warm days and cool nights). Wild Horse Peak sits at 1,900 feet elevation. A full 500+ feet higher than any other vines in the area. This elevation gives temps 5-10 degrees cooler than the rest of Temecula.
The Wild Horse Peak property is owned by Jim Carter, who also owns South Coast Winery, Berenda Road Winery, and Carter Estate Winery. The 400-acre plot of land boasts 140 acres under vine, planted mostly in 1995-97. According to Jon McPherson, winemaker at South Coast Winery and Carter Estate “the yields on the vineyards at Wild Horse Peak are historically cropped very low, the color and tannin development in the fruit always seems a bit higher than the valley floor, and the wines are more intense.” He tells me that they “have done tannin and color trials on the fruit and it is significantly higher than that of the valley floor. This is attributed to the lower yields, higher altitude, and limited irrigation available.” The vines are watered from their reservoir, which in some years is very limited, based on rainfall. That brings us to the wines.
While standing on Wild Horse Peak, we tasted two wines with WHP fruit. Talk about enjoying wine directly at the source!
This wine has a medium + body with a full-bodied, and textured (almost clay-like) feel. Lots of red fruit. Medium, well-integrated tannins. Great balance on this wine.
This is a 4-block blend, all Wild Horse Peak fruit. Sweet spice (vanilla) notes and savory (green) notes, plus baking spices. Dry, chalky tannins. Ripe, full fruit forwardness.
Other Wild Horse Peak wines from South Coast Winery can be found at the link HERE.
While on our Wild Horse Peak jaunt, we also tried the below wines. These wines do not have Wild Horse Peak fruit, but they are good examples of what you can expect from high-quality Temecula wines.
Pyrazines and eucalyptus on the nose, but soft on the palate. Dare I say: delicate? Soft tannins. Tasting notes from Joe Wiens of Wiens Family Cellars: If Temecula Valley is a bowl, WHP sits on the southeast edge, and our Waxman Vineyard in La Cresta is the opposite edge of the bowl, northwest of the valley. We see good diurnal shifts, and cooler days being closer to the coast, and about 600 feet higher in elevation than the valley floor. The soils are less nutrient-rich, so we see lower yields (about 2 tons per acre), with very nice concentration and character from this site.
This wine is asking to be laid down. A big boy Cab, not for the faint of heart. With full bodied, grippy tannins, according to Jim. #laymedown
LOVE this wine. For those jonesin’ for a Pinot from Temecula, this is as close as you’re gonna get. And it’s good. Tasting notes directly from Gregg Penny royal, the vineyard manager at Wilson Creek Winery: The Cinsault is 100% valley floor Temecula AVA fruit from the First Light Vineyard. Cinsault is a heat-loving, floral soft wine with moderate but firm tannic structures. We sometimes refer to it as the warm climate Pinot Noir for the similarity in density and the commonality of rose in the bouquet.
Love this guy. Feels like an Old-World Syrah. Slate and minerality on the nose. Tasting notes directly from Jim Hart of Hart Winery: grapes from a vineyard that is approximately 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. 2400 feet elevation. The vineyard is surrounded by a wall made from volcanic rock cleared from the vineyard site. Much more of a cool climate Syrah.
Thank you for joining me to explore Wild Horse Creek in Temecula wine country. Cheers!
It’s a convivial atmosphere in the Lucas & Lewellen tasting room in Santa Barbara wine country one weekday afternoon. The tasting room is busy, staff pulls bottles from the shelves, and I am in the back of the tasting room with Louis Lucas as we taste our way through their portfolio and I write up my wine tasting notes.
“You continue to grow great grapes”, a woman exclaimed to Louis as we were in the middle of our interview. This says it all. With Louis, it’s all about the grapes. I recently sat down with the soft-spoken Louis Lucas of Lucas & Lewellen. When I told Louis I had completed the WSET Diploma, he exclaimed “studying wine is a disease! You can’t stop once you start”. Truer words were never spoken, my friend.
Let’s rewind a bit. Who are Lucas & Lewellen? Louis Lucas is a third-generation grape grower in Santa Barbara wine country who has supplied premium grapes to Napa and Sonoma wineries for decades. Royce Lewellen, the other half, is a retired Superior Court judge. Fun fact. When Royce was a judge, he married Louis and his wife, Jill! They had met through the Santa Maria Food & Wine Society.
Lucas & Lewellen was born in 1996 at a time when many came south as Napa and Sonoma were getting too expensive. Fast forward, and they now own over 400 acres on three vineyard sites in Santa Barbara county. Semi-cool Los Alamos Vineyard, with Rhone, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Italian varietals. Over 20 varieties in total. The cool Goodchild, High 9, and Old Adobe Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley along the Foxen Wine Trail. Here, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are planted. Lastly, the warm Valley View Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley features Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, plus Malbec and Petit Verdot. Oh, and he’s also got 46 acres planted at his home/ranch. He refers to this as his “Bordeaux vineyard” with everything planted except Merlot.
In 2007, winemaker Megan McGrath Cates came on board. She believes in “balanced wines with all components married together so that layers of complexity unfold.” The wine is made at their facility in Buellton.
Louis’s four grandparents were born in Croatia on vineyards. Louis himself grew up on a farm in the San Joaquin Valley with grapes as the main crop. They produced raisins, then canning grapes, and then wine grapes. They never made commercial wine, but his grandfather made wine at home with the family. Fun fact: he learned to hate Grenache from him!
Louis said he grew up with a reverence for grapes. They grew Thompson seedless grapes. As a child, he remembers inspecting and looking at grapes in a way that most didn’t. The grapes had to be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. They had to stand out to the housewives at the grocery store looking to select a fresh bunch for their fruit bowl. This is where Louis’ grape calling began.
As a young adult, Louis attended law school for one year and was in the Army Reserves for a few years after that. During that time (the mid-60s), the grape business was besieged with farm labor problems. Napa was the “early” king of wine at that point. Louis came home and as the family looked to get into the grape business, they explored Napa Valley and the Central Coast.
They purchased 800 acres in Santa Maria called Tepusquet Vineyards. They made wine under that label for a few years and he even got a contract selling grapes to Beringer. After that, Louis developed 500 acres in Paso and then a property in Edna Valley. In 1980 he put in a family vineyard in Los Alamos.
Along the way, he has sold grapes to many famous brands. He was the first to sell Chardonnay to Kendall Jackson. In fact, LOTS of his grapes went to Napa in the early years. In addition, Louis sold some of his first grapes to Callaway in Temecula.
Now, he grows 24 different grapes across three vineyards, in three different climates. This allows him quite a bit of freedom and flexibility to do different things. Half of the grapes he grows are for Lucas & Lewellen, while he sells the other half.
In the 70s, Louis studied the world of wine and identified what he believed were the 27 best vineyards. There was no rhyme or reason to the number 27...that's just how many he identified. He then spent five weeks in Europe two summers in a row to visit and learn from all 27 of these vineyards. This process gave him a love of the classics, and Italian wines are now some of his favorite. Toccata celebrates Italian varietals. In fact, they have a Nebbiolo rosé that has shocked everyone with how good it is!
This wine is 55% estate Pinot Noir and 45% estate Chardonnay co-fermented and aged on the lees. The wine is disgorged after 18 months and released after two years of aging in the bottle. Flavors include ripe stone fruit, warm brioche, and apples.....lots of apples! 440 cases produced.
This wine is a red blend of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Franc. These are considered the “hidden assets” in the vineyards. This wine is bursting with ripe, jammy red fruit (raspberry jam, plums, and pomegranate). It sees 16 months in new French oak barrels. A distinct meatiness (perhaps brought out by the Syrah?). So, if you want a juicy, easy to drink red wine that is fabulous with food….this is it. 14.1% ABV. 1007 cases produced.
A Cabernet Sauvignon based blend gives a deep, dark red color with lingering tertiary notes of chocolate and tobacco. 14.5% ABV. 2518 cases produced.
Toccata Classico is Lucas & Lewellen’s interpretation of the classic blends of Tuscany, made in the Super Tuscan style. The blend is Sangiovese plus some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Freisa, and Petit Verdot. A combination of red and black fruit plus spice makes a perfect food-friendly pairing. 14.1% ABV. 346 cases produced.
Last year I was invited to a wine pairing dinner at Avra Estiatorio in Beverly Hills featuring the wines of Domaine Carneros. Joining us for dinner was no other than winemaker, Zak Miller. I have only ever tried the widely distributed opening pricepoint sparkling from Domaine Carneros, so I jumped at the chance to taste other selections from their portfolio.
Zak has been at Domaine Carneros for 11 years. Fun fact: His wife is also a winemaker and they met in college while both studying forestry. What are the odds of that?!? Before landing in Carneros, Zak made wine in both Chile and New Zealand to hone his craft.
How do I know Zak is a good fit for Domaine Carneros? Well, at dinner Zak proclaimed “bubbles go with everything except toothpaste and coffee”. That, my friends, is a good fit.
Domaine Carneros was founded in 1987 by the prestigious family behind Champagne Taittinger. Their founding winemaker Eileen Crane created a classic California expression of the Taittinger style that they describe as “noble French heritage with pure Carnero's verve”. Domaine Carneros is a “grower-producer” or what we’d call Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) in Champagne. This means that the wine is made from a grower who produces wine made from their own estate grapes.
At Domaine Carneros, all wines are from the Carneros AVA with 95% classified as estate fruit. But there is a movement towards all estate fruit starting this year, 2020. Their estate vineyards total 400 acres across six sites. In fact, only the wines in distribution use bought fruit and that is because they’re fulfilling on long-term contracts.
With a Champagne house as your parent, does Domaine Carneros have to follow the direction of said parent? Nope, Taittinger gives no influence on winemaking to Domaine Carneros. They can do as they please. With that said, let’s taste!
100% estate-grown Chardonnay. This is the “tête de cuvee”, their finest sparkling wine, and is frequently named “America’s best sparkling”. 3000 cases made a year. I get beautiful leesy notes and grilled pineapple 4sho on the nose and palate, as outlined in their tasting notes below.
Winery Notes: Lovely notes of white flowers, Meyer lemon, poached pear, and a hint of grilled pineapple. The palate opens up to honeysuckle and crème brûlée. The full mouth feel leads to a very round and long finish.
51% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Gris
Creamy and less leesy than the La Rêve. Smooth and very easy to drink.
Winery Notes: This very focused and elegant wine displays lovely notes of key lime, honeycomb, and lemon curd. This round wine displays a palate with hints of lime blossom, baked pear, and lemon meringue, resulting in a creamy texture and a long finish.
100% Pinot Noir
Raspberry and cherry notes. Duh. Plus, what Zak called “Carneros baking spice”.
Winery Notes: Packs a full range of red and darker berry flavors. Beginning with the nose, one encounters bright raspberry and cooked cherry notes along with hints of sassafras and freshly turned earth. 10 months of barrel age lends a sweetness that balances the supple tannin. Of particular note is the juicy and sweet-fruited entry upon the palate, backed up by delicate spice notes that lead to a lengthy, warming finish. The hallmark of Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir is the texture, and this wine delivers with a supple and silky mouth-feel.
59% Pinot Noir and 41% Chardonnay
Beautiful rosé notes of rose petal, peach, and strawberry. Quite a nice for it being non-vintage (NV). And for the nerds, 9.5g/L of residual sugar, so a true Brut.
Winery Notes: This wine’s aroma, delivered on a delicate mousse, hints at raspberry, apricot, and rose petal. The palate displays peach, raspberry jam, tangerine, and orange for a soft, delicate mouthfeel and a smooth long finish.
This was a lovely rosé color, but the bottle went quick!
There is something to be said about people in the wine business. They’re a great group and it's very rare to find a dud in the bunch. If you make wine or you own a vineyard, chances are you’re a happy person (my personal opinion with no statistics to back it up!). Some people studied wine in college and knew their path, while others had a full career in another industry and came to wine for a change of pace and/or to pursue their passion. Such is the case for Doug & Dionne Irvine.
Irvine & Roberts is a family-owned estate vineyard and winery at the southern end of the Rogue Valley AVA in southern Oregon wine country. Many are familiar with the Willamette Valley spanning from the Portland area in the north to the Eugene area in the south. Southern Oregon is also a growing wine region. In fact, there are about 40 wineries within 30 minutes of Irvine & Roberts.
So how did land developers from Southern California end up making wine in Oregon Wine Country? Doug actually grew up on a ranch in southern Oregon. He went down to California for school and landed at UC-Irvine, ironically. He then became a successful real estate developer in southern California, which is how he met his wife, Dionne. In 1997 and after three children, they decided to make their way back to Oregon for a slower life and to raise their kids in the country. We haven’t even gotten to wine yet!
In the mid-2000’s Doug & Dionne found themselves on vacation in Italy and after a revelatory experience with a bottle of Gaja Nebbiolo, they wondered if they might try their hands at making wine. At that time, the southern Oregon wine scene was brand new and the barrier to entry was low. They decided to take a chance and made 250 cases that first year with the Irvine Wine Company.
In 2012, Doug’s sister Kelly Roberts and her husband Duane joined the business and the winery name changed to Irvine & Roberts. They expanded and bought more acreage at that time. Now, they have nearly 40 acres planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir plus a little Pinot Meunier. Their goal is to make thoughtful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of true character and regional identity. In my words, they make what I like to call: honest, regional wines. Speaking of local, their winemaker Vince Vidrine, came from Domaine Serene in the Willamette Valley.
With land ownership, in my opinion, comes the responsibility to give a f*ck about the environment. They are L.I.V.E. and Salmon-Safe Certified, employ an integrated pest management strategy and utilize cover crops, owl boxes, and insect vectors. They are not certified organic, but they did initiate organic grape growing practices in 2017. This was also the year their onsite winery was inaugurated.
We received a warm welcome when we arrived at the tasting room. And I can attest that this is one of the most beautiful tasting rooms I have been in. The pictures speak for themselves. And with their spectacular wine, you are sure to enjoy their visit. Below are the standout wines that I tried:
When I tried the 2016 earlier this year, I was blown away. This one also did not disappoint. A focused and acid-driven Chardonnay with notes of stone fruit, white flowers, and wet stone/minerality. This is HANDS DOWN my favorite of the Irvine & Roberts portfolio.
How often do you get to try a varietally labeled Pinot Meunier? I have to say, this was my first! They’ve got less than 1 acre of Pinot Meunier planted, so this is a special wine. This vintage had only 237 cases produced. Red fruit and rose petals plus an earthy herbaceous quality.
Their entry-level Pinot, which is distributed and can be found in many states. The requisite Pinot notes of red fruit + earth and spice.
They also have a couple of single block Pinots: the 777 Block and the Wädenswil Block. Also, they will soon release their first vintage of the Convergence Pinot Noir. This wine will be barrels that Vince personally selects. It's not clone or block driven, but rather a snapshot of what is working in the winery at that moment.
So, what's next for Irvine & Roberts? They are dappling in Gamay (see my article about Oregon Gamay HERE), Pinot Meunier, and a sparkling program. We even got to pop in the winery and see the sparkling wines resting in bottle. Can't wait for those beauties!
A couple of times a week I receive wine sample invitations from various PR firms. I reply to the requests, and within a week or so, the wines are delivered to my house. When I received the Harney Lane Winery shipment, I was struck by the personal touch. In addition to the wines and tech sheets, I received a handwritten note (on Harney Lane stationery) and a business card from a Harney Lane employee.
A wine region with generations of winegrowing history, and a focus on family farming. According to the Harney Lane website “we have been proud stewards of the land since 1907, farming vineyards on Harney Lane and surrounding areas for over 5 generations.” And in 2006 they entered the winemaking side to make wine under the Harney Lane label. Lodi, including Harney Lane Winery, is steeped in tradition and authenticity. I felt that firsthand on my first trip to Lodi in 2016. Read more HERE.
Bright fruit aromas of apple, ripe pear, and white peach are followed by toasted nuts and butterscotch, laced with honeysuckle. The 2017 vintage showcases the Lodi appellation with a classic mix of lively fruit, nutty spice, and creamy richness.
A creamy, rich, and smooth Chardonnay expression. This wine coats my mouth, yet leaves me wanting more. Medium-plus body and flavor intensity. Beautiful and elegant. Showcases precision and balance.
A rich compilation of concentrated blackberry compote, dried fruit, floral perfume, black spices, cinnamon, maple, and bread pudding. Voluptuous, bold, and full-bodied.
Deep, ripe black fruit abounds (got prunes?). This is the Lodi Zin I want to present to someone who self-professes to not like Lodi Zin. The varietal and the Lodi terroir are showcased here. A deep dark Zinfandel, yet with acidity retained to allow the fruit to take center stage. No flabbiness here. Tasting this wine will erase any memory of a mass-produced Calfornia red.
Bibiana González Rave and husband Jeff Pisoni are the embodiment of keeping it all in the family. Jeff is a 4th generation farmer in the Salinas Valley. His family grew vegetables, but it was his father Gary, who first planted grapevines in 1982. Gary planted 5 acres that he hand-irrigated. Literally. He drove water up the mountain in his truck for the vines. Jeff now tends to vines in both the Santa Lucia Highlands and Monterey.
Bibiana grew up in Medellin, Columbia and at 14 decided she wanted to make wine. She lived six years in France (Bordeaux and Burgundy) where she worked her first harvests and earned a degree in Enology from the University of Bordeaux. She considers herself a French-trained winemaker with more of a vineyard focus. Jeff handles all of the estate fruit and Bibiana buys all the sourced fruit. All in the family. They have two children, ages two and four and between the two of them, they manage/oversee six different labels/brands.
République hosted us at a press luncheon in March where we tried wines from each of their brands. Below is a brief descriptor of each brand, including my standout wine.
Why am I sharing this story and this family with you? Because I believe there is a level of integrity and authenticity that comes from wine crafted by a family. Crafted by real people with real skin in the game. Bibiana and Jeff have a portfolio of California wines that you should feel good about purchasing. You are supporting a real family, real people, and real dreams.
Started in 2011, Cattleya Wines are terroir-driven, small production wines. Cattleya is a type of orchid, the native flower of Columbia, found in the rainforest.
I find this wine super-duper pleasing. Very primary plus creamy malo notes and an elegant minerality. Ripe, juicy, and yummy.
Alma means soul in Spanish. These wines are produced from Napa and Sonoma Vineyards and represent the purity of each varietal from their specific appellation areas. Wine Enthusiast calls Alma de Cattleya Wines “a great taste of the freshness of Sonoma without the sticker shock”.
A Sauvignon Blanc that is the perfect balance of CA style and NZ style. I get everything from citrus fruit to tropical fruit plus some grassy/green notes. This wine is made from Mostly Russian River fruit. 1000 case total production.
This is the collaboration between Bibiana and Jeff. In their 6th vintage, these wines are inspired by the traditional Sauvignon Blanc wines from France.
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon inspired by Bordeaux. Whole cluster fruit and a wine made in a reductive style showcasing both rocks (minerality) and fruit. Served in magnum. This wine is unfined and unfiltered.
Was first planted by Gary Pisoni (Jeff’s dad) in 1982. Pisoni Vineyards consist of small vineyard blocks at 1300 ft altitude with wines made by Jeff. Pisoni makes only one Chardonnay and one Pinot Noir every year.
Really polished. Not much else to say except that this is a stellar wine.
A collection of wines from the three vineyards farmed by the Pisoni family. These are limited production wines that afford the Pisoni family complete control of the farming and winemaking process, ensuring consistently superior quality.
Fruit from the Soberanes, Gary's, and Pisoni Vineyards. This wine is barrel aged and was the creamiest Chardonnay of the bunch, but in a GOOD way.
The charismatic younger sister of Lucia Wines. A limited production rosé produced annually with $1/bottle donated to breast cancer research.
100% estate fruit. A stellar rosé.
And I'd be remiss if I did not mention Margarita's baguette and Normandy butter that was served to us at République. Normandy butter is most certainly liquid gold. The best butter I have ever tasted.
In 1968, Titus Vineyards was born with the purchase of their property. They have farmed this land continually since 1969, which gives them 50 years in Napa Valley. Today, Titus Vineyards remains family-owned. The property consists of a 50-acre vineyard, winery, and tasting room at the base of Howell Mountain in the St. Helena AVA, near Calistoga. I had the pleasure of lunching with Eric Titus who shared with us their current releases as well as some treats from their library.
In the vineyard, they prefer a “light touch”, including no mechanization. Stephen Cruzan has been their winemaker since 2015, which is the year their onsite winery was completed. Before that, Philip, Eric’s brother, headed up winemaking at a custom crush facility. Philip now makes wine at Chappellet, but he is still involved with Titus. They built the winery to be able to be more nimble, reactive, and agile and so that they could make decisions with more flexibility. They are now holding at 14,000-15,000 cases annually.
I asked the question: what is next for Titus? What do the next 50 years bring? Eric’s response is that they always like to keep their options open. This could mean the next generation of the Titus family taking over. Or perhaps, maybe there is a sale in their future? Only time will tell.
Andronicus is Eric and Philip’s ode to the blend. This wine is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (66%) with some Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. A classic Bordeaux blend. A generous red that is both hyper balanced and precise with a combination of red and black fruit, spicebox, vanilla, and smoke.
A youthful purple color. A balanced wine with well-integrated tannins. I want this wine on a Friday night: in front of the fire, cozying on the couch with my husband, my dog, and a cushy blanket.
An unabashed Zin, not afraid of its raisin quality. Juicy red fruit plus prunes on the nose.
A beautiful, ethereal wine. Underbrush and graphite on the nose. Licorice on the back palate.
Small production with only 1,000 cases. A splash of Viognier softens this wine and helps knit the fruit together. A totally different perspective on Sauvignon Blanc. The acidity and greenness are in check. In fact, this wine is all tangerine, all the time.
Red, black, and blue fruit on both the nose and the palate. A bit of heat on the nose. Good tannic structure plus licorice/anise on the back palate.
Chocolate and cocoa on the nose. Even more of a tannic structure than the ‘06.
This wine screams that it wants a pork tenderloin to go with it! The predominant fruit here is blueberries. A basket of tiny, ripe blueberries.
A deep purple core with a watery rim. SO much fruit still here for being a 10-year-old wine.
A blend of Malbec, Petit Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Zinfandel. A big ‘ol wine with lots ‘o tannins. This is the biggest and juiciest of the bunch. According to Eric, this wine is about hedonism.
As the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington came to a close, my post-conference excursion was just beginning! We headed off to the beautiful Columbia Gorge to visit Maryhill Winery and Cathedral Ridge Winery. The Columbia Gorge, 60 miles east of Portland is part of two AVAs, the Columbia Valley AVA and the Columbia Gorge AVA. The unique climate of the Columbia River Gorge earns it the title “Mediterranean of the Northwest”. I will say that we visited in October and it was sunny and the weather was beautiful. Insert gratuitous scenery shots!
Our first stop was to Maryhill Winery, which opened in 2001. The winery lies on the northern side of the Columbia River and in the southern tip of the Columbia Valley with Mt. Hood as its backdrop. Family-owned by Craig and Vicki Leuthold, Maryhill is one of Washington’s largest and most visited wineries, with over 80,000 visitors annually. They also have a tasting room in Spokane.
On our visit, we met Kiwi winemaker Richard Batchelor who joined Maryhill in 2009. Visiting in October, there was A LOT going on. Fall is a great time to visit a winery if you want to see all the hustle and bustle up close!
“Great wines are our inspiration. For us, winemaking isn’t about lifted noses or highbrow personalities. It is about sourcing the best grapes and treating them with passion, patience, and balance. “ -Maryhill Winery
Maryhill Wines Tasted
Chardonnay 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Vibrant aromas of melon, pear, and apricot with traces of pineapple and grapefruit, continuing into a sensational and crisp fruit finish.
Pinot Gris 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Rich nectarine and pear notes mingled with honey. Crisp fruit flavor is delivered at the front of the palate, while a slight cream texture fills in the finish.
Sangiovese 2015 $26
Bri Note: A true New World Sangio but with a nod to the Old World.
Winery Tasting Notes: Delicate red fruit notes are framed by warm cedar. The palate has a richness of fruit accompanied by mild tannins and huckleberry, allowing this wine a smooth jammy finish.
Marvell (GSM) Hattrup Farms 2013 $44
Winery Tasting Notes: A sound and savory wine featuring an aroma of wood (New French) and spice and an herbaceous and lingering toasty finish with smooth tannins.
Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve 2014 $44
This is a new release (no tasting notes online). I got spice box on the nose and jammy fruit on the palate.
Petite Sirah Art Den Hoed 2014 $40
Winery Tasting Notes: Aromas of cherry, berry, graphite and a hint of sandalwood are met with tart cranberry on the palate.
Riesling 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Lively citrus flavors frame the palate with honey and pear, with lemongrass aromas complemented by lilac.
Our next visit was to Cathedral Ridge Winery founded in 2003 by Robb Bell. Their wines are self-described as big, bold, and sensuous...and boy were they! Here are a few shots from our visit to Cathedral Ridge.
Cathedral Ridge Wines Tasted
2017 Necessity White $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Delicate aromas of pink grapefruit and rose. Notes of crisp green apple, dried apricot, and honey.
2015 Necessity Red $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Our Pinot Noir (60%), Zinfandel (27%), and Barbera (13%) blend. Currants and raspberry with a touch of spice.
2015 Bordheauxd Red $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah. A local favorite. Perfectly balanced, notes of deep black fruit, and cherry with a kick of pepper.
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon $34
Winery Tasting Notes: Earthy, dark fruit on the palate with a touch of pepper and robust tannin finish.
2015 Rhett’s Red Reserve $44
Winery Tasting Notes: 50% Barbera 50% mystery? Bright and boisterous just like Rhett (the dog!). Fresh orchard on the nose, raspberry, and vanilla.
2015 Winemakers Reserve $58
Winery Tasting Notes: A premier Bordeaux-inspired blend bursting with Oregon blueberry pie, toffee, and vanilla.
As a wine blogger I get to try A LOT of really great wines. And occasionally, I get to partake in some pretty exciting food and wine pairing events. This was definitely one of them. It is not often that you get to enjoy a 6-course meal, plus wine pairings, with the winemakers onsite at their vineyard/winery. It was a stellar evening all-around at Three Rivers Winery! This wine pairing dinner was a part of the Wine Bloggers Conference (recently renamed to the Wine Media Conference) in Walla Walla, Washington. It was, hands down, my favorite evening of the conference.
At Three Rivers, we’re in the Columbia Valley AVA in Eastern Washington, which has over 40,000 acres under vine. Fun fact: 99% of all Washington wine is produced here. There are eight smaller AVAs within the Columbia Valley and Three Rivers currently harvests fruit from four of them: Red Mountain, Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills, and Wahluke Slope. The name Three Rivers comes from the nearby intersection of the Columbia, Snake, and Walla Walla Rivers.
Three Rivers Winery is the essence of Walla Walla wine country. When you’re in Walla Walla, you’re family. And that’s what it felt like at Three Rivers. Downtown Walla Walla is quaint with charming storefronts, lots of tasting rooms, and a feeling of “everyone knows everyone”. When you arrive at Three Rivers you might be greeted by Holly Turner, the winemaker, or her husband Andy, the GM who also makes wine with her. It’s a sprawling property with a lovely tasting room onsite that is warm and inviting.
As one can imagine, Holly and Andy spend A LOT of time at Three Rivers. They have raised three children and while at the dinner we spoke about how those children have grown up in wineries and how sometimes in the busy seasons they’d spend more time together as a family in the winery than at home. Family really does come first at Three Rivers Winery.
Here are the details from our lovely wine pairing dinner. The meal comes to us from Executive Chef Matt Antonich of The Club at Rock Creek in Coer d’Alene, Idaho.
Saffron Scallops (Fresh scallops pan seared over Alaskan king crab risotto and Reserve Chardonnay saffron beurre blanc)
This wine sees 8 months in French oak, 24% new. A beautiful nose on this wine of toasted oak and butterscotch. Lots of toasty nuts, poached pear, and MLF notes. 189 cases produced.
Rocky Mountain Elk Chop (Organic free-range grilled elk chop atop Asian short rib fried rice served with huckleberry Malbec gastrique and fresh chanterelle elk demi-glace)
80% Syrah, McB Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
10% Petit Verdot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
10% Cabernet Sauvignon, Bacchus Vineyard, Columbia Valley
This wine is aged 17 months in French oak, 60% new. Classic Syrah notes of black pepper plus dried meat/jerky. Also, coffee on the back palate. 116 cases produced.
This wine is aged 17 months in 43% new French & American oak. Dark red fruit (very plummy, plus cherry notes) and a medium + body. A soft, smooth, and pleasing wine. 165 cases produced.
Lemon Herb Bees Knees (Adult slush mixed with lemon, herbs, local honey, and gin)
Cabernet Braised Lamb Shank (Slow and low lamb shank braised in Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and served with roasted tomato lamb glacé over Point Reyes blue cheese corn grits and roasted butternut squash with toasted black truffle squash seeds)
Three Rivers Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
This wine sees 17 months in French oak, 50% new.
This is the first estate vintage of this Cab. A big, beautiful wine unabashedly structured. Very balanced. Precise. Med + drying tannins. 143 cases produced.
Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley
This wine sees 17 months in French oak, 50% new. Spice box all day, every day. Way more spice box than the previous Cab. Cigar/smoky tobacco notes. 145 cases produced.
Impossible Mole Empanadas (Southwest seasoned Impossible Burger filled empanada served with classic red mole, tomatillo verde, fresh cilantro, queso fresco, and chipotle lime sour cream)
67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. Vineyards: Seven Hills, Bacchus, Sagemoor, Gamache, and Weinbau.
This wine sees 18 months in new French oak. A classic Cabernet, this is their signature wine. Strong tannins that will smooth with age. 143 cases produced.
Wainbau and Bacchus Vineyards
This wine sees 17 months in French oak, 20% new. This is their first vintage of this wine. The Merlot really makes the Cab Franc approachable. I dig this. 120 cases produced.
Poached Green Bluff Bartlett Pear (Fresh green bluff Bartlett pear poached in Riesling and served with huckleberry mousse and a dollop of vanilla bean Frangelico cream dusted with huckleberry powder and garnished with apple mint)
All stainless steel. This Riesling gives us just a whisper of sweetness (3.7% RS to be exact) with a slight petrol nose. Love this wine because it can function as an aperitif and also works perfectly with this light dessert. 217 cases produced.
When you hear "Mid-Atlantic" do you think of wine country? Me neither! But alas, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac, lies Big Cork Vineyards. Big Cork is a family farm in Rohrersville, Maryland started by David Collins, who spent many years making wine in Virginia (see my Virginia wine post HERE). David Collins formed a partnership with Jennifer and Randy Thompson (owners of the land), and Big Cork Vineyards was born. The first 22 acres were planted in May of 2011 and they have now surpassed 5,000 cases in annual production.
Big Cork is in a great getaway for the DC crowd wanting a big, sprawling wine county experience, as it lies only an hour away from the city. And sure, not all of the wines in this area are stellar, with many wineries producing bottle after bottle of semi-sweet/sweet wines for local consumption. If you’re a regular wine drinker who explores wines from other regions/countries, you’re not going to be happy with that. I can assure you, that is not the case at Big Cork! Save for a few semi-sweet wines, they have a whole lineup of dry wines to please many palates.
Thank you to Amy Benton of Big Cork Vineyards for this tasting opportunity.
This wine sees 8 months in new French oak barrels. 101 cases produced.
A lovely New World expression of Chardonnay. Green fruit (pear, and green apples), butterscotch, and dairy/butter on the nose. The wine is creamy and luscious on the palate with good acid and a medium + finish.
This wine sees 18 months in both new and neutral French & American oak. 229 cases produced.
A solid red with aromatic notes of blueberry, blackberry, and sweet tobacco. This is a full-bodied wine with dark fruit notes on the palate and medium well-integrated tannins.
This wine sees 16 months in both new and neutral French & American oak. 244 cases produced. This is a wonderfully complex and layered wine. Totally up my alley. Aromas of dark, black fruit (including black currant and raisins), floral (violet) and licorice. On the palate, I get the same dark fruit plus vanilla and sweet spice, which carries all the way through to the finish (that seems to carry on forever). LOVE this wine.
What is #WineStudio?
#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who's been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.
For the San Diego edition of #WineStudio we were joined by Tami Wong, CS. Tami is a Certified Sommelier based out of San Diego and was the perfect fit to guide us through these wines!
Most everyone has heard of Temecula wine country (see my past post HERE). But I can guarantee that post people do not know that grapes are grown in San Diego and that wine is made here as well. Would you believe that there are 115 wineries in San Diego County? As most of California, the area has a mild Mediterranean climate with little rainfall. Outstanding conditions for growing grapes. There are 3 AVAs in San Diego County: the South Coast AVA (Malibu down to the San Diego border), San Pasqual Valley AVA (Escondido area), and the Ramona Valley AVA.
Our first wines come from Charlie & Echo, an urban winery and tasting room in the Miralani Makers’ District started by Eric and Clara Van Drunen. The Miralani Makers’ District is a unique collection of craft beverage producers located in the heart of San Diego’s Miramar district; started in 2013.
Eric Van Drunen, winemaker, employs some conventional methods, so the winery is not technically organic, though they do partake in many organic practices. Their goal is minimally processed grapes and wines, and wines purely representative of the vineyard as possible. Since 2015 gapes are sourced solely from throughout San Diego County.
Two wines tasted:
According to C&E, this wine drinks like the Chablis of Viognier. Good acid and lean with notes of papaya, mango, and lime. The nose is divine: citrus (lime) plus tropical fruit (papaya, mango, pineapple). Medium + acid and medium + body. On the palate, I get lots of the same tropical fruits. Every year I go to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico with my girlfriends and we pick up fresh juices from the local market…..we never know exactly what fruits they are, but we grab ‘em anyway (anything tastes good with tequila!). The nose on this wine reminds me of those fresh, tropical juices. in Mexico. The wine really opened up after coming to temperature.
This wine was cray cray and amazing at the same time. Is it a Pet Nat? Yes and no. Wild yeasts are used for fermentation. I’m not going to be able to accurately describe the vineyard/winery process here, so here are the tech notes directly from them: Clusters de-stemmed into small open-top bins. Whole berry, wild yeast and malolactic fermentation. Twice daily punch downs. Pressed after five days for the Syrah, and four days for the Zinfandel – only free-run and early press fractions used. Wines combined at press, and fermentation finished in Charmat tank without addition of sugar or yeast – all carbonation comes from the natural, primary fermentation. No acidulation or other “corrections”. Cold settled, and bottled unfiltered off gross lees. In the #WineStudio discussion it was described as a combination of Metodo Italiano and Metode Ancestrale. The wine is super duper pale ruby. A delicate nose of all primary red fruit. An interesting palate. Everything about this wine is hard to describe, but I like it.
The second winery we explored was Koi Zen Cellars, located in the Carmel Business District. The urban winery is owned by Darius & Lisa Miller. The name came from Darius’s koi pond. Their goal was to create a calming and relaxing environment in an urban winery setting. They do not own any vineyards and source grapes from all over California.
This wine is deep garnet in color. The nose…oh yeah…we’re in Paso: warm, spicy fruit. This is gonna be a big boy. Makes my nose hair stand up on end! The palate gives me a juicy fruit bomb (but in a good way!). I’m talking Bing cherries and candied red fruit. Plus, a blueberry reduction. Also, warm fall baking spices (cinnamon) and black pepper. Is there a skosh of RS here, or am I hallucinating? Not quite sure. It could just be the fruit is super ripe.
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.
This is the motto of the 50th Anniversary of the Temecula Valley Wine Country. This year, 2018, marks the 50th Anniversary of Temecula Valley Wine Country. Press and writers were invited to attend a 10-course wine pairing dinner called “Behind the Wine Bottle” to celebrate this anniversary. The food was courtesy of Executive Chef Leah di Bernardo of E.A.T. Extraordinary Artisan Table, a local restaurant and marketplace in Temecula. Wine pairings were courtesy of Leoness Cellars, Robert Renzoni Vineyards, and Doffo Winery. From the layout, to the execution, wine, and food; everything was TOP NOTCH. It was a very impressive event and one that I was very grateful to be able to attend.
The wine history of the Temecula Valley actually goes back more than 50 years. Wine grapes were first planted by Spanish missionaries in 1820. 50 years ago in 1968 is when the first commercial vineyard was planted by Vincenzo and Audrey Culurzo. The first commercial wine (from Temecula Valley grapes) was not produced until 1971 by Brookside Winery. And in 1984, the Temecula Valley was officially recognized as an AVA. Trouble struck in the 90’s when Pierce’s Disease (which comes from the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter) wiped out 40% of vineyards in the Temecula Valley. Vines were re-planted in the latter part of the 90s to more diversity, including grapes of Italian, Rhône, and Iberian heritage.
Temecula has a thriving wine scene with over 2,500 acres planted and over 40 wineries operating. 23 million people live in Temecula and the surrounding areas, which gives the region a “built in” audience. It is the perfect day or weekend trip for many in southern California. So much so, that over 91% of Temecula wine is consumed locally. Not leaving much for “export” out of the area. Temecula has suffered from a not so stellar reputation over the last couple of decades, but I can authoritatively say that quality here has skyrocketed and Temecula can stand confidently next to many classic wine regions in the world.
Chardonnay grapes from the South Coast. This wine is dry, yeasty, and toasty. Everything you could want in a sparkling! Quite respectable and enjoyable.
This wine is light, crisp, and off-dry with 1.5% RS. It is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, and a few other. Melange d’Été means “blend of summer” which is quite fitting. A perfect name for this aromatic white. This wine gives me citrus, green fruit, and an abundance of tropical fruit (peach, apricot). “Like with like” is a great wine pairing rule that rings true here. I also had the pleasure of sitting with Tim Kramer, winemaker at Leoness. Quite fun to enjoy wines with the winemaker at your side!
First off, the smoked créme fraiche on this dish was to die for. We could not get enough. And fun fact, Robert Renzoni was my first and only wine club many years ago. Now that I am intimately involved with wine, I like to pick it all out myself, so a wine club doesn’t work for me. I digress! Vermentino is an Italian variety. The Italian expression would generally be more nutty and have more minerality. This guy is more fruit-forward. The wine sees a super cold fermentation for 30 days. The cool helps to preserve the fresh fruit aromas. On the nose I get citrus (lime), green fruit (pear), and tropical fruit (melon). On the palate, lots of stone fruit plus tropical fruit (pineapple and lychee).
This wine is named after Lyric, Robert’s daughter. It is made in the Provence style with lower brix, sugar, and alcohol. The wine is totally dry though it has a candied/confected red fruit (watermelon and raspberry) note. In regards to the food, this dish is divine. On another level. Chef Leah somehow managed to make a chimichurri with strawberries. And the pairing is stellar. The red fruit notes in the wine bring out the strawberry in the chimichurri. And the meatiness of the Syrah works well with the pork belly.
I love fermented/pickled anything and they did a good job with the execution of this course. See picture below: it was passed on a tray with small forks. A nice way to switch gears and give everyone a break from another plate dropped in front of them.
The Doffo family is from Argentina, where my people come from! This wine sees concrete egg fermentation, which is said to add minerality. We dined with Damian Doffo, winemaker, as well as his father. This low-acid Viognier with a delicately perfumed nose is their only white wine. I find many aromatic wines a bit “in your face”. This one is not. The palate is also delicately perfumed, floral, and feminine. Plus, the pairing works well: fat with fat. Public Service Announcement: For god’s sake, don’t buy grocery store strawberries.
This wine definitely has some power on the nose. Predominantly Merlot based with some Cabernet Franc. It’s a masculine, strong, and assertive red. The Cabernet Franc lends green, vegetal notes. A well-balanced wine with integrated oak use. I get red plus black fruit, black pepper, earthiness, and a slight funk. This is also a nice pairing.
Why I have never put a soft-cooked egg on top of lentils, I will never know. On to the wine! This wine is 85% Zinfandel plus 15% Petit Syrah. A big boy. Hellooooooooo New World (both on the nose and the palate). I get fruit, fruit, and more fruit. Plus some chocolate and Raisinets (I have never used that descriptor before!), but it’s a good way to convey a raised note with chocolate.
A lovely wine with some heat on the nose (it makes my sicilia stand on end!) and a very approachable palate. This wine is a blend of Brunello plus Cabernet Sauvignon. All estate fruit. A solid, good wine.
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A lovely nose with a fruity, juicy palate. Some of the fruit is ripe, almost raisined but I like it. Structured. A very appealing and approachable wine. Fantastic pairing.
This is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvédre. This wine has grace, elegance, soft tannins and can stand to age a bit. A delightful red to finish off dinner.
Temecula has everything a successful winegrowing region should have: history, land, people, passion, and the tools. With this event, my expectations of Temecula have been exceeded. And I am confident that I am not the only one. People's view of Temecula and Temecula's wines will only go up from here!
*These wines were received as samples for review
If you have read this blog before, then you know I am a BIG fan of the Lodi wine region. Lodi wines are quality, terroir-driven, and the value is unmatched! Your dollar certainly goes far when visiting and buying wine in Lodi.
Did you know that Lodi is the Zinfandel capital of the world? Over 40% of the state’s Zinfandel comes from the Lodi AVA. There are over 125 winegrape varieties grown here, but Zinfandel is the true stand out. Zinfandel thrives in Lodi’s Mediterranean climate. The warm, sunny days and cool evenings (in other words, a wide diurnal range) help the grapes to ripen fully, yet not get too ripe, as can happen in places where the temps don’t cool down at night.
Lodi is most commonly known for their Old Vine Zinfandel. In fact, Lodi has more acres of old vines than any region in California. While there is no exact definition of “Old Vine”, many vines are 50 years old, or more. When I visited for the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2016, I visited vineyards that had 100+ year old vines. Gnarly, old vines are fascinating to look at. There’s lots of twists and dark, old-looking wood. The yields tend to shrink the older the vines are, so each vine is precious, as more vines are needed to make a single bottle of wine.
Lodi Zin thrives in the deep sandy loam soils common to the Mokelumne and Clements Hills appellations, and most of the older plantings are own-rooted. Below are a couple of Old Vine Zinfandels I was sent for review:
Mettler 2014 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel 15.5% ABV ($25)
This wine is 85% Zinfandel with some Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon blended in for good measure. The Mettler family has been farming in Lodi for six generations. Their vineyard lies in the “Epicenter” of Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel district, hence the name. The grapes are organically grown. This wine is delightfully purple in color. The nose shows red plus black fruit (plums and prunes), black pepper, cedar, sweet vanilla, and molasses. There is an interesting earthy, smokey note. The palate: WOAH! Chocolate and coffee reign here. So much so that it almost feels like you are eating some sort of mocha dessert. Speaking of dessert, sometimes I opt to drink my dessert rather than eat it. I am not a huge dessert wine fan, so my dessert sometimes ends up being a nice, full, ripe dry red. This would be my “dessert” wine of choice. Oh and the finish on this wine….it never ends. A stellar showing for Old Vine Lodi Zin.
Fields Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel 14.5% ABV ($28)
The grapes for this wine are from 60-70 year old vines in the Family Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi. This wine is medium garnet in color. So. Many. Raisins. Both on the nose and on the palate. Raisins almost always bring me to Old Vine Zin. Also, spice box (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), vanilla, leather/saddle, plus cocoa/mocha. This is a special wine to be enjoyed slowly.
In 1970 John Williams was said to have proclaimed “this just might be a pretty damned good place to grow wine grapes” when speaking of the area that is now known as the Red Mountain AVA in South Central Washington. Because of his proclamation and the subsequent formation of the Red Mountain AVA, I found myself at Kiona Vineyards & Winery in early October at the Red Mountain AVA pre-conference excursion as a part of the annual Wine Bloggers Conference. John Williams and his family are what I consider "the OGs" of Red Mountain. The original “first” family.
Our first stop in Red Mountain was at Kiona Vineyards & Winery where we met with JJ Williams, grandson of Kiona founder, John Williams. JJ met us casually in a baseball hat, jeans, and a plaid shirt. Fine wine country fashion! The highlight of the conference for me was our time with JJ as he spoke so passionately and eloquently about Kiona and the Red Mountain AVA. He was unapologetically honest, which you don’t always get when people are speaking to the media/press.
Where the heck is Red Mountain, you ask? Red Mountain is a sub-AVA of the Yakima Valley in South Central Washington. It is the smallest and warmest grape growing AVA in Washington with about 65% of vines planted to Cabernet Sauvignon.
And what do Red Mountain wines taste like? Instead of giving you my impressions after spending a mere 24 hours in the AVA, I will give you word for word, what JJ Williams has to say. While with JJ, he led us through a tasting of 4 Red Mountain wines alongside 4 red wines from classical wine regions throughout the world: Bordeaux, Napa, Italy, and Australia. It was a fascinating exercise, and one that JJ refers to below:
Red wines from Washington tend to show the following characteristics: Strong fruit characteristic, vibrant acidity, and strong varietal typicity. Cabernet tastes like Cabernet, Merlot tastes like Merlot, etc. Remember back to our tasting: the Washington wines were described by fresh fruit descriptors: blackberry, cherry, cassis, plum, etc. The first descriptor used on the wines from other areas were often not fruit; but words like savory, herbal, leather, wood, and oak. The fruit in Washington takes a front seat. Okay, so if all of that is true about Washington/Columbia Valley wines in general, Red Mountain wines take that up a notch. Within Washington, winemakers will use Red Mountain fruit if they need more color, more tannin, or more structure… basically, more “oomph.” It can almost be viewed as a Petit Verdot type of addition in a blend. Deep color, stout tannins, and strong fruit character are Red Mountain calling cards.
John Williams (JJ’s grandfather) and Jim Holmes met working together in the 60’s at General Electric. In 1972 they bought the first plot of land destined to be grapevines in what is now the Red Mountain AVA. In 1975 the first vines were planted: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling. In fact, below is a picture of 4 of the original Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The first vintage of their wine was produced in 1980 under the Kiona name. Kiona then became one of the founding members of the Yakima Valley AVA in 1982. And in 1994 the Holmes family sold their share to the Williams family, giving them full ownership. And that is how it is to this day. No investors. No banks. Only family. It is no surprise that in 2018, Kiona Vineyards & Winery was named Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest.
Scott, John’s son and JJ’s father, is now the vineyard manager and winemaker (no rest for the weary!) at Kiona. JJ tells us that he remembers when Red Mountain and the Kiona property was a sea of brown and a little bit of green (now with so many vines planted, it’s the opposite). He said that the importance of his father in the Kiona and Red Mountain story is sometimes lost in the narrative. His father made it his life’s work to turn 10 acres on a dusty slope into a grape-growing area that was worthy of attention. And now Kiona (who own/farm over 200 acres) grow grapes for 60+ producers in the area, therefore they have a vested interest in making sure Red Mountain succeeds. If that is not motivation to do good work in the vineyard, I don’t know what is! JJ says “it’s a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to stand on the shoulders of two generations of greatness, and it’s not something my brother and I take lightly.”
According to JJ: Kiona operates with roles that are less traditionally-defined than most. Even though they have their titles, both Scott and JJ operate as Co-General Managers, with his (Scott's) focus being primarily production, and JJ's focus being the business side of things. JJ’s younger brother, Tyler, has dedicated his education and career thus far to being a world-class winemaker, with stints in Bordeaux, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sicily, and more. He is also finishing up a masters degree in enology. Succession plan? They’ve already thought of it. According to JJ: Tyler (my brother) and I needed to specialize in areas that would affect the company in the most dramatic ways, and assume positions that would be difficult/impossible to hire an outside person to do as well as we were, given our backgrounds, experience, and last name. I do a lot of things that would—traditionally—fall under the “winemaker” umbrella, including blending, product/portfolio composition and execution, as well as broader decisions such as barrel/aging philosophies, vineyard/grape allocations, etc. But in terms of wearing galoshes and hooking up hoses/pumps in the winery, that’s not my day-to-day experience.
The Red Mountain AVA is over 4,000 acres with 2,600 planted under vine. And according to JJ, all the good, plantable land is taken, so this is pretty much it for the AVA. What is planted now is what the region will be in 20-30 years. Pretty cool.
What defines Red Mountain and makes the wines what they are? These are the 5 pillars that those in the area count as their competitive advantage to make good wines.
Slope: The area has a good slope and SW aspect, which is beneficial for prolonged sun exposure and warmth. This helps to create ripe tannins, which is a characteristic of Red Mountain fruit.
Low Rainfall: The region is relatively dry with an average of less than 5” of rain annually. Irrigation is necessary. Low rainfall helps to mitigate disease/pest pressure.
Breezes: Which come out of the SW. This air drainage keeps clusters small and concentrates fruit, which is also a hallmark of Red Mountain.
Soils: In Pre-Historic times, Ice Age flooding made the land barren, left only with basalt soils. Winds deposited fine granite-based silt and dust (aka loess) on top of the rock. The resulting soils are fine grained, well-drained, and perfect for growing grapes because of minimal disease/pest pressure
Heat: The vines receive 16-17 hours of sun daily. This creates ripe and concentrated fruit. Plus, cool evenings help the grapes retain their acidity, which aids in maintaining balance and structure.
While with JJ we also had an interesting conversation about oak use. Most wineries are not going to be so honest and we all appreciated JJ’s candor on the topic. He shared that it is his belief that as a general rule, winemakers want to use less oak. But the issue is that consumers demand it (in the sense that they want a certain style of wine; one that generally sees oak treatment) and on the same token, if you seek to receive ratings/scores, those critics generally demand oak use (even if it a subtle demand in that the styles of wine that receive the good score have generally seen more oak). JJ left us with this thought: If you’re a winery with a wine club, you have allocated wines, and/or seek ratings and scores...you’re going to use oak. It’s an interesting lever to pull and a very complex topic with many opinions on the table.
Lastly, as part of the Red Mountain tastings, JJ never poured his own wines. Now that is humility.
Walk into some wineries and you can tell that they’ve read the studies: millennials are drinking wine at increasing rates and the way to get to their hearts (and wallets) is through experience. These wineries have crafted Instagrammable moments onsite, they sell wine tchotchkes (including t-shirts that say “rosé all day”), and there is bus/shuttle parking out back for the birthday and bachelorette parties coming through. Those wineries are (generally) fun to visit and have a convivial atmosphere, but the wine isn’t always so great. Sooner or later the bachelorette party starts getting loud and you realize the people behind the counter at the tasting room don’t really know much about wine or have any connection to what they’re pouring, other than to regurgitate tasting notes that appear on the tasting sheets.
Now imagine the complete 180 of that. That would be Lenné Estate in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. To say that Lenné doesn’t have as much “atmosphere” would be completely inaccurate. For those wanting a more authentic and less gimmicky experience, Lenné Estate is the answer. The focus is the wines. Period. And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a super-serious experience only for wine connoisseurs. You still have Scarlet, the requisite winery dog who I could NOT get enough of. The tasting room is beautiful with sweeping views of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. And they’re looking to add a winery house onsite. Something tells me it wouldn’t be a bachelorette type destination, but more of an escape for those seeking a quiet haven in wine country. Lenné is the winery to visit if you want a wine-focused tasting experience; minus the wine charms and key chains for sale on the tasting counter.
Lenné Estate resides in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Owners Steve and Karen Lutz bought the property and planted their first vines in 2001. Six long years later the vines produced their first vintage and the tasting room opened. Steve is notorious for proclaiming that his 20-acre vineyard has the poorest soils in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Their Peavine soils are nutrient deficient, low vigor, and depleted. Perfect for growing grapes! The vineyard lies on a steep hillside. So steep that one year a tractor tipped in the vineyard. There have also been many “almost” tipped stories. Steve likes to say they grow “death-defying Pinot Noir vines”.
Stepping out of the vineyard and into the bottle, we have minimalist wines at Lenné made from both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In all, approximately 1500-2000 cases are produced each year, and they have no intention of expanding. Steve likes to make single-block wines so the customer can understand and study terroir. The tasting room is comfortable with ample seating, which is important to Steve. This isn’t a drive-by tasting kind of experience. He wants you to get comfortable, get to know the wines, and maybe enjoy one of his epic charcuterie plates.
The tasting room is open Wednesday-Sunday weekly. Steve also holds wine seminars throughout the year, including blind tastings of his Lenné wines alongside top Pinots from around the world. This is a gutsy move to put your wines alongside Pinots from Burgundy, for example. However, this fact alone shows how transparent Steve is. His wines are not meant to replace or compete with Pinots from Burgundy, New Zealand, or anywhere. The goal is to showcase the unique attributes of each wine and where they came from.
I asked Steve if Lenné has any plans for growth. Any desires to make wine elsewhere? Nope. This site here. This is Steve’s story.
“This site is ingrained in my DNA” says Steve.
“I didn’t choose Lenné. It chose me”.
2016 Chardonnay $45
My notes: Bright fruit aromatics. Does not smell like a Chardonnay. Great green fruit on the palate with medium acid.
Their notes: Asian pear and green apple with lively acidity and creamy texture.
2014 Lenné Pinot Noir $40
My Notes: Oh yeah. Big nose here: bright red fruit plus pepper and smoke. I also get a minerality on the palate. This is their largest production wine.
2015 Jill’s 115 Pinot Noir $55
Their notes: Tighter grained, smaller tannins give a silkiness to the wine. Currant, mocha, and Bing cherry aromatics and a long, elegant finish.
2015 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir $40
My notes: A very balanced combination of red and black fruit. Great mouthfeel (texture) plus a clean, medium plus finish.
Their notes: Black cherry, black raspberry, and mocha aromatics surround a soft mouthfeel and long finish.
2015 Eleanor’s 114 Pinot Noir $55
My notes: Cherry on the forefront of the nose and palate. A good chunk of dirt/earthiness that I expect from a Pinot Noir.
Their notes: Black raspberry fruit, mocha, and truffle aromatics and a rich mouthfeel.
2015 cinq élus Pinot Noir $72
My notes: No words. Wow. This is my favorite wine of the group.
Their notes: This is their five-barrel blend of the best barrel from each of their clonal blocks. Mixed black and red fruit, mocha, and earth aromatic frame a dense wine with layered, and rich finish.
2015 South Slope Select Pinot Noir $55
Their notes: Seeing nearly 80% new oak, this wine has plenty of tannins an should be our longest-lived wine of the vintage. Dark Bing cherry, red fruits, smoke, and mocha aromatics and a long finish.
2008 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir $100
Their notes: 600 cases of this wine was made and 200 cases were held back. It was re-released in 2015. This wine still hasn’t peaked but is delicious, with black and red fruits, forest floor, truffle and the longest finish of any wine we have ever produced.
Imagine a career where you have about 30 chances to prove yourself. Each year you get to make one decision and that decision stays with you your entire life. This is the life of a winemaker, according to Ana Diogo-Draper of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. Every year she works hard to craft a wine she is proud of. As she says: You’ve got 30 chances to make it right. And once that wine is in bottle it starts all over again. At the end of her career, she will have about 30 vintages of wine that have her touch on it.
I recently attended a press luncheon featuring the wines of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. We were lucky enough to meet winemaker, Ana Diogo-Draper, who tasted us through a flight of Artesa wines. THIS is one of the perks of working in the wine business. I have virtually unlimited access to great wines and get to meet the people who are very close to the wines. The stories behind the bottle never cease to amaze me. There is so much life in a bottle of wine, and I love to share this with all of you. I firmly believe that understanding the backstory of a bottle (the vineyards, the region, the grapes, the winemakers, etc) will help you to better enjoy your wine. It’s a beautiful thing!
From the Artesa website:
In the 1980s, the historic Spanish winemaking family Codorníu Raventós began to acquire and develop vineyard land in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Opened in 1991 as Codorníu Napa, a sparkling wine house, the winery ultimately transitioned to producing still wines as successive vintages revealed the quality and potential of the family’s vineyard holdings. The winery was renamed Artesa – Catalan for “handcrafted” – in 1997, and has since become a leading producer of artisan wines from the varietals for which Carneros and Napa Valley are best known: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Codorníu Raventós is still family owned and is the oldest company in Spain with a winemaking legacy in the Penedès region near Barcelona that dates back to 1551.
The 150 acres of sustainably farmed Artesa estate vines are on a former goat farm with a cool and coastal climate and sea-facing vines. Soils are rocky (sandstone, limestone, and loam). The estate vines straddle the Carneros and Mt. Veeder AVAs and are all at 100-500 feet elevation. Pinot Noir is the most planted with Chardonnay coming in at number two and a bit of Albariño. There is a small amount of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Mt. Veeder vines. All grapes are handpicked because of the steepness of the vineyards.
Artesa produces 25 distinct wines for a total of 40K-50K cases annually. Ana has been at the helm of winemaking since 2015. She strives for more neutral inputs to let the grapes and the terroir speak for themselves. 100% native fermentation is used, as there is a healthy native yeast population onsite. Researchers were actually brought in and determined that the native yeast onsite does not exist elsewhere; it is unique to Artesa.
For this special tasting, Artesa bottled the component pieces of their wines for educational purposes. Note that these wines were very roughly filtered, bottled by hand, and are not available for sale.
2016 Chardonnay Component #1
This component comes from Blocks 4, 6, & 7 in their estate vineyard. Both Dijon 96 and Robert Young clones are used. In terms of winemaking, puncheon fermentation and basket press are used, the wines go through 100% malo. With this wine, you smell the winemaking (toast, dairy, and texture). On the nose, I get green apple, pear, a light toast, and a dairy/cream note. The wine has a bracing medium + acid. The palate is quite textured (perhaps from bâttonage)? And there is a distinct note of toasty macadamia nuts.
2016 Chardonnay Component #2
This Martini clone component comes from Block 15 of the estate vineyard. A pneumatic press and stainless steel fermentation are both used. The wine does not go through malo. Here, I think, you smell a combination of the fruit and the vineyard. This wine is bright with no shortage of fruity, primary notes. It is a bit cloudy, due to the minimal filtering. Green fruit is quite prominent because of the lack of malo.
2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Chardonnay $38
This finished wine has 20 components parts from 10 different clones. Out of the 20, we only got to taste two (above). This wine feels warm on the nose (it is 14.5% ABV after all!). It is quite layered, almost contemplative. I find many California Chardonnay’s reveal themselves when you first meet. With this wine, I had to get to know her a little better before I could make an accurate assessment. There are certainly primary notes present (green fruit and citrus), along with the requisite secondary notes common to Chardonnay: cream and dairy. There is even a faint nuttiness on the finish.
2016 Pinot Noir Component #1
This Martini clone component comes from Block 24 of the estate vineyard, which is the first Pinot Noir pick in the vineyard. Open top fermentation in puncheon for 20-25 days, then basket press. This wine gives red fruit (cherry, cranberry), blueberry, vanilla, spice/toast, and earth (a twiggy note) on the nose. The palate is warm and comforting with immature acid that is not yet integrated.
2016 Pinot Noir Component #2
This Martini clone component comes from Block 14 of the estate vineyard. Stainless steel open-top fermentation. The wine is a touch cloudy as it is not finished. This is a very primary wine, compared to the first component piece that had oak influence.
2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir $45
This finished wine has 25 components, of which we got to try two. Now, THIS is a finished Pinot Noir. The requisite fruit + spice/earth lead to a good, all-around red that won’t overpower food and is quality enough to enjoy on your own.
At Vidon Vineyard, there is a perceivable push/pull between science and romance. According to David Bellows, the Vidon winemaker with a PhD in molecular biology, the artistic side is overrated. But I’m going to have to disagree with him. Even here, at a science-filled laboratory/winery, there is some romance. A lot of heart goes into the wine here, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not all science.
Vidon Vineyard gets its name from the combination of the names of the owners: Vi-Don (Vicki and Don Hagge). Vidon is a family-owned estate vineyard (14.5 acres) in the Chehalem Mountains AVA of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Don and Vicki purchased the property in 1999 when Don was 69 years old and “retired”. In order to prepare the land for vines, he had to clear an ungodly amount of rocks and stumps (over 1,000 of them!). The soils here are varied, with predominantly sedimentary and volcanic elements. A “dog’s breakfast” David called them. “Gemisch” in German. “Mish mosh” in Yiddish. When you are with Don and David, you get a lot of facts thrown at you. It’s the scientist within each of them. David says “We are educators, so we like to educate.”
Don holds a PhD in Physics and worked at NASA as the Chief of the Physics branch for the Apollo 7 through the Apollo 13 missions. Which begs the question: Is it more difficult to make wine or to send a man to space? Not sure if there is a straight answer, but we can certainly ponder. In addition to being the owner, Don is also vineyard manager and tractor operator. Retirement has not slowed him down one bit. Sidenote: He also jumped out of airplanes in the Korean War. Is there anything this man has not done?
Both Don and David are constantly tinkering and inventing. During our visit, they showed us a few of their inventions: a glass stopper bottling line, a makeshift wine preservation system, and a wine storage system. They both like to develop new skills and create things from scratch. And their modest winery does function as a sort of laboratory. Decisions are made pragmatically with cost and efficiency in mind. According to Don “Part of what you learn as a scientist is to be systematic. I always try to figure out how to do things better and more efficiently.” Don is even working on creating a new wine club, called VinAlliance that is more like a loyalty club, with multiple wineries participating. No rest for the weary at Vidon Vineyard.
Their style is minimal intervention winemaking with indigenous yeasts and thoughtful oak use. According to Don “We keep the use of SO2 down, and we don’t use enzymes or additives. And we don’t mess with the wines, but let nature take its course.” With that being said, I had to ask the scientists their thoughts on biodynamics. Their exact words: there’s no singing or naked dancing here!
Vidon produces Pinot Noir (three different clones: 777, 115, and Pommard) and small amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo. They have a 2,100 case production that all takes place in an 800-square-foot facility. All Vidon wines are 100% estate grown.
2016 Apollo Chardonnay $60
Fun fact: The Apollo 11 spacecraft carried man to the moon on July 20, 1969, which Don observed from NASA headquarters along with the rest of the team.
2014 Three Clones Pinot Noir $45
They liken this wine to a jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) all playing together. This wine has all BRIGHT red fruit; very primary.
2014 Brigita Clone 777 $50
This wine was the most aromatic of the Pinots. The piano of the jazz trio. A surprising palate of complex fresh and juicy fruit with a slightly candied note. Also, fresh rose petals and white pepper. Each of the component Pinots are named after Don’s grandchildren.
2014 Mirabelle Clone 115 $50
This component adds the acidic backbone to the Three Clones Pinot. On its own, I’d describe it as feminine and Burgundian in style. The vines for these grapes are on red Jory volcanic soil. This wine has a perfumed nose with a touch of vanilla.
2014 Hans Clone Pommard $50
This component was described as the shoulder of the wine, or the bass line. The whole structure of the Three Clones is sitting on this. I felt more phenolics on this wine than the others, yet it really softened up upon drinking. Beautiful vanilla note both on the nose and palate.
2015 Saturn Syrah $40
Saturn was the powerful booster that launched the Apollo 11 spacecraft into orbit on its way to the moon in 1969. This wine has a deep purple color with dark red and black fruit both on the nose and palate.
If Don and David don’t feel any romance for the wine, then why don’t we find them in a laboratory? Or plugging away at a desk in a library with their heads in a book? Something drew them to this world. Either the juice in the bottle? The story behind the bottle? Or maybe getting to meet people day in and day out who come visit the tasting room? In the end Don “Just wants to make a good product, charge fair prices, and give folks a nice experience.” So while it may look like these guys are all science, they do have a heart. A logical, scientific heart. And according to Don “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to make good wine, but it doesn’t hurt if you are.”
As we were wrapping up our visit, we also got to meet Mr. Studley, the rooster who prances around the property like he owns the place. I asked Don if he’d ever get a vineyard dog. “When I get old, I’ll get a vineyard dog”. He’s 86.