Friday, December 30, 2011

Winelog #8 Saddleback Cellars

Saddleback Cellars:                                                                      
Next door to Groth Cellars, Oakville, CA. 94562
year established 1982
               14.8 acres planted 
a few thousand cases per year
6 varietals
tasting fee $20 for 6 wines
refunded for purchase of a case
free ground shipping with purchase of case
other discounts apply

This place is incredibly fun and relaxed. This is the vineyard owned by Nils Venge, the man who made Groth's famous 1985 Cab. I would love to bring some people here. The wines are all excellent at very good price points, ranging from a $25 Clarksburg Viognier to a $56 Napa Cab! Bob is a great guy who showed some remarkable resilience in putting up with me so late in the day. Here we are in front of a 25th anniversary poster signed by everybody at the winery. I would join this wine club in a heartbeat and may yet still do it.

It was late in the day, I didn't take notes, and it is late now at night, I'm not copying them. But I bought a 2006 25th Anniversary Barrel Selection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with a picture of little Nils as a cowboy!?!? Darren, you are going to love this!! (I'm sure much more than you will love the Botritus Sauvignon Blanc. 

Detail of Nils Venge as Child Cowboy

Stay tuned for the next installment, Coombsville; Palmaz, Jarvis, Cuvaison and stuff. 

Winelog #7 Groth Vineyards

Groth Vineyard & Winery:                                                          
750 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville, CA. 94562
year established 1980
bldg finished 1991
121 acres Oakville
46 acres Yountville
all planted
80,000 cases per year
4 varietals, 1/2 sauvignon blanc
tasting fee $25 for 4 wines
$10 refunded for purchase of a bottle
Mon-Sat. Tours available on 48 hour notice
all wines distributed

Jason was kind enough to walk me from the concierge desk at the left of the front door to a short tasting bar at the right of the front door. Very convenient for a quick and easy tasting. 

See the little people here, dwarfed both by the massive foyer-hung impressionist likeness of the facade from the outside, and also by the dump bucket built for twenty. Little Jason swinging his bottle, and little me, as though freshly jostled by the jacket collar, maybe for standing too close or too far from something. Little people. I would send Jason an email letting him know that I am blogging, but he doesn't have an email address at Groth.   

This is essentially the way Groth is set up, a massive, pink southwestern adobe commanding over the Oakville vinescape, shyly clothed by a thin stand of arbor, scarcely concealing it's success. Very little of this property is normally open to the public, only a small bar and wine shop. Groth is mostly a working facility, successful enough at a distance that it has little space for public up close and offers little access, fitting for the bulk of Groth's business; distribution, half-production higher-end.


2010 Sauvignon Blanc; voted New York Times Best Wine of the Year. This wine has 3% semillon and a good acidity. $19.50 

2009 Chardonnay: 7000 cases, 25% new oak, zero ml, from Hillside Vineyard in Yountville. apples, stone fruit, little butter from the oak. 
2008 Oakville Cab: 80% Oakville grown. Current releases only. Set up to lay down 15 years. 17,000 case production, heavily aromatic black fruit, bread, tar, anise, clove, chocolate, also what I have come to recognize as worked.
2008 Reserve Cab: 100% Oakville grown. Current releases only. 1700 cases. about a 40 second finish.

For me, for whom visiting properties is as much about the experience as it is about the wines, Groth is more a place to enjoy the wines from afar. There's simply not much else to do here. 

The Groth family made their big fortune in low-priced consumer goods, CFO of Target. They bought it, built it, hired Nils Venge, won 100 points from Robert Parker for the 1985 Reserve Cabernet. That's all she wrote. 

Behold! The mighty Groth Barrel Room! Dare not dare tread upon these hallowed floors, mere mortal!
Jason showed me and another gentleman around the barrel rooms. I was duly impressed.

Winelog #6 Regusci

Regusci: 5330 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA. 94558 (707) 261-5251

I am told that here we did a three-year vertical of the Angelo's Vineyard Cabernet. '06, '07, '08. I vaguely remember these wines being exceptional, every one of them, though consistently well aged and opened from front-to-back, all still with plenty of room to grow. 

Regusci is a very unpretentious, sometimes-raucous, fun tasting room. I am told that here we did a three-year vertical of the Angelo's Vineyard Cabernet. '06, '07, '08. I remember these wines being exceptional, every one of them, though consistently well aged and opened from front-to-back, all still with plenty of room to grow. 

Neil is the general manager there, and although he will disavow any bonafide wine expertise, he's only being modest. As I wrote down what he told me, he swore up and down that it was all bullshit. 

They have 170 acres of 360 total planted to fruit in a pretty straight rectangle stretching from the trail up the mountain. 

A chard with no malolactic whatsoever, but a nice roundness from regular stirring on the lees during the barrel aging. I like some forced ml, and I liked this.

Merlot: really nice soft mouth feel, great cherry tones and holiday spice. I know, it sounds like carrolling and would be a hit served up for that. 

These are American-oak aged cabs, and agreed by many of more sophisticated pallette than mine, one of two best in the Valley.   

08 cab delivers notes of sourdough, balanced with black fruit on the nose, very strong mid-to-back pallette with a finish of about 30-35 seconds. Really.

05 large format. The aging process is mellowed and altered in large format and this against the '06 and '07 was clear in the mouthfeel. Although maybe I couldn't clearly define the difference, I could perceive of some qualitative break here in the aging arc. If you go toward the end of the day, they may be more likely to have enough bottles open for an interesting vertical such as this one.   

Patriarch- Merlot dominated Bordeaux blend. Cab 35, Cab Franc 10. Intense black fruit and earth on the nose (I kinda got it), tones of anise, cinnamon and clove, yes, clove.

Apparently, there are short chain and long chain tannins (this from Neil who disavowed ownership of the info). Longer chain tannins we feel more on roof, jawline and teeth, shorter chain more under tongue and rear of pallette. (For me, the sharper and tighter the tannin, the younger, the more roof and tongue tip and top), Shorter chain tannins become longer over time as they "polymerize". Natural longer chain tannins come from tannic structures that create the more textural aspects, e.g. "all-over mouth feel". Shorter chain tannins create more focused feel on one or fewer parts of the mouth. This is more an interpretation than a quote. I'm dizzy. Actually, I'm a little tipsy. 

Winelog #5 Joseph Phelps

Joseph Phelps: 5330 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA. 94558 (707) 261-5251

With their 1974 Insignia release in 1978, Joseph Phelps became the first Napa Valley Winery to ever produce a Bordeaux-Style varietal under a proprietary name. They hardly need an introduction from me. Still, Luba Rusyn, Guest Services Manager and her crew really laid out the red carpet for me and my ragtag crew of off-duty tour guides. They are clearly skilled and knowledgable and will orient, inform and delight with the best while pouring the wonderful Phelps' wines.  

In 2004 Wine Spectator named Insignia "Wine of the Year". It costs $200, okay? Among other things, Joseph Phelps offers a wide array of tastings, courses and seminars along a dizzying spectrum of wine topics and time slots, including an Insignia Blending Class. Unlike many less-known or reputable but more exclusive wineries in the Valley, Joseph Phelps has not let their fame go to their heads. Although the property appears imposing from the entrance, I still found the tasting experience there to be intimate, and the attention top notch. Still I'm sure that by the time Brett, Greg and I made it to Phelps, we were easily entertained.

Every wine is a standout. Price points in the $30 - $56 dollar range, excepting the Insignia and Backus Cab which come in at $200 and $225 (Backus '06 $250). They are currently offering a $25 Terrace Tasting I, consisting of:

2010 St Helena Sauvignon Blanc barrel fermented, native yeast, new & neutral french oak "puncheons".

2009 Freestone Chardonnary, cool climate Sonoma Coast 100% new french oak aged. 

2008 Freestone Pinot Noir, same cool climate Freestone vineyard 100% estate grown.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley; blended with Merlot, Petit Verdot & Malbec. Barrel aged in 50% new french and american oak. 

2008 Insignia New Release. 

 and a 2009 Eisrebe (ice-rie eebe) desert wine made in an Eiswein-style from estate grown Scheurebe, an unusual German-and-Austrian-grown varietal, which in Europe is known as Samling 88 (seedling 88). If anyone is wondering what to get me for a holiday gift, this will do nicely.

For those interested in exploring the cab and Insignia library experience in greater depth, they offer a Terrace II tasting as well at $55, which includes all the above wines.

Francoise, Greg and Jurg poured in a room with a baby grand piano, and a commanding view of the vineyards. Peaceful and bucolic; not another property in sight. If you have the time and the inclination, Joseph Phelps will not disappoint.

Josephs Phelps Terrace Views
Brett and Seth on the Terrace at Joseph Phelps.

One other thing about Phelps, the seminars. 

- Insignia Blending (Blend the Bordeaux varietals to form your very own Insignia Blend. Play winemaker for a day!!)
- Aroma Challenge (identify 6 whites and 6 reds in the Le Nez du Vin aroma identity challenge?)
- Barrel Seminar (Discover the place the barrel holds in the making of wines)
- Freestone and Phelps (a tasting combined with historic background on the formation and development of the vineyards).
- Single Vineyard Cabs (find out how location, soil & climate effect flavor profile)

Every day JP offers 90-minute courses twice per day. Read on later this week for an update on the "Aroma Challenge" as I am hoping to enroll Friday.

Winelog #4 Chappellet

Chappellet Vineyard & Winery: 1581 Sage Canyon Rd., St Helena, CA. 94574 (707) 963-7136 
by appointment only.

We took a turn off the trail and headed up onto Sage Canyon Road to Pritchard Hill for a visit at to Chappellet where Amy Pakter was setting up the glasses to host us for a tour and tasting. The settings of the mountain wineries are always my favorite. I like getting off the Valley floor and away from the crowds, and I especially appreciate the mineral and spice qualities and robustness of mountain-grown fruit. Property goes from 1300 to 2000 feet, overlooking Lake Hennessey.

Amy left, Brett right, Lake Hennessey behind. 
Not another soul for miles.  

I would say that Amy pours "friendly". 

640 acres purchased in '67. Don Chappellet had previously purchased an original patent for a press-button stand-up coffee machine. Came up here afterward to pursue his dream of winemaking. Had been a big collector of Latoure and Mouton, other big-name French Domaines. He wanted to get out of LA area where he lived with 5 children. Consulted directly with the great Andre Tschelischeff. (See Beaulieu Vineyards, Judgment of Paris by George M. Taber) Said he wanted to do Bordeaux style wine, Andre told him to buy hillside property, rocky, well-aerated, volcanic inert soil + struggling vines with a deeper tap roots pushing through more layers of sediment = smaller, more robust fruit with more complex mineral flavor components present. Donn bought property and built winery in 1968, the second winery built after prohibition, Robert Mondavi being the first.

View from outside one of back corners
of the Chappellet pyramid.

Molly (Donn's wife) was docent at LA County Museum and friendly with many up and coming contemporary artists, such as Ed Moses, who designed this winery house. This is a pyramid of massive douglass fir beams and rafters, a monolith of wooden geometry built into the living-rock hilltop, (the bottle logo takes after a bird's eye of the roof). The building is almost completely integrated into the landscape and only appreciated fully from inside.

View inside Chappellet Winery

The administrative offices are built into a loft with some eighty skeletal steps leading up to it off the winery floor. 

With 12 current releases and only four distributed nationally, Chappellet has much more to offer for folks who visit the property and join the club than for the wine shop in New York.  

1) Chenin Blanc- Special wine for them. There was Chenin growing up here when they bought the property (and so, it is a component of the original unimproved land for them, a remnant of the beginnings of the winery). Originally Chenin Blanc is more known to come from the Loire Valley of France. It had done well on Pritchard Hill in the past. Molly Chappellet was a big fan. They grow a little vineyard up on the hill, it's the only white they grow, they age it in a
"nomblot" (a concrete egg), giving it a minerality, and also in new and neutral french oak. I wished I could pick one of these up. Incredible apply, stone fruity, off-dry floral delight!

2 Chardonnays, from grapes grown in the Carneros area where the fog rolls in off the bay and blankets the grapes in a nice cool cover protecting them from the sun, "The Irish Girls" Amy calls them!!  

2) Napa Valley Chard, nationally distributed, burgundian style, aged 1/3 new French oak, 1/3 stainless steel and 1/3 neutral oak. 

3) Signature Chard, 100% ml, french oak aged, much smaller production California style creamy, buttery, delicious! Only available through the club. 

3) Zinfandel- very complex, and yet extremely approachable. They have library wines at really reasonable prices; '05 for $40. Club wine only.

Donn turned 80 last month and he and Molly just celebrated their 60th anniversary. Kids are running the business now for the most part. Jon Marc Chappellet as head of operations along with Vineyard manager sits in office at top of the Pyramid; oldest daughter and first born Lygia is an artist; Cyril is oldest brother and in charge of sales and marketing; Carissa Chappellet is lawyer who handles legal end of business; and Dominic, the baby, is videographer and here every day working in the winery as well. Lovely family business with employees who have been here over 10 years. Amy and Dominic are childhood sweethearts. Amy's very first glass of wine she ever had was with Donn Chappellet!    

They are building a new facility under the solar panel array to move in their off-site barrels and their fermentation tanks inside. They are 100% solar powered.

Bordeaux style cab sauv, Robert Parker opened their 1969 cab sauv in 2010 and said it was one of most compelling Cab Sauvs he had ever tried. 

4) Malbec and Merlot blended in with Cab. World class. 

Amy took us on a long hike up above the winery house through the vineyard to a giant rock garden pouring wines along the way, then finally back down to finish the tasting around a heated table cut from a solid wood log. Out of almost 100 properties visited now, I could not imagine a more personable, friendly and delicious tasting experience in the Valley, and after all, it's all about the experience!

Contemplating Cabernet on the rock.

Winelog #3 Failla Wines

Winelog 3. Failla Wines.

I visited Josh at Failla Wines. Josh is super-friendly, knowledgeable about the wines and willing to throw down and go to whatever level of wine geekdom you ask of him.

Built in 1939 as a hunting lodge up in Calistoga, the property changed hands several times, had been previously owned by the great Napa restauranteur Cyndy Pawlcyn and planted to apple orchards for her then-partner to make hard cider, later sold again to Ehren Jordan and Anne Marie Failla and opened as “Failla-Jordan” in 1998.

 A big wooden barn that once held a cider mill is now where they have their offices and a white wine production facility.

Ehren has been a winemaker for Turley Wines out of Paso Robles for the last eighteen years (he commutes from Napa in a single-engine plane). Chard, pinot, syrah, zin, his first big winery job was working for Neyers. Ehren left Phelps with Bruce and Barbara Neyers to help start their family vineyard. He also worked with Helen Turley for a time. Ehren also studied in the northern Rhone, town of Cornas for 2 ½ years under Jean Luc Colombo. a bit about viognier there. He won SF Chronicle winemaker of the year for 2008. For more on Ehren Jordan, here’s a great blog from a terroirist blogger who met with Ehren directly.

Old world style winery, 5000 cases. 20 different wines. As one might imagine with a 5000-case winery producing 20 wines, over 90% of the fruit is sourced. They have a little estate of 80 acres for chard, pinot and syrah. Accounts for 5 – 10% of production. They’re doing 10 pinots right now. 3-4 chardonnays, 1 viognier, 2 syrahs. Traditional Rhone varietals. They don’t do much of the Syrah. It sells out immediately. Viog- 180 – 200 cases. Syrah is about 145 cases. They go immediately. Estate Syrah comes out in Fall. New Syrah coming out in the Spring. Hudson Vineyards. Viognier coming out in the Spring. I’ve got to get on the mailing list.

There isn’t a wine club. Josh says there are very few wines that they could give a wine club member. Everyone on the mailing list has their own preferences in terms of which vineyards they prefer to receive wines from, above and beyond that allotment, there really isn’t enough wine to disburse to any kind of club.

5-10% of fruit is grown on property; Chardonnay, Pinot, Syrah. 20 different wines at Faella. 10 pinots; 3-4 chardonnays, one viogniet, 2 syrahs. Viogniers and Syrahs are traditional French varietals. Super wide range of soil types on Sonoma Coast. Huge appellation. So many microclimates. So fun to source fruit from there, because differences there can be so vast. California sun, coastal breeze to cool down the fruit.  

Rhone style Viognier 180 – 210 cases, and an Estate Syrah 140 cases. There's a new one coming out but another very limited production. Estate Syrah comes out in the Fall. Hudson Vineyard Syrah is coming out this Spring. Viognier is coming out this Spring as well. I'm writing these down because they all sell out so quick that it's worthwhile to pay attention when they come out. There's a newsletter; they send out a notification of the release and have a thirty day window to respond.

Keefer Ranch ’09 Chardonnay got 95 points in Wine Spectator and is in top 100 Wine Spectator this year. Also Estate Chardonnay got a write up in top 100 in SF Chronicle.
Mainly Sonoma coast fruit with the exception of the Viognier which is from Edmund Valley down by Paso Robles. Sonoma Coast is a huge appellation with a wide range of soil types and microclimates, so it’s fun for Ehren to source Pinot from there. No Napa fruit. Keefer Ranch is Russian River. Monument Terrain Patch in Mendocino. Huge appellation, Russian River Chard: ½ Keefer Ranch (near the headwaters of a creek and planted on gentle, well-drained slopes with Goldridge Soil), ½ Floodgate Vineyards (Northwest end of Anderson Valley, owned by Duckhorn and renowned for Pinot). This is not a traditional buttery, oaky chard. 100% ml, 100% French oak, 20% new. From younger vines in the vineryards. 30% fermented in giant concrete eggs. Charles Thomas (think Robert Mondavi Tokalon 1) first here in the valley at Rudd Winery was first here to use the egg. Porous like oak but without the wood flavor components, the egg shape promotes more natural movement of lees where they stay in contact with fruit more and adds layer of minerality as well.  No fining, filtering.

For a 2010 release, I find this wine to be a well integrated, outstanding, easy drinking, velvety, oaky, but not a huge butter-bomby-type wine. Would pair well with food.

Next Josh poured several (of 10) pinots of increasing body, mouth feel and richness, from austere to bold, all, differences in these Pinots due only to the terroir. All aged in the same way with same ratio, 30% new oak, 11 months, native yeasts, no fining or filtering. He pours new stuff all the time. Failla is truly a pinot lover’s paradise.

2009 estate pinot.  They own 80 acres out there. 125 cases of estate pinot. Incredible aromatics on the wine. Light notes of bright cherry. Grainy and lightly viscose, austere yet long in the finish.  There is a complexity to this pinot that I could unpack for a long time. I hope to buy a case and open one each year. This is my favorite pinot of the bunch.

2009 Peay, Nick and Andy Peay. From up North. Selling fruit to Failla since 2006. Bit more fruit forward than Occidental. Typically one of last pinots to release for the year. Nice smooth character, more tannic, but very integrated tannins, which to me are surprisingly soft for their youth. Acidity in this wine is just right. From top of Sonoma Coast Forest.  This wine garnered an average of 92 points from 7 different rating agents.

2009 Occidental Pinot 14.1% - Light violet, anise, clove, leather, damp earth. Lilac on the mid palette. Heaviest and distinctly most robust of all pinots of distinction here at Failla. Josh pours it at the end when they are out of Syrah, which is most of the year. 

I highly recommend a visit to Failla, or at the very least, a sampling of the wines if you do not yet know them.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Winelog #2 Thursday, 12.1.11 Chiles Valley

It's that time of day again, when I settle back into my cozy Napa getaway, head swimming with memories of delicious wines, new friends and promises to myself to not get lost again like I did today. I wanted to visit two or three wineries in the Chiles Valley region, but fired up about this month's
Wine Enthusiast article about the red, volcanic Oakville Dirt. <>  and wanting to visit some wineries where the Trail meets the Cross, Oakville Cross, that is. Conflicted as I was, and with Sharon from Gargiulo Vineyards fresh out of the hospital from her appendix surgery, and Rudd busy with their holiday party, I decided to divide my time between:

Rustridge Ranch, B & B and Vineyards

Rustridge Ranch & Winery B&B Inn:                                    
2910 Lower Chiles Valley Rd, St. Helena, CA, 94754
     elevation 900 - 1200 ft. 
570 acres in toto/ 60 acres planted to fruit
3000 cases per year production. 
Direct sales only. 
Tasting fees $20 applied to cost of a bottle. 
by appointment only (707) 965-9353

RustRidge LogoRustridge Ranch has a long history of training thoroughbred horses for racing. Susan Meyer's family bought the Ranch in 1972. The family intended to open a boutique winery on-site, and began slowly planting to Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. The winery itself was officially established in 1985. Five years later, Susan and her husband Jim Fresquez took over operations and have been producing high quality wines ever since. Susan, winemaker and partner, was kind enough to meet with me this morning and walk me through her ranch and a sampling of her wines.

I intended to spend an hour up at the Ranch before driving back down the mountain to my Oakville appointments. 2 1/2 hours after playing with horses, tasting wines and hearing Susan's wine-making wisdom, I had no idea where the time went. 

Strolling along through the narrow pass of Chiles Valley that Susan calls home, she told me how the wind whips across the valley up here and shakes the leaves off the vines early after harvest. 

One of the old hay barns is used as a winery production facility,  another is now the room where we taste, a stable...well, that's still a stable!  

There's an 1930's ranch house on the property that's converted to a b&b. I haven't seen such a peaceful spot in a while. Sometimes I find that a place can have such a strong affect on me that being there changes my mood, brings me outside of myself and my cares for just a while and leaves with a sense of grandeur, where I forget about time and am reminded of my tinyness in the universe. Rustridge Ranch is one of those places, so close to home and yet...where was I?

Right! So here we are in the tasting room, overlooking the pasture and hills behind. 

2010 Sauv Blanc-100 cases
Neutral barrel fermentation provides for a lightly creamy mouth feel with a good Chiles Valley acidity and spiciness. Just bottled end of September.
The best I have had at the price point in a very long time.  $25

2009 Racehorse white- 100 cases, 100% chard, 100% malolactic, 20% new oak. For me, wonderful pineapple fruit on the nose and yet just off dry with enough sweetness, as Susan says, to balance the alcohol (I believe it) and a long, creamy finish. $25.

2008 Rustridge Estate Chardonnay- roughly the same ageing process as the Racehorse, 1 year older and the finest fruit. This is a spicy and complex wine, as Chuck Flanders said it, a striking balance of acidity, fruit and flinty minerality. Best of Class Gold, Orange County Faire. $43

As a tour guide and amateur in the Napa Region where red wine is king, I have suffered though more token whites than I care to say, enough to have made me consider that they may not be for me. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these white wines, and am happy to say that tasting them has restored my faith in the varietals. Excuse the Red on the left of the pic. Sauv Blanc is feeling shy, hanging back.

2008 Racehorse Red. Cabernet Sauvignon / Zinfandel Blend. They first made this back in 1990 and called it Cabernet Zinfandel. This is 80% Zin & 20% Cab. In China Red and the number 8 are good luck, which explains why this wine is selling incredibly well there. I found this wine to be a lighter bodied red presenting bright cherry on the nose with good focused acidity and not too heavy a finish, an excellent pairing for lighter meats...and for me fish and vegetables.

Rustridge 2006 Zinfandel: I don't think this is available for sale anymore. They're on the 2007 now. It had a great deep violet color and refreshing pepper and clove nose. Chocolate, blackberry, mineral, for me... asphault, for the Meyers...saddle leather. Good fruit and structure, long anise finish. 20 - 25 seconds.

2004 & 2006 Cabernet vertical. both presented black fruit, vanilla and caramel, maybe due to the French & American barrel aging. Black cherry, plum, earth, cedar, roasted nuts?!?! coffee!! 04 had softened very nicely.  '06 Cabernet $50.

I have had people pour and taste verticals in order from oldest first. I prefer to go the other way 'round. Susan served this way as well. I feel that it's easier to follow the life span of the wine starting younger and finishing older. If there is a right way, this must be it!

R.R. offers a pairing of organic infused chocolates to complement their wine tasting. The chocolates are available for sale in tasting room. 

I scheduled an hour to spend here with Susan. 2 1/2 hours later with some laughs, a lot of wine-making wisdom and a few bottles under my arm, I kind of had to rethink my day. It's exactly this experience of timeless contentment that I hope to share with my guests.  Thank you, Susan!!