Famous Super Tuscan Wine Producer Brings Tuscany To New York City While Displaying Age-Worthy Quality Through Verticals

Ornellaia Lunch Table at 214 Lafayette
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

One of the great chefs and hunters of Tuscany, Omar Barsacchi of Osteria Magona, took a deep breath as his boisterous and playful demeanor melded into a peaceful calm. Presenting the final dish from a wonderful Tuscan wine lunch in the heart of Soho, in New York City, he spoke about a good friend and fellow chef who gave him the recipe for the exquisite apple tart that was beautifully enhanced by a cream made with a rare sweet wine that the great Super Tuscan producer Ornellaia makes in minuscule quantities. But then, when he stated with a grieving heart that his friend passed away last year, it became apparent that this final dish was a heartfelt pause to remember all those who have died in the past couple of years.

Axel Heinz at the Ornellaia Wine Lunch Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

One of the many fascinating things about New York City is that some of the most inconspicuous buildings usually have the most wondrous surprises behind their doors. Sometimes it can be an enchanting garden, a noteworthy historic enclave or it can encompass glorious spaces that are quintessentially New York. That day, the prestigious Super Tuscan wine producer Tenuta dell’Ornellaia brought Tuscany to one of those quintessential downtown NYC places. The space, 214 Lafayette, is said to have been originally built to house all of the power lines for downtown Manhattan during the turn of the century. The soaring ceilings accented with beams and the exposed brick walls transport one into the movie version of the perfect look of downtown Manhattan in New York City.

Ornellaia’s estate director, Axel Heinz, started the lunch by addressing the idea that there is no substitution for coming together in person and if some found it hard to travel then they would bring Tuscany to New York City. A special treat of that day was that the famous Tuscan chef Omar Barsacchi, whose restaurant Osteria Magona is nestled in the small village of Bolgheri, surrounded by some of the most respected Italian wine producers, was in charge of the meal. Axel presented a small vertical of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s top wine, Ornellaia, and a couple of the rare Ornellaia white Bianco wines as well as the rare sweet Ornus dell’Ornellaia.


The guests were spoiled from the first moment they entered the building with incredible Italian meats and cheeses covering a large, rustic wooden table. Then lunch started in a grand space complete with a gourmet kitchen and it was kicked off with the two vintages of Ornellaia Bianco paired with an aromatically enticing spinach flan highlighted by a truffle fondue, representing the truffles and spinach that can be found in the Tuscan area. Then the newest release of the red Ornellaia, the 2019 ‘Il Vigore’, was presented with wild boar ragout as boar is commonly hunted in Tuscany by the locals as there is an overpopulation issue. Chef Omar Barsacchi is quite the accomplished hunter who honors the wild animals by making sure not to get in the way of featuring the fantastic natural flavor. And it would not be a proper Tuscan meal without bistecca, Tuscan prime rib roast cooked to a juicy pink perfection accompanied by the 2012 and 2007 Ornellaia, giving a peek into the 2019’s future.

Appetizer Table
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Axel became the winemaker for Ornellaia back in 2005 and was promoted to estate director for both Ornellaia and Masseto estates in 2015. He brings an outsider’s perspective to Bolgheri, spending his previous wine education and experience in Bordeaux, France. “The area of Bolgheri has everything in abundance,” noted Axel, and he continued by talking about the tremendous amount of sunshine they receive. In some ways, he feels fortunate that there are no issues with ripeness, yet he is cautious as even though he wants to make wines that do have a generosity of spirit, like the local Bolgheri people themselves, he keeps that ripeness in check as he always wants the wines to have an elegant restraint and overall finesse. Since many of Ornellaia’s vintages can be enjoyed in their youth, Axel felt the need to express that even though he is not against “occasionally opening a young bottle” of Ornellaia, the wine is really for the “long-term,” as with age it reveals “all its facets and complexities.”

Vendemmia d’Artista Labels with 2019 Ornellaia in the Middle
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

The aging window depends on the vintage but Axel gives a broad window of between eight to 15 years for the wines to reach their peak and that many of the great vintages could easily go for 30 years if not way beyond, as the Ornellaia wines that he has tasted recently from the mid to late 1980s have been impressive. He figures that the 2019 Ornellaia ‘Il Vigore’ (‘Vigor’) shows the “strength of the healthy growth of the vines” as it has such an irresistible ripeness balanced by bright acidity and overall multifaceted complexity of flavors and texture. Axel chose the 2012 and 2007 vintages as they were similar to the 2019 in their youth; the 2012, which was forward and friendly in the beginning, is now showing some real “muscle” after ten years and it still has some more time to go, according to Axel. But the 2007, in Axel’s opinion, is a true “parallel vintage” to the 2019.

Axel discussed how the great vintage of 2007 had the misfortune to follow another great vintage, 2006. At the time of the 2007 release, he felt that its more subtle character was overshadowed by the more “flamboyant” 2006, yet through time, he thinks that the 2007 has become one of the most “graceful and harmonious vintages”. The 2019 reminds him of the 2007 in its primary stage, hence, he believes tasting the 2007 now will give a glimpse into how the 2019 will evolve.  

Appreciating the Challenges 

At first, the shutdowns of 2020 and beyond seemed like a gift in some ways, once the hospitals were able to treat and manage Covid patients, enabling people to have a slower life with no crowds and more rest. Events were non-existent, many were working from home and everyone’s main responsibility was to stay away from people. It gave many a chance to reexamine their previous lives, of always being on the run with constant stress, as unhealthy existences. But as time has gone on, the mind starts to become numb and depression sets in; people have realized that the multitude of people challenging one through their day is an essential jolt to stay in the present. Even seemingly unpleasant challenges caused by others in the moment can become deeply rewarding and fulfilling once they are resolved through mutually beneficial compromise.

When Axel had his first harvest at Ornellaia in 2005, he was thrilled to be able to calculate the ideal day to start picking the grapes – but it was, unfortunately, a Tuesday. The vineyard manager informed him that local superstitions don’t allow them to start anything on a Tuesday or Friday, so it was out of the question. Axel thought that it was ridiculous to allow superstition to dictate the harvest, still, he was disciplined and thoughtful enough not to convey his frustration but instead show respect to the vineyard manager and try to figure out a way around the superstition. And so he proposed they pick one crate of grapes on Monday and do the rest of the harvest on Tuesday, that way, they officially started on Monday. The vineyard manager thought it was a good idea, so he gave it a try. It ended up being a problematic harvest with lots of rain so the following year the vineyard manager told Axel, “No tricks this time, you see what happens when you try to cheat.” And ever since then, Axel says that he has honored the superstition.

Chef Cesare Casella (left) and Chef Omar Barsacchi (right)
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

All his previous years working in Bordeaux, Axel could never imagine that he would run into such a challenge or an illogical way of handling one of the most critical decisions in the vineyards. But it has made him grow in ways he could not imagine and the challenges certainly keep him on his toes. And many people, after the shutdowns, have come to realize how much they are missing by not having those challenges from people with different perspectives. And yes, many have felt the loss of people who they could never have imagined passing away at a relatively young age, such as chef Omar Barsacchi’s friend, and it is apparent that he is determined to keep his friend’s memory alive by pairing the apple tart with Ornus dell’Ornellaia cream paired with the scarce sweet wine 2019 Ornus dell’Ornellaia that day. The Ornus is a wine meant for friends and family and at that moment, it was the exemplary pairing of the day as everyone felt connected by the losses in their own lives.

The locals in Bolgheri are known for having a strong personality, carving out unconventional paths, as who else would be able to bring in international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon to a country known for having the largest quantity of well-known grape varieties in the world? The wines not only succeeded in Italy but were able to go head to head with the most notable Bordeaux wines, becoming some of the most sought-after wines in the world. In the beginning it seemed crazy to do such a thing but as Axel has learned, many things may not make theoretical sense as they need to be experienced. And it is this challenge that makes Ornellaia so special – the combination of Axel’s meticulous nature combined with the unbridled passion of the locals produces a wine that is dangerously delicious while young yet it reveals itself through time in ways that one finds surprising for such an initially friendly wine.

And that is the path many are on now, avoiding those challenges that are toxic to one’s very being yet seeking out the challenges that help bring one to a place that is more extraordinary than one could ever imagine.

Lineup of Ornellaia Wines
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
Vendemmia d’Artista Label for 2019 Ornellaia Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

The 2019 Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista project includes a label styled by the artists on one of the six 750ml bottles in every case of Ornellaia. As in previous years, the project includes a limited release of 111 large-format bottles (one hundred Jeroboams (3 liter), ten Imperials (6 liter) and one Salmanazar (9 liter) which are numbered and personally signed by the artists. Every year a selection of these bottles is auctioned by Sotheby’s and the profits go to support the Mind’s Eye program at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Ornellaia has raised over two million dollars for the Mind’s Eye program – assisting visitors who are blind or have low vision to experience art by using all the senses.

Rosso – Red Wines

2019 Ornellaia
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Ornellaia “Il Vigore” (translates to Vigor): 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. Ornellaia is historically known to have more plantings of Merlot than other top “Super Tuscan” producers but over the years they have been planting more Cabernet Sauvignon in areas where it will do well and 2019 was a great vintage for the Cabernet Sauvignon, according to Axel. This wine has a nose that sings from the start with notes of violets, rich blackberry and blueberry fruit with spicy and herbal notes intertwined that has a touch of lushness on the mid-palate yet balanced exquisitely by bright acidity and lots of vitality along the fine, silky tannins that has an extraordinarily long length of flavor, finishing with a refined saline mineral note.

2012 Ornellaia “L’Incanto” (translates to Charming): 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot. An enticing nose of cumin and sandalwood with plush red cherry fruit on the palate with dried blueberries balanced by hints of earth displaying muscle in regards to structure yet the texture has a velvety quality.  

2007 Ornellaia “L’Armonia” (translates to Harmony): 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot. Multilayered nose of fresh Mediterranean herbs, black truffles and a mixture of fresh and dried black and blue fruit with seamlessly integrated oak and well integrated tannins; a fine texture with a superb length of flavor on the finish.

Bianco – White Wines

2019 Ornellaia Bianco: 81% Sauvignon Blanc and 19% Viognier. An enchanting nose of crushed stones and citrus blossom with zesty lemon rind on the palate and fierce stony minerality that finishes with ripe white peach and honeysuckle.

2014 Ornellaia Bianco: 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Viognier and 5% Petit Manseng. Richer aromas of baklava and lemon confit with that same intense stony minerality also present in the 2019 with jasmine flower and green mango on the palate and a persistent finish.

Apple Tart with Ornus dell’Ornellaia Cream Paired with 2019 Ornus dell’Ornellaia Dessert Wine Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Dolce – Dessert Wine

2019 Ornus dell’Ornellaia: 100% late-harvest Petit Manseng that was harvested in several pickings – four different times. Candied violet petals, orange marmalade and Earl Grey tea on the nose with a lush mouthfeel that accompanied the decadent flavors of peach pie and drizzled honey balanced by bright acidity.

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The First Chilean Wine Producer To Score 100 Points Releases Over Decade Old Back Vintage

Eduardo Chadwick climbed Ojos del Salado, the highest volcano in the world
Photo Credit: Viñedo Seña

The pounding of his heartbeat was the only thing he could hear as he surveyed the traditional European room accented with crystal chandeliers. For this adventurer who had climbed one of the highest peaks in the Southern Hemisphere, this was the biggest and most thrilling challenge he had ever faced. But as some of the most well-known European wine tasters started to finish up their blind tasting, that tremendous adrenaline rush subsided and an overwhelming panic overtook the adventurous man. Doubt began to creep in and he wondered if he had made the biggest mistake of his life, that would not only affect the image of his wines, but all of the wines produced in Chile.

Eduardo Chadwick, multi-generational Chilean vineyard owner and wine producer, had gathered some of the most prestigious wine professionals in Europe to conduct a blind tasting inspired by the Judgment of Paris blind tasting back in the 1970s, that first brought Napa Valley wines to international fame; but this time it would be Chilean fine wines against some of the top Bordeaux and Super Tuscan wines at an event called the Berlin Tasting, as it took place in Berlin, Germany.

Seña Wines with Dirt
Photo Credit: Viña Seña

Eduardo had already traveled the world several times, evangelizing Chile’s fine wine potential, especially his beloved Aconcagua wine region. But unfortunately, Chile’s “short international history” and its image as a producer of “value wines” made it impossible for critics and key players in the wine industry to take his fine wine claims seriously. Today, Chile’s diverse topography is undoubtedly much better known as it is a long country that is very narrow and travelers who have taken the journey from North to South have experienced its extreme diversity with places such as the Atacama Desert to central coast Chile to the Patagonia Icefield.

But that day, on January 23rd, 2004, when the Berlin Tasting took place, was Eduardo’s last chance to prove that Chilean Bordeaux-blends could make wines that would rival some of their best counterparts in the world. He placed three of his top wines in the lineup and although there was no other Chilean wine producer’s reputation on the line to worry about, he knew that, for better or for worse, Chile as a whole winemaking country would be judged that day. But he felt that he was given no other choice as every door for acceptance had been slammed in his face and either Chile resigned themselves as a country that would never be allowed within the fine wine world or they would fight to the very end.

Eduardo Chadwick and Steven Spurrier at one of the blind tastings
Photo Credit: Viñedo Seña

Eduardo was just hoping that all three of his wines wouldn’t end up at the end once the scores were tallied; if only one could make it in the top five, it would perhaps start to open minds in regards to wines from Chile. As the list of the top ten wines was read, starting from the bottom and working its way to the top, his 2001 Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve was announced at ninth place, and although it was better than last place, there was still a sense of disappointment if that was it for Chile. Then his 2000 Viña Seña was announced at fourth place, tied with 2001 Château Margaux and Eduardo started to relax as it proved Chilean wines could go toe to toe with the greatest of the greats. Third place belonged to 2000 Château Lafite-Rothschild, which was no surprise, but then, second place was given to 2001 Viña Seña, and if that didn’t already catch the room filled with wine luminaries off guard, first place would be a complete shock – Viñedo Chadwick, the wine that honors Eduardo’s father. At first, there was “complete silence,” according to Eduardo, that then turned to murmuring followed by a “long, hard round of applause.” He was beside himself in “disbelief,” and if he was dreaming, he certainly didn’t want anyone to wake him.

Although Eduardo is a part of a multi-generational family of vintners in Chile, with his great-great uncle pioneering the Aconcagua wine region as far back as the 1870s, it was the wineries that he started, Viña Seña (a.k.a Seña) and Viñedo Chadwick, that would go on to make history. Viñedo Chadwick became the first Chilean wine awarded 100 points by James Suckling (for the 2014 vintage) and it would make history again by receiving 100 points for the 2017 vintage as well. His beloved Seña, which he started in partnership with Robert Mondavi back in 1995, who significantly influenced him, received 100 points for the 2015 vintage. 

Chile’s First Iconic Wine

Perseverance is certainly in Eduardo’s DNA as during the land reform that took place from 1962 to 1973, the land was confiscated from some of the largest estates, and 1,174 acres (475 hectares) were taken away from the Chadwick Errázuriz family estate, leaving them with only 62 acres (25 hectares). Eduardo’s father eventually bought back their old winery in 1983, Viña Errazuriz, and Eduardo took the opportunity to study vineyards and winemaking in-depth in Bordeaux. The family spent the next 30 years buying back land and replanting new vineyards that would produce high-quality grapes.

Robert Mondavi and Eduardo Chadwick
Photo Credit: Viñedo Seña

The legendary Robert Mondavi decided to first visit Chile in 1991 and Eduardo Chadwick was chosen to be his driver; during the visit, Mondavi realized he saw himself in Eduardo. Together they formed a partnership to start a project that would produce Chile’s first iconic wine to help the country gain respect in the wider wine world and hence, Seña became a reality in 1995. They would spend four years looking for the ideal location for Seña’s vineyard, which ended up on the hillside in an area called Ocoa, in the Aconcagua Valley, only 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean; the Mediterranean climate allows for grapes to fully ripen yet the cool nights, averaging 66 Fahrenheit at night during the growing season, would help to retain acidity and delicate aromatics. 

The Seña vineyard is protected by a ravine and steep mountains
Photo Credit: Viñedo Seña

Just like Mondavi’s unwavering belief in Napa Valley wines, he also believed that Chile’s Aconcagua wine region had the same potential. The Chadwick family had the means and the resources to make a great wine in some of the exceptional vineyards in Chile. Still, just as important, it would take a strong personality with a fierce tenacity at his core to constantly face the snickering, patronizing comments, sneers and the worst of them, most of the time just being completely ignored. Mondavi had been there, as even with the fanfare over the Judgment of Paris it still took decades to get people outside of California to take the wines seriously when they were compared to their European counterparts; in Eduardo, he saw such tenacity.  

Even with Eduardo and his family as the sole owners of Viña Seña, he still feels the pioneering spirit of Mondavi with him, that American spirit that not only applies to the U.S. but to South America as well. And so he has been a relentless advocate for Chilean wines, just like Mondavi was for Napa, traveling the world and organizing blind tastings. 

Ability to Age 

Magui Chadwick
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

But Eduardo took it a step further as he knew that the ability to age with grace was a key marker for a high-quality fine wine; so he again traveled the world, conducting blind tastings, but this time it was with back vintages of Seña against the same vintages of some of the most prestigious wines in the world. And not only did a Seña always come in first place, but many times various Seña vintages would take the top three. And he knows that the work is far from over, and happily, he can hand over his wineries and the special Seña project to his four daughters. One of them, Magui Chadwick, leads the way as marketing director to the two iconic estates of Seña and Viñedo Chadwick. 

Now Magui is organizing events that celebrate the 2019 Seña that has been released in unique packaging to celebrate its 25th anniversary and Magui designed the label as well as being part of deciding the final blend with her father and their longtime team who have been there from Seña’s inception. 

Eduardo and Magui Chadwick
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Magui has also decided to offer a 2009 library release to the market that has a unique label and it is packaged within a wooden collector’s box at a suggested retail price of only $150, continuing her father’s evangelizing of Chilean fine wines by allowing the fine wine drinkers of the world to decide for themselves.   

Eduardo understood early on that the fight to gain respect for fine wines from Chile would be a long battle that would have no end. Eduardo is thrilled to hand the reins over to his daughters as he knows that the only way the wines of Chile will be able to evolve is if they are led by young leaders that have a fierce fire within them, such as he had in his youth.

Bringing Your Own Chair

Eduardo Chadwick
Photo Credit: Viñedo Seña

And he speaks about Mondavi still today as an extraordinary example of answering an impossible question: how does one get a seat at the table when the hierarchy hasn’t given you an invitation? Mondavi brought his own folding chair to the table, took his seat proudly and defiantly and kept showing up until Napa received the respect it deserved. Many would try to dissuade Mondavi by calling him arrogant due to his nerve in talking about the greatness of Napa Valley wines when it was only the hierarchy’s place to do so. Passage of time always gives perspective and not only was he right in his statements about Napa but he opened the door to the idea that greatness is not only a privilege for those that were born into it but it was everyone’s right as long as they did the tremendous amount of work and they consistently over-delivered. That is not arrogance but simply justice.

And so, Eduardo sought out his justice; justice for the Aconcagua wine region, justice for Chilean wines and justice for the other America – South America. And it all started with that first leap at the Judgment of Berlin, not knowing his fate, Chile’s fate, still deciding that it was better to risk a humiliating modest showing, that would at least result in the knowledge that Chile is striving to make fine wines, rather than to give up on the notion of Chilean fine wines completely. In the end, it turned out better than he could have hoped and since that time, he has only continued to amaze famous personalities and connoisseurs in the wine world.

Eduardo brought his folding chair and set up his own seat at the table and he not only challenged misconceptions, but he blew them out of the water. He is confident that his daughters will crush those misconceptions in the future and bring Chile’s first iconic wine to the next level.

***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/08/03/the-first-chilean-wine-producer-to-score-100-points-releases-over-decade-old-back-vintage/

2019 Seña and packaging
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Seña hillside vineyard employs biodynamic farming practices for 100% of its vines. 

Seña lineup
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

1996 Seña, Aconcagua, Chile: 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Carménère (Carménère was initially planted in Bordeaux and brought to Chile, but it has found its home there). 1996 was the first vintage they released onto the more extensive market as the first vintage they produced was 1995. Tim Mondavi (Robert’s son) wanted to pick the grapes earlier, so the wine has marked acidity, which still gives it lots of vitality and this vintage is considered the “old style” of Seña, according to Eduardo. Smoldering sandalwood incense with still fresh fruit such as red raspberries and black cherries with fine tannins and mouthwatering acidity.

2005 Seña, Aconcagua, Chile: 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 9% Carménère, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. Once the Robert Mondavi family sold their wineries to Constellation in 2004, Eduardo bought the remaining 50% share from Robert so he and his family would own 100% of Seña. And so the 2005 vintage starts a new era by trying to find more balance of ripeness that includes the skins and seeds of the grapes as well as the sugar levels, retaining acidity and deep concentration. It has a very pretty floral nose with violets enhanced by baking spices and juicy blackberry fruit on the palate with complex notes of espresso and earth that has well-manicured broad tannins.

2009 Seña, Aconcagua, Chile: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Carménère, 16% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. 2009 was a “warm and ripe vintage,” according to Eduardo, and it shows itself with a delicious rich cassis flavor balanced by notes of broken earth and graphite that still has an intense focus with wonderfully silky tannins. 

2015 Seña, Aconcagua, Chile: 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Carmenere, 12% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc. The 2015 Seña was awarded 100 points. Eduardo notes that the growing conditions in 2015 were “perfect” as it wasn’t too hot or too cold and he loves the balance of this wine. A very expressive wine with spring flowers, new leather, stony minerality and pristine red and black fruit that has tremendous vitality on the palate with lots of finesse along the extraordinarily long finish. 

2017 Seña, Aconcagua, Chile: 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 15% Carmenère, 10% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot. Eduardo addressed the horrible fires in Chile in 2017, as many of the wine reports made it seem as if all of Chile was on fire, and he wanted to make it clear that Seña’s vineyard was not affected. And the proof is in the wine bottle in this case. Delicate mineral and floral aromatics with blueberry cobbler flavors and hints of underbrush notes with deeply etched tannins giving structure and lift to this wine. 

2019 Seña, Aconcagua, Chile: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Malbec, 15% Carmenere and 4% Petit Verdot. 2019 represents the 25th anniversary of Seña and the bottle has a special packaging. The 2019 vintage was warm, so it is considered to be between 2015 and 2017 in terms of climatic conditions. A stunning harmonious wine with enticing aromas of citrus blossom, jasmine and blackberry pie with hints of cigar box with silky texture and good weight on the mid-palate balanced by bright acidity along the flavorful and outright delectable finish.

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Wine Producer Who Put Ultra-Premium Rosé On The Map Is Now Taking Another Leap For Terroir Expression

The smell of lavender filled the air while an enchanting scene was created by the purple flower spikes accenting tops of green foliage planted throughout the land. The sun, with its golden beams, gave everything a divine light so the olive and mulberry trees glowed and the landscape was further enhanced by the red clay soil adorned with limestone rocks and broken gravel. As shown in the paintings of the greats like Paul Cézanne, Provence, in southeastern France, was stunningly magnificent and even standing there in person, Marcel Ott still couldn’t believe what he was seeing with his own eyes. The picturesque scene was not only unbelievable for its sheer beauty but the fact that many owners were giving the land away almost for free was even more shocking. It seems impossible today that a piece of this French Mediterranean paradise could have been bought for so little, as it is known so well today with many people desperately wanting to win the lottery so they could have their slice of Provence heaven.

Domaines Ott, Château Romassan Rosé bottle
Photo Credit: Stanislas Desjeux

In 1896, Marcel Ott had just graduated from an agronomy engineering program in the northeastern French region of Alsace, which borders Switzerland and Germany, so he traveled around France to check out the vineyards in various wine regions. Phylloxera, an insect pest, had already devastated much of Europe, so much so that it is estimated that phylloxera cost France 10 billion francs (back in 1870’s money!). For over a decade, no solution to fix the phylloxera issue could be found and as one can imagine, having one of the most critical sectors of a country’s economy, growing grapes and making wine, taken away with no hope in sight was terrifying. By the end of the 1800s, a solution seemed to be found however, yet it was still risky considering that it would take time to see if phylloxera could truly be defeated, or perhaps another incurable blight could wreak havoc on the vines in the near future.

But Marcel took that gamble and bought his family’s first estate, Château de Selle, in 1912 in the Côtes de Provence, with a mission to elevate rosé wine to an ultra-premium category that would show how this style could express the captivating terroir of Provence. Eventually, his family wines, Domaines Ott, would become world-renowned and open the door for many other premium rosé wines.

Domaines Ott 

Over a century later, Marcel’s great-grandson, fourth-generation winemaker Jean-François Ott, oversees their estates and ensures his great-grandfather’s high standard for Provence rosé wines continues to live on with Domaines Ott. The bad image that still lingers on about rosé frustrates Jean-François, such as the misnomer that rosé cannot age, and when the subject is raised, he quickly replies to this misconception by simply saying, “No, a bad wine cannot age.”  

Three different soils of the three Domaines Ott estates
Photo Credit: Stanislas Desjeux

One of the things that created a cult following for Domaines Ott rosé wines among fine wine enthusiasts was their ability to express three distinctive terroirs in Provence. The first estate acquired by Marcel was Château de Selle, located in the appellation (designated wine area) called Côtes de Provence, which is situated on high limestone inland slopes with mild winters and dry summers with lots of sunshine. The second, which Marcel and his son acquired in the 1930s, Clos Mireille, also in the Côtes de Provence, overlooks the Mediterranean with the vineyards cooled by the sea’s spray but then warmed by the hillside air. Finally, in 1956, the last estate was acquired in another appellation of Provence called Bandol AOC – less than an hour west of Clos Mireille, named Château Romassan; the wine area of Bandol is unique as it is known for great red wines made mainly from the powerful Mourvèdre red grape variety. Clos Mireille is located in the heart of Bandol, where Mourvèdre does well in the poor, limestone soils that enjoy the extremely dry climate and abundance of sunshine – Bandol is one of the sunniest places in Provence.

Domaines Ott makes an ultra-premium rosé wine from each of these estates, which are bottled separately, to showcase the sense of place of each individual terroir and to display the fine wine ability of Provence rosés. But they also make a small amount of red wine from the Château Romassan and Château de Selle estates as well as a small amount of white wine from the Clos Mireille estate. 

Jean-François Ott says that it was a battle through the decades to get people to take rosé wine seriously, and even now, despite the overwhelming popularity of anything pink, he feels in some ways, the popularity itself has hurt the image as the market is mainly saturated with easy to drink, simple rosé wines that limit its image as being a non-serious libation that is best enjoyed when one doesn’t want to overthink what she is drinking. There is undoubtedly a time and place for such wines, but Jean-François is afraid that with its popularity, the idea that there are some rosé wines that are ideal for pairing with an exquisite meal, or ones that can show an incredible depth of complexity after being laid down to cellar, will be lost among the overall rosé wine trend that has been taking the world by storm. 

But today, Jean-François is highlighting their commitment to illustrating the high-quality potential of Provence rosé with the stricter selection of their Étoile bottling. 

Étoile Rosé 

2020 Domaines Ott, Étoile Rosé Photo Credit: Stanislas Desjeux

It was important to Jean-François’s great-grandfather to show the world the profound sense of beauty of Provence by capturing the different appellation terroir expressions from three different estates. He also had a vision of giving a sense of the stunning coastline by creating a bottle with curves that Provence itself inspired. Eventually, in the 1930s, Jean-François’s grandfather René Ott settled on the final shape, inspired by ancient Roman amphorae, which were tall, oval-shaped vessels with a narrow cylindrical neck. The shape of the Ott bottle is patented, but other Provence rosé producers have found a way to design a somewhat similar bottle that hints at the Domaines Ott bottle without infringing on the patent. It is still remarkable to think that one of the most iconic wine bottles did not come from a savvy marketing team, but instead, a small multi-generational producer who put everything on the line to bring respect to an underappreciated wine.

And Jean-François has stayed true to his paternal lineage, who has gifted him with some of the most outstanding rosé wines in the world, by keeping the bottle shape, keeping the individual bottlings of each estate and continuing the mission to always seek improvement in the winery and the vineyards by bringing more precision and clarity to the terroir expression.

And so, in 2019, a bottling that blended the portions from each of the three estates was released under the name Étoile which means “star” in French. “My family used to make this cuvée but only for ourselves,” Jean-François noted and he thought the time was right to show the next level of Provence rosé. The Étoile bottling expresses a “deep taste and silky texture” that is balanced by freshness and purity of fruit expression and it brings together all the best attributes of each estate together giving a complete picture of Provence, the place that captivated his great-grandfather all those years ago.

Clos Mireille Estate
Photo Credit: Domaines Ott

But honoring his lineage goes beyond just keeping the high standards that were first established, he is also determined to continue to push the envelope to keep raising the bar, even if it is by unconventional means. There is nothing odd about some of the changes, including starting the organic certification process (they will be officially certified organic for the 2022 vintage despite already being organic in practice) and aging in spherical ceramic vats for some of the wine for the Étoile bottling as it brings out more “aromatic precision” according to Jean-François. But he is conducting an unorthodox experiment in the vineyards by planting the Italian noble red grape variety Sangiovese on their estates in Provence, France, as he feels that maybe in 15 years it could be needed with rising temperatures due to climate change but time will tell if he does indeed use it in Domaines Ott rosé wines.

Through it all, he still keeps alive what has always been the most important thing to his family: the vineyards. “We spend 600 hours every year per hectare [2.5 acres] working outside,” and the quality comes “100% from the grapes,” noted Jean-François.

A Star Rooted in Humble Beginnings 

One could only imagine what Marcel Ott was thinking long ago as a young student risking it all to invest in land that seemed worthless at the time. Did he have any inkling that he would establish one of the greatest rosé wines in the world that was perfectly contained by one of the most iconic bottles in the world? Or was he just taken by the place, knowing he could end up penniless? Even if the French wine industry died at the hands of phylloxera, at least he lived in the closest thing that he could imagine to be heaven.

The one thing that is for certain is that an idealistic young man from humble beginnings was able to break barriers beyond anyone else’s imagination, and today, his high-quality rosé dream has become a standard that many other Provence rosé producers try to live up to yet still none are able to surpass.

Ott bottles that go back to the early 1900s
Photo Credit: Domaines Ott
2020 Domaines Ott, Étoile Rosé Photo Credit: Stanislas Desjeux

2020 Domaines Ott, Étoile Rosé, Vin de France, France: Étoile 2020 is the second vintage of Étoile as 2019 was the inaugural vintage. A blend of 80% Grenache (from Château de Selle and Clos Mireille) and 20% Mourvèdre (Château Romassan). This wine greets the taster with generosity and includes enchanting floral notes of citrus blossom and lavender that has ripe strawberries on the palate with zingy grapefruit and intense stony minerality with marked acidity along the superb length of flavor.

2021 Domaines Ott, Château de Selle, Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France: 55% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, and 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Syrah. At first it invites with savory notes of fresh thyme and rosemary that has mouthwatering acidity on the palate with lemon zest and quince flavors that finishes with wet stones and lots of energy.

2021 Domaines Ott, Clos Mireille, Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France: 70% Grenache, 25% Cinsault and 5% Syrah. A thrilling saline minerality from the first sip with bright acidity balancing the creamy texture with green mango and white peach flavors that has hints of desert scrub, finishing with seashell notes.

2021 Domaines Ott, Château Romassan, Rosé, Bandol, France: 55% Mourvèdre, 30% Cinsault and 15% Grenache. Cherry blossoms and raspberries on the nose intertwined with crushed stones that has a silky texture on the palate with a good amount of flesh mid-palate and has hints of anise on the finish.

2018 Domaines Ott, Clos Mireille, Blanc, Côtes de Provence, France: Blend of Sémillon and Rolle (Vermentino). Oyster shell, sea salt and lemon confit with honeysuckle in the background that evolves with savory notes on the palate such as bay leaf and a hint of white pepper with a creamy texture.

2017 Domaines Ott, Château Romassan, Rouge, Bandol, France: 90% Mourvèdre and 10% Grenache. Multi-layered fruit with black, blue and red berries that are enhanced by chili powder and smoked paprika notes that are grounded in smoldering earth with broad-shouldered tannins, which are well tamed and silky in quality, that are balanced by plush fruit finishing with power and delicious decadence.

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Woman From India Leads As Winemaker At Beloved Napa Winery To Build A Better Tomorrow After Tragedy

As the terrifying words and shocking photos showing fierce fires destroying thousands of acres of land flooded social media, it was hard to not feel helpless. The over 50 mph winds assisted the fire in covering so much ground in such a short time that people who thought they were out of harm’s way would quickly realize within the same hour that they needed to evacuate as soon as possible. The direction of the wind changed constantly making it impossible for anyone within Napa Valley and Sonoma County to know if they were truly safe, as fleeing one’s home had many downsides since temporarily living in a crowded community center seemed to be a torturous alternative, or much worse, one could accidentally drive into the heart of one of the fast and furious fires, trapped with no way out.

Many living outside of northern California stayed glued to the internet to see if friends or colleagues in the wine industry were doing okay. All the messages, photos and videos on social media platforms created a chaotic storyline of everything seeming to be destroyed. Several wineries were listed as being damaged, or in some cases, burning to the ground but most of it was misinformation causing unnecessary nervous breakdowns for the owners. Tons of winery owners took to Facebook to inform people that the damage reports were untrue. So many devoted Napa wine customers demanded pictures showing wineries had indeed burned down if anyone dared even to mention that such a thing happened.

Signorello Estate patio overlooking the vineyards Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

It seemed like all the wineries would luckily emerge unscathed from the horrific 2017 fires but then all of a sudden many posts started to talk about the great historic winery of Signorello Estate. As more and more shared on the internet that they had heard rumors about the winery burning to the ground, there was a backlash of people demanding to see a photo before such rumors were posted… and then there it was… a photo of Signorello engulfed in flames. A place that had many precious memories for people as Signorello was one of the first Napa Valley wineries, located along the Silverado Trail, with a professional kitchen and full-time chef to create magical wine and food pairing experiences, and so, many of their customers have had beautiful memories on their Italian Terrazzo-style patio overlooking the valley.

In the middle of the night, Signorello’s longtime winemaker, who had been with them for 20 years, Pierre Birebent, saw the buildings burn down with his own eyes. He went there with one of his guys, trying to put out the intense inferno until he was forced to leave as he gagged from the black smoke. Just a month after this terrible event, Pierre seemed like a broken man speaking about the experience at a conference and despite the family owner, Ray Signorello Jr., being adamant about the fact that they would rebuild, Pierre seemed less sure of how they could go on.  

Priyanka Dhar French

Ray Signorello Jr.
Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

Pierre ended up retiring, which is more than understandable, and so Ray Jr. was on a mission to find a winemaker who would not only help rebuild Signorello but take this opportunity to make it even better. The property was initially built in the 1970s as a retirement home for Ray Sr. and his wife, and then when Ray Jr. came on board and realized that top wineries highly prized their vineyards, he saw that they had the rare opportunity to make stellar Napa wine. Significant advancements had also been made in understanding vineyards’ soil and the best way to build state-of-the-art wineries and cellars, and so in some ways, he thought he was given a gift to redo things the right way.

Priyanka Dhar French
Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

Ray Jr. was able to find a rising Napa star, Priyanka Dhar French, who is a fierce champion of diversity in the wine industry – she is one of the youngest female winemakers to lead a Napa winery as well as one of just a handful of Indian winemakers in California. She has worked at such stellar wineries in California as Louis M. Martini, Stags’ Leap and Dalla Valle, and gained more international experience in New Zealand and the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy.

Priyanka was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and her parents, both of whom are scientists, thought that she would become a scientist like themselves or at least a doctor or a lawyer. She received her undergraduate degree in food science, which would have been an acceptable career choice to her parents but the idea of working at a factory that was all about creating a formula that would just be churned out did not sit well with Priyanka as she also has a creative side. One day she went out to Sula Vineyards, one of the most prominent wineries in India, and as she sat in the tasting room, sipping wine and overlooking the vineyards, she said to herself, “Oh my god, this is the life.” She reached out to an uncle, a food and beverage director, about her idea of working in wine and he immediately told her to do it. He also encouraged her to get her Master’s degree in enology at U.C. Davis in California.

At first, the wine career path she chose was not so easy to understand from her parents’ point of view. Despite her talking about getting a Master’s degree in winemaking for over a year, once she announced she was accepted into the program, they responded that they thought she was joking. Her father used to joke that he would love to go into wine once he retires as he could not imagine it as a real job. But eventually, she won them over when her father came out to California to visit one of the wineries where she worked and he saw the lab, the winery, the cellar and the vineyards – that it was a tremendous amount of work to make great wine. After the visit, he called up the family back in Mumbai and said that her job was a “real thing,” and today, he gets to witness his daughter becoming one of the rising stars of the wine world.

The Future for Signorello Estate

Since Signorello’s backup drive for their computer burned in the fire, they were left with none of the data recorded over the years. Priyanka made sure to spend as much time with Pierre in the winery and vineyards, before his retirement, as she wanted to write down everything important. Also, Signorello’s vineyard foreman Carlos, who has been overseeing the vineyards for 36 years, is a great help to Priyanka every day.

When Priyanka had her first meaningful conversation with owner Ray Jr., the idea of elevating their practices to achieve even a greater level of winemaking and setting up a solid business that would survive for several generations was of the utmost importance. So Priyanka recommended bringing on two legends of the industry to help consult in overseeing the vineyards and building a new winery, consulting director of winemaking Celia Welsh and viticulturalist Steve Matthiasson. They started to dig several soil pits to understand the many layers underground that affect the vines in various places of the vineyard, as well as Steve creating a sustainable and regenerative environment that includes laying down some of the foundations for a potential carbon capture program that will be implemented once an economically feasible way is discovered so low-margin businesses such as wineries can implement such programs.

Signorello Estate Winery sign
Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

When it comes to the new winery and cellar, they have planned to build 18,000 feet of caves into the hillside on the estate that will act as a cellar for storing barrels and include some of the winemaking processes. Only non-flammable material is being used, such as concrete and glass, to build the structures, and there will be a huge high-pressure sprinkler pump that can either push out water or specific, fire-retardant chemicals. All entrances will be double sealed, and vents will be installed with special filters that will trap volatile compounds related to smoke. A full-time generator and fire pump will be on-site, and even if the winery doesn’t need it, the fire pump’s water source will be available to firefighters who may need to tap into it to save other properties.

Priyanka is extremely excited to get the opportunity to not only lead a great Napa winery into a better future but also to be given a chance to truly know the property from the bottom up as Signorello is starting from scratch – except when it comes to their vineyards as those were never damaged in the fire.

Tragedies Bring Out the True Character of Someone 

Hands filled with Signorello soil
Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

The 2017 fires not only destroyed a lot of homes and land but it also dampened the spirits of several residents, many still trying to recover from such traumatic experiences. Ray Jr. has another home in Canada and once he found out that his winery was burning down, he made sure he was there the next day. The area was evacuated and no one outside of first responders or media was allowed, so Ray Jr. joined a national TV news crew to visit his property; the structure was completely destroyed but the wine was safe within the sealed stainless steel tanks. 

At that moment, the cameras were rolling and could capture Ray’s reaction when he first saw his parents’ beloved dream burned to the ground. He immediately expressed gratitude that no one was hurt and when he saw the vineyards were untouched, he proclaimed at that moment that he would rebuild. Priyanka, who was working at Dalla Valle, said seeing Ray on the news was one of the most powerful memories she has from that time because while so many around her were getting pulled down into the darkness, here was a man who had lost so much, and within seconds of seeing the tremendous devastation, expressed grace rooted in a determination for a better future. And now she gets to be part of making that better future come true.

2019 Signorello Estate ‘Padrone’ Cabernet Sauvignon & 2019 Signorello Estate ‘S’
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
2019 Signorello Estate’ Hope’s Cuvée’
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Signorello Estate’ Hope’s Cuvée’ Chardonnay, Napa Valley: Estate-grown Chardonnay fruit and unfiltered wine. The Chardonnay come from a part of the vineyard where the vines were planted in 1980, and it is a single estate block wine. It is an emotional bottle for Ray Jr. as Hope Signorello was Ray’s mother, and she is why they ended up in Napa, but unfortunately, she passed away pretty early on and she didn’t see the growth of this winery and where it ended up. And so, when she passed away, Ray Sr. and Ray Jr. named this wine Hope’s Cuvée as an homage to her. An enchanting nose with orange blossom, white flowers and stony minerality with rich lemon curd flavors on the palate and a beautifully textured wine that finishes with uplifting acidity. Only around 400 to 450 cases are made of this cuvée. $98

2019 Signorello Estate’ S’
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Signorello Estate S Napa Valley: S comes from a selection of acclaimed vineyard sites beyond the Signorello Estate vineyards and Ray Jr. describes it as a “modern, opulently styled Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon”. 2019 is the inaugural vintage of S Cabernet Sauvignon. 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot with fruit sourced from St. Helena, Rutherford and Howell Mountain, all farmed organically. Enticing nose with notes of black tea, blackberry liqueur and savory spices with hints of licorice and dark chocolate on the palate with juicy black cherries and broad yet silky tannins that give it power and elegance. $75

2019 Signorello Estate, ‘Padrone’
Cabernet Sauvignon
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Signorello Estate, Padrone, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: Estate-grown fruit and unfiltered wine. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 3% Malbec. Complex nose of black truffles, espresso and granite balanced by rich cassis aromas that has a mixture of freshly picked fruit combined with more mature fruit flavors that has hints of cigar box and lavender dancing in the background. $175

Ray Jr. has come out with an affordable Cabernet Sauvignon called ‘Edge’ and it is sourced from premium vineyards in Alexander Valley, an appellation in Sonoma County that is known for its high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon. The price is $25.

2018 Edge,
Cabernet Sauvignon
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

2018 Edge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County: 91% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Petite Sirah. Really impressive wine considering the price point! Freshly grated nutmeg on the nose and hints of crushed rocks with fine tannins along the palate with cocoa dust and blueberry preserves expressed on the sustained finish. $25

2020 TRIM
Cabernet Sauvignon
Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

Also, it was just announced that Ray Jr. is introducing new labels for his entry-level TRIM Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay-focused wines. The new labels debut with the 2020 TRIM Cabernet and the 2021 Chardonnay bottlings and highlight nutrition information and an ingredient list on the back labels. Both wines will be released late-June 2022 and are priced at $12.99 a bottle.

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The Wine Area In California With The Most Old Vines Makes Concentrated Reds But Also Unique White Wines

After a particularly grueling work trip of traveling through ten countries in ten days, Rodney Tipton told his wife that during the few minutes of downtime, he had the chance to listen to the song “Acquiesce” from singer K.D. Lang and that it inspired him to one day have a property and call it Acquiesce. His wife, Susan, asked where this property would be and he replied, “I don’t know, but we’ll be surrounded by land, watch the sunrise and sunset and we’ll be very happy there.”    

Susan and Rodney had paid more than their fair share of dues after several years of working in the corporate world and raising three boys while having to relocate to five different states. They lived in Europe for a time and Susan fell in love with white Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, although Châteauneuf-du-Pape has always been known for their red wines. And so, she thought their Acquiesce dream of finding a piece of paradise could also include growing grapes and making wine.

They ended up in Lodi, California, with its long grape-growing history – the first vineyard planted in 1850. Just like the region where Châteauneuf-du-Pape is tucked away, in the Southern Rhône in France, both places generally have a Mediterranean climate with warm days and cool nights. Still, there are differences within the sub-regions of Lodi as well. Lodi’s most famous sub-region is called Mokelumne River and has a cooler climate moderated by delta breezes; Mokelumne River AVA (American Viticultural Area) is where the Tiptons established their Acquiesce winegrowing and winemaking estate. 

Lodi Wine Region 

Lodi The definitive guide and history of America’s largest winegrowing region by Randy Caparoso
Photo Credit:Cathrine Todd

Lodi is nestled between the inland ports of Sacramento and Stockton and lies just east of San Francisco. As temperatures rise in the valleys, cool air comes from the San Francisco Bay, the delta region, creating a very distinctive climate for Lodi. And despite Lodi making their name as a red wine region, as they have the highest concentration of old vines in the U.S. with red grape varieties such as Carignan, Cinsault and Zinfandel, the several pockets of micro-climates as well as a diverse array of soils surprisingly has made Lodi a region that can grow a plethora of grape varieties with over 125 currently in production.

To delve more into Lodi, an extraordinary book has just been released that goes into depth about every aspect of this wine region. Lodi!: The definitive guide and history of America’s largest winegrowing region by Randy Caparoso is the reference book that Lodi has always needed and Randy, with his extraordinary photography, brings the region to life. Randy actually moved to Lodi in 2010 when he was invited to help the Lodi Winegrape Commission with its social media and blog pages. So Lodi has been part of the air he breathes every day for over a decade. As a very talented writer and well experienced wine professional, he does justice to many of these multi-generational growers in this gorgeous book.

But when Susan and Rodney Tipton wanted to plant unconventional white grapes from Southern France such as Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc, Viognier and Roussanne back in the early 2000s, it was shocking because it was before Lodi became the wonderful wine region for its wealth of grape diversity. But Lodi farmers turned vineyard management company, Round Valley Ranches, were completely game when it came to helping the Tiptons work with these obscure varieties. It became an exciting journey for both that has contributed to Lodi becoming one of the country’s most exciting grape-growing regions. 

Old Vines

Vineyards in Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi
Photo Credit: Russo Photography via
Lodi Winegrape Commission

Stuart Spencer, executive director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and winemaker and co-proprietor of St. Amant Winery, said they see many younger, talented winemakers who have full-time jobs at large wineries source grapes from Lodi for their personal passion project. The combination of unusual varieties, old vines and a relatively low price point are all factors that are extremely attractive to those who want to make great wine without having to answer to a corporation that is financially bankrolling a wine project. Lodi is also attracting legendary people in the wine business because of the treasures of old vines in their vineyards; Greg La Follette is one such person.

Nicknamed the “vine whisperer”, Greg has had a long history of helping to make high-quality wines starting with his mentorship under André Tchelistcheff, considered the godfather of California winemakers, at Napa’s Beaulieu Vineyards. Greg had an impressive education in Plant Biology and Chemistry as well as Food Science and Technology, but André taught Greg the “heart and soul” of wine. For the next 24 years, he worked with wine producers all over the U.S. as well as the world until he eventually started his award-winning project in California, focusing on single-vineyard wines, La Follette Wines, and then after that, he started another project called Marchelle Wines, focusing on old vines, and that is where Greg connected to Lodi.

Vineyards in Mokelumne River
Photo Credit: Russo Photography via Lodi Winegrape Commission

The Marchelle bottling of ‘Old Vine Red’ comes from 120-year-old vines in Lodi. Over time, it has become vital for the Lodi Winegrape Commission to connect people like Greg to Lodi’s old vine vineyards because if they can’t find people who appreciate these vineyards and pay a little more for these grapes, the vineyards will not survive. However, even with a wine made from 120-year-old vines, the price of Marchelle’s wine is still criminally low at only $36, as Lodi doesn’t have the same name recognition and pricing power as other California wine regions. But Lodi is used to being underappreciated; for years, big wine companies in other regions that are much more highly regarded have been blending Lodi grapes into their high priced wines – it is part of how Lodi grape growers have been making a living. But, hopefully, with new interest from talented wine producers who use 100% Lodi grapes and proudly place Lodi on the label, things will change.

Outsiders are not the only ones keeping these old vines alive as there have been locals who have been champions of these vines for a long time. Wine producer Klinker Brick Winery, run by Steve and Lori Felten, fifth-generation Lodi grape growers, are protectors of old vine Zinfandels that their ancestors planted back in the early 1900s. They have been guarding and managing their ancestors’ old vines as well as buying other old vine vineyards in Lodi as they know they are at risk.

Increasing the Diversity

Susan Tipton
Photo Credit: Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards

All those years ago, when Rodney talked to his wife Susan about their Acquiesce dream property, they could never imagine that they would become wine producers making only white wines from obscure white grape varieties in a red wine region. Susan has become quite the respected winemaker in her own right and their Acquiesce wines have opened the door to unlock a greater potential for the Lodi wine region. On top of that, they have been at the forefront of supporting organizations that increase diversity in the Lodi wine industry, so underrepresented minorities are provided financial support for education and resources for job placement.

The word “Acquiesce” means to surrender, to become quiet. And that is precisely what the Tiptons do, surrender to the vines and the world around them, where they can enjoy an inner silence that reveals to them what the vines are saying but also what people from all walks of life need. In a way, their Acquiesce dream has laid the groundwork for Lodi to take the region to the next level.

***Link to original article published in Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/06/26/the-wine-area-in-california-with-the-most-old-vines-makes-concentrated-reds-but-also-unique-white-wines/

Acquiesce lineup of wines Photo Credit: Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards
Acquiesce lineup of wines Photo Credit: Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards

All of the three wines below come from the Mokelumne River AVA; below is a bit of information about this sub-region taken from Randy Caparoso’s book:

“The sandy component of the Mokelumne River area’s Tokay and Acampo soil series allows for ideal drainage, vine health, and naturally moderated grape yields. Since sand is one of the few mediums in which the root louse phylloxera is unable to proliferate, there are several thousand acres of ungrafted, healthy old vine plantings in the Mokelumne River appellation.”- excerpt from the book Lodi!: The definitive guide and history of America’s largest winegrowing region by Randy Caparoso

2020 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards ‘Ingénue’ Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards ‘Ingénue’ Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, California: A blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc and Picpoul Blanc from estate fruit. A lovely floral nose with white peach flavors and hints of dried apricots with good weight on the body and a zingy citrus zest finish. $36

2019 Marchelle Wines ‘Old Vine Red’
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

2019 Marchelle Wines ‘Old Vine Red’ Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, California: 47% Carignan, 30% Cinsaut (a.k.a. Cinsault) and 23% Zinfandel from old vines in the Royal Tee Vineyard, the Bechthold Vineyard and from Spenker Ranch (120-year-old vines). This wine has so much vitality to it as well as a deep concentration with notes of baking spices, crushed rocks and tobacco leaf with juicy red cherry fruit on the palate with a long, expressive finish. $36

2019 Klinker Brick Winery, Marisa Vineyard, Mokelumne River AVA, Lodi, California: 94-year-old Zinfandel from the single vineyard called Marisa. A full-bodied, opulent wine that has plenty of verve to balance it out with rich blueberry pie flavors and notes of black pepper and gravel with soft tannins and a long flavorful finish. $28

2019 Klinker Brick Winery, Marisa Vineyard
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
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Spanish Premium Wine Region Commits To 100% Tempranillo Wines

The kitchen in the Sanz home

The incredible smells of thick steaks cooking over a wood fire fueled by grapevines encourage drool to form at the guests’ mouths as they eagerly wait in anticipation for a meal of a lifetime. The large centuries-old kitchen had festive Spanish music playing in the background as the multi-course meal with free-flowing wine brought everyone along a journey that was a magical dining experience. All the good things in life could be enjoyed in one place, the home of a winemaking family who were also restaurateurs who loved nothing more than to host people in their ancient family home tucked away in a tiny town in the Spanish wine region of Ribera del Duero.

Enormous ancient olive oil presses at
Bodegas Severino Sanz

Although Ribera del Duero is a well-known wine region, some parts of the area are less known than others, such as where the Sanz family has their Bodegas Severino Sanz winery in the small town of Montejo de la Vega de la Serrezuela, which only has around 100 residents and one other winery in the town. The winery is run by three brothers who named it after their father, Severino Sanz, and not only does everyone in the family work hard to keep the winery and ancient family home going while juggling other jobs but they have also taken on the responsibility of recovering enormous ancient olive oil presses that are part of the legacy of the area as well as continuing the laborious task of propagating old bush Tempranillo vines by using the traditional “layering” technique in their vineyards.

Tempranillo Grape Variety 

Tempranillo is a native red grape from Spain that takes on different local names in various Spanish wine regions. In Ribera del Duero it is either called Tinto Fino or Tinta del País. The differences in names reflect how the variety has taken on slightly different characteristics over centuries due to the influence of its environment. Ribera del Duero is a much more extreme grape growing place, as opposed to its famous neighbor Rioja, as swings in temperatures can be pretty intense and it can get brutally cold there with frost issues. Due to such conditions, the Tempranillo grapes in Ribera del Duero typically have thicker skins and a more intense concentration of flavors. 

Just like Rioja, Ribera del Duero has blended small amounts of other native red varieties into their red wines. Yet, unlike Rioja, Ribera del Duero has a long history of using red Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It was viewed at one time that Tempranillo needed some help from Bordeaux varieties to make high-quality wines that could compete on the same level as the top Bordeaux wines. Yet there have been famous producers such as Pesquera who have championed 100% Tempranillo wines in Ribera del Duero; however, it hasn’t been as easy for lesser-known struggling wineries in the area. But today, there is certainly now a strong commitment even among these struggling producers as many have come to the viewpoint that no other grape can do as well as Tempranillo in Ribera del Duero, Spain.

Bodegas Severino Sanz Vineyards

The Sanz family, who runs Bodegas Severino Sanz, actually takes their commitment to keeping the soul of Ribera del Duero Tempranillo alive by using the arduous “layering” technique. Grapevines can asexually reproduce and so if one buries a shoot coming off of an existing old bush vine right next to it in the ground, the buried shoot will be able to grow roots from the buds dormant in that shoot. Through time, a vine, which will be trellised as a bush vine, will grow and be an extension of that old vine. The mother and the new daughter vine (produced from the mother’s shoot) will stay connected, or sometimes producers like to cut the “cord”, but Bodegas Severino Sanz likes to keep them connected as long as they can. 

The new vines are called murón and hence why Bodegas Severino Sanz calls their wines “Murón” as it represents their commitment to keeping the DNA of the old vines alive for generations to come. Starting with their 2018 vintage, they began to use 100% Tempranillo instead of placing a small amount of 5% Garnacha, as they now feel there is nothing better than the Tempranillo from their vineyards.  

Iker Ugarte, family owner of Bodegas S. Arroyo and president of ASEBOR

Another multi-generational producer, Bodegas S. Arroyo, located in the heart of Ribera del Duero in Burgos, has noticed over time that no other variety adapts as well to the extreme climatic conditions in Ribera del Duero as Tempranillo, as it is a grape that many feel has been in the area for thousands of years even though it has only been appreciated in recent times. All of their red wines are made from 100% Tempranillo which is a strong statement as one of the family owners, Iker Ugarte, is the current president of ASEBOR, an association of Ribera del Duero wine producers.

A winery in another known area of Ribera del Duero, Valladolid, called Bodegas Señorío de Bocos, still has a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot planted in their vineyards which they plan to replant to Tempranillo since all of their wines are only 100% Tempranillo now.  

International Grape Varieties 

But despite the enthusiastic embrace of 100% Tempranillo wines, no one can deny that Ribera del Duero has some old, legendary plots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. One of the greatest wine estates in the world is located in Ribera del Duero, Bodegas Vega Sicilia, and Bordeaux varieties are a part of their incredible history so there are still old Cabernet Sauvignon and old Merlot vines on the Vega Sicilia estate that makeup only a tiny portion of the blend in their iconic Unico and Valbuena 5 respectively.

Bottle of Bodegas Finca La Capilla Merlot in front of the vineyard where it is sourced

A boutique winery called Bodegas Finca La Capilla, which values the uniqueness of each of their Tempranillo vineyards located in the heart of Ribera del Duero, has kept an acre of old Merlot vines close to their winery still in production. It only makes a tiny amount but they said that their customers love it as it is a very complex, elegant wine with a good structure that perfectly expresses that plot and it sells out quicker than they can make it. And so, although they are big advocates for the great affinity for Ribera del Duero terroir that Tempranillo expresses, this small plot is best represented by 100% Merlot.

Legacy of a Place  

José Félix Sanz pouring wine for a guest

One cannot help but be in awe when observing the lengths the Sanz family goes to in order to keep the torch lit that keeps the legacy of their tiny town going, as many of the younger people are moving to bigger towns with more opportunities. Whether it is the unearthing of 100-year-old olive oil presses or hand layering old bush vines so they can propagate a child vine as close to the mother’s DNA or creating an unforgettable night for those visitors who drive out to the middle of nowhere to see them, it is all about keeping a wonderful way of life thriving.

One cannot help but observe that nothing makes the Sanz family happier than bringing joy to others – as all of it means nothing to them if the outside world cannot experience the paradise of food, wine, history and unbridled conviviality that the Sanz family keeps alive.

Bodegas Severino Sanz 2016 and 2018 Murón Crianza

Bodegas Severino Sanz

2021 Bodegas Severino Sanz ‘Murón’ Rosado (Rosé), Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. Fun aromas of dried watermelon and wildflowers with bright red cherry and good mid-palate weight.

2018 Bodegas Severino Sanz ‘Murón’ Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. Aged in French oak for 12 months followed by five months in bottle. Deep, dark blackcurrant flavors with hints of earth and cumin with soft tannins and a touch of vanilla on the finish.

Bodegas S. Arroyo Lineup

Bodegas S. Arroyo 

2021 Arroyo, Rosado (Rosé), Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. Hint of white pepper on the nose with cherry candies and fresh strawberries on the palate.

2019 Arroyo, Roble, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. Roble notes that it is a young wine that hasn’t spent too much time aging. In this case, it has spent four to six months in a combination of American and French oak followed by eight months in bottle. American oak and Tempranillo have had a long and wonderful partnership in Spain. A savory nose such as cured meats and dried thyme is balanced by blackberry fruit and hints of baking spices.

2018 Arroyo, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. Crianza is the next level up in aging and, in this case, spends 12 months in a combination of American and French oak followed by 12 months in bottle. Bacon bits, cumin and dusty earth on the nose with a touch of more texture and structure with sandalwood incense on the finish.

2016 Arroyo, Reserva, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. Reserva is the next level in aging after Crianza, and so in this case, it is aged for 15 months in American and French oak followed by 24 months in bottle. Dried leaves, cinnamon and sweet tobacco on the nose with black cherry and espresso flavors on the full-bodied palate with well-integrated tannins.

2012 Arroyo, Gran Reserva, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. Gran Reserva is the next level after Reserva, and in this case, it has been aged for 24 months in a combination of American and French oak followed by 36 months in bottle. Intriguing nose with smoldering earth, bright red cherry fruit, cocoa nibs and forest floor – really complex yet has a beautiful lifted purity of fruit among the complexity.

2014 Arroyo ‘Vendimia Seleccionada’ Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. The ‘Vendimia Seleccionada’ is a special selection from a top vintage aged 100% in new Allier French oak for 14 months. Brooding dark fruit on the nose with a richer body with licorice and dark chocolate flavors wrapped up in plush blackberry fruit.

Bodegas Señorío de Bocos Lineup

Bodegas Señorío de Bocos

2020 Bodegas Señorío de Bocos, Roble, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. More than six months in 50% French and 50% American oak. Blackberry preserves and sweet spice on the nose and beautiful red fruit on the palate with round tannins.

2016 Bodegas Señorío de Bocos, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. More than 12 months in 30% French and 70% American oak followed by more than 24 months in bottle. Dried herbs and cumin seeds with broken rocks and sweet black cherry fruit with a slight grip to the tannins.

2015 Bodegas Señorío de Bocos, Reserva, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. More than 18 months in 30% French and 70% American oak followed by more than 36 months in bottle. Blackcurrant jam with complex notes of fresh leather and bacon grease with a nimble body and fine tannins.

2019 Bodegas Señorío de Bocos ‘Autor de Bocos’ Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Tempranillo. ‘Autor de Bocos’ is a special selection bottling. More than 14 months in 100% French oak followed by more than six months in bottle. Multilayered fruit that includes red and black wild berries with a juicy, plush palate with hints of vanilla bean and tobacco and violets on the finish.

2020 Bodegas Finca La Capilla, Merlot

Bodegas Finca La Capilla

2020 Bodegas Finca La Capilla, Merlot, Ribera del Duero, Spain: 100% Merlot. Only around 6,000 bottles made. One sip and one realizes why they kept this Merlot plot as it is simply an outstanding wine. Dripping with elegance and finesse, this wine enchants and seduces with pristine blackberry and blueberry fruit, hints of broken limestone, pencil shavings and fresh porcini mushrooms that has a stunning texture, like fine lace, and a great precision across the very long finish.

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Mother Of Three Leaves Career In Medicine To Become California Winemaker

“I need to go to the bathroom!” one of the small kids shouted at Mom and Dad as the family drove from Sonoma to Santa Lucia Highlands in California. But this was not a typical family trip as the mother, Kerith Overstreet, had left a stable career in the medical field to be a winemaker and so she was traveling with her family to try to buy some Pinot Noir wine grapes from one of the most outstanding domestic Pinot Noir vineyards she had ever tasted: Garys’ Vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands.

Kerith fell in love with Garys’ Vineyard before becoming a winemaker. She had read an article about Santa Lucia Highlands in The Wall Street Journal written by Dorothy J. Gaiter (Dottie) and John Brecher, who both called a wine made from Garys’ Vineyard “delicious!”. So after Kerith started her winery in 2008, one day she decided to call the producer who made the wine, “Hey, I have been making wine for two years, and I read this article in The Wall Street Journal about this vineyard called Garys’. Do you think you have any fruit?” And instead of laughing her off the phone, the man on the other end graciously invited her and her family to come to visit as she lived only a few hours away in Sonoma. 

Kerith Overstreet in her Bruliam Wines winery Photo Credit: Bruliam Wines

The minute Kerith’s family arrived at the winery, the child, who felt an overwhelming urge to go, jumped out of the car and headed towards the bathroom immediately. But her child wasn’t used to septic tanks out in the country that had a limited capacity of what could be flushed so after what seemed to be an eternity, waiting outside getting hammered by the Santa Lucia Highlands’ “actively unpleasant wind,” Kerith’s child came out and yelled, “Mom, I pooped so big that it won’t flush .” At that moment, Kerith just wanted to die and she thought to herself, “I am never going to get fruit.” 

Well, not only did she get some of the Pinot Noir from Garys’ Vineyard that day for her Bruliam Wines winery but it started a relationship that has her working with Santa Lucia Vineyard’s top-quality Pinot Noir fruit as well as her estate fruit in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma since that time.  

Single Vineyard Estates in Santa Lucia Highlands 

Garys’ Vineyard was planted by Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni in 1997 and they are among the grape growers who have helped put Santa Lucia Highlands on the map. Kerith spoke to Gary Pisoni’s son Mark on that fateful day, who is the vineyard manager at his family winery and estate, Pisoni Vineyards. The Pisoni family not only makes wine under the guidance of Gary’s other son Jeff, but they also sell their Pisoni Estate fruit to top producers and so it is one of the most famous single vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands.

Pinot Noir grapes within Garys’ Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands
Photo Credit: Garys’ Vineyard

Anyone serious about Santa Lucia Highlands wines is probably very familiar with the Pisoni Estate vineyard, located in the southern section of the Santa Lucia Highlands wine appellation. The Pisoni family has been farming for around 100 years, mainly dairy and other crops that they still farm. Jeff Pisoni spoke about his family estate’s wide assortment of soils due to the fault lines that “at one point lifted up” the Sierra de Salinas mountain range, and so they have a “variety of different soil types”.

The Pisoni Estate is highlighted on the newly released Santa Lucia Highlands AVA map released by wine publication Vinous,  founded by famous wine critic Antonio Galloni. This is the 14th map that Antonio has done for California, as there are seven for Napa Valley and six for Sonoma, and Antonio and his team’s goal is to create, “state-of-the-art cartography maps for American wines” that will become a reference point for the region. “The Vineyards of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA” map breaks down all the single vineyards within the 18-mile long Santa Lucia Mountain range in Monterey County, California. Antonio has enlisted the help of revered Italian cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti who has done an excellent job of expressing the sense of place for highly regarded wine regions such as Barolo, Barbaresco and Chianti Classico.

Vinous: The Vineyards of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA by Antonio Galloni and Alessandro Masnaghetti
Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

The Vinous maps plan to achieve the same goals as the Masnaghetti maps of great Italian wine regions by expressing vivid topographical detail that influences the vineyards within that region. Still, they go a step further by adding smaller 3D maps that focus on key elements of the region as well as giving individual information for many vineyards on the back of the map to explore the nuanced differences – hence why Antonio likes to call them “narrative maps”. In each Vinous wine map, one of the most famous vineyards is dissected and therefore the Pisoni Vineyard is broken down to illustrate how the estate can be divided into “four ridge tops, each on a different alluvial fan and each with its own soil types.”

The map also breaks up the Santa Lucia Highlands into the North Bench and the South Bench. As mentioned before, Pisoni is located in the southern area of the appellation, but Garys’ Vineyard, another outstanding single vineyard estate, is located in the northern area, a.k.a. North Bench. Each vineyard has its own individual qualities and in the case of Pisoni it has varying differences among different plots within the same vineyard. Still, there are some general differences between the North versus the South sections of Santa Lucia Highlands as a whole region: the South has more pronounced elevations, poorer soils, water is scarcer and there is less moisture retention in the soil. Antonio Galloni noted that due to these differences, the South Bench would have wines that are generally deeper, darker and more structured as opposed to the more aromatic presence and red or purplish-leaning fruit found in the North Bench in regards to their Pinot Noir wines.

Adam Lee harvesting with his team
Photo Credit: Clarice Wine Company

Adam Lee, who initially became known as the winemaker for Siduri Wines, has his own winery today called Clarice Wine Company, named after his grandmother, and still consulting with other wineries, spoke about his personal experience of using the fruit from Garys’ Vineyard. “The great thing about Garys’ Vineyard is that it is fantastic fruit and I don’t need to do anything,” noted Adam. He further discussed how his Clarice Garys’ Vineyard employs low-intervention winemaking due to the grapes’ stellar quality. According to him, the stellar quality is not only due to the place but also to the exceptional management of each block by the Franscioni and Pisoni families.

Santa Lucia Highlands AVA 

Double L Vineyard site owned by Dan and Donna Lee of Morgan Winery
Photo Credit: Morgan Winery

Another well-known figure in the area is Dan Morgan Lee, no relation to Adam Lee. He has been a winemaker in Monterey County for over 40 years and started to focus on Santa Lucia Highlands around 20 years ago with his winery, Morgan Winery. Although the Pinot Noir wines from Santa Lucia Highlands have gotten a lot of attention, Dan said that Chardonnay initially put them on the map such as the ones made by Talbott Vineyards and his winery. But it makes sense since great Pinot Noir and outstanding Chardonnay go hand in hand in finding the ideal grape growing region.

Yet Dan is not only proud of their fabulous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but that they continue to safeguard the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA name by making sure that only vineyards that fit particular criteria are included in the official appellation. A few years back, Dan initiated the need to have the wine region evaluated by a professional geographer and viticulturist who examined the geological formations. The areas that were truly highlands were added, or if already existing within the AVA were allowed to stay in it, compared to the flatter land removed from the appellation, so some land was added while a lot more land was taken out. It is undoubtedly an atypical course of action to have less total acreage after a new AVA assessment is done.

Passion Versus Obligation 

Pisoni Estate
Photo Credit: Pisoni Family Vineyards

But even though all the vineyard land fits the definition of highlands today doesn’t mean it has been easy to grow grapes there. Jeff Pisoni tells the story of when his father, a dairy and vegetable farmer, was driven by pure passion for growing wine grapes and making wine in the early ’80s; it would seem that Mother Nature was not too kind when it came to his wine aspiration. As mentioned before, their Pisoni Estate is located in the South Bench where water is scarce and the soils do not retain moisture well and so finding a water source was critical for growing quality grapes. His father needed a well driller to drill through seven feet of gravel and then 380 feet of solid granite – yes, that is 380 feet! Well, six well drillers later, he finally tapped into a water source.  

This is a great example of why Antonio Galloni loves California wines as, unlike European wines, which he is also a big fan of, many times the wine producer has done it out of passion against all odds compared to a European wine producer, as in many cases, the current owner may have felt an obligation to go into their multi-generational wine business. One area of the world is not better or worse and Antonio is the first to say that many European winemakers make great wines even if it is part of one’s duty to his family. Yet he is drawn to U.S. wines, and in this case, the wines of California, because people dream the impossible dream, and that is one of the reasons he is on a mission to create comprehensive wine maps for America that are on par with the most cherished maps of top European wine regions.

And the story of the passion that leads someone like Kerith to leave a secure life in the medical field to become a winemaker is certainly part of that American spirit. At first, she followed her obligation to her father, who wanted her to at least finish medical school, which she did, and after a residency and two fellowships, she took that leap of passion to make that impossible dream a reality.

***Link to original article on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/06/09/mother-of-three-leaves-career-in-medicine-to-become-california-winemaker/

Santa Lucia Highlands AVA Seminar in NYC Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Sparkling from North Bench:

2015 Caraccioli Cellars, Brut Cuvée, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: One of the distinguishing features of Escolle Vineyard is the production of grapes for sparkling wine and the Caraccioli family does a great job. Blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from this single vineyard. Hints of hazelnuts and stony minerality on the nose with a creamy texture from fine bubbles and zingy acidity. 

Chardonnay from North Bench:

2019 Hahn Estate, ‘Lucienne Chardonnay’ Lone Oak Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: Nicolaus (Nicky) Hahn was one of the early settlers in the Santa Lucia Highlands and the family owns four different sites: the Lone Oak Vineyard in the North Bench and three in the South Bench. Rich nuttiness on the nose with a mixture of tropical and stone fruit on the palate with marked acidity.

Pinot Noir from the North Bench:

2019 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Double L Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: “The Double L Vineyard is a dramatic site. A thin strip of vineyards, Double L starts at River Road and runs all the way up the hillside, its narrow shape emphasizing the distinctive contours of the land and the exposed character of this part of the Santa Lucia Highlands.” Floral nose with hints of wet river stones and fresh raspberry on the palate with a light, nimble body.

2018 McIntyre Vineyards, Pinot Noir Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: Steven McIntyre is also an early pioneer and the McIntyre estate vineyard has some of the oldest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines going back to 1973. Dark cherry nose with a rich body and good mid-palate weight with hints of earthy notes on the finish.

2018 Bernardus, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: Rosella’s Vineyard is one of the Franscioni family vineyards which is one of the historic families in the region since their roots go back to the early 1900s and not only does the family themselves make a single vineyard wine with their Rosella’s site under their ROAR label, they also sell the fruit to high-quality producers such as Bernardus. “The slope starts at 250 feet and works its way up to about 450 feet in elevation at a five to seven percent incline.” Bright red fruit such as cherries and strawberries with an undertone of minerality with fleshy fruit on the body and broad tannins.

2018 Siduri, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: The same vineyard as above, the Rosella’s Vineyard, yet a more delicate wine with pretty floral notes and tart cherry flavor and lots of lift to this wine and overall finesse with fine tannins and a stony finish. Both wines share a great purity to the fruit quality.

2019 Clarice Wine Company, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: As noted in the article, this vineyard was planted in 1997 by two pioneers of Santa Lucia Highlands, Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni. “Garys’ is unique for the North Bench in that its location, nestled between two creeks, is marked by a high presence of rock content that has been deposited over the millennia.” Complex nose of boysenberry, black tea, violets and tree bark with good flesh on the mid-palate with a good amount of tannic structure and marked acidity to make this wine very age-worthy.

2018 Bruliam, Soberanes Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: Soberanes is right next door to Garys’ Vineyard, and owner/winemaker of Bruliam Wines Kerith Overstreet has been working with their fruit since 2010 – the first vintage for this vineyard. The Soberanes Vineyard is another joint partnership between Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni. “The vineyard is located just south of Garys’ in a section of the Santa Lucia Highlands that is marked by open, expansive vistas and southeast facing slopes that receive plenty of the sun and wind that are such signatures of the appellation.” Extremely enchanting wine with a mixture of red fruit (red currants, raspberries and cranberries) and a lovely perfume that makes one dream of a field of wild flowers with hints of forest floor all tied together with silky tannins and mouthwatering acidity. 

Pinot Noir from the South Bench:

2018 ROAR, Sierra Mar Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: “Sierra Mar is one of the most dramatic vineyard sites in all of California. This land has been in the Franscioni family since 1930. The vineyards start at 650 feet in elevation and reach 1,000 feet, where the terrain features the decomposed granite soils typical of these hillsides.” Savory nose with rosemary and tobacco leaf intermixed with pretty notes of orange blossom and fresh blueberries that has big, bold tannins.

2019 Pisoni Estate, Pisoni Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: Pisoni is undoubtedly one of the great “Grand Cru” vineyards of California, and the Pisoni family is an historic family in the region that goes back almost 100 years. “Pisoni can be divided into four ridge tops, each on a different alluvial fan and each with its own soil types, plus two transitional areas between those that result in a total of six variations.” A richly textural wine with juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit with smoldering earth, underbrush and dried violets with an extremely long, expressive finish.

Syrah from North Bench:

2019 Cattleya “The Initiation” Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California: Antonio Galloni said that despite Syrah not being the most popular variety in Santa Lucia Highlands, he thinks it is the “most exciting” because it is “very distinctive”. A lush wine with blackcurrant jam with plenty of structure to help lift such richness yet the tannins are round and approachable with a complex finish of granite, bacon bits and dusty earth.

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An Italian ‘Gamay’ Wine Calls Out To The ‘Daring’ Wine Drinkers

2020 Madrevite C’Osa, Gamay del Trasimeno Riserva, Colli del Trasimeno DOC
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Crumbling brick tenement apartment buildings housing poor artists showed bursts of creativity illustrated on their dilapidated structures with provocative graffiti art. During the 1980s, the East Village in New York City was filled with burgeoning writers, musicians, filmmakers and painters who each followed the path least taken regarding their creative expression. Hence it was the epicenter for punk music and the home of Neo-Expressionism graffiti art, the latter being led by New Yorker Jean-Michel Basquiat, who lived in the East Village when he first made a name for himself. It was at once magically electric and disturbingly gritty yet it still attracted celebrities, those in the corporate world and the wealthy who risked having their throats slashed by heroin addicts desperate for their next fix as there was an irresistible pull to the explosion of emotions and raw talents that were spontaneously displayed daily.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Neo-Expressionism graffiti art gave a voice to many who didn’t have one such as highlighting injustices towards Black Americans and marginalized working-class individuals such as cooks and janitors who were part of the general population’s everyday life yet were often invisible. Some art critics called Basquiat a “talentless hustler” yet almost 30 years after his untimely death, one of his paintings, selling for $110.5 million, commanded “the highest sum ever paid at auction for a U.S.-produced artwork.” Remarkable considering that Basquiat was Black, poor and had no formal art education, although he was deemed brilliant and an avid learner in his daily life so he did not have the typical pedigree to become an iconic artist. However, he has carved his place in history and opened the door for many others.  

The vineyard area of Trasimeno
Photo Credit: ©pierpaolometelli

The Italian wine producer Madrevite, tucked away near the border between Tuscany and Umbria regions in Italy, surrounded by hills and lakes, has designed a label inspired by the work of Basquiat. The wine is made from the local red grape Gamay del Trasimeno, and “it is a wine for the people,” as noted by owner Nicola Chiucchiurlotto who oversees his grandfather’s vineyards. The name of his top selection, Gamay del Trasimeno wine, “C’osa,” references a saying in the local dialect that questions, “who is daring?”

Wine for the Bold

Just like how the frequently characterized “loud” art of Basquiat appealed to people who wanted to be challenged, Nicola says that his Madrevite “C’osa” is made for a strong personality. The wine does not fit into any type of box in regards to being associated with a well-known wine area or to a famous Italian grape variety but also the grapes of the “C’osa” bottling are harvested last, the 2019 bottling was picked 25 days later than the other Gamay del Trasimeno wines he makes and so it is a bold wine that is made for a bold person.

It may seem utterly odd that a third-generation winegrower in Trasimeno would feel such a strong connection to a NYC graffiti artist as their worlds and experiences seem outwardly polar opposites. Trasimeno has the title of being “the green heart of Italy” because the lakes and hills create a protected area with a moderate climate and there are many sites with good sun exposure that are conducive to forests, olive groves and vineyards all thriving; in a way, a sort of green paradise. Conversely, Basquiat lived in a concrete jungle that was dangerous and dark. Yet, in a way, they are both alienated from the larger world of wine and art as each has taken an unconventional path to become known.

Nicola Chiucchiurlotto working with Gamay del Trasimeno grapes
Photo Credit: ©pierpaolometelli

Nicola already has a steep uphill battle with his Madrevite wines, which feature three different bottlings of the red grape Gamay del Trasimeno, when it comes to reaching wine drinkers in the U.S.. But his battle is even more complicated because the grape is actually part of the Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache) family that is said to have traveled from Spain to Trasimeno in the 17th century. His grandfather, and much further past generations, have always called it Gamay del Trasimeno and despite it making the story of selling his wines that much more convoluted, it is important to him to respect the past while also bringing a playfulness and modern approach to express the spirit of these wines.

Who Dares?

Basquiat dared people in high society to look at the injustices of the marginalized people who struggled around them and he challenged stereotypes by showing the nobility of these individuals who were typically demeaned. But how he expressed his observations and commentary of such injustices made him special as the bold colors and overall raw quality of his work provoked visceral feelings while also creating a playful feeling that kept the viewer from being alienated by judgment. David Bowie spoke about the value of such paintings like the ones Basquiat created when he was in a movie about Basquiat released in 1996. “The idea is if you stand next to an art object, that somehow its mystic, goodness and high-mindedness will rub off onto you,” said Bowie.

And Nicola wants those who are bold enough, who dare, to open themselves to the experience of his Madrevite “C’osa” wine, despite the wine not seeming like the traditional Italian red wine that one comes to expect. But if Basquiat was able to open the hearts of the elite in the art world to the nobility that surrounded them every day within the invisible people who served them, Nicola could show the world that his wines have as much Italian nobility as those that are highlighted on the fine wine lists of some of New York City’s top Italian restaurants… but never forgetting to keep it fun, keep it playful and always make it a wine for the people.

***Link to original article published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/05/21/an-italian-gamay-wine-calls-out-to-the-daring-wine-drinkers/

Nicola Chiucchiurlotto sleeping with a bottle of Madrevite “C’Osa”
Photo Credit: ©pierpaolometelli

Madrevite is an organic producer who uses native yeasts in their ferments:

2020 Madrevite “‘Elvè”
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Madrevite “‘Elvè”, Trasimeno DOC, Umbria, Italy: 100% Grechetto that is placed through the Cryomaceration for 24 hours as it protects the color, aromatics and fruit. This is a “classic” white wine for the older people of Umbria, as Nicola describes it, as Grechetto has been considered one of the most important white grapes in the region for a long time. A subtle nose with nectarine and peach flavors on the palate and bright acidity.

2020 Madrevite “Il Reminore”
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Madrevite “Il Reminore”, Umbria Bianco IGT, Umbria, Italy: 100% Trebbiano Spoletino that also uses cryomaceration for 36 to 48 hours. Nicola says this white grape has become very popular with younger locals in the past decade as there are more aromatics than Grechetto. Floral nose with a fun salinity to this wine and more textured component with intense minerality on the finish.

The following wines are three different expressions of Gamay del Trasimeno:

2021 Madrevite “La Bisbetica” Rosé
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2021 Madrevite “La Bisbetica” Rosé, Umbria Rosato IGT, Umbria, Italy: 100% Gamay del Trasimeno (Grenache). Orange color with highlights of pink that has a nose of fresh raspberry and cherries with the quality of crunchy fruit on the palate that had hints of lilacs intermixed.

2020 Madrevite “Opra”
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2020 Madrevite “Opra”, Trasimeno DOC, Umbria, Italy: 100% Gamay del Trasimeno (Grenache). Dry herbs on the nose such as rosemary with layers of plum tart and blueberry preserves with a touch of dusty earth that has a good structure that lifts the richness of the wine.

2020 Madrevite C’Osa, Gamay del Trasimeno Riserva, Colli del Trasimeno DOC
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 Madrevite “C’osa”, Gamay del Trasimeno Riserva, Trasimeno DOC, Umbria, Italy: 100% Gamay del Trasimeno (Grenache) that was picked 25 days later than “Opra” and one would think it would be fruitier but it wasn’t as there was just more of a sense of concentrated elegance. Rose petal, pristine red fruit, black pepper, fierce minerality on the nose, fine tannins on the palate and an overall balance of intense concentration of complex flavors with finesse. Surprisingly elegant wine especially considering it is for those who dare – but maybe, in this case, it is for those who dare to have their preconceptions challenged.

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$100,000 Wine Gamble Turned Into 100-Point Scores From Top Wine Critics

Lineup of TOR wines
Photo Credit: TOR Wines

Sitting on the back porch drinking a beautiful glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, the sunset painted the sky with colors of saffron and gold; there, a veteran wine producer in Napa Valley took in the recent catastrophe that destroyed so much of his community while he contemplated the luck of no loss of human life in the disaster, and less importantly, that five of his best barrels of wine survived. All of a sudden the song “That Old Black Magic” started to play in his head, and he knew “Black Magic” would be the perfect name for those special barrels of wine as it was a “black moment” for his winery as they lost a lot of wine yet at the same time those barrels have an “aura of real magic”.

That moment happened after the 2014 massive 6.0-magnitude Napa Valley earthquake that violently destroyed wineries, structures and catapulted people out of their beds around 3 am. The victims were randomly selected as “some wineries lost everything; some none,” according to the description that is laid out in Tor Kenward’s book Reflections of a Vintner. Tor, an iconic winemaker with almost 50 years of experience in Napa Valley, has witnessed Napa’s modern wine industry from its beginning with less than 50 wineries in the mid-1970s to the over 400 that exist today that are open for tastings and around 1,700 registered wineries according to the Alcoholic Beverage Control of California.

Reflections of a Vintner by Tor Kenward
Photo Credit Cathrine Todd

After the 2014 earthquake, Tor was on his porch, processing disturbing images of the horrible events of such a natural disaster mixed with the heartwarming feelings of seeing the Napa community come together when he was inspired to label those surviving barrels of great wine from the 2013 vintage at his TOR winery, “Black Magic”. Fate had undoubtedly been cruel as Tor lost 20% of his red wines during that vintage; that was compounded by the fact he didn’t have earthquake insurance at the time, less than 10% of Napa wineries had it, according to Tor. The “Black Magic” wine comes from plots located in the Vine Hill Ranch Vineyard, on the southern border of western Oakville in Napa. The wine would eventually garner four 100-point scores for the 2018 vintage, becoming known as their 400-point wine.

Black Magic

Tor, who loves blending wine from an “exceptional” single-vineyard, was able to work with the extraordinary Vine Hill Ranch because of a relationship that spanned several decades and is how he gets most of his stellar Napa fruit. This particular vineyard has displayed its greatness in the past in Beaulieu Georges de Latour Private Reserve bottlings made by the legendary André Tchelistcheff.

The 2013 TOR “Black Magic” blend is comprised of 99.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 0.5% of Petit Verdot because Tor likes the sexy “mineral” note and aroma of “hot, wet granite” that comes out of the more “fruit-driven” Cabernet Sauvignon when a touch of Petit Verdot is added to the final blend.

Reflections of a Vintner by Tor Kenward
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

But for the 2016 vintage of Black Magic, Tor said that he and his longtime winemaker, Jeff Ames, decided to go into another unconventional direction with the wine, one that he labels as “a crime of the century”. 2016 is considered by most wine critics, as well as Tor, to be one of Napa Valley’s greatest. Serendipitously, the Cabernet and the Petit Verdot ideally ripened at the same time and so Jeff had the seemingly ludicrous idea to co-ferment together the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot as it would fit perfectly into a four-ton tank and it might “be interesting”, resulting in a 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Petit Verdot blend. This gamble, which was highly unorthodox for a few reasons – co-fermentation and such a high percentage of Petit Verdot was unheard of in Napa – and it involved gambling with grapes that cost “north of $100,000”.  

Tor was afraid that it would be a Frankenstein sort of wine as he had never tasted another that tried such an unthinkable practice. Besides, being a small wine producer with no corporate money to cushion such a potentially expensive failure could be detrimental to his business. He also risked making a mess out of exceptional plots within a great vineyard, which could seem like a disrespectful act. Yet as other winemakers came to the defense of Jeff’s idea, Tor finally caved, and conversely, it made a perfect wine in Tor’s opinion and it changed the way they made wine at TOR winery.  

The 2016 “Black Magic” was scored highly with 98-point scores from top critics but the 2018 vintage, a vintage known for its superb expression of terroir, received four 100-point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni’s Vinous, Jeb Dunnuck and the International Wine Report; and many people have said to Tor that it is a fantastic way to end a journey although Tor feels like the journey is just beginning for TOR Wines.

Reflections of a Vintner

And one cannot help but marvel at Tor Kenward’s journey when it is experienced through his book Reflections of a Vintner. He was born to bohemian parents who always had creative people who weren’t afraid to dream coming in and out of their Los Angeles house as his dad was a writer and his mom a painter. At one point, his family lived with the actor James Cagney (known to Tor’s family as Jimmy) for a time after they lost their home “to fire and flood”. Tor’s name, as well as the names of his siblings, came from characters in a play that his parents loved and despite his father and mother doing little to shape their children’s lives as adults, Tor felt the foundation for him had already been built by the amazingly passionate people who surrounded him very early in life. In many ways, he and his siblings had lived more life before the age of 18 than most people get to experience in a lifetime.

Tor Kenward and Andy Beckstoffer having lunch at the French Laundry Photo Credit: TOR Wines

After Tor came back from the Vietnam War, working in hospitals, he founded a jazz club with a few other music fanatics that led to them hosting events at various locations throughout California with some of the greats and along the way, he was introduced to great French wine, which would have a lasting effect on his life, as well as the Napa new kids on the block. In 1976, one of the biggest upsets in the wine world, the Judgment of Paris where French judges in Paris picked Napa Valley wines over top French wines in a blind tasting, inspired Tor to follow his passion for wine. He could never imagine that 45 years later he would win the 2021 Judgment of Napa Tasting with his friend and iconic grape grower, Andy Beckstoffer, with their 2016 TOR Beckstoffer To Kalon.

Tor ended up working for Beringer for 25 years, and he relishes the time he spent with a “core group of dreamers” during those formative years there, and for the most part that group stayed intact. During that time, he took winemaking courses at U.C. Davis and he spent a lot of time with some of the best of the best in the wine and food world. Later in her life, Tor became the constant escort for Julia Child and he marveled at her continuous enthusiasm to continually learn as she was always picking the brains of passionate, younger people who had different viewpoints about food and wine. Like many other winemakers in Napa, he was greatly influenced by the all-inspiring Robert Mondavi who never shied away from exclaiming that Napa made wines that were just as great as some of the top wines of the world. Mondavi was a much-needed source of inspiration for Tor and many others as the Napa crew would get tons of negative pushback from European-centric wine-loving sommeliers in New York City when Napa was first trying to make a name for themselves.

One day in the late 1970s stands out in Tor’s mind as being extraordinary, when he was invited to a lunch that included Robert Mondavi, Louis Martini, André Tchelistcheff and a few other experienced winemakers, where Tor kept his mouth shut so he could take in the wisdom. A debate started about which qualities make a wine great and give it longevity. Tor remembers words such as tannins (in the red wines), acid (in the white wines), pH, terroir and balance as being presented as answers in this lively discussion. But then, finally, André Tchelistcheffknown as America’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker, gently said with his Russian accent, “No, it is the flesh – it is the flesh in the great wines I have made that seems to give them grace with age.” Tor gives the 1947 Cheval Blanc and 1959 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and La Tâche (DRC) as classic examples of where he was able to experience wines that had “flesh” that assisted them in their graceful aging like André Tchelistcheff had said that day.

For decades, Tor had always admired how the greatest producers in Burgundy focused on particular blocks within a vineyard and he was lucky enough to drink a lot of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti to aid in his education. And so Burgundy was the model for his own winery, TOR Wines, which he started in 2000, and its focus has been on single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines with each bottling made in small quantities.  

Fifty Years of Napa Valley in Two Hours 

First flight of wines at Fifty Years of Napa Valley in Two Hours tasting Photo Credit: TOR Wines

Back in April, Tor led a tasting for a small group in New York City to showcase his almost 50 years of being involved in the Napa wine world but he could not help but bring a few Napa gems from his cellar that went back to 1945 – a fiercely concrete way to show that Napa wines can have a long life. It was a way to viscerally understand Napa’s wine history and a glimpse into Tor’s wine career with many of the wines associated with long relationships with winegrowers such as with the legendary Andy Beckstoffer.

Tor has known Andy Beckstoffer for four decades, and they share the mission of fighting the good fight of keeping agriculture at the center of Napa Valley. Andy has even set up his will so each of his historic vineyards can never be sold by family members and each vineyard can only be used for growing vines. Napa has changed dramatically since 1968, noted Tor, and he and Andy fight battles every year to keep shortsighted winery projects from taking away what is at the soul of great Napa wines – extraordinary vineyards.

Once everyone got to the 2018 TOR “Black Magic”, 400-point wine, at the tasting he held in NYC, Tor prefaced the wine by saying that people either loved it or hated it. That may seem like an odd statement about a wine that garnered 100 points from four top wine critics but perhaps that is just a testament to Tor’s gratitude for his life. Today, without significant financial backing, it would be impossible for someone to start any winery in Napa and have opportunities to buy some of the best fruit, let alone a winery focusing on small bottlings of single vineyards and with such financial backing comes limitations. The co-fermented “Black Magic” would have never happened if big corporate money had been involved because the board would have never allowed Tor to take such a gamble. 

Tor has always gotten to be the dreamer he was raised to be and that is all that matters, so if someone comes along and negatively shoots down his “Black Magic” wine, he has already won at living… or maybe he just knows that it is an outstanding wine.

***Link to original article published on Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2022/05/14/100000-wine-gamble-turned-into-100-point-scores-from-top-wine-critics/

First flight with Tor of wines at Fifty Years of Napa Valley in Two Hours tasting
Photo Credit: TOR Wines

Current Release of TOR Wines:

2019 TOR Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 TOR Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa Valley: Black cherry preserves balanced by pencil shavings and hot glowing wood embers that has tons of energy on the palate with layers of zingy red cranberry fruit combined with blackberry compote that has tannins with broad shoulders to support it. Only 375 cases made and suggested retail price of $110 per bottle.

2019 TOR Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 TOR Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley: A pretty, perfumed nose with mix of wildflowers and baking spices that has notes of crushed rocks and fresh raspberries in the background that finishes with finely pixelated tannins. Really elegant! Only 250 cases made and suggested retail price of $300 per bottle.

2019 TOR Pure Magic Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2019 TOR “Pure Magic” Vine Hill Ranch Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Petit Verdot from Vine Hill Ranch Vineyard like the original 2016 “Black Magic”. Broken earth and fresh tree bark immediately bring a strong sense of place to this wine with boysenberry fruit and dark chocolate notes coming after a few hours of decanting. The texture of these co-fermented wines are always a WOW factor as they have the right amount of flesh combined with elegantly structured tannins that give immediate hedonistic pleasure while also creating a drive and focus that refreshes the palate and makes it too easy to drink the whole bottle. Only 100 cases made and suggested retail price of $350 per bottle.

The Fifty Years of Napa Valley In Two Hours Tasting led by Tor Kenward in New York City on April 13th, 2022:

1945 Beringer Estate Red, St. Helena, Napa Valley: Tree bark, thyme and marked acidity – light and nimble. Notes by Tor Kenward: “This wine came from plantings around the Beringer St. Helena property. Based on old maps from the 1940s, it includes Cabernet Sauvignon and mixed black grape varieties popular at the time. It was stored in a corner of the original Beringer caves for 40 years. We worked hard to find the wine’s true identity – no one alive really knows. The Bordeaux bottle hints mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon.”

1958 Louis Martini “Mountain Cabernet” Monte Rosso, Napa Valley: A beautiful delicacy to this wine with floral and raspberry aromas – a heady wine. The famous Monte Rosso Vineyard is in Sonoma Valley but back in the 1950s it was labeled as Napa. Notes by Tor Kenward: “This is my last bottle. I’ve enjoyed sharing this gem over the years. Classic “Martini” style – soft, good core of fruit, beautiful perfume. Excellent vintage.”

1969 Heitz Cellar, Cabernet Sauvignon, Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley: Mixture of eucalyptus and fresh sage with crunchy cranberry on the long, vibrant finish. Notes by Tor Kenward: “I bought this wine in 1975 on a trip to Napa. Joe Heitz wouldn’t sell me the 1968. I never opened a bottle of Joe’s Martha’s bottling from the 1960s and 1970s that I have not loved. Martha May, owner, is a good friend.”

1977 Beringer, Cabernet Sauvignon “Private Reserve” Napa Valley: Really nice weight on the mid-palate with silky tannins and blackcurrant leaves and a touch of black cherry. Notes by Tor Kenward: “This was the first wine from the Lemmon/Chabot vineyard, and it was Beringer’s first Private Reserve wine. I was a judge at the Orange County Fair and I took shiners of the wine to see how it performed. My friend, Richard Arrowood, told me it was his favorite wine of the show. I went back to Beringer and encouraged the team to make this our first Private Reserve bottling. It was an easy sell.”

1988 Kenward, Cabernet Sauvignon “Home Cuvee” Napa Valley: Lots of juicy black fruit with structure giving it shape and fresh finish. #1 Red Wine Winner at California State Fair (Tor’s homemade). Notes by Tor Kenward: “From 1981 and for two decades, Beringer allowed me to make small lots of wine on the west side of the St. Helena property with equipment I bought and free labor – mostly friends, writers, trade, and dreamers. 1988 was a very good vintage, lost behind the legendary 1987, and with half the crop. I saved the California State Fair ribbon I received – a big ribbon saying, “Best Red Wine of Show.” Friend and Congressman, Mike Thompson, sent me a congratulatory letter which I also saved.”

1990 Kenward, Cabernet Sauvignon, State Lane, Napa Valley: Round tannins with ripe strawberry flavors and some baking spice with a touch of gravelly earth in the background. Notes by Tor Kenward: “This is our homemade wine from a property that is now owned by the Kapsandy family. The two vineyards that battled it out for the early Beringer Private Reserves were Chabot/Lemmon and State Lane. We marveled why the latter, near the Napa river, performed so well every year until we dug with backhoes and found more rock than rich alluvial soil.”

1991 Kenward Cabernet Sauvignon “Chateau La Tor” Napa Valley: Savory rosemary with sweet stewed cherries balanced by upheaved earth. Notes by Tor Kenward: “David Abreu and I planted our property – a small vineyard with four different clones – next to his Madrone Vineyard. First vintage, great year for Napa. The vineyard taught me many lessons about grape growing in the Napa Valley: clones and plant material matter.”

Then transitioned into younger vintages, first starting with a couple of Chardonnay wines:

2020 TOR Chardonnay, “Cuvée Susan”, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros Napa Valley: An enchanting nose of saline minerality and acacia with white peach flavors and hints of blanched almonds on the finish. Notes by Tor Kenward: “Our Hyde Cuvée Susan is from two blocks, one planted to the very shy bearing, shot cluster Wente – the other to the fuller cluster but aromatic Calera clone.”

2020 TOR Chardonnay, Torchiana Beresini Vineyard, Carneros Napa Valley: Overall elegance with aromas of honeycomb and salty lemon confit with wet stones. Notes by Tor Kenward: “The Beresini vineyard is planted to another Hyde Wente selection that is planted in the mother blocks at Hyde and go into the excellent Hyde and Villaine Commandant Chardonnay. Steve Beresini’s old vines are a testament to his farming, keeping these 30 plus year old vines alive and still producing a small but distinctive wine that has built a great following within our TOR circle.”

2003 TOR, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cimarossa Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley: Dominated by blueberry and plum fruit with hints of graphite and lilacs with a rich textured body. Notes by Tor Kenward: “Cimarossa means “red hilltop” in Italian and that aptly defines this special hillside vineyard. Elevation is 2,100 feet where the soils are predominately red volcanic rock and dust. This was our first vintage worked from three different blocks.”

2009 TOR Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer To Kalon “Old B” Oakville, Napa Valley: Full throttle on the entry with lush cassis flavors and savory spice with complex notes of tar and smoldering earth with fine tannins and a pretty floral finish that was all finesse at the end. Excellent wine! Notes by Tor Kenward: “A coveted block in Beckstoffer To Kalon which Andy made available IF I picked at 24 Brix. Everyone in the vineyard picked much riper that decade, and Andy loved the old BV Reserves picked closer to 24 Brix. An anomaly for To Kalon, the vintage was excellent.”

2016 TOR “Black Magic” Vine Hill Ranch Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley: First time Tor co-fermented a wine; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Petit Verdot from Vine Hill Ranch Vineyard. Deep ruby color with multi-layered black and blue fruit and hints of turmeric and curry leaves on the nose as it expands on the palate with blackberry liqueur and espresso notes… and what a great texture! Full body that has the right amount of tension balanced by, dare I say, flesh. Fantastic wine! Notes by Tor Kenward: “This was the first year Jeff talked me into co-fermenting our small Block of Petit Verdot with Block 7 Cabernet Sauvignon from Vine Hill Ranch Vineyard. It’s unlike any wine we made up to that time and became a model for future Magics.”

2018 TOR “Black Magic” Vine Hill Ranch Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Petit Verdot co–fermented and 4% Cabernet Franc blended. This wine got a lot of enthusiastic praise from everyone in the room as it is just a wine that blows one away. The wine seduces from the moment one smells it as it has lots of juicy and rich fruits singing and it is multifaceted in regards to complex flavors and textures; cigar box, exotic spice, stony minerality and hint of graphite with lots of energy, finely etched tannins and extraordinary length of flavor. Wow, wow, wow, wow! Feel lucky to experience it!! Notes by Tor Kenward: “A little bit of everything in our toolbox is in this wine. Co-ferments, best barrel selection, Vine Hill Ranch Vineyard, Beckstoffer To Kalon, and a dash of Pritchard Hill Cabernet. We worked on this wine to the very end when it “magically” came together. It garnered four 100-point scores from leading critics.”

2019 TOR Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyards, St. Helena, Napa Valley: A lovely floral quality to the nose intermixed with cumin seed and cocoa powder that has delicious cassis flavors laced with a minerality that was sustained across the long, expressive finish. Notes by Tor Kenward: “Our first ever from this iconic site was fermented in a single four-ton closed top tank for 20 days. We were offered blocks from this vineyard previously, but waited until a block next to the quarry nearby was offered. All Clone 6. Not a typical Crane, distinctive perfume, well worth the wait.”

Myron Nightingale’s Old Solera Sherry, St. Helena, Napa Valley: Golden apples and walnuts with touches of butterscotch and zing of ginger. Notes by Tor Kenward: “This was hand bottled by Myron Nightingale and given to friends in 1980 from one barrel saved in the old Beringer caves. Very old Solera Sherry whose “mother” might date back to the 1800s from a Palomino vineyard on Spring Mountain, St. Helena, planted by Charles and Olga Beringer.”

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White Wines From Native Grapes Emerge In Top Spanish Red Wine Region

Bodegas Comenge estate
Photo Credit: Bodegas Comenge

When the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, many areas in Spain were plunged into an economic depression where even highly skilled professionals such as doctors would barely make ends meet, such as the Comenge family. Despite the family struggling after the war, today, they own a gorgeous winery called Bodegas Comenge in the highly-respected wine region of Ribera del Duero that includes a lovely tasting room surrounded by their stunning vineyards. Still, none of that would be possible if it wasn’t for D. Miguel Comenge – the father of the founder of the winery

Álvaro Comenge, the sales director of Bodegas Comenge and the grandson of D. Miguel, has helped further the area’s innovation by funding a research and development department which is the foundation that their wines are built on. One such wine, which shows a new direction for Ribera del Duero, is the white wine made from a white native grape that in 2019 was allowed to qualify for Ribera del Duero D.O. status – a designation that indicates quality wine. 

D. Miguel Comenge’s Book
La Vid y Los Vinos Españoles
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

But none of Comenge efforts would exist if it wasn’t for D. Miguel, a doctor specializing in biochemistry, writing the first in-depth study of Spanish wine, which included scientific analyses of physical and chemical characteristics of 109 Spanish wines, written in 1932 and released in 1942. The book made it possible for the family to initially survive as it brought in money when times were tough, and the profits made it possible for D. Miguel’s son to establish a winery; his grandson Álvaro runs the winery today, and the book is still used at universities in Spain.

Albillo Mayor

It is an exciting time for Ribera del Duero as some winemakers can finally experiment with a white wine that is allowed to carry the quality designation of the region. It is called Albillo Mayor, many call it Albillo for short, but it is important to not confuse it with other Albillo grapes in Spain, such as Albillo Real, as they are different varieties. Albillo Mayor is a white grape variety that has typically been co-planted with Tempranillo and other red grape varieties – called field blends, and hence, the grapes were fermented together to make a light-colored red called Claret which was the everyday wine made over 50 years ago, according to Álvaro Comenge. The wine is still made today, but it is considered a darker-colored rosé for marketing purposes, and Comenge produces such a rosé made from a vineyard that is over 100 years old, planted with Albillo as well as native red grape varieties.

Albillo Mayor grape bunch
Photo Credit: Bodegas Valduero

But starting with the 2019 vintage, Bodegas Comenge is now able to make a 100% Albillo white wine from the same century-old vineyard that can be labeled Ribera del Duero D.O., and the region finally has its own white wine as Álvaro Comenge talked about how they were one of the very few, if not the only, high-quality wine region in Europe that did not allow a white wine to have high-quality status.

One cannot talk about the Albillo grape variety in Ribera del Duero without mentioning Bodegas Valduero. There are many great chefs, celebrities and wine connoisseurs who love the ultra-premium aged “Reserva” red wines of Valduero but it may not be widely known that they were the original protector of the Albillo grape, as they made the first 100% Albillo white wine in 1990. The winery is run by two sisters, one of whom, the winemaker, Yolanda Garcia Viadero, who, for decades, has been on a mission to show the world the great white wine that can be made from this grape and, hopefully, with more producers making it, as it is officially recognized as a quality wine from the region now, it will start to gain more notoriety around the world. While other producers were ripping out Albillo, Yolanda was protecting their plots of Albillo at Bodegas Valduero, and this producer is already well-known for being guardians of exceptional vineyards as they are the second-largest low bush vines estate at one of the highest altitudes in the region.

Other Local White Grape Varieties

Even though Ribera del Duero has officially recognized Albillo for white wine, conversely, other producers are making white wines out of other local grapes that have gained a following throughout the years, and the fact that these wines cannot be labeled as Ribera del Duero D.O. has not hurt their sales.

Old vine in Bodegas Viña Sastre vineyard
Photo Credit: Bodegas Viña Sastre

Known for their old vineyards that are either farmed organically and/or biodynamically, Bodegas Viña Sastre makes a white wine made from 100-year-old vines grown at 2,700 feet altitude from a white grape called Cayetana Blanca. This variety hasn’t gotten that much respect in Spain as it is usually a high-yielding grape that makes neutral wine, but this particular extremely low-yielding biodynamic vineyard produces a wine that has rich fruit flavors and floral aromatics. Jesús Sastre, owner, winemaker and vineyard manager, noted that his U.S. importer quickly sold out of this wine called “Flavus,” and it has gained a loyal following of wine drinkers who appreciate its beautiful qualities without needing the validation of being officially labeled as a higher-quality status wine.

Many Ribera del Duero wine producers have gone to their neighboring wine region Rueda to add a high-quality designated white wine to their portfolio by either buying a winery or having a wine made by another winery from the aromatic white grape variety Verdejo. The grape variety Verdejo is often referred to as the Spanish Sauvignon Blanc in the U.S. as they have a similar profile, and some of the wines will have a small amount of Sauvignon added to the final blend. Ribera del Duero and Rueda have had a great partnership as the latter has offered something desperately needed by the former, and they often join forces to market both of these wine regions in export markets.

One producer synonymous with ultra-premium Ribera del Duero wines, Bodegas Pago de Carraovejas, decided to make white wines from the Verdejo grape in a unique area of Rueda, in the town of Nieva within the Segovia province, which includes a small section of the Ribera del Duero region as well as part of Rueda. The winery they established in Rueda is called Ossian, and the wines have a cult following with their legendary “Capitel,” made from 200-year-old Verdejo vines, retailing around $125. Pago de Carraovejas was established by José María Ruiz, who represented Spain in the first-ever World Sommelier Contest in Milan, winning 5th place out of 60 participating countries. When he came back to Spain, he was energized by the world’s focus on gastronomy, and he was determined to be part of establishing great restaurants in Ribera del Duero, but he also wanted to make elevated wines ideal for the finest restaurants in the world.

Working the old vines on the Ossian estate in the province of Segovia Photo Credit: Ossian

The Ossian estate is made up of 22-acres of high-altitude (up to 3,000 feet), pre-phylloxera Verdejo vines that range between 100 to 200 years old, planted in sandy soil, hence why the vines were able to escape the insect pest that devastated many European vineyards as phylloxera can’t survive in sandy soil. The wines are complex, concentrated, terroir-driven and age-worthy Verdejo wines that sommeliers around Spain have cherished as a Spanish fine wine choice to match with food instead of a French white Burgundy.

These wines have proven that there are hidden pockets capable of producing outstanding white wines as well as red. A decision was made to label the wines under the broader Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León designation, which covers a more extensive region. This designation is one step below the Rueda D.O. designation, which the wines could use. But since the wines do not represent the average easy drinking Rueda D.O. Verdejo wines and are reflective of these specific 22-acres, it makes sense to place them in a category that isn’t known for a particular wine profile. And these wines show that there are pockets within the Castilla y León area, which includes Ribera del Duero as well, that have vineyards capable of making outstanding white wine.

New Journey for Ribera del Duero

When it comes to finding the ideal winery techniques or a typical profile for a 100% Albillo white wine, Álvaro Comenge says that the region of Ribera del Duero is still experimenting and trying to find its way. His winemaker for Bodegas Comenge takes the wine through a complicated process of having one section of Albillo grape bunches go through cold maceration. At the same time, he freezes the other section of grapes as the freezing helps to “break down the structure” to “liberate more aromas.” Furthermore, they use Saccharomyces yeasts (the most common species for winemaking) and non-Saccharomyces (not as common) on different sections. Albillo is a grape variety with a range of aromas and flavors, but those aromas and flavors can be challenging to release from the grapes.

It is not surprising to hear about Álvaro encouraging his winemaker to go to such lengths to unlock the potential of the Albillo grape as he not only comes from a grandfather who wrote the first in-depth Spanish wine textbook, but his grandmother was just as impressive. She was the first woman in the area to study medicine, and she was taught by Santiago Ramón y Caja, a Nobel Prize laureate for medicine. And so it is in Álvaro’s D.N.A. to refuse to settle for the easy road of accepting what the world gives him by normal means. Pulsating in his blood is the need to explore and go beyond anyone’s expectations, and Ribera del Duero’s new white wine journey will only benefit from his family’s innovative spirit.

2020 Carmen by Comenge, Rosé
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd
2019 Comenge, Albillo Photo Credit:
Cathrine Todd

Bodegas Comenge

2019 Comenge, Albillo, Ribera del Duero DO, Spain: 100% Albillo from a 100-year-old vineyard. Nose of almonds and honeysuckle with lemon sorbet flavors along the rich, textural body.

2020 Carmen by Comenge, Rosé, Ribera del Duero DO, Spain: 50% Albillo and 50% local red varieties from a 100-year-old vineyard. This wine would have been called a Claret wine in the past, but today it is considered, for marketing purposes, a darker rosé. The white Albillo grape and the red varieties are fermented separately and then blended. Pretty violet notes on the nose and a mixture of wild blackberries and bright red cherries with a hint of crushed rocks in the background. 

2020 Valduero, Blanco Albillo
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Bodegas Valduero

2020 Valduero, Blanco Albillo, Ribera del Duero DO, Spain: 100% Albillo. A lifted citrus blossom note on the nose with lots of stony minerality on the palate with white peach flavors and lots of weight on the body balanced by fresh acidity.

2018 Bodegas Viña Sastre ‘Flavus’
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

Bodegas Viña Sastre

2018 Bodegas Viña Sastre ‘Flavus’ Vino de Mesa, Spain: 100% Cayetana Blanca (also known as Jaén) from 100-year-old vines grown at 2,700 feet altitude using organic and biodynamic practices. A varietal Cayetana Blanca wine can only technically qualify for the lower Vino de Mesa designation, so it is not allowed to place the vintage on the front of the bottle, but I did confirm that this was the 2018 vintage. An explosion of flavor with lemon curd, peach pie and dried wildflowers with bright acidity and juicy body.

Ossian Vides y Vinos (Bodegas Pago de Carraovejas)

2018 Ossian ‘Quintaluna’ Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain: 100% Verdejo from vines that average around 100 years old. Dried elderflower and orange zest dances on the nose with zingy quince paste flavors laced with minerality that finishes with mouthwatering acidity.

2018 Ossian ‘Capitel’
Photo Credit: Cathrine Todd

2018 Ossian ‘Ossian’ Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain: 100% Verdejo from vines that average around 150 years in age. Multi-layered stone fruits with hints of anise seed and jasmine that has zesty lemon confit flavors on the palate with a smoky minerality, lots of energy and a fierce drive along the sustained finish.

2018 Ossian ‘Capitel’ Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain: 100% Verdejo from 200-year-old vines. A smoky minerality is upfront with this beauty that evolves through time into spiced toast and fennel fronds that has irresistible flavors of pear tart with a knockout textural component that brings this wine to another level of elegance and complexity; an extraordinarily long finish.

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