If There Were Such Thing as Vector Winemaking…

Montoliva Sangiovese Grapes‘You’re taking vector calculus? You must be smart,’ my friend was saying to my son. ‘ I don’t know what vector calculus is…I don’t even know what a vector is. What’s a vector?’

I braced for the answer, ready to take in every detail of what would surely be a long, complicated and involved oration.

‘A line with direction and magnitude,’ my son answered simply and without hesitation. I think I’d like vectors. They sound strong and decisive.

I couldn’t decide which wine region to visit this past week-end. I love visiting Napa and Sonoma, but hesitated at the thought of the three hour drive. As I studied the map, Grass Valley caught my eye. It isn’t its own AVA, but part of the Sierra Foothills AVA. There are about a dozen wineries there, and it is just a short hour and a half drive from home. Because of the warm climate, I expected Grass Valley to be like other Sierra Foothill regions, big on Rhone varieties and Zinfandel.

Chicago Park is an unincorporated section of Grass Valley in northern California. It was settled by four Italian families who after immigrating to Chicago, decided they wanted to live in a rural area to get back to their agrarian roots. They came to California for the warmer climate. They settled in Chicago Park because it reminded them of their place of origin, Italy.

Mark Henry, owner and winemaker of Montoliva Vineyard & Winery settled in Chicago Park for a similar reason. When he came to the Sierra Foothills in search of a site for his winery back in 2000, he was looking for three things. He wanted bad soil, as in ‘What soil? We plant on rock…the rock is granite.’ He wanted good climate, warm days, cool nights. And he wanted culture, a story behind the region. He found all three in Chicago Park. He also found rolling green hills similar to the hills of Italy.Montoliva Vineyards

Both the Italian heritage of the region as well as the Tuscan scenery are the inspiration for his Italian grape variety wines. His vineyards are organic. The rows of grapes are planted close together, just as they are in Italy, so that the vines have to compete for nutrients, producing more intense, flavorful grapes. Montoliva makes some blended wines. But if there is a variety named on the label, then the wine is 100% that variety, not 75% which is allowed by law. Much like a European wine maker, Mark Henry feels passionately that the grape and terroir alone should speak for the wine. He wants a bottle of Sangiovese to taste like a bottle of Sangiovese. The 2008 has great acidity and medium body with flavors of cherry, sweet herb and a little smoke. When I noted the slight smoke aroma, Kristin who was pouring told me that there had been a fire in the area in 2008. It is possible to remove smoke aroma from grapes, but Mark considers the fire part of the terroir, so the slight smokiness became part of the wine.

The 2013 Pinot Grigio has a nice crispness to it with aromas of white flower, pear and mineral. The Folio is a blend made with Pinot Grigio and unfermented Muscato. It tastes like a sweet juicy apple. Sei Ore Rosé 2013 is a blend of Sangiovese and Barbera. It is earthy and dry with aromas of rhubarb and strawberry.

Montoliva, 2011 NebbioloThe 2011 Nebbiolo is a new release. It is meaty with a medium plus acidity and tar and roses on the nose. The 2010 Aglianico has a slight coffee aroma with cherry and cranberry notes. Sierra Bella 2011 is a blend of Teraldego, Nebbiolo and Barbera. It tastes of tart cherries and rose water. The 2011 Barbera has soft fruit aromas, tangy acidity and medium tannins. The 2010 Late Harvest Barbera is rich with sweet bing cherry aromas, raisins and a whisper of lemon.

All the wines we tasted at Montoliva are intense. In that way they reflect not just the terroir, but also, the winemaker. Mark Henry took the time to show us his vineyards and spoke with us extensively about his winery. During the course of his talk it became clear that he doesn’t just take pride in his wines; he loves them. He is very focused on and very intense about both the vineyards and the wines. One might even say he produces wines like a vector; with direction and magnitude.


Wine IRL

Total Wine Napa Wine Class

Total Wine Napa Wine Class

Recently, my son let me in on a gamer acronym, ‘IRL,’ as in ‘I have to go eat dinner IRL.’ ‘But what does it stand for?’ I asked him. ‘In Real Life.’ Although it is an acronym used by gamers, I think it is profoundly a part of modern life for all of us. While technology has brought us incredible opportunities for sharing information and even socializing, it has, also, for most of us, created a dichotomous existence.

In the world of wine, there is so much we can do that we couldn’t or didn’t do even ten years ago. We can share wine reviews with hundreds of people that we have never met. We can study wine on line. We can form wine communities through blogging. We can find information on almost any winery. We can buy wine on line. We can do all of this without ever having to interact with anyone IRL. While the convenience of having access to such vast amounts of information is fantastic, the repercussions of not having face to face interaction with fellow wine-lovers is just beginning to be felt in our society.

Experiencing wine is more than tasting and acquiring information. As has been said many times here on the blogs, the best part of experiencing wine is sharing the wine with friends and building a wine community. That can only be done off line through things like wine festivals, winery visits, tasting groups, and IRL wine classes.

This week in locations across the country, Total Wine offered a class on Napa Valley wines. I always enjoy the classes offered because it is a chance to taste through several wines. Also, the classes are designed to be informative for those just beginning their wine journeys as well as those with some level of wine education. The teachers are certified and very knowledgeable, and, also very good at sharing information at every level.

TotalWineNapaClassSept2014 009Last night we tasted through three Napa whites and six Napa reds. We started with Amici Sauvignon Blanc made by Joel Aiken with grapes from St. Helena and Calistoga. The wine is aged primarily in stainless with just a short time in neutral oak. The flavors are melon, lemon and pineapple with a crisp finish.

The Chappellet Chardonnay is made by Phillip Titus with grapes from Carneros, the coolest region in Napa. It has aromas of smoky oak, apple and pear with a medium plus acidity and a full body. We tasted the Chappellet side by side with the Lloyd Chardonnay that is also made with grapes from Carneros. This wine is produced by Robert Lloyd. It has aromas of oak, honey and sweet, spicy pears. The Lloyd Chardonnay is more golden in color and more lush and opulent in body and flavor. The Cheppellet is a more elegant, refined Chardonnay. Both are lovely.

We began the reds with a Courtney Benham Merlot made by Bill Batchelor with grapes from Carneros, Oak Knoll and Stag’s Leap. The aromas are vanilla, cherry, plum and pepper with medium plus acidity and velvety tannins.

We moved from the Merlot to a Napa Zinfandel made by Titus with grapes sourced from Napa Valley. The flavors are cherry, red licorice, vanilla, pepper and coconut. It is a full-bodied wine with very firm tannins.

Our next four wines are all from the grape for which Napa is known, Cabernet Sauvignon. Daglia Canyon is made from Rutherford grapes. It has intense aromas of blackberry and creamy cherries with hints of vanilla and leather. It is full-bodied with very ripe tannins. We tasted it side by side with Cimarossa Cab from Howell Mountain. The Howell Mountain wine had aromas of chocolate, dark berries and tobacco leaves. It is, also very intense with firm tannins, a bit more earthy in flavor than the Rutherford Cab.

Our last two Cabernets were from Stag’s Leap, the Goldilocks region, and St. Helena. The Stag’s Leap wine was a Martin Ray. It is aged for 24 months in French oak and has aromas of tobacco, chocolate, cherry, blackberries and a whiff of carnation. It is very full-bodied with juicy ripe tannins. Red Mare uses grapes from St. Helena, Rutherford and Oakville. It is a small production wine made by Anne Vawter. The flavors are melting cherries, tobacco leaf, mint and spice. It is a ripe and fresh wine with a medium plus acidity.

Tasting so many Napa wines side by side gave us a great opportunity to experience and study the elements of the wines and to appreciate their individual layers of flavor and nuanced differences. Tasting through and learning about wine IRL gave us a multidimensional experience that was full and rich and nuanced.

Courtney Benham Napa Valley Merlot

Courtney Benham Napa Valley Merlot

Titus Zinfandel Napa

Titus Zinfandel Napa

Daglia Canyon Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

Daglia Canyon Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

Cimarossa Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Cimarossa Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain

Red Mare Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Red Mare Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Martin Ray Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Martin Ray Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

What’s That Mendoza You’re Drinking?

Cruze Alta, Mendoza, 2012, Bonarda

Cruze Alta, Mendoza, 2012, Bonarda

Imagine you are enjoying a red wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina.  It is dense with dark fruit aromas, full bodied with grippy tannins, and a spicy finish.  It must be a Malbec you think to yourself.  But, it isn’t a Malbec.  It is a wine from the grape, Bonarda.  Judging by the name, this grape must have originated in Italy, you think to yourself.  But, again, yourself would be wrong.  There is a Bonarda from the Piedmont region of Italy, but that is not the same grape that Argentina grows and calls Bonarda.

The Bonarda that is grown in Argentina is also known as Charbono in California and Dolce Noir in the Savoie region of France, where it originates.  Late ripening and thick skinned, this grape is dense with flavor and phenolics, and flourishes in the hot temperatures of Argentina.  Up until recently, it was the most widely grown red grape in Argentina, but was mostly used in bulk wines and in blends.  As Jim Summers of Summers Estate once quipped, Bonardo is the ‘Rodney Dangerfield of wine.’  Up until recently, it didn’t get much respect.  But, that is changing.  In the past few years, Bonardo has started to come into its own, being bottled as a varietal and exported to foreign markets.

Cruze Alta from Mendoza makes a 100% Bonarda wine that is deep red in color with flavors of creamy dark fruit, rose water and pepper on the finish.  It is a dense, well-integrated wine with layers of flavor, crisp acidity, and chewy tannins.  Retailing for about $13 makes it a great value.  I would venture to say that many  Malbec lovers may also become Bonarda lovers.

Wine Reels and Wine Waltzes

Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe

Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe

Attending a wine festival is a little like dancing the Virginia Reel. It’s a few quick sips, a little chatter with the wine maker and then move on. It is a great way to get a taste of many wines from many wineries in a very short period of time. That’s exactly what happened at the Alpen Wine Fest up at Lake Tahoe last week-end. I tasted a lot of wines, got some interesting information, and found a few treasures.

Some of the wines I tasted were good, and I knew that they were good in this Virginia Reel style of tasting. For example, the Frank Family Chardonnay out of Carneros tastes like a crisp apple with just a light drip of caramel and a lemon twist. And the Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée that is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Zinfandel has aromas of cherries, plums, coffee, and tea. Four Mile Creek from Novy is another blend, this one of Zinfandel and Syrah. It has a smoky bright red cherry flavor that makes for easy drinking, as does the Wrath dry Muscat. It is crisp with fresh floral aromas, but the flowers disappear in the taste. The flavor is fresh orchard fruit with no mineral aftertaste. All of these wines are easy to drink and easy to get to know in a short period of time.

But there were a couple wines that I really couldn’t evaluate with just a quick taste. There were a few last Sunday that begged for a slow waltz. Or maybe I was doing the begging. I’m not sure. I just know a couple of the wines I tasted had a lot of depth and texture and nuance. They needed more than a quick do si do.

Bardessono Wines

Bardessono Wines

Bardessano is a winery in Yountville, Napa Valley. The land has been in the Bardessono family since 1920. But for most of that time, the family grew and sold their grapes. It wasn’t until 2003 that the third generation, Tom Bardessono began making wine commercially. His pride in and passion for the wine was palpable even in the brief conversation I was able to have with him. They grow the grapes organically and use native yeasts to stay as true to the terroir as possible. I don’t know how much organic and native effect the flavor of the wine, but I do know that the Sauvignon Blanc tastes like very fresh, clean grass with crisp citrus notes. The Cabernet Sauvignon is an estate wine from a vineyard named after Tom’s mother, Maxine. The wine is elegant and beautifully balanced with aromas of blackberries and cocoa dust.

Stark Wines

Stark Wines

Stark Winery out of Healdsburg in Napa Valley was pouring a red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. It has aromas of strawberry, violets, and garrigue wrapped into very soft tannins. The Syrah grapes in the Syrah varietal are sourced from Mendocino. The wine has great balance with a smoky nose, crisp red berries, and a little spice on the finish.

There is so much going on with all these wines, I could have spent a lot more time with each of them, and found a lot more layers and nuance. Some wines pair well with food. Some wines pair well with reflection, lingering, and slow moving 3/4 time.

Washington Rhônes; a Session with Greg Harrington, MS

Seattle 034Have you ever noticed the different aromas of grape stems? According to Greg Harrington, Master Sommelier and owner of Gramercy Cellars, it isn’t the color of the stems, green versus brown, that is the determining factor when deciding whether or not to use them in his whole cluster wines. It is the aroma. The stems that smell like sweet peas add not just tannin but also aroma to his wine.

Gramercy Cellars is located in Walla Walla Washington and was founded in 2005 by Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. They came to Washington because they were excited about the Rhône varietal wines that were coming out of the state. Walla Walla is proving to be a great match for Syrah and other Rhône varieties. One thing that makes it a good area for grapes is what the wine makers refer to as ‘the rocks bump.’ Just as the vineyards of Châteuneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône of France are covered with ‘galets’ or large rocks, so too are the vineyards of the Walla Walla region of Washington covered with large rocks. These vineyard rocks add an earthy, meaty quality to the wine that has been dubbed the ‘rocks bump.’

Grenache was the first Rhône variety planted in Washington state in the 1960’s. Through the 1980’s Syrah, Mouvedre and Viognier were planted. The 1990’s saw a good deal of clonal diversity. Today there are several Rhône varieties doing quite well in Washington. The number one white variety is Viognier followed by Marsanne, Roussane, Picpoul and Grenache Blanc. The biggest red planting for Rhone varieties is Syrah followed by Grenache, Mouvedre, Cinsault, Carignon, and Counoise.

The Gramercy Syrah 2011 is a whole cluster wine made with 100% Syrah. It has aromas of blackberry, purple flowers, a hint of the green stem tannins and tangy cherry on the finish . Crisp and full bodied, it is an elegant Syrah. The Gramercy Mouvedre 2011 is 90% Mouvedre with 5% Syrah and 5% Cinsault. They call the blend L’Idiot du Village. The Mouvedre in this wine has the ‘rocks bump.’ L’Idiot du Village has dark fruit and smoky meat aromas with a smooth texture and a silky finish.

Proper Winery, also in Walla Walla makes a Syrah with the ‘bump.’ With aromas of bacon, pepper and black cherry, it is a substantial Syrah.

Kerloo Cellars’ Syrah out of Walla Walla has a distinct kalamata olive aroma with a good crisp finish.

The Ross Andrew winery makes a red blend called Force Majeure from Red Mountain vineyards. There are aromas of iron, smoke, dark fruit, tar, chocolate, cranberry and deep forest with a tangy coffee finish.

Kevin White’s blend is the classic GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre) blend. It has aromas of tangy red fruit with a hint of rose and spice. It is a very fresh tasting wine.

Walla Walla has a lot of new wineries that are finding the terroir to be a great home for the Rhône varieties. It is in area that is growing in more ways than one. Wine makers aren’t just experimenting with clones, they are exploring different ways of making wine, such as, moving to concrete fermentation and employing sustainable practices. But mostly, they are making great wine.

The Great Pacific Northwest; Washington State

Seattle 053Every student of wine knows that next to California, Washington state produces the most vitis vinifera wine in the country. In 1987 there were fewer than 100 wineries in Washington. Today there are over 800.

The success of the European vine in Washington state is in part due to something that happened 10,000 years ago, and that is the Missoula floods, a series of floods, 30 of them, that brought many types of soils to Washington, including basalt, silt, sand and calcium. There is a great deal of variety in the terroir of Washington. Because of this great variety, new AVA’a (American Viticultural Areas) are still emerging.

According to Sean Sullivan, author of award winning blog, The Washington Wine Report, there are five emerging AVAs to watch in the coming years. It’s important to note that Columbia Valley AVA which was established in 1984 is the largest AVA in the nation. Many of the new and emerging AVAs are sub regions within Columbia Valley. As vintners continue to discover variation in the soils, sub-regions become more important.

Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley became its own AVA in 2012. It has calcium and fine sand soils, and cooler temperatures due to its position further north. Eighty percent of the wine coming out of Ancient Lakes is Riesling, such as Charles Smiths’ Kung Fu Girl and Chateau St. Michelle’s Eroica. The cooler temperatures and calcium deposits come through in both of these crisp, vibrant Rieslings.

Columbia Gorge became an AVA in 2004 and straddles both Washington and Oregon. Taking advantage of the mineral deposits in the soils, the vineyards are planted with 64% white grapes. But further south with slightly warmer temperatures, those white varieties are more likely to be Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer.

In 2005 Waluke Slope became an AVA. It is one of the warmest AVAs in the state, second to Red Mountain. Known for its sandy soils, Waluke is two thirds red in its vineyard plantings.

Also, formed in 2005, Horse Heaven Hills has a similar make-up of plantings with two thirds red and one third white. The wines from this region are known for their ripe fruit and good structure.

Some other Washington state regions to watch are The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater (not, yet, an AVA,)which is known for its Syrahs, Lake Chelan (AVA 2009,) Rattlesnake Hills (2006) and Naches Heights (2012) which is mostly biodynamic and 100% sustainable.

Washington state has seen tremendous growth in its wine industry in the past 20 years. It has come a long way, but in many ways, it is just getting started. With so many soil types, and many more grape to terroir matches yet to be made, expect a lot of continued growth and discovery in Washington wines.

For more information about Washington state wines, visit Sean Sullivan’s website, The Washington Wine Report. For information on Washington State wineries, visit Washington State Wine.

The Great Pacific Northwest and Tempranillo

Tahoe, 2009“Nueve Messes de Invierno, Tres Messes de Inferno,” is how Javier Alfonso describes the climate of both his home of origin, Ribera del Duero, Spain and his adopted home, Woodinville, Washington. Javier is the owner of Pomum Winery in Woodinville. He serves on TAPAS, which stands for Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society. Their mission is to cultivate Spain’s famous grape, Tempranillo in the Great Pacific Northwest of the United States, and to educate as they go.

What do the Great Pacific Northwest of the United States and North Central Spain have in common? A lot, according to the members of TAPAS. As Javier Alfonso points out in the above Spanish saying that he brought with him from home, both regions have a climate that can be described as ‘Nine Months of Winter, Three Months of Hell.’ That is the climate that Tempanillo needs; a continental climate with hot summers, big diurnal swings and a short growing season.

Tim Harless of Hat Ranch Winery agrees and has found that same climate in Idaho, yes, ‘Let’s dispense with the potato wine jokes right up front’ Idaho. Along the Snake River, the climate is hot in the summer and the elevation is high, in some places as high as 2500 feet, much as it is in central Spain.

Dwight Sick, the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow Winery has found the Tempranillo grape to be right at home in OKanagan Valley, British Columbia. He has found the soils of this region, a combination of sandy, gravel, glacial and clay to be a good match to the grape.

One of the pioneers of bringing Tempranillo to the Great Pacific Northwest is Earl Jones of Abacela Winery in Oregon. He realized back in 1992 that the Iberian grapes would be a natural to the region, not just because of the similar climate, soils, and altitudes, but also, because of the same latitude as some of Spain’s great Tempranillo growing regions.

The word ‘Tempranillo’ sounds similar to the English word ‘temperamental,’ but all representatives from TAPAS agreed that it is not a difficult grape to grow. As they have all shown in their wines, Tempranillo can do quite well outside of its place of origin. The Tempranillos that we tasted from Stag’s Hollow, Pomum, HAT Ranch, and Abacela all had aromas of mineral and dark fruit. The Okanagan wine from Stag’s Hollow had undertones of leather and spice. Washington’s Pomum Cellars presented coffee and raspberry. HAT Ranch of Idaho offered cranberry and rose, and the Abacela of Oregon Tempranillo gave off smoked meat and chocolate aromas. But they all had a similar flavor profile and structure to the Tempranillos of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

In Spanish ‘temprano’ means ‘early.’ That is what this grape needs. It is early ripening and thrives in a short growing season. In the Great Pacific Northwest, Tempranillo has founds its second home.