Nothing Worth Having Belongs to Just a Few

The quest for happiness affects us all throughout our life. It comes and goes like an old friend from our childhood, who gives us a not so gentle reminder that we cannot find peace within our existence by just accumulating stuff and clicking off personal and professional achievements from a list. We start to feel a dull ache over time… an inner voice that whispers inside our deepest consciousness that there is something missing… many times we do not know what it is, so we act out by trying to tightly cling to those things in our life that define us, that seemingly give us worth but really create a false sense of self. Such is the story of the original “Ca’ Marcanda” owners who would drag out several exhausting meetings when it came to holding on to a piece of land that was meant for so much more.

Ca’ Marcanda

When the great Angelo Gaja, the legendary Piedmontese wine producer, decided to make “Super Tuscan” wines in Tuscany, he knew two things; he needed to go to the prestigious area of Bolgheri, and he needed to consult with a soil expert in the area.  As he looked over a soil map indicating the different soil types by various colors, he saw there were four isolated areas that shared a similar color – and so Angelo pointed to one of them. “What is this area?” to which the soil expert replied, “Ornellaia.” And then, he asked about a second one and the answer was “Sassicaia,” and the third was “Guado al Tasso”… it was obvious that there was a theme, a theme of vineyards that created the greatest Super Tuscans wines. And so, finally, he got to the last plot and pointed to it… he waited in anticipation… trying to guess what other wine could be made from this remarkable soil… and then the soil expert said it was owned by wealthy Italian people who used it as a summer home and that it was well-known that they would never sell it. They did not need the money and had no interest in parting ways with their precious haven.

As I was sitting there listening to Angelo’s son, Giovanni Gaja, tell this story about Ca’ Marcanda, I could see the smile on his face as Giovanni knew all too well that his father never backed down from a challenge.

Gaja and the House of Endless Negotiations

Angelo started his relentless pursuit of that special plot of land. The property was owned by two brothers and one sister, aged 75 to 82, who were adamant that outright selling the property would never be an option, but perhaps a lease of 5 or 10 years would be possible. Angelo could not accept the property on such a short term, considering he would be investing so much money into planting vineyards intended for the highest quality wine. And so he went back and forth trying to convince them… telling them what was involved in making wines of such stellar quality and how he needed a much longer lease. It got to the point where Angelo’s wife told him that he was dealing with “Ca’ Marcanda” people… a Piedmontese term meaning “house of endless negotiations”… and it was best to just walk away from a situation that was not going anywhere.

But Angelo would not give up, and he went back again and again and again… until finally, the owners realized that at such an advanced age, it did not make sense to hold onto this estate that was obviously meant for so much more.

Angelo was able to buy the estate, build the winery and began planting vines in 1996.

The More We Hold On the Unhappier We Become

The roller coaster of life can be tough at times because, many times, we compare our journey to others’… focus too much on what others have or what they had been given. The idea that as long as we get to the next notch on our belt of envious desires we will become happy is an unhealthy one, creating a cycle of highs and lows that will never result in true happiness that is lasting.

One person is only able to accomplish so much, one only has so many resources, only so many talents, so much time. When panic sets in with those dreadful feelings that we have barely accomplished anything by midlife, we should fight that urge to try to fiercely grab onto as much as we can and never let go because our greatest achievements are those we pass on to others… in the form of kindness, knowledge, experience… or in this case, land. Because anything worth having gives joy to many and does not only belong to just a few.

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Tasting of Ca’ Marcanda wines with Giovanni Gaja on November 15th, 2017

2016 Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare: 60% Vermentino and 40% Viognier. It took Angelo Gaja a while to find the right partner for Vementino, and this is the blend that he has found works best and I have to agree it is a nice match… Marked acidity, medium body, floral and stone fruit notes and a long flavorful, expressive finish.

 

2015 Ca’ Marcanda Promis: 55% Merlot, 35% Syrah and 10% Sangiovese. A generous and seductively inviting wine with blueberry compote, black pepper and a bright black cherry finish with manicured tannins and a lovely overall freshness. The 2015s have a lot more flesh on their bones than the 2014s. Comes from the dark clay based soils on the estate.

The Promis is the most open in its youthful state out of all the red Ca’ Marcanda wines.

 

2015 Ca’ Marcanda Magari: 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot from dark clay based and light limestone soils… so it is nimble with finesse, as well as richly decadent with sweet raspberries and violets… the fine tannins and supple body make this wine irresistible but it will only improve over the next decade.

Magari is generous when young yet it still has powerful structural components that give it the opportunity to improve with cellaring.

 

2013 Ca’ Marcanda Camarcanda: 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. Side note: The blend will change to 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc in 2015 as Giovanni Gaja said that they are planning to keep the blend Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. This 2013 showed an enticing mixture of autumn leaves, baking spice and fresh leather with deep brooding undertones. An elegantly firm structure displayed well-managed tannins that had a silky quality balanced by juicy fruit. It needs to be decanted for several hours or hold onto this beauty for a few more years – this wine should be long-lived.

Camarcanda is the longest lived of all the wines, 100% coming from the terre bianche (white soils) of the Ca’ Marcanda estate.

2014 Magari tasted at Wine Advocate’s Matter of Taste on Dec 3rd, 2017

2014 Ca’ Marcanda Magari: The 2015s have a lot more flesh on their bones than the 2014s yet the lovely bright fruit and energetic body makes this wine enjoyable in a completely different way than its successor. Fresh damson plums and sweet spice are prevalent on the long, linear finish.

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Sometimes Our Grandparents Knew Better

As many of you know, my wine drinking experiences started at the (illegal) age of 18 as a bright eyed, scrubbed face kid hanging out in my newly found, artsy home in the East Village in New York City. I was lucky enough to spend time with many Europeans who were happy to share their heritage and family memories with the likes of a lonely, lost American girl such as myself. We first explored the wines of Italy, then France, with Spain thrown in here and there… but Italian wines seemed to always find their way into most of our gatherings. When winter would near, there was always a question as to which wines would be special for the holidays, as well as satisfying enough to get us through the bleak months of January and February here in the Northern Hemisphere… the answer I was given was one word: Amarone.

My first encounter with Amarone was over 20 years ago, the winter of 1993-94, so it’s difficult to remember specific details… it seems fuzzy except for my immediate exclamation of dislike because it reminded me of raisins (it’s a wine made, in part, from dried grapes) and it was too big and bold of a libation. An Austrian friend who had an Italian mother insisted that I needed to try it again… slowly smell it, take time to sip it, sit with the glass and allow myself to see the depth and complexity of this special wine called the “King of Valpolicella”. This is the way his maternal grandparents taught him to drink Amarone. I sighed at his insistence since I felt I was being pushed past my comfort zone but I wanted to open myself up to as many experiences as I could, so I tasted the wine again… I tried to smell it, taste it, allow the aromas to fill my head, but again, all I got was raisins, and it was making me very uncomfortable spending so much time with one wine… I immediately placed the glass away from me after my first taste and pronounced that it was not a wine for me.

Valpolicella

I have had over two decades to give Amarone another try… but until recently I spent very little time exploring the wines. I would think to myself that it was a drink for more “traditional” wine drinkers and it was not something a wine thrill-seeker like myself would be interested in … yes, I had tasted Amarone a handful of times during my wine career but it was always during a time when I had to taste 50 wines in one sitting at a trade tasting… and so you blast through the wines, a lot of times having to use your previous knowledge and experience to “pre-assess” them. In my mind, Amarone was a seemingly dry, heavy red wine that only sang of intense, desiccated fruit.

In September of 2016, I was given the opportunity to go to Valpolicella to try the DOC wines in the area which included Amarone – now a DOCG wine. I had been in Verona earlier that year for Vinitaly, which is in the same region as Valpolicella, and while there in North East Italy, I ran into many colleagues that talked about the stunning landscape of the land that made Amarone. And so, although I don’t like to take too many wine press trips a year (as a writer who already works 6 days a week it can be pretty taxing on the mind and body to do these trips) I felt that Valpolicella needed to be part of the handful of wine visits I would take that year.

I must admit that I was mainly looking forward to drinking the Ripasso wines, which use the skins from the dried Amarone grapes to add complexity as they are not as robust, and I was stressed out about being too overwhelmed by the larger-than-life Amarones. At the outset, I was sure that my destined Amarone re-encounter was doomed as a heat wave hit Valpolicella during our time there… other media people and I deemed it the #SummerOfAmarone because we spent most of our time feeling like we were trapped in a large sauna which is not typical September weather in an area that has temperatures moderated by the majestic Lake Garda.

But just like my long-ago-Austrian-friend-with-the-Italian-grandparents had advised about simply giving myself time to see what is there, it started to happen. While tasting several Amarones over 16 winery visits, these wines started to reveal the glorious mosaic of flavors – from sage to tobacco to black cherry to spices that were bright and lifted on the finish … I found that I did not have too much Amarone, actually I couldn’t get enough! And they were all different – some with more fresh fruit, others dried, some textured, others lush, but the best all had in common the ability to make time stop because of their multitude of complexity… they took all of my attention and I was happy to give it to them… everything around me faded out as if I changed a setting on a camera.

Amarone

Since that time I have enjoyed buying Amarone myself as a tool to help me into a wine meditation. When it is time to step out of the grind, and yes, there is a grind with writing and working with wine, I would have my glass of Amarone and just allow myself to be taken away.

It was interesting to recently attend an Amarone Seminar, tasting from the 2003-2010 vintages, in my new altered state with regards to this wine. The seminar was led by Andrea Sartori, the new President of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella, as well as President and great-grandson of one of the most well-known Amarone producers Sartori; and New York City Sommelier, Michelle Erland, who heads a wine list that includes many Amarone wines at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina Restaurant.

Andrea took us through the improvements that Valpolicella producers have implemented over the years: organically minded vineyards, hygienic practices in the winery, and putting forth more experimentation for refining the appassimento process (drying the grapes) which is key for Amarone. Some of you may know that Amarone, such as the other wines in Valpolicella, are a blend of red grape varieties, but through University research they are realizing that the Corvina variety is the best for the drying process, and therefore, the best for this super star wine.

It was noted many times how there has been a shift of focus for Valpolicella producers to find a balance with freshness as well as expressing transparency with fruit and terroir (sense of place). Michelle said, that as a sommelier, Amarone was a great wine to transition California wine drinkers to Italian wines as they did not disappoint such customers with their weighty body. Amarone’s recent focus on making sure to express more pristine aspects of the wines, giving an overall lift, made these Veronese show stoppers more appealing when pairing them with food.

Andrea Sartori furthered this discussion by confirming there is a new focus to improve the aspects of Amarone that caused imbalances in some vintages while recognizing that in some ways, their grandparents did get it right. One of the fairytale facets of the Valpolicella wine area, besides the enchanting hills, is the Pergola trellising system for the vines. This whimsical system lifts the vines high off the ground so an open canopy of its leaves can shade the grapes. It was first recorded as existing in the area during the sixth century, since trees were used as supports for grape vines leading to the eventual devising of this practice. It is extremely time consuming and costly and so another, more popular, trellising practice – Guyot – was being heralded by the famous Valpolicella producer Masi to take over Valpolicella. But shockingly, Amarone’s favorite grape Corvina, with its thick skins, showed in recent University studies to suffer from sunburn when not placed in the Pergola trellising system – causing tougher tannins and overripe grapes. The current 25% of Guyot planted vines are expected to be replanted again in Pergola trellises matching the rest of the Valpolicella DOC designated vineyards. In this instance, Andrea admitted, their grandparents had made a better choice.

Being in the Right State of Mind

It makes me laugh to myself how adverse to Amarone I used to be since it is a wine that gives so much in terms of complexity and textural pleasure – two traits that I treasure in wines. When I was blissfully drinking it morning, noon and night during my Valpolicella heat-spell infused trip, it was proof that there was never anything wrong with the wine, but maybe it took me a while to get to the right place in my mind to be able to appreciate it. Amarone is a wine that demands the drinker to sit, quieting him/herself to truly know all the secrets it wants to share. I think, even more than its weight, Amarone’s quality to make the drinker reflect while drinking it makes it ideal for shorter days that are filled with longer stretches of darkness, such as the winter months. Yet I do have to admit to drinking Amarone over the past summer when I felt that I needed to take time to go into the abyss of my own being.

When I first experienced Amarone, I certainly was not comfortable sitting still in my own mind, and it took a long time to get past all of my issues and the chatter of years and years of wine professional gossip and tastings to finally really taste Amarone… I had to eventually go all the way to Valpolicella so I could finally get into a comfortable state within my own mind so I could really appreciate this wine… and to realize that my friend’s grandparents, all those years ago, knew better… they knew how to drink Amarone.

 

***First & last photo in this post is credited to Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella

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Amarone della Valpolicella Vertical Tasted on October 23rd, 2017

Amarone della Valpolicella was elevated to DOCG (the highest wine designation in Italy) in 2010 and so all vintages prior to 2010 are only given DOC status.

2010 Sartori di Verona, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, Classico “Corte Brà”: 50% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella and 5% Oseleta. The Corte Brà vineyard is in the northern hills of Verona. Fresh blackberry with tar and dried thyme with a nimble body that gives an overall elegance to this wine. I have drunk a lot of Sartori Amarone wines and they seem to always find the balance between power and finesse.

-2009 Cantina Valpantena Verona, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC, Torre del Falasco: 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 10% Corvinone. Another brighter and more finessed style, with exotic spice and red fruit in this case… again the body is livelier than traditionally one would think of Amarone and the tannins have a lovely velvety quality.

-2009 Massimago, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC: 70% Corvina, 15% Corvinone and 15% Rondinella. Massimago is a new winery in Valpolicella from a first generation woman, Camilla Rossi Chauvenet. I loved visiting Camilla during my press trip and found her enthusiasm and desire to be playful with these wines refreshing and exciting. I was so happy to see her recently in New York City at the Amarone seminar since she is becoming one of my favorite producers in the area. Although the wine has everything one wants in an Amarone – rich flavors of licorice and ripe fruit balanced by lifting notes of mint and good acidity – there is an underlying wild quality that really makes this wine a stand out.

-2008 Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico, Domini Veneti “Vigneti di Jago”: 60% Corvina, 15% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella and the rest of the 10% are a mixture of auxiliary varieties that are allowed. The zone of Jago has always been valued for its ability to produce structured high quality wines. This 2008 is big and broad with its structure yet luminous with its aromatics of cherry blossom and cloves. A warming wine that is satisfyingly robust; through time it opens on the finish with cinnamon and balsamic drizzled herbs.

2006 Pasqua Vigneti E Cantine, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Riserva, Famiglia Pasqua: 60% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 10% Oseleta and 5% Corvinone. The 2006 Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva Famiglia Pasqua celebrates the 90th anniversary of this family-run winery (1925-2015). From the hilly terrain of the Valpantena – clay mixed with limestone. I like the firm structure of this wine that allows one to chew into the dark and seductive flavors of dark chocolate and blackberry jam made more engaging by nutmeg and smoldering cedar along the sustained finish.

-2006 Rocca Sveva, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Riserva, Collezione Speciale: A blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Riserva Collezione Speciale wines are produced only in exceptional years. This wine became a favorite among a couple of the local sommeliers in the room because of a distinctive green note of capers that they thought would pair well with a variety of dishes. Also, the evolved notes of leather and more complex fruit are ideal for those that appreciate wines with some age on it. The tannins are well-integrated allowing the lush fruit a chance to expand with a delightful succulent finish.

-2003 Santi, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC “Proemio”: 50% Corvino, 30% Corvinone and 20% Rondinella. An impressive effort in a challenging vintage – 2003 will go down as one of the hottest and driest vintages for many European regions. But Santi, with careful attention and strict selection, were able to produce an Amarone that is still alive today. This is the one wine that had intense desiccated fruit in this line up with prunes and dried black cherries, yet it was still able to find balance within its opulence with mint oil and violets… a subtle note of vanilla shows the nice integration of oak aging.

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What is “Authentic” Wine?

It is interesting how things can come back around in life; something that you were told when you were younger, or just less wise, can have more meaning when you have experienced those lessons first hand. This has been my relationship with the Fetzer and Bonterra “brands”. For a time, “authentic” wine meant there was a human being that I knew who owned the winery; wines that were made in relatively small quantities; wines that had a story of people barely getting by. As I get older and more experienced, I have less dogma about the “A” word and have been taking it case by case, and hence, I posed the question to myself, “Do Fetzer and Bonterra represent “authentic” wines?”

The Wine Game in Manhattan

Many of you probably know that I worked in the wine business, here in Manhattan in New York City, for many years in both retail and distribution. At one time, I was working for one of the largest wine distribution companies in New York, had over 100 restaurant accounts in Manhattan, and I juggled a huge portfolio. During that time, the Fetzer/Bonterra company was trying to take a stronger hold in the on-premise (wine trade term for restaurants – not retail stores) world in my beloved city… but the issue was that they were seen as a big brand and not “authentic” enough. I must admit that I was not too inspired to go out and talk about them because beside it causing more challenges in my already overwhelming sales job that demanded impossible sales numbers every day of the year, I was just not feeling the “authentic” love for a brand that could be found in most major retailers around the US.

Getting my Head Out of My Butt

Although we can think of ourselves as do-gooders, we can sometimes get so narrowly focused on our passions, such as supporting smaller businesses, that we lose sight of those that have grown into a larger entity and hence can have a bigger impact. So it took a much more experienced colleague to take me to the side and tell me the story about the Fetzer family.

The founder, Barney Fetzer, moved his family from Oregon to Ukiah, in Mendocino County, California, in 1955 since he thought it was a good place to raise his family. They bought a ranch that was around 720 acres (291 hectares) and a few years later, after growing grapes to sell to other wineries, he converted an old sheep barn into a winery with the help of his 12 year old son, John. They made their first wine in 1968 when “sustainability” was an unknown word in agriculture. Through time Barney and his kids built a strong, trusted brand that would offer a line of delicious wines at a reasonable price that would eventually run the gamut from environmentally friendly to soulfully biodynamic.

I realized during this conversation that all the small, tiny wineries that had mindful vineyard practices, especially in the US, could all be traced back to what Fetzer was able to do – mainly because they were an example of a financially sound business venture… as many do not want to be the first to take that risk.

Fetzer Vineyards & Bonterra Vineyards

During the Wine Bloggers Conference, I had to take advantage of an excursion to visit Fetzer and their Bonterra Vineyards, started in 1990 representing their move into making wines from organically grown grapes, because as someone who is in favor of sustainability on many levels, Fetzer was the alter where I needed to pay tribute. There were some other wine lovers that I talked to at the Conference who thought it was odd that my first choice was the Fetzer/Bonterra trip because, in their opinion, I was not going to be drinking “good wines”… I guess that was based on the fact we wouldn’t be tasting $100 bottles, and again, they are wines that are not exclusive and are widely available to everyone around the country.

Composting

Our first day was spent in “The Barn” where it all started for Barney Fetzer. It was a cold and rainy day that was a great illustration of the power of Mother Nature – She Who Will Not Be Ignored. There we sat, listening to a panel on composting (organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment) and it was such a passionately expressed discussion between Fetzer employees and a local beer company called North Coast Brewing Company, that for the first time in my life I actually considered making composting a part of my life.

Kissed By Mother Nature

Typically, I never like walking through the rain in NYC because, as one can imagine, it can get messy since one has to spend a lot of their transportation time from place to place outside. But in this instance, it felt like I was kissed by Mother Nature… that I was a part of the land… She felt replenished and so She was able to give back. Later that night, it was perfect to still feel the misty reminder of our stormy day as I walked into the old Fetzer Valley Oaks wine center for dinner and saw a light shining a Fetzer 50th Anniversary sign. This wine center was now owned by a married couple with two small children who started making wines called Campovida.

The owners of Campovida, Gary and Anna, welcomed us into their “home” with a local musical band playing to honor Fetzer and to discuss how they are honored to continue their legacy. “We never planned to be in business together” said Anna, and continued saying that starting this winery with her husband did achieve their ultimate goal of creating, “A life that we could be proud of, that our children would be proud of and that would leave a legacy of beauty and kindness.”

A Company that Amplifies Kindness of Others

As I was transported into the Mendocino County wine world for a couple of days, finishing at the Bonterra Biodynamic McNab Ranch it was amazing how everything was in harmony with each other; the mountains, the streams, the manure we placed in cow horns that would eventually go into the vineyards, the mud that completely covered my shoes, the other local wine producers who shared their wines and told their stories, and that never-ending rain… it was all part of the harmony and ease of living for the betterment of all. At one point, we found ourselves outside with our wine glasses toasting the rain and surrendering to everything that was “authentic” in that moment.

It is no secret that Fetzer/Bonterra is owned by a huge Chilean wine company called Concha y Toro (that shares the same environmentally friendly values) or that Fetzer makes more than 2 million cases of wine per year and Bonterra makes over 300,000 cases. Of course it should be considered that they make special, small production single vineyard wines as well. It is easy to get caught up in the numbers and just see a brand, BUT how else do we make significant change but on a large scale? What I saw in front of me that day was the Fetzer legacy taken to another level… all these people who worked there, neighboring farmers and/or producers, were dependent, one way or another, on this huge company to make it possible to have a roof over their heads and food on the table without compromising their desire to be kind to Mother Nature.

If giving a whole county the chance to maintain an ideal sustainability involving species of all kinds is not “authentic” then, my God, what is?

As we finished our toast in the rain, one of the wine producers went up to one of the women he knew who was pregnant and said, “I’m happy you are bringing a child into this world… because it means you have hope.” And in Mendocino County there was plenty of hope to be had.

 

***To Learn More about the Sustainability Achieves of Fetzer Click on the Below Links:

https://www.sustainablewinegrowing.org/certifiedparticipant/5/Fetzer_Vineyards_Bonterra_Vineyards.html

https://www.wineindustryadvisor.com/2017/11/08/fetzer-releases-first-sustainability-report

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Wines Tasted during this Mendocino County Wine Excursion:

Tasted on November 8th, 2017

Fetzer

2014 Fetzer, Goosefoot Road Riesling, Monterey: Pristine flavors of pears and apricots

2016 Fetzer, Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, California: Crisp green apple and citrus blossom

2016 Fetzer, Sundial Chardonnay, California: Tropical fruits and loamy soils with only a moderate body

2015 Fetzer, Eagle Peak Merlot, California: Licorice, toffee and black cherries

2015 Fetzer, Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, California: Black berry, dried thyme. Mocha and hint of vanilla with a round body yet some structure to give it definition

Campovida

-2015 Campovida, Tocai Friulano, Mendocino: Wildflowers, lemon zest, medium body with marked acidity

-2015 Campovida, Rosé di Grenache, Mendocino: Cherries and baking spice with crumbly rocks that is overall nimble in quality

-2016 Campovida, Arneis, Mendocino: Fennel fronds with cumin seeds and blanched almonds

2013 Campovida, Nebbiolo, Mendocino: Rose petal, tar and rich black cherries that have firm yet high quality tannins

-2014 Campovida, Syrah, Mendocino: A real star of the night with deep, dark flavors of smoky espresso, black pepper and cocoa powder that was bold with its brawny structure and generous with big explosive flavors that were always kept in check with a backbone of lively acidity

 

Tasted on November 9th, 2017

Bonterra

2016 Bonterra, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County, Lake County & Sonoma County: Grapefruit and peach flavors that were rich and lively

2016 Bonterra, Chardonnay, Mendocino: Golden apple with cinnamon spice that had only a touch of creaminess on the palate to give it weight

2015 The Roost, Blue Heron Vineyard Chardonnay, Mendocino: More concentration and finesse which may seem like a contradiction but there seemed to be more lift while having richer and longer lasting flavors

2015 Bonterra, Zinfandel, Mendocino: Stewed black cherries, broad body that had a pop of spice on the end

2015 Bonterra, Merlot, California: Fresh blueberries, wild sage and some plush-ness on the body without being too heavy

2013 The Butler, Butler Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino: Predominately Syrah with the addition of Mourvedre, Grenache and Zinfandel that had an intensely delicious smoky note, like BBQ, and black pepper with some volcanic ash on the long, powerful finish… part of our lunch after this tasting included a cherry cobbler that was made from cherries picked from old cherry trees on the Butler Ranch Vineyard

2013 The McNab, Red Blend, Mendocino: Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Old Vine Petite Sirah; muscular tannins and complex aromatics of pencil lead and granite balanced by lots of black fruit

Small Mendocino Wine Producers:

2016 Two Shepherds, Grenache Rosé: Bright, wild strawberries and wet stones

2016 Idlewild Arneis: Stony, lemon zest, richer texture than Piedmont

2014 Idlewild Nebbiolo: Pale ruby color, floral, surprising fine tannins and hint of fresh leather with red cherries

2016 Rootdown Rosé of Sangiovese: Fierce acidity, cranberry with mouthwatering finish

2016 Rootdown Sangiovese: Tart cherry, baking spice and hint of earth

-2015 Reeve Riesling: White flowers, flinty minerality and spicy finish

2016 Reeve Rosé of Pinot Noir: Bright brambly berries with white chalky finish

2016 LIOCO Sauvignon Blanc: Lemon confit, dried thyme and crumbly rock

-2014 LIOCO Carignan: Jasmine tea, black cherry, underbrush with good flesh for a Carignan and manicured tannins

-2013 Trinafour Colombard: These vines were found among 10 acres of 70 year old red field blend varieties – total of 230 French Colombard vines – and had aromatics of peach, white pepper and an energetic linear body

-2014 Trinafour Rosso Misto: A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Durif and unknown red variety in a field blend with flavors of black currants, red clay and a rich body

2015 Nelson Family Vineyards Petit Verdot: Opaque color, brooding dark flavors, plum pie and black berry jam with a firm structure… ripe tannins give this wine an elegant quality among the opulence…

2015 Campovida Viognier: Moderately aromatic with perfume and lots of mouthfeel with real viscosity to the body from lees stirring

-2014 Campovida Grenache: An inviting wine with warm fruit flavors and round body that has the right amount of acidity

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Pride Does Not Equal Prejudice

There are some vineyard visits that stand out in my mind. I can close my eyes and still feel the cool winter breeze on my face as I was standing in a newly planted plot that would eventually become biodynamic vines. The piles of beige stones that varied from small to humongous with patches of green growth here and there all painted an exotically wild vision. At one point, standing quietly near the edge of a cliff tempering my fear of heights, I looked out onto the valley that was at least 1480 feet (450 meters) below and saw lots of wildlife and sections of various flora amongst the rocky ranges. In the distance, on the left, was Lebanon… and as I turned my head to the right I could see Syria. It was stunning in its raw beauty.

I was in northern Israel, in the Upper Galilee, visiting Recanati winery’s newest vineyard for their Carignan and Marawi (a Middle Eastern indigenous variety) that will each have their first vintage in 2019. It was such a peaceful place; various communities of Jews, Muslims and Christians were tucked away in clusters due to the rocky terrain. The Upper Galilee is a sort of Middle Eastern paradise with streams, waterfalls, and bursts of wildflowers and native plants such as prickly juniper and Lebanese cedar. After spending the week hearing many Israeli wine producers apologize to me that their landscape was not like Europe, I could not help thinking in that moment that they were doing themselves a disservice by doing so… Israel has a wealth of beauty, richness and diversity that is unique to their part of the world; it is a compelling place that interweaves a variety of cultures and landscapes so seamlessly that one takes for granted that it is so much more than the headlines that dominate our internet based lives.

Recanati Winery

Recanati is an Israeli wine producer that has decided to spearhead the production of wines made from Mediterranean grape varieties such as Syrah and Carignan. In New York City, they are known as a top quality producer trying to challenge the (wrong) preconceptions of wines made in Israel. Instead of trying to deny what is innately special about their sense of place out of fear of rejection, they have decided that the only way they can show their world class wines is by highlighting the best of what naturally thrives in their area.

Recanati’s recent research into indigenous varieties has allowed them to discover Marawi, a white grape variety that was found growing on pergola (trellis canopy management) in a Palestinian vineyard, as well as Marawi’s “little brother” Bittuni – a red grape variety; both have been identified as having unique DNA at the University of Milan. There has already been tons of research finding unidentifiable, seemingly local grape varieties in the Middle East, but most of them do not seem to be ideal for winemaking purposes with the exception of a few, such as the Marawi and Bittuni which, ironically, were found growing in a country, Palestine, where making wine is outlawed in some areas (the production or sale of alcohol is not outlawed everywhere in Palestine).

Homeland of Arabic & Hebrew

Recanati puts both the Arabic and Hebrew names for the Marawi and Bittuni on the labels in homage to the shared homeland of these grapes. Recanati has more recently planted their own Marawi in the vineyard where I was standing to take in the majestic view of the Upper Galilee. As much as they have enjoyed working with the Palestinian farmer who grows their Marawi, the vines were originally planted for growing grapes for eating, so Recanati decided that they needed to set up their own vineyard that will produce high quality vines for wine… also, since the farmer is afraid of possible retaliation from terrorist groups for selling wine grapes to an Israeli producer, it is unknown how long this farmer, who remains protected by anonymity, will be able to do business with Recanati.

Blocking Out the Chatter to Get to the Heart

Since I live in New York City, a city that has the largest population of Jewish people outside of Israel, Jewish culture is part of my life. I am a mixed mutt of various influences – some people might think that I would stand, politically speaking, against Palestinians – but they would be mistaken, having not realized that I have spent a lot of time with Palestinian people here in New York City. A few months after 9/11, I actually spent all day in a Muslim mosque during an event when many families from a Jewish temple came to support the Muslim families by forming relationships with them… and such gatherings are still prevalent in NYC. And so, except for a few extremists, people just want to be able to live in peace in a way that is meaningful to them and to give other people that right as well.

Unfortunately the world is a dangerous place, some areas more so than others, and precautions need to be taken… and although Muslim and Jewish people in the Middle East deal with each other in personal and business situations all the time, it is still complicated by the fact that a certain amount of vigilance for safety needs to be maintained. No one wants it this way but it is the reality that both try to navigate in their daily lives. I have to say it has been Israelis that have encouraged me the most to travel across the Middle East to other countries, Muslim countries, and to not be so afraid. Their love for that area of the world extends past their own borders.

I think the world is going through a transition where all of us want to be able to wave our various flags of pride, whether we are Israeli, Palestinian or an American mutt like myself, and not have a barrage of misnomers thrown our way. Just because we show pride in who we are and where we are from doesn’t mean we are against anywhere or anyone else. I am hopeful that these open hearted, indigenous wines of Recanati will remind us that although our political leaders are constantly engaged in ridiculous amounts of saber rattling, the people are constantly trying to find ways to connect. Trust me, there is much more beauty than ugliness in how people live in Israel… I saw it with my own eyes and felt it within my bones… but you have to block out all of the gossip, all the chatter, all the click bait titles from unscrupulous content creators… you need to open your heart to know the heart of this part of the world.

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Tasting of Recanati wines on October 19th, 2017 as a lunch guest at Nur restaurant, in Manhattan, NYC, which specializes in modern Middle Eastern dishes

2015 Marawi, Bethlehem, Judean Hills, West Bank, Palestine: 100% Marawi.  The 2015 had more of a flinty minerality with hints of lanolin and restrained fruit than the 2016 – reminds me of a Savennières but with more approachable acidity.

2016 Marawi, Bethlehem, Judean Hills, West Bank, Palestine: 100% Marawi. 2016 had more fruit, as Recanati is still experimenting with this variety and is finding the best way to work with it… white peach, Bartlett pear, honeysuckle and only a hint of crushed stones with more weight on the body. Very exciting white wine! Also, it was fun to have it with the Palestinian Tartare at Nur… the wine and dish originated in the same place.

-2016 Bittuni, Bethlehem, Judean Hills, West Bank, Palestine:: 100% Bittuni – the little brother of Marawi that makes a red wine instead of a white one, an indigenous variety of the Middle East that could be most similar to Pinot Noir… with red berry delights (strawberry and raspberry), the soft texture of Pinot Noir, the spicy, peppery quality of Blaufränkisch and an interesting hint of wild, dried herbs. Nice to serve cooler than room temperature (about 10 minutes in the fridge) to truly appreciate the exotic delicacy of this red wine.

-2014 Special Reserve White, Vineyards in Kidmat Reserve, Golan Heights, Israel: 60% Roussane and 40% Marsanne. This wine may not be for everyone, but for those who love a great white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this will be your jam – as we like to say in the US. Juicy peach flavors, with floral and nutty notes. Rich texture as one would expect from these varieties, yet plenty of acidity to balance it – not flabby at all like lower quality versions of these varieties. I’m not usually a fan when there is too much Marsanne in a blend but this wine has changed my mind. Perhaps it just needed to be grown under the right conditions. Golan Heights is considered one of Israel’s highest quality wine regions, next to the Upper Galilee, in the overall encompassing wine region of Galilee. It is a cooler wine region compared to other areas in Israel that is known for its volcanic soils.

2014 Reserve Wild Carignan Old Vines Dry-Farmed Single Vineyard, Judean Hills, Israel: 100% Carignan. Grapes from some of the oldest vines in Israel, grown in little gnarly bushes that produce intoxicatingly exotic aromas & flavors with savory animal notes and spicy black berries that give a savage edge while retaining fresh finesse.

-2014 Special Reserve, Red Blend, Vineyards in Kidmat Reserve, Golan Heights, Israel:  An exotic show stopper with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 17% Petite Sirah, 13% Carignan and 10% Marselan. I have known about this wine for a long time since it has received plenty of critical acclaim here in New York City, and it was always considered the standard-bearer for Israeli fine wine. At one time, this wine had more Cabernet Sauvignon, and even though their intention was not to change that, they could not help but notice that the Mediterranean varieties were doing very well, and so, to reflect their best red blend, it has naturally through time become more Mediterranean dominant. Dark and delicious with blackberry preserves, silky tannins and black currant leaf and smoky tea that has an extraordinary length.

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Strong Pillars in the Wine World Sustain Communities

It is always interesting to see how we handle unimaginable events in our lives. I lived in downtown Manhattan during 9/11 and if someone would have presented that scenario as a hypothetical situation to me, I would have instantly replied that after that disaster, I would have gotten my butt out of there… Sadly enough, that situation did happen, and not that far away from me. Yes, I was in a state of panic and pain, but something funny and unexpected happened… I chose to stay, to be close to where the attacks happened… close to the World Trade Towers… to mourn and to eventually find a way to get past this horrible tragedy as part of a community, together. I couldn’t help but have some of those feelings of panic and pain flashbacks during the destructive wildfires in Northern California recently… I knew many people in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino that were at risk of losing their homes, jobs, businesses and potentially their lives. Yes, California is used to wildfires but these recent fires, that raged for weeks, were on a whole different level of devastation; some areas in California will take many years to fully recover… it was horrible to have to sit here on the other side of the country feeling helpless as I watched so many people I knew lose so much in a matter of hours.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to talk over lunch to a winery owner from Sonoma who was visiting New York City. I was anxious to hear how things were out in her neck of the woods. I ended up walking away from that lunch feeling a lot more empowered and hopeful than I could have anticipated.

Debra Mathy, owner of Dutcher Crossing Winery, told me that her winery and vineyards, like many others’ did survive, and the biggest issues were helping people who lost their homes, like in the suburbs in Santa Rosa, and many of the wineries were providing shelter and food to the victims of the fires (her small winery was providing 100 meals a week).  During these tough times, the local wine producers really shone as important pillars of the community.

Debra Mathy

It was interesting to learn more about Debra and how an “outsider” like herself became such an important part of helping the Sonoma wine community survive. She is originally from Wisconsin, moved to Arizona and Colorado at different points in her life, and made a career as a teacher, focusing on nutrition. But it was an early experience, at 15 years old, of a field trip to Paris with her French class that would plant the seeds of wanting to live a life in the wine world. While she was living a “safe” life of a proper profession that offered security, she could not help but to still have that wine dream, which would just deepen with each of her visits to Napa and Sonoma over the years.

Over eleven years ago, Debra was hit with the fact that her father had stage four melanoma cancer (now, each year she has a tribute wine to benefit melanoma cancer research). Her father, a man who spent his whole life working to provide for his family, told her on his death bed that she should live her dream now. Three months after his death, she bought a tiny, charming winery – Dutcher Crossing – that sits in the junction of two creeks, Dry Creek and Dutcher Creek, in Sonoma County.

Her first vintage was the great 2007, and, naively, she though that all vintages would be that easy. But the hard core reality of being at the mercy of Mother Nature was not the only tough challenge she faced. She was the first single female winery owner in Sonoma County, which is an area that is used to many of the winery owners typically being male as well as being established there for generations. Debra remembers a first encounter of an elderly woman coming up to her, shaking her hand, while asking her where she was born… when she replied with “Wisconsin” the woman stopped shaking her hand, quickly walked away, and never spoke to her again… that was her first inclination that it was going to take a lot of grit and tenacity for her to establish herself within the Sonoma community. This was not a problem for her as a Midwesterner with a father that made sure she wasn’t afraid of hard work.

Dutcher Crossing Winery

Debra kept the winemaker and staff from the previous owner at the winery and credits them for helping her along her mission to learn as much as she could about the Dutcher Crossing wines. Also, she knew that having a winery was about relationships and she went out of her way to consistently stop by vineyard owners’ homes to say hello or to lend a helping hand while making herself a fixture at Sonoma wine producer meetings. As the years passed, the community realized she was not there with an unrealistic dream without the backbone to make it work… hell, yes she had a backbone, and through time, proved herself a pillar of the community that would give advice to other producers about how she had become so successful. Debra has established a loyal wine club, selling out of her wines each year, and took the winery from only making a few different wines to making 30 different wines that represented the specific plots of the various grape growers she has gotten to know over the years… there was even one grower who passed away recently and one of his wife’s first phone calls was to Debra… she takes pride that her growers trust that she has their backs.

During our lunch, Debra did admit that she was not terribly comfortable talking about herself and she seemed to want to spend more time talking about her incredible employees, for whom she opened her wine cellar when the fires were going on, and her neighbors, fellow producers and those special relationships with her growers. When I asked her about her wine labels, she said that the drawing on them came about because the artist creating them started to dig within her personal life and found out about the story of her father telling her to live her dream… and his last gift to her was a high-wheel bicycle, which the drawing depicts. Because her father encouraged her to live her dream, Sonoma is so much stronger for it. Pillars of the community do not need an ancestral tree for deep roots… they just need to understand the spirit of a place, and Debra, no doubt, understands what it means to be Sonoma Strong.

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Tasting of Dutcher Crossing Winery at Lunch on October 24th, 2017

2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County: 97.25% Sauvignon Blanc from Bevill “Hall Road” Vineyard in Russian River Valley, and 1.5% Semillon, 1% Roussanne and .25% Chardonnay “Clone 809” from Estate Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. Nice fleshy mouthfeel with good weight and long finish that had a lovely balance of sweet peach pie and zingy lemon zest.

2015 Pinot Noir, Chenoweth Vineyard, Russian River Valley: 100% Pinot Noir from the Chenoweth Vineyard in Russian River Valley (Clones 23, 115 and Calera). This Russian River Pinot Noir has lots of black berry and smoky notes that have savory underlying flavors of dried bark and wild mushrooms that was rich yet electric with bright acidity; a powerfully elegant red.

 2015 Zinfandel, Maple Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley: 91% Zinfandel and 9% Petite Sirah from the Maple Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. Lush, brambly berries with spice and dried Provencal herbs and a hint of pepper on the finish. The Petite Sirah gives structure and drive to this sexy, lusciously robust red wine.

Sample of Dutcher Crossing Winery Tasted on November 6th 2017

-2015 Proprietor’s Reserve Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley: 97% Petite Sirah, 2% Zinfandel and 1% Syrah from Estate Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. Opaque color, and surprisingly inviting as Petite Sirah can be fiercely tannic… the flavors of boysenberry and plum pastry tarts with multi-layered, complex notes of fresh tobacco and leather made this wine irresistible; selfishly, I am happy that I have it as a sample at home. It is a great wine to decant for hours – while it opens with granite and exotic spice, the muscular yet managed tannins start to mellow throughout the day, as I kept it open while I wrote… it could continue to age for 15 years or go great with a steak tonight!

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When Generosity Is Undervalued

The wine world can be contradictory at times. Although we are supposed to promote a product that reduces stress, shares accessible human stories from various areas around the world and, ideally, brings people together, it has sometimes been promoted as a drink that sets up boundaries between economic classes, sophistication levels and educational backgrounds. Unfortunately, I have witnessed the elitism and false presentation of knowledge, both from past colleagues and wine connoisseurs, and I am sad to say that one time, I was told from a long time employee of a well-respected wine retailer in Manhattan that it was better to “seem like you know what you are talking about” instead of actually passing along solid facts.

The “old school” way of talking about wines was to look seriously imposing, while pronouncing a bunch of foreign words (that were indiscernible to many wine consumers), and proclaiming that the wine experts’ personal taste, especially in regards to high quality wines, was the one of choice. If someone in the wine world was smiley, warmly generous, and he/she was transparent about what they knew and didn’t know about wine, then his/her opinion was not taken as seriously in the fine wine world.

Throughout my career in the wine industry, I have met all kinds of people and have been given all sorts of advice. I have spent many, many years trying to learn as much as I can while always being open to the idea that it is impossible to know everything; most importantly, I wanted to serve my customer – whether it was the wine buyer for restaurants and retail stores (when I worked in distribution) or wine consumers (when I worked for a retail store). The idea of trying to figure out what was best for the people whom I was serving while conveying accessible, inspiring wine stories that were relevant to their desires and needs was always the priority. But it would be sometimes pointed out by others in the wine trade, or wine communication world, that trying to be in service of the customer with such a generosity of spirit would just devalue my presence as a knowledgeable and experienced wine voice. Warm, fuzzy feelings did not equal high quality wine expertise.

Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG

 I spent many of my Tuesday nights in October participating in a Twitter virtual tasting (using hashtag #winestudio and #ConValDOCG) talking about Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG. I know, I was just starting to talk about generosity in terms of being accessible to others and here I go throwing some seemingly intimidating words around… but these words are important to a specific place and culture, and they are actually very easy to understand. Many of us know Prosecco as a fun and delicious sparkling wine… the name Prosecco is based on a winemaking zone in North-East Italy, in the region of Veneto. Conegliano Valdobbiadene is an area in Prosecco that has a reputation for being one of the top places for outstanding wines… the Superiore DOCG (DOCG indicating the highest quality designation) which is noted on the bottle lets a Prosecco lover know that this wine has been subjected to the strict standards.

Prosecco

I think it is fair to say that many of us think of Prosecco as a quaffing wine… and I do not mean that in a derogatory way. No matter how much artisanally made, complex, fine wine I drink and love, I will always want my “drinking on the porch” wine. And few other wines have been as successful in that regard as Prosecco, since its generosity of flavors and textures invite all wine drinkers to enjoy these wines. Prosecco became so popular that wines made in different areas across the globe started to use that term on their label calling it a ‘Prosecco style’ wine with the “Prosecco” grape… the producers who actually lived in the designated Prosecco area knew that they needed to protect their name, a place that points to a particular area, and part of that campaign was to bring back the proper name of the grape, Glera, and to educate people that Prosecco wines that had DOC or DOCG superseding the name on wine labels were the only true Prosecco sparkling delights on the market.

But just like I was told that being too friendly, down to earth, warm and generous would diminish my professional presence in the wine world, the same has happened to Prosecco. Because they have become so successful with a generously tasty style that has a welcoming presence on the wine shelves, it has made many people underestimate their quality potential for more serious wines… there are even some who like to snicker at its evident accessibility because the old idea that top wines need to be austere or only appeal to a small section of the population unfortunately still prevails with some fine wine connoisseurs.

I remember a woman coming into a fine wine retail store that I worked in, asking for the most expensive Prosecco we had…. at the time, we only carried some of the moderately priced Prosecco wines, and I told her that expensive, fine wine Prosecco didn’t exist. She was frustrated as I tried to point her towards the Champagne section, because she loved Prosecco and she said that there had to be a higher quality version… I felt that day that I failed that woman because of my own ignorance. She made a great point – just because Prosecco is a delicious sparkling wine that many people love doesn’t mean it can’t be made into great wine.

Generosity Takes Different Forms

During our Twitter #winestudio chat about these superior Prosecco wines, it was interesting to learn that although there were different styles and sub-zones (Rive highlighting different villages, Cartizze being a famous sub-zone for quality, contrasting  winemaking styles – all explained below with tasting notes) that all the wines shared an inviting generosity of ripe fruit and floral notes. Even the top wines, which blew me away with their elegance, complexity and distinct sense of place, had a giving quality that I thought anyone could enjoy… and I respected that they didn’t sacrifice the generosity of their top wines, even if it was not completely appreciated by some “serious” wine drinkers.

Every Day We Have a Choice

All of us have our different personal issues. I understand that those who feel the need to put on a stern, judgmental tone when talking about wine are, many times, battling their own insecurities, and thus have a strong desire to prove their worth to others. But I decided a long time ago that I did not want to go down that road, and I missed out on a lot of opportunities because it was more important for me to promote a more generous approach to talking about wine. My attitude was that I didn’t want to be part of a workplace or group of people that did not make generosity one of the main priorities of their wine mission. And just like people, generous wines are also judged, but I am hopeful that times are changing. Now, as many voices have a chance to speak up through the power of social media, we will discover the hidden gems of wines that are stunningly gorgeous yet are generous enough to be shared with ALL our friends as well.

 **All of the above photos are credited to Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG

***If you want to know more about Twitter “virtual tasting” programs such as the above go to the #Winestudio website.

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Tasting Notes of All Four #Winestudio Twitter Chats:

October 3rd, 2017 (1st Week) – Focus on Introducing Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore is a DOCG sparkling wine produced exclusively in the hills of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone; it is made from the Glera grape variety. The denomination is made up of 15 communes (municipal areas), and takes its name from the zone’s twin capitals: Conegliano, the cultural capital, which was responsible for the creation of the Prosecco phenomenon thanks to being the site of Italy’s first School of Winemaking, where this wine’s production method was perfected; and Valdobbiadene, the heart of production in the zone: it is surrounded by vineyards of extraordinary beauty, with a special vocation for producing high-quality grapes.

SIDE NOTE: Vineyards located in Conegliano Valdobbiadene can use either Conegliano Valdobbiadene, only Conegliano or only Valdobbiadene regardless if they are located in one capital or the other.

-2016 Bortolomiol, Extra Dry, ‘Banda Rossa’, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Juicy peach fruit with hints of citrus sorbet and a creamy body – Lusciously Divine.

Conte Collalto, Brut, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Linear with lots of vitality and lots of chalky minerality – a true lady that doesn’t give it up all in the beginning.

 

October 10th, 2017 (2nd Week) – Focus on Rive Sub-Category

The term “Rive” indicates, in the local way of speaking, the slopes of the steep hills that are characteristic of the zone. This category of wine highlights the diverse expressions of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Rive wines are often obtained from the most high-quality vineyards, from grapes grown in a single commune or area, and so, it expresses the underlying characteristics that a particular terroir gives to a wine. Within the denomination, there are 43 Rive and each one expresses a different and distinctive combination of soil, exposure and microclimate.

Val d’Oca, Brut Nature, Rive di Santo Stefano, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: An elegant beauty with intense chalky minerality, lots of tension and energy – THRILLING!

Masottina, Extra Dry, Rive di Ogliano, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: This luscious lady had a fine mineral edge with rich, tangy fruit flavors such as lemon confit and peach cobbler and a lovely edgy, long, oyster shell finish!

Tenuta degli Ultimi, Brut, Rive di Collalto, “Biancariva”, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: This 2013 showed that great Prosecco can age. YES, YOU HEARD ME RIGHT, 2013!!! Pristine, exotic fruit such as lychee, with wild flowers and an elegant saline finish.

October 17th, 2017 (3rd Week) – The Secondary Fermentation: Bottle vs Autoclave

95% of Prosecco uses the autoclave for their secondary fermentation that makes the wine sparkling. The technique of the autoclave was invented by Martinotti (1895), was immediately adopted by the Conegliano Enology school (Italy’s oldest) and perfected for use with the local wines by the beginning of the 20th century (though it did not become widely used throughout the area until after WWII). Some may know the autoclave method by the name “tank method” or “charmat method” (secondary fermentation in stainless steel tank), but the autoclave is the preferred term for high quality wines such as Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, since it is used for the preservation of the beautiful aromatics and flavors that come from high quality Prosecco and should not be equated to bulk made “Prosecco-style” wine.

Secondary Fermentation in bottle usually implies that a wine will have more “yeasty” “leesy” qualities such as toast and brioche-like notes and creaminess to the body. But sometimes the wine is left on the lees longer in the autoclave method, so those notes can be achieved in the previously mentioned technique as well.

-2015 Bellenda, Brut, “Sei Uno”, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, RE-FERMENTED IN BOTTLE: Richness with spiced toast and lemon custard yet good tension on the body. It evolves in the glass eventually giving notes of wet stones.

-2015 Malibràn, “Credamora” Rifermentato in Bottiglia, Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG RE-FERMENTED IN BOTTLE- NO DISGORGE: SUPER WINE NERDY & DELICIOUS – sugar covered almonds, violets, creamy body, hints of brioche with high notes of citrus blossom on the finish. These types of Prosecco wines are called “Col Fondo” which means “with sediment”.

October 24th, 2017 (4th Week) – Cartizze – The Most Respected Sub-Zone

The Cartizze is a legendary sub-zone that is a highly fractured area, with 140 different owners of around 265 acres (107 hectares) that is said to have the ideal combination of mild microclimate, ancient soils and steep vineyards that produce deep concentration and complexity in their wines. Many times, their wines are considered “Extra Dry” and have more  residual sugar than the “Brut” style due to the ripeness in the grapes, but the high acidity makes the wines seem dry on the palate. The first wine, drier version (Colesel), and the second wine, the sweeter one (Le Colture), both excel and the sweeter wine (with 23 g/l residual sugar) is seemingly dry yet richly delectable.

Colesel, Brut, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, Prosecco: Enchantingly ethereal quality with crumbly silty-stone and juicy stone fruit in the background – a wine with sense of place that offers engaging silky texture with fine bubbles.

Le Colture, Dry Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Prosecco: A deliriously delicious dream with intense perfume of orange blossom, white pebbles and a hint of lilacs, with lemon drops on the palate – intoxicatingly dangerous with a rich body.

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The Truest Sense of Place within Yourself

I think most people have a need to fit in, to belong; a desire to be part of something bigger then themselves. I’m sure there are exceptions, like people suffering from narcissistic disorders, etc., but I think, generally, humans are social beings that need the company of other people. Growing up, I felt like an outsider and I was constantly mystified at how other people connected seemingly so easily. I was the observer, fascinated by their interactions with each other as I tried to figure out the ‘secret handshake’ or password that was needed in order to be accepted.

When I was a kid in school, I never formed any real friendships. I would talk to people but it was always with caution because, since I felt like I stuck out as an outsider, I was often one of the people chosen to be mocked. It was not until my senior year in high school, at 17 years old – one year away from legally becoming an adult in the US, that I formed friendships at a performing arts school that I attended for a few hours a day in New Orleans. This institution gave artistic kids from various neighborhoods and backgrounds a chance to explore a deeper side of themselves and to gain skills that went beyond the regular classroom.

The first day of the program, I sat in the corner and started my observation as boys and girls started to form their social groups. The white kids formed one group and the black kids formed another group. It was 1992 – I don’t know what it is like in New Orleans now, but back then, it was typical for kids to stay within their own race when forming friendships. At one point, I looked up and saw two black girls standing in front of me. One said, “What’s up Doc?!” which is a funny line from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I immediately thought they were making fun of me and I told them to leave me alone. Before I knew it, one of them said that it seemed like I was lonely and that I could use some friends… and from that time on we were inseparable in our classes together… so much so that the other kids called us Oreo (a cookie that is black on the outside and white on the inside). I enjoyed  having friends, and at times, I could not help but think that perhaps I had missed out on friendships up until that point because I was not trying hard enough to fit in… hell, it took someone telling me to my face that I looked like I needed friends for me to finally find schoolmates!

Southern Oregon

It is a tricky thing to try to explain to someone that you are trying to fit in but can’t when they themselves have never had such an issue. Some Southern Oregon wine producers are questioned as to why they are not jumping on the Pinot Noir bandwagon. Oregon is still a name that struggles to find global recognition, and where I live, New York City, people look at you a little funny if you say “I brought an Oregon wine…” and you end that sentence by saying any other grape variety besides Pinot Noir.

 

Troon Vineyard

As I tasted non-Pinot wine samples from Southern Oregon wine producer Troon Vineyard, it triggered those memories from my last year in high school. It was interesting to learn why Rhône varieties prevalent in Southern France would do well in their vineyards located in the Siskiyou Mountains, which differs from Oregon’s most well known area, Willamette Valley. Troon notes that their vineyards have longer days during the summer, contrasted by their days becoming shorter closer to harvest. The combination of both factors creates an environment that provides plenty of sunshine for those grape varieties that need it, yet not too much, helping to keep alcohol levels reasonable, retaining acidity and allowing grapes to hang longer for more flavor development. Their climate has more in common with Southern France than Willamette Valley.

Sense of Place

One day in particular stands out during my senior year of high school at that performing arts institution, when we were encouraged by a teacher to stand in front of the class and tell a true story from our life that was either funny or sad. One of my friends, Rikisha, stood up and told the story of the last time she saw her mother, a drug addict; my other friend, Tamika, went next and related the time that her mother’s boyfriend stabbed her mother in the back with a knife, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. At that moment, as I sat there living with my secret – a drug addicted mother who would tell me that I was only worth what she could get for me (she would get money from her father to be used, supposedly, for my education) and a father whom I had only met a couple times in my life – I realized why we were friends and why it was not so easy for me to make friends with other people… I had needed to find other kids that understood my home life in the truest sense of the word.

Although it seemed odd to other people that the three of us would only talk to each other, to us, the Oreo, it made perfect sense. I’m sure it is the same when it comes to choosing to go down another path as a wine producer that goes against the grain of what most wine drinkers expect from you. But sooner or later, I think the best producers realize that the worst way to make a wine is by denying the truest sense of place from their particular vineyards.

It has been 24 years since I have seen Rikisha or Tamika. I haven’t seen them since graduating from high school when I moved to New York City and started down the long road of trying to survive and find my place in the world. Back then, it was not so easy to stay in touch with people so I wasn’t able to stay connected. But now, I think about them all the time… Rikisha had an incredible strength for someone her age, almost like she was a queen, who spoke quietly yet with great power…. and Tamika was clever and remarkably creative… I remember a one person performance piece she did – it was funny, bittersweet and profound… she left everyone in the audience speechless. My friends were not afraid of who they were and what others would think… I was not at that point yet and they always tried to get me to hold my head up high and be proud of who I was. Even though I have no idea where they are, I hope that if they saw me today, they would be proud of me.

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Troon Vineyard Samples Tasted on October 31st, 2017

Starting in 2018, Troon Vineyard is launching their program to achieve biodynamic certification. The suggested retail price of all the below wines is $25.

2016 Kubli Bench Blanc, Estate Bottled, Applegate Valley, Oregon: 55% Marsanne and 45% Viognier, crushed by foot and fermented together. Quince flavors with hints of spice that had an alluring perfumed note on the finish. A full-bodied white with textural complexity that will be ideal for the cooler months and/or to hold up to richer dishes.

2016 Blue Label Grenache, Rogue Valley, Oregon: 100% Grenache. A warm, inviting wine that I thought did well served cooler than room temperature (10 minutes in refrigerator), with exciting flavors of bright red cherries and black pepper with good structure that balanced out the fleshy body with a focused finish.

2015 Blue Label GSM, Rogue Valley, Oregon: 39.66% Syrah, 31.61% Mourvèdre, 16.06% Grenache and 12. 67% Sangiovese. Rhône varieties with a touch of Tuscany (the Sangiovese). At first, an intense dried black cherry note was dominant until it evolved over time with savage qualities giving elegant, old world charm. Although intensely delicious with sweet fruit and meaty flavors, it finishes with finesse that hints towards crumbly rocks and wild rosemary, lifted by marked acidity.

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Only as Good as One’s Community

Photo from One of My Trips to Napa Valley

I always get frustrated when I hear stereotypes about New York City, my home. So many times, articles that go viral on the web or stories highlighted in blockbuster movies focus on the wealthy people living luxurious lives ruthlessly stabbing each other in the back, and so, this seems to be the NYC that many people visualize in their mind. I’m not saying that the aforementioned doesn’t exist at all but it represents a very small percentage of the population. The NYC that I know and love is filled with people struggling with impossible circumstances: barely paying our bills, finding enough time and space, and living with large amounts of stress that are mainly rooted in the fact that we are not getting everything done… tick tock tick tock… Why on earth would I love these things about my city?! Well, it would not be possible for the middle class, let alone poor people, to survive in such a situation if there wasn’t a strong community, and if one word can sum up NYC, it would be community.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is another one of those places that people think are populated with just a bunch of fat cats rolling around in money, and so, are on the receiving end of similar misinformed statements to those about New Yorkers, “It must be nice to have that kind of money” (like a character exclaims on “Seinfeld” when Jerry’s retired father misses the early bird special for dinner). These kinds of misleading stereotypes are misnomers that lead people away from knowing the depth of Napa’s story. The original key figures that raised Napa Valley to wine glory were farmers that had a passion for wine… there was a time before The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (aka Judgment of Paris) when those who owned Napa vineyards were on the brink of bankruptcy… their dreams were fading, but then, the Judgment of Paris brought world recognition and their hard work was finally appreciated. The big, bold personalities of Napa – which are wonderfully depicted in Richard Mendelson’s Appellation Napa Valley – decided that they needed to work together as a region to define themselves and to try to give all vineyard owners and producers a fair shake while keeping the integrity of being a high quality wine area.

Silverado Vineyards

I received a couple of samples of Silverado Vineyards a while back ago and the time never seemed right to try them or talk about them. Well, after this past month of hell for Northern California that involved, at its peak, 21 major wildfires burning an estimated 245,000 acres (99148 hectares), 100,000 people evacuated, 8,900 structures destroyed, and heartbreakingly, 42 people’s lives lost, it seemed like the perfect time to try these wines as Napa Valley, one of the areas hit hard, fell heavy on my heart. These figures I give are current as of October 28th, 2017 and so check out the Cal Fire website to get an updated damage report.

Silverado Vineyards is tied to many of those captivating stories that helped to shape Napa. Abel McFarland, who planted vitis vinifera (the species of vine that is most common for making wine) on the Silverado property in the 1870s, was supposedly one of those fantastical Wild West characters who was into gold mining and gun fighting. Their GEO wine (tasting note below) comes from the Mt. George Vineyard which was founded by Henry Hagen – a man whose Cedar Knolls winery won a Silver Medal at the 1889 Paris World’s fair. And in the 1980s, when Napa Valley was going through the process of redefining their different AVA (American Viticultural Area) boundaries, it was Silverado Vineyards that was used as an example – specifically for the much desired Stags Leap District – to illustrate that Napa should base the dividing line of districts on research done on the type of soils and aspects that represent any given district’s classic style as opposed to superficially basing it on physical markers that neatly help break up the AVAs on a map. Silverado Vineyards had been included in the original AVA but their adjacent vineyards to the west and north that were excluded were added once research came out proving their relation to the Stags Leap terroir.

In 1980, the construction of Silverado Vineyards winery was started by Ron and Diane Miller – Diane being the daughter of Walt Disney, and so, people mistakenly associated Silverado Vineyards with the Disney corporation when in fact it had always been a passionate Miller family business with no association with the media conglomerate. Although there is a wink towards Diane Miller’s famous father with one of three Cabernet Sauvignon Heritage Clones found on the Silverado property, analyzed and designated by UC Davis as the Disney Silverado Heritage Clone because it represented such historical qualities that are distinctive to the area.

The Real Napa Valley

I remember around 7 years ago being on a wine education trip in Napa. One of the Napa guys on my bus started pointing out a distant area that had a bunch of tiny homes packed right on top of each other and he said that THAT was the “real” Napa Valley; where the people who worked in hospitality, in the wineries and in the vineyards lived their lives and housed their families. It was the Napa that no one wanted to know, as it was easier to take pot-shots at the wealthy investors who sunk tons of money to create a place where tourists could escape a dreary existence to live in a fantasy land for a short while.

I think some people often miss the most important thing about Napa Valley, and I honestly admit, I was once one of those people… Napa is a diverse community of people that spread a wide range of economic status, built from the sweat and blood of those that saw it as a promise land for everyone, and it continues to flourish for those with limited opportunities in life because of wealthy benefactors who want to keep the Napa dream alive. Actually, the Napa Valley Vintners association has raised and invested $170 million from Auction Napa Valley to benefit their local nonprofit organizations including healthcare and education for those who cannot afford it. And at this time, Napa as a whole is hurting, not so much the wines (most of the grapes were picked before the major wildfires in that area started, and many wineries used generators to get through their ferments when they didn’t have electricity) but the Napa people. They took a big hit from the loss of their homes, their businesses, their jobs… Great wine is what has helped to keep this community going, so we should buy their wine, visit their wineries and show our appreciation for a place that built their name by coming together to help each other out… Napa has always known that they were only as good as their community, so let’s show them that their community exists beyond the state of California, and be a part of that wonderful Napa spirit!

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Samples of Silverado Vineyards Tasted on October 27th, 2017

2013 Silverado Vineyards, SOLO, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Heritage Clone, with all of the grapes coming from their Silverado vineyard. Lots of vitality and bright red currant fruit is surprising on this Napa Cab, with more subtle nuances of dusty earth and spice but the pristine, fresh fruit that is expressive on the long finish really makes this wine stand out. Only 2, 476 cases made.

2013 Silverado Vineyards, GEO, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville, Napa Valley: 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Petit Verdot with all of the grapes coming from their Mt. George vineyard. Seductive smokiness on the nose with cigar box and fresh tobacco notes and is more structured on the palate compared to the SOLO. Dark and brooding blackberry fruit with hints of cocoa powder and just a touch of grip from more noticeable tannins allows one to chew into these alluring flavors with a juicy, prolonged finish. Only 2,200 cases made.

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Counting on Time We Do Not Have

Time is a funny thing. Even though we know that it moves forward at a constant rate, like the most precise base drum in a marching band, at times it seems to move quickly (weekends always fly by much faster than days during the week); other times it almost seems to stand still.  I had one of those moments seemingly frozen in time not long ago, sitting in a historical, cozy, hidden gem in Manhattan – a charming building that housed the long running Wine & Spirits Program. In front of me were five glasses of beautiful Champagne, and one was being dragged off the table by a gentleman’s jacket. Ever so slowly, I saw it move off the edge. I thought I had time to grab it but I was taken by the moment… the beauty and pain of the unpredictability of life… entropy, one of the fundamental forces of the universe, demonstrated in a single moment… before I knew it, the glass filled with Champagne smashed to the ground and everyone in the room froze, not knowing what to do or say.

A Champagne House that Defies the Odds

This was my first introduction to a man whom I was dying to meet… someone who had done the impossible… believed in himself more than the trivial chatter that would question his decision to take on the monolithic task of starting a Champagne house in 1981 when there were already big players well established. That man was Bruno Paillard and his Champagne house is aptly named Champagne Bruno Paillard.
I had the good fortune of meeting his daughter, Alice, last year at a lunch to taste a vertical of their Champagnes. She was bold, passionate and fiercely committed to aged Champagne – a real force of nature, like her father, or so I was told. But I had only heard the legend of Bruno, never a chance to meet the man himself.

Well, a few weeks ago presented my opportunity to finally meet the man who dared to do what many would want but did not take that leap when they had the chance. He was giving a seminar on his Champagne showing us a selection of “multi-vintages” blends of various 2002 selections that represented different aspects of that vintage.

Aged Champagne

 The Bruno Paillard Champagnes are known for a few remarkable qualities, besides being a relatively young house. They have a lower amount of dosage (residual sugar added) creating a drier style of Champagne, the vineyards Bruno purchased include 30 acres (12 hectares) of Grand Cru vineyards out of his total 79.5 acres (32 hectares) making up over 50% of his production; they practice sustainable viticulture, and most importantly, they give the wine time to age – both after secondary fermentation (on the lees) and after disgorgement to help recover.

The last factor of aging is the most important, and defining, of the Bruno Paillard style. Bruno’s father was born in Champagne in 1928 and his father made sure to buy lots of Champagne from his birth date (back then it was not that costly); consequently, as a boy, Bruno, drank a bottle of 1928 Champagne each week with his family. One time, as a child, he had an 1884 and said it was a profoundly emotional experience that he has never forgotten. “I did not inherit money but inherited a love for old Champagne” said Bruno.

Moments Slipping Away

As time raced to catch up with the present, after the glass had smashed, we looked up at Bruno since it was his jacket that accidentally pulled the glass off the table. “Was that me?!” Bruno said, and he immediately, without waiting for a reply, asked for a dust pan and broom and started to sweep up the broken glass as he continued leading the seminar. He was the type of person who did not wait or languish in regret. Instead of being part of the ones complaining from the sidelines, he was going to be part of the few that did something about it.

How many times have we missed out on a moment? How many of us allow life to happen to us instead of us taking responsibility for our own happiness? How many of us face our mistakes with zeal so that we can come up with a solution as quickly as possible? Bruno Paillard is a man who proudly talks about the special moments of his childhood but he is not stuck lamenting a past that no longer exists… he has taken the best facets of his upbringing and combined them with the improvements of the modern world. He lives as fully as someone can in any given point in time, and so every day holds an exciting surprise of the fruits of his labor… Bruno is not counting time he does not have but rather living a lifetime in each moment that is reflected in the depth and longevity of his wines.

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Tasting at Champagne Bruno Paillard seminar October 5th, 2017

All of the Champagnes listed below are Extra Brut (drier than Brut) with no more than 6 g/l residual sugar added at dosage. Bruno said he works with vineyards that get enough ripeness so he does not need to add that much sugar to find balance, “Complexity must not be confused with heaviness.”

Champagne Première Cuvée MV (multi-vintages):  45% Pinot Noir, 22% Pinot Meunier and 33% Chardonnay (from Côte des Blancs). 38% from reserve wines that include 25 vintages since 1985. Bruno calls his non-vintage wines multi-vintages because he specially blends various vintages to find a particular style. 3 years aging on the lees and allowed 5 months of “recovery” after disgorgement. It was disgorged in February 2017.

Mouthwatering granny smith apple and citrus peel that has cinnamon toast notes. Despite being a drier style, it was not austere in any way… creamy texture and plenty of fruit.

Champagne Rosé Première Cuvée MV (multi-vintages): Majority Pinot Noir (some vinified as white, some as red) with a small amount of Chardonnay. The blending and aging practices are similar to the above Champagne Première Cuvée MV.

Light strawberry flavors with dominant chalky minerality, lemon blossom and red currants on the finish. A Rosé Champagne with lots of tension and precision. I was dreaming about having this with some cured meats.

2002 Champagne Blanc de Blancs (poured from magnum): 100% Chardonnay. 9 years on the lees and minimum 1 year of rest post disgorgement. It was disgorged in January 2013. All of his vintage wines except the N.P.U. have a different label for each vintage that is an artist’s rendition of the aromas and flavors that Bruno discovers in that particular wine. This label shows the whimsical floral notes that can be found.

Dried flowers with peach and marzipan that has a linear, oyster shell finish.

 

-2002 Champagne Assemblage: 47% Pinot Noir, 42% Chardonnay and 11% Pinot Meunier. 7 years on the lees and minimum 1 year of recovery after disgorgement. It was disgorged in September 2011. This label has an impressionist style.

This wine needs time to open to show its full complexity. It evolved through time with delightful notes of candied almonds, pear syrup and wet stones, with a broader weight giving it more richness than the Blanc de Blancs.

2002 Champagne N.P.U. “Nec Plus Ultra” (aka Nothing is Higher): From Grand Cru communes: Oger, Chouilly, Verzenay and Mailly. 13 years on the lees with 3 years of rest after disgorgement. 2002 needed more time than the 2003, which was disgorged last year. Silky, fine texture with apple tart and roasted almonds with a fully flavored, multi-complex finish that seemed to never stop. Wow Wee Ah Wow, Wow… yes, that is a technical term.

Bruno said the N.P.U. is the ultimate Champagne, in his opinion.
There are 7 points for the NPU:
1. Only Great Vintages: 1990, 1995, 1996, 1999, they released the controversial 2003 last year and this year the 2002
2. Only Grand Cru vineyards
3. Only 1st pressing – true for all Champagne, but Bruno said it was better to say things out loud instead of assuming
4. Fermented in 100% barrique and left in these small barrels for 10 months
5. Minimum 10 years of lees aging
6. No more than 3 g/l residual sugar at dosage
7. Minimum of 1 year “recovery” rest after disgorgement

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The Road Less Traveled

Some people are just so truly creative that even though they have been raised in a seemingly average life, they are able to be innovators in certain fields that go against the grain of normal convention. Others, who were perhaps unknowingly innovators earlier in their life, are thrust into a tragic situation that challenges their mind, body and spirit, and with their back to the wall, they discover that they were meant for greater things.

Champagne Duval-Leroy

A few weeks ago, I went to a low key Champagne tasting in a charming Champagne parlor called Air’s in the West Village of Manhattan in New York City. I was exhausted and overwhelmed that week (I was just getting back from two separate wine press trips) but didn’t want to miss out on tasting some Champagne with other ladies in the local wine and media business. I had no idea that I was about to learn a story of a remarkable woman.

Carol Duval-Leroy

Carol Duval-Leroy, originally born in Belgium, lost her husband Jean Charles Duval-Leroy in 1991 to cancer – he was in the prime of his life at 39 years old; she was only 35. Many would assume that she would just sell the family Champagne house, Duval-Leroy, to a much larger Champagne corporation, but she made a promise to her husband that she would run the company until she could pass it on to their sons, Julien, Charles and Louis – who were only 8, 6, and 4 when they lost their father.

Femme de Champagne

This event was for invited females only since we were drinking Carol’s Femme de Champagne, launched in 1991 after her husband’s death with the 1990 vintage – a Champagne that was originally conceived by her husband. The wine is made from grapes exclusively grown in Grand Cru areas, yet she decided to name it “Femme de Champagne” (Woman of Champagne) since it was up to her to keep the family business running. The Femme de Champagne project was a great way for Carol to get past one of the most difficult times in her life; it was also the time she decided to hire 23 year old Sandrine Logette-Jardin as her Quality Manager. Hiring Sandrine paid off as Duval-Leroy became the first Champagne house to be granted ISO 9000s certification – an inventory procedure that helps to ensure high standards. In 2005, Sandrine became Chef de Caves of Champagne Duval-Leroy – the first female head winemaker of a Champagne house.

Duval-Leroy was the first Champagne house to produce a certified organic Brut Champagne, which is still made today (wine made from grapes grown organically and Ecocert FR-BIO-01 certified), and Carol Duval-Leroy was the first and currently only female to be appointed President of the Association Viticole Champenoise. Duval-Leroy Champagne is served at many of the top Michelin-starred restaurants around the world; when Carol was young she dreamt of becoming a chef, and so, she has a great admiration for the top chefs around the world.

It was not only wonderful to taste such special wines from an extraordinary lady, but it was also nice to see women who I have known in the business for many years… some of them had given me much needed encouraging words about my work at one time, and I have been happy to pay it forward by emboldening other women. Sometimes it is very difficult to see our own worth or value when there is no one to validate our contributions in life…such as having someone like Carol hiring a young woman like Sandrine and entrusting her to bring her family company to another level.

There were a couple of men at this Champagne tasting that I certainly hoped were enjoying being surrounded by women. One of them, who simply introduced himself as someone working for Champagne Duval-Leroy, came over to me as I was tasting the vertical of their Femme de Champagne wines. He was curious to know what I thought… well, the Champagnes, which I was previously unfamiliar with, were even better than I could have imagined… yes, elegant with lots of finesse, yet an intense richness and complexity that is not often associated with “female” styled wines. He immediately said, “Yes, they have a lot more to them than people think.” I found out later that he was one of Carol’s sons, Julien Duval-Leroy, as all three of them work for their family Champagne house. It made me smile to know that he knew the true power of women.

Sometimes There is No Reason

I like to believe that many times, there is a reason for things to happen unexpectedly, but honestly, there have been certain events that have happened in my life and those close to me that I know had no reason – unfortunately, bad things happen to good people and some are given a lot more knocks in life than anyone could deserve. But when these tragedies happen, I find the best thing to do is to think about the people around you… how it is not good enough to just survive; you have to be the force that goes beyond the cards you were dealt in order to find meaning in life. That is what Carol did… and I think her sons are so lucky to have her as their mother… and we are all lucky to have a great example of a woman who took the road less traveled.

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Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne Tasting on Sept 28th, 2017

Champagne Duval-Leroy owns 494 acres (200 hectares) of the Champagne vineyards they use which makes up 1/3 of their production – 40% of the grapes are from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. Duval-Leroy is located in the Côte des Blancs, an area in Champagne where some of the best Chardonnnay is sourced, and hence many of their Champagnes are Chardonnay dominant.

Femme de Champagne is a blend of Duval-Leroy’s best Grand Cru vineyards that is made only during years that they deem to be exceptional as well as having a lower than average dosage compared to other Champagne houses.

-1990 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne: 89% Chardonnay and 11% Pinot Noir with 4 g/l residual sugar at dosage. The vintage that started the Femme de Champagne is one that is tied with bittersweet memories of pain and finding the strength to go on and take on the world alone. As harvest approached, this vintage saw an extremely rapid rise in temperatures and so those who could be selective produced some richly enticing vintage Champagnes. Big and bold with honey and candied-ginger although the mousse is fine as it gallops across your palate. May 16th, 2017 is the disgorgement date.

1995 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne: 76% Chardonnay and 24% Pinot Noir with 4 g/l residual sugar. Generous and inviting with almond paste, lemon meringue and a broad palate – it was creamy and decadent in texture. May 16th, 2017 is the disgorgement date.

1996 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne: 79% Chardonnay and 21% Pinot Noir with 4.5 g/l residual sugar. The 1996 Champagnes, as well as Burgundies, are known for their fierce acidity, linear body and in the best cases, pristine fruit… this one lives up to the legend of this vintage while I certainly can’t say that about all the 1996 vintage Champagnes I have tasted. Lots of energy and vitality with quince and an aromatically floral nose… could continue to be cellared for many more years as it seems still a baby. And may I say it had a “holy crap” long finish. Wow! March 21st, 2017 is the disgorgement date.

2000 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne: 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir with 6g/l residual sugar added with dosage.  Ripe peach with toasted brioche and a hint of orange blossom – fine bubbles and a very long, expressive finish.

 

–1997 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne, Rosé de Saignée: 100% Pinot Noir from Grand Cru vineyards. One of the very few houses in Champagne that make a Rosé by “leeching” during maceration of Pinot Noir rather than blending red wine into the assemblage (final blend) before the secondary fermentation. This 1997 Rosé de Saignée has structured elegance with intoxicating aromatics of sweet spice, crushed cranberries and a textured body that has a flavorful finish. It would be perfect to have with game bird!

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