You Can’t have a Rainbow without Rain

Once we get to a certain place in our lives we sometimes find ourselves revisiting places we had once thought we would never see again. This was my experience going back to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the US, and some might say the world, Big Sur, in the Central Coast of California.

I was first there around 20 years ago…I find it odd to say 20 years ago, but I guess that is what starts happening when you hit your 40s. I was newly married, us only knowing each other a couple months before we tied the knot at City Hall. Not the best decision to make, but what can I say? I was a romantic and I had a lot of issues I was not dealing with at the time. Since I was working a couple of jobs since my first day of living in New York City, I hadn’t had the chance to visit a lot of places – actually, I barely went on a day field trip to somewhere local like the Bronx Zoo, and I didn’t grow up with a family in the traditional sense, so I didn’t have many experiences traveling as a kid. So it was a big deal for me to go out to California, to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, to be part of something, finally, with a marriage; but when we don’t look at the hard issues that plague us from our childhood, we will most certainly make choices based on our dysfunction and not on the healthy future we are trying to build. A few years later, the marriage ended when my then husband had an affair and my world came crumbling down… a ton of bricks hit me and it took a long time to process what had happened, why it had happened, and just to do damage control.

In many ways I felt I never experienced Big Sur during my initial visit because I had so much pain, anger and complete lack of self worth that I was trying to bury deep inside of myself that it was difficult to feel the beauty of the place.

Edna Valley Vineyard

My recent chance to go back out to see Big Sur involved a trip to Edna Valley Vineyard winery – I had actually sold these wines back in the day when I worked on the distribution side of the wine business in New York City and they were always wines that could sell themselves (balanced, elegant, and over-delivering on price). Edna Valley is a bewitching place with gorgeous farmland that has volcanic mountains throughout giving it a dramatic look; it is over 2 hours away from Big Sur and just south of the charming city of San Luis Obispo.

Kamee Knutson

I was able to spend a lot of quality time with Kamee Knutson, winemaker of Edna Valley Vineyard, and despite it being a great opportunity to gain deeper knowledge about the wines that I had already admired (and it didn’t hurt that they had one of the most stunning tasting rooms I have ever seen) it was just an amazing experience to connect with someone who was always present and giving… from the first moment I met her, she insisted on taking off her sunglasses, even though the sun was directly in her eyes and she hadn’t slept that much due to the fact that they had just started harvest, so she could “connect” – and I was thrilled to know she was a yoga teacher on the side.

Kamee is a flame… I was drawn to her warmth and light… I could tell she had a brilliant mind and a hell of a lot of experience but her main priority was to be open and to make those around her feel good. I can see why many people think she is much younger than her actual age because she has a large amount of enthusiasm and approachability that many of us lose as time takes its toll on us.

In one moment, during lunch, I was talking to her about vintages and asked her about when she goes back and re-tastes different years if she relives what she went through? Kamee immediately talked about the intense emotion tasting past vintages can evoke and she recalled recently tasting the 2011. It was one of those hellish years where many producers had to make the decision between salvaging what they could save by picking early or taking the gamble to let the grapes hang and possibly improve through time – she picked the latter and was rewarded with balanced wines from a ferociously tough year. But Kamee said she learned a lot through such an extremely stressful experience… she mainly learned that she had what it took to make such tough decisions, especially when she was surrounded by the opposing pull of colleagues who were playing it safe.

“If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” -Dolly Parton

After our discussion, I realized what makes Kamee such a bright light is that she takes each moment for what it is and she opens herself up to it – and when she makes that decision every day, she takes in the good and the bad with the benefit of making the soundest choices at the time. I could not help but think as she vividly described the 2011 vintage as she was telling her story that her present nature made it possible for her to make the best choice, and how I could not really remember Big Sur during my first visit because I was not allowing myself to be present in life at that time. I think 20 years ago I was disconnected from so many experiences because I was terrified of all of the darkness that could come up; I was denying myself of getting to the point where I could enjoy the simple joys that had surrounded me everyday.

Despite my daily struggle to live a life that is ever present, I do have my moments when I feel like I don’t have the strength to keep that intention… but when I meet someone like Kamee, I am given a real life reminder that a flame needs to be exposed to oxygen to thrive and if you try to protect it too much from the elements, it will be extinguished.

 

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Edna Valley Vineyard Wines Tasted on August 8th & 9th 2018

 The Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast wines sources their grapes from Monterey County to Santa Barbara County.

2017 Central Coast, Rosé, California: Blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. This rosé had brambly fruit with fresh acidity and spice on the energetic finish. A fun rosé!

-2017 Central Coast, Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. An ideal pairing is a seafood bake feast (we had one on the beach) and this bright Sauvignon Blanc. It had a mouthwatering lemon peel flavor and hints of green mango with a nice amount of flesh on the body along the refreshing finish.

 –2016 Central Coast, Chardonnay, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. A balanced Chardonnay that had juicy peach notes with only a touch of spice that had a moderate body and baked apple on the finish. This is one of their most popular wines and I can see why!

2016 Central Coast, Pinot Noir, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Black cherry and dried flowers made this wine delicious from first sniff and it had an intense energy that carried through to give it a bright lift.

 2016 Central Coast, Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast AVA, California: 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah. This wine had everything with boysenberry tart flavors, spice cake and shapely tannins that gave it a structure that balanced the generous fruit.

 

Edna Valley Vineyard Winemaker Series Wines are only available in their tasting room and express the unique characteristics of specific appellations within the Central Coast.

2017 Winemaker Series Heritage, Rosé, Edna Valley AVA, California: Blend of Syrah, Pinot Noir & Grenache. This rosé definitely kicked it up to the next level with wild strawberries, salty minerality and orange blossoms making the view of the volcanic mountains of Edna Valley even that much more enchanting. A velvety texture with a zing of tart cherry on the finish made this rosé a food-friendly companion.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. Sourced from their “Heritage Block” of Chardonnay planted on its own roots in 1973 (not grafted), the combination of the Tepesque clone, climate and vine age results in lower yields with more concentrated flavors. Ripe nectarines with a touch of crème brûlée and nutmeg with a fleshy, sultry body that had a long, flavorful finish.

 2017 Winemaker Series Heritage, Fleur de Edna Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. The Wente Chardonnay clone was used which retains its acidity and gives the wine a delicate floral note. Although this wine is “Chablis-like” in its style, it is 100% Edna Valley cool climate Chardonnay and shows the diversity of the various micro-climates in the area. Lemon zest, green melon and an intoxicating perfume that had a fierce, linear body that was taut and exciting.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Pinot Noir, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Pinot Noir. The Central Coast is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir country and this ‘Winemaker Series’ Pinot Noir from Edna Valley is proof of that. This wine is a special beauty that gives layers of stunning aromatics such as lilacs and cardamom with restrained fruit of wild cherries that has a long, linear finish that was impressive with its delicate nature.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Meritage, Paso Robles AVA, California: 43% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 9% other select varieties. Lush plum pie and cinnamon notes with gravelly earth that finished with tannins that were as smooth as silk.

 

Edna Valley Vineyard Reserve wines are made from the top selection of their grapes of the Central Coast.

2015 Reserve, Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. The Reserve Edna Valley is their richest Chardonnay, keeping in mind that their overall style is fresh and restrained. Kamee Knutson, winemaker for Edna Valley, called this the “Dolly Parton” of her Chardonnay wines and I thought that was the ideal descriptor. Dolly Parton may have been mostly known for her superficial outside appearance but she is a brilliant, extremely talented woman (writing many hits for other singers) who has quietly given large amounts of money to charities over many decades; so there is a lot more than meets the eye. The same can be said for this wine with its immediately satisfying notes of caramelized pineapple, salt water taffy and an underlying wet stone note that makes this wine regally decadent with an inner core that is elegant and all about being a class act.

2014 Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles AVA, California: 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 2% Viognier. Dark cocoa powder, fresh violets, smoky cedar embers and beautiful cassis made this wine hard to resist just by the nose and delivered plenty of acidity, elegant structure and character to the intensely concentrated fruit along the expressively delightful finish.

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The Road that will Last

Rambunctious laughter along with the faint smell of Pringles snack chips drifted around the huge bus that was speeding down the main roads from Venice to Bologna in Italy. One would think we were a bunch of long-time friends as we chuckled at the idea of the bus driver pulling over because the lower hatch, which kept our luggage in the lower compartment area, wasn’t completely shut, imaging our baggage sprawled along the highway. But we weren’t friends, or colleagues; we weren’t even acquaintances… we were complete strangers who all shared one thing in common: our plans to travel home that day got completely derailed.

Vin Natur

I had just finished a trip to Veneto, Italy to take workshops with Vin Natur, an organization started by one of the founding fathers of natural wine Angiolino Maule. While there, I delved into their research and work to deliver consistently high quality across the board when it comes to making wines naturally. Also, it was great to have a group define natural wines led by one of the living legends who started the movement. I ended up blind tasting over 150 natural wines, mainly from Italy, surrounded by the beautiful carvings of the monastery where the events were held, in the charming town of Vicenza, which was a reflection of the grand ideals these wines lived up to… it was an incredible experience with global wine experts from around the world in attendance.

Traveling Home

At the end of these work trips, I am always exhausted because I give every ounce of energy I have to the task at hand; also, being away from my husband takes its toll and I start to get homesick so I was looking forward to getting home at soon as I could. I arrived early at the Marco Polo airport in Venice, an international airport I have flown in and out of many times, because it is notorious for being a relatively small airport that handles an overwhelming number of travelers. I have heard of various people missing a flight out of Venice, despite their early arrival, because of the copious, seemingly endless lines that one needs to navigate just to get anywhere near their gate. But on this particular morning, it was not that bad and I actually got to the gate quite early, only to find out shortly afterwards that there was going to be an hour delay.

Although I did not look forward to staying an extra hour in the cramped Venice airport, it should have still been possible to catch my connecting flight in Dublin, Ireland… but then the dreaded news that there was going to be a 2 hour delay unsettled my stomach – I would not be able to make my connection to New York City. I scrambled to look for later flight options out of Dublin, but before I knew it, people around me were saying, “The flight is canceled!” What made this particular situation even more stressful was the idea that there was no representatives from our airline, Aer Lingus, in the Venice airport and to make matters even more complicated, there was a language barrier that made it difficult for us to understand the situation. When my fellow passengers and I approached the desk in a desperate plea to get answers to our fate, we were met with such perplexing replies as, “You need to figure it out with them” to which a few of my fellow passengers shouted “Aren’t YOU them!?!” All of us on that canceled flight quickly realized that we could only rely on each other… we needed to get to know each other quickly, look out for each other, share information, and most importantly, make sure that no one was left behind.

Strength in Like Minded People

Angiolino Maule and his colleagues got to a similar point when they realized that the only way they could improve and promote natural wines was to depend on each other. Angiolino is a legend with a loyal following but his legacy is not just about his own family winery, it is an integrity he is passionately trying to bring back to the world. He has gathered a diverse group of people who sit on the executive committee of Vin Natur, ranging from other natural winemakers to scientists to former commercial winemakers, that oversees a membership of over 200 who benefit from the research and resources of the collective group. Vin Natur expects their members to not only keep within their guidelines to be considered a natural wine, but they also expect the wines to be fault free. They believe both of these ideals can live in harmony when like minded people combine their energies.

It was interesting to learn that in 2016, 4 of their members’ wines were found to have pesticides when they analyzed 150 samples from their group, as the producers were genuinely shocked. Later on it was found that a couple of producers were buying “organic” treatments from a company that did indeed have pesticides in these treatments and so those producers stopped working with that company. A year later, none of the samples contained any of the 188 different pesticides that Vin Natur has identified, and as a group they were happy to give the producers that had tested positive for pesticides in 2016 another chance, which in 2017 they passed the analyses with flying colors having no pesticides. Despite the group taking any sort of misstep against their rules seriously, with possible revocation of membership, they give their members a chance to redeem themselves the next year as many of these small producers simply need help and guidance, and in the above case, they need to be protected from unscrupulous companies trying to make a quick buck.

Back in the Venice airport, I was shoving a caprese sandwich and a large can of Pringles (I was not limiting myself to the travel size this time!) down my throat because we were given a “one hour” lunch break before we had to return to board a bus that would take us to Bologna to catch a flight that would get us to Dublin around 10pm, with hopefully other flights to get us home the next morning… but within the first 15 minutes of our hour long break, one of the other passengers grabbed my arm and said, “The bus is leaving now!” I was on the phone with my husband, who I was catching up with at the time while trying to eat the fastest meal of my life, so I told him, “I gotta go!” and hung up the phone as I raced outside. I couldn’t blame the Venice airport staff for wanting to get rid of us as soon as possible, albeit with a “f@(k you” look on their face as we loaded the bus; earlier, a couple of the passengers understandably flipped out on that same staff who were really just trying to relay the limited information they were given at the time. It was simply a bad situation for all parties involved. But if it wasn’t for my fellow passengers having my back, I would have been stranded in a very tough position.

All of Us Would Have Had Each Other

Once we got to Dublin, the staff at the Aer Lingus desk more than made up for what had happened and we ended up spending a free night at a nearby hotel, and before any of us knew it, it was the next morning and we were running to our gates to go back home, but not without having a moment to say goodbye to each other. One of the things that most of us had major anxieties about was the thought of having to spend the night at the airport and all of us expressed our relief that was not the case in our farewell. But one of the women said, “It would have been fine because all of us would have had each other.” And I found out that many of us had envisioned all of us sleeping in a circle with our bags piled up in the middle, protected by our collective tribe. It was bittersweet to say goodbye in that moment, as I knew we would never see each other again, but it renewed my faith that there are people who wholeheartedly believe in the power of community – even if it is only for a 24-hour span of trying to get back home.

That is why Vin Natur will succeed where individual producers have failed in the long term. They are not taking the easy road, but by gathering and preserving a group that is trying to accomplish a lofty goal, it is the road that will last.

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Vin Natur Wines Tasted on June 14th & 15th, 2018

It is always complicated to taste a large amount of wines blind within a short amount of time, and so, the following wines weren’t the best of the lot per se, but just stood out in that moment as some may have needed more decanting than others. Of course, considering that the majority of the Vin Natur members are located in Italy, the below list should not indicate that a particular country is better at making natural wines than others.

The following list is only in the order of how the wines were presented in the blind tasting.

-2016 Vini Conestabile della Staffa, “Il Brioso”, Umbria, Italy: Blend of Grechetto & Trebbianco Toscano. This frizzante white wine was absolutely delicious with a mineral drive, mouthwatering acidity and zesty finish.

2016 Tenuta Belvedere, “Wai”, Lombardy, Italy: 70% Pinot Nero and 30% Riesling Italiaco. Another frizzante knock-out with fierce minerality that had a tart, lively edge and a lifted finish.

2016 Il Cavallino di Maule Sauro, “Pri”, Veneto, Italy: 100% Garganega. Sauro Maule, no relation to Angiolino Maule, is one of Angiolino’s students who made him proud by being one of the top wines, scored highly by all the judges. This white wine was generous and complex with pure fruit and bright acidity.

2016 Marina Palusci Az. Agr., “Senzaniente”, Abruzzo, Italy: 100% Montepulciano. Elegant wine (I know it is strange to say this with the Montepulciano variety) that gives pretty fruit, minerality and good energy.

2017 Lamoresca di Rizzo Filippo, “Nerocapitano”, Sicily, Italy: 100% Frappato. Nimble yet concentrated with red and black fruit and a touch of earth, good structure and shape along the long length.

2014 Tenuta Canto alla Moraia, “San Sereno”, Tuscany, Italy: 40% Sangiovese, 20% Colorino, 20% Malvasia Nera and 20% Foglia Tonda. The nose was fantastic, complex and elegant, with bright fruit and floral notes with a round body.

-2016 Cantina Margò, “Bianco Regio”, Umbria, Italy: 100% Trebbiano. This wine would not be for everyone but I really liked the oxidative quality as it was done well. Rich nutty and spicy notes and lovely minerality on the finish.

2016 La Biancara Soc. Agr., “Pico”, Veneto, Italy: 100% Garganega. Any serious natural wine fans will know this wine… from the man himself, Angiolino Maule, and his top wine “Pico”. I scored this wine high on “authentic character” and said “great sense of minerality” which was evident from first sip to finish. Orange peel and beautiful fruit expression made this wine a pleasure to taste and it had a great zing throughout.

2017 Domaine de Courbissac, “L’Orange”, Languedoc, France: 70% Marsanne with a blend of Muscat, Terret and Grenache Gris. This orange wine was just so enjoyable to drink with notes of orange blossom and chalk with an overall elegant, pristine quality.

-2015 Klabjan, “Malvazija”, Istria, Slovenia: 100% Malvasia. This orange wine scored third to highest when I tasted it blind and it was my favorite orange wine. I have no experience with Slovenian wines and considering two other Slovenian producers scored highly for me as well, Reia and Kmetija Štekar, I’m thinking I better seek more out. This wine was multifaceted with flowers, stone fruit, minerality and it was vibrant with an extraordinarily long finish. It was a WOW wine!

-2014 Barale, “Castellero” Barolo, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. Pristine fruit with red cherry, rose oil and smoldering earth with a long finish shaped by well etched tannins.

-2011 Podere Giocoli, “Alione” Chianti, Tuscany, Italy: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo. A lovely nuanced wine that showed the beauty when Sangiovese and Canaiolo work together with overall finesse with intoxicating smell of wild flowers.

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Co-Fermentation – Being Our Best Selves Together

America is a crazy experiment when it comes to mixing a diversity of races and ancestries without one distinctive culture uniting all of us. It is messy, chaotic and just plain scary at times… the fierce, in your face, clashes we have and the constant debate over ‘where does freedom of expression end and the safeguard of a society begin’ seems to never resolve itself. These thoughts were intensified by a documentary I saw recently that addressed the last years of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – a beloved American civil rights leader who, according to his closest friends and colleagues, was a great man who had his own moments of doubt and conflict.

Talbott Vineyards

It was serendipitous that I would find myself in the Talbott Vineyards cellar with winemaker David Coventry talking about the brighter future of Talbott based on a new Pinot Noir which co-ferments 3 different types of clones instead of fermenting each different clone separately and then blending them together… this wine was the only one that could be co-fermented successfully, in David’s opinion, because it was from the best grapes that were all ready at the same time.

Co-Fermentation

Co-fermenting grapes, not only from different clones but from different varieties, is not a new practice; actually it is an ancient one. It was common for small producers in traditional winemaking countries, such as Italy, to have a “field blend” of varieties that were drastically different – even with red and white varieties – and wine producers would pick them all together and toss them all into a vessel to ferment together. As one can imagine, this was more for practical purposes for struggling producers who were just working with the hodgepodge of grape vines that were planted by the previous generations – many of them not even identified. Also, another reason for co-fermentation was due to the idea that one variety seemed to help out a weakness of another while it went through the process.

It was interesting to hear David talk about the idea of co-fermentation as the ideal way of making a Pinot Noir when dealing with high quality grapes that reached a balanced state all at the same time. As some of you California wine lovers may already know, Talbott Vineyards is known for raising the identity of the Monterey area as a high quality winemaking AVA (American Viticultural Area) and so its reputation is set, but bringing on David Coventry as the head winemaker, a man who believes in upping the bar for excellence everyday, a couple years ago is a signal that Talbott has many more achievements in the wine world to come… it is exciting to think what the future holds.

I was lucky enough to get a tiny preview of their future with David as he tasted us on various barrels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in their cellar. When it was Pinot Noir time, he saved the most thrilling for last and that was a wine, the name of it not determined yet, that had the 3 different clones co–fermented as discussed above. As we tasted it, I was blown away… it had everything… intense aromatics, fleshy fruit, lush body, elegant structure and fresh acidity, and then as the finish wafted around in my head, I could hear David explain that it was on another level from the other samples because of the “unified flavor set”.

Better Ability to Co-Ferment

David went on to discuss that what made this 3 clone co-fermented wine possible was Talbott’s project to replant old vines with better clones that were appropriate for each plot. His response to people who are horrified that they are taking out the old vines: “What is important is the piece of ground and how you respect it and focus its power.”

It is interesting when I travel to other countries, and I love to travel, that some people I meet express how terrifying the US seems from the various news clips of the innumerable clashes and they feel sorry for me to be living in such a place. But honestly, I would not want to have been born in any other country because, despite knowing all the tough issues we face on a daily basis, I would never have had the opportunity to be exposed to a multitude of ways of life, mindsets, or expressions of being if I had not been born and continued to live my 43 years here. There is a price for everything and the hard road of trying to create a world where everyone freely expresses their true inner self is the road that I will choose every time. But I do think we can have our own successful co-fermented moments… when we are surrounded by people who decide to be their best and we are all at that ideal, balanced place in our life. Those are the moments that kept Dr. King going and those moments will keep hope alive for all of us.

As younger generations evolve to the next stage, like the old vines getting replanted by newer vines that have a better ability to co-ferment, our diverse society will have more of those ideal moments of co-fermentation.

 

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 Tasting of Talbott Vineyards Wines on August 6th & 7th, 2018

2016 ‘Kali Hart’, Chardonnay, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The ‘Kali Hart’ wines are Talbott’s most fruit-forward expression of their Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. This wine was everything that one wants from their weekly Chardonnay with lush exotic fruit that was balanced by bright citrus peel with a sense of place on the finish. A truly delightful wine that hits the spot every time.

 

2016 ‘Kali Hart’, Pinot Noir, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. Sometimes it can seem impossible to find a very nice Pinot Noir at a reasonable price… but this ‘Kali Hart’ will not break the bank to buy a bottle. Talbott winemaker David Coventry said that all of us have a section in our brain marked “yum” and this wine “pushes that button”. Ripe raspberry with baking spice and hint of Tahitian vanilla bean with a texture that felt like ribbons of silk.

 

2016 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The Sleepy Hollow vineyard brought attention to well-made wine from Monterey, especially from the sub-appellation Santa Lucia Highlands and Talbott is the producer who started it all. This Chardonnay was laced with intense minerality that had lemon curd flavors that brought a creamy quality balanced by vigor that finished with a touch of marzipan.

-2016 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. I love, love this wine and I must admit I have a weakness for great Pinot Noir. Multi-layered wild red berries with a lush body that had a firmer structure than the 2015 below. It had an incredible depth of flavor and complexity with plum pie and nutmeg flavors that had hints of gravelly earthiness and it was stunning in its superb length of flavor.

-2015 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. The 2015 had higher toned wild berry notes than the 2016 that were delicate and pretty in a more ethereal experience. A light and nimble wine that caught me off guard having power in its staying power as it danced in my head all night long.

2014 Diamond T Vineyard, Chardonnay, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The Diamond T 14-acre (6 hectares) vineyard was planted with the Corton-Charlemagne Chardonnay clone in 1982 by Robb Talbott in a virtually soil-free chalky shale on a 1,200-foot mountaintop (366 meters). A lovely citrus blossom nose with hints of acacia and chalky soil that had lots of finesse and energy on the palate with marked acidity and fresh lemon flavors that were balanced with a creamy body along the long, pure finish.

2014 Diamond T Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. From the Diamond T vineyard as well from a selection of Dijon clone grapes. This is a cool climate, producing aromatically complex Pinot Noir that is balanced by low yields for deeper concentration. At first, this wine was brooding with black cherries and scorched earth notes but it transformed in the glass with cinnamon bark, fresh cranberries and a stony minerality that danced on the top of the darker, more sultry, flavors. The velvety texture combined with the complex, dense and bright notes made this a world class show stopper that continued all its delights along an extremely long and expressive finish.

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Refusing the Only Two Choices We were Given in Life

Many people migrate from one area to another for various reasons. Perhaps they have a dire situation, or it is a chance for a better life for one’s children, or sometimes someone just wants their voice to be heard… to be valued beyond the stereotypes that have been given. We are living in times where women from all over the world are pleading for a seat at the table and they don’t want to have to move to a far off land just to be given a chance to have their opinion recognized. There are some women able to leave their homes never looking back, depending on their situations, and others that yearn for the places and people of their childhood and wished that they weren’t essentially forced to leave.

Syrah in Sicily

Sicily is one of the most exciting wine regions in the world when it comes to native grape varieties (with already 76 in production) yet wine producers are discovering more and more each day and they believe the final number will surpass over 100. Despite there being a handful of international varieties still being made by some Sicilian producers, as there is a big demand for them on the Sicilian domestic market, there is one that stands out as doing extremely well in certain vineyard areas in Sicily: Syrah. The best Sicilian Syrah wines are generous and approachable with refined structure and fresh acidity that has layers of flavors and aromas.

Sallier de La Tour

I was able to sit down and have a lunch with Costanza Chirivino to taste her Sallier de La Tour wines from Western Sicily which has been in her family since 1756, located only 40 minutes outside of the multi-cultural city of Palermo. Her family estate became part of the legendary winemaking group, Tasca d’Almerita, and so there are more resources to help bring these wines, with a long history, to other wine consumers beyond her home country.

Although Costanza has known the Tasca d’Almerita family for many years and is excited to learn from their experience (as a more internationally established wine producer) she is not afraid to express her own opinion and bring her own personality to the wines as is most noted in the top wine, ‘La Monaca’, from the designated quality area Monreale DOC, and comes from a strict selection of their Syrah picked from the best vineyards. The label interestingly enough depicts a very determined looking nun holding a wine grape bunch as a crown has been lifted from her head. It was the first thing that jumped out at me when I saw the bottles and I was utterly drawn into its possible meaning just like how the ‘La Monaca” Syrah drew me in with its deep complexity.

Many of the other wine labels (which have been recently changed) from Sallier de La Tour honors her ancestral past balanced by a modern, playful creativity, such as having clothing from centuries past adorn bodies that have plants as their heads which represent the herbs that surround Costanza’s wine estate. But ‘La Monaca’ stood out, and it was an especially important design created by Costanza as it takes the idea of a Sicilian aristocratic daughter who only has two choices: to be a wife living according to her future husband’s whim, or to devote herself to the convent. But this nun has a determined look in her eyes, one that I could see flicker in Costanza. It reminded me of an old lesson that is based on avoiding the feeling of being trapped in a life of duality (only given two options, neither of which are good) that benefits no one… but the duality exists for so many of us.

Progress Leading to a Balanced World

We are living in tumultuous times, and that is because some people, no matter if it is about sex, race, or status holding them back, don’t want their only two options to involve leaving their home or having no voice. Recently I have seen with my own eyes women in Italy standing up to be heard, and the results sometimes, unfortunately, have had a violent outcome… but there are many Italian men listening and wanting to grow.

No matter a person’s situation, one will never find lasting happiness presuming their superiority of others; it can only come by acknowledging that all of us need each other at our best. In a world that suffers with the population either being overwhelmed, or being underwhelmed, we need to spread out the responsibilities, and ultimately, ground ourselves in the idea that progress will not rip away the past but just make the future more balanced.

 

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Tasting of Sallier de La Tour Wines with Costanza Chirivino on July 23rd, 2018

***All photos of Sallier de La Tour estate (above 1st & 3rd photos with the below photo are all credit to Sallier de La Tour)

Sallier de La Tour may be confusing because it sounds French but it is a family name that goes way back to ancestors that came from Piedmont which is a region that borders France. Also, the name ‘La Monaca’ which they us for their top selection of Syrah is the original name of the winery, which is now Costanza’s home, and pays hommage to her ancestors – again a lovely gesture that illustrates that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting the past.

2017 Inzolia, Sicilia DOC, Italy: 100% Inzolia. This local white grape variety was very expressive on the nose with orange blossoms and ripe peach with a hint of green almond on the finish.

2017 Grillo, Sicilia DOC, Italy: 100% Grillo. A man made cross of Catarratto and Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) that was created in Agrigento, Sicily in 1869. In my mind, it is one of the most successful crossings and it has become a popular white variety among quality producers. Zingy acidity with lemon confit and nectarine peel with rosemary on the mouthwatering finish.

2015 Nero d’Avola, Sicilia DOC, Italy: 100% Nero d’Avola. This is considered as the king of Sicilian local red varieties. An enticing nose with lilacs, allspice and fresh cherries with round tannins and a nice lift on the sustained length.

2015 Syrah, Sicilia DOC, Italy: 100% Syrah. Black pepper with brooding fruit that has a linear body with lots of drive and hints of toast on the finish.

2015 ‘La Monaca’, Syrah, Monreale DOC, Sicily, Italy: 100% Syrah. This is an incredible Syrah and a great example of why Sicily deserves to be on the list of top places that grow this variety. A multi-textural body that had an incredible sense of place with river rocks with Mediterranean herbs, wild blackberries and a hint of sweet tobacco, all wrapped up with finely etched tannins. This wine is shockingly good since the suggested retail price is around $35 (as well as the other wines being only $14-$15) but that is the reality when an unknown winery is trying to find their place in a competitive market.

Also, the ‘La Monaca’ comes from the Jato Valley within the Monreale DOC which produces the best Syrah for Sallier de La Tour.

 2016 ‘La Monaca’, Syrah, Monreale DOC, Sicily, Italy: 100% Syrah. This 2016 was just bottled but my goodness was it showing well and not displaying any type of shock. A smoldering earth note with richer, darker fruit than the 2015 that still has plenty of acidity and elegant shape to the tannins. This wine had an overall harmony to it that really impresses being so young in its life that displayed alternating layers of savory and sweet fruit with a delightful balance that continued across the long expressive finish.

 

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Telling Our Vintage Story

The most beautiful women I have known during my 43 years on Earth have all had one thing in common: at any given time, they showed their vintage. Race, background, nationality, social and economic standing, education, sense of style were all different, and nothing else was a commonality except that during the time I knew them they were completely transparent when it came to where they were in their life. The idea of avoiding humiliation or seeking outside approval did not stop them from leading with an open heart… they talk openly about their faults, let every wrinkle and blemish shine to the sky, proudly walk in a body that had more problems some years than others yet it was all part of their vintage story, and they knew that if they spent their time trying to hide every little flaw then they couldn’t give joy and love to the world. A person in their presence would feel what they had survived, what they had sacrificed to take care of others; it was a beauty so deep that no photo or description could do it justice.

 Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP)

In the beginning of June, I attended a Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) seminar where five legendary Zin producers poured wines from single vineyards coming from 4 different areas, aka American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Paso Robles, Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, and Dry Creek Valley.

It was one of those riveting conversations where I knew that this was a living history of one of the most misunderstood grape varieties which the US made their own. Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood, and Doug Beckett, owner of Peachy Canyon Winery, kicked it off with the colorful history of the Zinfandel clone and the many decades of research that it took to match it to an ancient variety called Tribidrag, as well as other names, that records suggest was a wine enjoyed by Venetian nobility as early as the 1400s. Evidence pointed to its origins in Kaštela, Croatia – although those from the Balkan country Montenegro make a good case as its homeland; but geneticist Dr. Carole Meredith, the American who helped connect Tribidrag to Zinfandel with two Croatian colleagues, said that despite not knowing the grape’s exact origins, it seems most probable to come from somewhere along the Adriatic coast, and that some top grape geneticists believe it may be one of the 13 founder grapes from which all other grapes can be traced back.

As if that wouldn’t already have been a thrilling enough piece of information to learn, Randle Johnson, winemaker for Artezin Wines, who produced top Cabernet Sauvignon with The Hess Collection for 20 years and now mainly focuses on Zinfandel with their Artezin winery, said that one of the biggest misconceptions is that Zinfandel lacks versatility – if anything, it is one of the most versatile red grapes out there. Randle thought its multifaceted nature was one of its greatest strengths as well as one of its greatest weaknesses… he exclaimed, “it can be so many different things, and it has done such, and many people will still say they are not sure what it is supposed to be.”

Every Zinfandel Tells the Vintage Story

Then, despite having 20 inspirational points I thought I could walk away with as a writer, Julie Pedroncelli St. John, owner of Pedroncelli Winery, closed out the seminar – literally and figuratively. Julie spoke about her family’s long history of growing Zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley that went back as far as 90 years and Pedroncelli has only had 3 winemakers: Julie’s grandfather, her uncle (from 1948 until 2013), and a woman from Catalonia, Spain, Montse Reece, who had worked with Julie’s uncle, John Pedroncelli, from 2007 until he passed in 2015. As the seminar was wrapping up, Julie said there was something very important she needed to share with us before they ended; when Julie asked Montse Reece recently what Zinfandel meant to her, Montse replied, “Every Zinfandel tells the vintage story” and Julie further explained that Zinfandel has the capacity to show everything it went through in a given year… drought, cooler or warmer weather, etc… Julie said, “Every time you have a bottle of our Zinfandel, it is telling a story.”

Taking In the Stages of Life 

Many of us are told that if we live a certain life and go about it in a particular way we will be happy, fulfilled, without serious bumps in the road… that is not true for many of us… there are things others never tell us (as they are hiding their own humiliation or pain) as the rug can be pulled out from under us in a multitude of ways. Life doesn’t go the way we plan, no matter if we were given a good start in life or not. Our first reaction is to cling to our youth for a chance to restart again – I think that is why there are so many products sold to make us look or feel young, so we can feel like we are reliving our life; but at the end of the day, it just creates more of an empty void of chasing an impossible goal that gets farther and farther with each year.

I think the secret to life is not making sure to check off certain boxes, because it will never turn out exactly the way we wanted it to… but it is the surrender to where we are right here and now. We do not shy away from our wrinkles, our bodies that have racked up miles, an overwhelmed mind that has witnessed lots of pain, anger, sadness as well as joy… we don’t try to be the outstanding vintage year after year, as that just gets too exhausting – life is really thrilling on its own, we just need to surrender to it.

This really hit home when Joel Peterson talked about the vineyard history of the wine he was pouring… it was called Dickerson because, for many years, it was owned by Bill Dickerson, a man Joel had known since he was 13 years old, who was regular at his father’s wine tasting group, who unexpectedly died in the tsunami caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004 while Bill and his wife were vacationing in Phuket, an island in Thailand. In that moment I flashed back to 2006 on my honeymoon in Thailand, two years after the tsunami, walking on the beach in Phuket with a local talking to us about how quickly the huge tidal wave came without warning and how it destroyed many lives… and then it went back into the ocean just as quickly as it had appeared. The devastation was still obvious and the sense of shock among those who still lived in the area was evident.

Life is precious and when it will come to be our turn to pass, it will not be the polished moments that people who are close to us will remember… it will be the messy, complicated, vulnerable moments that were not about making ourselves look good, but were about connecting with those around us.

 

***The first photo was taken by my husband during our Honeymoon of the south west of Thailand near Phuket.

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ZAP Tasting on June 6th, 2018

“ZAP exists to preserve and celebrate an important part of our heritage. We highlight the unique and wonderful characteristics of the grape—Zinfandel —that helped settle the West. Today, Zinfandel is recognized as a world class wine, grown in virtually every winegrape growing region of California. ZAP’s programs and outreach activities showcase the legacy and potential of Zinfandel’s unique contributions to the world of wine.”

2016 Peachy Canyon Winery, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles AVA, California: 100% Zinfandel. Owner Doug Beckett briefly talked about the 3 districts in Paso Robles that has significance in his mind: Adelaida, Templeton Gap, and Willow Creek – although the grapes for this wine are bought from another long standing vineyard, he is in the process of buying a vineyard in Willow Creek so Peachy Canyon Winery will have vineyards in each of these AVAs and they can expand their single vineyard program. Doug said that Willow Creek (with more mountains, higher rainfall) gives a more restrained, fresher wine that he prefers in their youth and in general he said he liked drinking Zinfandel young – but Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson jumped in and said he was drinking various Zinfandels from 1990-1997 and that they were delicious. Doug is a big believer in dry-farming (non-irrigated vineyards) and many of his vineyards follow that practice.

This wine had juicy black cherry and spice with hints of scorched earth and a touch of white pepper with round tannins and plenty of acidity to make it a good pairing with a diverse array of foods. Only 400 cases made.

2015 Ravenswood Winery, Dickerson Vineyard, Napa Valley AVA, California: 100% Zinfandel. Founder Joel Peterson passionately spoke about his strong belief in the ageability of Zinfandel, and again, he was currently drinking many from the 1990s and finding them in fantastic shape. He said that if Zinfandel is made to age, not too ripe or watered back and it gets to the point where you can ferment it dry, it will have energy and vibrancy left, but if the energy has been taken out, it will have problems aging. This vineyard, once owned by his late friend Bill Dickerson, was passed on to Bill’s daughters but eventually sold to owners of Pinterest, which was fine with him as it would take someone with major resources to keep a vineyard in Napa with old vine Zinfandel (originally planted in 1920) as Cabernet Sauvignon growers are getting 3x, up to 4x, more for their grapes grown just up the street.

The vitality jumped out of this wine with high-toned red raspberries and vibrant floral notes, very aromatic, with some dried herbs and good structure with drive that gave it a long finish and indicates that this beauty will age with grace in the long term. Only 800 cases made.

Also, a couple of fun side notes… this vineyard is head-pruned (as well as dry-farmed), as the previous Willow Creek, because Zinfandel has larger clusters that sit on each other so trellising takes a lot of work and that is why many high-quality Zinfandel producers in California prefer head-pruned. The Dickerson vineyard was planted on leafroll affected rootstocks – and so the leafroll rootstock affects the metabolic character of the vine so it gets less photosynthetic capacity (processes light less efficiently) and so takes a lot longer to ripen – the acid stays up and the fruit stays within the red raspberry spectrum as opposed to many of the other Napa Zinfandel vineyards having more of a plummy note. And finally, in 1960, the most grown grape in Napa was Petite Sirah but Zinfandel was a close second so it was well-liked in Napa – but today Zinfandel only makes up 2% of the vineyards in Napa Valley.

2015 Artezin, Collins Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA, California: 96% Zinfandel and 4% Carignane (Carignan). Winemaker Randle Johnson talked about the Collins family and their illustrious history with their Limerick Lane Winery and although the vineyards were sold off Michael Collins kept 8 acres (3.2 hectares), planted in 1934, and Artezin is fortunate enough to get half of those grapes to make this wine. Randle calls this a “tangent” wine as it does not have the “classic Zinfandel” characteristics such as the black pepper but it does have the red fruit, boysenberry deliciousness going on. He makes another Zin from Dry Creek which he said is classic. His Collins Vineyard in RRV and his Dry Creek just showed the sliver of the broad breadth of versatility that Zinfandel is capable of.

Crunchy red fruit with lilacs and bay leaf with fine tannins and an overall lightness of being while being concentrated at the same time. Only 400 cases.

2015 Pedroncelli, Bushnell Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley AVA, California: 97% Zinfandel and 3% Petite Sirah. Again, owner Julie Pedroncelli St. John’s family has been growing Zinfandel in Dry Creek for 90 years – going back 4 generations. Julie said the Pedroncelli wine style has always been Old World in style with a California twist. They grow hillside Zinfandel, both at their original 25 acres (10.1 hectares) of vineyards around their home ranch and this Bushnell vineyard is in the middle of Dry Creek Valley up on a hill, and it is considered an extension of the original vineyards; it was owned by her grandfather in the 1940s (they think it was planted around 1919 and re-planted in the 1990s), sold to his son-in-law and daughter in the 1950s, and they farmed it until 1990s and then Julie’s cousin Carol and her husband Jim Bushnell have tended the vineyard ever since.

Wild strawberries with baking spice and a hint of cocoa dust with deep concentration and textural complexity finishing with a note of black pepper. Only 1000 cases.

Also, interesting side notes… since Julie’s grandparents grew wine grapes 90 years ago they did have to suffer through Prohibition but found a way to survive by selling grapes to the head of households so they could make their own wine and it is still one of the few things not taxed in the US – up to 200 gallons. An the current winemaker, Montse Reece, likes to use yeast commonly used in Barolo because it is nice and slow and so pulls out a lot of nuances from the Zinfandel variety.

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When You Forget About the Human Aspect

Jean-Christophe Mau’s voice was filled with shock and sadness, yet determination to find a way to survive. It was during my lunch with him back in May, a lunch that included having him talk through a cell phone, on speaker, raised up above our table at a famous seafood place in Manhattan, New York City, called Docks. Just a few days earlier, one of the worst hailstorms in Bordeaux’s recent history came down fiercely, as only Mother Nature can do, with golf ball sized ice that decimated everything in their path. The lucky, and the unlucky, were decided within a matter of 15 minutes and when it was all over, Jean-Christophe, owner and manager of Château Brown, said that 50% to 70% of his vines were damaged.

As one can imagine, in that instance, Jean-Christophe had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and despite all of the New York City wine buyers and writers at that table understanding the gravity of the situation when we heard the news, he was still insistent on calling us and apologized profusely… he said that there were few things that could keep him from his NYC visit and unfortunately one of those unfathomable things happened.

Wine Knowledge

I have been around wine, talking and learning about it seriously, for almost 25 years… starting when I was a naïve 18 year old fresh “off the boat”, or my case a cheap plane flight, in NYC surrounded by people who knew a lot more than myself. Through the years I have learned a lot, as well as un-learned some things that have led me astray, as facts not only have a way of evolving and altering, but also, many of these facts were lacking a perspective in humanity.

Over the years, my frustrations at finding the same sort of prejudices and unfair generalizations that plague societies seep into wine as well made me get to the point where I no longer enjoyed wine… either I was going to leave it or I was going to start bringing the humanity back to it. I have to admit that I, shamefully, have said many ignorant things about wine in the past while trying to impress those who were more well-traveled, educated, and sophisticated than I was. Something deep down inside me, though, knew that it was not right to make similar sweeping statements about people – once we start to pick and chose who gets a fair shake at humanity, such as those who succeed get the negative sensational slant and those that are the downtrodden get an positive in-depth character analysis, we become no better than those strangers who throw unkind, biased words our way. In turn, we become part of the problem of deciding to take the humanity out of the discussion when it fits our purpose.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux has been the latest casualty of the unfair generalities in the world of wine. It is a warm, inviting place filled with many quality wine producers trying to create the best wine within a fair price point, but the flood of articles, year in year out, focusing on 1% of the most expensive wines – whether to praise them or demonize them – get placed into a group message about a pretentious Bordeaux. I understand that writing quality fair and balanced work is becoming an endangered species: unless there is an angle to it that is click bait, no one is going to see it; publications are facing the dire choice between writing well-balanced articles and potentially going out of business and writing something a bit more controversial and surviving – hoping that readers will be able to keep it in perspective on their own. So Bordeaux wines have become one of those easy, controversial tropics – accusations about their greed and lack of excitement are over-exaggerated while the producers making soulful wines at an attainable price have to spend too much time trying to defend themselves in export markets.

Château Brown

Jean-Christophe Mau

Château Brown is one of those wine producers… located in the heart of Bordeaux white wine country, Pessac-Léognan in Graves. The name may seem odd for a French wine producer but “Brown” pays respect to the Scottish wine trader, John Lewis Brown, who settled in Bordeaux shortly after the Revolution, in 1795, and bought a wine estate that was dated to have vines there since the 12th century. The Mau family has owned Château Brown since 2004, and despite not being part of the Brown lineage, they share the founder’s passion for placing a great amount of resources, time and energy into their vineyards as well as the winery. Their top white Château Brown sells out almost every year because of their fair pricing in combination with the reputation of the area; their often times overlooked reds and second wines have a beautiful finesse, generosity of fruit with good precision which illustrates how these wines have come a long way in their quality while staying true to the heartbeat of this château – managing vines that ultimately create elegant wines. In a 2013 interview with The Drinks Business, Jean-Christophe Mau said his most treasured possession was, “the land of Château Brown” which hits home the fact that not only was there a physical devastation caused by that ferocious hail storm but also emotional trauma.

Speaking the Language of the Heart

Through time, I decided that I would speak my wine truth as I spoke my truth in life, not tolerating any form of character assassinations on a person, or group of people, based on their nationality, or any other exterior factor, that was influenced by the past or present gossip circulating. If I was going to be a person that truly fought the good fight in the world, I needed to start holding myself accountable in the wine world. And so I started to write stories that were based on the humanity of the people involved, mainly to remind myself so I didn’t lose hope. I thought no one would be interested, and happily I was wrong… many of us are stepping up to demand a more balanced story – to me that is where being a knowledgeable wine lover truly lies… in the constant reminder that it is impossible to know everything and you don’t need to speak someone’s language to understand them… you just need to remember that he/she is just as human as you.

***2nd, 3rd and 4th photo are all credit to Château Brown

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Château Brown Tasting on May 30th, 2018

2015 La Pommeraie de Brown Blanc, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. La Pommeraie de Brown Blanc is the second wine of  Château Brown and comes from the same vineyard yet are grapes that are more ideal for a fruitier, lighter style of a Pessac-Léognan white wine. Notes of lemon confit and nectarine with hints of spice and hazelnut make this wine delicious now although the nice backbone of acidity indicates that it could evolve nicely with more time.

2015 Château Brown Blanc, La Pommeraie de Brown Blanc, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Sémillon. I must admit that, at first, I thought I incorrectly heard the blend… the second wine has majority Sémillon and the first wine has a majority of Sauvignon Blanc. I may be incorrect, but during the time when my life mainly focused on selling Bordeaux wines in the NYC area, I was always told that, traditionally, top white Bordeaux was meant to be majority Sémillon – but Château Brown quickly sells out their top wine year after year so they are doing something right and the wine is damn good – also, Sauvignon Blanc brings that high acidity that makes wine built for longevity. Lovely notes of honeysuckle and white peach skin with hints of vanilla bean and marked acidity that gives a mouthwatering finish.

2014 La Pommeraie de Brown Rouge, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot. This is the second wine to Château Brown’s red and although it is the whites that are legendary in the Pessac-Léognan area, in Graves, for those who like reds with more finesse and less extraction there are some real deals in this area of Bordeaux. A bright, moderate bodied wine with notes of red cherry and allspice that had gentle tannins that gave shape without rigidity.

2015 Château Brown Rouge, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: Blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot and 2%  Petit Verdot. But the complexity level was really kicked up a notch with this first selection… intoxicating bouquet of licorice, blueberry tart and tapenade with more evident tannins that were structured like fine lace.

2012 Château Brown Rouge, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: Blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. It may sound odd because this was not a top vintage but I was really loving this wine… perhaps that bottle just happened to be singing, or it was the pairing with the octopus that accompanied my Surf and Turf dish, or maybe, just maybe, its pure finesse and harmonious overall quality took me off-guard on a vintage that was not that popular. This wine seemed to have it all with a quiet elegance; richness of black berried fruit, complexity of smoldering earth, fine tannins that were completely integrated with bright acidity that lifted it on the long, expressive finish.

2009 Château Brown Rouge, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: 56% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. Of course I was not shocked at all with this beauty that had velvety tannins, dusty earth, sweet tobacco leaf with a smoky finish that stayed in my head for several minutes.

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In a Little Snapshot in Time

On July 27, 1990, Debbie Baigrie thought she was just going to have a night out with her friends in Tampa, Florida – the first time doing so since the birth of her second child… it ended up with her getting shot in the mouth when some men harassed her for money as she walked to go back to her car alone … although she went through 40 dental procedures to rebuild her gums and teeth, the mental healing was a much more arduous task. Later, she would find out that her assailant was a young man named Ian Manuel, hanging out with an older crowd, who shot her in panic… he was the only one who was caught. 3 days after the incident, he confessed to the crime and he was subsequently sentenced to life in jail… shockingly, he was only 13 years old.

Chablis & Oyster Pairing

Around a month ago, I went to a seminar pairing William Fèvre Chablis wines with oysters led by William Fèvre cellar master Didier Séguier and author & oyster guru Rowan Jacobsen at Seamore’s in NYC. At one point, Rowan said in regards to an oyster, “always catching it in a little snapshot in time” when the first oyster, paired with an every day drinking Chablis, had a lot more richness than expected. Rowan pointed out that the oyster had a purple edge and said that it was probably an indication that it was feeding like crazy during the spring, and because the waters were warming up recently, it started to convert all that it was feeding on into fat, which sometimes happens. He then said that if he knew that it would be at this stage, he would have paired it with a richer wine in the lineup, such as one of the Grand Cru.

Like so many other wine nerds, I have of course been obsessed with Burgundy for most of my wine loving existence, over a couple of decades now, and despite loving oysters and enthusiastically eating them by the dozens when given the opportunity, I really didn’t think about them being like Burgundy wines. Since oysters are filter feeders, they are one of the ideal foods to express terroir, or in this case “merrior” as Rowan said. Also, there are 5 different species of oysters and they are affected by human influence, such as with wine and winemakers, as there are a few different ways to handle them; so pairing a different type of oyster with each wine that each had a distinctive expression of place and style, especially with the Premier Cru and Grand Cru single vineyard wines, made perfect sense. Chablis and oysters are generally a classic pairing, as you can imagine, but this seminar showed that one could take this pairing to a deeper level.

2009 vs 2016

It was a great experience to taste the 2009 and 2016 Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros ‘Côte Bouguerots’ in the same lineup and to experience the very different oysters that accompanied them. The 2009 was paired with an extreme oyster that usually wouldn’t be paired with any wine because it would overwhelm it, but in this case, the big, rich and multi-faceted 2009 had evolved to a place where it could take on such an oyster, unlike the 2016 version… not only was 2009 older, but it was given more opportunities to thrive in a contrasting vintage.

After his first year in jail, a 14 year old Ian Manuel ended up calling his victim Debbie Baigrie after seeing her phone number on his paperwork. He apologized and asked if he could write to her… she said yes and so their correspondence started and continued during his many years in jail – much of his sentence carried out in solitary confinement. Debbie was taken aback by his ability to express himself through language and the deep thoughts he conveyed through his written words. She encouraged him to educate himself as much as he could while in jail, and since his mother passed away while he was incarcerated, Debbie ended up becoming his adopted mother.

In 2006, after spending 16 years in jail, Ian was given the chance to challenge his sentence 6 years after a Supreme Court decision prohibited life sentences for juveniles charged with anything less than murder, with Debbie by his side. He was released that day and since then Debbie has been his biggest supporter to help him to adjust to society… to continue his education… to live up to his potential.

Mind Stays Frozen in a Snapshot

I first heard about Ian and Debbie’s story last year and it has stayed with me ever since. It made me think that if she had decided to keep her opinions about him frozen in that one snapshot in time, his life would have turned out differently and many of us wouldn’t have had the chance to be inspired by their story… if things had worked out differently, he may have been rotting away in solitary confinement, going slowly mad with no real human interaction. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have the strength that Debbie had to first start the correspondence. I hope I would… but as she said in an interview, she makes no bones about him being responsible for what he did, but he was only 13 years old.

What are the snapshots in time of ourselves we would like to forget and those that we would like to be remembered for? What are the snapshots of others that we hold on to? What world does our mind see? The one of the past? The one of the future? Maybe we are missing more than we know, right in front of us. We don’t see the potential. We don’t see the possibilities.

I was extremely impressed with the knowledge of oyster guru Rowan Jacobsen, but I was most impressed to see him acknowledge something that surprised him in the moment. I know how one can have blinders when having spent so much time preparing for a seminar (that was being officially recorded for a learning tool no less) and it takes so much strength to stay in the moment itself, many times fighting our nerves and/or insecurities. Not only was he aware that things did not go according to plan, but he admitted it as well, becoming a learning moment for all of us in the room.

The great Chablis wines, such as the Grand Cru, can be very deceptive in their youth… from a classic, cooler year they can be tight and hard with fierce acidity – none of the beautiful complex notes ready to reveal themselves. It is not always fair to judge their quality in that fledgling stage. It was like that moment when Debbie read Ian’s first letter… she was willing to look past a moment that actually caused her a tremendous amount of mental and physical pain… and decided she could take a tragic moment and make it an opportunity to do a lot more good in her life. When we are looking for our purpose, sometimes it comes in the most unlikely places but we have to be awake in that moment to allow what we thought we knew to pass so we can open our eyes to the beauty of the world in front of us.

 

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I participated in two Chablis tastings on May 22nd, 2018: the first was the above mentioned Chablis and Oyster pairing and the second was a Twitter Chat/Tasting later that night.

All Chablis is 100% Chardonnay which is interesting to note as many people who think they don’t like Chardonnay like Chablis; it is its own wine connected to a specific place with its ancient Kimmeridgean soil that is estimated to be around 150 million years old. Also, the Chablis district’s close proximity to Champagne provides a cooler climate than the rest of Burgundy and their wines are known for their high acidity and expression of a chalky minerality that can also be found in Champagne.

William Fèvre cellar master Didier Séguier said that they never use new oak for their Chablis wines because he noted that when you use new oak, you make Chardonnay; when you don’t, you make Chablis; expression of place, terroir, is their main goal.

Tasting of William Fèvre Chablis Wines on May 22nd, 2018

2017 William Fèvre, ‘Champs Royaux’, Chablis AOC, Limited Edition Sea: Pale color with citrus peel, grapefruit and bright acidity was matched by Rowan Jacobsen with a classic oyster since he saw this as a white bistro wine, and so, he chose a West Coast, Pacific, Hama Hama oyster that was from Hood Canal, Washington. The Hama Hama is also commonly found in France, giving notes of cucumber and watermelon rind, but this one threw Rowan off as I mentioned above as it was much fattier than expected. This Hama Hama had a purple edge that Rowan pointed out and said was an indication that it was probably feeding like crazy during the spring and because the waters were warming up recently, it started to convert all that it was feeding on into fat which sometimes happens – he actually said that if he knew that it was at this stage he would have paired it with the richer wines in the lineup, such as the Grand Cru. Rowan said that in regards to an oyster, you’re “…always catching it in a little snapshot in time.”

The new Limited Edition Sea Label will be released on August 5th, National Oyster Day, and the label depicts the oyster fossil soil (Kimmeridgian) which is credited for the mineral notes observed in Chablis wines. 2017 was a tough vintage as Chablis suffered from frost 15 nights in a row, but although it was a low yield they were able to produce classic wines with high acidity and intense energy.

2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Montmains, Domaine: This Montmains 1er Cru vineyard is known for its upfront minerality and so Rowan said that he was thrilled to pair it with an East Coast, Eastern, oyster from Duxbury, Massachusetts (an area that is known for oysters) because of its intense saline minerality. He warned against adding too much lemon or any other condiment because it could cover the saline minerality or other complexities of high quality oysters.

2016 was noted as having the ripeness of 2015 (a warm year) and acidity of 2014 (a cooler vintage) and it will be remembered as suffering from a succession of climatic incidents that would make it one of the most trying in modern history; in 2016, William Fèvre’s yield was 1/3 of their typical average.

2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Montée de Tonnerre, Domaine: White peach skin with crumbled chalk that had a rich, creamy body, paired with an oyster called Sea Cow that is considered the “foie gras of the ocean”.

Sea Cow is a Pacific oyster that is placed in tumble bags because they are located in a watershed in Washington State that encourages fast growth – they use the tumble bags to slow down the growth, so their shells don’t get too thin, and the oysters freak out because they think a predator is throwing them around so they open and shut constantly – lots of exercise that builds a muscle that gives them firmness and sweetness – tumbling is all the rage now on the West Coast. Also a fun side note: Generally East Coast oysters are 2-3 years old and West Coast oysters are around 18 months old.

-2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros, ‘Côte Bouguerots’, Domaine: An incredible wine that had fierce, steely acidity and intense richness of fruit that was laced with saline minerality with a long flavorful finish; matched with the equally intense Eastern oyster called Bluepoint from Mystic, Connecticut, that had intriguing metallic notes like iron and an overall wild quality.

This wine is a blend of separate vinifications of different plots in the same Grand Cru Bougros; one on a 45 degree slope that produces grapes with high concentration of ripeness and the other is on a less steep slope producing grapes with intense freshness.  

-2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Les Clos, Domaine: An exotically spiced wine that had juicy nectarine fruit and perfumed flowers with a mineral edge that was most noted on the finish; broad, bright and bada$$. This is the same oyster as paired with the first wine, Hama Hama, from Washington State’s Hood Canal but the human influence is different as it is placed in tumble bags unlike the 1st Hama Hama. These oysters are called Blue Pools and it had the same herbaceous quality as the first yet it was plumper with a sweet finish.

Les Clos is the largest and most famous Grand Cru; its fame is based on being one of Chablis’ first named vineyards.

2009 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros, ‘Côte Bouguerots’, Domaine: Yellow pear with hints of mango that had pressed flowers and sea shells intertwined within the generous fruit… lots of delicious fleshy fruit still with enticing smoke and sensual texture on the finish. This wine is singing right now. Rowan decided to pair this decadent wine with an oyster with a fierce salinity that normally doesn’t pair well with most wines: Wellfleet from Cape Cod in Massachusetts that comes from a section that has no fresh water areas and so this oyster was influenced by the ocean.

2009 was a warm vintage like 2005 – Didier said they harvested early to keep freshness and acidity.

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#PureChablis Twitter Chat/Tasting on the Evening of May 22nd, 2018

-2016 Isabelle et Denis Pommier, Petit Chablis AOC: It had pristine fruit with juicy peach and nectarine with a refined wet stone finish… lovely.

2015 Julien Brocard, ‘Vigne De La Boissonneuse’, Chablis AOC: A single vineyard of biodynamically treated vines; it immediately impressed with a thick waxy top and a fine piece of paper that covered the bottle. A wine crafted with love showing volcanic smoky notes with rich lemon curd on the palate.

-2014 Romain Collet, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Butteaux: An intense limestone backbone that slapped me in my face with ‘get your attention’ acidity – I don’t mind this kind of slap in the face at all! Orange zest. seashell and briny goodness with a long, linear, fierce finish – OH YEAH BABY HURT ME!

-2015 Domaine Gerard Duplessis, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Les Clos: Complex notes of chalky, crumbly rocks with lime blossom and white peach with a rich and expressive overall quality on the extraordinarily long finish. OH MY, THIS WAS DAMN GOOD!

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Wines from The Dead Land

Sometimes I just stop in the middle of New York City, take a step back and take it all in… I look all around… the buildings, the cars, the people, all types of technology, all types of people, living a life that is built on the foundation of human curiosity. Relatively, we have not been on this planet that long but we have created, invented and constructed things that are beyond comprehension when considering the environment at the time of the beginning of our species. And that curiosity is far from satisfied as we go beyond this planet as well or explore the depths of the oceans… some of us don’t even get swayed by others telling us that a particular path to knowledge and experience is a dead end… some of us cannot simply take the word of others… we need to experience it for ourselves.

Baglio Sorìa Estate

During my trip to Sicily back in May, I had the good fortune to end up at the Baglio Sorìa Estate. It was not so much good fortune because it is an incredible resort with a fine restaurant, or panoramic views, or Valli Trapanesi DOP olive trees on their property, or the idea that they became completely organic even before the organic certification existed in Italy, but I felt I was fortunate because I learned about the wines from the dead land.

Baglio Sorìa Estate is part of the Di Gaetano family’s estate group called Firriato and it is their first estate which started their passion for vineyards and winemaking; Baglio Sorìa being the estate closest to the Mediterranean Sea in Western Sicily. Firriato has a total of 6 estates with 4 being on the West side of the island and 1 being in the East, Cavanera Etnea on the slope of the volcano Etna, and the last estate is on the tiny island of Favignana off the Western coast of Sicily – or affectionately called The Dead Land.

Calamoni di Favignana

Firriato’s Calamoni  estate on Favignana has many notable aspects such as ancient fossils and calcarenite limestone formed over millions of years but none more interesting than the fact that it has been considered by many agronomists, people who study the science and technology of producing and using plants, as an area not suitable to grow much of anything, furthermore, one agronomist stated that a wine producer could place all the money and resources to accomplish the ideal viticultural practices on the Favignana island and that producer would still never be guaranteed of any results.

Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, COO and family member of the Firriato estate group, was telling us about their Favignana project, started in 2007, as we tasted their white wine Favinia ‘La Muciara’ from this unique place; also they have a red wine and a sweet wine made from dried grapes. As Federico talked about the severely rocky ground, the fierce winds, the intense sun and most of all the toxic soil due to the chlorine which is caused by excess salt (sodium chloride) I could not help but jump in and ask, “Why are you planting vineyards on Favignana if growing vines is so difficult there?” and his answer was simply that they wanted to know what was possible… despite not finding proof of any plant being cultivated on the island of Faviganan, their wonderful human curiosity got the best of them.

One of Firriato’s favorite grape varieties to grow on the Favignana island is the classic aromatic Sicilian white Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) because Federico said that it develops aromas that they had never experienced; further research they have conducted point to Zibibbo producing significantly more terpenes (terpenes are organic compounds produced by a variety of plants that can result in an array of aromatics in a finished wine) when grown on Favignana compared to when grown anywhere on the island of Sicily; also Federico said that the wines seem to have great ageability. Despite at times seeming like  Firriato was getting way over their heads when taking on the Favignana island project, once they realized the unique beauty within this “dead land” they knew they had to keep placing their energies into it…. and they hope that other wine producers will join them on Favignana.

Curiosity

Curiosity may kill the cat but it helps keep the human spirit alive and open… once we allow our knowledge to be limited by what we have been told rather than what we have directly experienced, we become part of a narrow-minded world that keeps everything, and everyone, in a superficial compartment. We can never really experience the potential of the world we live in, or the people who surround us, if we are always coming to the table thinking we know what to expect considering that each of us live in our own bubble.… How many dead lands are out there, I wonder? How many people in our community do we consider to be a dead end when it comes to investing our time and money? How many benefactors are curious enough to want to invest in these people and places to see if there is something deeper that goes beyond the numbers reported and what the outside world tells us what is logical to consider? The Favignana project is a lesson that actions don’t always need to make complete sense because we do not know all the precious gems out there in the world… and without curiosity we never will.

 

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Firriato Tasting on May 4th, 2018

We tasted a lineup of Firriato wines; again, they have 6 estates with 5 located in Western Sicily, including the island of Favignana, and 1 in Eastern Sicily, Cavanera Etnea, on a slope of the Etna volcano.

The estates are as follows:
Baglio Sorìa

-Calamoni di Favignana

Dagala Booromeo

Borgo Guarini

Pianoro Cuddia

Cavanera Etnea

NV Gaudensius, Blanc de Noir, Metodo Classico Brut Etna DOC: 100% Nerello Marcalese. The Metodo Classio Brut Etna DOC only allows 100% Nerello Marcalese. From the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 650 meters (2100 feet) above sea level. This is a traditional method sparkling wine that had crunchy red fruit, smoke and orange peel with fine, creamy bubbles. 1st year production was in 2009.

-2017 Le Sabbie dell’Etna, Etna Bianco DOC: White blend of Carricante and Catarratto, from the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 720 meters (2400 feet) above sea level. White flowers, peach skin, almonds and a saline finish that had marked acidity and a long length of aromatics.

2016 Favinia, ‘La Muciara’, Terre Siciliane IGT: White blend of majority Zibibbo with Grillo and Catarratto. From the Island of Favignana – Calamoni di Favignana Estate. Seashell, lime blossom, hint of perfume, elderberries with hint of ginger that was rich in fruit yet vibrant in acidity.

-2017 Cavanera, ‘Ripa di Scorciavacca’, Etna Bianco DOC: White blend of Carricante and Catarratto from Cru of Etna. From the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 750 to 850 meters (2500 to 2800 feet) above sea level. Honeysuckle, flinty minerality with linear, energetic body that had pretty lemon confit notes on the finish.

2017 Qu4ter Vitis, Sicilia IGT: White blend of Catarratto, Inzolia, Zibibbo, and Carricante from the Etna volcano – the 4 in the middle of “quarter” is a hint to the fact that there are 4 varieties in this blend. This wine is called “Sicily in a glass”. A blend of grapes from Pianoro Cuddìa Estate in the Western Trapani countryside and from their Etna estate, Cavanera Etnea. Pressed flowers, citrus pith, green almond and stony rocks that had a broad body.

-2017 Jasmin, Terre Siciliane IGT: 100% Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria). Dry aromatic white wine from Borgo Guarini Estate. Jasmine flowers, rainforest and ripe peaches make this a delicious wine that is beautifully kissed by the sun of the Italian Trapani countryside.

-2016 Le Sabbie dell’Etna, Etna Rosso DOC: Red blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. From the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 700 (2300 feet) above sea level. Fantastic old world charm with bacon bits, dusty earth with new world sophistication of manicured tannins and fresh black fruit.

2013 Santagostino, ‘Baglio Soria’, Sicilia IGT: Red blend of Nero d’Avola and Syrah from the Baglio Sorìa Estate. This is a fantastic, super-star wine that shows the power of when the king of Sicilian grape varieties, Nero d’Avola, is blended with the international grape variety that does the best in Sicily, Syrah. Enticing aromatics of a forest floor right after the rain, sweet tobacco left with lifted rhubarb notes and cloves on the expressive finish all wrapped together by muscular tannins.

-2013 Cavanera, ‘Rovo delle Coturnie’, Etna Rosso DOC: Red blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from Cru of Etna. From the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 750 (2500) above sea level. Wafting notes of rose oil draws you in with hints of wet stones and finely laced tannins that had a bright finish – elegant.

2013 Ribeca, Perricone, Sicilia DOC: 100% Perricone from the Pianoro Cuddìa Estate. Perricone used to only be a blending component in Sicilian reds but some producers are taking it more seriously, such as this mono-varietal bottling. This wine has Mediterranean generosity with ripe black and red fruit with layers of complex savory notes of dried herbs and fresh bay leaf. It is lush yet had plenty of structure to give it shape and drive. Firriato has been researching Perricone since 1985 and they have isolated their own biotype (clone).

2013 Harmonium, Nero d’Avola, Sicilia DOC: 100% Nero d’Avola from the Borgo Guarini Estate. This is a blend of 3 different single estates and 2 different biotypes (clones) of Nero d’Avola to create a wine with more consistency year in and year out. This wine had a lovely harmony with mulberry fruit, baking spices and cocoa powder with sculpted tannins that was balanced by a fleshy body.

2014 L’Ecrù, Passito Naturale, Terre Siciliane IGT: 100% Zibibbo sweet wine from Borgo Guarini Estate made by harvesting a mixture of fresh and late harvested grapes that are dried on the vine. Rich sultana with honey and fresh sage with invigorating orange peel on the finish that begs for another sip.

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A Life of Intention

“It is a visit of intention” said Nicole Carter, Director of Winemaking at Hess Family Wine Estates. She was talking about their mother ship winery founded by the living legend Donald Hess that was perched on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley – with very few other wineries that had the facilities to accept guests on the mountain, Nicole said if you visited their winery it really had to be a visit of intention.

Living with Intention

The idea of living with intention is a powerful one that is actually simple for most of us. It is an exercise of the mind that those who practice mediation, yoga or Buddhism may know very well or perhaps you may even know it without being involved in any of the aforementioned practices. Our intention can be as simple as focusing on our breath, trying to be more empathetic or firm with our dealings with people, or forcing ourselves to take on the challenges we avoid. It is a decision that we can make each day to notice something that we would like to either work on or simply just be aware of. Instead of sleep walking through life, we actively engage and take responsibility. It can be transformational to get us out of ruts where we stop caring, stop feeling, or stop wanting to participate.

Donald Hess

Swiss-born Donald Hess is a very successful business man who has been involved in making beer, mineral water, and wine. He is best known here in the US for having one of the most impressive contemporary art collections in the world and being one of the largest land owners of vineyards in Napa Valley that was started with his first purchases in 1978 and almost 1000 acres (400 hectares) accumulated today; he has furthered that legacy by producing some of the top mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with an interesting spin of adding a significant amount of Malbec to certain blends. Donald has a deep understanding of the Malbec grape as he has 2 estates in Argentina specializing in Malbec, and one of the wineries, Colomé, has one of the highest vineyards in the world – and so high altitude vineyards are in his blood.

When a person gains a certain amount of money and resources, there is a greater responsibility to live up to stronger intentions than the average person that not only impact communities but also the world. Since 1978, Donald has been a leader in long-term sustainability with the attitude, “nurture the land and return what you take” at a time when the word sustainability did not have the value that it has today; he has even had a talent in finding usable water in areas of Argentina where it was unheard of; his contemporary art collection – a small portion is housed in a three story museum that was built on the property of their Mount Veeder Estate – has helped to support many artists as he buys from those he has developed a relationship with and continues to purchase their works throughout the span of their careers while refusing to buy their works after they have passed away; his intention is to support artists long term while they are living and not to give in to trends or buy based on investment purposes.

The World We Create

Donald Hess did not want to just make mountain wines in Napa, he wanted to show others that it was possible to make excellent wines out of mountain fruit that at one time no one wanted anything to do with… and he has never given up on always striving for a higher standard with constantly examining if they are making the best wines they can and the answer is always no, and so, the intention is always renewed. Nowadays you cannot throw a stick in New York City without someone trying to talk about mountain wines, as they have only recently become trendy, actually sometimes over-exaggerating the idea of what a mountain constitutes depending on the producer… but Donald always knew and he had the intention that he needed to show the world that what they thought was impossible was possible. Donald has now officially handed over his winery to his daughter Sabrina and son-in-law Tim Persson as it is time for him to sit back in his home in Switzerland and have the warmth of memories of a life well lived – for shaping the world into a better place – wash over him with a deep contentment.

When I think about when I am old and tired and all I have is the energy to examine my past intentions in life, I wonder what I will take pride in… to live with honor, to live with passion, to live a life where I felt I made one person’s life better each day I lived… that is what takes The Hess Collection to the next level… the intention… some thought it could never be done, and some would question even after success if Hess had peaked, and each time the Hess family comes back with the ferocity of a lion, the symbol of their Hess family for many generations, with a more committed intention than before to continue to be a beacon of inspiration … our life only lacks meaning if we do not stay true to our intention.

 

***Cover Photo Credited to The Hess Collection

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 The Hess Collection Wines Tasted on April 24th, 2018

Although Hess is fortunate enough to have many vineyards on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley that can express a vibrancy and complex aromatic profile that only mountain fruit can produce, they have, over the years, realized that their management of tannins needed to be drastically improved, and so through many innovative techniques such as shade cloth in their vineyard that helps with phenolic ripeness, they have drastically improved the mouthfeel of their wines. Their intention for improvement still lives on and I am excited to see what the future holds.

2016 Hess Collection, Chardonnay, Napa Valley: 100% Chardonnay with 9 different clones (biotypes) used such as the unique Musqué clone. This wine leapt from the glass with pretty honeysuckle and pear notes with rich peach and spice on the palate and had energetic drive with a hint of seashell on the finish. 2016 was a balanced vintage that saw ideal conditions.

This Chardonnay comes from one of their Napa estates that is around 175 acres (70 hectares) in the southern portion of Napa; surprisingly enough this Napa property is south of Carneros and really only Chardonnay is planted there because of its proclivity for producing elegant Chardonnay. One of the 9 clones (biotypes) they use is Musqué which is not that commonly planted in Napa – it is an aromatic clone that has an overall delicate quality to it and does not take well to oak or MLF and so the wine is lightly oaked and only partial MLF – 70% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel, 30% in oak (only 9% in new French oak) and that 30% is the only wine that goes through MLF. It is aged 9 months in neutral barrels.

2015 Hess Collection, ‘Lion Tamer’, Red Blend, Napa Valley: 50% Malbec, 23% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot and 2% Mourvèdre. This wine stood out as a real favorite of mine because there is nothing like it that I have tasted and love the name: Lion Tamer. It is a real generous wine with lush fruit (plum tarts and blueberry pie) with a round inviting texture and pretty hints of violets and vanilla bean. 2015 had one of the earliest harvests on record and so the grapes varied in size and ripeness level and makes for some interesting drinking with ripeness and freshness present in these beauties.

The name Lion Tamer is a nickname that Hess uses for Malbec since they use it as their tannin tamer – also, Hess has 2 wineries in Argentina that focus on Malbec and so they understand its great potential when grown at higher altitudes. This is the only wine that uses American oak but it goes so well… and as I like to remind those who may not know that not all American oak is created equal and actually some can have a lovely subtlety to them, such as this one.

2015 Hess Collection, ‘Allomi’, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petite Sirah and 2% Petit Verdot. This wine had an intriguing earthiness to it with cracked clay and forest floor that had a touch of firmness in its structure. Black currant leaf with dark brooding fruit that was linear in its shape.

Their Allomi Vineyard lies in the gently rolling hills of northeastern Napa Valley where the combination of a typically long, warm growing season and well-drained soils create optimal ripening conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon. The 210 acres (84 hectares) vineyard is focused into 35 unique growing blocks with 6 different Cabernet clones (biotypes) that add diversity of flavors and complexity to wine. In each vintage, their winemakers and viticulturists evaluate each block and select only the finest components for the final blend. Aged in 40% new French oak barrels for 22 months.

2013 Hess Collection, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder in Napa Valley: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Malbec. This wine has a wild, brambly quality that is cloaked in refined tannins and overall charm that really shows the beauty of Cabernet from the mountains. A dominant cassis note has layers of complexity with caramel, underbrush and enticing smoke with an elegant exit on the palate that shows the incredible skill of tannin management that Hess has acquired over the years dealing with cooler climate Cabernet. 2013 is simply described as “Early, even & excellent”.

This is the Hess Collection’s signature Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon which comes from their Veeder Hills Vineyard estate that Donald Hess bought in 1978. The elevation of this vineyard ranges from 600-1,120 feet (183-340 meters), and its steep slopes and sedimentary clay and shale soils restrict root growth, resulting in Mount Veeder’s hallmark small berries with intense fruit flavors. Aged in 80% new French oak barrels for 22 months.

2013 Hess Collection, ‘The Lion’, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder in Napa Valley: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. From the first sip, this wine has a sensational depth of flavor with intense blue and black fruit that is multifaceted and multi-dimensional with a new delightful note revealing itself with each sip: cigar box, smoldering earth, cumin seeds, and cocoa. Powerful structure that is at the same time supportive to the fruit as well as welcoming with its fine laced quality and the finish is vibrant and lingers with exotic spice. This wine will probably be approachable in a few years but man does it have all the stuffing in the right places to continue to improve for 15 more years.

The Lion has been the emblem of the Hess family for many generations. It has come to symbolize the bold and preserving nature of founder Donald Hess and their winery home on Mount Veeder. “Live Each Day with the Heart and Courage of The Lion” is the Hess family credo and The Lion Cabernet Sauvignon represents the very best Cabernet they produce from their estate vineyards on Mount Veeder in the very best vintages. The 2014 marks the second vintage that is a winemaking collaboration between consulting winemaker Celia Welch and Hess winemaker Dave Guffy. Aged in 65% new French oak barrels for 22 months.

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Our Purpose in the World

The glow from the sun lit the colorful tables covered in cheeses, cured meats and delicious wine as people exuded the “joie de vivre” energy as upbeat French music played in the background. For a second, I thought I was in Beaujolais, France, as all my cares melted away but I was in the concrete jungle of New York City (NYC), tucked away in the back courtyard of a restaurant… that was the power of the Beaujolais wine that was free flowing that day, with its light body, bright fruit and spice, and a silky texture… one minute I have my warrior shield on maneuvering my way through the mean streets of NYC… the next minute I had a big smile on my face ready to dance in the sunlight while I drank Beaujolais.

I had stopped by a wine event where Cellar Master of Bouchard Père & Fils, Frédéric Weber, was introducing people to their property in Beaujolais: Château de Poncié. I had just seen Frédéric a couple months earlier during a preview of their 2016 Burgundy wines and it piqued my interest to find out more about their vineyards in the wine region just south of Burgundy.

Beaujolais vs Burgundy

Let me first start out by stating that there is NOTHING like Burgundy when it comes to wine; but with that been said there are a few connections between Burgundy and Beaujolais. At one time when someone spoke of the Burgundy wine region, he/she would be including the Beaujolais area, even though it is around 70 miles south of the other Burgundy districts and their flagship red grape variety is Gamay instead of Pinot Noir. Today it would be considered wrong by many to officially include Beaujolais wines within the Burgundy wine region and you may have some hardcore Burgundian nerds bite your head off if you try.

Yet there are still many wine producers, especially the ones who have been around for a long time, who will talk about the connection between the two areas; winemakers influence each other, family trees will have a mix of those from Beaujolais and those from Burgundy, and Beaujolais becomes a much needed reminder to the Burgundians of their fun side – which is not so easy since there is intense stress of the hefty responsibility of carrying the Burgundy flag.

A long time ago, Beaujolais realized that their place in this world was to make people, all people, happy and joyous with their easy charm and playful approach. In regards to quality, there are a range of wines in Beaujolais such as Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais-Villages, and the top Beaujolais Cru wines – there are 10 Crus of Beaujolais with Fleurie being one such Cru known for its intoxicating aromatics, distinctive floral note (hence the name) and its overall elegance; but even with the top wines there is a whimsical nature that makes these wines delightful to so many.

Since I was admiring the map that was spread out on one of the tables at this Beaujolais event, I had to ask Frédéric about it and I came to find out that it was a duplicate of a map made of linen that was found at Château de Poncié that at least a couple of thousand years old. The Château de Poncié, with its heritage dating back to 949 AD, is sectioned into several plots due to the distinctive varied expressions each plot gives that this ancient map alluded to, as well as it being a very Burgundian way of thinking about vineyards – each plot is a unique terroir. Frédéric started to beam ear to ear as he talked about each section of the vineyards and all the fascinating nuances each brings to the wine; that is why they have three different Fleurie Cru wines because certain plots go better with others. I was given the chance to taste two of their Fleurie Cru, Le Pré Roi and La Salomine, that day as well as the 3 vintages we tasted. Despite all the wines revealing diverse qualities, they all had the ability to make my heart dance.

But it really made me think hearing Frédéric talk about the intricacies of the soil and seeing the famous pink granitic crystalline rock in the soils of top Fleurie sites with my own eyes as Frédéric brought samples with him to NYC; Beaujolais could have been part of the fine wine world but they realized that their place in life was to bring joy to so many around the world.

The Choices We Make

All of us around the world need to make choices because, unfortunately, there are some who are not willing, or simply do not have the time to look deeper within a person, or even a wine area. We can walk through the world with fierce formality that commands respect or we can wear our hearts on our sleeves with friendly smiles that automatically sets others at ease. There is no right or wrong way to walk through the world as both are needed… but although Beaujolais is so much more than just a joyous drink, I am happy that they realized that giving joy to all wine drinkers is a pretty fine purpose for a wine to serve in this world.

 

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Château de Poncié Wines Tasted on April 23rd, 2018

The Le Pré Roi plots are situated on the knoll of Poncié and the hill of Montgénas, terroir on slopes of crystalline rock.

2016 Le Pré Roi: Bright, juicy red cherries with sweet spice and pressed flowers with a lifted peppery finish.

-2015 Le Pré Roi: The 2015 vintage was called one of the best of the past 100 years in Beaujolais because of lots of concentration yet plenty of acidity. This Le Pré Roi had rich blueberry and black cherry flavors, hints of violets and a spicy finish… rich, expressive and delicious yet lots of structure so this baby could last!

-2010 Le Pré Roi: A lovely finesse and complexity to this wine with its notes of rainforest, a saline minerality and subtle hints of Jasmine tea on the finish.

The La Salomine sloping hillsides with its southeast exposure and good drainage has pink granitic crystalline rock, quartz and some clay.

-2015 La Salomine: Deeply layered dark fruit with licorice root and a plush body with a fierce backbone of minerality; a superb length of flavor on the finish.

 

 

 

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